Author and Activist Michael Patrick MacDonald Visits the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School

I was both surprised and thrilled when my colleague Susan Lovett sent out an e-mail about arranging a visit for author and activist Michael Patrick MacDonald. I jumped in right away to help organize this event for our school, the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School.

Years earlier, I had taken Mr.MacDonald’s book All Souls: A Family Story from Southie out of the library and read it cover to cover over the course of a single weekend. The book is a memoir of MacDonald’s early life in South Boston during the 1970’s and 1980’s, and the story that unfolds is much more than a personal narrative. All Souls offers a historical narrative with vivid first-hand descriptions of  Boston’s busing era and the influence of notorious criminal “Whitey” Bulger on the Southie neighborhood. The novel is also a spiritual journey of resistance and resilience on the part of young MacDonald, whose bright soul, curiousity, and dedication to his family and community shines through the trauma of living under the effects of poverty, crime, and death. The writing and publication of the book itself is a tribute to MacDonald’s bravery and activism, breaking the unwritten “code of silence” that long prevented the residents of the Southie neighborhood and others like it from reporting and discussing crime, drugs, and deaths plaguing their communities.

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My autographed copy of MacDonald’s first novel

 

During Mr. MacDonald’s visit to our school on Tuesday, the acclaimed author spoke to a group of about fifty of our students, who were specially selected to attend the event based on their commitment to social justice and community leadership. Mr. MacDonald talked about the City of Boston’s Gun Buyback program, and he read a passage from his second novel Easter Rising which discussed the post-traumatic stress he experienced following the deaths of his brothers. The students had many questions to ask Mr. MacDonald, and he thoughtfully answered each and every one of them.

After the presentation, students received copies of All Souls (one young man even brought his own hardback from home) and had the opportunity to have their books signed. The students were overjoyed to talk with a real author, and I saw many students reading their books in the hallways while walking back to class. In fact, I taught a class right after Mr. MacDonald’s visit, and I had to ask students to put their new books away to focus on the lesson – this is the kind of focus issue that I am more than happy to see!

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Students gather around MacDonald to have their books signed.

Two students from Academy 1 smile and show the cover of the book.

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Sixth grade student Rasha shows his beautiful smile as he stands next to Mr. MacDonald.

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7th graders Mikel and Kiajah look on thoughtfully while Mr. MacDonald autographs Kiajah’s copy of All Souls.

Over the course of the week, many teachers reported to me that students were carrying the books in their backpacks and “showing off” the autographed books to students and teachers alike. My colleague Alice Laramore commented that the students were treating the books “like a trophy” of Mr. MacDonald’s visit.  I myself have ordered additional copies to use with my intermediate and advanced ESL classes in the last quarter of the year as part of a unit on argument and persuasion – at the conclusion of the unit, students will produce argument essays about how to best prevent violence in an urban community. Mr. MacDonald sent me some photographs of toy gun buyback programs to inspire our students to perhaps organize their own drive. The note I received from Mr. MacDonald read: Jennifer, please share these images from past buybacks and concurrent toy gun turn-ins organized by middle school aged kids, in case that might inspire some local community organizing in the school with the local community. These toy gun turn ins (in exchange for non violent toys and books donated by businesses like Toys R Us and Publishers like children’s lit Houghton Mifflin) are very fun.  And it’s a great way for teens, pre teens, and the smaller children to feel a sense of voice and agency.

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Photograph of mothers from Charlestown as promotion for Boston’s third gun buyback

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Mr. MacDonald with a young activist and organizer

Mr. MacDonald’s visit was a perfect fit for our school – our building itself is a symbol of triumph over violence, as our school was built by activists on a lot that was once a hub of criminal activity. Formerly named the New Boston Pilot School, the Lilla G. Frederick (LILL-LUH, not LYE-LUH) is itself named for a Grove Hall community organizer.

I want YOU to travel to Greece this April!

In the Spring of 2012, I participated in an amazing program called The Examined Life: Greek Studies in Schools. There were two parts to the program.

First, I participated in an online course which required me to read the literature of Ancient Greece, including The IliadThe Odyssey, and several plays and short works. The course also included discussions of the literature in an online forum.

The second part of the program was actually traveling to Greece, something I had never imagined was possible for me in my wildest dreams. I spent ten days traveling with a group of educators and children’s authors to various cities and historic sites. My unforgettable memories of this trip include:

  • the scent of orange blossoms that waft through the air throughout the entire country
  • sitting on a hotel deck roof at dawn and watching the sun rise over the Parthenon
  • singing Madonna’s “Express Yourself” at the Theater of Epidaurus
  • seeing the road where Oedipus traveled and met his father
  • learning that Greek statues were not white, but painted in garish colors (the paint faded with age)

Additionally, this trip had a significant impact on my teaching practice. In grappling with challenging texts, I was able to not only empathize with my students who struggle with grade-level reading materials, but I was able to share my “Reader’s Notebook” from the course with my students and have them try out some of my reading strategies. I remember my students being very impressed by all the notes I had taken, and I shared with them that reading is a lifelong process. Furthermore, I grew in my level of comfort in presenting students with Greek traditional literature because I am able to understand the cultural and historical context of these stories better and provide more adequate and accurate background knowledge.

