Friday, October 19, 2007

The Poe Wars of 2007: or A Tale of At Least Two Cities

It's been a while, but here's a great story from Doug Grudzina, creator and author of many of our top-selling products such as 3 Simple Truths and 6 Essential Traits of Powerful Writing and Prestwick AP Teaching Units.


It was destined from the start to become an internecine battle of epic proportions. If people had fought for his friendship in his life the way they’re fighting for his remains, he might have lived a vastly different life and had a vastly different career. But, then again, he might have had a vastly different impact on American literature. Still, the brouhaha that has erupted between Philadelphia, PA and Baltimore, MD over which city should hold the distinction of Edgar Allan Poe’s burial place is a conflict unrivaled since that last war between the North and the South.

On Thursday, October 4, Philadelphia writer, reviewer and blogger Edward Pettit threw down the gauntlet. Philadelphia, he claimed in an article in the Philadelphia City Paper— and not Baltimore—should be the final resting place of Edgar Allan Poe:

Philadelphia’s claim to burial rights, according to Pettit is that it was “while living in Philadelphia [that] Poe wrote the bulk of his greatest work.”

“Other warned,” he contends. “Acolytes of Poe will be flocking to Philadelphia [in 2009to celebrate the two hundredth anniversary of the writer’s birth] to celebrate our Edgar.” Poe did, after all, live and write in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Richmond. He spent time in West Point and London as well. The man got around.

Still, it was in Baltimore that he died and was buried. Mystery writer—and proud Baltimorean—Laura Lippman immediately joined the fray:

Possession is nine-tenths of the law, and this fact is indisputable: We have the body,” she retorts in her City Paper rejoinder. “While it's true that the work he produced in Baltimore is not particularly distinctive,” she parries Pettit’s bulk-of-his-greatest-work thrust, “it was in Baltimore that Poe won a literary contest that was pivotal to his sense of himself as a real writer.”

She continues, “What have you done for Poe lately, Philadelphia? We named our football team the Ravens ... We have a Poe room in our Central Library. We even have a housing project called the Poe Homes ... And it is here, every Jan. 19, that the Poe Toaster comes to pay his respects. Granted, the memorial to Poe gets his birthday wrong, but it was the 19th century, before Google made fact-checking so much easier.”

In case you don’t remember the story, Edgar Allan Poe (who in those days simply went by “Edgar Poe”—Eddie to his friends), was traveling from Richmond, Virginia, to either Philadelphia (where he had a business appointment) or New York (where he lived), when he was found in Baltimore on October 3, 1849. He was delirious, in obvious distress, and dressed in ragged clothing that was not his. He was taken to the Washington College Hospital, where he died early on the morning of October 7. He was never coherent long enough to explain why he was in Baltimore and how he came to be in such a predicament. The precise cause of Poe's death remains a mystery although there are numerous theories. His funeral—in Baltimore on October 8—lasted barely three minutes, and was attended by a mere seven people.

Poe was originally buried in his family’s plot in a neglected and overgrown back corner of the Westminster burying ground of the First Presbyterian Church in Baltimore. In 1875, he was exhumed and reburied under a huge marble monument closer to the front of the cemetery. The monument was paid for in part by donations from Baltimore’s school children and in part by a sizeable donation from a George W. Childs—of Philadelphia.

Once the battle lines were drawn, everyone, it seemed, wanted a piece of the action: and the issue escalated from turf war to outright cultural crusade. Baltimore Sun columnist Laura Vozzella asserts that it is no wonder that “A city known for a bell that's broken and a delicacy that's Cheez Whiz-ed” would want to enhance its cultural reputation by stealing Edgar Allan Poe from Baltimore. Sparring against Pettit’s main point she writes, “It was here in Baltimore... where he wrote his first true horror story.”

Baltimore is also where Poe met his cousin and future wife Virginia Clemm. If Philadelphia is so desperate for a famous corpse, Vozella offers, they can have John Wilkes Booth.

Then things got really ugly. On Wednesday, October 10, Philly’s Daily Examiner blogger A.J. Daulerio responded to the Cheez-Whiz crack by calling Baltimoreans “crabcake-stuffed cranks.” City Paper managing editor Brian Hickey wrote of Baltimore’s “offer” to give Philly the body of Booth, “I’d expect nothing less from the syphilis capital of the universe.”

On Thursday (October 11), Boston blogger Jeremy Dibbell, who describes himself as a “bibliophile, haunter of used bookstores, and library science/history grad student at Simmons College” declined to enter Boston into the arena.

“We'll let Baltimore and Philly fight this one out,” he writes, “we wouldn't want to rile up the Brahmins.” Granted, he notes Poe was born in Boston and did sign his first published work Tamerlane and Other Poems, “By A Bostonian.” But Poe and his work were not well-received in Boston. Poe and the other Boston literati did not get along well, and Poe would eventually write that he was “ashamed” to have been born in Beantown. Dibbell quotes a January 28 story in the Boston Globe "His name is not routinely uttered on tours of the city, nor does it appear among the 1,000-plus attractions on the city's tourism website. Boston has neither a Poe statue nor a Poe museum—only a small plaque commemorating his birthplace on the outside wall of a luggage store.” Author Matthew Pearl, however, in an October 18 e-mail to Ed Pettit seems to hint at wanting to pick up the gauntlet on behalf of Boston. Pettit’s reply is a hearty bring it on.

Still Philly and Baltimore, both proud of their associations with the tortured poet, are at the forefront of the mêlée. On Sunday the 14th, Vozella defended her city against Hickey’s attack
insisting that Baltimore was only fourth on the list of syphilis capitals of the world.

 “Philly didn't mind when Baltimore beat back the Brits in 1814,” she writes, “but we defend our most famous author and -- sheesh!”

Finally, on Monday, October 15, the Philadelphia Inquirer couldn’t resist piping in. Book critic Carlin Romano claims: At one minute after midnight on Sunday—notably after deadline—a dark-haired figure in black cape and boots tossed two sheets of paper into The Inquirer's lobby, then fled. They contained only a poem, written in black ink, apparently in third person... ‘The War Over E.A.P.’ (With Apologies to My Darling, My Darling, Annabel Lee).” The text of the mysterious poem is here.

And that, given Pettit’s Bibliothecary entry of October 18, in which he welcomes Boston’s entry into the tussle, is the closest to an up-to-the-minute report on the Poe Wars we can offer. If you know of any more recent updates, let us know.

Meanwhile, there’s a LOT a teacher can do with his or her kids—research Poe’s life, read the works allegedly written during Poe’s stays in his myriad homes, and have an informed debate on who has the ultimate right to claim the poet’s remains. Maybe they’ll decide, as Pearl concludes in his e-mail to Pettit, “one of the extraordinary and potent things about Poe is that he doesn't belong to any one home, city, country. He's forever the orphan.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Pirates in the Classroom


As some of you may know, today, September 19th, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Here at Prestwick House, an occasional "arrr" or "avast" can be heard throughout the office.

You're probably wondering what this has to do with teaching or English language arts. Thanks to some great information posted on the official web site for International Talk Like a Pirate Day, you too can partake in a fun pirate-themed day and make it educational for your students! The site lists pirate curriculum and lesson plans (and links) from other teachers, including:

Perhaps you could show the video of Treasure Island, or begin using our Teaching Unit which includes nautical, pirate and general vocabulary, a multiple choice and short essay test, as well as discussion questions.

International Talk Like a Pirate Day is already upon us, but now you can start planning for next year's events, even if yer a landlubber!

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In Memoriam: Madeleine L’Engle

I just got the news today, that Madeleine L'Engle, author of the young adult favorite, A Wrinkle in Time, passed away on Friday.

Ms. L'Engle first wrote A Wrinkle in Time over 45 years ago, yet it's impact is still felt today. It's one of those books that opens a child's eyes to the power of imagination and the joys of reading. Though I can't remember the details of the story clearly, I still remember sitting at my desk in grade school using spare moments to catch a few more pages of A Wrinkle in Time.

Ms. Le'Engle may have passed on, but her books are still popular in classrooms for the joy they bring to students.

Link to New York Times Story.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Road - Book Review

I just finished the latest Oprah book club selection, The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and I'm amazed at how different it is than the stereotype of what her book choices are. It's a far cry from Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie or Night by Elie Wiesel.

As readers of All the Pretty Horses know, McCarthy isn't the cheeriest writer on the planet, but his new book does an amazing job capturing the horror and desperation of a post-nuclear world.

McCarthy's spare style is a perfect parallel to the isolation felt by a father and son, known only as "the man" and "the boy," as they walk alone down the titular road. The themes of the role of the family, the decadence of the world, and the search for one's place in the world are all explored in a new way in this book.

I wouldn't recommend this book to young students as it does depict some terrifying scenes of cannibalism and brutality, but if you have a class of mature students looking for something contemporary to read, this would be an engaging choice.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Prestwick House in Your Mail Box

Keep your eyes open-- the Prestwick House Fall Update is officially in the mail -- if your school opened before Monday the 20th, you should receive your Fall Update Catalogue any day now! It's packed with lots of great new materials for your classroom this year.

If you'd like to request a Prestwick House Catalogue, click here to make sure you receive one ASAP.

Also, check your E-mail inbox, because we're launching our new Prestwick House E-mail newsletter, Footnotes*, this month. In each month's newsletter, you'll find out about new products, interesting projects, and you'll get a special discount code valid on our site for Footnotes subscribers only. Click here to sign up for the Prestwick House Newsletter.

*If you've been a Prestwick House customer for a while, you may remember our old physical Footnotes newsletter: filled with articles, contests, and editorials on our favorite new classroom books.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

The Delaware Shakespeare Festival

Last weekend, the author of Vocabulary from Latin and Greek Roots and I went up to Wilmington to check out the Delaware Shakespeare Festival's production of Richard III.

