Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Loser by Jerry Spinelli

Prior to beginning to read Loser by Jerry Spinelli, my little brother tried to stray me away from it. Apparently he read this book last year and in his words, Loser is "boring and made me fall asleep". I was rather surprised by his reaction to it, considering I loved reading Stargirl in the beginning of the semester. Spinelli is a wonderful author and incorporates elements that are relatable to children and teens. Obviously I didn't let my little brother's opinion cloud my judgment! 
Unlike him, I enjoyed reading this book. Like Stargirl, Zinkoff is a bit of an outsider, constantly being ridiculed and judged by his classmates. I like the fact that Spinelli includes characters that are not deemed popular, because after all, how many of us would have considered ourselves part of the popular crowd in school? While reading Loser, I found myself constantly making connections to Stargirl. Ultimately both of these stories focus on not only the main character accepting who they are, but having their classmates realize that "different" does not necessarily mean a bad thing. I think this is something that all kids can relate to. There are many kids who are shy, quirky or seem not to fit in for other reasons. It is because there is something wrong with them, but rather because their peers cannot accept someone who is unlike them. This is something that both Stargirl and Zinkoff struggled with. Obviously they are two wonderful kids who shouldn't have to change in order to please anyone (although Stargirl did change for a while, but that's beside the point). 
I am interested in reading more of Spinelli's books and seeing whether or not the main characters show similar qualities to both Stargirl and Zinkoff. Can you believe that prior to this course I've never read a book by Spinelli? I'm glad that has changed. 

Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson

While in between proctoring exam today at School #9, I stumbled upon Behind You by Jacqueline Woodson, in the principal's office. What a coincidence considering I used her for my reader response! Obviously I had to read the first couple of pages. While only a few pages in, I was hooked. It is interesting to read how the characters are effected by Miah's death. From family members, to friends and of course Ellie, each character has unique experiences and feelings after dealing with just a traumatic loss. I was also intrigued by the fact that Miah narrated portions of the book. This indicates that his soul is still lingering on, watching over those he left behind. Although I was only able to read about 15 pages of the book, I can already tell that this is going to be part of my summer reading list. Behind You has a completely different feel than If You Come Softly. There's more of an eery and ominous feeling to it, as the characters are grappling with the loss of Miah.  One of the chapters I was able to read focused on Kennedy and how he often feels as though Miah is around him, patting him on the back. A bit bizarre considering his soul truly is lingering around! I look forward to continuing to read this book. I can't wait to read the chapters on Ellie and see how she is dealing with this entire ordeal. A definite must read.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson

    Aside from Brown Girl Dreaming and If You Come Softly, I decided to read Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson. Being only 100 pages in length made tackling this book less stressful! I was immediately intrigued by the fact that this book served as Lonnie, the main characters' journal of poetry. After losing both his mother and father in a fire, Lonnie and his little sister are separated and sent to live with different foster parents. Like it would be for any child, this was a difficult thing for Lonnie to adjust to. As a coping mechanism, his teacher asked him to write poetry, although he was reluctant to do so at first. Through words, Lonnie is able to express his feelings and concerns about seeing his sister.
       What I found to be interesting about this book is the fact that as you are reading Lonnie's poetry, you actually feel like you're taking on the role of the main character. It is as if you are reading your own work of poetry. This is exactly how it felt for me when I was reading Sold by Patricia McCormack last week. Told from the perspective of Lakshmi, it's hard not to fall into the characters' shoes. This is a reason why I enjoy reading books told in the first person. They allow me to envision myself as the main character and understand how the situations they are faced with shape who they are.
     Referring back to the topic of adoption discussed throughout Locomotion, I found myself thinking about my older brother a lot. When he was only 3 months old, my parents adopted him. As my brother got older, he often felt different and disconnected from my family because he was adopted. I think it is important to talk about this particular issue discussed throughout Locomotion because it is so prevalent in our society. I wish that my brother had an opportunity to read books like this in school. It might have made it a lot easier for him to accept not only himself, but the situation he was in.

Brown Girl Dreaming....again

    Yes, I am posting about Brown Girl Dreaming again...is it that obvious that I really like this book? I am still amazed by how quickly I was captivated by this book, despite having a limited familiarity with free-verse poetry. Honestly, before taking this course I have never been introduced to books that utilize free-verse poetry as a structure. I'm glad to be taking away a newfound appreciation for this particular style of writing, from this class!
      Last week Dr. Jones informed me that she had been listening to the audio version of this book. What surprised me was the fact that Jacqueline herself was narrating the story! Considering the fact that this is a memoir about her life as a little girl, I was immediately interested in listening to her read the story out loud. It's really weird to listen to an author read a book they wrote about their own life-its mind boggling! As I began to listen, I was taken back by not only the tone of voice she used, but the pace that she read at as well. Needless to say, I was definitely reading her book in a completely different way. I think this just goes to show that their are countless interpretations to how a book can be read. WAIT....I literally just had an "ah-ha" moment. I recall learning about the transaction that occurs between an author and the words they write for their audience (not sure if this was LTED 600 or 609). From the perspective of our good ole friend Kucer, we learned that readers often misinterpret or read a text differently than the author had intended. Obviously the author is the only one who truly knows how their work was meant to be read. It is up to the author to structure their writing and use of word choice to set the stage for how a reader might interpret and read a text.
      Although I finished reading Brown Girl Dreaming a few weeks ago, I would like to take the time to follow along in my book and listen to Jacqueline read more excerpts. I am interested to see whether or not the way I interpret the text or the message I take away from it will change based on the way she narraters it.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Sold (2014 film adaption)

So as I often do, I went in search of a book trailer for Sold by Patricia McCormick. To my surprise I discovered that there is a film adaption of her book! I am surprised that this movie has not had more media attention (it has only about 12,000 views on YouTube).  Although I often feel as though film adaptions are never as good as the book, I would like to watch this movie. After reading the book (which you should always do first), I like to make comparisons and see whether or not the images I created in my head were reflected on the screen. 

