Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mirrors, Windows, and Doors

Today was Saturday, the day which usually begins with my sweetheart and I snoozing away the morning while our children watch copious amounts of poorly supervised television.  This is not how I expected to parent, but you know what, pre-children parenting expectations?  Bite me.

To return to my point--instead, I was out of the house by 7:30 this morning, making my way across town to attend the joint conference of our state social studies and English teachers professional organizations.

I stood blearily in the check-in line, and then I realized that we all got a FREE BOOK.  The choices were all books that have been awarded the Oregon Spirit book award, a prize I've been aware of for just over 24 hours now.  Still, I had heard of some of the books, and it was a tough choice.  I finally went with The Body in the Woods, because my students are always demanding scary books, and I don't have many.

The first session I attended was on de-gendering books, or getting rid of the "girls' books" vs. "boys' books" distinction.  The panel rather awesomely included the author of the book (April Henry) I'd just gotten, and four other local authors.  All women, which is kind of sad/ironic.  The speakers were neither sad nor ironic, but instead were funny and smart and passionate.  I developed instant crushes on Robin Hererra, who talked about her 6th grade love for a particular nonfiction book on forensics, and on Martha Brockenbrough, who pointed out, "We're not raising children; we're raising adults."  She also talked about books as mirrors (reflecting our own experience), windows (letting us see someone else's experience) or doors (showing us someplace new).  LOVE THIS.  The mirrors and windows metaphor gets back to my arguments against banning books in the classroom.*  She ALSO talked about how diversity isn't just some PC touchy-feely thing, but a vital biological and creative necessity.

I'm so getting her book.

The Game of Love and Death is narrated, she said, by two young lovers, (a mixed-race couple in the 1930s), Love (a male), and Death (a female).   I had never heard of it, or her, and when I got online tonight, I found out that it was one of Cait from Paper Fury's favorite books of the last month.

Definitely getting this book.

They talked about the time Shannon Hale was a guest at a school library, and the librarian only let girls come to her presentation.  WHAT IS THIS NONSENSE?   Brockenbrough told us about the time she almost got disinvited from a school visit because her male counterpart had to cancel.

They talked about how demeaning it is to women to imply that only women and girls care what we have to say, but what men say is important to everyone.  They talked about how limiting it is to boys to say, "You can only be a real boy if you are interested in these things, and not in those things," when we keep telling girls, "You can do anything!"

They talked about how covers can affect kids' impressions of books, and how Barnes and Noble can affect cover selections.  Ms. Brockenbrough showed us how easy it is to--gasp!--strip a hardback book of its too-girly cover.  She also told us about a recent book in which she had changed one character from a boy to a girl simply by changing the name (and associated pronouns), but leaving the characters words and actions the same.  She said the character instantly became more interesting and complex--because here we have a female character who is definitely not acting in ways constricted by her gender.

One audience member brought up the fact that in books for children, talking animals and automatically male, except for the occasional 'mother' figure e.g., Kanga.  I started thinking about that--Lyle Crocodile, all of The Wind in the Willows, the creatures Alice encounters in Wonderland, Dorothy's three friends, Muffin, Biscuit, Frog & Toad...

The other speakers were Heidi Schulz, who talked about the power of "What if...?" and the moderator, whose name I didn't catch.  Careful examination of the conference brochure leads me to guess it was Amber J. Keyser, but I couldn't swear to it.    All in all, it was a fantastic panel, and I wish we'd had more time both to hear their thoughts and to do more Q&A.

It got me thinking and researching, and I'm pretty sure I'll be putting up a discussion post on this issue later this month!

Between sessions, I hit the book buying area and accidentally bought five books.  ARGH.  I can't afford to keep doing this, even though I justify it because it's for my classroom.  I got


So after a ho-hum second session, we got to hear her talk.  Well, first someone with a really bad microphone presented some social studies and English teacher awards.  I couldn't hear, so I read Lowriders, and it was adorable.  I whipped through it and had started The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, but then they started giving out book awards to people who knew how to talk into the mic, so I tuned back in.  I'd just obtained 3 of the books that got honors, so that was cool.  Then they introduced Laurie Halse Anderson, and she was as awesome as you might expect.

She focused on her historical fiction, which makes sense, since we were a mixed bag of nuts English and social studies teachers.  I did not love Fever 1793, but I still respect the research and craft entailed.  She researches the fuck out of her historicals, btw.  She also told us about how she uses three timelines as she writes and revises.  The first one is based on her research, and covers the events of the time.  The next one is her character(s), and how the real events affects their fictional story arc.  The last one is her character's internal growth, how the events they are caught up in change them as individuals.

Afterwards, I heard someone comment that they didn't expect her to be as funny as she was, and I told them that my favorite of her books is Twisted, which has a hilariously funny narrator.   I'm not sure why it doesn't get as much love as her other YA contemporaries.

I had somehow missed that the authors were upstairs autographing after lunch, but saw them when I headed up for the final session of the day.  Even though there were no lines anymore, it still took me awhile to check in with all of them.  I thought to myself, "Hmm, walk in late to a session I just chose because it sounded vaguely interesting, or sit here in this comfy chair by the window and keep reading my thriller?"

Come on, how often do you get to read a thriller in which the main character goes to your old high school?  Written by someone who just showed you how easy it is to pick the lock on handcuffs?

Happy sigh.  Can't wait to show my students the books I got, and to really play up the autographs.

*It looks like this might be Shannon Hale's metaphor.  Or does everyone say this?  

1 comment:

  1. What a great conference! I taught 6th grade SS & English for 18 years and 4th grade for 7. I was forced to retire on a disability last year and miss it so much. I was always doing book talks with the students during SS, encouraging them to read HF and books set around the world. I would have loved to beast that conference with/ you.


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