Monthly Archives: August 2010

Missing Pigs

John Mullan’s got his list of Ten of the Best Pigs in Literature.  Here are mine.

1. Wilbur from E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, natch.
2. Babe from Dick King-Smith’s Babe.
3. Hen Wen from Lloyd Alexander’s The Chronicles of Prydian.
4. Freddy from Walter R. Brooks’ Freddy the Pig books.
5. Olivia from Ian Falconer’s Olivia books.
6, 7, 8. The three pigs in David Wiesner’s The Three Pigs.
9. The pig baby in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.
10.Mercy Watson in Kate DiCamillo’s Mercy Watson series (suggested by Susan Thomsen).
11.  Piglet in A. A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh. (Thanks to @Jennifer Trafton for reminding me of this piggy;)



Filed under Children's Literature

In the Classroom: Sigh

The traditional cycle seems to have gone off course, as young people remain un­tethered to romantic partners or to permanent homes, going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life. (From this NYT article about 20-somethings)

In a nutshell, my problem with Teach for America.  How about recalibrating it so that participants see teaching as a career and not simply a sidetrack before beginning “adult life”?

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Lost in Translation

Mutti, can you please make Pfannkuchen for dinner? Pretty please?

Of course, Liebling.  Would you like them with Zucker for dessert or with ham und Käse for the main course?

Setting a book for English readers in a non-English-speaking environment creates an interesting  problem.  Many writers solve it along the lines of the exchange I made up above — tossing in some relatively easy-to-figure-out foreign words so readers are aware that the characters are speaking German not English.  Here the child is calling her mother the German word for mommy followed by the very American expression, “pretty please” a solution I find very clunky if they are supposedly speaking only in German.  And film-makers have the same problem. Check out this excellent presentation on the subject over at Slate:  “How Hollywood Represents Foreign Speech.”


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Lovely Language

Via Alison Morris

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Learning about Africa: Anthony Bourdain visits Liberia

I enjoy food critic Anthony Bourdain’s television show No Reservations and was eager to see the Liberian episode as it is a country that borders Sierra Leone (where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer) and so they have a lot in common. I was not surprised that the visit for Bourdain was very disturbing, this is, after all, a  very poor country recovering — like its neighbor Sierra Leone  — from a brutal prolonged conflict.

Well intentioned as it was meant to be I was most bothered by their visit to a remote village.  Not for the reasons that Bourdain was bothered as what clearly unnerved him looked so familiar to me — when I lived in Sierra Leone that is how most people upcountry lived. The women cooking, children teasing, and men drinking palm wine all brought back memories to me, I can tell you.  But he looked beyond shocked; I have to wonder who exactly prepared them for that village visit.  I mean, this is what rural life was like in Sierra Leone in the 70s when I lived there; I have to assume that was what it was like in Liberia too.  Bourdain had clearly no context for what he saw and I completely understand that — the reason Peace Corps required us to serve two years is that it took us a year just to be able to be comfortable living in Sierra Leone as it was so different from what any of us could possibly know. So how could Bourdain, without the training we received, be able to make sense of all that he saw?  I’m dubious.   In particular when he attempted to explain the devil that visited the village while he was there.  His explanation is not the way I understood animism in Sierra Leone.  Not going to get into it now, but have to say that what he said was very, very, very muddled.

Tricky stuff and trickier still when it isn’t exactly right.I do wish they’d at least have provided a bit more information on the website; even a few links to worthwhile sites would be helpful.

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Thalia Kids’ Book Club Camp

Today Betsy Bird reminded me of this amazing summer day camp just down the road from me.  One of my students went and from what she told me, what Betsy wrote, and their blog posts — well, it sounds phenomenal for kids who are obsessed readers and writers.  Looks like a nice balance of talking about books, writing, engaging with authors, cool field trips, and more conventional camp fun (e.g. Capture the Flag).  And for those in the NYC area, there appears to be one session starting today with slots left, a YA one for kids 13-15 years-old.  Libba Bray, Barry Lyga, and Kekla Magoon, and Krista Marino are slated to visit.

WNYC did a feature on Norton Juster’s visit; here’s their video (with my student in it!):


Filed under Children's Literature, Reading, Writing, YA

Louis Sachar’s The Cardturner

I’ve never been much for card games — hearts, poker, bridge all seem to be part of a world that has a language I simply cannot learn.  I suspect numbers are part of it — being able to count quickly and efficiently in my head, being able to see/hear a sequence of numbers and remember them, being able to do various simple operations accurately in my head.  Can’t do any of it.  As a result when I read that Louis Sachar’s latest book was about bridge, I stayed away for quite a while.  Until a respected friend’s enthusiasm got me curious.  So I read it a while back and liked it tremendously.

The Cardturner is the story of 17 year-old Alton who ends up with a summer job as his elderly blind uncle’s cardturner at various bridge tournaments. Pushed by his parents who think his doing so will put them in the running for the dying man’s money, amiable Alton observes the workings of bridge, the world of competitive bridge, and the various personal relationships of that world.  Spilling out and around the cards are stories of family, loss, and love some of which end up including Alton.  There’s a sweetheart of a younger sister, a slippery best friend, and a very intriguing love interest.  Not to mention an I-didn’t-see-this-coming twist at the end.

Confession time — I took Alton’s advice. After noting that he was unable to finish Moby Dick because of the endless stuff about whales he writes, “So here’s the deal. Whenever you see the picture of the whale, it means I’m about to go into some detail about bridge. If that makes you zone out just skip ahead to the summary box and I’ll give you the short version.” Me? After trying a few long versions I gave up and then stuck with the short versions.  Because of this I  wasn’t going to write a post about the book because I felt weird doing so having not read every word. But then I figured that there might be other readers out there like me, those who are staying away because bridge leaves them cold.  And so here I am waxing enthusiastic about this book because the writer gave me a way to read it that made it work for not-interested-in-bridge-me.  And so I say to those of you like me  —take a chance and read this book, skipping the long versions with impunity. Hopefully, you’ll be glad you did!

Sachar’s latest, a charming and unique book.


Filed under YA

Random House Fall Preview

Random House does it again!  That is, they’ve done their second online preview and archived it so you can view it at your leisure here.  Almost as good as being there in person!

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Admitting Wrongness

Bravo to this DA in Texas who managed to free someone after 27 years in jail for a crime he did not commit.

Then in 2008, Patricia Lykos, a former judge and police officer, was elected district attorney, and one of her first acts was to reverse the office’s longstanding reluctance to admit mistakes.

Boo to Harvard for their caution with this situation where a morality expert’s problematic research is affecting more than just his immediate circle.

Harvard’s slow-motion inquiry about the laboratory of Marc Hauser, one of its star academics, has cast a shadow over the several different fields in which Dr. Hauser and his students published papers.

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Rockin’ Eoin Colfer

I hope I can make it to Eoin Colfer’s NYC gig during his Artemis Rocks tour as the one I attended in 2008 was absolutely hilarious.  He set the bar back then, but I have no doubt he will surpass it with this one. The man is clearly a frustrated stand-up comic. According to this PW article:

At each stop, Colfer will take the stage for a talk show-style appearance, during which he’ll perform a monologue and interview none other than Artemis Fowl himself (in the form of a young actor). The shows will also feature original songs and music videos about Artemis (starring the same young actor) and his latest adventure, recorded by San Francisco singer/musician Josh Fix. Audience participation and a book signing will be part of the appearances as well.

And speaking of music videos, here’s one of them.  Not bad. Not bad at all.

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