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Journey for Margaret

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on Tuesday, 07 April 2009
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My friend Margaret from Minnesota has just left after a lovely 5-day visit in which I made her eat too much and watch too many movies and become addicted to "In Treatment." (And now she will have to undergo withdrawal because she doesn't have HBO back home).

Margaret and I are the same age and at one point we became the founding (and only) members of the Margaret O'Brien Fan Club. There is practically no one left who can recite the titles of M O'B movies; when Margaret and I die, this bit of 1940's trivia will be lost..

Here is what she brought me as a gift:

Polly


Margaret journeyed here from St. Paul but that is not what the title of this post refers to. No, it is Margaret O'Brien's first movie, made when she was four years old, a true tear-jerker. There are few people living who remember it.

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Battle of the Books

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on Tuesday, 31 March 2009
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  • SLJ Kicks Off Its First Annual Battle of the Books
    School Library Journal is about to launch its first annual Battle of the (Kids’) Books contest. What is it, you ask? Call it a book war. Lois Lowry, Jon Scieszka, Linda Sue Park, and John Green are just some of your favorite authors who’ll be judging the contest, which pits 16 of last year’s best books for young people against each other.

This will be a bit like March Madness (did you see that last-5-seconds win of Villanova over Pitt Saturday night?!) with 16 books starting out, and books being dropped on each round...and I get to judge the final round!  So people will either hate or love me when it's over.  But it is all in fun, and the books have all been chosen because they were the best of 2008, so there won't really be any losers here.

The battle begins on April 13th and will conclude with the selection of the winner on May 5th.


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Crow Call

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on Tuesday, 31 March 2009
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I have been given the okay to show people the jacket of the book that will be published next fall....


Crow Call

Bagram Ibatoulline's art is so lush and beautiful (sorry I got the scan a little crooked!) and from this jacket you can guess how gorgeous the inside pages are.  But for those: you'll have to wait until the book is published!

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Sorry, I don't want to sleep with you...

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on Saturday, 28 March 2009
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...but don't take it personally.

It's come to this. Sob.  Alfie, whose (monogrammed) bed is at the foot of mine, declined even to climb the stairs last night at bedtime.

He wanted to sleep with his visiting German Shepherd friend, Sophie, who was occupying a downstairs guest room.

IMG_3653


They met as puppies (see photo) and have been buddies every since. Now, at 3 years old, Sophie towers over Alfie.  But last night they curled up together like the old friends they are,  And I, sob, slept alone.

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Boston International High School

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on Friday, 27 March 2009
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I am now in Maine, where last evening 15 deer strolled across my meadow nibbling on exposed grass now that the snow is melting.  I tried to take a photo but don't have my camera here, and the cell phone couldn't get a good picture in the dim light and at some distance.  Both dogs---Alfie, and his German Shepherd friend Sophie, who is visiting--- stood silently and watched. The deer were aware of the dogs, and didn't care---and the dogs were aware of the deer and more curious than hostile.

Before I came up here, on Wednesday, I had a lovely visit to Boston International High School---all students for whom English is a new language, in some cases quite new.  They were attentive, interested, polite, and in every way fun to be with.  And generous,too, with a gift of flowers (see photo) and an album of their own writings.

Girl school

Class 3:27

And now I am in Maine, where this morning the furnace guy tended the furnace and now the plumber is here doing some tune-up on an annoying toilet. My friend Kay, Sophie-the-dog's mom, is at work in another room (she's a professor at Harvard) , and I am here in my studio, and we have both vowed to work hard and not be distracted by dogs or plumbers or the NY Times or deer.




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Names

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on Wednesday, 25 March 2009
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Okay, it is no secret that I am fascinated by names, that I love naming book characters, that my own children have had to curb my impulse to name their babies, and that even dogs, my own and other people's, are not exempt from my need to baptize.

But recently, in signing books in Florida, I encountered something I've not seen before.  A teenage girl had a name---I've forgotten what it was---that ended in an A.  The letter A. Let's say it was something like Alyssa.

