Visitors to the annual summer Sunken Garden Poetry Festival at Hill-Stead Museum in Farmington, Connecticut can picnic in the criss-crossed paths that separate tidy flower beds. Those familiar with the festival know to bring collapsible chairs that sit just little higher up so as to see the small stage over the tall stalks of bee-balm, phlox, roses or delphinium.Screenshot 2015-06-28 21.25.27

On June 24th, that small stage was bathed in warm setting-sunlight as Ted Kooser, United States Poet Laureate (2004-2006), stepped up to read several of his poems. The tail of his light jacket was rumpled  into his right back back pocket; above him, the tail of a circling hawk flashed red with each wide turn.

Only 24 hours earlier, there had been hail, damaging winds, and a reported micro-burst. Now, New England held back her willful nature, as if to say, “Yes, I can be a gracious hostess…” to those who organized the poetry and music for the evening.

Ted Kooser is both a poet and essayist, whose collection Delights & Shadows was awarded the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for poetry. He is also a Professor of English at The University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He is probably best known for his promotion of American poetry through the free weekly American Life in Poetry column that features contemporary American poems:

 The sole mission of this project is to promote poetry: American Life in Poetry seeks to create a vigorous presence for poetry in our culture.

In each column, Kooser makes a brief introduction to the poem that is featured, why it might have been selected, or what is most striking about the poem. For example, in his introduction to Barbara Crooker’s poem “Sparklers”, he writes the poem was selected because

“… in 2004 we set off the fire alarm system at the Willard Hotel in Washington by lighting a few to celebrate my inauguration as poet laureate.”

Crooker’s 15 line poem is featured in From American Life in Poetry: Column 484 and  she begins with a familiar image, how she wrote names in the air using the light of the sparkler:

Sparklers

We’re writing our names with sizzles of light
to celebrate the fourth. I use the loops of cursive,

make a big B like the sloping hills on the west side
of the lake….(cont)
Poem copyright ©2013 by Barbara Crooker from her most recent book of poems, Gold, Cascade Books, 2013.
 
Kooser’s promotion of poets like Crooker may be the reason for the large crowd attending the reading. Once he took the stage, Kooser spoke about poems that centered on his relationships with his father, his mother, and in particular his mother’s cousin, Pearl.
He read the poem “Pearl” (read here at Chautauqua, a lake community in southwestern New York/text of the poem reprinted on this site.)
This poem opens with his mission to speak to his mother’s elderly cousin, Pearl:

Elkader, Iowa, a morning in March,
the Turkey River running brown and wrinkly
from a late spring snow in Minnesota,
the white two-story house on Mulberry Street,
windows flashing with sun, and I had come
a hundred miles to tell our cousin, Pearl,
that her childhood playmate, Vera, my mother,
had died….

After he finished reading, Kooser noted that this poem had been adapted and made into a 17 minute film that won a New England Film Contest in 2012:

When a midwestern poet (Dan Butler) visits an elderly relative (Frances Sternhagen) to bring news of his mother’s recent death, the visit takes an unsettling turn.

He told the audience he was “quite proud of” the film, which can be viewed here:  http://newenglandfilm.com/festival_film/2012/pearl

Many of the poems he selected to read were short, from the break up of a marriage (“Neither of us would clean the aquarium”) to the memory of his dog (“The ghost of my good dog, Alice,sits at the foot of my ladder”). Too soon, it seemed, that Kooser explained that his “voice was giving out” as he wrapped up the reading from the stage.

But this crowd did not seem disappointed. Seasoned by unpredictable weather, they appreciated the rare quality of the evening.

On this beautiful June night, while the Nebraska poet spoke, the setting offered by Connecticut was sublime.

 

Forgive the boasting, but the survey results for our a silent sustained reading program for 7th and 8th grade students in our school district are in..,and the teachers are feeling very proud.

573 students answered a 12 question survey about their experience this year for SSR, but let’s start with the most important response:

71.4% responded that SSR “made me a better reader this year.”Screenshot 2015-06-18 21.32.12

A better reader! That admission from students ages 11-14 is an achievement that can leave the faculty smiling proudly over the summer. And speaking about summer, the same students answered positively that they believe that they would read over the summer: 69% responded that they plan to read  (28% definitely; 41% sometimes).

Our SSR program was embraced by several teachers and up and running well by November. The classroom libraries were stocked with a combination of traditional and high interest materials. That meant 20 minutes a day of the block schedule (92 minutes) was dedicated to reading independently. By January even more classrooms were on board, and by April, all classrooms were practicing reading for pleasure, teachers included.

