Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Review: The Thanksgiving Visitor

I love this story! "The Thanksgiving Visitor" by Truman Capote (a favorite of mine) can be found in several of his collections.

I first reviewed the picture-book version for the Spring 1999 issue of Prevention Update (Committee for Children), and that article was later picked up in the September 2002 issue of Social Education. If you can get your hands on Beth Peck's beautiful picture book, DO. I wish I'd hung on to my review copy. I see that the book is out of print and fetching a good price.

Here's the article as it appeared in Social Education, featuring a full review and suggested discussion questions for classroom use.


In Truman Capote's evocative sketch of seven-year-old Buddy's relationship with the school bully, the adult Buddy reflects on his experience.

Talk about mean! Odd Henderson was the meanest human creature in my experience. And I'm speaking of a 12-year-old boy, not some grown-up who has had the time to ripen a naturally evil disposition. At least, Odd was 12 in 1932, when we were both second-graders attending a small-town school in rural Alabama.

Capote wrote "The Thanksgiving Visitor" for adults, but it is a wonderful read-aloud for third- and fourth-graders and a great read for Grades 5 and up. Of course, older students benefit from being read to as well, and this rich, lyrical text is perfect for audiences of all ages. Furthermore, the story's events, relationships, and flawed characters are guaranteed to spark lively discussions about such issues as bullying and bystander behavior, anger management, empathy, and friendship.

The Story in Brief

The kids at school fear Odd, but no one's fear is as constant as Buddy's — he is Odd's favorite target. The bullying occurs daily, before school and after, as Buddy prays that the harassment will stop. Some mornings, Buddy is so frightened of what might happen that he begs to stay home from school.

Buddy's teacher, Miss Armstrong, suspects what is happening but doesn't intervene. One day, Buddy takes the time to clean up after his morning run-in with Odd. He is late for class, and Miss Armstrong berates him in front of the other students. Buddy reports Odd's actions, calling him a "sonofabitch" in a moment of fury; he is then severely punished for his outburst.

At home, Buddy repeatedly tells his elderly cousin and best friend, Miss Sook, about Odd's actions. Instead of rising to Buddy's defense, however, Miss Sook makes excuses for Odd's behavior because of the hard life his family leads, Miss Sook says, "The thing to keep in mind, Buddy, is that this boy can't help acting ugly; he doesn't know any different."

Miss Sook invites Odd to the family's Thanksgiving celebration. She believes that the boys will be able to resolve their differences if they get to know one another.

To Buddy's considerable dismay, Odd shows up for the holiday. Later, Buddy witnesses Odd stealing Miss Sook's beloved cameo. When everyone is seated at the dinner table, he exposes Odd's crime. Miss Sook reluctantly checks her jewelry box, then lies to protect Odd in front of the guests. But Odd confesses to the theft and leaves after paying his respects to Miss Sook.

Buddy is scolded for deliberately disgracing Odd in front of the others. Miss Sook explains that while Odd was wrong to take the cameo, Buddy doesn't really know Odd's intentions and should have no reason to think he meant to harm anyone. Buddy's actions, on the other hand, were far more serious in Miss Sook's eyes. She calls what he did "deliberate cruelty" and says, "All else can be forgiven. That, never."

Buddy listens to Miss Sook. Although his first reaction is to wish he had come up with a better plan of revenge, eventually Miss Sook's message sinks in.

As the story closes, Buddy and Miss Sook reaffirm their friendship. Odd stops bothering Buddy for good; no reason is given for this, but the reader can infer that Odd is ashamed of — and that he possibly learned from — the events of that Thanksgiving Day.

Discussion Questions
  • Consider Buddy's description of how some kids watched as he was bullied: "Usually a circle of kids ganged around to titter, or pretend to; they didn't really think it funny; but Odd made them nervous and ready to please." Why do you think that nobody stepped in to help Buddy? List some ways you could help if you were a bystander in a similar situation.
  • Miss Armstrong punished Buddy for his outburst and use of inappropriate language. Why do you suppose she did not punish Odd for harassing Buddy? Brainstorm other ways in which a child could report bullying to an adult. Which ways might be most effective?
  • Buddy explained that he hated school — but only because of Odd Henderson. How might Buddy's situation affect his schoolwork?
  • Miss Sook was willing to overlook Odd's behavior because of his difficult home life. Do you agree with her that Odd couldn't help acting "ugly"? Why or why not?
  • Why do you think Odd accepted Miss Sook's invitation to Thanksgiving dinner?
  • Imagine that you are Odd, and you've just noticed the cameo in the cigar box. What thoughts are running through your mind as you reach in and take it? Why do you want it? What is it worth to you? Now imagine that you are Miss Sook. What is the cameo worth to you? Why?
  • Miss Sook lied to protect Odd, and Buddy felt that she had betrayed their friendship. Did she? Explain your thinking.
  • By the end of Thanksgiving, Buddy thought, "Odd Henderson had emerged — how? why? — as someone superior to me, even more honest." In your opinion, was Odd more honest than Buddy? Explain your respond.
  • Why do you think Odd stopped bullying Buddy? Do you think it was a realistic outcome? Why or why not?
  • Are there signs that Buddy and Miss Sook are still good friends at the end of the story?