I wrote "For Alyssa" in her book---spelling it correctly, not Elyssa or Alissa, because I have learned the hard way that I must ask them to write their names for me so that I get it right---otherwise, they sometimes cry, if I misspell.

So I wrote "For Alyssa" above my signature and handed it back to her---but she said, "There's an accent over the A" and handed it back.  I looked at what she had written on her post-it  and sure enough, there was a little mark of some sort over the final A.

So I was to make it "Alyssá"  as in voilá.  Go figure. Well, what the heck. I added the accent mark.

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A Norphan

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on Thursday, 19 March 2009
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"....Tell your ma I’ll bring something for you tomorrow, and you won’t have to scratch so frequently.”
       Liz looked up from her misshapen As and Bs.
     “Got no ma,” she said matter-of-factly.
    “Oh, my! Pity! Well, your pa, then. Tell him.”
    “Got no pa neither.”
    “But—”
    “I be a norphan,” Liz explained.
    A norphan! The princess knew of such people—she had heard stories about them. They frequently appeared in fairy tales. But here was one in person!
    “But where do you live? Who takes care of you?” The princess couldn’t imagine being so small and having no one.
    “Oh,” the little girl explained matter-of-factly, “I stay wif whoever wants me, ‘cause they fink mebbe I can help out. Then, when they don’t want me no more, I go live wif sumbody else.”
    “You must be very forsaken and pathetic,” the princess said sympathetically. “I’m actually quite interested in norphans..."

This is a snippet from a new book---not yet published; won't be published, in fact till next spring---called THE BIRTHDAY BALL, and this (below) is a picture of the little norphan, Liz, in an illustration done by my friend Jules Feiffer.

Liz the orphan

Jules makes such charming drawings look effortless---and maybe they are, for him!  I was delighted when he said he'd illustrate this book of mine---I have always admired his deft touch. He draws FEET and HANDS better than anyone I know.

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Flu season, or something

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on Sunday, 15 March 2009
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I've been in Sarasota visiting dear friends of 40 years--Sylvia and Tony, who winter there---and it was great to be in the warm sunshine (it was snowing in Boston the day I flew out); and now I am home, and feeling fine (though too busy) and it was almost 60 degrees today.  But Martin has been sick for ten days---he missed a lovely party last night (there was a wonderful piano player, and someone said: "Too bad Martin's not here. He'd be singing"..and I had to say, "No, he'd be coughing")...and now my friend/neighbor, Kay, who comes over almost every day so that her dog can play with Alfie, has just emailed to say that she has a cough and a temperature of 102.  So something is making the rounds, and so far has missed me, and I have my fingers crossed. I have important meetings this week, and a trip to Fort Myers, FL on Friday.

I was just sorting through old photos in my computer and came across this one, which I love. I took it fourteen years ago. The dog is now dead and the toddler is a teenager. But there is a timelessness to it.

Nadine-meadow

I don't think I am yet authorized to show anyone, but I have just received the final art, by Bagram Ibatoulline, for the book called CROW CALL which will be published in the fall.  It's an autobiographical story, set in my childhood in the 1940's, but he has made it --- yes, to repeat myself -- timeless. The paintings are absoutely beautiful and I feel very fortunate that this immensely gifted artist agreed to illustrate my words.

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Now you see it, now you don't!

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on Sunday, 08 March 2009
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The snow is gone!  One day of 55 degree weather yesterday---and this morning I let the dog out and there was no snow at all on the ground.

All the buried dog toys have re-surfaced, and it reminds me of a terrible time many years ago when my then 16-year-old daughter had a birthday party for herself, inviting just her good friends, and her father and I went off for the evening to play bridge with some close friends of ours---until we got a call from the police suggesting we come right home.

Word had gone out, as it apparently does, on the teenaged grapevine, that there was a PARTY, and so kids---strangers to her---came from all over, even nearby towns---and crashed into our house.  It was she, actually, if I remember correctly, who called the police.  When we got home, the police had gone, and all of the party-crashers had been removed (and some had stolen some small household objects on their way out) and our daughter, weeping, was still cleaning up the mess along with some of her faithful friends.

But the reason I thought about it just now is because her birthday is in February. The party was in February, in Maine. Deep snow on the ground.  And when it melted, a couple of months later, our yard was strewn with revealed beer cans---I want to say hundreds, but it probably was many fewer than that---tossed by the party-crashers eluding the police.

That same daughter, ironically, now has a master's degree in criminal justice, and just yesterday emailed me that she was thinking of going on for further work in forensic psychology.

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great projects

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Thursday, 05 March 2009
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My thanks for the many supportive comments that people sent in following my previous post.

Moving my thoughts away from all of that, here are a couple of projects from the kids in Richmond. The first is a wonderful reconstruction of the village in GATHERING BLUE:

GB map

If you look carefully, you can even see the pens where toddlers and chickens were confined.

This was only one of many very complex and interesting projects made by the kids at one of the schools I visited---oh dear, if I print the name of the school, I might get the wrong one because they are blurring together in my memory.  Never mind: you know who you are!

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More--sigh---about THE GIVER

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on Sunday, 01 March 2009
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This comment just arrived,  to be appended to an earlier post about the stage play of THE GIVER currently being produced in New York:

I just re-read Berit Kjos review of your dystopian book THE GIVER. Now that we have Communitarian Obama running things completely into the ground I wonder if folks will see the parallels in your book to what is planned for America? Why DID you write such a horror story for children? What was your purpose?


***


Since I didn't know who Berit Kjos was, I googled that name and came up with something called Kjos Ministries, the website of which seems no longer to exist.

But here is another person who references Kjos in regard to THE GIVER:

This article by This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it of Kjos Ministries is an extremely dynamic and flowing presentation of one of the most corruptive and destructive tools availble to public education.

Berit first accounts the book through interaction with Laura, a fourth grade student who experienced the book by oration from her teacher. Berit's relation of the horrors of the experience are inescapable -- infanticide by lethal injection to the baby's brain in the name of convenience and manipulation of entire populations for the good of the State! Shades of Hitler Germany!!!

Next, Berit identifies how The Giver parallels Hillary Clinton's Village concept: state control of entire populations, usurping of parental rights and control, inhibition of individuality, and mandatory community services -- all to the "Fatherland."

That the principal of Laura's school refused to remove the book because of his/her "reluctance to stifle academic freedom" is ludicrous. How in the Holy name of Jesus can this kind of fantasy poison be of any value. Tell me what educational objectives are served by such infectious tripe? How can presentation of infanticide and socialistic controls as acceptable and even desirable be of any traditionally educational use? And this is not to mention the fact that The Giver presents graphic murder of babies as a necessary part of life and presents it to they who were babies not that long ago!

As your brother in Christ, I beg you to do whatever you morally can to remove this book from the shelves of our schools. We are likely to pay dearly if we don't. We have enough influence by our culture to desensitize us to murder and governmental manipulations and to set the stage for moving into the village concept of general acceptance of whatever is dealt to us -- we do not need another book to help cultivate this cancer through our kids! Heavenly Father, help us. Heal our land!

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Back home

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on Saturday, 28 February 2009
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I have come from Virginia,  where there were daffodils in bloom, back to Massachusetts, where things are still pretty wintery and grim (but the snow--for now---is gone (and Monday I go to Maine, where we are still DEEP in snow).  Catching my breath a bit and preparing to face the tax stuff. I'll take it with me to Maine where I have taken a vow of isolation and deprivation until I get it done.

This was just sent to me and made me blink in astonishment:

Polish bookmark

Yes, it's a bookmark...in Polish, where THE WILLOUGHBYS has recently appeared in translation.

