Saturday, April 15, 2006

Striver's Row

Due to the long blog hiatus many stories need catching up to. One great one involves the new Kevin Baker book, "Striver's Row." If you haven't read Kevin Baker's books you have a treat awaiting you.They are literate and lively works of historical fiction and they center around NYC. I had the pleasure of getting to know Kevin when I was co-coordinating CSD1's American History Grant with my pal Janet Chasin. He came to speak to a group of teachers about the research he did in writing "Paradise Alley." We "reached out" to him by simply finding him via an internet search (he's a New Yorker) and we found that he was a gracious, down to earth guy-a rarity with someone so intellectually talented. Later Kevin did a turn at The Neighborhood School as a principal for a day. "Striver's Row" centers on Harlem in the early 1940's as seen through the eyes of Malcolm X and a light skinned preacher named Jonah Dove. Jonah is connected via ancestry to a main character in "Paradise Alley" which had taken place about 100 years before. Reading "Striver's Row," actually listening to it on audio CD as well as reading it, was a great experience especially while I was encountering first hand so many of the the same sights so visually amplified by Baker's prose. I found myself seeking out the Harlem locations in the book to see what they looked like today. One of Baker's recurrent Harlem characters were the Collyer Brothers. Their house was located on 128th Street and 5th Avenue
I showed some 5th graders the pictures I took and they were enthralled by stories and archical images of the Collyers I found on the internet.Luckily, or rather synchronitically, I had a whole series of ten comic strip panels from Pat Reynolds' Big Apple Almanac telling the story of the Collyer Brothers in colorful, accessible form. I tried out a technique I've used before with comics and PhotoShop where I removed the original narration or dialogue panels and then had the kids create their own. Here's one example.BTW a new Harlem teaching colleague and NYC history expert, Patrick, told me that even today when cops and firemen encounter a situation with tremendous clutter they call it in as a "Collyer"

No comments: