Monthly Archives: July 2011

My Return to Sierra Leone: Krio

My return to Sierra Leone was remarkable. Happily, my anxiety about what I’d experience thirty-five years later was for nought.  I’m still mulling over the best way to communicate the whole of it.  In the meantime I’m going to do some posts on various things that triggered memories for me. Say Krio, the common language of Sierra Leone.  There are many different tribal languages as well as English, but Krio is a shared language pretty much everyone uses.  When I lived there I used it at the market, when chatting with friends and neighbors, when bargaining with a taxi driver, and so forth. It was a language we Peace Corps Volunteers loved, filled with lovely phrases, expressions, and words. But when I returned to the US I had to use them silently as Americans would have looked at me oddly if I’d voiced them. Eventually, they drifted out of my mind as I never heard them or used them with anyone. Thus it was heavenly to hear Krio again, to have those wonderful words and expressions come back to me, and to begin using them myself.  Here are a few favorites (and since these are phonetic as I’m remembering them, I may be getting them wrong — anyone reading this who can correct me, please do in the comments):

    • Salone — what everyone calls Sierra Leone
    • Kusheo  — Hello
    • Aw de bodi? — How are you?
    • Osh yaa — That’s too bad/sorry
    • Usai you de go? — Where are you going?
    • Aw fa du — Oh well/what can you do?
    • Du ya — please
    • Gladi — happy
    • Pikin — child
    • Padi — friend
    • Palaver — lots of talk about something
    • Vex — angry
    • Sabi — know
    • Tif — thief
    • Tenki ya — thank you
    • Ah de go — Good-bye


Filed under Africa, Learning About Africa, Sierra Leone

Some (Many) Spring 2012 Books I Am Eager To See

Just looked at PW’s recent feature on forthcoming spring 2012 books and the following were titles that especially intrigued me for one reason or another.  (This turned out to be very long and I’m sure there are many more I also want to see so…whew!)

