Monthly Archives: November 2008

Jon Scieszka on NPR

In one chapter, Scieszka writes about his own experience as a young reader encountering the “strange alien family” of Dick and Jane and wondering why the characters repeated each other’s names so frequently.

“If Jane didn’t see the dog, Dick would say, ‘Look Jane, look. There is the dog next to Sally, Jane,’ ” Scieszka says. “I thought they were afraid they might forget each other’s names, because they always said each other’s names — a lot.”

Enjoyable profile of Jon Scieszka, A Seriously Funny ‘Knucklehead,’ on NPR.

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The Coraline Boxes

Having done a literary box with my students last year for Shaun Tan, I am very taken with the mysterious Coraline Boxes that are being sent to certain folks.  They are very, very, very cool and I’m very, very, very jealous!  Via Neil Gaiman, here’s a look at some of these remarkable boxes:

ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive: Coraline Mystery Boxes!

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In the Classroom: About That Harvest Festival

Our corn did prove well, and God be praised, we had a good increase of Indian corn, and our barley indifferent good, but our peas not worth the gathering, for we feared they were too late sown. They came up very well, and blossomed, but the sun parched them in the blossom. Our harvest being gotten in, our governor sent four men on fowling, that so we might after a special manner rejoice together after we had gathered the fruit of our labors. They four in one day killed as much fowl as, with a little help beside, served the company almost a week. At which time, amongst other recreations, we exercised our arms, many of the Indians coming amongst us, and among the rest their greatest king Massasoit, with some ninety men, whom for three days we entertained and feasted, and they went out and killed five deer, which they brought to the plantation and bestowed on our governor, and upon the captain and others. And although it be not always so plentiful as it was at this time with us, yet by the goodness of God, we are so far from want that we often wish you partakers of our plenty.

That’s the description of the harvest feast from which our American Thanksgiving comes from.  It was published in 1622 in Mourt’s Relation, the earliest account of those Mayflower passengers and their settlement (and I copied it from Caleb Johnson’s excellent account and explanation of the event).

I’ve been teaching a lengthy unit on this group of early American immigrants for many years.  Among many other activities I have the kids read (and annotate) a few pages from Mourt’s Relation (the title page is below) and have even gone to look at an original copy at NYPL’s rare book room.  Probably the best online source for information about this harvest feast and the settlement is Caleb Johnson’s labor-of-love, Mayflower History.  I’ve written extensively about this unit on this blog, at my class blog, in books, articles, and elsewhere.  One online article specifically about the Mourt’s Relation activity can be read here.

At this time of year there is always a lot of stuff, some unfortunately problematic, happening in schools around this holiday.  When I first designed and taught this unit around fifteen years ago I knew of no one doing anything like it.  Since then it seems to have become part of many elementary students’ studies, I’m happy to see.  That is, they go past the myths and begin to explore the actual documents and information around this complex story.  Since 1994 I’ve been taking our fourth graders on an overnight to Plimoth Plantation that has a very sensitive way of teaching visitors about this event.  Since our students are so well-informed and relatively free of the stereotypical notions of my youth, I’m surprised when I read of others who still are being taught in the insensitive ways I was taught.  And it reinforces my strong belief in the need to teach history in depth, in ways that help children to think hard about complicated stuff, rather than just feed them facts for tests.  Unlike many of my peers in this era of tests and NCLB, I’m able to do so and sure hope that as a new era dawns in January that more are able to do as I do.

There are many recent books for children providing thoughtful, carefully researched, and in-depth looks at this holiday including Penny Coleman’s Thanksgiving: The True Story and Catherine O’ Neill Grace and Margaret M. Bruchac’s 1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving.


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A. O. Scott Reminds Us To “Never Forget. You’re Reminded.”

If the Holocaust can inspire a great work of art, then it can also incubate the ambition to achieve such greatness, and thus open itself up, like everything else, to exploitation, pretense and vulgarity. Worse, the aura that still surrounds this topic — the sense that it must be treated with a special measure of tact and awe — can be appropriated by clumsy, sentimental and meretricious films or books, which protect themselves from criticism by a cloak of seriousness and piety. Thus the immodest indecency of a movie like Roberto Benigni’s Oscar-winning “Life Is Beautiful” was, during its initial period of triumph, deflected onto those with the temerity to criticize it. Those who resisted its manipulative juxtaposition of sweet, childlike innocence with barbarity were accused of lacking the gravity and sensitivity that Mr. Benigni’s travesty required.

And a similar defense is invoked, explicitly or implicitly, so routinely that it calls forth cynicism. Why do opportunistic, clever young novelists — I won’t name any names — gravitate toward magic-realist depictions of the decidedly unmagical reality of the Shoah? For the same reason that actors shave their heads and starve themselves, or preen and leer in jackboots and epaulets. For the same reason that filmmakers commission concrete barracks and instruct their cinematographers and lab technicians to filter out bright, saturated colors. To win prizes of course.

Film – Never Forget. You’re Reminded. –

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Thinking Dust?


I don’t know about you, but this image coupled with news about dark matter, has me wondering what Philip Pullman has in store for us in The Book of Dust.

A concatenation of puzzling results from an alphabet soup of satellites and experiments has led a growing number of astronomers and physicists to suspect that they are getting signals from a shadow universe of dark matter that makes up a quarter of creation but has eluded direct detection until now.


From ” A Whisper, Perhaps, From the Universe’s Dark Side” at the New York Times.

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A Couple of Beloved Books Transformed

So far,

I’m feeling pretty good about this one:

Not so sure about this one:

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Is Impossible the New Twilight?

Ran into the still-floating-on-air Nancy Werlin yesterday (she just married a wonderful guy) who told me her terrific new book Impossible is appealing to Twilight fans.  You go, girl!


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Off to NCTE

In a few minutes I’m out the door for my flight to San Antonio and The National Teachers of English annual convention. I’ve got two sessions on Sunday and it would be great if any of this blog’s readers come by!

At 8:30 on Sunday I’ll be part of this session:


New technologies offer opportunities for students to connect, collaborate, publish, and share in ways not imaginable until recently. In this session, an elementary teacher, a K-12 technology integration specialist, and a university professor examine samples, strategies, and tools for multiple ‘ports of entry’ to 21st century literacies and learning.

I will be speaking with Bill Teale of the University of Illinois and Gail Desler, a technology maven from California Both are stellar and I think our session will be too.  (My powerpoint for this can be downloaded here.)

At 1PM Sunday I will be co-chairing this session:

(Sponsoring Group: Children’s Literature Assembly)
After viewing a presentation of the thirty 2008 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, attendees will converse informally at round tables with some of the authors and illustrators about their honored books.These include Ann Bausum, Ruth Forman, Ralph Fletcher, Peggy Gifford, Emily Gravett, Linda Sue Park, Gary Schmidt, and Jacqueline Woodson.

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A Couple Lumps of Coal

There’s Snicket’s.


And then there’s Peter Cook’s (thanks to Neil Gaiiman).

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“I don’t think this is gonna be a movie for four-year-olds.”

Thanks to the guys at NY Magazine’s Vulture Blog for tipping me off to this lengthy interview with Spike Jonze about his “Where the Wild Things Are” movie.

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