Sunday, October 31, 2010

It's a Book by Lane Smith - Survey

There’s been a little buzz recently - or maybe it’s significant buzz, whatever - about It’s a Book by Lane Smith.  First, an introduction to the book thanks to the book’s trailer (or you could just keep reading):

And that’s it.  One plugged-in, tweeting, blogger type character is curious about this book-thingy that another character is holding.  He is only able to see the book through his technological frame of reference, and therefore is unable to understand its simplicity.  How do you use it?  What does it do?  How does it work?

Okay, that’s not it.  Not really, at least in the eyes of many.  The book trailer leaves out one little detail.  Here, the title page introduces the characters.

Now maybe you’re saying, “I can live with that.  Donkey, jackass, whatever.  Teachable moment.”  Or maybe you’re saying, “Oh for crying out loud.  Jackass?  Is that really necessary?”  Either way, you read through the book and notice all the technological terms that are so significant in our lives and our children’s lives today.  You see how Jackass can take a page from Monkey's book, Treasure Island, and rewrite it using only twenty-nine characters, emoticons included.  Then you witness his apparent transformation as the book completely captures his attention.

But when he promises to charge it up when he’s finished, Monkey and Mouse have had enough.  Mouse tells him on the penultimate page, just like the book’s trailer, “You don’t have to…” and completes his statement on the last page:

And now I’m curious.  What do you - teachers, librarians, parents, students - think?  Is the book worth all the hubbub, Bub?  Should it be used with students?  In libraries?  At home?

I’ve created a very simple, very short, very anonymous survey to gather some opinions.  Please take a moment - 90 seconds, tops - to share your opinion below, and be sure to click SUBMIT at the bottom.  After I’ve gathered some information, I’ll share my complete review and whatever findings I find.  Thanks in advance.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Hope is the perfect name for her.  Not Tulip.  Definitely not Tulip.  She nearly died after being born.  Her mother left her to be raised by her aunt.  She moves frequently, leaving behind the people she cares for.  But she knows Hope is the perfect name.  Her aunt Addie says a name like Hope is a lot to live up to and asks, “You think you’re up to carrying that name?”

Hope Yancey doesn’t just believe she’s up to it.  She proves it.

When Addie and Hope move from Brooklyn, New York to Mulhoney, Wisconsin to work as head cook and waitress at the Welcome Stairways restaurant, they do so to make a living, not necessarily to make a new life.  What they thought were new jobs turns out to be much, much more.

Shortly after their arrival, G.T. Stoop, the owner of the Welcome Stairways, announces his candidacy for mayor despite the fact that he has leukemia.  Lou Ellen, a waitress at the Welcome Stairways, is concerned about her baby daughter’s slow development.  Yuri, a recent immigrant from Russia, nervously busses tables and carefully navigates American culture with his broken English.  Hope is needed in the Welcome Stairways, and not just another good waitress.

Hope establishes herself as a talented waitress in the restaurant, a true friend, and as the summer progresses, a staunch supporter of G.T. Stoop for mayor.  She becomes friends with Braverman, the assistant cook, and a number of others as they work together on G.T.’s mayoral campaign.  Throughout it all Hope maintains … hope.  Hope that G.T. will win.  Hope that Lou Ellen's daughter will get better.  Hope that she can make a difference.  Hope that someday she will meet the father she never knew.  She’s even prepared the story of her life in scrapbooks for the moment her father arrives.

Joan Bauer has created a story full of characters that readers will enjoy, care for, and admire.  There are teenagers who work for goals larger than themselves and individuals who place the wellbeing of others above their own.  Hope Was Here is filled with people who learn and know what faith, hope, and love can do.  Readers will cheer the characters’ achievements and share their disappointments.  Readers will feel their joys, their sorrows, and all the emotions in between.