Those teachers who hesitated at first were slowly converted, and more than one commented, “I think I am a better reader as well!”

These same 573 students took many standardized tests this year generating scores that determine each student’s reading ability against a standard. But those test scores do not measure a student’s self-assessment of their reading.

Our June 2015 survey does.

Our June survey asked 12 questions about reading, and every response showed growth in attitudes that we recorded from our September 2014  survey. That beginning of the year survey was used as a benchmark to measure student attitudes towards reading.

Compare the responses from September to June when asked student if they thought reading was “fun”:

7th & 8th grade students Usually Sometimes Rarely
September  22% 48% 25%
June 32% 54% 14%

In one school year, 10% of the student population changed their attitudes towards reading…all in a positive direction.

The survey also recorded what students look for in selecting their own reading materials:

length of the book 26.9%
cover of the book 46.2%
the book is part of a series I like 61.8%
a friend recommended the book 48.2%
a teacher recommended the book 31.1%
a parent or another adult recommended the book 22.2%
a movie is connected to this book 24.4%

The survey also asked how many books students were reading a month:

at least 1 32.1%
1-2 books 14.8%
3-4 books 17.1%
4 or more books 12%

Do the math. 184 students (32%) read at least one book a month. That means students who read one book a month for eight months (8) of the school year collectively read 1472 books…and that just the total of books read by 1/3 of the class.

Combine our findings with those of the Scholastic Publishing company in their survey 2014  “Kids and Family Reading Report”

Scholastic is one of the publishers that has a presence in schools through book fair sales, and they released three key findings about reading in school:

#1: One third of children ages 6–17 (33%) say their class has a designated time during the school day to read a book of choice independently, but only 17% do this every or almost every school day.

#2: Half of children ages 6–17 who read independently as a class or school (52%) say it’s one of their favorite parts of the day or wish it would happen more often.

#3: Sixty-one percent of children ages 6–17 who live in the lowest-income households say they read books for fun mostly in school, or the same amount in school and at home, while only 32% of children ages 6–17 who live the highest-income homes say the same.

The most interesting statistics for our teachers  in our survey was that students believe their parents are connected to their independent reading. Along with the information that 22% of students look for suggestions from parents in selecting reading materials, they also indicated how critical the role of parents and family is (over 50%) when they share what they read by checking all that applied:

I share what I read with:

Friends 56.9%
Family (parents, relatives) 53.1%
Teacher 33%
Other 13.4%
 Next year’s plan? Focus on this parent connection, flood the classrooms with more books, and read, read, read.
Beyond the survey, there is one more piece of evidence. These final images display the lists of the favorite books the students read this year from Mr. Robert’s class. He was one of the early embracers of SSR, and his results speak for themselves:

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There are a number of people who are fundamental to our judicial system: Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence; John Jay, first Supreme Court Justice; William of Wilton, canon and scribe at Salisbury Cathedral…..wait, William of Wilton?

Yes, William of Wilton has recently been identified as one the scribes who is responsible for one of four original copies of the Magna Carta. As a scribe, William of Wilton would have been educated in the arts of writing and copying manuscripts, an important job to have before the invention of printing. He may not have understood the significance of the document, but perhaps his employer, the English bishop of Salisbury Cathedral, Herbert Poer, did. New research indicates that it was the Church that was largely responsible for circulating copies of the Magna Carta shortly after it was signed by King John of England.

Copy of the Magna Carta on display at the British Library: Chttp://www.bl.uk/collection-items/magna-carta-1215

Copy of the Magna Carta on display at the British Library: Chttp://www.bl.uk/collection-items/magna-carta-1215

The Magna Carta, the “great charter”, was a peace treaty agreement made when  King John was forced to give into a large rebellion led by barons. They were in revolt because of heavy taxation that came as a result of unsuccessful foreign policies.

According to History.com on June 15, 1215, “John met the barons at Runnymede on the Thames and set his seal to the Articles of the Barons, which after minor revision was formally issued as the Magna Carta.” Months later, King John, supported by the Church, nullified the agreement. Despite negation, the document and its provisions survived.

There is a great deal of attention being paid to the Magna Carta as it celebrates its 800th birthday, and The British Library is currently displaying two original copies of the Magna Carta. Their website lists a number of interesting facts about the Magna Carta including:

  • the documents are written on sheepskin parchment;
  • One of the British Library’s 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts was damaged in a fire in the 18th century, the other was found in a London tailor’s shop in the 17th century; 
  • Magna Carta was annulled by the Pope just 10 weeks after it had been issued, being described as “shameful, demeaning, illegal and unjust” and declared “null and void of all validity for ever”.

