I visited the Young Readers Center at the Library of Congress this week, and look what I found. Wolfsnail! Actually, I wasn’t surprised. I met the founding director of the Young Readers Center at a conference a few years back and heard her pitch for books. She had no budget, but wanted to build a collection of books in the Library of Congress that kids could actually take off the shelves and read when they visited. So, I sent her a copy.
I learned that they don’t have a copy of Growing Patterns, so that’s one of my jobs for this week. While I was at the LOC, I spent some time in the Science Reading Room. It is a lovely space, and reminded me of the many great libraries I’ve had the privilege of studying in — especially Northwestern University’s Charles Deering Library, the New Bodlein Library at Oxford University, and the Corpus Christi College Library.
I was only in Washington, D.C., for a few hours, tagging along with Richard on a business trip. We flew to DC, where he met with members of Congress and I visited the LOC, and then took the train to Baltimore, where I did some site-seeing, reading, and R&R. It reminded me of the summer I graduated from college (25 years ago) when I spent a term in DC covering the Capitol for a Mississippi newspaper. Several of my classmates and I spent a day up in Baltimore. Lovely times.
Though it rained much of the time we were in Baltimore, Richard and I managed two nice meals out — one Italian and one Thai. I read a few New Yorkers, Big Brother by Lionel Shriver, and started Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
We’re working hard to finish the images for the fractal manuscript. This one is proving hard to put to bed, but I think it’ll be all the better for it.
Here’s another fun letter I found while going through my files. It is written by the teacher who taught me first grade in Evanston, IL, at Dewey Elementary School. She was writing after I (with my mother’s help, no doubt) sent her some sugar cane for her class in the year after I moved to Mississippi.
Late in the letter, she asks if I still write stories and poems. My reading lately has been full of questions about how our childhood experiences shape us and to what extent we are destined to become who we become. (Far From The Tree by Andrew Solomon and The Philosophical Baby by Alison Gopnik) It does make me wonder how much I was bound to be a writer and how much I became one because I was so encouraged in my writing from so early. Guess, it’s the usual answer. Both.
I have been going through more of my boxes of letters, and found this gem. It was with a bundle of letters I received from Sarah J., my best friend from early elementary school in Evanston, IL. Some years later, her mother gave me this letter that I wrote to Sarah J. It appears to be the first letter I wrote after moving to Mississippi. I was in second grade.
In one version of a work-in-progress titled “My New School,” my character Beth writes this letter back to her school friends in Chicago.
To Mrs. Armour’s Class at Dewey Elementary School:
I like my new school. This is my friend Franny. We play “Miss Mary Mack” at recess. I am learning to play new games and do hair.
Your friend, Beth
I had the great privilege of interviewing Myrlie Evers-Williams last week. We spent a few hours together in a conference room in Alcorn State University’s administration building. From the window, I could see the spot where I first lived when we moved to Mississippi.
We had a wide-ranging conversation. I will share some of the video as it is polished and ready to show.
My partner in this work is Roderick Red Jr., production manager of Red Squared Productions, LLC.
All children — those who live sheltered, protected lives and those who face hunger, cruelty, and neglect — need to read about terrible things, according to children’s book author Donna Jo Napoli. If you visit her website’s page listing interviews, you can listen to her TEDx talk on the topic.
“It is very consoling to see that other people have problems. It gives you perspective. … When we write about terrible things, we look for the strand of strength in our characters.”
“From reading books, she (an unprotected child) can learn that with hard work and a good spirit, she can see that she can live decently in her own world — even if just inside her own head.”
“In reading, you step inside someone else’s skin. You live their life. You develop empathy. And empathy is the cornerstone of civilization.”
“There’s no better, no safer place to develop that empathy than in a book.”
“When it comes to trying to be the writer you want to be, I urge you not to be afraid of the things that bring high emotion to you. … We need to embrace our misery and learn how to use it.”
Napoli delivered the keynote address at this year’s Writing and Illustrating for Kids conference. Put on by the Southern Breeze region of the SCBWI and held each year just outside Birmingham, WIK offers workshops, critiques, and opportunities to meet and learn from other writers, editors, and agents.
I presented two workshops: Stories + Photos = Winning Nonfiction and You Mean I’m Not Finished? Developing Marketing and Educational Materials. I uploaded two handouts for the Stories + Photos workshop on my website. Click here to see them. I created a Pinterest Board to gather examples for the Not Finished workshop. Click here.
I love sharing my stories in my own workshops, but the downside of being on the faculty is that it limits the number of workshops I can attend. I chose What Educators Can Teach Writers by Jodi Wheeler-Toppen and Trends in Award Winning Nonfiction by Julie Ham, associate editor at Charlesbridge.
Ham led a fascinating workshop. We read excerpts from 10 Sibert Medal winning books and 4 Sibert Honor books. Based on these short snippets of writing (and, our own background knowledge of the books), we rated them on a continuum between traditional, safe writing to expressive, edgy writing. Making these judgments forced us to look carefully at the writing.
Here are Sharon Pegram, the conference coordinator, and Keri Lewis, my angel during the conference.
My sister, Emilye, spent the academic year in Atlanta (instead of Rochester, NY). One of the happy consequences was that we got to see her more than we usually do. We also got to see early drafts of one of this year’s projects, an article on school desegregation for the Oral History Review.
My Mom and I gave her our impressions of the early drafts, and helped her track down some information. Now, I have the published version. It is titled “White Privilege, Black Burden: Lost Opportunities and Deceptive Narratives in School Desegregation in Claiborne County, Mississippi”.
I contributed a short essay to a book published this month that encourages teachers to use trade books in mathematics instruction. I wrote about how I conceived of, wrote, photographed, and designed Growing Patterns: Fibonacci Numbers in Nature.
Titled Mathematical Literacy in the Middle and High School Grades: A Modern Approach to Sparking Student Interest, it was written by Dr. Faith Wallace and Mary Anna Evans and published by Pearson. (ISBN: 9780132180979)
My essay appears in a box in Chapter 5, titled “Picture Books: Where Math, Text, and Illustrations Collide.”
The authors contacted me in the summer of 2010, a few months after Growing Patterns was published and asked me to contribute. I am thrilled to be included in this book. The inside cover includes a chart showing how teachers can use material and activities in the book to meet Common Core standards for grades 6-12.
It’s particularly satisfying to have this book come out a month after I co-presented a workshop on Visualizing Math Stories at the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Conference.
Everyone was very friendly and helped me work through a few technical glitches. Thank you, Maggie Dickson, fourth grade project director; Faye Bruce, librarian; Gena Yarbrough, district art specialist; Belinda McKinion, assistant principal; and Coke Magee, principal.
The students asked great questions, and were wonderful guides through the school as I made my way from classroom to classroom to sign books.
Once again, I brought along a wolfsnail and some prey snails. I also debuted the wolfsnail app in its trial format. The kids loved seeing the snail video.
Several teachers took the pictures I am posting here. Thank you.
(It will also air on the digital station, MPB’s Music Radio, on Saturday at 11 a.m.)
If you miss the show on the radio, it will be available here next week.