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1. Is the history of science still relevant?

It was a simple request: “Try and put the fun back into microbiology”. I was about to write a new practical course for first year students, and apparently there had been complaints that microbiology is just another form of cookbook chemistry. Discussions showed that they liked the idea of doing their own experiments without a pre-determined outcome. Of course, with living microorganisms, safety must be a major concern, and some control was needed to prevent hazardous surprises, but “fun” and safety are not mutually exclusive.

The post Is the history of science still relevant? appeared first on OUPblog.

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2. Classroom Connections: FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt

fish-in-a-tree-final-cover

age range: 10 and up
genre: contemporary middle grade
educator’s guide
author’s website

Filled with a delightful range of quirky characters and told with heart, the story also explores themes of family, friendship, and courage in its many forms. . . . It has something to offer for a wide-ranging audience. . . . Offering hope to those who struggle academically and demonstrating that a disability does not equal stupidity, this is as unique as its heroine.
— Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Mullaly Hunt again paints a nuanced portrayal of a sensitive, smart girl struggling with circumstances beyond her control. . . . Ally’s raw pain and depression are vividly rendered, while the diverse supporting cast feels fully developed. . . . Mr. Daniels is an inspirational educator whose warmth radiates off the page. Best of all, Mullaly Hunt eschews the unrealistic feel-good ending for one with hard work and small changes. Ally’s journey is heartwarming but refreshingly devoid of schmaltz.
— School Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

Please tell us about your book.

Fish in a Tree is about sixth-grader, Ally Nickerson, who misbehaves in school to hide the fact that she struggles with reading and writing. Since her dad is in the military, she has moved from school to school; this has helped her keep her secret. Having moved so often, she has not had to opportunity to forge strong friendships as well – until she meets Kesiha and Albert. 

It is also very much a school story with eight different student personalities interacting with (sometimes crashing into) each other and their teacher Mr. Daniels.

What inspired you to write this story?

Well, my own life inspired the story. Although I’ve never been tested for dyslexia, I have been suspicious that I have at least a touch of it. I was in the lowest reading group in grades one through six. Mr. Daniels is based on my sixth grade teacher Mr. Christy. I realized about halfway through writing it that Fish in a Tree is a love letter to him and all teachers like him.

I have no doubt that Mr. Christy saved me. I came into sixth grade wondering what would be come of me and left sixth grade with a laser focus on becoming a teacher and helping kids like he helped me. He set a high expectations. Even as a child I knew this was a high compliment and I tried very hard to reach every bar he set for me. He completely changed my perception of myself in on year – a powerful transformation. The man was amazing.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

This book required a lot of research, actually. I had the opportunity to speak with some people who have dyslexia and were not helped until they were older. Unfortunately, even with all the screening in the early grades, kids still slip through the cracks until sixth grade or higher. Being a teacher I know that it is a very difficult job. When a child is very bright, they can often compensate very well and mask their difficulties. Ally Nickerson is such a child. 

I also had to do a lot of research for Albert. He is a walking encyclopedia but that took hours of finding facts that were not only pertinent but interesting as well.

What are some special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle grade fiction?

I think one of the special challenges associated with writing contemporary middle grade are authenticity. At least for me. It takes courage to be honest but middle grade readers respond very well to it – in fact readers of all ages do.

 So, as the writer we have to crawl into our own basement sometimes in order to get it on the page. Both of the books that I have written make me feel very vulnerable in this regard. They’re honest. And they are me. The vulnerability was difficult at first but now I see it as a gift and I’m grateful to be able to share those aspects of myself with readers.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

The topics my book touches upon that make it a perfect fit for the classroom are family life, love of siblings, being different is a gift, bullying in the sense that we can’t control the bully’s behavior but we can control how we respond to it, a family struggling financially, and how learning disabilities are not necessarily disabilities – just a different way of learning.

The post Classroom Connections: FISH IN A TREE by Lynda Mullaly Hunt appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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3. Art is about to happen.

Here are some children. Here is a basket of colourful pencils.
Art is about to happen.

The children know exactly what to do with this big basket of colourful pencils: dig with both hands. Dig right to the bottom.
The rattle of pencils is the ritual that has to come before the concentrated frowning and the murmured incantations: This is a lion. This is a lion. This is a lion. This is a tree. This is a tree. This is a tree.

Have you ever used one of those pencils?
Did you think: it's a wonder what a child's imagination can do, I can't draw a THING with this?
No one can. We all tried. Some of us thought it was our fault and stopped trying.

Those are fake pencils.

The reason these children are digging through them with so much energy is because they are looking for one that works. They know to go for the shortest nubbins at the bottom of the box. Ignore the long ones, no one else got anything out of them.

They are foraging, with great determination.
Imagine what that determination could do.

When a child makes art, it's not a case of playing pretend. It's not like playing brain surgery with a spoon and a pudding. It's not like feeding a plastic doll. They are not playing artist. THEY ARE ACTUALLY MAKING ART.

They use what they are given. They scratch faint lines, they rub puddles of chalky water across dissolving printer paper with splayed brushes. They powder fat snakes of glue with scales of confetti and glitter.

What would happen if someone gave you a bowl of confetti and some glue and told you to make art?
You might refuse. (I would.)
Children are generally good-natured enough to at least give it a try. But even the most loving guardian and the children themselves may look at the result and find it hard to see if, in fact, somehow, art has happened.
You stick it on the fridge, and you can tell what it is and everything... but is it art?
Well, it’s creative.
“Creative” often means “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t make that”.
Would you ever wish you’d made something that a child made?
Yeah... this is definitely very creative.
Maybe one day, if those children keep being creative and try very hard, some of them might even become artists...

But - who cares if they may be artists one day? What's the point in telling them they may be artists one day if they work hard? What's that got to do with anything? Is this whole confetti business some sort of test? Are we trying to trick them into law school or something?
It simply doesn't matter what they will be one day.
Art is not just for artists. It's for humans. It's not a privilege. It’s a way to think with your hands (or your feet or your voice or your whole body, depending on the art, but we started with children and a basket of colour pencils, so pictures are trying to happen right now).
Art lets you have a good look at your thoughts, and show them to the world if you want.

You don't need a license to make marks. You just need something that makes marks.

The joy of making pictures is more than an act of imagination. It's physical. Your gestures made visible and permanent, the marks you make, belong to you alone, like your own body. They come before communication, before expression: they are the basis of all those things.

Give them things that leave marks. Try them out yourself. Are they enjoyable to use? Can you get a range of different marks out of them? Are they the marks you expected? Do they surprise you?

In short, do you feel like you are making something - or do you just feel like you are using something up?
Keep trying out materials. You'll know them when you find them.

You don't need to buy whole sets of expensive tubes of paint - or sets of anything, or anything expensive. You don’t need many different colours. Every good piece of art material unlocks endless possibilities. By good I mean anything that readily creates or receives a mark, which may include beetroot juice or a particularly well-charred stick, and the lovely white rounded cards that are used to package tights. Do professional artists paint with their breakfast tea sometimes? Of course they do, if it's nice and strong!

Some good art materials command respect: you must wear clothes that you don't mind staining, and you must handle them carefully. A bottle of red ink could spoil a whole carpet.
You may be surprised how much respect children can show for a powerful substance like that. Being careful for a good reason is fun, and using something that requires your supervision is exciting and memorable.
Those children like to see you deal with important substances, you know.

Art materials often need some care. Brushes need to be washed and stored carefully. Maybe the children have pets, or toys that they care about. Can they look after those? Then they can look after their tools, if you teach them.


You can give them a load of fake colourful toys that don't make a mess because they don't actually leave any traces at all - or you can let them make art.
A real brush costs no more than a pack of toy ones. A box of decent watercolours costs more than a pound shop set – get one with fewer colours. Find some bright colours that mix well, and you’ll suddenly have a whole range. Or pick just one single colour, but one that leaves a mark. Get to know that colour. Ask that colour what it can do, and you will be surprised.

By all means and of course: check if the paints are toxic. If they eat paint, they aren’t ready for paint that must not be eaten. But don’t underestimate them as they learn. If they can learn to deal with boiling water, and learn to deal with cleaning products, they can learn to deal with art materials. You'll be there to help them with the messier ones, and find ones that are safe enough as long as the area is covered against smears and splashes.
You may well find that as soon as they are actually making marks that are meaningful to them, the children won't be anywhere near as messy as you fear because they won't have to make up in dramatic performance and make-believe for what the material denies them in actual experience.
They will WANT to make something beautiful rather than just have a play-time with colourful sticks that are better for throwing than drawing with.

Maybe you don’t have a budget for art materials. Don't forget about all the good stuff you can just use for free. If you have a pair of scissors and some paper glue, anything colourful in your paper recycling may be a collage picture waiting to happen. A felt-tip pen and some scrap paper is better than that whole basket of useless crayons.

One last thing: Don't just hand everything over to the children. Why should they have all the fun and education? Make some art together. And I mean: each make their own piece. If the materials work, you probably won't need to help them to make it look good any more. Of course you can also collaborate on things, that's part of the fun. But above all, respect each other's art: you make your thing, they make theirs. You will find that you can teach one another a lot.

It’s amazing what a child’s imagination can do - but don’t let them imagine that they can’t make art.
Make those fake pencils into a tiny fence for a herd of amazing beasts painted with tea stains and thumb prints, pink highlighters and ink.

Art is about to happen.
Don't miss out.

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4. Canonicity and an American Literature Survey Course


This term, I taught an American literature survey for the first time since I was a high school teacher, and since the demands of a college curriculum and schedule are quite different from those of a high school curriculum and schedule, it was a very new course for me. Indeed, I've never even taken such a course, as I was successful at avoiding all general surveys when I was an undergrad.

As someone who dislikes the nationalism endemic to the academic discipline of literature, I had a difficult time figuring out exactly what sort of approach to take to this course — American Literature 1865-present — when it was assigned to me. I wanted the course to be useful for students as they work their way toward other courses, but I didn't want to promote and strengthen the assumptions that separate literatures by national borders and promote it through nationalistic ideologies.

I decided that the best approach I could take would be to highlight the forces of canonicity and nationalism, to put the question of "American literature" at the forefront of the course. This would help with another problem endemic to surveys: that there is far more material available than can be covered in 15 weeks. The question of what we should read would become the substance of the course.

http://cdn.wwnorton.com/cms/books/9780393934793_300.jpghttp://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3a/Princess_of_Mars_large.jpg

The first choice I made was to assign the appropriate volumes of the Norton Anthology of American Literature, not because it has the best selection, but because it is the most powerfully canonizing anthology for the discipline. Though the American canon of literature is not a list, the table of contents of the Norton Anthology is about as close as we can get to having that canon as a definable, concrete object.

Then I wanted to add a work that was highly influential and well known but also not part of the general, academic canon of American literature — something for contrast. For that, I picked A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs in the Library of America edition, which has an excellent, thorough introduction by Junot Díaz. I also wanted the students to see how critical writings can bolster canonicity, and so I added The Red Badge of Courage in the Norton Critical Edition. Next, I wanted something that would puzzle the students more, something not yet canonized but perhaps with the possibility of one day being so, and for that I chose Wild Seed by Octavia Butler (who is rapidly becoming an academic mainstay, particularly with her novel Kindred). Finally, I thought the Norton anthology's selection of plays was terrible, so I added Suzan-Lori Parks's Red Letter Plays, which are both in direct dialogue with the American literary canon and throwing a grenade at it.

The result was this syllabus. As with any first time teaching a course, I threw a lot against the wall to see what might stick. Overall, it worked pretty well, though if I teach the course again, I will change quite a bit.

The students seemed to like the idea of canonicity and exploring it, perhaps because half of them are English Teaching majors who may one day be arbiters of the canon in their own classrooms. Thinking about why we read what we read, and how we form opinions about the respectability of certain texts over others, was something they seemed to enjoy, and something most hadn't had a lot of opportunity to do in a classroom setting before.

Starting the course with three articles we could return to throughout the term was one of the best choices I made, and the three all worked well: Katha Pollitt's “Why We Read: Canon to the Right of Me” from The Nation and Reasonable Creatures; George E. Haggerty's “The Gay Canon” from American Literary History; and Arthur Krystal's “What We Lose If We Lose the Canon” from The Chronicle of Higher Education. We had to spend some real time working through the ideas in these essays, but they were excellent touchstones in that they each offered quite a different view of the canon and canonicity.

I structured the course in basically two halves: the first half was mostly prescriptive on my part: read this, this, and this and talk about it in class. It was a way to build up a common vocabulary, a common set of references. But the second half of the course was much more open. The group project, in which students researched and proposed a unit for an anthology of American literature of their own, worked particularly well because it forced them to make choices in ways they haven't had to make choices before, and to see the difficulty of it all. (One group that said their anthology unit was going to emphasize "diversity" ended up with a short story section of white men plus Zora Neale Hurston. "How are you defining diversity for this section?" I asked. They were befuddled. It was a good moment because it highlighted for them how easy it is to perpetuate the status quo if you don't pay close attention and actively try to work against that status quo [assuming that working against the status quo is what you want to do. I certainly didn't require it. They could've said their anthology was designed to uphold white supremacy; instead, they said their goal was to be diverse, by which they meant they wanted to include works by women and people of color.])

Originally, there were quite a few days at the end of the term listed on the schedule as TBA. We lost some of these because we had three classes cancelled for snow in the first half of the term, and I had to push a few things back. But there was still a bit of room for some choice of what to read at the end, even if my grand vision of the students discovering things through the group project that they'd like to spend more time on in class didn't quite pan out. I should have actually built that into the group project: Choose one thing from your anthology unit to assign to the whole class for one of our TBA days. The schedule just didn't work out, though, and so I fell back on asking for suggestions, which inevitably led to people saying they were happy to read anything but poetry. (They hate poetry, despite all my best efforts to show them how wonderful poetry can be. The poetry sections were uniformly the weakest parts of the proposed anthology units, and class discussions of even the most straightforward poems are painfully difficult. I love teaching poetry, so this makes me terribly sad. Next time I teach this course, I'm building even more poetry into it! Bwahahahahaaaa!) A couple of students are big fans of popular postmodernist writers (especially David Foster Wallace), so they wanted to make sure we read Pynchon's "Entropy" before the course ended, and we're doing that for our last day.

Though they haven't turned in their term papers, I've read their proposals, and it's interesting to see what captured their interest. Though we read around through a bunch of different things in the Norton anthology, at least half of the students are gravitating toward Red Badge of Courage, Wild Seed, or The Red Letter Plays. They have some great topics, but I was surprised to see that most didn't want to go farther afield, or to dig into one of the areas of the Norton that we hadn't spent much time on. Partly, this is probably the calculus of getting work done at the end of the term: go with what you are not only most interested in, but most confident you know what the person grading your paper thinks about the thing you're writing about. I suppose I could have required that their paper be about something we haven't read for class, but at the same time, I feel like we flew through everything and there's tons more to be discussed and investigated in any of the texts. They've come up with good topics and are doing good research on them all, so I'm really not going to complain.

In the future, I might be tempted to cut Wild Seed, even though the students liked it a lot, and it's a book I enjoy teaching. It just didn't fit closely enough into our discussions of canonicity to be worth spending the amount of time we spent on it, and in a course like this, with such a broad span of material and such a short amount of time to fit it all in, the readings should be ruthlessly focused. It would have been better to do the sort of "canon bootcamp" that Crane and Burroughs allowed and then apply the ideas we learned through those discussions to a bunch of different materials in the Norton. We did that to some extent, but with the snow days we got really off kilter. I especially wish we'd had more time to discuss two movements in particular: the Harlem Renaissance and Modernism. Each got one day, and that wasn't nearly enough. My hope was that the groups would investigate those movements (and others) more fully for their anthology projects, but they didn't.

One of our final readings was Delany's "Inside and Outside the Canon", which is dense and difficult for undergrads but well worth the time and effort. In fact, I'd be tempted to do it a week or so earlier if possible, because we needed time to apply some of its ideas more fully before students plunged into the term paper. I wonder, in fact, if it would be better as an ending to the first half of the course than the second... In any case, it's a keeper, but definitely needs time for discussion and working through.

If I teach the course again, I would certainly keep the Crane/Burroughs pairing. It worked beautifully, since the similarities and differences between the books, and between the writers of those books, were fruitful for discussion, and the Díaz intro to Princess of Mars is a gold mine. We could have benefitted from one more day with each book, in fact, since there was so much to talk about: constructions of masculinity, race, heroism; literary style; "realism"...

