Sunday, January 27, 2013

Happiness is... Jangles!

Happiness is going out to dinner with your daughter.  Happiness is going to the Tattered Cover after dinner with a long lost gift card burning a hole in your pocket.  Happiness is finding David Shannon's book Jangles: A Big Fish Story on the shelves!  I read the first page, I read the last few pages... and I plopped the book into my shopping pile!  Then I got home...
     "When the sun goes down and the weather's just right, Big Lake gets smooth as glass and a thin mist whispers across it.  That's when you might catch a glimpse of Jangles..."  This book is about the embellished fishing tale of Jangles, the elusive fish, that haunts the fishing minds of every fisherman.  You know Jangles don't you?  He's the fish we all want to catch.  He's the "one that got away."  He's the one who swims through the lakes with fishing lures and hooks decorating his jaws... "They clinked and clattered as he swam. That's why he was called Jangles."
     But in true David Shannon brilliance there's a strange "hook" at the end of the story.  I'm telling you, my jaw dropped when I read it!  Dropped like a lead sinker.
     I can't wait to share this book with my 4th graders.  And if anyone doubts that narrative text isn't alive and well and living and breathing in the hearts and minds of readers, they need to read this book.  As teachers, we need to remember that this kind of writing is breathtaking.  Important.  And, given the spin in today's writer's workshops (you know what I mean), we need to ask, "Is that more important than doing what is right?"
     I'm starting a study of "evoking sensory images" this week and this book has made it onto the planning guide for my study.  THIS is the kind of writing that makes me happy to be a reader and a writer.  
     Happiness is, after all, finding a book you love and can't wait to share... hook, line, and sinker!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Hand in Hand

I've always admired the work of Brian Pinkney.  There's something striking about his artwork with its marvelous twists and swirls, the richness of the colors blended with the black ink... the fact that he often scratches away ink to define his subjects, filling white spaces with color.  He's an amazing illustrator, writer, and collaborator.
     I've always admired the work of Andrea David Pinkney.  Her words are rich and haunting.  I read once that she never leaves home without her writing notebook.  She's a writer's role model.  She has the incredible knack of transforming important ideas into captivating words... topics of great human interest.
     I've always admired the collaborations between this amazing couple.  What I love most about the Pinkneys is their sense of family.  In every interview I have read or in any talk that I've heard, both mention that family is their priority.  They share their family focus with honesty and humor.  For them to collaborate on Hand in Hand:  Ten Black Men Who Changed America is a gift to all of us.  It provides us with an important message about life.
     In the book, Andrea tells the stories of ten men who, through education and learning, overcame the injustices that they faced.  Freedom... justice... equality... honor... those are the themes that resonate throughout this book.  Ms. Pinkney has written ten stunning biographies of black men whose lives have impacted society in a variety ways.  As I read this book, however, her words transcended race as she shared the stories of fortitude, endurance, and patience.  This book is about men who faced adversity with power and grace... and she tells each man's story by focusing on his vision for making his world a better place.
     Each man's story is coupled with a poem.  The biographical poetry that precedes each piece is the perfect synthesis of the story it introduces.  As I read, I found myself moving from poem, to story, back to poem, back to story.  What a wonderful mentor Ms. Pinkey is for writers... the structure of this text will serve young writers well.
     I plan to use this text when my students write biographies of famous Coloradans.  I've been searching for books that create that juxtapose between poetry and biography.  Which comes first?  I'll leave that up to the writer, but what a grand way to write with intention and purpose.  Stunning!
     And, Brian's illustrations are breathtaking.  The portraits are captivating.  As I write this, I'm looking into the eyes of Pinkey's Jackie Robinson and I'm mesmerized.  The catchlight in his eyes.  The slight swirl on his left cheek.  The hint of red on his brow.  Mr. Pinkey's illustrations are magical really.  
     If, like me, you are drawn to the Pinkey's work, you'll love this collection; particularly if you work with older children.  As we celebrate civil rights in America, this collection shouldn't go unnoticed!  Ms. Pinkey writes, "It is my hope that the qualities embodied in the stories of each Hand in Hand man will encourage young readers to build connections that will link them to their birthright of excellence."  The sooner this book makes it into the hands of students, the sooner her hope will come to fruition.  

