Praising The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian


I just finished up Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian and it just blew me away with its voice, power and creativity. No wonder it won the National Book Award a few years back. It was one of those books that stays on the peripheral vision and then, finally, you get to it and you now know why it was always out there, waiting for you to read.

The book follows the life of high student student named Junior, who is a Spokane indian who lives on a reservation and realizes he has to get off the reservation or else he will die — either tragically and quickly (through some alcohol-related incident, he is certain) or slowly (through the loss of his dreams). So, he decides to attend school at the white high school just outside the skirts of the reservation and doors both open and close for Junior as a result. He never quite fits in with his new school (he’s the line Indian) and his friends back home (including his best friend, Rowdy, a warrior of the modern day reservation) think him a traitor for leaving their school.

The book is illustrated with comics, although it is not a graphic novel. But Junior makes comics to understand his life and the world around him, and the book uses this form in imaginative ways (thanks to illustrator Ellen Forney, who is featured in a Q&A at the end of the book that is quite interesting to read).

I don’t usually dog-ear books but I did to this line by Junior:

“I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

Isn’t that a great line? I love that line.

Then, later, as Junior is talking with his new white friend, Gordy, they realize that the comics are actually a serious interpretation of the world. Junior tells Gordy:

“I take them seriously. I use them to understand the world. I use them to make fun of the world. To make fun of people. And sometimes I draw people because they’re my friends and family. And I want to honor them.”

One of the issues he struggles with is poverty. See this sample illustration at a moment when his “white” friends suddenly realize how poor he really is (he can’t pay for food at Denny’s):


Pick up this book if you can. You won’t be disappointed.

Peace (on the pages),

Collaboration with Writing/Technology: Teachers Teaching Teachers

Teaching the New Writing

Teaching the New Writing

On Wednesday night (9 p.m. eastern time), I will be guest-hosting this week’s edition of Teachers Teaching Teachers as we continue to explore the book I co-edited — Teaching the New Writing. This week, we’re going to focus in on the theme of collaboration with some of the chapter writers. It should be an interesting talk about how technology and writing can foster good collaboration among students.

Here is the notice from the National Writing Project site:

You are invited to join teachers across the globe for a special interactive Teachers Teaching Teachers (TTT) webcast, titled “Teaching the New Writing: Exploring the Collaborative Nature of Writing and Technology in the Classroom,” sponsored by the NWP Technology Initiative.

Balancing Acts

As educators move forward into the terrain of digital literacy and learning with their students, part of the challenge is balancing the innovation of new technology with the accountability of assessment.

The recently published book Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom explores these balancing acts through case studies of elementary through university-level classrooms where teachers are integrating technology with writing and where the assessment of the digital work and student learning is being explored.

Chapter authors Paul Allison, a high school teacher, technology liaison at the New York City Writing Project, and facilitator of TTT; Glen Bledsoe, an elementary teacher and teacher consultant at the Oregon Writing Project at the University of Oregon; and Jeff Schwartz, high school teacher and member of the Bread Loaf Teachers Network, will share examples of their classroom practices to prompt a discussion about the collaborative nature of writing when using technology in the classroom.

Their work includes the collaborative creation of a classroom digital production, students bloggers forming connections within an online social network, and writers using audio and video to share their work.

How to Participate

The event takes place on the Teachers Teaching Teachers webpage on Wednesday, June 17, 9–10 p.m. EST / 6–7 p.m. PST.

Teachers Teaching Teachers webcasts are live each Wednesday night, 9–10 p.m. EST / 6–7 p.m. PST.

Download instructions for listening and chatting during a live show (PDF).

I hope you can join us in the chat room and listen in to the conversations.

Peace (in sharing),

Tonight on Teachers Teaching Teachers

(This is an announcement about tonight’s webcast about the book I co-edited)

On June 10th join editors of Teaching the New Writing, a new book from The National Writing Project, a MacArthur grantee. They will discuss new directions in student composing as the boundaries between written, spoken, and visual blur and audiences expand.

Editors Anne Herrington, Kevin Hodgson, and Charles Moran from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project will address these and other questions in this interactive webcast on June 10th, drawing from insights and discoveries they made while writing their new book, Teaching the New Writing. The book pulls together teachers’ stories, practices, and examples of students’ creative and expository writing from online and multimedia projects such as blogs, wikis, podcasts, and electronic poetry.

Elyse Eidman-Aadahl, codirector of the National Writing Project will be with us as well.

This is the first of three Teachers Teaching Teachers shows this month that will focus on this book. Next week and the week after, we will have various authors from the different chapters Teaching the New Writing on the show.

Please join us at at 9:00pm Eastern / 6:00pm Pacific USA Wednesdays / 01:00 UTC Thursdays World Times

Talking up the book on Teachers Teaching Teachers

Teaching the New Writing

Teaching the New Writing

This coming Wednesday (June 10), I will be joining my colleagues Anne Herrington and Charlie Moran and others to discuss the book collection that we recently published called Teaching the New Writing (put out by Teachers College Press). In the book, we feature teachers who are using technology with writing in this age of assessment and standardized testing and examining how they are balancing those ideas. We think it is an important book (of course) and the three of us will be talking with Paul Allison and Susan Ettenheim on Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast (and later, podcast) about the book project.

