Friday, July 27, 2007

Dog Days of Summer

What is it with me and dog stories lately? I recently wrote about Mark Doty’s moving and beautifully written tribute to his two beloved pets, Dog Years. Then, for some perverse reason, I decided to put myself through the emotional wringer again. I picked up an audio copy of Marley and Me, by John Grogan, knowing full well it was going to have a sad ending also. Yesterday I finished disk three and it is clear that disk four is going to bring sad news. For diversion, I had bought a book recommended by a friend who knows me well. She has been urging me for weeks to read something by Anne Lamott, and I finally got Plan B and was hooked from page one. Lamott writes with an irresistible combination of humor and anger, trying to make sense of today’s world and reconcile her faith with dark days. Anyway, I opened her book to the next chapter, and darned if it was not about HER dog dying! It was a good entry in an enjoyable book, but the timing was uncanny.

As for my own dog, and obviously all this reading brings me to thoughts about him, he has a great deal in common with Marley. The difference is in degree. He is not quite as big, nor as destructive. Instead of weighing 90 pounds, he runs about 75, hardly petite but slightly more manageable. He has never destroyed an entire room or even a piece of furniture. But he IS as loyal as Marley, and I am the primary object of his devotion now that we both lost husband/master two years ago. Ringo turned seven this spring. He is in his prime, but there is a hint of grey in his muzzle. A long walk slows him down towards the end, and his romping is not quite so prolonged. Like Marley, when he is alone he does not do well. He misses me, and has a way of expressing it that uniquely meshes with my interests. He eats books. Since I am a librarian, he has come upon a way to get across his frustration at being left behind by taking out, literally, things I really care about. I try to remember to keep my books out of reach except for those in shelves, which he largely ignores. Every now and then he will take a book out of the shelf lineup and place it on the floor, just to let me know he can do that if he wants. But the ones he goes after are the ones I am reading. Yesterday I came home from work, having just been gone a few hours, and the first thing I noticed was the cover to my latest acquisition, lying unsullied on the floor. He always takes the cover off, as if carefully unwrapping a delectable treat. He does not eat covers. The price sticker was still on the front and the title was: A Thousand Splendid Suns. Oh no! He had eaten my new best seller that I had just bought for a summer reading treat! I had told myself it was safe put up on the breakfast room table, but of course he can reach up there. I looked around, hoping that he had just moved the book as a small reminder that he had been very lonely. No luck. I looked in every room of my little house to no avail. By then it was getting dark and starting to sprinkle. Surely he had not taken the book outside. He had never done that before, but of course with a doggie door the possibility presented itself. Oh well, I told myself, it will turn up.

Finally this morning I found the book. I was wrong to think he would not maneuver it through the doggie door. The book was lying in the damp grass in the back yard. Fortunately it had not rained very hard after all, and the book, minus its front cover which evidently he ate, is still readable. He had the good manners to look contrite, putting his head on the floor and looking up sadly with his liquid brown eyes when I made my discovery. But after all my recent reading, how mad can I really be?

PS As for Marley and Me, there is a very extensive website about John Grogan and Marley. Here is the URL:

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

DWT--New and Scary

It would never occur to me to drive and try to text message at the same time. It had never occurred to me that anyone else would think this was OK! But it seems that some drivers are doing just that, especially teens. Of course I am not an automatic thumbtyping pro like kids are, but is terribly dangerous. A very sad result of this risky behavior is described in a column offered today by Ana Venciana-Suarez. Take a look:
What a terribly sad story she tells. Warn your kids and students about this! We know they are not invincible even if they do not...

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Trying to Practice What I Preach and Loving the Results!

Like some people that I really admire, including Doug Johnson, I believe that the best way to insure that students do original work is to give assignments that preclude plagiarism. Too many times teachers and professors give assignments that cry out for copy/paste. In my school librarian days, I had a colleague who taught health. He would bring in his classes every month and direct them to write a report on a disease. I came to think of these days as “Disease ‘o the Month” days. After this happened a couple of times, I approached him and suggested that the students’ reports would be a lot more interesting if he had them write in the first person, and tell what it was like to have the malady, or put themselves in the place of a family member, or pretend to be a doctor talking about his/her patient. I went on to say that the copying would also go down. He and his students seemed much happier with their “disease days,” and so was I.

