Tuesday, November 20, 2007

American Born Chinese by Gene Luch Yang

American Born Chinese by Gene Luch Yang

I originally chose this story for two reasons- first because it was the winner of the coveted Printz Award for Young Adult Literature, and second, it was a graphic novel. Because of reason number two many people were aghast that it won the Printz award and much controversy ensued as a result. So…I thought it might make for interesting discussion. Graphic novels have become the mostly widely circulated books in our collection and I was embarrassed to admit that I had not read any of them…so I thought this would be a good book to with which to start our blog.

I have to admit; at first I found the book to be a bit disconcerting…I found the three stories to be distracting…I kept waiting for the connection…I knew it had to be coming! I wasn’t disappointed. I felt the way the author pulled everything together was very ingenious; the way the stories blended together was great. I thought the messages about racism and stereotypes were excellent. Many of the reviews I read talked about how the message of accepting yourself as you are transcended the Chinese culture, that it was a message that all readers could benefit from. I’m not sure I’m sold on that thought. I wondered how many non-Asian readers would appreciate the story? If they would have the patience to see how the author was planning to pull everything together? Perhaps the exaggerated Chinese stereotype of Danny’s cousin would do the trick?

Overall, I liked the simple illustrations…I thought they were clean and sharp but effective in helping to tell the story. How did I like my foray into the world of Graphic Novels? I can definitely see the appeal to students, especially for reluctant readers. But I think I prefer an old fashioned novel. But I am happy to purchase them for our students.

Anxious to see what you all thought of the format, and the story.

Next book: Sold by Patrica McCormick

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Buried Onions by Gary Soto

This was our optional book- so I'm not sure how many of you had the chance to read it as we close in on the start of the school year! It's hard to say I what I thought of this book...it certainly spoke to me and moved me, but I selected it for this project not because I thought it would have general appeal or because it was a popular YA fiction pick...but because I thought it would reach a population in our school that could relate to Eddie. There are not many YA fiction titles with Hispanic protagonists and I thought this might fit the bill.

Having said that I do have do say the book left a mark on me. I loved some of the descriptions and imagery, for example, "I returned to my apartment, which was in a part of Fresno where fences sagged and the paint blistered on houses....Laundry wept from the lines, the faded flags of poor, ignorant, unemployable people." I especially loved the line "Laundry wept from the lines." I also loved the way he used the smell of onions as a symbol of their hopelessness, sorrow and anger- "I had a theory about those vapors, which were not released by the sun's heat but by a huge onion buried under the city. This onion made us cry. Tears leapt from our eyelashes and stained our faces."

I couldn't believe that his aunt really wanted him to avenge his cousins death?! I wonder if this is how it really is? I felt terrible that he was trying so hard to pull himself out of his bleak existence yet was thwarted by so many things- his aunt's pressures, the situation with his employer's truck, etc... My heart broke for him when he was talking about always having to run away and he said, "I was a regular Speedy Gonzalez, but so tired. I wanted to sit still, to keep from always running." I was thrilled when Coach Holmes was there for him...and glad he ultimately decided to join the navy. However, I was intrigued by the ending...did he make it back to the bus? I like to think he does.

Soto wrote a companion book to Buried Onions called The Afterlife which deals with the same events as Buried Onions...Eddie's cousin's murder, but is told from Chuy's (Jesus) point of view. The Afterlife begins just after Chuy's death- he then follows his cousin Eddie as Eddie tries to cope with Chuy's death and the ensuing fallout. I haven't read this book yet but reviews I've seen have said that The Afterlife is much more optimistic than Buried Onions. It might be very interesting to use both of these books in literature circles and then have groups compare how the events of the stories differ, depending on the perspective of the each boy.

This book definitely tells how it is for young people living in rough neighborhoods plagued by drive-bys, drugs, and desperate people...whether it's in Fresno or New York. This alone, in my opinion, make it a valuable read.

If anyone else had a chance to read it I would love to know what you thought.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Braid by Helen Frost

This book reminded me very much of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas...not the plot of course...but in the seemingly simple way it is told. Yet, like The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, this story also had much more depth to it...the story and literary techniques were much more than the reader first surmises.

This book also received "starred" reviews in the various journals. I was introduced to it at a YA reading workshop. And, I have to confess, at first I didn't think I would like it, but boy was I wrong! I read it through the first time because the story line compelled me. I loved the language and the narrative poems and the voices of the two sisters. The metaphor of the braid was powerful, and yet I was also intrigued by the historical component of the story and was anxious to learn more about this time period. Then I read the author's notes about the form of the poems and how they were "braided" together, how the line lengths are based on syllabic count etc... and this made me go back and read them more carefully. Wow! Amazing! I also loved the "praise" poems. I'm not an English teacher but I would think this book would have a wealth of fodder for the classroom. Is this a historical period we explore in global? Maybe Cathy could let us know.

And again, although the story seems simplistic I can really see this book working well for high school students...from honors to 15:1. I think the adventure and romance (teen pregnancy) would definitely draw in reluctant readers. What do those of you who work with special ed think? Reviewers had various suggested reading levels most suggested "grade 8 and up" and I would agree with this.

