Archive for Around the Web

New Slide for School Visits

Came across this today and thought it would make a good slide for my Middle School presentations. It basically expresses where I come out on all the tips and strategies for so-called “Bully Proofing” a school. It’s why these students don’t need to be preached to. They already know. They just need to be encouraged to listen, and supported when they do.

When my presentation is over — which is decidedly not about bully-proofing a school, it’s about writing books — I like to keep up a final slide while the students filter out. Most of my slides are just images, not words. But at the end, I think that last slide can have words. This one just might make the cut.

Thank you, Shel Silverstein!

JUST FOR LAUGHS: Mad Men Without Smoking

Both of my parents smoked. I grew up in a cloud of cigarette smoke. We’d go on long drives for our summer vacations in Vermont, seven children and my parents packed in a station wagon, and they’d smoke for seven hours, windows closed. Mom made dozens of sandwiches for the road, wrapped in wax paper. We chewed and gagged, swallowed and coughed. Things were different back then. Not complaining, it’s just the way it was, especially growing up in the 60s and 70s (born in 1961). So I guess I’ve always had an affection for smokers, or at least sympathy.

When I watch Mad Men on TV, I see my parents’ world re-imagined, an era that speaks to my soul.

Anyway, this is funny . . . Hat tip to the “Ellen” show.

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Let It Snow/Make It So Mashup

For your edification . . .

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Scared of Santa, Revisited, Again (because it never gets old)

I’m REPOSTING from the “Greatest Hits” collection . . .

——————

No, I don’t know why good, sane, well-intentioned people do this to their children.

This guy terrifies even me — I keep thinking he should have a lit Chesterfield and a glass of bourbon in his hands, not an innocent lamb.

I remember that my parents once gave me the “opportunity” to meet Santa at a shopping mall somewhere on Long Island. I sized up the situation from a distance, planted my feet, and said, “Nuh-ugh.” A Christmas Story is surely my favorite holiday movie (absolutely love it), and they handled this particular life passage — the visit with Santa — to perfection. But then again, I think that whole movie is genius.

Here’s the book, and here’s my original post (with different photos) about the book from last holiday season.

EDUCATION IS . . .

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”

– Nelson Mandela.

Today I came across this remarkable 1994 photograph by Michael S. Williamson, and this powerful quote, and thought I’d bring them together here.

For my own self. And for you to stumble upon.

That is all.

Carry on.

Donalyn Miller’s “The Book Whisperer” Reaches Cultural Icon Status

I met Donalyn Miller at a Literacy Conference in Ohio. She was the keynote speaker and I came away impressed, inspired, and determined to read her book, THE BOOK WHISPERER: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child.

I started reading it yesterday, frustrated over my own 9th-grade son’s brutal, book-hating experience in advanced, 9th-grade English.

I underlined this passage from Donalyn’s book, page 18:

Reading changes your life. Reading unlocks worlds unknown or forgotten, taking travelers around the world and through time. Reading helps you escape the confines of school and pursue your own education. Through characters — the saints and sinners, real or imagined — reading shows you how to be a better human being.

The book is filled with passages that make you want to stand up and cheer.

Anyway, this morning Donalyn Miller shared her enthusiasm over this fun bit of pop culture stardom:

Good for Donalyn Miller, good for Jeopardy.

It’s funny, isn’t it? That’s a real touchstone in America today. An undeniable sign that you’ve arrived and made your mark. You become a clue on Jeopardy!

Donalyn is also a founding member of the Nerdy Book Club, which you should definitely follow. Seriously, I insist.

Quick Teacher Pass-Along

Neil Gaiman: “Well-Meaning Adults Can Destroy a Child’s Love of Reading.”

“Well-meaning adults can easily destroy

a child’s love of reading.

Stop them reading what they enjoy

or give them worthy-but-dull books that you like

–- the 21st-century equivalents of Victorian ‘improving’ literature –-

you’ll wind up with a generation

convinced that reading is uncool and, worse, unpleasant.”

– Neil Gaiman.

In a recent lecture, Neil Gaiman passionately warned of the danger of adults trying to dictate what children should or should not read. He believes children should decide for themselves, they should read what they love, and that the wrong kind of interference, no matter how well-intentioned, can snub out a child’s interest in reading forever.

From The Guardian:

[Gaiman] said: “I don’t think there is such a thing as a bad book for children.” Every now and again there was a fashion for saying that Enid Blyton or RL Stine was a bad author or that comics fostered illiteracy. “It’s tosh. It’s snobbery and it’s foolishness.”

This all reminded me of an interview I conducted with Thomas Newkirk, author of the important book, Misreading Masculinity: Boys, Literacy, and Popular Culture, Newkirk spoke to these same issues — the imposition of adult tastes on students, particularly young boys.

Newkirk told me:

“I don’t think that means that we give up on asking students to read and write realistic genres — but we need to be open to other tastes as well. Fantasy allows us to escape, to be bigger and braver than we are, to suspend the limitations of time and space. I think we all need that freedom as well.”

He continued: “I think we all like some AKA crap. No one is high brow all the time. So it seems to me OK to ask kids to value what we value; but we also have to understand the appeal of what they like. It can’t be all one or the other. We have values and goals for their reading and writing; but we won’t win the cooperation of students if our attitude toward their culture is one of dismissal. One challenge is to look at books from the boy’s point of view. I don’t think gender is an absolute barrier here. What’s needed is an open mind, a sense of curiosity. What makes this boy tick? What are the themes, passions, competencies in his life that I can build on? To teach we all need to get outside ourselves, and into someone else’s skin. I know many female teachers who are wonderful at this. And it seems to me that when a boy senses a female teacher cares about what he cares about, that boy will be open to other things the teacher asks of him.”

