Monthly Archives: November 2009

Megan Whalen Turner on Jewel Boxes, Writing Advice, and Sulky Characters

All I can say is that endings are very important to me as a reader and so they are important to me as a writer. I really resent stories without endings. I was once very flattered to be lumped in the same category as Frank Stockton, but that’s because of The Griffin and the Minor Cannon. Don’t get me started on “The Lady or the Tiger?” (Megan Whalen Turner)

For those eagerly waiting for A Conspiracy of Kings, check out HipWriterMama’s excellent interview with she-who-stays-out-of-sight-much-of-the-time, Megan Whalen Turner.

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Andy Warhol, Children’s Illustrator


253. WARHOL, Andy (1928 – 1987) Best in Children’s Books Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1957-1959. Small 8vo. Volumes 5, 15, 27 and 33. Condition: dust jackets lightly worn with some minor chips.
Early in his career, the Pop Art icon Andy Warhol illustrated several volumes of the popular series Best in Children’s Books issued by the Doubleday Book Club between 1957 and 1961. But these light, childlike pictures are generally unknown to admirers of his famous pictures of Campbell’s Soup Cans and Marilyn Monroe. (4)

est. $500 – $600

While I knew Warhol had done commercial work (his shoes are fantastic) I don’t think I knew he’d done anything related to children’s books. So how fun to find this tidbit at that previously mentioned truly phenomenal auction.


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NCTE: Old Books — New Journeys

The theme of the conference, “Once and Future Classics: Reading Between the Lines,” is designed to inspire courageous conversations about traditional and contemporary literature and foster lively discussions of how we teach as well as what we teach.

from Program Chair Carol Jago’s NCTE Convention Welcome

A big fan of classical literature in the classroom (I’ve even written a book about it), I was delighted when this was announced as the convention theme and can’t wait to see what will be said on this topic.  And if you are interested in what I have to say, come by next Saturday (2:45 -4:00 Marriott/Franklin 12 4th floor) as I’ll be presenting along with one of my terrific 4th grade colleagues Lesley Younge and Waller Hastings of Rutgers University about some old books.  Here’s a preview to whet your appetites.

  • I will be focusing on my favorites: Charlotte’s Web, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz. Among other things I’ll talk about close reading with kids, Charlotte’s Wikipedia, Alice in Comic Land, and debating Oz.
  • Lesley will focus on how she connects old stories with our grade-wide study of immigration.  In particular she will talk about some fabulous work she is doing with Brer Rabbit and journeys her students take into Narnia, Wonderland, and Oz.
  • Waller will wrap things up with a look at the historical context of these books.

We are planning on a good time and hope some of you join us.


Filed under Classic, In the Classroom, NCTE


Peace Corps Returns to Sierra Leone


Date: November 2, 2009
Contact: PAO Danna Van Brandt
Tel: 022-515-000 or 076-515-000

November 2, 2009 – United States and Sierra Leone government officials signed an agreement to reestablish a Peace Corps program in Sierra Leone after a 16 year absence. Glenn Fedzer, the Chargé d’Affaires for the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, and Sierra Leone’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Zainab Hawa Bangura, signed an agreement to officially re-establish Peace Corps/Sierra Leone at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Freetown. Mr. Fedzer was accompanied by Lynn Foden, Peace Corps’ acting regional director for Africa.

“We are delighted that the government of Sierra Leone has invited Peace Corps volunteers to return and work shoulder to shoulder with the people of Sierra Leone,” said Peace Corps Director Aaron S. Williams. “The partnership between Peace Corps and Sierra Leone was established in the era of President Kennedy, and it is an honor and a privilege for us to have the opportunity to work with the communities of Sierra Leone once again.”

The first group of approximately 40 Peace Corps volunteers is scheduled to arrive in Sierra Leone in June, with additional Peace Corps Response Volunteers also arriving in 2010. The volunteers will focus on secondary education in public schools and work together with communities on grassroots initiatives and community development throughout the country.

“On behalf of Ambassador June Carter Perry, I am honored to participate in the signing of this agreement welcoming the Peace Corps back to Sierra Leone,” said Chargé d’Affaires Glenn Fedzer. “This ceremony is the culmination of the dedication of dozens of Americans and Sierra Leoneans, including President Ernest Bai Koroma, U.S. State Department and Peace Corps officials, and many former Peace Corps volunteers who continue to serve the people of Sierra Leone long after their return to the United States.”

Ambassador Perry has been involved with Peace Corps for 40 years and handled the celebration of Peace Corps’ 20th anniversary for national and international media as Public Affairs Director in Washington.  She stated, “We congratulate both the Government of Sierra Leone and the Peace Corps leadership for this enormous step in our bilateral relationship and in the education of Sierra Leone’s youth.'”  Her predecessor in Freetown, Ambassador Thomas Hull, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Sierra Leone, also worked closely to ensure that the United States Government would realize this day.

