Honda. The Boy Who Dreamed of Cars by Mark Weston
The Boy Who Invented TV. The Story of Philo Farnsworth. by Kathleen Krull
A few years ago I was greeted at a school by more than the usual “Welcome” banner. A bulletin board shouted, “Mr. Schwartz, We love BIG numbers, too!” Some of the numbers in articles from newspapers, magazines and websites had been highlighted, and children had written about the significance of the numbers in the context of the news items.
I appreciate it when a teacher guides students to the confluence of math and social studies where numbers and current events meet — which they do every day. Numbers are always in the news.
I recently explored some of the many youtube videos and web pages devoted to “explaining” big numbers, especially when they have $ signs in front of them, and I found that most have a covert (or overt) right wing anti-tax message. Someone should catalog the comparatively few whose political undercurrents run the opposite way (illustrating $s for the military budget in comparison with, say, education or hunger programs). This could be the subject of a future post, but right now I am going to examine three newsworthy numbers that have invited my musings.
"The 99%" Three months ago, no one would have understood the numerical reference but now it needs no introduction. On October 10 in the Economix column of the New York Times, Catherine Rampell provided some statistical analysis. Here’s a sampling:
If your household were right at the cutoff for the 99th percentile in income, your family’s annual income would be $506,533. You and your fellow Americans of equal or greater income in the top 1% would, in fact, be earning 20%, or one-fifth, of all American income. But what you earn alone is not what determines your wealth. Your wealth is what you’ve accumulated. The top 1% holds about one-third of America’s riches — an average of just over $19 million. Nice going! Tough luck for the rest of us.
To me the most interesting thing about wealth distribution is how unequally divided it is even within that top 1%. The mathematically minded might say that the income curve rises steeply above the 99% level. So, while you (at the 99th percentile, remember?) are earning a mere $506,533, your neighbor (in the mansion down the street) is at the 99.9th percentile. He or she is earning $2,075,574. You’re both in the top one-hundredth of all earners but your neighbor is also in the top one-thousandth. Nobel-winning economist Paul Krugman calls this group the “super elite,” a term we should throw in the face of Republicans who use the word “elite” to besmirch the character of anyone with a Master’s degree or a taste for latte. These “elite”-bashers who control of our political agenda have devoted themselves to cutting the taxes of the super elites with the same blade that, on the back stroke, is meant to slash Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid. Hence, Krugman advises the Occupy movement to expand (by an important 0.9%) the scope of its rallying cry to “We are the 99.9%!”
7,000,000,000 (aka 7 Billion) I’m looking at a scan I made of a newspaper article from October about the earth’s population reaching a milestone population — a billion multiple. But it’s not seven billion. It’s just six billion. I scanned it in October, 1999. At that time, the 6 billionth human was getting ready to be born. Last month — October, 2011 — the media were again abuzz about the earth’s population reaching a billion multiple: 7 billion. That means our planet added one billion people in a mere dozen years. Demographers have been stunned. But our growth rate is slowing. By 2050, we’re predicted to add only another 2.3 billion — an amount that nearly matches the number of people who inhabited the planet in 1950.
Explainers from Ann Landers to President Reagan to David Schwartz have tried to put big numbers into micro-narratives for public consumption. “If you wanted to count from one to one billion,” I wrote in my first book, How Much Is a Million?, “it would take you about 95 years.” Hence, it would take almost 700 years to count every person on earth today. Of course you’d never be able to keep up with the population as it grows.
As with so many genres of digestible information, the current catchphrase is “There’s an app for that.” Apps are the snack food of the information age, and the current population of the earth is no exception. This app, from National Geographic, is called “7 Billion.” Free from the Apple App Store, it’s full of photos, videos, charts and infographics. Here are a few gleaned factoids:
— Every second five people are born and two die. (Can you see the problem?)
— In 1975 there were three cities with populations over 10 million; now there are 21.
— There’s plenty of space for 7 billion people on earth. We could all fit shoulder to shoulder in Los Angeles. (If you thought rush hour on the Harbor Freeway could get no worse, think again!)
The app also says it would take you 200 years to count to 7 billion. I disagree. That would be possible only if you averaged about one number per second. Try saying a few of the big ones and you’ll see it’s impossible to whiz through them that fast.
17.2 million You may have missed this stat, which I share in the wake of Thanksgiving weekend. It’s the number of households in the US who are “food insecure,” the euphemism du jour for “hungry.” Representing 14.5% of households (one in seven), it’s the lowest level of food security in our nation’s history and it encompasses 48.8 million people.
The following figures are reported by Pat Garofalo, Economic Policy Editor for ThinkProgress.org. Food insecurity has grown by 30% during the Great Recession. Almost 4 million of food insecure households have children. Fifty-five percent of the households participate in one or more of the three largest Federal food and nutrition programs — SNAP (formerly Food Stamps), WIC and the School Lunch Program — yet 10.5 million eligible children do not participate. Last year, nearly half of the households seeking emergency food assistance reported that they had to choose between paying for heating fuel or food.
