ALAN: The Best Professional Development

After two days at the Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) Conference in DC, I thought I’d write about the highlights from this year’s panels. This is my second year to attend, and after last year’s experience I decided it’s the best professional development for secondary English teachers around. And this year didn’t disappoint, and certainly supported my thoughts on these powerful two days.

Let me first talk about why it’s the best. It’s two days of panel after panel of authors speaking candidly about their work. They talk about their craft and their experiences that influence their works and share their perspective on the power of books. As a college professor of future teachers, these perspectives are the best thing I can bring back to my graduate students so that I can help them with the teaching of YA literature.

Knowing the author’s thoughts can give teachers something to discuss with students in reading conferences and frame how they implement their reading workshops. In my opinion, this holds much more value than a lesson that I may or may not use when I get back to my classroom that so many professional development workshops intend to do. So with that said, here are quotes and ideas that will stay with me as a teacher, and I hope they can bring something new to your teaching. However, I hope they also get you excited for ALAN 2015!

Libba Bray:

  • “Stop assigning gender to books. There are no girl books and boy books; there are only books.”
  • “By telling boys ‘that’s a girl’s book’; you are saying that half of the population is not worth knowing. And the same could be said for girls.”
  • 70-80% of the suggested CCSS works are written by men.
  • Addressing an article that closes with, “You can’t give a boy a book with a female protagonist and expect him to identify.” Libba Bray’s response: “WHY NOT?…And yet we do this with girls!” (Personal note: One of my favorite memoirs is The Glass Castle.)
  • All homophobia has its roots in misogyny. (Not sure if Bray said this, but it makes sense.)

Transgender Panel:

  • “People want to bring sex and religion into it and that is so far from what we’re dealing with. It’s about dealing with who we are.”
  • “It doesn’t matter what the gender is, it matters who the human being is.” (I think the use of “what” versus “who” is noteworthy.)

Common Core: Bridge or Barrier? Nonfiction books in the classroom:

  • How do we get their eyes to light up about researching a topic that interests them? Encourage students to see research as “active”–interviews and observations. What I loved about this panel was that it was nonfiction writers talking about why they love to research, and it has nothing to do with how we generally teach it in schools.
  • Primary documents versus “Textbook veneer.”
  • Experts want to talk about what they do, so encourage kids to talk with them. Internet can make this happen!

Brandon Sanderson – Fantasy Panel:

  • When asked by a parent, “My kids loves these [YA] books, but how do I get him to read Milton?” His answer, “Getting kids to read without forcing them to read will get them there.”



Teaching Kids to Eat Dogs and Love Vampires

Teenagers speak in sarcasm, yet have a very difficult time recognizing and analyzing it in a text. (What’s that called?) And with the holidays coming up, I know teachers are always looking for something a little more engaging since kids are more distracted than usual this time of the year. Therefore, I thought I’d share two pieces that I’ve used to teach satire that I’ve found to be engaging for teens. (If you’d like an electronic copy of these works complete with images and footnotes as a Word document, just email me or leave your email in the comments.)

The essay is by Steve Martin, and the short story is by Woody Allen. I’ve also included questions at the end of each piece to help you with guiding your students’ thinking of the works. These texts and the questions that follow are good for introducing verbal irony, situational irony, and getting your students to utilize the text to support their answers.

Poodles … Great Eating (1979)

By Steve Martin

These days it’s hard to look at a poodle without thinking what a great meal he would make. This newest American delicacy, once considered “taboo1,” is now being enjoyed more and more by the average hamburger-buying housewife, as well as the experienced gourmet.

Steve Martin

Steve Martin

The dog-eating experience began in Arkansas, August, 1959, when Earl Tauntree, looking for      something to do said, “Let’s cook the dog.” It was from these ethnic beginnings that the “smell of the  poodle roasting” captured the upper register of restaurants in New York and Miami. Now, restaurant  chefs once reluctant to allow anyone but themselves to select the meat are permitting patrons to  bring in their own dogs for cooking on the spot. Of course, the big question is, is this just a culinary2     fad, or has America opened her palates3 to a new eating discovery that can perhaps give new meaning  to the old expression “hot-dog?” No one but time can answer the question, but I tell you one thing,    you can save the wishbone for me!

