So Many Books, So Little Time…

Although I haven’t gotten around to posting about books lately, that definitely doesn’t mean I have not been reading!

Dear Martin by Nic Stone

Justyce McAllister comes from the rougher part of the neighborhood. A good kid, attending a mostly all white, ivy-league prep school, bound for Harvard; he hasn’t experienced the injustices of other African American teenagers. That is until the night he is in the wrong place at the wrong time. After being falsely accused, he now starts to notice all the injustices that have been going on around him.

With his best friend, Manny, who also happens to be African American, and one of the richest kids in the prep-school, they start to wonder about what causes people to be racially profiled. During one particular argument between the two, with loud music blaring out of their car, they cross paths with a cop. Shots ring out and one of them dies. But instead of the cop going on trial, it is the boys themselves who are put on trial. Are they “thugs” or are they innocent teenage boys who others will always see as hoodlums? This is a gripping tale that is sure to have you on the edge of your seat.

**Does contain strong language**

The Sun is Also A Star by Nicola Yoon

From the day Natasha and Daniel meet, their lives will never be the same. Natasha’s family hails from Jamaica (illegally in the United States) whereas Daniel’s family comes from Korea. The very day Natasha’s family is to be deported, she encounters Daniel on her way to the Immigration office where she is hoping to find a way to stay in the only country she has known. Natasha has always been one to believe in science and facts; Daniel has always been the “good” son, doing everything his traditional Korean family has wanted, but not the one thing he wants: to be a poet.

When their chance meeting happens, Daniel sees it as a sign, Natasha simply sees it as a coincidence. Daniel will spend the rest of the time trying to convince Natasha to fall in love with him, even using “scientific data” to prove it was meant to be.

What I felt was so compelling about this book is the way Yoon creatively interweaves Natasha’s and Daniel’s stories and backgrounds throughout the novel. Not only their lives, but we also get to be privy to the thoughts and lives of many minor characters that sound the two main protagonists. One such instance occurs when we meet Irene, an extremely depressed woman working as a security checker at the USCIS building. She spends her days looking through people’s belongings, not only as part of her job, but as a way to feel connected to others. After seeing Natasha for about a week, she decides to look more closely at Natasha’s phone case which has a picture of Nirvana. After listening to Nirvana’s album, and researching the suicide of Kurt Cobain, Irene decides to commit suicide. She ends up not following through though, after she receives a message that Natasha called to thank her (it turns out because of Irene taking so much time to “thoroughly” check Natasha through, this was a catalyst that helps cause Natasha and Daniel to meet. The book is checkered with many more occurrences between minor and major characters.

I really enjoyed the book and appreciated the countless amount of characters that you become connected to in this book. It is set to be released as a movie in 2019 and will be one that you will not want to miss!

Scythe & Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman

I think I just found my new favorites! Scythe and Thunderhead are the first two books from the Arc of Scythe series (book #3 The Toll is scheduled for a 2019 release). The series is set in a Dystopian society where artificial intelligence the “Thunderhead” now governs the world. Because of this poverty, disease, and even death no longer is a human concern. In order to maintain population balance, the Scythedom is commissioned with the task of “gleaning” (the only way people can actually die) certain people if they meet with certain statistical data criteria. Scythe’s therefore are treated with the upmost honor. Citra and Rowan are two students who become apprentices to be groomed into Scythe’s. But with a portion of the Scythedom becoming “new order Scythes” will they be able to live long enough to help put the world back into order?

I believe Shusterman does an excellent job at looking into what would happen if we were able to get everything we want. What could be the ramifications of that? What if the “Thunderhead” (which in our time is the ‘Cloud’) becomes essentially ‘God-Like’? These are definitely themes that Schusterman delves into with this series. Even though this looks at series situations, I also enjoyed a few of the lighter moments that are in these books, particularly when people commit “splattering”. Splattering is a game they play where as they “splatter” on windshields, etc. just like bugs. Who wouldn’t, in a society where you are just “deadish” for a while until you are revived at Revival Centers?

