Friday, May 28, 2010

Simone de Beauvoir: A New Translation and A Look Back

Simone de Beauvoir, MEMOIRS OF A DUTIFUL DAUGHTERKnopf has published a new translation of Simone de Beauvoir's The Second Sex. It's the first new translation in almost sixty years—and it includes materials previously edited out of the original translation. The Second Sex is a bit of a rusty classic. Women's lives—at least in the developed world—have changed dramatically.

However, Simone de Beauvoir is still as fascinating as ever. She chronicled her early life in Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter—an intimate picture of growing up in a bourgeois French family, rebelling as an adolescent against the conventional expectations of her class, and striking out on her own with an intellectual and existential ambition exceedingly rare in a young woman in the 1920s.

And, of course, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Satre were one of the world's legendary couples. Hazel Rowley does this passionate, freethinking pair justice in Tête-à-Tête: Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Satre. The New York Times Book Review said, "Engrossing... Tells Beauvoir and Sartre’s repellent, inspiring and unlikely tale more completely and concisely than it has ever been told."

Positive Psychology and The Importance of Studying Happiness

Though it may seem frivolous at first glance, there has been a surge of interest lately in books and courses that focus on positive psychology, or simply, what makes people happy. This subject has generated a great deal of academic interest in part because of its applications in the field of social policy. While social progress has traditionally been measured in strictly economic terms, the abundance of new research on happiness has allowed policy-makers to gauge the effectiveness of their work in different, and in some cases more useful, terms.

With the increased attention this area of psychology has generated, there have been several books published on the subject of happiness. In Curious? Todd Kashdan, a renowned psychology professor, posits that the secret to a fulfilling life is to cultivate curiosity. His thesis is encouraging: happiness is not elusive, but rather the product of challenging oneself and engaging more fully with one’s surroundings.

Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project explores the same central question as Kashdan’s book: what is it that makes us happy? But while Curious? asks the question from a scholarly perspective, The Happiness Project tackles it from a personal one. In The Happiness Project, Rubin recounts a year in which she made a new resolution every month with the goal of enhancing her outlook. Her report of the year is funny, illuminating and uplifting.

The study of happiness can be academic while also being accessible and personal. Books on happiness teach students the importance of caring for their mental health and challenging themselves intellectually, lessons that work especially well in first-year experience programs.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

A Student Reviews Daphne Du Maurier's REBECCA

What do students REALLY think of the classroom classic Rebecca?

Here's a review by a student.

Required Summer Reading in High Schools

There's always a lot of debate about required summer reading for high school students.

Should summer reading be required? The high school teachers who I know believe it's important to keep students reading during the summer—but many also tell me that a good percentage of students don't complete the assignment—even students who have enrolled in an Advanced Placement course! Some schools have resorted to asking parents and students to sign a contract stating that summer reading and assignments will be completed.

What to read? These lists can cause an uproar. Last year, parents at a suburban Chicago public high school wanted Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian pulled from the required reading list because “it uses foul, racist language and describes sexual acts”—but it remains on the school’s list for 2010.

In addition to classic literature such as Rebecca, Brave New World, and Their Eyes Were Watching God, high schools assign an array of contemporary titles. Barbara Kingsolver's The Bean Trees, The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, The Things They Carried, Outliers, Fast Food Nation, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, and Three Cups of Tea appear on many required reading lists. This year The Help by Kathyrn Stockett and William Kamkwamba's The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind: Creating Currents of Electricty and Hope are making their first appearances on high school required summer reading lists.

Here's a sampling of high school summer reading lists from around the country:
You've probably noticed that Thomas C. Foster's How to Read Literature Like a Professor is a summer reading favorite as is Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Here, they meet in our First Page video series: Thomas C. Foster, a professor at the University of Michigan, leads students through the first page of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird. Professor Foster shows students how the first page of a novel holds the key to style, point of view, narrative identity—and other important clues to what is to come. We hope you'll share this video with your students before they start their summer reading assignment.

Find more videos like this on To Kill a Mockingbird 50th Anniversary

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Margaret Wise Brown's 100th Birthday

If she'd only written Goodnight Moon, Margaret Wise Brown would still be a legend. But, she didn't stop there. The Runaway Bunny and Big Red Barn are among her other works—and I hope you've had the duel pleasure of having them read to you when you were a child and returning the favor to a child you love.

On May 23rd, celebrate Margaret Wise Brown's 100th birthday by visiting her haunts in New York City with her acclaimed biographer Leonard Marcus as your guide. Visit the places where Ms. Brown lived, wrote, taught second grade, had cocktails with Ursula Nordstrom and H.A. Rey, and just possibly hatched plans for The Golden Egg Book and Great Green Room. The fun starts at 2 pm at the southwest corner of Fifth Avenue and 10th Street. Tickets, $20. Reserve by contacting Leonard Marcus.

If you can't make the tour, you can always spend the afternoon reading Margaret Wise Brown: Awakened by the Moon by Leonard Marcus or reading Two Little Trains to a child.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


What He's Poised to Do by Ben GreenmanHave you ever read a novel that possessed you so intensely that you fantasized about corresponding with the characters? As a child, the five sisters—Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte and Gertiewho came of age in turn-of-the-century Lower East Side New York City in the All-of-a-Kind Family series of books by Sydney Taylor, as well as disgraced aspiring writer-cum-spy Harriet M. Welsch of New York City's posh Upper East Side in Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh, were literary characters who vividly held my imagination as well as my heart. When I was an angst-ridden teenager I would have loved to have been the pen pal of Holden Caulfield of The Catcher in the Rye.

Ben Greenman, an editor at The New Yorker and the author of the upcoming books What He's Poised to Do: Stories and Celebrity Chekhov, has just launched a very clever and fun blog named Letters with Character: Letters Written to Fictional Characters by Actual People. It is an interactive literary environment in which Greenman encourages people to submit letters to their favorite literary characters. In essence it is also a wonderful and fun learning toola perfectly engaging creative writing prompt for your students. Student's letters to a fictional character can be funny, sad, demanding, fanciful, declarative, or trivial. They can be about a novel, a short story, or a children’s book, works both literary or popular. There is only one requirement: the letters must be written by a real person and must also address an unreal one.

The best, most interesting, strangest, and most moving letters will be collected on the blog. Visit the site to see a selection of those that have already been written, including a critique of Shakespeare's Goneril, a moving consideration of middle age addressed to a García Márquez heroine, and a hilarious query to Richard Scarry's Lowly Worm.
Students may submit their letters to fictional characters to

In the News: Diane Ravitch

THE AMERICAN READER by Diane RavitchDiane Ravitch's new book The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education has just been published by Basic Books. As usual, Ms. Ravitch finds herself in the thick of current debates about education. Vouchers? Charter schools? A national curriculum? Testing? Although she's often referred to as a conservative, Ravtich always looks at the available data on education—and she draws her own well-reasoned conclusions.

In 2000, we published a book that was edited by Diane Ravitch. The American Reader: Words that Moved a Nation isn't a book about education—although it's rightly found its place in classrooms. It's a collection of speeches, songs, essays, letters, and other documents that Ms. Ravitch chose for their ability to illuminate different aspects of our national conciousness.

From The Mayflower Compact to Ronald Reagan—Ravitch includes materials from each era. Albert Shanker, former president of American Federation of Teachers said, "Far more than a marvelous collection of text and images, Ravitch's anthology is also a journey through the American democratic experience. And by showing us the contributions diverse Americans have made to articulating our common democratic ideals and to our efforts to live up to them, Ravitch has provided a sourcebook of unity for our 'teeming Nation of nations.'"

