I am a lousy speller even in the best of times, but on a small Iphone with autocorrect my poor spelling and poor typing results in many errors. It is particularly vexing with twitter because tweets are so ephemeral and not easily corrected. Yesterday I made one that gave me, a Lewis Carroll fan, some amusement. I was tweeting away at Candlewick’s fall preview when I did this one:
The correct title is Sam and David Dig a Hole and so first of all, my apologies to Candlewick, Mac Barnett, and Jon Klassen. It is Dig not Fig and Dave not Dace. But I have to say this error for once made me smile as it made me think of this passage from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland:
`Did you say pig, or fig?’ said the Cat.
`I said pig,’ replied Alice; `and I wish you wouldn’t keep appearing and vanishing so suddenly: you make one quite giddy.’
`All right,’ said the Cat; and this time it vanished quite slowly, beginning with the end of the tail, and ending with the grin, which remained some time after the rest of it had gone.
Some of the most transformational learning experiences I have ever had occurred at the summer institutes held for years by CLNE (Children’s Literature New England). I started going in 1999 and didn’t miss a single one until they ended in 2006. I was blown away by them. First of all, the speakers! Not only were they some of the biggest names in the field, but their speeches were amazing. All of them. This was because the organizers saw to it that those speaking knew their audience and prepared accordingly. But then there were the discussion groups, focusing on a set of books we’d been required to read, field trips, informal times, and more. It was during those summers that I made some important and life-long friendships. CLNE took hold of me and never let go. And so I can’t recommend enough their forthcoming symposium, “Writing the Past: Yesterday was Once Today” to be held at Vermont College of Fine Arts, November 14-16, 2014. It is bound to be amazing. Here’s the overview:
In the myriad ways the past is presented to young readers, including history, fiction, biography, memoir, poetry and historical fantasy, what questions are raised? For audiences with short personal histories, programmed to look forward, what is the point of looking back? How trapped are readers, young and old, in their own times? Can a novel be more authentic than an historian’s account of the same period? What are the demands of writing, illustrating and reading about our own past or a time before our own? At Writing the Past, we will explore such concerns as authenticity, intention, credibility and narrative voice. In recreating yesterday as today, how does the writer avoid the slippery wisdom of hindsight? Most importantly, by reaching into the past what do we reveal, deliberately or inadvertently, about ourselves?
Presenters at the Symposium will include: M. T. Anderson, Susan Cooper, Sarah Ellis, Shane Evans, Jack Gantos, Katherine Paterson, Elizabeth Partridge, Neal Porter, Leda Schubert, Barbara Scotto, Brian Selznick, Robin Smith, Suzanne Fisher Staples, and Deborah Taylor.
For more details and to register go here.
Chris Raschka’s The Cosmobiography of Sun Ra: The Sound of Joy is Enlightening. I’m a Raschka fan from way back. The range and variety of his work is astounding. Among my favorites are three featuring jazz musicians: Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, and Mysterious Thelonious. Now along comes Raschka’s appreciation of Sun Ra and it is as marvelous as the others. Sun Ra was one wild dude and Raschka captures his originality in words and images. Not just his life, but the sense and feeling of his music. Gorgeous.
Jose Manual Mateo’s Migrant. This is a remarkable book providing a highly original look at those migrating across our southern border. This story of a young Mexican migrant is told in English and Spanish and spectacularly illustrated in the style of a Mayan codex, folding out in a frieze so that young readers can explore the story in a wide variety of ways. Spectacular.
Barbara Kerley and Edwin Fotheringham’s A Home for Mr. Emerson is a gentle and profound portrayal of a remarkable man. Kerley has managed to write in spare and poetic text a lovely view of Emerson in a way that is perfect for a young audience. Fortheringham’s illustrations provide a lighthearted and fond view that perfectly compliment the text.
