I credit Gail with piquing my interest in Jewish culture and cuisine, and we used to joke about my wanting to find a nice Jewish grandmother to adopt me. Kind, generous, and very loving, Gail was devoted to her family and was especially proud of her grandchildren, whom she referred to as “my raison d’être.”
Gail’s death came as a complete shock to me. I learned about it on Facebook while casually scrolling through my newsfeed one day. I had no idea she had been battling cancer, and it was devastating to hear that she was gone. Not too long before that she had emailed a photo of her grandson’s bar mitzvah, so I assumed all was well.
Today we’d like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Laura Shovanon the official release of her first middle grade verse novel on April 12! Hooray for Laura!!
The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary (Wendy Lamb Books, 2016)is a captivating story told entirely through a series of poems written by one fifth grade class over the course of a year. We meet 18 diverse, distinctive, quirky, totally believable kids navigating the changes that come with friendships old and new, first crushes, and other relatable challenges such as divorce and stepfamilies, death and illness of family members, being the new kid, homelessness, assimilation and identity.
Though each has his/her own hopes, dreams, and concerns, these students form a special bond over one big change that affects them all: their beloved school is facing closure at the end of the year. Inspired by their teacher’s political activism in the 60’s, they are determined to make their voices heard to help save Emerson.
Since my favorite picture books blend food with family, friends and cultural tradition, I was especially happy to hear that award winning author, poet, and Teaching Authors Poetry Friday friend April Halprin Wayland had written a brand new story that does just that, and it’s coming out next Tuesday, March 15!
We follow a family as they embrace the spirit of “Dayenu“ (a traditional seder song of thankfulness), while happily anticipating and enjoying their Passover feast. The two children revel in each activity leading up to and at the event: shopping at the farmers’ market (adopting a kitten!), tasting raindrops, chopping apples and walnuts to make charoset, putting on special clothes, and splashing in mud puddles as they walk to Nana’s house.
Once there, they join their relatives for the ceremonial meal with the seder plate of symbolic foods, ask the four questions, and sing a lively rendition of “Dayenu”(which means “it would have been enough”), to thank God for his many gifts to the Jewish people (leading them out of slavery, parting the Red Sea, giving of the Torah). Then it’s time for delicious matzoh balls, chicken, and jellied fruit slices before searching for the hidden afikomen (matzoh piece), and opening the door for the prophet Elijah while singing “Chad Gadya.” A Passover sleepover tops off the evening, as Nana wraps them in blankets, kisses their foreheads, and sings to them while rain gently taps on the window.
More Than Enough, told in spare melodic prose with the word “dayenu” recurring as a refrain throughout, is a lovely reminder to be wholly present and open to the blessings offered to us each moment of every day. Any one of this family’s experiences would have been more than enough to be thankful for; their joy at being blessed with so many gifts will inspire readers to take the time to slow down, heighten awareness, and express gratitude for things often taken for granted.
#6 in the Poetry Potluck Series, celebrating National Poetry Month 2012.
Today I’m very pleased to welcome New Jersey poet Gail Fishman Gerwin to the Potluck, the first of four guest poets who write primarily for adults rather than children. Whether you celebrate Passover or Easter, it’s likely you’ll be spending time this weekend observing holy rituals and sharing special meals with family and friends.
Gail is sharing a poem from her poetic memoir, Sugar and Sand (Full Court Press, 2009), a 2010 Paterson Poetry Prize finalist. “With or Without Rice, a Kitchen Ballet” is one of three poems comprising a segment about Gail’s mother, “Mastering the Art of Cele’s Cooking.”
Most of you know there’s nothing I love more than a recipe/cooking poem, and this slice-of-life beauty provides ample nourishment for body and soul, a delicious blend of family history and cultural heritage. We thank Gail for so generously sharing precious photos of her parents, sister, daughters and grandchildren, four generations in her family who’ve enjoyed stuffed cabbage at Passover. Gail has already made two batches for tonight’s Seder, which will include gefilte fish, matzoh ball soup, brisket, spinach gnocchi, matzoh kugle, sponge cake, and veggies, among other special foods. Yum!
Now, let’s listen to the voices from Cele’s kitchen.