Sunday, September 23, 2007

Evidence Not Seen

This remarkable first person account of Darlene's Diebler's life as a missionary to New Guinea and then the four years she spent as a Japanese POW is a worthwhile read for young adults and adults. I moved from skepticism (no one can really have faith like that) to being deeply moved by her profound trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. I highly recommend Evidence Not Seen for mature readers; parts are explicit and parents need to discern when it is appropriate for their children to read this graphic portrayal of the effects of sin. At the same time, Diebler's remarkable ability to forgive and pray for her enemies is a challenge all Christians.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Peter Pan in Scarlet

Read Peter Pan in Scarlet and you will be reassured that the realm of imagination is alive and well-despite the onslaught of TV, videos, and computer games that is poised to zap creativity from the next generation. This book, that will be enjoyed as a read-aloud at home or in the classroom, pulls readers into Neverland in a manner that is rivaled only by Peter Pan's own power to imagine food for his hungry compatriots, or to banish them into "Nowhereland". The reader has an "ah ha!" moment towards the end of the book when Peter's valet-turned-nemesis Ravello croons to Peter, "How willingly you allow me to comb the imagination out of your hair." A warning to all of us.

I first saw this book when Tracy Adams and her husband Josh, owners of Adams Literary were excitedly looking at the cover design at the 2006 SCBWI-Carolinas conference. They had a right to be excited about their client, Geraldine McCaughrean's new book. As they pointed out, the cover does pop-out, but the title's real meaning is revealed about two-thirds of the way through the book. I was hooked on the book when I was invited to read the first few pages at Covenant Day's "Readers are Leaders" event last spring. Although I enjoyed listening to this on CD, it is worth checking the book out of the library or buying your own copy—the illustrations by Scott Fischer in front of every chapter are terrific.

Used in the classroom, the book can be a treasure chest (sorry, I can't help my own allusions!) of characterization, setting, imaginative language, and personification. Consider this description of the sea:

  • Even the ocean felt the surge of excitement—TREASURE!—for it fairly rushed into the bay. The tide came in much faster than it does on unremarkable days. It refloated the Jolly Roger and spun her ground so that her bowsprit pointed out to sea—en garde!

Having just heard a great talk on symbols in literature by Mark Johnston at the EMRYS/SCBWI conference, I was very aware of such truisms as this comment by Ravello, "If you put on another's clothes you become that man." The comments about treasure being whatever the League of Pan wanted the most, will spark great classroom discussions.

It is hard to pick, but one of my favorite lines in the entire book is this description of Wendy:

  • Deep in her child heart she was still a grown-up; just as in the heart of every grown-up there is a child.

I highly recommend this book for boys and girls of all ages and I guarantee that you'll close the book with a smile on your face. (Oxford University Press, 2006)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How to Read a Book-5

OK guys, this is my last post on this book for awhile. Promise.

Adler's fifth chapter of How to Read a Book
is about being a demanding reader. I liked it the best because he discusses how to train analytical readers—which will in turn make them better writers. His four questions for readers to ask themselves as they read are:

  1. What is this book about as a whole?
  2. What is being said in detail, and how?
  3. Is the book true, in whole or part?
  4. What of it?

I love the last question the best. Basically the reader is asking the author, "So what?"

These thought-provoking questions can be raised when reading newspaper articles, advertisements, an historical novel, or a children's book.

Since I believe that reading is writing's kissing cousin, I would add more questions to the list:

  1. How did the author communicate his points to the reader?
  2. Was he effective?
  3. Why or why not?

Now, back to reading the book…

How to Read a Book-4

Inspectional Reading, according to Adler, is a systematic skimming of a book to figure out what it's all about. How many kids do you see rifling through a book's pages before they decide to read it? This is a form of inspectional reading. He also recommends thoroughly reading a Table of Contents, Index (I have seen teachers do this to Teaching the Story!),
and stopping to read pages here and there.

Counter-intuitively, he also recommends a first-time superficial read through of a book:

"In tackling a book for the first time, read it through without ever stopping to look up or ponder the things you do not understand right away….understanding half of a really tough book is much better than not understanding it at all, which will be the case if you allow yourself to be stopped by the first difficult passage you come to." (p. 36, 37)

Interesting thought….I don't think I read like this, do you?

How to Read a Book- Part 3

Here are some nuggets that explain the Elementary Level of Reading:

  • There are four stages at this level:
  1. reading readiness
  2. reading simple materials (some by sight)
  3. vocabulary building through working to understand new words
  4. refining and enhancing reading skills (an ongoing process).
  • In Adler's words: "The discovery of meaning in symbols [referring to letters and words on a page] may be the most astounding intellectual feat that any human being ever performs—and most humans perform it before they are seven years of old!"

How to Read a Book- Part 2

Adler introduces the second chapter of this useful book with the of-course-why-didn't-I-think-of-this but pithy statement that our goal of reading will determine the way in which we read. In that light, he goes on to relay four different levels of reading which will be expanded upon in this book:

  1. Elementary Reading. A child (or adult's) first problem is to recognize the individual words on the page and to answer the question, "What does this sentence say?" This is the same process an individual goes through when learning a foreign language. This basic level of understanding lays the foundation for subsequent reading.
  2. Inspectional Reading. The goal of this type of reading is to get as much as possible out of a section within a short period of time. This is often referred to as skimming or pre-reading and can be as simple as picking up a book and reading the table of contents or flipping through its pages.
  3. Analytical Reading. This thorough thinking-about-the-material reading engages the reader with questions. The reader works at making book her own or as Francis Bacon said "some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested." Adler writes, "Reading a book analytically is chewing and digesting it." This is what I'm doing as I write this blog to all of you!
  4. Syntopical Reading. In this type of reading the reader not only compares what he is reading to other books but may also come up with a new analysis of the subject. Needless to say, this is the toughest type of reading and since Adler doesn't deal with it for another 250 pages—you'll have to wait to find out more about this—or buy How to Read a Book yourself!!

