Friday, July 23, 2010

Books about farting are not the only way to get boys to read ...

"How to get boys to read?" asks this report from AP's Leanne Italie. "Try a book on farts."

The article goes on to report that parents — and some teachers — hope gross-out humor can close a gender gap in reading achievement. It focuses upon teacher and author Ray Sabini, who self-published SweetFarts in 2008 under the name Raymond Bean, and is set to release Sweet Farts, Rippin' it Old-School, next month.

"Boys have lagged behind girls in reading achievement for more than 20 years, but the gender gap now exists in nearly every state and has widened to mammoth proportions — as much as 10 percentage points in some, according to the Center on Education Policy," Italie notes. "Parents of reluctant readers complain that boys are forced to stick to stuffy required school lists that exclude nonfiction or silly subjects, or have teachers who cater to higher achievers and girls. They're hoping books that exploit boys' love of bodily functions and gross-out humor can close the gap."

But the article leaves me asking ... "aren't there other things that can stir a boy's love, and develop a passion for reading?" At the risk of appearing a doddering old dinosaur, offering-up gender stereotypes, I ask, "what about action and adventure, journeys of discovery and expeditions into the extraordinary?"

There was a time when stories such as those excited THIS young boy many (MANY!) years ago, when I found myself skimming through those chapters of War & Peace set in Anna Pavlova's drawing room, so I could re-join Prince Andrei Nikolayevich on the battlefield. So, why not now?

One reason, I suspect, might be that a number of old adventure stories are hardly 'P-C,' hardly acceptable to the standards we have set for ourselves, our culture, and our expression of such. Much as I loved — and STILL love! — the stories of H. Rider Haggard, C. S. Forester, James Hilton, James Fenimore Cooper, Rudyard Kipling and so many others, I have to wonder whether their views of differing races, cultures, conflicts and so much more — or, at least, the manner in which some of the books' characters comment on those differences -- would be considered proper for exposure to young minds still in their formative stages. I suspect the P-C Police might offer-up an emphatic "NO."

My own experience, as the father of two boys, is that they can be encouraged to read. Magazines have been a big help in that respect. Elder Son was a regular reader of Sports Illustrated, Junior while Younger Son grew up on Ranger Rick. As they've grown, so has their interest in reading periodicals geared towards their interest. And those interests have moved on to books, as well ... sports non-fiction, in particular, for Elder Son and manga novels for Younger Son.

Reading can be fun for boys, too, without undue emphasis on flatulence. One example ... I highly recommend the Hank the Cowdog by John Erickson for a series of books that will set them — and you! — laughing.

And don't dismiss the contribution of the 'blockbusters' out there. One example ... long before my boys cracked open a book by J.R.R. Tolkien, they were enjoying books by J.K. Rowling.

Speaking of Rowling, one of the greatest helpers you can have encouraging your boys to read is
Scholastic Book Fairs. If you haven't yet attended a fair at your kids' schools, YOU SHOULD. I think you'll be surprised by the breadth of topics covered on the fair's temporary shelves ... there really is something for everyone.

Maybe even Sweetfarts.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Forget the Hill Country .....

Lakefront properties are available right now, right here in West Texas! Here's one shot I took this weekend in the lovely town of O'Donnell, in Lynn County, just an hour's drive north of the Tall City!

Friday, July 09, 2010

Life, blogging and transition .....

I return, once again, to a post by my friend, Frank Wilson, proprietor of the Philadelphia-based books, INQ.

"Blogging has been sporadic for a number of reasons," Frank writes in this post. "For one thing, I have been busy trying to meet deadlines. But my blogging is also in a state of transition, reflecting my life, which has also been in transition. Of course, everyone's life is always in transition. Life, like the weather, is a chaotic system."

There's more to it, and I recommend your perusal. And while it may not be long on text, it IS deep in content. And it touches upon something that should be familiar to any of us who have more-than-dabbled in the craft of blogging, and whose commitment to said craft is measured in years.

I'd truly be interested in learning what YOU think, after reading Frank's post.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

A reminder from Frank in Philly .....

Frank Wilson, proprietor of the Philadelphia-based books, INQ., offers the following "Thought for the day ..."

"One could write a history of science in reverse by assembling the solemn pronouncements of highest authority about what could not be done and could never happen."
- Robert A. Heinlein

Robert Heinlein, considered by many to be the "Dean of Science Fiction Writers," was born on this day in 1907.

Among craftsmen in the field of science fiction are those who set a high standard for science plausibility, while others set a high standard for literary quality.