These are not cheerful statistics to contemplate as we conclude the Thanksgiving weekend, but ignoring them would be about as appropriate as further tax cuts for billionaires.
This month I’m lending my INK blogspot to Meribeth Schenk, author and librarian. We hear a lot these days about how books, reading, and learning are lighting out for the Territory – new and yet-to-be-discovered Territory. Here’s how one school is doing it.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE
We invite second and third graders to choose (from books written and/or compiled by Douglas Florian, Karma Wilson, Jack Prelutsky, Kristine O’Connell George, Lee Bennett Hopkins, Karla Kuskin, Shel Silverstein, to name a few in the Media Center’s collection), practice (at home in front of a mirror) and read (or memorize) a poem to share in front of their classmates. Students are filmed, for later use of combined videos, to create a poetry slam presentation during April -- poetry month -- when students also share poems they have written.
Third, fourth and fifth grade students become familiar with labyrinths by way of stories, and search engines. A labyrinth is a spiral path, leading into the center and back out. Often effective as a meditation tool, a labyrinth can be used for balancing mind, body and spirit. Searching for labyrinths in a country of their choice, students also use globes, atlases, and webquest to discover labyrinth locations around the world. By tracing mazes and labyrinths, students begin to discover differences (mazes have dead-ends and blind alleys to confuse, labyrinths are single paths allowing one to be reflective).
Then, drawing labyrinths using seed patterns, and creating their own labyrinths using the computer program, Paint, extends the experiences in preparation for walking a canvas labyrinth as a culminating event. When students share their impressions through drawings, writings and comments after the labyrinth walk, the insights are often moving, profound, and surprising.
Additionally, fifth grade students use a storyboard template to guide their planning as they prepare to share their favorite book using Frames. This simple program works like a flipbook, as students create an animated movie, generating illustrations, and adding sound and music to enhance their book trailer.
Some examples of the great work our students have done include:
• creating a rap about Accelerated Reader (AR), which they performed, filmed, edited, and presented to their classmates;
• demonstrating for parents the use of a shared wiki from their Egypt project;
• student/ grandparent pairs sharing in an interview -- WIWAB/WIWAG (When I Was A Boy/Girl) -- using questions the students had prepared in advance, talking together on PhotoBooth, discovering each other in new ways, and honoring the legacy of shared experiences.
These few sample activities give a flavor of a new curriculum as it develops: an integration of trade non-fiction and fiction with texts and classroom lessons, supplementing with cameras, internet, and computer programs, helping to expand educational opportunities for our students.
We’re excited by the enthusiasm we see:
• increasing activity in the Media Center;
• more parent involvement with books and computers;
• greater numbers of books checked out;
• deepening interest in non-fiction (especially poetry and folktales, but also sports and animals);
• strengthening teacher use of classroom computers;
• expansion of assignments using both books and computers to maximize learning potential.
Final products are often available on a loop, displayed on screen in the Media Center during parent open house and conference sessions, and at years end. Students regularly bring their families to “show off” the Media Center. They want their families to view what they’re imagining and producing -- a satisfying moment for all participants.
Meribeth Shank is a Florida native who writes for children, reviews children’s books for Family magazine in Miami (www.familymagazine.biz), teaches occasional classes on Writing Books for Children, is a certified Labyrinth Facilitator, and earned her BA in Elementary Education from Goshen College (IN), and MFA in Writing for Children from Vermont College. You can also find her on the web at: http://meribeths.blogspot.com
Nonfiction is about honoring and reflecting the truth in the world. It asks us to look with fresh eyes at what is around us, at the underpinnings of our lives whether that be in geology, geography, or history. Nonfiction is important and far reaching. Usually, I remember that. But not first thing this morning.
This morning I read an email by a fiction writer friend about an extraordinary fan letter she had received. Moved and amazed by the letter, I thought to myself: I bet those kinds of letters are elicited more often by fiction. Then I experienced the “twinge.” Yes, it was that mosquito-like, momentary, should-I-write-a-novel-instead pinch that plagues nonfiction writers.
This in my mind, I drove to the farmer’s market. A young woman at one of the farm stands stopped me. She had told me, months ago, how much she loved Rah, Rah, Radishes: a Vegetable Chant, and how special it was to her because she picks some of the vegetables that come to market.
Today she told me that her father, after heart attack and stroke, was in the hospital. He had a hard time remembering. But he enjoyed looking through Rah, Rah, Radishes, again and again. I asked if he was a farmer. No, she said, he just likes looking through the book. He doesn’t remember many things. But every time someone comes in the room, he shows them the book photos and he proudly tells them: This is what my daughter does.
I thanked her, teary-eyed, daughter-to-daughter, for sharing her story. Once again, nonfiction surprises. It seems like a good time, near Thanksgiving, to think about how words, photos, art can shine a light on unheralded essentials in our lives.
Thank you for turkey and plenty of stuffing
Of giblets, chopped onion and bread, sage, and thyme
And mashed potatoes, marshmallows, sweet potatoes
Hot gravy and carrots and corn and green beans.
