September 20: Recitation Day

Today is the birthday of Donald Hall, American poet and the 14th U.S. Poet Laureate. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, in 1928, and when he was only sixteen, he attended the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. In his 50-year career as a writer, Hall has published poems, essays, letters, children’s books, and literary criticism (1).

In 1985 Hall wrote a short essay for Newsweek‘s “My Turn” column entitled “Bring Back the Out-Loud Culture,” where he challenged readers to return to reading and reciting aloud.  Hall looked back to a time before television and mass media when print was frequently read aloud and everyone learned something by reciting or listening to recitations (2).

Today’s Challenge: Out-Loud Renaissance

What is a passage of prose or a poem that you feel is worth reading out loud and is worth committing to memory?  What makes it so exemplary and so worth remembering? Challenge yourself this week to commit a favorite poem or passage to memory. See if it helps you pay more attention to the written word.  Sponsor a “Recitation Day” in your class, school, or community, challenging people to share their poems or passages out loud. (Common Core Speaking and Listening 4 – Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas)

1 – Poets.org. Donald Hall. http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/264.

2 – Hall, Donald. “Bring Back the Out-Loud Culture.” Newsweek 15 April 1985: 12.

September 18:  Lexicographer Day

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Today is the birthday of Samuel Johnson (1708-1784), the writer of the first scholarly researched English dictionary.  His work A Dictionary of the English Language was published in two volumes on April 15, 1755.  Johnson’s dictionary was not the first dictionary in English, but what made it special was its use of illustrative quotations by the best writers in English.

A lexicographer is a writer of dictionaries, and Johnson set the standard for the basic principle that lexicographers use even today, that is deducing the meaning of a word based on how it is used by accomplished, published writers.  Instead of creating meanings of words, the lexicographer reads prodigiously, gathering examples of words used in context in published works.  Only after gathering these examples does the lexicographer write a definition of a word.  Thus, instead of prescribing the definitions of words, the work of a lexicographer is descriptive.  Working objectively, like a scientist, a lexicographer observes (describes) the way words are actually used in the real world by real writers, rather than declaring by fiat (prescribing) what words mean.

JohnsonDictionary.pngIn Johnson’s Dictionary he defines his job as follows:

Lexicographer: A writer of dictionaries; a harmless drudge that busies himself in tracing the original, and detailing the signification of words.

In his preface to his dictionary, Johnson stated his purpose: not to fix the language by defining its words in print, but to display its power by arranging it for easy alphabetical access:

When we see men grow old and die at a certain time one after another, from century to century, we laugh at the elixir that promises to prolong life to a thousand years; and with equal justice may the lexicographer be derided, who being able to produce no example of a nation that has preserved their words and phrases from mutability, shall imagine that his dictionary can embalm his language, and secure it from corruption and decay, that it is in his power to change sublunary nature, or clear the world at once from folly, vanity, and affectation. (1)

Today’s Challenge:  Lexicographer for a Day

What are the key elements of writing a definition?  The act of writing the definitions of words allows you to see the many facets of language that often go unnoticed.  Begin your definition with your word and its part of speech.  Then, identify a general category or class that the word fits into.  Finally, provide details that show what differentiates the word from the other words in its class — in other words, details that show how it is distinct from other words in its general category.

Here’s an example:

Pencil (Noun):  a type of writing or drawing instrument that consists of a thin stick of graphite enclosed in a thin piece of wood or fixed in a case made of metal or plastic.

Open a dictionary to a random page, and write down the first four words you find.  Then, without looking at the definitions, write your own.  Then, compare your definitions to the ones published in the dictionary. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1-British Library. 1755: Johnson’s Dictionary.  Public Domain.

September 5:  Two Voices Day

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Today is the birthday of children’s author and poet Paul Fleishman. Born in 1952, Fleishman grew up in Santa Monica, California.  His father, Sid Fleishman, was also an award-winning author of children’s books.

