Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Here be dragons

Dragon pointed out this article from The Guardian to me:
I told him he should get his own blog but the keyboarding thing is challenging for him.

Frightening new predator found in the homeland of the dragon

"Balaur is a new breed of predatory dinosaur, very different from anything we have ever known," said Stephen Brusatte of Columbia University in New York, co-author of the research, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


The Romanian link with dragons was perpetuated in JK Rowling's Harry Potter series. The character Ron Weasley's brother Charlie worked at the world's largest dragon reservation in Romania."

Dragon is scoffing at the term "mythology" and "legend" in the article.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


PopPop by Gordon Korman, narrated by Nick Podehl. Brilliance Audio, 2009

I think Pop is possibly Gordon Korman's best book yet.
I found the novel compelling and heartfelt.  His story includes some elements that are standard fare in high school football stories: the beautiful cheerleader, the handsome quarterback(s), the after-the-game-parties and the fierce and crusty football coach.  Korman takes the tale in a different direction though.  The title has multiple meanings. The word "pop" plays as a sound, a feeling, a verb, a noun meaning father, and a nickname.

I live in a town where one of the local high schools has repeatedly won the state football championship (5A) so I have seen the pride and can imagine the closeness of the team.  

Newcomer Marcus just wants to play football. He practices alone, every day in the park, preparing for try-outs. One day he meets Charlie, a guy old enough to be his father but with the ability to catch passes and throw them like a pro. They meet daily to practice throughout the summer although Charlie's behavior is odd and even erratic at times.   Marcus is good and the daily workouts with Charlie are making him even better.  Marcus comes to crave "the pop" of the hits.  Football is a team sport though and breaking-in to the tight-knit group that played a perfect season the year before, is not easy.  Troy, the QB resents him, especially when his ex, Alyssa shows in interest in Marcus. 

The mystery of Charlie's identity is tipped to the reader and Korman builds some nice tension between the characters and the reader as we all realize what is going on.  Korman does a great job of showcasing the game plans, the plays, the hard pops and the camaraderie of the team.   He also layers on the poignancy and tragedy of family situations that no one should have to endure.  Marcus and Troy have more in common than they know. 

Nick Podehl's audiobook 's narration was excellent.  I stayed up very late listening to him.  I think this is a must read for football players of all ages. The story offers some things to ponder before putting on the pads.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

A World of Hurt

Pete Hautman has eloquently framed and explained a truly unfortunate and sad episode in the point of light that is the Teen Lit Fest in Humble, TX.  His post "The Nasty Thing in the Corner" describes how author Ellen Hopkins was invited (she accepted) then DIS-INVITED from the event.  DO read his post and all the comments.  Chris Crutcher's thoughts are so on target.

School Librarians
First of all, as a school librarian, I cannot imagine having to un-invite an author or illustrator to my school. How horrible.  We DO read the books, right?  We KNOW the author's work, right?  We understand the books and WHY they connect so profoundly with our students, right?  We have communicated this to our administrations, right?

Lost opportunity

Wouldn't it have been an interesting part of the festival to have a panel on this very subject? Parents could have asked questions, there could have been a discussion, views could have been exchanged, ideas shared, opinions aired...an impassioned, thoughtful tussle over books and how they affect us.

Public relations
This is SUCH bad public relations for the Humble school district when you KNOW the superintendent just wanted the whole thing to go away so he could get back to worrying about drop-out rates and school safety. Of course, a discussion of Hopkins's book could have actually helped with drop-out rates and school safety, alas. Instead, he has put the district under a magnifying glass.  He has demonstrated that he does not trust his district's professional librarians who chose and invited the authors. That does not build confidence.


I have no idea about the identity of the parents who kicked this off but I would lay odds they were parents of junior high or early high school students. Those years are so difficult for parental units as they see their control over their kids and the school eroding. Elementary schools are the most responsive to "parent input" but that sensitivity diminishes as the years pass.  I believe that these protests are often a last gasp at trying to 'have it your way.'

Also, wearing my parent hat here now, I always thought it would be better to have my kids experience the dangerous corners of life, through an intense and realistic novel rather than try them out in real life.  Please, kiddies, just read about what it is like to get involved in (insert name of life-threatening behavior here) and experience the consequences between the covers of a book!

