About Me

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I'm author of The Snipesville Chronicles. I'm also a published academic historian, but don't hold that against me.Oh, and I'm a Brit. I just happen to live in Georgia.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Annette on TV

Just appeared on TV in southeastern Georgia to plug my books...

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The REAL Snipesville

I do feature a disclaimer that the Snipesville, GA in the book is NOT the real Snipesville, GA...
But I gotta love this. Thanks to Dusty Snipes Gres (descendant of the town's founder) for the pic. :-)

Saturday, November 28, 2009

A Different Day, A Different Destiny: The Snipesville Chronicles, Book 2

It took me a little longer than planned, but it was worth it: A Different Day, A Different Destiny, the second entry in my Snipesville Chronicles series is now in print.
I'm pretty proud of it, actually. It was challenging but fun to take my three modern kids to a time beyond living memory--in this case, 1851-- and to explore what made the mid-19th century what it was.
Perhaps foolhardily, I look forward to hearing from readers and bloggers. :-)

Monday, November 16, 2009


Thanks to all the teachers who attended my presentation and authors' panel (along with Shelia Moses and Rich Michelson) at the NCSS (National Council for the Social Studies) meeting in Atlanta.
It is always great to have a platform from which to spread my non-boring history gospel, but two platforms at the same conference? Priceless.
I enjoyed meeting the teachers, and if I'm disappointed at all, it is that so many of them were lured to the booths of evil Big Publishing to collect trinkets and insidious propaganda, rather than to the more modest premises of those of us in the Exhibit Hall who actually had something substantive to offer... Still, can't complain. :-)

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Camp Snipesville: Become a Stakeholder in Historical Fun!

If you look to the left of this post, you'll see a link to my campaign for Camp Snipesville, my newest program for kids. This summer, we spent a week at the pilot program, Victorian Adventures playing make-believe that the kids were factory workers, workhouse inmates, and guests at a proper tea party...playing Victorian games...making crafts...and generally having a fine time.
The Kickstarter.com campaign is to raise funds so that we can offer up to ten free places for low-income kids at this fall's Camp Snipesville. There are so many kids in Statesboro, GA who would benefit from the intellectual stimulation (and fun!) of a week with us, but whose parents cannot afford even the modest $120 we charge.
At this time, we have raised $755, but we must raise another $750 in the next 17 days...or lose all our pledges.
If you pitch in, you may qualify for one of our many fun rewards. Check it out! Please click on the Kickstarter box to the left of this blog, or simply click here.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Put REAL Food In Schools!

How do you feed a kid on $1 a meal? The answer: Badly. Believe it or not, that's the USDA's allowed cost of school meals' ingredients. Join Time for Lunch, the Slow Foods USA National Day of Action to put real food in schools, and stop... serving our kids junk. National launch is tomorrow, but you heard it here first: Sign the petition and share with friends!

Why not get kids on board, too? For historical perspective, I strongly recommend Chew on This, the kids' version of Fast Food Nation. My 10-year-old son loves it, and he is fascinated by how recently we have developed our national reliance on fast food. He is also increasingly aware of the difference between real food and fake food, even the supposedly healthy stuff.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Geeking the Library

I Geek Schooners. I Geek Beekeeping.I Geek Worms. If you live in Georgia, you may have seen those great posters. Being a bit of an oldie, I had to figure out that geek, used as a verb, means to be passionate about, or obsessed with a subject. Historians, by their nature, are obsessives, and that obsessiveness tends to spill over into our amateur interests: My geeks (if you will) have included baking, the music of Edward Elgar, and (lately) vintage postcards.

Without libraries, geeking is not just expensive, but impossible. At some point, usually early in the process of geekery, one's need to know everything about a subject demands that one consults books--and not just those that Google has so helpfully uploaded, bless them.

Geeks need libraries. And America needs geeks. Do I really need to give examples? Okay, then: Bill Gates. Thomas Edison. Julia Child (yes, I just saw the movie, thank you.)
More than that, geeking adds soul to every life: Our passions define us, entertain us, soothe us, and make us happy.

But why a campaign about geeking?
Folks, America's libraries are in huge trouble. Nationwide, we're seeing slashed hours and services, even closed libraries. Before public libraries, libraries belonged only to the wealthy (a point I make in Book 2, by the way.) The web has helped democratize information, but we cannot rely on it: In-copyright books remain accessible only through our public libraries, which are essential to our democracy.
Did you know that the operating revenue per head for libraries in America is just $35? And that, to our utter shame, it is only $20 here in Georgia?
$16 comes from local sources
$3 from state sources
$0.08 from federal sources
$1 from donations and fees.
We need to make sure that, here in Georgia and throughout America, our local governments stop cutting library budgets. Even during the boom years, the budgets were lean: This is a question of priorities, not resources. To find out how you and your community can help, please visit www.geekthelibrary.org
Oh, and by the way? The Geek the Library Campaign is brought to you by OCLC, and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, not frpm library budgets because, trust me, your library can't afford it. Please spread the word in your community, and I'll do the same right here in Snipesville.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Snipesville Chronicles, Book 2: A Different Day, A Different Destiny To Be Released October 1

I am delighted to announce that A Different Day, A Different Destiny (The Snipesville Chronicles, Book 2) is now available for pre-order on Amazon.com, and will be released October 1.