IMHO, Heinlein did both.

Heinlein wrote both short and novel-length fiction for books and periodicals, screenplays, and scripts for radio and television. Me? ... I preferred his novels, beginning with my first 'taste' of Heinlein, "Tunnel in the Sky."

It's hard to imagine a single writer whose individual works have been embraced my more divergent groups than Heinlein ..... whether it was "Stranger In a Strange Land" by the counter-culture and emergent New-Agers, or "Starship Troopers" by the military and the neo-conservatives, or "The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress" by the libertarians.

There are some clues to how or why that can be, by learning more of the man behind the words. Wikipedia has a good
biography about Heinlein with A LOT of links for further study, and there is also a website maintained by The Heinlein Society, a non-profit group founded by Virginia Heinlein on behalf of her late husband, to "pay forward" the legacy of Robert A. Heinlein to future generations of "Heinlein's Children."

Or you can read his books ..... really, what better way is there to grok a writer?

It's good ... but, is it RIGHT?

A few weeks back, as I was traveling out-of-state, I came across a bit of political campaign advertising that struck me as a good idea ... very good, actually ... very clever.

But was it right?

Here's a snapshot I took, in passing, of a yard sign for a political candidate's campaign. I apologize for the quality of the photo ... but it serves to show how the candidate (or, at least, those in charge of his campaign's promotion), have made effective use of a tie-in to a well-recognized brand to promote their candidate's name recognition with voters.

Very effective, to say the least. Even those who might not remember said candidate's name, or political affiliation, or stands on various issues ... are not likely to forget the name of a VERY popular candy bar. We saw an example of name-recognition/tie-in by a political campaign here, in the Tall City, earlier this year ... but that effort pales in comparison to this one.

Also, our local effort did not raise any concerns, on my part, on propriety. There was no use of a nationally recognized (and copyrighted) brand, it's colors and its fonts. Was use of said brand done with the permission of the Hershey Company? I've been unable to get the answer to that question ... so, maybe it was.

The one-time promotions writer/producer in me tips his hat to this campaign. It's a good idea ... very good, actually ... very clever ... but, is it right?

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

¡Feliz Cumpleaños! ...

Frida Kahlo, internationally-acclaimed Mexican painter known for colorful, provocative images that were the stuff of symbologists' dreams, was born on this day in 1907.

Magdalena Carmen Frida Kahlo y Calderón lived for only 44 years ... but what years they were! It was a vibrant and turbulent life that knew more than its share of pain ... all of which found its way onto canvas. She was married (twice) to famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, a man who was in so many ways like his works ... larger than life. That Kahlo could be so close to a man who cast such a giant shadow, yet continue to shine forth with her own brilliance, is a testament to her character and her art.

This year, she is featured in a world-wide, virtual exhibit, of sorts, in what has become a traditional online observance of special occasions - being selected as the subject of today's Google doodle.

Her obituary in the New York Times noted, "usually classed as a surrealist, the artist had no special explanation for her methods. She said only: 'I put on the canvas whatever comes into my mind.' She gave one-woman shows in Mexico City, New York and elsewhere, and is said to have been the first woman artist to sell a picture to the Louvre."

Yet, as her Wikipedia entry notes, "Kahlo's work was not widely recognized until decades after her death. Often she was popularly remembered only as Diego Rivera's wife. It was not until the early 1980s, when the artistic movement in Mexico known as Neomexicanismo began, that she became very prominent."

It was at that time, in the 80s, that San Antonio, Texas, hosted an exhibit that chronicled the prehistory and history of American art, including works by Kahlo. As the years passed, her profile continued to grow in America. In 2001, she became the first Hispanic woman to be honored with a U.S. postage stamp. In 2002, the American biographical film, Frida, was released. And in 2006, one of her paintings set an auction record for a Latin American work.

A good online source about Kahlo, is the official Frida Kahlo site ... which, by the way, is a truly beautiful site. Another good source is the Casa Azul, in Coyoacán, Mexico City, where she lived and worked, and is now a museum housing artifacts of her life. Now that Cruz Azul is open to the public, I hope to return to Mexico City some day, and visit.

Sunday, July 04, 2010

Cause for Celebration ...

Here is a postcard I produced for our weekly "eNews from Midland College," with an image from the annual Independence Day Parade by the youngsters and staff of MC's Helen L. Greathouse Children's Center.
Have a happy, safe and blessed 'Fourth,' everyone!