As part of the publicity for this celebration, The British newpaper The Independent featured interviews with Professor Nicholas Vincent of the University of East Anglia and Professor David Carpenter of King’s College London who are making the claim that the Church, not the royal government, was largely responsible for seeing that copies of the charter were circulated.

According to the article, Magna Carta: New Research Sheds Light on the Church’s Role in Publishing World-famous Charter,(6/14/15) a careful comparison of different handwriting led to the discovery of William of Wilton using royal documents still surviving in English and French archives and ecclesiastical documents surviving in English cathedrals and in the National Archives.

They are confident that it was William of Wilton’s pen that copied the document, including the sentence that became the foundation of our judicial system:

“No free man shall be arrested or imprisoned save by the lawful judgment of their equals or by the law of the land. To no one will we sell, to no one will we deny or delay right or justice.”

There were many other scribes who also copied the manuscript in 1215, but is the copy that contains the DNA of William of Wilton that survived. It is his handiwork that is is enshrined in a place of honor in the British Library today.

So what is history?

The definition of history is a continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as chronological account. 

We do not know much about William of Wilton, but we can share this story of the Magna Carta with our students to show them how one man’s story makes history real. Here is the story of a man who reproduced documents for a living. He is responsible for the copy of a document that is the foundation of our legal system.

His story is a part of our history as well.

 Anne Frank: The Diary of  Young Girl transcends the labels of genre. anne Frank book

Yes, as the title suggests, it is a diary, but it is also a memoir, a narrative, an argument, an expository journal, an informational text, and much more.

Yet, these genres listed are treated as separate and distinct in the reading and writing standards of the Common Core (CCSS). The standards emphasize the differences between the literary and informational genres. The standards also prescribe what percentages much students should read (by grade 12 30% literary texts/ 70% informational texts), what genres of writing they should practice (narrative, informative/explanatory, argumentative) and the percentages students should expect to communicate  in these genres by grade level.

Distribution of Communicative Purposes by Grade supported by the Common Core

Distribution of Communicative Purposes by Grade supported by the Common Core

In the real world, however, the differences between genres is not as clear and distinct as neatly outlined in the standards. The real world of Nazi occupied Holland was the setting that produced the defiant Diary of Anne Frank.

On June 12, 1942,  Anne Frank received a red and white check autograph book as a birthday gift. This small volume was soon filled by Anne as a diary, the first of three separate volumes, as she her family and friends hid in the secret annex.

A diary is a daily record, usually private, especially of the writer’s own experiences, observations, feelings, attitudes.

Anne’s narrative in these diaries provides a sequence of events and experiences during the two years she spent hiding with others behind the bookcase in the attic where her father had been employed.

A narrative is a story or account of events, experiences, or the like, whether true or fictitious.

In June of 1947 Anne’s father Otto Frank published The Diary of Anne Frank, and it has become one of the world’s best-known memoirs of the Holocaust.

A memoir is a written account in which an individual describes  his or her experiences.

In one entry Anne explains she is aware of what was being done with Jews throughout Europe and those who resisted the Nazis. She refers to radio reports from England, official statements, and announcements in the local papers. There are expository style entries throughout the diary that help the reader understand how much she and others knew about the Holocaust:

“Our many Jewish friends and acquaintances are being taken away in droves. The Gestapo is treating them very roughly and transporting them in cattle cars to Westerbork, the big camp in Drenthe to which they’re sending all the Jews….If it’s that bad in Holland, what must it be like in those faraway and uncivilized places where the Germans are sending them? We assume that most of them are being murdered. The English radio says they’re being gassed.” October 9, 1942

“All college students are being asked to sign an official statement to the effect that they ‘sympathize with the Germans and approve of the New Order.” Eighty percent have decided to obey the dictates of their conscience, but the penalty will be severe. Any student refusing to sign will be sent to a German labor camp.”- May 18, 1943

Expository writing’s purpose is to explain, inform, or even describe.

Finally, there are excerpts taken from the diary where Anne makes a persuasive argument for the goodness of people, even in the most awful of circumstances:

“Human greatness does not lie in wealth or power, but in character and goodness. People are just people, and all people have faults and shortcomings, but all of us are born with a basic goodness.  If we were to start by adding to that goodness instead of stifling it, by giving poor people the feeling that they too are human beings, we wouldn’t necessarily have to give money or material things, since not everyone has them to give.” March 26, 1944

A persuasive argument is a writer’s attempt to convince readers of the validity of a particular opinion on a controversial issue.

Anne’s opinion about the goodness of people during the horrors of the Holocaust is a remarkable argument.

The Diary of Anne Frank gave rise to other genres. Anne’s diaries served as the source material for a play produced in 1955 and then as a film in 1959.

The genre of The Diary of Anne Frank, however, should not be the focus, or the reason for its selection into a curriculum or unit of study. Instead, it is the quality of the writing from a young girl that makes the diary a significant contribution to the literature of the 20th Century.Screenshot 2015-06-11 18.50.33

Novelist and former president of the PEN American Center, Francine Prose revisited the diary and was “struck by how beautiful and brilliant it is.” Prose’s research on Anne Frank as a writer culminated with her own retelling, Anne Frank: The Book, the Life, the Afterlife, in which she makes a strong case for the literary quality of Anne’s writing:

“And the more I thought about it, the more I realized how rarely people have really recognized what a conscious, incredible work of literature it is.”

In an interview on the PBS website, Prose was asked, “Do you think there is something about Anne Frank’s voice that continues to resonate with young people today?” Her response,

“I do. Because the diary was written by a kid, it is almost uniquely suited to be read by a kid. Salinger and Mark Twain certainly got certain things right about being a kid; but they weren’t kids when they wrote their books. The diary works on so many different levels.”

When selections from The Diary of Anne Frank were first published in the “Het Parool” on April 3, 1946, the historian Jan Romein also recognized how Anne’s young literary voice rose above the inhumanity that caused in her death at 15 years in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. In his review, he writes:

“… this apparently inconsequential diary by a child… stammered out in a child’s voice, embodies all the hideousness of fascism, more so than all the evidence at Nuremberg put together.”

Romein’s review elevates the “apparently inconsequential diary” as testimony in making a legal case against the Nazi regime. It is that power in Anne’s voice that makes her diary a powerful text to offer students, whether it fits the percentages in a CCSS aligned unit of study for an informational text or not.

Her entry on July 15, 1944, written 20 days before she and her family are betrayed to the Nazis reveals yet another genre:

 “I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

For there is poetry in that entry as well.

Who wants to rewrite curriculum this summer?

(Anyone? Anyone?…..)

Let’s be honest. Writing  or rewriting curriculum is a ongoing process that, while necessary, is not always seen as the most positive experience. Moreover, the suggestion of spending summer days writing curriculum (paid or unpaid) may trigger range of emotions, some strangely akin to the model offered by Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying.

That model is commonly referred to as the “five stages of grief”, and those five stages have been applied to many different sciences, from the financial markets (The Five Stage of Bit-Coin Understanding in Fortune Magazine) to sports (The Five Stages of NFL Fan Grief in The Atlantic). The premise of the film Groundhog Day is that the protagonist Phil, is forced to repeat each day as he fails at each stage. Perhaps it is that kind of failure that makes educators confront curriculum revision exhibiting a range of different emotions.

Because the  Kübler-Ross model was developed to address the lack of curriculum in hospitals, the model contains language that is especially applicable to any form of curriculum in general. The descriptions in each of the five stages chronicle the emotional rollercoaster that educators at any grade level or in any content area may experience in addressing revisions to curriculum.

Five emotional stages of curriculum?

Five emotional stages of curriculum development: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and in front, Acceptance.

 

 

1. Denial and Isolation

The first reaction to writing curriculum may be to deny the necessity of the rewrite entirely. According to Kubler Ross, this first reaction, “is a normal reaction to rationalize overwhelming emotions.” Since the overwhelming emotion from teachers at the end of the year (June) is most likely exhaustion, the idea of starting over may not generate a great deal of enthusiasm with the following protests:

“Didn’t we just do this last year?”
“I just finished the whole thing! Why does it need revising?”
“It was the snow day cancellations…I hear there is no polar vortex predicted for next year.”
“Face it…no matter what we write, we are never going to be able to get to World War II.”

2. Anger

As some approach writing curriculum in denial, others may express anger that may be aimed at inanimate objects. In the Kubler-Ross model, frustrations are directed at the PARCC or CCSS or any other state testing. The challenge to revise curriculum means confronting the incendiary topic of testing:

“There are not enough school hours to complete everything in that binder [of curriculum]to prepare students for that test.”
“Take away the tests, and I’ll deliver the curriculum.”
“It’s those tests that need to change!”