You have to be impressed by a collection that includes Bob Dylan and Dwight D. Eisenhower. You can see the Table of Contents here.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

John Crowley's FOUR FREEDOMS

FOUR FREEDOMS by John Crowley“There are some people—and I’m one of them—for whom life consists only of passing the time between novels by John Crowley.”—Michael Chabon, author of Manhood For Amateurs

I can say the same as Michael Chabon. However, I admit that I didn't jump in willingly. Colleagues told me that I "had" to read Little, Big—but I could never seem to find the time to read a nearly 600-page book featuring characters named Smoky Barnable and Daily Alice Drinkwater. Another push by John's publisher—and I sat down on a rainy Sunday morning with Little, Big—and I didn't move until it was time for dinner. And, that's how I joined the Crowley camp. I'm in good company. Howard Bloom is also a fan: “Little, Big seems to me as miraculous as Shakespeare or Lewis Carroll: it is as if the book had always been there. . . as though John Crowley found it, and brought it home with him and to us.”

Since that rainy Sunday, I've waited for the next novel by John Crowley with great anticipation—and I have never been disappointed. Next was The Translator ("Crowley’s subject matter is grand and serious, involving nothing less than the souls of nations and the transforming power of language.”—New York Times Book Review) which was followed by Lord Byron's Novel (“An astounding display of scholarship and imagination."—Washington Post Book World).

Now, John Crowley's Four Freedoms is available in paperback. Set in World War II America, Four Freedoms follows the stories of a group of aircraft factory workers. Named one of the Best Books of 2009 by the Washington Post, Four Freedoms “perfectly captures an era—WWII America—when the chosen are overseas and the left-behind are granted a rare moment of possibility. Crowley’s extraordinary characters and the poignant, funny, disturbing ways they find to connect with one another make you wish this war would never end.” (San Francisco Chronicle)
And, the wait for the next novel begins again.

Summer Assignment: Cotton Swab?

Inside Higher Ed reports that the University of California at Berkeley has decided not to assign summer reading to its incoming freshman class and transfer students. Instead, students will be asked to return a cotton swab covered in cells collected from their inner cheeks. Why? It's an introduction to genetic analysis and to the emerging field of personalized medicine. Of course, results will be kept confidential. Throughout the term, students can turn to a website for optional readings—and there will be a lecture delivered by Jasper Rine, a professor of genetics, genomics and development and panel discussions on legal and ethical issues related to the emergence of personalized genomic technologies.

This sounds innovative and interesting, but why not ask students to read The Language of Life: DNA and the Revolution of Personalized Medicine by Francis S. Collins or Matt Ridley's Genome: The Autobiography of a Species in 23 Chapters?

For those Berkeley freshmen who would like to know more before the fall semester, Dr. Francis Collins—director of the National Institutes of Health—gives a quick overview of where personalized medicine is now.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Banned Books: Gay & Lesbian Literature in the School Library

According to the Guardian, Revolutionary Voices, a collection of stories, poems and artwork by young homosexuals, was banned at Rancocas Valley Regional High School last week.

AM I BLUE? edited by Marion Dane BauerI still remember the uproar caused by Am I Blue?: Coming Out from the Silence when it was published in 1994. This collection of original stories—including works from such authors as C. S. Adler, Marion Dane Bauer, Francesca Lia Block, Bruce Coville, Nancy Garden, James Cross Giblin, Ellen Howard, M. E. Kerr, Jonathan London, Lois Lowry, Gregory Maguire, and Jane Yolen—honestly portrays the book's central theme of growing up gay or lesbian, or with gay or lesbian parents or friends. The book received wonderful reviews—and it won a slew of honors:

  • ALA Quick Pick for Reluctant Young Adult Readers
  • ALA Best of the Best Books for Young Adults
  • ALA Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgendered Book Award
  • Horn Book Fanfare
  • New York Public Library Books for the Teen Age
  • Minnesota Book Award

And, still, Am I Blue? was challenged in many districts.

