Monthly Archives: June 2007

Wolves in the Wall Video

Neil Gaiman pointed me to this video of the theatrical version of his picture book, The Wolves in the Wall which will be at NYC’s New Victory Theater this coming October. I think this is a perfect event for a field trip? Anyone game? (Tickets for nonmembers go on sale in August.)

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Thoughts on Newbery: Some Kids Weigh In

My wonderful, wonderful 4th grade class gave me a wonderful, wonderful end-of-the-year gift yesterday, an”educating monica” scrapbook filled with the children’s ideas on what makes a great story — all to help me in my Newbery quest. It is a work of art — in addition to the children’s writing, each page is filled with images related to our studies of the year, my ladybug fixation (related to September 11th — but that is a story for another post), and more. It is one of the most lovely testimonials I’ve received as a teacher.

To begin with they recommend that our Newbery winner have imagination, emotion, purpose, humor, action, funny words, interesting scenery, and empathy. And then they want it to be exciting, hilarious, happy, sad, adventurous, surprising, interesting, visual, cliffhanging, understandable, great, and creative. Here are some more of their ideas:

AM tells me, “It can’t be too much action, but it also can’t be too boring.”

MD points out that in one of her favorite books, Harry Potter, “…. in the end of the book you figure out the answers to some secrets…”

AI noted that a writer of a great book needs to “use lots of humor; kids love it.” and also to “use fun words like willy-nilly. I used those kinds of words in my Pilgrim story.”

CK thinks a great story, “… must be laugh out loud funny. Not the kind of funny where you laugh and one minute later you forget; the kind of funny where it is hilarious and you can never get it out of your head.”

XF thinks a great story is “…should not be too sad that a person should start crying when reading it. It should not be too happy that they would get bored. And, it should not be too funny that they would laugh themselves to death!”

SF thinks it needs imagination!

HU wants a story that is humorous and one worth listening to ” over and over again.” She also wants fascinating characters like the Gryphon, Mock Turtle, and Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

OF thinks it should be “interesting, exciting and sometimes funny…”

SS recommends that it have “adventure, humor, and mystery.”

JG believes, “every story should have a great beginning….”

OS highlights as great stories, Charlotte’s Web, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, and The Tale of Despereaux among others.

EC notes that, “You know you read a good book if you can say to a friend, ‘Oh, last year I read a really good book.'”

MB thinks, among other things, that it has “something that can take you away.”

BW wisely reminds us that we need to “be creative and write all your good thoughts before you forget them.”

FL thinks a great fantasy book “is a balanced blend of fantasy fairy-tale, excitement, humor, and creative-ness.”

ZB sees a “wonderful novel of far away lands as well as a stunning but diverse cast of characters to play out a cliffhanging fast pace, page turning, eventful masterpiece of literature.”

LK feels there “there needs to be excitement or a trick so that the book is not boring.”

Thanks, Edinger House 2006-2007; I will keep all your important ideas in mind as I read, read, and read some more this summer and next fall!


Filed under Literature, Newbery, Reading

Learning about Africa: Fourth in a Series

Colleen Mondor at Chasing Ray alerted me to Vanity Fair’s special issue on Africa. I’m of two minds about it.

On the one hand (or mind) it does reinforce my previous post on Africa being the hot continent du jour. Looking through the Table of Contents, I see a lot of articles from the point of view of outsiders — Bono, Christopher Hitchens, Brad Pitt, Sebastian Junger, and Bill Clinton to name a few. And let’s not forget Madonna; Punch Hutton has a very kind piece about her work in Malawi, “Raising Malawi: Madonna Lends a Hand.” Having not yet read the other articles, I can’t speak for the other outsiders, but this one on Madonna? Simplistic, glowing, and you’d never know that some did not think so highly of Madonna and her efforts in Malawi. Chimanada Ngozi Adichie, for one. Check out the Orange Prize winner’s interview, “Madonna’s not our saviour” for an insider’s perspective on all these outsiders. (Thanks to Linda Lowe for the link.)

On the other hand (or mind), I do appreciate the in-depth articles in Vanity Fair and assume there are plenty in this issue. And maybe, just maybe some readers of this issue will decide to learn more. That is always a good thing, isn’t it?


Filed under Africa, Learning About Africa

Teaching with Blogs: Alice in Videoland

alice10.jpg alice11.jpg alice3.jpg

One of my favorite teaching units of the year is the Many Faces of Alice unit. I begin by reading the book aloud, have the kids take a close look at the various illustrators, and then ask them to do a project of their own. When Roxanne Feldman came to Dalton she came up with the wonderful idea of putting a complete kid- illustrated version of the book on-line; we did this in 1998 and in 1999.


In 2000 I began having the children do Toy Theater productions. I bought a beautiful toy theater at Pollack’s Toy Theater Museum in London , had the kids create scenery and puppets, a script, and we filmed the results and put them online here, here, here. and here.

