FOKIng Finally

Professional Self
Professionally, I’m rather like Mount Kilauea on the Big Island in Hawaii.  My intellectual career has been constantly erupting since 1983 but without major incident save for two occasions (for the volcano 2005 and 2008, for me 1992 and 2012).  In 1992, I graduated with my Master of Arts from The University of Wyoming and headed off for my first full-time instructor post at a state school on the bayous of South Louisiana.  My college teaching career lasted another eight years until I took a career-leave-of-absence in 2001 to birth and raise our children.  In 2012, I’ve returned to my educational roots for an academic refresher at NC State and a second Master of Arts, this time, in teaching.  I feel my softened brain continue to gain form and shape with each passing day.

Last week I was assigned my cooperating teacher for my upcoming student teaching, and although I was peeved that this assignment’s location will require a one-hour drive to and from destination, I was delightfully pleased when I began my email exchange with my mentor.  Miraculously, I suspect I’ve happened upon a fantastic pedagogical union here.  I’ll be working with juniors (the age I am most interested in teaching) from both echelons of Secondary academia, two sections of Honors A.P. English as well as two sections of general 11th grade English (mentor: “…they are lower level academically, but they are my first love and I am very, very good with them.”).  I perceive this venue as the perfect outlet to test some YA lit.  Stay tuned until final FOKI update…

And here I am, at the final departure gate, luggage in hand, ready for flight.  Although I no longer suffer from the

...and another eruption.

…and another eruption.

softened brain of August, I do question how I will fit my enlarged noggin into a winter hat.  At present, my intellectual quotient is divided by five, six really, for this class has counted as two.  But more on that later; I don’t want to use up all my FOKI fodder out of the gate.  As it were, the end of this semester finds me at present exhausted, but within a rested week, I will be ready to tackle my own classroom (in a student teacher sort of way).  I am ready, eager almost, to try out these new found intellectual wares, to see which are effective, and which need tweaking.  Will it be the young adult texts that bridge the gap from theory to practice or the young adult methodologies?  Perhaps the technology?  Likely, all of the above.

Literate Self
Having formerly taught various literature courses —primarily American and British— I could regale hours of knowledge on dead, white men and their intellectual leanings, but I have a rather large academic hole where YA literature is concerned.  During my ten-year professional hiatus, I spent many, many hours reading.  I would occasionally dabble in some of the classics I had either overlooked or not had time for in prior years (D.H. Lawrence, Theodore Dreiser, Charlotte Bronte), but I mostly read popular modern literature with a historical fiction slant (Geraldine Brooks, T. C. Boyle, John Krakauer), or travel narratives and satirical humor (Paul Theroux, David Sedaris).  Like a devout foodie, I always welcome a new gastric or literary dish:  I’ll try it once, but that doesn’t mean I’ll reorder again.

I have consumed the aforementioned young adult literary dish thrice over now, and I have Paper Covers Rock waiting in my literary free-time wing.  I continue to tabulate a running list of YA books that sound intriguing and worth a closer look.  Unlike many of my peers, I have found my foray into this genre engaging and clearly worth further development.  I have begun to tackle the issues of time and pertinence regarding YA lit in the Secondary classroom, but I have yet to draw any decisive conclusions.  

My Amazon cart continues to grow (okay, so it’s a wish list), and my library checklist is now on my phone for accessibility ease.  I intend to consume a large quantity of young adult lit this summer for my students, my daughters, and for myself.  I expect to increase Marc Aronson’s publishing dividend for it is my goal to develop a theme that has a young adult nonfiction text as its cornerstone.  I have already developed a thematic unit for my methods class that uses excerpts from The Crystal Stair, but Nelson’s work is more of an adornment on the thematic crown than the crown itself.  I’m shooting for nonfiction coronation.

Virtual Self
Ha!  Ask me this question before May 21st, 2012, and I would have called myself a proud emailing-texter crossover.  Since I began the M.A.T. program in May I’ve spent as many hours trawling the web for explanation or mastering the latest web 2.0 tool’s learning curve as I have reading articles, novels, and preparing essays. I had no idea what a technological dinosaur I had become. I would be lying if I said I didn’t find the abundance of computer skills exceedingly time consuming and sometimes frustrating, but ultimately, I recognize the need for and appreciation of my new found skills.  You should have seen the pathetically unabashed smile on my face when I finished the design of my first weebly, toondo, prezi, or storybird.

Ha!  Ask me this question before August 16th, 2012, and I would have called myself semi-ICT literate.  Midway through this semester, I would argue that my 2.0 tool apprenticeship now warrants a paycheck!  Although I continue to curse the invention of hyperlinks and non-linear websites, I no longer shy away from the more complex tasks and their technical gizmos.  Mind you, I have confirmed my prior suspicions that technical tools do make for a more varied learningscape, but they DO NOT make for a simpler one.

Ha!  In case I didn’t make myself clear during my FOKI mid, let me restate:  the digital world undoubtedly makes for a more diverse educational playing field, yet this assertion DOES NOT correlate to a simpler game.  But now that I have drunk the web 2.0 Kool-aid, I can no longer imagine an educational surface free from technology anymore than I canKool_Aid_Man-blue-orange recall myself plucking away at a typewriter.  I have come to embrace technology with an almost embarrassing zeal.  My greatest fear is that I will be stuck teaching at an institution like where I am observing, which has access to a computer cart for two days, once every two weeks!  And you would be aghast to see the outdated Lenovos the kids are forced to work on.  Shameful and fearful!