Fleishman graduated from the University of New Mexico in 1977, and before he became a full-time writer, he worked as a bookstore clerk, library shelver, and proofreader.  His work as a proofreader led to the founding of two grammar watchdog groups:  ColonWatch and The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to English (1).

Fleischman in 2014.Fleishman won the most prestigious award in children’s literature in 1989, the Newbery Medal, for his book Joyful Noise:  Poems for Two Voices. In Joyful Noise, Fleishman popularized a new poetic genre, the poem for two voices. Written to be read aloud by two people, each poem is written in two columns.  Each reader is assigned a single column, and the two readers alternate, reading the lines in turn from the top to the bottom of the page.  Reader’s join their voices whenever words are written on the same line in both columns.

How to Read a Poem for Two Voices

I’m the first reader. I’m reading

only the lines in the left column.      

                                                                                                                                                                                        I’m the second reader.

                                       As you can see, I waited my

                                                             turn to read.

If words appear on the same

Line in both columns,

Both readers read them aloud,       Both readers read them aloud,

Simultaneously.                                   Simultaneously.                                                            

One voice on the left,                            

                                                          Plus another on the right,

Makes two voices.                           Makes two voices.                                                                             

Today’s Challenge:  Compose, Collaborate, and Contrast

Given poetic license, what two people, places, things, or ideas would you like to see hold a conversation?  Write your own poem for two voices.  Begin by brainstorming some contrasting ideas:  people, places, ideas, or things.  You have poetic license to give voices to anyone or anything.  Here are some ideas to get you started:  father and son, dog and cat, protagonist and antagonist, summer and winter, success and failure, noun and verb, football and baseball.  Craft your poem in the two-column format, and when you have a solid draft, work with a partner to bring the poem to life by reading it aloud.  Revise and practice until you have a poem that’s ready to be shared with a larger group. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Paul Fleishchman.net. Biography.

September 1:  Author Perseverance Day

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Today is the birthday of Robert M. Pirsig, who received 121 rejections for his novel Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  Pirsig persevered.  The book he wrote in 1968 about a motorcycle trip that he and his son took from Minnesota to San Francisco was finally published in 1974.  Not only was the book published, it achieved cult status, selling more than five million copies.

Zen motorcycle.jpgPirsig is not the only author to experience rejection.  L. Frank Baum, author of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, received so many rejection letters that he kept a journal called a “Record of Failure.”  J.K. Rowling received 14 rejections for her first Harry Potter book, and Stephen King received more than 30 rejections for his first novel Carrie.  In fact, King almost gave up on Carrie.  Discouraged with his lack of progress, he threw the manuscript in the garbage.  His wife retrieved it, however, and told him to keep writing.  Sometimes even the best writers need the encouragement of others.

Today’s Challenge:  The Write Stuff

Writing is hard work, and all writers must persevere through rejection before getting their writing published.  What’s your favorite book?  What makes it such a special book?  Write an acceptance letter to the author explaining why you love it so much and thanking the author for all of his/her hard work. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- Temple, Emily. The Most Rejected Books of All-Time. Literary Hub. 22 Dec. 2017.  https://lithub.com/the-most-rejected-books-of-all-time/.

 

August 22:  Fahrenheit 451 Day

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Today is the birthday of Ray Bradbury, the American writer best known for his science fiction novels and short stories. He was born in Illinois in 1920 and later moved to Los Angeles where he graduated high school in 1938. After high school, he furthered his education by spending long hours roaming the stacks in the public library.

He began writing full time in 1943, publishing a number of short stories in various periodicals. His first success came in 1950 when he published The Martian Chronicles, a novel made up of a number of his short stories about the human colonization of Mars (1).