The only thing that bothered me was the almost too easy success of Jeannie and her mother in Canada. Did anyone else think the author glossed over their struggles? And I thought for sure that Sarah and Murdo were going to cross paths looking for each other....again their meeting up seemed too pat...but these little issues would not prevent me from recommending the book.

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

I really loved this book, it was not at all what I expected, I was expecting a more traditional holocaust story but boy was I surprised. I loved the perspective from which it is told. I don’t even know where to begin the discussion…there is so much about this fable that I would love to talk about!

First, I’m curious to see what you all thought of Bruno and Gretel? Did anyone else think that Bruno seem younger than nine? Maybe he had to be for this book to work? And at age 12 shouldn’t Gretel have known something of what was going on around her? Been involved in Hitler’s Youth? They both seemed terribly na├»ve to me. Bruno I could understand- Gretel??? Going even deeper…perhaps the author intended to use this to drive home the point that many people were ignorant of the killings during this time…whether they chose to close their eyes to the atrocities or just didn’t see it?

Second, the use of “out-with” and “Fury”. At first this just frustrated me…I wanted someone to please tell Bruno the correct pronunciations! But then the more I thought about it I realized the author used them as a literary device…a word play? And then the light bulb went off regarding the double meaning to these words. Think the kids would pick up on this? Too subtle? Also, I wonder if the author wanted to avoid naming the camp? Maybe he wanted it to be a generic name for any camp?

Third, again the parents! Didn’t they pay any attention to their children? Again, that background role! The mother had potential…but I wanted her to do more and to be “better.” I felt let down by her actions, or lack thereof. Was she typical of German females of her time?

The ending! Once again I had those rose colored glasses on! I did not see this coming at all. When Bruno put on the striped pajamas it dawned on me what was going to happen. WOW. My only regret is that the father never found his son’s body and never really discovered his sad fate…I wanted him to KNOW what happened to his boy and to feel terrible remorse…and to atone for his actions.

I was amazed at the feelings this book invoked in me. While only hinting at violence, hatred, and horrible conditions the author managed to certainly send a tremendous message. What a great read. I could easily see this paired with Diary of Anne Frank or Night. And it definitely has a place in the Global classroom!

I also loved the Author’s Note. I read an interview with the author is which he is asked about the fences he mentions in his note. His response was this: “As an Irishman growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, I was only too aware of the divides --- the fences --- that existed in my own country, and that caused violence and killing for families throughout Northern Ireland for too many years. And while those problems have for the most part been solved, it is easy to identify situations around the world throughout my own lifetime, in places such as South Africa, Kosovo, Srebenica, Rwanda, where the metaphorical fences that I talk about have existed/still exist. The genocide of the 1940s was perhaps the worst case of inhumanity that the world has ever seen, but we do not live in a peaceful world even now, 60 years later. I suppose I hoped that younger readers who might be moved by the story of Bruno & Shmuel would grow up with the intention of pulling those fences down wherever they existed, whenever they could.”

Powerful stuff. Anxious to hear what you all thought.

Harry Potter...don't read me if you haven't finished yet!

Kathy (and anyone else who has finished Harry Potter...)
I thought this would be an appropriate place to talk about Harry Potter. :) I'll publish my comments so that you have to actually click on the blog to read about it...I don't want to ruin it for anyone still reading...

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Looking for Alaska

I don't know were to begin. I confess I put off reading this book when it first was published, in spite of the fact that it got "starred" reviews and won the coveted Printz Award for Young Adult literature. I hesitated reading it because someone compared it to Catcher in the Rye, and Miles to Caulfield....and I was never a fan of that book! Sorry! This book, however, struck something in me. It was slow starting, but when I got hooked, I couldn't put it down. I am glad I finally read it!

I loved the language Greene uses, and Mile's voice. I loved the characters. I felt, by the end of the book, that I knew them. I admit, there were parts of the book that bothered me, for example, I was getting a little tired of Alaska's hollow feminists views...she had such potential to set the world on fire. I loved the passage on page 55 in which she says, "Jesus, I'm not going to be one of those people who sit around talking about what they're gonna do. I'm just going to do it. Imaging the future is kind of nostalgia....You spend your whole life stuck in the labyrinth thinking about how you'll escape it one day, and how awesome it will be, and imagining that future keeps you going, but you never do it. You just use the future to escape the present." I related to this concept, and the language Greene uses to express it. I found myself reading the passage over and over just to digest it. I loved this fiery part of Alaska...but then again, her risky, self-destructive behavior was frustrating. I was very angry at her for dying!

As I said earlier, I think Greene's use of language and the dialog between characters is sharp and funny. However, what drew me most to this book centers around it's characters (how could you not love a rapping Asian kid who know nothing about computers?! And the Colonel wanting to buy his mom a house...that being his "best day!") Greene does a phenomenal job getting me to care for these kids. I want to know about them. I want to know them as adults...are they successful? Happy? Greene does a great job drawing them out and unfolding them to the reader.

