Tag Archives: book titles

Behind Barbed Wires

sticker,375x360.u1In honor of the recent Holocaust Remembrance Day, I find it befitting to share Room 382’s shelf comprised of pieces in which those, who experienced the nightmare, share their stories.  Each piece on this shelf is dedicated to bringing awareness, and hopefully shed light on how history truly can repeat itself, if we do not prevent it.

While this shelf hosts stories of tragedy, suffering, and insurmountable pain and loss; it serves a purpose. Aside from the devastating, these pieces share with us the true essence of humanity.  Often, this is the first time students are diving into this 80-year-old genocide and trying to make sense of it. Many times we can’t; and other times we are able to connect over the beauty that surfaced. It’s all very complex.

Elie Wiesel’s story (and bravery) is shared via his trilogy starting with Night then moving us through Dawn and eventually through the Day.  See what he did here?

Anne Frank shares her experience as a young woman budding into adolescence in a time where her beautiful spirit defeated the confines of her attic.  Various types of literature have been compiled so IMG_20150424_083609students (and all readers) can experience Anne’s story in various ways: her published diary, actual footage restored via the Anne Frank House (a gift from a friend’s visit to Amsterdam), the play, and many others.

Maus, an incredible two-part graphic novel, utilizes the “Cat and Mouse” metaphor to portray the Nazis
vs. the Jews during the Holocaust.  This two part series is detailed and brings to life the realities of the inner workings; the emotional turmoil yet amazing perseverance of those living through this moment in history.

Those are three pieces among many.  There are books here (and ones that are currently signed out) that chronicle voices of the children of the Holocaust, novels that use real-life situations yet tell a fictional story, perspectives from a Nazi’s Jewish wife, the bravery of a journalist who swapped places with a Jew to ultimately expose the hidden…

Students are typically surprised, fascinated, uncertain, saddened and sometimes hesitant when it comes to this shelf.  Understandably.  This shelf asks us to inquire and then sit with our findings.  Yet, the conversations and rich discussions that float around this shelf are beautiful; truly beautiful and strengthen our understanding of what it truly means to be human.

 

 

In Search of Hope

mariane pearl book coverI first fell in love with Mariane Pearl’s writing when I read her memoir: A Mighty Heart where she chronicles the events leading up to her husband’s murder in the Middle East.  It was devastating.  Tragic, really.  Yet, her voice sang from the pages even while sharing the most intimate moments associated with a murder that was so incredibly public.

So, to no surprise, when I came across In Search of Hope: The Global Diaries of Mariane Pearl,  I was thrilled. Pearl, a journalist for Glamour Magazine, took on the world – visiting twelve different countries. She was escorted through these countries by powerful women that are all on missions to bring positivity, safety, and change to countries that are broken.

Pearl visits with courageous women who share the most private details of their work – and passion.  She learns about a Cambodian sex slave’s liberation; Liberia’s presidency from the perspective of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (2006); an AIDs orphan turned healer in Uganda; a New Yorker who leads children needing guidance; how justice is getting a voice in Mexico…and so much more.

As you read these short stories full with dynamite photographs, writing that is powerful, and experiences that shed light on women fighting through the injustices associated with their countries, culture, and neighborhoods; you can’t help but to feel as though you are on a year long excursion around the world – one that authentically changes your core as a human being.

Students love this piece.  They are awed by the bravery of these women; Mariane for exposing truths that do not get adequate recognition and the women who are willing to risk their own safety in order to save others.  For every reader, Pearl puts life into perspective.

The richness found within these pages comforts you.  It makes you believe that anything truly is possible.  Well, because it is.  It provides students access to beautiful moments experienced within other cultures and propels them to reflect on their own morals and values – what are they really willing to fight for?

In Search of Hope is a piece that leaves you feeling compelled to explore.  Travel.  Find your own truth.  And when you do, write about it.

Shelfie Saturday

sticker,375x360.u1While my last name is Catcher, I’m far from a natural athlete. In fact, my high school softball career ended after I “caught” a stray throw with my forehead, landing me in the ER with a swollen eye and thirteen stitches. Still, I can appreciate a brilliant sports story, the type that moves beyond the game and captures the essence of teamwork, leadership, and friendship. The “Sports” section of my classroom library does just this.

Over the past year, I have cultivated the sports section to reflect the varied abilities, ages, and interests of my students. I teach freshmen, juniors, and seniors ranging from struggling to gifted readers. Because of my diverse students, my library must appeal to 14-year old freshmen and 18-year old seniors alike. Fortunately, sports can oftentimes bridge this age gap while also pushing students to gradually engage with more complex texts.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section.  Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won't return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My somewhat anemic-looking sports section. Many of the books (particularly the ones not pictured here) have waiting lists and won’t return to this shelf until the end of the year.