This is a great series for anyone who enjoys dystopian literature at its finest. It is written in such a way that is different from any other dystopian literature I have read thus far. **The Ending of Thunderhead will have you longing for more!

 

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The Wicked Deep

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“Love is an enchantress-devious and wild. It sneaks up behind you, soft and gentle and quiet, just before it slits your throat.” (Ernshaw 177). In 1822, three sisters arrive aboard a fur trade ship to the town of Sparrow, Oregon. Marguerite, Aurora, and Hazel Swan were beautiful, so beautiful that the men of Sparrow were enchanted. Because of this, the three sisters were accused of being witches, and were drowned in the harbor as a punishment.

Since then, for the past two centuries, during the summer solstice, the sisters arise to seek revenge on the town that sent them down to the bottom of the ocean. During theses few weeks, they will take over young girls’ bodies and lead unsuspecting boys to their watery death. On the eve of this year’s “Swan season” a newcomer arrives. Bo Carter is handsome and mysterious, soon meeting a local girl, Penny Talbot. She is able to see things others cannot. As mistrust spreads through the town, together they must try to navigate through the curse; while harboring secrets of their own…

This was a wonderfully powerful book with characters that are relatable. It’s a book about the redeeming power of love and what it means to be human. This book would be appropriate for high-school students and will appeal to those that like a book with a darker theme and a mystical element to it.

Ernshaw, Shea. The Wicked Deep. Simon Pulse, an Imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, 2018.

Reading Response ~ It’s Monday!!

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

For this reading, I chose to read Flowers for Algernon (the short story version). I chose this version since it is a story I have wanted to read for a while now, and I plan to use it in my Literature class this fall (and I knew I would only be using the short story version). After reading the short story, I am compelled to complete the novel at a later date; it is such an intriguing story!!

In a series of diary entries, we are introduced to the main character Charlie Gordon. Charlie is a man with an IQ of 68 who works as a janitor at the Donnegan’s Plastic Box Company. Charlie is selected to be part of an experiment that will increase his intelligence. The experiment has already been done on a lab mouse by the name of Algernon; which has shown to be a great success.

**Beware: Contains Spoilers**

Through Charlie’s diary entries, we see Charlie begin to gain intelligence through the language and spelling that is done. As Charlie begins to become more intelligent, he learns that his friends at the plastic company, were not really the friends he thought they were; they just liked to tease him. Now that he has become intelligent, his co-workers are scared of him and petition him to be fired. Charlie notices that Algernon’s intelligence is starting to decrease and becomes worried that this is an effect of the surgery. Charlie starts to experiment on his own to attempt to find the flaw causing the decrease. As his intelligence decreases, it is evident in the journal writing that Charlie does. Charlie ends up going back to his normal intelligence and decides to “move away”. Algernon, in the meantime, has died. Charlie’s last request is that someone continues to put flowers on Algernon’s grave.

I really enjoyed this story as it shows what the treatment of mentally challenged people can be like. Charlie’s feelings about wanting to be “normal” are heartbreaking. I think it’s a great story to teach about friendship, love, and death. It also shows how a sudden change in a person can impact their life and the lives of those around them. The short story is definitely a story middle school and high school students would be able to read. I have read that there are a few “mature” situations in the novel, so I will have to read that to decide what ages the novel would be more appropriate for.

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan

Pam Munoz Ryan has crafted a beautiful story that intertwines three extraordinary historical stories and one fascinating fantasy together into one not-soon-to-be forgotten novel. Otto becomes lost in the Black Forest where he meets three mysterious sisters. It is here that we are first introduced to the “enchanted” harmonica that will become the connection between the following three historical stories that follow.

