Posts filed under 'The Editor’s Shelf'

The Editor’s Shelf: Teaching history

My teenage children hate history. It was always my favorite subject, and that was mostly with teachers who believed in names and dates, and little else. During homework hour at night (or hours these days), I try and explain Faulkner’s famous quote to my kids: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” And I’m greeted with blank stares or a roll of the eyes and always another complaint about history being boring and irrelevant. I don’t expect it to be their favorite subject, but irrelevant? I could go on and on…

One of the ways a book gets published is that an editor has a zeal and passion for the manuscript. This is especially true in the trade world where countless examples exist of a famous book turned down sixty times before some editor read it, loved it, and made sure everyone in the office knew just how wonderful it was. We are not a trade house, but passion still plays a significant role.

I love the three books we currently publish on ways to teach history that are meaningful and engaging. Making History Mine by Sarah Cooper, Eyewitness to the Past by Joan Brodsky Schur, and Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer? by Bruce Lesh. What they give history teachers are the tools to prove to kids that while names and dates are important, history is much more than that. Kids research and interpret history. They learn firsthand what historians actually do. It’s nonfiction that requires full engagement of the imagination. What a wonderful blend!

1 comment September 16th, 2014

The Editor’s Shelf: Doing Literary Criticism

We continue our Editor’s Shelf series with the brief history of Tim Gillespie’s book Doing Literary Criticism.

I hated literary criticism. I went to graduate school in the heyday of Derrida’s influence over the study of literature, and I could never understand why people thought his theories were more important than the words of Oscar Wilde, Dylan Thomas, and just about every other “real” author.

Enter Tim Gillespie. Tim was someone I knew a little about: He’d written a chapter in a book published by my former employer and was very well respected as a high school teacher. He was working on a book for Stenhouse with Brenda Power, and when Brenda left, I volunteered to work with Tim. Each manuscript that lands on an editor’s desk has its own individual needs. Doing Literary Criticism had just one. It needed to be cut. Cut considerably.

But what to cut?! This was a manuscript written by a master teacher at the end of his days in the classroom. As I read, I discovered that literary criticism made sense and provided important lenses for comprehending difficult literature. From feminist criticism to moral criticism to psychological criticism, Tim made these complicated ideas lucid.
Whether or not you are dealing with the Common Core in your state and district, Doing Literary Criticism is an essential guide for giving your students the tools necessary to tackle complex literature.

Add comment May 12th, 2014

The Editor’s Shelf: Of Primary Importance

This week we kick off a new occasional series on the Stenhouse blog called The Editor’s Shelf. Written by Stenhouse editor extraordinaire Bill Varner, the series will reveal the history and background of some of our books and give you a chance to revisit some oldie but goodie Stenhouse titles from the past few years. We kick off the series with a look at how Ann Marie Corgill’s book Of Primary Importance came to life.

I’m a bibliophile. Or, you could say, I’m a book geek. I love everything about them—from authors and their lives, to cover designs, to publishing lore. I can still smell the ink, paper, and glue from my first job in a book bindery. For most people outside the book business, how an idea becomes a book is a mystery. With “The Editor’s Bookshelf,” I thought we’d give you a snapshot of some of our books—the stories behind them, and why we love them.

When I first joined Stenhouse, I was told by our friends and distributors in Alabama, Toni Shay and William Hagood, about a fantastic teacher named Ann Marie Corgill—or, as I’ve come to call her, AMC. She’d taught Ralph Fletcher and JoAnn Portalupi’s son in Alabama, and also at the renowned Manhattan New School. I first met AMC at the Mid-South Literacy Conference in Birmingham, Alabama. Her presentation was terrific, and she wanted to write a book. “Great,” I said. “Let’s get started.” We started and stopped. We started and stopped. Most authors can’t churn them out like Patricia Cornwell. Since a lot of Stenhouse authors are full-time teachers, everything has to align just “write.” Or, to paraphrase John Lennon, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making plans to write.” But thanks to AMC’s dogged determination to make the book a reality, several years after I first met her Of Primary Importance arrived from the printer, fresh with the smells of the bindery.

Ever since writing workshop burst onto the scene in the early to mid-eighties, it has fought a constant battle against prepackaged curriculum. Like fast food, prepackaged writing programs are quick and easy. But fifteen minutes after eating an easy meal, I always feel the weight of saturated fat and chemical additives weighing down my mind and body. Students feel the learning equivalent after working a program. Though it may take more time and effort, a healthy, handmade meal leaves one alert, energized, and sustained. Of Primary Importance is the writing curriculum equivalent.

AMC’s book gives you everything you need to create your own writing workshop for primary writers. From establishing the learning environment and developing units on poetry, nonfiction, and narrative writing, to publishing and assessment—it has it all. It’s written in an inspiring voice that says, “Yes, you can do this.” If you haven’t heard of it, or haven’t yet discovered its classroom-tested ideas, you really should. In the world of professional books on teaching writing, it’s a precious gem.

Don Graves used to say about administrators (and anyone who told others what to teach), “Just shut the door and teach.” That’s often easier said than done, but so is everything else worth doing.

3 comments March 12th, 2014


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