    • Chuck Close: Faces by Chuck Close and Glue + Paper Workshop LLC.  (I have always admired Close’s work and am very intrigued by the potential for interactivity.)
    • The Sisters Grimm: Book 9 by Michael Buckley.
    • Huff and Puff by Claudia Rueda, “an interactive retelling of the Three Little Pigs”. (I met Claudia years ago at a conference and we’ve stayed friends — mostly online as she is Colombian.  I have always liked her understated and sly style and am very interested to see what she’s done with this familiar tale.)
    • In Darkness by Nick Lake, (This may be too old for me, but I’m interested in very interested in the L’Ouverture aspect and how the author links it to contemporary Haiti.)
    • Ruby Redfort Look Into My Eyes by Lauren Child. (I’m a big Child fan in general as well as of the middle grade Clarice Bean books so am looking very much forward to this one.)
    • What Color Is My World?: How African-American Inventors Have Changed the Way We Live by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Raymond Obstfeld, illus. by Ben Boos and A.G. Ford. (I first heard about this when I sold Africa is My Home to the same publisher and am excited to see it become a reality.)
    • Wordles by Amy Krouse Rosenthal, illus. by Serge Bloch. (Just love books featuring word play.)
    • The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner, illus. by Jeremy Holmes.  (Evidently more word play so…ditto.)
    • The Kane Chronicles, Book Three by Rick Riordan.  (Final book so do I need to say anything?)
    • Poems to Learn by Heart, edited by Caroline Kennedy, illus. by Jon J Muth. (I liked the earlier collections and this one, with its focus on memorization, is right up my teacher-heart-alley.)
    • The No. 1 Car Spotter Book 2: The No. 1 Car Spotter and the Firebird by Atinuke. (I’m such a fan of the author of the Anna Hibiscus books and have already seen the first in this series set in a small village.  Having just returned from West Africa I can tell you they ring true.)
    • I Lay My Stitches Down: Poems of American Slavery by Cynthia Grady, illus. by Michele Wood.  (This anthology “featuring the imagery of quilting and fiber arts” sounds fascinating.)
    • Little Bird by Germano Zullo, illus. by Albertine. (I just so like what this small press does so am very curious about this award-winning title.)
    • Out of the Way! Out of the Way! by Uma Krishnaswami. (First published in India, some of my students and I participated in a blog tour for it.)
    • All the Right Stuff by Walter Dean Myers.
    • Cold Cereal by Adam Rex.  (I so liked Rex’s The True Meaning of Smekday so can’t wait to see this new middle-grade work from him.)
    • Earwig and the Witch by Diana Wynne Jones, illus. by Paul O. Zelinsky.  (Two children’s lit titans together? — can’t wait to see this one.)
    • The Masque of the Red Death by Bethany Griffin.  (“A steampunk reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s gothic horror story” has me intrigued.)
    • Big Nate Goes for Broke by Lincoln Peirce  (My fourth graders are big fans so happy to see this on its way.)
    • The Fourth Stall Part II by Chris Rylander. (The first in this series was a big hit in my classroom this past year.)
    • Boat! by Dave Roman, illus. by John Green. (“A comic that blends the angst of being a teen with the thrill of being a boat.” This I gotta see.)
    • Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass: The Story Behind an American Friendship by Russell Freedman.
    • Pilgrims Don’t Wear Pink by Stephanie Kate Strohn. (Since I teach a unit on the Pilgrms I’m curious about this one even though it is set in Maine and may have nothing to do with the historical folk.)
    • The Beatles Were Fab—and They Were Funny: The Story of Beatlemania by Kathleen Krull and Paul Brewer, illus. by Stacey Innerst. (Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.)
    • Temple Grandin: How the Girl Who Loved Cows Embraced Autism and Changed the World by Sy Montgomery. (An authorized biography by one of my favorite nonfiction writers. I’m in.)
    • Puffling Patrol by Ted and Betsy Lewin. (Set off Iceland, a place I visited a few years back so I’m intrigued.)
    • When Bill Traylor Began to Draw by Don Tate, illus. by R. Gregory Christie. (Love Traylor’s work so eager to see what these two do with him and it.)
    • Hoop Genius: How a Desperate Teacher and a Rowdy Gym Class Invented Basketball by John Coy, illus. by Joe Morse.
    • No Crystal Stair by Vaunda Micheaux Nelson, illus. by R. Gregory Christie. (About the author’s father, a Harlem bookstore owner — can’t wait to see this one.)
    • White Duck: A Childhood in China by Andrés Vera Martínez and Na Liu, illus. by Martínez.
    • The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart.  (A prequel?  My students and I are all agog.)
    • Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler, illus. by Maira Kalman. (I’ve the ARC, but I’m eager to see it with the finished art.)
    • Riding in My Car by Woody Guthrie, illus. by Scott Menchin.  (“An interactive version of the folksinger’s children’s song, with flaps, tabs, and pop-ups” sounds like great fun.)
    •  A Year in the Life of the Moonbird by Phillip Hoose. (I want to see anything Phillip Hoose does.)
    • Rebel Fire, Sherlock Holmes: The Legend Begins Book 2 by Andrew Lane. (Big fan of the first in this series so eager to see this one — which was out in paper in the UK, but I figured I’d wait for the US edition.)
    • Barnum’s Bones: How Barnum Brown Discovered the Most Famous Dinosaur in the World by Tracey Fern, illus. by Boris Kulikov.
    • Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle by Claire A. Nivola.  (I’m a fan of other work by Nivola so interested in seeing this one.)
    • The Humming Room by Ellen Potter. (“…inspired by The Secret Garden” one of my classical favorites done by an always inventive writer so most curious indeed.)
    • Cinder: Book One of the Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer. (Since I’ve been doing a Cinderella unit since 1990 I’m definitely interested in a “futuristic retelling.”)
    • Sapphire Blue by Kerstin Gier, trans. by Anthea Bell. (Enjoyed Ruby Red and so interested to see where this is all going.)
    • Leo Geo and His Miraculous Journey through the Center of the Earth by Jon Chad. (Curious to see this “skinny-format comic.”)
    • Green by Laura Vaccaro Seeger. (Always interested in what Laura’s doing next.)
    • The Good Braider: A Novel in Verse by Terry Farish. (Curious because it involves someone coming to the US from Sudan.)
    • Superman vs. the Ku Klux Klan: The True Story of How the Iconic Superhero Battled the Men of Hate by Rick Bowers.
    • Bitterblue by Kristin Cashore.  (At last!)
    • The Fault in Our Stars by  John Green. (Of course.)
    • Puppy Bowl: Yearbook by Tracey West.  (Confession: I watch it so I want this.)
    • Looking at Lincoln by Maira Kalman.
    • Robbie Forester and the Outlaws of Sherwood Street by Peter Abrahams. (Liked some other kid mysteries he did so interested to see this one.)
    • Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, illus. by LeUyen Pham
    • Oddfellow’s Orphanage by Emily Martin
    • Chomp by Carl Hiaasen (IMHO, he’s getting better with each kid title.)
    • The Adventures of the New Cut Gang by Philip Pullman (This is a combination of some books he did way back and I’m thrilled they are coming out here this way.)
    • The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis. (About a character from Bud Not Buddy, neat.)
    • Mr. and Mrs. Bunny—Detectives Extraordinaire! by Mrs. Bunny, trans. from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath, illus. by Sophie Blackall. (Two favorite creators of mine at work.)
    • A Boy Called Dickens by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. by John Hendrix.
    • Irises by Francisco X. Stork
    • Just Behave, Pablo Picasso! by Jonah Winter, illus. by Kevin Hawkes
    • Dear Cinderella by Mary Jane Kensington and Marion Moore, illus. by Julie Olson
    • Here Come the Girl Scouts! by Shana Corey, illus. by Hadley Hooper
    • Those Rebels, John & Tom by Barbara Kerley, illus. by Edwin Fotheringham
    • The False Prince by Jennifer A. Nielsen  (The buzz on this is amazing. Will it hold up?)
    • One Dog and His Boy by Eva Ibbotson. (Saw this in the UK, but figured I could wait.)
    • Wolf Won’t Bite by Emily Gravett (One of my favorite subversive picture book creators is back with wolves!)
    • Caddy’s World by Hilary McKay (More Cassons!)
    • Words Set Me Free: The Story of Young Frederick Douglass by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illus. by James E. Ransome