Here is a great bunch of kids in Richmond, who had for some months been working with my book NUMBER THE STARS and had come up with great projects, including some power point presentations that were very impressive:

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excerpt from Gooney Bird, You're So absurd

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on Wednesday, 25 February 2009
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Chapter 5 ill

To Mrs. Pidgeon’s amazement, seven children—she counted—were now wearing underpants on their heads. Gooney Bird had once again donned her pale green ruffles. Malcolm had tightie-whities and Ben was wearing boxers with smiley faces. Tricia was wearing white cotton with little blue flowers, and both Beanie and Felicia Ann had pale pink.

“Chelsea?” Mrs. Pidgeon said. “What is that on your head?”

“Thong,” Chelsea explained. “Borrowed from my mom.”

“And it helps?”

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peeping tom-ism

Posted by Lois Lowry
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on Tuesday, 24 February 2009
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A lot of comments, both here and elsewhere, about why authors blog, and who reads the blogs, and who cares, and why they do...indicate that many readers of authors blogs do so simply to get a glimpse into the day-to-day mundane life of someone whose work they like.  This would be my reason, if I had time for blog-reading, I think.  It's the same reason I used to love (until they became extinct, or obsolete) volumes of collected letters of writers. The best: Flannery O'Connor's, E.B. White's, and a few others whose names are eluding me at the moment. Oh yes, May Sarton's, for one. And Louise Bogan's.

A number of years ago, someone published a book of photos of writers' spaces. I loved poring over it, practically with a magnifying glass---looking at what kind of cigarettes they smoked (there was often a crumpled pack visible); what the view from their window was; what sort of pens were lying on the desk; if there were framed photos---of whom?  All of that. Prurient curiosity of the most shallow sort.

Once, when I was to speak on a panel with a bunch of other writers--and the topic was left to us, and we were all desperately trying to think of one---I suggested that we each simply describe our work space, or a desk, and talk about a few objects that were important.

But I got vetoed. No one else liked the idea, and I think we ended up talking about how we get our ideas, which in my opinion is unanswerable and a huge yawn.
My office
Anyway, today, thinking about this, I took a snapshot of my desk (above) and then realized what a MESS it is. Sometimes I clean it up but then it just reverts very quickly to its previous state.

Here are some things in the photo:

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Richmond, Virginia

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on Saturday, 21 February 2009
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This coming Thursday, February 26th:  Public Presentation at Oates Theatre, 7:00 PM  Followed by book sale and signing

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THE GIVER in NYC

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on Saturday, 21 February 2009
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....you might want to check out a production of The Giver that opens tonight and runs all weekend and next weekend at The Players Theatre on MacDougal St. in the West Village!  It's being produced by the NYU Educational Theatre department. 

A commenter to an earlier post reminded me of this.  I had been invited to attend this performance but the timing was wrong---I am back in Cambridge now and headed to Richmond, VA on Wednesday.

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OMG, I didn't realize....

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on Friday, 20 February 2009
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And that's the problem with most author blogs--they really have no purpose beyond self-promotion or self-absorption ("Today, I face The Blank Page ...") and the comments generally tend to be back-slapping among friends. Boring.

How this sells books is anyone's guess. Look at your own bookshelves--were the last books you bought the result of positive reviews/awards attention or an author revealing what she ate for lunch on her blog? (Yes, true anecdote.)

This is an anonymous two paragraphs from a commenter to Roger Sutton's most excellent blog.

I feel Anonymous is speaking directly to me because I did, yes, I actually did, once not only talk about but posted a PHOTO of a salad I had at a lunch. It was incredibly beautiful, being made of cubed golden and red beets...and that is my only excuse for such boorish and self-absorbed behavior.

But the thing is (she lines up her excuses here)...I did not know that a blog was supposed to be selling books.  Not a clue.

I have sometimes wondered---and sometimes wondered publicly, on this blog---what its purpose is, or if there is a purpose at all.  And over the past three years, which is just about as long as this blog has existed, short a few months, I have decided that it simply is a pleasant way to while away some time, to organize some thoughts, and to invite family and friends, including friends I've never met---none of whom are back-slappers, that I’m aware of----to share in the process.

