A quiz question concerning Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro

A question from last weekend's quiz in our advanced-level secondary school classes concerning a detail in one of Hemingway's best-known tales.

Above, we’ve posted five answers to one of the reading comprehension questions on this past weekend’s quiz in our highest-level secondary school classes. In those lessons, we’ve been working our way through some of the most significant works in The Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia Edition. The question which we recently asked our students, included in the image atop this post, concerns a detail in one of Hemingway’s most celebrated short stories, The Snows of Kilimanjaro.

Hemingway is not without his flaws but he remains among America’s greatest writers and one of the messages of this story, that we each bear the responsibility for the choices that we make, is well worth taking to heart. Sprawled on his cot, waiting to die, Harry muses:

He had destroyed his talent himself. Why should he blame this woman because she kept him well? He had destroyed his talent by not using it, by betrayals of himself and what he believed in, by drinking so much that he blunted the edge of his perceptions, by laziness, by sloth, and by snobbery, by pride and by prejudice, by hook and by crook?

Though our personal circumstances may differ, by and large, the same goes for each of us and, while there are probably many ways to lead an unfulfilled life, one of the most pernicious self-defeating tricks that we play on ourselves has got to be this one. What’s worse than kidding ourselves into thinking that we’re pursuing one possible future whilst making decisions that lead us to another, especially when it’s one which we would never have consciously chosen?

In Harry’s case, he was a writer who had stopped writing but continued to trade on his past achievements. Years had passed pleasantly enough with no one, it seems, calling Harry’s attention to the fact that he hadn’t written anything in a good long while. By the time that we encounter Harry in The Snows of Kilimanjaro, he has awoken to the gulf separating a writer’s life from the life that he has actually been living and he’s begun trying to get himself back on track. Though Harry’s life concludes prematurely and his attempt to right himself is thwarted, he can be viewed as fortunate in that he was able, on his deathbed, to achieve the clarity necessary to take ownership of and responsibility for the life that he had lived.

As to the answer to the quiz question, if you’ve read The Snows of Kilimanjaro, then you may recall that Harry’s gangrene began in a scratch that he sustained to the skin on his right knee. That makes answers #1 and #5 the most obviously correct and, alas, answer #4 incorrect. According to answers #2 and #3, Harry suffered his soon-to-be-fatal booboo on his right shin, but that was close enough that we gave credit to both students.

In this entry we wrote about Ernest Hemingway

Happy Valentine’s Day to our not-so-wimpy kids!

Tiffany C. writing Valentine's Day cards to her classmates.

What’s Tiffany doing in the photo above? Isn’t it obvious? She’s writing Valentine’s Day messages in the Valentine’s Day cards that she’s about to hand out to her classmates. Tiffany’s going to be receiving a Valentine’s Day card from each of them, too.

Excerpt from 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw' concerning Greg Heffley's V-day card plot. Click through for a slightly larger version of this image.

Not long ago, in Tiffany’s class, we read Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw, the third installment in author-illustrator Jeff Kinney’s ever-popular Wimpy Kid series of books featuring an chronically maladjusted, slightly neurotic American middle schooler named Gregory Heffley and his mildly dysfunctional family. One of Greg’s escapades in this particular Wimpy Kid volume concerns Valentine’s Day, which just so happens to be bearing down on us.

The proximity of the holiday presented us with a golden opportunity to share a bit of American culture with our students as well as clearing up any lingering confusion that may have impaired their understanding of the Valentine’s-Day-related part of the book that we had read together.

The packs of children's Valentine's Day cards that we used in class.

Throughout the United States, it’s common (especially in elementary school) for children to distribute age-appropriate Valentine’s Day cards to all of their classmates, both male and female. If you’re interested in getting a feel for how this works, you can check out Why Does My Child Have to Give Valentine’s Day Cards to Everyone?, a short Q&A about exchanging Valentine’s Day cards at school.