The I-94 welcome sign on the Wisconsin-Illinois border.
Finally, and I know not all readers share my Cheesehead bias, but nevertheless, don’t hold it against Hope when she describes her entrance into Wisconsin as “Green rolling hills.  Cheese billboards.  Grazing cows.  Basic bovine boredom.”  She hadn’t been enlightened yet!  And just a scant 122 pages later Hope says,

“You think all teenagers care about are musicians and movie stars?
Spend some time in Wisconsin.
We’ll blow your socks off.”

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hope Was Here: Our Original Project Outline

This is the original outline we created that lists government, election, and political topics by chapter in Hope Was Here.  We included both the key terms and how they appear in context.  Additional resources are available at Joan Bauer’s website.  Since this is primarily a book review website, I’ll try to keep from giving away too much at the end.  (But to be honest, I’m not overly confident.)

Chapter 2
Banner "Reelect Our Mayor - Eli Millstone - The Only Man for Mulhoney"

Chapter 3
Campaign buttons reading "Vote for Eli Millstone" are worn by eight men at the restaurant.  Their request to hang a "Vote for Eli Millstone" poster is refused, Hope decides she doesn't like Eli Millstone because of the men’s behavior, even though she's never met him.

Chapter 4
An Eli Millstone float appears in the town parade.  People around the float wear Millstone t-shirts.  Later, G.T. announces he's running for mayor.  He says he doesn’t have an exploratory committee.  He gives his platform, or reasons why he's running.  Eli Millstone challenges him about taxes.  Millstone mentions the issues and says he is running on his record.

Chapter 5
The town charter says anyone who is a resident, age 30, and a U.S. citizen can run for mayor.  G.T. has a petition to be signed.  The Election Board says he needs 200 registered voters to sign the petition for him to officially be on the ballot.

Chapter 6
The Students for Political Freedom Coalition helps get signatures.  Rumors say that the Real Fresh Dairy funded Millstone's campaign

Chapter 7
Student Adam Pulver tells G.T. about his uncle.  He is a spin doctor and has helped two congressmen win seats in the last two elections.  "My uncle is a genius.  The last guy he worked for was behind thirty-five points in the polls.  Uncle Sid found the button of the district and his candidate won."  Later, Sid Vole says, "The whole messy game of politics is about trust."

Chapter 8
"To spin or not to spin.  That was the question."  Suddenly the tax assessor's office is closed, and the Election Board says that fifty-five names had wrong information on the petition.  G.T. is off the ballot.

Chapter 9
After an extension, more signatures get G.T. back on the ballot.  "We've got ourselves an official horse race now," says Eli Millstone.  He is asked "When will you be releasing the names of your campaign contributors?"

Chapter 10
G.T. gives speeches and is burning up the campaign trail.  Campaign slogans are suggested.  Students for Stoop is started with a website and newsletter.

Chapter 11
Students are encouraged to write letters to the Mulhoney Messenger.  Editorials about the tax assessor's office are published.  G.T. says "Give the mayor a message for me.  Tell him that lies and dirty tricks never win in the long run.  Tell him that fear is no way to govern people.  He can refuse to meet with me from now until Election Day, but I will not be silent!"  The Real Fresh Dairy cancels their advertising in the Mulhoney Messenger and Cranston Broom, dairy owner, announces his support of Eli Millstone.

Chapter 12
G.T. doesn't want to see the list of his campaign contributors.

Chapter 14
The Students for Stoop newsletter is called propaganda.  Attempts are made to create publicity.  In her speech Hope mentions being a citizen, the campaign, being part of the political process, being an honorable personfighting for the truth, and playing games with people's trust.  She mentions being sold down the riverdishonesty behind closed doors, the public eye, and being trustworthy.

Chapter 17
School starts.  Hope is in a Political Science class.  Claims are made that the sheriff was paid off to turn his back.  Polls show one candidate is seven points ahead.  A person says, "If you hear a lie long enough it starts to sound like the truth."  Posters reading Stop Stoop appear.  It is Election Day.

Chapter 18
There are no signs of election tampering.  Eighty-five percent of registered voters in town voted.  (How does that compare to most elections?) The Election Board investigates the official books. Numerous voters listed claim they never even registered.  There is a protest outside Town Hall.  A resignation is requested.  The winner takes the oath of office.