My Professional Goals for This Course
I thought my professional goals for this course were more congruently aligned with my knowledge of YA literature, but I’m going out on a limb here and suspecting that I’ll be learning as much about managing hyperlinks and web tools as I will about YA prose.  Perhaps it is fair to assume that the literary content and technological skills in this course are mutually exclusive.  I’ll get back to you on that one.

I’m “back to you on this one,” and six weeks into this course has assured me that, yes, this course is 1/3 YA lit, 1/3 technology, and 1/3 logical and reasoning skills.  I would also sprinkle this entire analysis with a healthy dose of humor-laden patience.

Your honor, the jury rests.

My Literary Goals for This Course
I plan to swallow, digest, and absorb as much YA information as my gullet can hold throughout the next three months.  I have no preconceived expectations of the material except for the innate directness of the genre’s writing style.  I do hope to broaden my appreciation of the sci-fi/fantasy craze that even my eldest daughter seems to find bewitching.  I must have missed the genetic coding on that one (and vampires too).

I have swallowed, digested, and absorbed a moderate amount of YA lit over the last six weeks, but I am eager for more.  If I had my literary druthers I would ix-nay the Action Learning Project entirely and focus on more literary sampling.  I know full well that once I begin my student teaching, I will likely not find opportunity to crack another young adult novel until summertime.  I would be further enamored of this course were its time used more succinctly with the genre of its titling.  I must complete a research action project in two of my other five courses; that means three action research projects and a whole lot less literary sustenance for my classroom table (insert disappointment here).

Since I arrived at this course’s opening without any preconceived notions regarding its contents or the genre of young adult literature, I have unfailingly held true to my indifference and benefited all the more because of it.  I leave this classroom a far wiser student of nonfiction, how it works, how it can be effective, how to disguise its shortcomings.  Ditto for graphic novels.  I also leave this classroom with a clearer understanding of what Secondary students desire in their literature, both personally and academically; be it Manga, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Coming of Age, what teen readers seek is not an easy task, and it will be my duty of sorts to provide the literary buffet I have so often referred to.  This task will be easier and the results more effective now that I am a better informed purveyor of tastes and aesthetics.  

My Virtual Goals for This Course
To find an avatar that accurately reflects the middle-aged woman.

I have come to like my Angelia Jolie/Lara Crofty freakish fembot with her unruly ponytail and obviously youthful swag.  Although I proudly removed my avatar’s tattoos –why put a bumper sticker on a Bentley?– and kept her tacky military secondlifepants, I have yet to see the front of her face?  Perhaps one day I will bear witness to my own Second Life visage.  Sure, that’s my next virtual feat.  And for what it’s worth, although Second Life has its technical glitches, its inclusion in this course does provide a essential forum for camaraderie.  

I assert that Second Life is the most amenable and resourceful online teaching forum (can you believe I just said that?); it is a truly collaborative space.  Unlike Moodle, which relies on the written word, favoring the writer over the mathematician, or the unintentionally goofball Elluminate forum, Second Life allows for the most natural traditional classroom parallel.  Double bonus:  Second Life provides an advantage over the traditional classroom in the form of gas money, child care, and attire selection!

I am actually the best type of student for an instructor to have for this course, I am an admitted ELA clean slate.  I have little preconceived notions regarding the nature of adolescent literature and I am historically open to all genres of literature.  Experience has taught me to bide my time, consider each week’s material as it arrives, digesting what works, discarding what doesn’t, but waiting until the end of the semester before deciding what to make of it all.  Years of positioning in both the front of the classroom and within one of its seats has taught me the power of learning; if I cannot listen to everything, I will hear nothing.  I suspect Dr. Grant, Tom, that is, would sport a chesire grin knowing that I was tackling this material online; he would pat me on the back with a go-get-em nod and a wink.  Thanks Tom, again.

There is no doubt that my insights and skills have evolved since the pre of my FOKI, but I have considerably more to learn regarding young adult literature.  If I can manage to keep my sense of humor and curiosity for this course peaked, there exists no question that I will come away from 521 a more learned scholar and vibrant purveyor of young adult literature.  My concerns over time management and course construction continue to saddle my enthusiasm, but I will undoubtedly continue to listen to what I may not initially hear.  I still need to make Tom proud (wink)!

Truth be told:  521 = course hard won.  Tom would be so proud!  I come away from this educational experience a more learned scholar, student, instructor, collaborator, and artist.  And I proudly fought diligently for these achievements, but I regard the end product of this course as more of a beginning.  Oh, early on how I loathed its wiki pages, technological prostrations, multi-layered assignments, reflections, reflections, reflections!  But once I embraced this modus operandi of learning, I could  not help but acknowledge the method’s effectiveness.  My open-minded approach (perhaps naivete winner-winor ignorance) allowed for this process to unfold, reminding me of the most significant element in learning: observation.  Whether I read a text, listened to a podcast, viewed a video, considered my peers, each montage of ideas became clearer in my mind the more I stood back and considered its message from afar.  Admittedly, I didn’t always arrive at a popular (think literary awards), profound (think ALP), or prestigious (think Waves of Change cake analogy) end, but I did arrive at each resolution through scholarly desire and pedagogical perseverance.  I only hope to invite and encourage the same intellectual yearning and tenacity in my own students.  It is worth the effort!  I am proud to be a life-long learner.

Let the Fodder Fly

Marc be nimble,
Marc be wit,
Mark got us thinking ’bout YA lit.


