August 22, 2012
Thoughts on Activities and a Matter of Batter
When Mary Kay, Brandon, and I launched this blog last summer, we took the advice of digital media guru Jane Friedman, who writes Electric Speed (http://janefriedman.com) and tried to make it useful. Hence a book blog that offers you, our readers, activities to print and share. Activities help our readers grasp something about the people and times we write about.
Which leads to my new book, Rightfully Ours: How Women Won the Vote with 21 Activities. Reviews are out, and it’s been gratifying to see that a year of hard work -- and planning and writing up 21 themed, hands-on activities -- has gotten positive reviews. Here’s one:
Activities, which make the suffragist years come alive, are educational and fun and related to chapter materials. Included are detailed instructions for making soap and an oil lamp, making and wearing a corset, china painting, and designing suffragist postcards and signs.
The only downside is the activities, which range from slightly silly (dress up like an ancient Greek for suffrage!) to simply wrong (cake mix does not taste as good as a cake made from scratch).
The second review left me scratching my head. Yup, I rely on cake mix in an activity in Rightfully Ours. It’s “Bake a Cake for Suffrage” iced with a recipe from the Woman Suffrage Cook Book (1890). After all, today’s parents have little time to ferret out some of these 19th century recipes, so I figured making icing from scratch on the stove was good enough. But it was the reviewer’s take on the dress-up activity that made me wonder whether s/he had read the whole book.
Suffragists did indeed dress up like Greek goddesses when they staged a “tableau” on the Treasury Department steps. And I assure you that the little girl who served as my student helper thought it was pretty cool -- she was all excited about making the laurel wreath.
From time to time all of us have been chided for our activities -- that they’re too easy, too esoteric, too “silly” (that from Kirkus), require adult supervision (often an editorial must) -- but be assured that we take them seriously. Teachers tell us there are lots of middle grade kids, especially boys, who have no clue how to follow simple directions, enlarge patterns, score a piece of cardboard, or even cut a circle with a pair of scissors.
Besides, when you look back on your days in school, which do you remember most: all those hours of desk work, or the special projects you made at home or built in school?