Peace Corps/Sierra Leone was first established in 1962 when 37 Americans volunteered to serve as secondary school teachers. Since 1962, more than 3,400 Americans have served as Peace Corps volunteers in Sierra Leone.

As Peace Corps approaches its 50th anniversary, its service legacy continues to promote peace and friendship around the world with 7,671 volunteers serving in 75 host countries. Historically, nearly 200,000 Americans have served with the Peace Corps to promote a better understanding between Americans and the people of 139 host countries. Peace Corps Volunteers must be U.S. citizens and at least 18 years of age. Peace Corps service is a 27-month commitment. To learn more about the Peace Corps, please visit our website:

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In the Classroom: Independent Reading and Nonfiction

“I like adventures. Not atlases!” was my 11-year-old nephew’s reaction to recent probing by this auntie of his reading habits.

I should have known better. Anthony Horowitz warned in a recent interview about the perils of “auntie’s choice” when it comes to what kids read: “Children choose the books they want to read. Children’s books belong to children; they’re not something that your auntie picks out for you at Christmas any more.”

And of course said nephew is a big Alex Rider fan. But perhaps I could persuade him to broaden out into the world of non-fiction if Anthony Horowitz follows through on a suggestion that came up at the Battle of Ideas festival. When an audience member raised the question of non-fiction for children, Anthony responded that he had long considered writing something for children about the Trojan wars or perhaps even biography. Excited by the prospect? You betcha. And it brought back all the non-fiction books which formed part of my childhood reading.

That is the beginning of Shirley Dent‘s lovely recollection of her own childhood reading of nonfiction and fiction.  I have to confess to having been a narrative girl — be it Helen Keller’s autobiography, a book on Albert Schweitzer, or one of those Childhood of Famous Americans (don’t worry, I know they are faction) — I liked my facts presented as story.  I can’t remember any books of the sort Shirley describes, but I suspect I read them too just as she did, right next to the stories I was also reading.


These days my students, like the above-referenced-nephew, gravitate to fiction, but I do see them with nonfiction as well  — biographies of real-life folks that interest them (sports, entertainment, and history personalities),  weird fact collections, and quirky books of all sorts.  A couple of years ago I had a student who read avidly only the Horrible Histories books. And this year the compendium book Show Off is captivating them.  Yesterday one of my 4th grade boys took it home for the weekend. For two 6th grade girls’ take go here and here.


Filed under In the Classroom, Nonfiction

For Those With Means

There’s a pretty impressive auction on December 9th at Bloomsbury Auctions including original work by Sendak, Steig, the Dillons and, (most impressive of all to my mind) Tom Feelings.  In fact, if you’ve got $250000 – $350000 or so in change, you could be the proud owner of this:


The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo. The entire suite of original mixed-media artwork, executed from 1993-1995 and published in the 1995 book. Comprising 58 pieces in 48 frames, mixed-media with tempera, pen and tissue, heightened with white and collage.

Tom Feelings’ masterpiece and the winner of the 1996 Coretta Scott King illustrator award. The Middle Passage: White Ships, Black Cargo takes viewers on a harrowing journey that begins on a peaceful morning in an African landscape. Upon the seige of a village by European slave-traders, the nightmarish voyage across the Atlantic Ocean to the New World, via the Middle Passage, is presented by Feelings in highly finished drawings and mixed-media collages, that, as is the published book, successfully convey the story of these Africans without text. Truly the masterpiece of Feelings ouvre, The Middle Passage is a tour-de-force of illustration genius. It grabs hold of a painful truth, of what it looked like when an African went from free to enslaved in a matter of hours. The images here incorporate the viewer in several complex ways: the disturbingly individual, images of guns pointed directly at the viewer and the men left to drown among circling sharks, to the incredible panoramas depicting groups of men being betrayed by the bejewelled African tribal leader, the crammed hold of the slave-ship, an attempted revolt, and the arrival of the ship to an awaiting colony. The final images nevertheless offer some signs of solace, visible in the pregnant woman, whose child represents the birth of African-American culture, and the sun that rises in the last picture which recalls the peace of the opening scene. In the words of Tom Feelings, “… If this part of our history could be told in such a way that those chains of the past, those shackles that physically bound us together against our wills could, in the telling, become spiritual links that willingly bind us together now and into the future-then that painful Middle Passage could become, ironically, a positive connecting line to all of us…”

“One night when speaking to a Ghanian friend, he asked, ‘what happened to all of you when you were taken away from here?’ I knew instantly what he meant ‘what happened to all our people who were forcefully taken from Africa, enslaved, and scattered throughout the “New World”?’ He was referring to all those Africans, our ancestors, viciously uprooted from their homes and taken by European slave ships on the hideous sea journey across the Atlantic Ocean. He was referring to this crossing called the Middle Passage.

As he continues to speak, muted images flashed across my mind. Pale white sailing ships like huge white birds of prey, plunging forward into mountainous rising white foaming waves of cold water, surrounding and engulfing everything. Our ancestors, hundreds of them locked in the belly of each of these ships, chained together like animals through the long voyage from Africa toward unknown destinations, millions dying from the awful conditions in the bowels of the filthy slave galleys.”
Tom Feelings

A powerful, exhibition-ready education tool, this collection is paired with 10 framed textual pieces. All of the artwork is achivally held in plexiglass exhibition frames and has been outfitted with custom travelling crates. Also included are three different editions of prints taken directly from the original artwork, two of which are signed limited editions. There are over 1000 retail ready prints in this archive. This collection has been continuously and sucessfully exhibited for over 10 years. It has been installed at the United Nations in New York and the McKissick Museum at the University of South Carolina. A full exhibition list available on request.

“Storytelling is an ancient African oral tradition through which the values and history of a people are passed on to the young. And essentially I am a storyteller. Illustrated books are a natural extension of this African oral tradition.”


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NCTE: Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts

For those attending NCTE’s annual convention next week in Philadelphia, please consider attending CLA‘s Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts session on Friday afternoon, 2:30 -5:15 at the Marriott, Grand Ballroom, Salon C, 5th Floor.

We will begin with a presentation of the 2009 Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts. It is a superb list and it is always wonderful listening to the current committee members present them.

Then comes my part of the program — managing the roundtable conversations with eight of the honored books’ creators.  Attendees will get to spend time with all of them as they will move from table to table in short shifts (similar to some publisher previews or the speed-dating that happens at BEA).

This year we are thrilled to have the following creators coming:

Jen Bryant for Ringside 1929 and A River of Words: The Story of William Carlos Williams.

Barry Denenburg for Lincoln Shot: A President’s Life Remembered

Philip Dray for Yours for Justice, Ida B. Wells: The Daring Life of a Crusading Journalist

Jan Greenberg for Side by Side: New Poems Inspired by Art from Around the World

Stephen T. Johnson for A is for Art: An Abstract Alphabet

Scott Reynolds Nelson and Marc Aronson for Ain’t Nothing but a Man: My Quest to Find the Real John Henry

Laura Vaccaro Seeger for One Boy

We end with a raffle of books.

It is a really great session, one I always attended long before I had anything personally to do with it.  Please come!


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The Montgomery Bus Boycott and My Father

Born in Frankfurt, Germany in 1922, my father Lewis J. Edinger fled with his mother to America at the age of fourteen; his father chose to stay, hoping to ride things out, but was deported and killed. Years later, as a newly minted PhD, my father took whatever jobs he could find; one of those was in Montgomery, Alabama at the time of the bus boycott.  I was reminded of this at yesterday’s event with Claudette Colvin and so here are some excerpts from my father’s memoir about that time in his life.

I got my haircuts at Maxwell Air Force Base from a black barber with unsteady hands named Raymond Parks  — a negro for polite white Montgomery society, a “n-” for most of the whites, and a darky for those who might say one and think the other. Raymond’s wife Rosa was a seamstress I had never head of until she was arrested. She had refused to comply with a city segregation ordinance that required her, like any black, to give her seat in the front of a city bus to a white man and find one in the back. Legend had it that Rosa Parks was defiant because she was simply too tired to surrender her seat. Actually it was a deliberate protest against the all-pervasive racial discrimination by a prominent activist of  Montgomery’s black community. Her arrest started the now famous, well-organized boycott of all the city’s public transport by half of its population. Fifty years after that unforgettable experience I remain proud to have had some part in it.

Early on I had an opportunity to challenge Martin Luther King Jr. on adopting Gandhian non-violent principles for the boycott. I owed our meeting to my wife Hanni and, more directly, to a mutual friend, Virginia Durr, a white woman from a prominent family who played a role in the boycott. She and Hanni had become friends through the small local chapter of the League of Women Voters that often met at our place and then through our membership in the Montgomery branch of the anti-segregationist, interracial Southern Conference for Human Welfare. At that—for me memorable—meeting with King I told him that while Gandhian tactics wore down law-respecting Englishmen in India they could not overcome white segregationists in Montgomery. Virginia Durr set the outside agitator –me — straight with an anecdote.

