Thursday, October 30, 2014


At this point in the school year, we've read a lot of books. At most, 7-8s are up to seven books. Some of the kids read four different books in the Topia Series (Utopias, Dystopias, Diasporas-the list is in this post: ). 

At the very least, they've read one from that list, Icarus Girl by Helen Oyeyemi, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and now, Mal Peet's Keeper. These three each engage strange journeys which are largely driven by the inner lives and imaginations of the lead characters. Alice is almost entirely playful. Icarus Girl is much more spiritual, sophisticated, and scary. Mike located some terrific interviews with the author, with whom we'll try to communicate later this year. Here are a couple of the links he shared:

Keeper lies somewhere in between. It is pitched to kids this age, unlike the children's classic Alice and Oyeyemi's full-fledged novel. Its South American setting echoes much of the genre of magical realism. Unlike the other two, it has a male protagonist. In the book's narrative, he is an adult, but begins the story by recounting his early teenage years in the rainforest of an unnamed country (not quite Colombia, not quite Venezuela). 

Themes that have emerged thus far: intuition; climate change; childhood; generational conflict; ostracism; celebrity. The usual array.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


Dichotomies have emerged as a compelling theme in our literary work in September and October.

We have been reading Helen Oyeyemi's remarkable novel Icarus Girl. I read this aloud and we pause as we go to annotate, speculate and illuminate. The kids took an online predictive yes/no poll that I composed for them last week. None of the questions got unanimous answers, and as we careen into the final few chapters of Jessamy's journey, we're finding out who had the right sense of where the story is headed.

As noted in an earlier post, Icarus Girl is the story of an eight-year-old girl living in England with her Nigerian mother and English father. When the kids first wrote about the book, I asked them to identify important pairs and discuss them. Several wrote about Nigeria and England, or Jess and a friend (you won't get any spoilers here, and you should all read this fantastic book); and, as always, the kids found some matches that I wouldn't have dreamed of. Again, I won't give anything away, but the Incredible Hulk, among others, is involved. The kids are also writing new scenes for the book using Oyeyemi's vivid characters--a form of fan fiction, I suppose.

Twins are an essential element of Icarus Girl. As we begin to make plans for projects exploring the related themes of utopia, dystopia, and diaspora, dualities are emerging. Many students have pointed out that utopias don't last; others have argued that one person's perfect world might be another's broken one; some have looked at diaspora as a sad, unresolvable duality between the place you left and your new land, which may never feel entirely like home.

These projects will be developed over the next month and shared with the community at Exhibitions, probably in the first week of December. Stay tuned for details.

High School 101

Many of you know that in the second semester of the 2013-14 academic year I spent a lunch period every week with the eighth graders. We talked about the challenges to come in high school. I did my best to answer questions and supported our then-soon-to-be-alumni as they made plans to navigate environments that, no matter how wonderful, would be decidedly different from SK. We called it High School 101.

This year, HS 101 will begin earlier. In an era of school choice, selecting a high school has become what selecting a college was like for people of my generation. (For a frame of reference, I graduated high school in 1985.) With that in mind, I will be embarking on a fact-finding tour of about a dozen schools over the next few weeks.

I will speak with teachers, administrators and counselors, and I'll visit these schools in action. Once that's done, I'll set up an evening conversation time for seventh and eighth grade parents, probably around Thanksgiving.

In the meantime, I strongly encourage eighth grade parents to contact schools about shadow days, in which prospective students spend a morning or afternoon with current ninth graders. If you want to get a feel for the ethos of a school, there is no substitute for actually walking the walk of a high school student. Many area schools are making plans for official shadow days; others without such programs will accommodate inquiries.

We've been visited informally by several of our recent alumni. Before too long, we'll be bringing those ninth and tenth graders in for a little Q&A, snacks, and mutual celebration.