First of all, I've got to say that the Delaware Shakespeare Festival has one of the best locations to see a play, and we caught a perfect night-- cool without a cloud in the sky. Rockwood Mansion serves as a fantastic backdrop to a nice night of Shakespeare. You can bring along a picnic blanket and sit under the stars. The performance is outdoors with a solid lighting system and great sound.

As for the play, they did a very good job. I'm always a bit of a perfectionist geek when it comes to editorial cuts, but they did a good with a play that I've always felt has most of it's great dialog early. The director did manage to cut one of my favorite speeches, Clarence's Dream, in which he describes to his jailer his nightmare of drowning. It always haunts me as a high water mark in this play.

In any case, the actor playing Richard, David Stradley, completely owned the show. He did a fantastic job dominating the stage in the way that Richard is written to dominate the play. Every other actor is left with fairly weak roles to do their best with, and most do admirably well. You both loathe and feel empathy for Richard, one of Shakespeare's most intriguing characters.

If you're in Delaware or Philly, and looking for a nice night out this weekend, I'd highly recommend heading out to see the show's last weekend. At only $10 for tickets, it's a bargain for a nice night out.

Note: Sorry for the lack of a lot of recent blog entries, but I've been putting the final
touches on our fall catalogue, which should be hitting the mail in a few days. We've got LOTS of new products in this catalogue, so keep your eyes on your mailbox. If you don't think you've ever seen our catalogue before, and you'd like to request one, Click here to get our Fall Update Catalogue.


Friday, July 20, 2007

Free New Prestwick House Products to Bloggers!

Alright folks, here's the deal. We've got a lot of new programs that we'll be releasing with our new Fall Update Catalogue, which will hit the mail in the middle of August.

I'd like to get some of you influential bloggers out there a free copy of any of our new series or books so that you can review them and let the world know what you think, so if you'd like to get a free copy of any of these books and you're willing to review them on your blog, just drop me an E-mail at keith [at] with your address. I'll package up whatever book or program interests you and send it off. All you need to do is share your opinion with the world. It's that easy.

So, here's a first glance at the new products we'll be premiering this fall.

Literary Black Belt Certification Program
SAT Words from Literature
Grammar for Writing
PowerPoint for the Classroom
Standards of Excellence: Excelling on the CAHSEE
Use Rhetoric for Reading and Writing
Writing Rules of the Road


I'm only releasing the titles for now, but over the next few weeks keep your eyes open for more info. This is the first place we'll announce further details. If any of these titles catch your eye, drop me an E-mail and we'll send a free copy to the first three requesters who promise to share their opinions.


Thursday, July 5, 2007

Animal Farm: The CIA and the Communist Pigs

In light of the CIA's "Family Jewels" document coming to light, this might be of interest to a few of you out there. I don't think it's necessarily insidious, but it's certainly interesting.

There are two versions of George Orwell's classic available on DVD, the 1954 animated version, and the 1999 computer animated/live action version. The 1954 animated version has the winning vote for interest and accuracy here at Prestwick House, although the newer one is visually quite interesting and packs a fair amount of star-power into the voices.

This article from the London Review of Books taught me something new about the movie though, that will make me go back to it with a little bit different eye.

In 1954, the CIA was in the midst of a battle with Communism for the hearts and minds of the world, so in light of that they sponsored the creation of a film version of George Orwell's classic, Animal Farm.

While Animal Farm has a decidedly Anti-Communist (or at least anti-Soviet) bent, according to this article the CIA wanted it a bit more cut and dry.

They used their influence on the film's ending. Instead of the book's ending where the pig rulers begin to work with the neighbors to oppress the farm animals, this cartoon changed it so that the neighbors came to the aid of the oppressed farm animals to overthrow the pigs. A subtle change, sure but an interesting view. In addition, apparently the CIA consultants suggested that Snowball is too likable a character, so they may have made him a little less appealing.

This is a fantastic opportunity to work with your colleagues in the history department to tie together the cold war, and it provides a new angle for a research report for your students. I love opportunities to discuss with students why decisions were made to vary from the source text. It's a way to get students to think critically about what they're reading (and it makes sure that students don't use the video as a replacement for the text).

Incidentally, the 1999 film also varies the ending of the film to show the eventual decline and fall of communism. Today's students will probably feel that this ending was inevitable and understood even in the day the book was written.

Link to video.
Link to article.

Monday, July 2, 2007

The Shakespeare Question

Until recently, I never gave much thought to the Shakespeare Authorship question (and it looks like I'm not alone from this survey by the New York Times). [UPDATE: Looks like the NYT has put it behind their registration wall. In any case, not many college professors spend much time on "the question."]

On a lark, I picked up the Audio Book Shakespeare by Another Name by Mark Anderson, an account of the life of Edward De Vere, the Duke of Oxford in which De Vere is put forth as the true author of Shakespeare's plays. I can't say that I'm 100% convinced, but his argument was fairly persuasive. At some times, however, it really seemed like he was grasping at straws (the hidden coded images in the first folio's pictures sound like they came from the Da Vinci Code, not real life), and the connection between William Shakespeare the Actor and De Vere seems a little weak.

What's interesting is I also recently read Greenblatt's highly-readable biography of William Shakespeare as the author of the plays, and there are a number of points that seemed a bit odd and forced in that story too, although using Shakespeare's text, Greenblatt draws an interesting characterization of the Bard of Avon's life and mind.

I didn't realize the amount of rancor behind the battle between the Oxfordians, Stratfordians, et al., but it seems to come down to a deeper question than a simple historical question. In some ways, it comes down to a discussion of the nature of the genius behind these works and the nature vs. nurture argument.

Can the genius of Shakespeare come from the mind of a simple glove maker's son, or does it need to develop from a rigorous education? Each theory holds a certain appeal to me. The poor boy makes good through his own powers is the classic American story in some ways, but it smacks of a certain predestination in which Shakespeare is almost super human. This is the Shakespeare that barely ever needed to blot his paper because what was written once was perfect. On the other hand we have De Vere's approach in which a man struggles, writing multiple drafts of his plays over many years, basing them on an education steeped in a wide variety of subject areas. Suddenly, Shakespeare's less of a god and more of a man, and he's certainly much more approachable. This theory leaves me with a bit of hope that anyone can, through hard work, achieve brilliance.

In either case, it's the works of Shakespeare that are important now, rather than the life of he who created it. Still, it's fun to have multiple lenses from which to view the plays.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Book Review: The Secret Life of Bees

I just finished reading Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, which has quickly become on of our top selling new books, and I can see why.

I have to admit that, although I thought this was going to be the saccharine story of a girl's coming of age, I really enjoyed reading it. Although it will draw the inevitable comparisons with To Kill a Mockingbird, a story about a young girl's coming of age in a racially charged South, Kidd's story maintains its own identity in building a strong feminist voice without creating an anti-male feeling.

This book should succeed in many classrooms -- especially if you're looking for a book to engage young female readers.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Who's on First? Shakespeare Style

Well, I've fulfilled my requirement of a few posts between each interesting and amusing Shakespearean post, so today I've got a video to share courtesy of The Shakespeare Theater of New Jersey (with thanks to News on the Rialto) of what would happen were Laurel and Hardy born in the Elizabethan Age.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Vocabulary from Latin and Greek Flashcards

This is so cool!

A customer of ours who felt that she needed flashcards for her students using Vocabulary from Latin and Greek Roots Book V, has used the site Flashcard Exchange to make freely available flashcards for the book!

If you're using it, jump on these freebies! You can use them online, you can print them, and with a premium membership you can export them.

I love it.

(I'm not sure who you are, browneyedgirl108911, but thanks!)


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

AEP Awards: Two Winners from Prestwick House!

Well the awards are over, the Capitol Steps have sung, and Prestwick House emerged from our second year of involvement with AEP with two DAA awards for the best products in two categories.

In the category of Fiction, English Language Arts our guided anthology of classic and original poetry Discovering Genre: Poetry was awarded the DAA.

In the category of Professional Development Instructional Books, the new ShakesFear and How to Overcome It beat some very high quality materials to take home the award.

Congratulations to everyone who worked so hard on these projects: Paul, Larry, Ralph Cohen, Jeremy, Lisa, Emily and Mary! (sorry if I forgot anyone!)

More details on the judges' comments coming soon.


And congratulations to all of the other winners -- coming to an event like this one really makes you excited about all of the great new materials coming to classrooms soon.

Finally, thanks to Doug and everyone from AEP, you put on a great event here.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Live Blogging from the AEP Seminar!

I'm currently in our nation's capital as we approach the end of this year's Association of Educational Publishers Annual Meeting and Convention, and it's been a good weekend for sparking creativity and bringing about a handful of new ideas.

A few moments ago, I just got out of a Town Hall Meeting with 4 nationally recognized educators from the DC area including Philip Bigler the 1998 National Teacher of the Year, Kim Burke-Ables the 2006 DC Teacher of the Year, Jason Kamras 2005 National Teacher of the Year, and 2007 teacher of the year Githa Natarajan. These town hall meetings are fantastic and we got to hear from some innovative teachers on the big issues and the small ones. One simple question I'd like to pose to all of you is, "What do you want from a supplemental publisher like Prestwick House?"

The teachers on the panel were interested in easy-to-use products (always a focus at Prestwick House), focuses on standards that were clearly labeled (good news on this front -- we're currently working on a project to align our products to every state's standards), with a differentiation component built in (we'll work on this!)

Other big issues from the week was the whole web 2.0 buzz word thing that I'm doing right now ;) and figuring out the best and most valuable way to get you products. Right now, you're probably aware of Prestwick House Downloadables --all of our Teaching Guides are available instantly in a DRM-free, .pdf, E-book format as well as the traditional paper "dead tree" version. We're working on projects to get many of our books available in more formats and hopefully soon you'll be able to get them in any version you'd like.

Tonight is the awards banquet for the AEP's distinguished achievement awards -- last year we won in two products, our Language of Advertising Posters and our Tale of Two Cities Spotlight edition.