A debutant and prominent member of the Junior League in Mobile, the young Virginia was sent out of the Deep South where she was raised to get a degree from Wellesley College in Massachusetts. When she came to the dining room for her first breakfast she found the only available seat was next to a black girl and promptly returned to her room, true to her segregationist upbringing. Her grandpappy had fought and died to preserve Southern ways, as she put it to me, and her family expected her to remain loyal to a tradition that put negroes in their place below and most certainly not next to whites. That’s what she told the dean to whom she rushed to explain her position, whereupon that lady told her that if she could not abide by the rules at Wellesley she was free to leave. As she found that impossible Virginia stayed on and learned to live by new rules. And that, the knowledgeable Southern insider predicted, was how it would go with the segregationist rules of Montgomery once they had been declared unconstitutional. And indeed, respect for the law carried the day after the U.S. Supreme Court threw out the city ordinance that triggered the precedent-setting, non-violent protest movement led by King.

Some incidents in our direct involvement with the boycott remain unforgettable. One was the impressive evening when a few of us white supporters were just for once allowed to stand in the back of a packed church to witness one of the  mass rallies that  sustained the commitment of the blacks. It took the form of a Baptist religious service with one after another of the local clergy evoking ever more fervent supportive responses from the congregation, capped by shouts of “who is the king – he is the king” when the boycott leader appeared for the climax.

Another time Hanni was driving our young cleaning woman  home when she was flagged down by a Montgomery policeman. He gave her a ticket for an alleged traffic offense, a mild form of harassment in light of what others in our support group experienced. A librarian living alone was driven by ever more threatening anonymous phone calls to commit suicide.

When the boycott did not end quickly the board of Montgomery’s city commissioners joined the radically-segregationist White Citizen Council and that led our little group to draw up a petition in which “we white citizens of Montgomery” asked them to reconsider such an action directed against the black half of their constituents. We decided to submit this petition if we got enough signatures to make an impression and then a work colleague and I approached those we thought would sign. Some did, others would not. It was an unpleasant surprise when supposed liberals from the North lacked the courage to stand by their expressions of anti-segregationist convictions. Phony excuses were induced by fear of McCarthy-style retribution.

Our principled position was put to the test when we asked a visiting black historian Hanni knew from New York for dinner. It seemed a great idea until it struck us that the parents of children Monica played with in our complex would then no longer let them do that. Reluctantly we decided that we could not let our three-year old suffer for principles that were beyond her understanding and moved the dinner to friends who lived in a house and not an apartment.  We thought it the right decision but were never entirely reconciled to it. It left us with a better comprehension of family conformism in Nazi Germany.


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Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice


This afternoon I sat in on a wonderful event at the NYPL’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.  It was a talk by Philip Hoose, author of the superb nonfiction book,  Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice, and Claudette Colvin herself.  The event was for the Junior Scholars Program so the room was full of attentive teens as well as a few adults.  For me,  listening to Phillip and then Claudette speak to this particular audience made what they said all the more moving.

Philip began telling how he first learned of Claudette when researching his book We Were There Too, how he then wanted to tell her story, how he tracked down a reporter who was in touch with Claudette, and then how he was quietly persistent, checking in with his contact every few months until one day Claudette was ready to speak to him.  He spoke of how he was able to  “drag an important story from under the carpet of history.” He then gave an overview of the book, of the teenager Claudette refusing to move months before Rosa Parks, of her being jailed, of her courage when she later became part of a law suit against Montgomery that eventually overturned bus segregation in Montgomery, and much more.  There was at least one audible gasp from the young people in the audience when he presented a particular harsh story before he turned things over to Claudette.

And boy was she impressive.  She vividly recalled for us the memory of the click of the key when she was thrown into jail. She spoke of the way her teachers had filled her up so on that day she felt history glued her to that bus seat.  She reminded me of something I’d not thought of till then — that I had been in Montgomery at that time, barely three years old and my sister still a baby.  My parents were involved too, driving people during the boycott.  But this isn’t about us, it is about Claudette. And let me tell you, after reading the book, I was profoundly moved by seeing her and hearing her, especially in that venue and with those young people.  I thank @editorgurl for alerting me to this event.

And I highly, highly, highly recommend the book. Hoose’s research is remarkable, but it is the way he seamlessly interweaves Claudette’s own memories with his third person account (sprinkled with other quotes) that makes this book so outstanding.  Hoose does a beautiful job bringing in Jim Crow, the players, the situations, the trials, the arrests, and so much more while keeping Claudette’s own words front and center.  I think this book does an extraordinary job helping young readers today get a sense of that time through Claudette’s words and experiences.

The questions from the teens today were moving and interesting, reflective of their distance from a totally different time.  One asked if Claudette had been angry all the time. But she had not. Another asked about her heroes and she spoke of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X.

Today I heard and saw history right smack in front of me.


Filed under History

Byatt on Tatar’s Enchanted Hunters

This is a grown-up book for grown-up people who haven’t forgotten being childhood readers. It satisfies imagination and curiosity, revisiting things you suddenly remember clearly, telling you new things you didn’t know.

A. S. Byatt reviews Maria Tatar’s Enchanted Hunters in the Guardian.

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