Final days in the Big Apple

Well the last two days of my professional learning journey in New York have come and gone. On Thursday, I took a visit to New York University and had a meeting with Dr Cindy Shumacher, an Arts and English Professor. This meeting involved a tour of the enormous Skirball Centre which is where a number of professional plays are staged. In fact the stage production of Of Mice and Men had just finished a very successful tour and had James Franco and Chris O’Dowd starring in the lead roles. I was also fortunate enough to be privy to an interview with the director of the most recent production of Treasure Island in which she talked about the challenges and experience of adapting a classic and much loved novel for a contemporary audience.

Browsing the colour coded bookshelves at Penguin Random House Publishers

Browsing the colour coded bookshelves at Penguin Random House Publishers

New York is known as the publishing capital of the world and a visit to Penguin Random House Publishers did not disappoint. Their office is located on Broadway in the heart of the city and just two blocks away from Times Square. I had to take it all in from the moment I first arrived. You walk through the revolving doors (they still scare me a little bit!) into a grand marbled foyer with the highest of ceilings. To your immediate left, there is a modest cabinet displaying a number of recent well known titles – Gone Girl, Unbroken, Wild, Fifty Shades of Grey etc. Upon enquiring to their significance, I was told that they were the current bestsellers for the company. Looking up and around, the walls of the foyer are lined with glass cabinets and echoes a museum in itself. There would be hundreds of books on display here, many of which appear to be first editions. My contact for the visit was Michael Gentile, the Head of Education Division which oversees texts connecting to schools K-12, libraries and Colleges. I interviewed Michael who had over twenty years experience in the publishing industry and quizzed him on e-books, the influences and design of cover art, current best selling contemporary classic American novels as well as wider trends in reading and text selection.

Matilda on Broadway

Matilda on Broadway

My day concluded with an interview with Dr Laura Barnaeo, a musical theatre historian, director and teacher. We discussed the role of the arts and drama in relation to teaching English and in particular as a tool for accessing classic literature. This was a helpful follow up conversation from my meeting at NYU. I was particularly interested in the role of theatre in shaping the national identity and sentiment here in the USA. This meeting was followed by a viewing of the Broadway show Matilda which was such a fantastic performance by the cast and crew. The set alone was the dream of an English teacher and it was interesting to again see adaptations of literature continuing to engage and entertain.


Woke up to four inches of snow this morning

New York was the final of six legs for this study tour. Now I have the 23 hour flight home to look forward to, arriving back on Australia Day and then back to school the next day!


Back to school

This teacher went back to school today #selfie at Nightingale-Bamford K-12 and strong reputation in the English Faculty

This teacher went back to school today #selfie at Nightingale-Bamford K-12 and strong reputation in the English Faculty

As the sun dawned on another day here in New York City, the coffee brewed and the newspaper crinkled. New York woke up for work and I woke up for school.

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Walking in Holden’s footsteps

With over 65 million copies sold and hundreds of thousands copies sold each year, it is no wonder J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye is considered a great American novel. Teenage protagonist Holden Caulfield is one of the most distinctive literary characters of his time and the text still remains on some banned lists today due to its controversial nature! The novel was published in 1951 and my task yesterday was to walk in his footsteps and follow his journey as a young man uncovering New York City. Read More

The magic of Gatsby

Partying at the Gatsby mansion

Partying at the Gatsby mansion

It’s pouring with rain. The icy wind howls and it’s freezing. Of course it’s dark also. There are no street signs and I have no map. The 6% battery life remaining on my phone teases me. My cold stone hands are heavy with Macy’s shopping bags. Yep, I officially am lost in New York City. Not only that, but once I do find the rental car location, you mean I have to DRIVE in this city?! Read More

Tree lined streets of Alabama

With the Martin Luther King Junior public holiday weekend this weekend as well as the film release of Selma, my visit to the south could not be more appropriately timed. Part of my research for Mockingbird, is to immerse myself in cultural and literary context of the area. I spent some time in Selma, a small town that markets itself with the phrase “Home of historic places and social graces.” Much of the new release film Selma was indeed filmed here. This community was divided when it became home to a battleground in the fight for suffrage. Despite violent opposition, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his followers pressed forward on an epic march from Selma to Montgomery (a route that I drove), and their efforts culminated in President Lyndon Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Read More

Harper Lee….and me

I first came across To Kill A Mockingbird (1960) as a Year 9 English student. My Mum, ecstatic to see it on the school booklist as it was one of her favourite novels, rushed out to buy me a copy. Placing the novel in my hands she beamed, “I can’t wait to talk about it with you.” I can still remember my Year 9 English teacher, Mrs Grassmayr teaching this novel with passion and some of the engaging activities we did in class to unpack the text and its poignant message. Taking off our shoes, researching other freedom fighters. But also of interest to me as a student, was the story of Harper Lee herself. Read More