I would be tempted to add a graphic narrative of some sort to the course. The Norton anthology includes a few pages from Maus, but I would want a complete work. I'd need to think for a while about exactly what would be effective, but including comics of some sort would add another interesting twist to questions of canonicity and "literature".

Would I stick with the question of canonicity as a lens for a survey class in the future? Definitely. It's open enough to allow all sorts of ways of structuring the course, but it's focused enough to give some sense of coherence to a survey that could otherwise feel like a bunch of random texts strung together in chronological order for no apparent reason other than having been written by people somehow associated with the area of the planet currently called the United States of America.

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5. A New Challenge: On-Line, Illustration Workshop


Fans of the little videos John and I occasionally make for my YouTube channel, will be interested to hear of my latest venture. I confess, I am rather excited myself.



A few Urban Sketchers friends of mine, including the truly outstanding Paul Heaston, and Marc Holmes, have recently signed up to run on-line workshops for a company called Craftsy. Paul and Marc's lessons are excellent, as you would imagine (but if you want to sign up for them, do it via the artists' own websites, as that way they get more commission). 

Craftsy classes are not just in urban sketching though: there are all sorts of things you can learn, including children's book illustration... See where this is going?

Yes, that's right - they have invited me to do a class on illustrating picture books, concentrating specifically on character design and development. Now, I really enjoyed making our studio-based films, but this is the real thing: the film will be shot over a 3 day period in a proper, real-life, film studio. And not just that... it's in the USA! Okay, so now you know why I am excited. 



I have been stealing time where I can over the last week or so, to write down everything I can think of on character creation. It helps that I do a lot of illustration workshops in schools on this theme, as it can be hard sometimes, trying to remember the stuff that you know really well. My next job is to collate these ideas into Craftsy's specific lesson-plan structure. 

Once that's done and has got the OK, I will work with a Content Editor to talk further about the specifics of how we turn those learning points into a filmed workshop (which specific characters I will draw as demos, what practical assignments I will set etc). When that's sorted out, I am assigned a Producer to work with, fine-tuning various practical elements of the project and the logistics of what needs to happen when. Apparently, we'll even be discussing my wardrobe (new dress needed..?)


Then comes the exciting bit: Craftsy are going to fly me out to where they are based, in Denver. I'm booked into the film studio for September 9th - 11th. Another adventure! I am doing rather well on that front just lately.

It's early stages and nothing much will happen for a while, as I have my other commitments to work on first, mainly my Urban Sketching People book, but I'll keep you posted (of course). Once the filming is done, there will be about 6 weeks of post-production editing before it's released. If all goes to plan, it sounds like we should have it ready to go live around the middle to end of October. Watch this space!



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6. Celebrate Poetry All Year Long

Ideally, National Poetry Month encourages readers to incorporate poetry into their everyday lives. The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations gives young readers a poetic glimpse into holidays big and small throughout the calendar year. Consider adding a copy to your classroom, library, or personal collection!

Here’s my contribution to the anthology.

caroline starr rose december solstice

The post Celebrate Poetry All Year Long appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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7. R is for Recruiting Officer

Recruiting Officer           from my poetry book, Kaleidoscope  


You old devil, performing conjuring tricks
in the bleak December classroom.
You ham act the nativity, roll up your sleeves.
The ginger hairs on your arms glisten
under the naked bulb.

Your fists scoop out manure, cleansing the stable floor,
warm dung drips between your coarse fingers,
as your sour breath touches open faces.
You revel in their reaction, forming young minds,
creating an hypnotic state.

Your stoat to their frozen rabbit,
you teach them original sin,
tell them they shut the inn door, and weave
a glowing lantern slide before their astonished gaze,
with towering Magi bearing bitter gifts.


Lord of your chalk domain, exhausted by your
matinee performance now replete,
you close moist fleshy mouth, replace the lens cap
over thrusting tongue, and Pied Piper them
into a leafless playground.

Years later, standing in that empty classroom,
the stage of your many triumphs, you look at the rows of
iron-runner desks, breathing the fumes from the 
pot-bellied stove, and rummage in your bag of tricks.
Your hopes for your future, your religious faith, now gone, 
have you forgotten the Christian army you sent into battle?


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8. BLUE BIRDS Resources and Lost Colony News!

Here are two new resources for those of you interested in learning more about Blue Birds.

Educator’s Guide
Lost colony timeline

map of algonquian tribes

And breaking news! Evidence that colonists indeed were on Hatteras Island (Croatoan)!

Archeologists Find New Evidence of Lost Colonists on Hatteras :: The Outer Banks Voice

The post BLUE BIRDS Resources and Lost Colony News! appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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9. Classroom Connections: LOVE TWELVE MILES LONG by Glenda Armand

Last summer at SCBWI‘s national conference, I struck up a conversation with another attendee while standing in a winding sandwich line. It was absolutely my pleasure to befriend a fellow former teacher turned author, someone who also writes historical fiction and picture books and has even tried her hand at verse. That night I bought a copy of Glenda Armand’s Love Twelve Miles Long, a beautifully moving story. I’ll let Glenda tell you more.

genre: historical fiction
setting: Maryland, 1820s
age range: 6-11
teacher’s guide
Glenda Armand’s website

This poignant story, based on Frederick Douglass’s childhood, tells how his mother, a slave, would walk twelve miles at night for a brief visit with her son. Soothing text describes how she overcomes the monotony and loneliness through songs (joyful and sad), the solace of prayer, and love. Emotional paintings capture moods, especially the joy of reunion that wipes away weariness. — Horn Book

Starting with the boy’s elemental question, “Mama, why can’t I live with you?,” the words and pictures tell the family separation story in all its heartbreak and hope. — Booklist

Share this with young readers as a series of homilies on dreams and a family love strong enough to overcome any adversity. — Kirkus Reviews

20140801_182831

Please tell us about your book.

Frederick Douglass was born a slave, escaped and went on to become a great orator and writer who championed the cause of freedom for his fellow African Americans. In his autobiography, Douglass showed the cruelty of slavery from his unique perspective as a former slave. It is a testament to Douglass’s remarkable life that President Abraham Lincoln called this former slave, “my friend Douglass.”

Love Twelve Miles Long takes place long before Frederick Douglass has become famous and successful. The setting is a farmhouse kitchen on a Maryland farm. It is evening and 5-year-old Frederick’s mother, Harriet, a slave who lives on different farm on their master’s plantation, has come to visit. The story allows the reader to peak in on mother and son as they share a few precious moments.

What inspired you to write this story?

When I read his autobiography, I was struck by Frederick Douglass’s strong feelings for his mother despite his having spent so little time with her. In fact, he only remembered seeing his mother at night on the few occasions that she was able to walk the twelve miles to spend time with her son. I believed that there was a story in those visits that spoke to the universal bond between mother and child.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

I read Frederick Douglass’s autobiography while preparing to teach eighth grade US history after many years of teaching in the elementary grades. The passage in which Douglass mentions his mother’s night time visits touched my heart. I could just imagine the love it took for her to walk twelve miles (one way!) to spend time with her son, who lived with the cook who served as babysitter for the slave children who were too young to work.

After reading his other autobiography written later in life, I came up with the way I would tell the story of Frederick and his mother.

I decided to envision Harriet and Frederick in their master’s kitchen, the place where the visits occurred. Then, with pen in hand (literally), I “listened” in on their conversation. There were times when I felt that Harriet was guiding my pen as I wrote. For instance, at one point Frederick asks, “Why did God make us slaves?” After writing the question, I crossed it out because I really didn’t have an answer. But then I heard Harriet’ voice saying, “Let him ask the question.” So I did.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

I love the challenge of writing historical fiction. I like taking events that I know happened to real people (like the visits Harriet paid to Frederick) and imagining things that could have happened (their conversation) and mixing them together to make a story. To me, this makes historical figures interesting, accessible and human. 

My books are introductions to real events and people that I hope invite the reader to find out more about the subjects.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Love Twelve Miles Long lends itself to many classroom discussions/topics:

  • United States History/African American History/Black History Month
  • Mother’s Day/Families/Mother-child relationships/Love
  • Childhood experiences/Memories/Separation
  • Frederick Douglass/Abraham Lincoln/Slavery/Civil War
  • Dreams/Aspirations/Empathy/Compassion/Esteem/Confidence
  • Realistic Fiction/Historical Fiction

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10. The Kind of Email that Warms My Heart

The subject line says We Loved May B!

DSC_0602

Hello, Ms. Rose. 

I am sitting at my computer at school.  A lovely group of my fifth grade girl students and I JUST FINISHED reading May B!  We plan to write you “old-fashioned letters”, but just had to visit your web site and tell you how much we loved the book.

“ I liked how May was a very persistent girl.”  ~ V.

“ I liked how she was brave enough to dig out a hole and try to walk home. “  ~ M.

“I like how she took care of herself by herself in the soddy.” ~  M.

“ I like how she was brave with the wolf.”  ~M.

We loved it!!!!  Thank you!

I pretty much have the best job in the world.

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11. Lament of an educator/parent

My seventeen-year-old son has just completed fifteen examinations in the course of two weeks. They varied in length – some in excess of three hours, with a half hour break before the next exam – and we are still feeling the fallout from this veritable onslaught.

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12. Consider joining us at Arcadia's Summer 2015 Creative Writing Workshops

Thanks to the generosity of Gretchen Haertsch (who wrote a very kind email a few months ago), I will be joining Arcadia as its Visiting Writer during this upcoming creative writing workshop. I'll be teaching the making of both fiction and nonfiction, read (from One Thing Stolen, I suspect), and answer questions.

Please consider joining us. This summer program—one intensive weekend and four weeks online—will, I suspect, produce great yield.

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13. Win a Ten-Copy BLUE BIRDS Book Club Kit!

blue birds on shelf

As I did with May B., I am donating to one lucky school, library, homeschool co-op, or reading circle a Blue Birds Book Club Kit. The kit will include the following:

  • 10 copies of Blue Birds
  • teacher / discussion guide
  • bookmarks and stickers for all readers
  • interactive Skype visit

Grades four through eight qualify. To enter, simply tell me about your readers and why Blue Bird is a good fit for your group in the comments below. That’s it! 

The contest is open to US residents only. Winners will be announced March 27. Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers for providing the books.

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14. Classroom Connections: THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER by Jessica Lawson

age range: 8-12

setting: 1860 Missouri; retelling of Tom Sawyer

curriculum guide

Jessica Lawson’s website

“The deliciously impetuous, devilishly clever, and uncommonly brave Becky Thatcher is now one of my all-time favorite heroines, and I’m desperate to follow her on more adventures. Captivating, exciting, and great barrels-full of fun, this is a book to adore.”
Anne Ursu, author of The Real Boy and Breadcrumbs

A delightfully clever debut.”
– Publishers Weekly, starred review

“Young readers will race through this adventure, while teachers and adults will delight in its gold mine of creative parallels.”
– BookPage

Please tell us about your book.

The Actual & Truthful Adventures of Becky Thatcher is part origin story, part retelling of Mark Twain’s classic The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Written from the perspective of Becky Thatcher, it takes the setting and many characters from Twain’s beloved work and forms a new plot that puts Becky in the spotlight as she grapples with the after-effects of her brother’s death and has adventures in his honor. Samuel Clemens (aka Mark Twain), who was actually a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi during the time of the novel (1860), makes several appearances and serves as a reminder that every writer’s stories and characters have an origin.

What inspired you to write this story?

I’ve always admired the wit and wisdom of Mark Twain. His books are among the most treasured of my personal collection. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer caught my eye while I was dusting my bookshelf one day, and I found myself thinking about how, as a much younger reader, I had wanted nothing more than to run around with Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, making mischief and having adventures. As I thought about the other characters, I considered the fact that I’d never really connected with Becky Thatcher. Why was that? Upon reflection, I think it was because Becky, an iconic female character in her own right, didn’t get to embrace the same things/traits that the boys did. And although her actions and manner fit Twain’s image of the character perfectly, they didn’t really fit the girl I had been. So as an adult, I decided it could be fun to give Becky Thatcher an opportunity to embrace adventure and see what she did with it.

Could you share with readers a lesson learned while conducting research?

During my normal research process for historical fiction, one of favorite things to do is read old newspapers. Not only do I discover a sense of what sort of things were newsworthy, but I get a sense of language and culture. I also like to hunt down academic articles; for a recent Work-In-Progress, an internet search helped me find some article titles that sounded informative, intriguing, and pertinent to my setting/plot. I sent an email to the author, a professor at New York University’s Irish House, explaining who I was and that I was hoping to get access to a few of his articles that were only published in a (very large, very expensive) anthology. I was so thrilled when he responded, attaching the requested articles and wishing me luck with my project. The lesson I learned is that people, even ones that may seem intimidating in skill level/profession, are nearly always willing to help. So ask. 

With my Becky Thatcher book, my research was fairly limited, concentrating mostly on finding biographical information about Samuel Clemens’s life. I avoided close re-readings of Tom Sawyer until after I’d written several drafts to avoid any subconscious tendency to try to copy Twain’s voice. I wanted any similarities in tone to come out naturally and not be forced.

What are some special challenges associated with retellings?

I wrote something several months ago about the nature of retellings and how such a large variety of approaches exist, making it difficult to establish “rules.” But my personal guidelines for retellings always involve the following three things:

First, you should love the original work as written and have respect for the author. In my opinion, a retelling shouldn’t be undertaken in order to “fix” something that the original author did wrong, but rather to bring fresh attention and a new perspective to a well-loved tale.

There must be at least one large twist. But the twist should be a playful/thoughtful/deliberate one that has meaning within the original elements, not just a random item. Know why you’re changing a key element of the story and be confident in your reasoning.

Keep the heart of the original in mind and try your best to honor it. While my own retelling of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer alters personalities and changes plot elements, the themes of learning what it means to grow up and struggling with losing pieces of childhood are still there and are recognizable.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

I think the inclusion of historical figure Samuel Clemens could promote interesting classroom discussions on who the “real” Mark Twain was as a younger man and how writers form their stories.

Themes touched upon in my book are things that students deal with each day in both home life and school situations (morality, friendship, telling truth and lies, labeling people, decision-making, consequences of choices) as well as a couple of more personal, sensitive themes (loss and grieving).

Simon & Schuster was kind enough to put together a curriculum guide for the book as a standalone and also as a companion to both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 

The post Classroom Connections: THE ACTUAL AND TRUTHFUL ADVENTURES OF BECKY THATCHER by Jessica Lawson appeared first on Caroline Starr Rose.

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15. A Cover for the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT Anthology

Twenty children’s authors (including little ol’ me) have written pieces for the BEEN THERE, DONE THAT anthology, publishing this November. Each author contributed a piece of narrative non-fiction paired with a related short story. The purpose is to show young readers how real life influences fiction.

Been There, Done That cover (1)The fun thing about this cover, beyond its playful and engaging style, is the entire jacket — front, back, and flaps — includes images that represent each story in the book.

My contribution was inspired my my mother’s girlhood club, The Little Nippers. As a kid, nothing was better than a story about these fourteen girls who met weekly for four years without any adult supervision. The were smart, passionate, creative, strong-willed, and energetic. I never tired of hearing about their adventures, which sometimes included mischief, fights, and tears. My story, written in verse, centers on one of their activities meant to be constructive but that often ended in hurt feelings, a game the Nippers called a Lemon Squeeze.

Happy reading this November!

 

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16. 10 Ways to Use Instagram in the Classroom

Think there’s no need for sepia-toned filters and hashtags in your classroom? Don’t write off the world of #selfies just yet.

Instagram is one of the most popular social media channels among generation Z, or those born after 1995 and don’t know a world without the Internet. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that this is a generation of visual learners and communicators, where sharing your life-from the food you’re about to eat to your thoughts about anything and everything-is a part of your everyday routine. So, why allow Instagram in your classroom?

For starters, preparing students to be college and career ready involves helping them build their digital literacy skills on a professional level, and Instagram is a technological tool that offers educators innovative ways to motivate and engage students, opening up a new platform for collaboration, research, and discussion. Secondly, we all know the importance of interest and ownership for getting students excited about learning, and since your students probably already love Instagram you’ve already won half the battle.

Teacher/Classroom Instagram Accounts

Create a private classroom Instagram account that you control and instagramcan use to connect with your students, their parents and guardians, and other grade team members. Invite them to follow your account and catch a glimpse of your everyday classroom moments and adventures.

