Monthly Archives: September 2012

Slice of Life in New York City, Fall 2001


It was the end of our second week of school. A week with no disasters, no bomb threats, no evacuations, no special assemblies, and no school cancellations. Just plain old school. My fourth-graders (equivalent to Year 5) got spelling books, started maths, and wrote in their journals. There was homework. I sidelined some kids for playing too roughly during recess. A couple of girls started a petition because they didn’t like the way I’d arranged the desks. Plain old school, but in a brand new world.

Ten days earlier had been our first day of school. At 8am I had opened my classroom door to a bunch of energetic nine-year-olds who quickly discovered the chocolate ladybugs I’d placed on each of their desks for good luck. By mid-morning, I’d led a discussion on classroom rules, helped them stow away school supplies, and taken them on a tour to see where the all-important bathrooms and water fountains were.

Then we heard about the attack on the World Trade Center. School resumed two days later. The freshness and excitement of that first day seemed long gone; now we had to help pupils whose world, like ours, had been changed forever. We listened to the advice of our school psychologists and talked together about how we felt and how we would work with the children.

Once again I opened my classroom door and once again my students came in. After checking that their ladybugs were still on their desks, they settled on the rug for our morning meeting. We would begin with an assembly on the tragedy, I told them. After that, they could decide whether they wanted to write, do art, or respond further to it. Or not, if they’d had enough.

From “Normal Service Will Be Resumed,” an article I wrote for the British Times Educational Supplement weeks after 9/11.

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Thoughts on Newbery: The Problem with Popularity Contests

Popularity is in the eye of the tweeter, facebook-liker, and such.  That is, I do feel that those of us involved in social media can perceive and help foster the perception that particular books are more popular than others.  And those involved in enthusiastically advocating for these books can feel dismayed when their evident popularity is not considered for awards like Newbery.  But I’ve always felt that these representations of popularity are problematic — that they do not give us a true sense of what books are truly loved.  After all, there are so many young people getting and engaging with books and we may only see some of that in our classrooms, homes, bookstores, and libraries.  Or on twitter, on blogs, on facebook, and so forth.

And so I was very glad to see NPR’s Ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos’s thoughtful examination of their recent contest for the 100 Best Teen Books, “When a Popular List of 100 ‘Best Ever’ Teen Books is the “Whitest Ever.‘”  He addresses what is often a problem with such contests, the particular demographic participating, in this case NPR’s audience that is indeed most likely whiter and older than the general population of teen readers.  It is something I think needs to be considered with other lists that get sent around, say those of flavorwire or HuffPo.  What and who do they actually represent?

Because there is often such unhappiness voiced when the evidently “popular” books are seemingly snubbed come Newbery-announcement-time I think it is good to remember this note from the the Newbery criteria and to keep in mind  just how problematic it is to determine true popularity anyway.  To keep in mind that not all voices get heard in all places.  And to do whatever you can to seek them out.  All of them.

The committee should keep in mind that the award is for literary quality and quality presentation for children. The award is not for didactic content or popularity.


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Doing Things With Books

… what do we value about the book? Why do we preserve and protect books, store them and hoard them? Why is the destruction of books instinctively abhorrent to many of us. (Price’s front cover image might be regarded as beautiful art but is the destruction of a set of Lemony Snicket books by reality TV star Lauren Conrad afforded the same cultural status?)

From this very interesting review of Leah Price’s very-interesting-sounding How to Do Things with Books in Victorian England.

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Newbery Season is Seriously Underway

Newbery 2013 talk now really gets going with the resumption of the Heavy Medal blog run by my two friends, Jonathan Hunt (who also is our BoB commentator) and Nina Lindsay. Yeah!

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In the Classroom: My First Read Aloud of the Year

I have one more week to figure out my first read aloud book of the year.  I’ve got several in mind, but I’m still unsure which will end up being THE ONE.  Last year at this time, having the same dilemma, I asked others what they were selecting.  I ended up with Frank Cotrell Boyce’s The Unforgotten Coat as it related beautifully to our year-long focus on migration and immigration.  I’m considering starting with it again, but others tantalize me too.

I love to read aloud books that are almost, but not yet out yet. This way, if my students get hooked, they cannot go out on their own to find and read the book, but have to experience with the whole class and me together, all at the same time.  (When I do read a book that is available I make them promise not to get it while I’m reading it to them.)  Or a really, really old book that is out, but they don’t know.  A couple of years ago when I first did a year-long study of Charlie Chaplin I started with Brian Selznick‘s The Invention of Hugo Cabret.  I wondered if it would work as a read aloud, but it did, beautifully.

This year I’m considering Sheila Turnage‘s Three Times Lucky because I like it and because there is a possibility that she may visit us next month. I’m also wondering about Adam Gidwitz‘s terrific new book, In a Glass Grimmly, as he will definitely be coming again to work with our fourth graders this winter as he did two years ago though I’m leaning against it as I need to know my class first to see what their tolerance for gore is and also because our librarian may be reading it to them.  Another that I’m considering very seriously is Rebecca Stead‘s Liar & Spy.  Since I prefer to select read aloud books that aren’t terribly long so that any child who isn’t heavily into whatever I’m reading aloud (and since taste is so varied there are bound to be a few in my class) doesn’t have to suffer endlessly this one is very attractive on that score as well as being simply terrific otherwise.

Meantime, while I fret over this decision,  enjoy this delightful video from fellow fourth grade teacher Colby Sharp with the books others have selected.


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