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Posts Tagged ‘Michael Rosen

Michael Rosen’s Sad Book:

Anatomy of Loss, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

“Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why.

It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.”

“Grief, when it comes, is nothing like we expect it to be,” Joan Didion wrote after losing the love of her life. “The people we most love do become a physical part of us,” Meghan O’Rourke observed in her magnificent memoir of loss, “ingrained in our synapses, in the pathways where memories are created.”

Those wildly unexpected dimensions of grief and the synaptic traces of love are what celebrated British children’s book writer and poet Michael Rosen confronted when his 18-year-old son Eddie died suddenly of meningitis.

Never-ending though the process of mourning may be, Rosen set out to exorcise its hardest edges and subtlest shapes five years later in Michael Rosen’s Sad Book (public library) — an immensely moving addition to the finest children’s books about loss, illustrated by none other than the great Quentin Blake.

With extraordinary emotional elegance, Rosen welcomes the layers of grief, each unmasking a different shade of sadness — sadness that sneaks up on you mid-stride in the street; sadness that lurks as a backdrop to the happiest of moments; sadness that wraps around you like a shawl you don’t take off even in the shower.

What emerges is a breathtaking bow before the central paradox of the human experience — the awareness that the heart’s enormous capacity for love is matched with an equal capacity for pain, and yet we love anyway and somehow find fragments of that love even amid the ruins of loss.

This is me being sad.
Maybe you think I’m happy in this picture.
Really I’m sad but pretending I’m happy.
I’m doing this because I think people won’t like me if I look sad

Sometimes sad is very big.
It’s everywhere. All over me.

Then I look like this.
And there’s nothing I can do about it.

What makes me most sad is when I think about my son Eddie. I loved him very much but he died anyway.

With exquisite nuance, Rosen captures the contradictory feelings undergirding mourning — affection and anger, self-conscious introspection and longing for communion — and the way loss lodges itself in the psyche so that the vestiges of a particular loss always awaken the sadness of the all loss, that perennial heartbreak of beholding the absurdity of our longing for permanence in a universe of constant change.

Sometimes this makes me really angry.
I say to myself, “How dare he go and die like that?
How dare he make me sad?”

Eddie doesn’t say anything,
because he’s not here anymore.

Sometimes I want to talk about all this to someone.
Like my mum. But she’s not here anymore, either. So I can’t.
I find someone else. And I tell them all about it.

Sometimes I don’t want to talk about it.
Not to anyone. No one at all.
I just want to think about it on my own.
Because it’s mine. And no one else’s.

But what makes the story most singular and rewarding is that it refuses to indulge the cultural cliché of cushioning tragedy with the promise of a silver lining.

It is redemptive not in manufacturing redemption but in being true to the human experience — intensely, beautifully, tragically true.

Sometimes because I’m sad I do crazy things — like shouting in the shower…

Where is sad?
Sad is everywhere.
It comes along and finds you.

When is sad?
Sad is anytime.
It comes along and finds you.

Who is sad?
Sad is anyone.
It comes along and finds you.

Sometimes I’m sad and I don’t know why.
It’s just a cloud that comes along and covers me up.
It’s not because Eddie’s gone.
It’s not because my mum’s gone. It’s just because.

Blake, who has previously illustrated Sylvia Plath’s little-known children’s book and many of Roald Dahl’s stories, brings his unmistakably expressive sensibility to the book, here and there concretizing Rosen’s abstract words into visual vignettes that make you wonder what losses of his own he is holding in the mind’s eye as he draws.

Complement the absolutely breath-stopping Michael Rosen’s Sad Book with Oliver Jeffers’s The Heart and the Bottle and the Japanese masterpiece Little Tree, then revisit Joan Didion on grief.

There’s nowt wrong with dialects, nothing broke ass about slang

Policing children’s language encourages them to think nonstandard English is substandard. Linguistic diversity should be celebrated, not banned

Language use is one of the last places where prejudice remains socially acceptable.