3. Bargaining

The normal reaction to feelings of helplessness and vulnerability can be seen as need to regain control, and in education the Kubler-Ross stage might be captured with statements like these:

“Forget the revision…..I promise I will be more organized next year. I plan on buying post-it notes.”
“Release me from lunch duty, and I’ll have time to deliver the curriculum as is!”
“All we need to do is practice fidelity to all of the the program(s) we have already…I mean all of them….simultaneously….”

4. Depression

In the Kubler-Ross model, sadness and regret predominate this stage of depression. Educators may recognize that they have spent less time on things that matter, and in a series of admissions, agree that something about the events of the past year went terribly wrong:

“I never get to the poetry unit.”
“Someday, I might actually teach about World War II.”
“I confess…Ithrew out the pile of ungraded papers that were in the bottom of my desk drawer since April.”

5. Acceptance

This final stage is marked by those who will finally approach the task of curriculum revision with a sense of calm and commitment. Kubler-Ross is careful to point out that this (hopefully final) stage is not a stage of happiness, but rather a stage of acceptance that can demonstrate a dignity and grace to provide a curriculum that will be carefully revised for the rest of us.

Thank you in advance to all those educators who will remain calm and accept the need to revise curriculum to meet the ever changing demands in education today. They need to get started right away because, good grief…
September is only a few months away!

That letter “O” morphing on your search engine for Mother’s Day?
That spinning Globe for Earth Day?
Those jigging leprechauns for St. Patrick’s Day?
These are all the Google Doodles from 2015 to celebrate holidays.

There are also Google doodle tributes to individuals. Emmy Noether (physicist), Laura Ingalls Wilder (author), and Anna Atkins (botonist), have been featured in doodles this year (2015) as individuals whose work was celebrated as having made an impact in our lives today. Each of the doodles represents the individual artistically using elements that best represent their work.

Some of the Google doodles are interactive. The Google doodle for Martha Graham is a 15 second celebration of dance. The Google doodle for Robert Moog provides a miniature electronic analog Moog Synthesizer (keyboard) that the viewer can play. The tribute to journalist Nellie Bly features a Youtube video scored with an original song (Music: “Nellie” by Karen O).

There are also international tributes not seen here in the United States with Google doodles for surrealist artist Leonora Carrington (Latin America/Australia); the oldest primary grade student at 84 years old, Kimani Maruge (Kenya); and womens’ rights activist, Henrietta Edwards (Canada).

The first Google Doodle celebrating a vacation at the Burning Man Festival

The first Google doodle celebrated a vacation by Google founders Larry and Sergey at the Burning Man Festival

The first Google Doodle (right) was a comical message that the Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin were out of the office attending the Burning Man Festival. The Google Doodle Archive houses the entire collection (1998-present). A scroll through the graphics shows how Google’s primary colored logo is changed in a way that is often surprising or magical. Clicking on the Google doodle takes the reader to a page with information about the event or person, and information about the graphic design and artist for the page.

There are hundreds of doodles, and information on the archive states:

Creating doodles is now the responsibility of a team of talented illlustrators (we call them doodlers) and engineers. For them, creating doodles has become a group effort to enliven the Google homepage and bring smiles to the faces of Google users around the world.

Now, consider that a key shift of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is to build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction. The explanation on the CCSS website is:

Students must be immersed in information about the world around them if they are to develop the strong general knowledge and vocabulary they need to become successful readers and be prepared for college, career, and life. Informational texts play an important part in building students’ content knowledge. Further, it is vital for students to have extensive opportunities to build knowledge through texts so they can learn independently.

Students at all grade levels can independently develop an interpretation of the Google doodle graphic. After studying the logo created by Google illustrators (doodlers), teachers can determine if the link that takes students information on the holiday, the anniversary, or the biography is appropriate for age or grade level reading. Each link contains general information that aligns to the CCSS shift to “build knowledge through content-rich nonfiction.” There is information on these links that might lead students to investigate the person or topic on the doodle even further.

Should a student have an idea for a Google doodle, “The doodle team is always excited to hear ideas from users – they can email proposals@google.com with ideas for the next Google doodle.” There are hundreds of suggestions daily, but the information of the website assures students that, “…rest assured that we’re reading them :)”

Another opportunity for students to submit ideas for a Google doodle (Doodle 4 Google) will be available in September 2015. The details for the 8th annual US competition will be announced then, and examples of student entry winners in 2014 are available for viewing on the website as well.

A quick click on the Google doodle can be an engaging mini-lesson for students in building background knowledge….especially when the information is offered in a logo that is dancing, leaping, morphing, twisting, falling, jumping, running, exploding, singing, growing….

