April 17:  Story Contest Day

On this day in 1397, Chaucer read his great work The Canterbury Tales before the gathered ladies and gentleman of the English court.  It was not surprising that someone would read stories out loud. After all, in the 14th century, before Gutenberg introduced movable type, books were rare. What was surprising, however, was the language that Chaucer wrote in and spoke in as he read his stories: English.

Canterbury Tales.pngSince the Norman Invasion of England in 1066, French and Latin had been the language of the court and the language of power.  English was spoken, but primarily by the peasantry. Change began to happen, however, as England waged war against France in The Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).  Anti-French attitudes opened the door for English, the vernacular tongue of the commoners, to become more and more acceptable among the nobility.

Chaucer’s work begins with a group of 29 travelers gathered at the Tabard Inn in London to begin their pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint Thomas Becket, a Christian martyr, in Canterbury.  The pilgrims are accompanied by Harry Bailly, the host of the Tabard, who proposes a story contest. Volunteering himself as the judge, Bailly presents the stakes: the winner of the contest will be awarded a dinner paid for by the group when they return back to the Tabard Inn.

Thus begins the framing device for the collection of tales that became the first important work of literature in English and that earned Chaucer the title:  “Father of English Literature” (1).

Today’s Challenge:   Winning Storytelling

What are the essential key elements that make a good story?  What criteria would you use for judging the effectiveness of a story?  Brainstorm some criteria for storytelling and create a judge’s ballot that spells out each of your criterion along with the maximum points you would award for each of your criteria. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Storytelling is a very old human skill that gives us an evolutionary advantage. If you can tell young people how you kill an emu, acted out in song or dance, or that Uncle George was eaten by a croc over there, don’t go there to swim, then those young people don’t have to find out by trial and error. -Margaret Atwood

1-http://thisdaythen.blogspot.com/2012/04/17th-april-1397-geoffrey-chaucer-reads.html

 

April 14:  Prepositional Phrase Day

On this date in 1965, Richard Hickock and Perry Smith were executed by the state of Kansas for the murder of four members of the Clutter family of Holcomb, Kansas.  The murderers and their crime were the subjects of Truman Capote’s (1924-1984) groundbreaking nonfiction novel In Cold Blood, published in 1966.

In Cold Blood-Truman Capote.jpgCapote read about the murders in the New York Times in 1959.  Intrigued by the story, he traveled to the small farming community of Holcomb with his childhood friend and fellow author Harper Lee, the author of To Kill A Mockingbird.

With the help of Lee, Capote spent six years researching and writing the book, which was finally published in 1966.

In Cold Blood is seen today as a pioneering work of the true crime genre.  The book fits into a larger literary genre of the non-fiction novel, a work that blends historical figures and actual events with fictitious dialogue and storytelling techniques.  The genre is sometimes referred to a “faction,” a blend of the words fact and fiction (1).

The title of Capote’s book is a prepositional phrase, a phrase that begins with a preposition (“in”) and ends with a noun (“blood”).  

Prepositional phrases are the most frequently used phrases in the English language.  They are never the subject of a sentence, but they always provide additional details.

Here are some other examples of prepositions used in other book titles:

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

One Hundred Years of Solitude

The Grapes of Wrath

Of Mice and Men

All Quiet on the Western Front

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Much Ado About Nothing

Today’s Challenge:  Prepositional Pitches

What are some examples of titles of great books or movies that do not contain propositions?  Brainstorm a list of at least 10 titles of books or films that do not contain prepositions.  Then, imagine you were going to re-title the book or movie. Create at least five new titles for five different works, and make sure that each title contains at least one preposition.

Examples:

Hamlet – Something Is Rotten in the State of Denmark

Romeo and Juliet – Teenage Tragedy in Verona

Macbeth – Something Wicked in Scotland

Jaws – Summer of Sharks

Apocalypse Now – The Quest For Kurtz

Quotation of the Day: Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. -Truman Capote

1 -https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-fiction_novel

April 11:  101 Day

In a typical non-leap year, April 11th is the 101st day of the year.

1984first.jpgIn George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Room 101 was the most feared room in the Ministry of Love. It was the room where Winston Smith was taken to be “rehabilitated” by O’Brien.

