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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Closet Farming

Paco and I have decided to come out.  "Our names are Madhadder and Paco, and we own a farm."  It all started so innocently--a 1924 farmhome in need of a caretaker and 8 acres that cried, "FARM ME, SEYMOUR!"  At first we were just mowing and fighting dandelions.  Then we got into the hard stuff--gardening, outbuilding repair, landscaping, and rhubarb.  Before we knew it, we were asparagus users, llama owners, and even started dipping garlic.  From there it was a short freefall into raspberries and hostas.  A tractor soon followed, and when our resistance was completely down--a 4-wheeler.  I kept thinking that a rope swing would keep Paco from succumbing to the habit, but no, once his hands were dirtied by the taint of his own land, he sunk into the mire.  Our parole officer has said that chickens would be the worst possible therapy, but the admonition may have fallen on deaf ears.  We see no out.  The addition of 11 alpacas seemed to designate the inevitable Point of No Return.  All that really remains to be done is to add our warning for the collective good of society.  Please know that we're seeking help.  And for the love of all that we hold dear, be ever vigilent in watching your own children for tell-tale signs...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

A Horse is a Horse, Of Course, Of Course...

(Spoiler alert:  This post may tread on some toes.  In the event that it does, please let that not be the end of our conversation together.  I love a good debate!!)

My abrupt nocturnal awakenings appear to be directly related to the general state of my mind.  In other words, you can trace my recent week of sleeplessness to a recent thrashing I have taken for a book I confidently placed in the hands of my 7th graders--a whole class of 29--bright kids for the most part--readers but for a small handful.  Give yourself 5 "I DONE Good!" points if you can guess from the post title the name of the book.  Scroll back and look if you must.  I'll wait.  And then the fun will begin!

 In the attempt to expose adolescent readers to more non-fiction (a task no less daunting than trying to change adolescents' eating habits), I purchased 25 copies of Seabiscuit, using up the last crumbs of my budget, throwing in some money of my own, adding my personal battered copy to the mix, and gleaning the library.  Not unpassionately did I enter this project.  I love the book and passed it out with much gusto and the promise that the kids would also love it.  My intro was met with groans which I ignored.  Then I watched the transformation.  About 7 chapters into the book the majority "hit a vein" and devoured the book.  Enter (the day before the book was to be completed) two mothers who (to put it mildly) did not carry my same devotion to this book about a quirky, "undersized, knobby-kneed,[1] and given to sleeping and eating for long periods" horse who caught the heart and spirit of a depression era country--one of the greatest animal stories ever told.  They found the language offensive (I admit there was nary an English nanny in the entire book) and couldn't believe I would assign a book of such quality.  And therein began my sleeplessness.

My response has been to apologize profusely to the mothers and my entire class for esposing them to the language in the book.  Oh, and that undescribed reference to prostituion in the chapter about horseracing in Mexico.  But what to do with 25 copies of the book?  Wite-Out?  A bonfire? resale?  A closet?  Razor blades?  Do we throw the whole baby out because she peed in the bathwater?  Help me out here.  What do you think?

Conclusions (which you DO reach eventually if you cogitate long enough about anything):  I will defend forever your right to read something.  I will defend the inestimable value of this book.  OH, YES!!!  OH, YES!!!!  Let there be NO mistake.  I DO NOT believe in whitewashing the world.  I DO believe it is our God-given duty to help each other navigate responsibly through this world.  I DO believe we are what we read.  Mealy mouthed books make for mealy-mouthed people.  I DO believe that many words of the vernacular of the day are unacceptable.  I do NOT use them.  I DO believe bad, shallow writing without offensive words is way way way way more damaging to my spirit than good good writing about the best of human values sprinkled with a few offensive words. Etc. Etc. Etc. Getting down off my soapbox.

My very articulate and bright students (for the most part) in this class joined me in a spirited discussion about censorship which was obviously prompted by the reading of this book.  As for Seabiscuit, they suggested perhaps a parent's permission slip  giving the go ahead.  They  suggested I could read it aloud and add my own censoring. Both workable solutions.

I found this quote which makes sense: "When middle school parents challenge books, it's often a last gasp to stay involved," says Camille Powell, a Houston area school librarian whose BookMoot website is a go-to destination for educators and kid lit aficionados. "Elementary schools are fairly responsive to parental input. However, the junior high transition years are frustrating and difficult for parents as their control over their children and the school gradually erodes."  I WILL be more careful.  And who was I to think that I could go 23 years and not get some fallout along the way?

Oh, my last note is for the horse himself:  Your legend lives on. Sleep well under your anonymous tree, Seabiscuit...wherever that is.

Favorite books

  • Me 'n Steve
  • Thundering Sneakers
  • James Herriott's vet books
  • The Count of Monte Cristo
  • Travels with Charley
  • A Walk in the Woods
  • Peace Like a River
  • The Egg and I
  • Mary Poppins
  • Extremly Loud Incredibly Close
  • How Green Was my Valley