“You can’t swing a teddy bear around here without hitting an artist,” quipped Lane Smith, a children’s picture book artist (It’s a Book, The True Story of the Three Little Pigs) with two Caldecott Medal awards to his credit. Smith was sitting next to my friend Catherine at the Roxbury Minor Memorial Public Library in Litchfield County, Connecticut.

He was correct. The illustrator Wendall Minor  (Nibble Nibble; The Eagles Are BackIf You Spent a Day with Thoreau at Walden Pond) was sitting only a few seats away.

The geographical map of Northwest Connecticut is an “Area of Maximum Artist Density” where artists of all kinds reside. Catherine and I were spending Saturday afternoon in the small library conference room listening to a lecture by Leonard S. Marcus one of the world’s leading authorities on children’s books and their illustration. (See Catherine’s post here).

FullSizeRender

The subject of his talk was illustrator Leonard Weisgard who (no surprise here) had also lived in Roxbury until the late 60’s. The title of the talk was “Modernist in the Nursery: The Art of Legendary Illustrator Leonard Weisgard” and Marcus came prepared with multiple slides that highlighted the influences and illustrations in Weisgard’s long career as both a picture book artist and author and as a commercial artist (New Yorker).  In offering this talk, Marcus was surrounded by members of Weisgard’s family and former Roxbury neighbors. For them, this was a reunion; for us, this was a star-studded affair.

Marcus is an author himself including: Show Me a Story!; Golden Legacy: How Golden Books Won Children’s Hearts, Changed Publishing Forever, and Became an American Icon Along the Way). He was the curator of the New York Public Library 2014 exhibit, “The A,B,C of It: Why Children’s Books Matter” (which I wrote about in a post here).

Introducing Weisgard as a Modernist, Marcus discussed the development of children’s picture books as separating into those “Once upon a time…” stories of morals and lessons or those stories in which a child could insert himself or herself. Weisgard illustrated the later, and he often paired with Margaret Wise Brown to create books that appealed to a child’s sense of play and imagination, including:

In his 1947 Caldecott Acceptance speech, Weisgard spoke of this approach in his illustrations:

“We experimented with color for sound and shapes for emotion, letting the child bring the magic of movement, in a series of Noisy books. So that a radiator would be placed in a shape suggested by the hissing noise it makes, and the round sound of a ticking clock would put it into a circle.”

He also spoke of the brilliant colors in his pictures and pages filled with movement in this speech:

“There are times in illustrating when the artist of today must rub his nose against the reality of things and try to catch with the honesty of a child a yellow sun like a pat of butter in the sky, with clouds of cottage cheese and the smoke of boats flying in all directions, with no concern for north or east. Houses with windows gaping and people like raisins on the street, a fire engine tearing off the page and a policeman stopping everything.”

His appreciation and respect for his young audience is also summed up in this speech:

“Children are never as disturbed as grown-ups by contemporary arts, a streamlined plane, or a gallery of modern painting. They see an image with real meaning and vitality and sometimes with incongruous humor giving it a sharper reality.”

Weisgard’s acceptance speech contradicts some of the practices that have come about as a result of educators trying to increase rigor by choosing complex texts that are too often inaccessible for their young readers.  Here in his Caldecott acceptance speech some 68 years earlier, was Weisgard defending the ability of young children to read his illustrations that are very complex but also accessible.

Leonard Marcus with Leonard Weisgard's daughter Abby at the discussion "Modernist in the Nursery"

Leonard Marcus with Leonard Weisgard’s daughter Abby at the discussion “Modernist in the Nursery”

The only wrinkle in an otherwise perfect afternoon was the slight delay caused by a technology glitch. Marcus’s Powerpoint presentation was stuck in presentation mode, and try as he and the other artists might, they could not change out of the presenter’s view of showing several slides simultaneously.

“Oh, well, sighed Marcus, “You’ll get a chance to see what slide is coming up…”

While the artists Minor, Smith, and Marcus struggled together with  uncooperative technology for those minutes, I did come up with this riddle:

Q: How many artists does it take to set up a powerpoint?

A: It doesn’t matter. Only their art does.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr, a Civil War veteran and a future Supreme Court Justice, delivered a Memorial Day Speech on May 30, 1884, at Keene, New Hampshire, as a tribute to fallen soldiers from the War Between the States. Educators can take an opportunity to use this speech, a primary source document, with their students to study both the historical events that Holmes references as well as his rhetorical style.

