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This blog is about teaching, my life’s work; literature, especially that created for children; history, especially as it is taught to and learned by children; Africa, especially Sierra Leone where I was a Peace Corps Volunteer; and other sundry topics as they come to my attention.
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1. Congratulations to the Kirkus Prize Finalists

On October 23rd, the winners of the new Kirkus Prize will go home with $50,000. That is one big new prize indeed! Yesterday the finalists were announced and I am absolutely delighted with those in the young readers category. They are:

El Deafo by Cece Bell. I was waiting for the finished copy to post about this fantastic graphic memoir and so will soon. The more I think about it and read about the more I admire it, so much so that I’m now planning to use it with my 4th graders in a literature circle unit later this year. I have never done a whole class look at a graphic novel so it should be interesting.

The Right Word: Roget and his Thesaurus by Jen Bryan, illustrated by Melissa Sweet. I’ve raved here already about this one. It is my top choice for the Caldecott and I think it is a worthy contender for the Sibert as well.

The Key that Swallowed Joey Pigza by Jack Gantos. My professional review for this is forthcoming, but I will say that I am absolutely delighted that the Kirkus jury is celebrating this finale to an original and complex series. Joey and Jack rule!

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnson. I read this ages ago thanks to the recommendation of a goodreads friend and thought it an extremely clever novel indeed. This honor should, for good reason, definitely kick up the buzz that is already building around this highly original title.

The Freedom Summer Murders by Don Mitchell.  This is the only finalist I have not yet read, but the enthusiasm even before this honor has made me eager to rectify that as soon as possible.

Avian Wonders Inc.: Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth.  I took a quick look when I first received this and have been meaning to return to read it properly. I recall beautiful illustrations and n. Now must go back and figure it out.

 

 

 

 


0 Comments on Congratulations to the Kirkus Prize Finalists as of 10/1/2014 5:19:00 AM
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2. In the Classroom: Dealing with Difficult Language

As a longtime 4th grade teacher there are times when racist language appears in our classroom work. Each time I try to educate my students, but in a way that doesn’t seem hectoring, no easy task. For I think it is a fine line we teachers walk — while most of the kids may well take in all that we say, others may be quietly dismissive and go away with the opposite thought.  And I try to keep in mind that what might be horrifying to me because of the history and knowledge I bring to a word, may not be for my young students. I try to consider that even those words that shock me the most may not do the same to my students.  That said, there are certain words I cannot say and I avoid books and work that include them. But sometimes they appear unexpectedly and then there are others, somewhat arguably less charged that also occasionally appear. And I think carefully about those kids and how best to make them aware in a way that helps them throughout their lives.

I’ve been thinking about this because of the conversation over at Betsy Bird’s post about older books that include racist elements and even more so this post by Matt Tavares about his decision to take out a highly racist word in a new edition of his book, Henry Aaron’s Dream.  Because of my classroom experiences I think Matt’s decision is the right one,  discomforting though it is. Here’s my comment on his blog post:

I’m a longtime classroom teacher (31 years at my present school, most of them with 4th graders) and think this is the right decision even as uncomfortable as I am going that way. So kudos to you and Candlewick for making this hard choice.

For me, it isn’t only about the book not getting into its audience hands, but that kids in their own world do take language and own it for themselves and sometimes that can be in extremely hurtful ways. We may not like thinking this, but it can and does happen. The audience for this book is a young one and not yet at the developmental place where they are able to unpack the history around that word (as I would hope those teaching Huckleberry Finn to much older young people would do). And so putting it in may not have them understanding your book as well as you would want.

You might be interested, if you don’t already know it, of the book Desmond and the Very Mean Word — also, it so happens a Candlewick title. I’ve read that to my class and they focus on the result of the word and are fine not knowing what it was.

I really think that we need to be honest about the realities of young children — think hard about what they take in and don’t. Keep in mind where they are developmentally. Additionally, every child’s situation is different — some may know a lot and some may not know so much.

I’ve been faulted for sanitizing the harsher aspects of the Amistad story in my book, but I stand by my choices. Like Matt, I want the story to be known, especially for younger children. Here’s my thinking (in the source notes) about that:

There is no record of Margru’s firsthand description of her voyage from Africa to Cuba. Based on the many other accounts available I can only guess at its dreadfulness and feel it would be presumptuous of me to write about it in detail.  My father, a Holocaust survivor, was not able to talk about certain things and so I imagined that Margru could not either.  I also did not want to frighten the relatively young child audience I have in mind for this book and so tried to communicate the horror without the specifics.

If we want younger readers to know harsh stuff we need to think hard about them, to consider just where they are on their life journeys, what they know and don’t, and what they bring or don’t bring to their encounters with books. Matt, it was a hard decision, but I think you are absolutely right.