1.  What evidence do you have that this selection might not be entirely serious?

  1. Steve Martin writes this “article” as if it were a serious news item when it is clearly not. How could this be an example of verbal irony?

[1] rule that makes something forbidden from social custom or emotional aversion
[2] related to cooking

Count Dracula (1971)

By Woody Allen

Inverness Cape

Somewhere in Transylvania, Dracula the monster lies sleeping in his coffin, waiting for night to fall. As exposure to the sun’s rays would surely cause him to perish, he stays protected in the satin-lined chamber bearing his family name in silver. Then the moment of darkness comes, and through some miraculous instinct the fiend emerges from the safety of his hiding place and, assuming the hideous forms of the bat or the wolf, he prowls the countryside, drinking the blood of his victims. Finally, before the first rays of his archenemy, the sun, announce a new day, he hurries back to the safety of his hidden coffin and sleeps, as the cycle begins anew.

Now he starts to stir. The fluttering of his eyelids is a response to some age-old, unexplainable instinct that the sun is nearly down and his time is near. Tonight, he is particularly hungry and as he lies there, fully awake now, in red-lined Inverness cape and tails, waiting to feel with uncanny perception the precise moment of darkness be­fore opening the lid and emerging, he decides who this evening’s victims will be. The baker and his wife, he thinks to himself. Succulent3, available, and unsuspecting. The thought of the unwary couple whose trust he has carefully cultivated excites his blood lust to a fever pitch, and he can barely hold back these last seconds before climbing out of the coffin to seek his prey.

Suddenly he knows the sun is down. Like an angel of hell, he rises swiftly, and changing into a bat, flies pell-mell to the cottage of his

Woodytantalizing4 victims.
“Why, Count Dracula, what a nice surprise,” the baker’s wife says, opening the door to admit him.(He has once again assumed human form, as he enters their home, charmingly concealing his rapaciousgoal.)
“What brings you here so early?” the baker asks.
“Our dinner date,” the Count answers. “I hope I haven’t made an error. You did invite me for tonight, didn’t you?”
“Yes, tonight, but that’s not for seven hours.”
“Pardon me?” Dracula queries, looking around the room puzzled.
“Or did you come by to watch the eclipse6 with us?”
“Yes. Today’s the total eclipse.”
“A few moments of darkness from noon until two minutes after. Look out the window.”

Sun Image


“Uh-oh– I’m in big trouble.”
“And now if you’ll excuse me…”
“What, Count Dracula?”
“Must be going– aha– oh, god…” Frantically he fumbles for the door knob.
“Going? You just came.”
“Yes– but– I think I blew it very badly…”
“Count Dracula, you’re pale.”
“Am I? I need a little fresh air. It was nice seeing you…”
“Come. Sit down. We’ll have a drink.”
“Drink? No, I must run. Er– you’re stepping on my cape.”
“Sure. Relax. Some wine.”
“Wine? Oh no, gave it up– liver and all that, you know. And now I really must buzz off. I just remembered, I left the lights on at my castle– bills’ll be enormous…”
“Please,” the baker says, his arm around the Count in firm friendship. “You’re not intruding. Don’t be so polite. So you’re early.”