Filed under Other

The Story Museum

I was a collecting child which no doubt partially explains my interest in museums.  At one point during my many years trying to figure out how to tell Sarah Margru Kinson‘s story, I seriously contemplated doing it as an exhibition complete with a curator and rooms for each part of her life.  I especially like the cabinet-of-curiosities-sorts-of-museums, those with cases and rooms filled to the brink with things,  say London’s Sir John Soane’s Museum and Oxford’s Pitt Rivers Museum*.  I also adore the idea of museums that are sly and totally unlike anything else, say  The Museum of Jurassic Technology  or  Dennis Severs’ House (both of which I yearn to see).  And when it comes to children and museums, the more experiential and hands-on, the better.

Which is why I’m excited about Oxford’s Story Museum.  It is truly an original idea — blending art, performance, telling, viewing, and pretty much everything else story-related in imaginative ways.  While the physical museum will not be open for a while yet, they’ve been working in schools and doing all sorts of programs featuring their ideas about stories.  Some of these include:

  • Schools programme  “Since 2005 the Story Museum has been working with teachers to harness the power of stories to inspire and support children’s learning. An important strand of this work is oral storytelling: learning to tell stories from memory.”  Some of the schools they work with center their whole curricula around storytelling, Storytelling Schools.
  • Alice’s Day.  As you might guess given the name of this blog, I wish I could have been at this year’s event, just a few weeks back and am thinking I’ve got to get there next year as it is a very important anniversary for Alice.
  • 1001 stories  That’s right. “Inspired by this ancient Arabic tale we have set ourselves the challenge of gathering and sharing 1001 stories for everyone to enjoy.”  They’ve got a bunch there already.

Yesterday, Philip Pullman who is, unsurprisingly, one of their patrons took me to the museum where we got a fascinating tour with co-director Kim Pickin.  The physical space is a remarkable warren of rooms of all sizes with a fascinating history and, if they do even a smidgen of what they dream to do, it will be extraordinary. They’ve got some massive Alice cut-outs peering out of the windows, a dinosaur, some scary vaults (part of the space used to be the post office and there are rumors that gold bullion was stored there at one point), some very old printing presses, and lots of energy .  Outside they’ve a few sly touches to intrigue passersby.

The sign says “Rochester’s Story Supplies” and the objects are witty and clever story references.  I wasn’t able to get a very good shot of the window so you must just go yourself to see it! Below is another small and even more subversive window with three bowls— for what story, do you think?  They’ve got a third in the works being created by Mini Grey that is going to be equally clever.

And then there is this phone box that I noticed as we drove in, wondering about the chain. To give you a feel of their sensibility, they’ve toyed with it being a museum entrance.