3 Comments on In the Classroom: Dealing with Difficult Language, last added: 9/27/2014
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3. In the Classroom: Dealing with Difficult Language

As a longtime 4th grade teacher there are times when racist language appears in our classroom work. Each time I try to educate my students, but in a way that doesn’t seem hectoring, no easy task. For I think it is a fine line we teachers walk — while most of the kids may well take in all that we say, others may be quietly dismissive and go away with the opposite thought.  And I try to keep in mind that what might be horrifying to me because of the history and knowledge I bring to a word, may not be for my young students. I try to consider that even those words that shock me the most may not do the same to my students.  That said, there are certain words I cannot say and I avoid books and work that include them. But sometimes they appear unexpectedly and then there are others, somewhat arguably less charged that also occasionally appear. And I think carefully about those kids and how best to make them aware in a way that helps them throughout their lives.

I’ve been thinking about this because of the conversation over at Betsy Bird’s post about older books that include racist elements and even more so this post by Matt Tavares about his decision to take out a highly racist word in a new edition of his book, Henry Aaron’s Dream.  Because of my classroom experiences I think Matt’s decision is the right one,  discomforting though it is. Here’s my comment on his blog post:

I’m a longtime classroom teacher (31 years at my present school, most of them with 4th graders) and think this is the right decision even as uncomfortable as I am going that way. So kudos to you and Candlewick for making this hard choice.

For me, it isn’t only about the book not getting into its audience hands, but that kids in their own world do take language and own it for themselves and sometimes that can be in extremely hurtful ways. We may not like thinking this, but it can and does happen. The audience for this book is a young one and not yet at the developmental place where they are able to unpack the history around that word (as I would hope those teaching Huckleberry Finn to much older young people would do). And so putting it in may not have them understanding your book as well as you would want.

You might be interested, if you don’t already know it, of the book Desmond and the Very Mean Word — also, it so happens a Candlewick title. I’ve read that to my class and they focus on the result of the word and are fine not knowing what it was.

I really think that we need to be honest about the realities of young children — think hard about what they take in and don’t. Keep in mind where they are developmentally. Additionally, every child’s situation is different — some may know a lot and some may not know so much.

I’ve been faulted for sanitizing the harsher aspects of the Amistad story in my book, but I stand by my choices. Like Matt, I want the story to be known, especially for younger children. Here’s my thinking (in the source notes) about that:

There is no record of Margru’s firsthand description of her voyage from Africa to Cuba. Based on the many other accounts available I can only guess at its dreadfulness and feel it would be presumptuous of me to write about it in detail.  My father, a Holocaust survivor, was not able to talk about certain things and so I imagined that Margru could not either.  I also did not want to frighten the relatively young child audience I have in mind for this book and so tried to communicate the horror without the specifics.

If we want younger readers to know harsh stuff we need to think hard about them, to consider just where they are on their life journeys, what they know and don’t, and what they bring or don’t bring to their encounters with books. Matt, it was a hard decision, but I think you are absolutely right.


0 Comments on In the Classroom: Dealing with Difficult Language as of 9/27/2014 8:21:00 AM
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4. Africa is My Home: Come to the Children’s Africana Book Awards this November in DC

The Children’s Africana Book Awards will be celebrated with a festival at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art on Saturday, November 8, 2014.  You can find out more about it as well as register (it is free) here.

The lovely people at Africa Access (who administer the award) created the following for those specifically interested in Sierra Leone and, thus, my book.  I’m pretty excited!

web logo
 
Did you know children were on the Amistad? 
Magulu
(Sarah Margru Kinson)

About 1830, a girl named Magulu was born in     what is now Sierra Leone.

 

At age 9 she was taken captive aboard the

Amistad with fifty-two other Africans.

Read about her in Africa is My Home, A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger.

Meet the author, Monica Edinger at the
Children’s Africana Book Awards Festival
             Washington, DC
       Saturday, November 8, 2014

Free and Open to the Public   Registration Requested

    Book Sale and Signing
 
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn96LqPS3R8bo4PiHjiqtWdNQ=
Other titles set in Sierra Leone
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn99W0vLqvQbSRadun7mHZqI8=
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn97dJGrBNUT3TVI20W-_gVQA=
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn937TQ5rZairdLpIKUu4am04=
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rW4rd0J64oiVqWD-6RPXuJ4lETU_HA_nWoCbT2iv4iisw==

 


0 Comments on Africa is My Home: Come to the Children’s Africana Book Awards this November in DC as of 9/25/2014 7:04:00 AM
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5. Africa is My Home: Come to the Children’s Africana Book Awards this November in DC

The Children’s Africana Book Awards will be celebrated with a festival at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art on Saturday, November 8, 2014.  You can find out more about it as well as register (it is free) here.

