What a pleasure having Vicki and Steve visit our Chapter and Verse this month. The conversation sometimes drifted off topic to tap into their expertise and our enjoyment.
Everyone liked When I Was Your Age: Original Stories About Growing Up by a variety of children’s book authors. This is a book for all ages but seems to be marketed more to adults. We would redesign the cover (a classroom project) to engage upper grade and older students. It is effective for meeting common core standards. Several of us would like to know what part of the story is true and what is an embellishment. We found the author notes as interesting as their stories. This led to an interesting discussion about truth in non-fiction, including what an author chooses to tell or leave out. These stories were enhanced by the sharing of foibles, shameful moments, etc., but those were not extreme missteps. What if the author shared a truly awful aspect of their behavior? This moved into There Goes Ted Williams: The Greater Hitter Who Ever Lived by Matt Tavares. Are we deceived if major but negative aspects are left out—think Greg Mortenson?The universality of the stories’ themes: struggles, absent parent, bullying and being bullied, losing a family member or loved possession, shame, growing up, and family reminds us of our own stories. Two ways this could be captured in the classroom would be to have students write a letter to their 40-year-old selves or discuss/write/draw a diagram showing how this person is like him/her self. It would also be interesting to add a third to this compare-and-contrast assignment by choosing a main character from a book by the author.
There Goes Ted Williams was a hit (pun intended) with the group. The illustrations were effective. The children’s faces radiate joy and admiration as they look up to Ted Williams. A variety of views—the close-up, panaromic, action, and repetition added interest. In most of the illustrations he was portrayed with loose body structure and a larger-than-life image. It also became a page-turner as it moved to his life as a soldier. The major portion of our discussion centered on heroism, how it is covered by the media, and what should or should not be included in the story. Is someone who sets out to be the best truly a hero or is hero defined by someone who wants to do the best they can? Does everyone have heroic moments? The theme in the book could be defined as having a dream and going after it.
Overall, we really liked the Tavares book—the illustrations (some of them almost Norman Rockwell-like), the format of the book, but especially the Authors Note at the back. All felt that Ted Williams’ story was compelling and that he should, indeed, be considered a hero (despite some personality flaws).
Then we moved on to When I Was Your Age. Everyone agreed that Avi’s camping experience in the wilds of New Jersey made us laugh out loud, whether it was “all true” or not! We found many similarities between the stories that took place during WWII: missing fathers, busy mothers, kids left largely on their own for huge chunks of the day. Also that the main characters in those vignettes found heroes in their own families, with fathers and older siblings being highly revered. We marvelled at these children’s ability to entertain themselves, and the active imaginations that made that possible.
All in all, a great discussion!