Category Archives: Learning

Anne Frank’s diary: sheltered writing; unsheltered evil

This past week, on August 4th, when I read that Anne Frank had been captured by the Nazi’s on that date in 1944, I recalled her diary entries, and that this beautiful, sensitive teenage writer dreamed of becoming a playwright.

Although everything about her death is nauseatingly tragic, including the fact that she did not live to realize her dream, it is heartwarming and ironic that death could not silence her pen—she became the published author she dreamed of—albeit not as a playwright.

Her writing, not in the form of a play, but as a series of diary entries that provide an autobiographical account of the drama of her last days when she was sheltered by a Dutch family, continues to be read today, in a multiplicity of formats and languages.

Her writings exposed–and continue to fight– the kind of evil that led to her capture and death because it humanized Nazi-victim statistics by enfleshing one of its victims with whom we can identify and empathize: an innocent teenager.

The fourth and fifth graders who have read her biographies, particularly the version: Who Was Anne Frank?, have been deeply touched by the story of her life, and receptive to learning more about the Holocaust.

Since the future is in our children’s hands, it is good that they be sensitized to the atrocities of the past in order to recognize and combat them going forward.

Anne Frank is a compelling author and biographical subject.

As a human race, we are fortunate that she wrote, that the Nazi’s did not confiscate her writings, and that her father permitted her writing to be published for our edification and humanization.

As long as her diary is read, Anne Frank continues to have a potent author’s voice, for which I am exceedingly grateful.

title giveaway

As a student of marketing, I learned that headlines need to entice–but not to mislead or to deceive.

In the world of literature, book titles act as instant headlines.

Consciously or unconsciously, I think, readers feel cheated out of their investment (whether time, energy, or money) when texts come up short compared with titles that promise or suggest more than–or—even worse— different from—what the text actually delivers.

Wearing both my marketing and teaching hats, I am a title-connoisseur of sorts.

I was thinking about book titles this week, following a Twitter trend inviting tweets in which one word in a book title was changed such that the revised title would give the plot away.

A devotee of mysteries, I personally, I “hate” when the title of any genre gives the plot away!

As an elementary library media specialist, during story time, I often “hid” a “too-revealing” title from younger students, unless the point of my previewing activity was to have students predict various story elements, including the resolution.

With fifth graders, there was one title I purposely called attention to before sharing its video version. That title was the one associated with a historical fiction Newbery honor book.

My Brother Sam Is Dead

Over the years, many tears were shed by fifth graders when Sam died. Tears that I would never want to deprive students—or myself—from shedding.

At the same time, when caught off-guard, some fifth graders were not emotionally equipped to protect themselves from the shock of seeing Sam’s death. They had not chosen to read the book; I had chosen to share the video version. I felt I owed them a chance to “be with” the title before watching it come to fruition.

…Enter me, before airing the video, referring to the title.

My Brother Sam Is Dead

“What do you think happens to Sam in this story?” I would ask.

Preparing students ahead of time, I hoped, removed the “shock” of San’s death, without depriving students of their heartfelt reaction—a reaction which led students to deeper debates and discussions about the decisions of conscience required by those who fought for or against our War for Independence.

My Brother Sam Is Dead

It’s all in the title. What’s your favorite? Are there any that give away the story’s resolution? How do you feel about such titles?

words worth memorizing

To follow up the last post which spoke of the literary interventions being undertaken in public schools to combat HIB, here’s an interesting, if not controversial challenge and thought.

While I’m not suggesting that we go back to McGuffey readers, there is something to be said about filling students’ heads with memorable, character-building messages to counterbalance the purposefully “dark and edgy” messages being fed to them by some “with-it” recreational children’s litter-ature today.

I can just imagine that pooh-pooh’s that this post will conjure. No matter.

While kids have always been “just kids” and generation gaps written about in Socratic times could have been written about today, if you have taught for a number of decades, I’m confident that you would agree that there is in schools today a growing blatant verbal disrespect for peers, as well as for authority, that exceeds past disrespects.

Although I’m not accusing the “tell-it-like-it-is” trash talk that characters spew forth, even in beginning series books, as being totally responsible, I am suggesting that what students fill their heads with often comes out–not unexpectedly– through their mouths.

