Lou Bunin’s Alice in Wonderland

Lou Bunin did a fabulous stop motion Alice in Wonderland film in 1949.  I’ve heard so much about it, but seeing it in total seems to be elusive. (Evidently Disney had a hand in this, wanting his version to be the movie version.) The clip below gives you a taste of why we Carrollians are so eager to get our hands on it. ( This young woman found a French subtitled version — scroll down to see it— that, she indicates, is not complete.)

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Africa is My Home: Meet the Author at Teaching Books

I’ve long known of the fantastic resource Teachingbook,net, a subscription service full of original material about young people’s books and their creators. And now I’m so excited to be there too along with Africa is My Home!  Go here to listen to me introduce the book, provide some information about how it came into being, and read some of it. And if you are really curious you can also go here to listen to me say my name and tell a little story about it.

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In the Classroom: Parents and Teachers and Children and Homework

I have never been much for homework. Nothing I’ve read indicates it does anything to improve student learning for the 4th graders I teach.  I do require that my students read a minimum of 30 minutes a night, but I try to keep their accountability for that as simple as possible so that the reading doesn’t become a chore.  We also give them a small amount of math to reinforce what they did in school, a bit of word study, and that is pretty much it. What I hope they do away from school is whatever they wish — read more, Legos, soccer, fantasy play (which, I’ve noticed, every year seems to be more vestigial for this age group), video games (they aren’t all bad:), drawing, or just hanging out.

When I do give homework I’m pretty fanatic about the kids doing it on their own. That is, no adults should be involved. I’m not a fan of arty projects where some parents get so involved that the projects look professional while others look exactly like what you would expect a non-dexterous kid’s to look like. And some parents, in my experience, find it impossible not to get involved in a piece of writing. Some kids end up leaning on them for this while others hate it.  The bottom line for me is that any work done at home should be the kid’s 100%. Where the parent CAN help in is encouraging them to do it, find a good/quiet place for it, and otherwise help develop their child’s independence and good study habits.

I was provoked to write this after reading Judith Newman’s New York Times piece,  “But I Want to Do Your Homework: Helping Kids With Homework.”  While what she writes isn’t new, she does it in a wry self-deprecating way. With helicoptering parents finding it hard as hell to stay back, I think there can’t be too many articles like these supporting them in doing so.

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Jude Watson’s Loot

I love me a good caper story. Lighter, smarter, funnier, and a lot less gory than many other sorts of crime fiction, done well, they are great fun to read.  And when a heist is involved, ideally in some exotic locale, all the better.  I’m not an expert by any means, but my favorite of these sorts of stories involve some sort of initiating event and then a super cool and super smart individual assembling and leading a motley crew to steal something from someone who doesn’t deserve to have it in the first place. Say the movies, “How to Steal a Million” or “Ocean’s Eleven.”  Now along comes Jude Watson‘s Loot: How to Steal a Fortune. Her name may not be terribly familiar to you, but what she’s written probably is, say a bunch of the 39 Clues books and many (many) Star War titles. But what caused me to snap up and read this title was when I learned that Jude Watson happens to also be Judy Blundell who wrote the fabulous National Book Award winner What I Saw and How I Lied.

It starts out darkly with a job gone very, very wrong. We meet almost-thirteen-year-old March McQuinn, who has spent his whole life traveling around with his father, helping him with his cons and heists, mostly homeschooled in a desultory way. Now Alfie McQuinn has fallen off an Amsterdam roof and March is  sitting next to him listening to his dying words, “Find jewels.” The moonstones, the grieving March assumes, seven otherworldly gems that are the central objects of desire in this novel. But it turns out that his father means something else entirely. It seems March has a twin sister named Jules from whom he has been separated his whole life. She, like March, has had an unconventional upbringing and is equally  savvy in  the murky world of con artists and thieves. The two soon meet and end up in a dreary American foster home. There they join forces with two other smart young people and head off to solve the mystery of their father’s death, get those moonstones, and do a whole lot more that is far too complicated to describe in brief, not to mention potentially spoiling if I do. What I can say is that it is loads of fun.

As in the best caper and heist stories, this one is full of snappy dialog, razor-sharp sentences, and clever plotting. The baddies are deliciously nasty and deserve what they get, the kids are endearing, and all in all it is a great edge-of-your seat read.

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Val McDermid’s Northanger Abbey

I read Val McDermid’s reinvisioning of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey a while ago, courtesy of one of the egalley sites, and very much enjoyed it. This surprised me because Austen’s original is perhaps my least favorite of her novels, but McDermid pulls this new version off glowingly.

First of all, a well-known writer of adult crime fiction, McDermid does an excellent job with her sentence-level writing — that light wit and cleverness of Austen is nicely channelled. Having read a number of mediocre attempts to update Austen, this mattered to me enormously.  And then, she plays most amusingly with the recent obsession so many young woman had with the Twilight novels, a clever updating of Austen’s original heroine’s obsession with gothic romances.  Finally, she uses Edinburgh during the Book Festival as stand-in for the original’s Bath. Last summer, I was there for the first time and fell in love with the city and event. And so I can say for sure that McDermid does a lovely job capturing the sensibility of that time and location.

Now I’m delighted to see that Jo Baker, whose own Austen reinvisioning, Longbourn, was rightly celebrated last year (my review here), has enthusiastically reviewed this title for the New York Times.  She concludes:

Austen’s “Northanger Abbey” was in part a playful response to what she considered “unnatural” in the novels of her day: Instead of perfect heroes, heroines and villains, she offers flawed, rounded characters who behave naturally and not just according to the demands of the plot. So while everything in Austen is made up, nothing is ever a lie. McDermid’s writing has a similar honesty: She doesn’t let easy clichés or stereotypes slip by. In her crime fiction, the situations may be extreme, but her characters are human. This is also true of her “Northanger Abbey.” It may be an adaptation of someone else’s novel, which itself is woven with references to other, earlier books, but nothing feels forced, nothing feels untrue. McDermid makes it very much her own, although any skeletons in the cupboards remain strictly metaphorical.

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Summer Reading Suggestions from My Fourth Graders

Well, they won’t be “my” fourth graders after tomorrow. That is when we have our annual Arch Day when students go through an arch “and into the next grade.”  That said, today they are still fourth graders, great readers who, when I asked for some summer reading suggestions for their peers, had a great time.

The rules were the suggestions had to come from their independent reading choices; that meant they couldn’t list books I’d read to them or others they’d read for class projects.  Being avid readers, this wasn’t a problem. In fact, what was a problem for some was limiting their list to ten!  What I love is how the lists show what wide-ranging readers they are. You will see that one moment they are reading very sophisticated books and at the next something young and light.

Follow this link to my school’s open blog  to see some from each child’s list  to give you a taste of their wide reading range and to use when looking for books for children in your own environment.

 

 

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Bank Street College’s Best Children’s Books of the Year

Bank Street College Center for Children’s Literature‘s 2014 edition of their Best Children’s Books of the Year is now out. Here’s a description from their announcement:

The Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2014 Edition includes more than 600 titles chosen by the Children’s Book Committee as the best of the best published in 2013. In choosing books for the annual list, committee members consider literary quality and excellence of presentation as well as the potential emotional impact of the books on young readers. Other criteria include credibility of characterization and plot, authenticity of time and place, age suitability, positive treatment of ethnic and religious differences, and the absence of stereotypes.

Here are links to their honorees in the different age groups:

*Thank you Children’s Book Committee for including Africa is My Home on this list.

 

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