Just for the record, today for lunch I had a bowl of homemade chili.  I sprinkled a little grated cheese on it. Ooops.  TMI.

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New York, New York

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on Thursday, 19 February 2009
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Photo



This is the view from the hotel room where I have spent the past two nights. And for the first time in a long tme, i am in New York for reasons having nothing whatsoever to do with writing, publishing, book promotion, or play rehearsals.

I came to NY because I had a free round trip ticket on the Limoliner (method of Boston-NY transportation chosen by all Thinking People) which had to be used by a certain soon-upcoming date, as the result of a previously cancelled trip.  And for reasons having to do with the date (February) or the Economy (Doomsday), hotel rooms in NYC ---even this hotel room, with this spectacular view of Central Park----are relatively cheap at the moment.  And in addition, a good friend of mine, a well-known writer, (whom I will call WKW since I am shortly going to tell a story about her which I do not have her permission to tell) was going to be in NYC, in this hotel, for these two days.

So I came down here a couple of days ago. Night before last I went to see Billy Elliot (for the second time, since I saw it in London last year), thereby effectively eating up almost the cost of my free Limoliner ticket. And yesterday, while waiting for WKW to arrive, I both worked a bit here in my hotel room (hotel rooms are a wonderful place to get work done since there are very few distractions, and the cleaning lady is quite happy when you say No, don't vacuum, it's fine) and then went out for a long walk, during which I stopped and got a haircut and, in another place, a manicure---(the combination costing more than a round trip Limoliner ticket).

Heading back to the hotel, I passed the Park Avenue Presbyterian Church, and slowed my pace to gawk. Something was going on.  Many limos. Paparazzi. Plush ropes strung up to form a waiting-line area for very expensively dressed (in black) people holding what appeared to be black-bordered invitations in their hands.  A surprisingly large number of the invitation-holders were gay men.  Or maybe I am stereotyping on small evidence.  It could have been, actually, that they were heterosexual Wall Street lawyers who just happened, on this cold damp Wednesday, to be wearing mink scarves and to be blowing air-kisses to other heterosexual guys.

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It Is My Hope That glub glub glub

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on Sunday, 15 February 2009
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Every now and then I find myself involved in reading a large stack of manuscripts---(or once, it was finished books, when I was a judge for the National Book Awards)---and I find myself wondering how publishers do it day after day after day.  But I guess the answer is that you make your way through them by maintaining the hope and maybe the expectation that the next one will be something absolutely wonderful.


The manuscripts I am currently reading are by unpublished writers, and I am reading them as part of the panel of judges for an award to be given this spring. A few are awful, but most are not, and I am hoping that any minute now one will leap out at me because of its brilliance and wit and eloquence.

But something is vaguely troubling me.  Each manuscript is accompanied by a cover letter describing the writer's experience, education, and background, and usually with some background about the particular manuscript they have submitted. It's helpful, for example, if you are reading "The Curse of the Narwahl," a mystery set in an aquarium, to know that the author has worked for forty years as a marine biologist. 

But it sets my teeth on edge to read further something like, "It is my hope that this book will teach children to care more about the environment."

Okay, I made up that title and that author and that book. As far as I know there is no aquarium mystery in my stack of manuscripts, though if something called "The Curse of the Narwahl" shows up, I will have to apologize, and to hire a lawyer, I guess.

But what HAS shown up again and again, and will continue to, I suspect, is the sentence in the cover letter that uses the word "teach" or learn."  As in, "Readers will learn that bullying can have serious consequences.." or "This story teaches young readers how grandparents are a wonderful source of.."   

Okay for non-fiction. For textbooks.  For sermons and Sunday School lessons.

But please, not for novels.  

I often receive emails from kids, usually for school assignments, with questions like "What did you intend for readers to get out of (title)?" or "What is the message of this book?"