* I visited the Pitt Rivers Museum today for the first time and I’m in love — the way they’ve maintained the original sense of the place is fantastic.  One of the best museum experience I’ve had in some while.  I also enjoyed very much the Oxford University Museum of Natural History which is in front of it — what a gorgeous Victorian space!


Filed under Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Children's Literature, Other, Philip Pullman, Teaching

A Few New Reviews

I do occasional reviews over at James Patterson’s readkiddoread.  Here are the most recent:

Atinuke’s Anna Hibiscus

Uma Krishnaswami’s The Grand Plan to Fix Everything

Sue Macy’s Wheels of Change: How Women Road the Bike to Freedom (With a Few Flat Tires Along the Way)

Gary Schmidt’s Okay for Now

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Filed under Africa, Review

Remembering the First Harry Potter Movie

I’m off to Africa today so will probably have to wait till I come back to see the last Harry Potter movie, but all the reminiscing has me recalling my experience with the first movie.  It came out ten years ago this coming November and, for me, will be forever linked with something that happened two months earlier downtown from my school. Here’s my letter to the New York Times about it:

Harry Potter’s Triumph

Published: November 24, 2001
To the Editor:

Re ”Harry’s Big Weekend” (editorial, Nov. 20):

No doubt the Harry Potter movie would have broken box office records even before the World Trade Center tragedy. J. K. Rowling’s books were already very special to children, which made the movie’s release an additional form of healing for our city’s children, who are still coping with the events of Sept. 11.

My fourth-grade students had a first day of school they will never forget; they have had field trips canceled and more than the usual evacuation drills; and they have had to contend with the same grief and fears that adults are coping with.

For these children, the Harry Potter movie is better than anything a trauma specialist could provide — not escapist entertainment, but the satisfaction of knowing that good can trump evil.


New York, Nov. 20, 2001

The writer is a teacher at the Dalton School.


Filed under Harry Potter

Harry Settling In

For whatever reason this week’s final Harry Potter movie doesn’t feel as major an ending of anything for me as the publication of the seventh book did.  That was exciting because I was eager to see how Rowling wrapped up her story. And it did feel like an exciting end of something remarkable — a global obsession with a series of books.  The movies feel different to me  — something more tied to a broader societal aspect of the Harry Potter phenomena.  Don’t get me wrong — I think it is great — I had a blast last November at Wizarding World and enjoyed my butterbeer very much.

But what pleases me most of all is something most people don’t see — the way the books are steadily read, quietly read, by kids who weren’t alive when the first one was published, who have none of the nostalgia so many have right now.  I’d always thought the books would have legs, that they weren’t a flash in the pan, that kids would continue to enjoy them as they do the Oz books and so far that has indeed been the case among my fourth grade students.  The media mix now is interesting — with many books they have often seen movie versions before reading the books, but that is just fine. They are savvy viewers and know the books will be different.

That said, I just looked back at all my excited posts when the final book was published.  I’d been playing with Comic Life at the time and did the following comic about my own history with the series.







Filed under Harry Potter

Lush Animation of Salman Rushdie’s Luka and the Fire of Life

In my youth I fell for Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children and sometime later Haroun and the Sea of Stories.  Having followed the furor and then read The Satanic Verses I was very moved by Haroun knowing some of the history that caused Rushdie to write it.  I also was enchanted by the lush language, the folkloric play, and the homage to The Wizard of Oz (which Rushdie first wrote about as an article for  The New Yorker and then expanded as a monograph for the British Film Institute).  And while last year’s Luka and the Sea of Fire did not feel as strong as those earlier works I still enjoyed Rushdie’s unique and wild imaginative style.

For me Rushdie’s writing is so much about language and imagery expressed in words so I was fascinated to come across this article in the Guardian about a competition among animation students at London’s Kingston University to come up with a concept for a film from the book.

Students from the University’s faculty of art, design and architecture visited the book’s publisher Random House to meet the author and present their ideas for visual concepts. Four of these concepts were selected to be made into four animations, which then went to a panel of judges including Rushdie and Milan, to whom the book is dedicated, to select an overall winner.

The results are fabulous and may make you want to check out the book if you haven’t already.

The winning video is by Han Byul Lee, Sam Falconer, Irsiz Heathershaw, So Hewi Lee and Dawn Smit

The first runner-up is by Zach Ellams, Moira Lam, Tim O’Leary, Sophie Powell

The second runner-up is by Frank Burgess, Angus Dick, James Lancett, Ben Tobitt, Sean Weston

The third runner-up is by John Balallo, Jun Hyoung Chun, Katie Robson, Yao Xiang

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Filed under animation, Children's Literature

A Couple of Good Books Conjoined

I’m pretty Africa-focused these days so not good for posting anything else of substance. So here is something that combines two other favorites of mine (and is bound to go viral if it hasn’t already).