  1. Student of the Week: Each week, feature a different student on the class Instagram account, posting photos-with their permission- of their favorite classroom projects and other examples of their hard work and achievement. This is a fun opportunity to highlight your students’ individual strengths, positively reinforcing their behavior and progress.
  2. Daily/Weekly Classroom Update: Similar to student of the week, you can instagram your students’ classroom projects and activities on a daily or weekly basis. From photos of new classroom reads to capturing field trip memories, this is an excellent way to build a sense of community while allowing parents to see what lessons, topics, and exciting activities are happening in your classroom. This is also a great way to easily and quickly share your classroom ideas with other grade team teachers.
  3. Student takeover: If you’re not able to encourage students to create their own individual Instagram accounts, invite each student to “take over” the classroom account for a day or week by sharing photos from his or her everyday life. This is a great opportunity for students to learn more about their peers by instagramming their interests, hobbies, routines, and even cultural traditions.
  4. Photo Inspiration: Finding inspiration to write can be one of the most difficult parts of the writing process. Spark your students’ imaginations and help them discover new ideas through instagramming writing prompts by playing with different angles, perspectives, and filters to capture random moments and objects that you encounter throughout your day-to-day.
  5. Caption That! For a variation of the writing prompt, post an interesting photo and ask your students to write a descriptive caption in the comments. Differentiate how challenging this task is by asking students to write their caption using specific sentence types, different parts of speech, clauses, prepositional phrases, and their current vocabulary words.
  6. Daily challenges: If your students are able to follow the classroom Instagram account on a regular basis, you can use it to post daily challenges in the form of visual word problems, review questions, and bonus questions. Instagram photos of important learned concepts and pose questions to your students in the caption, asking them to write their answers in the comments. For example, this fifth-grade teacher used Instagram to review who Henry Ford was and other important events in history.

Student Instagram Accounts

Asking your students to follow the classroom Instagram account with their personal accounts is one, highly unlikely, and two, probably not the best idea. What you can do is ask your students to create additional Instagram accounts that would only be used for school or classroom purposes. You know how LinkedIn is your professional Facebook? A similar idea applies here.

  1. A Day in the Life: Challenge students to assume the role of a classroom longfictional literary character and share images that he or she believes the specific character would post, highlighting the character’s interests, personality traits, and development throughout the story. The 15-second video option is a great way to really let students get into character through recorded role-playing and even performance reenactments. These activities can also be applied to important figures in history, such as the creator of Honda, Soichiro Honda, or jazz musician, Melba Liston.
  2. What the Kids are Reading: Students can snap photos of their favorite reads and write a brief 1-5 sentence review in the caption. To take it a step further, ask them to record 15-second long persuasive book trailers to hook their peers. Boost further discussion among your students by asking them to comment on other book reviews and book trailer videos to share their opinions. Tip: Encourage your students to use a unique #hashtag (ex.: #SMSGrade4Reads) for each book review posted, and by the end of the year you will have a visual library of all of the books your class has read.
  3. Math Hunt: “Why do we have to learn this?” “I won’t need this in my everyday life.” Sound familiar? Help your students see the real-world math applications all around them by sending them on a hunt to document or illustrate their knowledge of different math concepts:
  • Geometry: lines (parallel, perpendicular, and intersecting), angles (right, acute, obtuse, etc.) symmetry, and three-dimensional shapes (prisms, cubes, cylinders, etc.)
  • Everyday fractions and arrays
  • Concepts of money
  • Examples of volume vs. mass, area vs. perimeter
  1. STEM Research: Students can watch, observe, and record science experiment data and results over time by documenting any step-by-step process with photo and video narration of learned science concepts. Outside of the lab, students can use their Instagram accounts for observing science in nature or sharing their own scientific findings. What makes this special is how quickly and easily students can share and revisit their visual references and recorded data.
  • Physical & chemical changes
  • Weather patterns and phases of the moon
  • Animal adaptations
  • Habitats in nature

Note: Instagram, as well as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Snapchat, has a minimum age limit of 13 to open an account, but according to Instagram’s parents’ guide, there are many younger users on Instagram with their parents’ permission since you don’t have to specify your age. Always check with your school’s administrator and obtain parental permission before sharing photos of students or their work.

Know of any other interesting ways to use Instagram or other social media sites in the classroom? Already using Instagram in the classroom? Let us know in the comments!

veronicabioVeronica has a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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17. Classroom Connections: THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY by Augusta Scattergood

Augusta scattergood

age range: 8-12

setting: Florida, 1974

visit Augusta Scattergood’s website

The cast of lively characters, including spunky and tough Anabel who befriends Theo, come to life under author Scattergood’s talented hand. A heartwarming story of friendship, family, and finding one’s place in the world despite hardship and heartache.   – School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY, my second middle-grade novel, was recently published by Scholastic Press. It’s the story of a boy named Theo who’s forced to move to a little town called Destiny, Florida, with an uncle he doesn’t really know. Theo’s a resourceful, talented boy. His uncle’s an unhappy Vietnam veteran who doesn’t know how to raise a kid. But there’s a bright ray of sunshine in their new life together— Miss Sister Grandersole, dancer, advisor, and owner of the Rest Easy Rooming House and Dance Studio, where they fortunately have landed.

What inspired you to write this story?

We had recently moved to Florida and I was feeling a little like Theo! Where am I? Why are all these lizards in my garden? Also, as a child, I had some remarkable dance and piano teachers. Not always remarkable in their ability to teach—though some were extremely talented!—but certainly interesting characters. Once I convinced my critique group and my early readers that “Sister” was not a retired nun wearing red tap shoes, Miss Sister Grandersole was the most fun character to write. I guess you could say I was inspired by memories and moving.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching? 

My new book doesn’t focus on one truly important historical event like Freedom Summer, the backbone for my first novel, GLORY BE. The aftermath of the Vietnam conflict plays into the story, and there were details from that time that I wanted to get right. I used veterans’ sites to read of others’ experiences coming back from Vietnam. And I consulted my friends who had served.

I also verified all the baseball facts, but that part was easy. I loved reading about Hank Aaron’s journey. Because of his career milestones, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is set in 1974. Sometimes that seemed so recent, I had trouble remembering that made it historical fiction!

The hardest part of writing for me is that first draft. I struggle. A lot. But I love the revision process. Generally, I try to break it down and not tackle too many things at once. I’ll revise first for plot and character arcs. Then I’ll get to the fun part, making the language and the dialog read in a way I hope enriches the story.

I could go on and on, but I don’t want to make new writers think it’s not fun to write a book. Even on the days that nothing seems to work, writing really is more than hard, gut-wrenching work. It’s often a joy.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

Make the story sing and make the plot move quickly! Of course, these are challenges all writing presents, no matter the genre.

When creating historical fiction, it’s tempting to dump all the important facts into readers’ laps. But the smallest details like skate keys and 45s (those are musical recordings, for those of you too young to remember!) and anti-war buttons on knapsacks really bring the time period alive.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

Quite truthfully, the story behind THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is timeless. A boy finds himself an outsider in a totally new place, meets someone who’s been there forever, makes a friend. Theo’s a kid who’s resilient, in the worst of situations. The post-Vietnam time period, the uncle who can’t quite get past his wartime experiences, families that were split apart by strong feelings during the Vietnam conflict should offer teachers an opportunity to discuss so many things. Perhaps even a few things not too often found in middle-grade novels.

But at heart, THE WAY TO STAY IN DESTINY is really about discovering family, not only the family you are born into, but the family of your heart. Those are the people who come into your life when you most need them.

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18. Dyslexia and MAY B.

This weekend I’m speaking at the Southwest Branch of the International Dyslexia Association. I’m amazed that three years later, my book is still connecting with readers — especially young people with learning disabilities.

may b 300

Here’s an interview I did a few months ago that ran in the SWIDA newsletter:

What inspired you to choose a girl with dyslexia as your main character?

In order for a book to work, an author must not give their characters what they want (at least not straight away), but must make them face their fears and weaknesses. Without these things, there is no change. Without change, there is no story.

