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Results 1 - 15 of 15
1. Secrets and Conversations

I have a new addiction, it’s The Secret Life of the American Teen. Yes, I’ll admit it, it’s not a very good show. The characters are somewhat one-dimensional (at least some of the time) and the plots are often quite unbelievable, if not plain old stupid. But yet, once I realized it was on NetFlix streaming, I started watching and got hooked.

If you aren’t familiar with the plot line of this ABC Family series, the series began with the focus on Amy Jurgens, a 15 year-old who discovers, at the very beginning of the first episode, that she is pregnant. The first year follows Amy as she decides what to do with the baby – keep or adopt – and also as she deals with the father of the baby, her new boyfriend, her best girlfriends, the Christian good girl at her school, the school slut, teachers, parents, her sister, and so on.

I actually saw the first episode when it first aired in 2008 and couldn’t watch more than that first installment. I found it didactic and boring.

But yet, now I’m hooked, and I’ll tell you why. The Secret Life of the American Teen does a great job at showing how important it is for adults to be a part of teen lives and to have real and straightforward conversations with teens. In every episode there are lots of conversations between teens and adults and the adults talk with the teens directly about sex (the show really does revolve around sex), making good decisions, and personal responsibility. While at times the conversations seem forced and too didactic, they are conversations nonetheless. I love that!

The other thing that really draws me to the program is that the teens and adults talk about all different aspects of sex. Whether or not it should be fun. If oral sex is sex. If masturbation is a way to manage a teen’s sexual desires. Responsibilities of fathers and mothers to their children. And more. The topics covered are topics that teens are curious about and that adults should be talking about with teens.

As I watch I think about all the reasons why all adults aren’t having these types of conversations with the teens in their lives. The reasons include fear and risk. It’s a risk to have straightforward conversations with teens about these topics because it’s not clear where the conversation will lead. One might be fearful of having to give away a bit of their own experience and past when talking about difficult topics. Or fear that the conversation will lead a teen in a direction that isn’t what the adult would desire for the teen. But, really, the lack of conversation is more frightening and risky as teens could end up making decisions without the benefit of adult experience, wisdom, and support.

Of course conversation isn’t all that it takes to keep a teen safe and smart about the decisions he or she makes in life. Conversations however can go a long way to helping to guarantee that teens have the skills they need in order to make good decisions about life. Every teen has to have those conversations. Every teen should have the oppor

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2. The Indeterminable Rate of Educational Velocity

This morning I turned in the last piece of homework I will ever have. I submitted my final research project: my master’s thesis.There was no parade, no trumpets or cymbals to herald my victory. No “three cheers!” to mark the completion of my efforts. Just the simple knowledge that I have finally finished.
They won't hand me my diploma until later this month, but the reality is that today marks the end of my years of formal education. Added up, 18 years of teachers, classrooms, professors, projects, presentations, and dreaded papers. Over.

When I think back on the memories of school, what stick out most are not the facts I learned or the books I read, but what I recall are all the relationships I made and the fun I had when I wasn’t studying in the library alone.

School offers us just that, the opportunity to find new experiences that we wouldn’t have otherwise discovered.

Because of a middle-school French-class trip to nearby Québec, I learned that my friend Emma would always find ways to get us into the most fun kind of trouble, and that I love all things maple-syrup related. Because of reading I Will Try during library hour in elementary school, I have made it my mission to travel across Africa (although not exactly the way the author did, when he decided to walk from Malawi towards America for his education). And because of spending countless hours at the local pub after economics class, I have learned that while philosophical entanglements often leave one feeling unfulfilled, beer and good company always leave one in better spirits. We would spend hours there, after Economics Development class, after History of Economic Philosophy class, after Statistics class: my peers and I, in time spent not studying, but taking what we learned in lecture and talking about it, openly, with opinions, with our own theories and smart colleagues to bounce ideas off of. 

These are the friends, memories, and happy learning experiences I will grow from for the rest of my life. Even if, heaven forbid, I forget how to use the econometrics regression equation to find the unknown parameters to formulate the average expected outcome of an observed condition. (Not that I hope to ever forget my mathematical training!) My experiences remind me, looking back, that learning happens throughout life. One has only to put oneself in situations that allow for unexpected, exciting opportunities to arise.

Though my years of formal education might be complete, they leave me with the knowledge that power lies in asking questions, and life is a learning curve that I will always be trying to bend. I may be out of the classroom, but I will forever be a student.