Saturday, January 19, 2013

An interview with Debbie Miller -

It's hard to believe that it's been 10 years since Debbie Miller first wrote Reading with Meaning.  If you're like me, it quickly became your "go to" resource for thinking strategy instruction and developing understanding with your students.  If you're like me, your copy became dog-earred, sticky-noted, and well-loved.  If you're like me, you often sat with your tattered copy of Debbie's book on your lap as you taught, on your desk as you planned, or in your hands as you talked with fellow teachers.

And now, our profession is once again blessed because Debbie has written the second edition of Reading With Meaning.  In the second edition, she shares some of her recent thinking about comprehension instruction.  She shares new insights into the gradual release of responsibility and how to plan to develop student independence.  For Debbie, it's always been about intentionality and understanding.  Once again, we're taken into Debbie's teaching life... into the classroom experiences that made us all better teachers in the first place.

I've known Debbie for many years.  She's my colleague, and more importantly, my friend.  I couldn't wait to read the second edition and I was excited to spend a bit of time asking her about her latest endeavor... and to share it with others:

Patrick:  What prompted you to revisit and revise Reading with Meaning?

Debbie:  It was an email from Philippa, my editor at Stenhouse, that got me thinkingshe asked if I would consider writing a second edition, and in the end, I said, "Yes!"

Patrick:  Writing a book is no easy task, "revisioning" a book is daunting.  What are you most proud of as a writer?

Debbie:  I'm most proud that I stuck with it, and did it!  I'd never considered myself as a writer and the first time around it took me quite a while to find my voice.  I kept trying to sound like what I thought I should sound like and it was getting me nowhere.  Finally, Philippa said to me, "Why don't you try writing the way you talk?

"Funny you should say that," I told her, "that's what I'm always saying to kids!"  And reallythat one piece of advice made all the difference.  Once I learned that being me was enough, I got myself going and kept at it.  And sometimes I still can't believe it did...

Patrick:  Thousands of teachers read the first edition of Reading With Meaning and their teaching lives were forever changed.  What are some of the ways you hope this second edition will challenge a teacher's thinking?

Debbie:  I hope it will challenge teachersas it did meto think about what we've learned over the past ten years.  What makes sense still?  What have I learned about children, teaching, and learning over time?  I'm always asking the children I work with, "So what did you learn about yourself as a reader today?  What do you understand now that you didn't understand before?  How did you make yourself smarter today?"  

What if we as teachers asked the same kinds of questions"What am I learning about myself as a teacher?  What do I understand now that I didn't understand before?  How am I making myself smarter?"

So what's new for me?  Instead of comprehension strategies being the organizing features of the curriculum, I see them as the essential tools children need to actively engage with content, construct meaning, and grow their understanding of big ideas in the world.  Comprehension strategies are the howthe specific processes learners flexibly use—to get smarter about big, important topics that are relevant to them and help them become powerful and thoughtful human beings. 

I've also been rethinking gradual release and its connection to agencycould too much modeling lead to conformity and compliance, taking away student energy, engagement, and motivation?

And the the planning documents I've included reflect new thinkingHow can I plan so that each child receives a years worth of growth?  How can I do my best to ensure that no child falls through the cracks? 

Patrick:  When you visit classrooms to work with young readers, what brings you the greatest joy?

Debbie:  Walking into a classroom and getting to work with kids brings me so much joy (even when twenty or so teachers are watching)!  I love it when children understand that smart isn’t something they have, but something they get—that they have the power to make themselves smarter by putting forth effort and working hard.  It just doesn’t get better than that.

Patrick:  There's a lot of angst today because of the changes made by the Common Core State Standards, yet in this edition you talk openly and honestly about the positive changes they are bringing to classrooms.  What would you like teachers to recognize as positives about the CCSS?