The two packs of assorted kids’ Valentines that we employed in two of last weekend’s lessons were both class-sized, with twenty-eight cards per box. An extra card, specifically intended to be given to a teacher, was included in the SpongeBob-themed set.

Ryan Y. making out his set of Valentine's Day cards in class.

Ordinarily, young people prepare their cards at home and bring them to school sealed in their envelopes, ready to be distributed during class under teacher supervision. Given our students’ unfamiliarity with Valentine’s Day, however, we thought it best to distribute blank cards in class and walk everyone through the entire process, from addressing them and writing in the them to handing them out, during the same lesson. In the photo above, you can see Ryan working on his Valentines. Sonia is plugging away on hers in the image below.

Sonia C. readying her her set of Valentines.

In Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Last Straw, Greg hatches and executes a not-so-ingenious plan to tell each of his classmates precisely what he thinks of them. True to his moniker, however, he tries to avoid the consequences of his stunt by leaving the cards unsigned. In real life, of course, Greg would’ve quickly been unmasked as the hurtful cards’ author. Fortunately for Greg, he’s a fictional character inhabiting a rather forgiving universe and he seems to avoid being caught.

Some of Sonia's Valentine's Day cards, signed but not yet addressed or inscribed with Valentine's Day messages.

These three cards of Sonia’s were photographed early on in the process, before she had addressed them or added Valentine’s Day messages, but she’s already signed her name, so she definitely didn’t pull a Heffley.

In this entry we wrote about RyanY2012, SoniaC2010, TiffanyC2008

Happy holidays and an amazing new year !!!

Some of our students opening their Christmas lucky draw gifts. Clockwise from top left: Luke, Mordecai, Julia, and Harris

From all of us at Accella to you and yours: Happy holidays and an amazing new year!

Above, you can see (clockwise from top left) Luke, Mordecai, Julia, and Harris unwrapping their Christmas lucky draw gifts. This year, we went with a slew of gorgeous pop-up books, including the four shown above: National Geographic’s Animal Pop! and Sea Monsters: A Prehistoric Adventure, Bugs: A Stunning Pop-up Look at Insects, Spiders, and Other Creepy-Crawlies, and Snow White and Rose Red: A Pop-Up Fairytale.

In this entry we wrote about Happy Holidays!

Shakespeare every year!

The Arden Shakespeare edition of 'Macbeth', flanked by Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, in paper doll form

Above, you can see a copy of Macbeth (The Arden Shakespeare Second Series), flanked by the play’s central tragic figures, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth, in the form of a pair of paper dolls cut and folded with tender loving care from Great Characters from Shakespeare, one of gifted and prolific illustrator Tom Tierney‘s numerous and varied volumes of paper dolls.

Late last year, we decided to start introducing the works of William Shakespeare into our classes. Every one of our students will read at least one of Shakespeare’s plays, either in the original text or in an adaptation selected with their age and level of reading ability in mind, each year. To make this possible, we’re taking a tiered approach: annotated original versions of the Bard’s most important plays for our more advanced students, side-by-side original and adapted texts for intermediate-level classes, and highly accessible and handsomely illustrated adaptations for our earlier-stage pupils.

We began ambitiously, with The Arden Shakespeare Third Series edition of Hamlet, and we’ll be wrapping up our tour of Macbeth, in the edition pictured at the top of this post, with another group this weekend. In other classes, we’ve read The Tempest, Twelfth Night, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and we’ll be reading more of the Bard’s plays as the year progresses.

Have a great weekend! Wherever you’re going and whatever you’ll be doing, remember to take along a book!

In this entry we wrote about Authors, Readings, William Shakespeare

Good job, Ching Kiu and Vivian!

Ching Kiu's answer to the first of the reading comprehension homework questions for her class's third reading from'Harriet the Spy' earned full marks. Great work, Ching Kiu!