In the stories that follow, we find three characters who face injustices in their lives. Friedrich, from Germany, who was born with a large birthmark on his face, has always been ridiculed for how he looks. The Germans also call him the “ugly son of the Jew-lover”. In his story, set during the Holocaust, we find Friedrich with not only the birthmark to contend with but also his father not wanting to align with Hitler. Because of this, Friedrich’s father is taken to Dachau. The next story is set in Pennsylvania during the Great Depression, where we meet Mike and his younger brother, Frank. With a grandmother too old to take care of them, they are sent to an orphanage with a cruel and deceiving director. When they are discovered to hold musical talent, they are taken to the home of the wealthy Mrs. Sturbridge. Unfortunately, Mrs. Sturbridge has problems of her own and no intention of adopting the boys. Mike is determined to hold onto his family at all costs. Finally, we are introduced to Ivy. Ivy is a Mexican-American migrant worker who has been living with her family in California. After the attack on Pearl-Harbor, her family moves to Orange County to work on the farm of a Japanese-American family, the Yamamotos. The Yamamotos have been sent to an internment camp with the other Japanese-Americans. Ivy faces institutional racism there, she and other Latino’s are made to attend a separate school from the rest. This is compounded by the fact that her best friend’s father also believes the Yamamotos are secret spies for the Japanese. In the end, the three stories merge into a wonderfully done conclusion.

I really loved the way Ms. Ryan interwove the stories together. Having the harmonica and music as the connection between all the stories I felt was brilliant. It is definitely a long novel with 592 pages, which I can see with deter some students. But if they give it a chance, I feel that there are many students that will fall in love with this book as much as I did. I found the way it was written with both fantasy and historical fiction new and exciting. Also, the way she was able to bring all stories together was scintillating.

Why Incorporate Diverse Literature in the ELA Classroom?

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s that time once again, a new school year… a new beginning. As you open the classroom door and scan around the room, what do you see…all students exactly the same? No, of course not, you look around and see all types of students; all makes and models. Male, female…blondes, brunettes, red heads…a variety of ethnicity and religions…from all different socioeconomic classes and family structures. America is known as the melting pot, therefore of course you wouldn’t expect to have a classroom full of exactly the same types of students.

And with this realization, would you expect all these students to have the same interests and desires? The simple answer to this question is…no. So why would you believe that all students would benefit from reading the same types of literature?

In 2017, there were approximately 50.7 million school children who attended public

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schools (“Digest of Education Statistics, 2016”). That amounts to 50.7 million different learning styles, 50.7 million interests, 50.7 million dreams, and 50.7 million students who have not  had the chance to be exposed to everything and everyone that this great world of ours offers.

Today’s America is more diverse then ever. It is important that students are able to read books that mirror their lives; books that students are able to feel a connection. Students need to feel like they are a part of something and literature is one avenue that allows this. Students who are not reading books that have characters they can relate to, start to feel less important…an outsider. They feel isolated and lonely; they gain a feeling of worthlessness.

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Pexels.com

Students also need to be able to connect to others that are unlike themselves. I know in a rural, conservative community like the one in which I reside, students are not exposed to as many different cultures, religions, backgrounds and sexual orientations as students in large cities. Therefore it is extremely important for students to be allowed to read diversely in order to become more informed, aware, and empathetic of others that are unlike themselves.

As elementary and high school teachers, it is our responsibility to help get students ready for the real world. Diversity is one aspect of this world. In order for students to feel valued and have an understanding and appreciation for others around them, we need to allow them to read as diversely as possible while they are in their formative years. I know that the more diverse literature that I have read and come in contact with, the more I have learned and become in more appreciative of all the different types of people in the world. The world will continue to become more and more diverse, and with this trend it is more important than ever that we incorporate diverse literature into the classroom to meet the needs of each and every student.

 

 

“Digest of Education Statistics, 2016.” Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary Education: School Year 2001-2002, E.D. Tab, National Center for Education Statistics, nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d16/tables/dt16_105.20.asp?current=yes.

 

Signature Assignment ~ Diverse Literature

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Understanding Diversity and Cultures

Target Grades: 9th -12th

Duration: 1-2 weeks (including reading text)

Goal: To give students an understanding and appreciation of other cultures and diversity in the world today using YA Literature.

Objectives: Students will develop diverse and multicultural perspectives, diverse and cultural consciousness, and increase their diverse and intercultural competences.

Instructional Delivery/Student Activities

Pre-reading Activities:

Quick Write:  What does diversity mean to you? What does culture mean to you? Why are cultures and diversity important?