Debbie:  Remember No Child Left Behind, where comprehension, phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency and vocabulary received equal importance?  The common core state standards changes all that—now higher-level comprehension work is emphasized for all children, even our youngest readers.  Reading, in the common core, is all about making meaning!  And thankfully, it focuses on results, rather than means, leaving room for teachers to determine how these goals should be reached and what additional strategies might be addressed.

If teachers haven't read The Key Considerations section of the common coredo it!  They'll feel better.  I promise. 

Patrick:  In Conferring: The Keystone of Writer's Workshop, I write about two questions that our friend, Randi Allison, once asked me... What are your guiding principles?  What are you willing to fight for?  As you were working on your second edition, what were you most looking forward to reiterating?  What message carries over most strongly from the first edition?

D:  I love children.  I believe in teachers.  And these are my most important words to all of my dear colleagues...

There are many effective ways to teach children and live our lives. No one has the patent on the truth.  Find yours.  Read.  Reflect.  Think about what you already know about good teaching and how it fits with new learning.  Read some more.  Think about the implications for your classroom.  Collaborate with colleagues.  Try new things and spend time defining your beliefs and aligning your practices.  Once you’ve found what’s true for you, stand up for what you know is right.  Live it every day and be confident and clear about why you believe as you do.  People will listen!

Patrick:  The new edition includes a focus on learning targets and assessments for learning.  How to you nudge the teachers with whom you work to look closely at the ways they are "assessing" thinking?

Debbie:  Assessing thinking is hard. But if we don’t, how will we know where children are and what they need?  How will they know?  Having clear learning targets, or goals, and matching assessments, are the best way I know for children and teachers to understand where they are going, where they are now, and what they need to do to close the gap.  Assessments for learning help ensure that no child falls through the cracks—we have tangible evidence (in addition to conferring, listening in, and observation) of where each child is and what they need to move forward.  It’s enormously helpful.

Patrick:  What else would you like someone reading this to know about you?

Debbie:  I’d like them to know that I’m every teacher—that I have the same wishes, hopes, and dreams for children as they do.  That some days I feel like I am amazing and other days I leave the classroom thinking I’ve lost my touch.  But this is teaching.  It’s not about perfect lessons.  Teaching and learning—real teaching and learning—is messy.  My new mantra?  What’s the worst that could happen?

We’ll never get smarter if we don’t try new things or imagine new possibilities for the children we work with.  I want to be smarter at the end of the day than I was at the beginning.  And I’m thinking the kids I work with will be smarter, too...

• • • 

By the way, I used BOTH editions last week to talk to my 4th graders about Determining What's Important... and how our thinking changes over time.  We looked at both copies of Debbie's book (mainly the back covers) and had an amazing conversation about how Debbie's thinking has changed.  Though inferring, my students were so clear about how important it is to revise your thinking and how "what's most important" can change, depending on your purpose.  Amazing!

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Albert Marrin - A New Fan!

Albert Marrin is an incredible writer.  I mentioned Years of Dust in a previous post.  It's an incredible resource for taking a closer look at one of the most devastating human catastrophe's in American History.  My sister, Joy, has told me stories of the dust bowl (she's 83) from her own experiences in Kansas.  I can only imagine.  Years of Dust reminds us of the importance of conservation and reading it is like walking through history... and important part of our nation's past. 
     At NCTE, I attended a wonderful session called "Energize Research Reading and Writing Across All content Areas:  Engaged Notetaking, Expert Writing" presented by Christopher Lehman and Kate Roberts.  Both Christopher and Kate were wonderfully engaging and I left with another Albert Marrin title in my arsenal of great nonfiction writing, Oh, Rats!  It's a wonderful example of the type of mentorship we have to put in the hands and minds of our writers.  In fact, I ordered a copy before I left for home that afternoon... it's that good (as was this session)!
     I'm always on the lookout for examples of great nonfiction writing to share with learners.  And, Oh, Rats! is a marvelous resource about an often misunderstood rodent (which I learned, by the way, are able to claw straight up a brick wall, gnaw through iron and concrete, and climb up a drainpipe and live--thanks, Kate, the drawings you had us do in the session still haunt me).  Rats.  Compelling really, especially when you read this book.  My students were shocked about the real story about "Ring Around The Rosie"!  And, I guarantee you and your students will love this book.
     Two other Albert Marrin titles I found in my stacks were Little Monsters:  The Creatures That Live On Us and in Us and Saving the Buffalo.  Equally as well-written, equally as compelling.  Thanks to Chris and Kate, I've become an Albert Marrin fan!


