One Last Set of Reading Recommendations

Alison Morris - September 3, 2010

Thanks to all of you who’ve been reading my lengthy round-up posts in this, my last week as a regular contributor to the ShelfTalker blog. For my final post I’m leaving you with… a handful of reading recommendations. Some of them books, some of them not.
First of all, I just have to say that I recently finished reading What Happened on Fox Street by Tricia Springstubb (Balzer + Bray, August 2010) and Ninth Ward by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, August 2010) and both of them were utterly wonderful — two of the best books I’ve read this year. If you haven’t made time for these two, please do! And either before or after you read Ninth Ward, do yourself the favor of watching the truly excellent documentary Trouble the Water, even if you *think* you already know all about Hurricane Katrina. It’ll stay with you, and it’ll teach you things.
You know who teaches me things on a daily basis? My husband, Gareth Hinds, who has a new book coming out in October. It’s a 250-page graphic novel adaptation of The Odyssey being published simultaneously in paperback and hardcover by Candlewick Press. Candlewick flew in an early batch of finished copies so that they’d have copies to send to reviewers, and two books (one hardcover, one paperback) arrived at our Boston home just before we finished packing for our move. I literally squealed with delight when I saw them, and Gareth couldn’t wipe the grin off his face. They look sooooo good!!
It has been such a joy to watch this project come together from start to finish, and each time I look at the finished results I marvel at the complexity of this undertaking and the fact that my husband (MY HUSBAND!) created this beautiful and truly thoughtful edition of one of the world’s most important and most loved stories. He did the text adaptation, he plotted out the entire story, he thumbnailed 250 pages of lay-outs, he designed all of the characters (there are so MANY of them in this book!), and he painstakingly penciled and watercolored each and every page.
This week Booklist gave a starred review to the book and it was just so gratifying for Gareth to see others’ responding to it with as much enthusiasm as have people like (the very obviously biased) me. I hope when YOU see the book you will think every bit as highly of it as I do. And I hope it will make life a LOT easier for many a teacher, and for many a student too! Gareth will have his own booth at NCTE this year. Look for him at the show if you’ll be there, and possibly for me, as well. ( Someone’s got to help him run that booth!)
One of the most satisfying things to have come out of my blogging time these past few years has been the “rescue” of a book I was extremely sorry to see go out of print! About a year and a half after I blogged about my disappointment in the fact that the wonderful Mud Pies and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Dolls written by Marjorie Winslow and illustrated by Erik Blegvad had gone out of print, I received an email from Sara Kramer, managing editor of New York Review Books Classics announcing their plans to reissue the book, thanks to my having brought it to their attention! HOORAY!! Their newly repackaged edition will be published in October, so you don’t have long to wait before you’ll be able to get your hands on a copy.
Ancient Literary Usernames. That’s the theme of an interesting blog post and entertaining factoid. According to a blogger at The Toasted Scimitar,”Charlemagne and the intellectual men of his court who all enjoyed writing and commenting on poetry and philosophy all had unusual nicknames for each other that resemble the usernames we use online. While their snail-mail letters took even longer to get places than the modern mail, the did address each other by these names when writing to one another, and in that respect are no different than the ones we use today.” Yes, everything old is new again.
My Japanese “sister” Eriko (who lived with my family as an exchange student during one year of high school, then later married one of our classmates and now lives in Pennsylvania with her husband Brian and two beautiful kids) brought this fascinating blog post to my attention, about the types of school lunches served in Japan, and the lessons that go along with them. I think it’s very much worth reading — especially for anyone working in schools or raising school-aged children!
I got a kick out of post on Mind Hacks in which I learned that, “While modern day technological doom-sayers suggest that technology damages the mind because it interrupts concentration, 18th century technological doom-sayers suggested that reading damaged the mind because it required too much concentration.
Do you know the origins of the word “blurb”? Well, I did not until I did some research (admittedly online) and learned that, in fact, its origins are verrrry entertaining. (You just never know what’s going to catch on, do you?)
How do YOU keep track of what books you’ve read? At some point last year I learned that my colleague Alexa Crowe has a “BOOK WALL” at her house. This is a wall on which she and her husband and their kids record all of the books they’ve read & the date on which they finished reading them! How cool is this?? I love the thought of creating a space like that and just watching it fill up with titles. How gratifying! And how fun to watch your kids’ handwritten records improve, handwriting-wise, just as the books they’re reading become more complex and sophisticated.