Brainstorm: Create a list of events, current or historical, that show a lack of respect for a culture or for diversity. Discuss what the implications of these events were/are.

Think/Pair Share: Why is important to learn about other cultures? Why should we learn about others’ differences? What can be the result of not respecting differences?

Brainstorm: What are some ways people can become more informed and tolerant of others’ differences? What could be the result of learning about other cultures and diversity?

Reading Activities:

YA Literature: Students will pick a diverse YA literature book from a list provided by the teacher (or if they have one they would like to read, they may have it approved by the teacher).

Author’s Background: Research the author. Why do you think the author chose to write this particular book? Was there an underlying reason?

Title: Look at the title. What predictions can you make about the book? Is there a message about diversity/culture in the title?

Close Reading Activity: As the students read their chosen books, they will look for specific clues to diversity/culture:

  • Find four quotes from the book that explains the narrator’s point of view about the culture and/or diversity.
    • What do these quotes reveal about the narrator’s attitude?
  • Find three examples from the reading of new information you gained about the culture or diversity.
  • What is the theme of the story? The overall message the author is trying to get across?

Post Reading Activity

Write a paragraph explaining new information you gained from the reading. Cite at least three pieces of evidence to support your claim.

Extension Activity

Create a media presentation (podcast, video, slideshow, etc.) highlighting the reasons for learning about diversity and/or other cultures. Upload the presentation to my website to be shared and enjoyed by all.

Nebraska ELA Standards:

LA 10.1.6.a
Evaluate the meaning, reliability, and validity of text considering author’s
purpose, perspective, and contextual influences.
LA 10.1.6.b
Analyze and evaluate the relationships between elements of literary text
(e.g., characterization, setting, plot development, internal and external
conflict, inferred and recurring themes, point of view, tone, mood)
LA 10.1.4.a
Adjust reading strategies to persevere through text of increasing length
and/or complexity.
LA 10.1.6.g
Cite specific textual evidence to analyze and evaluate the effects of historical,
cultural, biographical, and political influences of literary and informational text
written by culturally diverse authors, to develop a regional, national, and
international multicultural perspective
LA 10.1.6.l
Build background knowledge and activate prior knowledge to clarify text,
deepen understanding, and make connections while reading complex text.
LA 10.1.6.m
Self-monitor comprehension and independently apply appropriate strategies
to understand complex text.
LA 10.1.6.n
Formulate and justify inferences with text evidence while previewing, reading,
and analyzing literary and informational text in various formats.
LA 10.1.6.o
Demonstrate an understanding of complex text by using textual evidence to
support analysis, reflection, and research via multiple mediums (e.g., writing,
artistic representation, video, other media)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading Response ~ It’s Monday!!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon

Fifteen-year-old Christopher Boone is a math genius with a few behavioral problems. He lives with his father in England as his mother died a couple of years ago.  One day, Christopher discovers his neighbor’s dog dead with a garden fork sticking out of him.  As Christopher is standing there, the neighbor, Mrs. Shears, sees Christopher by the dog and calls the police.

Christopher is released from the police, and decides to investigate the mystery much to the chagrin of his father. As he investigates, he is severely hampered by the fact that he also has an autism spectrum disorder (which is never stated, but there are clues to this fact throughout the novel; example: every chapter number is a prime number, something that he is comfortable with). While investigating, he also keeps a journal of his investigation, which he uses to turn into a book at the end.

His investigation leads to many “secrets” that he uncovers (I’m purposely not giving those away!) and also helps the reader see the difficulty that having an autism spectrum can have on dealing with various people and situations. Being that the story is told in first-person, the reader is able to come to an understanding that autism spectrum disorder can create.

One of the main parts of this book that I really enjoyed was not only the fact that I think it did a pretty decent job of showing a person with autism spectrum disorder and the way they see and interpret the world, it also showed that they are also very capable as is the case with Christopher going to take the advanced math test that is given to very few students. Although I wouldn’t put this book at the top of my most favorite, I enjoyed reading it and liked the fact that it showed what it is like to have a social disability and how the world looks different to those afflicted with this and other disorders like it.

