Monthly Archives: August 2016

About those KinderGuides…

I had to read and reread PW’s piece about KinderGuides, because I thought it had to be a joke. But evidently it isn’t. So then I figured I’d put my fingers in my ears and say “lalala” so as to pretend they didn’t exist. Until today when Allison Flood’s sharp piece, “Children Don’t Really Need a Picture-Book Version of On the Road,” in the Guardian forced my irritated fingers out of my ears and on to my keyboard. (ETA August 2, 2017 Picture Books Based on Famous Novels Violate Copyright, a Judge Rules)

According to their website, this is a series that will

introduce some of the most iconic works of classic literature to young readers. Through visually-stunning illustrations and simplified, educational content we explore these timeless stories and the cultures that spawned them.

Without a smidgen of irony they plan to make these classics fit for children by creating for each a

condensed, simplified version of the plot, as well as a section devoted to exploring the life and cultural background of the original author. In addition, parents and teachers will also appreciate the key word definitions, a breakdown of the book’s main characters, a fun quiz, and a kid-friendly analysis of the important takeaways from each story.

Really? Really. I’m speechless…..

Okay, I’m back. There are those retro-cool illustrations, you see. Perfect, I’m guessing for the coolest of the cool hipster parents.  Probably will be prominent in home decor stores as much as in those with kid stuff.

Each KinderGuide also features a different artist whose illustration style has been uniquely paired with that story, giving each book a distinctive artistic spirit, while also elegantly working together as a cohesive series.

As for the titles, they are really, really adult ones. Breakfast at Tiffany’s and On the Road adult ones. With Haruki Murakami’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle in the pipeline.


What exactly do these offer that are so special, so unique that are not available in books actually written for kids? And what exactly are they going to say about “the cultures that spawned” the Capote and Kerouac?  The culture of women being used by men in 1960s NYC?  The culture of beatnik sex and drugs in the 1950s?  Serious, serious depression? As for the bios,  what are they putting in them — Capote’s Black and White Ball or the mass killings of In Cold Blood? Kerouac’s drug habit? Seems completely nuts to me.

If you want NYC or road stories or guys spending time in holes  — there are plenty of wonderful ones written FOR KIDS already out there. Some classics or about-to-become-classics. Instead of Breakfast at Tiffany’s for kids how about Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight’s Eloise? Instead of On the Road how about Dan Santat’s Are We There Yet?  Instead of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle how about Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen’s Sam and Dave Dig a Hole?

Whatever. Hipster parents will go gaga over these no doubt.




Filed under Other

The Underground Railroad: Facts and Fictions

I’m currently reading Colson Whitehead‘s historical novel, The Underground Railroad. It is a remarkable work, worthy of all the accolades. I had been eagerly awaiting it having been a fan of Whitehead’s earlier work (especially The Intuitionist and John Henry Days) and it is everything the critics say it is, monumental, original, and brilliant. Working off historical facts, Whitehead has created a profound work of fiction. Like others it makes me think of  the magical realism of García Márquez as represented in his One Hundred Years of Solitude.  It is intense and is taking me time to read it as I have to take breaks as I go. But it is worth it — I can’t recommend it enough.

I also recommend ‘s New Yorker essay, “The Perilous Lure of the Underground Railroad” where she considers Whitehead’s novel and Ben Winter’s alternate history novel, Underground Airlines within the context of history, historians, and how it is all playing out today. Most powerful to me was her thoughtful commentary on our current way of considering this particular past. She concludes:

One of the biases of retrospection is to believe that the moral crises of the past were clearer than our own—that, had we been alive at the time, we would have recognized them, known what to do about them, and known when the time had come to do so. That is a fantasy. Iniquity is always coercive and insidious and intimidating, and lived reality is always a muddle, and the kind of clarity that leads to action comes not from without but from within. The great virtue of a figurative railroad is that, when someone needs it—and someone always needs it—we don’t have to build it. We are it, if we choose.

Powerful, powerful stuff.


Filed under Other

Coming Soon: The Great Gilly Hopkins Movie

I was fortunate to attend a screening of an early cut of this warm adaptation of Katherine Patterson’s beloved book The Great Gilly Hopkins and found it to be honest and true to the book. With a remarkable cast, it is full of charm, heart, and out this October.

