Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Assignment: # 1 of three popular mass market fiction narratives
Publishing info: New York: Hyperion: c. 2003. 196 p.
Genre: Inspirational fiction
Grades: 10 and up.
Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom, doesn’t appear to be a follow-up to Albom’s first novel, Tuesdays with Morrie, except in its sentimental language and delivery. Written almost as a parable, think John Steinbeck’s The Pearl, this novel, or more aptly novella, is about the life of an unremarkable man, amusement ride maintenance worker Eddie. His life takes on significant proportions when he dies on his 83rd birthday in rather spectacular fashion. While moving on to the hereafter, Eddie learns the purpose of his former life through the novel meeting of five people who have had some type of influence on his mortal life. The novel then goes on to illuminate the reader that lessons can be learned and applied to our own lives by what Eddie experiences. Personally, I am surprised by the amount of individuals, including young adults, who said they read this book and loved it. Definitely not one of my favorites, but at least I can discuss it in an informed manner. I doubt I would go out of my way to recommend this to high school students. However, if a student liked Tuesdays with Morrie, than this book should be a hit. The writing, although a bit saccharin, is not difficult by any means and may account for its extended time on the bestsellers list. What may prove useful to those who read it is Albom’s message that no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, or how insignificant our lives may appear, we are not isolated and our actions and the actions of others can make all the difference in the world. The book follows along the six degrees of separation popularity.
Chill Factor by Sandra Brown
Assignment: # 2 of three popular mass market fiction narratives
Publishing info.: New York: Simon Schuster: c2005. 338 p.
Genre: Romance, Mystery
Grades: 10 and up.
Sandra Brown has written a number of mysteries over the years that have been equally successful with the adult market, and have appeal with some young female adults. In this novel, Chill Factor, the main character, a recent divorcee, Lilly Martin is unknowingly at the mercy of a serial killer, Ben Tierney, after she quite literally runs into him when she loses control of her car during an ice storm. Lilly is returning to her Atlanta home after emptying her North Carolina mountain cabin she’d shared with her ex-husband of personal possessions. Distracted and exhausted following a heated argument with her ex-husband Dutch Burton, the local town’s chief of police, Lilly sets off on dangerous roads only to find herself hitting Ben Tierney who is walking along the road. Coincidentally, Tierney was stranded in the mountains after visiting one of many gravesites where he had left the bodies of young women he has killed over the last two years. Forced to return to her cabin with the injured Tierney, Lilly, is unaware that she is taking care of a serial killer who later becomes the focus of Chief Burton’s investigation into the disappearance of the five women. Stranded by the storm and their personal ailments, Lilly and Tierney are increasingly attracted to one another while in town a frustrated Chief Burton is trying to reach his ex-wife. The novel takes on more twists as Lilly begins to suspect Tierney as the serial killer, Blue, and her ex-husband realizes that her cabin mate is the suspected killer. Brown includes small town politics in an effective subplot that involves the abusive high school football coach, his son, a drunken sand truck driver, the FBI, a meddling pharmacist, and his extremely proper sister. Although the novel is marketed to adult women, I have had students in the past read Brown’s novels because of the skillful mix of a romantic thriller. If I had a large enough of budget to cover mass market fiction and nonfiction, I would purchase her work along with Dean Koontz, Stephen King, Nicholas Sparks and VC Andrews because of the amount of interest.
True Believer by Nicholas Sparks
Assignment: # 3 of three popular mass market fiction narratives
Publishing info.: New York: Warner Books: c2005. 464 p.
Genre: Romance, Contemporary fiction
Grades: 10 and up.
In Nicholas Spark’s novel, True Believer, a born skeptic and science journalist, New Yorker Jeremy Marsh, specializes in exposing frauds who prey on the innocent and misinformed. His most recent objective is to uncover the truth behind mysterious lights that appear in a decaying graveyard near the quaint town of Boone Creek, North Carolina at the invitation of local citizen, Doris McClellan, a diviner who also can predict the sex of unborn children. Curious and ready for a break from New York, Jeremy travels to Boone Creek and ends up falling for the local librarian, Lexie Darnell, the orphaned granddaughter of Doris McClellan, who he relies on for research materials. Unfortunately, Jeremy’s appearance and search into the graveyard’s mystery makes him the unwanted focus of the Mayor’s attention and effort to promote the lights for tourism. Romantic interest develops between big-city Jeremy and small-town Lexie despite their respective pasts and the efforts of a jealous would be boyfriend, local deputy Rodney Hopper. The novel is a bit predictable in its formula; the main characters fall in love, they break up, and finally and happily they reunite. All’s well that ends well. The novel has a subplot of misguided intentions both romantically and economically. This is a fairly easy read and bit too sweet and predictable for my tastes. However, one cannot ignore the popularity of Spark’s novels with men and women. I found myself having to bite my tongue when one of male colleagues shared how he really enjoyed Spark's work after I started to complain about “having to read” one of his books for the class. Who am I to judge? Just keep them reading.