Here is the link!    Sold (2014) -movie trailer

Sold by Patricia McCormick

      Although this weeks author study consisted of novels which discuss sensitive topics, I enjoyed both Sold and Purple Heart. Out of the two, I would have to say that Sold was my favorite...clearly I have developed an interest in free-verse poetry! Like Libby, Patricia McCormick's efforts to bring light to sensitive topics such as human trafficking, have sparked my interest. I think this is mainly due to the fact that I know little about the subject matter and reading about it in a novel seems far less intimidating and disturbing to me. Maybe this is because of the fact that the information is not directly linked to a true story? Yes, McCormick did use her visit to the Himalayas as inspiration for her novel, but it is not blatantly clear to readers how much is fictitious or not.
       With that being said, I still found myself in awe of Lakshmi's experience as a victim of sexual slavery. How could things like this occur around the world? I cannot begin to wrap my head around the fact that sexual slavery is something that continues to exist, often without anyone knowing.  Lakshmi was simply a young and naive girl who wanted to ensure that her family had means of survival (food, shelter, money, etc.). It broke my heart when she unknowingly was sold into this lifestyle. At the tender age of thirteen, Lakshmi did not fully understand what was happening to her and why. All she knew was that her life would never be the same.
         One page of this book which really stood out to me and sent an ache in my heart can be found on page 125:

I hurt. 
I am torn and bleeding where the men have been.
I pray to the gods to make the hurting go away.
To make the burning and the aching and the bleeding stop.
Music and laughter come from the room next door.
Horns and shouting come from the street below.
No one can hear me,
Not even the gods.

I think this poem captivates the essence of how all victims of sexual slavery feel.There is a constant sense of physical and emotional pain that they must deal with. Although Lakshmi is describing the physical pain that she endured, I think the last 4 stanzas reflect the pain of knowing that no one can hear her or save her from this lifestyle that she wants to get out of so badly. As I was reading this page,  a visual immediately came to my head. I could picture Lakshmi in a vulnerable state, knowing that no one was there to protect her. It amazes me to think that Lakshmi's experience can reflect the feelings of so many children who are victims of sexual slavery. After reading this page, I wondered if the people she heard outside would have helped her if they had known what was happening.  

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne

     I thought I'd start off the week by posting the book review I wrote for the TBF blog. Monument 14 was definitely unlike any other book I have read. I have always considered myself a bit of a science fiction nerd, although my interest simply spans to The Hunger Games Trilogy and The Divergent Series. Considering Monument 14 is another science fiction book series, I thought choosing this for my TBF blog would be the perfect opportunity to introduce myself to other works of science fiction literature.
     One aspect of Monument 14 that I particularly enjoyed was the authors' use of imagery and rich details. This allowed me to not only comprehend the storyline, but create mental images as well. This is a quality of literature which led to my love of reading as a child. As a reader, I have understood that books are simply more than words on a page, but rather they evoke a message and allow readers to escape. Science fiction novels are one of my favorite genres for this very reason. Obviously the events that occurred in this novel are unlikely to ever happen in our society. This allows me to escape into a world that is unreal and unlike anything I know.
    From what I have learned in my literacy courses thus far, children tends to lean toward works of literature that they are able to connect to, ones that contain elements they can relate to. Yet, for me the opposite tends to be true. Like many readers, I enjoy reading books that contains characters I do not necessarily relate to nor storylines that are similar to my own life.

Below is the bulk of my TBF book review!
       It all starts when brothers Dean and Alex woke up late for school and in a panic, rushed down the stairs to catch their bus. Without even a "goodbye" or "I love you" to their mother. Would the two brothers have taken the time to say these things if they had known what was "in store" for them?(This "pun" will make a lot more sense as you continue to read my review!)  What seemed like a normal ride to school, quickly turned into a catastrophe complete with a giant hailstorm falling from the sky, destroying everything in its path. After Dean's bus crashes, the high-schoolers are luckily picked up by the elementary school bus and taken to seek refuge in a Greenway superstore.
       Things start to get really interesting when Mrs. Wooly, the bus driver, leaves the group of students on their own while she goes to find help. Forced to create their own "society" in the superstore, the students begin to understand the importance of teamwork, rationing food and living together in harmony. As if being on their own doesn't prove to be enough of a challenge for the students, the Network is knocked out as a result of the hailstorm. The ability to communicate with others and use the internet have been destroyed. Honestly, losing the Network would be enough to send me into a panic! After hailstorms, the Network outage and a nuclear power plant spill, the students are simply put over the edge.
       Things start to look really bad when Mr. Appleton and Robbie inform Dean and the others that their only hope is to seek refuge in Alaska.  With a plan in motion to drive the school bus to the Denver airport, Dean, his twin neighbors and Astrid decide to stay in the superstore.
        Will the others make it to the airport and safely land in Alaska? What will happen to Dean and the rest of his classmates who stayed behind? I'll let those questions linger with you for a while! Again, I would highly recommend Monument 14 for those of you who enjoy scientific fiction novels or would like to step outside of your comfort zone. And when this book captivates your interest and reels you in, you'll be glad to know that it is part of a series!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

The Three Doctors in Rochester, NY!!

As I was searching youtube for a book trailer on We Beat the Street, I stumble upon a video of the Three Doctors speaking to students at Edison Tech High School a few years ago. The students actually created projects and study groups which focused on Sharon M. Draper's book about 5 years ago. I think it's wonderful that all three of the doctors were able to make an appearance at the high school and speak to students on the importance of education and achieving their dreams, despite obstacles in life. I can only imagine how special this day was for the students, because it gave them a chance to meet three individuals whom were in situations similar to their own.  I wish I had an opportunity to meet many of the influential authors in my life while growing up. Genuinely jealous of these students!

