Friday, January 30, 2009
Congratulations to Kadir Nelson - We Are the Ship: The Story of Negro League Baseball(Hyperion/Jump at the Sun).
Congrats also to the Sibert honor recipients:
Barbara Kerley - What to Do About Alice? (Scholastic Press)
James M. Deem - Bodies from the Ice: Melting Glaciers and the Recovery of the
Past (Houghton Mifflin).
Quote for the day: Colors fade, temples crumble, empires fall, but wise words endure.
Thursday, January 29, 2009
There is much truth in what Sir Robinson says. However, he doesn't address the problem faced by teachers who are constrained by school administration goals of standardized test scores. I've talked to a lot of teachers. They want to be more creative in the classroom. They want to have random science experiments and field trips and lessons that don't follow a text book. Teachers are frustrated by their limitations. Why are we surprised that schools don't teach "outside the box?" Teachers are allowed a tether that doesn't allow them to stretch that far.
To some degree, it's a matter of not enough hours in the day. And a 21-1 ratio of students to teacher in traditional public schools. But mostly, I think, the problem rests in expectations. Schools churn out test results and prepare students for the next level of academic expectation. It's a revolving door.
Can classroom dynamics and artistic education change? Who knows. Perhaps we, as parents, should rethink our own expectations of schools. We can't fully blame schools or teachers for lacking creativity. After all, when it comes to raising our children...We Control The Box.
Quote for the day:
Creativity is so delicate a flower tha praise tends to make it bloom, while discouragement often nips it in the bud. Any of us will put out more and better ideas if our efforts are appreciated. -----Alex F. Osborn
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
Crusade for Kindness: Henry Bergh and the ASPCA by John J. Loeper (Atheneum, 1991)New York of the 1800s is vividly described: the horrific abuses of work animals, the unsanitary conditions of slaughterhouses and dairies, and the cruel notions of sport, none of which were examined until wealthy Henry Bergh founded the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty of Animals. His campaign evoked ridicule and hostility, so he was well covered in the newspapers of his day.
Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (Scholastic, 1999) "It's funny how ideas are, in a lot of ways they're just like seeds. Both of them start real, real small and then... woop, zoop, sloop... before you can say Jack Robinson, they've gone and grown a lot bigger than you ever thought they could." So figures scrappy 10-year-old philosopher Bud--"not Buddy"--Caldwell, an orphan on the run from abusive foster homes and Hoovervilles in 1930s Michigan. And the idea that's planted itself in his head is that Herman E. Calloway, standup-bass player for the Dusky Devastators of the Depression, is his father.
Children's Writer Guide to 2009. Edited by Susan M. Tierney (Writer's Institute Publications, 2009) The Institute keeps sending this annual offering and I can't stand the thought of not reading all the great articles about the craft, business, and marketing of children's literature.
Clementine by Sara Pennypacker-(5-10 year olds) I laughed out loud as my son and I read this together. Fabulous word choices and a fun, fun plot.
The Great Fire by Jim Murphy (9-12 year olds) The rising story arc and magnificent research that Mr. Murphy poured into this true story of Chicago's 1871 fire is spellbinding. This is probably my all time favorite nonfiction book.
Quote for the Day: All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure. -----Mark Twain (1835-1910)
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Thank you to Ms. Mustain's fourth grade class who proved to be a wonderful audience for my speel on revision today. I am always so flattered when teachers ask me to share my humble experience with the students. Regardless of the format, revisions are terribly important, aren't they? I don't think kids will ever truly believe how many revisions go into a manuscript before it is considered publishable.
I've done several visits like this recently which is fantastic practice for me. I think I learn as much as the kids.
Among my outlined presentation, I included some memorable first sentences from well known books (and one fun but lesser known title) that I had handy. The students enthusiastically nailed all but one. They had so much fun with these, I decided to list them here. Can you identify the books?
1. In 1900, twenty-year-old Mack Sennett was a horse’s rear end.
(Mack Made Movies by Don Brown, 2003)
2. Mr. and Mrs. Dursley, of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
(Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling,
3. There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.
(Holes by Louis Sachar, 1998)
4. “Where’s Papa going with that ax?”
(Charlotte's Web by E.B. White, 1952)
5. All children, except one, grow up.
(Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, 1904)
6. He did not want to be a wringer. This was one of the first things he had learned bout himself.
(Wringer by Jerry Spinelli, 1998)
7. If you are interested in stories with happy endings, you would be better off reading some other book.
(The Bad Beginning. A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, 1999)
Monday, January 26, 2009
A big shout out to Ms. Brown's second grade class in Round Rock, Texas. I was invited to present an experiment and interactive demonstration to the class last week about musical glasses. They have recently learned the basic science behind sound in general. Because of my recent Odyssey article and my book-in-progress about Benjamin Franklin's glass armonica, I've learned a thing or two about glass including the physics phenomenon that makes those glasses sing. If I had an extra $10,000 I'd order a glass armonica just to show kids.
