Shelf Analysis From The Land Of W-OZ: Using Scraps And Patches To Create The Bitpiece Life

Originally posted at Zinnfull • June 6, 2010 • and provided here as a possibility for responses related to a course I’m teaching.

When you reread a classic you do not see more in the book than you did before; you see more in you than was there before. • Clifton Fadiman

I am a bricoleur, a patchworker. I do not make quilts from fabric, but I do piece together many kinds of things whether I am creating a home, a classroom, a piece of art, a poem, or an outfit. I am expert at making something from nothing and I am also adept at connecting the disparate and creating a cohesive whole.

In most lives insight has been accidental. We wait for it as primitive man awaited lightning for a fire. But making mental connections is our most crucial learning tool, to see patterns, relationship, context. • Marilyn Ferguson

The naturalist John Muir said that when we tug at a single thing in nature, we find it attached to the rest of the world. Thus it is with life. In the act of exploring one thing I often find it attached to another, and another, and another, and have seen in my own life the unexpected connections Mary Catherine Bateson (2002) describes in Full Circles, Overlapping Lives, when she says that “[e]veryone has the chance to discover the patterns that order multiple ways of being human: through the arts, through the media, through conversations with the neighbors” (p. 18).

Learning and living. But they really are the same thing aren’t they? There is no experience from which you can’t learn something. • Eleanor Roosevelt

The metaphor of quilting provides me with an organizing construct for my life and it was with great delight that I realized the significance of my favorite Oz book, The Patchwork Girl of Oz (1913). My Aunt Mildred had a complete set of Oz books and I read each one many times, but my favorite character in L. Frank Baum’s collection is Scraps, the Patchwork Girl of Oz. She is a self-proclaimed original who has been accidentally given too many brains and too much cleverness.

What we remember from childhood we remember forever—permanent ghosts, stamped, inked, imprinted, eternally seen. • Cynthia Ozick

The Patchwork Girl’s story doesn’t really matter. Her adventures haven’t stuck with me. But her character has. She is what I long to be, heedless of the opinions of others and secure in her own idiosyncratic ways. She is delighted with her self. I do not want to emulate her carelessness, but as a child, I admired her self-assurance. I still do. It is not easy to revel in who you are.

Arrange whatever pieces come your way. • Virginia Woolf

In a letter to his publisher in November of 1912, Baum discusses the process of creating his fantasies, saying, “A lot of thought is required on one of these fairy tales. The odd characters are a sort of inspiration, liable to strike me at any time, but the plot and plan of adventures takes me considerable time…I live with it day by day, jotting down on odd slips of paper the various ideas that occur and in this way getting my materials together. The new Oz book [The Patchwork Girl of Oz] is at this stage….But…it’s a long way from being ready for the printer yet. I must rewrite it, stringing the incidents into consecutive order, elaborating the characters, etc.” Baum was a bricoleur too. Many artists are. Many people are. Researchers certainly are.

Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning. • Katherine Anne Porter

Indulge in a bit of shelf analysis. What stories or characters from childhood are significant for you? Why?

The stories of childhood leave an indelible impression, and their author always has a niche in the temple of memory from which the image is never cast out to be thrown on the rubbish heap of things that are outgrown and outlived. • Howard Pyle



Filed under autobibliography, books, childhood, children's books, literacy studies

10 responses to “Shelf Analysis From The Land Of W-OZ: Using Scraps And Patches To Create The Bitpiece Life

  1. Alysia Garcia

    Books have encapsulated my life for so long, it is hard to choose a few to write about. The first book I ever remember reading by myself was a English/Spanish version of “The Cat in the Hat”. The English words were on top, and the Spanish translation was below and diagonally right. Although “The Cat in the Hat” is not my favorite Dr. Seuss book (that would be “One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish”), this memory somehow holds a special significance.

    When I was in third grade, each Wednesday the two third grade classes would meet for story time in the library. The two books I remember reading are “Matilda” and “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”. I recently saw a movie trailer where Jim Carey is the protagonist of the upcoming film version of “Mr. Popper’s Penguins”. I quite literally jumped up and down with excitement. Since then I have also dug out my copy of the book (purchased from the scholastic book order magazine when I was in third grade) to read to my daughter.

    The “Harry Potter” book series has also meant much to me. Many people groan when I talk about it because the books, movies, and video games are everywhere, but I have grown up with these books. A friend lent me a copy of the first book when I was in fifth grade and I have not stopped reading them since. Now that the last movie will be out in a few months, I feel a bitter-sweetness creeping over me. Over ten years of my life has been spent reading and enjoying these beautiful little gems, and I look forward to the day I can read them to my daughter.