Forgive me, I’m tired, it’s the end of the semester, my brain is getting mushy.  No lie, my noodle feels like oatmeal; too much uncongealed information sloshing around, desperate for application, or at least solidification.  I feel like these last few weeks I’ve been running an intellectual marathon, and I’m not in the shape I should be in to undertake such a feat.  Perhaps I am suffering from an illness that has begun to take its toll?  I believe the diagnosis for high schoolers is senioritis, for grad students, realityitis.  All I need is a nap, a laundress, one more inspirational Second Life sojourn and alas, I should be cured!

This week’s escape to Planet Bookhenge was indeed awakening, enlightening, and ultimately, solidifying.  Marc Aronson did not disappoint.  As I expected, he added some edifying fodder to my already overstuffed brain cavity.  Besides, from one parent to another, I got an inside kick out of him juggling parenthood while espousing his intellectualism.  I couldn’t help but chuckle as the phone rang in the background, he called for his son to answer, so confident in his persona that he seemed oblivious to his unglorified multitasking.  I’ve sometimes wondered how Madonna might react when her kids argued outside her bathroom door, or if Barack Obama ever reached a flailing arm into the car’s backseat for whatever child he could lay his hand upon?  Perhaps Marc should be flattered in the company of Madonna or Obama, but the comparison has its parallel:  Marc Aronson is the queen of pop and/or the president of young adult nonfiction literature.

I have been one of Aronson’s most vocal supporters this semester, but not because I think he’s an amazing writer (he writes like an historian what can I say?).  I have stood by and defended Aronson’s work because I admire the literary and pedagogical road he has not only traveled but carved out for others to tour, sight see, and possibly adopt.  He is a forefather of young adult nonfiction, and he has designed this genre’s constitution with the foresight of a soothsayer.  Aronson’s historical repackaging of Oliver Cromwell, RFK, Sir Walter Ralegh, or witchcraft, sugar, and miners for the tween/teen has been brilliant indeed.  He has managed to craft an inviting narrative for what may appear a dull young adult topic, virtually turning scholarly whey into pop culture cheese before our very eyes.

I found his telling of this process Thursday night quite revelatory.  Like a confident chef, Aronson was more than willing to bestow his preparation secrets.  Unwaveringly he admitted that he would not be able to “…do what I do…” without the ease of modern research; he adroitly confessed that technology has provided the wherewithal to research and create a book that in the days prior to personal computing and web 2.0, would have taken ten years of travel and file sifting to produce what he can now uncover in one.  He unabashedly conceded that with the volume of texts under his belt, he has devised a recipe of sorts for his young adult nonfiction.  And thankfully, he admitted to his love of the essay, where he is free to be the discordant controversial composer that I most admire.  I find his contentious erudition brazen indeed.  In a milieu that has a 2″ layer of politically correct frost, it’s refreshing to find a learned voice willing to take the proverbial heat.  That he grew up in a household where “…even Bobby Kennedy wasn’t liberal enough…” and walks the left-winged halls of American higher education, I am impressed that he fosters his own opinions, landing on the political dartboard as willy-nilly as a novice.  How refreshing.

Ultimately, this week’s online classroom was more like a pedagogical playground than an industrious work zone.  We all shared a campy, low brow laugh at the expense of Queen Elizabeth’s supposed virginity, and Mr. Aronson seemed more than happy to oblige our coarse sense of humor with historical backbone.  I guess if I could, I would thank Mr. Aronson for expending some of his precious and limited time twirling the ribbons of the educational Maypole with myself and my peers.  Our off-season celebration undoubtedly gave rise not to the traditional growth of vegetation, but certainly, to the time-honored growth of ideas.

Paideia Me This

Alrighty, this week I had to engage in a bit of self-instruction because two of my professors in the previous two weeks have danced all around the Paideia Teaching Method, but I never really felt like my dance partner was providing the firm-grasped stroll I needed to master this pedagogical step.  In essence, my profs paideiaed me into understanding the Paideia method of teaching!  Ha, how’s that for some rhetorical learning?  Apparently the Paideia Declaration of Principles should state that “…all children [and adults] are educable” (Paideia Proposal).  I’m living proof.

This method appears to be the theoretical big brother of the Socratic method of teaching.  Instead of only focusing on student-led discussion, the Paideia seminar encourages student-centered discourse, design, and development.  This practice encourages “…skills [as] habits, not memories,” whereby the “…teachers’ expertise constitutes only 10 percent of learning, the remainder coming from students themselves” (Bailey, 2012).   In fact, the head honchos of Paideia educational reform suggest that “…multiple types of learning and teaching must be utilized in education, not just teacher lecturing, or telling” (Paideia Proposal).   Got it, check, I’m clear as to what ‘ol Paideia (does such a man exist?) is offering up on the educational buffet.

So long didactic instruction, hello collaborative exchange.  According to the National Paideia Center, “…a student’s preparation for earning a living is not the primary objective of schooling” (Paideia Proposal).  Twenty-first Century learning screams collaborative enlightenment, and high-end Bloom’s Taxonomy —knowledge is synthesis and creation, gone are the days of remembering and understanding, and mere application won’t cut the Paideia mustard.  IT and digital tech favor Paideia methodology, and this mythical 1:1 classroom would likely benefit from such a teaching approach.

Although the liberal arts ideologue in me favors such a free exchange of ideas, the pragmatist in me finds this whole Paideia education-for-the-sake-of-education a bunch of kooky hoo-ha.  Has no one other than me been paying attention to the 300,000 to 500,000 unfilled manufacturing positions currently available in the United States?  Since the remnants of vocational Secondary education circa 1960 are but a distant memory save for the hinterlands of New England and the rural Rocky Mountains (can anyone recall Vo Tech high schools?), I guess vocational training is under the tutelage of the community college system?  It appears that high schools have left that playing field.  But why?  For Paideia and such ilk?