This original cover shows a drawing of a man, who appears to be made of newspaper and is engulfed in flames, standing on top of some books. His right arm is down and holding what appears to be a fireman's hat made of paper while his left arm is as if wiping sweat from the brow of his bowed head. The title and author's name appear in large text over the images and there is a small caption in the upper left-hand corner that reads, "Wonderful stories by the author of The Golden Apples of the Sun".On October 19, 1953, he published his most popular and critically acclaimed novel Fahrenheit 451, a story about a dark future in which books are illegal, and instead of putting out fires, firemen answer calls to burn illegal caches of books. The main character is one of these firemen, Guy Montag. Instead of reading, the general public immerse themselves in pleasure, watching television screens that take up three of the four walls in their homes and listening to seashell radios that fit in their ears. Like Winston Smith in George Orwell’s 1984, Guy Montag begins to question his job and the entire status quo of the society in which he lives. He also begins to become curious about the books he’s burning. However, Montag’s curiosity and his books betray him, and the firemen one day arrive to burn his home and his books.

Montag flees the city and comes upon a group of educated but homeless men who each memorize a great work of literature or philosophy. When the time comes to return to the city and rebuild civilization from the ashes of burned books, these men will be ready to play their part. Montag will join them with his book, Ecclesiastes.

Bradbury published over 30 books, almost 600 short stories, as well as a number of poems, essays, and plays. Along with Fahrenheit 451, his most read book, his short stories are published in numerous anthologies and textbooks.

Fahrenheit 451 began as a short story called “The Fireman,” published in Galaxy Science Fiction Magazine in 1950. Bradbury’s publisher then asked him to expand the story into a novel in 1953. The first draft of the novel was completed in a typing room located in the basement of the University of California Library. The typewriter was on a timer connected to a change slot. For one dime Bradbury got thirty minutes of typing. He spent $9.80 to complete the first draft.

When he wasn’t typing furiously against the clock, Bradbury would go upstairs to explore the library, strolling among that stacks, running his hands across the books, and flipping through the pages of books that captured his curiosity.

Bradbury had more than just a love affair with books. For him, they were the backbone of civilization.  It’s no wonder, then, that one of Bradbury’s most famous quotes is: There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them.

Today’s Challenge: On Fire for a Book

Near the end of Fahrenheit 451, the main character Montag finds himself among a group of people who each memorize a forbidden book.  Each person becomes the keeper of the book, preserving the book for future generations.  If you found yourself in a society that banned books, what single book would you select to memorize, and what makes that book so special? Brainstorm some titles of important books that should always remain alive in the hearts and minds of readers.  Select a single book that you would commit to memory, and write an explanation of what the book is about and what makes that book important and special? (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

1- About Ray Bradbury. http://www.raybradbury.com/bio.html.

August 14: Macbeth Day

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Today is the anniversary of the death in 1057 of the Scottish monarch Macbeth about whom Shakespeare wrote in his play The Tragedy of Macbeth. The facts of the historical Macbeth differ somewhat from the Macbeth of the Elizabethan stage, but like modern writers, Shakespeare was never one to let history get in the way of telling a good story.

Born in 1005, Macbeth rose to the throne of Scotland by election in place of King Duncan’s 14-year old son Malcolm. Duncan was not murdered at Macbeth’s home as in the play; instead, he was killed in battle. The Macbeth of history was a Christian king who ruled for 14 years until August 14, 1057 (some sources say August 15) when he met Malcolm man-to-man in a fight to the death in a stone circle near Lumphanan. Dunsinane and Birnam Wood, locations referred to in Shakespeare’s play, were actual locations of battles; however, these battles took place earlier than 1057. At Lumphanan, Malcolm was victorious, and it was he, not Macduff, who beheaded Macbeth (1).

Shakespeare adapts history in the Tragedy of Macbeth to examine the themes of free will, fate, ambition, betrayal, good, and evil. In his play, Macbeth transforms from war hero to serial killer after he hears the prophecies of the weird sisters. Although he is warned by his friend Banquo to disregard the witches’ words, Macbeth is unable to shake their spellbinding words. There is not a lot of subtlety or subplot in Macbeth. The action is swift and bloody. Even when the action on the stage is seemingly calm, the imagery of the dialogue is full of violent, grotesque images, such as in Lady Macbeth’s plea to her husband to keep his promise to kill Duncan even though the king has honored Macbeth with a promotion and has come to their home as a guest for the night:

I have given suck, and know

How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me;

I would, while it was smiling in my face,

Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums

And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn as you

Have done to this.(Act I, scene 7, lines 58-63)

It’s probably no accident that a play about a Scottish king was written by Shakespeare during the reign of King James, the first Scottish King of England and the king whose most famous act was the commissioning of the King James Translation of the Bible, completed in 1611.