    I think eight grade was my best literary year. In that year I read: “The Hobbit”, “The Lord of the Rings Trilogy”, “The Mists of Avalon”, Mary Stewart’s “Merlin Trilogy”, as well as others I cannot remember. I think I discovered fantasy and science fiction that year, but the one book that sticks out the most has to be “Gone With the Wind”. It is no secret in my family that my aunt Melanie was named for the character and that my mother’s (and subsequently my own) middle name is Leigh after Vivian Leigh (who portrayed the protagonist in the movie version). My grandparents even own an original copy of the novel that has been passed down for generations. Over one thousand pages long, it is still the longest novel I have ever read. I remember devouring the brilliantly written pages, while images of the movie floated through my mind. There is a sequel (“Scarlett”) and a companion novel written from Rhett Butler’s point of view (called “Rhett Butler’s People”) which I have read. To this day it is still my favorite movie and book. I want to find some way to teach part of this wonderful piece of American history in my classroom.

  2. I collect name stories and this is a wonderful one, Alysia! GWTW was a forbidden book when I was young. There was a whole bookshelf of books in the family room that my mother considered too something (racy, titillating, adult?) for the children. As the oldest of five, I was family babysitter from the age of ten, left alone to babysit my siblings. Once they were in bed, I read every book on those restricted shelves. Oh, Scarlett! Ah, Rhett! W-OZ

  3. Jessica Kelleher

    Well in order to piece together my literacy history I needed to call my mother. And when she reminded me of books all the memories started to flood back. Actually the book I remember reading through the most was this Encyclopedia of the Horse. Before I was reading encylopedias though, I was reading pretty much horse books. I guess I was a little obssessed. So instead of Babysitters club I read something called the Saddle Club which was about girls taking care of horses instead of children. Which actually became my life as a youth, I used to work on a ranch as a “working student” and I traded my work for horse lessons. I was probably the only girl who never babysat, or wanted to work for money. Besides this saddle club series I read things like Black Stallion, Black Beauty, National Velvet, Thunderhead, and The Roan. Most of these were old books given to me by my Grandma and Grandpa. There were many other books that I apparently read, but really these horse books were the only ones that I stand out.
    My mother said I used to bring books with me into the crib and that I would mumble stories to myself and look at pictures until I fell asleep. So then I asked my mother when I stopped reading for enjoyment. Because I do remember that I pretty much halted reading anything extraneous for a good chunk of my life. She said it was basically in high school when I was required to read these books and interpret them. Now that I am thinking like a future teacher, I hope that reading can be enjoyable and hope that this “required reading” doesn’t have the same affect on my students.
    Anyways, now that I am an adult can chose my own literary resources (most of the time) I chose to read books that contain my interests. Things like the outdoors, adventure, and strong and meaningful messages. I think the most intriguing book I’ve read recently has been one called Shantaram, which was an inflated version of someone’s life adventures. But really allowed myself as a reader to interpret his life revelations to my own.
    Looking back on my literacy history I realize that those that are most memorable are the ones that relate to me in some way and were chosen by myself. I think I almost felt resentment towards peers/teachers/family that tried to thrust upon me the need to read an overrated or overread novel that was so commericial it lost any individuality. As I teacher I hope to remmeber that students are individuals and so they should be treated that way.

  4. Wonderful mix of history and philosophy. So much of who we become as teachers is bound up in who we are–and have been–as human beings. This is chock full of insights that will benefit your students. W-OZ

  5. Sean Pfister

    Choose Your Own Adventure: Don’t Mind If I Do!
    For as long as I can remember I was absolutely obsessed with Choose Your Own Adventure novels. Well, I don’t know if you could even call them novels, more like novellas or the dime novels of the Old West. Whatever the correct label might be I undoubtedly referred to myself as these books’ biggest fan. Sure, I started small keeping the quantity of books read to a minimum of 1-2 per month. But I soon realized that my obsession could no longer be squelched by those abysmal numbers and found myself reading as many as 3-5 books per week. Suffice to say that this was a major accomplishment as I was frequently found scurrying off to climb trees, ride my bike, and just get dirty. I suppose that this little love affair with Choose Your Own Adventure blossomed into a full blown case of “Adventure Fever”.
    I soon realized that no little Choose Your Own Adventure book could hold the inescapable lust for the thrill seeking “adventure capitalist” moniker that I had branded myself with. My tastes broadened and my insatiable appetite for adventure slowly bubbled into what can be seen littered throughout my bookshelves. Fortunately, I have since moved on to many different genres, but I will always return to my dark obsessive roots by diving deep into the surreal world of Dean Koontz and flying high with the worldly escapades of Dirk Pitt in any good Clive Cussler novel – when the mood strikes.
    The thought rambling around in my head in these late hours remains the same – our Literary Histories can be traced back to what truly inspires and takes us away from reality if only for the briefest of moments. And in those briefest of moments, we become the masters of our own adventures.