I am 100% in the lifelong-learners camp, and for once, I’m not even wavering in my commitment, but I question the declaration for Paideia centered learning in all classrooms, and more importantly, all students.  Student empowerment and academic reform should be as much a part of shop class as language arts or mathematics.  I do not find the Paideia way of thinking exclusive of vocational training; wouldn’t an apprentice welder learn most effectively by welding and not by being told how to weld?

Ugh!  Why does academia repeatedly stand on its condescending pedestal, knowing full-well the reception such deliverance receives?  Drop the jargon, speak plainly.  Allow Bob and Sally Sixpack to understand how and why we teach their children as we do.  And as importantly, allow their sons and daughters, regardless of their academic leanings and intellectual druthers, hands-on, student-centered instruction.  Instead of Paideia, let’s just call it, Practical.

Bailey, Melissa.  (2012, March 26).  Paideia method, socratic learning techniques, aims to close new haven school achievement gap.  The Huffington Post.  Retrieved from

Paideia Proposal.  (n.d.).  Retried on 11/17/12 from

Oh, Pretty Please?

Nonfiction gets a bad rap, especially amongst the young adult audience.  And that stinks, as foul as four dozen past-their-expiration-date eggs in a sealed-tight, unplugged refrigerator stinks.  In the “…fictioncentric…” (term coined by my man, Ed –see reference below)  ELA classroom, it seems that many teachers are unwilling to compromise their fiction-heavy curriculum to give nonfiction the fair shake that it deserves, and as I’ll discuss shortly, that many Secondary students actually, desire.  Ho-hum, I’m not surprised.

Nonfiction is berated amongst young readers and ELA classroom teachers alike because much of it is of poor quality, trite informational texts that “…series publishers like Chelsea House, Enslow, Lucent, and Rosen are in the business of cranking out in assembly-line fashion for school libraries and classrooms… on a subject that they can milk for all it’s worth, producing brief, superficial, poorly designed, cheaply made, and outrageously overpriced books” (Sullivan, 2001, p. 44).  You know, the kind of books 70s moms bought with their S&H greenstamps, the ones their children cracked open in desperation only (we had one about dinosaurs, with its puke-green cover, that sat in our bathroom magazine rack for the entirety of my childhood).

Couple this substandard quality with the “…romanticized image adults have of children’s and young adult fiction” (p. 45) and what you have is a virtual recipe for rejection.  It appears that teens rely on adult recommendations (via librarians and content teachers), peers, and social media as their primary sources for reading suggestions, so without the positive nonfiction influence from any or all of these outlets, it seems that nonfiction will remain the neglected stepchild it has been.  And for all our Second Life repartee last evening, I don’t get the impression that many of my colleagues are willing to forgo their fictioncentric mentalities in order to wave the nonfiction freedom flag.  But I have not lost faith, at least not yet.

So in the meantime, let me end with my own personal nonfiction awakening, courtesy of my oldest brother Jay; the memory came to me last night after our class discussion meandered into the read-what-interests-you department.  The book was called Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors.  Written in 1974 by Piers Paul Read, this nonfiction account of Uruguay’s soccer team plane crash in the Chilean Andes Mountains is a compilation of the survivors’ narratives.  And these narratives included misery, survival, and, gulp, bona fide cannibalism –need I offer more on the teenager piqued interest front?  I lost myself in this book!  This nonfiction chronicle provided me with an urgent realism, an exotic tangibility, and vicarious living (these survivors were mostly teens when the crash occurred).  And Mr. Sullivan, knows of what I sought in this true-life literary feat:  “…the truth is that for many young adult readers nonfiction serves the same purposes as fiction does for other readers: it entertains, provides escape, sparks the imagination, and indulges curiosity. There’s a lot more to a good nonfiction book than mere information” (p. 44).  Ah yes, I vouch for that.

Sullivan, Ed. (2001, January). Some teens prefer the real thing: the case for young adult nonfiction.  English Journal, p. 43-47.  Retrieved from

I’ll Adopt the Neglected Stepchild

Two summers ago, my husband, daughters and I were fortunate to take a 10-week cross-country trek, where we stopped at every cowboy museum, Mormon outpost, Mesa-like village, pioneer exhibition, or natural wonder we encountered.  I vividly recall after leaving the Pink Coral Dunes of Utah, we headed up to Lewis & Clark territory near Salmon, Idaho.  Outside of this small vestige of yesteryear, we found the Sacajawea Cultural Interpretation Center.

It was at this off-the-beaten path attraction, that my love-to-read daughter, Harper, developed her discovery of and appreciation for non-fiction with a simple non-fiction text titled, Sacajawea.  She spent the next two days of the trip with her face buried in this book at every free turn.  And after we got home, I was surprised to see her giving the text a thorough rereading.  Upon hindsight, I realize that Sacajawea’s biography was more enticing than any tale Meg Cabot could create, and although my daughter has not become a non-fiction convert, she has not shunned the genre.

Ultimately, I think Harper’s interest in non-fiction is analogous with most all that Aronson finds remiss between non-fiction work and the young adult readership: “…stand alone works, black and white issues,” and adults who “…don’t know how to write it.”  He further offers that “single history non-fiction… from one point of view” is equally deadly, but I’m not as convinced that this is the case (uh Mark, does Sir Walter Ralegh ring a bell for you here?).  Nonetheless, the teen’s general malaise towards non-fiction does have very much to do with content and presentation –as Aronson clearly asserts– but I also suspect that non-fiction work appears self-righteous in nature, and worse yet, regarding topics young readers could give two hoots about!   And yet, Aronson further asserts that, “no one needs new ideas, new information, new depth of understanding as much as a teenager.”