The good news is that now YOU can participate in this incredible journey!

From Associate Program Director Extraordinaire Connie Carven:

GREECE ONLINE GRADUATE COURSE (JAN. to MAY, 2014)

INCLUDES STUDY TOUR TO GREECE (APRIL 17 to 27, 2014)

Great opportunity — and the experience of a lifetime!

See teachgreece.org for details or contact Connie Carven

connie_carven@teachgreece.org    

Itinerary for 2014 Study Tour

Itinerary for 2014 Study Tour

A few videos from my trip:

Dines Family Book Club October Selection: Bad Land

Bad Land:  An American Romance by Jonathan Rahan

Ginger poses with Bad Land in the Dines Dining Room.

Ginger poses with Bad Land in the Dines Dining Room.

My Review from My Goodreads.com Account

This book mirrors the landscape it describes: slow, meandering, and seemingly endless. Although the tragedy of the Montana homesteaders is worthy of a place in American history, the author fails to make the personal connections between the reader and the subject of the book. Raban interviews many different people along the Montana plains, but his writing fails to make the reader feel as if he or she knows the people. It seems more like listening to snippets of a public radio broadcast than making connections with human subjects. The book gives the impression of an overzealous Brit exploring the wildness of the American West in a cheesy PBS documentary, yet, to Americans, it is the story of Laura Ingalls Wilder minus the compellingly simple narrative arcs. Raban meanders through the “Bad Land” of Montana, and every inch seems miserable and gray.

Post-Reading Discussion Questions 

by Jennifer and David Dines

1. Compare the effects of the Homestead Act on the railroad industry to its effects on individual homesteaders.

2. How did personal pride and independence influence homesteaders?

3. What is the role of faith in American invention?

4. How does the Wollaston family’s lifestyle contrast with the environment in which they live?

5. How did the homesteaders’ view of themselves differ from the government’s view of the homesteaders?

6. How did advertising serve as a catalyst for the settlement of the railway?

7. What is the role of debt in middle class American adulthood?

8. How are the grasshopper plagues a metaphor for the homesteaders themselves?

9. In what way is self-sufficiency threatening to organized government?

10. Did the homesteaders realize the extent of their effect on Boston and New York-based investors?

Index Card found in the used copy of the book purchased at Brookline Booksmith

Index Card found in the used copy of the book purchased at Brookline Booksmith

Shutdown 2013: Interview with a Government Librarian

Kara B. (a.k.a. Bollywood Blogger  Filmi Girl) and I have been friends since we attended college together at Berklee back in the early part of the millennium. We were in several bands together, and we have stayed friends for the past decade plus.

Me (l) and Kara B. (r) play in our band Anti-Love Project at Great Scoot in Allston circa 2003.

Me (l) and Kara B. (r) play in our band Anti-Love Project at Great Scott in Allston circa 2003.

Fast forward to 2013.

The Philadelphia Water Ice Factory: Kara B. and I two weeks ago... striking poses at H Street NE DC

The Philadelphia Water Ice Factory: Kara B. and I two weeks ago… striking poses at H Street NE DC

This morning, Kara B. granted me this interview about the effects of the government shutdown on a federal librarian working in our nation’s capital.

Literacy Change: What is your job?
Kara B.: I’m a librarian for the federal government. My job is completely nonpartisan. Tracking down accurate statistics or digging up hard to find articles or recommending background reading on a certain policy topic, I make sure that our patrons get the information that they need to do their jobs.
LC: How does the government shutdown affect you?
KB: I am on unpaid leave with no guarantee that I will receive backpay. That is my biggest concern at the moment: how big a financial hit will I take from this shutdown. And for the hundreds of thousands of federal employees in the same situation–not to mention the hundreds of thousands more forced to work without pay–it’s really insulting to see certain segments of the media play this shutdown off like a joke. Our jobs, our professions, our lives are not being treated with respect.
LC: I understand that you were out and about in D.C. yesterday. What was different from a normal weekday?

KB: There was a very strange mood in the city yesterday. Many employees were required to go into work for a few hours in the morning in order to shutdown their offices and when I went out for a walk around lunch time I saw a lot of aimless looking people in suits. Rush hour on the subway in the evening was eerily quiet.

LC: What do you plan to do with your time during the shutdown?

KB: Because my family and friends are in similar situations, we’re going to try and get through it together. I spent yesterday afternoon having coffee with a furloughed friend from IRS and today my father, who is also furloughed, and I are going on a little day trip to Southern Virginia. I plan to spend as much time away from my computer and the television and the news as possible.

LC: Are there any books you are hoping to read during the shutdown?

KB: Unfortunately I was too busy on Monday to assemble a reading list of work-related books to check out but I may use the time to catch up on the stack of books on my bedside table, which includes:

A Literary Surprise on a Tuesday Night

On Tuesday evening, my phone rang, and it was a number I did not recognize. I usually never pick up for unknown callers, but for some reason, I did. The voice on the other end asked,”Do you accept book donations?”

I didn’t have to think for anymore than a split second.

“Yes!” I replied affirmatively.

“Can I drop them off to you today?” asked the voice.

“YES!”

The caller was a very generous Roslindale resident and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt employee named Emma R., and she left a beautiful collection of books on my front porch. Her donation will be shared with my middle school students at the Lilla G. Frederick and with clients at the Roslindale Language and Literacy Center. Thank you, Emma!

A sofa full of new friends.

A sofa full of new friends.

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A Box Full of Joy

Open the Door To Liberty: A Biography of To

Open the Door to Liberty! A Biography of Toussaint L’ouverture
This book will be a part of my ESL unit on reversing the narrative about slavery to demonstrate the strength of those who were treated as slaves  in the Americas and the Caribbean.

No DAmsels

No Damsels in Distress: World Folktales for Strong Women
This book will be a part of my ESL unit on mythology and folklore that I am planning in collaboration with 826 Boston.

La Biblioteca de Vallodolid

When I was a little girl, my grandfather, John F. Berrent, was a retired guidance counselor who worked as a substitute teacher in the Baltimore City Public Schools. When the library was discarding its older titles, my grandfather would bring them to his house for me. The books used different paper than modern books. It was a thick paper that was often dyed purple around the edges – this on books such as Password to Larkspur Lane of the Nancy Drew series and Donna Parker at Cherryvale. I enjoyed reading these older books because the feel of them was special and nostalgic, something you could no longer easily obtain.

In August, I visited the town of Valladolid, Mexico in the Yucatan Peninsula while traveling between Chichen Itza to Tulum and Coba. I had a feeling I would like the town when I saw the sign that said: “Valladolid – Una Ciudad Limpia y Tranquila” (A Clean and Calm City). My husband and I agreed – that’s our kind of place. However, I did not expect that I would be so lucky as to stumble upon the library. The kindly librarians and the older titles reminded me of Saturday afternoons reading in my grandfather’s living room in Dundalk, Maryland. It brought me back to that place in my childhood, and I was absolutely thrilled to visit a library in Mexico and see how a beautiful colonial town has made a place for los libros.

Las bibliotecarias (the librarians) de Valladolid conmigo

Lenguas (Languages)

Lenguas (Languages)

La historia, biografía y geografía de Mexico (The History, Biography, and Geography of Mexico)
La historia, biografía y geografía de Mexico (The History, Biography, and Geography of Mexico)

Enciclopedia del Idioma: Encyclopedia of Language

Enciclopedia del Idioma: Encyclopedia of Language

Mis Primeros (My Firsts)
Mis Primeros (My Firsts)

Chris Van Allsburg picture books en español
Chris Van Allsburg picture books en español

 

 

 

Dines Family Book Club September Selection: The Devil in the White City

Welcome to the first monthly installment of the Dines Family Book Club! My husband David and I often buy two copies of the same book, and we read them together and talk about them. Even through we are not part of a more formal book club, we enjoy having our book chats at home. I thought it would be perfect to share some of our selections with readers of this blog along with discussion questions. Enjoy!

September

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

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Pepper Dines elegantly displays the Dines Family Book Club’s September selection.

My Review from my Goodreads.com Account

A fantastic cocktail of American macabre beauty with a twist that “only Poe could have imagined”. A well-researched book that allows the reader to time travel through the dichotomy of good and evil in the White City and its dark shadow.

Post-Reading Discussion Questions

by Jennifer and David Dines

1. Why did Holmes feel the need to appeal to the public?

2. Why would parents allow their daughters to travel alone to Chicago? What social change made that possible? Was the crime rate in Chicago publicized? Would non-Chicago papers carry those stories?

3. Did Holmes’ victims have a particular psychological profile?

4. Who burned down Holmes’ building?

5. Why did people comply with Holmes’ wishes?

6. Could Holmes be the Devil?

7. Is it wrong to put human beings on display?

8. What is the danger in the desire to curate? How are Holmes and the fair’s planners curators?

9. How does the White City contrast the city of Chicago?

10. What are the connections between Holmes and the fair aside from physical proximity?