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Assignment: # 1 of ten nonbook items
Narrated by Jeff Woodman
Publishing info.:New York: Recorded Books: c1996.
4 compact discs/4 hrs.
Genre: Coming of age, sports, bullying, friendship
Grades: 6 through 8.
This unabridged audio book of Spinelli’s novel Crash is as successful as the printed form. In Spinelli’s novel, Crash Coogan learns to see the world through the eyes of his neighbor who seems so oblivious to the abuse that Coogan heaps on him since almost the day they met. Narrator Jeff Woodman does a good job of narrating the story. Although I believe students should be reading more, I think there is a place for audio books in a collection and help further student’s interest in reading.
Holes by Louis Sachar
Assignment: # 2 of ten nonbook items
Narrated by Kerry Beyer.
Publishing info.: New York: Listening Library: c1999.
4 compact discs/ 4 hrs., 37 mins.
Genre: Coming of age, tall tale, adventure, friendship
Grades: 5 through 8.
In the novel, Holes, Stanley Yelnats, can’t get any breaks. Falsely accused and arrested, he is sentenced to a juvenile detention center in the middle of a desert inappropriately named Camp Green Lake. The camp’s warden makes the boys dig holes in search of treasure. As fitting as his palindrome name, the story is a quirky one as it takes on issues like bullies, friendship, homelessness and self acceptance resembling the form of a tall tale. Although the offbeat characters might not come across as well as they do in the written form, the audio book is worth having. This audio unabridged version of the novel was one of the top sellers in 2004 for audiotapes for the visually impaired, and students with learning disabilities.
Small Steps by Louis Sachar
Assignment: # 3 of ten nonbook items
Narrated by Curtis McClarin
Publishing info.: New York: Random House Audio: c2006.
5 compact discs/ 5 hrs., 12 mins.
Genre: Coming of age, teen problems, friendship, disabilities
Grades: 7 through 10.
This unabridged audio book is based on Sachar’s companion novel to Holes. Curtis McClarin narrates the story of Armpit, the teenage boy who is struggling with making the right choices after he returns home to Austin, TX. Armpit deals with uncaring parents, drugs and alcohol. The story is geared for an older audience than Holes with its rough language, romance, and unexpectedly harsh violence. Hearing Armpit’s story is a good balance to the original Holes. I liked the music at the beginning that draws you in as well. McClain is an accomplished actor and his skill is evident in this narration with his strong black male voice that lends weight and believability. The audio book is fairly well done, and should be included in a collection to continue to encourage reluctant readers, and students with learning and visual impairments.
The Reduced Shakespeare Company: The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)
Assignment: # 4 of ten nonbook items
Publishing info.: Silver Spring, MD: Acorn Media.: c2003
DVD 90 min.
Grades: 10 through Adult.
In this DVD, the Reduced Shakespeare Company, a three-man comedy troupe of Adam Long, Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor spoof William Shakespeare’s comedies and tragedies. For example, Othello is presented as a rap song, Titus Andronicus as a cooking show, and Hamlet is a goofy children’s puppet show. The delivery of these well-known plays in a vaudeville format is entertaining yet educational. The actors stay true to Shakespeare’s language. Although it isn’t essential to have read some of Shakespeare’s works, the DVD would be more useful as curriculum supplement if students have read at least some of the works mentioned to extend their appreciation.
Skeleton Man by Joseph Bruchac
Assignment: # 5 of ten nonbook items
Narrated by Carine Montbertrand
Publishing info.: New York: Recorded Books: c2004.
2 cassettes/2 hrs. 45 mins.
Genre: Mystery, ghost story
Grades: 5 through 8.
Molly wakes up one morning and discovers her parents didn’t return home from the previous night. Turned over to a great uncle she barely knows, Molly begins to have dreams about the Abenaki legend of the skeleton man. Molly tries to understand the significance of her dreams and whether they are warnings. What follows is a skillful blending of mystery and ghost story. Carine Montbertrand’s delivery is not as effective as reading the novel. The story does not seem as scary with her narration although she does narrate with a somewhat believable Canadian cadence and accent. More suited for reluctant readers.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Assignment: # 6 of ten nonbook items
Narrated by Jim Dale
Publishing info.: New York: Listening Library: c2005.
17 compact discs/18 hrs., 34 mins.
Genre: Fantasy, friendship, sports, mystery, magic
Grades: 5 and up.
Like an effective jigsaw puzzle, this sixth book in J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series pulls together many of the pieces of plots from the earlier books. Jim Dale narrated all the characters in the previous Harry Potter audio book series. The consistency of using the same narrator is an added bonus. Very few could complain with his effective character development and his delivery. It is easy to distinguish between characters. Although the length of the unabridged version of audio book is considerable, Harry Potter fans will appreciate having an audio book for long trips. It actually might appeal more to adults who don’t have the time for sitting down to read, but could delve into the book while exercising.
