Monthly Archives: July 2017

You Know Those Crazy Product Reviews on Amazon?

My book, Africa is My Home, got one.  (Figure I won’t complain as it is five stars, even if it is mistaken — I think? — for a knife.)

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Auma’s Long Run by Eucabeth A. Odhiambo

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Set in a 1980s Kenyan Luo village during the HIV/AIDS epidemic, Auma’s Long Run is a piercingly honest account of the struggles, pain, hardships, deaths, famine, and challenges faced by a determined young girl and her community with grace and fortitude. Debut author Eucabeth A. Odhiambo, who grew up in a Luo village, beautifully brings out the complicated ways thirteen year old Auma, her family, and neighbors cope with the scourge. Lack of resources, traditional practices, personalities, and more make this a riveting and complex read. While this is not a story that wallows in misery — Auma is too determined to ever give up — there are still many loses; in one case after the death of a friend’s parents, lack of food causes her little sister to die of malnutrition. How to get to the clinic to see a doctor, whether to consult with a traditional healer, where to get money for school fees and school uniforms, frightening cure mis-beliefs (one causing a man to threaten Auma sexually), and more swirl around this tale. Auma desperately wants to go to secondary school, to become a doctor, to then learn more about this disease and help find a cure. But her obstacles are daunting. Odhiambo relates Auma’s story in clear and direct prose, as practical and realistic as her protagonist. Her descriptions of Auma’s life are vivid and authentic, her scenes raw and real.  While there is indeed sorrow and sadness, there is also humor and joy. Highly recommend this one.

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Allen Say’s Silent Days, Silent Dreams

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A few weeks ago I visited New York City’s Whitney Museum and became besotted with a new-to-me artist, James Castle. Obsessed I took the following photos:

Perhaps a week later I saw Betsy Bird’s review of Allen Say’s Silent Days, Silent Dreams, was gobsmacked that this fictionalized overview of Castle’s life was in the works, and eager to get an advance copy. Now I have and think it completely and utterly superb. It is fiction, the text and the art, carefully and respectfully researched. Some have wondered if the art is all Say’s, but I feel confident it is. He writes about his own research, process, and materials in his author’s note and indicates that his wife made the constructions of dolls and birds. There is a solid bibliography. (For more of Castle’s art, check out online exhibits here, here, and here.)

And it is all quite fabulous — the text (a fictionalized memoir of Castle’s nephew) and the art, the hues and viewpoints very much in the style of Castle’s work.

One of my oldest friends is the curator of the American Folk Art Museum so I’ve long been aware of the work outsider/self-taught artists. In fact, one reason Castle’s work caught my eye at the Whitney (along with several others ) was delight in seeing it in such a museum in the same space of more famous conventional artists. Well-known outsider artists include Henry Darger, James Hampton, Achilles Rizzoli, Simon Rodia (who did the Watts Towers), Bill Traylor, Howard Finster, and Adolf Wölfli.

While I don’t want to make any assumptions about those artists whose lives for one reason or another were outside of the world of art as we usually know it, I can’t help being fascinated by those like Castle who, lacking certain ways of communicating, find others in spectacular ways. What we know of his life — being deaf and never speaking and living on a very isolated farm — makes his work all the more wonderful. Say has absorbed the man’s life and given us a gift to know about him, it, and his art.

Thank you, James Castle and Allen Say, for beautiful, beautiful reveries on the world.

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Talking Race at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

I’m just back from a remarkable week at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture where I participated in the workshop, “Let’s Talk: Teaching Race in the Classroom.” I learned about it in May when I was exploring the museum’s website after visiting and wanting to know more, more, more. This was the fifth summer of the workshop, but the first in the physical museum. And so, in addition to fabulous speakers and thoughtful activities, we had hours every day to explore the galleries, some of them before the museum opened. You can learn more about the workshop from this article by the wonderful museum educators who created and ran it — Candra Flanagan Coordinator of Student and Teacher Initiatives and Anna Hindley, Supervisory Early Childhood Education Coordinator. I am so grateful to them for their passion, commitment, and hard work in creating this workshop and all the rest they do.

We were just under 40 folks — classroom teachers, museum educators, parents, and others who care deeply about learning more. It was a diverse group in terms of race, institution (some in independent schools like me, others in charters, and others in public schools of all kinds), age, and more. Having mostly done this sort of work at my school I appreciated enormously getting to know and hearing from those who were working in such a variety of situations yet care deeply as I do about doing better in terms of talking race with young people.

Presentations and workshops included:

  • “The Color Line,” a gallery activity led by Allyson Criner Brown of Teaching for Change.
  • “Bias in Childhood: When Does it Emerge and How Do We Reduce it?” a presentation by Melanie Killen.
  • “Middle Childhood & Teens” Cognitive Development, Racial Identity Development, & Talking About Race,” a presentation by Erin Winkler.
  • “Implicit Bias, Dominant Culture & the Effects on the Academic Setting,” a workshop led by Jane Bolgatz and Erica Colbin.
  • “Beyond the Classroom: Getting the Larger Community Onboard with Equity and Justice Work,” a presentation by Mariama Richards.
  • “Bridging the Racial Divide and Self Care,” a workshop by Hawah Kasat.

I was especially excited to reencounter Erica (she and I had been involved in a PD on introversion last summer) and Mari who, with her colleague at her then-school, Georgetown Friends, did a brilliant workshop at my school years ago. I appreciated tremendously the other presenters as well.

Additionally we had small group meetings (by the ages we teach), affinity groups (white/people of color), and time to informally chat and learn.

And then there was the museum itself. What a gift it was to have so much time to explore it, especially those morning times before the public came in. It is an extraordinary place and I urge all to go visit. (This requires commitment as the tickets are timed mostly — it was challenging to get them when I went the first time — but absolutely worth it.)  I spent the most time in the history galleries, especially the section devoted to the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but also found the Community and Culture galleries mind-blowing. The choice of artifacts, the careful and thoughtful text on the wall cards, the organization of the museum and exhibits — it is all outstanding.


I walked every morning across the mall from my hotel near the Air and Space Museum, using the Washington Monument as my landmark. The museum is the gorgeous building to the right.

We arrived early before the museum was opened. We were incredibly lucky to have the galleries almost to ourselves at that hour.

Here is the same view a few hours later. I loved also visiting the galleries when they were full, listening to the moving responses of visitors.

Excited to see these trading beads as I have some (from my time in Sierra Leone) just like them.

 

In my research for Africa is My Home I read that children were not shackled, but that was clearly not always the case as here are some for a child.

 

This is hard to see, but it is from a short film on slave factories and the one on the lower right is Bunce Island (in Sierra Leone)

The stone is from a slave market in the US.

 

Greatly appreciated the mention of the Amistad and Joseph Cinque.

 

Love the commitment to make the museum accessible for young children.

Tuskegee Airmen plane.

 

The following are from the Community Gallery

(Mrs. Reeve’s hat shop is beautifully recreated in the museum.)

Was very excited to see this as I’m assuming she is the model for the editor in Christopher Paul Curtis’s The Madman of Piney Woods.

Nine of Carl Lewis’s Olympic medals. (The tenth was put in his father’s coffin.)

A few from the Culture Gallery

George Clinton and P-Funk’s Mother Ship!

 

 

Thank you so much to all who were involved in making this week possible, especially once again, Candra Flanagan, Coordinator of Student and Teacher Initiatives and Anna Hindley, Supervisory Early Childhood Education Coordinator.

 

 

 

 

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Jason Reynold’s Patina

A year ago I received a box of ARCs from Simon & Schuster and, poking around, came across Jason Reynolds’ Ghost. While I’d heard a great deal about wunderkind Reynolds and read with respect some of his YA work, that he had a middle grade book coming out was a complete surprise to me. About track — my one competitive sport — no less. And so I jumped right in and fell madly in love with it. (You can read my gushy review here.) And so now here we are a year later with the next in the Track series, featuring team mate Patty aka Patina.

On the very first page of Patina we are brought back to the track meet that ended Ghost, Patty telling us what happened and why. No spoilers from me though! Just moving on as this story is Patty’s not Ghost’s. It is one of legs, strong ones, missing ones, relay race ones, and more. These real and metaphoric legs make their way through the novel, effectively raising and highlighting important themes. They serve beautifully as Patty watches, acts, considers, and grows in her understanding of the world.

Where Ghost was about racing for and against yourself, Patina is about teamwork. There is teamwork practice of all kinds for the track team members who will be running relays in an upcoming meet. As well there is the group assignment at school where Patty is resigned to doing the bulk of the work, as usual, sensing no action on at least two of the group members. There is the teamwork of her family — her little sister, her diabetic and legless mother, and the aunt and uncle the siblings live with. The adults around them are good and caring, supporting the girls in the best ways they can. Reynolds’ scenes are beautifully done full of sensory details. You can just see those family meals, smell the uncle’s nasty truck, hear authentic conversations, and feel Patty’s body as she pushes it as hard as she can in workouts. The relationship between the sisters, Patty and Maddy is especially warm and delightful.

What for me elevates this book and its predecessor to such a high level (goodreads five stars:) is Reynolds’ fabulous writing. He’s got a way with a few sentences that stops me in total admiration, again and again. Say these:

Deep breaths, Patty, my mad slowly mellowing. This temper ain’t a new temper. Breaking invisible teacups. Smashing them everywhere. No this ain’t new. I just be keeping it pushed down, all the way down in my legs.

I highly, highly recommend this book and eagerly await the next in the series.

 

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Something Else that Happened on July 4th

 

July 4 (F) Atkinson brought over to my rooms some friends of his, a Mrs and Miss Peters, of whom I took photographs, and who afterwards looked over my album and staid [sic] to lunch. They then went off to the Museum, and Duckworth and I made an expedition up to Godstow with the three Liddells [Alice and her two sisters]; we had tea on the bank there, and did not reach Ch. Ch. [Christ Church] again till quarter past eight, when we took them on to my rooms to see my collections of micro-photographs, and restored them to the Deanery just before nine.

[On which occasion I told them the fairy-tale of “Alice’s Adventures Under Ground,” which I undertook to write out for Alice, and which is now finished (as to the text) though the pictures are not yet nearly done.  February 10, 1863]

[nor yet. March 12, 1864]

[“Alice’s Hour in Elfland”? June 9, 1864]

[“Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”? June 28]

From Charles Dodgson’s (aka Lewis Carroll) diary entry of July 4, 1862 with notes he came back and added later as he was working on the book. (From volume 4 of the Lewis Carroll Society’s edition annotated by Edward Wakeling.)

 

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More Christopher Robin and Co

Here’s the latest biopic, this one on the origins of Christopher Robin and pals.

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