Monthly Archives: September 2009
Candace Fleming’s The Great and Only Barnum: The Tremendous, Stupendous Life of Showman P. T. Barnum
Candace Fleming does it again! She brings yet another larger-than-live individual from America; this one is a wild ride of a biography of the Barnum that many young readers may well recognize from the circus that still has his name. Filled with great stories, amazing primary sources, this is one terrific book. Now rather than going on, I’m going to turn you over to one of my fourth grade students. While I can’t identify her, I can tell you that she is an avid reader of history and nonfiction and read this book with great enthusiasm. (We both marveled at Fleming’s vivid description of Barnum’s Museum and I then showed her this very cool site about it.) Here’s her review:
The Great and Only Barnum is a wonderful book of P.T. Barnum. P.T. Barnum was an amazing showman like Candace Fleming wrote in her book. Fleming gave Barnum and his family a great part in her story. As I read the part of the Barnum’s American Museum, his exhibits came to life. They moved and ran in my head. I was amazed. His tours with famous people came to an end and Barnum started a circus. Barnum & Bailey was an amazing circus. Not amazing, it was brilliant. You can still watch Barnum & Bailey’s Circus. Its name was changed after P. T. Barnum had died. Now, it is named The Ringling Bros (The Greatest Show on Earth.) Its acts are all the same from the time P.T. Barnum and James Bailey had made the amazing show. P.T. Barnum’s life is all in this very amazing book by Candace Fleming.
The Library of Congress’s Center for the Book and the National Children’s Book and Literacy Alliance have joined forces to create a very entertaining online serial story — The Exquisite Corpse Adventure.
It is that old game — having one person start a story, fold over the paper, and then give it to the next person to continue. At the end the paper is unfolded and the whole, usually hilarious story, is read in its entirety. In this case, the participating writers and illustrators are a very impressive bunch. There’s M.T. Anderson, Natalie Babbitt, Calef Brown, Susan Cooper, Kate Di Camillo, Timothy Basil Ering, Nikki Grimes, Shannon Hale, Daniel Handler aka Lemony Snicket, Steven Kellogg, Gregory Maguire, Megan McDonald, Patricia and Fredrick McKissack, Linda Sue Park, Katherine Paterson, James Ransome, Jon Scieszka, and Chris Van Dusen. Wow, right?
With a twilit velvet musky tone
as the pawnshop door is locked,
an ancient tenor saxophone
spins off a riff of talk.
“A thousand thousand gigs ago,
when I was just second-hand,”
it says, “I spent my glory years
on the road with an all-girl band.”
So begins Marilyn Nelson and Jerry Pinkney’s outstanding collaboration, The Sweethearts of Rhythm: The Story of the Greatest All-Girl Swing Band in the World. Through the voices of the instruments, Nelson’s series of poems capture the story of this band as they performed throughout the United States in the 30s and 40s. From fancy ballrooms to dusty picnics, these girl musicians were heard by a huge swath of the American population during a very challenging time period. Nelson does a spectacular job with each separate poem slipping in historical facts about life in that time, the individual performer, the band, and the music. Jim Crow, war and peace, pain and happiness, a myriad of fascinating details of 30s and 40s life suffuses these poems. And boy do they shine — bouncing, crooning, tootling, moaning, and blaring by way of those instrument storytellers. Nelson respects her young audience, using big words and big ideas that swirl amidst sound, rhythm, pain, joy, and history in these captivating riffs of verse.
The poems would be fabulous enough, but add in Jerry Pinkney’s gorgeous illustrations and you have a truly remarkable work of art. Pinkney’s style will be familiar, but for the first time he has added collage to his work and it brings these images to a really heightened level, bright and brash like the music, quiet and sad like aspects of the life of the band members and their loved ones during this time. Sweet.
This book has definitely joined my pile of favorites of the year. It will be out in a few weeks — do look out for it!
The venerable 92nd Street Y here in NYC (near by school , it so happens) has the Unterberg Poetry Center which is full of all sorts of intriguing programs. This year they’ve started a new Children’s Reading Series on Saturdays featuring, “classic literature for children, read by actors and writers.” First up is Rosemary Harris this Saturday reading from the fairy tales of Oscar Wilde. In December you can hear and see Lois Lowry, and in March they’ve got The World of E. B. White: An Afternoon with Roger Angell. Pretty impressive, I’d say!