Do you have favorite memories, or wisdom to share about your education experience? Leave a comment below!
3. Caroline Kennedy Celebrates National Poetry Month

This week Caroline Kennedy appeared at a New York City Barnes & Noble to celebrate National Poetry Month and promote the release of her new book, She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems. Poet Sharon Olds (who has two pieces in Kennedy’s book)  joined her onstage.

Kennedy (pictured, via) explained why she took on this project: “One of the reasons why I worked on this book is because so many people think of poetry as a solitary art form; one poet writing alone and the reader far away. But, I think what we all see here today is that poetry can really be of value for a community … And since poems are meant to be heard, reading a poem really starts a conversation.”

Olds read several poems including “Leap Before You Look” by W.H. Auden, “to my last period” by Lucille Clifton, her own “High School Senior.” One fan requested “i carry your heart with me (i carry it in” by e.e. cummings, and Olds complied. Kennedy concluded the evening by personally reading “Chocolate” by Rita Dove.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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4. Algonquin Books Launches ‘Ask an Editor’ Series

Algonquin Books has launched the ‘Ask an Editor’ video series on their blog. Executive editor Chuck Adams stars in the video embedded above and answers the question: “How did you acquire Water for Elephants?”

Marketing director Michael Taeckens explained how it will work: “For this series, readers who have any questions about the publishing process can submit them on our blog or on our Facebook or Twitter accounts. Every two weeks a different Algonquin editor will select and answer one of the questions submitted.”

The next Algonquin Books Club will feature a conversation between Gruen and The Help author Kathryn Stockett on April 26th. Those interested can check out the website for a reader’s guide, essays by Gruen, and her recipe for oyster brie soup.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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5. Algonquin Books Launches ‘Ask an Editor’ Series

Algonquin Books has launched the ‘Ask an Editor’ video series on their blog. Executive editor Chuck Adams stars in the video embedded above and answers the question: “How did you acquire Water for Elephants?”

Marketing director Michael Taeckens explained how it will work: “For this series, readers who have any questions about the publishing process can submit them on our blog or on our Facebook or Twitter accounts. Every two weeks a different Algonquin editor will select and answer one of the questions submitted.”

The next Algonquin Books Club will feature a conversation between Gruen and The Help author Kathryn Stockett on April 26th. Those interested can check out the website for a reader’s guide, essays by Gruen, and her recipe for oyster brie soup.

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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6. Simon & Schuster Launches Webcam Author Interview Site

Simon & Schuster Digital partnered with VYou.com to create Ask the Author, a digital venue for readers to interact with writers. On the new site, authors respond to reader-submitted questions through webcam videos.

Participating writers with Ask the Author pages include: Chris Cleave, Brad Thor, Chuck Klosterman, and Lisa McMann. What do you think about these short video interviews?

Here’s more from the press release: “Using VYou’s innovative technology and any computer that has a webcam, authors can record responses to individual messages or questions entered by their fans. The questions and answers are then organized into ‘conversations,’ giving the experience a live feel. Participating authors can spend as much or as little time as they want on their video, which they can record at any time.”

New Career Opportunities Daily: The best jobs in media.

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7. Talk Time

Many foreign language students do well with grammar and vocabulary, but then they fail to apply those same concepts to genuine communication; for instance, they may not know what to say if you happen to see them in the hallway, and ask them ¿Cómo estás hoy? (How are you today?)<?xml:namespace prefix = o />

So, in addition to grammar and vocabulary instruction, make students participate in talk time every day in your class. Encourage them to use the studied words and grammar to talk about themselves, their daily activities, problems, and plans. Make this an informal daily routine.

To do so, create a list of questions with topics that will engage your students. Think of their needs, experiences, maturity, and limits. Topics that may interest students in an intermediate-level class:

  • What bothers you?

  • What are you afraid of?
  • What is a tradition or ritual that your family has? (Serious or silly)
  • What city would you like to visit one day?
  • What’s new at school?
  • Which is your hardest class? Why?
  • Why is everyone so tired today?
  • Who is your favorite relative?
  • What’s your favorite TV show?
  • What will you be doing in 20 years?

  • Your chat time can start with a greeting and a question on a board that will be your main topic. However, you need to be flexible too. For instance, you had a topic in mind but your class seems to be worried about an upcoming math exam, so let students talk about that, or come up with questions related to their problem or concern.

    Also, a good way to make them talk about their experiences is by answering the main question of the day yourself first. In that way, they may be more eager to share with you. For example, if the question is about siblings, tell them some funny story about your sister or brother.