Why not fill students’ heads with character-building thoughts?

For example…(although not necessarily in these exact 19C. words):

“Keep a watch on your words, my darling, for words are powerful things. They’re sweet like the bees’ sweet honey; like the bees they have terrible stings.”

When I was nine years old, many decades ago, my fourth grade teacher forced us to hand-copy and memorize those opening lines (as I now recall them), as well as the rest of the lines of a rather lengthy poem,  “Words of Beautiful Truth.”

(Making students memorize poems. Teachers did that then; they don’t now. For lots of educationally sound reasons, totally apart from character education and development, maybe they “should” now and again.)

If you want to read the entire poem, you can find it online (as I was amazed and delighted to do when I searched by its opening lines this week).

It is one of the selections that appears in the 1887 compiled volume of Little Poems for Little Children: Suitable for Memorizing for Recitation at School and at Homehttp://archive.org/stream/littlepoemsforli00camp/littlepoemsforli00camp_djvu.txt

Interestingly, in introducing the collection, the compiler, Valeria J. Campbell, offers persuasive thoughts to teachers about the benefits to their students of having them fill their minds with “choice things,” such as the selections in the compiled volume.

At the time that I was a “little” nine year old child, I had no idea of the lasting impact a “little” poem that I was forced to hand-copy and memorize by my fourth grade teacher would have on my character development.

True, the title I remembered (“Words of Beautiful Truth”) differs from the title of the poem as it appears in the 1887 internet compiled volume (“Keep a Watch on Your Words”).

Yet, as an adult who often hears both sets of those words echo in my mind and heart, I continue to surprise myself, not only that I remember the words–at least the first stanza–pretty much verbatim, but that the entire “gist” of the poem, which I joyfully read and remembered–is something I have “permanently” learned–if not always perfectly practiced.

Want to stop HIB?

Why not make memorable for students the idea that words can hurt and that they should refrain from using them to harass, intimidate, and bully?

Why not provide opportunities for students to memorize anti-HIB poems?

Can’t hurt. Worth it if even just one fewer child or adult is stung by mean words.

What do you think?

fairy tales, repurposed

Not just in the month of October, but especially then, given its designation as “Respect Month,” it was my joy and responsibility to share with students age-appropriate literature about fighting harassment, intimidation, and bullying.

Although the HIB concepts are sophisticated, using familiar fairy tales, like Cinderella, made it possible to engage four and five year olds in conversations about the topic, enabling them to identify HIB character-types such as bullies, targets, bystanders, and upstanders.

Especially gratifying was one kindergartener’s assessment of the HIB Cinderella character-types.

Her conclusion: An upstander (defender) and a target (victim/bullied person; e.g. Cinderella) could be the same. You don’t have to wait for someone else to stand up for you. You can stand up for yourself.

If only life were that simple with no fears, no threats, no constraints. But, why not strive for that reality?

In view of Malala’s recent birthday which (connected with the previous post), and her efforts to end violations and maltreatment (HIB, I would say), having stood up to her would-be assassins and detractors, Malala herself seems to fit–if not the glass slipper–then the victim/upstander bill!

Although fairy tales were not the only literary genre that I explored with students in connection with Respect Month, alluding to fairy tales as part of the discussion presented an opportunity to informally assess students’ prior knowledge of this genre, which provides so many literary allusions.

I, for one, was always grateful to parents and guardians who introduced their children to stories from this amazing genre, as well as to neighboring genres of folk tales and nursery rhymes.

Familiarity with such foundational genres, starting before they even enter school, sets students up for reading success–as well as for learning strategies for real-life anti-HIB success!

Was there a piece of literature that gave you the confidence to stand up for yourself or for someone else? I hope so! …Even (especially, now?), as adults, we need to be assertive in protecting ourselves and those for whom we are responsible and love.

Malala’s life story

One of my favorite genres for students’ book reports is biography, especially when the subject of the biography or autobiography is “someone of enduring significance,” to quote a fourth grade teacher, or “someone whose life is worth reading about/worth imitating” (to quote me).

I’m so pleased that biographies of Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai are available for our children.

Malaya is one gutsy young woman advocate for the education of girls and boys around the world.

What an inspiration!

