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)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015


     Initially I was hesitant about choosing Crank by Ellen Hopkins as one of my readings for this week. While flipping through the pages to get a general idea of what the text would be about, I was thrown off by the authors' style of writing. Although I love free-verse poetry, I was unsure as to whether or not I would be able to comprehend a story based around this particular style. My fears quickly diminished! Crank is an extremely powerful story that, in my opinion, has a stronger message at hand-especially since it is loosely based on the the substance abuse that the authors' daughter endured. Drug abuse is definitely a sensitive topic to translate into a story. Yet, I feel as though Ellen Hopkins was able to not only shed light on an issue that effects so many individuals, but pay tribute to the demons that her daughter fought. 

As you can see, many of the lines and individual words are separated or placed in abnormal positions for a story. Although this is how all of her stories look, I wonder if the sense of separation and abnormality could be seen as a metaphor for how Kristina/Bree felt while battling her addiction. Just something to think about! 

     As I became more and more immersed into the story of Kristina/Bree (which by the way took me FOREVER to realize that these were not two separate characters), I found myself going back to the fact that this is a banned book in many school districts. I can certainly understand why such a story would not be appropriate for young adults to read in classroom setting. Yet, I wonder if simply suggesting it for outside reading would still constitute as wrong? Subjecting students to an issue that effects far too many individuals today, may be both educational and eye-opening for them. It is important that we provide students' with an opportunity to become aware of the social problems that our society is currently facing. 
    Alright, alright...I think it's time for me to step down from my soapbox and revert back to the literature at hand. After diving into Crank and become more comfortable with Ellen Hopkins' style of writing, I would like to give her other novels a try. Especially Trick, which Dr. Jones briefly mentioned during our first class. I commend Ellen Hopkins for creating young adult literature that touches on prevalent issues that hit close to home for many. Her fearlessness and desire to write about such issues as drug abuse and prostitution are what make her a respectable author, in my opinion. I hope my take on Crank changes your mind about placing this book back on the self after a quick glance. Trust me, stepping out of your comfort zone and diving into this book will be a decision you will not regret! :) 

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Looking For Alaska-Preview

Although I have previously read Looking for Alaska by John Green a few years ago, I could not recall much of what I read. Over the next week or so, I look forward to making new connections between the text and personal experiences, as well as remembering key details from the book! 


Summary of what I have read thus far:
  •  Miles is a young boy from Florida, who is venturing off to Culver Creek Boarding School. Although his parents are hesitate about his departure, Miles looks forward to living in a new environment.
  • Miles states that the sole purpose of going to boarding school is due to his search of the "Great Perhaps." This is a phrase that is mentioned at the very beginning of the book; referring to a quote by his favorite poet: Francois Rabelais.
  • It is clear at this point that he does not have many friends nor a strong relationship with his parents; making the transition to boarding school that much easier for him.
  • The last portion I have read thus far deals with Miles and his roommate meeting at boarding school. Right off the bat they make a connection, as they are both scholarship students. 
How this book made me feel:

  • I was rather surprised that I did not remember any of the information described in the beginning of the story. With this being said, I am glad that I have chosen to read it yet again. Hopefully as I read more, I will be able to make connections between what I had read a few years ago. 
  • I have always enjoyed John Green's novels and I look forward to diving into this one!
  • From the very beginning of the book, I was drawn in by the main character; Miles. Although I have not read much thus far, he seems to be withdrawn and unable to make connections with those around him (friends, parents, etc.). At the end of page 12, Miles informs his roommate that he is interested in the "last words" of famous individuals. I feel as though his fascination with "last words" will play a crucial role in the events that unfolds throughout the book.