Pastures of Plenty Woody Guthrie
Assignment: # 7 of ten nonbook items
Publishing Info.: London: Prism Leisure Corp.: c1998.
Grades: 7 and up.
A collection of Woody Guthrie’s social commentary songs composed and performed about the struggles of the common man during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The CD is useful to supplement a unit on the Depression, or after reading The Grapes of Wrath. Copies of lyrics could be printed and used for discussion. Background on Guthrie should be included. Quality of sound track is very well done.
Clearwater Classics Pete Seeger
Assignment: # 8 of ten nonbook items
Publishing info.: New York: Sony Music Entertainment: c1993.
Grades: 6 and up.
This CD has two traditional ballads, “Barbara Allen” and “Darlin Corey”, usually studied in a British Literature class that make this CD worth owning if you don’t care for Pete Seeger. Students can read the ballads out of the textbook and at least one other version before hearing these two recordings. The goal of the listening to these versions is to give students a better understanding of the elements of a ballad and hear one performed. They still have a haunting element to them.
Passport to Culture
Assignment: # 9 of ten nonbook items
Publishing info.:Parkland, FLA: H & H Global, Inc. c2003.
Genre: Educational, trivia board game
Grades: 6 through adult.
This is an educational game about world cultures. The objective for the game is for players to test their knowledge of world cultures, customs, traditions, language, and food while circling the world on the game board and collecting Passport Stamps. The goal is to earn all of the needed passport stamps in order to win the game. Additionally, each player learns their cultural IQ based on number of questions asked and the number of correct answers given. In the early stages of the game, fundamental information is provided as an introduction to more difficult questions. You can have up to six players for each game or play as teams. The game is priced at $29.95 which makes it pricey if you want to have an entire class participate in smaller groups. The board and question cards are similar to Trivial Pursuit size. Overall format with colors and maps are great. Some of the pieces are small and could easily be lost. Students really enjoy the game. Extends and reinforces world geography curriculum and current events and is a nice way to break from the routine.
10 Days in Europe
Assignment: # 10 of ten nonbook items
Publishing info.: Madison: Out of the Box Publishing: c2005.
Genre: Educational board game
Grades: 6 through Adult.
This board game is designed for 2- 4 players and lasts usually 20-40 minutes. The objective of the game is to chart a course across Europe. The first player to complete a ten day journey where each day connects to the following is the winner. The game has approximately 47 country tiles, one for each country in Europe except six countries that have two. Unfortunately, some small countries are omitted. However, it doesn’t limit the learning. The game includes transportation tiles that represent either air travel or ship travel across the Atlantic, Mediterranean and Baltic. There are also connections possible between countries either by ferry or by foot. I like the size of the board and cards although they are smaller than most because they are easily manageable and necessary for game format. Graphics on cards are simple but appropriate. Additionally, this game is easily extended into longer learning opportunities. Students can use the format of the game and do their own presentation of ten days in Europe with additional research on cities, landmarks, customs, etc. Also, students could find a fiction, or even a nonfiction piece to read that takes place in one of the countries visited. The company also has 10 Days in Africa, and 10 Days in the USA. 10 Days in Asia is due this year. Each game costs $24.99 making it pricey for multiple sets... Well worth the cost though.
Assignment: # 11 of ten nonbook items
Publishing Info.:Toronto: Smartegg Games. c1998.
Genre: Strategy, trivia, spelling, and chance board game.
Grades: 7 through Adult.
Oxford Dilemma challenges players ages 12 and up in the following four categories: Geography, General, Famous and Science. Players must correctly define and spell a wide range of words with words varying in their level of difficulty and subject matter. The player who accumulates $10,000 or bankrupts all other players is the winner. However, it isn’t necessarily the person who is the most advanced speller who wins if he has be out maneuvered by his peers. The game comes with game board, seven playing pieces, 400 question cards, four category boxes, 48 credit/demerit cards, 26 alphabet cards, 18 wild/student loan/reference cards, paper money, and three dice. The game board resembles a Monopoly board but with a more Victorian appearance. Very attractive. Quite a few cards to keep track of is a concern. The game has two possible modes of play: Standard and Trivia. This is a fun diversion from spelling work, and requires students to think. A more sophisticated game and would really challenge younger students.
The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor Assignment: # 11 of ten nonbook items
Narrated by Gerald Doyle
Publishing info.: New York: Scholastic Audiobooks: c2006. 7 compact discs/8 hrs., 41 min.
Genre: fantasy Grades: 7 and up.
