Wednesday, April 30, 2014

One-Room Nation: Part 6

Crime & Punishments

Is your teacher soft or strict? In one-room schoolhouse days, you could look around the classroom for clues. The first thing you’d likely find is a long, thin wooden pointer or ruler used to hit unruly students. If no ruler or pointer was available, then a switch cut from a bush would do.

The teacher in this photo from the early 1900s has a full range of punishments available: switch in hand, rope whip on the floor, and dunce cap on head. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-37935)

Wanda Gág (who later wrote and illustrated ground-breaking picture books including the classic Millions of Cats) started her teaching career with “a brilliant system of ‘no whipping and no scolding.’” But most teachers didn’t. 

Your teacher might hit or whip you if you disobeyed. In the days of one-room schools, your parents would likely support the teacher’s decision.

As Charlene Fletcher Cobb recalls, “The teacher was always right. God forbid if the family ever found out about your kicking your heels up at school. You knew you’d get it worse at home than you did at school…”

Nobody liked wearing the dunce cap.
Teachers could force a student who was slow to learn to wear long, cone-shaped white paper hat, with the word “DUNCE” written on it. This form of punishment relied on humiliation. The idea was that by making a student feel really, really bad, he or she would try harder, just to get rid of the dunce cap. 

By 1908 when this photo was taken, the dunce cap was so much a part of life that kids played at administering this particular punishment. (Photo courtesy of Library of Congress: LC-USZ62-701013)
Compared to at least one other punishment, the dunce cap and pointer seem quite civilized. 

Finger stocks were designed to stop "fidgets" from fidgeting by locking up the fingers. Photo Courtesy of Islington Education Library Service.   
Finger stocks for “fidgets” worked this way: After you put your hands behind your back, you passed your fingers through the holes of the wooden stocks. This could be painful but it would force your hands to be quiet, so learning could presumably take place.

NOTES: Wanda Gág quoted in Growing Pains: Diaries and Drawings for the Years 1908-1917 (MHS Press, 1984), p142.  Charlene Cobb quoted in “Once, They Were Everywhere,” by John Clayton, March 9, 2000, New Hampshire Union Leader (Manchester, NH): a1.

Could you survive in a one-room schoolhouse eighty or one hundred years ago? One-Room Nation, an ongoing segment of the Story-Slinger blog, will try to answer that question in a few dozen posts. Unless otherwise noted, the text and photos in One-Room Nation are the property of the blogger, so please contact the Story-Slinger if you wish to use them.

Where My Wellies Take Me...

Search this one out for National Poetry Month!
Where My Wellies TakeMe… (Templar Books, an imprint of Candlewick Press, 2012) is the kind of book publishers don’t really publish much anymore, and when you see it, you’ll wish they did.

Subtitled “A Childhood Scrapbook with Poems and Pictures,” this is the perfect kind of poetry book for people who say they don’t like poems.

Clare and Michael Morpurgo have collected about forty short poems, accessible for kids, and for adults who say they hate verse. Olivia Gill has illustrated and designed the book, which is layered with imagery: pressed flowers, postcards, maps on lift-up flaps.

Giving all of these various bits focus is the character of Pippa. She’s a girl staying with her aunt and exploring the countryside at random, wherever her boots (wellies) will take her. Pippa is a fictional character and her mini-story ties the poems and pictures together.

Where My Wellies Take Me… has been shortlisted for the Kate Greenaway Medal, the UK’s prize for children’s book illustrations. (The winner will be announced in June.) 

Not bad considering Wellies is Gill’s first book, and extremely lovely at that.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Book Review: Poop Happened!

While I'm waiting to get my hands on BUGGED, the new book by Sarah Albee, I'm posting a review of another of her nonfiction titles for young readers: 

Maybe you don't want to admit it, but THIS is just the kind of book you've been wanting to "dip" into!

I love nonfiction books that demand to be kept close by the bedside or even in the bathroom for quick dips. You know, the kind of book you don’t necessarily sit down and read cover-to-cover but do want to read bit by bit, possibly in random order.

Don't know Horrible Histories? It's a series of books by Terry Deary and a great CBBC series.
Pranklopedia and any of the Horrible Histories series come to mind. Another one to keep close and (cautiously) dip into is Sarah Albee’s Poop Happened! A History of the World from the Bottom Up (Walker 2010).

What I like about this book is its combination of a conversational tone and solid research. The other thing I like is that the information comes in small, easily digestible tidbits.

Poop Happened is a bit like Civilization 101, a history of civilization survey course, if survey courses were interesting and kind of gross.

“Many historians consider the official start of human civilization to be the time when people started to write stuff down,” Albee says. “But you could also argue that civilization began with the first toilet.”