Chapter 19
Numerous appointments occur, fines are levied, and investigations begin.  "Politics isn't about powercontrol, or manipulation."

Chapter 20
The current mayor’s term continues.

Chapter 21
An acting mayor holds office.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hope Was Here: Our Conversation with Joan Bauer

Having learned from a government official in Madison that mayoral elections in Wisconsin are always in the spring, and having read about the fall mayoral election in Hope Was Here, the students were eager to contact author Joan Bauer.  Our correspondence follows.  The emails have been slightly edited, and for privacy’s sake, specific names of students, teachers, and places have been eliminated.

From: Brian
To: Joan Bauer
Subject: The Election in Hope Was Here

Mrs. Bauer,

Our fourth and fifth grade class used Hope Was Here as the basis of our government project.  The reading teacher - me - would come in each day and read a chapter or two aloud.  The classroom teacher, Ms. B., would then follow up with lessons and research about campaigns, finances, taxes, issues, polls, or whatever election information was included in the book that day.

It was a wonderful unit, and as any great book will do, the discussions extended way beyond the intended subject matter.

To follow up we invited our local mayor to talk about her election experiences.  She told us that she was elected in the spring.  She was unsure, but she believed that mayoral elections throughout the state were held in the spring.

That got us to wondering, we did some digging, and here's what we learned.  Nonpartisan elections in the state of Wisconsin, including mayoral elections, are held in the spring.  A regularly scheduled election for mayor would never occur in the fall.  However, if there was a vacancy that occurred before June 1, the city's common council may order a special November election to fill the vacancy.

And now we have a bunch of questions.  Did you know that?  Did you choose to put the election in the fall anyway so it would better fit the plot?  Do you have any connection to Wisconsin?  If so, what?  And if not, why did you choose to send Hope and Addie to Wisconsin and not, say, Iowa?

Thank you for your time and for your wonderful book.  And please know we aren't trying to correct you or point out errors.  We are just genuinely curious.

Brian Wilhorn and 23 interested 4th and 5th graders

Deep breath … wonder if everything is politely stated … another deep breath … and … click … SEND.  It took a week - and the longer it stretched, the more convinced I became that we’d just completely irritated a Newbery Honor winning author - but finally the response came.

From: Joan Bauer
To: Brian
Subject: RE: The Election in Hope Was Here

Dear Mr. Wilhorn --

Hello to you and your class.  I'm delighted to hear how you and your students have dug into HOPE WAS HERE.  What a great way for them to learn about government.  I'm impressed.  And, I must tell you, that I didn't know about the spring mayoral elections in Wisconsin.  I did a great deal of research about local politics, but I missed that one.  Thank you so much for letting me know.  Now, that brings me to the other part -- had I known, what would I have done?  I'm not sure because so much of the story takes place in the summer as Hope and Addie move to town.  I needed Hope not to be in school so I could show her full-out at the diner, and then there is the build-up of the election into the fall.  It would have been quite a challenge to change it to spring.  But all of this is fascinating to think about.

Thank you for digging down so deeply -- you are giving your kids a stupendous gift.  My best to you and your 23 interested 4th and 5th graders.

Here's to hope!
Joan Bauer

Do you know what an email like this can do to a room full of nine-, ten-, and eleven-year-olds?  Teachers, I’m sure you can imagine.  These students just learned that research can uncover information even an author missed.  They asked a question and successfully found the answer.  Maybe most significantly, they experienced the incredible feeling that comes when an important somebody takes the time to acknowledge and validate a child’s efforts.

From: Brian
To: Joan Bauer
Subject: RE: The Election in Hope Was Here

Dear Mrs. Bauer,

Our students loved learning that an author would respond so personally to their questions.  Thank you.

Would it be okay to share your response with others?  The mayor who spoke to our class was curious to know if we'd learn more after her visit, and the person I talked to at the Government Accountability Board, Elections Division in Madison was curious to know as well.

Finally, I hope our email didn't have a "Gotcha!" tone to it.  That was never the intention.

