Archive for the ‘Teaching’ Category

Wizard of OzMake no mistake: he—or she—had a brain, all right.

Unlike a certain singing scarecrow, whoever initially found the parallels between Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon and the film The Wizard of Oz definitely did not have a head full o’ stuffing.  Only an intellectual wizard, after all, could notice that “The Great Gig in the Sky” plays when Dorothy’s house flies in the tornado.  Or that the cash register sound at the start of “Money” is synchronized to the exact moment the movie turns from black-and-white to Technicolor.  Or that Dorothy’s listening for the Tin Man’s heart coincides with the sound of a heartbeat on the album.

It’s all very fascinating.  Provocative.  And completely impossible.  I mean, come on: are we really supposed to believe the guys from Pink Floyd were watching Wizard of Oz while recording the album? Not likely.

This isn’t a knock on the anonymous wizard (or wizards) who originally noticed the similarities.  Far from it: making these connections is a creative act in itself.  And does it matter whether or not Pink Floyd intended to connect its album to Wizard of Oz?  I don’t see why it should.  When an author puts something out into the world, he or she gives up a degree of control.   The audience takes it from there.

Of course, I can’t give props to the folks interpreting the text without acknowledging the greatness of the text itself.  If The Wizard of Oz wasn’t so rich, so paradoxical, so chock full of themes and iconic characters, could those anonymous folks have made so many connections?

That’s not to take anything away from Dark Side of the Moon, which is a trippily complicated text in itself.  I’m just saying that if you take a text as complex as Wizard of Oz and juxtapose it with an equally complex text (such as Dark Side of the Moon, or hundreds of other texts), you’re bound to find some connections.

I actually have an example of my own, regarding the similarities between The Wizard of Oz and William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury.  In case you never read The Sound and the Fury (or, as in my case, you read it but had pretty much had no earthly idea what was going on), the novel focuses on a promiscuous Southern woman named Caddy Compson and her three brothers: Benjy, who is mentally handicapped; Quentin, whose incestuous obsession with Caddy contributes to his suicide; and Jason, who is… just mean.  (There is also a plot in there, apparently… but I don’t think I was ever smart enough to figure it out.)

I took a Faulkner seminar in college, and in one of my papers, I made the case (only half-jokingly) that Faulkner borrowed liberally from L. Frank Baum’s original Wizard of Oz novel (published in 1900) for The Sound and the Fury (published in 1929). Caddy, Faulkner’s centerpiece character, is obviously Dorothy; Benjy matches up the brainless Scarecrow; Quentin—or Quen-Tin—is Tin Man; and Jason, the gruff yet easily frightened “king” of the Compson household, is the Cowardly Lion.

I went on to talk about how both texts involve the idea of dreams vs. reality, with Benjy’s stream-of-consciousness narration being particularly dream-like, in that he tends to collapse past and present events into one.  Admiitedly, a bit of a stretch.

Years later, as a high school teacher, I came up with a better Oz-connection; this time, I didn’t connect Oz to a text but to American history.  On some level, I was inspired by Henry Littlefield’s “The Wizard of Oz: A Parable on Populism,” which spelled out the allegorical aspects of Baum’s novel: The Scarecrow is the supposedly ignorant American farmer; the Tin-Man is the industrial worker who toils so hard for so long, he actually becomes a machine himself; the Cowardly Lion is (believe it or not) William Jennings Bryan; the Wizard is any president who doesn’t have the power to give the people what they need; and Dorothy is Everyman (or Everywoman), trying to muddle his/ her way through.

Now… did Baum intend any of this?  Henry Littlefield seems to think so, and he makes an extremely compelling case why. But again, does Baum’s intention even matter?  Littlefield’s reading is an interesting intellectual exercise, one that gives us a new way of looking at a classic text.  That’s enough for me. (I should note: Littlefield was also a high school teacher… just saying.)

My interpretation goes in a different direction than Littlefield’s.   Most significantly, I’m interpreting the 1939 film version, not the novel.  I start with the song “Over the Rainbow,” the lyrics of which were written by a gentleman named Yip Harberg.  A businessman who lost everything in the Great Depression, Harberg went to Hollywood and became a songwriter.   His work on Wizard of Oz won him an Academy Award.  Talk about an American success story (which is sort of curious to say, since he was a committed socialist).