The history of the play’s production, however, is full of accidents and superstition. From the very start, Macbeth acquired a reputation as a cursed play. During its first production in 1606, the boy actor playing Lady Macbeth died backstage. It seems the dark and sinister events of the on-stage plot are echoed backstage. To this day superstitious actors refuse to identify the play by name, alluding to it only by the euphemism: “The Scottish Play” (2).

You’ll get very little argument if you claim that Shakespeare is the single greatest writer in the history of the English language.  So if there are any words worth committing to memory, doesn’t it make sense to memorize some Shakespeare?  His words are fun to say, even if you don’t know what they mean exactly or if you don’t know the exact context of the words.  One thing you do know, however, is that the words are guaranteed to be brilliant, and once you do study the play and the character from which the words originate, you will discover that the words are well worth remembering and are well worth returning to again and again.  

Today’s Challenge:  Six From Shakespeare
What lines from a Shakespearean character would you say are most memorable?  Select a favorite character from Shakespeare and select a passage of at least six lines.  Commit those words to memory.  Write them down, read them carefully, and say them aloud over and over until they are a part of your long-term memory.  Practice sharing them aloud with friends and family, and try to catch the right tone based on what you know about the character and what you know about the context of the words within the play. (Common Core – Speaking and Listening 4)

Below are three examples of six-line passages from the character Macbeth:

How is’t with me, when every noise appalls me?

What hands are here? Hah! They pluck out mine eyes.

Will all great Neptune’s ocean wash this blood

Clean from my hand? No; this my hand will rather

The multitudinous seas incarnadine,

Making the green one red.

-Act 2, scene 2, lines 55-60


Methought I heard a voice cry ‘Sleep no more!

Macbeth does murder sleep,’ the innocent sleep,

Sleep that knits up the ravell’d sleave of care,

The death of each day’s life, sore labour’s bath,

Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course,

Chief nourisher in life’s feast.

-Act 2, scene 2, lines 46-51


Out, Out brief candle!

Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage

And then is heard no more. It is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

-Act 5, Scene 5, Lines 23-28

Quotation of the Day:  [Shakespeare] is as a mountain, whose majesty and multitudinous beauty, meaning, and magnitude and impress, must be gotten by slow processes in journeying about it through many days. Who sits under its pines at noon, lies beside its streams for rest, walks under its lengthening shadows as under a cloud, and has listened to the voices of its waterfalls, thrilling the night and calling to the spacious firmament as if with intent to be heard “very far off,” has thus learned the mountain, vast of girth, kingly in altitude, perpetual in sovereignty. -William A. Quayle

 

1 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/macbeth.shtml

2-Epstein, Norrie. The Friendly Shakespeare. New York: Winokur/Boates, 1993.

 

August 12:  Mythology Day

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Today is the birthday of Edith Hamilton whose writings on ancient civilization and mythology have been read by generations of students.

File:Edith Hamilton.jpgBorn in Dresden, Germany in 1867, Hamilton immigrated to the United States with her family as a child. At the age of seven, she began studying Latin and committing biblical passages to memory. She completed her education in classics at Bryn Mawr College in Baltimore where she later became headmistress. She gained a reputation as an excellent teacher, storyteller, translator, and interpreter of Greek tragedies. Encouraged by her friends to write, she published her first book, The Greek Way (1930), in her 60s.

Hamilton continued writing into her 90s, publishing a total of nine books. Although she wrote about ancient Rome and Israel, the civilization she seemed to admire the most was ancient Greece:

The fundamental fact about the Greek was that he had to use his mind. The ancient priests had said, “Thus far and no farther. We set the limits of thought.” The Greek said, “All things are to be examined and called into question. There are no limits set on thought.”