Here is the link. Take a look! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DksvnBfYbeg

We Beat the Street by Sharon M. Draper

     We Beat the Street by Sharon M. Draper is a wonderful book that I would highly recommend! Whether you enjoy learning about following your dreams or facing adversity, this work of literature would truly captivate your interest rather quickly! Growing up in the inner city myself, I was able to identify with not only the central themes of this book, but the backgrounds that created roadblocks for the Three Doctors. One part of the book that stuck with me, can be found on page 131: "No one had ever given them permission to dream so large or to visualize the possibility of success."  This quote resonated with me for several  reasons. The first being that a lot of my peers growing up quickly shot down the possibility of going off to college and achieving their dreams; simply because it was not the norm for them.  I can name a handful of people who looked at me as if I was crazy in high school, when I stated that I intended on going to college in order to become a teacher.
It seemed as though this was something unusual or unobtainable for so many of my classmates. Not because they did not have what it takes to go to college, but because it was not an idea that was placed in their head as being achievable. Like many of my classmates growing up, Rameck, George and Sampson believed that college was a far-fetched dream. Yet, it is important to realize that although this may seem unrealistic, it doesn't mean that you shouldn't take a risk. I really enjoyed reading about The Three Doctors journey and the events in their life which shaped who they are today. I admire their decision to work in the community that they grew up in. This is something that has always been a dream of mine. As a graduate of the RCSD, I would love nothing more than to give back to my community and make a difference in the lives of children; as so many teachers had done for me in the past. 
        In relation to the content of this book, I think that including reflections from the Three Doctors after every chapter was a wonderful idea. Not only did it allow them to reflect on the events in their lives that occurred so long ago, but it gave me as a reader a better understanding of who they were as individuals. Reading the reflections also made them more relatable, in the sense that they understood that some of the things they did growing up could and should have been done differently. Obviously they were not perfect and did not make the best decisions as teenager. I think its admirable to see how they each reflect on their lives and make note of how such subtle events can make the more tremendous impacts. 

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

In an effort to utilize my “spring break” effectively, I have been reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson. After reading Yellow Star and Crank, transitioning to another free verse prose novel was that much easier for me. It is interesting to read a novel about the life of the author. Although Jacqueline Woodson was born decades before me (I swear I’m not calling her old!), I have found myself flagging endless pages that I can relate to my own life. Page 181, is the most recent section that I have flagged and in my opinion is the one that relates the most to my own experiences. This section is entitled, “our father, fading away.” As I was reading this, I was amazed by how familiar the emotions Jacqueline felt were for me. Like her, I did not grow up with my father in my life after the age of eleven. “We forget the color of his skin; was his voice deep or high?” These were verses that evoked so much emotion for me. I can completely relate to how Jacqueline felt, knowing that the memory of her father was fading away. Interesting enough, I had a discussion about this very topic with my mom not too long ago. Having an es
tranged relationship with my own father, it had dawned on me that I do not remember much about him, including his voice and how he looks. 
I think that I was able to relate to Jacqueline’s experience that much more because, it was authentic and real. This is an aspect of Brown Girl Dreaming that I particularly enjoyed. Having read so many young adult novels in the past that were fictitious, I found myself more intrigued and engaged in how Jacqueline described her own life experiences. I could not help but dive into this book; wanting to learn more and more about Jacqueline’s childhood.
Considering the fact that she grew up during the 60s, civil rights was heavily prevalent throughout the book. It was interesting to see how this event in history not only impacted Jacqueline, but her friends and family as well. Jacqueline’s friendship with a young hispanic girl named Maria was one that stood out to me, in the mist of this. Although racism was evident during this time, Jacqueline formed a lasting friendship with Maria. I’m glad Jacqueline had someone like Maria in her life. Someone she could not only relate to, but learn so much from. Culture was one thing that the two girls were able to share with one another;  as evident by them constantly trading their mothers signature meals with each other. Through something as simple as a plate of food, Jacqueline and Maria were able to learn about the dishes that were common in their cultures. 

Brown Girl Dreaming is unlike any book that I have read. I found myself intrigued by Jacqueline Woodson’s childhood, including her family and how she came to love writing. I think every author should take the time to write a memoir, because it allows readers to understand where they are coming from as a writer. After reading Jacqueline’s memoir, I have a much greater appreciation for her as a author. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Yellow Star by Jennifer Roy

    Yet again, another work of literature centered around the Holocaust that I am in awe of.  When Dr. Jones informed us that it was about the life of a woman who lived in Rochester for a period of time, I knew that I had to read this book. Like many of you, I've read countless chapters in textbooks and have watched movies that focus on WWII/Holocaust. Considering this is something I've learned so much about in the classroom, it's hard for me to even imagine the fact that there are survivors living in my hometown. Speaking of Syvia, I was quite surprised to find out that she gives tours at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. I actually had the opportunity to visit the museum last year and wonder whether or not she was there at the time! As I was reading about the ways in which Syvia keeps her story alive, I immediately wanted to commend her; it takes a strong person to walk the halls of the Holocaust museum and speak to tourist in an effort to keep the memories alive. (I could not even make it through the entire door without breaking down and having to go outside).
     I really enjoyed this work of free verse poetry primarily due to the writers choice of telling it from Syvia's perspective. It made it that much easier to believe and relate to. As I was reading, I found myself imagining what life was like for Syvia and I could vividly picture the experiences she had in the ghetto and hiding in the cellar with the other children. I think having background knowledge on this particular subject matter made it that much easier to picture the events that took place.
     One seen that stood out to me was when Syvia and her father hid in the cemetery in an effort to hide from the Nazis. Although I knew that Syvia survived the ghetto, I could not help but be on the edge of my seating as I was reading this section. Would the Nazis spot them? Would her father be shot for defying the Nazis? These were some of the many questions that ran through my head at the time.  I honestly do that think I would have the courage to do what Syvia's father did; in make such a strong attempt to hide her from the Nazis. This is something that I have noticed throughout not only Yellow Star, but many works of literature centered on this topic; characters courage to go against the orders of Nazis. It is hard for me to even fathom having to deal with what the Jews did. Yet, I guess when you're in this situation, you will do anything to save your children and loved ones.
       Toward the very end of the novel, on page 219, something Jennifer Roy has caused by brain to spin over the past few days. As troops stormed in to save Syvia and the remaining Jews in the ghetto, her father stated that they only spotted them from their planes due to their yellow stars standing out from down below. It amazes me that the same thing which labeled them as inferior and less than man, saved their lives. This is probably one of the most powerful sections of the novel in my opinion. In a way, I can almost picture one of the Jews laughing at the Nazis and mocking their efforts to brand them with the yellow star; as in the end it helped them survive and avoid being bombed by Polish troops.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

When Death Comes Knockin'

