Tuesday, September 30, 2008

...a delightful task to any boy or girl...

I'm reading* the 1909 selection of The Arabian Nights; Their Best-Known Tales edited by Kate Douglas Wiggin and Nora A. Smith, with illustrations by Maxfield Parrish (reprinted by Atheneum Books).

Ms. Wiggin's Preface cracked me up, especially this:

"It would be a delightful task to any boy or girl to begin at the beginning and read the first English version of these famous stories, made from the collection of M. Galland, Professor of Arabic in the Royal College of Paris. The fact that they had passed from Arabic into French and from French into English did not prevent their instantaneous popularity. This was in 1704 or thereabouts, and the world was not so busy as it is nowadays, or young men would not have gathered in the middle of the night under M. Galland's window and cried: 'O vous, qui savez de si jolis contes, et qui les racontez si bien, racontez nous en un!'"

Obviously, this was a hundred years ago, and the world was not so... something as it is nowadays. I haven't taught a boy or girl yet who would find it a delightful task to begin at the beginning, though I did give Deanna a copy of Arabian Nights today since she's obsessed with mythology.

*re-reading? I know all these stories, but who knows where from.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Footnotes and other awesome things

Incidentally, this is my fourth blog post in a row about kids and reading. Incidentally, maybe not coincidentally (although I thought I knew what each of those words meant, but then in looking them up and trying to figure out specifics, I got confused. Oh, vocabulary. It's good for me to be reminded of how confusing dictionaries can be, even when you're a grown-up and like them and know how to use them and even mostly know what the words mean that you are looking up!).

I just finished Sharon Creech's fabulous Heartbeat, another of her great mid-grade novels written as a series of poems. In Heartbeat, the poems are by our heroine, twelve-year-old Annie. This one made me super happy:


In school we are learning footnotes.1

It made me laugh to hear them called

I pictured little notes on my feet
and could not stop giggling
as Mr. Welling tried to explain
why we needed to do footnotes2
and the exact, correct format

and we had to practice everything exactly right
with the commas and the colons
in the right place

He was very

And I liked getting everything
in the right place
and knowing there was a plan
for how to do it right

but then I could not get the footnotes
out of my mind
and started putting them everywhere--
on spelling tests
and on math homework--

and just about everywhere
where I wanted to add a little explanation
(which you do not normally have a chance to do
on tests or homework)

but I am not sure all of my teachers
appreciate the footnotes3

and now I am dreaming
in footnotes

which is a peculiar thing.

I dreamed of running past the barn
and in my head I saw a footnote
which said
Faded red barn
and when I passed the church
I saw a footnote
Old stone church
and on like that
footnotes for every little thing

and when I stopped at the red bench
and looked at the soles of my feet
all the little notes were printed there
in charcoal pencil

and somehow it pleased me
that the notes were there
imprinted on my feet--


1. Like this.
2. To show where we found information, or sometimes to explain something further.
3. One teacher wrote "Very amusing," but another put two angry red question marks by each footnote.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Donna has been saying this for the past year at least, and she was the first one I heard saying oh em gee instead of just writing it as an abbreviation. But yesterday I was reading a student's essay to the class at her request, and when I got to the dialogue and read "OMG" as "oh my God!" I was corrected: "No no no! O M G!" so I read it over the right way.

Loose connection being, I was just reading the first post on the YA for Obama blog, by Judy Blume, and loved the second comment, by L.K. Madigan: "Thank you so much, Judy! (OMG, I just called Judy Blume 'Judy'!!!)"

Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Uncle Tom's Cabin of the Horse

Googling "Black Beauty" for some small detail for something I'm writing, I came across this and laughed really hard: "Sewell’s intention in writing the book was to promote the humane treatment of horses. Called the 'Uncle Tom’s Cabin of the Horse,' Black Beauty is credited with having the greatest effect on the treatment of animals of any publication in history. The book resulted in legislation protecting horses and a changed public attitude about animal pain and the traditional and fashionable practices that caused suffering for horses."

Source: http://www.enotes.com/black-beauty


This week my students read Cynthia Rylant's story "Checkouts," and their starting activity when they came into class was to make a list of at least ten words to describe the kind of person you might get a crush on. My examples were "smart" and "cute."

They argued that this was too private and personal; I repeatedly pointed out how I had written hugely right under the directions YOU WILL NOT HAVE TO SHARE THESE, and asked what they thought the story we were reading today might be about. My brilliant students guessed: two kids with a crush on each other! When I asked who wanted to share, more kids shared than I'd expected. I also did a lot of peeking over shoulders--these kinds of writing activities might be my #1 best way to get to know my kids and what's going on with them.