  6. Wow! What a terrific final sentence–goes with the title and the opening–I love these circular perfections. I remember CYOA books well and have seen some new ones recently–a revival of the genre. Perhaps you’ll be sucked into the vortex again. W-OZ

  7. Derrick Skinner

    Reading has not always been a passion for me. I got a bit of a sour taste in my mouth in the 2nd grade when I was required to read Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I just remember having to do the stupid vocabulary lists for each chapter. Now, this wasn’t required reading for all 2nd graders, but for TAG kids like me, it sure as heck was. Ever since then, I actually hated reading. I didn’t read much until the end of the 5th grade when my teacher Kim Gabriel (yes the placement coordinator at SOU) had a competition for AR points. There was this thing called the 500 point club and being as competitive as I was, I had to be in this club. From that point on, reading was no big deal. I would take a book home and read it in a day and then take the test on it the very next day. Needless to say, I was a member of the 500 point club when the end of the year rolled around.
    Just because I didn’t read much doesn’t mean that I didn’t read at all. I do remember a few key books that have stayed with me to this day. The first book that had a huge impact on my was actually by the same author that turned me off to reading in the second grade. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White was the book I remember from 4th grade. Lois a trumpeter swan was born without a voice and tries to overcome it by learning to play a trumpet. I actually picked up the trumpet as my instrument in the 6th grade because of this book and kept playing it all through high school. Who knows what instrument I would have picked had I not read this book.
    The next books that I remember leaving a mark on me were the books by Gary Paulsen; Hatchet, Brian’s Winter, and The River. I loved following Brian Robeson on his adventures starting with The Hatchet. Because of these books, I think I read and reread every single one of Gary Paulsen’s books that he has written.
    Lastly, how can I not mention Charlie Bucket? What an inspiration. I came from a family in which my parents split up when I was in the second grade. Because of this, my mother was left supporting four children all by herself (My Hero. I wouldn’t be where I am today without her guidance). Since she was left to support us four kids by herself, money was tight much like it was for Charlie Bucket. It was really cool reading this story about a boy who came from a very poor family and winning such a big prize. When I found out that there was a second book, Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, I sat down with that book and read it in one day after school. It was just nice to escape reality with Charlie and picture all the cool things that he did.
    Since my early days of hating reading, I can’t get enough of it as of late. There are so many books out there, how does one find the time to read them all? I find myself making time everyday to read (even though I should be doing other MAT things…). If only reading for fun was a requirement for the MAT program. I would excel at that.

  8. Well, Derrick, it sort of is. It’s my hope that being forced to think about and choose adolescent and children’s literature might actually pull some folks into reading a bit of it and having some fun in the process! Charlie is one of my favorite characters and Dahl one of my favorite authors. Thanks for a fun read! W-OZ

  9. Shauna Skinner

    When I was a child I always connected with characters that were facing some sort of tragedy. In fifth grade I was introduced to holocaust stories. I read Anne Frank, The Devil’s Arithmetic, Number the Stars, Night and the list continues. Although I could never say that I went through any tragedy such as that, I somehow connected with these characters within their tragedies. As I have grown, I have come to realize that each of these characters in these books had bravery and courage. I was/am a “scaredy-cat.” I have always been known to cry to easily, jump too often, and cover my eyes the quickest. Because of this, I have felt cowardly. I used to wonder if I would be able to hold strong like Anne Frank did when she heard the boot steps of the Nazi Police. I loved to imagine I would, with no evidence to support that theory.
    Soon after, I jumped into adventure stories about young men on the adventure of a life time. The Transall Saga and Whitefox by Gary Paulsen set the tone for me. I went after Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer as well. Although this was a different kind of courage, these characters did not hold anything back. Overall, I have had this desire be courageous, brave and without fear. Although, I believe I am strong emotionally, I still consider myself a “scaredy-cat” and find myself still drawn towards strong courageous character. A prime example, I am currently obsessed with the Percy Jackson series and the Hunger Games. I guess I will always live a brave life vicariously through characters. But that is honestly, okay with me I do not like being scared and will not voluntarily put myself in a scary situation unless it is in a book!

  10. There are many kinds of courage. I often think of teachers as some of the most courageous among us because they daily face the multiple challenges of creating meaningful spaced that nurture learning. They are also carriers of hope, and that isn’t easy. W-OZ

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