This year we've got four new products nominated, and hopefully, I'll be able to log on tonight/tomorrow morning to tell you we won!

Sorry for any typos and lack of formating -- my new laptop doesn't have firefox so this WYSIWYG engine is behaving a little oddly.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ayn Rand Essay Contest

When I (Jasmine) was in high school, there was a small poster from the Ayn Rand Institute by the door proclaiming two essay contests; one was on Anthem and the other one on The Fountainhead. The essays had to be on the philosophical themes in the works respective to the grades (Anthem was for Grades 9-10, The Fountainhead for Grades 11-12).

I had heard of the third book (the third essay contest for college-level students) Atlas Shrugged and had a faint idea of what Ayn Rand wrote about, but to my knowledge no one in my high school classes did.

However, since the essay contests can act as a scholarship opportunity (the Grand Prize for the Anthemcontest is $2,000, with the Grand Prize for The Fountainhead contest being $10,000) an easy way for teachers to introduce the material and encourage students to enter is to contact the Ayn Rand Institute directly. They offer lesson plans for teachers, as well as free sets of books, a teacher's kit, and various other materials and resources. Another resource may even be local college/university students or professors; the books can be dense and intimidating, but if you want to introduce the material, put out the news and perhaps someone will come and volunteer to give a brief introduction to Objectivism, the philosophy underlying Ayn Rand's literary works and critiques.

Essay Contest Details
The Ayn Rand Institute's Teaching Resources
Prestwick House Ayn Rand Materials
Fountainhead Materials
Anthem Materials

Note from Keith: Jasmine is our newest Prestwick House employee working on a special project for us correlating all of our products to each state's standards, so that we can more easily let you know what meets your needs. We've got lots of great plans on how to use this information to help you find exactly what you're looking for. In the meantime, if you need some info on how our books meet your specific states' standards, let us know and we'll let you know what we've found so far!

2007 Prestwick House National Curriculum Advisory Board Members

I've been out of town at the 2007 Spoleto Festival in Charleston, SC, so I'm sorry if you've been desperately awaiting new news from Prestwick House.

I'd like to make the official announcement that Prestwick House has selected 13 dedicated teachers to join our National Curriculum Advisory Board -- keeping us up to date on the latest and greatest news in English Education and reviewing our newest products before they're available to everyone else.

So, with no further ado, our 2007 selections are:

Peter Glaser from RL Paschal High School
Don Braden from Barstow High School
Lynne Eloise Bramlett from Evergreen Valley High School
Kris Rasmussen from Northwest Academy School
Lu Ann Malkin from CA Asian Tutorial Service
Heather M. Dennull from Colonial White High School/ Academic Magnet Academy
Maureen Maroney from Christian Brothers Academy
Amy E. Conrad from Fair Lawn High School
Kristi L Price from harrison High School
Tanya Persaud-White from the Dekalb School of the Arts
Kathleen Carr from New Castle High School
Sharon M. Ammon from Memorial High School

Thanks to everyone involved in the PHNCAB! We appreciate your taking time to help us make products that help teachers across the country.

Incidentally, if you're ever looking for a great trip right after the school year ends, I highly recommend visiting Charleston (one of my favorite cities) during the Spoleto Arts Festival. I won't hijack this post too much raving over how exciting it is, but in one week I was able to see the fantastic Jazz Chanteuse Rene Marie, some intriguing dance from the RubberBand Dance Company, a play by Somerset Maugham, an Opera based on Faust, a funny play called Major Bang: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Dirty Bomb, and the Westminster Choir. You can't go wrong with a trip filled like that!

Monday, May 21, 2007

2007 National Shakespeare Competition

As you can probably tell by now, I'm a huge Shakespeare fan. I'm trying, on occasion, to mention other authors, since surely there's another author or two out there. But right now, I'm reading Stephen Greenblatt's biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World, so I'm a bit focused on the Bard of Avon.

So, in my digging, I ran across these amazing videos of High School Students performing Shakespeare. Wow, are they good. The first kid is as good as any Shakespearean Actor I've ever seen. Take a few minutes to check out his and some of the other 16,000 entries at the Shakespeare Competition Website.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Linguistical Analysis of LOLcats

Okay, so you may not be familiar with the internet meme du'jour called LOLcats (my favorite one is posted to the left), but this article should be amusing to anyone interested in the way language changes, especially in how rapidly it changes with the internet and text messages.

Lolcats are amusing images of animals, primarily cats, with text on them in the vein of the old "hang in there" posters, used primarily sarcastically in online message boards -- some are cute, some are funny, and some are vulgar.

In these images, cats have their own kind of pidgin English (Don't be laughin I are learnin to waltz.) which they speak which people have noted has a -- some are cute, some are funny, and some are vulgar. In the last few (weeks/months?) the movement of creating new ones has grown at an amazing rate. This article analyzes their growth from a linguistic perspective -- you'll get a kick out of it.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Prestwick House Poster Review

Last year we submitted some posters to Edutopia, the George Lucas Educational Foundation magazine, for review, and didn't hear back from them.