How challenging I have found it to be: trying to convince our students how blessed they are to be able to—no! ..to be required to—go to school. What a protection from the many child abuses, deprivations, and neglects that befall their school-age-mates, especially their female school-age-mates around the world is mandatory education for our children.

Of particular interest to me, as revealed in a news interview that was shared on her website, was Malala’s revelation about the impact that reading a particular biography has made on her life.

In this regard, would it surprise you to learn that one of the fewer-than-a-dozen books Malala counted herself privileged to read before the assassination attempt on her life was Martin Luther King’s biography?

According to her interview, Malala credits Dr. King’s biography with informing her peaceful, yet determined, activism on behalf of childhood education, particularly for girls.

Today, on this July 12th, when Malala celebrates her eighteenth birthday, an age when American girls who have enjoyed freedom to have formal schooling might still be reveling in their recent high school graduation and looking forward to starting college or a job training program, Malala’s life story is reminding the world that girls in other parts of the world have not been as fortunate.

But their misfortune doesn’t have to continue. If you believe in the humanizing power of books and education, you might see what Malala is doing to help them, and how you might help them, too: http://www.malala.org 

If you feel inspired, you might even support her very worthy literacy advocacy cause, including her challenge to governments to invest in books–not bullets!

Happy Birthday, Malala!

May the next chapters of your life’s story continue to challenge and to edify us all, as you work to bring opportunities for schooling into the daily lives of all the children of the world, especially into the lives of all the girls and young women.

Books and life. Thank you for showing us how they go together, Malala!

beautiful

Catching a glimpse of a small sign tucked in the corner of a local beauty parlor’s front window advertising its participation in Locks of Love immediately reminded me of another of Pat Brisson’s life-changing books: Melissa Parkington’s Beautiful, Beautiful Hair.

Although Ms. Brisson’s main character, a young school girl, donates her hair to a fictitious hair-to-wig program, the poignant story of the heroine’s sacrifice of her beautiful, beautiful locks has indeed prompted real-life hair donations, as I can attest—starting with the author’s son’s donation.

Seeing before-and-after photos of Ms. Brisson’s young adult son, as well as the young adult son of the book’s illustrator, donning and donating long hair grown and cut in response to the words and art in their mothers’ deeply moving book, was indeed inspirational! …And not only to me!

Following Ms. Brisson’s school visit, one of the teachers donated her hair, ceremoniously cut in the presence of her students by a cancer-survivor hairstylist, grateful to use her talents to support an unknown recipient, who like her, will no doubt appreciate the outreaches of love in practical matters, including the love that rests, like a blessing and wish for healing, securely upon her head!

Beauty parlor. Advertisement in the window. Pat Brisson’s book. Beautiful gifts of self-donation. Life and literature totally connected.

dads

Among a whole cadre of memorable literary dads, one stands out for me this Father’s Day: the father whose story is told through the voice of his daughter, recounting what took place, as she says, The Summer My Father Was Ten.

So impressed was I with the tender reactions of the fifth graders with whom I first shared the book, that I changed my intention to target the book for their grade level only, and began reading the book with fourth and third graders, who reacted with the same sensitivity as did the ten-year olds.

Based on the students’ reactions—to say nothing of my own!—I knew that I must find a way to fund an author visit, and that the author I needed to invite was Pat Brisson, whose fatherhood tale has so deeply moved my mind, heart, and spirit.

And so it came to pass that eighteen months later, during Respect Week in the month of October, that Ms. Brisson was inspiring our children, through a trio of assemblies, to become better writers and readers—truly, more full human beings.

In the interim, I had met Ms. Brisson, read her other books to our students as part of an author study to prepare them for her visit, and come to admire her more and more, so that on the day of her arrival, I felt the same “star-struck” giddiness, of sorts, that I had experienced decades earlier in the presence of a baseball hero.

Surely, I will devote more writings to more fully elucidate the impact of Ms. Brisson’s books on my life and the lives of the students with whom I shared them. For now, on this Father’s Day, I invite you to read or re-read her deeply moving tale and to let her writing catapult you on a personal journey of recalling life-lessons taught by the father figures in your life, by way of their having shared with you poignant remembrances of their own childhoods.

And let the recollections inspire you to repay your gratitude by making a commitment to share your story with the children in your life!

Happy Father’s Day!