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?