    I am beginning to notice that there is not one single overarching theme in The Book Thief, but rather there are so many essential elements that bring the story to life. One theme that I have noticed throughout the book, focuses on mortality.  This is something that is set up for readers from the very beginning, as evident by a passage from page 3 which reads: “HERE IS A SMALL FACT: You are going to die.”  Not to mention, that the book is told from the perspective of death.  It honestly took me quite some time to understand that Death served as the narrator. Once I became aware of this, the story captivated me even more….how could the story be told from the perspective of death? Who’s death does he represent? These were questions that often came to mind as I was reading. I kept reading with the idea that Liesel was going to die, which made me extremely nervous because I did not want her to! (Luckily she did not in fact die).  Considering the fact that from the very beginning death acknowledged that this book would not have a fairy tale ending, but rather a tragic one, I read with great anticipation for what would occur next.  I think that the theme of mortality is stronger since it is told with the perspective of death in mind.
Since I have read so many book focused on the Holocaust/ World War II, I knew that death would play a critical role in The Book Thief.  The honesty of how death is inevitable is something that was easy for me be convinced of.  Yet, I like how the narrator described the experiences of so many characters, that it was hard for me to predict who would die. With that being sad, I initially thought that Max would be a prime candidate for death; clearly that was not the case though. From what I know about the events that took place during this time period, and other stories I have read about Jews in hiding, I formed an initial prediction that Max would be captured and sent to a concentration camp, where he would unfortunately die from the conditions. Honestly, I was glad this was not the case. The Book Thief opened my eyes to the fact that my background knowledge on this topic would not play in my favor this time around. I was completely shocked when Rosa, Hans and Rudy died! I would not have guessed in a million years that the three of them would be killed as a result of bombing in their town.  I became immediately sad when I read this portion of the book. How could such an innocent little boy and a couple who tried to help a Jewish man hide from the Nazis die? This is when I began to think back to how death sets the stage for the story, by stating that death is ultimately inevitable. You never know when it will come for you or why, but unfortunately it is a fact of life. 
            Being that the Holocaust is one of my favorite topics to read or watch movies about, I was not at all surprised by the impact that The Book Thief would have on me. How could such a powerful and interesting story be one that I am just now taking the time to read? Either way, I am SO glad that this was a part of our reading assignment this week.  Considering I loved the book so much, I question whether watching the movie would change my mindset or ruin the imagery that I have created myself. I have always been the kind of person who likes to compare the film adaption to books, but I am not so sure if I want to do that this time. My minding is currently racing with so many important themes and critical aspects of the book, that I would hate to have them ruined by a poor film adaption (not that I am saying the film is in fact rubbish).  Sometimes you just need to leave things up to your imagination! 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

     Initially I was intimidated by the length of this book...almost 600 pages on top of everything else that I have to read seemed like a difficult task to complete. After being captivated by the first 140 pages, I am so engaged, that the length no longer bothers me. In fact, I would probably be upset if it was any shorter! There is still so much that I want to know about Liesel and her parents hiding Max in their basement, that I am excited to dive into the remaining pages.
    Considering the fact that I have always been drawn to books centered around the Holocaust/ WWII, I knew that I would love this one. Although I am only about a 4th of the way through The Book Thief, I am intrigued and captivated by Liesel and the events that are occurring in her life. Another reason why I am so drawn toward this book is the fact that it is unlike any books about the Holocaust/ WWII that I have read. Books such as The Diary of Anne Frank or Night focus on the perspectives of Jewish people; individuals who know the immediate impacts of the Holocaust. The Book Thief is unlike any of these books, in the sense that it does not tell the story from the perspective of such characters, but rather focuses on a young German girl who is coming to understand the impact of Hitler's regime from an entirely different viewpoint. It's nice to read a book from this perspective, due to the fact that it reinforces the fact that there were Germans who did not necessarily believe in the words of Hitler and wanted to help those who were ostracized.
     As I am lying in bed with The Book Thief in hand, I cannot help but escape into this time period and imagine how life would have been. Through Markus Zusak's use of imagery and powerful word choice, escaping becomes that much easier. On page 77 I can just feel the emotions that Liesel was going through as she attempted to read in front of her classmates. It is through events like this where Liesel recited excerpts from The Gravedigger's Handbook that I began to understand the importance that books had in her life.  Stealing this book ultimately resulted in her having a close relationship with Papa. It was once he found it in her bedroom that they decided to read it together; resulting in Papa teaching Liesel how to read in the basement. Would Papa and Liesel have such a close relationship if it were not for her stealing The Gravedigger's Handbook? Whatever the case may be, I often smile when reading about them; especially since Liesel was a foster child and creating a close father-daughter relationship can be that much more difficult.  As I continue to read, I hope that Liesel is able to maintain such a close bond with her father, despite the events that begin to build up (Nazi Germany taking control).
    Throughout the book I have also been flagging important events or quotes that stand out to me. This is beginning to be rather difficult and overwhelming, as there are SO MANY things that I want to flag. Honestly, this book is amazing and I question why I am just now taking the time to read it.  With only a 4th of the book under my belt, I have already flagged several pages. One page in particular that I flagged was when Liesel first met her new mother and father. This was something that resonated with me because my older brother is adopted and was placed in a foster home for the first few months of his life. Although he most likely did not experience the same emotions as Liesel, as he was so young, I tried putting myself in both of their shoes and understanding how something like this can impact who you are as a person. I look forward to reading the rest of this book and finding more personal connections!


Saturday, February 21, 2015

Tackling Youth Involvement in Gangs

   In response to my last post, I wanted to seek out information pertaining to youth involvement in gangs. This article serves as a great resource; it not only provides programs for children to turn to, but  addresses risk factors and stereotypes. Take a look! 


As I was looking through this website, a thought came to mind: how many books can I name that focus on the issue of gang violence? Honestly, I couldn't think of a single one besides Yummy. After doing a quick Google search, I found two children's books that deal with the topic. Please let me know if there are any other books that you know of! Although this is a touchy subject to read about in a classroom setting, I think it's important to have a few books about it in my personal library. 

Examples I came across:

Drive-By  by Lynne Ewing 
Durango Street  by Frank Bonham 

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

 First off, I would just like to say that I LOVED this book. Considering the fact that I have never read a graphic novel before, I was hesitant about reading this one. I'm definitely going to purchase my own copy of Yummy! Being a visual learner, the illustrations helped me comprehend and imagine the situations described in the book. This is a component of graphic novels that often helps readers understand the meaning of the text. The nice thing about Yummy, like most graphic novels, is that the sequence art does not give readers a complete picture. This is when I had to fill in the gaps and visualize the entire image/situation myself. I particularly like this aspect of graphic novels, because it forced me to not only comprehend the information, but create a mental image as well.
    Growing up in the inner-city, violence is something that is often glorified and perpetuated by people in my community. As I was reading about Yummy's story, I found myself wondering how many times I have heard my classmates brag about beating people up; as if violence is something to be proud of.  I think that introducing this book to students can change their perceptions of violence and understand that there are more positive ways to make friends and feel part of a group.
    G. Neri did a wonderful job of crafting a rather depressing story into a work of literature that allows readers to walk away with several powerful messages. One aspect of the graphic novel that I think is important to acknowledge is that Yummy was torn between two worlds. Described as a sweet and kind child by close friends and family, they could never imagine Yummy taking another young life.  It amazed me when the narrator said that he often saw Yummy carrying around a teddy bear.  This goes to show that Yummy was not the tough, gang member that he tried to act as, but rather he was still a child. How could someone so young and innocent get caught up in a life of crime? Sadly, this is something that occurs far too often in our society. At that age, children do not understand the magnitude of their actions, because they are so focused on fitting in and feeling a part of a group. As I was reading, I could not understand why Yummy would  fall into this lifestyle. Yes it was evident that he wanted to feel important and tough to his peers, but there are other ways to do so; ways that do not involve joining a gang. I often found myself saying “wow, if I was in Yummy’s shoes, I would not have joined a gang.”  As I continued to read, I had to understand the circumstances that Yummy lived in and how glorified the gang-life was. This may not have been something I would get involved in, but Yummy lived in an entirely different world than myself. 
This is when I began to sympathize with Yummy. I felt bad for his involvement in a lifestyle that he did not necessarily wish to partake in. You could tell that he felt remorse for killing Shavon and that this was never his intention. Yummy was a child who simply wanted to be accepted and feel part of a group. Yet, choosing to be a part of a gang clearly had negative side effects for him and his community. 
I think that Yummy’s story can be a wake up call for many readers who either live a similar lifestyle as him, or know others who do. Page 87 of the book speaks to this rather well, when the reverend stated, “this death was not for nothing. It got your attention! Take a good look! Cry if you will, but make up your mind that you will never let your life end like this!” It is important to acknowledge that yes Yummy’s life was tragically cut short due to his involvement in a gang, yet we all have something to learn from this. We can either walk down the same path as Yummy and engage in a life of violence, or stray away and make better choices for ourselves.
      Reading this graphic novel has suddenly sparked my interest in knowing statistics related to youth involvement in gangs. I do recall briefly discussing the topic in one of my undergraduate sociology courses (Crime and Justice), but do not remember much information. As a teacher, violence and gang affiliation may very well be an issue that hits close to home with some of my future students. I hope that I can become more knowledgeable in this area; as it is no surprise that the issues which impact students outside of the classroom can ultimately effect them in the classroom as well. 


Thursday, February 19, 2015

Feed by M.T. Anderson vocabulary resource

Here is the link which contains a lot of those unfamiliar vocabulary words that we talked about during our literature circle tonight. I'm so glad I was able to find this resource! Looking through these words and understanding what they meant, helped me comprehend the rest of the book. I would have never guessed what half of these words were referring to. Sometimes you have to do a little online searching when context clues don't suffice! 


Wednesday, February 18, 2015

If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson

    Considering the fact that we only had to read one science fiction novel this week, I thought I'd take the time to begin reading If You Come Softly by Jacqueline Woodson. No harm in getting a head start on my author study! I was particularly interested in reading this book due to the theme of a love story between an interracial couple. Being half black and white myself, I'd like to understand the reactions and effects that often come along with being in an interracial couple. As I've stated in previous posts, growing up I endured a lot of ridicule from my peers due to my skin color. I can't even tell you the amount of times I've heard people tell me that I need to "pick a side." Um excuse me, but how can I choose between two ethnicities that define who I am. It doesn't make any sense!
   From what I've read thus far, one of Jeremiah's friends' is facing a similar situation as my own. As I was reading the comments surrounding the fact that his friend is biracial, I thought to myself-"glad someone can understand how I felt growing up!" Prior to reading The Skin I'm In by Sharon Flake, I do not recall reading any young adult books centered on the issues of race and ethnicity. This is one of the main reasons why I chose Jacqueline Woodson for my author study. Growing up I often felt different than my peers because of my complexion. Reading books by Flake and Woodson, allow me to see myself in texts and understand the perspectives of many characters. I wish that I was given the opportunity to read books about individuals of color, while in elementary and high school. I think that doing so would have allowed me to cope better with how my peers were treating me. Books that highlight characters who are proud of their ethnicity, yet at times do face ridicule from those around them (let's me honest, this is a reality that will probably never change), are important for students to be exposed to. Not only for individuals who were bullied like myself, but for the bullies to develop a new perspective and understand that our differences do not mean there is something wrong. But rather we need to celebrate diversity...how can you not enjoy living in a world made up of so many different cultures, races and ethnicities?!

Below I have attached an interesting picture on found online. Mentioning that I had wished I was exposed to multicultural texts growing up sparked my curiosity to know if diversity is being recognized through literature in the classroom. Considering these statistics are from 2012, I wonder what the breakdown is today. Something I'll definitely have to look into!

Feed by M.T. Anderson

    I honestly wish I could say I am loving this book, but that is not the case. After all, that is the beauty of literature; there are books that captivate you and others that do not engage you whatsoever. Considering the fact that I love many science fictions book, such as The Hunger Games and Divergent series, I assumed that this would be another sci fi book that I would equally enjoy. Personally, I think that the structure and plot of the text are elements that have taken away from my enjoyment and interest.  First, I was completely thrown off by the fact that the characters would say unit at the end of their sentences. After a few pages of repetitive units, I had to read the back cover again because I was not sure as to whether or not the characters were robots! Knowing that they are in fact humans from Earth, I did not know why this was included in the dialogue. Is it related to the fact that they have feed transmitters implanted in them? I'm hoping this is something that can be clarified for me!
        The overall plot of the book, focusing on striking back at the Feed does not appeal to me. As a result, I often found myself reading the words, but not fully comprehending what I was reading. One question that has come to mind as I am reading Feed, is why Titus and his friends care so much about their transmitters. After having their feeds hacked by a man from an anti-feed organization, I would have thought that Titus would be relieved. Putting myself in his place, I do not think I'd like having a transmitter taking control of my mind. Maybe Titus and his friends view the feed as fundamental to fully participate in society? Constantly having advertisements, movies and songs crammed into their heads to access at any point would be extremely overwhelming for me. I understand that Titus is able to access any of these, with a simple thought, but I don't know if I'd like to have such a thing implanted in me. I would not feel in control of my mind if the feed was constantly overwhelming me with advertisements and music...it's as if I'd have a television or radio taking over my mind! Doesn't sound like much fun to me.
         It amazed me that Titus and his friends felt as though they were actually in control of their minds.  Clearly the feed is designed to guide almost all the decisions an individual makes.  The more I am reading though, I have come to realize that the feed is something they have always known. Knowing that the feed is simply normal to them, I can in a way understand why they would not be on board to rebel against the transmitters. Yet, just because something is all you've ever known, doesn't necessarily mean there's nothing wrong about it. Are the characters truly individuals if they all have the feeds implanted in them?
        This is when I began to enjoy Violet's character. I'm always rooting for a female lead who strikes back against the norms of society! Rather than giving into the feed and conforming, Violet proves that at times it's okay to go against the grain. If anything, this is one aspect of the book that I was able to enjoy. I feel as though the book would be static without the perspective of Violet.   Violet's individuality is a theme that I have seen across several of the books we have read in this course thus far. As I was reading Feed, I found myself making connections to Star girl and how she was perceived as abnormal; going against the norms of society. These are the kinds of characters I enjoy reading about. If I had to pick one interesting thing about this book, it would have to be Violet's character. Her perspective and personality served as the only ounce of motivation to continue reading.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Reality Boy...Round Two

    Usually i am not in favor of reading books twice, but Reality Boy was so interesting that I didn't even mind! Sometimes it's nice to go back through a book and identify details that either you forgot or did not notice the first time. As I was reading it the second time around, I hightlighted a few quotes that stood out to me. On page 39, after being hugged by Hockey Lady, Gerlad bursts into tears and ends the chapter by saying "I made a pact with myself to never let anyone hug me again." After reading this, I was confused.  Gerald describes how he has always been criticized, analyzed and terrorized, but never hugged. Why would he make a pact to never let anyone hug him again, if someone is finally showing him affection? This is a question that I had to let sink in for a while. Honestly, I think that Gerald was neither accustomed to such affection, nor felt as though he was worthy of it. After all, he has never felt authentic love and affection from his family members. I wonder if Hockey Lady understood the magnitude of her actions toward Gerald. A simple hug is often overlooked and we tend to not associate it with such strong affection or meaning. Gerald's reaction to the hug reflects the importance of feeling loved and noticed. Growing up in the spotlight on Network Nanny and being viewed as "the crapper", Gerald never received an ounce of authentic love from Tasha or his mother.  It broke my heart when I reread this part of the book. How could I have overlooked this? Clearly Gerald did not like the emotion that a simple hug evoked in him, leading to his decision to create the pact.
Throughout the book, I feel as though Gerald finally began to let people in and realize that he was worthy of having someone love him and show affection toward him. This is evident in his relationship with Hannah. Gerald loved her and felt completely comfortable in her presence. It was once he met her that Gerald felt happy and saw a positive future in his life. I'm sure Gerald would say that the no hug pact has been erased as a result of meeting Hannah. Gerald finally understands that he is worthy of authentic love and affection. In fact, I'd say he demands it.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

   Considering the fact that I saw the film adaption of If I Stay a few months ago, I thought that reading the book would simply be a repeat of what I watched. Honestly I'm glad that I watched the movie because it gives me another perspective to compare the book to. Through reading Gayle Forman's novel, I have a better understanding of the relationship between Mia and her friends and family. These are aspects of the book that are often left out of the movie. For instance, I am enjoying reading about how Mia and Kim became friends and the ups and downs that their relationship has had. I would have never guessed that Mia and Kim hated each other during the first few months that they met in school. Reading about their roller coaster friendship is something that many people can identify with, including myself. This makes everything that more authentic. Obviously friendships are not picture perfect! 
    As I am reading, I have found myself saying "oh that was in the movie!" Or "or wait, why didn't the movie talk about this part?!" It's interesting to point out the parts that were highlighted in the film, and those that were not. It makes you wonder why certain details were more important than others. 
     Finally taking the time to read If I Stay has also given me the opportunity to analyze the book and determine the central themes. One theme that I am noticing thus far is the power of choice. Although Mia is in a coma, she still has control over whether she dies or not. It began to click in my head that this may be one of the themes, as I was reading page 82. At the end of the first paragraph one of the nurses states," she's running the show. Maybe she's just biding her time. So you talk to her. You tell her to take all the time she needs, but come on back." Although I know whether Mia decides to stay or not, reading this sent a chill down my spine. Despite being in a coma, Mia is in control of her body and must make a difficult decision. Yet, this is something that no one around her is aware of. Seeing all her friends and family in the hospital but not being able to communicate with them must be frustrating for Mia. As I was reading this, I wondered if comatose patients can actually hear the things those around them are saying.  You often hear doctors telling patients that being in their presence and talking to the, can be helpfu, but is it truly? If I Stay gives readers an interesting perspective of diving into the mind of a comatose patient.  Reading this is making me interested about what patients are actually aware of when in this particular state. Time to do a little research I guess! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Reality Boy by A.S. King

