Let’s take a field trip! Your English budget is pretty much devoted to books and other resources, but this event is cross-curricular – so get talkin’ to those science teachers to put up some fundage and we can all go.
The Power of Poison is a traveling exhibit from the American Museum of Natural History in New York, currently in residence in Denver until January 10th of next year. This one is definitely worth the drive down! If you haven’t been to the DMNS before, it is just south of the Denver Zoo off Colorado Blvd, and always worth a daylong visit. I had the opportunity to spend an afternoon there while in CO for a July run, and this potent exhibit is deadly fun.
Poison is a paragon of what a museum exhibit should be. There are plenty of reading panels for people like me who have to stop and read everything, but there also plenty of big attractions to run through and see up close – life-size models of yew trees, larger than life ant colonies, tons of interactive, touch-screen challenges, and even a terrarium of poison dart frogs. There is a demonstration by able-minded museum curators of the first practical arsenic test in history, as well as two real-world games designed to detect and cure poison before it’s too late. (If all of this mystery-solving gets you stoked, prep for a future installment in which we return to the DMNS to visit the world’s greatest detective – http://sherlockholmesexhibition.com/ !)
Two key installations for us, of course, focus on literature. One is the Shakespeare diorama: the poisons of the plays (9th grade – Intro to Lit.) with emphasis on the witches of Macbeth (Euro./Adv. Lit). The other is the Mad Hatter from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (Euro. Lit). How did poisons influence both of these incomparable writers? Head to The Power of Poison to find out! Or, I guess, you could use the internets. But only one of those options includes lunch at Cinzettis. Oh. Yeah.
If that doesn’t get you excited enough, how about this picture from the Mythic Creatures exhibit (open until September 7th – http://www.dmns.org/mythic-creatures/)?!
As you can expect, reading is a big part of my summer break. I mean, it’s a big part of my day at any point in the year, but in the summer I can read a lot more of what I consider to be fun. (I still enjoy reading in the school year, when I’m absorbing the same works you students do, as well as my grad school and professional readings – but here I get a little more choice!) What I don’t do often is reread a book shortly after I’ve finished it. Who has the time? One of the best exceptions to this rule, and one of the best reads I had this summer, was in Mark Siegel’s graphic novel Sailor Twain (from First Second, 2012).
Sailor Twain is centered on Elijah Twain, the writer-captain of a Hudson River steamship in the 1880s. (Twain, by the by, is of no relation to the author, who our captain must frustratingly point out is actually a Mr. Clemens.) Joining the bedeviled sailor is the ship’s gruff and motley crew, including the womanizing owner of the ship, Lafayette, as well as a foul-mouthed helmsman, two stowaways, a mysterious engineer, and a various assortment of New York passengers (keep an eye out for cameos from the likes of Walt Whitman, Edgar Allan Poe, and even Stephen King!). And, of course, there is the mermaid of the full title, who Twain must decide is either savior or siren.
Available at the Laramie County Library, this text holds many epic qualities: an expansive and realized cast of characters, elements of fantasy interwoven in spirituality, and a portrait of near-mythic America on the Hudson River. As a work of historical fiction, the world of the narrative is well centered in established movements and attitudes of America’s Gilded Age. What’s more, the artwork – almost entirely in charcoal – is evocative and symbolic. The rainy atmosphere and river setting were easily imagined despite our dusty August heat. Most importantly, Siegel’s use of motif, ambiguity, and doubling are absorbing. You are almost obligated to reread the novel to add your newfound evidence to the intricate clues.
This novel is definitely for mature readers (sexuality, complexity, language), but is my August pick for seniors to read, for two key reasons. First, it makes a great review of the themes of American Literature for those of you who survived last year. Second, Sailor Twain leads nicely into both senior classes’ content, addressing similar themes and also introducing you to the graphic novel format, which you can expect to see in the upcoming school year. In conclusion, it is important to read books and genres outside of your usual experiences. Anyone who still thinks, in 2015, that comics or graphic novels aren’t necessarily “real” literature needs to see what they are missing out on in Mark Siegel’s new American classic, Sailor Twain.
I’m Justin Earnshaw, a teacher of English. This blog is intended to serve as a resource for my students, as well as an online venue to begin establishing a digital presence. As a relative neophyte to the digital realm, this is a learning experience for me, and perhaps one for you, dear reader.
Things you can expect to see on this blog:
- Messages for students (to discuss, inform, and motivate, etc.).
- Connections to literary texts of the world (e.g. book reviews, links to excellent essays, geeking out over movie trailers).
- Noticings about this corner of the world — southeast Wyoming and the front range corridor.
Things you should not expect to see on this blog:
- Vitriol, vehemence, and other vile things found on the web’s dark(er) corners (such as hate speech, trolling, New York Yankees fans).
- Detailed elements of my personal life – students will not know where I live or where my gold is buried.
- An easy, how-to guide to doing it all the right way. This is simply my view on matters pertaining to the best possible worldly and academic education for my students.
Thanks for reading this, and now get back to reading that book!