Monthly Archives: May 2007

What rhymes with Dumbledore?

Abebooks has a fun contest for those with a bent for Harry Potter and poetry.


To enter the contest, we want you to compose a poem dedicated to Harry Potter. It can be anything from a limerick to a haiku to a love poem to an elegy to a sonnet. Be creative – the finest poem about the Boy Wizard will win and we’ll also publish the best ones on AbeBooks. There is no limitation on length. You can enter up to three times separately but each entry must contain just one poem. AbeBooks’ Jordan Gordon, an account manager, has started the ball rolling with his own poetic composition – read the poem here.


What do you win? A bookshelf made out of, what else?, Harry Potter books!


Thanks to bookninja for the heads-up.


Filed under Harry Potter

Is it history? Or fiction? And does it matter?

Yes. Yes. Yes.

Yes, it is history.

I’m one of those who read and learned a great deal from Dee Brown’s Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West. Originally published in 1970 as NON FICTION, I read it many years later when I began looking for ways to go beyond the textbook in my teaching of American history. (I eventually abandoned the textbook entirely, but that is another story — told in my book Far Away and Long Ago: Young Historians in the Classroom.) Nonfiction. I read the book trusting that what I read was true.

Yes, it is fiction.

At least so it seems is the case with HBO’s version of the book. According to the New York Times article “Classic Book About America’s Indians Gains a Few Flourishes as a Film.” a new character was added to the center of the story.

“Everyone felt very strongly that we needed a white character or a part-white, part-Indian character to carry a contemporary white audience through this project,” Daniel Giat, the writer who adapted the book for HBO Films, told a group of television writers earlier this year.

Yes, it matters.

Poor maligned history. There is such a prejudice against you. That you aren’t good enough. That you need to be touched up somehow. That you need fixing or you will be ignored.  In this case, by those who are assumed not to know or care about you.  Especially, it seems, when the history is about a minority group that the majority group is presumed to otherwise lack sufficient interest in.

The HBO film hasn’t aired yet. It will be interesting to see the response once it does.


Filed under Historical Fiction, History, movie

Not My Nancy Drew, But So What?

Last fall I was dismayed when I saw a trailer for the forthcoming Nancy Drew film. The girl seemed indistinguishable from numerous other recent tween movie and television characters — perky, great hair, and so forth. Where was the seriously cool girl detective of my memory? I mean, yes she was fashionable, but not in this lame sort of way!

But yesterday I read Polly Shulman’s New York Times article, “Spunky Nancy Drew Faces Her Hardest Case: Hollywood” and had a change of heart. I mean, as Shulman reminded me, it is not as if Nancy wasn’t altered before. My Nancy from the 60s wasn’t the original Nancy at all. For one thing the first Nancy was 16 while mine was 18. I can’t remember if mine drove a roadster or a convertible (which would indicate the particular editions I was reading), but she still had Carson, Ned, George, and Bess around her in some way. Given the fiddling that was done with all of them over the years, who am I to complain if the movies do it again?

But I have to wonder if turning her into a kooky nerd might be a bit of a stretch. This new Nancy is evidently the new girl in a Los Angeles school (quite a shift from the small town in the books I read) with a predilection for retro stuff. Well, I suppose if it all works, it doesn’t matter. After all, this movie isn’t for nostalgic me, but for kids today.


Filed under movie

Novelist-Reviewer Not Making Nice

The Telegraph book reviewer Lionel Shriver on the perils of throwing stones while living in a glass house.

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Filed under Reading

Whadabout Wikipedia?

I’ve been thinking about Wikipedia lately.

Last fall I did a cool lesson with my students; together we edited The Charlotte’s Web entry (just the plot section) and then watched as others reedited what we had done. I just took a look at the entry and see that it still needs a lot of work — plenty for next year’s class to take on. Indeed, it is an excellent example for Wikipedia critics, a lousy resource for anyone who wants to know anything much about the book. There’s a mediocre plot summary (better than the one there before we edited it and worse than the one we did), nothing about the making of the book, and little about the response since it was published. For a book considered by many to be one of the greatest of all American children’s books, the entry is a travesty.

So you’d think I’d avoid Wikipedia like the plague, wouldn’t you? Well, not so fast. You see, often when I do a quick Google search on something for which I need a clear overview, one of the first pages I get is the Wikipedia entry. And guess what? If it is on a topic I know and I determine it is good (at least as good as the other top links from my google search) and full of reliable links to other sources, I’ll often use it as a link.

So while I have reservations galore and certainly understand why academics like those in Middlebury’s history department limit its use, I’m on the fence. After all, it so depends. The Denver Post recently asked some scholars to take a look at the entries on their topics of expertise and the results were pretty positive.

For more on the pros and cons of Wikipedia as a reliable resource check out their own page on the issue (full of links to a variety of articles and reports). Or read Stacy Schiff’s informative New Yorker article (and then the editor’s note about one very problematic source).

More paradigm shifting I think.


Filed under History, Teaching

Literary Grouping

What is it about book clubs that turns us all so evil? They may parade themselves as grown-up gatherings, but they bear far more resemblance to a club formed by a cluster of girls in a playground; exclusion and bullying are rife.

Henrietta Clancy examines adult book clubs in the Guardian and the results are not pretty.

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Filed under Reading

Concrete and Animated Poetry

I’m a concrete poetry fan. Right now, when I have a few extra minutes at the end my class’s morning meeting, I read a poem or two from John Grandits’ Technically It’s Not My Fault. From the cover on, this is one hilarious book; Grandits has captured the voice of 5th grader Robert perfectly and uses the special effects of this particular poetic form (the text placed on the page in ways related to the poem’s content) in a notably fresh way. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming Blue Lipstick, evidently more concrete poems from Robert’s older sister’s point of view. (A couple of other recent children’s books featuring concrete poetry are Joyce Sidman and Michelle Berg’s Meow Ruff and Paul B. Janeczko and Chris Raschka’s collection A Poke in the I.)

Then there is concrete poetry’s cousin, animated poetry. I started out looking for animations featuring text and words and came across It’s Not My Fault by Claire Mason and an animated version of John Hegley’s What a Poem is Not. I also love the animated poems at the British Council website (and I love the British Council because when I lived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, they had the only library in town).

Finally, do check out Ana Maria Uribe’s anipoems — very neat mixtures of concrete and animated poetry.


Filed under Reading Aloud, Teaching

The Horn Book’s Virtual History Exhibit

I love, love, love primary sources. To me the best way to teach history, to make it come alive, to take students back in time is with primary sources. And so I’ve been delighted as more and more primary sources become available online.

My first encounter with this sort of virtual history was at the Library of Congress in 1997 where I worked with a colleague to develop a lesson using material from their then new American Memory digital library. A few years later I featured that site and many others in a CD that accompanied my book on teaching with primary sources.

And now we’ve got the latest in primary source history — The Horn Book’s online exhibit. I love it! Seeing actual letters to the editor from luminaries like Beatrix Potter or a battle royal in letters between Roald Dahl and Eleanor Cameron is really wonderful. There’s a whole scrapbook of stuff to look through and tons more. Highly, highly recommended for anyone interested in the history of children’s literature in America.


Filed under History