This may seem trite, but what really touched me was the fact the Miles became part of a group and had friends. I was elated when The Colonel took him under his wing and included him. I was so afraid that he would remain friendless at this school too. I kept waiting for the other foot to drop but it never did. I was proud that he went looking for the "Great Perhaps" and was so relieved that he was part of a group...even with all the ups and downs associated with this particular group.

I know the author does use some explicit scenes so I would not recommend this for younger students but I think high school students could handle it. I don't think it would prevent me from recommending it to students. What do you think? Perhaps it might make a great companion piece to Catcher in the Rye, or even maybe, A Separate Piece???

I'll stop here to see what others thought.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Big Mouth & Ugly Girl by Joyce Carol Oates

This was Joyce Carol Oates first foray into young adult fiction and was met with very positive reviews! It was a very timely topic to say the least...and still is.

I loved the book! I thought Oates did a great job developing the characters of Ursula and Matt. I was drawn to Ursula's character and immediately felt great compassion for her, and for Matt as well. We all know how easily words can be misconstrued and come back to haunt you...and we all know how hard it is to be different. I wanted to stand up and cheer when Ursula had the conviction to stand up for Matt and speak to the principal. I really liked how the relationship slowly developed between Matt and Ursula. I liked how Oates interwove the emails into the story...they were honest and gave great insight into the minds and insecurities of teenagers.

Although overall I liked this novel, and wouldn't think twice about recommending it to students, there were things that did bother me. I thought Ursula's relationship with her father was odd. Early in the book you have the sense that it is strained to say the least. However at the end you're given the impression that things are just fine between them. I thought this was odd...unless as Ursula's character develops and evolves from an angry, "ugly" girl Oates alters her point of view of her father?! Perhaps this is also true of her relationship with the basketball team?

Anxious to see what you all think!


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Summer Reading Blog

Welcome to the Young Adult Summer Reading Blog for BHS teachers. The field of Young Adult literature has really grown by leaps and bounds in recent years. There have been some tremendous works published for teens and I hope you'll enjoy reading the selections
we've chosen...it was tough to narrow it down to just 5. We tried to select a variety of titles covering different genres from historical to realistic fiction; award winners; books that might blend into your curriculum; and books to read just for pleasure. We have chosen 4 titles and a 5th optional book for those interested. The titles we've selected include The Boy in Striped Pajamas, Big Mouth and Ugly Girl, Looking for Alaska, Braid and Buried Onions (which is the optional title.) We will get you copies of the books and posting dates within the next few days.

Thanks for participating.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Inside Out by Terry Trueman

Inside Out by Terry Trueman.

I was really moved by this book. I found myself drawn to the characters immediately. It was amazing to me the depth of character development that Trueman created in such a short book. I felt I got a true sense of what a person with schizophrenia goes through…I thought Zach’s character was extremely well done. I really liked the technique Trueman uses in the beginning of each chapter to interweave excerpts from Zach's psychiatric records into the novel. The first person account of the robbery really gives the reader an insight into Zach’s problems. But being the eternal optimist that I am, I thought that since Zach was able to cope and keep Dirtbag and Rat at bay he was getting better and this episode was going to help him prove to himself that he could learn how to deal with his illness. I was crushed when we learn that he committed suicide. Didn’t see that coming.

I loved the empathy that Alan has for Zach. Again, I think Trueman very quickly, in a minimalist way, creates a situation in the novel that really evokes emotion from the reader. I end up really feeling for these two robbers. One of my favorite passages is when one of the older women calls them punks, and says they deserve what happens to them. Her friend responds, with a touch of her friend’s arm, “Ethel, please. They’re just boys whose mother is ill….” And I love Alan for being so kind and understanding of Alan! Again, I know those rose-colored glasses are on but I don’t want them to go to jail either. In the real world would this be wrapped up so nicely? Probably not, but I was happy that Dr. Curt agreed to help them.

Lastly, I felt that because this was such a short book, and a quick read, it would have appeal to reluctant readers. Anxious to hear what you all thought.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Ask Me No Questions

The first person account of a family, illegally in our country from Bangledesh, as they deal with tighened immigration proceedures after 9/11. I felt two ways about this book and am anxious to hear what you all thought. First I thought it gave the reader an extremely good view into how life is for illegal immigrants- especially those from the middle east after 9/11. I have not come across many books that tackle this topic, an extremely important one. But, I have a feeling that in reality, life is much harder than how it was depicted in this novel. I think it would be an extremely valuable book for our students to read. So many of us, especially young people, take citizenship in our countryfor granted.

However, I wanted more from the characters- especially the two sisters- Nadira and Aisha. Did anyone else feel this way? I felt the author only took us so far then backed off. I loved Nadira's character- how she found her voice after being over shadowed by her older, smarter sister. I liked her a lot...and really felt a connection to her...found myself rooting for her. I also connected to Aisha and her struggles to get into college. But once again I felt myself wanting to know more about them...more about their struggles and pain. Anxious to hear what everyone thought!