Books for Incarcerated Teens

Many years ago I first heard Walter Dean Myers speak of his involvement with incarcerated teens. Later, when I found myself with an abundance of YA ARCs, I was pleased to hear that they were much needed for incarcerated teens and looked for a way to get them to them. After some struggles figuring this out (living in NYC I’m carless so getting lots of books places isn’t so easy) I discovered that Karlan Sick, who lives around the corner from me, is now chair of the board for Literacy for Incarcerated Teens. Karlan told me to bring the books to her and she’d get them to the teens.  And so for the last few years, I periodically load up my shopping cart with finished galleys and take them to her building.  For a time I was told they could only take galleys and paperbacks, but more recently I’ve been able to donate hardcovers as well.  It is fabulous program that I associate with Walter as he was so passionate about incarcerated teens and so I was delighted to see the SLJ feature, “Literacy for Incarcerated Teens” and urge you to read it to learn more about this wonderful program.

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Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus

I love words and I love art that plays with words. ABC books, abecedarian novels, lipograms, everything and anything that plays with the art of words is art right up my alley. And so having adored Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet’s glorious Caldecott Honor A River of Words, I was agog with anticipation waiting for their latest, The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus.  And now that I’ve seen it, let me tell you — it was worth the wait.  Bryant again captures the essence of a complicated individual in spare and beautifully crafted text. Having now written a book about a real person myself, I’m all the more in awe of anyone who takes on a full biography for children, managing to economically pull out just what is needed about that person’s life for young readers to best appreciate his accomplishments. Roget was clearly one brilliant man who loved all sorts of things, words among them. Bryan elegantly presents Roget’s lifelong passion for word lists as well as much more. She communicates beautifully just why such lists are so worthwhile by having Roget answer his mother’s questions with a single word and then mull over what better ones there might be. She suggests the darker parts of his life, but mostly she shows readers a person who was a passionate learner, passionate creator of word lists, and someone who figured out how to put those passions together to create a unique and wonderful book, the thesaurus.

Words, words, letters and numbers and then more words float through this book. In the text, through the perfect design and, most wonderfully, through Melissa Sweet’s art. These marks of language are everywhere in this book, those of Roget’s lists dance across one page, march down another, and flit throughout in magical ways.  On every page, Sweet’s assemblages of paintings and collage are an exuberant delight; the realistic paintings celebrating different parts of Roget’s life are often layered one above another; here’s one with an elegant file folder border; there’s another with paper scraps of lists peeking out behind it. Page after page words drift through, around and in the paintings via speech bubbles, book covers, cards, signs, maps, labels, diagrams, and more. Color and texture are used to brilliant effect, at times repeating within and without an illustration. Most of all it is Sweet’s playful use of language through her lovely realistic watercolors of Roget and his experiences, her glorious assemblages of meaning, that bring Bryan’s words, Roget’s life, and this book to an ethereal place of pleasure.

All in all, The Right Word is a

spectacular

brilliant

marvelous

superb

magnificent

dazzling

work of art.

 

 

 

 

 

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In the Classroom: No Homework No Scieszka?

On the first day of school, my son and I made a deal. In three days, one of his favorite authors — Jon Scieszka, editor of the “Guys Read” short story collections — was coming to Nashville for a reading and signing downtown. If my son showed me that he could keep track of his early school assignments and bring home everything he needed for each of those first few nights of homework, he could go.

From Mary Laura Philpott’s Homework and Consequences.

I’m sorry, but as a teacher this is NOT a consequence I’d recommend for missed homework.  Makes me sick to my stomach that this poor kid — spoiler — didn’t get to see his favorite author.

 

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In the Classroom: Thoughts on Ice (Buckets)

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 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 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?

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Toon Graphics for Middle Grade Readers

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).

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Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods

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.”

 

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Disney’s Aladdin on Stage and Screen

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.

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