Now, two things you need to know about “Over the Rainbow.”  First: the rainbow symbol does not appear in Baum’s novel; it was used in the film to help reinforce the innovative use of Technicolor.  (That’s why they changed Dorothy’s magic slippers, silver in the book, to ruby red.)  Secondly: Yip Harberg is the son of Russian immigrants, who emigrated to the United States before Harberg was born.

Though not an immigrant himself, is it possible that Harberg was telling the story of his immigrant parents in the song “Over the Rainbow”?  Check out some of the lyrics:

* “There’s a land that I heard of once in a lullaby”…
* “Dreams that you dare to dream really do come true”…
* “Where troubles melt like lemondrops”…

Aren’t those exactly—I mean, EXACTLY—the kinds of things that someone a hundred years ago, living in Eastern Europe, would say about America?

With that as a foundation, I suggest that the entire 1939 Wizard of Oz film can be seen as an allegory for the American immigrant experience of the early 20th century.   The black-and-white Kansas portion represents their life back home, where they wistfully think about this mythical new world, America—a place where the streets are literally paved with gold. (That’s the yellow brick road.)  Filled with this hope that their daring dreams really will come true, they arrive at the new country, draped in their new home’s colors. (Dorothy, remembers, wears a blue and white dress and ruby-red shoes.)

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long for many of these immigrants to realize that this wonderful new place is not what it’s cracked up to be; like the Wizard itself, the new world is an illusion.  And soon, these same wide-eyed immigrants, who risked everything to come to America, face a hard truth: “There’s no place like home.”

Granted, the interpretation needs some work.  I admittedly have some holes to fill. (Who’s the Scarecrow?  What about the Flying Monkeys?)   But it does offer a new perspective, doesn’t it, on a century-old tale?

To me, it all comes back to the text, L. Frank Baum’s original vision.  What started in 1900 as merely America’s greatest fairy tale has had so many lives, so many incarnations—from the 1939 film to The Wiz in the 1970s to Wicked in the 2000s and now to the new film, Oz, The Great and Powerful.  Why has it had such a long shelf-life?

Answer: because Baum is not like his wizard.  He’s the real deal.  He had brains and heart and courage. His vision was rich and deep, great and powerful.  And the lesson all writers can learn from him, I think, is this: the more you put into a text, the more someone else can get out of it.


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It’s the place where books go to die.

My town’s transfer station (a.k.a. “dump”) has a wooden shack that sort of resembles an outhouse.  Only it’s for a whole different kind of refuse: it’s where residents bid farewell to their no-longer-wanted books.

Now, I’m assuming these books get recycled, so I guess they don’t technically “die”; they’re re-incarnated, re-born in another form.  And some of these books actually get saved; over the years, I myself may have plucked out a few gems from this garbage-heap.  (Hey, one man’s trash, right?)

In fact, a few Saturday mornings ago, I was on one of these shopping sprees, and while perusing through the shack’s cramped shelves, I started doing a mental inventory of the discarded books. I saw (among many others) Jerry Seinfeld’s SeinLanguage; Dr. Barry Sears’s diet book Enter the Zone; Sebastian Junger’s The Perfect Storm; four Tom Clancy books (The Sum of All Fears, The Hunt for Red October, and two copies of Red Storm Rising); and two copies of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code.

Ever the English teacher, I started doing an analysis—not of the content of the books, but of the kinds of books that people were throwing out.  And it occurred to me: they’re all fads.  Those books I listed above are ones that caught fire with the public at a certain point in time and then… just died out.  For some of these, the fire may have lasted a long time (Tom Clancy had a good run there), but it died out nonetheless.  (I’d call these books the literary equivalent of Furbies, but Furbies are apparently trying to make a comeback. Godspeed, Furbies…)

This isn’t to say these books didn’t enjoy some incredible popularity.  Let’s take Da Vinci Code, for example: as of 2009, it sold 80 million copies; it stirred up a lot of controversy (which may have contributed to the aforementioned 80 million copies); it spawned two movies; and it transformed nerdy symbologists from Harvard into sex symbols.  (Well, that last one may be a stretch, especially given the sorry state of Tom Hanks’s hair in the film version.)

Moreover, this one novel ignited a slew of literary sub-genres—including the “Unlocking The Da Vinci Code” books, the “Debunking The Da Vinci Code” books, and the “Debunking the Debunking The Da Vinci Code” books.