The lovely people at Africa Access (who administer the award) created the following for those specifically interested in Sierra Leone and, thus, my book.  I’m pretty excited!

web logo
 
Did you know children were on the Amistad? 
Magulu
(Sarah Margru Kinson)

About 1830, a girl named Magulu was born in     what is now Sierra Leone.

 

At age 9 she was taken captive aboard the

Amistad with fifty-two other Africans.

Read about her in Africa is My Home, A Child of the Amistad by Monica Edinger.

Meet the author, Monica Edinger at the
Children’s Africana Book Awards Festival
             Washington, DC
       Saturday, November 8, 2014

Free and Open to the Public   Registration Requested

    Book Sale and Signing
 
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn96LqPS3R8bo4PiHjiqtWdNQ=
Other titles set in Sierra Leone
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn99W0vLqvQbSRadun7mHZqI8=
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn97dJGrBNUT3TVI20W-_gVQA=
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rXdipIpEiN-Ug-Dg8rsZUXJMYOF4F4ZUoPbKrMOJ5-rWsWisctcaJ6eiazz1RIo1UkEa84gQVwn937TQ5rZairdLpIKUu4am04=
http://r20.rs6.net/tn.jsp?e=001WcFZEX6k88lx960iAKPIdCiCdykHoAquYpfwxKn4DnT-F2kS68IQdqS60jL9Ee3P2UkxgCnZ4rW4rd0J64oiVqWD-6RPXuJ4lETU_HA_nWoCbT2iv4iisw==

 


0 Comments on Africa is My Home: Come to the Children’s Africana Book Awards this November in DC as of 9/27/2014 8:21:00 AM
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6. Learning about Africa: Time lapse: Driving through Freetown’s Ebola Lockdown

As heart-wrenching as it is for me, I have been watching this obsessively as the places are so familiar to me.  Just imagine your city or town so deserted for such a reason.


0 Comments on Learning about Africa: Time lapse: Driving through Freetown’s Ebola Lockdown as of 9/23/2014 4:30:00 PM
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7. Learning about Africa: Time lapse: Driving through Freetown’s Ebola Lockdown

As heart-wrenching as it is for me, I have been watching this obsessively as the places are so familiar to me.  Just imagine your city or town so deserted for such a reason.


0 Comments on Learning about Africa: Time lapse: Driving through Freetown’s Ebola Lockdown as of 9/27/2014 8:21:00 AM
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8. Gregory Maguire on Writing and Inspiration (especially for Egg & Spoon)

If I can collect a little assemblage of items that put me in a mood of the book, then I find some place in my study where I can put them out. For “Egg and Spoon,” I had some wonderful things. I had a 1940’s era paper mache Baba Yaga’s cottage. It’s only standing on one chicken’s foot; it got broken somewhere along the way. I have a number of matryoshkas I’ve collected over the years. I have a number of painted eggs I’ve painted myself starting 40 years ago; I used to paint one every Easter. Some of them have Russian themes. I have little British foot soldiers. I’ll arrange them on a little altar to the muse. I don’t play with them — I don’t march them around the room and sing little songs — but the fact that they’re there is a clue to myself that the studio is open.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/09/20/new-england-writers-work-gregory-maguire/rqPRM7pgCIvI9ZeE8hRnMP/story.html?event=event25

 

via Karen Kosko


0 Comments on Gregory Maguire on Writing and Inspiration (especially for Egg & Spoon) as of 9/23/2014 5:30:00 AM
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9. Gregory Maguire on Writing and Inspiration (especially for Egg & Spoon)

If I can collect a little assemblage of items that put me in a mood of the book, then I find some place in my study where I can put them out. For “Egg and Spoon,” I had some wonderful things. I had a 1940’s era paper mache Baba Yaga’s cottage. It’s only standing on one chicken’s foot; it got broken somewhere along the way. I have a number of matryoshkas I’ve collected over the years. I have a number of painted eggs I’ve painted myself starting 40 years ago; I used to paint one every Easter. Some of them have Russian themes. I have little British foot soldiers. I’ll arrange them on a little altar to the muse. I don’t play with them — I don’t march them around the room and sing little songs — but the fact that they’re there is a clue to myself that the studio is open.

http://www.bostonglobe.com/arts/books/2014/09/20/new-england-writers-work-gregory-maguire/rqPRM7pgCIvI9ZeE8hRnMP/story.html?event=event25

 

via Karen Kosko


0 Comments on Gregory Maguire on Writing and Inspiration (especially for Egg & Spoon) as of 1/1/1900
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10. Learning About Africa: Ishmael Beal Tells it True “Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. “

Ishmael Beah, in “The West ignores the stories of Africans in the middle of the Ebola outbreak” writes bluntly about much I’ve been thinking, but afraid to say.  He begins:

It wasn’t surprising that Western journalists would react with doom-and-gloom when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. Or that the crisis would not be treated as a problem confronting all humanity — a force majeure — but as one of “those diseases” that afflict “those people” over there in Africa. Most Western media immediately fell into fear-mongering. Rarely did they tell the stories of Africans who survived Ebola, or meaningfully explore what it means to see your child or parent or other family member or friend be stricken with the disease. Where are the stories of the wrenching decisions of families forced to abandon loved ones or the bravery required to simply live as a human in conditions where everyone walks on the edge of suspicion?