My younger students (and even some of my older) tend to gravitate towards popular young adult novels at the beginning of the year, like those written by Matt de la Pena and Mike Lupica. After they exhaust the options on my shelves, they inch towards lengthier and more complex analytical or historical books like Moneyball: The Art of Winning An Unfair Game by financial journalist Michael Lewis or The Punch by sports writer and commentator John Feinstein. More than any other genre, these brilliantly crafted pieces serve as strong mentor texts for a wide variety of mediums including nonfiction, narrative, research, and persuasive writing. This year, books like Ice Time by Jay Atkinson inspired many of my hockey players to explore their sport through personal narratives while Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella served as the basis for one of my freshman student’s research papers on the Black Sox Scandal.

Sports hold leverage within our society, particularly amongst teenagers. From die-hard fans to benchwarmers, both athletes and non-athletes can appreciate a sports story, particularly when it transports us into a world packed with suspense and action.

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

persepolisIn honor of ALA’s recently released 2014 Banned Books List, I can’t help but recommend the second most banned book Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.   Persepolis was one of the three graphic novels that made the top ten list this year. The book is criticized for its use of gambling, offensive language, and political viewpoints as well as for being “politically, racially, and socially offensive” and for having “graphic depictions.” In reality, this graphic memoir isn’t afraid to tackle the horrifying and at times comedic realities of growing up in a community faced with political turmoil. After all, Satrapi wanted readers to recognize that Iranians are normal people, just like everyone else. They enjoy music and parties and clothes; the difference is that the characters in Persepolis are living during the Iranian Revolution. Satrapi begins her narrative at six years old, relaying the stories of every day life as the Shah’s regime is overthrown, the Islamic Revolution takes hold, and the war with Iraq destroys her community.

What I love most about Persepolis is its ability to attract my reluctant readers, particularly my students who would otherwise steer clear of the international shelf in my classroom library. These students are drawn to the simple black-and-white cartoons and the rebellious teen protagonist. They love her quirky sense of humor and her obsession with American music icons like Michael Jackson. Like many of our students, she is an angsty teen coming of age. The difference is that she grows up during political conflict and war. Her world is changing around her, war has becomes standard, and she, as a teenager, is attempting to find normality in completely abnormal circumstances. But it’s Marji’s ability to navigate this morbid world and go through complex transformations that make her come alive on the page.

I tend to use graphic novels towards the beginning of the year when my students are becoming acclimated to analyzing writer’s craft (or even when they need a refresher on it). Oftentimes students are more in tune to looking at the details of drawings than of writing; they find it easier to pick out the eccentricities of images yet rarely do they question why the artist made the choices they did. Graphic novels give them the opportunity to do just this.

I have students work in small groups to analyze the artistic decisions of the illustrator. For example, in Persepolisthe scene to the right, Marji has been taken into custody by the Women’s Branch of the Guardians of the Revolution, a group in charge of monitoring women’s wearing of the veil. When they stop to study the images, students notice the repetitive stern expression of the guardian and the way Marji’s face appears to melt into squiggly lines as the frames progress. They notice the transition of the lines surrounding the word bubbles from smooth curved lines to sharp zig-zags. They recognize changes in font size and effects as well as the underlying narrative strand at the bottom of the frame that shows internal dialogue. As they analyze these details, they also begin questioning the choices that lead to the depictions of these conversations and emotions and what they ultimately mean in the context of the story. By the end, the graphics take on a more complex tone. The images come alive, the artist’s intentions become clearer, and they have immersed themselves in a new lens that allows them to take a second look at literature.

Shelfie Saturday

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I love Monday mornings.

Monday signifies a new week, new possibilities, and new literature!  At the start of every week, I take time to display different books on each themed shelf.  This provides readers an opportunity to explore new titles on an ongoing basis.  Some books are brand new to Room 382 while other books have occupied our shared space for years; yet feel fresh and enticing when they are uniquely displayed.

Students (and guests) are continually gazing at our Francis Gittens Lending Library and enjoy, not only the vast array of literature to choose from, but how easily accessible it is to find what they are looking for. Gone are the days of ‘genre shelving’ and in are the days of ‘theme shelving’.  Whether students are just emerging into the world of literature or they are deeply rooted in their love for reading; our scholars need to feel supported.  By clustering books via theme, students (regardless of their comfortability with literature) know exactly where to go to get more of what they want!