Book Challenges
Certainly, this was NOT a formal book challenge but it smacks of one.  A book challenge NEVER helps a community.  I like to point out to parents that it lands you forever on a list, Yearly Lists of Challenged and/or Banned Books,  that NEVER goes away. The community is enshrined there, on the .pdf, in a Book Banning Hall of Infamy. 

Adults as readers
One of the saddest thing about any challenge or ban, is that it points out how poorly parents (and superintendents) fare at reading with the same level of discernment and insight that they demand of their students.

As educators we ask students to (just to name a few):

(5)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Fiction. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about the structure and elements of fiction and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to:
(A)  analyze non-linear plot development (e.g., flashbacks, foreshadowing, sub-plots, parallel plot structures) and compare it to linear plot development;

(B)  analyze how authors develop complex yet believable characters in works of fiction through a range of literary devices, including character foils;

(C)  analyze the way in which a work of fiction is shaped by the narrator's point of view; and

(D)  demonstrate familiarity with works by authors from non-English-speaking literary traditions with emphasis on classical literature.
   ...   ...
(7)  Reading/Comprehension of Literary Text/Sensory Language. Students understand, make inferences and draw conclusions about how an author's sensory language creates imagery in literary text and provide evidence from text to support their understanding. Students are expected to explain the role of irony, sarcasm, and paradox in literary works.

(8)  Reading/Comprehension of Informational Text/Culture and History. Students analyze, make inferences and draw conclusions about the author's purpose in cultural, historical, and contemporary contexts and provide evidence from the text to support their understanding. Students are expected to explain the controlling idea and specific purpose of an expository text and distinguish the most important from the less important details that support the author's purpose.
from Texas Administrative Code (TAC), Title 19, Part II
Chapter 110. Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for English Language Arts and Reading §110.31. English Language Arts and Reading, English I (One Credit), Beginning with School Year 2009-2010.
I daresay, Hopkins' books fill the bill in all those TEKS.  Seriously, shouldn't  parents and administrators have to demonstrate similar insight?

I feel  sorry for Hopkins, all the other authors who were invited to participate (what a position THEY are in now) in what should have been a festive event.

As usual, when adults behave badly, students fare worst of all.   I am really, truly sorry. 

Ellen Hopkins posted about the incident on her blog here and here.
She notes "To date, four other authors—Pete Hautman, Melissa de la Cruz, Tera Lynn Childs and Matt de la Pena—have withdrawn, in a solid stand against censorship."

Friday, August 13, 2010

Tolkien and Dickens collaborate

The Hobbit: 70th Anniversary EditionWISHFrom The Guardian:

Tolkien and Dickens collaborate, that is, their descendants are working together.
Michael GR Tolkien, the eldest grandson of JRR Tolkien has written a new book, Wish.

The audiobook of Wish is narrated by actor, Gerald Dickens, the great-great grandson of Charles Dickens. 

Sort of fun to ponder.  The cover art certainly seems familiar...

Friday, August 06, 2010

Papercraft masterpiece

Wataru Itou (伊藤航) created this amazing...beautiful...!!!!!!!!!!  No words.  More photos here at Tokyo's Bling Blog.
Thanks to Sommer Leigh for pointing me here.

Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Movie: Flipped

FlippedFlippedComing soon to a theater near you:
Flipped by Wendelin Van Draanen 

Flipped was selected for the 2003-2004 Texas Bluebonnet book list. It has been that long since I read it but it was my favorite title on the list that year.  I thought it was a terrific book for 5th grade (and beyond.)  It is a sweet and sympathetic look at kids as they move from childhood to tweens to teens.

Bryce and Juli alternate telling the story.  Second grader Bryce is appalled by Juli's enthusiasm for him and her chickens. As they hit junior high though, he decides there is something about Juli that he quite likes --  just as she is about done with him forever as he shows no appreciation for her family, her chickens or her special tree.

Much of the book's wonderful humor comes from their two different perspectives of the same events.   I will be interested to see if they even try to  translate this to the screen.  Rob Reiner directs.  I wonder how this book arrived on his radar.
 I hope the movie is worthy.

Wendelin Van Draanen website