We’ve been reading author-illustrator Louise Fitzhugh‘s classic children’s novel Harriet the Spy with some of our classes recently. The book features a keenly observant, fiercely intelligent sixth-grade female protagonist. Harriet’s always-alert, intensely analytical mind constantly runs at full throttle and she fills her trusty notebook with a continuous stream of entries, chronicling her interactions with the world around her and an interior life richer than that of many busy grownups.

Vivian also achieved a perfect score on the same reading comprehension homework question. Keep up the good work, Vivian!

Last week, after leading them in reading portions of that week’s chunk of Harriet the Spy aloud, we asked Ching Kiu and Vivian and their classmates to tackle their first reading comprehension homework question in class, something that we do from time to time to help us gauge how well our young people grasp what they’ve been reading.

Despite having just a couple of minutes in which to formulate, write, and proofread their answers, everyone performed well and two students, Ching Kiu and Vivian, even managed perfect scores. Keep up the good work, folks!

In this entry we wrote about ChingKiuY2010, Harriet the Spy, VivianH2009

Information, vocabulary, imaginative richness, and wide horizons aren’t just for kids!

Katie and Mirella holding their latest book box selections.

An Accella student will typically read ten or more books each year as part of their coursework. In addition, to reward them for their labors, they will frequently be invited to choose more books from curated, constantly-replenished collections that we maintain at our office (as Katie and Mirella have just done in the photo above). All of these books are theirs to keep permanently.

Our hope is that at least some of these books, especially the more sophisticated ones that they’ll select or be asked to read for class as they mature, will form the core of a personal library that will grow and evolve throughout their lives. The likelihood that the young people with whom we work will amass collections of books that are meaningful to them and to which they’ll later return, from time to time, likely depends a great deal on the attitudes towards books and reading that prevail in their homes right now.

As to why we feel that reading, widely and deeply, and amassing a large personal library are important, we could point to studies that, essentially, seem to indicate that reading makes you a better person (see, for example, For Better Social Skills, Scientists Recommend a Little Chekhov, which discusses the recent scientific paper by Comer Kidd and Castano, Reading Literary Fiction Improves Theory of Mind, published early this month in the journal Science). If goodness for its own sake doesn’t grab you, then consider all of the ways, major and minor, that our social skills, or lack thereof, impact our ability to achieve our goals and, frankly, win at life.

At this point, a few parents reading this post may be patting themselves on the back. In their sons’ and daughters’ bedrooms, there are shelves overflowing with books, they make a point of taking them to a library so that they can borrow armfuls of new reading material frequently, or make sure that they have the chance to check out every book fair and sale that rears its head. These parents may have gone further and enrolled their little ones in programs like those that we offer, which emphasize reading and understanding what one reads. That’s wonderful, but what about the parents themselves? As it turns out, adults’ reading habits appear to matter a heck of a lot too.

Here’s a quote from an academic journal article (Family scholarly culture and educational success: Books and schooling in 27 nations by Mariah Evans, Jonathan Kelley, Joanna Sikora, and Donald J. Treiman) that describes a strong correlation between the number of books in a child’s home and the number of years of education that they will receive:

A home in which books are an integral part of the way of life will encourage children to read for pleasure, thereby providing them with information, vocabulary, imaginative richness, and wide horizons.

Evans et al.’s paper was published in 2010 in the journal Research in Social Stratification and Mobility. Paywalls are a pain. Fortunately, however, searching on the paper’s title currently turns up a postprint. You may want to pause and Google yourself up a copy right now.

In their analysis of their results, the authors state (references to tables and figures excised for the sake of readability):

Home library size has a very substantial effect on educational attainment, even adjusting for parents’ education, father’s occupational status, and other family background characteristics. Growing up in a home with 500 books would propel a child 3.2 years further in education, on average, than would growing up in an otherwise similar home with few or no books.