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lee Bennett Hopkins - Awe!

Imagine the awe, receiving a box of books from Lee Bennett Hopkins on your doorstep.  The man who is responsible for putting millions of words in the hearts and minds of young poets, young thinkers, young writers via his tremendous body of work.  The man who has spent his life exploring the beauty of language, of life, of children.  Imagine the awe!
      I remember seeing Lee receive the 2009 National Council of Teachers of English Award for Excellence in Poetry for Children.  I remember hearing some of my favorite poets share their words and talk about the impact Lee's influence has had on their lives.  Most of the speakers had slight timbers of reverence in their voices... warm, crisp, respectful, loving, happy.  Each seemed honored to talk about their friend in humble terms.  But, mind you, raucous laughter filled the room that November day in Philadelphia.
     I blogged about it at the time (click here).  It was quite a party!
     I remember my friends Troy, Randi, and I leaving the session amazed by the talent in the room.  It was one of the best sessions we attended (I'm sure many of you were there) and we, in fact, still talk about it.  Lee was the rock star of the afternoon (we even snuck a handshake after the session)!  Here I am, a few years later, writing about the box of titles he recently sent my way...  

Opening Days:  Sports Poems.  A wonderful collection of poems about a variety of sports.  Two of my favorite poems are "Final Score" by Lee and "The Spearthrower" by Lillian Morrison.  A wonderful nudge to encourage children to write about passion topics in a different genre... or just to sit back and let the power of the words float through their sports-oriented minds. 

Give Me WIngs.  A delightful anthology that makes you soar.  I adore "I, Icarus" by Alden Nowlan and "If I Had the Power of Wings" by Lillian M. Fisher.  This book makes me want to open the "wing box" and fly.  Who hasn't want to fly?  Who hasn't dreamed of the possibility?  Who hasn't been jolted awake by the feeling of a nighttime outing among the birds?

Full Moon and Star.  A wonderful picture book in which Kyle and Katie combine their two plays to create one play.  It's about collaboration and friendship.  Two minds are better than one.  "We should always do things together."  Precious.

Incredible Inventions.  We often take common objects for granted.  The poetry in this book reminds me of the joy that simple things can bring.  I love "Take the Escalator" by Kristine O'Connell George and "The Ferris Wheel" by Elizabeth Upton.  Both make me reminisce about my childhood and my own children... they just make me smile!

Dear One:  A Tribute to Lee Bennett Hopkins.  Published as a tribute for his 2009 NCTE award, this book is the whole ball-of-wax, a collection of amazing poems by all our favorite poets.  I close my eyes and remember the voices behind many of the poems as they were read at the "Poetry Party."  Georgia Heard's "Archeologist of Poetry," Mary Ann Hoberman's "Hopkins Hopkins Hop Hop Hop!"  Ralph Fletcher's, "The Rooster." and of course, Walter Dean Myers's "For Lee, my friend." 

I am on a mission to collect as many of Lee's books as I can gather.  And, just when I think I'm ahead of the game, I'm surprised by a new title... one I haven't seen, one that's been hidden in my stacks, one that a friend sends me.  A friend like, well, Lee!  

• • • • • 

There have many MANY wonderful interviews with Lee and articles written about him over the years... here are a few of my favorites, check them out!