    Now, how do you grade your students on their talk time? Create a reward system. Give them points for every time they speak. Make it clear that class participation will be part of their grades.<

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    8. Say Something



    Author: Peggy Moss
    Illustrator: Lea Lyon

    Winner of the 2005 Teacher's Choice Award, Moss's book is a quietly powerful tale about silence in the face of bullying. A popular girl turns a blind eye to bullying and teasing until one day she becomes the butt of the joke. This is an adaptation of the powerful poem First They Came by the Pastor Martin Niemoller. Niemoller's poem (an indictment of complacency in the face of rising Nazism) admittedly dealt with more serious issues than junior high bullying... but the basic premise remains the same.

    First they made fun of the Nerds, and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a Nerd.
    Then they made fun of the Dorks, and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn’t a Dork.
    Then they made fun of the Geeks, and I didn’t speak up,
    because I wasn't a Geek.
    Then they made fun of me, and by that time there was no one left
    to speak up for me.

    Note: The book is extremely well done... until you get to the appendix. After the story, there is a guide on strategies for dealing with bullying. One section says:

    If you are bullied, speak up! Things to say are: "Please stop." "That hurts my feelings." "I haven't done anything to you." Don't be afraid to tell an adult.

    Ummm... yeah, right. Follow that advice and there's a good chance that you will either get laughed out of the gym, or pummeled on the playground. While the Say Something approach is well-intentioned, a better strategy (at least for guys) may be to use the Say Anything method:

    Lloyd Dobbler's Easy 4 Step Plan for Overcoming Your Dorkdom


    1) Take up kickboxing. Tell people its for your own self-satisfaction or to impress the ladies... but really it's just so that while you're getting your ass whooped by jocks, you can at least get one kick in before the ambulance arrives.

    2) Wear a trenchcoat. Yes, it's weird and kinda creepy, but do it on the off chance that people will think you're eccentric or mysterious.

    3) If you want to get the girl, embarrass yourself with an overly dramatic public demonstration (see picture above). This is NOT optional. Why not? Being a bumbling doofus, you don't have enough going for you to hold anything back. So set your pride aside and put it all out there. It's your only hope.

    4) Star in a cheesy but endearing romantic comedy that will ruin the lives of guys everywhere (especially bullies) by warping the romantic expectations of all women who lived in the 80's, thereby sabotaging the relationships of all men (and making Chuck Klosterman's head explode). That's called having the last laugh.

    4 Comments on Say Something, last added: 7/16/2007
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    9. Stick



    Author/Illustrator: Steve Breen

    This is the first picture book for Breen, the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist. With the story of Stick, a headstrong young frog who likes to do things on his own, Breen displays an impressive sense of humor and comic timing. One day, when Stick shoots his tongue out to catch a dragonfly, he gets carried away (literally) and embarks on a wild airborne adventure. Through a series of surprising developments, Stick excitedly explores the wild world... but will he ever make it back home?

    Stick is merely the latest in a long and celebrated line of frog explorers. Indeed, nature's first true explorers were the frog's distant ancesters, those intrepid souls who first ventured out of the primordial ooze: the early amphibians. Frogs are direct descendants of those brave few who left the comforts of their homes to explore the unknown lands above the surface of the water. It's almost as if wanderlust is genetically encoded in frog DNA.

    Young Stick also owes much to the most persistent explorer in frog history... an adventurer whose exploits are so well-known that he is known simply as: Frogger. Before Frogger, the frog population had to be content with life around the dank world of the pond. But Frogger yearned for more, he want to stretch the boundaries of his world and boldly go where no frog had gone before.

    While people still wonder why the chicken crossed the road, no one questions the Frogger's motives. Frogger did not set out to conquer the world, he set out to conquer himself. Despite frequent setbacks and increasingly dangerous traffic, he refused to quit until he crossed every street that he came across. His indomitable spirit would not be denied... he would either succeed or get flattened in the process.



    Left: An 18th Century Tapestry depicting The Wondrous Adventures of Frogger: Explorer Extraordinaire.





    Other notable amphibious explorers:


    Mr. Toad: Not content with life at Toad Hall, our hero follows Dante's lead and explores the depths of Hell. This harrowing journey is well documented in his memoirs: Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.



    Kermit: Perhaps the most famous frog in history, Kermit was the ultimate explorer, blazing trails and opening doors at a prolific clip. He first burst onto the scene as the first frog in space ("One small hop for frogs, one giant leap for frogkind.").

    Returning to a hero's welcome, Kermit leveraged his newfound fame into a legendary career in film and television. After co

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    10. Strega Nona



    Author/Illustrator: Tomie dePaola

    This is dePaola's classic story that revolves around an old woman and her wonderful pot. (No, it's not about Courtney Love). Strega Nona is the village medicine woman who has a magic pot that, when the right words are spoken, produces pasta. To stop the pot, she recites another spell... and blows three kisses.