This is a large effect both absolutely and in comparison with other influences on education. (1) The difference between a bookless home and one with a 500-book library is as great as the difference between having parents who are barely literate (3 years of education) and having university educated parents (15 or 16 years of education). Thus, a home library is as important as parents’ education, the most important variable in the standard educational attainment model. (2) Moreover a home library is twice as important as father’s occupation: only 1.6 years of education separates children of farm laborers at the bottom of the hierarchy from professionals’ children at the top, all else equal. This is just half the 3.2-year home library gap.

Being reared in a home with five hundred books versus one containing no books has been found to have as great an impact on the number of years of education that a child will receive as whether the child’s parents are nearly illiterate or have attended university. The profession of the child’s father (whether he is a farm laborer or a holds a white-collar job) is half as important as having five hundred books at home.

How many moms and dads whose kids have no difficulty getting their hands on piles, stacks, or (teetering, ceiling-high) towers of books actually, themselves, read at home on a regular basis? The authors of the RiSSaM paper believe that the benefits accruing to children living in households with large numbers of books flow from kids observing their parents reading, understanding that reading is a worthwhile activity for grownups as well as for young people like themselves, and engaging their moms and dads in conversations about what they’re reading. Making sure that your children have access to plenty of books and that they read frequently is great, but it’s not necessarily enough.

You have to read too, your children need to see you with your noses buried in books, and you have got to make time to talk with them about what you, and they, are reading. Otherwise, you run the very real risk of inadvertently teaching your young ones that books are the equivalent of toys and that reading is, fundamentally, a childhood activity that will cease when they reach adulthood. They may infer that reading, beyond the bare minimum necessary to answer their teachers’ questions or achieve acceptable scores on exams, is a waste of time and find themselves falling further and further behind kids whose parents led by example and demonstrated the importance of reading. Actions speak louder than words.

In this entry we wrote about Did you know, KatieL2013, MirellaW2013

Graphing the relationships in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Left page: Puck dripping nectar from a love-in-idleness blossom onto the eyelids of a sleeping Fairy Queen. Right: Some of our students' graphs of the relationships between the human characters in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.

Last week, we read the first half of a sumptuously-illustrated children’s adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s great comedies, A Midsummer Night’s Dream (the version with text by Adam McKeown and featuring art created by Antonio Javier Caparo), with some of our students.

A major element of the plot is the use of nectar from blossoms of the wild pansy aka Viola tricolor) to further complicate the already snarled romantic relationships between the characters in the play. Here’s how it works: after drops from one of these flowers falls onto someone’s sleeping eyes, that person will immediately fall deeply in love with the first person whom they encounter after waking.

Oberon, the fairy king, is quarreling with his wife, Titania, and he decides to try to get the upper hand in their dispute by having his servant, a sprite named Puck, use the juice from one of these flowers to cause the queen of the fairies to begin to adore one of the wild beasts that roam the forest, outside Athens, where much of the drama takes place. The image at the top of this post shows, at left, Puck administering love-in-idleness nectar to the eyes of a sleeping Titania. Almost as an afterthought, Oberon also tells Puck to use a second flower to resolve the romantic problems of four young mortals.

Some of our students' graphs of the romantic relationships between the mortal characters in Shakespeare's 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' before Puck, at the behest of Oberon, begins interfering.

Two Athenian youths, Hermia and Lysander, are deeply in love. Unfortunately, Hermia’s father promised his daughter’s hand in marriage to another young man, named Demetrius. Demetrius knows of Hermia’s love for Lysander but is nevertheless intent on making her his bride. At the same time, Demetrius is himself on the receiving end of unwanted amorous advances, from a friend of Hermia’s named Helena.

When Hermia sneaks out of the city to escape from her arranged marriage and join her one true love outside Athens, Helena rats her out in hopes of currying favor with Demetrius. While she may have tipped Demetrius off to Hermia’s flight, however, Helena has no desire to see Demetrius catch Hermia and drag her back to town for a forced wedding. On the contrary, Helena hopes that Hermia will get away and that Demetrius will have no alternative but to settle for her at last.

