I am still on a brief break from the teen novels about serial killers and grave robbers and cannibals and cannibalistic grave-robbing serial killers. And Direct Instruction.
I swear, it's true. Along with all the war-torn future Earths and vicious madmen I've been reading about this summer was one novel the villain of which was nominally an unknown sneaky-Pete serial killer but structurally and actually? the villain was the (admittedly rather joyless) teaching model known as Direct Instruction. Specifically, the Slavin variant of DI, developed at Johns Hopkins University right here in the beautiful burg of Baltimore.
I read that and I was like, "Hey!" Slavin's approach, called Success For All, is a wholly scripted 90-minute intensive daily session of phonics instruction, and was designed for use in failing schools in this city. And believe you me, I spent some time in Baltimore City District Court this week, and this town could use a lot more reading instruction.
But it was just kind of weird. You've got a serial killer, perhaps two, running around town murdering cats, clearly working his or her way up to killing a human, and yet a huge amount of authorial energy was expended on describing and excoriating Direct Instruction. I'm not here to defend DI, but it was like having a character attend a Waldorf school and then spending half the book describing how oppressive and creepy it is to spend one's days in a classroom with no corners.
(These are terrible sentences I'm writing. Maybe I could use a little Slavin-style finger-snapping rote learning myself.)
Anyway. That book was called Deviant, and I think I'd like to read more by Adrian McKinty (go read his blog and I think you'll fall in love), but I'm not going to actually review this one - just note its weird little obsession with educational theory and then mentally catalog it as something to recommend to those kids slouching around the teen section who roll their eyes at paranormal horror because they Just. Want. Murderers! I should not forget to also tell those kids to read Seita Parkkola's evil school novel The School of Possibilities. And then Janne Teller's Nothing. Dan Wells's I Am Not A Serial Killer and its sequelae.
Aggh! I can't quit! BUT. I am reviewing a board book here - I need to get my head out of that trunk full of disarticulated body parts and get on with it.
Speaking of Baltimore. This bright, fun little board book counts as a Direct Instruction tool - our friends One through Ten appear on successive pages, printed in big Arabic numerals, along with objects to be counted that demonstrate the meaning of the numerals. None of your exploratory, inquiry-based learning going on here: this is an ordinal-number practicum.
I jest, of course. 123 Baltimore is blissfully free of dogma, but full of love. Every Baltimorean will recognize the colors used on page four, on which four footballs bounce around the page's edges; visitors will smile at page nine, which features Baltimore's unofficial city symbol, the pink flamingo; but it may take a true city nerd (me!) to identify the seven funky robots on page seven as the World's First Robot Family by DeVon Smith on permanent display at the American Visionary Art Museum.
I also believe quite firmly that the six row houses on page six are not, as noted in the key at the end, the "Painted Ladies" of Charles Village, but rather the two-storey bowfront rowhouses on Keswick Rd. My friend and colleague (and fellow city nerd) Mrs. McSweeney fingers the porch rowhouses on Abell Avenue as the illustration source. I bet when I get home Mr. Librarian (the ultimate city nerd!) will be able to cite what exact block of which street they are.
It's a souvenir of our gritty city, a reminder of our kitsch credentials, a fun way to learn to count to ten, and does not contain even one gouged-out eyeball.