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Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Happy Birthday, Beverly Cleary

Today is Beverly Cleary's birthday - her 100th! She has always been one of my favorite authors. She has written books I remember from my childhood, yet they still feel really fresh. As Elaine and I were talking about her yesterday, we both mentioned how well she really knew children - not in some idealized way, but as real flesh-and-blood characters who are imperfect and frustrating and smart and lovable. And parents were human too - sometimes making mistakes, sometimes losing their tempers - but always acting with love, humor, and a gentle reassuring firmness.

As I showed some of the books from my personal collection to the students this morning, it became clear that I have not been doing my job. They hardly knew any of them! That will change, believe me, as we dive into a Beverly Cleary treasure soon. But where to start? With good ol' Henry Huggins (her first book was about this boy, written in 1950, as Cleary realized that until then, there were very few books about "real" boys), and then onto the wealth of Beezus and Ramona stories? Or do I start with the Mouse and the Motorcycle books, always real crowd pleasers? Decisions.

In the meantime, today I wanted to choose a story that could be read in just one day. I picked one of Cleary's shorter and more recent books (published in 1990), called Muggie Maggie.

This story is about a little girl called Maggie Schultz who has just started the third grade in the gifted and talented class. She is intimidated by the prospect of learning to read and write in cursive, and - especially after her parents and teacher nag her - has decided that she will simply refuse to learn it. She will just print or use the computer her whole life - what's the use of cursive? Her teacher uses a clever way (no spoilers!) to get Maggie to want to try and learn, in a way that saves face for stubborn Maggie.

Part of the time as I was reading, I gave children to option to try their own hands at cursive. About half the children really wanted to give it a go, and were excited to try something new. I have to say - for beginner writers, they aren't too bad! Now when we do our weekly handwriting practice, I will have cursive sheets for those who are interested, and are ready for the challenge.

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