A double chase ensues, with Demetrius pursuing Hermia through the woods and Helena dogging Demetrius. Oberon, having overheard an exchange between Helena and Demetrius, gives Puck the task of dosing Demetrius with nectar from a love-in-idleness blossom and causing him to reciprocate Helena’s love.

The image above features the pre-nectar relationship graphs produced by four of our students for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Though Tiffany made a minor error in her graph, she was the first to respond correctly when we asked her and her classmates to point out the error that Caparo, the book’s illustrator, made when depicting the love-in-idleness flower.

As Tiffany explained (and as is set forth in McKeown’s version of the story), the wild pansy is predominately white and purple, but Caparo has given us a solid red flower!

Good job, Tiffany! Good work, everybody!

In this entry we wrote about A Midsummer Night's Dream, ChrisW2009, JerryW2012, TiffanyC2008, TrevinaY2012, William Shakespeare

Answering a question with a question: the Magic 8-Ball in Hiromi Goto’s Half World

Jeremy trying out a Magic 8-Ball

Melanie Tamaki, the teenage hero of Hiromi Goto’s Half World, travels between different planes of existence, crosses a living bridge composed of flying crows (twice!), accepts counsel from a talking green rat that conserves its strength by spending much of its time as an inanimate jade amulet, and battles a sadistic villain capable of swallowing his victims whole. She sets out to rescue her mother but succeeds in setting the entire Universe back on its proper course and saving both of her parents as a happy side effect.

In the photo above, you can see Jeremy trying out a kind of toy oracle known as a Magic 8-Ball. Though we ended up inviting all of our students to give it a whirl, we had originally brought it to our office last week so that we could give the young people who are currently reading Half World with us (children a few years senior to Jeremy and his classmates) a feel for what it must have felt like for Melanie to consult one, as she does several times during the course of the novel.

Goto’s Magic 8-Ball, as befits a children’s toy dragooned into service as a deus ex machina in a work of epic fantasy, is quite a bit different from the conventional model manufactured and sold by Mattel.

'Half World' by Hiromi Goto

For one thing, the Magic 8-Ball that Melanie uses is furnished to her by an intelligent but non-verbal raccoon that rolls it down a highway traffic tunnel and presents it to her moments before she plunges through a doorway into a realm referred to throughout the story as Half World but which is similar, in some respects, to the Christian theological construct known as Purgatory. She doesn’t buy her Magic 8-Ball in a ToysR’Us.

For another, the answers served up by the toy are quite different from the twenty stock answers compatible with yes-no questions (e.g. “WITHOUT A DOUBT”) that are available to users of real-world Magic 8-Balls. Melanie only gets to attempt to use the raccoon’s gift on four occasions during the story and, on the last try, it disintegrates in order to provide her with the keycard that she needs to enter the baddie’s hotel suite. Unfortunately for Melanie, its three replies come in the form of cryptic rhetorical questions, the meanings of which are unclear to a rattled and on-the-run Melanie desperate for clear and useful advice on how to stay alive and get out of Half World with her mom.

The answer given by the Magic 8-Ball in Hiromi Goto's 'Half World' to the hero's first question.

In the order that they appear throughout the story, the 8-Ball’s answers are: Can your part in destiny be fulfilled without your knowledge of the part? (pictured above), In times of crisis and indecision who will advise you?, and What your enemies inflict upon you will you inflict in return?. The first could be construed as a reminder that each of us needs to have a grasp of the realities that we’re facing (and perhaps a goal), the second seems to be an obfuscated call for self-reliance, and the third is a restatement of The Golden Rule.

The illustration in the snapshot above is one of a number scattered throughout Half World. Along with the book’s striking cover image, they are the work of Jillian Tamaki, a gifted artist who maintains a frequently-updated blog that’s always chock-full of gorgeous eye candy.

