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Archive for 2011

Chester Comix for smartboards!

Written on Tuesday, December 6th, 2011 [permanent link]

Now you can have your whole class read a Chester Comix page together. ( visit Dedicated Teacher! Whoo hoo!)

That was always the goal. All of the Chester the Crab history adventures that you read began in 1999 as a comic in the Daily Press newspaper in Newport News, Virginia. The newspaper sold classroom subscriptions at a discount and raised donations from area businesses to get many copies of the paper in front of students. It was a great way to promote literacy — after the kids read Chester they could then turn to the sports or movie sections or scan the photos. But of course newspaper paper is fragile, so teachers would laminate the Chester pages to keep them bright year after year. (I STILL meet teachers who have held on to those laminated newspaper pages all these years later.) We had a great product but a clunky delivery system.

I knew other teachers in other states would also love to teach with Chester. Not only was newspaper paper too temporary, but sending newspapers through the mail was too costly. So in 2003 I got permission from the Daily Press to put Chester’s adventures into book form. I kept the books paperback to hold the cost down. FINALLY I had a more durable format so I could ship these stories to Texas and California and South Dakota!

I still plan to keep the books in print for all the museum bookstores that carry Chester Comix and all the parents who want to see their kids reading on the couch. But the Great Recession in 2008-09-? also made it clear that fewer and fewer schools would have money to buy class sets of printed books of Chester tales.

As I’ve gone into schools to give my Author’s Purpose talks, I’ve kept a close eye on the rising use of smartboards. In the past year I became convinced that enough classrooms had them to make it worth my while to convert Chester’s stories into a digital format that can be showed on those boards.

Right now it’s just the stories. No hyperlinks, no sound, no bells or whistles. I hope to add those soon. But for now you can put 27 bright and funny books about American history in front of your whole class and read them together. Have fun!!!

Posted in Author's Purpose, History Teacher, literacy | 2 Comments »

Green Army Men and the March of History

Written on Tuesday, October 4th, 2011 [permanent link]


Of course I had green Army men when I was a kid!

And I had them right up until last week 😉

When I am asked by teachers or parents or kids about how I came to love history, my short answer is that I was 10 during the Bicentennial party and was excited by that. But there are many, many other things that fed the History fire. On many of those points it’s hard for me now to say which came first, the History or the influence. Did I play with green Army men because I loved true American stories? Or did I come to love American History after I enjoyed playing with green Army men?

With my oldest son off to his freshman year in college, my youngest son and I are remaking their big bedroom and finding stuff that hasn’t been played with in years. From underneath the bunk bed we disassembled there came a drawer full of plastic Army men. Most of them saved from when I was 10. I saved a lot of my toys because I didn’t have many toys growing up. I valued what I had. I was really proud that I had requisitioned not just a full company of green Army men but also a plastic green Army truck, two plastic howitzers, and two TANKS! I was EQUIPPED! I had some GI Joe figures, too (yes, the full-sized ones; that’s how old I am), but to do a whole battlefield action the green Army men worked better. I even once used them as my actors in a short film that I did in a summer camp.

In the 1970s, my friends and I didn’t think much about the Vietnam War — we play-acted World War II. It fascinates me that World War II still has a firm hold on the imagination of my sons’ generation. My World War 2 Tales book sells very well. Why? Why not more play-acting about current global conflict? Why not more throw-backs to earlier fights (does anyone play Cowboys and Indians anymore?). I think the answer is traceable to another event that hit me like an explosion when I was 10: the first Star Wars movie. A lot has been written about how the Star Wars storyline is just a space retelling of World War II, so I won’t repeat that. But I’m not sure people see how the continued popularity of Star Wars (and even the way the prequel trilogy echoed the political dynamics of Europe in the 1930s) reinforces the 10-year-old’s attraction to the WW2 storyline. Our culture has handed down WW2 as one of the simplest examples of good vs. evil that a young man will ever find in the history books. You look at the sales of videogames over the past 15 years, and you’ll see Star Wars takes a lot of the top spots in the fantasy genre and WW2-based games take a lot of the spots for nonfiction-based games. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.

But with all the videogames out there, would any boy actually still play with the real plastic green Army men??? For me, there doesn’t seem to be much point in keeping green Army men now that the Toy Story movies put them firmly back into pop culture. (Heck, you can find a slew of photos on the Internet of people dressed as their favorite Army man pose for Halloween!). I kept a few for nostalgia, but I thought it was worth a shot to transfer them to Alpha Base — my niece and nephew’s home in Alabama. Their parents were both military, and the transfer included a C-130 plane that I picked up when my boys were young (my brother was a navigator on C-130s!).

The day the package arrived, my sister-in-law sent me this:

“The kids (Matthew) are thrilled with the tanks and soldiers (how many does one boy need?!?!).  Zadie is a little disappointed that there are no “girl” things in the box! I tried to convince her that Mommy was once a “soldier” but I don’t think she believes me. I showed her a book from our shelf about women in the military, and she looked at it for a minute and then she decided: OK! Seriously, it’s pretty cute watching Zadie make blasting sounds and fly the C-130. Matthew is pretty cute, too!

Regardless, my vacuum cleaner thanks you!  :-)”

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Posted in Author's Purpose, History Teacher | No Comments »

Reading — still a dirty word

Written on Sunday, September 11th, 2011 [permanent link]

First, the good news: Last weekend I was at an annual gathering of college friends, debating the future of education with one of the people who made the Kindle work. He’s looking for his next big project, so he was brainstorming either campaigning for a convention to rewrite the U.S. Constitution OR remaking the U.S. public education system. (He thinks BIG!) It was thrilling for me to talk about what works and what doesn’t and what can be done in this new century.

But I kept pinning the discussion to reality — the things I’ve learned from my 12 years of working with educators to make comix they can use in the classroom. And unfortunately, some of that reality kept hitting me between the eyes at my booksignings this summer. For way too many boys in my target audience, it is still a badge of honor to say:

“I don’t read.”

I mean it. These 8- to 12-year-old boys that I talk to don’t act sheepish about it. They say it matter-of-factly or even aggressively — “I don’t read!” They say it like they are proud of it. They say it like saying “I like to read” would get them kicked off the football team or laughed at as they chat with friends over the XBox.

The funny thing is that a lot of these boys DO read. They read magazines they like. They process plenty of text info on the games or websites they visit. They text with each other on phones. They even read history comix starring a blue crab. But they can’t ADMIT that they like to read. It’s a sobering thing for me to hear from them after all the focus put on boy reading in the past decade:

* All those celebrity reading posters in the library

* all the emphasis placed on literacy by the No Child Left Behind federal law

* all the cool NEW ways to read (such as the KINDLE!)

* the awesome Boys Read effort

* and all those thousands and thousands of Harry Potter books!!!!!

Maybe these preteen boys are pushing back against all these efforts — the more Mom or the Teacher pushes reading, the more the boys resist?? There’s a lot of reasons. There are a lot of distractions these days! We’ll end with good news. I continue to hear great things from parents and teachers about how much reluctant readers love my books once they read them, but I’ve taken to cautioning a buyer at the point of sale. Don’t force the books, I urge. Leave Chester Comix lying around the kitchen table or in the bathroom or stuck in the seat net of the minivan. Let the boys choose to read in a quiet moment when no one is looking.

Really. I don’t mind Chester being in the bathroom!!! 😉

Posted in literacy | No Comments »

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