It’s Monday! What are you reading?: Week Seven

This week I read the first part of Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and the entirety of Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. My book club is reading Mrs. Peregrine’s Home this week and so far I am having a little trouble getting into. The dark, fantasy-like story line is outside of my comfort zone for sure. The deep family ties holding the plot down are probably what is keeping a hold of me. Well, that and my group members, they would appreciate if I read the book all the way through.

Me, Earl and the Dying Girl was also a dark story, but in a completely different way. The main character, Greg, is your typical misfit. He’s not really especially weird, outstandingly awkward or noticeably there. He’s just… there. His best friend is an outspoken kid from a poor neighborhood and a disconnected family. Unlike Greg, Earl makes his presme-earl-dying-girlence known and doesn’t hold much back. Together, the two of them make movies. This is really the only thing the unlikely pair has in common. Their movies are just two kids running around with a video camera and a loose plot jotted down on a script. At one point Greg’s mom guilts him into reconnecting with a part-time childhood friend, Rachel, after it is discovered she has a form of Leukemia. After the three friends get to know each other, the boys decide to make a video for Rachel. The problem is, the video is collection of their classmates’ grievances and get-well wishes. These classmates didn’t say thing nice, or really anything at all, to Rachel while she was a student. Now that she’s hospitalized, hearing her peers say sappy sweet things to a lens when they wouldn’t even look at her in person doesn’t fend well. In the end, Rachel dies and Earl ends up furious at Greg. I know, that is super vague and disappointing, but I am going to let you read the book for yourself to find out what emotions create this compelling story.

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Publishing a Better Generation

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As most of us grew up as book worms, I cannot imagine going to the library, my safe haven, and seeing shelves and shelves of books about girls who fought with their siblings and struggled with spelling and wanted to grow up just a little faster, and still weren’t about me. Unfortunately, this is the fate for many kids of underrepresented social, race and ethnic classes. If we, as future educators and book-enthusiasts, want to promote positive reading habits in America’s youth, we need to provide relate material.

As we’ve discussed before, the ability to relate to a text is the key to hooking anyone on reading. If America is so proud of its melting-pot persona, it needs to be reflected in our literature for more than just youthful purposes. Literature is a live documentation of human experiences, thoughts and feelings. It is how we learn about the past because it gives us insight to more than just historical facts. When future generations look back at us do we want them to continue reading literature by “dead white people” like we do? Or do we want to be the generation that changes the singular mindset of literature? Right now we are not on the right track to do so.

Rudine Sims Bishop talks about mirrors and windows in her article published at Ohio State University. By publishing predominantly works by the same type of authors, we are limiting so many kids to windows. These kids have enough windows to look through already in life; in history, in authority and government, in the media. It is time the books they read offer a clean, glittering mirror. Again, how can we expect reading to sweep them off their feet when we are walking them down a path they have never been before? To solve this problem, we need to attack the root. That leads us to another issue at hand, the beginning of this problem is abstract. Are publishers not excepting work by more diverse groups or are those groups not pursuing writing? If it is the later, a solution may be our very topic, providing them with more relatable reading because reading and writing go together like bookmarks and coffee stains.

It’s Monday! What are you reading?: Week Six

This week I read Life in the Fat Lane by Cherie Bennett. From the cover and summary provided inside the front cover, this sounds like every bullied kid’s dream come true. The beauty queen with straight A’s, an impeccable knack for music and the ambition to someday teach handicapped children. On top of all that, she’s the nicest person you’ll ever meet with a mysterious, artsy boyfriend. Suddenly, Lara Ardeche begins to gain weight. Despite dieting, pills, exercise, doctor’s appointments and even starvation, Lara just keeps on gaining weight. But Bennett’s story is much more than just that.

The story offers a look at the psychological, environmental and social effects weight gain can have on a person, specifically teenage girls. Lara’s mother was also a pageant queen so that is pretty much the only life she had ever known. Transforming from a sixteen-year-old stick to more than 200 pounds takes a psychological toll on Lara. Learning of her dad’s
multiyear affair does not help. Her younger brother, Scott, is standoffish but truly tries to be understanding as Lara struggles. Her mom on the other hand, refuses to acknowledge that anything is wrong with her marriage, tearing her and the family up. It is Lara’s passion for music that saves her, along with the rag-tag group of people she meets at her downtown studio.

