Category Archives: Other

Good Endings

I’m not a GoT fan, but have followed the discussion of the finale with interest as it is so in the public right now. The following from this article caught my attention:

Yet how many readers have fallen for and fallen into Tolkien and Rowling’s worlds, only to let out a disbelieving protest in the final pages? “Gollum would never have stumbled with the ring into Mount Doom?” “Voldemort’s death makes no sense.”

Huh? is my response. The ending of Harry Potter wasn’t about Voldemort, but other things and it was hotly debated by fans. But Lord of the Rings? I was unaware that there was any debate or discontent about Gollum and the ring — it felt right and satisfying and fitting to the rest of the story.

I think more of my irritation with the ending of Lost, another television show with a following (if not on the level of GoT).  Fringe was far more successful for me.  Thinking of others and will be back. You?

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A STEM Unit Centered Around Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil

Last year I began exploring the possibility of a literature-connected STEM unit for my 4th-grade students around refugees with my school’s Engineering chair, Dr. Michael Sloan Warren. Early on I suggested we center it around Andrea Davis Pinkney’s beautiful verse-novel, The Red Pencil (which I had reviewed for the New York Times). We also used a number of refugee-centered picture-books, among them some I also reviewed for the Times.  Having recently finished running the unit, we are thrilled with how well it turned out and can’t wait to do it again next year.

Here’s what I wrote for the school’s website:

Edinger House 4th graders delved into a unique unit combining literature study with STEM. After an introduction to refugees and displaced people now and in the past, they were given Andrea Davis Pinkney’s The Red Pencil, an award-winning verse-novel set during the Darfur conflict in Sudan (and reviewed in the New York Times by Ms. Edinger).
Working in groups, students used their annotating skills (introduced earlier in the year during the E. B. White unit) to read, discuss, and reflect on protagonist Amira’s difficult journey. In preparation for the STEM component, students were asked, along with their annotating, to fill out empathy maps, a technique used by designers to better understand the needs of others. These proved to be wonderful tools when it came to digging deep into Amira’s experience. As students transitioned to the STEM portion of the unit, Dalton’s Engineering Chair Dr. Warren asked them to look closely at Amira’s experience just before she was given a gift that made all the difference for her, a red pencil.
Students were then given a new task — to work through the Engineering process with another fictional refugee. They were given new empathy maps, each centered on a single image from one of three compelling books about the refugee experience: Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb’s The Day the War Came, Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, and Don Brown’s The Unwanted. Using the image and the accompanying information, each group worked through a process to come up with a gift for their new users, one that would have the same impact the red pencil had for Amira. They designed and then built prototypes, using constructive feedback to improve or rework them. The students’ focus, thinking, creativity, and empathy on display throughout this process was remarkable. At the end, each group shared their process and prototypes.

Students are now completing blog posts that document their experience and learning. Meantime, take a look at the photos below for a taste of this extraordinary learning experience. Our great thanks to Dr. Warren for working since last year with Ms. Edinger to design the unit and lead the STEM components.

Please go here to see photos of kids at work, an empathy map, their prototypes, and more.  The prototypes include a comforting enclosure and a sleeping bag for the frightened and lonely girl from Nicola Davies and Rebecca Cobb’s The Day the War Came, vehicles (one including a map on the interior walls) for the mother and children from Francesca Sanna’s The Journey, and a welcome home kit (including spices and games) as well as some other objects for the family from Don Brown’s The Unwanted.  (FYI: Each group was given a single image along with a few pieces of information. I read aloud the books in total after the unit was over. )

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This Teacher is NOT a fan of Teacher Appreciation Week

Just saw this headline which encapsulates my problem with this week:

Where teachers can get free food and discounts for Teacher Appreciation Week May 6-10

I’d prefer to put my own paid-for-myself food on the table, thank you very much.  This is a challenging, challenging job and we need to be (all of us) properly compensated for it so free food and discounts are not so critically needed. (Not to mention working extra jobs, summers, etc, etc, etc.)

Appreciate us by recognizing how important our work is (taking care of YOUR children) and pay us for that.

The end.


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White People Apologizing

Recently, there have been a few prominent instances of white people apologizing for racist behavior.