Hamilton’s best known and most widely read book is Mythology (1942), which she wrote as an overview of Greek, Roman, and Norse mythology. This book is known by generations of middle school and high school students who read it as a primer on the myths.

Prior to her death in 1963 at the age of 96, Hamilton received several honorary degrees in the U.S. and was also honored internationally as an official citizen of Athens, Greece in 1957 (1).

Words from the Gods

Many common English words spring from the stories that Hamilton told of the ancient Greek and Roman gods. Given the eight clues below, see if you can name the words.

  1. This word for any grain, such as wheat or oats comes from the name of the Roman goddess of agriculture.
  1. This word for a repeating sound comes from the name of a nymph who loved Narcissus.
  1. This word for maintaining health and preventing disease comes from the name of the Greek goddess of health.
  1. This word for psychically induced sleep comes from the name for the Greek god of sleep.
  1. This word for being full of happiness and playfulness comes from the name of the most powerful Roman god.
  1. This word for being changeable or volatile comes from the name for the Roman messenger of the gods.
  1. This word for sudden fear comes from the name of the Greek god of fields, forests, and wild animals.
  1. This word, used to refer to something that induces sleep, comes from the name of the Roman god of sleep.

In addition to being embedded in the etymology of English words, the characters from mythology and their stories are frequently alluded to by many writers.  The works of Edith Hamilton are one the best ways for students to become familiar with these fascinating stories as well as to become familiar with allusions – indirect or passing references – to these characters that are made throughout our culture, both past and present.

Here is a list of a few prominent figures from Greek Mythology:

Achilles

Ariadne

Hercules

Odysseus

Oedipus

Orpheus

Pandora

Paris

Persephone

Prometheus

Theseus

Today’s Challenge:
What characters and stories from mythology to you think are the most captivating?  Brainstorm a list of characters from mythology that come to mind. Identify which one character you think has the most captivating and fascinating story.  Then, tell the story of that character and explain what makes it such a captivating story. (Common Core Writing 2 and 3)

Today’s Quote: It has always seemed strange to me that in our endless discussions about education so little stress is laid on the pleasure of becoming an educated person, the enormous interest it adds to life. To be able to be caught up into the world of thought — that is to be educated. –Edith Hamilton

Answers: 1. cereal 2. echo 3. hygiene 4. hypnosis 5. jovial 6. mercurial 7. panic 8. somniferous

 

1 – Sicherman, Barbara. “Edith Hamilton.” The Reader’s Companion to American History, Eric Foner and John A. Garraty, Editors, published by Houghton Mifflin Company

 

August 9:  Walden Day

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Today is the anniversary of the publication of Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Two thousand copies were printed and put on sale for $1 each on August 9, 1854.

It took five years to sell those first thousand copies, but today Walden is one of the all-time best sellers in American literary history. It has also sold well overseas and has been translated into over 20 languages.

In his essay “Five Ways of Looking at Walden,” Professor Walter Harding (1917-1996) talks about the different reasons that Walden has appealed to readers through the years. Below Harding’s five points are summarized.

Walden’s first appeal was as a nature book. In an age of American progress and expansion, Thoreau left the city to live in the woods for two years and commune with nature. In today’s modern age Thoreau reminds us that nature provides us with infinite metaphors for understanding our own existence. He reminds us to watch for signs of the changing of the seasons. In his own famous words from Walden, he explains why returning to nature is so important:

Walden Thoreau.jpgI went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion.

The second appeal of Walden is its lessons on how to live life more simply. This aspect of Thoreau’s work is especially relevant to the modern reader who is mired in possessions and the fast pace of the consumer culture.

Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, he would not founder and go to the bottom and not make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and refuse other things in proportion.

The third appeal of Walden is its satire. Thoreau doesn’t just observe life in the woods; he reflects on the life he has left in the city, and his biting commentary pokes fun at progress. Here are samples of his views on the transatlantic telegraph cable and French fashion:

We are eager to tunnel under the Atlantic and bring the Old World some weeks nearer to the New; but perchance the first news that will leak through into the broad, flapping American ear will be that the Princess Adelaide has the whooping cough. The head monkey at Paris puts on a traveller’s cap, and all the monkeys in America do the same.

