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 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'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!