And then he writes some hard truths.

Given our interconnected world, it’s no longer possible to excuse such treatment as a lack of access to the facts. So what is the explanation? To borrow the words of Ni­ger­ian novelist Chinua Achebe, “Quite simply it is the desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.”

This thinking is so deeply entrenched in the minds of people in the West that it has become a reflex. Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. [b0ld is mine] Each new crisis, it seems, offers a platform for some to exercise their prejudices.

And

The hysteria is also fueling racism beyond the continent. In Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “We apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.” Here in the United States, each time I have been to a doctor’s office since the outbreak, I have noticed an anxious look on the faces of the assistants that dissipates only when I say that I haven’t been to my country recently.

And

For Western media, this is just another one of those stories about the “killer virus” and the “poor Africans” who must once again be saved and spoken for by Westerners. And, always, there is the most important question: Will the virus come to the United States or Europe?

And concludes:

If you are reading this and believe you do not think about us the ways I have described, ask yourself the following questions: When was the last time you saw, and took the time to read, a positive front-page article about an African country? Have you ever met someone from Africa and decided to tell her what you know about her country and her continent, even if you have never been there? Have you ever noticed yourself speaking slowly and using exaggerated gestures while talking to someone from Africa, assuming that he doesn’t understand English well?

 


0 Comments on Learning About Africa: Ishmael Beal Tells it True “Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. “ as of 9/22/2014 7:22:00 AM
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11. Learning About Africa: Ishmael Beal Tells it True “Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. “

Ishmael Beah, in “The West ignores the stories of Africans in the middle of the Ebola outbreak” writes bluntly about much I’ve been thinking, but afraid to say.  He begins:

It wasn’t surprising that Western journalists would react with doom-and-gloom when the Ebola outbreak began in West Africa. Or that the crisis would not be treated as a problem confronting all humanity — a force majeure — but as one of “those diseases” that afflict “those people” over there in Africa. Most Western media immediately fell into fear-mongering. Rarely did they tell the stories of Africans who survived Ebola, or meaningfully explore what it means to see your child or parent or other family member or friend be stricken with the disease. Where are the stories of the wrenching decisions of families forced to abandon loved ones or the bravery required to simply live as a human in conditions where everyone walks on the edge of suspicion?

And then he writes some hard truths.

Given our interconnected world, it’s no longer possible to excuse such treatment as a lack of access to the facts. So what is the explanation? To borrow the words of Ni­ger­ian novelist Chinua Achebe, “Quite simply it is the desire — one might indeed say the need — in Western psychology to set Africa up as a foil to Europe, as a place of negations at once remote and vaguely familiar, in comparison with which Europe’s own state of spiritual grace will be manifest.”

This thinking is so deeply entrenched in the minds of people in the West that it has become a reflex. Still, the ways in which Africans are portrayed as less human have not lost the power to shock. [b0ld is mine] Each new crisis, it seems, offers a platform for some to exercise their prejudices.

And

The hysteria is also fueling racism beyond the continent. In Germany, an African woman who recently traveled to Kenya — far from the affected countries — fell ill with a stomach virus at work; the entire building was locked down. In Brussels, an African man had a simple nosebleed at a shopping mall, and the store where it happened was sterilized. In Seoul, a bar put up a sign saying, “We apologize but due to the Ebola Virus we are not accepting Africans at the moment.” Here in the United States, each time I have been to a doctor’s office since the outbreak, I have noticed an anxious look on the faces of the assistants that dissipates only when I say that I haven’t been to my country recently.

And

For Western media, this is just another one of those stories about the “killer virus” and the “poor Africans” who must once again be saved and spoken for by Westerners. And, always, there is the most important question: Will the virus come to the United States or Europe?

And concludes:

If you are reading this and believe you do not think about us the ways I have described, ask yourself the following questions: When was the last time you saw, and took the time to read, a positive front-page article about an African country? Have you ever met someone from Africa and decided to tell her what you know about her country and her continent, even if you have never been there? Have you ever noticed yourself speaking slowly and using exaggerated gestures while talking to someone from Africa, assuming that he doesn’t understand English well?