The fourth appeal of Walden is simply the pleasure of reading great writing. Thoreau is a master of the abstract and the particular. Think of how many times you have seen Thoreau quoted. The clarity of his sentences and the exactness of his word choice make Thoreau’s prose eminently quotable.

Here is one example from Walden. It’s a 337-word sentence from the “House-Warming” section. It would be considered long even by 19th century standards. With Thoreau at the pen though, even an average reader can follow the sentence’s path from beginning to end:

 

I sometimes dream of a larger and more populous house, standing in a golden age, of enduring materials, and without gingerbread work, which shall consist of only one room, a vast, rude, substantial, primitive hall, without ceiling or plastering, with bare rafters and purlins supporting a sort of lower heaven over one’s head, — useful to keep off rain and snow, where the king and queen posts stand out to receive your homage, when you have done reverence to the prostrate Saturn of an older dynasty on stepping over the sill; a cavernous house, wherein you must reach up a torch upon a pole to see the roof; where some may live in the fireplace, some in the recess of a window, and some on settles, some at one end of the hall, some at another, and some aloft on rafters with the spiders, if they choose; a house which you have got into when you have opened the outside door, and the ceremony is over; where the weary traveler may wash, and eat, and converse, and sleep, without further journey; such a shelter as you would be glad to reach in a tempestuous night, containing all the essentials of a house, and nothing for housekeeping; where you can see all the treasures of the house at one view, and everything hangs upon its peg that man should use; at once kitchen, pantry, parlor, chamber, storehouse, and garret; where you can see so necessary a thing as a barrel or a ladder, so convenient a thing as a cupboard, and hear the pot boil, and pay your respects to the fire that cooks your dinner, and the oven that bakes your bread, and the necessary furniture and utensils are the chief ornament where the washing is not put out. nor the fire, nor the mistress, and perhaps you are sometimes requested to move from off the trapdoor, when the cook would descend into the cellar, and so learn whether the ground is solid or hollow beneath without stamping.

Certainly not every sentence in Walden is this long, but whether writing a 2-word sentence or a 330-word sentence, Thoreau’s syntax is precise and clear. Thoreau is a master of every tool of the writer’s trade, including sentence variety.

The fifth appeal of Walden, as Professor Harding explains below, is its spiritual content:

It is a major thesis of Walden that the time has come for a spiritual rebirth — a renewal and rededication of our lives to higher things. It is true that we have progressed a long way from the status of the caveman. But our progress has been for the most part material rather than spiritual. We have improved our means, but not our ends. We can unquestionably travel faster than our ancestors, but we continue to waste our time in trivial pursuits when we get there. We have cut down the number hours of labor required to keep ourselves alive, but we have not learned what to do with the time thus saved. We devote the major part of our national energy to devising new ways of blowing up the rest of the world and ignore attempts to make better men of ourselves.

Thoreau is sometimes mislabeled as a misanthrope. Although he does at times lament man’s state, he nevertheless sees man’s potential for better things. At the conclusion of Walden, for example, his words sound like a sermon from a pastor who is full of hope for his congregation:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them (1).

Walden rewards the reader in many ways. One of these rewards is Thoreau’s word choice. Professor Harding says the following about Thoreau’s diction:

Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of Thoreau’s word choice is the size of his vocabulary. Walden is guaranteed to send the conscientious student to the dictionary. In a random sampling we find such words as integument, umbrageous, deliquium, aliment, fluviatile, and periplus. Yet Thoreau cannot be termed ostentatious in his word-usage. He simply searches for and uses the best possible word for each situation (1).

Today’s Challenge: Why Henry’s Words Are Worth It

What is it that makes Walden, published in 1854, still relevant today.  What did Thoreau say in the 19th century that has meaning to people living in the 21st century?  Read some excerpts from Walden.  Then, write a brief promo for Walden that provides both a little bit of background on the book and some details on why it is still relevant today.