It's been sixteen years since Am I Blue? was published—and there's still a need for teens to have access to books like it. In yesterday's Guardian article, Amy Sonnie, the editor of Revolutionary Voices, read from a letter from a 15-year-old boy, who wrote that on reading the volume he was relieved to discover "that there were other people out there who shared elements of my identity."

Friday, May 7, 2010

Non-fiction Summer Reading for Young Adults: KICKING UP DIRT

KICKING UP DIRT by Ashley Fiolek with Caroline Ryder Summer is fast approaching and teachers and students may be thinking about appropriate books for summer reading. Students interested in an uplifting personal story should be sure to check out Kicking Up Dirt by Ashley Fiolek with Caroline Ryder.

Kicking Up Dirt is Ashley’s own remarkable and improbable story. Born profoundly deaf, Ashley developed an early passion for motocross racing – a passion which led her to become the top female competitor in the sport at age nineteen. Kicking Up Dirt is narrated with the spunk and candor that has made Ashley successful in overcoming personal and professional obstacles. Her story and attitude is infectious and sure to appeal to young adult readers looking for a fun summer read.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

New Anti-Bullying Law

Four months after the suicide of a 15-year-old girl who was bullied by classmates, the governor of Massachussetts, Deval Patrick, signed new legislation that strengthens anti-bullying education in the state.

For those looking for classroom resources to stem bullying, Mike Koren, a middle-school teacher in Wisconsin, has written a
curriculum guide to Letters to a Bullied Girl by Olivia Gardner with Emily Buder and Sarah Buder. Olivia Gardner was relentlessly bullied. When the Buder sisters heard about Olivia's plight, they started a campaign of comfort and inspiration by encouraging people to write her letters. Letters to a Bullied Girl is the result. Olivia heard from those who had been bullied, those who stood by, and from people who had been bullies. It's an extraordinary collection—and Mike Koren's curriculum guide makes it easy to incorporate into your anti-bullying campaign.

Also of note as a resource for parents, teachers, and administrators is the updated edition of The Bully, the Bullied, and the Bystander by
Barbara Coloroso—which includes a new section of cyberbullying.

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD: Historical Resources for Teachers

THE EYES OF WILLIE McGEE by Alex HeardTeaching To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee is an opportunity for educators to introduce their students to the America of the Great Depression and to the American South during the Jim Crow era.

Here are several resources that place To Kill a Mockingbird in a historical prespective:

American Experience's documentary "Scottsboro: An American Tragedy:" In the 1930s the trials of the nine falsely accused teens would draw North and South into their sharpest conflict since the Civil War, yield two momentous Supreme Court decisions and give birth to the Civil Rights Movement. The film is supplemented with a timeline, maps, contemporary interviews, and a teacher's guide.

That's Alabama and ThinkQuest provide outlines of the Scottosboro trials.

And, I would be remiss if I left out a new book—The Eyes of Willie McGee: A Tragedy of Race, Sex, and Secrets in the Jim Crow South by Alex Heard. McGee, a handyman in a small town in Mississippi, was arrested in November 1945 and charged with the rape of white woman. During his trial, there were threats of lynching and rumors that the white woman had been the sexual aggressor. Of course, you'll note that this is similar to the plot of To Kill a Mockingbird.

This short video will introduce you and your students to the trial of Willie McGee.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Immigration History: The Bible Riots of 1844

A NATION RISING by Kenneth C. DavisWith immigration policy in the news, many teachers are asking their students to take a closer look at the history of immigration.
Let Kenneth C. Davis tell your students about the Bible Riots of 1844 in this video.
In May 1844, Philadelphia—the City of Brotherly Love—was torn apart by a series of bloody riots. Known as the “Bible Riots,” they grew out of the vicious anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic sentiment that was so widespread in 19th century America. Families were burned out of their homes. Churches were destroyed. And more than two dozen people died in one of the worst urban riots in American history.
This is just one of the many historical episodes that often don't appear in a standard history textbook—and you'll find more in A Nation Rising: Untold Tales of Flawed Founders, Fallen Heroes, and Forgotten Fighters from America’s Hidden History by Kenneth C. Davis.

