One reviewer claimed that my book, The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, surprised him. “I didn’t take Carole Weatherford for a hip-hop head,” he confessed.
Maybe not. But I have designed and taught a hip-hop course for college students. I write poetry and stories steeped in oral traditions. And I was raised on family lore; street, playground and handclap rhymes; proverbs; spirituals; and the call-and-response of the black church. As a child, I also read Langston Hughes poems and chanted James Brown’s anthem, “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud.” I later tuned into Gil Scott Heron’s spoken word manifesto, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.”
Back in the day, I partied to Whodini, the Fat Boys and Run DMC, but did not fathom the power of rap until 1981 when I heard “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The song confirmed for me that rap is rooted in resistance.
Rap originated in the late 1970s among alienated black and Latino youth in the Bronx, Harlem and Brooklyn. The genre has since come of age, and rappers have won Grammys for best album (The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill in 1999) and best song of the year (Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” in 2019). In 2017, Kendrick Lamar won the Pulitzer prize for music, a first for rapper.
Today, hip hop is the language of global youth culture. Rap reveries have replaced hoop dreams, especially as a male rite of passage. A vehicle for self-expression, hip hop gives youth validation and agency. Despite rap’s rebellious vibe, the genre has form and makes use of figurative language.
Here’s how I harness the power of hip hop in the classroom. I discuss rap’s roots in oral traditions and its use of poetic elements. I show documentaries on the pillars of hip hop: graffiti, breakdancing, deejaying and emceeing. We study how rap influences pop culture, politics and commerce. Finally, I get students to write homages, confessional lyrics, social commentary and/or advertising jingles. My son and collaborator, poet/illustrator Jeffery Weatherford, amps up the excitement with a mini-studio that lets students download beats, record lyrics and mix audio. Mobile apps can produce similar results.
Like the genre itself, rap workshops convey to students that their voices deserve to be heard.
Carole Boston Weatherford has written many books inspired by oral traditions, including The Roots of Rap: 16 Bars on the 4 Pillars of Hip Hop, illustrated by Frank Morrison. Here is Vicki Cobb's review.
Stephen R. Swinburne
I really like vultures. Sure, they’re ugly and they eat nasty dead things. But those are not necessarily bad characteristics.
First let’s deal with “ugly.” Vultures’ bald heads are what make them seem ugly to most people. But think about why they’re bald. Imagine thrusting your head inside the carcass of a white-tailed deer to reach the meat. A feathered head might capture bits of flesh, blood and gore and you end up with a face full bacteria and flies. Scientists believe that one reason vultures have evolved featherless heads is to aid in hygiene. A bald head stays clean and any remaining germs or bacteria are baked off by the sun. Vultures have also found that a bald head can help with temperature regulation. When it gets cold they can tuck their heads down to keep their neck covered with feathers. When it’s hot, vultures can extend their neck to expose bare skin. Their bald heads work so well that I wrote a poem about them.
It’s best to have no feathers,
When you stick your head in guts,
That way you don’t go walkin’ round,
Your noggin dripping schmutz.
Moving on to “eating nasty dead things,” the next time you see vultures eating a dead animal on the side of the road, be thankful! That carcass might be dead from rabies or contaminated with other harmful diseases. Vultures have the amazing ability to consume rotting and diseased flesh and stay healthy. It’s all in the stomach. Vultures possess very powerful stomach acids that destroy most bacteria and deadly viruses. In fact, vulture stomach acid is so strong it can dissolve metal! Except if that metal is lead shot -- many turkey vultures are killed every year by consuming shot that they encounter in dead deer. Vultures are the world’s natural “sanitation workers,” helping to stop the spread of disease.
I’m so appreciative of the work they do, I even wrote a poem about eating dead things:
I like my meat dead,
It’s best if it’s not moving.
Don’t want to see one final twitch,
I prefer it oozing
So, the next time you see a vulture circling in the noonday sky, think about the valuable and important clean up service this bird provides to us and to the environment. Maybe I’ll write a poem about that….
Steve Swinburne is a science writer, but as you can see from this Minute, he likes to write poetry too. In his book Ocean Soup, he offers verses in the voices of tide-pool animals, including the barnacle, sea urchin, sculpin, mussel, starfish, hermit crab, anemone, and lobster. For more about Steve's poetry, click here.
Steve Swinburne is a member of iNK's Authors on Call and is available for classroom programs through FieldTripZoom, a terrific technology that requires only a computer, wifi, and a webcam. Click here to find out more.
MLA 8 Citation
Swinburne, Stephen R. "In Praise of Vultures." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 8 Dec. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/ In-Praise-Of-Vultures.
