In the writing room right now ...

In the writing room right now ... I have taken down the brown "butcher" paper that held ideas, photos, drawings, and my hand-drawn maps and plot outlines for the past five or six books. I've placed all those items into three-ring binders, and cleared the deck for paintings and photographs that involve courage, as I move forward in GHOSTKEEPER, the new novel set in Lyndonville, Vermont. My 1850 Vermont adventure THE LONG SHADOW is under contract with Five Star/Cengage -- I will give you a publication date as soon as I know! Scribbling lots of poems, too. And there's a possible route to publication of the "Vermont Nancy Drew" novel I built on Wattpad (see right-hand column). Yes, I guess I do like multi-tasking! How about you?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Using The Darkness Under the Water for a High School Library Club: The Lyceum


We're talking about The Darkness Under the Water from a lot of viewpoints lately: reading the intense story of Molly Ballou set in Vermont in 1930; investigating the thread of history that the book embraces; looking at eugenics and genocide on the nonfiction side; and how people interact in groups (clubs, schools, libraries) around the story. The library team from St. Johnsbury Academy's Grace Stuart Orcutt Library left the following description as a comment; I'm moving it here so it's easier to see and access. Tomorrow I'll add a description about a classroom use of the book. Beth
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Lyceum, a reading group at St. Johnsbury Academy, met yesterday with author Beth Kanell for dessert and discussion of The Darkness Under the Water. Lyceum is composed of both student and faculty members. The response from both factions prompted me to share the positive response of this group.
Students comments included, “I loved the book and insisted my Mom read it,” “I am from Tennessee and new to the school and as a reader I enjoy books that share the historical culture of the area, so for me I really enjoyed the book,” “I feel so fortunate to have the author join us for this discussion,” “I enjoyed that you, the author, left pieces of the story to our imagination.”
Faculty comments included, “I read the first half of the book to my students, and then asked them to write down how they thought the story would end, and then they finished the book on their own. I was so impressed with how on target the students were even to guessing the sex of the baby. The students are so taken with the story that they are hosting a lunch next week and have invited Beth to join them.”
“I loved the book. It has been such a joy to discuss the book with the author. I wish that we could have the author with us for all our discussions.” “Growing up French Canadian and Catholic in St. Johnsbury, I experienced many of the same prejudice described in the story. It really connected me to the story with a deeper appreciation of the suffering prejudice can bring.”
During my eight years of hosting the group I would say that The Darkness under the Water comes to the top of our “best reads.” This novel awakens us to the prejudice that surrounds all of us.
As high school librarians we felt the connection the students and faculty had made to Beth’s work. Our students found they could relate, in a proud way, to the neighborhood characters in Beth’s story. This is a superb example of a thought-provoking young adult read.
What this book does best is open the door for discussion. As I listened to student and adult readers share their insights, I began to think, that with this engaging story as the jumping-off point, curious students with the guidance of a teacher could ask questions, research, and draw their own careful conclusions. This could include questions about historical accuracy, cultural and social knowledge, and reflection upon family and personal experiences. As I listened, I heard that students were careful consumers of what they had read. They were able to discern that this story was a not factual depiction in all its nuances. They were judicious in their interpretation of the literary devices, tone of the work, and historical elements. One concept that fascinated them was the idea that Vermont would have had a formal eugenics project in place in the last century. For these diverse students, who have been steeped in an ethic of community, their level of awareness was raised and their consciousness broadened as they thought upon the consequences of such a program. They connected with the local history surrounding the damming of the Connecticut River. They tuned in to the ethical conflicts, debating what would they have done in Molly’s situation. They regarded Gratia’s voice as part of Molly’s growth and development, until she matured and listened to her own heart. This novel gives voice and face to a facet of nearly unknown Vermont history, a history that for many of us was built on a storybook past, of great heroes like Ethan Allen; this book begins to wedge open a crack in that cherished vision of Vermont’s impeccable commitment to freedom and unity.
Jean Fournier, Library Director
Joanne Bertrand, Assistant Librarian
Denyse Daly, Circulation Supervisor

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