As a professor of library science, I see few instances where I wonder if the copy/paste syndrome is displayed by a student, but I realize it is not out of the question in any discipline. It occurred to me that some of my assignments were less creative than they should be, and closer to the kinds I criticized in class. So, in recent semesters, I have revised some of my assignments. In one class, students must complete an Internet tutorial, and in another they read a book about library automation, Dania Bilal’s Automating Media Centers and Small Libraries. Their instructions are to convince me, with a CREATIVE RESPONSE, that they have completed the task. Chapter summaries, bulleted lists, or outlines will not be accepted. Grading papers today was payoff time! These assignments, which used to be my least favorites to grade because they were so repetitious, are ones I now look forward to reading. Responses I got today included:

  • Blogs and journals with many personal comments
  • A book made with PowerPoint, complete with publication data, all parts of a book, and a personalized account of the tutorial
  • A hilarious account of a teacher who is called upon to teach Brittney Spears about the Internet during her incarceration
  • A conversation between two other celebs, Angelina Jolie and Jennifer Anniston as they sit side by side at computers and go through the tutorial
  • Ingenious charts and Inspiration diagrams
  • Letters describing the material. Some letters have been to historical characters such as Ada Lovelace, but among the favorite choices are letters to mothers. Some of these, students tell me, even get delivered
  • A conversation between the student and Socrates explaining the material.

I believe these tactics could be used for many research assignments as well as responses to required reading and even tests. The results are more interesting final products with greatly reduced chances that the work is plagiarized.

Bronx Masquerade

Here I go blogging about a book again! I am fortunate to have access to a wonderful selection of audiobooks, thank to my good friend Teri Lesesne. My most recent experience was listening to Bronx Masquerade, by Nikki Grimes. What a touching and creative book. Grimes’ poetry shines as the creations of young authors in a tough New York City high school English class who live for their Friday poetry raps. This is another book that is enhanced by listening rather than reading, because it is beautifully performed by a talented group of readers. The one caveat I would have to insert is that, as a former classroom teacher, I do find it a bit hard to believe that every student turned out to be a budding poet with a remarkable gift for putting thoughts on paper. That aside, the book does make the listener/reader care about these youngsters and their very realistic cares and yearnings. A quick Internet search proved that many teachers are emulating the fictional Mr. Ward and encouraging students to try their hands at poetry. And that is all to the good! Here are some URLs that build on the book:

Friday, July 13, 2007

Car Book

Since I am talking about books, I will mention that I am close to finishing my car book, I wonder how many other people do as I do, and keep a book in the car for reading ONLY in or from the car. In other words, this book does not come into my house. I read it standing in lines, in waiting rooms, in restaurants when I am dining alone, and in traffic jams when I am at a standstill. In this manner, I can get through a book though the time that takes can be considerable. What makes a good car book? It needs to be interesting, but not so gripping that I cannot put it down. If I am caught up in the plot, it is going to come inside with me. For that reason, I don't read mysteries for car books. A good choice might be a book with short entries, such as anecdotal chapters, short stories, or poems. It might be a magazine. Texas Monthly might get to be a car magazine, except it usually insists on coming inside with me. My current car book is Carnivorous Nights: On the trail of the Tasmanian Tiger by Margaret Mittlebach, Michael Crewdson, and Alexis Rockman. The wonderful illustrations are by Rockman, whose artistic persona is engagingly accompanied by his bad boy habits

I am not quite finished, but it is pretty clear to me at this point that the determined searchers are not going to find one. Alas. I started out vainly hoping there was a chance, but it seems clear that this elusive creature is just one more humans have wiped from the earth. The book is enhanced by wonderfully whimsical illustrations of the imagined thylacine as well as other fantastic creatures native to Tasmania. This particular book has engaging characters, more than a little humor, fascinating descriptions of Tasmanian animal life, and, of course, that little gleam of hope that they will finally find their quarry. It has more than enough appeal to keep me reading and actually make the prospect of a wait somewhere somewhat appealing. I will be a little sorry when I finish, especially since I am facing the disappointing end to their quest, and at the same time keeping my eye out for another car book. Suggestions, anyone?

BIG P.S.!!! Here is a wonderful website I just found, that expands on the book and offers information about extinction and other related topics. Maybe there IS still hope for the thylacine...

Bow Wow Books!