 


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12. Some of My Right Words Celebrating Bryan and Sweet’s The Right Word

This is so cool. Thank you, Erdmans!

tumblr_nbsx6vyv7K1soarwno1_500

We thought we should mix Monica Edinger‘s great quote with an image

proving her point that:

“All in all, The Right Word is a

spectacular

brilliant

marvelous

superb

magnificent

dazzling

work of art.”

(Thanks for the love, Monica!)


1 Comments on Some of My Right Words Celebrating Bryan and Sweet’s The Right Word, last added: 9/18/2014
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13. Some of My Right Words Celebrating Bryan and Sweet’s The Right Word

This is so cool. Thank you, Erdmans!

tumblr_nbsx6vyv7K1soarwno1_500

We thought we should mix Monica Edinger‘s great quote with an image

proving her point that:

“All in all, The Right Word is a

spectacular

brilliant

marvelous

superb

magnificent

dazzling

work of art.”

(Thanks for the love, Monica!)


0 Comments on Some of My Right Words Celebrating Bryan and Sweet’s The Right Word as of 1/1/1900
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14. Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not?

Heavy Medal has started up again and some fascinating conversations are well underway.  One aspect of the conversation that has struck me is the idea of flawness (my made-up word). That is, are all books perfect? And if not, how do we grapple with perceived flaws? Can we reach consensus on the degree of their significance?

This came to mind when in her Heavy Medal post on Deborah Wiles’ Revolution, Nina noted that “There is a fatal flaw that I find in REVOLUTION, and that is that Raymond is not as fully realized a character as Sunny, not by a very long shot.” She goes on to thoughtfully articulate why she thinks this and others of us have been discussing this concern in the comments. Now I adore Revolution (you can read my review here) , but had noticed that Wiles has been able to write Sunny through her own personal experience while she couldn’t with Raymond resulting in a more cautious presentation. If I were on the Newbery committee this is something I’d want to explore long and hard. I’d pester a huge range of people, those with different racial and regional backgrounds and historical experiences, to read the book and tell me what they think. I’d have to stand back from my first love of the book to honestly attempt to figure out if this is a flaw and if it isn’t, why not. And if it is, is it fatal? How would I argue that it was or was not when in my deliberations with the Committee?

Then there is Jonathan’s post on A Snicket of Magic which has generated a fabulous conversation about vernacular, about so-called folky literature. By attempting to categorize a collection of titles as being this, Jonathan provoked a wonderful series of comments. For some, I know, a certain sort of voice and heroine are tough going. So when you are on the committee, how do you keep a personal distaste from turning into a fatal flaw?

Thinking about this fatal flaw business made me go to my goodreads Newbery list and add a few more personal favorites, some of which also have flaws…er…blemishes…er..imperfections… (Roget, I need you!)… I’m wondering about. As a result, I’ve now got ten books there, three more than I’d be able to nominate if I were on the committee.  I’ve added Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover as I thought it fabulous –except for the ending.  And I’ve added Cece Bell’s El Deafo even though I have no clue how to make a case for it as it is a graphic novel.  Similarly I’ve added Patricia Hruby Powell’s picture biography, Josephine, although I haven’t figured out how interlaced the text is with the art.  This review of Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher got me to add it on as well as I’d love it and just needed Rachel’s push to get me to acknowledge that it belonged on my long list. Does it have a fatal flaw? Not so noticeably that I can figure out.  Finally, I added Jack Gantos’ series finale, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza. While I don’t think it is flawed, I’m sure there will be some absolutely horrified by Joey’s circumstances as they were with the previous books.

Fatal. Flaws. Fascinating.

 


7 Comments on Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not?, last added: 9/16/2014
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15. Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not?

Heavy Medal has started up again and some fascinating conversations are well underway.  One aspect of the conversation that has struck me is the idea of flawness (my made-up word). That is, are all books perfect? And if not, how do we grapple with perceived flaws? Can we reach consensus on the degree of their significance?

This came to mind when in her Heavy Medal post on Deborah Wiles’ Revolution, Nina noted that “There is a fatal flaw that I find in REVOLUTION, and that is that Raymond is not as fully realized a character as Sunny, not by a very long shot.” She goes on to thoughtfully articulate why she thinks this and others of us have been discussing this concern in the comments. Now I adore Revolution (you can read my review here) , but had noticed that Wiles had been able to write Sunny through her own personal experience while she couldn’t with Raymond resulting in a more cautious presentation. If I were on the Newbery Committee this is something I’d want to explore long and hard. I’d pester a huge range of people, those with different racial and regional backgrounds and historical experiences, to read the book and tell me what they think. I’d have to stand back from my first love of the book to honestly attempt to figure out if this is a flaw and if it isn’t, why not. And if it is, is it fatal? How would I argue that it was or was not when in my deliberations with the Committee?

