Robert Frost on Essay Writing

Robert Frost gives good advice here.It goes to the heart of what  I am consistently trying to do with my students and their writing. What about this topic really interests you and what you like to think about? What ideas does it bring to mind? How do you feel about these things, good or bad. What stands out to you in those? Start there.

Robert Frost on Essay WritingRobert Frost on Essay Writing

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Freedom Riders by Ann Bausum

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Crow Smarts. Inside the Brain of the World’s Brightest Bird by Pamela S. Turner

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The Hidden Life of Trees

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The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler by James Cross Giblin

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The day after the election, I drove over to my local indie bookstore. I felt the need to support the bookstore today; books are always the first thing they come after as a means to suppress information, learning, and intellectualism. I wanted to find something that would help me understand the current situation. I believe it’s important to know history so that we might understand how things have gone wrong before and what we might do in the face of similar circumstances. But I didn’t want a book just for me. My students, middle school age and older, need a way of understanding and engaging too.

Just for its Source Notes and Bibliography section alone, where a reader gets a glimpse at the research involved in truly learning about a subject way beyond a wikipedia entry, James Cross Giblin’s book on Adolf Hitler, The Life and Death of Adolf Hitler, is a worthwhile read for teenagers and adults. The other 234 pages are not too shabby either.

On the second to last page, Giblin himself poses the question that every reader must thinking: “Could another Adolf Hitler rise to power and prominence from the neo-Nazi movement?” His answer, published in 2002, was jolting. “If a country experienced a sudden economic and spiritual collapse…then a call might go out for a savior–a leader who could restore the country’s pride and fiscal health and inspire new hope for the future in its despairing citizens.” This book can clearly help us to understand both the past and the present.

Personally, as someone who has read a lot about F.D.R. and Churchill, it was interesting to read about W.W. II more from the perspective of Adolf Hitler and the German people. We learn about Hitler’s strength as a speaker, war strategist, and unrelenting believer in the power of his own opinions. We also read of his many weaknesses and, just as importantly, those who just went along without thinking much about what else to do.

There is no doubt that this book would probably be a hard sell to a teenager to read on their own. Perhaps that is just as well, since this is clearly a book that need to be read slowly, perhaps chapter by chapter and discussed in an environment of people ready to suss through what it all means.

It’s an excellent chance for readers to be introduced to vocabulary and political ideas regarding democracy, dictatorship, and the like that are now in the media regularly but still remain largely unfamiliar to them. The concept of a demagogue can now be understood, as well as the idea of propaganda being a purposeful part of a system of government. This all ties into how we make clear and convincing arguments and, most of all, how we think about things and how, throughout history, have sometimes been easily and  dangerously convinced to let others do the thinking for us.

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This Week in Reading

  • The Scrambled States of America by Laurie Keller was a hit with a new 3rd grade student. There’s a lot for good discussion and laughter with this book. Too bad the sequel was a disappointment.
  • A Bad Case of Stripes by David Shannon was full of good talking points with a 2nd grader
  • Continued reading a loud by turns with a 5th grader Shelia Turnage’s Three Times Lucky. It was interesting to see my students thoughts on possible plot twists being strongly influenced by another book she just finished, Spy School.
  • Recommended The London Eye Mystery by Sioban Dowd to an 8th grade student who had been writing an essay about how he enjoyed problem solving.

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My Reading Week

This week I finished rereading From Time to Time by Jack Finney, the sequel to Time and Again. I remember squealing with joy when I found this book in the bookstore. Time and Again was one of my favorite books and I had anxiously awaited the sequel. I also remember being disappointed when I finished it the first time, in 1995. When I realized that Finney had included a real person from history that I had recently been researching, I went back and started rereading it. I still found it slow and woefully lacking in intrigue. But what I did find is that Finney copied an entire letter that this person, “Archie”, had written and used as an entire conversation Archie was having with other fictional characters in this book.

You see, I had read his complete two volume collection of letters and I recognized this one immediately. I went back to double check and, sure enough, it was copied exactly from his letter and simply turned into dialogue. I scanned the book for footnotes, endnotes, anything to indicate that these were Archie’s actually words. Nothing. I don’t know what to make of this. Did Finney think he was entitled to use real Archie’s words as his own? Did the editor not understand the author didn’t write these words? Was this a weird mix between true history and fiction that he was trying to explore (if so, not an excuse). According to a quick google search, Mr. Finney’s been dead for a few years now. Perhaps the issue is just as dead. But still, it is really bothering me an author that I admired so much would use someone elses words as his own. Someone who was rather witty and prolific in his own writing, but became a character in a novel where he was only partially given his due.

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