This interview with Lee on Poetry at Play  

This interview at The Miss Rumphius Effect

This article:  Mining with a Jeweler's Eye

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Two New Books - Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

Where do we sit?  We sit side-by-side, carefully listening.  The way we look at the student, a spark of intent in our eyes, leaning in naturally, gives the student the sense that for the next few minutes he has our undivided attention.  It says to the reader that we have only one purpose--to listen.  It is a stunning act, sitting next to a young reader, waiting to be amazed?  It's like Anne Sullivan writing, "My heart is singing for joy this morning!  A miracle has happened!  The light of understanding has shone upon my little pupil's mind, and behold, all things are changed!"  And, who knows a reader might just trust himself a bit more if we choose to move in and listen--at just the right time."  (Conferring:  The Keystone of Reader's Workshoppage 153).

I used this quote (from The Story of My Life by Helen Keller) to describe the power of sitting next to a reader... discovering the joy they bring to their reading lives if we just listen to their thinking.  If we learn to confer, and confer well, we can see that "light of understanding" in all of our students.  Change happens.  If we learn to listen, it's an amazing gift.  

• • • • • • • • 

I've loved Helen Keller's story since I saw The Miracle Worker when I was young; has anyone captured them better than Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke?  In fact, I played James Keller in our school production of the play in high school.  There's something about Helen's life that fascinates me.
     That's why I was excited to add Doreen Rappaport's book, Helen's Big World, to my collection.  And, who doesn't love illustrations by Matt Tavares; marvelous and detailed.  I love Doreen Rappaport's ability to "determine important ideas" and then weave them into beautifully written text that captures so eloquently the lives of her subjects.  This book is no exception.  She covers Helen's life from infancy to that moment at the water pump we've come to recognize as the breakthrough into Helen's world.  There's a simplicity to Rappaport's words that envelope the complicated world of a brilliant mind.  Anne Sullivan recognized Helen's potential and her love for Helen is revealed across time.  Knowing that Helen was able to overcome her own disabilities adds to the richness of this piece.  I appreciate how Ms. Rappaport weaves Helen's own words into the text.   
     In the classroom, I love using books about Helen Keller to engage students in the concept of "strengthening stamina and endurance."  Her drive, her interest in injustice and activism, her ability to face adversity... all because of an unknown illness that left her blind and mute at the age of 18 months.  It's a story that amazes me every time I read it.  We all know what happens when a wise teacher is able to engage and support the gifts of even the most reticent learner. 

     Another wonderful book I found at NCTE is Anne Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller.  It's a brilliant graphic novel by Joseph Lambert.  Lambert, too, puts a new twist on the story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan.  The darkness and light of his illustrations are mesmerizing. 

   This text focuses on the lives of both Annie Sullivan and Helen Keller as they work to discover their own lives, paralleling Helen's struggles in the Keller home and Annie's in helping Helen learn.  It focuses on the struggles Helen had at the Perkins Institution when she was accused of plagarism.  It covers new territory, something that's not often explored in stories of Helen's and Annie's relationship.  Because it's a graphic novel, it requires close reading and lots of inferring.  I found the "Panel Discussions" in the back of the text compelling and thought-provoking.  In fact, I spent time rereading the text after reading the discussion.

The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart - one of my favorite Helen Keller quotes.  And, adding these two books to my growing collection of books about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan reminds me that learning about a subject you find intriguing never ends.  Thanks to Doreen Rappaport and Joseph Lambert for their brilliance. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

All Will Be Well

Jo Knowles was one of the authors I met at a dinner gathering in November.  Her book See You at Harry's is beautifully written.  Ms. Knowles has developed characters who grab your heartstrings.  Ms. Knowles has created a story that makes you laugh, cry, laugh, cry.  Ms. Knowles has wrapped words around a plot that leaves you breathless.  Ms. Knowles has written a story about bullying, family, tragedy, conflict... all real issues.  Writing in first person, Ms. Knowles takes readers on an incredible journey.
"The truth feels like it's crushing me.  Drowning me before I even get to my knees."  This quote from the book is exactly how you'll feel when you sit down (tissues in hand) to read it.  The truth of Ms. Knowles writing is strong, emotional, sincere.  The truth of her ability to write an incredible story is without questions.   
     Ms. Knowles signed her book, "All will be well!'  "All will be well" is Ran's mantra to Fern, his best friend.  Fern is the main character, whose life is "invisible" to those around her... until an unexpected turn of events changes things forever.  Reading See You at Harry's is like taking a personal journey; a journey through tragedy, a journey through survival.  I'd describe it with one word--breathtaking!
     I am slipping this one onto my daughter's "must-read" pile.  As an 8th grader, I think it will be the perfect book for her to read.  Powerful characters.  Important issues.  This is a wonderful book.  It's a testament to the strength of love and family. 
• • • • • • • • 
I love this interview with Jo Knowles, click here.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Baseball Book about Larry Doby