After 'telling' them the abbreviated history of the glass armonica and explaining the science behind glass, we enjoyed an interactive experiment. I had ten or so wine glasses, all different sizes. The kids quickly learned how to alter a musical note by adding or removing water.
Then we successfully tuned three glasses for the song, Mary Had a Little Lamb. The kids applauded. I took a bow.
That got them really excited about getting their hands on the glasses. So, each of the kids had an opportunity to make the glasses sing. By the end, the questions were flowing. Really good questions, I might add. They all went home and asked Mom and Dad for a wine glass. HA! That just shows that science can be really cool to a child if we encourage their hands to be as active as their brains.
Sunday, January 25, 2009
Thursday, January 22, 2009
Blogs around the world have been popping with comments. Most agree that Obama’s speech was inspiring and that the new first family has already shown tremendous grace. There certainly couldn’t be two cuter and more poised little girls energizing the White House today. Like every other citizen, children’s writers are keeping a close eye on the Washington machine. To be sure, passions swing both directions on the political pendulum. Thank goodness.
Thank goodness for American freedom of speech. We are free to stomp our feet in protest if we don’t like our government’s decision and we are free to throw one heck of a party when the establishment leans our way. I tend to believe that this blessed freedom we enjoy is the battery that keeps our country moving like the ultimate Energizer bunny. The yays and nays serve to keep us balanced as a country. Batteries come with negatives and positives. One without the other inhibits a progressive charge. Is there a more organic checks and balances?
What lessons do children take from this historic election? Hopefully, they were in on the adult conversations about issues, platforms, character, etc. And, hopefully, they were able to tune in to the televised inaugural speech. Whether Moms and Dads voted for or against Obama- I hope kids are learning to open their minds, get curious, ask questions, and start conversations that stretch their comfort level in respectful ways. It is, after all, their country. I hope they see that being smart is cool for men and women, that boundaries can be obliterated, and that dreams really do come true.
Today will be history tomorrow. How will our children remember it?
Thursday, January 15, 2009
During their move last year, my in-laws generously gave us a dining room set that had once belonged to my husband’s beloved grandparents. It was/is not an antique, but the twenty-year old set is lovely and classic with the added sentimental attachment. Perfect for our breakfast room. So, we happily discharged the multi-purpose bumper pool table to the lake house and welcomed the addition. The table came with one pea-sized blemish on the surface. Nobody knows where the tiny boo-boo came from, but it seemed to add character as if my grandfather-in-law had scribbled a secret code for future generations to decipher.
Entrusting a sentimental piece of everyday furniture to a home with young children and a lax mother is not always a good idea.
I should mention that table cloths and pads also came with the table, beautifully pressed and meticulously folded for my use. Uh huh! My mother-in-law seems to forget that I am allergic to ironing so, while her efforts were much appreciated, they were really quite futile. Especially since they were quickly donated to Goodwill, in hopes that a more needy (and earlier generation) home will put them to good use. For the past year, our new table has endured meals, homework, legos, crafts, and card games in a naked state (the table, not the occupants) save for four vinyl placemats.
Dining room tables really should be covered in polyurethane like those in restaurants. Then, when acrylic paint is accidentally tipped over on the table and oozes under vinyl placemats while the family leaves for the day, there would be no worries about coming home to a disaster.
I blame myself really. My son and I were working on his Pine Wood Derby car and I had ‘backed off’ to allow his creative juices to flow. I was probably careless in allowing this project at this particular table, but this space is, after all, where my children’s minds grow. In my defense, I did cover his quadrant of the table with newspapers laid atop his placemat. As if! So, why am I surprised that he set the opened acrylic black paint bottle on the uncovered section of gleamingly perfect table top?
Obviously, by the time we returned to find the drying puddle on the quasi-heirloom, the damage had been done. The good news is that I successfully removed the paint. The bad news is that the wood’s finish came off with it, leaving a brand new blemish the size of an orange. Part of me is mortified, though I'm not angry with my son. It's more of a "My mother-in-law will kill me" kind of fear. I have a feeling, though, that E’s great-grandparents would be laughing at this situation and telling me not to fret over it. It adds more character, right? And it will give my grandchildren something to ponder about one day. In fact, maybe I should have E sign his contribution to the table. Nah!
Now, I’m rushing off to buy an industrial strength table cloth. Maybe it should be covered in polyurethane.