Way back in the winter of 2009 I met a guy who would quickly become one of my *favorite* people I worked with at Wellesley Booksmith. His name is John Vitti, and by day he’s a layout and copy editor in the sports department at the Boston Globe. But by afternoon/evening/weekend he is a volunteer extraordinaire in his hometown of Watertown, Mass. And what is┬áJohn volunteering to do, exactly? Turn kids on to journalism and make writing more enjoyable for them.
The trouble started (if I’m recalling the story correctly…) when John discovered that one of his daughters was, in early elementary school, paralyzed by a school assignment to write a short piece of non-fiction. He realized that she just couldn’t understand how to break down the writing into pieces or tackle the assignment in chunks, because she’d never really been taught how to do so. Write a creative story? Yes, she could do that. But write from facts? This stumped her completely.
SO, John showed her the ropes. Then he went to her school and talked with the teachers there about starting a voluntary newspaper program at the elementary school. They were all for it, and it wasn’t long before kids starting showing up in droves to participate in the creation of the Cunniff Kids News, which they published online. During the paper’s early days out the store got involved by providing John (who is a regular customer despite the fact that Watertown is a half-hour drive from Wellesley) with galleys for kids to read and review. We gave his young reporters “exclusive” interview access to authors like Rick Riordan, Megan McDonald, and Mary Pope Osborne when we hosted them for store events. I also put John in touch with folks at Charlesbridge, which is literally just a few blocks from Cunniff Elementary. He and 20 young reporters took a tour, learned the basics about how a book gets published, then wrote a piece about said visit for the Cunniff Kids News.
The program at Cunniff was (and still is) hugely successful, due largely, I’m sure, to John’s enthusiasm, creativity, and patience with his protegees. John loves it. The kids love it. And the teachers at Cunniff were, from the beginning, thrilled with the progress the school’s young reporters were making with their writing. Soon Watertown Middle School was asking John if he could pilot the same type of program with their students, to which he immediately agreed. That has meant that when he wasn’t at the Globe or helping the kids at Cunniff, John has been over at Watertown Middle School, helping students put together articles for the Watertown Splash. Now that John has also been asked to expand his program to include an additional two elementary schools in Watertown, I suspect he’ll be a very difficult man to track down!
Why am I telling you all this? For two reasons:
1. John is MORE than happy to talk with others about the school newspaper programs he’s developed and share all the secrets of his success, so that YOU (or other teachers, writers, parents you know) can consider starting similar such programs in your schools, with local youth groups — wherever! Because I think John is SUCH a Grade A guy, I am urging you to take him up on this offer. I think you’ll be wowed by his generosity, his creativity, and his passion for teaching kids the basics of reporting, all in the interest of making them feel more competent as writers. The best email address to use for these purposes is CunniffNews AT Hotmail DOT com.
2.) I think you’ll enjoy reading the articles the kids in John’s programs have been putting together, and I think you’ll be impressed with them too! Visit the website of the Cunniff Kids News and the Watertown Splash, and take a look at the work they’ve done.
I’m not linking directly to pages within these sites, because the newspaper’s homepages are the only ones linked to visitor counters, and I want to be sure John can see any traffic that’s coming in to the site. But if you want to read the Cunniff Kids article about their Charlesbridge visit, click on “The World Around Us” on the left sidebar — the Charlesbridge article is the second to last one that appears there (going back in time). And click on “Read All About It” to see the Cunniff Kids book reviews.
And that’s it, folks! There are so many other fun topics I could explore here or links I could share, but it’s now Josie and Elizabeth’s job to share such treasures with you. I’ll see you again when I pop back up to teach you about making bookish birdhouses, and when we cross paths in the book world, as I feel certain we will.
Thank you all for the time you’ve given me over the past three and a half years! It has been an honor and a pleasure writing for you.

10 thoughts on “One Last Set of Reading Recommendations

  1. Sara Hunter

    Thank you, Alison!!!! Have written down so many of your recommendations from books to bookstores to blogs to blurbs to birdhouses. The BEST! Can’t wait to catch you in NYC one of these days! Good luck at Scholastic!

  2. Spellbound

    I have also found many good books and other goodies thanks to your recommendations. You’re so curious and enthusiastic and have flawless taste; Scholastic is very lucky to have you. Looking forward to the detailed birdhouse post!!

  3. Esther

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have enjoyed reading Shelftalker so much. Reading your posts has taught me more than any college course I ever took.
    I am thrilled for Gareth and The Odyssey. I will be sure to have copies at the holiday book fair!
    Stay well and best of luck in your new endeavor.

  4. Jennie Gist

    Glad to see that Mud Pies and Other Recipes is back in print, thanks to your efforts! I received the 1961 edition from my grandmother when I was 8 or 9 and it was brand-new. Ever since, I’ve liked oddball cookbooks, and in fact have edited cookbooks myself for the past 7 years. Thanks, Marjorie Winslow!


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