Yes, some of this strikes a chord in me. I’m an ex-kid myself. But I’ve already encountered glimpses of this — and open hostility — for my new SCARY TALES series. I was at a book festival in Chappaqua when a daughter and her father (after he put down the phone) had a long argument at my table. She wanted one of my SCARY TALES books. She said, “I really, really want to read this book.” He did not think it was worth her while. She countered, he hunkered down. This went on for five minutes while I sat there like a rubber dummy, agog and aghast.

This doesn’t just happen with girls.

In another situation, I was asked not to mention my new series to anyone at an elementary school where I had been invited to speak. I could come, I was told, they loved my books — just don’t talk about, you know, the books that should not exist.

I declined to meet the contraints of the dis-invitation. I concluded a long letter to the librarian with this:

Oh well. In the end we both know that many elementary school children love scary stories — many librarians I’ve talked to can’t keep them on the shelves — but in this case that’s not what you, or nameless others, want them to read. Or to even be made aware the books exist. We also know about the power of a motivated reader. And how readers grow and develop over time. How one good book leads to another. But this is what boys have always been told, that what they like isn’t worthy, what they enjoy is somehow “wrong.” We deny their maleness. And the “we” is usually well-meaning women. Rather than building bridges to literacy, some people put up obstacles. And thus: there is a national crisis in boys reading scores. And until attitudes change, that crisis will continue.

But Are They Free Range?

BEFORE YOU GO: Running & Writing & Books (2 Quick Excerpts)

Over the past year I’ve twice crossed paths with a near-legendary editor, the much respected Christy Ottaviano. She works at Macmillan and, no, Christy can’t be blamed for any of my books. I follow her page on Facebook and just generally have a good feeling about her as a person. She seems nice.

On Monday, Christy wrote this:

I’ve been running all my adult life. I used to do it primarily for exercise, now I find I do it mostly for the peace of mind it gives me. My love of running has gotten more intense with age, perhaps because it is one of the few times during the day when I feel free of technology and the pressures of work and home. When I think of all the places I’ve visited or lived over the years, what’s imprinted in my mind in addition to the hotels, apartments, and houses are the various running routes I’ve repeatedly trekked — Cleveland Circle Reservoir in Boston; Henry and Clinton Streets in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, and now the small neighboring town on the water near where I live in Connecticut. In our busy lives, we are all running from here to there, so it’s rather ironic to me that running is exactly what I do to take my mind off all the running around. How does this post connect to writers? In all my time publishing books, I’ve only had the pleasure to edit one novel where the protagonist is a runner. Is that because running appeals to a more solitary adult sensibility? Probably, but it’s a fact that there are more teen runners now than ever before so young adults are happily embracing the activity. Maybe there’s a way to put their passion for the sport in your stories. For all the writers out there — just some food for thought…

I replied that the main character in BEFORE YOU GO is a runner.

Here’s two brief excerpts — brief, because we don’t wish to bore anyone here at jamespreller dot com! — excerpts, because we (the intrepid staff here at jamespreller dot com!) don’t want anybody to think I’m making up this running thing. Of course, you might say I make things up for a living. But I’m not making it up about having made something up about running. I really did make it up!

What? Nevermind!

First excerpt, pp. 104-105:

Jude hit the snooze button three times before rising. He felt sour, his mouth stale and parched, his teeth wearing sweaters after a night of too much rum and coke and heartache. The house was silent. Jude shambled into the bathroom for a long, reviving shower. It helped. Failing to find a fresh work shirt, Jude fished the cleanest dirty shirt from the hamper. Sniffed it, frowned: pretty ripe. The shirt matched his mood. Mad at the world.

In the kitchen, Jude gulped a tall glass of orange juice. A note on the counter informed him that his father had gone out for a long, slow run. His father ran to get away from it all, yet despite all the hours logged and miles slogged, he always returned to the same place; the road never rose to lift him to some new, shimmering elsewhere.

Jude considered himself a different kind of runner entirely. First of all, his father jogged; Jude ran. Big diff. His father was one of those old guys who stopped after his run, winded and panting, two fingers on his neck, counting the beats of his pulse while he stared at the watch on his wrist. Goofy shit, if you asked Jude. A lot of times, Jude headed out in just a pair of shorts. No shirt, no shoes, a barefoot runner in the burbs. Nobody could say nothing, because Jude was faster than them all.

——

Second excerpt, pp. 163-164, after an argument with his mother:

And he ran. Barefoot. Ran without hope, without destination . . . ran to burn off the anger, ran as if he were chased. He started out too fast, puffing hard like a sprinter, churning through the changeless sprawl, the suburban streets named after Civil War generals, Sherman and Grant, Thomas and Meade. Then came the streets with the names of colleges, Princeton and Adelphi, Yale and Amherst. Finally his gait evened out, the strides became long and powerful, his breathing regulated. Becalmed. He stopped for a moment, flicked a thumb across his iPod, found Arcade Fire, and turned it up loud. You don’t know how it feels, he thought. How it feels to be me.