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    Mary Poppins, P. L. Travers & ISU connections, an interview on WGLT

    Thanks to Judy Valente for her delightful interview of me on WGLT about Mary Poppins as both a delightful filmJulie Andrews as Mary Poppins and P. L. Travers, author of the book and a popular children's book as well as a small, but interesting connection of ISU to P. L. Travers. Judy is such a great interviewer.

    Disney's Mary Poppins film was released 50 years ago this week. As we learned in the recent Disney film Saving Mr. Banks, P. L. Travers, the author of the Mary Poppins series, was never happy with the adaptation. Pamela Travers was opinionated, but thoughtful, and certainly had a wide range of interests including Zen Buddhism and mytical Sufism. 

    In the WGLT interview, Judy asks why Mary Poppins, the film, has such a long-standing appeal with both adults and children. I think that it is partly because Travers understood that children whose lives are in even a small amount of dissarray fantasize about order and everything working out. But it is also because Walt Disney understood the humor and charm of the story and could add the studio's magic to make it wonderful entertainment. Finally, the film causes adults to not only reflect back on their childhood but to consider how they are as parents; are they fulfilling their own hopes and dreams for their family?  The film is more complicated than we perhaps realized when we saw it as children, but that, in turn, makes seeing it again just as fulfilling.

    Thanks, again, to Judy Valente for the opportunity to thoughtfully reflect on the delightful film as it turns 50.


    Why do dystopian stories, such as Divergent, appeal to teens?

    Adults wonder why bleak, dystopian novels — such as The Hunger Games and Divergent series — appeal to teens. I try to answer that question in this Q&A with Rachel Hatch at ISU's Media Dept. In the article "Professor: Divergent movie hits dystopian nerve with teens," I explain that in these books and films there is:

    a sort of allegory of the highly competitive social experience of high school where there is a ruthless struggle for popularity in an environment of seemingly arbitrary rules where teens assume that their every move is constantly observed by others. That makes sense to me and is clear that these dystopian novels and films hit a nerve with teens and Millennials who imagine their futures in rather grim terms.

    I think that while adults are disturbed by the violence and killing in these books and films, teens are more drawn to the way the characters try to solve problems and survive.  Of course, there's also the romance, particularly in the Divergent series, that's heightened by the possibility that any moment one or both of the characters will die.

    Shailene Woodley in Divergent.


    Illinois connection to Walt Disney and Mary Poppins

    Walt Disney grew up, partly, in Illinois.  The first person to get P. L. Travers to admit that she didn't really like the Disney version of her popular book Mary Poppins was from Illinois State University.  I spoke about these connections to ISU's Media Relations in a nice article by Rachel Hatch.  Here's the link:


    Disney chat on WJBC

    Today I am talking on WJBC radio about Walt Disney, the film Saving Mr. Banks, the exhibit Treasures of the Walt Disney Archives, presented by D23: The Official Disney Fan Club, the Museum of Science and IndustryWalt Disney's boyhood home in Chicago (MSI) in Chicago, and Disney's connections to Chicago.  

    Here are a few links that might be helpful:


    Also, a money saving tip for visiting museums is to support a local museum that has reciprocal exchanges with other museums.  If you are a member of either the Children's Discovery Museum in Normal and the Peoria Riverfront Museum, you can enter the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago for free.  You just pay for tickets for special exhibits.

    Walt Disney's office recreated at the Disney Archives exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.

    Walt Disney and posters from his film studio

     Annette Funicello's Mickey Mouse Club uniform

    A costume that Julie Andrews wore in the Mary Poppins films 


    MLA panel on Children's Literature & the Common Core

    The MLA Division of Children’s Literature will be sponsoring the session “Children’s Literature and the Common Core” on Thursday, January 9, 2014, from 3:30-4:45 p.m. in the Belmont Room (4th floor) of the Chicago Marriott Hotel during the 129th annual Modern Language Association Conference. This panel is open to the public.

    The New York Times has called the controversial Common Core State Standards, “the most important educational reform in the country.” Defending the Common Core, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a group of state school superintendents that he found it  “fascinating” that some of the opposition to the Common Core has come from “white suburban moms who—all of a sudden—their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”  

    Using a roundtable format, five speakers will examine the effects of the English Language Arts Standards of the Common Core State Standards on the teaching of college courses in Children’s and Young Adult Literature.  The featured speakers for the session are Sarah Minslow, University of North Carolina, Charlotte; Kristin McIlhagga, Michigan State University; Michelle Holley Martin, University of South Carolina, Columbia; Joe Sutliff Sanders, Kansas State University; and Daniel D. Hade, Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

    While each speaker will present prepared remarks for 5-7 minutes, the session is intended to be an active dialogue and discussion between the speakers and the members of the audience.  Speakers will consider if the Common Core State Standards effectively prepares students for college-level academic work and literacy for the workplace. The political and social implications behind the stated education goals of the Common Core will be examined. 

    Since the Common Core recommends that 70% of the texts used by the twelfth grade should be informational texts, how will this effect of the teaching of fiction, poetry, and drama?   Can the Common Core address issues of cultural diversity given the increasing gap between students of color and their predominately white K-12 teachers? 

    The session has been selected as part of the conference’s Presidential Theme of “Vulnerable Times” and is chaired by Jan Susina, Illinois State University.