In the following passage from the novel, Winston learns what form of torture he will be facing:

‘You asked me once,’ said O’Brien, ‘what was in Room 101. I told you that you knew the answer already. Everyone knows it. The thing that is in Room 101 is the worst thing in the world. . . .’

‘The worst thing in the world,’ said O’Brien, ‘varies from individual to individual. It may be burial alive, or death by fire, or by drowning, or by impalement, or fifty other deaths. There are cases where it is some quite trivial thing, not even fatal.’

‘In your case,’ said O’Brien, ‘the worst thing in the world happens to be rats.’

The fate of everyone who enters Room 101 is to face his or her worst fear and to believe, in the end, in something that is not true. In Winston’s case, O’Brien makes him believe through torture that 2+2 = 5, and that he (Winston) loves Big Brother.

Interestingly enough, at the beginning of the 1999 film The Matrix, Neo lives in Room 101. This is probably not coincidental since later in the film Neo learns that his life and the entire known world inside the Matrix is a lie.

The world of books gave us the dark side of the number 101 from the mind of George Orwell, but it also gives us a much more positive side in the form of book titles.

A quick search on Amazon.com will yield an amazing variety of titles with the number 101. There are two main reasons this number is so prominent.

First, it refers to basic introductory material on any topic, as in basic introductory college courses like English 101 or Psychology 101.

Second, it refers to the number of options that will be provided on a topic, such as 101 Things to Do Before You Die.

A recent search on Amazon.com yielded more than 100,000 titles containing the number 101. Here are some examples from the first category – basic intro material:

Missed Fortune 101: A Starter Kit to Becoming a Millionaire

Leadership 101: What Every Leader Needs to Know

Triathlon 101: Essentials for Multisport Success

Law 101: Everything You Need to Know About the American Legal System

Anger Busting 101: The New ABCs for Angry Men & the Women Who Love Them

Hollywood 101: The Film Industry

Rick Steve’s Europe 101: History of Art for the Traveler

Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera

Life 101: Real World Skills for Graduating College Seniors

Genealogy 101: How to Trace Your Family’s History and Heritage

And here are 10 titles from the second category – 101 options:

101 Questions to Ask Before You Get Engaged

101 Things to Do With a Slow Cooker

101 Great American Poems

101 Secrets a Cool Mom Knows

101 Useless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu

101 Ways to Bug Your Parents

101 Must-Know Blues Licks

101 Power Thoughts

101 French Idioms

101 Cost-Effective Ways to Increase the Value of Your Home

Today’s Challenge: Brainstorming 101 or Your 101 Course

Brainstorming 101: What brainstorming question can you generate that will yield at least 101 answers? On the 101st day of the year, brainstorm your own 101 options list. Create your own question, such as “What are 101 different ways to say ‘thank you’?” or “What are 101 reasons to procrastinate?”  or “What are 101 alternative uses for a paper clip?” Number each item on your list. If you run out of ideas, ask other people for ideas on how to answer the question, and use their ideas to generate more of your own.

Your 101 Course:  If you were to present a basic course for beginners, what would be your topic, and what would be the course’s content?  Create a title for your course, and write a course description that outlines the specific content of the course. (Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  I am the wisest man alive, for I know one thing, and that is that I know nothing. -Socrates in Plato’s Republic

April 10: Why Literature Matters Day

On this day in 2005, Dana Gioia, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, published an editorial in the New York Times entitled “Why Literature Matters.”

The purpose of Gioia’s editorial was to sound the alarm concerning survey statistics showing declining interest among Americans in reading literature.  Furthermore, Gioia’s purpose was to explore the consequences of declining literacy and to argue for the residual benefits that increased literacy can foster.  More than just promoting the reading of literature, Gioia argues that good reading habits foster higher-order thinking skills, creativity, imagination and empathy:

Unlike the passive activities of watching television and DVDs or surfing the Web, reading is actually a highly active enterprise. Reading requires sustained and focused attention as well as active use of memory and imagination. Literary reading also enhances and enlarges our humility by helping us imagine and understand lives quite different from our own.

Gioia also argues that reading literature not only helps to form individual character but also contributes to the character of our nation:

Just as more ancient Greeks learned about moral and political conduct from the epics of Homer than from the dialogues of Plato, so the most important work in the abolitionist movement was the novel ”Uncle Tom’s Cabin” . . . . Today when people recall the Depression, the images that most come to mind are of the travails of John Steinbeck’s Joad family from ”The Grapes of Wrath.” Without a literary inheritance, the historical past is impoverished.

In essence, Gioia’s editorial argued that there are dire consequences to consider when a nation stops reading stories because, as she puts it:  “Literature is a catalyst for education and culture.” There was a time when reading was our national pastime. Today, there are so many other forms of media competing for our attention; nevertheless, we should all pause to consider why literature matters (1).

Today’s Challenge:  What’s The Matter

What are some examples of topics that you care about, things that you think really matter?  Brainstorm a list of topics that you are passionate about.  Select one topic and make your case for why it matters. For example, you might argue:  Why Baseball Matters, Why Punctuation Matters, Why Voting Matters, Why Dogs Matter, or Why Singing Matters.  Make sure to support your claim with specific reasoning and evidence.  (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Literature adds to reality, it does not simply describe it. It enriches the necessary competencies that daily life requires and provides; and in this respect, it irrigates the deserts that our lives have already become. -C. S. Lewis

1-http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2005/04/10/why_literature_matters?pg=full

April 6:  Pleasure of Books Day

On this day in 1933, William Lyon Phelps (1865-1943) — American educator, literary critic, and author — delivered a memorable radio address.  Phelps was a beloved professor of English literature at Yale University from 1901 to 1933. Much of Phelps’ teaching and writing was devoted to the examination of the English novel; it’s no surprise then that the topic he chose for his radio speech was the virtue of reading and collecting books (1).

Phelps begins his speech with an analogy to illustrate the virtue of owning books versus borrowing them; he then skillfully tacks on a simile, comparing a book to a forest:

The habit of reading is one of the greatest resources of mankind; and we enjoy reading books that belong to us much more than if they are borrowed. A borrowed book is like a guest in the house; it must be treated with punctiliousness, with a certain considerate formality. You must see that it sustains no damage; it must not suffer while under your roof. You cannot leave it carelessly, you cannot mark it, you cannot turn down the pages, you cannot use it familiarly. And then, someday, although this is seldom done, you really ought to return it.

But your own books belong to you; you treat them with that affectionate intimacy that annihilates formality. Books are for use, not for show; you should own no book that you are afraid to mark up, or afraid to place on the table, wide open and face down. A good reason for marking favorite passages in books is that this practice enables you to remember more easily the significant sayings, to refer to them quickly, and then in later years, it is like visiting a forest where you once blazed a trail. You have the pleasure of going over the old ground, and recalling both the intellectual scenery and your own earlier self.

For some, the charge of being a “bookworm” might be a put-down.  Not for Phelps. He makes the case that the habit of reading is anything but anti-social; instead, it offers us timeless, intimate access to the best of humanity:

Books are of the people, by the people, for the people. Literature is the immortal part of history; it is the best and most enduring part of personality. But book-friends have this advantage over living friends; you can enjoy the most truly aristocratic society in the world whenever you want it. The great dead are beyond our physical reach, and the great living are usually almost as inaccessible; as for our personal friends and acquaintances, we cannot always see them. Perchance they are asleep, or away on a journey. But in a private library, you can at any moment converse with Socrates or Shakespeare or Carlyle or Dumas or Dickens or Shaw or Barrie or Galsworthy. And there is no doubt that in these books you see these men at their best. They wrote for you. They “laid themselves out,” they did their ultimate best to entertain you, to make a favorable impression. You are necessary to them as an audience is to an actor; only instead of seeing them masked, you look into their innermost heart of heart. (2)

The truth of Phelps’ claim about the value of collecting and reading books might seem obvious.  However, a little over a month after Phelps’ address, German university students joined Nazi soldiers in Berlin to burn over 20,000 books.  (See May 10: Burned and Banned Books Day. On May 10, 1933, great works by authors such as Einstein, Freud, Hemingway, London, Proust, Marx, Wells, and Zola were heaped into piles and set afire (3).

Today’s Challenge:  Healthy Habits for Humanity

What are some examples of good habits that people can practice that will improve their lives?  You can probably think of a lot of bad habits that people struggle with, but as Phelps demonstrates, some habits can be beneficial.  Brainstorm a list of specific beneficial daily habits. Then, select one specific good habit, and write a short speech that makes the case for the importance of this good habit.  Provide your reasoning for the virtue of this habit and show your audience how this good habit with promote a more successful life. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Most of my indoor life is spent in a room containing six thousand books; and I have a stock answer to the invariable question that comes from strangers. “Have you read all of these books?”

“Some of them twice.” -William Lyons Phelps

1-http://www.phelpsfamilyhistory.com/bios/william_lyon_phelps.asp

2-http://www.historyplace.com/speeches/phelps.htm

3-http://www.historyplace.com/worldwar2/triumph/tr-bookburn.htm

April 4:  Courage to Speak and Write Day

On this day we remember two individuals.  The first is a historical figure who demonstrated great courage by speaking; the second is a fictional character who demonstrated great courage by writing.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who was running for the Democratic nomination for president, was preparing to give a campaign speech in Indianapolis.  Just before he was scheduled to speak to the predominately African-American audience, Kennedy learned that Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee.

Kennedy was warned by the police that the crown had not yet heard the bad news and that they might become unruly or violent once they heard of King’s death. Despite the danger, Kennedy decided not only to address the audience but also to inform them of the tragedy.  

Kennedy spoke for fewer than five minutes, but what he said in those few minutes will never be forgotten.  He began by immediately delivering the bad news. After pausing for a moment to allow the shocked crowd to gather its wits, Kennedy reminded the audience of King’s efforts to replace violence with understanding and compassion.  He showed empathy for his audience, comparing the anger they were feeling to the anger he felt when his brother was killed by an assassin five years earlier in Dallas. Instead of focusing on the racial divide in the United States, Kennedy instead made an appeal for unity and for justice:

What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence and lawlessness, but is love, and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or whether they be black.

Like Martin Luther King, Jr. did before him, Kennedy appealed to hope over despair and to peace over violence:

And let’s dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world. Let us dedicate ourselves to that, and say a prayer for our country and for our people.

Kennedy did not have to speak on April 4, 1968, and no one would have faulted him for canceling his appearance under the sad circumstances.  Nevertheless, Kennedy seized the moment to courageously present what was much more than just a campaign speech. His brief words transformed a moment of sorrow into a time of rededication to the mission of Martin Luther King, Jr. and to the what Abraham Lincoln called “the better angels of our nature.”

Two months later, on June 5, 1968, Kennedy himself was assassinated after winning the California presidential primaries (1).

The second act of courage that took place on this day was in George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In the novel’s opening chapter, the protagonist Winston Smith commits a forbidden act of rebellion, an act that we all take for granted. In the world of the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, the simple act that Winston performs could lead to punishment by death or a sentence of twenty-five years of forced labor:

The thing that he was about to do was to open a diary. . . . He dipped the pen into the ink and then faltered for just a second. A tremor had gone through his bowels. To mark the paper was the decisive act. In small clumsy letters he wrote:

April 4th, 1984.

He sat back. A sense of complete helplessness had descended upon him.. . .

Suddenly he began writing in sheer panic, only imperfectly aware of what he was setting down. His small but childish handwriting straggled up and down the page, shedding first its capital letters and finally even its full stops:

April 4th, 1984. Last night to the flicks. All war films. . . .

1984first.jpgIn the dystopian world of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, the one-party government of Oceania is in a perpetual state of war and is led by the all-seeing but unseen leader called Big Brother.  By putting his pen to paper, Winston Smith, a party worker, is committing the radical and unlawful act of expressing his own individual thoughts and questioning his government.

Today’s Challenge:   Courageous Call for Communication

What are the reasons we should not take our ability to read, think, speak, and write for granted?  In the years leading up to the American Revolution, John Adams wrote an essay called “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Federal Law” (1765).  In this essay, Adams laid the legal groundwork for the Revolution, challenging his readers to remember the important role that literacy plays as the foundation of human freedoms:

Let us tenderly and kindly cherish, therefore, the means of knowledge.  Let us dare to read, think, speak, and write.

