The church of dead chickens

For about two hours each Sunday I get to teach a bunch of wonderful six and seven year olds at our church. 5 boys. 2 girls. One of the boys likes to rip the buttons off his shirts with his teeth. So I’m thinking, hey, this is my kind of crowd.

I teach with a man named Jed. Poor mountaineer barely keeps his family fed. One day he was shooting up some food when up from the ground came a bubbling crude.

Okay, so Jed isn’t a poor, bare-foot fellow with starving kids. He’s an eligible bachelor who helps his father run one of the biggest cattle ranches up here. Nevertheless, his name IS Jed. And we do live in the mountains.

So anyway, we have a great time with these kids. I mean, with adults, they all sit there polite in their chairs. But with these kids, well, every once in a while there’s one boy who gets up and jigs like Lords of the Flame. We appreciate his art and then get on with the lesson. You also get to say things like, “Hey, do you need to blow that schnoz,” and “get your hand out of your pants” right in the middle of class and nobody bats an eye. During the prayer one of them likes to sit Indian style, hands out, thumbs to the birdie finger (what’s the real name of that finger anyway, Tallman?), and say “oohm.” Trying to break him of that habit. That’s not quite the civilized style of prayer in these parts. But at least he closes his eyes and figures prayer is fun.

So at the beginning of each class we go around and tell one cool or interesting thing that happened that week. I think their stuff is cool. They think my stuff is cool. We have a cool chat and then move on to professionally prepared lessons. Lots of interaction. I’m a private sector teacher, right? (Look, I’d say “trainer,” but then all them snooty types would say, “So what do you want? Sex TRAINING or sex EDUCATION?” Then they’d look down on me. And I’d say, well, education can sometimes be boring. Let’s try the training part. Then I’d get kicked out of my church job. So I’m keeping my job, okay?)

Jed and I, we facilitate some good lessons.  Thing is you never know what gets through. Until, of course, the parents give you some feedback.

I had a party with the kids over at my house. We couldn’t find an official slip-n-slide, so we pulled out some plastic, folded it up, and then set it up on our hill. One benefit of coming to my house for slip n slide fun is that we have a hot water tap outside. Nice for washing cars. Nice for mixing with the cold water so you’re sliding in a warm sploosh. Not some ice fest because you want to be loosey-goosey when you’re careening over grass.

It was all good until one boy zoomed down the slide at 80 mph while another was trying to straighten our redneck slip-n-slide. The first smacked the other I don’t know where with his head.  All I know is that there was a nice watermelon sound and a delayed wail of extreme pain. We all admired the sound echoing around the hill we live on then moved onto some buddy tag (you call it missionary tag out here in Mormonland). Then to flying paper airplanes off our deck, after which we cooked s’mores over a fire. We ended up with hooligan fireworks on the driveway–smoke bombs and tanks. Everyone loved it. Kids didn’t want to leave. Who would?

That Sunday we had another fine lesson at the church. So what do you think this kids are going to remember?

I’ll tell you what they’ll remember. One little gal just told her mom that they needed to get some dead chickens and turkeys and put them on their porch.  This is what they learned in primary from Brother John and Brother Jed. And she’s not the only one talking like that.

I deny teaching any voodoo.

Or taxidermy.

Of course, I will admit that when we were flying airplanes off the deck I told them I wanted to put up a few platforms maybe two feet square down by our garden. Put them up on 7 foot poles and throw some dead animals on them during the winter, maybe a chicken from the store, and watch the bald eagles and hawks gather. I mean, come one. Forget those weiner sparrows. Who wouldn’t want a few bald eagle badboys in the garden, looking down and scaring the cats? We all agreed that was cool then went on flying our multi-colored airplanes.

So that’s what I’ll admit to. But the parents can’t be mad because being nice to others, especially those with razor sharp beaks and talons that like to rip and tear raw flesh, hey, that’s the second great commandment. I was just teaching the gospel truth.

This American Life: Superpowers

What superpower would you rather have–flight or invisibility? What do others choose? Why? What does it say about you?

Want to hear about a gal named Zora who, as a teen, made a list of everything that a superhero would have to know how to do, things like flying helicopters and diffusing bombs, and then set out to do it. Zora finished her list, btw. She’s a bounty hunter now.

You can hear this right now on  This American Life episode 178: Superpowers .

It’s a fabulous hour-long program.

Another positive review for Servant of a Dark God: Don D’Ammassa

Here’s Don D’Ammassa, yet another one of these reading forces of nature (about 1 book per day), on Servant of a Dark God.

This first fantasy novel gets kudos from the outset because the setting was sufficiently different from the usual to make me perk up after only a couple of chapters…This series shows a good deal of promise mixing workmanlike writing with some genuinely interesting ideas.  More

Ack! It’s English class

Lorrie McNeill gives her middle school students a wide choice of reading in Jonesboro, Ga.

Junior High and High School English = grammar, spelling, and reading Cliff Notes.


It all depends on the goal. The NY Times recently published an article about a whole other approach to language arts. Nellie is one of those who is trying this new approach with her 7th and 8th graders.

She’s had experienced similar fears, similar results, and similar comments from parents as the teacher featured in the article. Most importantly Nellie has kids reading more than they’ve ever read in their lives, writing more than they ever imagined they could. And it all derives from a change in the goal—make lifelong joyous readers and writers versus teaching the students to be able to recite facts about a given set of works.

Of course, the students still learn literary concepts and grammar, but only as it supports and relates to their writing for publication, whatever form that publication may take (family newsletter, review in local or school paper, letter to favorite author, pro, etc.)

She’s loving this program and has been amazed at some of the stuff these kids produce and the progress they make when natural motivation kicks in.

BOOKS | August 30, 2009
The Future of Reading: A New Assignment: Pick Books You Like
The experimental approach is part of a movement to revolutionize the way literature is taught in U.S. schools.

And for you who might think society might fall if we let them choose their books, consider this…

LIFE & STYLE, AUGUST 29, 2009, 5:04 A.M. ET
Good Books Don’t Have to Be Hard: A novelist on the pleasure of reading stories that don’t bore; rising up from the supermarket racks
By Lev Grossman

How many copies do average authors sell?

I posted earlier about the sales number for best-selling authors. What about the average author?

Here’s Patrick Nielsen Hayden, an editor at Tor Books, in an interview on about the future effects of e-text on publishing:

io9: Does it make a difference to you if an author has an online reputation? Does that go into your decisions to acquire books?

PNH: Obviously it makes a difference if an author has a public online profile of some sort, even just down to the level of having a moderately popular blog. Most books sell 5, 10, or 15 thousand copies. Most are midlist books. With those people, even a modest online presence can make a difference in sales.

The whole interview is interesting. In fact, he says something that I think is important to note about what today’s novelists and, to a lesser degree, short story writers are actually providing:

One thing I’m sure of is that we’re [Tor Books] going to be in linear immersive narratives that produce the reading trance. We won’t be moving towards a “choose your own adventure” thing. People will do those things, but those are different art forms. There’s something about immersive text that you can read in order – it’s persisted through many technological changes. This fiction stuff works pretty well. It’s been around a long time

I think he’s right. The EXPERIENCE you get in the reader’s trance, similar to the one you get in a movie, is a strong experience. The media used to convey that experience doesn’t really matter as long as it makes it easy to get into the trance.

Check out the whole interview.