If I could change one thing about the book, I know exactly what it would be. Efat-laneven though Lara is a self-loathing size 24 and has minimal self-esteem, she has no problem judging those around her whom are overweight. As the story goes on, we learn she has a disease that makes her gain weight with no remedies, Axell-Crowne. Even mentally this is her defense as she criticizes people with thoughts of how all they would have to do is eat healthier, how all these people are choosing to be fat and how she is defenseless. I
would have like to see a more understanding side of her emerge over the course of the plot. Instead, she knowingly reverts into a stiff-faced beauty queen with a generic personality.

In the end I would recommend this novel because, although they are not prevalent to the main character, it holds many lessons on self-acceptance, family problems, and understanding you cannot control everything that happens to you.

No Such Thing as a Bad Library

I had never really paid much attention to the importance of classroom libraries. As I was first reading our assignments this week over the topic, I kept thinking how it seemed like so much extra work, time and money when there is already a school library with a specific system and layout to cater all these needs. Then, the further I thought about, I realized that was the problem; school libraries are not meeting all the reading needs a student has to be a strong, confident reader.

This isn’t necessarily the libraries’ fault. Like we discussed previously, book banning and censoring limits library selections, especially in schools. Yes, books can still be questioned and protested in classrooms, but there is the freedom to buy whatever books you please, without permission from the school, state, or parents.

Another reason I may have found classrooms libraries an accessory instead of a necessity could be my personal experience with them. From what I can recall, my elementary classes and English classes all had a form of classroom libraries. The issue was, they were more for decoration than anything else. As a student who could tell you the Dewy Decimal system out of familiarization, I would have been a familiar visitor of these extra books, but I don’t think anyone used them. On the first day of school, teachers would point them out the way they point out bathroom passes – they are there if you need them, you know how to use them so just go for it, no discussion needed. Another aspect could be the selection. I can remember looking at those shelves in the back of my high school English rooms and seeing the exact same books we had across the building in the library. The difference? The library copy was hard cover, the dust cover was protected with industrial Saran Wrap- like material and no one had scribbled images or words on to the pages. Yes, abused books can still be read and loved, but why pick the battered, falling apart copies when I could get a strong one?

Here is where Kittle’s idea of having the students help manage the classroom library would play in. Students will take pride in their work if it is exactly that, their work. Had someone other than the tired teacher who tracked those books down cared for those paperbacks, they would have been in a more inviting condition.

Another positive impact stemming from classroom libraries would be the connection that can spark between a student and a teacher. We all know students learn better from people the can relate to and respect. If a classroom library is created largely from a teacher’s personal collection, the students can build a relationship of common interest once they begin to explore the collection. It would also show the positive outcome a love for reading can lead to (a career teaching others to love it!).

It’s Monday! What Are you Reading?: Week Five

This past week I dedicated my four hours of reading to two books that made me grateful for the life I have. The first one is a story we’ve all heard before and probably read in school at some point in time; “Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl”. Her story is written in letters to “Kitty”, her diary. As most of us know, the Franks were a Jewish family living in Germany. They were forced to go into hiding to escape the Nazis. Unfortunately, these cramped and stuffy conditions were the last months her family would ever all spend together. Their lives would end in the concentration camps, Anne’s just two months before they were liberated. Only her father would return home.

Reading this in the age of blogging made me wonder, if Anne had lived during a different time period, we may not have her story for all to read. Maybe we would find a flash drive with a video of her telling a webcam all about her life. I also couldn’t help but wonder what she would think of her diary being published. After all, she was just a teenager. How would fourteen year old you feel about the entire world having access to your inner most thoughts? Then again, I think Anne was a lot more mature than a lot of us are at that age.

The second story to make me take a long hard look at myself is the recipient of both the Coretta Scott King Award and the Printz Award. “The First Part Last” is told exactly the way the title says it is. The beginning of the book is actually the end of the story and, you guessed it, the end of the book tells us what happened in the beginning. Bobby, the speaker of the story, is a sixteen year old from the wrong part of town and is friends with trouble makers. What sets him apart is Feather, his daughter. Feathers mother isn’t mentioned for a large portion of the beginning. We learn her and Bobby were in the equivalent of love at fifteen when Nia finds out she’s pregnant. Their parents are noticeably frustrated and upset, but they support the couple in keeping the baby. Anyhow, most of the plot focuses on Bobby’s struggles as a single father. He is learning how to balance school, a social life and fatherhood. Every other chapter is a flashback and the chapters of the past tell how Bobby catered to Nia’s every need during pregnancy. He went to doctor’s appointments, brought her pizza at ten am and held her while she cried for reasons she didn’t know. In the end, we learn where Nia is the whole time after she has given birth to Feather.