Early this morning I came across Martha Brockenbrough’s excellent Twitter thread on this prompted by two situations. One is Anita Hill’s refusal to accept Joe Biden’s apology for his culpability in the dreadful way she was treated during the Clarence Thomas hearings. The other is the demand for an apology in a letter here (cosigned by hundreds, myself included) from the Children’s Book Guild of DC for the racist treatment of a guest during one of their luncheons.

Now the Children’s Book Guild has issued a response. Unfortunately, it is lacking, in my opinion, due to this sentence:

This interaction and subsequent steps caused a guest pain and seemed to demonstrate racial and cultural insensitivity.

We white folk needs to take complete and utter responsibility when something goes wrong, when something IS racist (not seems to be). Apologies should not be qualified this way. They need to be complete, to show — for writers it is sad that this more about telling than showing — true contrition, true awareness of racism, true understanding of white supremacy, of white privilege. (I’m assuming the guild has IPOC members, but the offensive incident was caused by a white woman.)

Additionally, I want to say something about the art of saying sorry. Over the decades I’ve been a teacher there has been far too great an emphasis on the words “I’m sorry” without the necessary action and change of feeling that is what is really important. I wrote on Twitter in response to Martha’s thread:

As a teacher I’ve always argued that insisting that kids say “I’m sorry” without action behind it is meaningless. My superiors and colleagues have not always understood my problem with this. Thanks for clarifying that it is all about the abusers, not the victim. 1/2

About making those at fault feel better over helping them do better. 2/2

All to say, we white people have to do better. A start is better apologizing.


ETA. Debbie Reese has been tweeting as well about this situation and has just pointed out to me in a comment that the statement has been altered slightly, but not in a way that shows true recognition of this being racist and of remorse.  Still not my idea of an apology. Wonder why they are so reluctant to simply apologize and own their racism.


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Debbie Reese on “An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature”

I highly recommend viewing Debbie Reese’s Arbuthnot’s lecture “An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature.” You will learn, think, and consider. I have known Debbie for decades and she has pushed my thinking in uncountable ways. The lecture was live-streamed and archived here.

Dr. Debbie Reese is a critic and scholar whose research and writings on representation of Indigenous people in children’s and young adult literature have informed the work of librarians and teachers and other scholars across the country. Her work, including on her American Indians in Children’s Literature web site and blog, is an essential resource for practitioners today. She was selected to deliver the 2019 May Hill Arbuthnot Lecture in Madison, Wisconsin.

This lecture, An Indigenous Critique of Whiteness in Children’s Literature, is co-sponsored by the Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, the Cooperative Children’s Book Center, the UW-Madison School of Education, the UW-Madison Information School, the Friends of the CCBC, and the Ho-Chunk Nation.

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Boston Globe-Horn Book Award, Suggestions Please!

I’m chairing the current committee for the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards and would love suggestions of your favorites. For the categories of Fiction/Poetry, Nonfiction, and Picture Books we are looking at titles published between June 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019. You can see the award guidelines here.


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Jerry Craft’s New Kid

I hadn’t heard a thing about it when an ARC of Jerry Craft’s New Kid showed up in my mail last fall, but the description drew me in immediately:

Seventh grader Jordan Banks loves nothing more than drawing cartoons about his life. But instead of sending him to the art school of his dreams, his parents enroll him in a prestigious private school known for its academics, where Jordan is one of the few kids of color in his entire grade.

As he makes the daily trip from his Washington Heights apartment to the upscale Riverdale Academy Day School, Jordan soon finds himself torn between two worlds—and not really fitting into either one. Can Jordan learn to navigate his new school culture while keeping his neighborhood friends and staying true to himself?

I dove in and fell completely in love. This old white lady teaches in a New York City elite private school and Jordan’s experience felt so authentic and real, something experienced over and over by black students at my school. Not sure of my own white privileged perspective, I gave it to my school’s diversity coordinator who expressed excitement and enthusiasm, supporting my own feelings about the book. Craft, using his own experience and that of his children, has produced a narrative that captures sensitively and with humor the world of many students of color at my school and others in New York City.

Yes, it will be enjoyed by young graphic novel fans, but it is more than that. It is piercingly accurate about the life a child like Jordan experiences in a school like mine. Assumptions. Microaggressions. Lame liberal white teachers. Parental expectations. Code-switching. Navigating friendships. Figuring out one’s future.

I’m so glad to join the bandwagon of accolades for this splendid work for young readers.

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