Furthermore I’ll begin by quoting my favorite email from a kid, one which wasn’t even sent to me. I’ve asked Lois Lowry if I could borrow it for this blog entry and she graciously sent me the exact wording. It read:
I am working on a research paper and in my thesis statement I have to identify you. Would you be considered a 19th century author? Please let me know ASAP.
Okay, on to me. I love the thank you notes that teachers assign after I’ve made a school visit. Certainly my mother would have approved. Here’s an excerpt from one letter that came from a school where I talked about Ultimate Field Trip 1: Adventures in the Amazon Rain Forest, illustrated by my frequent collaborator, photographer Michael J. Doolittle.
Dear Susan Goodman, I’m one of the many people who were in your second grade group. Here’s one question I wanted to ask you: Is your photographer Michel Dolittle related to Dr. Dolittle?
Here’s another note that asked a question (name changed, mistakes included).
Dear Susan, Will you please dedicate a story to my bear Oatmeal and me. My name is Mary Jones. I am very happy to meet you. I admiare you a very lot. I have read 4 of your books. I am a big fan on yours. It would be a great honor to have one of your books dedicated to me. Please word it like this. I dedicate this book to Mary Jones and her bear Oatmeal because she admiars me so very much. Sinserly Mary
I couldn’t resist. I had a book going to press and my husband ended up sharing his dedication, although I did invoke poetic license and changed her suggested wording.
Last one for this post, although I keep going. One Sunday evening, I happened to be online and received a desperate email from a young lady with an assignment due the next morning. She asked me if my underlying reason for writing Ultimate Field Trip 4: A Week in the 1800s was…and then gave me two alternatives. I immediately wrote back saying that neither answer was right and then explained the message I was hoping to convey with the book.
Moments later I got another email, this time from her mother. She explained that her daughter was filling out a multiple-choice assignment created by the textbook company that had excerpted my book. And she provided me with all four possible explanations for my motivation. I studied them and decided the answer was E, none of the above. I wrote back and suggested her daughter bring this email chain between her and the author who explained her real intent to class. Who knows, maybe she’d get extra credit for taking some initiative.
HA! A week later I received an email from the mother who thought I might be interested in the upshot. Her daughter didn’t get any credit for the question, the answer was B.
As a lover of irony, I suppose this email exchange should be my favorite. But it’s just so wrong on so many levels. We can talk about: A) the issue of textbooks in general (although I’m grateful that this one used my writing as a good example). We can talk about: B) making children limit or reduce their interpretations of what they read to previously digested categories (which may well be wrong). We can talk about: C) the fact that assignments should help kids learn to think on their own rather than letting others tell them what they think (perhaps wrongly). We can talk about: D) not rewarding initiative and imagination.
Which do you think wins the “most wrong” award—A, B, C, or D? Give me your answer. But don’t forget that there’s always E, none of the above.