Monday, October 5, 2009

Genius Works in Portland, ME

Many hands shot up with questions following our authors’ presentation at Longfellow Books in downtown Portland, Maine. A thirteen-year-old Somalian girl wearing a beautiful hijab thoughtfully disagreed with a gray-haired man who said it was worth demolishing a New York City neighborhood in order to build Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. If that neighborhood had not been destroyed, she contended, there would have been more places to live for the many immigrants who arrived in the 1980s and ’90s. A blond eleven-year-old, perched attentively in the front row, asked if Jane Jacobs would ever have thought it was OK to tear down old buildings. What a great question. And there were more.

The inquisitive young people were middle-school children who had signed up for an after-school discussion with their resourceful school librarian about Genius of Common Sense: Jane Jacobs and the Story of The Death and Life of Great American Cities. After pondering such topics as mixed uses of buildings in a neighborhood, what makes for vibrant city life, and what worked in their own urban community in central Portland, they walked to an evening author visit (attended mainly by adults) at a local bookstore.

The young minds were racing with thoughts and questions stimulated by reading this book about Jane Jacobs, the obstreperous child who challenged her teachers with her questions and grew up to write a book that debunked conventional wisdom about cities. Marjory and I – and David Godine, who was also in the audience – were delighted to see that Genius can work with such “young adults” and older ones too. We thoroughly enjoyed the lively exchange across generations and cultures.

[Glenna Lang is the illustrator / author of several Godine titles, including Genius of Common Sense.]

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