First page of Holmes's speech published in book format

First page of Holmes’s speech published in book format

In the first part of the speech, Holmes lays out his belief that twenty years after the Civil War, reunification of the States was possible because of the respect each side had for the other’s convictions:

We believed that it was most desirable that the North should win; we believed in the principle that the Union is indissoluable; we, or many of us at least, also believed that the conflict was inevitable, and that slavery had lasted long enough. But we equally believed that those who stood against us held just as sacred conviction that were the opposite of ours, and we respected them as every men with a heart must respect those who give all for their belief.

Knowing that many in the audience where from the John Sedgwick Post No. 4, Grand Army of the Republic and they had also served in the war, Holmes connected his battlefield memories to theirs, “But you all have known such; you, too, remember!

Holmes poetically recalled his fallen comrades who were killed on the battlefield: a 19-year-old 2nd lieutenant, a fair-haired lad, a surgeon, a captain:

I see them now, more than I can number, as once I saw them on this earth. They are the same bright figures, or their counterparts, that come also before your eyes; and when I speak of those who were my brothers, the same words describe yours.

Holmes then paid tribute to those women who suffered the loss of their husbands, fathers, and brothers; those “…whose sex forbade them to offer their lives, but who gave instead their happiness.” His rhetorical question about the women left behind because of the consequences of war is timeless:

Which of us has not been lifted above himself by the sight of one of those lovely, lonely women, around whom the wand of sorrow has traced its excluding circle–set apart, even when surrounded by loving friends who would fain bring back joy to their lives?

In concluding the speech, Holmes recalls the passion of those young men who entered the Civil War when their “hearts were touched with fire” only to learn that life is “a profound and passionate thing.”

For Social Studies teachers, the speech references different locations where battles took place: Petersburg, Antietam, Port Hudson, and the White Oak Swamp. Holmes also mentions the men killed at those battles: Col. Paul Revere, Jr.; Lt. James. J. Lowell; William L. Putnam; and the suicidal charge of the 20th Massachusetts Regiment. Each location, each name provides students an opportunity for research.

For English Language Arts teachers, the speech is filled with rhetorical devices that students can identify, and then evaluate each devices’s effectiveness in supporting Holmes’s message:

  • Comrades, some of the associations of this day are not only triumphant, but joyful. (direct address)
  • Such hearts–ah me, how many!–were stilled twenty years ago. (caesura-any interruption or break.)
  • Not all of those with whom we once stood shoulder to shoulder–not all of those whom we once loved and revered–are gone.(Anaphora – repeats a word or phrase in successive phrases)
  • Who does not remember the leader of the assault of the mine at Petersburg? (rhetorical question)

In the final lines of the speech, Holmes leans heavily on a literary conceit (elaborate metaphor) of life as music:

Our dead brothers still live for us, and bid us think of life, not death–of life to which in their youth they lent the passion and joy of the spring. As I listen , the great chorus of life and joy begins again, and amid the awful orchestra of seen and unseen powers and destinies of good and evil our trumpets sound once more a note of daring, hope, and will.

Of the 3600 words in Holmes’s speech, the most frequently used words are man, life, and day. By repeating these words, his tribute on Memorial Day in 1884 calls attention to the sacrifices of fallen soldiers in his century, and in ours.

The first 10 days in the National Day Calendar of May 2015 have been crowded with days of tributes and appreciation. A few of the more notable days include:Screenshot 2015-05-10 14.59.14

While several of these day are associated with historical events: (May Day, Cinco de Mayo, VE WWII Day) or other worthwhile causes (World Press Freedom, National Day of Prayer, World Red Cross/Red Crescent) many of the other days have been designated as tribute those who occupy professions dedicated to serving others.

According to the Online Etymological Dictionary,  the word “service” originates from the verb “to serve” (v.) in the late 12th Century originating from the Old French verb servir meaning “minister, give aid, give help,” and from the Latin servus “to do duty toward” or “show devotion to.” This verb took on a sense of “be useful, be beneficial, be suitable for a purpose or function” before shifting to that sense of “take the place or meet the needs of, be equal to the task” during the 14th Century.

By the mid-13th Century, the noun service meant the “state of being bound to undertake tasks for someone or at someone’s direction; labor performed or undertaken for another” which eventually led to its association with military service. In keeping with this theme of service, please note the May 9th calendar date above dedicated to appreciating military spouses.public-service

Today’s definition of service as a verb is “to provide (someone) with something that is needed or wanted,” or as a noun, “the occupation or function of serving.” This definition of service is at the heart of the efforts of teachers, nurses, and those in the military. Everyday, men and women in these professions “give aid” or “help”; everyday they provide what is needed in “labor performed or undertaken for another.”