We sent them a copy of both our Language of Politicians and AEP award winning Language of Advertising posters.

Well, it looks like they liked them. They were given a brief review in October's issue.

Both poster sets are designed to prepare your students to listen & read with a critical eye and ear what advertisers and politicians are saying. They're a great introduction to rhetorical devices, and as the election frenzy gets underway, it's a great opportunity to get students thinking about the use of language.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thanks National Curriculum Advisory Board!

We'd like to extend our thanks to the two members of the 2006 National Curriculum Advisory Board, Barbara Bretherick and Catharine Routh.

Members of the Prestwick House National Curriculum Advisory board are chosen from an extensive list of dedicated teachers to help keep us up to date on the latest trends in the educational field.

Each member is given a stipend of $300 to pay for curriculum materials as well as sample copies of many new & in-development to review. On their own, these teachers give us valuable insight into what teachers are looking for in new products and what we can do to make our products more useful.

This year's advisory board was very helpful in getting many of our newest products, especially 3 Simple Truths and 6 Essential Traits of Powerful Writing, our New Poe Anthology, and Discovering Genre: Poetry off the ground and into classrooms.

Due to the success of the 2006/2007 program, we're extending the PHNCAB to 13 members this year. We're in the final stages of selection, and we'll announce all those who are chosen next week. If you'd like to be considered as a member of next year's PHNCAB, send me an E-mail at keith[at] and we'll send you an application!

We're very proud to have a group of teachers helping us out who are so dedicated to their profession. Thanks!

Thursday, May 3, 2007

Book Review: The Life of Pi

Since Yann Martel's appearance at last year's NCTE conference, we've seen a big uptick in teacher interest in his book The Life of Pi, winner of the 2002 Man Booker Prize, though many teachers still aren't familiar with this fun story, and some with just a back-cover knowledge may have put it aside (or considered adding it) to their classroom, when it might be a good (or bad) choice.

Summary: Pi Patel is a young man growing up in a zoo in India. In the first third of the book (my favorite part) we find Pi wandering the streets of India getting to know many holy men, and becoming a devote of Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism. He gets himself in trouble because he doesn't feel that these religions are mutually exclusive, while everyone else tells him he must choose one faith and follow only that faith.

When Pi's family plans to move their zoo to Canada, they board a ship for the journey. Caught in a storm the ship goes down, and when the chaos ends, Pi finds himself aboard a life raft with an Orangutan, a hyeena, and a Bengal tiger. The bulk of the story involves young Pi's survival at sea on a life raft on a tarpaulin over the head of a 400 lb. Bengal tiger. His ingenuity and faith keeps him alive for 227 days as he fishes, not only for himself, but also for his tiger.

The story eventually gains a bit of a surrealistic quality, and I won't spoil the ending, but you'll be left wondering at the end what's real and what's imaginary.

While I'd recommend the book to many classrooms, and as far as I remember, there's little or no foul language, there is a bit of cannibalism that might come as a bit of a shock to some readers. The story, however, is told in a delightful way that will really interest most of your students, and there's really something in here for everyone.


Friday, April 27, 2007

Using Shakespeare in Conversation

In the latest Talk of the Nation, blogger Joe Muldoon and head of the Folger Library, Gail Pastor, discuss using Shakespeare in everyday conversation.

They take calls from listeners about their favorite Shakespeare quote, and how they weave it into conversation. It may sound a little pompous from time to time, but hey, if you can't seem elitist around friends, who can you sound elitist around?

It's hard to pick out a favorite quote, but I think my favorite to pull out in everyday conversation is from Caesar, "Yond Cassius has a lean and hungry look, He thinks too much; such men are dangerous."

By the way: If you're ever looking for a specific quote for any occasion, one of my favorite Shakespeare Resources is the Shakespeare Lexicon and Quotation Dictionary. The Lexicon contains every word used by Shakespeare, cross referenced, so you can always find a relevant quote for a bulletin board or handout. (Sorry there's no copy/image on our site for this one yet. I promise we're working on it.)

What are your favorites?

Thanks News on the Rialto.


Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Concert Review: Lorenna McKennitt

Last night, a few of us Prestwick Housers took a road trip after work it to Washington, DC to see Loreena McKennitt in concert at the DAR Constitution Hall.

If you've not heard Ms. McKennit's music before, try to imagine Celtic folk with a middle eastern twist and beautiful soaring vocals. Then, when you can't actually imagine that, head on over to her web page, Quinlan Road and check out the samples that she shares.

If you like what you hear, make sure you check out tickets to the show -- her first tour in a decade. She and her band do a magnificent job weaving a rich tapestry of sound with 10 musicians on stage at a time and at least two dozen different instruments ranging from McKennitt's harp and piano to the Hurdy Gurdy, a wide range of drums, and more. It's probably the most well-orchestrated show I've ever seen.

Why does this bring a group of educational publishers to our capital, and why would it be of interest to English teachers?

