Monthly Archives: September 2009

That Potter Park

Three rides will form the center of the new park. Universal still will not talk much about the biggest one, a high-tech experience inside the castle called Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey that involves the likenesses of the heroes from the films.

Flight of the Hippogriff is described as a family coaster that simulates a Hippogriff (the half-horse, half-eagle beast from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) training flight over Hogwarts castle. Dragon Challenge is a twin high-speed coaster that will feature elements from the Triwizard Tournament.

Interactive shopping is a major component, said Paul Daurio, show producer for the park. For instance, the Ollivanders wand shop will replicate Ms. Rowling’s story line: the wand chooses the wizard instead of the other way around. Other stores will offer Potter merchandise that is unavailable elsewhere, like extendable ears.

The castle itself will be about 150-feet tall but will appear to tower some 600 feet in the air because of architectural and filmmaking tricks, Mr. Daurio said. Over all, the park will resemble Hogsmeade, Ms. Rowling’s all-wizard village.

From this New York Times article on the coming Harry Potter theme park.  Or go to this NPR piece.  And for a bit of fun, go to the park’s  website.


Filed under Harry Potter

New York City Kids Considered

I once had a job at a Subway Sandwiches on Broadway and 95th Street. I wiped down the counters, rushed to the grocery store when we ran out of tomatoes, washed greasy plastic trays and stacked cans of soda in the fridge. What’s interesting about this story? Three things: I worked for exactly 40 minutes a day, during my school lunch period; I was having the time of my life; and I was 11.

A group of us worked there together, all fifth- and sixth-graders at the public school down the block, and if I weren’t still in touch with a few of them, I might wonder whether any of it actually happened (there is some disagreement among us about whether we were permitted to use the electric slicer). Now I’m a mother of two sons, ages eight and 11, and although our apartment is just a few blocks from where that Subway stood, we inhabit a different New York City, one where fifth-graders serving up tuna subs would probably elicit numerous calls to the police.

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The Days After

This NYTimes piece made me remember how the days after September 11th were like no others here in New York City.  We had armored vehicles trundling up Broadway, There were military men with machine guns standing on guard outside subway stations. The smell was everywhere.  Every day more sad signs went up, about the missing.  There were small shrines and big ones. The sound of helicopters and fighter jets overhead was relentless. Police were everywhere searching everything. (Our school closed one day because of never ending bomb threats.)  The media was full of what to do when the certain-to-occur-next-attack happened.  There was discussion of the death of irony.  The emptiness downtown went on for too long.  People moved out of New York. But they came back! As did businesses, tourists, and so much more. I am so glad New York bounced back!

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Remembering and Honoring

A long-time colleague of mine died very suddenly last weekend.  I’d just spend the Thursday before with him at an all-day workshop.  He had been involved, looked good, and all seemed well with him.  Two days later he was gone. And so today we will be both remembering and honoring our colleague and remembering and honoring that horrible day eight years ago — September 11, 2001.

It is truly history for my new 4th graders; after all they were babies when it happened.  I will have to explain the ladybug theme in the classroom to them — that they are because of 9/11. My 4th graders from that day surely do remember. Now in their final year at our school  I’m sure they remember my colleague — a familiar English teacher, advisor, and so much more.  So suddenly, like the towers, gone.


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In The Classroom: Reading Aloud Redux

In the latest Notes from the Horn Book, Richard Peck is very opinionated about teachers reading aloud his books:

4. You talk a lot with young readers. What are they telling you?

Things they didn’t mean to. Over and over they’re telling me that the books I wrote for them to read are being read to them by their teachers. And hearing a story read doesn’t seem to expand their vocabularies. If a teacher is going to take limited classroom time in reading aloud (and even giving away the ending), the least she could do is hand out a list of vocabulary from the reading to be looked up and learned.

Years ago I heard Peck come down very hard on teachers and, ever since, I’ve had to separate that memory when reading his books. This year I feel A Season of Gifts is one of the strongest books of the year — the character development excellent, the various threads of story beautifully developed, and the language and setting is sublime.  A really lovely work.   And so I will again set aside this quote from the author and continue to appreciate his work.  Maybe one day he will appreciate what I do too.

There are so many ways I read aloud to my students.  Recently I wrote about my general reading program and reading aloud is an important part of it.  My first day of school with students is this coming Monday and I’ve got a pile of books on my desk as I mull over which one I will begin with.  There will be no vocabulary lessons or sheets with it.  If the first book is Boyce’s Cosmic I may have to slip in a few bits of information, but only what is needed to enjoy the story.  If I read aloud  (but probably won’t because I think it is for older kids than those I teach) A Season of Gifts I would do the same thing — slip in explanations if necessary.  However, kids can also use their own developing skills to figure out what words mean themselves using context.  Turning a read aloud into a deadly vocabulary lesson happens, far too often, I fear.  And such a lesson is unlike to endear many of those child readers to Peck’s books, I’m afraid.

For more on what I read aloud in my classroom and how, here are a bunch of those posts.  Even better, go read this talented 6th grade teacher’s response to Peck.


Filed under In the Classroom, Reading Aloud

The Baobab Prize: An African Literary Award

Just saw this on child_lit and thought I’d pass it on.

August 2009 – This month marks the launch of the second annual Baobab Prize, an international literary award established to encourage the writing of African literature for young readers. Issuing a statement to commemorate the launch of the prize, co-founder and director of the prize Ghanaian Deborah Ahenkorah said, “The success of our inaugural year gives us confidence as we launch today. We received entries from nine African countries and our participating writers ranged in age from eleven to sixty-four years. It is clear that the Baobab Prize is here to stay and to revolutionize African literature as we know it.”