Thursday, January 8, 2009
It comes up at every writing conference and workshop and on countless blogs. Boys won't read books with a female protagonist. I know the premise is correct- kinda. This is where my experiment comes in. My eight year old cherub son loves to be read to after his own required reading each night. Obviously, this is a special time for us that I relish. He has a library of children's books that would impress any public librarian, especially his collection of train books. Not only do I support local authors, but I'm also a huge treasure hunter- digging up great books at garage sales and thrift stores. It's another way to recycle, right? Anyway, his shelves and mine are lined with hundreds of children's books.
At eight years old, "E" hasn't yet morphed into machoism the way his brother did at about this age. E enjoys Junie B. Jones, Judy Moody, and Clementine. Of course, he's also a fan of Spongebob, trains, sports books, and other typical male fare. Away from books, he is "all boy" complete with football, karate, cub scouts, and proud belches. How much of his reading decisions are based on his parents choices? I don't know. I encourage him to read anything and everything that is age appropriate. He doesn't grump about the protagonist wearing a skirt or using her hair as a weapon.
So, how much of this "boys don't read about girls" is actually about the boy? Or, is it about the reader's specific age? Or, is it about a parent worried that it is un-masculine for a boy to read about a girl? Or, is it an indication of too little introduction to the art of literature? Is E's openness a response to his father's and my encouragement to continue piano lessons, write more poetry, and have fun cooking with mom between football practice? Can parenting style keep a boy's mind more open? Could boys reading about girls be an early form of sensitivity training? Hmm!
One of my recent thrift store finds was a book titled Dear Dumb Diary: Am I the Princess or the Frog? (Jim Benton, 2005). This is part of an impressive series by Scholastic that I hadn't heard of. Amazon.com indicates the reader age range at 9-12. I'll admit that I watched closely to E's expression as I suggested this title. No flinching. No grumping. Just shrugged his shoulders and said, "Okay."
E is a good reader-above average, I think. Still, the lengthy and complex sentence structure has challenged him on occasion. I think that's great in that it forces him to stretch his literary ear and traverse mid-sentence punctuation. But, readability level is another subject, isn't it? We have both laughed at Jamie Kelly, Isabella, Angeline and their universal antics. E just doesn't care that we're talking about girls. At least not yet.
I've spent a great deal of time as a library volunteer and substitute librarian at my son's school. Boys love nonfiction. There's no dispute about that. But, I regularly see boys older than E choosing female-centered books like Judy Moody along with a book about NASCAR. Perhaps there's a shift in thinking on the way.
Stay tuned to the boys reading about girls experiment, which may take several years.
Friday, January 2, 2009
The holidays commanded a break from my writing routine. But, I couldn't possibly stop reading. That would be like not breathing. So, I grabbed novels that had embarassingly sat on my shelves unread for longer than I care to admit.
Like taking a well earned vacation, joining the adventures of Maniac Magee, Stargirl, Clementine, and Fudge-o-Mania offered the perfect retreat from my fact-filled routine. (Clementine had me cackling.) I relished the voices, the structures, the story arcs, the antics, the surprises, and the diversity of each novel. Could it be that my nonfiction brain learned a thing or two from these fiction authors? I also purchased J.K. Rowling's The Tales of Beedle the Bard which, unfortunately, I wasn't thrilled with (for the record, I love the Harry Potter books.)
My favorite nonfiction books read like novels, so why have I neglected this important genre as a "training tool" for my brain? Jim Murphy's Great Fire, and Marc Aronson's Real Revolution would keep even the most avid fiction reader glued to the book. It's all about voice and structure, right? Every nonfiction person or event unfolded through a true story. I need to keep reminding myself of the story part.
So, I'll be reading more fiction and poetry in 2009, while plugging away at my nonfiction projects. And, for all my fiction author friends, if I haven't picked up a copy of your books yet, I will soon.
If you've read or watched The Secret, you've heard the theory of positive thinking and the power of visualization. I'm willing to give it a try. So, here goes.
*I will polish the first four chapters and proposals for each of my two nonfiction books-in-progress then will send them out into the publishing world.
*I will revive my humorous picture book manuscripts that are collecting dust.
*I will believe in myself.
*I will eat less sugar and more vegetables.
*I will exercise more and sit less, though I haven't figured out how to incorporate more writing with more activity. That can only mean less sleep. So be it!
*I will procrastinate less
*I will celebrate the successes of others
*I will not allow envy to dampen my energy or slow my personal momentum.
*I will read less how-to books and more poetry books.
*I will dedicate quality time for my family.
*I will bathe in laughter.
*I will post to my blog regularly (no laughing here.)
*I will cultivate and nurture my friendships.
*I will say "I love you" more often.
*I will make a child smile.
*I will make my mother proud.
*I will not embarass my teenager.........often.
*I will be grateful for each day.
So, what are your goals for 2009?