Frank Beddor takes Lewis Carroll’s heroine, Alice and retells her story as if the story were true but misrepresented. Alyss, and her friend Hatter Madigan are forced to flee Wonderlandia after Alyss’s evil aunt, Redd, overthrows Alyss’s parents and begins her reign of terror. Unfortunately, as Alyss and Hatter flee through the Pool of Tears, she and Hatter find themselves separated by time and distance. Hatter proceeds to search for his young charge, and Alyss grows up near Oxford where her incredible story is turned into a misguided whimsical child’s tale. Alyss returns to her home and rallies her troops to try and defeat Aunt Redd. The narration of this story by Gerald Doyle was effective. He develops all the characters well and the sound effects were fitting. This retelling of an old classic and the delivery added to my anticipation to the following books in the trilogy.
Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night by Mark Haddon
Narrated by Jeff Woodman
Publishing info.: New York: Recorded Books: c2003.
5 cassettes/6 hrs., 15 min. Genre: Murder mystery, contemporary realistic fiction, disabilities Grades: 9 and up.
I am not sure how long it would have taken me to read this book, but I enjoyed listening to it and ended up picking up the book so I could compare. I have had the book for some time and avoided reading it I think largely because the subject matter didn’t appeal to me at first glance. How wrong I was to judge a book on a short abstract. The story follows fifteen-year old Christopher Boone who has Asperger’s Syndrome as he solves the mystery of the neighbor’s murdered dog and discovers more personal truths. The journey Christopher undergoes is incredible yet painful. Woodman’s narration and Christopher’s characterization adds to the success of this audio book. What I did miss is the absence of the math problems that are in the original book which I think could be given to students to try and solve. I was taking a class on gifted education as I was listening to this audio and I ended up suggesting that others in my class read it as well.
Assignment: #1 of three graphic novels
Publication info.: New York : Nantier Beall Minoustchine/ComicsLit: c2003. 80 p.
Grades: 9 and up
George Guilbert, a young oceanographer, is the new helmsman on the aging French naval destroyer, the Bellicose. In the opening pages Guilbert is introduced to another young helmsman, Louis Bleno, and coxswain Sam Nordiz. The three find themselves estranged from the majority of the ship’s crew as the destroyer sets outs to hunt down an enemy submarine. Guilbert and Bleno, the newest of the crew, become seasick and are unable to fulfill their duties. In an effort to escape the effects of the rolling ship, Guilbert and Bleno with Nordiz as their guide enter the forbidden world of the destroyer’s lower regions. This underworld fascinates them as they navigate through ladders, pipes, decks and bulkheads. An unfortunate accident as the threesome face the ship’s huge speed abater, almost seems laughable, and causes near disaster as the ship’s gears are brought to a halt. Thus the three have to decide whether to face the wrath of the ship’s captain, a possible court martial, or possible starvation if they remain in the depths of the ship. The language of the sailors and some of its content seems very suited to the maritime life that is depicted. The novel’s oversized format lends itself to the drawings of the ship’s exterior, and the huge parts that run the ship and contrast with the cramped confines of the ship’s interior. Along with the scale of the novel, Blain also uses color to separate the parts of the destroyer. Above deck, Blain uses grays, blues and black, while below deck the colors become more intense with bright oranges, yellows and red that stand out against the black and gray drawings and mirror the mood of the story. The artwork is very stylized, with some characters almost undistinguishable from another, yet the parts of the ship seem to be realistic. Despite the tension of their circumstances, and the skill of the artwork, the novel ends up leaving the reader somewhat disappointed and frustrated trying to following the dialogue.
Booktalking ideas: 1. Show pictures of destroyers from WWII to the present. Ask students what length of time do they think a ship spends out at sea? What kind of missions might a ship be assigned? What is a helmsman’s responsibilities?
What happens to military vessels when they are taken out of service?
Clive Barker’s The Thief of Always by Kris Oprisko
Assignment: #2 of three graphic novels
Publication info: San Diego : IDW Publishing, c2005. 132 p.
Genre: Fantasy, horror
Grades: 7 and up
Not to be confused with Clive Barker’s 1992 fantasy novel with his own black and white illustrations, Oprisko’s adaptation takes Barker’s novel and presents the fable in graphic novel format. This is the first volume of three intended to cover the original story. Ten year old, Harvey Swick, is bored with the routine of his ordinary life and wishes for something more despite his mother’s caution to not wish life away since life is too short and it doesn’t solve anything. Like most children who don’t think their parents were ever young or could possibly understand what they are experiencing, Harvey knows he will just die if something more doesn’t happen in his gray February world. Something more does happen in the mysterious appearance of a visitor, Rictus who entices Harvey to leave the grip of the February beast and travel to Mr. Hood’s Holiday House where life is always bright and full of possibilities. Harvey is enticed to follow and meets two other children, Wendell and Lulu, and the housekeeper and cook, Mrs. Griffin. Each day is a marvel with four seasons enjoying springs and summers with abandon and celebrating countless Halloweens and Christmases. But not everything is as magical or as wonderful as it first appears. Harvey soon learns evil resides in the Holiday House as well and that there seems to be no escape from the grip of the house and Mr. Hood as he attempts to take more children’s souls. Harvey and Wendell manage to find their escape from all the terrifying monsters that inhabit the house and who try to prevent their leaving. Upon their return they find that days away from their families are in reality years, thirty years for Harvey. Harvey and figures out away to confront Mr. Hood and to take back what was stolen from him and the other children. The graphic novel is wonderfully illustrated with fairly realistic drawings of the children and adults and the nightmarish drawings of the monsters. The story and drawings pull you along. The dialogue is distinguished from the speakers whose only wrongdoing was being human and wanting more and the dark red, gray and black dialogue bubbles that signify evil. The dialogue is not overdone but complements the illustrations. I enjoyed the book and now want to read the original.