Thank you for hot buttered rolls, jam, and jelly
Glass dishes of celery and pickles and beets.
We all will make merry with sauces of cranberry
And if there’s still room, we will have pumpkin pie.
Thank you for friends and our family here gathered
For all of our blessings, protection divine
For these years of living we all are thanks-giving,
For whipped cream & hot coffee & cold pumpkin pie.
Each year I visit frequently with middle school and high school students to talk about my work as a nonfiction author, and I don’t think a session has ever passed without someone asking: “What’s the favorite book you’ve written?”
Although I’ve explained numerous times that being asked to pick my favorite book is like being asked to pick my favorite child—in other words impossible—my newest publication may make me a liar. From start to finish I’ve felt absolutely captivated by the research, writing, and production of Marching to the Mountaintop: How Poverty, Labor Fights, and Civil Rights Set the Stage for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Final Hours. (National Geographic Children’s Books will release the title on January 10.)
The biggest reason I may start calling this my favorite book is the history itself. I literally found myself exclaiming out loud as I worked with facts that leant themselves so well to the dramatic potential of narrative nonfiction. The historical characters, the setting, the chronology, the thickening “plot” would be the envy of any novelist. “Do the history proud,” became my goal.
I wanted to give readers the context for the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. Plenty of children (and even adults) don’t know that he died in Memphis. Few people of any age can tell you that he had gone there to advocate for the labor rights of the city’s sanitation workers.
Death not only concludes this history; it starts it, too. On February 1, 1968, two sanitation workers were crushed to death while riding inside the barrel of a garbage truck. Within days more than a thousand sanitation and street repair workers decided to strike for the cause of safer working conditions, better compensation, and union recognition. Their demands quickly led to a stalemate between the all-black workforce and the almost entirely white leadership of Memphis.
After police attacked peaceful strikers with clubs and tear gas on February 23, the workers rallied behind an expanded campaign for social justice. “I AM A MAN,” became their persistent assertion. The cause of the striking workers overlapped perfectly with King’s own spring objective: to highlight the burden of poverty by mounting a national Poor People’s Campaign.
Many of the men on strike in Memphis worked full time and yet still qualified for welfare. King visited them three times between March 18 and early April to support their cause. During his final trip, on what would become the eve of his death, he gave one of the best speeches of his life—an extemporaneous oration colloquially known as the “Mountaintop Speech.”
During two research trips to Memphis I studied documents and photos in the archives of the University of Memphis, spoke with eyewitnesses to history, and walked the same routes marched by protestors in 1968. I lingered outside Clayborn Temple, now shuttered but formerly the meeting spot for countless marches. I stood on the stage of Mason Temple, the place where King told audience members how he had gone “to the mountaintop” and “seen the promised land.” I visited the site of his death at the Lorraine Motel, now incorporated into the National Civil Rights Museum, and I observed the perch from which his assassin fired the shot that killed King on April 4, 1968.
The spotlight on Memphis became so intense following King’s death that the city’s anti-union stance wavered and collapsed. Workers gained their collective bargaining rights, wage increases, and improved worker safety in a strike settlement on April 16.
When it came time to start writing, current events created a backdrop that rivaled the power of the Memphis history. I wrote Marching to the Mountaintop from my home in southern Wisconsin at the same time that public employees began demonstrating in nearby Madison. The juxtaposition of the two campaigns for collective bargaining rights became surreal. Immersed in writing about labor rights all day, I emerged to hear each night of fresh labor history in the making.
The book’s subsequent production process became equally riveting. Marty Ittner, a guest blogger on I.N.K, designed Marching to the Mountaintop using the same creative talents that she employed with my 2006 title Freedom Riders and every title I’ve published since—not to mention books by I.N.K. writers Sue Macy and Marfé Ferguson Delano. She transformed dog-eared black and white photos by employing dramatic silhouettes, bold color washes, and retro photo essays. She exploited every possible design element, even the quotation marks.
I dedicated Marching to the Mountaintop to my fourth-grade schoolteacher, Mrs. Christine Warren. I had entered her classroom the year integration reached my childhood home in Lexington, Virginia. Although many white parents quietly opted out of having their children placed in classrooms led by African Americans, my parents did not. Thus I became one of the few white students in Mrs. Warren’s class and spent the year celebrating her love of books. King died the next year while I was in fifth grade.
A storm raged in Memphis the evening of King’s final speech. (Consider this element one of the many facts which prompted my thanks to history.) He spoke that night of the promised land, a place he could visualize of equality and justice and respect. Where no one would have to declare “I AM A MAN” to be treated like a human being. Where students of all colors learned from teachers of every color. “I may not get there with you,” King said that stormy evening. “But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land."
“Many people leaped to their feet, shouted, and clapped their hands. Others sat sobbing, consumed with emotion,” I wrote in my book. “As people drifted away from Mason Temple, they walked under unexpectedly calm skies”—(I did not make this up)—“and their excitement from the remarkable speech mellowed into a satisfying confidence about what lay ahead.”
Could Marching to the Mountaintop become my favorite book? I think it already has. (Don't tell!)