It can even have official approval, as we see in attempts to suppress slang and dialects at school. Most recently, Ongar Academy in Essex launched a project to discourage students from using words like ain’t, geezer, whatever, like, and literally.

We’ve been here before. Schools across the country have outlawed inoffensive words, with some asking parents to “correct” children at home.

Slang, regionalisms, and colloquialisms are typical usages objected to, with occasional spelling errors thrown in as though somehow equivalent. The only thing uniting them is that they’re not considered standard or sufficiently formal.

Banning words is not a sound educational strategy.

As Michael Rosen points out, schools have been trying this for more than 100 years to no avail.

Research shows that gradual transition towards standard English works better. But because dialect prejudice is so prevalent, this must be done in such a way that children understand there’s nothing inherently wrong with their natural expression.

Ongar Academy says it’s not banning words, but “evolving” its pupils’ speech – a description with classist implications.

The head teacher, David Grant, says that students’ dialect “may not favourably reflect on them when they attend college and job interviews”. This may seem a reasonable position, when even those who work in education are subject to linguistic intolerance.

But to assume that students who use slang – ie, most of them – will do so in interviews does them a disservice.

Native speakers of English are generally at least bidialectal.

We have the dialect we grew up using, with its idiosyncrasies of vocabulary, grammar and pronunciation, and we learn standard English at school and through media like books and radio.

As with any social behaviour, we pick up linguistic norms and learn to code-switch according to context. Just as we may wear a T-shirt and slippers at home, but a suit and shoes at work, so we adjust our language to fit the situation.

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Standard English is a prestige dialect of huge social value. It’s important that students learn it. But the common belief that nonstandard means substandard is not just false but damaging, because it fosters prejudice and hostility.

Young people can be taught formal English, and understand its great cultural utility, without being led to believe there’s something inferior or shameful about other varieties.

Grant says that in Shakespeare’s anniversary year, we should “ensure the way the pupils talk gives a positive impression”.

But Shakespeare’s plays abound in slang and informal language.

“Geezer” appears in books by HG Wells, Graham Greene, and Anthony Burgess. Charlotte Brontë, Charles Dickens and Vladimir Nabokov used non-literal literally. Rather than spurning such words, we can teach students when and why they are used. Learning different Englishes gives us command of different domains, a skill we can then put to creative and appropriate use. Facility with slang is a real advantage in some jobs.

James Sledd once wrote: “To use slang is to deny allegiance to the existing order … by refusing even the words which represent convention and signal status.” That is, slang lends covert prestige – however anathema to those in authority who prefer teenagers not to be teenagers.

It doesn’t help Grant’s cause that in a short radio interview, he put basically on the Bad List but used it himself several times.

Linguistic vetoes can be counterproductive pedagogically too.

Sociolinguist Julia Snell argues that “to learn and develop, children must participate actively in classroom discussion; they must think out loud, answer and ask questions”. When the focus is on the forms of speech instead of its content, she writes, “children may simply remain silent in order to avoid the shame of speaking ‘incorrectly’, and miss the interactions crucial to learning”. In light of this I can’t share Ongar Academy’s satisfaction that its students are now policing each other’s speech.

People feel strongly about correctness in language, but this strength of feeling isn’t always matched by knowledge and tolerance. And because children are sensitive to how they’re perceived, stigmatising their everyday speech can be harmful. By educating them about linguistic diversity instead of proscribing it, we can empower students and deter misguided pedantry.

There’s nowt wrong with regional dialects, nothing broke ass about slang. They’re part of our identities, connecting us to time, place, community, and self-image.

They needn’t be displaced by formal English – we can have both.

As David Almond wrote, in a wonderful response to one school’s linguistic crackdown: “Ye hav to knaa the words the world thinks is rite and ye have to knaa how to spel them rite an speek them rite … But ye neva hav to put the otha words away.”


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

September 2020
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