Saturday, April 30, 2011

Luncheon at LaSalle Language Academy

Yesterday the Lady Friend and I did something unusual: We talked about our children's book One TV Blasting and a Pig Outdoors at a literary tea party-luncheon sponsored by Ms. Deborah Cohen's fourth grade class at LaSalle Language Academy, a celebrated magnet school in Chicago's Old Town that is part of the sprawling Chicago Public Schools system.

In case you didn't know, One TV Blasting is the book the Lady Friend (who goes by the nom de plume Deborah Abbott) based on the original 1990 edition of my What's That Pig Outdoors?: A Memoir of Deafness. One TV Blasting was published in 1994 and is still in print, bringing in a trickle of royalties every year.

We've done countless appearances at bookstores and libraries, but this was something new for us -- and we had a splendid time.

The kids asked sharp questions ("How old were you when you became deaf?" and "Why don't you know sign language?" among them). In unison they demonstrated their expertise in fingerspelling, a skill I am sorely lacking.

They allowed us -- and the many parents present -- to read and critique the books they themselves had created for Ms. Cohen's class. (Many of those youngsters, believe me, have a lot of talent.) They asked me to autograph their books, and I did so eagerly.

To wrap up the event, they put on a talent show, including a rousing medley of songs.

What impressed me the most about this school deep in the heart of Chicago was the joyous affection and respect this multicultural group of kids -- divided almost equally among whites, blacks, Latinos and Asians -- showed for each other and for their teacher. On the basis of just a couple of hours' observation, I'd say Ms. Cohen deserves a Golden Apple with oak leaf clusters. (So, I am told, does the rest of the faculty.)

What a contrast this was with the often out-of-control classrooms even in suburban Evanston, where the Lady Friend and I live.

As its name implies, the school focuses on teaching foreign languages every day from kindergarten through 8th grade while  also grounding its pupils in math, science, music and other educational staples. Kids can choose among Spanish, French, Italian and Mandarin Chinese. Upper-grade pupils travel to Europe and China to practice their languages, and they also host students from abroad.

Need it be mentioned that their standardized state test scores tend to land in the upper 90th percentiles?

These clearly are very bright youngsters, and the competition to get into the school is intense. Their parents are equally committed. Quite a few fathers took off a few hours from work to attend the event -- something you don't often see in suburban schools.

What an education yesterday was for us.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Workin' on the railroad . . .

Amtrak No. 4, the eastbound Southwest Chief, stops to pick us up at Winslow, Ariz.

. . . all the livelong week. That's why I've been missing in action for so long. The Lady Friend and I took a brief trip aboard Amtrak's Southwest Chief to La Plata, Mo., and Winslow, Ariz., and the trip report for Trainweb is here.