May’s name came to me before her story did. I liked the way May Betterly could become May B. and how “maybe” could speak to her perception of herself (maybe is such a wishy-washy word. It makes me think of mediocre or so-so). I knew early on that May wanted to be a teacher, and decided the most direct way to challenge her would be to make this dream virtually impossible. Pulling her out of school and giving her dyslexia (in an era where this would have been completely misunderstood) fit the bill.

What special challenges did this choice create?

The first is obvious: I am not an expert on dyslexia in the least. At first, I wasn’t sure exactly what her challenge was — anxiety? Fear? A learning disability? Because the book doesn’t spell out exactly what is going on, I thought I could get by with not addressing things: If May and her teachers didn’t know, why would we, as readers, need to?

My editor wasn’t impressed with my line of thinking. She told me (and rightly so!) that if I left readers hanging, they’d feel frustrated. She suggested I weave more clues that pointed toward dyslexia in the text and that I define May’s disability in the author’s note.

This terrified me. I was sure as soon as I used a technical word I’d be claiming some sort of expertise. The more I researched, though, the more I was reminded that dyslexia is not a one-size-fits-all struggle. I tried to convey in the author’s note general similarities those with dyslexia commonly share (issues with fluency, word recognition, and comprehension; the omission of words and anxiety stemming from reading aloud, for example) and techniques that some find helpful (repetition, reading in unison with one or more people). I also had a writing friend who is a literacy expert read the manuscript.

More than once a person has asked me on what authority I’ve written this book. I’ve come to the conclusion I am qualified to tell May’s story because it is one of identity and self-worth — something all of us must face at some point, something that becomes very real to young people as they become aware of their place in this world.

Before you were a writer, you were a classroom teacher. How did working with students with reading disabilities shape your perspective of May B.?

I’m going to turn this question on its head a little. It wasn’t working with students with reading disabilities that shaped my perspective so much as examining my own time in the classroom — my attitudes, my efforts, and if I’m honest, my shortcomings. In forcing myself to sit with this character and her two very different teachers, I found myself reflecting again and again on my teaching. What I learned wasn’t always attractive. It’s easy to love the hard worker, the kid who wants to do well. It’s not so easy to get behind the child who isn’t as winsome. I have to confess there are kids I put more effort into because I enjoyed them more. There are others I didn’t try as hard with, sometimes because I wasn’t qualified, sometimes because I didn’t fully understand their needs. And sometimes I didn’t put as much work in because I didn’t want to.

If I was going to tell the most honest story I could, I couldn’t hide from these unattractive qualities I found in myself. Instead, I needed to mine them to make the story real, to make it work.

Do you have any words of wisdom you would like to offer students with dyslexia?

I hesitate when taking about the traditional ideas behind character development — the need for flaws and weakness — when talking about May Betterly. I don’t ever want children who have learning disabilities to see themselves as flawed or weak. It was very important to me that May not be “cured” of her dyslexia, first, because it’s an untrue way to look at disability, and second because it sends a damaging message, one that says you are only whole without disability.

Part of my reason in writing the book was to examine the concept of worth — how so often who we are becomes based on what others tell us about ourselves or on what we’re able to do. Like May, I think all of us in some way feel we don’t measure up. Struggles, like dyslexia, don’t define us. They are not shameful. They might be seen as “character flaws” in a book (ways a character is made real and relatable), but such real-life struggles never, ever make a person somehow worth less.

Last year I got an email that thanked me for writing May B. It directed me to a blog post that literally took my breath away:

At the end of May B., I am crying. I am crying at the ways she is so strong and capable.

…I feel like Caroline Starr Rose wrote this book in part for me.

It was as if she were writing to encourage me on behalf of all my teachers in and outside of the classroom who for years didn’t see that all the misspelled words and run-ons as a red flag. It was as if she were writing right into the places of my heart where those accusations of being careless and not good enough had settled. And she whispered that like May, I could overcome. I could hope for the good things even when they are hard. Thank you, Caroline. Thank you, May.

I hope readers of all sorts will be able to relate to — and find confidence and courage in — May’s story.

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19. Classroom Connections: SKIES LIKE THESE by Tess Hilmo

age range: 7-12
setting: Wyoming
Tess Hilmo’s website

“Drawing on rich Western lore and creating characters as gritty as the earth itself, Hilmo paints a picture of a town where everyone is connected . . . A heartening, comforting story with enough tension to keep readers hooked.” – Kirkus Reviews

“A robust cast of well-developed characters and a delightful, swiftly moving plot will leave readers wishing for Jade to extend her stay in Wyoming.” – School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

Skies Like These is a fun, friendship-filled novel with a cowboy twist! It’s intended for the middle grade audience (ages 7-12).

What inspired you to write this story?

My husband and I celebrated our 40th birthday (which are just a couple of weeks apart) by taking our friends on a bus ride up the canyon by our home for a chuck wagon dinner party. At that party, a fun story about Butch Cassidy was told and I sat there under a breathtaking star filled sky thinking, “Wouldn’t it be fun to write a modern-day twist on a Butch Cassidy story?” And I did! Skies Like These was inspired by that fun night with friends – by the Western skies I am privileged to live under – and by the crazy tales of heroes gone by and heroes longing to be. I also think of it as a nod to The Great Brain series I loved so much growing up. It’s full of hijinx and outrageous fun!

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

Wyoming is a beautiful state, and I got to visit the original Butch Cassidy hide outs and follow his outlaw trail. What fun! One interesting thing I learned is that Butch Cassidy is considered the Robin Hood of the West. His fight was against the big cattle barons and rail road companies that were squeezing the life out of local ranchers. He often supported the less fortunate and he was a man of his word. There is one story where he was in camp and a member of his Wild Bunch gang brought in a stolen horse. When Butch learned the horse was stolen from a young boy in town, Butch made his co-cowboy take the horse back and apologize. He then made him walk many miles back to their hideout on foot as a punishment. He wasn’t just an outlaw cowboy, he was a NICE outlaw cowboy with a cause!

What are some special challenges associated with writing SKIES LIKE THESE?

The challenge for this novel was to write about a historical figure in a modern-day setting….to blend the two worlds of long ago and today and make it feel fresh, fun and interesting.

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

There are so many! Here are a few great discussion topics:

1. What makes us who we are? Is it our heritage – where we come from and who our family is? Or is it what we do with each day we are given?

2. Roy says a line in the book, “I know you’re hurting and you have a choice. You can cowboy up and climb this tree or you can just lay there and bleed.” What are determining moments in our lives? How can we overcome our hurts and fears and show courage?

3. Is it better to take a risk or avoid all risks? How do we determine which risks are okay and which are too much? Have you ever felt like Jade and thought the perfect summer would be stretching out on the couch and watching old TV re-runs all day?

4. What would be your perfect summer vacation?

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20. Canon? Balls!


This past term, the course I taught was titled "Introduction to Literary Analysis". It's the one specific course that is required for all English majors, and it's also available as a general education credit for any other undergraduates. Its purpose is similar to that of any Introduction to Literature class, though at UNH it really has one primary purpose: help students strengthen their close reading skills with fiction, poetry, drama, and nonfiction. (We're required to include all four, though the nonfiction part can be smaller than the others.)

Next term, I'm teaching an American lit survey (1865-present) and have decided to focus it on the question of canonicity. So, for instance, we'll be using the appropriate volumes of The Norton Anthology of American Literature as a core text, but not just to read the selections; instead, we'll also be looking at the book itself as an anthology: what the editors choose to include and not, how the selections are arranged and presented, etc. We'll also be reading a few other things to mess up the students' ideas of "American" and "literature". For instance, I'm pairing The Red Badge of Courage (Norton Critical Edition) with A Princess of Mars (and Junot Díaz's excellent introduction to the Library of America edition). And then Octavia Butler's Wild Seed to make it even messier and more productive.

And so it was with special interest that I read two essays this morning in the Chronicle of Higher Education: "The New Modesty in Literary Criticism" by Jeffrey J. Williams and "What We Lose If We Lose the Canon" by Arthur Krystal. The Williams seems to me about as good an overview as you could do in a short space; the Krystal seems to have been beamed in from 1982.



The Krystal essay is not really worth reading, especially if you've ever read a "Keep Shakespeare on the syllabus, you philistines!" essay before. But let's, for the fun of shooting fish in a sardine can, respond to a few of his assertions:
Starting from the premise that aesthetics were just another social construct rather than a product of universal principles, postmodernist thinkers succeeded in toppling hierarchies and nullifying the literary canon. Indeed, they were so good at unearthing the socioeconomic considerations behind canon formation that even unapologetic highbrows had to wonder if they hadn’t been bamboozled by Arnoldian acolytes and eloquent ideologues.