Then last year Roxanne came up with a new idea — to have the kids do a sort of book trailer — that is, they’d do a series of drawings and then a voice-over. The result wouldn’t be quite stop-motion animation (as that was way too time-consuming), but no longer a series of still pages either. We didn’t put last year’s version on-line, but this year’s is here on our class blog. Do visit and comment! I’m thrilled with the results and I think the kids are too.

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Those Unhappy Families: the Sopranos, the Baudelaires, and the Potters

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

Leo Tolstoy

I tried a couple of times to watch “The Sopranos” but it was too violent for me. However, I did vaguely attend to the discussion about it, especially as it came to its full-of-unresolved-threads-final this past Sunday. And now I’ve just read Susan Lempke’s take on it, “Tolerance for ambiguity” which made me think of another vague final — Lemony Snicket’s The End. In both cases, the writers purposefully left threads dangling. I haven’t heard too many complaints about the Baudelaires’ story being left too open (but then I am of the opinion that we haven’t heard or read the last of them), but it seems that some (or many) were left gaping at the open-endedness of the final episode of “The Sopranos.”

Interesting. I’ve written about the need to tolerate ambiguity when learning and thinking about history, but hadn’t thought about it so much when thinking about story and fiction. Susan wonders what we will discover next month about Harry Potter. Will threads be left dangling in his story too? Somehow, I think not as Rowling’s series seems to be more traditional than either Chase’s or Snicket’s. But who knows? While Snicket’s ending didn’t surprise me at all, Chases’s seems to have for many. Perhaps there will indeed more ambiguity to tolerate when Harry’s final book appears.

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Filed under Harry Potter, Historical Fiction, Reading

The Hot Continent

Asia, move over. It’s official; Africa is the current hot exotic continent. Writes Amanda Craig in her reviews of three new teen adventure books in today’s Times:

AFRICA HAS BECOME the most fashionable setting for film and, now, for children’s fiction. Perhaps it took the delightful Alexander McCall Smith’s The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series to remind us that the continent doesn’t have to be all doom and Joseph Conrad. It can also be a place of modern adventure.

So, yes, the continent is certainly not all doom and “Mistah Kurtz — he dead.” And Smith’s Botswana-set stories do provide an authentic feel for one tiny place in that very large and diverse continent. But is the fact that these new thrillers of the Alex Rider/James Bond sort are set in Africa what is most significant about them? (Of the three books reviewed, I’m most intrigued by Sarah Mussi’s Door of No Return.)

Yes, Africa is hot. (Well, actually it is the rainy season in Sierra Leone and less hot than other times of the year, but whatever.) Hot here being a state of cultural consciousness or popularity or something like that. And as far as I can tell, that hotness has yet to translate into those of us on the North American continent (and that island across the pond) having a more nuanced understanding of Africa and a stronger consciousness of our propensity to be, shall we say, arrogant in our feeling of superiority over those whose history has created a very different way of being.


Filed under Learning About Africa

And then there is the behemoth movie of the year…

The Golden Compass, of course. At the Random House booth last week at BEA I picked up a sumptuous booklet full of gorgeous images from the film. As fairrosa said when she saw it, “Sure hope the movie is as good.” And now for those who can’t get enough, the production notes are available here.

I’ve got a date to see the movie with a couple of former students, but hope that isn’t the first time I get to see it. (Broad hint to those doing early screenings here in NYC:)

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Filed under Literature, movie, The Golden Compass

Phoebe in Wonderland

A parent at my school alerted me to a forthcoming film, “Phoebe in Wonderland.” Evidently it is full of references from my favorite book! Here are a few photos of Felicity Huffman (of “Desperate Housewives”) as the Red Queen.


Filed under Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

My Brain, the Imagination Machine

I’ve long been interested in the idea of imagination. As a child I played imaginary games with friends, with my sister, and alone. No doubt I love Wonderland and Oz because it was easy for me to imagine myself in them. And I think my love of history stems from also being able to easily imagine myself back in time.

I’ve done some research on imagination and would have to say that just about all the scholars I’ve read have come from the fields of philosophy, psychology, history, and other social sciences. But today I came across a completely new way of thinking about imagination — biologically.

Via one of my favorite websites, Arts & Letters Daily, comes a most fascinating article, “The Biology of the Imagination” by Simon Baron-Cohen. I tend to be a bit skittish of education being built around brain research (e.g. right/left and such), but this article made me really sit up and pay attention.


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Philip Pullman, meet Ray Bradbury

Recently Philip Pullman railed against television, calling it “social poison.” And interestingly, around the same time, Ray Bradbury was interviewed in LA Weekly where he explained that his landmark book, Fahrenheit 451 is not about censorship, but “…a story about how television destroys interest in reading literature.” Fascinating stuff.

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Filed under Literature, Philip Pullman