Talking about Tone with Two Poems

Tone is always difficult to talk about with students. First, we have to convince them the poem *has* a tone. Then, we have to ask them to give us words to describe the tone. Finally, we try to have them point to the word(s) in the poem that made them understand the tone.

Here are two poems about the same topic, which might allow those conversations to go a little smoother. By comparing the two poems, the tone of each might more easily come to light.

Just a note, I give my students a list of tone words at the beginning of the year, and it makes it much easier for these conversations at first if they can reference a list rather than have to generate tone words on their own.


Small Frogs Killed on the Highway
James Wright

Still,
I would leap too
Into the light,
If I had the chance.
It is everything, the wet green stalk of the field
On the other side of the road.
They crouch there, too, faltering in terror
And take strange wing. Many
Of the dead never moved, but many
Of the dead are alive forever in the split second
Auto headlights more sudden
Than their drivers know.
The drivers burrow backward into dank pools
Where nothing begets
Nothing.

Across the road, tadpoles are dancing
On the quarter thumbnail
Of the moon. They can’t see,
Not yet.


Birdfoot’s Grampa
Joseph Bruchac

The old man
must have stopped our car
two dozen times to climb out
and gather into his hands
the small toads blinded
by our lights and leaping,
live drops of rain.

The rain was falling,
a mist about his white hair
and I kept saying
you can’t save them all
accept it, get back in
we’ve got places to go.

But, leathery hands full
of wet brown life
knee deep in the summer
roadside grass
he just smiled and said
they have places to go
too.

 

Talking about Tone with Two Poems

36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

You and your students sometimes need a break from the books in the book room. And you also may need a rest from working with non-fiction text, short passages, paperbacks that are never quite as up-to-the-minute as you had hoped. Audiobooks are a great alternative to solo silent reading—not that we aren’t still trying to get students to love the experience of sitting with a book—but even they can get a little stale.

Unfortunately, musical theatre, one of the forms that has much to offer our media-saturated students is usually beyond the price range of our instructional budgets. Films are great, but for full-length films, we often need class time or a budget to make outside-of-class viewing feasible. Problems, problems, problems.

But there’s a new experiment you might want to check out. Good news: It’s a relationship story filled with intrigue. Good news: It’s a musical, but it’s also a play. Good news: It has appealing actors—Jonathan Groff and Jessie Shelton—performing in what is a hybrid of audiobooks and musical theatre. Good news: It can be downloaded for free. (Slightly less good news: There are a few short ads embedded in the podcast.)

Do you know what the 36 Questions to Fall in Love are? Maybe your students do…okay, maybe slightly more of your female than male students do (or maybe not, you might be surprised). Okay, well, the psychological angle to this podcast created by Two Up musical writers Chris Littler and Ellen Winter builds on the popular cultural discussion about whether getting to know certain things about another person is the path to falling in love with them. You and your students can learn more about the psychological research in a New York Times article that links to an essay about the 36 questions phenomenon. Go to this page, see a brief article, and even access a podcast of Mandy Len Catron’s essay from The Times “Modern Love” column.

The musical complicates matters a bit, though. What if a person thinks they know someone, but really doesn’t? Will resetting their relationship by answering the questions lead (back) to love?

At this point, you may be wondering what IS this podcast? What is it about? Is it really something that might interest my students?

I can’t tell you for sure, but I think you should check it out. Go to https://36questions.bandcamp.com/ to listen, or look up the “36 Questions” podcast on the Apple store. Download the podcast, and give it a listen in your car on the way to work or to pick up the kids from their activities. You might notice as you listen that the creators are doing something more than straightforwardly telling a story through audio…though they are doing that too. They are also using subtle clues tailored to this particular medium to draw their audience into curiosity about the characters we meet but can’t see. Sound plays a wonderfully complex role in this story, so you’ll feel yourself noticing that audio effects are not just creating the reality we are being encouraged to visualize, but rather—as in old-fashioned radio drama—stimulating a listener’s attention in directions the writers think will serve their larger themes, characterization, and story arc.

One warning: The story is a relationship story, and though its details are not harsh, there are a few references to sexual matters…relatively brief, not overly explicit, but likely best suited to mature high school students.  

What I’ve sketched out here is a rough set of complementary texts—an audio podcast or two, some short journalistic articles and essays, and then a wide set of texts that you might link to these when you investigate this podcast musical and the constellation of interviews, reviews, and commentaries available online. I’m sure you’ll find listening to the musical an enjoyable way to spend some time, and you might get some creative ideas for how working with such interconnected media texts might help you find a few new paths to engaging your students with characters, storytelling, and the psychology of human relationships.

 

Thomas C. Crochunis

Shippensburg University

36 Questions: The Meet-Cute Between Audiobooks and Musicals

Summer Reading Challenge #3: Read Diverse Books

Summer Reading Challenge #3: Read Diverse Books

We’ve blogged before about the importance of reading diverse books.  This summer, challenge yourself to read a book about an unfamiliar place, about an historical event you want to understand better, or by a new author.

For example, this summer I’ve read a book about the Sri Lankan civil war, called Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera.  I had no idea the tension between the Tamil Liberation Fighters and the government. This lasted for 25 years. How did I miss this in history class or in current events? This book takes you in the the daily lives of people impacted by the fighting. It even gives you both sides, reminding me a little of The Association of Small Bombs.

island of a thousand mirrors book

I also finally read The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which recounts the Vietnam war from the perspective of a North Vietnamese mole in the South Vietnamese army. The writing was so rich and metaphorical, and the content was fascinating.  (This book would also count as one from a list, if you recall our Summer Reading Challenge #2)sympathizer book

A third book I read this summer was The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzie Lee. This playful YA romp/bildungsroman follows a privileged young man, Monty, his best friend, and his sister in the 1700s as they tour the continent before Monty must return to the responsibilities waiting for him at home. He’s a protagonist you’ll find flawed and frustrating at times, but since he seems open to change, you’ll stick with him to the end. As he slowly accepts his sexuality and his desire for Percy, he slowly understands both himself and the world.

gentleman's guide book

So try a new topic, a new author, a diverse book this summer. You may discover a new favorite author.