Thanks again for a wonderful book, the gracious response, and your willingness to share with students in a little Wisconsin town 1/10 the size of Mulhoney.


Our second response was quick in coming, and it was every bit as gracious and kind as the first.

From: Joan Bauer
To: Brian
Subject: RE: The Election in Hope Was Here

Dear Brian --

Please share this response -- I think it's wonderful that your mayor and other government officials are interested.  It just makes me realize how right it was for me to put Hope and Addie in Wisconsin.  And as for your concern about a "gotcha" -- I truly didn't feel that at all, so please don't worry.  I'm delighted by your enthusiasm and impressed by how you brought so many facets of the book to life.  One interesting thing that's happened with HOPE WAS HERE is that the State Department translated the story into Russian after I visited the country of Kazakhstan a few years ago.  And now it's being circulated in both Kazakhstan and Russian.  HOPE has been translated into many languages, but the Russian edition has special meaning for me.  In case your kids are interested, the Russian word for hope is (I'll spell this out phonetically) na*deer*ja.

Warmest wishes,

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Hope Was Here: Our Conversation with the State of Wisconsin

After reading about the November mayoral election in Hope Was Here and possibly learning about Wisconsin’s spring, nonpartisan elections in April, our fourth and fifth graders decided to contact state officials directly.  They wanted to know for sure if all mayoral elections in Wisconsin are held in the spring or if the November election in Hope Was Here could actually occur in Wisconsin.

Our first email was simply a question entered into an online form.  And of course, the students elected me to use my email address as the contact.  (That’s why only my name is included in the emails.)

From: Brian
Subject: Local Election Dates

Are all local elections in the state of Wisconsin held in the spring, or are there cities where a mayoral election would happen in the fall?

Not long after our query, we received the following response.  (The name of the government official has been changed.)

From: Mary, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
To: Brian
Subject: RE: Local Election Dates

Mr. Wilhorn,

Spring elections are nonpartisan elections.  Elections held in the spring are:

State: State Superintendent of Public Instruction: Judicial (Supreme Court, Court of Appeals, Circuit Court)
Multi-Jurisdictional Municipal Judge
County: County (Executive and Supervisor)
City: Mayor, Treasurer, Clerk, Alderperson
Village: President, Trustees, Clerk, Treasurer, Assessor, Constable, Municipal Judge
Town: Chairperson, Supervisors, Clerk, Treasurer, Assessor, Constable, Municipal Judge
School Board Members

The response clearly said that mayoral elections are held in the spring, but just to be sure, we responded with a little more information.  We also added a disclaimer in the P.S. so the state knew were only students doing research and not some local whistleblowers.

From: Brian
To: Mary, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
Subject: RE: Local Election Dates

Thank you for your response.  So, just to clarify, is it against state law to have a mayoral election in the fall?  Could a city decide to hold a mayoral election in the fall on their own?

Thanks again,

P.S.  No, I'm not concerned with a local city's actions.  A class at my school is studying government, and in a fictional example set in Wisconsin, the mayoral election - without any extenuating circumstances - happens in the fall.  We wondered if that could be accurate. 

Again, it didn’t take long to get a response, and this one made the answer to our question even more clear.

From: Mary, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board
To: Brian
Subject: RE: Local Election Dates

Mr. Wilhorn,

A regularly-scheduled election for the office of Mayor would never occur in the fall.  However, in the case of a vacancy that occurs before June 1 in the year preceding expiration of the term of office, the common council may order a special election to fill a vacancy to be held in November.  S. 17.23(1)(a), Wis. Stats.

So, a special election for mayor could possibly occur in the fall.

We had our answer.  The election in Hope Was Here occurs in the fall.  Since it is a normally scheduled election and not a special election to fill a vacancy, it technically would be an illegal election. Technically.

Now what?  Did we find a [gulp!] mistake in Newbery Honor winning novel?  Was the election purposely placed in the fall to better fit the plot?  What should we do?

