Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Monday, January 26, 2009


OK, so I'm on twitter, though I can't do it from my phone and I'm really not quite sure what the point is but it's fun to catch up with people in these little tiny slices-of-life bits that they usually seem to post. So today several folks were twittering (is that really the right verb? or tweeting?) the ALA Midwinter meeting, because the big children's/YA lit awards come out today. And I was following tweets directly from the ALA Youth Media awards, and from John Green and Mitali Perkins and Susan Marie Swanson and Neil Gaiman. And then actually I had to go to a meeting and I wasn't online right when the big awards were announced, but...

well, check this out

Also this

I really loved The Graveyard Book, and I'm so excited that it won! (Hurriedly thinking about whether I can include it in my English Children's Fantasy course this summer if it has won an American award...) (Yes, I'm teaching that course at Oxford again...what fun!)

I also need to get The House in the Night on my TBR list, stat!

There were more awards, and you can see the whole list here. I'm excited about the awards, don't get me wrong, but I'm also fascinated by the means by which we are all learning about them these days... (2nd Life? Are you kidding me? I am too old for some of this stuff...)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inauguration thoughts

I was delighted to watch the inauguration with my students yesterday. We started out watching the feed (with the Facebook updates) but it froze and we switched over to TV instead. We found the Facebook updates interesting but a little unsettling; one student astutely noted that they must be filtering, because nothing nasty or "inappropriate" was being shown. It's sad that he assumed that it was being said, if not shown, and perhaps sadder that we all agreed.

We tuned in just as the invocation was wrapping up, and got to see and hear Aretha Franklin lead us in with song; class was ending just as Joseph Lowery was giving the benediction, and only one student stayed to the end of that, but I think she and I were both glad we did. Having grown up among preachers, whose everyday speech often incorporates snippets of scripture, familiar poetry, and well-loved hymns, I loved the way his prayer did the same thing.

I can't say I was as enthusiastic when I heard Elizabeth Alexander read her poem, but looking it over later I find myself moved by it, by its evocation of the everyday, its pleasure in precision, and its comprehensiveness. It's worth reading with the line and stanza breaks preserved. I like that both Alexander and Connecticut's Marilyn Nelson wrote praise songs for the day.

President Obama's speech also had that comprehensive reach, and I loved its inclusiveness. I was saddened to hear that the official Chinese press cut off their transmission of the speech right at this point: To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West — know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy. To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.

Finally, the children's lit link, from Rebecca Traister's report in on the festivities yesterday. "Happy Inauguration Day!" they said as they passed, greeting each other with a level of joyful familiarity typical of days on which Voldemort has been defeated.

Suddenly I'm back in that scene from the opening of the first HP novel, and I know just what it was like. Wow.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Revolutionary Moments

I'm teaching a new course this semester, and I blogged about it for IHE today. I felt a little badly that I didn't have an inauguration post for IHE, but it just didn't happen. I'm not there, I'm here--and in fact I'm teaching from 11:15 to 12:30, right when the action will be happening. But then it occurred to me--my course is about revolutionary moments, moments when things changed in some significant way. And so I've decided that we'll take a little break in my class to watch it live, just so we can say we, too, saw the moment. Maybe we'll even think about analyzing the rhetoric of the speech, if we have time.

Check out this gorgeous photo essay here, too.

And there's lots of great children's lit/inauguration blogging going on, too. I probably won't find it all, but don't miss Monica Edinger's link to her earlier "Letters to Obama" post. And Betsy Bird has some great stuff up at Fuse#8. The incomparable Julius Lester has an inspiring post (ok, it was from yesterday). There's more, but that will get you started.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Book Art

Many years ago a friend gave me a copy of A Humument, a "treated book by British artist Tom Phillips based on the Victorian novel 'A Human Document' by W.H. Mallock." In those pre-internet days, what she gave me was a bound paperback book, a reproduction of, I believe, one of the first books Phillips treated. It was not really readable as a book, but was an astonishing work of art, something one could return to again and again.

A year or two ago my daughter told me she was interested in "altered books," and I eventually figured out she meant the same thing that Phillips had done. She began working on one, and I gave her my copy of A Humument to explore. Then a student showed me a piece she'd done in a mixed media workshop that similarly altered and revised published work.