Booktalking ideas: 1. Scan some of the author’s drawings of Harvey Swick’s home at the beginning, the Holiday House with its four seasons. Ask students who hasn’t wished the gray days of February gone and wished for something more exciting? Are there tradeoffs for getting everything you wished? 2. Read the first three pages of the novel to the students especially the first line, “The great gray beast February had eaten Harvey Swick alive. Buried in the belly of that smothering month, he wondered if he would ever find his way out.” p. 5
Grease Monkey by Tim Eldred
Assignment: # 3 of three graphic novels
Publication info.: New York : Tor Books, c2006. 352 p.
Genre: Science fiction, comedy, coming-of-age
Awards: Winner of Best Book for Young Adults 2007, ALA
Grades: 9 and up
An alien armada wiped out nearly 60% of Earth’s population, and fortunately for mankind and gorillas, friendly aliens help them rebuild by using their advanced technology. These generous aliens accelerate the gorillas with rapid evolution so that their intelligence will provide Earth with additional help to get them into space. Cadets Robin Plotnik and Kevin Nedelmat arrive at the Fist of Earth, part of the Earth’s space fleet. Both dream of becoming fighter mechanics and making a name for themselves. Kevin chooses poorly and finds himself hanging out with a group of wise guys and slackers and is eventually heading back to Earth. Robin, the protagonist, on the other hand, is assigned to work chief mechanic: Mac Gimbensky, an eight-hundred pound gorilla with a reputation of disposing his assistants who mess up. Apparently Mac’s reputation is more talk than reality. Robin and Mac become close friends by sharing a common affection over a pulp fiction writer. They maintain the space fighters for the Barbarians, the women-only group of pilots who beat all other teams in the rankings. Although this life is challenging, Robin soon realizes he’s found his calling. Robin enjoys Mac and the Barbarians as a group of talented outsiders who strike envy in the form of ridicule from other pilots on the ship. Besides learning how to deal with challenging work, and a difficult mentor, Robin struggles with his first romance, friendship, betrayal, politics, and, worst of all, embarassing parents. Robin's transition from awkward youth to a mature young man make the novel fun to read. Over 350 pages the novel is pretty daunting, but you keep reading. There are twenty-four adventures, three vignettes, and bonus material that keep readers going. The art helps tell the story instead of just illustrating it with included diagrams of the ship, and individual fighters, that add depth to the book. Despite the black, gray and white drawings, this lack of color seems to work. The dialogue is fun and the narrative engaging.
Booktalking ideas: 1. Raise the question of what would happen if the world came under alien attack, and most of the human population was eliminated. How would you reenergize Earth? What animal species do you think could be given intelligence so that it could work alongside humans? What are some of the consequences of this? 2. Bring in other science fiction works to help promote the work, like movies Star Wars and the Planet of the Apes, and the book Enders Game.
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Assignment: #1 of ten narratives
Publication info.: Lincoln : University of Nebraska Press, c2006. 237 p.
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
Awards: Alex Award 2007
Grades: 9 and up
“Elsewhere the sky is the roof of the world; but here the earth was the floor of the sky.” Willa Cather, Death Comes for the Archbishop, 1927. Joern uses the preceding quote as an introduction to her novel and as an insight to the attitude of principle characters. Set in the western Nebraska Sand Hills The Floor of the Sky tells the story of a family whose lives are intertwined in many ways with their rural farm land. One summer, sixteen year old granddaughter Lila returns "home" pregnant to be cared for by her grandmother Toby. Lila has left her mother, Nola Jean, behind in Minneapolis; Lila is convinced her mother doesn’t care about her or the difficult choice she must make. Despite her arrival and need for help, Lila makes it difficult for her grandmother to talk to her and it is up to Toby to try and break through the barrier that Lila has erected all the while dealing with issues of trying to save the family farm from foreclosure and pleasing her sour older sister Gertie who currently lives with her. Although the novel seems focused on Lila’s story, we learn through the different narrators, Toby, Lila, George and Gertie, of the many secrets that the family keep and how they tie them all together. The story includes Lila’s search for a family for her unborn child, her reacquaintance with her cousin Clay, her disapproval of his disastrous love affair, her awareness of mother’s and her grandmother’s past mistakes, her great aunt Gertie’s inability to care for and accept her husband Howard’s illness, as well as her grandmother Toby’s and George's, the hired hand, past tragic family history. Most importantly Lila realizes that although rural life can be unforgiving and difficult, it is worth preserving.