    Her goofball of an apprentice (Big Anthony) jealously watches Strega Nona casting her spell over the pot, but misses the 3 kisses part. This lack of attention to detail soon leads to some Sorcerer's Apprentice-like mayhem (Note: the Sorcerer's Apprentice was not originally written by Walt Disney).

    One day, Strega Nona goes out of town and leaves Big Anthony in charge. Of course, he goes out and tells everyone about the magic pot and then casts the spell, unleashing the magical pasta producing power of the pot and curing everyone's case of the munchies. Big Anthony is the man of the hour!

    Unfortunately, Big Anthony doesn't know how to properly shut down the pot and it begins to boil over. A dangerous wave of noodles threatens to bury the entire village. Now everyone hates Big Anthony. That's life in the public eye for you. One minute you're on top of the world, the next minute you're being chased by an angry mob and thrown into a jail cell with Lindsay Lohan.

    In the mid 80's, a community theater in Woodstock, Vermont gained national attention for their politically charged interpretation of dePaola's story. Critics flocked to this tiny hippie hamlet to see the play, which had re-imagined the story as a parable about the prevalent economic policy of the times: Reaganomics. The play was called Streganomics.



    Left: A scene from Streganomics with Scott Robinski (middle) playing the Reagan-inspired character of Big Anthony, a generically handsome but bumbling doofus.






    In the play, the director compares Big Anthony's short-sighted attempt to wield the power of the magic pot to the conservative party's unwaverying belief in the power of the free market. (In a particularly brutal pun, the directors replaced trickle-down economics with boil-over kitchenomics. There's a reason you've never heard of this play.)

    Just as the pasta pot dangerously boils over, the U.S. economy eventually spins out of control. The economy takes on a life of its own and ushers in an era of unparrelled economic stratification. People always seem to overlook the fact that the market does not have a moral compass built in. Therefore, it should not be relied upon to magically set our social guidelines. The market must be regulated to some extent in order for it to reflect the morals of our society.

    Just like Magic, Capitalism isn't inherently evil (as some zealots will tell you), but it's not inherently good either, and therefore its power must be wielded with wisdom and restraint... two qualities of which many politicians (on both sides of the aisle) are notoriously lacking.

    In the book, Strega Nona returns to find the city under seige by pasta. She utters the magic words and blows the three kisses to bring the starchy surge to a halt. In the play, however, all does not end so well... Strega Nona doesn't come back.

    The play casts Strega Nona as an exalted FDR figure, and her magic of containment is meant to represent the wisdom of the New Deal. However, just as the egalitarian principles behind the New Deal seem like a distant memory, Strega Nona's unique ability to put a lid on the magic pot is lost forever and it appears that the rising tide of pasta is irreversible.

    Several people take the helm from Big Anthony, but no one has the courage to utter the magic words that might stem the tide... words such as, "progressive tax code," or "increased corporate regulation." The curtain drops with the citizens of the town buried under a sea of pasta and Big Anthony being airlifted by a private jet and flown off into the sunset.


    Note: In the widely overlooked sequel, Strega Nona Meets Her Match, a mysterious stranger appears with a magic fondue pot. Lightning strikes and the two instantly fall head over heels in love. They join forces and with their two magical pots create an unending supply of Macaroni and Cheese, transforming their village into heaven on earth. Now THAT is what I call a happy ending.


    3 Comments on Strega Nona, last added: 7/30/2007
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    11. So Few of Me



    Author/Illustrator: Peter Reynolds

    A kid named Leo is swamped by all the things he has to do and thinks "I wish there were two of me." Poof! Just like that, there are two of him! Naturally, it doesn't stop there and the clones begin to multiply. Surprisingly, Leo soon finds out that his workload hasn't gotten any smaller with his new help... instead, his list of things just keeps growing.

    Given the mounting insanity of his workload, young Leo poses the zen-like question of "What if I did less--but did my best?" That's fine... but you'll never get into a top-notch college with that attitude, young man!

    With the increasingly competitive (and insane) nature of college admissions, you would think that students these days would need clones just to keep their resumes up to snuff. When you look at some of these applicants, it seems impossible that one human being (let alone one teenager) could do all this without the help of a clone or two. For an example, check out this pretty typical sample resume:



    And we wonder why teenagers are so miserable! It would not surprise me if the most ambitious parents would attempt to harness the power of cloning technology in order to build the most luscious and eye-popping transcript for their children, something guaranteed to blow admissions officers out of their chairs.