    Initially I was not engaged in this book at all. After reading about 50 pages, I thought to myself: "how interesting can a book about a kid who was on a reality tv show be?" Once I gave the book another try and read further on, I began to understand the important message and theme that A.S. King tried to convey through this text. Gerald or the Crapper, as he is unfortunatelly labeled after his stunt on Network Nanny, is an insightful seventeen year old who is a testament to the effect that reality tv plays on individuals. I began to sympathize with Gerald not only due to the stigma that was placed on him due to his appearance on Network Nanny when he was 5, but the awful conditions he was subjected to at home. This leads me to my hatred of Tasha. How could someone treat their little brother and sister with such disrespect and bring harm to them? From the beginning of the book I knew there was something a little off with her-a psychopath in the making. I honestly feel as though she used the reality television show to her advantage. By lying to her parents and accusing Gerald of crapping in her room and destroying her things, she was able to create a distorted image of who he truly was. Through this, viewers of the show had no choice but to accept the image of him that was displayed from episode to episode- an enraged child, with an excessive desire to deficate. 
   As I continued to read, I found myself asking: "how much of what's on television do I actually buy into and believe? Can I separate reality from fiction?"  Many people are obsessed with reality, including myself (you do not want to know how many hours I devote to television). While watching shows such as Network Nanny,  it's hard for viewers to not get sucked into the represention of individuals on the screen. This is something that I learned during my undergrad as a sociology major. The concept looking glass self  is one that has been engraved in my brain over the past four years. As I was reading Reality Boy, I found myself referring back to it and making connections. Glad my sociology degree is working in my favor! Looking glass self focuses on how we see ourselves, and how others view us. Gerald is a prime example of the impact of the looking glass self. Although reality tv perceived him as an angry child, Gerald is finally coming to realize that how others saw him on television is not who he truly is. His classmates, nanny, and friends were influenced by how he was represented on television, which in turn shaped the opinions they formed of him. It is safe to say that Gerald is extremely misunderstood.  Essentially, none of them became aware of the REAL Gerald. Yes, Gerald has anger issues from time to time and truly does despise his sister, but the image of him created by the cameras are far from the person he is today. Reality television and many other media sources, shape the way viewers not only perceive themselves,but the characters represented on television as well. As I finished the book, I wondered, what if Gerald was never on Network Nanny; how would his life have turned out? 

I have attached a visual representation that reflects the concept "the looking glass self." I hope this helps in understanding the concept! 

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli

   Well I just finished Stargirl and I LOVED it!! Why have I not read this before? Clearly I have been living under a rock. I really enjoyed diving into the life of the main character Susan. Susan, excuse me, Stargirl, is pretty much my idol at this point in the book. Although I was taken back by the fact that she carries a rat named Cinnamon around the school (seriously, how is that allowed?!),  I appreciate and admire her individuality. And with that, I began to understand the theme of this book. High school is a time when cliques have been formed and those who stray away and act "different" are often ostracized. While I was reading about Stargirl's experiences of being viewed as a outcast, I was able to relate to her. Throughout high school, I was a bit of a nerd...that's a lie, I was a SUPER NERD. I never hung out in the hallway or skipped class like a lot of my peers. Why would anyone want to miss out on such critical learning time?! Since my face was always planted in a book, I was often viewed as different and ostracized for it. Finding out that I was valedictorian my senior year did not make my situation any better- being a nerd was not "normal" at my school.
     Unlike Stargirl, I noticed and cared far too much about how my classmates viewed me. I only wish I had half the strength that Star Girl has. Although her classmates ignored her on a daily basis and thought she was strange for carrying a rat around school, playing happy birthday for people with her ukelele, and putting others before herself, Stargirl did not let this impact how she felt about herself. How can being invisible to everyone and hated not bother her at all? This is a question that I constantly asked myself as I reached further into the book. Stargirl was so sure and confident in who she was as a individual, that she did not feel the need to become effected by the opinions of her classmates. Thinking back to my experiences in high school, it was hard to ignore the views that my classmates had of me. High school is an environment that you're stuck in for several years and being well-liked  and fitting in is often at the forefront of everyone's mind.
     This is where Leo comes into play. Unlike Stargirl, Leo cares about EVERYTHING that his peers think. Once he aligns himself with Stargirl and they begin to date, he can't help but pay attention to the comments his friends make and how he himself is slowly becoming invisible due to his association with her. I found myself angry with how oblivious Leo was to the importance of individuality and knowing that how others perceive you is not nearly as important as how you view yourself. My opinion of Leo became stronger once Stargirl changed her entire persona and became Susan again, in order to fit in with everyone. After seeing her physical change and how people were paying attention to her again, Leo no longer felt ashamed of being Stargirl's boyfriend. On page 140, Leo states, "I didn't care if others were watching. In fact, I hoped they were. I grabbed her and squeezed her. I had never been so happy and so proud in my life" (Spinelli, 2000) ARE YOU SERIOUS?! I literally wanted to throw my book across the room when I read this. How superficial can Leo really be? It boggles my mind that he can care so much about how everyone perceives him- it's as if he finally receives the justification from everyone that being with Stargirl was acceptable.
     By the end of the story, Stargirl leaves Mica High and is never heard from again. I think it was then that Leo finally began to realize how unique and important she was to him. This is a true testament to the fact that we do not realize what we have until it's gone (disclaimer: this sounds as if Stargirl is dead, but if you read the end, you will know this is far from the truth!). For the next few years, Leo can not help but find himself thinking about her and wondering how her life has turned out.
    I truly enjoyed every aspect of this book and would highly recommend that you read it! There are many elements and themes that you as a reader will be able to relate to in some way, as well as future students that you introduce this book to. We all go through periods of time when we just want to fit in and be normal. This book raises the important question of: "what does it mean to be normal?" After reading Stargirl, I would say that there is no such thing as normalcy. I hope you read this book and form your own opinion; you will not regret it!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Sherman Alexie's 2007 National Book Award Acceptance Speech

As I was flipping through book trailers on YouTube, I stumbled across Sherman Alexie's acceptance speech for the 2007 national book award. Reinforces why it is so important for children to be able to see themselves in texts. Take a look! 