Teacher DayAs as teacher, I am pleased that there was an entire week for Teacher Appreciation (May 3-9th) with National Teacher’s Day on May 5th. May 6th of this week was designated as National Nurses Day, including school nurses, celebrated during National Nurses Week (May 6-12).   Perhaps it is not so strange that these weeks should have overlapped in paying tribute to those who help or serve others. I am often reminded by how much the fields of education and nursing attract people drawn to similar service, and as an example, I offer the following story.

Several years ago, when my two sons were attending the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, my husband and I took a number of midshipmen out to dinner. There were 13 young men and women seated around us that night, and the conversation turned to what their parents did for a living.

“What does your mother do?” I asked one of the midshipmen.
“She’s a nurse,” he replied.
“So is mine,” added the young women next to him; she seemed surprised.
“Mine is in education, a special ed teacher,” stated the young man opposite me.

And so it went around the dinner table: “a nurse’s aide” or “a teacher” or “a teacher’s aide” or “a nurse.” Out of the 13 young men and women who would be entering the military service (US Navy or United States Marine Corps) after graduating the Naval Academy, all 13 had mothers who were either in nursing or education. I am convinced that 13 for 13 is not coincidence, but rather an illustration of how one life dedicated to public service in nursing or in education influences other lives to enter public service.

The informal survey taken around the dinner table that night also illustrated the influence of mothers, and so it should come as no surprise that paying tribute to those who serve during the month of May would culminate in the ultimate day of appreciation to the paramount profession of service called Mother’s Day. Literally and figuratively, mothers are those who have served in “labor performed or undertaken for another”!Screenshot 2015-05-10 14.56.40

While National Holiday Calendar sets up days to appreciate the indispensable efforts of teachers, nurses, and mothers in the first weeks of May, it also had designated May 4th as National Star Wars Day.

How fitting that we take time to celebrate the efforts of teachers, of nurses, and of mothers everywhere….May the Fourth be with them all throughout the year!

This weekend marks the 100th Anniversary of the World War I poem “In Flanders Fields”. This poem was written by Canadian physician and poet Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae on  May 3, 1915, as a tribute to his fallen friend, Alexis Helmer, who was killed at the Second Battle of Ypes. Canadian forces lost 5,975 men in this battle that marked the first use of poison gas by the German army.

According to legend, McCrae threw away the poem, but it was rescued from obscurity when fellow soldiers retrieved it from a wastebasket. The poem is popular as one of the memorial statements for WWI particularly in Canada. McCrae never returned home as he died of pneumonia near the end of the war.

The poem is written as a rondeau, a form of song that originated in France  between the late 13th and the 15th centuries. The format has a fixed pattern with a refrain; the scansion is AB-aAab-AB, where “A” and “B” are the repeated refrain parts, and “a” and “b” the remaining verses:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place, and in the sky,
The larks, still bravely singing, fly,
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead; short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe!
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high!
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Ceramic poppies commemorate British soldiers killed during WWI

Ceramic poppies commemorate British soldiers killed during WWI

The poem was published in the British magazine Punch seven months later, and its references to the red poppies that grow on the fields of battle where soldiers fell gave rise to the “remembrance poppy.” Sales of remembrance poppies, usually made of silk, were used to fund war bonds, and after WWI, continued to be sold to fund veteran’s programs.

This past year (August-November 2014), a total of 888,246 ceramic kiln-fired remembrance poppies, hand formed by artists, were planted on the grounds of the Tower of London. Each of the poppies represented a British soldier killed during WWI.

The Tower Remembers Project website hosts videos on the creation of the poppies, which are the brainchild of artists Paul Cummins and Tom Piper.

888,246  poppies spill from the walls of the Tower of London; one for each British soldier killed in WWI.

888,246 poppies spill from the walls of the Tower of London; one for each British soldier killed in WWI.Paul Cummins

The exhibit called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red was installed at the Tower of London, in order to mark the one hundred year anniversary of Britain’s engagement in the First World War.

The ceramic poppies were sold and the proceeds split between six different charities, all associated with supporting veterans of war.

The poem also inspired the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypes, Belgium. In the museum, the poppies are on bracelets with imbedded RFID-chips that allow the wearer to read the personal stories about the war, filmed monologues and aerial photography.

Here in the United States, the American Legion adopted the poppy as their official symbol of remembrance in 1920 through the efforts of University of Georgia Professor Moina Michael.

The poem that McCrea wrote for a friend has inspired memorials to those who fought and died in World War I and all other wars as well. The poppy has been the torch, a way to “not break faith with us who die.”