Friday, June 30, 2017

The Friday Book Discussion (chapters 1-18 of David Copperfield)

We have about 19 attendees at the Friday discussion. There were 16 on Thursday. All-in-all some pretty good discussions.
Points we discussed:
  • Dickens as a writer of Victorian Soap Opera
  • Women stifled by class structure and mores of the day
  • Social Classes in England
  • David born with a caul, several had not heard the term before
  • No one is happy with the footnotes in the Penguin Classics edition 
  • Favorite phrases:
    • Lifting the curtain on part of his life to write about it, and then letting the curtain drop again
    • Micawber's "I have nothing to bestow but advice. Still my advice is so far worth taking, that-in short, that I have never taken it myself. . . "

Thursday, June 29, 2017

David Copperfield Discussion 1

If you missed the discussion on Wednesday night, never fear! We recorded the whole discussion, led by Dr. Lauren McCoy. We'll also host another discussion session on Friday, June 30 at noon, if you'd like to join the conversation. View the video from Wednesday's discussion below.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Big Book Summer Reading Kickoff

  We have at least 56 people at the David Copperfield  kickoff! Maybe a record for a single Big Book meeting.
Dr. Lauren McCoy, Professor of English at Lindenwood University is leading us in a discussion of the first 18 (or XVIII if you are Roman) chapters of the book. W'e're talking about childhood in Victorian England and in Dickens's classic novel.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

So what exactly is going on between Betsy Trotwood and Mr. Dick?

 I love that Uriah’s name and “ ’umble” both start with a “u”:  It always reminds us that he’s very “umble”.  And, of course, both his last name, “Heep” and “humble” start with an “h”.

My favorite quote so far:  “A tender young cork, however, would have had no more chance against a pair of corkscrews…than I had against Uriah and Mrs Heep.”  (page 265)

Friday, June 23, 2017

More on Educators' Panel

For those of you wishing to follow our discussion on the video in the post below, we were proud to welcome the following local educators:

Dr. John Wright
Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley
Superintendent Karen Hall
Rhonda Stovall

And here are the questions we posed:

1.     The thesis of Born Bright is that poverty itself is the ultimate barrier to escaping poverty.  What is your reaction to that statement as an educator?
2.     For the superintendents, what measures do your districts take to combat inequality through poverty? What can the community do to support these measures?

3.     Dr. Mason, and many others, point to the gap in language exposure between preschoolers born into poverty and those from middle- and upper-class households.  She suggests integration of early literacy programs into the healthcare delivery system, so that pediatricians and obstetricians would direct new parents to appropriate resources.  How do you respond to that suggestion? 

4.     What role does school discipline play in the arc of a child’s development?  What are the best practices for effective discipline that maximize student learning outcomes?

5.     The importance of holding all students to high expectations is discussed in Born Bright, and elsewhere.  Explain how students are impacted by expectations, both from teachers and schools, but also from their families and peers.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Local Educators' Panel Discussion

Thank you to everyone who attended last night's Local Educators' Panel Discussion, featuring School District of University City Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley, author and academic leader John Wright, Maplewood-Richmond Heights School District Superintendent Karen Hall, and Monsanto's 2017 Science Teacher of the Year Rhonda Stovall. The panelists showed us — often through sharing their personal experiences — how much poverty and other challenges can affect educational outcomes, and discussed in depth their methods to work to achieve educational equity.

For those of you who couldn't make it to the program, don't worry! We recorded the whole thing, and you can watch it below. Join us Thursday, July 13 at 7 p.m. for more discussion of educational equity when we meet to talk about Born Bright: A Young Girl's Journey from Nothing to Something in America by C. Nicole Mason.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What's in a name?

As I'm reading David Copperfield, I'm struck by the way Dickens plays with names. The reader
doesn't learn the first name of David's mother or her maid, Peggotty, until 80 pages in, and then it is only eagle-eyed readers that will catch that their shared first name is Clara. By the 15th chapter, our protagonist is on his third moniker — he starts as David Copperfield, followed by the brief switch to his stepfather's surname, Murdstone, and once he's installed at his aunt Betsey Trotwood's home, Trotwood Copperfield, or Trot for short.

But even more striking than the switches and lack of first names are the names themselves. Dickens obviously enjoyed creating descriptive names for his characters, in Copperfield and his other works, many of which instantly bring to mind specific imagery. Think about the sensation that certain names evoke: Uriah Heep. Tiny Tim. Ebenezer Scrooge. Estella. Dickens masterfully crafted names that, in most cases, tell the reader quite a bit about the character to which they belong.

