The Neighborhood


Say hi to Miss Martone’s class at Cathedral Chapel School in Los Angeles. Hi, class!

Miss Martone's Class from eleven, the book by Tom Rogers

Miss Martone is front right; your author is playing Waldo in the middle.

Miss Martone has been teaching Eleven to her students at CCS this spring and invited me by for a mid-book check-in. These kids are excellent readers, and we had an insightful discussion about some of the book’s key themes of family, heroism, loss, and maturity.

They’ve also been studying the Holocaust this term, and coincidentally, on the same day I wrote my post about my friend and Holocaust survivor Andy Roth, Miss Martone led a bunch of her students on a field trip to the Museum of Tolerance.

Miss Martone's Class from eleven, the book by Tom Rogers

Class field trip to the Museum of Tolerance

In addition, they’ve been reading Night, Elie Wiesel’s account of his time in the camps. (Elie and Andy were bunkhouse mates at Buchenwald.)

And they were so moved by an article in Tablet magazine about the struggles of aging Holocaust survivors that they wrote letters (read them here) to the subjects profiled in the article.

Seriously, click on that link. Their letters are fantastic–thoughtful, empathetic, eloquent.

Adults don’t give kids enough credit

Kids can handle tough subjects.

They are curious and interested. Many are not strangers to trouble and tragedy. When I was in 5th grade, my own dad nearly died of a ruptured gall bladder. Middle-schoolers are discovering that life is full of difficult situations; asking questions and reading about the experiences of others is one way they start to figure out how to deal with dark times.

With Eleven, I’ve encountered plenty of adults who are wary of the subject matter. Many are understandably still disturbed by memories of that day and want to shield their children from that painful moment in history.

But hiding the truth does them no service.

And besides, nothing is more tempting than the thing you can’t have.

Which brings us (sort of) to cupcakes

The first time I visited CCS, one of Miss Martone’s students, Emilee, stayed after school to meet me. I’m not sure which of us was more excited.

The second time I visited CCS, two days later, Emilee informed me that she had already finished the book. I’m not sure which of us had the bigger grin.

The third time I visited CCS, to talk about the book with the class, Emilee told me she’d gotten up early to bake a batch of cupcakes in honor of my visit. (Cupcakes feature in a key scene in Eleven, involving a bully out to ruin a birthday.)

But the cupcakes slipped her grip and hit the floor.


I’m not sure which of us looked more glum.

Miss Martone's Class from eleven, the book by Tom Rogers

That’s Emilee, second from right (with Portia, Ivy, and Shannon)

Sure. Shakespeare got a cupcake on HIS day.

Sure. Shakespeare got a cupcake on HIS day.

In Eleven, the main character rescues the smashed cupcakes by mashing them back together like snowballs. I wouldn’t have minded if Emilee had done the same!

But never mind. Like a true hero, Emilee shook off the failure and vowed to bake again.

And like a true hero, I vowed to come back for more.

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Who is The Man in the White Shirt?

The sixth-graders at McKinley Avenue School have been diligently working through Eleven this semester. (You can read more about them and see pictures here.)

Mr. Shapiro's class with Eleven

One of the central mysteries in the story revolves around a character known only as The Man in the White Shirt.

Midway through the book, our amateur sleuths were asked to say who they thought The Man in the White Shirt could be, using details from the text to support their arguments.

Bryan C. does an excellent job of citing evidence to show that The Man in the White Shirt could be Alex’s dad.

Ashanti W. can see both sides of the argument. (She meant to say page 150, not 550.)

Christian D. believes we don’t have enough evidence yet to make a judgment.

Mr. Shapiro was proud of the work they did. (Mr. Videographer, though, was still learning the difference between portrait and landscape mode.)

At the end of the day, everyone got a round of “fireworks applause.”


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A certain je ne sais quoi

My recent post on my friend Andy Roth apparently got a bit of a tailwind and was seen by quite a few people. (If you missed it, you can read it here.) Andy’s network of friends and fellow Holocaust survivors brought in readers from all over the globe.

To any new fans of Eleven:  Welcome!

After you read this, I hope you won’t regret your decision.

Andy recently visited a school in Beverly Hills to talk about his life story. One thing that really impressed the kids was that he could speak five languages.

This, of course, reminded Andy of a joke:

paris sidewalk cafe

Two Americans are sitting at a sidewalk cafe in Paris. A car pulls up beside them and rolls down the window so the driver can ask for directions.

“Parlez-vous francais?” says the driver. The Americans shake their heads.

“Sprechen sie Deutsch?”  They shrug.

“Parli italiano?”  Nothing.

“Hablas espanol?”  Zilch.

“Voce fala portugues?”  Blank stares.

Frustrated, the driver throws up his hands and peels away.

One American turns to the other: “You know, maybe we should try to learn a foreign language.”

“What the heck for?” the other responds. “That guy knows five, and it didn’t do him a bit of good.”

I'm pretty sure it wasn't these two. (Ernest and F. Scott in Paris.)

I’m pretty sure it wasn’t these two. (Ernest and F. Scott in Paris.)


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