Category Archives: Other

My Mini BEA

While I won’t be at the Javits itself, I will be at a couple of BEA-related events today. First is SLJ’s always-awesome Day of Dialog. I mean, look at this schedule for the day!

And then there is a very exciting-looking event to celebrate Brian Selznick’s forthcoming The Marvels, at the Hudson Theater no less. Those who have been fortunate enough to see one of Brian’s presentations know how exciting they are.

Photo on 5-27-15 at 5.25 AM


So a very good day in the works. Thanks in advance to all who are making it so.

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In the Classroom: Letters to Alice and Others

In my recent Horn Book Magazine article, “Alice, the Transformer” I described my approach to reading Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland to contemporary 4th graders. After finishing the book we always have a tea party and the children do some sort of response to the book. This year I invited the children to write to Lewis Carroll or one of their favorite characters in the book. The results were terrific. You can read a selection of the letters in their entirety here, but to give you a taste here are a few excerpts (frequently done in a font based on Lewis Carroll’s own handwriting and sometimes in purple, an ink color he often used):

My name is N and I am a big fan of yours [the Mad Hatter]. I love to drink tea, my favorite tea is chamomile, and jasmine. My sister and I have tea together almost every day.

Oh Bill [the Lizard], I have read Alice in Wonderland and I liked it a lot. You were my favorite character because I felt so bad for you for all the things the other characters did to you.

I am writing you [Alice] because I was outraged by the way you behaved in Wonderland. One of the ways you behaved badly was by making rude remarks…. You were also physically mean. LIKE WHEN YOU KICKED POOR BILL THE LIZARD UP A CHIMNEY LIKE HE WAS A WORTHLESS ROCK!!!!!!!!! ”

It is an interesting book, and it has a great plot. Except, it is completely unfair to you [the Queen of Hearts]! This is why I am writing. Alice is always being rude to you. She says, “How should I know?” Then, “It’s no business of MINE.” The nerve. Your juries are also lazy and not well educated. In fact, they are stupid. Plus, your executioner never obeys your orders! He refused to execute the Cheshire Cat. Most importantly, the book portrays you as a crazy, evil ruler! You have my sympathies.

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An Ancient Prophecy That Tells of a Boy

Now where have you heard that one before? Harry Potter? Anakin Skywalker? How about….

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CLAT: Level III Children’s Literature Application Test

My partner in crim — fellow test creator Roxanne Feldman reminded me of the CLAT: Level III Children’s Literature Application Test we created some years ago for the Horn Book Magazine.  Go do it and then come back and let us know in the comments how you did….go on. Don’t worry — it is tongue-in-cheek and fun.

Here are the beliefs we articulated when we created the test in 2007 along with notes from me about how they look in 2015.

Never assume. Every year we interact with children new to us, children we already know, remixed classes of those children, and a myriad of other situations, giving us constant new and altered puzzlements. And we often discover that what we think we know for sure . . . we don’t.

This seems more true than ever.

Trust readers. Time and again we watch children select books that appear to be too hard for them. Sometimes the child will eventually abandon the book as it was indeed too difficult, but sometimes the child will be highly motivated to read the book and enjoy every hard page of it. By letting them take these books, by saying nothing to discourage them, we show children that we trust them to decide for themselves.

This was deep in the time of Harry Potter when younger and younger kids were reading the books (or, more likely, the parents were reading them to them). It and similar large fantasy books seemed to –in our school at least — be a sort of test. I always remember the fall after the 4th Harry Potter book came out. It was big and a large number of my students brought copies to school. I was certain some of them had them only because of buzz, not because they really wanted to read it and I was right. Once they felt comfortable there was no judgement in not finishing it the books stayed in their cubbies and they went off to read books that really spoke to them. (Of course, there were some rabid Harry Potter readers in the class too.)

Peers are powerful. While the enthusiastic recommendations of teachers and librarians matter, those of kids can matter even more. We have watched many a book or series (Harry Potter, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, Candyfloss) become enormously popular due to word of mouth.

See above. Peer and popular culture pressure can be both positive and negative. These days I see graphic novels making the rounds in my classroom. Fortunately, my students’ parents are largely relaxed about what their children read.

Collecting counts. Over and over we have observed the enjoyment many children, just like many adults, derive from collecting things: all the titles in a series, all the books by an author, all the books on a topic, or everything in a particular genre.

This is certainly true today of Wimpy Kid, the various Percy Jackson series, and certain graphic novel series.

Design matters. A book speaks to its readers not only via the text but also through its cover art, trim size, interior decorations, font choices, and other design aspects.

These days this is attended to much more — especially the power of the cover.

Books are literature. While the best books invariably provoke important conversations about love, courage, community, exclusion/inclusion, social justice, and other life issues, we prefer to select books for our students to consider as literature rather than as teaching tools, confident that all those other issues will be an organic part of the classroom experience.

Interestingly, the issue today is more about reading for reading’s sake — what with all the test taking prep and CCSS going on in classrooms.

Value art for art’s sake. We believe strongly that books are works of art and that any form of art is crucial in anyone’s life. It does not have to serve another purpose other than to bring deep and satisfying pleasure to one’s life. While we both are addicted to reading, we know that reading does not necessarily make someone a better person. We both have encountered avid readers who do not prove to be upright citizens of the community. Similarly, we are not alarmed when a child turns out to be a nonreader. There are so many forms of art and entertainment, so many character-building activities in life. Just because a child is a nonreader, it doesn’t mean he or she won’t turn out to be a successful and contributing member of the world.

Sadly, I think this needs more attention than ever. The focus these days is so utilitarian in schools — preparing children to make it in some sort of financial way. The aesthetic experience of reading seems to be overlooked. As is art in general in schools. This is too bad and hopefully will change before long.

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Alice, the Transformer

Check out my latest article in the May/June Horn Book, “Alice, the Transformer.” I had fun looking at the ways the little girl has been constantly reinvented over the 150 years of her literary existence. The whole issue, by the way, is great!

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Jaclyn Moriarty’s A Tangle of Gold

Because I enjoyed tremendously A Corner of White and A Crack in the Kingdom, the first two titles in Jaclyn Moriarty’s The Colors of Madeleine series, I have been eagerly awaiting word of the final book. And so I was very happy to come across the following here:

In A TANGLE OF GOLD, the thrilling conclusion to The Colors of Madeleine series, Cello is in crisis. Princess Ko’s deception of her people has emerged and the Kingdom is outraged; the Jagged Edge Elite have taken control, placing the Princess and two members of the RYA under arrest and ordering their execution; the King’s attempts to negotiate their release have failed; Color storms are rampant; and nobody has heard the Cello wind blowing in months.

The story is told from the perspectives of Elliot, who has returned to Cello and is in hiding with a branch of the Hostiles; Keira, who is living under an assumed identity in Bonfire, the Farms; and Madeleine, desolate in a world without Cello or magic. Without knowing it, Madeleine and Elliot are on a collision course which will ultimately lead to their confrontation in Cello’s mysterious Undisclosed Province.

Madeleine and Elliot must eventually learn the art of making gold, and, more importantly, how to disentangle, find the true threads, and weave them together again.

If you haven’t read the first two, I highly recommend them. Fabulous and original world building (involving colors), great characters, and plot (involving multiple worlds).

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Susanna Clarke visits the set of the BBC adaptation of her book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell.

But nothing, I find, has prepared me for the sight of my own characters walking about. A playwright or screenwriter must expect it; a novelist doesn’t and naturally concludes that she has gone mad. (What do they need so many umbrellas for? Don’t they realise that they are imaginary?)

Susanna Clarke visits the set of the BBC adaptation of her book, Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norell.

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