Many students find their heritage fascinating and want to explore it beyond their current ideologies, beliefs, and familiarities.  So, they peruse the shelves in which they see themselves; racially, culturally, geographically, athletically, and so on.  They find comfort in exploring the lives and stories of those they’ve met before in history class or via conversations taking place within their homes.  They also take pleasure in learning more about who they are within the context of society, and on an even larger scale, within the world; simultaneously honing in on their more localized and individual existence.

All adolescents are searching.  They search for identity.  They seek to understand.  They thrive on building connections.  They strive to be enlightened.  And many times, students stumble upon exactly what they didn’t know they were looking for!  I love that.

Be it non-fiction, fiction, poetry, fantasy, science-fiction, auto/biography, graphic novels, screen plays, what have you; genre holds much less weight when the stories, characters, and settings transcend our students into a world full of exploration.

Here, our ever growing and ever evolving “Roots” shelves allow us to embark on a genre free yet culturally rich journey!

Some of our collective favorites include: Mumia-Abu Jamal, Jackie Robinson, Malcolm X, Betty Shabazz, Dr. MLK, Jr. and his lovely wife

 

Join the conversation by posting your own shelfies!  Share a shelfie with #shelfieshare and let us know if it’s a #classroomshelfie, #bookstoreshelfie, or other miscellaneous find.

G. Neri’s Yummy

 

yummy

Synopsis

In this award-winning graphic novel, Robert “Yummy” Sandifer’s life becomes interwoven with other true events from a period in time where Chicago’s south side was running rampant with gang activity and violence. The year: 1994. Yet, its relevance still holds weight today in urban communities throughout our country. Unfortunately.

Narration and Writer’s Craft

Through third person narration, eleven year old Roger, guides us through the ongoings, thoughts, chaos, family ties, brotherhood, fears, ponderings, love, realities and insecurities most young adolescent males experience.

Roger lives on Normal Street.  He addresses what many readers are already thinking:  But I guess “normal” is different to different folks.

In studying craft, this one liner opens up dialogue, the use of language and repetition, and the importance of quotation marks in varying situations.  Throughout the entire story, you are greeted with on-point vernacular, literary devices, and a storyline that pulls at the heart strings.  (Just ask my students.)

Additionally, the incredible illustrations allow us the luxury of experiencing Yummy’s journey through his eyes, Roger’s eyes, and the eyes of all of those that take part in the journey.

It’s pretty loaded.

 Essential Ideas and ThemesYummy: The Last Days of a Southside Short

This gritty exploration of Yummy’s life forces readers (of all ages) to question their own understandings of good and bad, right or wrong, yes vs. no.

It searches for truth.

It provides us with the inner-workings of [the downfall of] self-worth and naturally asks us to question it.

Ultimately, we are challenged to think on a macro level about society; why are so many of our youth feeling forced into a life where statistics are alarmingly glaring?

 

Yummy is a piece that everyone needs to read.  It’s important.  It’s relevant.  It affords us a window into the lives of so many of our youth.  No wonder it has won just under 30 honors and awards.  This is one piece of literature you cannot afford to miss.

For more books by G. Neri feel free to visit his website: http://www.gregneri.com

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Yummy Time

Here is the cover of TIME Magazine’s issue detailing the story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer.  Tragic and important.

The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo

10460266Marjorie Richards could be my student. In fact, she could be anyone’s student. The seventeen-year-old main character of The Talk-Funny Girl by Roland Merullo haunted me for weeks after I finished the book. I had seen her before, lingering in the eyes and mannerisms of some of my teens. The fact that she was so relatable yet so distant was disturbing.

Marjorie’s story is complex and multilayered. She lives in rural New Hampshire where teen girls are being abducted. Her abusive parents are so isolated from society that they have developed their own obscure dialect of language, a language that earns Marjorie the name “the talk funny girl” amongst her classmates. And her town has fallen under economic hardship with the closing of the local mill; in turn, she is forced to take on a job with a stonemason building “a cathedral” to support her unemployed parents.

Marjorie’s transformation is raw, inspiring, and cathartic. Her story is riddled with poetic lines that provide this quiet character with a strong internal voice. In one passage she says, “I had my protective shell of funny talk and shyness, but underneath that lived a wilder me, a girl who would take punishment, and take it, and take it, but who would never let go of herself all the way, never completely surrender” (Merullo 87). As a reader, I both relished and resented her authentic responses to her surroundings. At times she was open with her emotions, clear and contemplative. Other times I struggled yet understood her willingness to stand silent. This ebb and flow made her even more real.

Merullo found balance between maintaining a plot that lasts over years while also intertwining a thread of suspense. I began the book expecting one storyline and was forced to revise my predictions with the turn of every page. In the end, Merullo’s vivid writing, unique dialogue, and brilliant character development left an indelible mark.

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