Here’s the official description:

A feisty foster kid’s outrageous scheme to be reunited with her birth mother has unintended consequences in The Great Gilly Hopkins, an entertaining film for the entire family. Gilly Hopkins (Sophie Nélisse) has seen more than her share of foster homes and has outwitted every family she has lived with. In an effort to escape her new foster mother Mamie Trotter’s (Kathy Bates) endless loving care, Gilly concocts a plan that she believes will bring her mother running to her rescue. But when the ploy blows up in Gilly’s face it threatens to ruin the only chance she’s ever had to be part of a real family. Based on the award-winning young-adult novel by Katherine Paterson (Bridge to Terabithia), The Great Gilly Hopkins stars Sophie Nélisse, Kathy Bates, Julia Stiles, Bill Cobbs, Billy Magnussen, with Octavia Spencer and Glenn Close. Directed by Steven Herek; Screenplay by David Paterson. Lionsgate Premiere will release the film in theaters and On Demand October 7, 2016


Leave a comment

Filed under Other

So I Read Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

My brief and informal goodreads review:

I wasn’t sure at first if I even wanted to read this not being a fan fiction reader, but was encouraged to do so and am glad I did. That said, this is clearly in that realm as it requires a relatively strong background in Harry Potter lore to make sense of it all. So much revisits pieces of the earlier books, amplifies themes, characters, and possibilities. I found that great fun (especially after having recently spent a pleasurable day at Orlando’s Harry Potter World).

I also am a regular theatergoer and so enjoyed reading the script and imagining the staging. I’m guessing it will eventually end up on Broadway and I will then have a chance to see it.


Filed under Harry Potter

R.I.P. Father of Kids’ Coding, Seymour Papert

In a previous professional life I specialized in technology education. In the early 1980s I became very intrigued in the educational potential of personal computers and started a second masters (the first was in international education coming off my Peace Corps time) in computers and education at Columbia University Teachers College. I was in one of the earliest cohorts for the program and it was a heady time. Having always struggled with math as a child I was terrified about programming, but it turns out I was good at it.

While we worked in more standard-for-the-time languages (in particular, Pascal, for you coding historians), the one that was really the focus of our interest when it came to kids was Seymour Papert‘s Logo. It was a programming language based on kids doing, constructing their own understandings. I loved, loved, loved it. My current school brought me to them and created a special position for me. I taught whole grades Logo, did animation with interested kids, was an adjunct instructor for Logo at NYC and Columbia, and explored writing and research on those early pre-web computers. My very first published article was “Empowering Young Writers with Technology.


We even had a real robotic turtle!

Wherever I was Papert’s ideas were at the front of everything related to this. Many whom I connected to had worked directly with him. We all saw Logo and the ideas around it as having the potential to revolutionize education — to have kids construct their own learning, create their own theories, do it for themselves rather than have it done to them. His book, Mindstorms, was constantly referenced, a bible for us.

I wrote papers. I attended conferences. One of the headiest was Logo 86 at M.I.T. where I presented a paper with another enthusiast, “The Second Revolution 1986.”  (The premise was that Dewey et al were the first revolution in education and Papert and Logo were the second.)  I’d read and revered Papert and finally got to see him at this conference.

Screen Shot 2016-08-02 at 5.20.33 AM.png

(That’s me sitting on the left:)

As personal computers caught on in school my interest in using them in writing and researching grew replacing my Logo focus. I was invited to be part of a group of teachers launching the first online teacher place, Scholastic Network (on AOL as it was before the web), I did work with the Library of Congress as they began digitizing their holdings. and —as the web grew —  fell completely into the world of children’s literature. But I’ve always remembered that time and the ideas that Papert promoted. That children could do computing — they are today with all the coding around!  That kids should construct their own learning — that is still important to many of us though somewhat muffled due to the testing mania, sadly.

I celebrate Seymour Papert a major influence in education and in my own life too.

Further reading:

The New York Times Obituary

MIT In Memory: Syemour Papert

MIT Media Lab Remembers Papert

History of Logo


Leave a comment

Filed under Other