Filed under Harry Potter

Learning About Africa: Peace Corps in Sierra Leone

The first Peace Corps Volunteers in Sierra Leone arrived in 1962, just a year after the organization was founded.  There was a consistent presence until 1994 when the conflict in the country became too dangerous and the program suspended.  Happily, partially due to intense lobbying by the Friends of Sierra Leone the organization decided to resume the program and the first cohort has just completed their first year with a second starting training now.   I can’t wait to meet some of them and their families next week at our meeting.

One thing that amazes me is that several of the current volunteers are blogging.  Certainly communications are very different than they were in my time what with cell phones. That said, from reading the blogs and speaking with other recent volunteers who served in other nearby countries, much is still the same.

If you are interested in knowing more about what life is like today for a Sierra Leonean Peace Corps Volunteer there are a bunch of blogs to explore here.  Two I’ve especially from the first cohort are:

{dispatch} Sierra Leone

bryan meeker in sierra leone

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Filed under Sierra Leone

Learning About Africa: Going Back to Sierra Leone

Next Friday I’m heading back in time, so to speak.  That is, I’m going back to Freetown, Sierra Leone, for the first time since I left in 1976 after two years as a Peace Corps Volunteer.  My emotions are very complicated as I went to Freetown straight out of college, age twenty-one.  I was part of a large group of Peace Corps Volunteers serving in Sierra Leone at the time along with a number of British (VSO) and Canadian (CUSO) volunteers.  I can’t speak for all of them, but for me it was a seminal experience in my life.  So going back after so long and after a horrendous conflict is scary.  Will it seem familiar?  (I know the Cotton Tree will be even if the City Hotel is gone.) Will Krio come back to me?  (Kushe-o… How de body?…) My way around town?  Bargaining for a taxi? (Remembering that instead of it being two leones to the dollar it is now 4, 357.05 leones to the dollar.  Talk about inflation!)

Here’s my twenty-one year-old self upcountry circa 1976

I’m going for a meeting of the Friends of Sierra Leone, a group that came together when things were first falling apart in Sierra Leone and no one in the world media seemed to be paying any attention.  I remember several difficult meetings at the Sierra Leone Consulate here in NYC with Sierra Leoneans hopelessly talking about what we could do.  It took an invasion of Freetown for the world media to finally take notice and then it was mostly about child soldiers, blood diamonds, and amputating limbs.  Around that time I did a project with my fourth grade to raise money for Sierra Leone and draw attention to other aspects of the country than had been in the news to date.

In 2000 the Friends of Sierra Leone held its yearly meeting at Mystic Seaport to celebrate the Amistad. The replica of the ship was just completed and the museum had several exhibits about the captives and their stories.  While preoccupied with events in Sierra Leone I noticed that there had been children on the Amistad (something Spielberg left out of his movie) and later became obsessed with learning all about them (as they all came from what is now Sierra Leone). That turned into my story about Sarah Margru Kinson which is to be published by Candlewick Press in a couple of years (as it is an interactive book with envelopes and such it is complicated to create so while the writing is long done the designing and illustration is just getting underway).

The reason for this meeting is to celebrate Peace Corps return to Sierra Leone.  They had been there since the 60s, but were pulled when things go too dangerous in the mid-90s.  The Friends of Sierra Leone lobbied tirelessly to get Peace Corps to bring them back and finally last summer the first cohort returned and a second group is starting their training now.  And so we will be in Freetown shortly meeting with the current volunteers, returned volunteers (what Peace Corps calls those of us who served), family members of current volunteers, Sierra Leoneans who are also members of the organization, and many others.  If the weather prevails (it is the rainy season so who knows) we will visit Bunce Island, a notable slave fort that has great meaning and significance.  (I’ve always rued that I missed my chance to go during my own Peace Corps training because I was sick reacting to a shot of some sort —we got many.)  We will visit a school we’ve supported as an organization and help at another one.  Hopefully I will also visit the school I taught at, still there after all these years.

I will take photos and hope to blog as well — this grand adventure of mine.


Filed under History, Learning About Africa, Sierra Leone