Monday, January 26, 2015

Social Class and Poverty in Young Adult Literature

      Having read The Skin I'm In and quickly approaching the end of The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, I feel as though Maleeka and Junior are similar in many ways. One way in particular, being their unfortunate situation of living in poverty. As a result of their financial situation, both characters felt embarrassed and often tried to hide this portion of their lives from peers. 
      From the very beginning of The Skin I'm In, Sharon G. Flake describes the living conditions Maleeka lives in: dealing with a mother who would much rather spend her money on lotto tickets than provide clothing for her child. This ultimately causes Maleeka to wear torn clothing and/or borrow things from her friends. While I was reading this, I asked myself: if I were to read this in my classroom, how many of my students would be able to relate to Maleeka's story? I commend Sharon G. Flake for shining light on the issue of poverty; as so many of us are forced to deal with it on a daily basis. If I were to in fact read this in my classroom, I hope that my students would be able to understand the impact that poverty has on an individual's life, regardless of whether or not they themselves are able to relate to Maleeka's story. 
      I began to empathize with Maleeka as she struggled to deal with having to borrow clothes from friends and/or wear torn clothing. This is something that I often saw while student teaching at Rochester Discovery Charter School. Considering the fact that uniforms were inforced, many students were unable to purchase several pairs of khakis and collared shirts. It would break my heart to see my students come in everyday with either the same, worn-out uniform or having no other choice but to borrow one of the extra uniforms that the school had purchased. Through The Skin I'm In, readers are able to understand the experiences of someone living in poverty and how it impacts their daily life. Maleeka struggled with this and it was evident through her emotional state while in and outside of school. I could only imagine how Maleeka felt having to deal with something she had absolutely no control over. 
      Through Sherman Alexie's The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian readers are subjected to the story of Junior/Arnold Spirit and his experiences living in poverty. It was nice reading two stories that focused on similar issues of social class and poverty, yet told completely different experiences. Unlike Maleeka, living in poverty was considered a norm for Junior, since all of the other Indians on the reservation did as well. Junior did not know any other life, until he transferred to Reardan. After becoming a student at Reardan, Junior began to feel embarrassed by how little his family had. My heart ached when he was unable to purchase pictures or food while out for the winter formal with Penelope. When reading Sherman Alexie's book, it's important to take a step back and understand the magnitude of what the characters are dealing with.  While at Reardan, Junior began to reflect on how different his life was from hs peers, especially in terms of his social class. This can easily be seen when he explains to Rodger that he does not have enough money to cover the cost of the food he ordered for Penelope and himself. The fact that Rowdy quickly handed Junior $40 symbolizes the extreme difference in social classes that is evident in this book. Junior would never be able to give someone $40, let alone tell them not to worry about paying him back. While I was reading, I often wondered whether or his friends at Reardan truly understood the financial situation he was dealing with. Through The Abolsoutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian, readers are able to look at the issues of social class and poverty from two different perspectives: that of Junior living on a reservation and the experiences of his Reardan friends whom lived 20 minutes away. 
      Although Maleeka and Junior had completely different experiences of living in poverty, I enjoyed learning about two unique situations. Both Sherman Alexie's and Sharon G. Flake provided readers with an opportunity to dive into the lives of individuals living in poverty and how it ultimately shapes who they are as individuals. I can honestly say that after reading both of these books, I have a deeper understanding if the impact poverty has on a child's life. This is something that must be understood and sympathsized with while working with students from a diverse population. 

The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Blake

     As I was reading the back of The Skin I'm In by Sharon G. Flake to get a better understanding of what the book was about, I could not help but relate it to my own life. Maleeka Madison carries with her a sense of low self-esteem due to her inability to not only accept,  but become comfortable with the color of her skin. Growing up, this was something that I struggled with as well. Being biracial (half black and white), I always felt different from my peers. Although I went to a high school where the population was predominantly African American, I was still ridiculed by classmates. I can recall instances where I have been called Oreo or have been told that I need to "pick a side"; either I identify as black or white.  Like Maleeka's classmates, my peers thought these comments were out of pure fun and harmless. Yet, I do not think that they understood the magnitude of their words and how they influenced how I saw myself. It wasn't until around my junior year that I began to accept the skin I'm in, like Maleeka. Although I did not have a teacher like Miss Saunders to act as a role model, I did have a wonderful group of friends who helped me deal the bullying. 
    Throughout the book, Maleeka constantly endures racist remarks from her so-called friends such as "chocolate brown baby" or "Maleeka, Maleeka, we sure want to keep her but she so black, we just can't see her" (Flake, p.14). Having to deal with ignorant comments from classmates added to Maleeka's lack of self-esteem. Although this was something she struggled with throughout the book, I enjoyed seeing her character begin to love and accept who she was. 
      The Skin I'm In is a book that can be relatable to so many, regardless of their skin color. We all face the issue of low self-esteem whether it be because of our skin color or another physical feature. Self-image served as one of the central themes of this book. One portion of the book that stood out to me was when Maleeka decided to cut her hair in order to look like the women depicted in a magazine. The beautiful women Maleeka saw as she was flipping through the pages of a magazine ultimately shaped how she perceived herself and the "ideal image" she wanted to possess.  Although it was evident that Maleeka cut her hair in order to look more like the women in the magazine, I feel as though this particular portion of the book symbolizes a bit more. Considering the fact that she endured a tremendous amount of ridicule from her classmates, Maleeka was not comfortable in her own skin. Could cutting her hair have served as a way to distract her classmates from her skin color? This is a question that I pondered as I was reading.  Maleeka may very well have cut her hair to give her peers something else to look at;looking at features beyond her skin color. 
     As I continued to read The Skin I'm In,  it became clear that Maleeka's stories of Akeelma served as a coping mechanism for everything that she endured in and out of school from her peers. Writing was an escape for Maleeka; like it is for so many students. Maleeka was able to come home after a long day of dealing with Char (whom by the way I hate), Raise and Raina, and just place the pen to paper. Akeelma seemed like a strong character who was proud of being African American, despite the overwhelming issue of slavery and racism occurring around her. By the end of the book, I began to see Akeelma and Maleeka come together as one. Maleeka was finally able to accept who she was; regardless of whether or not anyone else did. Maleeka owned the skin she was in. 

      "It's not about color," she said. "it's how you feel about who you are that counts." (p.40)