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Books and Writers

by Mar. 16, 2009, 12:36 PM

Transformative Literature

When Ann Neely, faculty director of the Ingram Scholars program, went to Cape Town, South Africa, last July to visit three of her students involved with a Vanderbilt service-learning project, she never dreamed that she would be inspired to create a new service-learning course of her own.

During spring break this year, the 15 students in Neely’s Literature of Transformation course traveled to Cape Town to restock the library at Manenberg Township Primary School with children’s literature. In April they will travel to Birmingham, Ala., to visit the civil rights museum there. In between, they will read picture books and juvenile fiction that reflect the post-apartheid and post-Civil Rights Movement eras, comparing and contrasting the two.

grumpyladybugFor Neely, professor of the practice of education and director of undergraduate admissions and scholarships for Peabody College, the touchstone was seeing her favorite picture book, The Very Grouchy Ladybug by author-illustrator Eric Carle, used in an unusual way. “[At Manenberg Primary School] they had used it to block out a window so that gang members wouldn’t look inside,” says Neely. Meanwhile, in the school library, “I would guess there were no more than 100 to 150 books in English,” a serious shortage considering those are the books used to teach English to the entire student population of 700. “I suspect that I have more books in my office library than the school for 700 has,” Neely wrote in her blog about the visit.

Neely’s efforts will help remedy this situation to some extent, as will the fact that alumni of the Ingram Scholars program have pledged to raise $15,000 for the 15th anniversary of the program in order to name a library in South Africa in her honor.

“All of this is quite incredible,” Neely says. But she has learned one thing already from the experience. “I’m going to split apart the course in the future and offer the portion on post-Civil Rights Movement children’s literature as a separate course. It’s a tough syllabus to pull together because I’ve had to cut about two-thirds of everything I wanted the students to read.”

what-they-always-tell-usRecent Juvenile Fiction

What They Always Tell Us (2008, Delacorte Books for Young Readers) by Martin Wilson, BA’95. In Wilson’s debut novel, brothers James and Alex have barely anything in common anymore—least of all their experiences in high school, where James is a popular senior and Alex is suddenly an outcast. The book has received starred reviews in both Publishers Weekly and Booklist, which wrote, “This is a strong debut, and Wilson shows admirable control of a complicated story that in less-accomplished hands could have spun out of control.”

sherlockfilesThe 100-Year-Old Secret (2008, Henry Holt and Co.) by Tracy Barrett, senior lecturer in Italian. In the first book of Barrett’s middle-grade series The Sherlock Files, little mysteries lurk around every rain-dampened London corner for Xander and Xena Holmes. A career opportunity for their father transplants the brother and sister from sunny Florida to rainy England. Here they learn that they have a very famous ancestor and have inherited one of his most intriguing possessions.