Monthly Archives: November 2008
It is raining outside, the shades are down, and the classroom is dark. The only light is a small dog-shaped lamp behind me illuminating the final pages of The Graveyard Book. A couple of my fourth graders are sitting next to me reading along as I read aloud. Several more are sitting directly in front of me, faces up, engrossed in the story. Still others are lying flat out on the rug or scrunched up on pillows. I’ve been reading for over thirty minutes now and there has not been a sound, not a rustle. I can almost feel the children’s anticipation as I get to the last page of the book and read the final three words.
A few weeks back as the children avidly speculated about what would happen to Bod, wondered whether he would see Scarlett again, questioned why Jack was after him, and worried if he would survive I asked if they’d like to hear the last three words of the book. Words, I assured them, that wouldn’t spoil anything. Yes, they said, please! Please! And so I read those last three words to them. They were just right. Enough to know whatever happened, the ending would be good. And it was. I choked up reading those words, reading those last sentences, just as I always do when reading the ending of Charlotte’s Web. There is something transcendent about the endings of both books. Both are sad and happy. They are good. And, above all, they are satisfying. For my students, Bod’s story ended as it should.
After falling in love with book last summer I was delighted to see the enthusiastic reception it received in the children’s literature world. The reviews have been glowing and it is being justifiably touted for the Newbery. But some wondered, what will children make of it? So I decided to read it to my nine and ten year-olds and was gratified to see that they loved the book as much as any of us grown-ups did. So much so that we’ve created a mural of the book. We may still scatter a few of the characters (say the living, the dead, and cats) around the border, but I’m so thrilled with it and eager to show it off that I’ve gone ahead and photographed it for you to see. The top part is the graveyard, the middle section is the town, and the bottom contains the kids’ favorite creepy places — the otherworldly Ghulheim and the tomb of the Sleer (and you will have to imagine getting to this by going down, down, down below the hill of the graveyard and the town). We purposely used different materials and styles for each section (Tissue paper, pipe cleaners, glitter, mod podge, various patterned papers were some of the materials. My favorite material has to be the cardboard from a Kleenex tissue box used for the gravestones and book title.)
Last week I went to one of my favorite events, HarperCollins’ Greenwillow Original Art Party. At this annual (or perhaps it is bi-annual) event you get to walk around the HarperCollins’ conference room (with quotes from Charlotte’s Web scrolling along the walls) and see ALL the art for many (perhaps all, I’m not sure) forthcoming and new picture books from the imprint. The art is on the walls and on the tables, sometimes in piles. It is really extraordinary and I’m very grateful to be invited every time. There are always a few surprise guests and this time one of these was Patrick Arrasmith, illustrator of Joseph Delaney’s “The Last Apprentice” series. Fortunately, Ron from Galleycat was also there and shot this video interview with Patrick.
Book reviews can be all kinds of things. There are the sort that help you decide if the book is one you want, or not. There are the sort that give you enough information so that you can pretend to have read the book (and I think in particular of certain bestselling books that I can’t believe are read cover to cover —Stephen Hawkin’s A Brief History of Time comes to mind). And then there are the sort that are critical essays, that help you to better understand the book after reading it. Such a one is Jerry Griswold’s review of the second and final volume of M. T. Anderson’s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation in Sunday’s New York Times.
Two of the most memorable reading experiences I’ve had over the past few years were with this extraordinary work of literature. Volume One: The Pox Party, won the National Book Award and many other honors. Volume Two: The Kingdom of the Waves is a more challenging read than the first volume, but is equally enthralling and moving. It is also a challenging book to review. I admit that much as I admired it, I was unable to write something coherent here about it. So I was delight to read Griswold review as he nails the magnificence of this work in a way that I could not and haven’t seen as yet. Some might consider the review somewhat over the top (Anderson is put in the same circle as Melville and Twain), but I feel Griswold truly captured the feat that Octavian Nothing is. A wonderful book and a wonderful review.
If you’re a regular reader of noted comic book and novel author Neil Gaiman’s blog, you know he’s been going back and forth to China a bit recently — sometimes for a month at a stretch. It wasn’t a vacation. Since summer of 2007, Neil’s been traveling around China, “by car and coach and train and foot,” gathering material for a book, which now has a title, “Monkey and Me: China and the Journey to the West,” and a tentative due date of fall 2009.
My fourth graders wrote some moving letters to Obama yesterday. You can view them here.
Yesterday one of my fourth graders (in the green jacket above) was absent, off with his family getting out the vote in Pennsylvania. When I mentioned that yesterday morning, several other children said they too had been in Pennsylvania several times, going door to door, campaigning for our now president-elect. Today my class is abubble with the results.Many were wakened by their parents to hear Obama’s speech All sorts of discussion about where the Obama girls (one is their age) will go to school and how they must feel leaving their friends for the White House. Mostly there is happiness and pride. Beyond my own multifaceted pleasure at Obama’s win, I am incredibly happy for them. These children cared. So deeply and passionately. And their optimism and enthusiasm has been rewarded.