The only caution that I have with this book, is the fact that it does contain quiet a few “f-words”. They are used in the context of the story where you would expect a character saying it, but I do think that it would be a caution for younger students to read.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Powerful. Emotional. Love. Guilt. One of the most intriguing books I have ever read. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is a story split into three separate parts. (**may contain spoilers**) In the first part, we are introduced to Amir, a Pashtun boy living a good life in Kabul, Afghanistan, along with his father, Baba, his fathers servant, Ali, and Ali’s son Hassan. Ali and Hassan are Hazara, considered the lower-class in Afghanistan. Amir’s father loves both boys, Amir and Hassan, but Amir never feels that he is good enough for his father. Amir and Hassan also spend their time kite flying, with Hassan being one of the best kite runners in all of Kabul. One day during a kite flying competition, Hassan runs to retrieve Amir’s kite and finds himself in an alley blocked by a sadistic bully named Assef. They had run-ins before, but at this point Hassan is trapped. Assaf severely harms Hassan, as Amir watches in the shadows. Amir’s guilt leads him to set Hassan up for stealing, which leads to Ali and Hassan leaving Baba’s house/employment much to the horror and sorrow of Baba.

Part two takes place five years later, when the Soviets intervene in Afghanistan. Baba and Amir have to flee Kabul to Pakistan and then finally arrive in California, where they begin a new life. The guilt of what Amir did to Hassan follows him closely, as we learn about the new lives of Amir and Baba in America. Baba eventually becomes ill and dies of cancer; Amir finds love and marries. Fifteen years after Amir’s wedding, he receives a call from his father’s best friend, Rahim Khan, in Pakistan who begs Amir to come back because he is dying and tells Amir, “There is a way to be good again”. Intrigued, Amir heads back to Pakistan.

The third part is all about the reason Rahim Khan called Amir back to his homeland. Amir learns that there is a way for him to partially right the wrong that he did as a child to the one person that would have given his life for him – Hassan. (I’m purposely leaving out a lot of information as not to spoil too much of this amazing book!)

I became so emotionally invested in this book that it was like loosing a loved one once I had finished. Hosseini has written characters that emotionally connect to the reader in a profound way. I think this is a book that high-schoolers through adults should read. It not only has the character development that is extremely engaging, but the historical context the old Afghanistan and the Afghanistan that the Taliban controlled is a powerful portrayal of destruction.

 

Reading Response ~ It’s Monday!!

Openly Straight

Openly Straight by Bill Konigsberg

Labels. Jock, cheerleader, goth, prep, druggy…labels define us. Rafe is a normal teenage boy living in the beautiful town of Boulder, Colorado. He plays soccer, skis in the mountains, loves to write, is Jewish, oh, and he’s openly gay. Rafe has known the love and support of his family and liberal community ever since opening up about his sexuality. His mother even became the president of the local chapter of GSA (Gay School Alliance) and threw him his own “coming out” party. But even with all this support, Rafe feels as if there is something missing in his life. He never has to hide who he is, and he is accepted by all. He starts to wonder though, what it would be like if he wasn’t tied down with the label of “the gay kid”. What would it be like to have people only know him as “Rafe”? Would his life be different? In an attempt to leave the label behind, Rafe comes up with the plan to enroll into an all-boys boarding school in Massachusetts, much to the chagrin of his ultra-hip (hippy) parents and best friend Claire Olivia.

Rafe is accepted into the boarding school with open arms. He joins the soccer team, where for the first time he is accepted into the “jock” club. He finds that his roommate is a “goth” and his roommate’s best friend is gay. He also becomes best friends with one of the most gorgeous boys on campus, Ben, and starts to fall in love. All this while hiding who he really is. What follows is a hilarious and soul-searching account of whether you can actually leave your label and past behind. Or is it even a good idea to try?

This witty book will appeal to straight and gay kids alike as they ride through the emotional roller-coaster that is Rafe’s life. It shows what it is like to be different, to want to fit in, and to finally learn that, just maybe, the best thing in life is to love yourself.