In this entry we wrote about Half World, Hiromi Goto, JeremyC2012

Highly visible English errors around town #1: IFC Starbucks

There are plenty of problems with the text on the pseudo-billboard visible in the photo above, snapped on Wednesday, July 31st at the Starbucks location inside the IFC Mall in Central. The misuse of capital letters and the complete absence of punctuation (a colon mid-sentence and a period or exclamation point at the end) would have been sufficient to elicit a sad sigh, but there’s an egregious grammar mistake that practically brings tears to our eyes whenever we gaze upon that image or, worse, patronize that Starbucks.

You’ve almost certainly spotted it by now but, if you haven’t, here it is: its should have been it’s (“it is”).
Select or highlight the text inside the gray area above to the left to see the answer!

With the title of this new section of our site, we’re paying homage to the New Yorker’s “Goings on About Town” department.

In this entry we wrote about Highly visible English errors around town

We’re reading Fahrenheit 451 this week!

This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the publication of Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury’s masterful tale of Guy Montag, a fireman living in a near-future United States who awakens to the horror of his vocation. Montag’s duty, like that of his father and his grandfather before him, is not to put out fires and save homes, but rather to root out and burn caches of books and the homes in which they’re hidden, providing a brief but exciting spectacle for those in the neighborhood who can manage to tear themselves away from the wall-TVs in their TV parlours or remove the Seashell ear-thimbles from their ears. When someone calls a tip in to a fire station, firemen ride their fire engines out to the suspect’s residence, hack its interior apart with their axes until they’ve turned up some books, and then soak the books with kerosene and set the house ablaze. Flamethrowers are employed when necessary.

At its core, Bradbury’s story contains a warning but, paradoxically, it’s one that tends to sail over the heads of many of the book’s staunchest advocates, no small number of librarians and teachers included. Regrettably, they lead many new readers to approach Fahrenheit 451 as though it were a simple story about the evils of censorship, but there’s much more to it than that. It’s true that the mere possession of a book, unless one is a first-time offender who happens to be a fireman with a very understanding captain, is enough to get one packed off to an insane asylum, but that’s not the result of a harshly authoritarian regime terrorizing a reluctant majority into sullenly pretending for appearance’s sake to forsake books and ratting out booklovers. Most of Montag’s fellow Americans are proudly anti-intellectual, strongly believe that books are filled with useless and confusing misinformation, and genuinely view reading, and particularly the enjoyment of reading, as a sign of a disordered mind.

Several characters, including both Montag’s primary antagonist and the ally whom Montag seeks out, originally, for guidance, tell him substantially the same story. Generations earlier, the pace of life had quickened and new media had arisen and had contended along with the written word for slices of people’s diminished leisure time. Simultaneously, population density had increased and society had begun fragmenting into myriad narrowly-defined, easily-offended interest groups.

In this climate, works of literature were relentlessly condensed in order to complete with simpler but more immediately stimulating forms of entertainment (e.g. television). To ensure that they appealed to the broadest possible audience, publishers and authors dumbed their content down to allow anyone willing to, for example, skim a one-page summary of Hamlet to claim that they had read the play. For the same reasons, they excised controversial and discomfiting themes and language to minimize the likelihood of any reader being offended. The result was that all media products became coarse, simplistic, and bland but newly-published books, because they lacked any audio-visual aspects, ended up being the least compelling. By the time that the authorities got around to repurposing the nation’s firefighters as firemen who hunted and destroyed books, doing so aroused little dissent.

In Fahrenheit 451, Bradbury isn’t telling us to be wary of censorship. He’s urging us to continue reading and to never stop challenging ourselves with sophisticated, meaty books.

The quote in the image at the top of this post comes from the foreword that Bradbury crafted for a fortieth-anniversary edition back in 1993. The foreword was used as the afterword for the hardcover, cloth-bound special edition released this year by Harper/Voyager UK (vector-flame-emblazoned cover shown above), which we’re going to begin reading in some classes this week.

The photo of the burning books (Book burning) was taken in May 2007 by pcrreia and made available under the Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.

In this entry we wrote about Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury