Monthly Archives: September 2010

Everyone’s a Little Bit Book Bannerish

It is Banned Book Week, when we draw attention to books that are kept out of readers’ hands, acts of censorship, and efforts to ban books across the United States.  These sadly often involve individuals successfully seeing to it that a book is not used in a school, taken off a library shelf, or otherwise kept away from its readers.  Frequently the challenges come about because of religious reasons, differences in ideas about parenting, apprehension about the mention of anything sexual, violence, and more.  I have great admiration for all the writers, teachers, librarians, and book lovers who work fiercely and unceasingly to get the word out about this.

But it also has me wonder — what about the books I keep away from my students?  The books that make me uncomfortable?  Sure, some of them are old and will wither away, but there are others too.   For years one of my favorite books to read aloud was Gary Paulsen’s Harris and Me — until the year I had a Japanese child in the class.  Set on an isolated farm during World War II, the young narrator is drawn into one escapade after another by his wild cousin, Harris.  That year  I got to the point when Harris wanted to play war and called the pigs “Commie Japs” and  I stopped, suddenly hyperaware of how that must sound to my Japanese student.  I then attempted a long explanation about the phrase. How Harris had the vaguest sense of the Japanese and only that they were the enemy and so forth and so on.  My Japanese student looked puzzled as did the rest of the class.  I went on and read the rest of the book — leaving out every subsequent mention of those Commie Japs.  And that awakening caused me to never read the book aloud again. So perhaps I’m a book banner of sorts.

And how about last year’s discussion around the Kickapoo Princess in Richard Peck’s A Season of Gifts?  While some may have kept the book on their library shelves I have to wonder if others backed off from it in other ways, ways more along the lines of my doing so with Harris and Me.  Perhaps this isn’t really book banning, but then what is it exactly?

I think it is always a good idea as we rail against small mindedness to consider if we ourselves are doing some of that ourselves.  When I came of age in the 70s we were frequently urged to recognize our own racism and later reflect on white privilege.  Sort of like that Avenue Q song —“Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.”  For me book banning is probably on a continuum — there is the quiet sort of not-using-a-book-as-it-has-stuff-that-makes-me-uncomfortable at one end and the egregious sort that makes headlines at the other end.  And so I think that during this important week that as we speak up against censorship we should also reflect on whether we do any of it ourselves.

Also at the Huffington Post.



Filed under Huffington Post

What is David Macaulay Up To?

The children book creator David Macaulay is a genius. Really.  A recipient of one of the coveted MacArthur Fellowships, the so-called Genius Awards, he was honored for being one of those “talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction.”  It was perfect for this energetic artist who is always exploring, experimenting, and playing with new and different ideas.

Certainly the man never stands still.He’s got a new book out next month, Built to Last, and was a scholar-in-residence at New York City’s Dalton School, where I teach, last year.  For The Year of the Sketchbook every single person in the school was given a sketchbook and they were used in a myriad of ways.   Urging us all to use sketching as a form of thinking, David worked with high school students, history teachers, kids of all ages doing all sorts of things. My fourth graders, for instance, sketched with David in assemblies and in more intimate settings, but they also used their sketchbooks on their own, say while listening to me read aloud, filling them up with ideas and drawings of all kinds.  David also spoke spoke to our community about Built to Last, explaining and showing us how he completely reinvisioned his iconic series of books City, Castle, Cathedral, and Mosque. In this video by his publisher David speaks about the new book:

At the end of his Dalton year, having made his mark on so many of us, David was invited to literally make his mark on the school.

“The idea was to recreate the look of a sketchbook; to have lots of different images all drawn fairly loosely,” explained Macaulay.

And so he did  — spending several days this summer creating a remarkable mural that covers every surface of the hallway outside our library. It is a quite extraordinary mural, one that you can truly study for long periods or simply glance at as you head on into the library.  Either way, you can’t miss it!  Here are a few photos to give you a taste, but for a better feel of the whole mural check-out this slide show.

Also posted on my Huffington Post blog.


Filed under Huffington Post

In the Classroom: Reading Aloud Hugo Cabret

This year I’m doing a year-long study of Charlie Chaplin and so, wanting my first read aloud book to connect, I decided to start with Brian Selznick’s marvelous Caldecott winner, The Invention of Hugo Cabret.   As many know it has much to do with early films in plot, art, sensibility,  and design.  Having read aloud many a picture book and the occasional graphic novel I figured I could pull off this unique hybrid of a book.

It turned out to be absolutely fantastic and even better than I could have hoped.   The handful of kids who already knew the book absolutely adored having it read to them. And those new to it were loving it too. One had dreams about it!  The cinematic quality of the drawings and text made it work perfectly alongside our viewing and consideration of Chaplin’s earliest films.  These kids are becoming expert viewers!

It was a very quick read and so I finished it yesterday, two weeks into the school year. And then I took them to the book’s website where they saw a bit more about aspects of the book and, most importantly, they saw A Trip to the Moon.

Now we are eagerly awaiting the movie.  I will be curious how the book is repackaged at that point.


Filed under Chaplin, In the Classroom, Reading Aloud

The Exquisite Corpse Adventure

Tomorrow, at the National Book Festival, the final episode of The Exquisite Corpse Adventure will be revealed.  A marvelous shaggy dog of a tale, this version of the old game had a bevy of famous children’s authors and illustrators writing twenty-six episodes of a story involving time travel, robots, a scary clown, intrepid young heroes (of course), language play, and a whole lot more. I’m envious of those at tomorrow’s final reveal as they don’t just get to find out what happened, but get to see and hear National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature Katherine Paterson, M.T. Anderson, Mary Brigid Barrett, Timothy Basil Ering, Linda Sue Park and James Ransome present this final episode as a live Reader’s Theater.  Should be a blast!

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Irony and Kids; Kids and Irony

At Tuesday evening’s Open House for parents (when I tell them what I plan to do with their kids this year) I began by reading aloud to them Tao Nyeu’s Bunny Days.  Why? Because my 4th grade students think it is hilarious and I thought it would give the parents a sense of where their kids are developmentally. As I mentioned a few days ago, these nine year-olds find it funny because of the way it plays on their memories of sweet little bunny stories of their toddler days.  It is their place of irony.  And so how fortuitous to see that Michael Rosen has been reflecting on this as well in “Sarcasm has always been child’s play.”

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What to Do About Classic Children’s Books that are Racist

One of my favorite childhood books was Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Dolittle. I’ve the original book and as a young teacher realized that it was…um…horribly…racist and so kept it home and did not recommend it. At one point a parent expressed shock to me that it was on the reading list for the grade above mine. When I told the teacher she showed me a version of the book in which the racist storyline had been completely removed.   I wasn’t sure what to think about that. Yes, the original version is unquestionably racist and problematic for kids, but to rework it without the author’s okay (even if he is dead)?  It made me then and still makes me very uneasy.

Now Phil Nel has picked up the gauntlet, so to speak, with his superb post, “Can Censoring a Children’s Book Remove Its Prejudices?”   In it he focuses on the way Roald Dahl’s Oompa-Loompas in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory were changed over the years (with the author’s okay) and the changes made to Lofting’s book (not with his okay, he being deceased).   What I appreciate so much about Phil’s post is that he goes far beyond considering these fixes to the overall racist sensibilities in the two books — how the fixes are only surface and leave very problematic viewpoints in the books.

And then what do you with these books and kids today?  It is a hard, hard call. Phil considers very carefully a variety of responses and points out their limitations.  He concludes:  “As an educator, I’m inclined to fall back on the (albeit imperfect) solution of reading troubling texts with young people, and talking with them about what they encounter.”  Me too.

Also on my Huffington Post blog.


Filed under Children's Literature, Classic, Huffington Post

Bunny and Funny Books

Yesterday @sammyperlmutter asked for funny books and I responded:

Funny is hard to agree on. For example, my 4th grade thinks Tao Nyeu’s Bunny Days is hilarious. Others might be horrified.

Bunny Days came to mind because I’d just read it to my students the day before and they were bugging me to read it again.  To say it was a hit is an understatement. While the problems those sweet little bunnies experienced may be standard pre-school fare, how they were resolved is definitely not.  And it was those little unexpected resolutions of Nyeu’s that kept my students in stitches.  So while the intended audience of little ones will enjoy the stories in a more straightforward way, these older kids with their greater experience enjoyed them in a more ironic way.  After all, they grew up with many a book about adorable little bunnies who got into trouble.   But books that had their caregivers fixing them this way?  Pretty uncommon, I’d say.

But as I tweeted to Sammy, while my students found the book hysterically funny, others might blanched at those bunnies in…rather… uncomfortable and even painful situations. And not find it the slightest bit funny.  It is for that reason that I think humor becomes especially challenging to agree upon when it comes to awards.  In my experience (on the Newbery and NCTE’s Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts Committees), it isn’t that the funny books are dismissed as less serious, it is just that it is really, really, really hard for a group of people to find the same thing funny.

Our funny bones seem so personal.   There are many books others find very funny that I don’t. Famous books, Newbery 2011 contenders, and crowd-pleasers galore.  And then those that crack me up, but leave others cold.  Humor — one of the harder things to agree on when it comes to books.


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NCTE and Wizarding World — Here I Come!

This is the first year for a long time that I have no official responsibilities at the annual NCTE convention.  Since it is pricey, involves missing a day of school, and comes right before Thanksgiving I considered not going. But then I always have a great time learning and networking, figure I can do some Huffington Post blogging about it, and most of all — I simply cannot pass up a chance to go to Hogwarths, I mean Wizarding World.  So I’ll be there and hope to see some of you there too.


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School’s Back. So’s Homework

Ah, fall.  No more camp, sleeping in, and lazy days at the pool.  Now it is school, up before dawn, and — HOMEWORK.

Teachers love it, kids hate it. Right?


At least this fourth teacher doesn’t love it. We do a lot during the school day in my classroom and when we are done I want my students to go home and do other things — play, build with Legos, dream, shoot hoops, relax, spend time with family, draw, dance, sing, listen, and create. Oh yes, and read. It is the one sort of homework I feel very strongly about and so I require that my fourth graders read self-selected books at home every evening. While some of these nine and ten year-olds have been avid readers for years others are just getting to a point where reading isn’t a struggle, where they can forget about the mechanics and simply lose themselves in the story.

All of them are still figuring out what sort of learners and readers they are outside of school. Where do they read best — in bed, on the couch, cuddling a pet, under a tree, next to a parent? Do they need pristine silence or lively sound? They need to figure out for themselves what sorts of books they like best — some can’t get enough of the big fantasy novels, others prefer anything sports-related, there are those who get lost in graphic novels, and those who want to sob over something sad.  Each child needs to figure out this taste business by exploring and experimenting, going so far as to abandon a book that isn’t doing anything for him or her.

Sometimes avid adult readers express dismay at this sort of homework, arguing that it fosters a hatred of reading.  I’m guessing this is because they associate all homework with drudgery and misery. Happily it doesn’t have to be that way.  Indeed there is such a thing as fun homework! Think about it — instead of battling with your child at home to do his or her homework why not make it over stopping — to say it is time for bed, time for the lights to go out, time to stop the reading homework?  Instead of dealing with a child crying over homework why not one who races into class the next morning and blurts out, ” Ms. Edinger, I’m so sorry, but I read for more time than you required.  I had to find out what was going to happen!”

Homework that you can’t wait to do and don’t want to stop doing — that’s the kind I like to give!

Also posted on my Huffington Post blog.


Filed under Huffington Post, In the Classroom

Newbery Season

As we head into autumn, speculation about this year’s award winners is mounting (at least among those of us who are obsessed with such things).  The Cybils are getting underway, there’s a wonderful event attached to the Boston Globe-Horn Book awards this year at Simmons College, and the various ALA mock award groups are building steam.  One of my favorites is the Heavy Medal: A Mock Newbery Blog run by my pals Nina Lindsay and Jonathan Hunt.  Nina was chair of my 2008 Newbery Committee and Jonathan is one of my collaborators for the BoB.  Those that followed their blog last year know how smart and fun it was.  They’ve just opened it up for this year and I’m psyched!


Filed under awards, Battle of the (Kids') Books, Newbery