Then there is Jonathan’s post on A Snicket of Magic which has generated a fabulous conversation about vernacular, about so-called folksy literature. By attempting to categorize a collection of titles as being this, Jonathan provoked a wonderful series of comments. For some, I know, this sort of voice is tough going. So when you are on the Committee, how do you distinguish a personal distaste from a flaw, much less a fatal one?

Thinking about this fatal flaw business caused me to head to my goodreads Newbery list and add a few more personal favorites, some of which also have flaws…er…blemishes…er..imperfections… (Roget, I need you!)… I’m wondering about. As a result, I’ve now got ten books there, three more than I’d be able to nominate if I were on the Committee.  I’ve added Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover as I thought it fabulous –except for the ending.  And I’ve added Cece Bell’s El Deafo even though I have no clue how to make a case for it as it is a graphic novel.  Similarly, despite not having figured out how interlaced the text is with the art, I’ve added Patricia Hruby Powell’s picture biography, Josephine.  This review of Rachel’s of Dana Alison Levy’s The Misadventures of the Family Fletcher reminded me of how I loved it (reviewed it for Horn Book) and so it is now on the list. Does it have a fatal flaw? Not so noticeably that I can figure out.  Finally, I added Jack Gantos’ series finale, The Key That Swallowed Joey Pigza. While I don’t think it is flawed, I’m sure there will be some absolutely horrified by Joey’s circumstances as they were with the previous books.

Fatal. Flaws. Fascinating.

 


0 Comments on Thoughts on Newbery: Flaws, Fatal or Not? as of 1/1/1900
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16. Books for Incarcerated Teens

Many years ago I first heard Walter Dean Myers speak of his involvement with incarcerated teens. Later, when I found myself with an abundance of YA ARCs, I was pleased to hear that they were much needed for incarcerated teens and looked for a way to get them to them. After some struggles figuring this out (living in NYC I’m carless so getting lots of books places isn’t so easy) I discovered that Karlan Sick, who lives around the corner from me, is now chair of the board for Literacy for Incarcerated Teens. Karlan told me to bring the books to her and she’d get them to the teens.  And so for the last few years, I periodically load up my shopping cart with finished galleys and take them to her building.  For a time I was told they could only take galleys and paperbacks, but more recently I’ve been able to donate hardcovers as well.  It is fabulous program that I associate with Walter as he was so passionate about incarcerated teens and so I was delighted to see the SLJ feature, “Literacy for Incarcerated Teens” and urge you to read it to learn more about this wonderful program.


3 Comments on Books for Incarcerated Teens, last added: 9/10/2014
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17. Books for Incarcerated Teens

Many years ago I first heard Walter Dean Myers speak of his involvement with incarcerated teens. Later, when I found myself with an abundance of YA ARCs, I was pleased to hear that they were much needed for incarcerated teens and looked for a way to get them to them. After some struggles figuring this out (living in NYC I’m carless so getting lots of books places isn’t so easy) I discovered that Karlan Sick, who lives around the corner from me, is now chair of the board for Literacy for Incarcerated Teens. Karlan told me to bring the books to her and she’d get them to the teens.  And so for the last few years, I periodically load up my shopping cart with finished galleys and take them to her building.  For a time I was told they could only take galleys and paperbacks, but more recently I’ve been able to donate hardcovers as well.  It is fabulous program that I associate with Walter as he was so passionate about incarcerated teens and so I was delighted to see the SLJ feature, “Literacy for Incarcerated Teens” and urge you to read it to learn more about this wonderful program.


0 Comments on Books for Incarcerated Teens as of 1/1/1900
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18. Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

I love words and I love art that plays with words. ABC books, abecedarian novels, lipograms, everything and anything that plays with the art of words is art right up my alley. And so having adored Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s glorious Caldecott Honor A River of Words, I was agog with anticipation waiting for their latest, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.  And now that I’ve seen it, let me tell you — it was worth the wait.  Bryant again captures the essence of a complicated individual in spare and beautifully crafted text. Having now written a book about a real person myself, I’m all the more in awe of anyone who takes on a full biography for children, managing to economically pull out just what is needed about that person’s life for young readers to best appreciate his accomplishments. Roget was clearly one brilliant man who loved all sorts of things, words among them. Bryan elegantly communicates Roget’s lifelong passion for word lists as well as much more. She communicates beautifully just why such lists are so worthwhile by having Roget answer his mother’s questions with a single word and then mull over what better ones there might be. She suggests the darker parts of his life, but mostly she communicates a person who was a passionate learner, passionate creator of word lists, and someone who figured out how to put those passions together to create a unique and wonderful book, the thesaurus.