As I have said before, I am not a professor of children’s or YA lit. Technology is my field. But I DO READ and like to sometimes blog about books on my mind. Coincidentally I just listened to two audio books that have appeal to dog lovers as well as book lovers. Anyone knows me know that I fall into both categories. So, kudos to award winning authors Mark Doty and Sylvia Patron! They richly deserve all the acclaim they have received. Both their books are about considerably more than dogs, but both have special appeal to people whose lives are enriched by canine loved ones.

First, Higher Power of Lucky…I am embarrassed to admit I just now finished this book. I had a copy, misplaced it, and then just recently found it again. That, coupled with the time to listen in my car, finally gave me the chance to hear the book. In fact, I heard Susan Patron’s Newbery Award acceptance speech in DC prior to hearing the book, and it made me want to partake all the more. There is so much going on in this book, with such a wonderfully appealing character and touching subject, but HMS Beagle is certainly an important character. And of course there is the matter of the OTHER dog who we know by his story only. It is a sad commentary on today’s climate that this book could be better known for one word (yes I will say it: SCROTUM) than for the important messages and delightful story it offers. By the way, did you know she is working on a sequel called Lincoln’s Knot? I will not wait so long to read it after publication. And where did I pick up this gem of information? From Wikipedia…yes I do use it! But, that is another entry topic…

The other book I listened to is so important to my reading history that I will buy a print copy. Dog Years, by Mark Doty, is much more than a story of two beloved dogs whose deaths left the author with feelings of great loss. Anybody who has lost someone special, human or pet, will identify with his emotions. But to truly appreciate the book I think you would have to be a dog lover. After reading, I am appreciating so much more the idea of what my own pet’s inner life might be, and realizing how lucky I am to have him as my companion. On another level, the book has helped me continue to adjust to the loss of my husband two years ago. I am not sure a young reader would be ready to read Doty’s musings unless he or she had suffered similar losses, but I do highly recommend this special book for anyone who has had to say good-bye to someone whose loss will forever be felt deeply. Incidentally, Mark Doty is known first and foremost as a poet. To read a poem that lets you glimpse his style and also get a feel for his love of dogs, go to this link:

I feel sure this poem was written about Beau, one of the two dogs described in his book. Further, if you choose to listen to the book, you will have an additional treat. It is beautifully read by the author himself, which greatly adds to its impact. For more, visit his personal website:

Friday, July 6, 2007

Magic Box of Answers, Knockaway Trees, and Oliver Wendell Holmes

My 95 year old dad steadfastly refuses to use a computer, but I think if I had grabbed his interest 10 years ago I could have hooked him in. Now he saves up all his questions for my visits and is an Internet fan, even if he is not going to surf the net himself. This past weekend he was dazzled four times, with the questions showing the wide range of interests his active mind wants to pursue. First, he wondered about the asking price for a house on the market across the street from his. No problem, just a quick visit to the realtor for that answer. Next, we were riding down by the Blanco River near his San Marcos, TX home and he commented, "those are knockaway trees.” Immediately he added…is that a real tree? I can’t find it in any of my books (he has every field guide he could possibly want). So I searched for that term, and delighted him with an answer straight from his alma mater, Texas A&M website:

The knockaway tree is really the Anaqua Tree, and the beautiful specimens we saw are actually a bit north for their range. It is easy to see how they got to be called knockway, as a derivation of the true name. Next we were discussing an unusual dove I had seen in my yard recently, and I found it and showed him a picture of the Eurasian Collared Dove,

Finally, and this is a bit touching, he asked me if I could find a poem for him, that he remembered from college English class. All he could recall was a phrase, “his nose is thin, and it rests upon his chin like a staff.” I found the poem, by Oliver Wendell Holmes, called “The Last Leaf."

I have to think that this poem reflects where he is in life. He is the last leaf hanging from the bough, with all the others, his friends and loved ones, having fallen and new green ones replacing them. But he remains remarkably inquisitive, and I know the next time I see him he will probably have another list of things for me to look up.

At the end of our explorations, he was once again impressed with the ease at which I could find all these answers. I gave my laptop a little hug and said, “This is my magic box of answers. I wish I had had it as a kid!” I know today’s kids take all this for granted, but it is still fun for me to share the wonderfully accessible wealth of information just a few clicks away. If you have an Internet resistant oldster in your life, try just sharing with your searching answering his or her questions. You might find that soon that person is searching away on his own. Or if not, you still have had a very rewarding exchange.