Having gone through extensive bathroom renovations, I completely agree. Owning a working bathroom with a comfortable toilet makes a person feel very civilized.

No matter where you dip into Poop Happened!, say the chapter on medieval times called “The Age of Shovelry” or a later one on “Vileness in the Victorian Era,” you’re bound to learn something unexpected—and probably not suitable for repeating at the dinner table. 

Albee’s book makes the process of getting civilized, or getting toilets, accessible, fascinating, and fun.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

How Artists Work

Three recent children’s picture books do a great job of answering two questions: 

1) Just how does an artist become an artist? 
2) And how does an artist create?

Stone Giant, a new picture book from Charlesbridge.
One answer comes from Jane Sutcliffe’s brand-new Stone Giant: Michelangelo’s David and How He Came to Be, illustrated by  John Shelley. Sutcliffe helps us see the world, and a block of stone, with an artist’s eyes:

There was a giant in the city of Florence. It had been there for nearly forty years. And no one knew what to do about it. The giant was an enormous block of stone—marble, to be exact. It stood three times as tall as any man in the city. It was the color of cream. And it was a troublemaker.

Why a troublemaker? You’ll have to read Stone Giant—and pour over the artwork—to find out. Just as it was worth the effort to chip David out of a block of stone, it’s well worth paging through Stone Giant to see how a masterpiece comes to life.

Inside Stone Giant, where we see the artist at work.
Shelley’s illustrations draw readers into the time and place, where amid all the noise and dirt of sixteenth-century Florence, Michelangelo is driven to create. For more on Shelley’s illustrations and the choices he made (to show the Full David, or not to show…?), there’s an informative interview at Elizabeth Dulemba’s blog.

A picture book auto-biography from Lois Ehlert.
Lois Ehlert’s autobiographical The Scraps Book: Notes from a Colorful Life  looks at how a person becomes an artist—maybe not a Michelangelo, but a very accomplished artist nonetheless. In simple prose, Caldecott-award-winner Ehlert shows us glimpses of her childhood:

I was lucky; I grew up with parents who made things with their hands.

One of the many colorful spreads in The Scraps Book.

Ehlert also opens up her drawers and baskets of scraps, spreading color across each spread, and making frequent allusions to her many books for children. There’s a bookpage interview with Ehlert by Julie Danielson (of Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast) that digs deeper and is well worth checking out.

Who wouldn't want to pick up this visually appealing and down-to-earth story of an artist's life?
Jen Bryant’s A Splash of Red: The Life and Art of Horace Pippin, illustrated by Melissa Sweet, succeeds in making an artist from the past feel totally contemporary. It’s partly Sweet’s very accessible illustrations, and partly Bryant’s down-to-earth writing. 

We see Pippin first as a boy, sitting on the ground and drawing charcoal sketches on any bit of paper he can find:

He loved the feel of the charcoal as it slid across the floor. He loved looking at something in the room and making it come alive again in front of him.

There's Horace Pippin, driven to draw, even when his "table" is the floor.
Pippin perseveres against seemingly insurmountable odds, finding fame and recognition only late in life.

Bryant and Sweet give readers great insight into the artist’s process in Splash, but it’s just as fun to read about their very unusual collaborative process in this interview at the Two Writing Teachers blog.

Gather these three picture books together. Read them to kids. Give those kids paper, drawing materials, modeling clay and space to create.

It all adds up to ART!

Monday, April 7, 2014


April has arrived, and with it National Poetry Month.

This year, I’ve been inspired by three things:

1)The wonderful almost accidental poetry created by gathering children’s books and reading the spines, aka Spine Poetry.

and 3) Reviews of suburban restaurants on Yelp.

Is it possible, I wondered, to create poetry (accidental or otherwise) by splicing and dicing restaurant reviews?

Is there poetry in the suburbs—or at least in the quickly texted reviews of Mexican and Indian restaurants? Could there be such a thing as YELP-POETRY?

If the answer is yes, here are the main ingredients: short lines taken from actual Yelp reviews of suburban somethings (restaurants, gymnastics studios, whatever), plus a dash of creativity.

My first effort in YELP-POETRY, below, is from reviews of my favorite suburban Indian place, Dosa Temple, and a dimly lit, yet well reviewed Mexican restaurant in the burb of Framingham called Pupusas y Tacos Donia Sofia. 

“Pupusas y Tacos Dosa Temple”

No frills.
Simple, fresh, delicious food. Freshly painted.
This would be my only knock.
Their pessarattu-upma is very delicious.
Whole ears of corn, and other delights.
Doughnut shaped vada - very good.
Plus it's on my walk home from work, so bonus points.
It was more than enough and we left feeling full and happy.
I would defiantly come back!

Please, defiantly, send me your Yelp-Poetry in honor of National Poetry Month.