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Alabama Moon

Conventional wisdom among children's writers is that the protagonist of your novel should be older than your intended reader's age. That's at least one rule that Alabama Moon successfully breaks. Right from the beginning of this poignant, survival/adventure story, 10-year-old Moon faces the death of his father from whom he has learned everything he "needs" to survive in the Alabama forest. Moon discovers that although his Vietnam veteran father may have chosen to live alone with his wife and son, a life of loneliness is not what he wants to choose for himself.

This is author Watt Key's first novel and he generously uses memories from his own childhood growing up in the swamps and forests of Alabama. The interview on his website is eye-opening for both young adult readers as well as for writers who want to learn how to mine their own life experiences. With the strong survival theme, this book will appeal to middle school boys, but I believe girls (who often read books with boys as the main character) will also appreciate it.

I believe Key did an excellent job of weaving the themes of death, friendship, and family, into this well-written book. Parents should be advised that there is rough language—which is true to the character of a child raised in a forest by an angry father—but some readers may find that objectionable. (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2006)

Monday, September 10, 2007

How to Read a Book

I am in the process of reading How to Read a Book
which was first published in 1940 with a second, updated edition published in 1972. I hope to share snippets of what appears to be an excellent resource for language arts teachers, homeschool parents, and high school students who are preparing for college (although the latter category might flip through the table of contents and read selectively what interests them).

One of the first points that the author, Mortimer Adler, makes is that reading needs to be active. He compares reading to the game of baseball: the reader, like the baseball player, must work at "catching" every type of written communication. A reader will be successful to the extent that he receives what the writer has communicated.

What happens when the reader doesn't "catch" the ball and doesn't understand what he has read? He must go back and work at understanding the passage. Adler believes that this work is vital to the process of growing as an active, analytical learner. He says:

  • "The act of reading, in short, includes all of the same skills that are involved in the art of unaided discovery; keenness of observation, readily available memory, range of imagination, and of course, an intellect trained in analysis and reflection. The reason for this is that reading in this sense is discovery, too- although with help instead of without it" (p. 14).

To show how important this task of discovery is, Adler writes:

  • "If you ask a living teacher a question, he will probably answer you. If you are puzzled by what he says, you can save yourself the trouble of thinking by asking him what he means. If, however, you ask a book a question, you must answer it yourself. In this respect a book is like nature or the world. When you question it, it answers you only to the extent that you do the work of thinking and analysis yourself" (p. 15).

Adler concludes the first chapter with the goal of this book: "…to know how to make books teach us well." Stick with me and I'll share more tidbits from this well thought through book. Click here to read an overview of How to Read a Book.

More Greenville Gems

Jo Hackl, the coordinator of the SCBWI/Emrys conference in Greenville, SC, has generously made her handouts available to whoever can use them. These materials would be very helpful if you are a new writer or considering writing for children. I can send the following to you (as attachments) if you are interested:

  • Attending a Conference for Children's Writers and Illustrators
  • Story Ideas
  • Starting a Critique Group
  • Submission Research
  • Query and Cover Letters
  • Sample Cover Letter to an Editor
  • Sample Cover Letter to an Agent

E-mail me at and I'll forward them to you.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Word Play

I wish I could take credit for the following, but a friend e-mailed it to me today and I thought it was too good not to pass along. Hope many of you can use these in your classrooms:

  • Ratio of an igloo's circumference to its diameter = Eskimo Pi

  • 2000 pounds of Chinese soup = Won ton

  • 1 millionth of a mouthwash = 1 microscope

  • Time between slipping on a peel and smacking the pavement = 1 bananosecond

  • Weight an evangelist carries with God = 1 billigram

  • Time it takes to sail 220 yards at 1 nautical mile per hour = Knotfurlong

  • 16.5 feet in the Twilight Zone = 1 Rod Serling

  • Half of a large intestine = 1 semicolon

  • 1,000,000 aches = 1 megahurtz

  • Basic unit of laryngitis = 1 hoarsepower

  • Shortest distance between two jokes = A straight line

  • 453.6 graham crackers = 1 pound cake

  • 1 million- microphones = 1 megaphone

Oh, how we love words. These are some... strange definitions. Read them
slowly... some may take a second or two to sink in.

  • EYEDROPPER: A clumsy ophthalmologist.

  • HEROES: What a guy in a boat does.

  • LEFT BANK: What the robber did when his bag was full of money.

  • MISTY: How golfers create divots.

  • PARADOX: Two physicians.

  • PARASITES: What you see from the top of the Eiffel Tower.

  • PHARMACIST: A helper on the farm.

  • POLARIZE: What penguins see with.

  • PRIMATE: Removing your spouse from the couch in front of the TV.

  • RELIEF: What trees do in the spring.

  • RUBBERNECK: What you do to relax your wife.

  • SELFISH: What the owner of a seafood store does.

And our (the anonymous writer's) favorite:

  • SUDAFED: Litigation brought against a government official.


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