Banning Books is Bad and here’s why

One of the first phrases that stuck out to me was “American schools”. Now America is the land of the free and home of the brave, yet it is the same place we burn books to prevent others from enjoying them and are scared to explain

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Courtesy CC

reality to our youth? Unfortunately, yes. Our nation as incredible percentages in access to education and literacy rates, but what is the point if a person can’t use it with a free will? That lead to me to wonder if other countries censor and ban books, too, and if they do, if it is just as intense.

 

Anyway, another aspect of the articles that stuck out to me was how The Students’ Right to Read exposed us to the specific reasons books were banned. I remember learning about banned and censored books in high school and we just had to guess or figure why a book was restricted, and there were very few we knew for sure. One of my favorite reasons on the list was “overly-realistic”. How can a book be too realistic? How will our children handle reality if a reality between the covers is too much for them to handle? We can’t expect radical decisions from a generation not allowed to read about life. That brings up my next problem with this topic. Now I understand (to an extent) war may be censored, and maybe sometimes the language just isn’t suitable for a certain age. But censoring poverty and sexual preferences is just wrong to me. No one chooses to live in poverty; that is just life for some and there are people in the world who want to hide that from our youth. Books involving gay themes should not be banned because a child’s sexuality will not change if they read these, but their understanding of the topic and compassion for others will expand. When we tell students gay books are wrong we are telling them gay is wrong, but it’s not. It is just different.

 “Censorship leaves students with an inadequate and distorted picture of the ideals, values, and problems of their culture. Writers may often represent their culture, or they may stand to the side and describe and evaluate that culture.”

~The Students’ Right to Read

Perhaps even worse, when books are banned we are also taking away opportunities from people other than readers. Authors, publishers, librarians and others are impacted by book banning. Shopkeepers, librarians and people of similar positions fear their jobs when it comes to certain books. Authors and publishers work diligently to present their art to the world only to have it cut from selections for their depictions of life.

I don’t know about you all, but I don’t want to live in a world where art has a limit.

It’s Monday! What Are you Reading?: Week Four

Let’s talk about sex, baby, let’s talk about you and me, let’s talk about all the good things, all the bad things, that may be. Let’s talk about sex…. Or we could just read Judy Blume’s “Forever…”

This book is pretty much sex education in a vague plot line that takes place in the 1970s. We begin with Katherine, a sassy high school senior who lives with her parents and younger sister. Katherine has a few colleges to pick from in the spring and a best friend named Erica. On New Year’s Eve, the two friends got to a party and meet Michael. We don’t know a lot about Michael other than he is tall, wears glasses and makes out with some chick named Elizabeth, until the morning when he decides to hit on Katherine. In blissful high school glory, they begin to date and fall pretty deep in forever_book_coverlust. It is hard to describe their relationship because they don’t have an emotional connection or anything in common. They do, however, spend plenty of time getting to know each other, if you know what I mean. Her parents are cautious about the relationship, leading Katherine to believe they disapprove of it. Her grandmother sends her pamphlets on STDs, birth control and other sexual health information. Secondary characters mentioned in the plot also deal with pregnancy, depression, and accepting reality. Katherine and Michael spend the weekend at a ski lodge and many dates in secluded places *wink wink*. As their relationship continues, Katherine is no longer her sassy self, but becomes more withdrawn as Michael grows more possessive. I honestly am still trying to find an attractive quality in him, honestly. In the end, the couple spends some time away the summer after graduation and they come to the rough conclusion that a relationship built on sexual pleasure only adds up to “Forever…”, not forever.

I would recommend this book to anyone who wants to read a story with minimal details. There is a note at the beginning explaining how times were different 40 years ago, when it was published and the sexual revolution was still impacting America. While it is not a great book, it is a good read. I say this as a person who has read it four times.

I also completed “Penny from Heaven” by Jennifer Holm. Penny is a 12-year-old girl living in the late 40s/early 50s. As far as she knows, her nickname stems from her late father’s love of the song “Penny from Heaven”. A rambunctious girl, Penny runs around with her cousin Frankie, pennywho isn’t always the best influence. In as the result of a weird treasure hunt, Penny winds up in the hospital where her mom works, with a disabled arm. Now, Penny has always been lead to believed her father died fighting in WWII, but some nurses reveal the truth while they believe she is unconscious. It turns out, the parents’ marriage was highly frowned upon, but one of her uncles supported them through and through. As a gift, he gave the happy couple a brand-new radio, a gift most Italians like Penny’s dad weren’t allowed to have…. But if I continue on it’ll ruin the ending for you and we wouldn’t that, now would we?

On the surface this looks like another fun-in-the-sun, blast-from-the-past novel, but the plot holds so much more. Read this if you live for strange twists and turns that work well in the story!