Quotation of the Day:  I would rather sit on a pumpkin, and have it all to myself, than be crowded on a velvet cushion. -Henry David Thoreau.

1- Harding, Walter. Five Ways of Looking at Walden. Massachusetts Review (Autumn 1962) ca. 1986.

 

July 31:  Harry Potter Day

Today is the birthday of the literary character Harry Potter and Harry’s creator, J.K. (Joanne Kathleen) Rowling.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone Book Cover.jpgThe British author was born on July 31, 1965. The idea of a story about boy wizard came to Rowling one day on a long train ride from Manchester to London in the Summer of 1990.

At her website, Rowling recounts the day Harry was born in her imagination:

. . . I was travelling back to London on my own on a crowded train, and the idea for Harry Potter simply fell into my head.

I had been writing almost continuously since the age of six but I had never been so excited about an idea before. To my immense frustration, I didn’t have a pen that worked, and I was too shy to ask anybody if I could borrow one…

I did not have a functioning pen with me, but I do think that this was probably a good thing. I simply sat and thought, for four (delayed train) hours, while all the details bubbled up in my brain, and this scrawny, black-haired, bespectacled boy who didn’t know he was a wizard became more and more real to me.

Perhaps, if I had slowed down the ideas to capture them on paper, I might have stifled some of them (although sometimes I do wonder, idly, how much of what I imagined on that journey I had forgotten by the time I actually got my hands on a pen). I began to write ‘Philosopher’s Stone’ that very evening, although those first few pages bear no resemblance to anything in the finished book. (1)

It took seven years for Rowling to bring Harry Potter to life in a published book. After rejections from several publishers, Bloomsbury Children’s Books published Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone in June 1997.

After the publication of Philosopher’s Stone, success and awards came fast for Rowling. She sold the American rights to her books to Scholastic Books, and quit her job teaching French to write full time.  When published in the United States, the title was changed from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone to Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because publishers felt that Sorcerer’s Stone would be more suggestive of magic, whereas Philosopher’s Stone was more suggestive of togas.

Sales of the seven books in the series have reached unprecedented numbers with  more than 400 million copies sold.

In 2003, Rowling achieved the rare distinction of having one of her coined words added to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) — a very rare achievement for a living author.

The word is muggle, defined as:

A person who possesses no magical powers. Hence in allusive and extended uses: a person who lacks a particular skill or skills, or who is regarded as inferior in some way.

The editors of the OED had little choice but to include the word in the dictionary after considering the seemingly universal popularity of Rowling’s books and the fact that the word was being used everyday by people all over the world. A similar feat was accomplished by J.R.R. Tolkien when the OED included his word “hobbit” in the 1976 edition of the OED. Tolkien, however, had died before seeing his word in the dictionary (2).

Seven Spellbinding Roots

The made-up language of spells in J. K. Rowling’s books is not a totally random creation. Hidden in the spells are word parts that resemble familiar Latin and Greek roots:

  1. Wingardium Leviosa!  Root: LEV – To Raise Up Common Words: lever, elevator, levee, elevate
  1. Locomotor Mortis!  Root: LOCO – Place Common Words: locomotive, locate, dislocate, allocate
  1. Expelliarmus!  Root: PEL To Push – Common Words: propel, expel, repel, compel
  1. Lumos!  Root: LUM – Light  Common Words: illuminate, lucid, bioluminescence, elucidate
  1. Fidelus! Root: FID -Trust  Common Words: confide, confidence, fidelity, infidel
  1. Expecto Patronus!  Root: PATR – Father Common Words: paternal, patron, patronize, patriot
  1. Finite incantatem!  Root: FIN – End or Limit Common Words: infinite, define, affinity, infinitesimal (3)

Today’s Challenge: I Put a Spell on You

What fictional character do you think special enough to warrant a birthday celebration?  What makes this character so special, and what kind of things might be done to truly honor his or her birth and fictional life?  Brainstorm a list of fictional characters that are so distinctive that although they are fictional they seem to be as real as any person who ever lived.  Select the one you like the best and write a proclamation honoring the character’s “birth” and “life” as well as suggesting what kind of unique activities might be appropriate to celebrate the character’s birthday. (Common Core Writing 2)

Quote of the Day: The book is really about the power of the imagination. What Harry is learning to do is to develop his full potential. Wizardry is just the analogy I use. –J. K. Rowling

 

1-http://www.jkrowling.com/en_GB/#/timeline/it-all-started/

2 – ‘Muggle’ Goes Into Oxford English Dictionary. BBC Newsround 24 March 2003.