Although this novel's writing might seem more difficult than average it this novel is works on many levels. Not only do you have the story of a young girl facing the choice of whether to raise her unborn baby or give it up for adoption, but you also have the dynamics of family relationships and how people deal with past hurts, romances, prejudices, and faith. The writing is beautiful and the novel would appeal to many because of its regional and rural setting.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. Download pictures of the sand hills of Nebraska, rural farms, Sears home packages from Depression era catalogues. Ask students if they have ever visited the region? How difficult of a life do you think it might be living in this region? Are you familiar with how homes were purchased by catalogue for a period of time? 2. Find pictures of a teenage girl who has multiple piercings. Ask students to describe what type of person they think would live in a rural community. Do they have dreams? tragedies? regrets? Show picture of girl. Do you think she would fit in to this rural landscape? Why or why not?
Pirates! by Celia Rees
Assignment: #2 of ten narratives
Publication info.: New York : Bloomsbury, c2003. 380 p.
Genre: Historical fiction, action and adventure, romance
Awards: Iowa High School Book Award 2006-2007, Teen's Top 10 Awards-Amazon
Grades: 7 and up
Pirates! is not your typical pirate adventure story. Set in 1722 England and the West Indies, the story is told by the protagonist, sixteen year old Nancy Kington's whose life is turned upside down when she learns she is to be married off to Bartholome a cruel, yet wealthy plantation owner and former ex-pirate in order to help settle her family's debts. Nancy is in love with William, a young naval officer who doesn't meet her family's approval. After she arrives at the family plantation in Jamaica, Nancy runs away with her slave friend, Minerva Sharpe, who she later learns is actually her half sister. The girls begin a life of adventure when they join up with other pirates in search of treasure while still being relentlessly pursued by Bartholome who will stop at nothing to have Nancy as his wife. Although the majority of the novel takes place on the high seas, it deals with issues of slavery, arranged marriages, the role of women in the 1700's, and the adventure, freedom and risk that the pirate life offered, especially for women disguised as men. This novel will appeal to those who enjoy adventure stories, specifically pirate tales, historical fiction and strong, yet rebellious, heroines.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. Ask students if they liked Johnny Depp's two movies, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl and Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest? Do they like adventure stories? Romance? This book has it all. 2. Bring in nonfiction books on pirates that include illustrations of two female pirates Anne Bonny and Mary Read and read excerpts about them. Ask students if they had ever heard of them. Do you think that women would make successful pirates? If caught, do you think that they should or would receive the same fate as other pirates?
The Last Chance Texaco by Brent Hartinger
Assignment: #3 of ten narratives
Publication info.: New York : HarperCollins, c2004. 225 p.
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction
Grades: 7 and up
Orphaned fifteen year old Lucy Pitt finds herself a new tenant at a Kindle Home, or as the residents refer to it, The Last Chance Texaco, a last-chance group foster home. This is Lucy's last chance to have any semblance of a normal life if she doesn't make any errors. Cautious and certain that no one cares as much as they profess, Lucy slowly learns that the social workers, Ben and his wife Gina, Leon Dogman, the counselor at this group home, and Mrs. Morgan the house mother, do care about their charges. Wanting to avoid being sent away to Rabbit Island, better known as Eat-Their-Young Island, Lucy tries to turn her life around despite the indifference of Emil the house therapist, and the destructive actions of a fellow resident. There is more to the story than a girl who is trying to stay out of trouble. Lucy experiences her first love falling for Nate Brandon one of the rich, popular kids in the local school who initially misjudges her. She also will solve a mystery that threatens to close the group home down and her first chance of a home since her parents' deaths. Readers will have a better understanding of group homes, the children who live there, and the obstacles they face. Hartinger gives a fairly realistic view of the lives of teenagers.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. Leon Dogman, the house counselor says "There isn't anything in Kindle Home that isn't broken somehow." Is he just talking about the house? Or is he talking about the characters being broken? In what way is the broken house a metaphor for Lucy? 2. In the book they talk about last chances. Is there a point where a person is beyond redemption? 3. Is Lucy to blame for her situation?
Code Talker by Joseph Bruchac
Assignment: #4 of ten narratives
Publication info.: New York : Dial Press, c2005. 240 p.