The kids thought the answer was simple:  Ask the author.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hope Was Here: A Story Introduction

Visitors to Help Readers Love Reading know that my professional school day is split between being a reading teacher and, for lack of a better title, the “project guy” in an elementary charter school.  And the best parts of any day are undoubtedly when the two jobs intersect - those times when books are used to introduce, support, and enhance content area learning.  Our fourth and fifth grade project using Hope Was Here, a Newbery Honor winning novel by Joan Bauer, to study local Wisconsin government is one of those projects when the end result far exceeds whatever expected student outcomes we educators create.

And sometimes you just want to share a story with people, know what I mean?  This week I'll be sharing what happened over the course of our Hope Was Here government project.

Hope Was Here is set in the fictional town of Mulhoney, Wisconsin.  A typical Wisconsin small town, Mulhoney is located halfway between Milwaukee and Madison, has five thousand residents, and is home to the Real Fresh Dairy.  Hope, the main character, and her aunt move to Mulhoney to work for G. T. Stoop in his restaurant, the Welcome Stairways.  Soon after their arrival, G. T. announces his candidacy for mayor.

My role with the project was to read Hope Was Here aloud to the fourth and fifth graders and lead a daily discussion about the various political information presented in each chapter.  The classroom teacher then led the students in additional research about local governments in Wisconsin to complete their projects.

After finishing the book we invited our local mayor to share her election experiences with the class.  The students were engaged and full of questions and the mayor's stories reinforced the lessons learned from Hope Was Here.

Well, all of the lessons except one, that is.  The mayor repeatedly referred to her election in April as part of Wisconsin’s spring elections.  She probably mentioned it three or four times, the fact that she was elected in the spring.  Whenever she mentioned it, several students would glance at one another or look at me.

The cause of their agitation was clear: The mayoral election in Hope Was Here occurs in the fall.

“In the book we read as part of our project, the election is in the fall,” we told her.  “Do all cities in Wisconsin have their elections in the spring, or is that just something they do here?”

“I’m not one hundred percent positive,” she replied, “but I’m pretty sure spring mayoral elections happen statewide.”  She went on to explain what she knew about nonpartisan elections in Wisconsin and encouraged us to do additional research.

So we did.  We went straight to Wisconsin’s State Statutes.  Unfortunately, they read exactly how you’d expect state statutes to read.  Now I didn’t check them with the Fry Readability Graph or anything, so let's just say they weren't a fourth grade reading level.  So we decided to contact the state of Wisconsin.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Run! Hide! The Commercials Are Coming!

This kid didn't need explosions to sell hot dogs.
I love football season, a fact that is no secret to anyone who knows me.  But along with football season comes a football frustration: the cover-your-eyes, hide-the-children commercials we must endure when our favorite team plays.  Read my latest column on the newspaper's website, click here for the printable version, or just keep right on reading...

We’re a sports family, and football is king of the family’s sports universe.  Now that the NFL season has started, my kids’ eyes and ears runneth over their weekly quota of physical violence, alcohol, vulgarity and sex.

But the violence isn’t from linebackers who flatten running backs, the vulgarity isn’t from inebriated football fans, and the sex isn’t from scantily-clad cheerleaders.

It’s the commercials.

Children are responsible for a sizable portion of the NFL’s profits.  Look at all the kids wearing jerseys and hats on local playgrounds.  Network cameras find plenty of cute kids sitting in $100 seats drinking $6.00 sodas.

So why does the NFL allow its advertisers to bombard its youngest fans with images that make their parents cringe?  A football game might feature touchdown after touchdown, but even a 45 to 38 shootout isn’t as offensive as many of the commercials.

I thought maybe I was just being hypersensitive due to the 8- and 11-year-old eyes sharing my couch, so I conducted a completely unscientific experiment.  I kept tally marks on a sheet of notebook paper during an NFL game and counted all the violence, alcohol, general rudeness, and sexual content in the commercials.

There were five gunshots, although perhaps machine guns should count more than one.  There were 11 physical attacks and three fiery explosions, each of which included flying bodies.