Here's a blurb:

When you wake up in the year 1851 on a Scottish hillside…or in an English coal mine…or on a plantation in the Deep South, you know you’re in for a bad day. Nothing for Hannah and Alex Dias has been normal since they moved from San Francisco to the little town of Snipesville, Georgia. Bad enough that they and their dorky new friend Brandon became reluctant time-travellers to World War Two England. Oh, sure, they made it home safely—just—but now things are about to get worse. Much worse.
From the cotton fields of the slave South to London’s glittering Crystal Palace, the kids chase a lost piece of twenty-first century technology in the mid-nineteenth century. But finding it is only the beginning of what they must do to heal a wound in Time.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Testing Season: Another Fiasco's A-Comin'

While speaking to fifth graders at an elementary school this week, I joked that I would hand them all a number two pencil and scantron, and test them on my presentation. Fortunately, they laughed along with me, but perhaps the joke was a little unkind, since the kids had just spent a mind-numbing week filling in scantrons.
Yes, testing season is upon us in Georgia. The powers-that-be from Atlanta to Washington D.C. can pontificate all they like about the importance of accountability, and other self-righteous claptrap, but the reality is all too observable in our elementary schools: Burned-out kids, frazzled teachers, anxious administrators, and education giving way to the worst possible mentality: Follow directions and work to the test.
This year, I understand, will be the first in which third-graders take the Georgia state test in social studies. States are adding tests in subjects like history and geography to the menu of reading, "language arts", and math. Never mind that giving a child a multiple-choice test in grammar is a guaranteed turn-off to creativity: How an earth does one test "social studies" with a multiple-choice test across the insanely broad range of state curriculum?
The answer, of course, is that you don't. Or rather, you do, and then you watch the kids bomb the test.
I have seen some of the efforts to teach third-graders the official curriculum and, frankly, they smell of desperation. A time-line of major events in Susan B. Anthony's life? Honestly, I don't care, and I doubt the average third-grader does, either.
So I carry on breezing into every school that will have me, talking about children's lives in wartime England, and encouraging the kids' interest in anything that grabs them, and listening to teachers share with me their bewilderment and pain. I hear them, and I'm talking as loud as I can.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Web site up and running!

My web site, AnnetteLaing.com, has been suffering from neglect ever since I realized that the designer had made it so hopelessly complicated, neither I nor my engineer husband could maintain the wretched thing. I finally came to terms with the fact that if I wanted to maintain my site, I'd have to rebuild it from scratch.
And so, it is with great pleasure (and relief!) that I announce the NEW and IMPROVED version of AnnetteLaing.com! Please check it out: There's info here about my various enterprises, including my visits to schools. Feedback appreciated, especially since it's still a work in progress...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

King Tut at Woodlands Junior School

Well done, Woodlands Junior School, in Kent, England, for a superb web site. My nine-year-old son and I read and discussed your Tutankhamun mini-site as preparation for our visit to the Tutankhamun exhibit in Atlanta, Georgia. We thoroughly enjoyed the stimulating questions, the use of extracts from archaeologist Howard Carter's actual diary, the copious pictures, and the clever approach, which helped us share in the building excitement of the discovery. Alec is now working on the assignment to create a newspaper account of the discovery (with drawings), and is showing that he could have a bright future in tabloid journalism...
Homeschoolers and teachers, I do recommend this site, and not only for its content, because it also models the web-based materials that we could have children create in American history: Enjoyable, well-illustrated, and non-preachy, it's a great introduction to "King Tut", and to Ancient Egypt in general.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education? Oh, Great. Not.

I know I'm not alone in being deeply disappointed with, indeed angered by, President Obama's appointment of Arne Duncan as secretary of education. Here's a man from a privileged background (the private University of Chicago Lab School, which was full of faculty kids like himself, followed by Harvard), who has never spent a day as a teacher, whose "qualifications" are in the dubious fields of educational policy (the sort of rubbish that explains why we're in a mess to start with), and whose Wikipedia bio gives us many anecdotes about his basketball playing and coaching prowess, with nothing to indicate that this is someone who gives an iota of a damn about the humanities.
His early pronouncements do nothing to reassure me, starting with his suggestion that we ought to compare our education system with those of India and China, with the implication that ours will be found wanting.
Excuse me?
Last time I looked, Chinese education still betrays its roots in Confucianism and in the depressingly authoritarian culture that has been China's Achilles heel from the first Emperor to the present. It values mindless obedience and memorization. I don't care if it creates jobs (Yeah, great, let's all live in factory dorms, and get up early for calisthenics.) And India? Don't get me started. Hey, what happened to Japan, who, we were told twenty years ago, had a school system that supposedly guaranteed a national economic success story? Notice how we don't talk about that anymore. And anyway, lying behind the suggestion is an obsession with churning out workers: The last thing America (and that includes its economy) needs is for the education system to become more job-obsessed and less conducive to creativity.
Nobody knows better than I how badly off our schools are. But Arne Duncan's prescriptions (a longer school year and yet more bloody tests) is NOT the answer. It's OK for the President, whose kids go to one of the country's finest schools, but it is NOT okay by the rest of us. Many parents--me included--have voted with our feet, and taken our kids to private schools or, as in my case, are reluctantly homeschooling them to save them from the worksheet purgatory that is elementary education. Nothing that Arne Duncan has said will speed my child's return to public schools, or slow the exodus of committed teachers, for whom June, July, and August are the only things standing between them and mental breakdown.
Let's hope for as little damage as possible to an already disastrous system. And wake me when he's gone.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