"Boy," "girl," and "good abs" appeared frequently on their lists, and the first two especially were words that led to students modifying their own lists whenever anyone shared them out. If you didn't put "boy" or "girl" on your list--well you know what that means!!! "Sexy" also made lots of appearances, including eleven times on Jordan's list alone (Jordan the boy, not Jordan the girl). "Asian" (from an Asian student) and "close to family" caught my eye. One girl wrote, among other things, "Kanye West." My two favorite responses were “will call every day," on a boy's list, one of my younger-seeming eighth graders, still interested in Pokemon, and “not a late night texter"--since of course that could get your phone taken away, not to mention your parents in your business.

We had a great conversation about the story's title, too, and they wrote some tragic and romantic and hilarious alternate endings. I am proud of myself for putting the lesson together--the story is in our textbook, but it's not a story I personally really love. I'm a good enough teacher now that I was able to remind myself that lots of times the kids really connect with stories that aren't my favorites, which makes sense since I'm 32 and they're 13. So teach the story that will grab them, Ms. Nelson, even if you aren't so into it, instead of the one that's your favorite (though it was a good week all around for a story about crushes). Anyway, we're saving "Raymond's Run" for next week.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The Walking Tour of Tilburg

I went on Khris Soden's Portland Tour of Tilburg with Rachel yesterday and loved it. Soden is an excellent tour guide, thorough and precise. But the best part, as with any public performance project I've ever been part of, was the passers-by and their responses. (And I do think that going on a guided tour of Tilburg through Portland, with a guide waving a small flag of the Netherlands and talking loudly about a king's summer estate as the group stands staring at a parking garage consulting their pamphlets, most certainly counts as participating in a public performance project.) My favorite: in Pioneer Square, Soden explains to the tour that Tilburg shuts down on Sundays, so be sure to complete your shopping on another day; Sundays are best for sitting at a cafe and reading the paper, that sort of thing. As the tour moves on to our next destination, an elderly man towing an oxygen tank with tubes in his nose says loudly to me and Rachel, "The shops are open on Sundays, he's full of BS."

Go here to experience a virtual Portland Tour of Tilburg, or here to learn more about Khris Soden and this project.

Something else seen...

I don't know what to say about her. Miraculous, of course. But besides that?

More Things Seen

This bunny flyer was posted in the cafe at Powell's downtown. Simple and perfect. I tore off a bunny for Donna, of course, who appreciated it enormously, of course.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Carrying around embarrassing things...

Walking over to Peet's Coffee after school, I found a brand new, still shrink-wrapped Monopoly set, LORD OF THE RINGS edition, in someone's free box. The game was enormous--too big to fit in my backpack, and I didn't have an extra bag with me like I usually do these days. So I set off trekking through southeast Portland with the Lord of the Rings edition of Monopoly tucked under my arm. Got to Peet's, gave the Lord of the Rings edition of Monopoly its own chair, and eventually decided to go to Powell's across the street. First I sheepishly asked the guy working at Peet's if I could have a bag for my Lord of the Rings edition of Monopoly that I'd found on the street, explaining unnecessarily that carrying it around was making me feel like a big dork. He smiled somewhat sympathetically, but I wasn't sure if he was smiling with me or at me, so of course I explained: "I teach eighth grade! If you're an eighth grade teacher, you cannot walk by a free shrink-wrapped board game on the street."

"Sure," he said. "I teach eighth grade too."

"Shut up," I said, and he gave me a nice big paper shopping bag.


Today: guy on unicycle pedaling along holding his cup of coffee.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Things Other People Saw

Text from Lauren, NYC:
Man strolling down 2nd ave with a mustache, pippi longstocking braids and a SPEEDO and nothing else.

Text from Megan, driving cross country:
Missouri! Giant catsup bottle!

Message from Rachel, Boston:
Hey Elissa, I'm at the DMV getting my license transferred over, and guess what? There's a fire drill! So we're like all standing in the street, like me and... wow, hundreds of other people and we're waiting for... waiting to get back in so that we can wait for another two hours to get whatever we need to get done done. Luckily I'm still like fifty away so even if I wander off and come back it will be fine. Anyway. I just thought that was kind of interesting, I'm not actually that annoyed by it but I've never had this happen anywhere except in a school. So maybe the building really is on fire! Except no one else except the people in the DMV seem to care, like the Dunkin' Donuts people aren't evacuating. But anyway, who knows. I will talk to you later... bye!