Jackie Robinson is the most famous African-American baseball player.  In his new book, Just as Good:  How Larry Doby Changed America's Game, Chris Crow tells the story of lesser known Larry Doby.  Doby was the first African-American player in the American League.  He played for the Cleveland Indians and helped lead them to the World Series and their first victory in many years.  This book focuses on one single game in the series, told by a fictional character named Homer.  Homer was told he couldn't play on his local Little League team because he was black.

     Homer and his parents listen to the game on their new radio.  Mike Benny has blended his illustrations with Chris Crow's text and they transport us between the kitchen table where Homer's family is listening to the game and the stadium where the Indians are battling the Boston Braves.  Homer's excitement is just as genuine as if they had attended the actually game.  Mr. Crow's story shares the inspiration that came during a time when baseball was changed forever.  When he sees the picture of Larry Doby and Steve Gromek in the newspaper the next day, Homer's daddy ends the book saying, "Change ain't a-coming', Homer.  It's already here."

     Young fans of baseball will enjoy reading this story.  I can't wait to add it to my classroom library in the "Sports" basket.  I think the "Historical Note" in the back of the book adds a lot to the text, rich in detail and ties this story to that of Jackie Robinson.  I think young readers, especially baseball fans will love this book.   

Monday, January 7, 2013

Doreen Rappaport - Beyond Courage

Beyond Courage: The Untold Story of Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust by Doreen Rappaport is an amazing new book published by Candlewick Press.  I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Rappaport in November and received copy of her book.  The few minutes I spent with her as she signed my book is engrained in my memory, she speaks with the same passion.
     This book is powerful and poignant.  These words written by Franta Bass, age eleven (find the remainder of her words on page one and page 196), provide a glimpse into the content of the text:

I am a Jew and will be Jew forever, 
Even if I should die from hunger, 
never will I submit.
I will always fight for my people, 
on my honor...

     Doreen Rappaport shares the courage of the people who, during the war, rallied to stand up to the Nazi regime and face it with courage.  In her book, we learn about thousands of Jewish lives that were saved by the ingenuity, conviction, and tenacity of those who were willing to risk their lives to save others... smuggling children to safety, forging identifications and paperwork, creating secret ways to ensure freedom and hope for those whose lives were changed forever.  In this book, Ms. Rappaport takes on a tough subject and shares stories of survival that would otherwise be lost had she not had the courage to research and write this book.  And, while she states, "the scope and extent of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust cannot possibly be contained in one book," this book is an amazing resource and should find its way into every classroom.  Thankfully, she plans to continue to explore this topic on her website,
     The power of Ms. Rappaport's words and voice made me understand more clearly the tragedy of this time in our world's history.  A perfect addition to any text set about the Holocaust and its impact on humanity.  The photographs and personal accounts shared in this book provide richness and draw us closer to the lives of those who risked everything to save the lives of others.  Ms. Rappaport has written about defiance... about standing up against oppression.  It must have been so daunting for people like George Loinger, Marianne Cohn, Mordechai Anielewizc, and all those whose story she tells to fight for the survival of others.  This book chronicles a harrowing time in our history eloquently, purposefully, and with the same passion that we find in all Ms. Rappaport's writing... every teacher and student should read it.
     The power of story... of sharing story... of remembering story, that's what Beyond Courage does for us.  As long as we have people like Doreen Rappaport, we can never forget!  Powerful.  Beautifully written.  Unforgettable.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