That heretofore inviolable ideal of art, as expostulated by Walter Pater and John Ruskin, by T.S. Eliot and Lionel Trilling, by the New Criticism, was shunted aside; and those emblematic qualities of modernist works—obliqueness, lyricism, dissonance, ambiguity—were relegated to a hubristic past. Although many former canonical authors continue to be taught in universities, so are many popular, commercial, and genre writers. As long as a writer accumulates sufficient readers and a decent press, respect surely follows. Any reason that George R.R. Martin shouldn’t have parity with William Faulkner? Is Maya Angelou really less important than Emily Dickinson?
Oh please.

If aesthetic ideas are not social constructs, then they are some sort of natural phenomena, something somehow instinctive in the brain. Or otherwise they're the product of God's ethereal farts. Those are pretty much the options. Me, I'm sticking with social constructs, since that's easier to study, though I expect that certain elements of our brains — the elements that notice patterns — also affect how we respond to aesthetic forms and effects, and so it's probably more accurate to say that aesthetic ideas are a combination of the capacities of our perceptions plus the weight of cultural and social forces. (I'm an atheist, so the theological interpretation is not one I'm interested in, but it's certainly a venerable tradition, and we know Krystal and his ilk do love their venerable traditions, especially since there's no arguing with God. If God sez Shakespeare is great, then, by God, Shakespeare is great!)

For a far more interesting, informative, and useful discussion of canons, see Samuel Delany's Para Doxa interview in About Writing, "Inside and Outside the Canon". (And if that's not enough, see Katha Pollitt's classic essay, "Why We Read" in her book Reasonable Creatures.)

What Krystal is really writing about is pedagogy. He sees "the canon" (whatever that is) as the textbook list. His view of the purpose of literature courses is an extremely narrow one: students should study the greatest of human cultural artifacts. To be "taught in universities" therefore means to be Respected, to be The Greatest.

There may be people who use pop culture in their courses who see that material as, indeed, The Greatest. (And this is ignoring the fact that yesterday's popcult is not prevented from being today's cult, even among the cultiest of cultmeisters — to offer the most obvious, clichéd examples: Shakespeare and Dickens.) Krystal imagines a contradiction where there isn't one: "Although many former canonical authors continue to be taught in universities, so are many popular, commercial, and genre writers." The two parts of that sentence are only at odds if you think the sole legitimate purpose of university teaching is to impart knowledge of The Greatest Works of Literature to students.

And yes, at times our courses should be about the works that have been most lauded over time, and not just because it's interesting to study the history of cultural constructions. Studying complex, old lit with people who've devoted their lives to it is one of the great privileges of a good education. But it's not the only reason to study something in a class.

I'm putting A Princess of Mars alongside The Red Badge of Courage not because I think Burroughs is as great a writer as Crane. In most of the ways we speak of a writer being "great", Burroughs is really really really not. And yet there is a lot about Burroughs, and particularly his first few novels, that makes him well worth academic attention. (Junot Díaz makes the case far better than I can in his intro.) What I want my students to see through the comparison of both books is the way that considering their canonicity — Crane's within "American Literature", Burroughs's within "Popular Culture" — can tell us something about both books and about the cultural discourses that shape our perceptions and values. I'm not even entirely sure what those lessons will be, because I prefer not to be settled in all of my ideas before I begin a class, because for me a good class discussion is one that produces ideas we didn't have before that discussion.

Krystal also works from an assumption that what he feels as a deep aesthetic experience is lesser in people who read, for instance, George R.R. Martin. This is a common assumption, but it's one I've become skeptical of. I'm skeptical first because it's not something that can be proved or disproved, and so it is a self-serving opinion. If you argue that your engagement with the Twilight novels provides you with an emotionally complex and intellectually engaging experience, it is difficult for me to say that my emotionally complex and intellectually engaging experience with Anna Karenina is greater than yours. If you're out there writing Twilight fanfic, it's entirely possible that your engagement with Twilight is actually deeper than mine with Anna Karenina.

This is basic reader-response theory. The text itself doesn't matter; what matters is the effect on the reader. Arthur Krystal may find such an idea horrifying, but it's not so different from what he's claiming for the books he values — that they produce a deeper, more satisfying, more educative effect than the books he doesn't value. But that has far less to do with the book than with the reader. What he's saying is that one reader's deep, satisfying experience of a book is deeper and more satisfying than another reader's. And the first reader in this equation is him. How convenient!

Krystal writes:
I’m not suggesting that one can’t fully enjoy James Crumley, James Lee Burke, Robert Heinlein, Philip K. Dick, and Orson Scott Card, but I’m not sure one can love them in the way that one loves Shakespeare, Keats, Chekhov, and Joyce. One can be a fan of Agatha Christie, but one can’t really be a fan of George Eliot.
There's a lot wrong with that paragraph. First, Krystal's lack of reading ability with popular lit is evident in his grouping a bunch of very dissimilar writers together and his assumption that "one can love them" in a single way and that that single way is different from the single way one loves Shakespeare et al. Second, there's the idea that being a fan is somehow different from the way that one loves Shakespeare et al. The error of that sentence would be clearer if Krystal had used not Agatha Christie but rather Jane Austen, who is not only highly canonical, but whose fans are legion, including countless fanfic writers. (Fandom's attraction to Austen rather than Eliot would be an interesting study.) It's interesting, too, the way he uses emotional language: one can, he suggests, fully enjoy [popular writers], but one loves Shakespeare et al. Elsewhere in the essay he makes the argument for big ideas and human nature and yadda yadda yadda, but it seems to me that it is here that Krystal reveals what matters most to him, which is a depth of feeling, a depth of engagement with the text — the sense of having one's world and knowledge and self expand via reading.

And yes I say yes! That's what lots of us love when reading. I just don't think the text matters as much as the reader.

As someone who, indeed, loves much of Philip K. Dick (and Shakespeare, Chekhov, and Joyce. Keats not so much), I'm not sure that I, for one, do love his best work differently from that of Shakespeare et al. I feel like I love them all very specifically — that is to say, it's true that I do not love PKD in the way I love Shakespeare; but it's true that I do not love Chekhov in the way I love Shakespeare or the way I love Joyce (well, pre-Finnegans Wake Joyce. The Wake keeps defeating me). The way that I love PKD differently from the others is not, though, part of a separate category. Further, I would say I dislike Keats in a similar way that I dislike Heinlein: their words, ideas, structures, etc. do not hold my interest, and while in both cases I can in a certain intellectual way appreciate some of what they're up to, that knowledge does not convert into the affect of literary love.

I said above that Krystal's argument is a self-serving opinion. It is self-serving because he is arguing that his way of reading, his way of teaching, his way of learning, his way of valuing is The Way. If he were arguing against his own practices and prejudices, it would be much more interesting. If, for instance, he were to say, "I'm a terrible reader because I didn't get enough training in The Canon during my college years," or if he were to say, "I wish I could get some sort of emotional and intellectual experience from great literature, but I can't, and I feel that that is a personal failing, something that holds me back from a full enjoyment of life," then perhaps we could take his argument more seriously. (This is why perhaps my favorite piece of writing on The Canon is Wallace Shawn's play The Designated Mourner.)

The limitations of Krystal's view of literary study are brought into even sharper relief by reading Jeffrey J. Williams's survey of recent approaches. It's not complete by any means — it's a quick & dirty look at a few approaches, and leaves out many that are at least as popular among scholars as the ones he cites (among my compatriots, animal studies and trauma studies are the biggies). I think Williams is right that in some ways the recent approaches look back toward approaches that were common before the Age of Theory — back toward philology, toward literary history — but that's a consequence of the realization that there is no One True Way. Literary analysis is not a zero sum game. I have no animus, really, toward my friends who do animal studies and literature, or trauma theory and literature, even though these are not my ways. (I am, unsurprisingly, interested in the intersections of aesthetics and the world, in genres as sets of readerly expectations, etc.) I would never steer a student away from working with someone whose interest was in those areas. Students should experience lots of different ways of reading and lots of different ways of valuing what they read. They should take courses with curmudgeonly canon-fetishizing fuddyduddies like Arthur Krystal, just as they should take courses with pomo popcultists who "read" nothing but sitcoms.