    Problem is, once a few people resort to cloning, everyone else is going to have to follow suit just to keep up. The whole admissions process will become more corrupt as applicants who must rely on their own abilities will be at a distinct disadvantage to those who can afford a small army of overachievers. Soon cloning will be as prevalent as SAT prep courses (Kaplan, with their finger on the pulse of the lucrative college admissions industry, will soon offer Clone Management courses to go with their standard slate of test prep classes).

    Unfortunately, this would not stop with college. Because of the massive student debt that you are burdened with upon graduation, you will need your army of clones to work multiple jobs just to make your monthly payments. One poor soul will work in an investment banking firm, one will struggle as a freelance journalist, one will grow interesting facial hair and work for tips at the local a coffee shop... you get the idea.

    Luckily, the odds of this cloning dystopia becoming a reality are slim because most of us are already familiar with the dangers of cloning. This is thanks in large part to the prescient warnings in the groundbreaking scientific treatise, Scientific Progress Goes "Boink" by the eminent scientist and philospher, Bill Watterson. How he didn't win a Nobel Prize for that invaluable contribution to humanity still blows my mind.

    3 Comments on So Few of Me, last added: 8/14/2007
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    12. Dinner with James McCann, Kirsti Wakelin and Lee Edward Fodi

    (from L to R) Kirsti Ann Wakelin, James McCann and Lee Edward FodiOne of the amazing things about producing Just One More Book!! is getting geek out on subjects of literature and literacy with the incredible people behind children’s books. One such occasion took place at the Steamworks Brewing Company in Vancouver this past November. Mark had dinner with young adult fiction novelist James McCann, children’s book illustrator Kirsti Wakelin, and children’s book author and illustrator Lee Edward Fodi.

    A portable recorder sat on the table and captured the entire conversation - two hours worth - and it was all great. However, two hours is more than practical for a podcast. So, we’ve grabbed about twenty minutes for this edition of Just One More Book!! and more of the recording will be made available on markblevis.com in the coming week.

    Follow the JustOneMoreBook.com website for links to more of the conversation when it’s made available.

    Highlights of this excerpt:

    • how feedback from fans inspires and influences
    • sabbaticals
    • creativity as a finite resource
    • productive times and places
    • writer and illustrator toolkits
    • how books are like drops of water

    Musical stings: Veranda by Robert Farrell

    Tags:, , , , , , , , , ,

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    13. Casual Conversation with Tom Peters

    I completely forgot to post here that I was doing a “Casual Conversation” interview with Tom Peters this past Friday - sorry, Tom! - but you can still go back and listen to the session online. I had a lot of fun, and I’d like to thank everyone who listened in. I really enjoyed the format, and it was like sitting on the porch chatting, mostly due to the fact that Tom is such a genial host.

    If you’d like to listen to the conversation, there’s a streaming audio version, or you can download an MP3 to take with you.

    You can view the full list of folks Tom will end up talking to at http://article.gmane.org/gmane.education.web4lib/11314/, and they’ll all be archived at http://www.opal-online.org/archivelis.htm. They’re an hour long and have a frequency of about once a month.

    Thanks for doing this, Tom, and I don’t mean just with me. I was honored to be part of this series.

    , , ,

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    14. Conversation with Robert Paul Weston

    Among the many jobs he’s held is trampolinist, lifeguard, computer programmer, English teacher and editor.  He’s written short stories and scripts, and his book Zorgamazoo — 283 pages of flawless rhyme — was one of thirty books chosen by the Children’s Literature Assembly as as a notable book for 2009.

    On this edition of Just One More Book!!, Robert Paul Weston talks to Mark about his long history with marble tracks, writing an entire book in rhyming accentual verse and the publishing industry’s reaction to it, and the emotional connection readers experience with Zorgamazoo.

    Exciting news!!! Zorgamazoo is on the E. B. White Read Aloud Award shortlist (official information).

    Relevant links:

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    15. Sheree Fitch on Awards, Writing and Movie Deals

    In one of our very early interviews on Just One More Book!!, Sheree Fitch shared her thoughts on writing for children, the Theology of Nonsense and the power of poetry (A Conversation with Sheree Fitch).  A few months ago she returned to talk about bringing back a classic children’s book that had been out of print for 5 years (Sheree Fitch: Reviving Sleeping Dragons).

    On this edition, Sheree Fitch is a guest of our home to talk about being shortlisted for the highest honour in Canadian adult humour — The Stephen Leacock award, the differences between writing adult fiction and children’s books, and the movie deal for her YA novel The Gravesavers.

    Other books by Sheree Fitch:

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