The Baobab Prize annually invites entries of unpublished African short stories written for audiences either 8-11 years or 12-15 years. This year the prize will award $1,000 to the best story in each category and $800 to the most promising young writer (18 years and below). Also all short listed stories will be considered for possible publishing. The Baobab Prize is open to African citizens of all ages. Deadline for submission is April 15, 2010.

Rama Shagaya, Senegalese co-founder of the prize says, “the mission of the Baobab Prize is to identify the literary giants of the next generation and produce classic stories that will be appreciated for years to come. This year, we want to challenge African writers to unleash their imagination. Tell us a story we’ve never heard before. A winning story this year will be a story that stands out.”

The winners of the inaugural year of the Baobab Prize were Lauri Kubuitsile from Botswana with Lorato and her Wire Car, the best story written for readers aged 8-11 years; Ivor W. Hartmann from Zimbabwe with Mr. Goop, the best story written for readers aged 12-15 years and Aisha Kibwana from Kenya, the most promising young writer with Strange Visitors that took her Life Away.

The Baobab Prize has lofty dreams about the future of African literature. It envisions that in ten years bookstores all over the world will be brimming with top quality African stories written for children.

The Baobab Prize was founded in July 2008. Two top stories from its inaugural year have been picked up for publishing in Africa. This literary award is made possible with funds provided by Bryn Mawr College, The Global Fund for Children and members of the Baobab Prize administrative team.

Contact: Deborah Ahenkorah    Email:

Website at

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Not the Book of Dust

AFTER angering the Vatican with the fantasy trilogy His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman, the children’s author, is to launch an assault on Christianity in a story that denies Jesus was the son of God.

Pullman will claim that Christ emerged from the “fervid imagination” of St Paul, the apostle, and spawned a religion that has inspired some to “fanatical bigotry”.

Although full details of the plot are being kept under wraps, the book’s title, The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, gives a strong indication of Pullman’s views.

From Philip Pullman writes off Christ ‘the scoundrel’ at Times Online

Press release from the publisher with more information here.


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Travel Reading

Waiting on the platform at Times Square, the children plotted how to score a coveted rush-hour seat, planning who would sit on whose lap if the options were scarce. Hands were held tight, and two of the youngest girls rested their heads against each other’s for a moment.

As the train pulled into 42nd Street, Jesus Figueroa, a Tremont counselor for six summers, readied the campers to board: “Get your books ready.” An explosion of titles — “Jig and Mag,” “A Rose, a Bridge, and a Wild Black Horse,” “The Kid Who Invented the Popsicle” — were pulled from backpacks.

According to a church rule, Tremont campers must read whenever they win a seat on the subway. Each day, campers select a book from the church library or bring one from home. They practice reading in short increments — 20 minutes here and there — and keep reading journals to document their progress.

“The books keep them occupied while they ride and help them stay on point with their reading skills,” said Mr. Figueroa, 20.

On the train, even campers who had to stand took to their books. An 8-year-old named Christopher used both hands to hold “Time Together,” supporting himself by twisting one of his black Nike Shox around the pole behind him. Next to him was Steven, also 8, who cracked open “50 Simple Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth” with one hand and held on to a counselor with the other.

Kudos to the Tremont adults for coming up with a very clever way to get their young charges into a subway reading habit!  The above is one of many vignettes in a recent New York Times article, “The Joy of Reading in the Subway.”   I’m more of a bus rider myself (my daily commute takes me around Central Park), but whether bus or subway, I’ve long been fascinated by what people on all forms of transportations read.  And since I’m a teacher I’m often traveling at the same time as a lot of kids. In the morning many are doing homework.  Coming home the older ones are chattering with each other, texting, etc, but younger ones are often reading and sometimes I see adults reading to them.

As for adults I travel with, maybe it is the time of day and routes I travel, but I see a lot of folks reading scriptures of one sort or another.  I see adults not reading, listening to music (loud music that bleeds out), correcting papers (those teachers), or reading work material.  I go by way of a big hospital and many folks get on with files and articles related to medicine.  Not too many are reading recreationally, I’m afraid.

I’m curious — what about other places with public transportation?  Are they also reading and, if so, what?  Or are more listening?  Perhaps simply dreaming, something I tend to do myself as I look out the window at the changing seasons in Central Park.


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Neil Gaiman’s Library


No, that is not my school’s lovely library, and it certainly isn’t mine. It is  @neilhimself‘s “downstairs library.”  I only wonder what the upstairs library looks like!  More here.


Filed under Neil Gaiman

My Life According to Books Read So Far in 2009

Fun (via Jenny Davidson)!

Describe yourself:
The Hidden Adult
How do you feel?
Front and Center
Describe where you currently live:
City I Love
If you could go anywhere, where would you go?
Your favorite form of transport:
Your best friend is . . . ?
The Girl Who Played with Fire
You and your friends are . . .?
Pretty Monsters
What’s the weather like?
One Crazy Summer
Favourite time of day?
When You Reach Me
What is life to you?
A Season of Gifts
Your fear?
Catching Fire
What is the best advice you have to give?
Thought for the Day?
All the Wrong People Have Self-Esteem
How I would like to die:
Going Bovine
My soul’s present condition?
Peace, Locomotion


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