“Last time a girl called Alice came through here from your world she brought down a whole pack of cards.”
Nope, those aren’t Lewis Carroll’s words nor are they from the forthcoming Tim Burton film. You see there is yet another Alice headed our way, this one coming to the Syfy channel in December. It is from the same folks who did Tin Man, a very urban fantasy-ish version of Baum’s story. This Alice features Tim Curry as the Hatter, Kathy Bates as the Queen of Hearts, and Harry Dean Stanton as the Caterpillar. Unsurprisingly, the director Nick Willing called it a, “much racier, tougher, sexier” version. Here’s the promo trailer:
The first wide-scale research into the use of whole books in literacy teaching in the UK has revealed that a quarter of primary school children are reading just one whole book a year in class. Incredibly, 12 per cent of primary school teachers said they have never read a complete book with their class. If the findings were extrapolated to all primaries across the country it would mean nearly 600,000 children never read a book in class with their teacher, while over 1.1 million would only study one whole book a year in class.
The research, commissioned by educational publisher Heinemann, part of Pearson Education, involved over 500 primary teaching staff working in 500 schools in the UK along with 1,000 parents of school age children. It exposes a worrying picture of dependence on bite-size text extracts, rather than whole books, for teaching literacy. It also found:
- Pupils are missing out on some of the best-loved stories in children’s literature, according to the research. Half of teachers could think of at least one occasion where pupils were left ignorant of the narrative of a novel because whole book teaching was not a priority in class. Examples of books not finished in class, cited by teachers, included The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe; Treasure Island; The Owl Who Was Afraid of the Dark; Goodnight Mr Tom and Roald Dahl classics.
- Some 85 per cent of teachers said children miss out on finding “what happens next” by not reading a whole book.
- Nearly two-thirds of teachers feared the absence of teaching literacy using whole books in class could turn children off reading, while a further one in five say they have seen evidence of this happening already.
- Six in ten primary school teachers believe a return to whole book reading in their classrooms would have real academic benefits (on exam performance and academic success).
Michael Rosen, the former Children’s Laureate and a campaigner for a return to real, whole book reading in British schools, said: “This research shows that in thousands of classrooms children are not reading books or talking about books, I think it will shock the public that so few whole books are being taught in class.
“There are going to be children who will only be taught about three or four books as part of their literacy education in the whole of their primary careers. For the thousands of children who don’t read books at home, it is a travesty. That’s three books they might have come across in the whole of their infant lives.”
- The research also revealed a gulf between literacy teaching in state and private schools. State primary classes were almost twice as likely to not finish a whole book as their independent school counterparts (13 per cent compared to just eight per cent in private schools).
- According to the research, three-quarters of teachers said children’s ‘reading stamina’ and concentration levels were being damaged by the lack of whole book reading.
- When asked about the impact of extract teaching on the different genders, teachers were twice as likely to say they had a greater negative impact on boys vs girls (21% vs 11%)
“The idea that children can’t manage whole stories or whole books is a nonsense,” added Michael Rosen. “No extract in the world has the power of books. Extracts deny children the meat of the story. Take Roald Dahl’s Matilda. It is full of powerful emotions – such as fear, love and sympathy. These are vital ideas that children need to get hold of. But if children do not read the whole book, they will never get to the heart of the book – how evil can be overcome with a mixture of courage, compassion and solidarity. All they will discover is that there is a horrible woman called Miss Trunchbull.”
Teachers questioned in the research overwhelmingly backed a return to schools using whole books to teach literacy. Three-quarters of teachers say they want to teach literacy using either whole books or whole books, backed by extracts. 72 per cent of head teachers also believe that such an approach would have real academic benefits and improve results while helping to develop a child’s love of reading.
From this week’s Publisher’s Weekly:
Karen Lotz at Candlewick Press has acquired world rights to Monica Edinger‘s Africa Is My Home. The book, 10 years in the making, is a fictional rendering of Amistad captive Sarah Margru Kinson’s journey from Africa to America and back, told in scrapbook format. Edinger, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, is now a teacher at the Dalton School in New York City, and writes the Educating Alice blog. Stephen Barbara at Foundry Literary + Media was the agent.