Monthly Archives: September 2016

Lewis Carroll Society of North America’s Fall Meeting

The LCSNA will be holding its fall meeting at NYU’s Bobst Library on Saturday, October 15th. With some former students (two 5th graders and a 7th grader), I will doing a presentation on “Alice and her Intended Audience of Children Today.” The children will give their perspectives of their experiences with the book while in my 4th grade class. Then the 5th graders will do a live performance of their section of last year’s class’s radio play while the 7th grader will read an additional chapter he wrote for the book the year he was in my class, explaining just what inspired him. The other presentations look great too. From the LCSNA website:

The exciting Fall 2016 meeting will take place at the Washington Square campus of New York University (home of the Berol Collection of Lewis Carroll, and the LCSNA archives) on October 15th. Fales Library director Marvin Taylor will speak about the exhibition they mounted in the Bobst as part of the Alice150 festivities, “‘Go Ask Alice’: Alice, Wonderland, and Popular Culture.” Monica Edinger, keeper of the well-regarded blog “Educating Alice,” and some of her students will give us a presentation about her use of Alice in her elementary classroom. Matt Demakos will speak about his research concerning “The Walrus and the Carpenter.” Children’s Literature specialist Dr. Jan Susina will give a talk tentatively titled “Alice in the Academy: The Alice Books in the College Curriculum,” Dana Walrath will talk on her illustrated novel Aliceheimers and her use of Alice in making sense of the world of Alzheimer’s. Read the full agenda for details.

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Trailer for New Anne of Green Gables

New adaptation premiers on PBS November 24th.



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I Review Two Books about the Historic “Wild West” in the New York Times Book Review

Here’s the intro to my reviews of Candace Fleming’s Presenting Buffalo Bill and William Grill’s The Wolves of Currumpaw in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review.

Learning about a country’s real past is a fraught activity; once mythological versions become embedded in the public consciousness they are tough to dislodge. Take the American West. Those of us who came of age in the last century did so with movies, books, television shows, toys, games and school curriculums that told us of wide-open and empty spaces, of buffalo and land free for the taking, of sturdy and stoic white settlers, of adventurous cowboys, and of fierce and frightening indigenous people. This romanticized notion of the so-called Wild West is remarkably resistant to correction and stubbornly enduring, as evidenced by those who can’t see why American Indian sports team names and mascots are offensive. As for who was responsible for the myth in the first place, many names could be suggested, among them Buffalo Bill Cody and Ernest Thompson Seton — as young readers of two new books will discover.


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A Tough Anniversary: 15 Years Since The Towers Fell

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.

That is from Normal Service Will be Resumed, an article I wrote for the  UK’s Times Educational Supplement about my 2001 class of NYC fourth graders’ first day of school, September 11th. Soon ladybugs started coming from all over the world and ever since they’ve been a theme for my classroom. The first anniversary was very tough (you can read something I wrote at the time here), but it does get better as time goes on.

15 years later there are several worthy new 9/11 books for children and young adults. Of the ones I’ve read it is Gail Polisner’s The Memory of Things that resonates most for me personally. She captures that eerie, heavy, time-standing-still, feeling I recall so vividly. (My goodreads review is here). In her Nerdy Book Club post of today she writes of how hard it was to get the book published. That some editors weren’t even able to read it. I suspect I wouldn’t have a few years ago, but as time goes on I’m able to handle a bit more and then a bit more of it. I admire Gail being able to write this book — while I’ve written about the day, I don’t think I could write a whole book. I’m struggling right now with a young college student (I believe she is from China so her view of 9/11 would be significantly different than someone in this country) who is doing a paper on teaching the day as history and wants to interview me.  Her interest is in this as history, but it is still too raw and real for me to discuss it that way. But of course it is for young people and Gail has done a wonderful job providing a tight view of the day for someone their age.

Every day when I read of something dreadful happening  — bombs, war, illness, famine, assault, and more — I consider how amazingly resilient we are as a species, able to move on and live our lives in full whatever the circumstances.


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An Extraordinary 1966 Filmed Interview of Maurice Sendak in His Studio

The following is a brief, but amazing interview of the young Maurice Sendak just after he won the Caldecott for Where the Wild Things Are. Highly, highly, HIGHLY recommended.




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Myself as a Young Reader: Where Was I in the Books I Read?

On facebook Sharyn November posed the following three-part question:

    • When you were a child, did you see yourself in the books you looked at and read? How about when you were a teenager?
    • What, in your opinion, does “seeing yourself in books” mean?
    • If you didn’t see yourself in books, did you want to?

I think about this all the time in terms of the diversity conversation. First of all, as a child, I had one major way I could see myself in pretty much all the books I read — by being white. So I want to start by noting that privilege I had as a child reader. And certainly the books I read were pretty much all featuring white protagonists. So while they may have seemed very different from me (more on that below) we shared that whiteness and all that afforded. But in other ways, the child-me almost never saw herself in the books she read, nor did she want to especially.

Here’s my response to Sharyn’s question:

I moved constantly as a child (faculty brat), was shy, and my family always seemed way outside the norm of the various communities we lived in — often small towns where everyone else seemed to have lived there for generations. I always thought of the kids I knew there as “having been born in the house they lived in”. (My parents were German refugees with strong accents, didn’t do religion of any kind, and we were living mostly in the south and midwest where none of the kids I knew had parents like that. Or we lived in Germany. First time went to a German school not knowing the language so major outsider status. Second time went to a Defense Department School where all the kids lived in what was called “The Golden Ghetto” — Bonn’s American embassy community — and hated the Germans. My family, on the other hand,  lived in German communities and had German friends. So always way outside the dominant community.) Alone and with my younger sister we were constantly creating imaginary experiences for ourselves in our games — running away, living in what we thought were more conventional families, fantasy lands, rich (we weren’t), etc. Often based on stories we read — going to Neverland, Oz, or Wonderland. And so, seeing myself in books would have meant outsiders exactly like us. As a child my favorite books were the Alice books and I loved to imagine myself as Alice in those fantasy lands. At around eleven I fell madly in love with  Madeleine L’Engle’s And Both Were Young as the outsider main character was a lot like me personality-wise and got to go to boarding school something I was dying to do. Around then I also saw myself a bit as Meg in A Wrinkle in Time, probably partly because of her personality and partly because of her outsider academic/scientist parents — closer to my own family than others I’d come across in books.

But just as I could immerse myself in one of the imaginary worlds my sister and I created (some with toys and some just talking), so I did in the books I read. As a child, my favorites were those where I did find the main character to be an avatar, one I could be too. And so I read imagining myself that character. Generally they were the sort of people I wanted to be rather than who I was — not so shy, active, etc. (I totally remember feeling I was absolutely IN Looking-glass land everything I read that book.) Loved Nancy Drew and Cherry Ames as I would have loved to be them though they were nothing like me. I can’t recall running across books with families like mine and suspect I wouldn’t have like them particularly as I wanted to be in somewhere new and different from that. That is, the last thing I wanted is to be reminded of my real life — I wanted to be enveloped in a different one. As for books with situations like mine — not sure I would have liked it particularly in a book because it probably wouldn’t get it right (German refugee agnostic lefty parents?).

Having come from a sort of German-Jewish family that is rare in the US, I have always chaffed at being stereotyped as a more conventional Jew. And so books of that sort did and do little for me in terms of seeing myself in them. And knowing this I keep in mind that this many well be true for some of my students. They read for so many different reasons — some to see themselves, some to see others, and some to become something different from themselves.


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In the Classroom: Ice-Breaker Read Alouds (for the First Week of School)

We start school this coming Wednesday and, as always, I’m spending a great deal of time thinking about what I will do to make my students feel at ease and ready to go those first few days. Some of my fellow 4th grade teachers do ice-breaker activities and last week I thought that perhaps this year I’d finally give one a try. But after looking them over, I think not; since I personally hate participating in ice-breaker activities myself, the idea of leading one isn’t feeling great for me. My inclination is to do what has always worked for me in the past  — a read aloud ice-breaker: the just-right first-day-of-school book. Read-alouds for me are fun (I read aloud a picture book at the start of most days all year long), help kids relax (and me too). We talk about them, laugh about them, and they seem better ice-breakers for me than the sorts of activities that work so well for my colleagues. So that said, here are the ones I’ve got in mind for next week:


Adam Rex and Christian Robinson’s School’s First Day of School is brand-new and a charmer. Love the switch of the school being as worried as the kids. Bet my students will feel the same way.


I have Kenny Brechner to thank for drawing my attention to Jared Chapman’s Steve, Raised by Wolves, in his PW post of last year. This is a charming wry little book with a very awkward young protagonist who definitely struggles at first to figure out the rules of school.


I think I also have Kenny to thank for Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School by Adam Auerbach.  Here’s what I wrote about it last year:

This distinctly amusing twist on the “being at a new school” trope was a big hit last year so it is top on my list to use again this year. Edda lives on Asgard, one of the homes to the Viking gods and when her father decides she needs some experience with other kids her age (there being none on Asgard), he sends her to school on Earth. The result is a gently humorous look at Edda learning how to bring her own self into a new and very different place. This is a book that is definitely one that can be best appreciated by my students — some of them have already studied the Vikings and others know about them. And Edda’s fish-out-of-water feeling is one they probably are all feeling on that first day of school. Not to mention, it is quirky and different — I mean, are there any other first-day-of-school books inspired by Wagner’s Ring series (as this evidently was)?  Though that it was doesn’t matter a wit; I don’t know Wagner’s operas firsthand, but do know that this little off-beat story is a great one to start my class out on their 4th grade year.


Kenny’s most recent suggestion is Sophie’s Squash Goes to School.  Indeed last year’s class and I loved Sophie’s Squash so this is an attractive option. But, unlike the others, it feels just a bit young for my 4th graders. Maybe I’ll read both books to them on Friday when they are feeling relatively relaxed, more comfortable in the classroom, with me, and with all the newness they are dealing with.



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