Well, Ms. McKennitt's music has a deep literary tradition. Among the songs she played last night was a musical version of Tennyson's The Lady of Shallot (video available here), Penelope's Song, the story of Odysseus's travels from his wife's point of view, and The Highwayman, an adaptation of an Alfred Noyes poem.

Living in Stratford, ON -- home of the Stratford Shakespeare festival, she also has a history of working in Shakespeare having written a song to Prospero's closing speech from The Tempest and music to a song from Cymbeline.

If you're looking to inspire your students with the relevancy of poetry to modern life or get them working on a creative adaptation of a favorite poem, these might be of interest to your students, even if I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud by MC Nuts isn't.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Book Review: Cathy's Book

More than just a book, Cathy's Book is an experiment in breaking down the barriers between the reader and and the read.

Written as a collaboration between writers and game designers, Cathy's Book is presented as a beautifully illustrated journal of a teenage girl who disappeared. As students read the book they'll come across a number of "clues" that encourage participation with the book, such as the phone number on the cover (Go ahead, dial 650-266-8233), websites, and physical clues included in a pouch in the cover.

It's a surefire way to grab your students' attention, and I bet that the discussion surrounding this book would be dynamite as students tested their theories and solved the puzzles.

While there was some controversy surrounding the book due to a paid product placement, it seems not to have affected the story.

I'd love to hear any stories of how this was used in a classroom and how it was received.


Thanks Jessica -- Here's Bud's review of the book & here's Clarence Fisher's review.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Reading First Results

The Department of Education released data today confirming that Reading First has helped students become better readers.

While marred in controversy over how the program was run, it's always fantastic news when we hear that students are becoming better writers.

On average, the number of students exceeding or meeting the standards on fluency by 16% in first graders, 14% in second graders, and 15% in third graders.

Hopefully, we'll see these results translate into more than better test scores as these students mature into lifelong readers.


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Student Shakespeare Internship!

While I love huge and elaborate productions of Shakespeare, like the Tempest I saw at the Almeida, in which they built a pool on stage, there's something amazing about small, local Shakespeare Festival.

The Delaware Shakespeare Festival doesn't have the draw of some of the larger Shakespeare Festivals, like Shakespeare in the Park or The Oregon Shakespeare Festival but it has all of the charm of a larger festival, and it's well worth a trip to Rockford Park to see them.

This summer they'll be performing one of my favorites (despite the odd scene where Richard somehow woos the wife of someone he murdered!), Richard III.

For any budding Shakespereans in your class, they've also put together a fantastic internship program that they announced today! For students aged 13-18, they're offering a 4-week intensive Shakespeare course that culminates in a student performance.

This is followed by an opportunity to intern as a production assistant at this year's festival -- Should be a great opportunity!


Friday, April 13, 2007

On Context

I ran across this article from the Washington Post last night, and while it's not about English, literature, or teaching, I think it raises some interesting points of discussion for teachers.

Joshua Bell, the world renowned concert violinist, was recruited for a social experiment. During most of his concerts, he plays his multi-million dollar Stradivarius to hushed and reverent audiences in the greatest concert halls of the world. What would happen if he were to take the stage in a subway posing as a common busker playing for change in a Washington subway station?

Virtually no one stops to take time from their busy lives except for children, who almost universally want to stop and hear the music while their parents pull them away. The experience of a subway performance is so different from the experience of a concert-hall performance, people don't even seem to recognize it.

How much does the context and environment affect the way that we appreciate artwork? When your students pick up Catch-22 because you've told them to, will they have a different experience from when they pick it up at a bookstore because it caught their eye? Is the humor perceived differently? Do students see the story's non-linear telling as interesting instead of difficult?

Does anyone have any anecdotes or stories about their own experience with students in different environments?

Are there any tricks you have to break people from their preconceived notions about "school books"?


Thursday, April 12, 2007

4 Finalists in this Year's AEP Awards!

We've just been notified that we're a finalist in four categories of the AEP's Distinguished Achievement Awards!

Last year, we won in the Poster category for our Language of Advertising Posters and in the text book category for Tale of Two Cities in our Spotlight Edition Series.

This year, we've been nominated as a finalist for:

Slaughter-House Five in our Multiple Critical Perspectives Series
The Grade 8 Version of our Practice Makes Perfect Series
ShakesFear and How to Cure It
Discovering Genre: Poetry

We're thrilled and proud of this nomination! I hope you find these books as useful in your classroom!

Rest in Peace -- Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

I first discovered Kurt Vonnegut as part of a 9th Grade, extended reading program (Thanks Mrs. Chanson!). While I can't say I enjoyed every book in the program (I'm still not a fan of Dorian Grey, despite my love Wilde's plays.)I was immediately enthralled by Vonnegut's playful use of language and absurdity in sharing some remarkably deep ideas.

Through the year's I've picked up Cat's Cradle, Slaughter House 5, and Breakfast of Champions time and again, and each time, I'm thrilled to find something new. Each time, I'm delighted to find that a re-read of his books doesn't dilute the joy that comes from his books.

Vonnegut died last night after a fall last week left him with irreversible brain injuries. He will be sorely missed by fans across the globe, but his works will live on thanks to fans, teachers, and students who will continue to be delighted for generations to come.

RIP --Kurt Vonnegut (1922-2007)

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Shakespeare's Birthday Open House - April 21

It's getting close to that time of year again, Shakespeare's Birthday!

Last year, a few of us drove down to visit our friends at The American Shakespeare Centre for the Bard's birthday. (The director of the ASC, Dr. Ralph Cohen, is the author of the recent Prestwick House Release, ShakesFear and How to Overcome It: A Guide to Teaching Shakespeare, and the ASC has been doing editorial work our list of Shakespeare Literary Touchstone Classics).

This year, we're inviting all of you to come visit us!

We're having an open house -- complete with Birthday Cake, performances of Shakespeare by students from The Cab Calloway School, a tour of our facilities, and elephant rides (Okay, so we won't have elephant rides, but wouldn't that be fun?).

So, RSVP by E-mailing us at info[at] or calling us at 800-932-4593 if you want to stop by our offices in Smyrna, DE on April, 21.

Wordsworth the Rapper???

While the link between hip-hop and poetry isn't new, this video from the Cumberland Lake district is certainly... interesting.

The poem, I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, has long been one of the most anthologized of Wordsworth's poems, and it's popularity has been quite a boon to the tourism industry of the British Lake Country. In honor of the poem's 200th anniversary, the Cumbrian tourism website has put together a video "honoring" Wordsworth.

While the hip-hop production is pretty good, it really makes you wonder who got the great idea to put a guy in a giant squirrel costume in it?

In any case, this might be an interesting video to show your students. They'll probably laugh at the video, but it could lead to some interesting projects or at least lend some vitality to your study of the poem.

Anyone have a sudden urge to visit Cumbria?

Monday, April 9, 2007

The Iliad Cover

As anyone who's seen our Touchstone covers knows, we're lucky to have an amazing graphic artist on staff here at Prestwick House.

The great work he's done on various covers really helps kids get interested in the classics (see: The Metamorphosis -- Who doesn't love giant bugs?)

Larry recently showed everyone over at BoingBoing, one of our favorite sites, how he pulls together these covers -- it's amazing to see how he can turn a simple photo into something so interesting and dynamic!

A few months ago, he also shared his work on Frankenstein. It's amazing what photoshop can do in the hands of a skilled artist!

Monday, April 2, 2007

Grammar Girl -- April, 1

One of our favorite blogs/podcasts here at Prestwick House is Grammar Girl.

If you're not familiar with her quick, pithy, and amusing take on grammar, you should stop on over and check out her latest podcast on the little-known "winner's rule" of grammar.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Two new catalogues coming your way soon!

We've got so many great deals coming up for you that we just had to try to squeeze in two more catalogues before the end of the year.

In the upcoming weeks, you should see our ever-popular Paperback catalogue, which includes the best prices on hundreds of Paperback Books -- The Great Gatsby at 35% off, over $3.00 off Old Man and the Sea, and our ever-popular Touchstones (still 50% or more off for teachers!). This is the book to plan next year's reading schedule... I think you'll find some great new books in there to add to your classroom. Keep your eyes out for our big, red catalogue -- you can't miss it.

We also found some great deals on Dictionaries and Thesauruses this spring and we're able to offer you even better deals than we normally can through our new Reference and Resource Catalogue -- $18.95 for Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, and a new find for us, Webster's English Language Desk Reference - a Dictionary, Thesaurus, and usage guide in one book for only $7.99!

Let us know if you don't get one of these catalogues in the coming weeks and we'll rush a copy to you.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The New!

Some of you may have noticed our new site is (finally) up and running!

We're thrilled to improve our site so that you will have the ability to find exactly what you're looking for and order with greater confidence and ease.

We're in the process of building a connection between our web site and our server to make sure you always have the latest information. This will also repair many of the items that are missing detailed descriptions, but in the meantime if you need more information, please just E-mail us through this handy web form, and we'll get back to you ASAP with better product info.

If you notice anything else that we can do to improve our site, let us know.

Thanks for your patience as we get everything up and running.

Welcome to the Prestwick Cafe!

To keep you all up to date with the latest and greatest happenings at Prestwick House, we've finally taken the step of entering the Blog-o-sphere (one of the oddest neologisms of the 21st century).

The goal of this site is to make it easier for us to hold a conversation with you. We want to make sure you know what we're working on, and we want to know what you're looking for in supplementary English language arts products.

From time to time we may let you see some previews of what we're working on or ask your advice on how to develop products. I'll also post some links to things on the web that we think might be interesting to English Teachers (like this visual thesaurus - which used to be 100% free but still allows trial searches).

I'm Keith, your host at the Prestwick Cafe, so anytime you need anything, please feel free to drop me an E-mail at myname [at] (Let's see if that tricks the spammers. I know you'll figure it out.)

So, pour your self a cup of coffee or tea and grab a seat at the Prestwick House Cafe.