Happy Thanksgiving — I'm off to make my pumpkin pie!

7 Random Facts Meme

Oops, it is November 26, and I'm just noticing that illustrator Dawn Phillips tagged me on her blog — and mine — for the 7 Random Facts About Me meme 10 days ago . . .

Bad, bad blogger, Lisa!

Here's my list:

(1) I bailed on a writing gig last week. My role was to write a slew of Little Readers. These books truly are fun to write. But my development-group client repeatedly changed the schedule and assignment content/tasks/fees with no dialogue, no advance notice, and no pleases or thank-yous.

I'd already been increasingly uncomfortable with the company's (lack of) communication style in the months leading up to the work. And, a quick exchange with a colleague confirmed that others out there in our small-ish world of freelance children's writers had already sworn off working with this client due to BAD experiences. So when my first assignment finally arrived, late and completely different in every possible way from what had been confirmed the day before, that prompted me to finally just say no thanks.

To other writers out there: Remember, you ALWAYS deserve to be treated fairly and with a modicum of professional courtesy. Your time is valuable, and your writing is work.

(2) I am ambidextrous. Thank goodness, so says Wikipedia, that I don't shoot for sport. Apparently, though, the condition might be good for my word-processing skills. Seems I'm in pretty good company — Michelangelo, Einstein, Beethoven, Gandhi — not bad. I like this quote I just found: "Ambidexterity is neither a goal to aspire to nor is it a gift from God. Instead, it is first and foremost the mark of brain damage." That might explain some things.

(3) Speaking of word-processing skills, I never took a typing class in high school. This was back in the day when (a) people used typewriters; (b) everybody took typing class for an easy A; and (c) some guidance counselors were still telling girls that they MUST have good secretarial skills to "fall back on." I remember being insulted that my assigned counselor didn't want to talk about my college/career aspirations and adamant that I'd be the one with the secretary working for me and so shouldn't waste my academic hours on such a useless class. Instead I needed to study world domination and such.

I started needing to type nonstop right away in college, and so, luckily, typing proficiency followed. Joke's on me that I became a writer and editor, both of which require quite a lot of the clickety-clack.

Just the other day I saw a report on the average salary of executive-level administrative assistants. Upon growing up and entering the workforce, I quickly learned that administrative professionals do demanding, highly specialized, crucial work (and that EVERYONE could benefit from developing great secretarial skills). But gee whiz, I didn't realize just how lucrative the job category could be. I think I coulda been a contender. Darn you, my smug, surly, sexist guidance-counselor man!

(4) I recently brought home a bag of half-priced books, and I don't know where I put it. I know that at first it was in my office, right under my desk. But now? No clue. What's more, I'm not entirely sure I know what all is in the bag. I just know the bag exists. One might rightly guess that I experienced a wee episode of emotional book buying. (Come on, you know you've done it too!)

(5) I replaced my dog's office bed a few weeks ago. She seems to be missing her old, worn cushion and hasn't been spending as much time with me during the day. She'll come in, sniff the new cushion and kick it around, give me a forlorn look, and then go flop down in the adjacent family room. Did I mention that the old cushion was flattened out and discolored and maybe even smelly — and old? At least now I have a better picture of what the draw was in here.

(6) I'm not really working today. I'm sitting at my desk, willing to answer the phone or an email if necessary, but I'm mostly goofing off. My to-do list includes tasks like finding a new pumpkin pie recipe, scouting shopping sites for holiday gift ideas, and burning CDs of the new holiday music I've downloaded. I needed this day.

(7) I happily post a meme when I've been tagged, but I rarely tag other people. I always either feel too busy or too lazy to check other blogs and see whether they've already participated. I suppose this practice is kinda spoil-sporty of me, but I didn't forward chain letters in the 70s and 80s and I don't pass along modern-day email forwards either. Drag!

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The Morning After: How Soon Before the First Children's Book Drops?

This moment will give rise to soooooo many new children's books, both immediately and far into the future.

I predict that Lincoln and Washington will have to welcome Obama to the Most-Written-About-U.S.-Presidents Club.

No doubt they'd both love the idea.