I definitely got caught up in the Dan Brown fervor myself a few years ago.  I dutifully read Da Vinci Code (as well as its prequel/ pseudo-sequel, Angels and Demons), mostly because everyone else was, but I remember liking it. And yes, I also remember agreeing with the critics who called characters two-dimensional and the prose less-than-Faulknerian (according to Wikipedia, a writer from the New York Times once called the book a “best-selling primer on how not to write an English sentence”), but I remember finding the novel entertaining regardless.

But I don’t really remember a lot of specifics about the book. I remember a few things: that the plot hinged on the idea that Jesus and Mary Magdalene were married (ooops… spoiler alert); that there was a creepy albino named Silas; and that Leonardo Da Vinci’s Last Supper painting has some weird and wacky things going on.  But that’s about it.  The novel didn’t really stay with me.

The Da Vinci Code had its day, but it was definitely a fad.  And seeing those two Da Vinci Codes in that outhouse-sized book shack that Saturday morning started me thinking about the whole “fad books” phenomenon.  Why do some books strike the mainstream’s fancy?  And then why does that same mainstream discard them and move on to something else?

Then I realized:  the truly amazing thing is not that some books fade from our consciousness but that many actually stay there.  Tennessee Williams wrote A Streetcar Named Desire in 1947.  Why are we still teaching it to our high schoolers today?  Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn in 1884, Swift wrote Gulliver’s Travels in 1726, Chaucer wrote the Canterbury Tales around 1400, and Sophocles wrote Oedipus The King four hundred before the birth of Christ.  What does it say about these texts, these ideas, these characters, that they didn’t fade away?

Who knows which of today’s best-sellers will end up in tomorrow’s outhouse?  More importantly, which ones won’t?  Which current beloved book will withstand the sands of time? (No one can predict this, of course, but I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that I suspect that the words “Grey” and the number fifty will NOT be in the title.)

And now, as always… your turn, it is: which titles do you think are quintessential “fad”-books? And which books do you foresee becoming “fad”-books in the future?

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“You have been weighed.  You have been measured.  And you have been found wanting.”

This week, I showed the 2001 Heath Ledger film A Knight’s Tale to my A.P. Literature students.   Now, I know that there is a perception out there that English teachers show movies in class so they can get out of preparing for class that week.  And that is completely, utterly… not always untrue.  But in this case, I actually did have a reason; the movie served as a companion piece to the text we had just finished, Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale,” from The Canterbury Tales.

Don’t snicker.  I actually have several good reasons for showing the film in class. Consider…

1. Anachronisms:  You want to teach anachronisms, A Knight’s Tale is the text for you.   The film is gloriously, gleefully, brazenly anachronistic, from the small details (Kate the blacksmith emblazons a Nike logo on a suit of armor) to the rocking, 1970s-infused soundtrack.  (The film takes place in the 1370s, but as director Brian Helgeland has quipped, the 70s are the same regardless of the century.)

Now, Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale”—the story, not the film—doesn’t have a ton of anachronisms, but it does have a biggie: the tale involves several Roman gods (Mars, Venus, and Saturn), but at the end, Theseus describes Jupiter in decidedly Christian terms, calling him the Prime Mover and the force of Love in the universe.  So Chaucer is sort of imposing his Christian beliefs onto this pagan world, which could be considered deliberately anachronistic.  And speaking of…

2. Chaucer, in the Flesh:  We see Geoffrey Chaucer in the film—pretty much all of him, actually. (The first time we meet Chaucer, he’s trudging down the road nude.)   Now, is this a historically-accurate Geoffrey Chaucer?  Far from it.  Yeah, this Chaucer does make several overt references to one day writing Canterbury Tales (including that great line when he tells the Pardoner and the Summoner, “I will eviscerate you in fiction”).  And yeah, director Helgeland, who also wrote the screenplay, said he read about a six-month period where the real Chaucer went missing, and so the events of the film could technically take place during that time.  But that’s about it.

But purists be damned: this is a medieval film that opens with “We Will Rock You,” for crying out loud!  Are you really going to skewer it for its historical inaccuracies?

(One fun tidbit: actor Paul Bettany, who plays Chaucer in the film, apparently did some research on the poet, in order to figure out how to play him, before deciding to go with his own interpretation.  The reason? “I got hold of a picture of Chaucer,” Bettany reports, “and it turns out he’s an enormously fat, bald, bearded dwarf.”)

3. “Changing Your Stars”: Chaucer’s “The Knight’s Tale” proceeds from a common mythological trope: gods are mean.  And out to get us.  And anything we try to do to improve our lot in life is fruitless, because the mean gods are running the show. The film A Knight’s Tale takes a decidedly more optimistic angle on the “fate vs. free will” subject: that we absolutely “change our stars”—the term poor squire Will Thatcher (Heath Ledger) uses in his quest to become a knight.

(And here’s something cool that one of my students brought up: people living in the Middle Ages never would have thought that humans could, in fact, control their destiny.  That’s a relatively modern belief.  So anachronism is not just part of the form—e.g. the soundtrack— but it’s part of the content as well.  How awesome is that?)

4. Featured Females: Contrasting the two female leads from these two works—Emily from “The Knight’s Tale” and Jocelyn from A Knight’s Tale (played by Shannyn Sossaman)—could generate some good discussion, I think.  The two could not be more different: Emily is this completely passive young woman, who watches as her two suitors battle to the death for her, all the while not wanting to marry either one of them but knowing that she has to; Jocelyn, on the other hand, is a feisty proto-feminist who gets Will to lose his matches to prove his love.  As far as which one is the more interesting character, Jocelyn wins by a long shot…. but I don’t know if I’d call either one of them particularly likeable.

(Incidentally, no one—I mean, no one— was rooting for the Will-Jocelyn romance.  Why didn’t the film at least entertain the possibility of Will getting together with Kate, his loyal blacksmith played by Laura Fraser?  Wouldn’t they have made a better couple?)

5. It’s Just a Fun Movie: In The Canterbury Tales, Chaucer talks about how good stories both delight and instruct.  And while A Knight’s Tale may be a little lean in terms of “instructing,” it more than makes up for it on the “delighting” side.  The film mixes some great action scenes with some legitimately touching ones. (My favorites:  the scene when all of Will’s friends help him write a letter to Jocelyn, and the scene where Will is reunited with his blind father.)  Plus, it has a great villain in Count Adhemar (played by Rufus Sewell, who has that certain “I hate him just by looking at him” quality).  Plus, it’s got a great message about realizing your dreams.

But what I like most of all is the friendship between Will and his gang of merry pranksters.  It’s clear that these five people truly care about each other, and I think their friendship gives a lot of heart to what could have been a typical Action-Adventure-Romantic-Comedy-Jousting-Movie-Featuring-Songs-from-Bachman-Turner-Overdrive.

So if you haven’t seen A Knight’s Tale in a while, give it another look.  You will not be found wanting.

Here’s the online version of Canterbury Tales.

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Sheri yesterday posted a blog entry questioning whether or not schools may end up discouraging reading, albeit unintentionally.  In her post, she cited two examples of students she knows who had to put aside books they wanted to read in favor of books they had to read (and ones which they didn’t enjoy in the slightest).

And I suppose, as the dutiful English teacher, I should use this space to offer the “other side.” First, I could explain the reason we have all students in a class read the same book at the same time: so we could have a shared experience, a common text that we discuss. Does that mean we all have to have the same thoughts about this text?  Of course not.  In fact, it’s better if we don’t.  But we need that common experience as a jumping-off point.  And I think that’s true of all human relationships.

Yes, some schools are moving toward a different model, one that invites every student to read his or her own book.  And while this intrigues me, I do have some very practical concerns: is the teacher required to read every one of those books?  If not, how does the teacher know the kids are reading?  And what about the other students?  What do they talk about with one another?  With no shared experience, don’t you just have a series of twenty-five book reports masquerading as a discussion?

Next, I suppose I could address the issue of why we’re still teaching certain books, especially ones that are 50, 100, even 500 years old.  This is a little trickier to defend.  Sure, these texts may be brilliantly written, and they may have engaging plots – but then again, a lot of modern texts are brilliantly written and have engaging plots.  So why not upgrade?

I guess one answer is that we teach the classics because they are classics; we read them because everyone reads them.  I’m not making a “cultural literacy” defense here; I’m not saying kids should read Romeo and Juliet so you can get the allusions in a Taylor Swift song.  You should read Romeo and Juliet because it does things that most modern day teen romances can’t.  Basically: we keep reading these texts because they are worth reading, because they can teach us things, make us better.

