Sunday, January 30, 2011

James Mercer Langston Hughes February 1, 1902-May 22, 1967

Sunday, January 30th, 2011

My People, Langston Hughes

The night is beautiful,
so the faces of my people.
The stars are beautiful
so the eyes of my people.
Beautiful, also, is the sun.
Beautiful, also, are the souls of my people.

A book that brings this poem to life, My People by Charles R. Smith Jr.  won the 2010 Coretta Scott King award. What is noteworthy is that Charles Smith is the first photographer to ever win this Award for his photographs as illustrations. In his own words, “My People isn’t just about family. It’s also abort identity and being comfortable in your own skin.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Children never outgrow Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865) by Lewis Carroll (January 27,1832)

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a classic— each year new children discover the book and many people I know (myself included) never outgrow their affection for Alice and her cronies. The book is one of those gems where— in addition to a story line filled with a mixture of whimsy and clever plot turns—many of the thoughts expressed by Alice, the March Hare, the Mad Hatter, the King & Queen, and others have become part of our literary vernacular.   Here are a few of my favorites:

~ “What is the use a book, thought Alice, without pictures or conversions?”

~ “It would be so nice if something made sense for a change.” Alice

~ “Oh, how I wish I could shut up like a telescope! I think I could, if I only knew how to begin.” Alice
~ There is no use trying; one can't believe impossible things." (Alice)
"I dare say you haven't had much practice. When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” Queen

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Martin Luther King and his dreams.

Martin Luther King’s dreams defined him. One of his dreams was
“… that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.

The poem, What Happens to a Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes is a perfect tribute to a man whose legacy is his dreams. Martin Luther King would have been 22 years old when Hughes wrote the poem.

What Happens to a Dream Deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

~ Langston Hughes

Ben Franklin —January,17,1706— and how the public library come to be.

Most Americans in the 1730s had limited access to books. They were rare and expensive and there were no public libraries. Only the very wealthy and the clergy had access to large numbers of books and Ben Franklin, being the pragmatist that he was, set to change that situation. Ben Franklin was known to say, “If  you want something done, ask a busy person to do it.”

On July 1, 1731, Franklin and a group of members from the Junto, a philosophical association, drew up "Articles of Agreement" to form a library. The Junto was interested in a wide range of ideas. Because they owned few tomes, they could not turn to books to increase their knowledge or settle disputes. Using the Junto's combined purchasing power, they realized that books could be made available to all members.

So it was that 50 subscribers invested 40 shillings each to start a library. Members also promised to invest 10 shillings more every year to buy additional books and to help maintain the library. They chose as their motto a Latin phrase, which roughly translates as "To support the common good is divine." Philip Syng, a silversmith who would one day create the inkstand with which the Declaration and Constitution were signed, designed the Company's seal.

No surprise that Ben Franklin said: 

“The only thing more expensive than education is ignorance.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Awards win readers, but do they grow lifelong readers?

Like many people, I like lists and I like awards. A list of award recipients gives me the chance to take stock of my reading which is cause for some pats on the back followed by, “Oh My!” How many of these notable books have I read is followed by the nagging question: “How many of these books have I not only not read but also hadn’t even heard of?” What does that say about the kind of reader I am? 

Which brings me to the rub* of awards. Do award-winning books turn children into lifelong readers? I think not. The real workhorses of children’s literature are books that are passed from child to child, word of mouth, out of love and affection. 

Two things we know about children becoming lifelong readers:
• They only read for story. As I .B. Singer said in his 1978 Nobel Prize for Literature acceptance speech: “Children read books, not reviews. They don't give a hoot about the critics.” (See Musing dated 12.10.10)

Readiness is a key factor in making sure a child is reading the right book at the right time. What I call a “home run book.” As E.M. Forster said: “I suggest that the only books which influence us are those for which we are ready and which have gone a little further down our own particular path than we have yet gone ourselves.”

A couple of questions I like to ask when the awards are announced:
~ What books turned me into the reader I am today?
~ What prods my reading— amusement, entertainment, enchantment, or curiosity?

But far be it for me to take the thunder away from the 2011 award winners. This past week, the Newbery and Caldecott medals went to two debut authors. A Sick Day for Amos McGee, by Erin & Philip Stead won the Caldecott Award and Moon Over Manifest, by Clare Vanderpool, won the Newberry Award. A sentence that became my “souvenir” (a line I want to share and remember) from Moon Over Manifest is an interesting thought to ponder: “The person you encounter is often more than the person you see."

A terrific website for children’s literature is Full of information and book recommendations—and of course, those wonderful and tantalizing lists of the award books!
FYI: A new award this year: the Stonewall Children’s and Young Adult Literature Award, for an English-language book of “exceptional merit relating to the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered experience,” went to Almost Perfect By Brian Katcher.

* Shakespeare created the phrase, “the rub” which Hamlet spoke in his soliloquy:
“To die, to sleep-- To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub.”

Friday, January 7, 2011

What’s in a word—Mark Twain—sanitized?

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are once again under siege.  Over a hundred years after Twain’s death, both books will be released in February in a censored format- removing two derogatory racial slurs: ‘injun’ and ‘nigger.’ The editor of the new version, Alan Gribben of Auburn University at Montgomery, claims that he wants to change ‘niggr’ to ‘slave’ so no one will be hurt by the use of an epithet that would have been ever-present in Missouri in the 1820s and 1840s, which is when the books are set.

Gribben’s attempt to sanitize the text of Huckleberry Finn is akin to revisionist history. Once you begin “cleaning up” language that isn’t PC, where does it end? ? Do you reshape characters to meet our image of what the writer should have written or eliminate unpleasant facts so children aren’t upset? How do you maintain the integrity of literature once you start changing language?

An author’s words are sacred and meddling changes the author’s intent. We don’t have the right to change anything an author has written no matter how offensive it may seem in retrospect. Words are of the time they were written and that’s what gives them their importance and weight.
If we want to know what Mark Twain thought about words, here is a passage he wrote to George Bainton, 10/15/1888  “The difference between the almost right word & the right word is really a large matter—it’s the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.”

Once Huckleberry Finn is sanitized, readers are robbed of the opportunity to have important conversations on race. That is not an opportunity I am willing to concede, in the interest of presenting a different Huckleberry Finn that Twain never wrote.

Eliminating books from a school curriculum deprive students from being exposed to classics which inform us of past times, events, and mores of the day. It is the duty of teachers to put the stories they teach in a context, helping students understand the circumstances and events that were part of the environment where the story takes place. Shutting the door on harsh historical realities by not allowing them to be read and discussed is tantamount to pretending they did not exist. That is dishonest and short changes all readers.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Reading Together is featured on Reading Bug Blog

Last month, Diane Frankenstein gave an inspiring talk to parents at Central Middle School in San Carlos.  If you missed it, you won’t want to miss her tips that she has shared with us below.  Read on to find out how to make reading with your family an enjoyable experience for everyone!
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