Write a Public Service Announcement (PSA) that challenges your audience to reconsider and reimagine the importance of literacy — of speaking, writing, thinking, and writing.  Motivate your audience to rededicate themselves to these skills that we so often take for granted. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Quotation of the Day:  Learning to read is probably the most difficult and revolutionary thing that happens to the human brain and if you don’t believe that, watch an illiterate adult try to do it. -John Steinbeck

1-https://www.jfklibrary.org/Research/Research-Aids/Ready-Reference/RFK-Speeches/Statement-on-the-Assassination-of-Martin-Luther-King.aspx

 

April 3:  Humorous Anecdote Day

On this date in 1862, Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables was published.  The novel, which has been popularized through its numerous musical and film adaptations, took Hugo 17 years to write.  

Victor Hugo by Étienne Carjat 1876 - full.jpgWhile writing the novel, the French writer struggled with bouts of writer’s block that required him to develop a unique Ulysses contract:  he removed all his clothes and locked himself in his room with only pen and paper; he would then order his servants not to bring him his clothes until he had produced a complete chapter (1).

Once the novel was complete and published in 1862, Hugo was anxious to find out how it was selling.  One famous anecdote recounts the shortest correspondence in history. Hugo supposedly sent a telegram to his publisher which simply said, “?”  The publisher’s reply, by telegram, was just as brief: “!”

Another humorous anecdote related to laconic communications comes from the United States’ 30th president, Calvin Coolidge.  Known for his taciturn nature, Coolidge was nicknamed Silent Cal. At a White House dinner one night, Coolidge was accosted by a young female guest who said, “You must talk to me, Mr. President.  I made a $10 bet with my husband. He waged that you wouldn’t say three words, but I bet you would.” Coolidge then considered the matter for a moment and replied: “You lose” (2).

Often times anecdotes like the ones above seem almost too funny to be true, and in many cases they are.  One excellent source for exploring the veracity of such stories is the blog Quote Investigator, where Garson O’Toole doggedly searches for the truth (2).  Some stories and quotations are so old that we just cannot find out definitively whether or not they are true.  The term for these types of anecdotes is apocryphal — that is, a story that is widely circulated as true, yet is of doubtful or uncertain authenticity — from the Greek apokryphos, meaning “hidden or obscure.” (See October 11:  Apocryphal Anecdote Day).

Today’s Challenge:  LOLA:  Laugh Out Loud Anecdote

What are some examples of humorous anecdotes — short stories with a funny punchline?  Write a version of a humorous anecdote appropriate for all audiences in your own words.  It may be a true story, an apocryphal story, or a totally fictional story. Be brief, but also be funny.  (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Laughter is the sun that drives winter from the human face. -Victor Hugo

1-http://www.telegraph.co.uk/technology/2017/06/29/victor-hugos-strange-cure-writers-block-9-things-didnt-know/

2-http://quoteinvestigator.com/2016/01/10/few-words/#more-12786

 

March 1:  Cultural Literacy Day

On this day in 1987, the book Cultural Literacy:  What Every American Needs To Know was published by American educator E.D. Hirsch.  The basic premise of Hirsch’s bestselling book was that in order to be literate, students need fundamental background knowledge in a range of disciplines, including literature, geography, history, math, science, art, and music.  Hirsch argues that reading is more than just decoding words; comprehension requires a reader to possess knowledge of a shared body of cultural references.  

For example, imagine a student read the following sentence from Ray Bradbury:

The television, that insidious beast, that Medusa which freezes a billion people to stone every night, staring fixedly, that Siren which called and sang and promised so much and gave, after all, so little.

To catch Bradbury’s full meaning and his negative attitude towards television, the reader needs to understand the mythological allusions he makes to “Medusa” and “Siren.”  The mere ability to pronounce or read the words is not enough to capture the meaning and tone of the sentence.

Cultural literacy, then, is the body of core, essential knowledge of the people, places, ideas, and concepts that form the collective memory of our culture.  