Next, I could talk about the virtues of raising awareness, of exposing students to a text they probably would never have read on their own.  I personally never read The Crucible in high school; it was somehow never assigned. Now, in truth, I also never read a lot of books that were assigned, but that’s not the point here.  The point is, had I not become an English teacher, I never would have experienced the paradoxes coursing through Arthur Miller’s masterpiece, nor would I have known the power of John Proctor’s climactic “Because it is my name!” speech. And I would be the poorer for it.

Finally, I could conclude by asking, “Since when does everything we do in school have to be fun, anyway?”  Yes, they might not like Pride and Prejudice… but guess what?  A lot of kids don’t like math.  Does that mean we’ll just stop teaching fractions?  Or what about the Periodic Table? That’s been done to death, right?  Shouldn’t we just move on to something new?

I could say all those things, and I’d believe all of it as well.  But even as I was saying it, I’d remember a passage I read, in a book called Better than Life by Daniel Pennac:

“It looks as though school, no matter the age or nation, has had only one role.  And that’s to teach the mastery of technique and critical commentary and to cut off spontaneous contact with books by discouraging the pleasure of reading.  It’s been written in stone in every land: pleasure has no business in school, and knowledge gained must be the fruit of deliberate suffering…. It is the nature of living beings to love life, even in the form of a quadratic equation.  But vitality has never been listed on a school curriculum… You learn how to read in school.  But what about the love of reading?”

And then maybe I’d remember the afternoons I’d to go into my sons’ classrooms, on “Mystery Reader” Day.  All the second-graders would be so excited.  They’d go over to the carpet, and I’d sit in the big rocking chair.  And when I’d take out Green Eggs and Ham or the story about the Chinese brothers with the super-powers, they would be totally into it.  Reading was an event back then, not a chore.

Do schools discourage the pleasure of reading?  I don’t know.  But I do know that, whenever I hand out a “classic,” some student in my class is possibly shelving some really good book—a fun, entertaining book, one that could re-ignite the long-dormant pleasure of reading in this student—in favor of some book that I imperiously think is good for them to read.  And that’s a lousy feeling.

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We’d been planning it for weeks. My niece and I share a love of young adult fiction. We have a great time talking about books we’ve both read … recommending books to one another… waiting for new releases from our favorite authors.  Last month I came up with an idea to formalize our shared interest a bit. We would choose a book together, read it at the same time, and discuss it as we went along. Kind of like the world’s smallest book club.

So we began with our go-to authors. Sarah Dessen? Nope. We’d both exhausted all of her titles. Susane Colasanti? I had only read a few, but my niece was up-to-date and the latest release wasn’t coming out till spring.

I stumbled upon a great book site called Epic Reads, which posted a blog entry called “The United States of YA.” The blog author created a cool map of YA books that took place in each of our 50 States. What a fun idea! My niece and I decided to choose the book from our home State of Connecticut – My Life Next Door  by Huntley Fitzpatrick. It was exactly the kind of book we both liked and the reviews were positive.

Then I got a call from my niece that put our plans on hold.  Her 8th grade English teacher had assigned a book to the class: Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.  This was not her genre, and she was finding the book pretty tough to slog through.  Worried that she couldn’t split her attention, she asked if we could postpone our mini-book club.  I could see how disappointed she was, but school had to come first.  After all, my husband’s an English teacher.  I understand the importance of reading the classics… of having students read the same book so they can discuss it and analyze it together.

Still I was struck by the fact that my niece was putting down a book she loved in order to read one that she hated.

Something similar happened to my older niece last year.   She spent an entire agonizing summer trying to get through Great Expectations (required reading for incoming 9th grade honors students).  Sadly she put away the stack of fun YA novels she had chosen to read over summer vacation, knowing she wouldn’t have time to read them.

Once again I was saddened to see a bright young woman putting away a book she loved in order to drag her way through a classic that brought her no joy.  I wonder where the balance is here.  If students can’t read for pleasure during the school year because of assigned texts, shouldn’t summer vacation be a sacred time for pleasure reading?  How can we honor the valuable lessons to be gained from reading the classics while still fostering a love of reading in our children?