I counted only one dead body, however, considering the way explosions work, some of those flying bodies may have qualified.

There were 10 kisses, some romantic, some mere pecks, some included with the four shots of people in bed together, and several combined with the 10 shots of people naked, nearly naked, or getting naked.

I counted only three insults.  Then again, I didn’t count political ads.

Nobody’s surprised at the five beer commercials.

Promotional spots for TV shows are by far the worst, seemingly pulling out the five most squirm-worthy moments from an upcoming episode and packing them into 15 seconds. 

Did I mention I only kept track for one quarter of the game?  Fifteen minutes on the game clock, forty-five minutes real time.

I don’t want to brag, but like most men, I can run a remote like a teenager texts.  Used to annoy my wife, let me tell you.  Now my clicking thumb is the Sunday afternoon MVP, taking us from one football game to another whenever the on field action breaks for a TV timeout.

With all the commercials, some sixty-minute football games are approaching four hours.  And if commercials have taught us anything, we know how important it is to seek immediate medical attention when certain things last longer than four hours.

Monday morning during breakfast the girl said something mischievous, and I jokingly shook my fork at her, a four-pronged, stainless steel law finger.  “Geez, Dad,” she said.  “Watching all those violent commercials must have had an effect on you.”

“Maybe,” I said, “but if commercials made me a violent fork shaker, how come nobody’s running around the house without any clothes on?”

Without hesitation, my wife added, “Don’t look at me.”

See?  Another MVP vote for the remote control clicking thumb.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cat the Cat Who Is THAT? (series) by Mo Willems

In the trailer for the upcoming (I think it’s still upcoming, anyway) children’s literature documentary Library of the Early Mind, author Mo Willems says, “One of the great ironies of my life is that I write … I am a writer for … illiterates.”

What an amazing thought, and what a challenge!  The thought had never occurred to me that some children’s authors write for an audience that can’t read.  Adding to the challenge is that not only must the book be engaging to nonreaders, the book must also engage the readers needed to read the story to the nonreaders.  (And my challenge, apparently, is making coherent statements.)

Cat the Cat Who Is THAT? and the subsequent books in the Cat the Cat series do a wonderful job of engaging both nonreaders and their grown-up readers alike.  In the first book, readers are introduced to Cat the Cat and her friends, Mouse the Mouse, Fish the Fish, and Duck the Duck.  The main text is simple (“Cat the Cat, who is that?  It’s Mouse the Mouse.”), but also included are not-so-simple speech bubble greetings (“Hey, dude!” and “A pleasure, as always!”).

After meeting many of Cat the Cat’s friends, someone new is introduced.  “Cat the Cat, who is THAT?”

“Eep!  I have NO idea!” replies Cat the Cat.

“Blarggie!  Blarggie!” says the new character.

Each book follows the same pattern of predictable text and surprise ending.  In Let’s Say HI to Friends Who FLY!, Cat the Cat meets Bee the Bee, Bird the Bird, Bat the Bat, and … Rhino the Rhino?  In What’s Your Sound Hound the Hound?, there are friends who say Woof! and Peep! and Moo!  But what happens when Cat the Cat asks, “What’s your sound, Bunny the Bunny?”

Mo Willems may write for illiterates, but they won’t be illiterate long if their parents and teachers read aloud books like his Cat the Cat series.  Joy and giggles are powerful motivators, and Mo Willems excels in creating books that abound with joy and giggles.  Nonreaders will clearly learn how fun reading can be!

And just because I mentioned it above, here's the trailer for Library of the Early Mind.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

When Education, Technology, and Personal Blogs Cross

At the crossroads of education, technology, and personal websites, you sometimes find things like accidental blog posts.  So as I demonstrated how to use an iPod to publish a new blog post to an eager fifth grader, my itchy trigger finger apparently pushed the PUBLISH POST button rather than the Return to list of posts link. 


So if you received an email or feed update that said something about publishing blog posts with an iPod, ignore it.  It was nothing more than an instructional mini-lesson that ended with a fifth grader pointing and laughing at me.

And deservedly so.