In addition to defining and arguing for cultural literacy, Hirsch also included a 63-page appendix where he listed 5,000 subjects and concepts to illustrate the kind of specific cultural references that every literate person should know.  Below is a sample of some of the terms:

ad hoc, Adam and Eve, Battle of the Bulge, Beatniks, capital punishment, Camelot, Emily Dickinson, The Divine Comedy, elementary particles, Epicureanism, The Federalist Papers, free will, Lady Godiva, gerrymander, hyperbole, Edward Hopper, isolationism, Irish potato famine, Jakarta, Judas Iscariot, King Lear, kitsch, Robert E. Lee, Lilliput, Ferdinand Magellan, Magna Carta, Neptune, Nineteen Eighty-Four, oxymoron, Oedipus, paranoid schizophrenia, pasteurization, beg the question, quod erat demonstrandum (Q.E.D.), The Red Badge of Courage, rank and file, sarcasm, Scylla and Charybdis, Tower of Babel, twin paradox, Ursa Minor, unilateralism, Venus de Milo, Voltaire, white elephant, Woodstock, X-chromosome, xenophobia, yellow journalism, yin and yang, Zeus, Zionism

In 1989, Hirsch published The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, a book that gives a brief definition of each cultural reference.

Today’s Challenge:  Allusion Alphabet

What would you say are allusions – cultural references from history, religion, mythology, or literature – that everyone should know?  Create an Allusion Alphabet that includes people, places, and ideas that you think are essential elements of cultural literacy; include at least one reference for each of the 26 letters of the alphabet.  Once you have your alphabet, write a report on one of your allusions.  Imagine you are writing to a person who is unfamiliar with the term.  In addition to giving essential background details on the who, what, when, and where of your term, give the reader some explanation on why this concept is so important.  (Common Core Writing 3 – Expository)

Quotation of the Day:  We have ignored cultural literacy in thinking about education.  We ignore the air we breathe until it is thin or foul.  Cultural literacy is the oxygen of social intercourse. -E.D. Hirsch, Jr.

1-Hirsh, E.D. Cultural Literacy

 

 

February 18: Sequel Day

On this date in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in the United States.  Since its publication, the language of Twain’s novel has sparked controversy, yet it remains a book unparalleled in its influence.  Unlike other American novels of the time which were imitations of European literature, Huckleberry Finn was a truly American book, the first to be written in the American vernacular.  Twain’s revolutionary move was to give the narration of his book to the uneducated, unwashed Huck, who speaks in dialect and introduces himself in the novel’s famous first sentence:

Huckleberry Finn book.JPGYou don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another . . . .    

Ernest Hemingway praised Twain’s book, saying, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called ‘Huckleberry Finn’ . . . . All American writing comes from that.  There was nothing before.  There has been nothing as good since.”  

Twain began write his masterpiece in 1876, but after writing 400 pages he set it aside unfinished.  At one point Twain threatened to burn the unfinished manuscript, but luckily he took it out of his drawer and went back to work on it in 1882, finishing in August 1883.

Twain’s novel is so influential and so distinctive that some forget that it was a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876).  It is the rare sequel that achieves the level of its predecessor, let alone eclipses it.  

In 1995, American novelist E.L. Doctorow highlighted the differences between the two books, pointing out that Twain’s motivation was to take on the issues of racism and slavery in his sequel — issues he had ignored in Tom Sawyer:

But Twain had to have understood, finally, that, in its celebratory comedy, his book [‘Tom Sawyer’] was too sentimental, too forgiving of the racist backwater that had nurtured him.  He had ignored slavery as if it hadn’t existed.  And after all was said and done his Tom Sawyer character was a centrist, a play rebel, who, like Twain, had been welcomed into the bosom of a ruling society he sallied against.

Today’s Challenge:   It Takes II to Tango

What are some examples of great sequels, great books or movies, that continue the story of an original book or movie?  Make your argument for the single sequel, book or movie, that you think is the best, and explain what makes the sequel so great.  See the list of examples below.  Don’t assume your reader has read the book or seen the movie. (Common Core Writing 1 – Argument)

Books:

The Lord of the Rings, by J. R. R. Tolkien

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, by J.K. Rowling

That Was Then, This Is Now  by S.E. Hinton

The Odyssey by Homer

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

Movies:

The Color of Money

Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

The Bourne Supremacy

Monsters University

The Matrix Reloaded

Quotation of the Day:  It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened- Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. -Huck in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

 

February 1:  From News to Novel Day

Robinson Crusoe 1719 1st edition.jpgOn this date we celebrate two influential works of fiction, both influenced by actual events. The first was Daniel DeFoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719), a novel based on the real-life castaway Alexander Selkirk, who was rescued on this date in 1709.  