I invite you to join us, if you can. You can listen to the webcast and ask questions in the chat room.

Then, on the following two Wednesdays (June 17 and June 24), we will be bringing in some of the chapter writers to talk about their various projects — such as podcasting in the speech classroom, collaborative digital storytelling in the elementary classroom, a poetry fusion project, and more.

You can find Teachers Teaching Teachers on EdTech Talk.

Here is the announcment from the National Writing Project site:

You are invited to listen and interact with teachers across the globe during a special Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast, titled “Teaching the New Writing,” sponsored by the NWP Technology Initiative.

As educators move forward into the terrain of digital literacy and learning with their students, part of the challenge is balancing the innovation of new technology and accountability of assessment.

According to the editors of a new book, Teaching the New Writing: Technology, Change, and Assessment in the 21st-Century Classroom, one way to study these balancing acts is through case studies of elementary through university level classrooms where teachers are integrating technology with writing and where the assessment of the digital work and student learning is explored.

Chapter topics range from creating digital picture books with middle school students to podcasting in a high school speech class to blogging in social networks to multimedia composition with preservice teachers.

Join editors Charlie Moran, Anne Herrington, and Kevin Hodgson, all from the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, for the June 10, 2009, edition of the Teachers Teaching Teachers webcast as they discuss the book and talk about some of the discoveries and insights they made as they worked with the chapter writers.

How to Participate

The event takes place on the Teachers Teaching Teachers webpage on Wednesday, June 10, 9–10 p.m. EST / 6–7 p.m. PST.

Teachers Teaching Teachers webcasts are live each Wednesday night, 9–10 p.m. EST / 6–7 p.m. PST.

Download instructions for listening and chatting during a live show (PDF).

Peace (in the sharing),

Give it away, give it away, give it away now

I realized the other day that I have a pile of books that I have read and, honestly, I have no intention of re-reading. So, inspired by my friend “Alex“, who gave away some books to blog readers (including me: I got an Artemis Fowl book), I have decided to give these books away to readers of this blog. Let me just say, these are fantastic books and if you have not yet seen any of the Best American Non-required Reading Series (edited by Dave Eggers and a group of high school students), then you are missing out on some wonderful reading across the genres: fiction, non-fiction, comics, poetry, and assorted compositional ballet form the crux of many of these books.

So, if you would like one of these books, just let me know in the comment section of this blog post, and I will do some random choosing, get in touch and pay for the shipping of the books. As Alex did with me, I ask that you consider doing the same at your blog or online home, spreading the wealth of words through the networks.

Here is what I have:

  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2002
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2003
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2004
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2005
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2006
  • Best American Non-Required Reading 2008

(Where the heck is 2007? I am not sure)

If you want a specific edition, just let me know in your reply.

Peace (in sharing),

Now I know who to blame …

Appetite for Self-Destruction

For years, my pet peeve was that darned packaging around CDs. First of all, it would tear at my fingers trying to get it open. Second, I was left with more plastic and cardboard than CD case, and so every purchase of music felt as if I were germinating the local landfill.

This week, I finally found the name of the guy credited with this entire packaging idea. It is Jerry Shulman, who was director of marketing at CBS at the time. In the book Appetite for Self-Destruction by Steve Knopper (an excellent look at how the music industry has again and again shot itself in the foot as the digital revolution took hold …. Napster, anyone? Or now bit torrent?), Shuman admits to the idea. “It was me,” Shulman is quoted saying by Knopper. “It cut everyone’s fingers to shreds when you cut it open.”

Yep. That’s probably why they were known as blister boxes in the industry.

Now, Shulman did not invent this contraption just to cause pain to music customers (although Knopper does an excellent job of showing how us music lovers are often farthest from the minds of the record company executives at so many turns in the road over the last 30 years). The tomb-like plastic and cardboard casing was invented so that record store owners would not have to build new shelves for CDs; they could just use the old LP shelves and fit two CDs in the spot where one LP used to go.

Now, who is the hero of this story of the old CD cases? Raffi. That’s right. Raffi — the children’s singer who has always earned my respect for refusing to license any of his recordings for marketing that might influence a child to buy a product. He just wants kids to love music.

According to Knopper, Raffi refused to put out CDs in the so-called longbox. Good for you, Raffi.

Meanwhile, the industry realized they could save a bundle of money by eliminating all of that packaging, and appease other artists like U2, Peter Gabriel and others who were worried about the environmental impact of the packaging. It is nice to see that CDs (if you still buy them) are mostly without the plastic sleeves.

Of course, the digital versions require no packaging at all.

Peace (in laying the blame),

Review: The Man Who Walked Between the Towers

I try to regularly submit reviews of picture books over at Just One Book, which is a fantastic site for learning about the art and literature of picture books. They recently published an audio review I did on the book, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein. It’s a fantastic read about Philippe Petit’s daring escapade between the Twin Towers that no longer stand (after 9-11).

Here is my podcast review of this wonderful story.

(And here is a link to my collection of graphic novel and picture book reviews, if you are interested).

Peace (in books),

Love Hate That Cat

Hate That Cat By Sharon Creech

Jack is back, and so is Miss Stretchberry, but this time it is a cat at the center of the story, and not a dog. You may remember how much I loved the book, Love That Dog by Sharon Creech. I use Love That Dog in my poetry unit, reading it aloud to my students and using the poems and sense of exploration of poetic styles as a way to reach my young writers.

Well, Creech has done it again, but this time, the book is Hate That Cat, and just like its predecessor, the book is infused with poems from the canon (Edgar Allen Poe, William Carlos Williams, Valerie Word, Lord Tennyson, etc.) as Jack tries to come to grips with two things: how to find love for cats and how to explain his love for his mother, who is deaf. The book is written in the form of a poetic journal between Jack and his teacher, who remains a silent yet supportive and loving presence just off the pages of the book. Everyone should have a teacher like Miss Stretchberry in their life.

The cat element revolves around a black cat that scratched him and hurt him when he went out of his way to save it — thus the refrain: I hate that cat. But then, even as he continues to cherish the memories of his dog, Sky, that formed the center of Love That Dog, he gets a kitten and his heart melts. The black cat that he hates so much later redeems itself with Jack.

The mother element is more delicate and unfolds slowly, as Jack begins to tell what it is like to have a mother who is deaf and signs with her hands for language. He wonders early in the book, before we even know about his mother: how does someone who can’t hear sound experience a poem with sound words within it? He finds a way, and the book ends with a poetry reading, with his mother in the audience, as Jack signs his poems from the front of the room.

As with Love That Dog, I found myself getting very emotional at certain points in Hate That Cat and if you are not moved by Jack and his poems, then … I don’t know. Creech uses a sense of humor to set up the deeper emotional experiences from Jack’s world.

Along the way, Jack learns about poetic techniques such as alliteration, onomatopoeia, assonance, dissonance, and more. And Creech tosses a little literary fire into the mix by having Jack’s uncle, a college professor of English, argue with Jack about what makes a poem a poem (his uncle believes that poems must have grand themes, using intricate rhyming patterns and assures Jack that what he is writing in class are not poems at all, but just scribbles of words).

The book puts me into a bit of a conundrum: do I drop Love That Dog for Hate That Cat? Or do I find a way to use both?

Peace (in the wonder of books),

Bound by Law: Copyright Comic

This was an interesting find and very helpful. It came out of a discussion going on in a listserv that I am part of with the National Writing Project around fair use of material and the copyright law, which I find rather onerous (even as someone who writes and publishes in a variety of ways) and not at all in sync with the flexible era that we now live in.

Some professors at Duke University put together a very engaging comic explanation of how the copyright laws work, and why they are in place. Also, the short book advocates for some changes to make the fair use aspect of materials more manageable for artists in any medium (including the use of Creative Common licensing).

CSPD Comics

Cover of comic, superhero with video camera and creative commons shield

The comic unfolds around the story of a documentary filmmaker trying to determine which footage that she shot of New York City might be troublesome for her movie and along the way, the book gives very good examples of how other movies have run afoul of the copyright laws. For example, there are situations where corporations try to extort (my word) $10,000 from a young filmmaker who accidentally captures a snippet of a copyrighted song in the background of some footage. Ridiculous.

The book was published by Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain and is available for relatively cheap and it is even cheaper if you purchase class sets (four bucks a piece). More information about buying the book is here.  Or, in the spirit of this whole endeavor, you can get a free digital download of the book in any variety of styles (flash version, html, pdf, etc) by going here. They even provide a way to remix the book, if that strikes your fancy.

This comic is worth a look if you work with students still trying to get a grasp on why you can’t just take any thing in the world and remix it and put it on YouTube. Or why some songs are just off limits for some projects. And if you are like me and believe in your heart that all art (music, paintings, books, etc.) should be free and accessible to anyone (even though you acknowledge this is not reality — people want to get paid for their creative time), it is still valuable to know the law and this comic gives a great overview of the legal aspects of copyright protection.

Peace (in trademarked symbols),

Scott’s shortshortshort book review contest


Scott McLeod has launched a contest of sorts at his blog, Dangerously Irrelevant, in which folks are asked to write a book review by adhering to the Twitter-concept of 140 characters. That is not a lot of words, so how you pack meaning into your choice is crucial.

Go ahead. Give it a try.

Here is mine:

The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America
By David Hajdu
The Ten-Cent Plague, by David HajduMy review: The innocence of millions were lost to comic books, or so politicians would have had us believe. Yet the genre survived intact – thankfully.

Head on over to Dangerously Irrelevant and post your own.

Peace (in brevity),