You know how it is: old campfire stories, interesting things you’re doing or seeing or hearing about—they get all mixed up in your dreams and your stories. That’s how it was for Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin. One night in 1816, in Switzerland, when there wasn’t anything on TV (because it wasn’t invented yet), she and her friends decided they’d each write a horror story. By combining her knowledge with the idea what if, 18-year-old Mary made up one about a monster. It’d turn out to be one of the most famous monsters ever.
These were some of the ideas that influenced Mary’s thinking:
Hmmm…I’ll bet you can guess now what story Mary wrote! In it, her character, Dr. Victor Frankenstein, gathered parts of dead people’s bodies in his laboratory. His experiment? He’d make a perfect person then bring it to LIFE with the power of lightning – and it worked! But – oh no! Dr. Frankenstein accidentally created a MONSTER! And then a lot of horrible things happened!
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which was first published in 1818, never got very good reviews, but never mind. In the almost two centuries since she wrote it, Mary’s monster story has sparked the imaginations of playwrights, moviemakers, cartoonists, musicians, and Halloween costume-makers again and again and again.
It kind of makes you wonder about your own ideas and memories. What if you put them together in your imagination? You could spark a story into LIFE!
Cheryl Harness is not only a nonfiction author and an illustrator, but she has also written a novel called Just for You to Know. If you would like to read an excerpt from her book, click here.
A cowardly bully came out
of his cave today to
trespass on our shining city.
Out of the blue
he had the nerve
to punch out its
two front teeth.
The pain is excruciating;
Bleeding is everywhere.
The remaining stumps are
We've lost our pretty smile.
We can't bite a big apple.
It's hard to look at mutilation.
Dazed, we check for damage.
Although choking on thick air,
we are very much alive.
Our heartbeat is strong.
There is no drop in our vital signs.
Blood rushes in to replace
Slowly we discover
we can still chew
and make a fist and
Oh yes, we'll make sure
this "holy" terror
can never return
to our playground
or our friends.'
How do we shadow box
a villain who doesn't
play by the rules?
We see evidence
of our noble,
and loving spirit.
Yet hate destroys
within as well as without.
Here then is our challenge:
We must keep this wound
becoming toxic to ourselves.
We must imagine the unimaginable
to thwart evil
before it comes back for more.
We must seek justice,
not vengeance to
preserve our soul.
We must trust our leaders
who see more
than this one tormenter.
We must be brave
As good as we believe
ourselves to be,
we must become better.
Scar tissue is stronger
Text copyright © 2001 by Vicki Cobb
Reflection: I wrote this poem on September 12, 2001. I am a New Yorker. One grandson, who was 4, was starting school, a few blocks from ground zero. My husband was working in the city. It was a terrible day. I wrote this poem to try and make sense of it for my readers. Do you think it is still true today?
Here I am in 2014 on the 43rd floor terrace in lower Manhattan. The brand-new Freedom Tower, on the site of the Twin Towers lost on 9/11, soars behind me. It is 1776 feet tall.
MLA 8 Citation
Cobb, Vicki. "September 11, 2001." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 11 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/category/cobb-vicki.
Nonfiction is the new black
When he was a young man in his mid-twenties, future Roman leader Julius Caesar was voyaging across the Mediterranean Sea. Pirates swarmed over his ship. They took him to their base on tiny Farmakonisi Island, which lies off the coast of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), and held him for ransom.
When he learned how much the pirates were demanding for his release, Caesar laughed. Do you have any idea who I am, he asked. I belong to one of Rome’s most important families. So you can get more money for me—a lot more—almost three times as much. The astonished pirates were only too happy to oblige him.
Keeping a friend and two servants with him on Farmakonisi, Caesar ordered the rest of his traveling party to go to Asia Minor and raise his ransom. While they were doing that, Caesar acted as if he were the ruler of the tiny island, rather than a captive cowering in fright. He ordered the pirates to attend lectures and poetry readings he gave, and prodded those who nodded off as he droned on and on and on. When he wanted to sleep, he ordered the pirates to either speak in whispers or go to another part of the island. He even played games with them. He also told them that when he was released, I promise I will hunt you down and execute you. In the spirit of bonhomie he engendered, the pirates apparently thought he was joking.
He wasn’t. Though outwardly he was friendly with the pirates, he seethed inwardly at the humiliation of being taken prisoner. After the ransom was paid, Caesar sailed to a nearby port. He raised a fleet of ships and scores of armed men. He returned to Farmakonisi, captured the pirates, and reclaimed the ransom money. He threw his former captors into prison. They didn’t stay there long. Caesar crucified them. He did show some mercy. Since crucifixion was a long, lingering death, he cut their throats so they died instantly.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "A Man of His Word." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 26 Mar.
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
The NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Committee is pleased to inform you
that 30 People Who Changed the World has been selected for Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People 2018, a cooperative project of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) & the Children’s Book Council