Genre: Historical fiction
Awards: 2006 Best Books for Young Adults, starred book review in Library Media Connection
Grades: 6 through 9
Grandfather Ned Begay tells the story of his part in World War II, and his people’s sacrifice and his own journey from a young boy to a seasoned soldier. When six year old Ned Begay leaves his family for the Navajo mission school, he enters a world where the white instructors attempt to erase all traces of his people’s culture and language supposedly to better his and other Native American boys’ chances to fit into a white world. Fortunately for Ned and the United States, many boys like Ned refuse to buckle under to the constant abuse and continue to use their language in secret while additionally retaining many of their customs. It is this stubbornness that will prove vital to the United States during the World War II when code talkers are so desperately needed. Instead of being dismissed as useless, the government ironically recognizes the value of this ancient language and the tenacity of its speakers, and actively recruits Navajo Native Americans for a secret program that relies on the language for an unbreakable code. It takes a couple years for Ned to actually join the Marines due to his age; however, with his determination and skillful omission he is able to enlist in 1943, at the age of 16, and joins the other nearly 400 fellow Navajos in this program that uses their native language in radio communications to deter the Japanese during the South Pacific campaigns at locations like Iwo Jima, Guam, Bouganville, and Okinawa. Ned returns to his people after surviving these campaigns remaining silent about his and his fellow soldier’s heroic part in the war effort despite the fact it would help them gain the respect they had sacrificed for and so richly deserved. It isn't until 1968 that this information became declassified and Begay's people and other Americans can learn of the Navajo's important contribution to the war effort during WWII.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. Bring in information about how many Native Americans have served in the armed services. 2. Bring in books about cryptology.
Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohara
Assignment: # 5 of ten narratives
Publication info.: Aladdin Paperbacks: New York : c 2004. 244 p.
Genre: Historical fiction
Awards: 2005 Newbery Medal Award, starred book review in Booklist, Publisher's Weekly
Grades: 6 and up
Set in the 1950's, Kira-Kira is told from the point of view of younger sister Katie, who tells the story of how she and her Japanese-American family move from a rural Iowa to Georgia where she and her family experience their first encounters of racism. In Iowa her family had time together while her parents ran their oriental grocery store, but due to financial troubles they are forced to join other Japanese families in Georgia and work at the local poultry processing factory and hatchery. Their lives don't seem to improve as they live in poverty despite the many hours and sacrifice both her parents work. In the beginning of the novel, the tone seems light and hopeful, like the title Kira-Kira which Katie's older sister Lynn tells her means glittering. However, Katie's narrative and her parent's world become more somber as they learn that the illness that has left Lynn tired isn't anemia but childhood lymphoma. Katie learns eventually that despite her sister's death that she can see the world as a place that glitters. This story stays with you as you suffer through the family's pain and you celebrate their capacity for love and forgiveness.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. Ask students for examples of segregation and racism in the United States. 2. Talk about the Japanese internment camps of WWII.
Handbook for Boys: A Novel by Walter Dean Myers
Assignment: # 6 of ten narratives
Publication info.: New York: Scholastic, Inc., c 2002. 211 p.
Genre: Contemporary realistic fiction, Coming-of-age
Awards: Vandergriff's 100
Grades: 9 and up
Sixteen year old Jimmy Lynch is charged with assaulting a classmate. The judge chooses not to send him to a youth correctional facility for six months, but instead places him on supervised probation and under the direction of Duke Wilson, a lo
cal barber who has volunteered to act as his mentor. Wilson owns and operates his barbershop in Harlem and has taken the initiative to start a community mentoring program for boys like Jimmy and and Kevin, a 17 year old who had been charged with possession after his mother caught him smoking and turned him in. Jimmy and Kevin view their obligation to work for Duke as a daily torture chamber as they suffer abuse and unasked for advice from Duke and his friends. However, it doesn't take long before Jimmy realizes that these old men are just rambling on but giving them important life lessons. By using various community members who can be used as examples of what little one can do with one's life, or more importantly what they accomplish if they work for it and stay out of trouble, Jimmy turns his life around.
Swear to Howdy by Wendelin Van Draanen
Assignment: # 7 of ten narratives
Publishing info.: New York: Yearling Book. c2003. 126 p.
Genre: Coming of Age, juvenile fiction
Grades: 5 through 8.
Looking for a book suitable for reluctant young male readers? Swear to Howdy is sure to grab their attention with the very first chapter. Reminiscent of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn , this novel covers the troubling antics of two 12 year olds, Joey Banks and Rusty Cooper who have been fast friends ever since Rusty’s family moved next door to Joey’s in the small southern town of Lost River. Rusty and Joey spend their free time getting into a variety of scrapes orchestrated by Joey that seem to always go wrong and require an oath of silence “Swear to howdy, if you tell…” . Both boys have an older sister who seems to get special treatment from their parents. Like most young brothers, Rusty and Joey enjoy tormenting their older sisters. Rusty however realizes that the differences that exist in their home life might be the reason for Joey’s behavior. When one of Joey's pranks goes tragically too far, both boys struggle with keeping their vow of silence. The novel teaches some tough moral lessons.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. Have you ever moved to a new town or gone to a different school and didn’t know anyone? Do you remember how you felt? 2. Have you ever made a promise that was almost too unbearable to keep? 3. Would you jeopardize your friendship if it meant you could keep a friend safe? 4. Discuss how different decisions made by these characters could have changed the outcome of the story. 5. Do you think that sibling rivalry and basic gender differences between brothers and sisters create problems?
Frenchtown Summer by Robert Cormier
Assignment: 8 of ten narratives
Publishing info.: New York: Dell-Laurel-Leaf. c1999. 113 p.
Genre: Coming of age novel
Awards: Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Young Adult Fiction, Vandergrift's 100
Grades: 6 through 8.
Although the setting and theme resemble Cormier’s other works, the unusual format of this novel written entirely in free verse makes it distinctive. Set in the summer of 1938 in the Frenchtown section of a small town in Massachusetts, the story follows Eugene, age 12, who is going through some rights of passage experiences. Eugene wonders about his place and role in the world. This summer will be a time for Eugene to try to better some of the experiences taht take place. Not only will Eugene Eugene wants to better understand his distant father, and wonders if his father actually loves him. Eugene gets new glasses and begins to see his neighborhood through new eyes. He seemingly connects an unsolved murder with his favorite uncle, shares the wonderful discovery of an airplane in the neighborhood, falls in love for the first time-with a nun, gets his first job as a paperboy, and recognizes the gravity of his father’s job loss, and experiences heartbreak when his uncle commits suicide.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. Read the first sentence of the book, where Eugene remembers “that summer in Frenchtown in the days when I knew my name but did not know who I was.” What do you think Eugene learns about himself by the end of the book? 2. Does the format of the book, written in free verse, change your reading experience?
The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd
Assignment: # 9 of ten narratives
Publishing info.: New York: Penguin. c2002. 302 p.
Grades: 7 and up
Set in South Carolina in 1964 during the turbulent Civil Rights era, The Secret Life of Bees is the coming-of-age story of fourteen year-old girl Lily Owens. Lily lives with her emotionally detached and harsh father, T-Ray, while Rosaleen, a proud and outspoken black woman, serves as her stand-in mother. Despite Rosaleen's efforts, Lily longs for her long deceased mother, Deborah, who died when Lily was four during a domestic dispute. Unfortunately, Lily's father tells her she is the cause for her mother's death. When Rosaleen is attacked by three racists, she is subsequently arrested. Lily rescues Rosaleen from jail and they escape their small South Carolina town and seek sanctuary elsewhere. Lily has a picture of a black Madonna with the words Tiburon, South Carolina on the back that she found in her mother's things. This becomes the guide that leads her to the Boatwright sisters, three black beekeepers who give her a home, a better understanding of herself, and their love. Lily learns that the sisters pray to a black Madonna, whom they call "Our Lady of Chains". During this time with the three sisters, Lily doesn't find the mother she lost, but she does come to terms with her mother's death. Lily also learns to forgive her father and to accept his inability to love. This book should appeal to adults as well as younger women.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. One of the Boatwright sisters May built a wailing wall to help her come to terms with the pain she felt. Do we also need "rituals," like wailing walls, to help us deal with our grief and suffering? 2. What prompted Rosaleen to spit on the three men's shoes? What does it take for a person to stand up to others?
Nailed by Patrick Jones
Assignment: #10 of ten narratives
Publishing info.: New York: Walker Books: c2006. 216 p.
Genre: Coming-of-Age, Contemporary realistic fiction
Grades: 9 through 12
According to sixteen-year-old Bret Hendricks father, “The nail that sticks out the farthest gets hammered the hardest.” Thus is the metaphor and title significance. Bret, an aspiring actor, musician, poet, songwriter and somewhat of a misfit, sticks out the farthest in the local high school that pays homage to the world of jocks because he refuses to conform to their perception of what is normal. What results is endless harassment and examples of intolerance that escalates into Bret’s need to strike back, a subsequent suspension and a potential lawsuit. The constant abuse Bret endures at school is almost shocking and makes for interesting discussion. The novel includes Bret’s foray into a romantic relationship and the bitter lesson when he is betrayed by not only his girlfriend, but by also a good friend. The novel has more dimensions to it when we learn the reason behind Bret's family dynamics. The tension between Bret and his father is realistic. This is a good book about nonconformity, bullying, free speech and learning to accept one's individuality. Students should be able to identify with the issues addressed. Teachers will consider the role they play in students' lives after reading this novel.
Booktalking Ideas: 1. Before reading the book, what do you think is meant by "The nail that sticks out the farthest gets hammered the hardest?” 2. After reading the novel, does the quote mean anything different to you? 3. Is Nailed an appropriate title for the novel? 4. Do you think Bret brought on some of the problems he faced? Should he have fought back?