But nothing I'd seen before prepared me for some of these new uses for books. Like Betsy at Fuse8 (where I originally saw this), I especially like the tea party. But some of the furniture and sculptures are well worth checking out, too.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I'm a winner!

Jeanne from Necromany Never Pays passed along a cool award to me a while ago, and I hadn't gotten around to posting about it here. So here it is. Yes, that does say "for the coolest blog I ever know," and yes, everyone else who's gotten it--including Jeanne--has commented on the bizarre (ok, wrong) grammar there. Whatever. I'm still happy to have the award, especially because I've been so lax at posting lately. (Ah, is this her secret plan? To get me to post more often? Or, perhaps, to reward me for not posting? Hmm...)

I haven't posted much not because I haven't been reading, but because I've been too busy reading--and preparing for my new semester--to comment on what I've been reading. And I'm afraid that state of affairs may continue for a while yet, but I can still find time to reward some other great blogs that make me think. These aren't all children's lit blogs--in fact, they mostly aren't--but, hey, it's my blog and I can do what I like.

OK, so here are the rules:
1. Put the logo on your blog.
2. Add a link to the person who awarded you.
3. Award up to ten other blogs.
4. Add links to those blogs on yours.
5. Leave a message for your awardees on their blogs.

I'm terrible about following bloggy rules, but I think I can manage those.

So here are my awardees:

Monica Edinger at Educating Alice offers great reports on reading and teaching from a fourth-grade classroom that makes me want to go back to elementary school.

Speaking of elementary school, my daughter spent second grade in Room 204, and now her former teacher is blogging! Write Now in Room 204 is third grade the way it should be.

Susan's blog, Reading Writing Living, is inspiring me right now to be more organized and to make more time for my writing.

Laura at 11D is another of my must-reads. She finds news that I haven't seen yet, and comments on it so intelligently and clearly that I feel as if I've figured something out all on my own.

I've just recently discovered Outside Voice, and it's another one that's quickly made my must-read list. The tagline says it all for me: "In which motherhood and academia are juggled. Barely."

There are lots more I could hand out awards to (including all the ones I gave the Thinking Blogger award to almost two years ago), but I'm going to stop here and let the rest of you come up with some more must-reads. (Or, not. Like Jeanne, I'm not going to come after you if you don't follow the rules.) Have fun!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


Poetry I teach doesn't often make it into the news, but apparently Blagojevich finds solace in the words of 19th-century British poets. He really should have quoted Robert Browning, of course: "Ah, but a man's reach should exceed his grasp/Or what's a heaven for?"*

*From "Andrea del Sarto," and of course heavily ironic in context. The speaker is at best a hack, at worst a crook, and lamenting (sort of) his own failure of ambition. I see this passage quoted often, unironically.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Ready, Set...

...things are changing around here. New semester, new courses, and --the biggest change of all-- Mariah heads off to CA for the rest of her gap year, any day now. I blog about that today at the Mama, PhD blog at Inside Higher Ed.


Friday, January 02, 2009

I miss this, too

I think I shifted my academic focus to children's literature in part because it put me back in that state of abandonment that reading had once been for me, but that graduate school had killed. In this I share something with Andrew Martino, whose piece in the Chronicle of Higher Ed (subscription required) I mentioned some time ago. I also share something with Michelle Slatalla, then, who sees in her daughters that kind of reading that she, too, has now left behind: "they allow a novel to carry them so effortlessly from one place to another that for a time they truly don’t care about anything else," she writes, and I remember it. I've been there again recently, in books like the Twilight series (yes, even as I criticized them, they took me away--ok, except the last, which didn't), or Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book (so much better than Twilight et al that I hesitate to mention them in the same sentence) or any number of fantastic YA books I've read lately. But right now I'm in the midst of a spate of professional reading, and while the books are truly engrossing, educational, well-written, and all that, I find myself infinitely interruptable--indeed, seeking interruption!--as I read my way through them. I'm eating my peas, not my dessert, and I'm just a tiny bit resentful, even though I do, really, quite like peas.

Back to it.