First freeze warning is my reminder to carve out a chunk of time to grab a book, balance a cup of tea on the side table, and sink into the blessings of autumn. Time to pull up the boat oars, say good-bye to the annual blooms that are showing off their best right now, and turn inward—our human form of hibernating. For me, that means focus on serious submissions of my picture book biography of Ludwig Bemelmans, creator of the Madeline books, and intentional moves forward with publication of my Gordon Parks biography. It means more movies, musical performances, fireside chats with friends, cozy wraps on each of my comfy chairs, and time with family. What about you? What book might you choose to read by a certain time (or listen to)? What relationship do you want to strengthen, and how? Be intentional before your external world makes decisions for you. Make it a great season of internal growth and reflection by making opportunities to pull in, reflect, and do the internal grunt work for what you want for yourself. Happy first freeze, fall fun, and framing your future.
Fun Day at GPES
David Parks visits Gordon Parks Elementary School
Gordon Parks Elementary School students celebrated their namesake yesterday in a big way. David Parks, Gordon’s only living child, is in the area for the annual Gordon Parks Culture and Diversity Celebration in Fort Scott this week and is visiting schools while he’s here. David met GPES students to answer questions. “Was your dad rich?” “Do you visit his grave?” “Did your dad pray?” “What did you do with your dad when you were growing up?” “Where did you grow up?”' “Where do you live now?” “What was your mom like?” Such curiosity from the second and third graders. And of course, the inevitable: “How old are you?” David giggled before he admitted to being 75, which reminded me of the stories around his birth. It was World War II time, and Gordon was preparing to travel with and photograph Tuskegee Air Force pilots to their first overseas assignment. He loved the idea of being able to document this historic event, this group of exceptional pilots, who had this chance to serve their country as fully-recognized military personnel. Gordon trained with the pilots, donned a good looking Air Force uniform, and accompanied them during their flight exercises. Just as the group was scheduled to fly overseas, Gordon’s superior called him in and announced that his paperwork was not in order. He would not be able to accompany them to Europe. Gordon was horrified and traveled to the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. to correct the problem. Everything seemed to be in order there, they said, but the truth soon was revealed. Southern lawmakers, who originally had approved the idea of commemorating this unique idea of training black pilots for battle, began to notice the newsworthiness that was going to come of this first time project. They quietly protested its completion. “Too much glory for blacks,” they would have said if they were being honest. Gordon was struck from the project and sent home. I’ve wandered a long way from David’s visit to the school, except to remember that David was born in the midst of Gordon’s wonderful opportunity being struck down—March, 1944. Gordon didn’t forget. In fact, he used this disappointing event to establish a timeline for the writing of his second book, Choice of Weapons in 1965, twenty years later. He would have said it was only one of the never-ending obstacles that he dealt with during his life, but I think it was one of the more painful times.
Wasn’t it President Bush the 1st who campaigned about points of light, suggesting America look for and create positive events, memories, and opportunities all around? I attended a retreat on conscious aging last week in Phoenix at an historic ranch called COD near Oracle and used one of the exercises to ponder and identify points of light in my life. I divided my existence into seven-year segments and listed points of light for each. Such as precious times reading to my maternal grandmother, birthing two special daughters (and connections with subsequent grandchildren), developing and integrating a relating model with my husband that we marketed and trained around the world, being inspired to write books in later years, and now the amazement of forming conscious intentions for meaningful aging. All of which has led me to a welcome awareness that points of light might be all we have. What we do with them equals good days or bad days, energy or fatigue, maybe even health and illness. Additional points of light that happened at the retreat last week included hearing recommended topics for future writing. I’m focused on picture book biographies at the moment, and I’m interested especially in folks who have Kansas connections. One idea is Joyce Dianato, a well-known opera singer who lives in Kansas City, and a second is Mother Bickerdyke, who advocated for Civil War victims and established several hundred field hospitals during the war. She built a boarding house in Salina, and aided families devastated by a grasshopper invasion in 1874. Memorials in Ellsworth and Bunker Hill cemeteries honor what she did. A point of light can be as simple as giving full attention to another’s words or claiming a moment of silence to give balance to the day. Savoring a favorite lunch item, sharing an unsolicited smile, and expressing a word of gratitude. Could even become a habit. Wishing you points of light today and onward.
