It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

In honor of Mr. Rogers’ birthday today, YA author John Green shares a few cool facts about the man who helped make children’s public television a true force for learning and growth. There were lots of piece of trivia I didn’t know, so make sure to check out the video:

We should all endeavor to be as kind and thoughtful and curious as Mr. Rogers. Maybe instead of DFTBA we should say DFTBLF–Don’t Forget to Be Like Fred.

Happy birthday, Mr. Rogers!

PS–It’s also the birthday of one of my favorite children’s authors, Lois Lowry. Happy birthday, Lois! Thank you for bringing so many amazing books into the world.

Links Galore

Some links to help start the week off right:

Has The Catcher in the Rye Already Come of Age?

What does it take for a book to connect with teen readers, and can you teach those books in the classroom? At Slate, Jessica Roake says: “Young readers need a new coming-of-age classic, a book that has yet to be discovered and co-opted by the culture,” because apparently JD Salinger’s classic The Catcher in the Rye just doesn’t do it for teen readers anymore.

I don’t want to argue that The Catcher in the Rye is still what Roake wishes it were–a novel that’s ‘cool,’ that gets passed from reader to reader and deeply affects students. But I think she forgets that English classes aren’t always about reading on your own and discovering books. Most teachers have to work from a syllabus, make students write essays, and analyze metaphors.

A heads up: this is not fun. This is not adventure reading.

Not to say English class can’t be an excellent place to discover literature. I remember diving into The Great Gatsby and being surprised at how awesome it was. But there’s also an aspect of work to it. You’re not allowed to discover the book in our own way because, most often, the teacher is working to make sure the entire class understands the text. It’s a totally different setting than discovering a thrilling and controversial book on your own.

My own Catcher in the Ryeexperience was a good one. I had a fantastic English teacher who didn’t shy away from the book’s racier aspects. (Our final essay was an analysis about the use of “fuck you” in the last few chapters.) I thought a lot about what it meant to save your essential innocence in a world determined to destroy it. I’m really glad I read it in a classroom setting that pushed me to analyze the book.

But I think Roake has a good point–The Catcher in the Rye isn’t a surprise in the same way it was when it was first published. We all know about Holden’s angst and the novel’s use of swears and sex (which are pretty tame compared to what you see on tv). And that’s okay. I don’t think you need to say “we should get rid of it in English classes because it’s not a secret powerful read anymore.” I think it’s still an enormously valuable text and can lead students to a lot of other books–especially YA novels like The Fault in Our Stars, Speak, Story of a Girl, etc. Roake’s suggestion of Black Swan Green sounds awesome, too.

Basically, we should open up syllabi to different and unexpected books. You never know what’s going to connect with students. But I don’t think that should come at the expense of rejecting older works because students already know about them. Students can find something in The Catcher in the Rye or Black Swan Green or Hamlet or Antigone.

Going Graphic

Love this idea of the graphic cannon. No, not the cannon of graphic novels–these are works in the literary cannon that have been made into graphic art. Aside from being totally awesome, it sounds like The Graphic Canon: The World’s Great Literature as Comics and Visuals would be a great way for teachers to get reluctant readers interested in the classics.

Candlewick also has graphic versions of classics like Moby Dick and The Merchant of Venice, which are fantastic. Works like these might not replace the standard text version, but I think they’re an awesome accompaniment.

(image: Beowulf illustrated by Gareth Hinds, via The Atlantic)