According to a wonderful 1917 paper on character names in Dickens' works, “the villainous Mr. Murdstone would be [expected] to show indifference toward suffering from the mingling of murder and stone in his cognomen,” and I can't say I disagree. Click here to read the whole paper by high school English teacher Elizabeth Hope Gordon. It's lengthy, but a fun read, full of the many aptly (or simply oddly) named characters from Dickens' novels, as well as those of his peers.

What do you think about the names Dickens has chosen? Who are your favorites?

Friday, June 16, 2017

Not to Be Missed!

Of all her many life experiences, C. Nicole Mason chooses to open Born Bright with a story about her little girl self in a classroom with her teacher. Her choice of anecdotes points to the power of a school, of a teacher, of an administrator, to change the life of a child.  This Wednesday, June 21 at 7pm at the Library we welcome 4 innovative St. Louis-area educators to discuss their views on childhood poverty, adversity, and the role that schools play in changing the arc of a child's life.  Join us for an exciting discussion with:

Dr. John Wright
Superintendent Sharonica Hardin-Bartley
Superintendent Karen Hall
Rhonda Stovall

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Born bright and baseball

I finished this book tonight and although baseball is never mentioned, it is on my mind.  When a batter faces a pitcher, the odds are not in the batter's favor.  A season batting average of .300 is considered excellent.  Each batter is allowed three strikes.  C. Nicole Mason was born into poverty.  What does this mean?  She moved frequently, housing was often sub-par. There were times as a child that she was hungry and there was no food to eat.  The schools she attended were underfunded, they had few resources, they employed teachers who didn't believe their students could succeed. Her parents were high school drop outs.  They were teens when she was born. Her parents never earned much money, even when employed, her father spent time in prison, her parents split up when she was young and she didn't have much of a relationship with her father. Other men came in and out of her life as her mother tried to sustain a relationship. Her parents did not promote education or show much interest in her schooling. Her friends and neighbors were in similar situations, there were few high school graduates, kids in her classes were often years behind in school, she lacked information about how to gain entrance to college and how to pay for college.  These are the factors that I can remember off the top of my head. In baseball, three strikes and you're out. How many strikes are fair to kids who are living in poverty?  What expectations are fair for young children who have so little control of their circumstances?  Do they deserve more opportunities than the baseball player?  Seems like Nicole should be given credit for batting 1.000.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Some Thoughts along the Way

Abbott Elementary, described in Born Bright
We're a couple of weeks away from our first round of discussions.  It's time to hear from you!  In the early pages of David Copperfield and Born Bright, what stands out?

  • In both cases, we're talking about small children.  Where there are small children, there are usually mothers.  How do you feel about the portrayal of mothers in these books?
  • Both Dickens and C. Nicole Mason have a challenging job as authors.  They have to maintain a child's point of view in order to tell their stories.  How well do each of them succeed?  Are you convinced that you're hearing the story from the child's perspective?
  • What words would you use to describe young David?  Young C. Nicole Mason?  Are they courageous? Fearful? Resilient?  What do they have in common?  Where do they diverge?
  • Are you finding these books easy or difficult to read?  What is challenging?  Do you have a preference?

Friday, June 9, 2017

Coming soon...we promise!

Due to an especially enthusiastic response to our summer reading program, a few of our readers are still waiting for their copies of Born Bright.  We expect to have more copies in very soon for you.  Thanks for your patience!

We Begin at the Beginning

David Copperfield starts his story by entitling the first chapter, “I am born.”  Simple enough, from his point of view.  But think about his poor young mother, sitting alone “…by the fire…and very doubtful of ever coming alive out of the trial that was before her….”  This detail is a tiny drop in the ocean of David’s narrative, but Clara’s fears would have been great indeed, and quite justifiable.  Consider the statistics on maternal mortality from this 2006 article from the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine:
British Maternal Mortality in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

According to one of the tables, in 1860, 58 mothers in 1,000 died, of such things as puerperal fever, hemorrhage, and convulsions.

At least Clara was attended by a ‘doctor;’ it would be interesting to know whether this was one of those newfangled man-midwives, as discussed by London’s Science Museum:

Alas, no mention is made of Clara having the advantage of chloroform for anesthetic that Queen Victoria enjoyed when giving birth to her 8th and 9th babies, in 1853 and 1857.  The British Library shares Dr. James Simpson’s paper on his pioneering the use of chloroform as an anesthetic in childbirth here:

And if all of this nitty-gritty is interesting to you, be sure to check out one of my favorites from 2016: