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!

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!