So I say, let’s give them what they want, or at least what they think they want.  The inventive ELA educator has the ability to meet Common Core Standard’s non-fiction requirement (a 50/50 fiction to non-fiction aim), by including material that is a worthy mix of both in the form of Literary Journalism and Historical Fiction.  Okay, so I’m partial here, both genres are amongst my personal favorites, but how better to introduce a “…new idea, [with] new depth…” than Geraldine Brooks book, Caleb’s Crossing?  In this text, teen readers can follow a young, Native American boy/man from his tribe on Martha’s Vineyard to his schooling at Harvard circa 1650, all of which is based on historical archives and research.  Perhaps the young reader would prefer to travel the creative non-fiction route of surfers in Tom Wolfe’s classic, The Pump House Gang(can you say literary rationale?).  Talk about collaborative work; students and teacher alike can draw new boundaries, new parallels between literature and history and the role of the non-fiction text in synergistic studies.  Besides, young male readers cannot overlook the “…wisdom… and physicality” found in either of these selections.  Non-fiction writing, perhaps not aimed at the young adult audience, is rife with testosterone (think In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, a non-fiction text of Moby Dick fame).  We ELA teachers must think outside of the box for our non-fiction curricula plan.

Once again, I find some good ‘ol pragmatism in Aronson’s essays, even if he doesn’t know the “…first thing about cars.”  Sheesh.  As an English major, an ELA teacher, and a lover of literature in all its glory, I welcome the inclusion of non-fiction into the ELA classroom.  Pairing the likes of Aronson’s Sir Walter Ralegh with Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure sounds like a beauty of an undertaking in my mind.  A little tape here, a resizing there, yes, I can definitely see a bigger and better box waiting to be filled.

Here’s a Bold Choice

During last evening’s Second Life discussion of Literature Rationales, I offered an analogy to the various processes of said rationalization in business terms: academic sales.  Failing to recall my exact commentary, my exposition behind literary rationales was along the lines of “…satisfying parents… by way of high brow analogy… a considerable number of parents either fail to notice or don’t care… cover your bleep… we educators are ultimately selling parents/students/administrators a text we deem worthy of further study.”  Silence.  More silence.   Not a response was uttered aloud, but the back channel hosted two comments: “exactly, Jill,” and in opposition, “…I don’t think that rationales are like sales…” (no matter how deeply I dug in SL, I couldn’t find the exact quote).  This dichotomy of opinion got me to thinking later that night.

Why do the majority of educators cringe in revulsion at the mere mention of education and business in the same sentence?  To draw a business/academic parallel is akin to calling a Conservative generous.  And this aversion to said analogy is not grounded in currently matriculated, pre-service teachers (although this lot more readily cottons to the notion); in fact, a whole passel of in-service teachers hold the same disdain for corporate-to-instructional innuendo.  I am convinced because I’ve tested the primary and secondary waters.  But ask a college professor what he/she thinks of the enterprise-to-education analogy, and you’ll likely find a cheshire grin bloom from ear-to-ear, followed with a sardonic, “Naw, the university system has nothing to do with big business.  Sport’s programs have no impact on the university’s funding or programming whatsoever,” as the prof tailspins about-face to keep from laughing in your face.

It is easier to draw a synchronous analogy between corporate America and university education than it is in the Primary or Secondary arena for the one simple fact: K-12 doesn’t admit anyone, all students are part of this package.  So the business analogy to public education is more like dollar-store retail than Wall Street trading.  I once heard the wittiest comparison to K-12 education whereby students were blueberries, some ripe and plump, some rotten and spoiled, but the difference between the farmer and the school teacher was that the farmer could throw out the imperfect berries, but the teacher had to dress them up and sell them too.

But I digress.  Maybe the bold choice we educators need to make (or at least confront) is how like free enterprise America’s public education actually is?  Are we teachers not in academic sales, peddling our intellectual wares to an impressionable audience?  This act is not dirty or foul in and of itself, but educators lips curl upward at the comparison.  For some reason, academic instructors believe their sales are benevolent, altruistic, and above the fray.  Surely an insurance, clothing, or other commercial salesperson is nefariously trying to make a sale, intentionally trying to separate the buyer from his money, with self-serving avarice.  But as teachers compete for standardized testing results and merit pay, might we not be calculating and wily in our salesmanship?  The former is regarded a sleaze, the later avant-garde.

Bottle it, package it, anyway you want, but educators need to knock that condescending chip off their proverbial shoulders.  During my former years in the classroom I was a very effective instructor, I even had my groupies who followed me from course to course (and for those of you who know me at all, my academic devotees were not a result of easy grades).  In fact, I received an excellence in teaching award at each of the three universities or colleges that I taught at.  You know why?  Because I was good at the pitch and I knew how to close the deal.  Academic bold choices are not just made in products (read, content), they are made in relationships.  Be a strong marketer, know your buyers, rotate your stock, update your wares, keep your pulse on the trends, discontinue items that don’t sell (or at least repackage these goods and try a different approach), but keep costs low,  and you too, will become a successful entrepreneur, oops, I mean, teacher (wink. wink).  It’s all in customer loyalty!

“The Operation Was Successful and the Patient is Doing Well” — CR #10

“A new metaphysical meaning is emerging to the term victim.
Victimhood is of the essence of existence itself; it is where art is
supposed to find its highest expression. It is no longer something to get
over, something to climb out of, but something to hide into, somewhere
to roost in the shadow of the real world, and not as a matter of shame
but honor.” (Shivani, 2004, p. 685).

If you haven’t figured it out thus far, I am pragmatic with a capital P!  Call me sensible, matter-of-fact, down-to-earth, no nonsense, and yes, hard-headed:  check, check, check, …and check.  But for all my pragmatism I am artistic and creative, which might appear incompatible with my common sense foundation, yet it’s not the case as I see it.  I’m like a white, middle-aged, 21st Century Zora Neale Hurston, “…Sometimes I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me.  How can any deny themselves the pleasure of my company?  It’s beyond me!”

I like to write, no let me rephrase that, I love to write!  Sometimes I approve of my creations, sometimes I don’t; I am never truly satisfied with anything I “finish,” but I know there exists another opportunity to tap my keyboard or swish my pen just around the corner.  I can wait.  I’m pragmatic AND patient.  I’m really a prosaic wimp though.  Instead of taking a risk and forging a writing career, I’m taking the easy route, the safely traveled path, the pragmatic road to intellectual reward and fiscal security… and becoming a teacher.  Ho-hum.  I am a victim of my own languor and trepidation.

Perhaps if I could escape from my self-woven creative cocoon, I would sincerely care more about the importance and value of literary awards.  Instead, as a teacher I will be forced to protect these honors of the established bureaucracy.  But as it is, I see these awards as another means of pointless victimhood.  I agree, as a society we are not free of racism, agism, or any other discriminatory -ism, but if I am ever to get off my creative stump and venture into the arena of literary merit, you better believe that I would not want to be pigeonholed a female author, a white author, or a southern author.  But of course, none of my otherliness warrants enough credence so my opinion really doesn’t matter anyway.

But Zora’s does.  “I am not tragically colored.  There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes.  I do not mind at all.  I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it.  Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world —I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

Zora Neale Hurston was awarded one literary honor in her brilliant career for Dust Tracks on a Road.   In 1943, she was the recipient of the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award (conceived in 1935) for “…works that address racism and diversity,” regardless of the creator’s skin color, gender, or ethnicity.  No victim was she.

Anisfield-Wolf Book Awards.  (October 30, 2012).  Retrieved from

Hurston, Zora Neale.  (October, 30, 2012).  How it feels to be colored me.  Retrieved from

Shivani, Anis.  (2004, Autumn).  The Shrinking of American Fiction.  The Antioch Review, (62)4, 680-690. Retrieved from

ALP Lit Review Lite

The Birth of My ALP Topic
During last week’s Post Multicultural CCI, I became so intrigued by the concept of awards, literary awards in particular, that I directly dumped my established ALP topic —it wasn’t worth the inspirational bother anyway— to pursue the relevant, engaging, and opportune impact of literary awards on young adult reading preferences.  In essence, do the shiny metallic medallions that adorn YA lit jackets actually affect teen reading selections?

The Game Plan for My ALP Topic
I am on a quest to uncover the secretive netherworld of teenage literary opinion.  I recognize that my task is not an easy one, but I am certain of its worthy undertaking.  It is without doubt that parents, librarians, school teachers, well-meaning gift givers, and consumers of a similar ilk are influenced by the demarcator of a literary award —I have been guilty of such impulsively, uninformed purchases in my day: “oh, gold stamp, must be good!” —but how does the finicky teen behold this badge of literary merit?  In an attempt to answer this quandary, I propose to implement a self-designed poll to the following teenage audiences: two junior level, general education, ELA classrooms;  one senior level AP ELA classroom; six teenage neighbors; and one freshman level, honors, ELA classroom.  The poll’s constitution is a combination of the following criteria:  a) questions that define YA lit awards’ appearance and/or recognition; b) questions that define YA lit awards’ history; c) questions that draw parallels between literary awards and pop cultural awards (e.g. Grammys, Oscars, Teen Choice Awards, etc); d) questions that determine current teen reading trends, habits, and interest; e) questions that consider teen media spending practices; and lastly, f) questions that bring light to what measures do affect teenage literary choices.

I am eager to tabulate these student responses (using the trusty Google Forms process as much as possible, I might add), and piece together the pending revelatory results.  With a bit of jingle in their pockets, are teen reader willing to shell out their precious fiscal resources for a word-of-mouth appraised adventure, or is the catalyst of literary merit a more persuasive separator of a teen from their green?

The History Behind My ALP Topic
The history of Young Adult literature, commercially referred to as Teen Literature until the big-box bookstore marketing gimmick of the mid 1990s, has been a precarious industry indeed. Sales go up, and sales go down, often without the publisher’s comprehension.  Young Adult literature’s commercial inception “unofficially” began in the 1970s with Judy Blume’s risque –by 1975’s standards– novel, Forever.  Although books had been addressed to teenage audiences during prior years, Forever’s thematic tale of adolescent sexuality and underage use of birth control pills defined a new border for the coming-of-age novel that transcended the traditional adult’s moral boundaries.  Forever was written for a young adult audience, about young adult issues, and from a young adult’s mindset.  I recall reading the hard-to-find Forever in the mid 1980s with eyes wide open, absorbing each sentence like a thirsty sponge.  My best friend’s, older sister’s best friend, had a copy that was passed around our small town like a totem of illicit knowledge.  The novel’s success was grounded in its word-of-mouth foundation.

As so it is still true today, according to publisher’s statistics, library check-out figures, and scholarly research alike (I am awaiting specific data from the Chapel Hill Public library and CHCCS middle/high school libraries as I write), that word-of-mouth, unintentional marketing remains the number one path to Young Adult literary popularity, hands down!  But what about number two, three, four, and so on?  I have uncovered a number of other significant factors that affect the success of Young Adult’s literary celebrity.  So let’s take a look.

“The Young Adult genre and market has been problematic since its inception.  Defining and promoting the genre was, and continues to be, plagued by four major problems:  audience, ‘acceptable’ subject matter, location in stores, and marketing and publicity” (Yampbell, 2005, p. 352).  The easiest problem to remedy has been the store location of Young Adult literature.  No longer located anywhere near the Children’s Literature section, retailers have learned to treat young adult literature with a sort of secretive treatise.  Most Young Adult sections are located in the private, rear areas of chain stores (and astute public libraries), offering the teen reader the opportunity to peruse their options in solitude, hidden from the judgement of others.

And judgement has a lot to do with the celebrity of a Young Adult book.  “Teen novels must look cool, yet sophisticated; the covers must be innovative and refreshing but mature, resembling an adult book, not one for younger readers” (Yampbell, 2005, p. 350).  And so hidden away in the secluded back rooms of bookstores and libraries are newly designed or rejacketed Young Adult books with hologrammed, digitally produced, metallic covers, and short, pithy titles designed to catch the eye of this ever-elusive market.  In fact, “…many in this industry argue that the cover is the foremost [feature] of [a] book… regardless of the quality of the literature, its cover often determines a book’s success” (Yampbell, 2005, p. 350).  This pandering of teens by publishing companies is dynamic, constantly gauging the coolness of teenage appetites.  Craig Walker, vice president and editorial director of trade paperbacks at Scholastic, noted, “It’s amazing how quickly art looks old. Style has changed so much for teenagers . . . older covers were painted from models and look really dated” (Yampbell, 2005, p. 359), and so the industry is in constant artistic tumult as a result of the finicky teen, while always vying for that precarious dollar.

In this fledgling economy, price seems to be a significant factor in the success or failure of a Young Adult text.  Even though teens dumped a reported $208 billion into the economy in 2011, only 1-10% of the average teen’s $60 a month disposable income (Yampbell, 2005, p. 360) is spent on books.  In essence, that $.60 to $6.00 a month literary allotment by the 28 million 15-18 year olds in the United States makes for one mighty competitive market!  With the struggling local economies and their budget cutbacks, public libraries have been forced to become more selective in their purchasing prospects as well; in fact, Angelina Benedetti, author of Not Just for Teens Anymore proposes that “…[literary] awards virtually ensure library purchases” (2011, p. 42).  The fact that cash strapped libraries rely on awards sponsored by their prevailing organization —the ALA— is not surprising, but do young adult readers feel this same devotion to the proverbial gold emblem?

Perhaps, but there does exist the technological component of teen readership I have yet to discuss.  Search engines are like the omnipotent online librarian, just punch in your parameters and poof, choices appear.  At, prospective readers need only insert “social issues” or “teen books” in the search bar and the following titles should appear: One Week, Temptuous, Exposure, So I’m a Double-Threat?  But are these novels worth their literary salt?  Good question.  So maybe I should seek out some advice from social media; Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ might have some peer input to ease my decision making.  I could always text the girl in third period who sits behind me to she if she’s read any of these books, she’s always reading something or another.  Hey wait, though, she reads old-school books, I prefer my e Reader, let me double-check to see if each title is available online or for my Kindle.  And so the search continues.

Tracy van Staaten, associate director of publicity at Simon & Schuster Children’s Books, explains, “The biggest obstacle to teens is not knowing what to read. There are excellent books out there, but kids don’t know what they are or where to find them” (Yampbell, 2005, 353).  Thus far, I have established that teen readers turn to librarians, social media, marketing hype, and peers to uncover their next big read.  I have also established that library purchasing agents and socially conscious parents purchase awarded Young Adult literature for their patrons and broods, but do young readers themselves consider literary awards for their reading selections?  And to what degree?  By the time teenagers become teenagers, they have claimed ownership of their wardrobes, their lifestyle choices, their fiscal acumen —albeit, not always with sound decision-making skills— so surely, outside of the ELA classroom they have claimed ownership of their reading choices.   It’s been said that “…when a book does well, it’s the writing, but when a book bombs, it’s the jacket” (Yampbell, 2005, p. 361), could the same conclusion been drawn were an embossed, gold emblem to grace said book’s cover?  Stay tuned to find out.

Literary Awards for Children’s Literature and Young Adult Literature
How many do you recognize?

  • Alex Awards —honors top ten books for the Young Adult audience.
  • Mildred L. Batchelor Awards —for foreign language children’s book translated into English.
  • Pura Belpre Award —award for “…Latino/Latina writer/illustrator whose work best portrays, affirms, and celebrates the Latino cultural experienc in an outstanding work of literature for children and youth” (ALA).
  • Caldecott Award —most distinguished picture book.
  • Margaret A. Edwards Award —honors an author and his/her body of work that has been popular over a period of time.
  • Excellence in NonFiction for Young Adults —Sugar Changed the World 2012 finalist.
  • Theodor Seuss Geisel Award —for outstanding beginning reader books.
  • Coretta Scott King Book Awards —“annually recognizes outstanding books for young adults and children by African American authors and illustrators that reflect the African American experience.  Further, the Award encourages the artistic expression of the black experience via literature and the graphic arts in biographical, social, and historical treatments by African American authors and illustrators” (ALA).
  • William C. Morris Award —honors a “…debut book published by a first time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in Young Adult literature” (ALA).
  • John Newbery Medal —established in 1921, the first children’s book award in the world, recognizes “…the most distinguished contribution to children’s literature” (ALA).
  • Michael L. Printz Award —an honor that annually recognizes the “best book written for teens, based entirely on its literary merit” (ALA).”
  • Schneider Family Book Award —“…honors an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expresson of the disability experience for child or adolescent audiences” (ALA).
  • Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Medal —“…honors the most distinguished infomration book published in English… for its significant contribution to children literature” (ALA).
  • Stonewall Book Awards —“…the first and most enduring award for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgendered books” (ALA).
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder Award —“…honors the substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children” (ALA).

American Library Association.  (2012).  ALA book, print, and media awards.  Retrieved from

American Library Association.  (2012).  ALA book, print, and media awards.  Retrieved from

American Music Awards.  (n.d.).  Retrieved on October 23, 2012 from the American Music Awards Wiki:

Aronson, Mark.  (2003).  Beyond the pale.  Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press.

Benedetti, A. (2011). Not just for teens. Library Journal, 136(11), 40. Retrieved from

Jacobs, J., Mitchell, J., & Livingston, N.  (2011, November 9).  U.S. children’s literature award winners.  The Reading Teacher, (60)4, 386-396. DOI: 10.1598/RT.60.4.10

Shivani, Anis.  (2004, Autumn).  The Shrinking of American Fiction.  The Antioch Review, (62)4, 680-690. Retrieved from

United States: List of Film Awards.  (n.d.).  Retrieved on October 24, 2012 from the List of Film Awards Wiki:

Yampbell, Cat. (2005, September).  Judging a book by its cover: publishing trends in young adult literature.  The Lion and the Unicorn, (29)3, 348-372.  DOI: 10.1353/uni.2005.0049

And the Award Goes To…

Before I even began my reading selections from Beyond the Pale, I knew I was in for some theoretical trouble: I’m not a fan of awards these days, period.  Do not confuse my general malaise towards awards a nod for mediocrity, because I believe excellence in any form should be commended.  The problem with awards in the 21st Century is that there are so very many and such an abundance of recipients that it’s hard to take a winning status to heart.  Let’s call this accolade conundrum, honorary deficit disorder, for the sake of argument?

Our children did not participate in the neighborhood swim team or the local youth soccer program –they spent their weekends learning to surf at the beach and kicking balls of their own free will– which rewards each participant of either sport an award (a dazzling trophy for swimming or a most enviable medallion for soccer) just for being involved.  No try-outs necessary; just sign up and any child can play.  It’s all very democratic, socialist even, since ALL participants, regardless of skill are rewarded for their, um, presence.

Public schools are quite similar in their rewarding practices.  In fact, one of my daughter’s came home from school in first grade with a gold medal for reading.  Like any good mother, I oowed and ahhed her spiffy, ribboned pendant, while observing her glowing smile wane.  I asked her what could possibly be the matter, and she whispered, “…thanks mommy, but it’s not that big of a deal because everyone in the class got one.”  Her deflated realization broke my maternal heart.

Low and behold, the professional 21st Century is as zealous about handing out innocuous awards as the local public schools and athletic leagues; honorary deficit disorder is running rampant through Hollywood, the music industry, the publishing industry, and civic organizations. Sadly, award

s have lost their panache with each new arrival at the distinction theater.  The abundance (or overabundance) of specialized awards has, as Aronson so poignantly notes, “…abandoned the idea that literature speaks to all and for all and has instead embraced the intellectually passe 1980s Cultural Wars concept that art is defined by a community by its own rules and for its own purposes” (p. 9).  And the frivolousness of it all saddens me to meritorious tears.

The pathway to meritorious specialization is indeed a dangerous slippery-slope.  Ms. Pinkney may be correct is her assertion that “…ethnic awards bring new authors and illustrators into the fold…” (p. 15), but I would wager beyond a doubt that any author or illustrator of color would be more pleased to receive a non-ethnically based award (e.g. Newbery or Caldecott) than an ethnically based award (CSK or Pura Belpre).  A-la-la!  The rationale for such personal satisfaction is simple: the recipient was rewarded for being the best of the best, no more, no less!

Like Aronson, I would agree that perhaps ethnic awards may have a place, but only in time.  For ultimately, ethnic awards are niche in design, limiting the exposure they so desperately aim to acquire.  If we consider the role of Affirmative Action or ethnic-based awards in socioprofessional development, perhaps we would best serve the cause of equality by considering the ratio of winners?  Ms. Pinkney was “…overwhelmed with happiness to know that a black man had received the highest possible honor in children’s literature…” when Christopher Paul Curtis won the Newbery for Bud, Not Buddy, but she was “…saddened by the fact that the last Newbery to be won by an African American was in 1977” (p. 13).  Might the ratio of authors of color during this period equate to this passage of time?  I am uncertain of this assertion’s validity, but the premise circles back my general dismay regarding awards.

Only a fool would deny the existence of white privilege, or let us say, socioeconomic privilege that primarily affects the middle class (regardless of color), but if I were a person of color, or felt ethnically disenfranchised, I would not seek a johnny-come-lately  award aimed at the likes of my skin color or my place of birth, nor would I desire a prize just because I’d written a story, played a sport, or sang a song.   Although I am able to appreciate the spirit of this type of award, my strife for excellence reaches to far higher places.  I don’t know of an artist worth his/her salt that wouldn’t agree.  In fact, some of the best works I have ever read have no stamp of approval greater than the price of its purchase.

Aronson, Mark.  (2003).  Beyond the pale.  Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press.