Picture books, little gifts with few words and many illustrations, hand out fun, informational, quirky—you name it—looks at life that fascinate the most devout or reluctant reader of all ages. I read one recently about Winston Churchill’s little dog, named Rufus, aimed at a young audience, which included a charming timeline in the back matter that summarizes Churchill’s (and Rufus’s) involvement in WW II. War Dogs: Churchill and Rufus by Kathryn Selbert are title and author. Another recent one that spoke to me is The Undefeated by Kwame Alexander, published by Kwame’s new Houghton, Mifflin, Harcourt imprint called Diversify. Very few words convey his message about “the unforgettable, the survivors, and the ones who didn’t.” It makes a beautiful coffee table book if you need a little color in your environment along with its powerful message about historical figures. And of course, there are the Madeline books by Ludwig Bemelmans, published between 1939 and 1962. I’m especially drawn to those right now because I’m writing a picture book biography about Bemelmans—how he created Madeline and how his childhood influenced his later writing. I think I’ve mentioned this one before, but I’m also finishing a picture book about Morganville, Kansas’ alliance with Feves, France, in 1948, and how Morganville created and performed a community happening around a pageant scripted by famous Morganville citizen, Velma Carson, to raise funds for Feves’ recovery from World War II. Amazing—the relationship between the two communities continues more than seventy years later. Sneak into your library’s picture book section and have a look. Same in your local bookstore. Perhaps purchase one for a small (or large) family member or give it to a school classroom teacher or share it in a pre-school setting. Enjoy it and pay it forward; encourage your recipient to keep it moving toward potential readers and listeners. Picture books never go out of style.
Anybody drawn to vampire stories? I’ve joined a YA (young adult) book club for exposure to books I might not choose for myself. Today we discussed one entitled, Immortal Rules by Julie Kagawa, written in 2012. I’m not a fantasy or sci fi reader, but I reminded myself that I joined this group to broaden my reading experiences. It’s divided into sections; the first section is about blood and more blood. I could hardly keep reading, but I continued, reminding myself why I had this book checked out from the library. Protagonist Ali as a human care-giving member of a small family-like group, barely survived conditions, continually searching and stealing food for herself and others. Subsequent sections complicate her life until she is forced to make a choice between death and becoming a vampire. She chooses vampire that requires finding healthy humans with whom she has to bare her fangs and harvest blood. I’m still grossed out at that point, but hanging in. Through more complicated circumstances, she aligns herself with a human family on a search for the Garden of Eden. Have I bored you with details yet? She falls in love with the group’s children and eventually the group’s leader, all the while hiding her vampire status, which she eventually has to reveal. This leads to my amazement (after hearing others’ responses to the story) that this is really a story about incorporating her ugly parts (vampirism) with her remaining humanness. The challenge of embracing her evil influences with the grace of love and compassion. Wow! Never would have thought I’d come to that conclusion. Our book club protocol is to discuss our reactions to the book chosen for the month, respond to reviews and questions, then rate the book’s value, in our opinions. On a ten-point scale, I gave it a five—highest in our group of seven readers. Two take-aways: (1) Good and Evil coexist in many forms of life, and (2) value and share your opinion while being open to more insights and information from others.
Hello Here is where you’ll find different kinds of “stuff.” Sometimes I will share about my current writing projects, such as a couple of picture books I’m working on now. Other times, I’ll talk about what’s happening in other areas of my life. I may describe places I have visited—I just returned from Germany, where a granddaughter and I bus-toured from Berlin to Munich. I’ll give you news about people I know or have recently met, such as a yoga instructor who has overcome a serious autoimmune condition and stage-four cancer, which included practicing and now training yoga. I, for sure, will tell you about things that are going on around me, such as attending a production of Cats at Kansas City’s Starlight theater and Hamilton at the Kauffman Center. Welcome to my updated blog found at annparrwriter.com. I look forward to some back-and-forth with you. In the meantime, make gratitude your mantra!