 

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor for PCTELA

Summer Reading Challenge #3: Read Diverse Books

Friday Five: Reasons We’re Excited for the NCTE Affiliate Meeting

Today, NCTE affiliates from all over the country will meet in Atlanta, Georgia. There are so many reasons to be excited about this convergence of educators. Here are a few:

  1. Sharon Draper will be making the keynote address tonight! A former teacher and now award-winning author, she spoke at our 2016 PCTELA conference as well as the 2016 NCTE conference and is sure to be an engaging and energizing speaker.
  2. Informal conversations between affiliates. This, like those informal conversations at conferences, is often where we find out best ideas. Collaborations and conversations with other educators in other states is the goal here, and we’re excited to see what ideas the synergy of our conversations generate.
  3. The agenda is packed full of areas for improvement with more formal conversations around: membership, diversity, social media, advocacy. Like in our classrooms, our organization always has room for growth, and we look forward to the presentations and conversations afforded by this convergence of educators and affiliates.
  4. On Sunday, Millie Davis & Leila Christenbury will be presenting about Intellectual Freedom, a topic we’re particularly interested in right now.
  5. It feels like Thanksgiving in the summer! The energy and excitement of meeting other teachers and making connections in the summer is like attending the annual NCTE conference. We’re grateful to be a part of this organization and to add our voice to the conversation.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Friday Five: Reasons We’re Excited for the NCTE Affiliate Meeting

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

A few years ago, I discovered the joys of reading from a Prize list, when I read a bunch of Pulitzer-prize winning plays (later this summer, I’ll be talking about that at the AP conference in Washington, DC). This summer, I’ve decided to dip my feet into a few lists: The Newbery Medal, The Printz Awards, and more Pulitzers.

The Newbery Medal is given annually by the American Library Association “to the author of the most distinguished contribution to American literature for children.” Each year one book wins the medal and a few others are named as Honor Books, ones that had been considered for the medal. Some books you might recognize on this list include The Giver (1994),  Holes (1999), The Graveyard Book (2009), and this year’s, The Girl Who Drank the Moon, by Kelly Barnhill.

The Michael L. Printz Award ” exemplifies literary excellence in young adult literature.” Similar to the Newbery, one book wins the medal and others are named as Honor books. This year’s winner is John Lewis’s graphic novel March, Book 3. (I’ve read the first one, and really want to read two and three). Some of the books named as honor books this year include Nicola Yoon’s The Sun is Also A Star and Neal Shusterman’s Scythe.  

The Pulitzer Prize is awarded in 21 categories, but I’m most interested in Fiction, Drama, and Poetry.  This year, Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad, Lynn Nottage’s Sweat, and Tyehimba Jess’s Olio were the winners for those categories (I’ve read the first two, working on the third now).

We all have to-be-read lists that are miles long, but looking at a prize list and reading a few off that list can give you a good place to start if you’re interested in book recommendations for a level of reading you may be unfamiliar with.–the runners up are also phenomenal.  If you’re looking to read more diverse books or expand your reading selections, these lists can be a great place to begin.

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Summer Reading Challenge #2: Read from a Prize List

Happy July 4! Read “America,” a poem by Claude Mckay

America

Claude McKay
Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
free-fireworks-image-11.jpg
Happy July 4! Read “America,” a poem by Claude Mckay

Summer Reading Challenge #1: Read a Book Someone Else Chooses for You

Over vacation, I read Tim Dorsey’s Atomic Lobster. I would never have read this book if not for my husband. He confesses he judges books by the covers, and at the recent AAUW booksale bag sale day, he grabbed this book (among many others). It looked like a fun vacation read.

So he read it for the first part of vacation last week, and I read it for the second part. He kept giggling, reading lines aloud, and generally making noises of approval as he read it. My husband and I don’t normally read the same books, so not only was I intrigued by his reaction, I wanted to have a common book we could talk about. I’m glad we did, because in the week since we’ve read it, we talked about what we liked and disliked in it, we’ve discovered Dorsey’s other books, and we’ve used the characters as reference points.

In many ways, Dorsey’s fiction reminds me of Dave Barry’s fiction: hapless characters enter into conflict, coincidence and hilarity ensue. (If you haven’t read Insane City, Big Trouble, or Tricky Business, check those out.) There are three character arcs in the book: the G-Force, a bunch of grannies who discover cruise ships are less expensive than retirement homes (if you stay away from drinks and gambling); Jim Davenport and his wife (he’s non-confrontational to a fault); and Serge Storms, a serial killer who seems to have a good heart. The situations are hilarious, but I’ll warn you, there’s lots of sex, drugs, and rock and roll–this is not a book you’ll give to your students to read.

While I would not have normally picked up this book on my own, the experience of reading the same book as my husband was priceless. So here’s your first reading challenge of the summer: read a book someone else chooses for you. Hopefully it will be a book that person has read, so you can discuss it together.

Happy Reading!

Posted by Kate, Blog Editor and Book Reviewer for PCTELA

Summer Reading Challenge #1: Read a Book Someone Else Chooses for You