Daily Archives: February 23, 2007

Teaching with Blogs: Amistad Poetry

On Wednesday my class had a truly magical hour with poet Natasha Trethewey who is at our school this year as a visiting artist. Aware of Natasha’s interest in history and primary source documents, I asked her if she would be interested in building on my students’ work with Sarah Margru Kinson, a child on the Amistad. She was.

And so Natasha came and, after leading the class in a close reading of several of Elizabeth Alexander’s Amistad poems from her collection American Sublime, guided them into creating a group poem of their own. After she left, the inspired children created individual Amistad poems and then presented them as collages. Please go see them here; they are quite wonderful!

In a couple of weeks, Natasha will return for a very special Literary Salon during which the children will perform their poems (which we will, of course, podcast).

And so, without further ado, here is the class poem:

Margru

What I remember of home is this:

green – green mangoes, green snakes, green bananas:
brown – my mother, my father, myself, the tree
trunks, the brown earth, the color of my language,
Mende,
the only language I had
to describe these things.

Often I think of
how I came to be here:

my father pawning me, waving goodbye,
his face crumpled, tightened, looking
away from me.

I felt my captor’s white, cold hand
tighten around my wrist as if
he were a solid ghost taking me away.

Now I wish to see again
the green rice fields,
my father’s brown face,
clouds in the sky —
the only white things,

to hear someone speaking my language,
someone saying

Margru.

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Filed under Historical Fiction, History, Reading, Teaching

My Scrotum Week

Sunday

The children’s literature world had been bubbling about this for a while, but it was only when my local newspaper, the New York Times, had a front page article about it that things got (pun intended) nuts. Once something ends up on the front page of the paper of record, it goes around the world. Both furious (because of the poor reporting in the article) and curious (as to how quickly things would escalate) I began googling “scrotum.” It took only a few hours for a link related to the controversy to show up on the second page; by now it is fourth on the first.

Monday

Could my hometown paper do anything further the sensationalize the situation? Yes. On Monday on the front page of the Times website appeared an invitation for readers: “The word “scrotum” was used in a children’s book. What do you think?” Of course I and several hundred others told them exactly what we thought and I’d say the vast, vast majority felt as I did. (They’ve since edited that request to include the book title and author’s name.) By then, as I’d anticipated, the story (as reported by the Times) was showing up in news media all over the world.

Tuesday

Monday had been a holiday so I first saw my my 4th graders on Tuesday. I told them that a controversy had erupted about the book (which had been on display in my classroom along with the other award winners for weeks). A couple already knew from their parents, but most did not. I told them I’d read the first few pages of the book and they could try to guess what the fuss was about. And so I did. When I reached the dreaded scrotum passage there was no reaction whatsoever… no confusion, no giggles, no questioning. I kept going to “….he killed that snake even though it bit him in the place where it hurts the worst for a male…” (3) where there might have been a smile or two, but no more. After a few more paragraphs I stopped. Eager hands went up. “It is about the drinking, right?” Others nodded. Finally, one said, “It’s about what happened to the dog?” The two who already knew and I nodded. And the kids all said they didn’t get it. That they see dogs with scrota every day after all. That it was no big deal.

Wednesday

The New York Times weighed in again; this time with an editorial. I read it to my class and then once more the offending passage in the book replacing, as the editorial noted someone recommended, “… that word with ‘a clearing-throat noise,’ a bleep in the form of an “ahem.” Now that made them giggle!

Thursday

The Times published four letters on the topic. Two girls worked on one on their own to send.

Friday

I met with the two letter writers and then sent the letter off to the Times. Who knows? Maybe they will still be interested in publishing one from the intended audience. If not, here it is for you to read (with links to their blogs):

Dear Editor,

Our teacher read to us a bit of the book, The Higher Power of Lucky, and when she asked us what was wrong only one person knew it was about the word scrotum and the rest of us had ideas that had nothing to do with the word. We were appalled to hear that some librarians had banned the book from their libraries just because of some old word. Our teacher only read us a little bit of the book, but we thought it sounded very good and do not agree with people who banned the book.

Sincerely,

M and H

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Filed under Reading, Teaching, Writing