Transylvania, the legendary home of Count Dracula, lies in present-day Romania

Transylvania, the legendary home of Count Dracula, lies in present-day Romania

“Really, I’d like to stay but there’s a meeting of old Roumanian Counts across town and I’m responsible for the cold cuts.”
“Rush, rush, rush. It’s a wonder you don’t get a heart attack.”
“Yes, right– and now–”
“I’m making Chicken Pilaf tonight,” the baker’s wife chimes in. “I hope you like it.”
“Wonderful, wonderful,” the Count says, with a smile, as he pushes her aside into some laundry. Then, opening a closet door by mistake, he walks in. “Christ, where’s the goddamn front door?”
“Ach,” laughs the baker’s wife, “such a funny man, the Count.”
“I knew you’d like that,” Dracula says, forcing a chuckle, “now get out of my way.” At last he opens the front door but time has run out on him.
“Oh, look, mama,” says the baker, “the eclipse must be over. The sun is coming out again.”
“Right,” says Dracula, slamming the front door. “I’ve decided to stay. Pull down the window shades quickly– quickly! Let’s move it!”
“What window shades?” asks the baker.
“There are none, right? Figures. You got a basement in this joint?”
“No,” says the wife affably, “I’m always telling Jarslov to build one but he never listens. That’s some Jarslov, my husband.”
“I’m all choked up. Where’s the closet?”
“You did that one already, Count Dracula. Unt mama and I laughed at it.”
“Ach– such a funny man, the Count.”
“Look, I’ll be in the closet. Knock at seven-thirty.” And with that, the Count steps inside the closet and slams the door.
“Hee-hee– he is so funny, Jarslov.”
“Oh, Count. Come out of the closet. Stop being a big silly.” From inside the closet comes the muffled voice of Dracula.
“Can’t– please– take my word for it. Just let me stay here. I’m fine. Really.”
“Count Dracula, stop the fooling. We’re already helpless with laughter.”
“Can I tell you, I love this closet.”
“Yes, but…”
“I know, I know… it seems strange, and yet here I am, having a ball. I was just saying to Mrs. Hess the other day, give me a good closet and I can stand in it for hours. Sweet woman, Mrs. Hess. Fat but sweet… Now, why don’t you run along and check back with me at sunset. Oh, Ramona, la da da de da da de, Ramona…”
Now the Mayor and his wife, Katia, arrive. They are passing by and have decided to pay a call on their good friends, the baker and his wife.
“Hello, Jarslov. I hope Katia and I are not intruding?”
“Of course not, Mr. Mayor. Come out, Count Dracula! We have company!”
“Is the Count here?” asks the Mayor, surprised.
“Yes, and you’ll never guess where,” says the baker’s wife.
“It’s so rare to see him around this early. In fact I can’t ever remember seeing him around in the daytime.”
“Well, he’s here. Come out, Count Dracula!”
“Where is he?” Katia asks, not knowing whether to laugh or not.
“Come on out now! Let’s go!” The baker’s wife is get­ting impatient.
“He’s in the closet,” says the baker, apologetically.
“Really?” asks the Mayor.
“Let’s go,” says the baker with mock good humor as he knocks on the closet door. “Enough is enough. The Mayor’s here.”
“Come on out, Dracula,” His Honor shouts, “let’s have a drink.”
“No, go ahead. I’ve got some business in here.”
“In the closet?”
“Yes, don’t let me spoil your day. I can hear what you’re saying. I’ll join in if I have anything to add.”
Everyone looks at one another and shrugs. Wine is poured and they all drink.
“Some eclipse today,” the Mayor says, sipping from his glass.
“Yes,” the baker agrees. “Incredible.”
“Yeah. Thrilling,” says a voice from the closet
“What, Dracula?”
“Nothing, nothing. Let it go.”

And so the time passes, until the Mayor can stand it no longer and forcing open the door to the closet, he shouts, “Come on, Dracula. I always thought you were a mature man. Stop this craziness.”

The daylight streams in, causing the evil monster to shriek and slowly dissolve to a skeleton and then to dust before the eyes of the four people present. Leaning down to the pile of white ash on the closet floor, the baker’s wife shouts, “Does this mean dinner’s off tonight?”



1. Tone is the spirit: of something– the general atmosphere and the effect that it has on people. In writing we say the tone is the quality that reveals the attitudes of the author about a subject.

Woody Allen sets up “Count Dracula” as a completely serious vampire story (reread the first three paragraphs if you don’t believe me) but quickly changes to a more comic tone as the action becomes more and more ridiculous. How could the way he relates a silly story in a completely serious way be an example of verbal irony?

2. What is ironic (situational) about the way Count Dracula’s plans are spoiled in the story? Use evidence from the text in support of your answer.

Your answer should include a discussion of what is expected (in context of the story and vampire stories in general) and what really happens over the course of Allen’s version of the vampire legend.


  • Situational irony is when there is a gap between what is expected and what actually occurs (a reversal)
  • Verbal irony is when someone says or writes one thing but means something else (a double meaning)

[3] enjoyable, juicy
[4] arousing desire or expectation
[5] excessively greedy and grasping
[6] a temporary darkening of the sun caused by the passing of the moon between the sun and the earth