What Good History Teachers Do in Georgia...When They Are Allowed To

Visiting elementary schools to give my presentations on the lives of kids in World War Two England and my book is always deeply satisfying. Leaving the kids happy--giddy whenever possible-- and interested in a subject they may never knew existed is a wonderful thing. It's also wonderful to meet committed and creative teachers, who struggle to do their jobs while working within the utterly absurd Georgia state curriculum in 'social studies' (I hate that phrase.)

The added stress of knowing that the children will later be tested on the impossible (i.e. knowledge of that curriculum) doesn't help. What idiocy inspires bureaucrats to decree that fourth graders will "learn" the sweep of American history from colonial times to the Civil War, and that fifth graders will somehow master the rest? Why on earth, as one teacher asked me, do we require third graders to learn about Teddy Roosevelt? And, I would add, why do we save the astonishing history of the rest of the world for middle school, the precise moment when it is least possible to interest children in anything at all?

Making a silk purse out of the sow's ear of Georgia curriculum is not possible, but there are teachers who continue to fight the good fight. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the best teachers in the state when I visited Marietta, Georgia, this week. Among them is Gina Coss at Sedalia Park Elementary School, who told me about the school's wonderful interdiscipinary Harlem Renaissance Day, and shared with me the video you see above. Here's Gina's description of what the children found as they entered each classroom in turn:

"Harlem Art Gallery: We invited an artist to come to describe the art work of period artists such as Jacob Lawrence. Students then did colored drawings on their own replicating the style.

Sylvia's Queen of Soul Food restaurant (actual name of a Harlem restaurant): Served fried chicken, mac n' cheese, green beans - food was donated or made by parents/teachers.

Harlem Community Center: Students learned about the Great Migration and participated in a "brown eye" experiment to experience racial discrimination.

The Apollo Theater: students heard jazz music and performed.

Langston Hughes Poetry Cafe: Students read and responded to Langston Hughes poetry and works by other H.R. writers/poets - talked about collective "black consciousness"

The Savoy Ballroom: Students learned to dance the Charleston and heard music from the period."

I cheerfully admit that I'm fishing for compliments, and hoping that Gina will say she was inspired to create the program by reading newspaper accounts of TimeShop, my own effort to engage kids in history. In a way, though, it will be even more exciting if she tells me that,no, it's a coincidence, because that will tell me that many of us are thinking on the same lines. Elementary schoolkids are NOT inspired or motivated by the textbooks that make disgusting profits for Big Bad Book Corp. They are NOT inspired or motivated by trying to "cover" every subject (and they don't remember what they "cover" anyway, judging from my 12 years experience teaching college freshmen.) They are inspired by programs like this one. Kudos to Gina Coss, Sharon Drake, and all the awesome teachers I met at Sedalia Park, East Side, and Mount Bethel Elementary Schools in Marietta, Georgia. Now: Imagine what all of you could do if *nobody* at the state level was telling you what you what you had to teach.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Not Much of a Stimulus to the Humanities

Looking over the list of cuts to the stimulus bill, I was dismayed, but not entirely surprised, to see that the Smithsonian's share had been halved.
After all, you might say, be reasonable, Annette. Museums are hardly essential to the nation's economy.
But that's where I must take exception.
Museums draw tourism: I doubt too many foreign tourists would linger long in DC if all there was to do was gawp at the White House (come to think of it, in this context, even that is a museum.)
Museums provide employment. What's more, that employment does far more for the common good than hedge fund managers or whatever those folks are called in banking, who have turned out to be Wizards of Oz.
Museums help to make up for our shortsighted lack of school curriculum that inspires kids and teaches them to think critically. Thank God for field trips.
And, as the depression deepens, as it will, some people will discover that the life of the mind offers so much more than spending Saturday afternoon at the shopping mall. Museums can help with that,too.
Last but not least, our government would be a great deal less inept if we were more informed, particularly about history. Which brings me back to the stimulus package: it really would make a change if we could envision a future in which we weren't all about the ruthless acquisition of money and stuff. A pipe dream? Hardly. Soon, this won't be a choice, but a fact with which everyone will have to deal. And that's when spending on the humanities will make most sense.