A black cover depicting a woman swimming and a shark coming towards her from below. Atop the cover is written "Peter Benchley", "Jaws" and "A Novel".The second work of fiction is the novel Jaws by Peter Benchley, published on this date in 1974.  The idea for the book, Benchley’s first novel, began ten years earlier in 1964 when Benchley read a news story about a 4,550 pound Great White shark caught off the beaches of Long Island, New York. The brief news story sparked Benchley’s imagination:  “And I thought right then ‘What if one of these things came round and wouldn’t go away?’” (1).

The true story behind the fictional Robinson Crusoe begins in 1704.  Alexander Selkirk was a Sailing Master aboard the Cinque Ports, an English frigate fighting with Spanish vessels off the coast of South America.  When the captain of the Cinque Ports stopped at a desert island to re-stock supplies of fresh water, Selkirk refused to get back on board due to the ship’s less than seaworthy condition.  When the Cinque Ports left him behind, Selkirk hoped to quickly flag down another ship. This, however, was a more difficult task than he imagined.

Selkirk spent the next four years alone on the island, surviving primarily by hunting and eating goats, which were in plentiful supply on the island.  Unfortunately for Selkirk, rats were also in plentiful supply.  They would gnaw at his clothes and his feet as he tried to sleep.  To solve this problem, Selkirk domesticated several cats he found on the island, employing them to keep his campsite rat-free.

Finally on February 1, 1709, Selkirk was rescued when two British ships spotted his signal fire. When the landing party came ashore, they were astonished by Selkirk’s appearance:  he looked like a wild man dressed from head to toe in goat skins.

In 1713 an account of Selkirk’s ordeal was published, and six years later, influenced by Selkirk’s adventures, Daniel Defoe published his novel Robinson Crusoe*.  Defoe’s book went on to become one of the most widely read books in history and is recognized today as the first work of realistic fiction.  Selkirk and Defoe also influenced world geography; in 1966 Mas a Tierra, the Pacific island which Selkirk inhabited for four years and four months, was renamed Robinson Crusoe.  A separate island, 100 miles west, has been renamed Alejandro Selkirk (2).

Like Defoe’s novel, the story of Jaws also follows an interesting path from fact to fiction.  The novel’s author Peter Benchley was working as a journalist in 1971 when he had lunch with a publisher from Doubleday.  They discussed Benchley’s book ideas which were all non-fiction.  At the end of the meeting the publisher asked Benchley, who had never written fiction, if he had any ideas for a novel.  At that point Benchley remembered the 1964 news story about the colossal shark caught off of Long Island.  He told the publisher,  “I want to tell the story of a Great White shark that marauds the beaches of a resort town and provokes a moral crisis.”

When Jaws was published on February 1, 1974, it made Benchley one of the most successful first-time novelists of all time.  The book spent 44 months on the New York Times bestseller list and sold over 20 million copies.  Benchley went on to co-write the screenplay for the book’s wildly successful film version; today the film Jaws, directed by Steven Spielberg, is recognized as the movie that invented the summer blockbuster.

Today’s Challenge:  All the Fiction That’s Fit to Print

What story from today’s newspaper could you adapt for a short story?  Select a story from a recent newspaper, and use the facts from the true story to spark your imagination.  Generate a central conflict from the true story that might be used in a fictional story, such as an individual fighting to survive alone on a desert island or a town struggling to survive attacks from a killer shark. (Common Core Writing 3 – Narrative)

Quotation of the Day:  Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth. -Albert Camus

*The complete original title of Defoe’s novel is:  The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, Of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River of Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as strangely deliver’d by Pyrates.

1-http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/3400291.stm

2-http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/scottishhistory/europe/oddities_europe.shtml