What teaching the Intro to Lit Analysis course taught me is that students can be really smart about their own reading, but that they've also mostly been exposed only to very limited approaches in their secondary education. They cling to what they know, and what they know tends to be a very basic sort of New Criticism plus biography (anathema to the New Critics, but common to book reports, so students fall back on it). Our job, I think, is to show them how to do complex close readings, how to bring biography and history in as useful context rather than reductive readings. Exploring why "Sylvia Plath's 'Daddy' shows that she did not have a good relationship with her father" is a shallow thesis that reduces rather than expands our understanding of the poem can be mindblowing for students — and then we can talk about how knowledge of Plath's biography might be used to expand and deepen our understanding of her poetry, if that were an approach that interested us.

That, ultimately, is my test for critical approaches: Can we expand our understanding of, and our appreciation for, the text? Or are we limiting it, reducing it, simplifying it, turning it into something easily apprehended? If so, why bother?

Or, in other words: Yes, let's read Faulkner (he's my favorite American novelist; I'd never say no!). But I see nothing wrong with reading Faulkner alongside George R.R. Martin. We could learn a lot from that combination about how texts create worlds, about how separate books expand our imagining of characters, about how narrative forms develop our perceptions of characters and settings and histories. Who cares whether Faulkner is "better" than GRRM, or vice versa? (Me, I love Faulkner and find the Song of Ice and Fire books unreadable, so I'm not likely to teach such a course or write such a paper, but I'd love somebody else to do it!) What do such hierarchies get us? Literature isn't football, and we don't need fantasy leagues. We don't need lists of texts; we need to encourage varied ways of reading, and that includes reading against your own prejudices, your own knowledge, your own limitations. I am skeptical of students who don't want to read anything published before they were born, because they are limiting themselves just as Arthur Krystal is limiting himself by sticking to the canon of old white guys. If you've never worked hard to learn to appreciate an 18th Century British novel, you are a limited reader — but you are also a limited reader if you've never worked hard to appreciate a popular contemporary novel or two. This is one reason why I love David Foster Wallace's syllabus for a literary analysis class, where the texts included Jackie Collins’s Rock Star, Stephen King’s Carrie, Thomas Harris’s The Silence of the Lambs, and James Elroy’s The Big Nowhere, and he warned the students:
Don’t let any potential lightweightish-looking qualities of the texts delude you into thinking that this will be a blow-off-type class. These “popular” texts will end up being harder than more conventionally “literary” works to unpack and read critically.
Arthur Krystal must fear getting an aneurysm when he looks at that syllabus, but if he were honest he'd admit that his grumpiness may be because that syllabus shows he's less of a reader than someone like DFW, someone deeply familiar with The Canon but not limited to it. Krystal should try to learn to read Philip K. Dick or one of the other writers he disparages — learn to read them in a thoughtful, appreciative way, not a dismissive one. He might actually learn something.

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21. Lucky Duck

You might have noticed the pretty new cover over in the sidebar.

PFAC-front-cover-Nov-30-WEB-jpeg-705x1030

Last fall I was asked to write a few poems on spec for a new poetry anthology Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong had in the works. Last month I found out one had been accepted, a poem called “December Solstice.”

Sylvia and Janet are the superstars behind the Poetry Friday Anthology series, books that have been adopted by hundreds of school districts across the country. The series “helps teachers and librarians teach poetry easily while meeting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), and the Texas TEKS for English Language Arts (ELA)/Poetry and Science & Technology.”

This anthology, The Poetry Friday Anthology for Celebrations, releases in April, also known as National Poetry Month. For more information, click through!

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22. Classroom Connections: UNDER A PAINTED SKY by Stacey Lee

age range: 12 and up
setting: Missouri en route to California, 1849
Stacey Lee’s website

High drama, tension, romantic longings, and touches of humor will entice historical fiction fans, and will be a perfect tie-in to social studies curriculum.
— School Library Journal

Please tell us about your book.

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician—not an easy thing if you’re a girl, and harder still if you’re Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.

Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

An unforgettable story of friendship and sacrifice—perfect for fans of Code Name Verity.

What inspired you to write this story?

I’d always wondered what life in America was like when my ancestors arrived to California in the late 19th century. When I researched the history of Chinese in America, I learned that the bulk of the Chinese came during the western expansion and California Gold Rush. I don’t speak Chinese myself, so I knew my heroine needed to have a full command of the English language. The story grew from there.

Could you share with readers how you conducted your research or share a few interesting tidbits you learned while researching?

I’m not a historian, so for me, every book begins with a trip to the library. There are plenty of online resources as well, but I seem to learn better when reading a hard copy. Also, I find the Children’s section of the library to be invaluable for subjects I know nothing about. Children’s books and videos break down the material into easy to understand chunks, not to mention, they’re much more entertaining than the adult stuff.

What are some special challenges associated with writing historical fiction?

One challenge is understanding the geography of the area as it existed during a particular period in time. Cities can change a lot over a few years, and while I certainly believe in taking liberties, I like to know when I’m doing it. I’m starting quite a collection of antique maps and reproductions!

What topics does your book touch upon that would make it a perfect fit for the classroom?

The Oregon Trail and western expansion, slavery, Chinese American history, and the California Gold Rush, and last but not least, cowboys.

 

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23. the characters of fall

From bound manuscripts to the National Book Award dinner, from home to far away, from family to friends to strangers to new friends, from schools to conferences, from high to low, from hard work to a few lazy days...










































































































































































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24. 7 Core Values to Celebrate During Black History Month

The month of February is a time when many communities pause and celebrate the great contributions made by African Americans in history. At Lee & Low we like to not only highlight African Americans who have made a difference, but also explore the diverse experiences of black culture throughout history, from the struggle for freedom in the South and the fight for civil rights to the lively rhythms of New Orleans jazz and the cultural explosion of the Harlem Renaissance.

We put together a list of titles – along with additional resources 7 Core Values for copy– that align with 7 core values and
themes to help you celebrate both Black History Month and African American culture all 365 days of the year.

It’s important to remember that heritage months, like Black History Month, can encourage a practice of pulling diverse books that feature a particular observed culture for only one month out of the year. To encourage a more everyday approach, we developed an 8-step checklist for building an inclusive book collection that reflects the diversity of the human experience. Teaching Tolerance also offers some helpful solutions to connect multicultural education with effective instructional practices and lists insightful “dos and don’ts” for teaching black history that are applicable to any culturally responsive curriculum or discussion.

How do you celebrate during Black History Month? Or, better yet, how do you help children discover the cultural contributions and achievements of black history all year long? Let us know in the comments!

Perseverance, Determination, & Grit

Leadership & Couragemain_large-4

Teamwork & Collaboration

Responsibility & Commitmentmain_Mooncover

 Optimism & Hope

Compassion & Love

Passion & Pridemain_large

Discussion questions when reading and learning about core values:

  1. How does/do the character(s) show (core value)?
  2. What positive effects are associated with having/showing (core value)?
  3. How do you show (core value)?
  4. How can you work towards having/showing (core value)?
  5. What core values do you think are important to apply in our classroom? Why?

Further reading on teaching core values with students:

Looking for additional resources for teaching Black History? Check out these lesson plans, videos, and tips:

veronicabioVeronica has a degree from Mount Saint Mary College and joined LEE & LOW in the fall of 2014. She has a background in education and holds a New York State childhood education (1-6) and students with disabilities (1-6) certification. When she’s not wandering around New York City, you can find her hiking with her dog Milo in her hometown in the Hudson Valley, NY.

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25. Mid-Grade Authors Love Teachers – A Giveaway

mg giveaway1The lovely Lynda Mullaly Hunt, whose newest novel, FISH IN A TREE, released last week, has arranged a spectacular giveaway. One lucky teacher will win all sixteen middle-grade titles you see here. All books will be autographed, too.

MG giveaway2

To enter, leave a comment below or on Lynda’s blog. OR tweet about the giveaway, using the hashtag #MGAuthorsLoveTeachers. It’s that easy! The contest closes 11:59 on Wednesday, 2/18. The winner will be announced Thursday, 2/19. Stop by here for the young adult giveaway.

Good luck! And thank you, teachers, for the way you love middle-grade books and authors. We love you right back.

 

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