Betsy Bird has a fascinating post up, “We Need Diverse Books…But Are We Willing To Discuss Them With Our Kids.” Having recently read Po Branson and Ashley Merryman’s Nurture Shock, Betsy considers in particular their chapter “Why White Parents Don’t Talk About Race: Does teaching children about race and skin color make them better of or worse?” and what books are available to help with this conversation for very young children.
First of all, my general feeling about introducing difficult topics with very young children is uneasiness. I’ve been on record as not being a fan of Holocaust stories for the very young as I think the topic requires an ability to grapple with history and information in a way they are not ready for developmentally. More recently I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it in terms of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. I wrote my book, Africa is My Home, for many reasons, but one was to provide a way for children the age of my students, 9 and 10, to begin to consider this horrific time. In addition to thinking about this for the book I’ve thought about it for years as I plan and teach a unit about this to my 4th graders. How much information do they need, I wonder? How do I navigate one child’s readiness to know more and another child’s lack of readiness for the same? I use a lot of picture books for the unit, poetry, and my own material. I ask children and parents to let me know if anyone is upset. So far, the children seem to know just how far they are ready to go. It seems a bit like sex — they know there is more to know, but they are not ready. Of course, each class responses differently as does each child. And Betsy is talking about parents taking these topics on, not classroom teachers. Yet we classroom teachers do take them on so her post spoke to me and made me wonder.
And a particular teacher came to mind as I thought about this, former kindergarten teacher, Vivian Paley, who often addresses race in her books. One in particular seems relevant to this topic, The Girl with the Brown Crayon, in which the books of Leo Lionni become a springboard for the consideration of many important topics including race. While I can’t say how much conversation my white students have with their parents about race, I can say they do come to my classroom having discussed it in school in previous years. Of course they live (as does Betsy’s daughter) in a city where they see people of different races all the time and go to a school where they see it too. I wonder about this with very young white children in communities that are less diverse — if they aren’t seeing it in real life how do they consider it when they are seeing it just in the books Betsy suggests?
As a teacher, my interest is providing historical context for particularly difficult topics. I think it is very difficult for all of us to understand the horrors of human behavior, but by learning the history that leads to it, we are helped I think. For one thing, it takes away the tendency to demonize and brings us to a place to think about how we can avoid more horror to happen. No doubt because of my personal history with the Holocaust and Sierra Leone, I feel it is very important to consider not just the facts of racism and other such horrors of human behavior, but to try to see what causes it and how we move past it. When children are ready to begin to do this, I’m not completely sure. I’m working my way through it and appreciate every opportunity to learn more on how to do it better.
Lovely reverie on life with dog by singer Nat Johnson (via Brain Pickings).
I just was listening to the BBC this early, early morning and they caught my attention by introducing a segment with a bit from one of the Freaky Friday movies. (For those who don’t know them, these are movies based on the Mary Roger’s book, Freaky Friday, where a girl and her mother swap bodies with somewhat predictable, but amusing results. The two movies reflect their time periods — might be interesting to do it again and see how it might look today. But I digress.)
The feature was about the BeAnotherLab in which a group of Spanish artists are trying to have people experience something of the body/mind swap that the mother and daughter in the Freaky Friday movies and books experience. Using low tech equipment they have been doing this with as an art project rather than a science one. Their goals being the laudable ones of encouraging empathy and the sense of literally being in someone else’s shoes. On the site they describe it as:
an interdisciplinary art collective dedicated to investigate embodied and telepresence experiments. We believe that the understanding of the “self” is related to the understanding of the “Other” and that more than individuals, we are part of a broader system called humanity. Under this perspective, we search for innovative possibilities on the concepts of embodied interaction, extended body and extended mind by mixing low-budget digital technology with social relations, Web and also neuroscientist methodologies.
We develop Creative Commons tools based on OpenKnowledge and are collaborating with experimental psychologists and neurologists to develop usage procedures to ‘the machine’ as a low-budget rehabilitation system, and also as an immersive role playing system.
Intriguing. Here’s a video they made about it:
There has been a lot of attention recently being paid to the issue of diversity in children’s and young adult books. Here are links to some of the many posts and articles responding to this: