I have been very appreciative of the occasional attention given to introversion in the classroom for students and teachers of late. It helps me to clarify what I know already — I’m very introverted. I need quiet, recovery time, and all those other things that are so often typical of introversion. And as I consider how I can be a good teacher given this and how I can also support my students, introverted or not, I have been considering something else. This is the pleasure so many get when a teacher performs. Those that happily dance on the stage during an assembly, who willingly wear a costume all day for a cause, who speak publicly with such verve, who do the Ice Bucket challenge and other things of that sort. So often I see a video of such a teacher along with comment after comment about what an amazing teacher he or she is and I think, “There is just no way I can do this.” The very idea gets me all scrunched up.
It isn’t that I’m uncomfortable with all forms of public presentations. I enjoy enormously writing about what happens in my classroom, about curriculum, about my thinking about teaching and learning. I enjoy public speaking about teaching and learning or Lewis Carroll or Alice or Sierra Leone or Africa is My Home or something else. What I don’t like at all, what makes me terribly uncomfortable, is having it focused on me. That the looking is at me and not about my work or something else. And I wonder — what is this? Is it introversion or something else? Social anxiety? (While I am very lively in social gatherings with people I know, I’m extremely shy in those where I don’t know anyone.) Comfortable as I am knowing this about myself, I still feel horribly guilty when saying no to a request to do one of these public acts. I feel that I must appear really selfish for being so unwilling. Or that I’ve disappointed my students who watch other teachers happily dance and be silly.
So this isn’t about throwing ice on these sorts of public activities. Bravo to those who can do them. But what about those of us who appear perfectly able to do them and say no for the reasons that are not necessarily visible? Teachers and students alike. How do those of us who have this aspect to our personalities navigate a world that so adores Ice Bucket challenges and similar sorts of things?
I was really excited to learn of Toon Books‘ new offerings for middle grade readers, Toon Graphics and then to meet recently with founder, Françoise Mouly. Her enthusiasm for the power of comics for school-aged readers is contagious. What I have always liked about Toon Books is their distinctively European sensibility, understandable as there is a proud and venerable comic tradition on that continent. This same feeling comes through in the first offerings of their middle grade imprint:
To learn more about Toon Graphics and how school kids are responding to the offerings go read the New York Times profile, “Comic Books Even Teachers Can Love” (and just ignore that headline and the old-fashioned notion that we teachers think comics and graphic novels are very bad things).
I was on the 2008 Newbery Committee that honored Christopher Paul Curtis’s Elijah of Buxton so I was both eager and nervous to read its companion, The Madman of Piney Woods. Eager because I so admired the first book, and nervous because you just never know. Happily, I was delighted with the book and those at the Horn Book Magazine where I reviewed it agreed with me, starring it. I concluded my review (which you can read here) thus: “Woven throughout this profoundly moving yet also at times very funny novel are themes of family, friendship, community, compassion, and, fittingly, the power of words.”
While Disney is not my preferred choice for a Broadway show, the enthusiastic New York Times review and what I saw on the Tonys, peaked my interest in seeing the Broadway production of Aladdin, the Musical. And so yesterday, as a reward for completing a big writing project before school starts, I went to see it and was not disappointed; it was loads of fun. And now rereading the Times review, I’m not surprised to see that the director was also responsible for The Book of Mormon musical. Both have an old-fashioned feel and are loving appreciations of the musical theater genre with production numbers that are reminders of old favorites, while being entertaining all by themselves.
And then there is James Monroe Iglehart who rightly won a Tony for his terrific performance as Genie. At first his performance reminded me somewhat painfully of Robin William’s creation of the character in the movie, but eventually Inglehart’s terrific singing and dancing made the role all his own. To honor both men here are their performances of the showstopper, “Friend Like Me” and then one more recent video of Inglehart and the Broadway cast leading a tribute to Williams.
Barry Jonsberg’s The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee, an Australian import, is one fabulous book. I’d had the ARC for quite a while, but it took Betsy Bird’s rave review to finally get me to read it and I’m so glad I did. Twelve-year-old Candice is one of those delightful singular narrators — she is definitely different, but not in a way that can be nicely and conveniently categorized. Classmates term her SN for special needs, but there is no sense that she is being provided any special support at all. She tells her story clearly, without discomfort, with thought, and with delightful humor. Her family is struggling emotionally for many good reasons, but Candice is keeping going even as her parents are barely able to do so. Candice knows herself, she knows she is different, and is completely comfortable with that. Occasionally there is a tinge of Pollyanna in her, say when she is paired for a school project with the classmate who seems to hate her most. Candice both knows Jen detests her and thinks that they will be great friends because of the project. Does the latter prevail? Sort of and sort of not. Read the book to see.
Jonsberg’s writing is a dream. He has structured the book as a school assignment Candice is given — to write an abecedarian autobiography — one paragraph for each letter. Our girl takes it and runs with it, letting us know at the beginning that she is tossing the one paragraph rule, giving each letter a full chapter instead. She loves the dictionary and Dickens and it shows. Hers (or rather Jonsberg’s) ability to write a scene is just delightful. I dare you not to be moved by those with her parents. Or intrigued by those with Douglas Benson from Another Dimension. Then there are those passages where Candice ruminates, say about trying to get her fish to become an atheist. Or about the death of her baby sister. Or about her Rich Uncle Brian. I’m a teacher so I have to say I adored Candice’s, Miss Bamford. She just appreciates Candice and I appreciate her, pirate attire and all. (Read the book to see what that is all about.)
So go find and read this book — it is terrific.
Coda: The SLJ reviewer wrote, “This is a strong readalike for Counting by 7s (Dial, 2013) and Out of My Mind(S. & S., 2010.” I have to say this makes me very uncomfortable as it suggests there is a category of books of different, so identified because of unusual personality or severe physical differences. The girls in each of these books are each such distinctive individuals, their situations are not the same, and the writing is not the same. The idea that young readers would read all three for the same reason disturbs me — it suggests they are looking for books about kids who are not them, who are fascinated by their differences. Sure they will admire these three girls, but why throw them together this way?
While Ebola seems to be off the New York Times front page, the articles are still there. “If They Survive in the Ebola Ward, They Work On” features some heroic people in and around Kenema, an area I knew when I lived in Sierra Leone. (For a different sort of context, this is center Mende country where the Amistad captives of Africa is My Home were from.)
Who doesn’t enjoy a well-drawn curmudgeon? Children’s books are rife with them. From dour Eeyore moping about the Hundred Acre Wood to the irritable Mary Poppins, they come in all shapes and species. Proudly singular, such cantankerous characters are invariably exasperating, endearing and entertaining all at the same time. And now along comes Jennifer L. Holm with a doozy. Best known for her works of historical fiction, three of which have won Newbery Honors (“Our Only May Amelia,” “Penny From Heaven,” “Turtle in Paradise”), and the graphic novel series “Babymouse,” Holm uses a surprising twist to bring us a particularly memorable grouch in her latest, “The Fourteenth Goldfish.”
That’s the beginning of my very enthusiastic review of The Fourteenth Goldfish in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review. Read the rest of it here.