Words, words, letters and numbers and then more words float through this book. In the text, through the perfect design and, most wonderfully, through Melissa Sweet’s art. These marks of language are everywhere in this book, those of Roget’s lists dance across one page, march down another, and flit throughout in magical ways.  On every page, Sweet’s assemblages of paintings and collage are an exuberant delight; the realistic paintings celebrating different parts of Roget’s life are often layered one above another; here’s one with an elegant file folder border; there’s another with paper scraps of lists peeking out behind it. On every page words drift through, around and in the paintings via speech bubbles, book covers, cards, signs, maps, labels, diagrams, and more. Color and texture are used to brilliant effect, at times repeating within and without an illustration. Most of all it is Sweet’s playful use of language through her lovely realistic watercolors of Roget and his experiences, her glorious assemblages of meaning, that bring Bryan’s words, Roget’s life, and this book to an ethereal place of pleasure.

All in all, The Right Word is a

spectacular

brilliant

marvelous

superb

magnificent

dazzling

work of art.

 

 

 

 

 


1 Comments on Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus, last added: 9/7/2014
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19. Toon Graphics for Middle Grade Readers

I was really excited to learn of Toon Books‘ new offerings for middle grade readers, Toon Graphics and then to meet recently with founder, Françoise Mouly. Her enthusiasm for the power of comics for school-aged readers is contagious. What I have always liked about Toon Books is their distinctively European sensibility, understandable as there is a proud and venerable comic tradition on that continent. This same feeling comes through in the first offerings of their middle grade imprint:

To learn more about Toon Graphics and how school kids are responding to the offerings go read the New York Times profile, “Comic Books Even Teachers Can Love” (and just ignore that headline and the old-fashioned notion that we teachers think comics and graphic novels are very bad things).


0 Comments on Toon Graphics for Middle Grade Readers as of 8/31/2014 7:19:00 AM
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20. In the Classroom: Thoughts on Ice (Buckets)

I have been very appreciative of the occasional attention given to introversion in the classroom for students and teachers of late. It helps me to clarify what I know already — I’m very introverted. I need quiet, recovery time, and all those other things that are so often typical of introversion. And as I consider how I can be a good teacher given this and how I can also support my students, introverted or not, I have been considering something else. This is the pleasure so many get when a teacher performs. Those that happily dance on the stage during an assembly, who willingly wear a costume all day for a cause, who speak publicly with such verve, who do the Ice Bucket challenge and other things of that sort. So often I see a video of such a teacher along with comment after comment about what an amazing teacher he or she is and I think, “There is just no way I can do this.” The very idea gets me all scrunched up.

It isn’t that I’m uncomfortable with all forms of public presentations. I enjoy enormously writing about what happens in my classroom, about curriculum, about my thinking about teaching and learning. I enjoy public speaking about teaching and learning or Lewis Carroll or Sierra Leone or Africa is My Home or something else. What I don’t like at all, what makes me horribly uncomfortable, is having it be all about ME. That the looking is at ME and not about my work or something else. And I wonder — what is this? Is it introversion or something else? Social anxiety? (While I am very lively in social gatherings with people I know, I’m extremely shy in those where I don’t know anyone.) Comfortable as I am knowing this about myself,  I still feel horribly guilty when saying no to a request to do one of these public acts. I feel that I must appear really selfish for being so unwilling. Or that I’ve disappointed my students who watch other teachers happily dance and be silly.

So this isn’t about throwing ice on these sorts of public activities. Bravo to those who can do them. But what about those of us who appear perfectly able to do them and say no for the reasons that are not necessarily visible?  Teachers and students alike. How do those of us who have this aspect to our personalities navigate a world that so adores Ice Bucket challenges and similar sorts of things?


7 Comments on In the Classroom: Thoughts on Ice (Buckets), last added: 9/2/2014
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21. In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka?

On the first day of school, my son and I made a deal. In three days, one of his favorite authors — Jon Scieszka, editor of the “Guys Read” short story collections — was coming to Nashville for a reading and signing downtown. If my son showed me that he could keep track of his early school assignments and bring home everything he needed for each of those first few nights of homework, he could go.

From Mary Laura Philpott’s Homework and Consequences.

I’m sorry, but as a teacher this is NOT a consequence I’d recommend for missed homework.  Makes me sick to my stomach that this poor kid — spoiler — didn’t get to see his favorite author.

 


4 Comments on In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka?, last added: 9/3/2014
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22. In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka?

On the first day of school, my son and I made a deal. In three days, one of his favorite authors — Jon Scieszka, editor of the “Guys Read” short story collections — was coming to Nashville for a reading and signing downtown. If my son showed me that he could keep track of his early school assignments and bring home everything he needed for each of those first few nights of homework, he could go.

From Mary Laura Philpott’s Homework and Consequences.

I’m sorry, but as a teacher this is NOT a consequence I’d recommend for missed homework.  Makes me sick to my stomach that this poor kid — spoiler — didn’t get to see his favorite author.