You'll find more educational videos for you and your students at HarperAcademic on TeacherTube.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Focus on History: THE WILDERNESS WARRIOR by Douglas Brinkley and MASTERS AND COMMANDERS by Andrew Roberts

The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley

In The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America, Douglas Brinkley draws on never-before-published materials to examine the life and achievements of Theodore Roosevelt, our “naturalist president,” who, by setting aside more than 230 million acres of wild America for posterity between 1901 and 1909, made conservation a universal endeavor.

Tracing the role that nature played in Roosevelt’s storied career, Brinkley illuminates Roosevelt’s bird watching in the Adirondacks, wildlife obsession in Yellowstone, hikes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, ranching in the Dakota Territory, hunting in the Big Horn Mountains, and outdoor romps through Idaho and Wyoming. He also profiles Roosevelt’s incredible circle of naturalist friends, and brings to life hilarious anecdotes of wild-pig hunting in Texas and badger saving in Kansas, wolf catching in Oklahoma and grouse flushing in Iowa. Even the story of the teddy bear gets its definitive treatment. 

Praise for The Wilderness Warrior:

“Although Roosevelt’s presidency ended 100 years ago, Mr. Brinkley finds ways to make his presidential portrait a timely one. . . . The Wilderness Warrior describes a vigorously hands-on president, eager to fight more than one battle at a time. . . . Brinkley’s fervent enthusiasm for his material eventually prevails. . . . He conveys the great vigor with which Roosevelt approached his conservation mission.”—New York Times

"In The Wilderness Warrior, Douglas Brinkley brings into relief the biography, cultural influences, and political record of the most effective conservationist in history. . . . Like the Grand Canyon that as president he more or less rescued from development and mining interests in one fell swoop, Roosevelt is one of those American treasures that can make you wonder how you missed getting around to for so long." —San Francisco Chronicle

Masters and Commanders by Andrew Roberts

Masters and Commanders: How Four Titans Won the War in the West, 1941-1945, explores the degree to which the course of World War II turned on the relationships and temperaments of four of the strongest personalities of the 20th century: political masters Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt and the commanders of their armed forces, General Sir Alan Brooke and General George C. Marshall. Andrew Roberts, whom The Economist calls “Britain’s finest contemporary military historian,” traces the mutual suspicion and admiration, the rebuffs and the charm, the often-explosive disagreements and wary reconciliations, and attempts to answer some of the key questions of Allied strategy. Why, when the most direct route from Germany to Britain was through northwestern France, did the Western Allies launch attacks via North Africa, Sicily, and Rome? Why did the Allies not take Berlin, Vienna, or Prague and allow the Iron Curtain to descend where it did?

Masters and Commanders dramatically recreates the atmosphere, debates, and maneuverings through which Allied grand strategy was forged and reveals the profound impact of personality upon history.

Praise for Masters and Commanders:

"A dramatic story. . . . With his usual brisk and vivid prose, Mr. Roberts shows how these men and their busy staffs overcame conflicting interests and coordinated strategy among the Western Allies to win the war. . . . Mr. Roberts thus captures not only the personalities of World War II's masters and commanders but the dynamics of their relations. . . . Among much else, Mr. Roberts demonstrates that, despite conflicts along the way, military relations among the Western allies during World War II worked far better than during other military engagements before or since."Wall Street Journal

"Compelling. . . . Roberts chronicles in novelistic detail the battles that the Americans and the British fought . . . among themselves. . . . Roberts takes the reader on an invigorating, intellectual march from North Africa and Italy to France and finally into Germany. . . . If Roberts has left a stone unturned, it would have to be a small pebble indeed." Christian Science Monitor

If you are interested in adopting either of these books for a class, you may order an exam copy. If you have already ordered either of these books for a class, please order a complimentary desk copy.