I’m asking Mark to weigh in on this one, from his perspective as a high school English teacher.  You’ll see his thoughts in a future blog post.  In the meantime I’d love to read your comments below.

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This week’s election reminded me of another epic showdown, from almost two hundred years ago.  Only this battle wasn’t between warriors or statesmen, but two poets.  And at stake? Not money or power, but the honor of having your work read by A.P. Literature students for evermore.

No doubt you know the tale of the confrontation between these two battle-weary wordsmiths, but allow me to provide some context nonetheless:  it’s December 1817, and two friends—Percy Bysshe Shelley and Horace Smith—have an idea: they’d have a sonnet-writing competition!  Both men would write a sonnet about the same subject and then see which one is better. (Hey, they didn’t have Angry Birds back then or even iCarly re-runs.  What else could they do to pass the time?)

Ozymandias – Shelley’s draft

Shelley and Smith both decided to write about Rameses II (of course), the great Egyptian pharaoh, also known as Ozymandias.  Or, more specifically, they both decided to write about a statue of this king, a statue that has deteriorated over the centuries to the point that only fragments remain—the head, the legs, and the pedestal.

Both poets even explore the same paradox:  that Ozymanidas, the self-proclaimed “King of Kings,” commissioned a statue of himself to guarantee his immortality, but all that’s left is a broken statue.  So if anything, he is immortalized, all right, but only as a symbol of mortality.

Both Shelley and Smith dutifully wrote their separate sonnets and submitted them to the same magazine, The Examiner.  Shelley published his poem first, on January 11, 1818:

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Three weeks later, on February 1, 1818, Horace Smith’s poem was published:

In Egypt’s sandy silence, all alone,
Stands a gigantic Leg, which far off throws
The only shadow that the Desert knows.
“I am great Ozymandias,” saith the stone,
“The King of kings: this mighty city shows
The wonders of my hand.” The city’s gone!
Naught but the leg remaining to disclose
The sight of that forgotten Babylon.
We wonder, and some hunter may express
Wonder like ours, when through the wilderness
Where London stood, holding the wolf in chase,
He meets some fragment huge, and stops to guess
What wonderful, but unrecorded, race
Once dwelt in that annihilated place.

Both pretty solid poems, actually. To me, the main difference is that Shelley includes a narrator (“I met a traveler…”), which reinforces the theme of story-telling: the narrator is telling us about a story he heard from someone else about this forgotten king (who is obviously not completely forgotten, since all these people are still talking about him).

However, although both poems were published about the same time, and they both take the same angle on the same historical figure, Shelley clearly came out the victor in their sonnet-brawl. Shelley’s poem, after all, is a widely-known staple of English literature… and pretty much no one has ever read or even heard of Horace Smith.

And why?  Why did Horace Smith get the fuzzy end of the legacy-lollipop?   A simple reason: Shelley had a better title.

Shelley entitled his poem, “Ozymandias.”  And Smith entitled his, “On a Stupendous Leg of Granite, Discovered Standing by Itself in the Deserts of Egypt, with the Inscription Inserted Below.”

A rose by any other name, indeed…

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Farewell to Book Reports

Sitting in my son’s 7th grade Reading classroom on Parents’ Night last month, I heard something that was music to my ears…no more book report projects!

Alex’s Reading teacher categorically promised that there would be no dioramas, no mobiles, no story cubes.  Her reasoning: that’s not what happens in the real world.  “I love to read,” she explained, “but when you come to my house, you don’t see mobiles hanging from the ceiling and dioramas lining my shelves.”  What does she do instead?  She talks about books.  That’s what people do when they discover a new book that they love (or hate, or feel ambivalent about).  They talk about it with other readers.

So that’s what I started doing with my boys; and it’s been refreshing, inspiring, and fun.  And a bit of a duh! moment for me.  My husband’s an English teacher.  He talks to kids about books all day long.  That should have been obvious to me.  But too often my boys and I became mired in the structural issues of shoebox stacking and wire hanger bending to really focus on the book itself.  We’d get so caught up in glue, scissors, and lifelike representations of the Hunger Games arena… that we didn’t give proper time to actually talking about what The Hunger Games is saying.

Maybe my boys were doing this all along, and talking about their favorite books with friends.  Now that I don’t have to worry about book reports, I’m looking forward to getting in on the conversation!

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