 


0 Comments on In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka? as of 9/4/2014 2:24:00 AM
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23. In the Classroom: Thoughts on Ice (Buckets)

I have been very appreciative of the occasional attention given to introversion in the classroom for students and teachers of late. It helps me to clarify what I know already — I’m very introverted. I need quiet, recovery time, and all those other things that are so often typical of introversion. And as I consider how I can be a good teacher given this and how I can also support my students, introverted or not, I have been considering something else. This is the pleasure so many get when a teacher performs. Those that happily dance on the stage during an assembly, who willingly wear a costume all day for a cause, who do the Ice Bucket challenge and other things of that sort. So often I see a video of such a teacher along with comment after comment about what an amazing teacher he or she is and I think, “There is just no way I can do this.” The very idea gets me all scrunched up.

It isn’t that I’m uncomfortable with all forms of public presentations. I enjoy public speaking about teaching and learning or Lewis Carroll or Alice or Sierra Leone or Africa is My Home or something else. What I don’t like at all, what makes me terribly uncomfortable, is having it focused on me. That the looking is at me and not about my work or something else. And I wonder — what is this? Is it introversion or something else? Social anxiety? (While I am very lively in social gatherings with people I know, I’m extremely shy in those where I don’t know anyone.) Comfortable as I am knowing this about myself,  I still feel horribly guilty when saying no to a request to do one of these public acts. I feel that I must appear really selfish for being so unwilling. Or that I’ve disappointed my students who watch other teachers happily dance and be silly.

So this isn’t about throwing ice on these sorts of public activities. Bravo to those who can do them. But what about those of us who appear perfectly able to do them and say no for the reasons that are not necessarily visible?  Teachers and students alike. How do those of us who have this aspect to our personalities navigate a world that so adores Ice Bucket challenges and similar sorts of things?


0 Comments on In the Classroom: Thoughts on Ice (Buckets) as of 9/4/2014 2:24:00 AM
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24. Toon Graphics for Middle Grade Readers

I was really excited to learn of Toon Books‘ new offerings for middle grade readers, Toon Graphics and then to meet recently with founder, Françoise Mouly. Her enthusiasm for the power of comics for school-aged readers is contagious. What I have always liked about Toon Books is their distinctively European sensibility, understandable as there is a proud and venerable comic tradition on that continent. This same feeling comes through in the first offerings of their middle grade imprint:

To learn more about Toon Graphics and how school kids are responding to the offerings go read the New York Times profile, “Comic Books Even Teachers Can Love” (and just ignore that headline and the old-fashioned notion that we teachers think comics and graphic novels are very bad things).


0 Comments on Toon Graphics for Middle Grade Readers as of 9/4/2014 2:24:00 AM
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25. Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

I love words and I love art that plays with words. ABC books, abecedarian novels, lipograms, everything and anything that plays with the art of words is art right up my alley. And so having adored Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s glorious Caldecott Honor A River of Words, I was agog with anticipation waiting for their latest, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.  And now that I’ve seen it, let me tell you — it was worth the wait.  Bryant again captures the essence of a complicated individual in spare and beautifully crafted text. Having now written a book about a real person myself, I’m all the more in awe of anyone who takes on a full biography for children, managing to economically pull out just what is needed about that person’s life for young readers to best appreciate his accomplishments. Roget was clearly one brilliant man who loved all sorts of things, words among them. Bryan elegantly presents Roget’s lifelong passion for word lists as well as much more. She communicates beautifully just why such lists are so worthwhile by having Roget answer his mother’s questions with a single word and then mull over what better ones there might be. She suggests the darker parts of his life, but mostly she shows readers a person who was a passionate learner, passionate creator of word lists, and someone who figured out how to put those passions together to create a unique and wonderful book, the thesaurus.

Words, words, letters and numbers and then more words float through this book. In the text, through the perfect design and, most wonderfully, through Melissa Sweet’s art. These marks of language are everywhere in this book, those of Roget’s lists dance across one page, march down another, and flit throughout in magical ways.  On every page, Sweet’s assemblages of paintings and collage are an exuberant delight; the realistic paintings celebrating different parts of Roget’s life are often layered one above another; here’s one with an elegant file folder border; there’s another with paper scraps of lists peeking out behind it. Page after page words drift through, around and in the paintings via speech bubbles, book covers, cards, signs, maps, labels, diagrams, and more. Color and texture are used to brilliant effect, at times repeating within and without an illustration. Most of all it is Sweet’s playful use of language through her lovely realistic watercolors of Roget and his experiences, her glorious assemblages of meaning, that bring Bryan’s words, Roget’s life, and this book to an ethereal place of pleasure.

All in all, The Right Word is a

spectacular

brilliant

marvelous

superb

magnificent

dazzling

work of art.

 

 

 

 

 


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