And sometimes I sigh and try to reply with an answer that they can use in their term paper or exam.  But what I really want to say is: I simply wanted the reader to enjoy the story. To love the characters. To care about what happens. To be scared, or sad, or angry, and to worry. To be excited in the middle of the book, and relieved at the end.

I don't want there to be a message. Or a moral. Or a learning experience.

I acquired  information about poison from Madame Bovary, and a pretty good understanding of British country-house life from Brideshead Revisited and Atonement.  But I didn't learn that infidelity was ill-advised or that religion was pervasive or that veracity and guilt were entwined, encompassing things.  I simply became Emma  and Sebastian and Bryony for those all-absorbing hours, and I reveled in the mastery of language and characterization, and I probably learned things about myself.

I don't know why so many would-be writers of fiction for young people feel as if they must impart Wisdom and Great Truth.  

Sigh. Now: back to the narwahl, whose curse is that his reader is going to drown in good works and sanctimoniousness.

I am such a grouch today.
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No smoking, please. Or Guidebooks.

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on Saturday, 14 February 2009
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Not long ago, I read a book called "Bliss" in which the author explored the topic of happiness---what creates it, why it is hard to attain, etc., and whether certain geography plays a role.  He went to a number of different places where people reportedly were unusually happy. (One was Iceland. I was in Iceland maybe 4 years ago, and it was true---happy country, happy people.  However, timing is all. I doubt if Icelanders are particularly happy at the the moment).

Another happy place he studied was the Himalayan country of Bhutan.  Smoking, he pointed out, was against the law in Bhutan. He didn't cite that as a cause for happiness---just a point of interest---but actually, I think I'd be a little happier of smoking were illegal in this country.

Bhutan is a country I have never been to, and to be honest, it is not a county I ever think about. I probably go days on end---maybe weeks, or months---without ever thinking of Bhutan.  But this morning I was alerted to something in The Bhutan Observer: an op-ed piece witten by a teacher who is concerned about lessening of standards in the educational system of that tiny  country.



Presently, we see new guidebooks to Lois Lowry’s The Giver circulating among students. Soon enough, I foresee other aspiring teachers initiating guidebooks on class XI and XII textsbooks. Will we ever succeed in creating independent readers? Isn’t the teachers’ guidebook provided by the Curriculum and Professional Support Division (CAPSD) enough? If not, I would like to call upon the CAPSD to strengthen the teachers’ guide so that teachers will be able to guide the students in the best possible way.
In the west, guidebooks (not teachers’ guide) are not advised in schools. Instead, students are encouraged to make their own interpretations of texts with guidance from teachers. As long as our students justify their answers with good reasons, they are right, considering that no two readers will interpret the same text in the same way.

Therefore, I would like to urge all our stakeholders – high school English teachers, education officials, English curriculum officials, parents and students – to take note of this issue and ponder over it. I am glad to be able to bring this personal opinion to a public forum as a concerned teacher, who had been part of the English Curriculum Review Team. I feel the authorities should either halt commercial guidebooks or encourage guidebooks that will not hamper our students’ meaning-making skills, but instead, scaffold their language skills and critical thinking. Parents may guide their children at home, and censor the materials they are using for their study. It is possible that children may not read their textbooks, but rely completely on guidebooks. Most importantly, teachers could use strategies and techniques that require complete reading of the text, and make their classroom activities so stimulating, thrilling and satisfying that students may never feel the need to use guidebooks. This will go a long way in instilling love for reading and creating life-long readers. I wish the stakeholders all the best in their ventures ahead in executing the new English curriculum and producing future citizens who are competent communicators and life-long readers.

Sangay Biddha Teacher
Khangkhu Middle Secondary School
Paro

I'm sorry I didn't have room to quote all of his (or her?) essay because it was thoughtful and thought-provoking---and even though Bhutan has not been high on my places-to-think-about list, perhaps that will change now that I know teachers there like Sangay Biddha care so much about instilling a love of reading.

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