October Mourning

One of the highlights of NCTE 2012 for me was sitting next to Leslea Newman at a dinner party.  The dinner was lovely, we shared great conversation, and lots of laughter was floating around the table.  Strangers who shared a bit of time together.  After dessert, we circulated to the other three tables and had books signed by the other authors (those posts are coming).  Delightful.
     In the airport and on the flight home, I read her book October Mourning:  A Song for Matthew Shepard* and I only wish I had read it before dinner.  I know that it's made its way onto several award lists (including the Nerdies) since that time.  Ms. Newman's book is a lasting tribute to Matthew Shepard, whose life ended far too early and whose senseless death is unimaginable.  Fortunately, Ms. Newman found the courage and respect to tell Matthew's story.  As I was sitting the airport reading, tears were welling in my eyes (read the poem "Every Mother's Plea" and you'll understand).  Ms. Newman's honest, poignant, and compassionate story is heart-wrenching.  Her sixty-eight poems capture the horrific events of that October night from the points-of-view of everyone and everything that surrounded his death, including the moon, the fencepost, the sheriff, his mother, the rope... it's not an easy read, but an important one.  
     As a writer, you'll notice many tools Leslea used to weave her incredible piece.  You'll notice that she shares an explanation of the poetic forms she used when writing the text.  You'll notice that she included an explanation of epigraphs used throughout the text.  You'll notice that the "Afterward" is just as important as the poems contained in her story.  You'll notice that writers who take on tough subjects can do so with grace and honor, even when writing about tough subjects.  You'll notice that writers who have passion produce amazing results.  You'll notice that when a writer writes with purpose, the reader is changed forever.
     If we were having dinner tonight it would still be lovely, we'd still share great conversation, and lots of laughter would float around the table.  Strangers who shared a bit of time together would still leave all the better.  After dessert, I would have leaned to my left and said, "Thank you!"  Thank you, Leslea.

• • •

*(the only reason I put it down in the airport was because some of my Ohio friends were at the next gate and we had to visit a bit before we both took off... but that's another story).  

Friday, January 4, 2013

Timothy Egan - Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher

It's time to blog again... after a LONG bit of "blog block"!
      The first book I'm reading in 2013 is Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher:  The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis.  If you are a Timothy Egan fan, you're going to love this new book.  The Worst Hard Time, for which he won the National Book Award is one of my favorite books.  I knew when I saw his new book, I had to read it!
     Timothy Egan writes about Edward Curtis - a famous mountaineer and photographer - with riveting and thought-provoking insight.  It's the kind of narrative nonfiction that I can't put down.
     Edward Curtis was a man on a mission when he decided to capture as much of Native American life as he could... on both film and audio.  Curtis moved from studio photographer to "archiver" of Native American life like no other person.  He settled in Seattle after moving from Minnesota.  In the early 1900s, he decided that he would capture as much of Native American life as possible before the life of our country's original inhabitants disappeared forever.  He was willing to give up everything - his family, his business, his rights as a photographer - to pursue his dream of capturing authentic insight about the lives of Native Americans.  And, as a result of his persistence, there are over 40,000 photographs and 10,000 audio recordings captured all over our country.  Curtis was driven.  He died in 1952 at a time when his work was all but forgotten (Mr. Egan's book will certainly revitalize an interest in Curtis's photography).
     As I read the first chapter about Chief Seattle's daughter, Princess Angeline, I was awestruck.  The conflict between the development of the Seattle area and the demise of the native people who occupied the area is brilliantly described and impeccably researched.  It was Curtis's interest in Angeline that nudged hims to spend 30 years photographing Native Americans... he spent over ten years trying to persuade the Hopi to let him into their Snake Dance ceremony.  By 1930 he had created 20 volumes of documentation.  Amazing.  And, we learn it was not without the sacrifice.
     Timothy Egan is a gifted writer.  He writes with passion and purpose.  Check out his essays in the New York Times.  But first, check out Short Nights of the the Shadow Catcher.