Meet me in Saint Louis

The sunsets in the midwest are simply amazing. You look up from the rolling flat plains and the most beautiful oranges, pinks, purples, yellows and blues paint the cloudless sky. Departing Lawrence early on Sunday afternoon afforded me a relaxing drive over the Kansas-Missouri border. I particularly enjoyed meeting and lunching with Lanny and Pat after visiting the local Church on Sunday morning. Lanny works at the University of Kansas and Pat (now retired) worked for many years in the Kansas Department of Education in English/library services. We talked about book clubs and the nature of teaching English out of textbooks (over here, all of the plays, poems and literature studied is a part of one thick textbook as opposed to individual books). I appreciated their insights into the changing environment of education over time and we had some interesting discussion regarding The Wizard of Oz (I learnt at the Oz Museum on Saturday that The Wizard of Oz is considered the earliest example of a children’s feminist book). Read More

There’s no place like Kansas.. I mean home

I started my day, the Midwest way – with a STACK OF PANCAKES! Yes, I was amongst good dining company at the International House of Pancakes in Lawrence City, Kansas. Lawrence is a College town, and is also home to the inventor of basketball, James Naismith. Naismith invented the game in 1881 and there is a massive statue commemorating his achievement in the centre of The University of Kansas campus. I was shown around the University campus on game day by an alumni, and there was such a great vibe as Kansans descended to the University to support their team. The Watson Library was by far the most impressive building and houses a rare book collection (behind lock and key) any librarian would drool at!
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On giants’ shoulders

Well I made it to Missouri…but my luggage didn’t…at least not right away..! It was meant to be on the same flight as me when I connected through Chicago, but the good news was that just as I was in the process of freaking out/completing incident paperwork, it arrived on the next flight. Yay for Alex not having to sleep in the same clothes he wore today! Read More

“Are you German?”

Seen in a classroom

Seen in a classroom

“Are you German?”
Before I could answer, another student piped up curiously, “No, I think he’s British.”
“I’m Australian,” I said to the two year eight students, who, upon my reply, dropped their mouth open a little more.
“Do you know where 42 Wallaby Way is?” another student asked excitedly. I had the attention of the whole class now.
“Never heard of it,” I said matter-of-factly. The girl frowned and I asked “Why?”.
“It’s in Finding Nemo,” she said, smiling hopefully. Right, I thought to myself. They know Australia through Finding Nemo.


Today was my first full day in Oklahoma City and…the wind sure was sweeping down the plain (that was an allusion to the musical for those playing along at home)! I woke up this morning to a minus five degree day, with the possibility of my school visits being cancelled due to extreme cold, but we soldiered on, layering my clothes and bathing my teeth in a pool of sensodyne toothpaste because the freezing air makes them so cold. Read More

Mrs Doubtfire’s House

OZ2USA numberplate

OZ2USA number plate

Thank you, California!

Thank you, California!

Well my time in California has drawn to a close, with the last two days in San Francisco winding up my time in the beautiful ‘Golden State’. Since being in this City, I have visited the University of California at Berkeley (including the Education Faculty), chatted with workers in local bookstores about the nature of their work and what’s selling, as well as an in depth interview with Susan Crist who founded a Book Club that brought three communities together to read and discuss literature (one day after September 11, 2001). This was fascinating to hear about the well established book club culture in the USA and how texts are read and analysed in wider cross-sections of society. I made some notes with regards to implications for book club/literature circles in an education context too. I have also spent some time touring the city in a literary tour of my own sorts…with the highlight by far being a visit to a home away from home… MRS DOUBTFIRE’S HOUSE! The iconic family home used in the 90s film, Mrs Doubtfire is still just as I remembered it. It was also a sombre visit as there, on the front pavement before the steps of the front door was chalked “RIP Robin Williams”. Read More

Live off tha fatta the lan’

PhotoGrid_1420345245627Another chilly day in California today (the locals laughed when I said the word “chilly”, they had never heard of that saying!?) and there was ice on the road as I spent an hour climbing to the top of Freemont Peak. This mountain top is historically significant in the history of California (think the Western frontier) and offers 360 degree views from the summit. This was real Steinbeck Country: the harsh land, the Salinas river running between the mountain crevices and of course, the rabbits! Read More

Hanging with Steinbeck

Old mate jet lag came to pay me a visit this morning between 12–2am…which as a result meant I slept through my motel breakfast (doh!), but the excitement of the day saw me eagerly hit the road for Salinas, some 20kms inland from Monterey. The Salinas Valley entrance is nestled between grand mountain ranges and is surrounded by lush green farming crops on either side of the road. Salinas is known as the ‘salad bowl’ of the US and is the birthplace and inspiration for American classic author John Steinbeck, as well as his literary works. Read More