The Man Who Walked Between Two Towers

A lot of people have written and reflected upon the tragic day that occurred 10 years ago. It affected everyone in some way, and while have have memories good and bad seered into my memory of what happend, I thought instead I’d share a resource for children that I like to use.

It’sa Caldecott winning picture book called The Man Who Walked Between The Towers by Mordecai Gerstein. It’s a gorgeously illustrated book and tells of a joyous ture story of a man who walked on a tightrope between the towers just shortly before they were completed.

It’s a great story as it is unrelated to the events other than the words on the penultimate page, “Now the towers are gone.” The children I taught that day in ’01 are now seniors in high school, and the children I teach today were born post 9/11. Yet, the questions from the children remain the same and unanswered. I just hope they keep asking questions. Inquiry  is just the beginning.

A month prior to the horrific event, I visited NYC for the first time, and as a tourist, it was on my agenda. Below is my fond memory of the WTC. Below that is a youtube video that was made of the book. Enjoy.

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It’s Awards Season

The American Library Association announced this year’s winners for the Caldecott (illustrator) and Newbery (author) awards for children’s literature. The book A Sick Day for Amos McGee which I posted about last week, won the Caldecott. Sometimes books can be simple and sweet without the harsher realities of the world and offer children a nice escape into a world where everyone is kind to one another. If you follow this blog, you know I really enjoyed it, but I thought David Weisner’s Art and Max was a little better. Of course, Weisner has already won 3 Caldecott Medals, so maybe they decided to skip him this year. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him again soon. What was a pleasant surprise was the Laura Ingalls Wilder award. The Wilder Award honors an author or illustrator whose books, published in the United States, have made, over a period of years, a substantial and lasting contribution to literature for children, and this year’s winner was Tomie dePaola; it’s a fine coincidence that second grade is currently involved in a dePaola author study. It’s often quite exciting to observe children when they have a close connection to current events. Below are a few of dePaola’s better known titles. Another author/illustrator known for simple and sweet. I haven’t read this year’s Newbery winner Moon Over Manifest, but it sounds good, and perhaps I should grab a copy. Hopefully it’s as good as the last two winners.

 

Darkness and Light in Children’s Literature

“Reader, you must know that an interesting fate (sometimes involving rats, sometimes not) awaits almost everyone, mouse or man, who does not conform.”

That line is from one of my favorite books, The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, A Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate Di Camillo. It may be my all time favorite, for each time I read it, it gets better. I’m almost done reading it aloud to my class and have treasured every moment so far. It is undoubtedly a rich piece of literature. A tapestry of beautiful language, structure, and themes.

My favorite are the characters though. Deep and not without flaws. It could have been a simple good vs. evil / mice vs. rats story, but like humans the characters are much more complex. Here’s another quote:

“There are those hearts, reader, that never mend again once they are broken. Or if they do mend, they heal themselves in a crooked and lopsided way, as if sewn together by a careless craftsman.”

That quote alone could launch a great social/emotional learning lesson.

Despereaux has some very dark moments, but unlike Harry Potter, which I saw this past weekend and thoroughly enjoyed, the darkness of Despereaux is easier to handle with children because its characters include mice and rats. While still frightening, it doesn’t have the intensity that the later Potter books contain. And in a movie, that intensity is amplified, but the sound, special effects, and cinematography. In a book, the intensity is created by the author, but the reader or listener can make many more choices as to how they choose to view those things.

Despereaux won the Newberry Award in 2004 and no book has grabbed me that same way until the last two winners. 2010’s When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead and Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book. Unfortunately, both unsuitable for 2nd graders. They turned Despereaux into a cartoon in ’08 and, in my humble opinion, butchered it. Stick to the book.

Like the name of one of its characters, Chiaroscuro, The Tale of Despereaux is full of darkness and light, and if not my very favorite, certainly in my top ten. Children learn so much about people not being good or bad, but sophisticated and complex. They learn that sometimes its the choices that characters make, not their souls that have added to their darkness or light. With this book, children are able to develop empathy, even for the book’s villain – and that takes a good story teller.