3 – Resource Room: Free-spirited Structured Multisensory Learning. Reading Comprehension. Vocabulary words parts index (Greek and Latin Roots)

 

 

 

July 26:  Ghoti Day  

Today is the birthday of playwright George Bernard Shaw. He was born in Dublin in 1856 and began his writing career as a journalist and theater critic in London. Eventually he began writing plays of his own, his most famous being Pygmalion (1912) — the play upon which the musical My Fair Lady is based. In 1925, Shaw was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature (1).

In addition to writing plays, Shaw was active in political causes, most notably socialism, vegetarianism, and spelling reform.

To illustrate the troubled state of English spelling, Shaw gave a famous example by fabricating a word spelled G-H-O-T-I. He said it was a new way to spell the word fish and was perfectly logical based on the spelling in existing English words:

-The gh in Ghoti was the f sound in enough.

-The o was from the i sound in women.

-The ti was from the sh sound in nation.

Clearly, argued Shaw, the spelling of words in the English alphabet had little logical relationship with the sounds of words.  It’s little wonder we have problems with spelling since we have an alphabet of twenty-six letters and a language with more than 40 sounds.  On top of that there are over 300 different ways to spell those forty-plus sounds.

Shaw’s passion for the spelling reform cause is reflected in the tone of his writing in a preface to a book by R.A. Wilson, The Miraculous Birth of Language in 1941:

Professor Wilson has shewn that it was as a reading and writing animal that Man achieved his human eminence above those who are called beasts. Well, it is I and my like who have to do the writing. I have done it professionally for the last sixty years as well as it can be done with a hopelessly inadequate alphabet devised centuries before the English language existed to record another and very different language. Even this alphabet is reduced to absurdity by a foolish orthography based on the notion that the business of spelling is to represent the origin and history of a word instead of its sound and meaning. Thus an intelligent child who is bidden to spell “debt,” and very properly spells it d-e-t, is caned for not spelling it with a “b” because Julius Caesar spelt the Latin for it with a “b” . . . .

If the introduction of an English alphabet for the English language costs a civil war, or even, as the introduction of summer time did, a world war, I shall not grudge it. The waste of war is negligible in comparison to the daily waste of trying to communicate with one another in English through an alphabet with sixteen letters missing. That must be remedied, come what may.

Shaw, like many others before and after him, failed to reform English spelling (Shaw died in 1950).  The fight for spelling reform, however, goes on even today as seen in a headline from a 2006 Associated Press article:  Puush for Simpler Speling Perzists — despiet th lak of public intrest (2).

Today’s Challenge: The Spelling List From Hell
What are examples of words in English that are difficult to spell because their pronunciation has very little correlation with their spelling?  On this 26th day of the month, create an abecedarian list of words from A-Z that are extremely difficult to spell.  To check how challenging the words on your list are, write each word phonetically and compare that to the word’s actual spelling.  For example, notice how words like psychology, chaos, colonel, and tsunami are spelled quite differently from the way they are pronounced.

Quote of the Day: You must remember that it is permissible for spelling to drive you crazy.  Spelling had this effect on Andrew Jackson, who once blew his stack while trying to write a Presidential paper.  “It’s a damn poor mind that can think of only one way to spell a word!” the President cried. -John Irving

 

1 – George Bernard Shaw. The Novel Prize in Literature 1925.

2 – http://www.newstimes.com/news/article/Puush-for-simpler-speling-perzists-despiet-lak-of-119163.php