It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I don’t know why I hesitate to read more graphic novels, inexplicable.  Perhaps “American Born Chinese” by Gene Luen Yang will put me on the road to heavier reading in the genre.  Graphic novels engage a different part of my brain due to the all the art and visual cues.  The mood of the characters really pop in graphic novels and take me on a journey of my own inner emotions.  Not only did “American Born Chinese” deliver a somber and hopeful mood to me, it delivered a very good, interesting narrative.

At its twisted heart this book was a work of belonging.  A theme common to young adult novels, and any book for that matter.  There were three stories in the work and three characters that live a separate life of longing.  One character was from Chinese lore, and the other two were as the title suggests, American born Chinese.  The character from the lore section, The Monkey King, struggles to fit in amidst the world created from him by his God, Tze-Yo-Tzuh.  The King is a master of discipline and desires to be a sage emperor of the earth and afterlife.  But Tze-Yo-Tzuh says he has created him in the fashion of a monkey for purpose.  The King constantly turns from this bestowed identity.  The two American characters are Jin Wang and Danny.  Towards the end of the novel it is revealed that the two characters are actually the same.  The reason why this is important in the book is because Jin Wang is constantly fighting against his Chinese ethnicity and desiring to transform into Danny.  The farther Jin Wang steers from who he is, the more he loses his morality and kind soul.  This is all this book is about; steering away from who we are created to be.  Jin Wang even goes so far as to mirage the image of the Chinese Americans around him in order to suit his prejudices against who he actually is.

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If you are a person who likes books about self discovery than look no further.  If you are a person who likes books about the flaws of conforming to an Americanized identity, then pick this one up.  And lastly if you are a person who likes graphic novels in general, then don’t hesitate!

 

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I went back to Sherman Alexie again this past week; oh me oh my, he can write a good story.  The book is “Flight,” and although it is a little all over the place the vision rings clear throughout; that vision being against violence and self hate in a tight world.  I would maybe suggest this book for upper level young adult readers because of the graphic violence, but then again maybe not.  The violence slowly fades away as the book progresses and leaves the reader with powerful emotions of empathy, and more importantly, understanding.

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The book follows a character called “Zits” through a troubled youth complete with halfway houses, foster homes, and sometimes jail.  Early on, “Zits” is convinced by a random influence to commit a random act of violence.  He strolls into a bank and actually shoots the place up or so it seems.  But Alexie uses this moment to center his novel on the existentialism of violent acts.  Everyone has the ability to choose, a moment will come when a choice is offered; violence or peace.  Luckily, Alexie slowly steers his protagonist away from violence as “Zits” travels through time and is placed in the shoes of people who are faced with violent choices.  Of course, Alexie eventually brings his character back to the bank with a new frame of reference.  I loved this book because it shows how tiring violence can be.  Humanity has ate at itself through bloodshed over its entire history, and Alexie shows the folly in this by painting a world that is filled with pain.  If there is anyone out there who hasn’t read Alexie yet I beg you to reach for one of his titles.  This book can be buzzed in no more than two to three hours.

I also read “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card this past week.  I didn’t like this book as much but it still wasn’t terrible.  “Ender’s Game” and “Flight” paired well with one another on the theme of “senseless violence and wars” but I found “Ender’s Game” to be about one hundred pages too long.  But if you like science fiction I bet you would like “Ender’s Game.”  Essentially, the character “Ender” is shown to be a gifted warrior and is placed into service to fight aliens, or “buggers.”  First, Ender must train for the war against the buggers in the battleroom.  I won’t ruin the main twist in the story, but the battleroom is not all that it appears to be.  Ender eventually goes through a major, and I say major, character transformation by the end.  In a nutshell, this book is about the persuasive power of figures in charge, and how the individual must not be drawn into service without the knowledge of what the service will entail.

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As I’ve said, these books paired well, and I walked away feeling more hopeful of the human condition after reading them.  The individual in society will always be weighed down with hate and aggression if they look to outside sources solely for validation and purpose.  The books emphasized the importance of drawing meaning for life from someplace deep inside you; someplace, where love and empathy feel naturally right.  Alexie quoted the great Friedrich Nietzsche in his book and it pretty much sums up these two books, “But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”  Great words.

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I stumbled into my favorite young adult book so far this semester with “Monster” by Walter Dean Myers.  The technique of story is so unique in this book it is impossible to dislike.  Just reading this book suggests the many ways authors can play around with story, and is entertaining on that level alone.  Within his creative technique, which I will explain in brief later, Myers presents a somber commentary on the justice system which at times can fail for many reasons.

In “Monster” Steve Harmon is sixteen and on trial for murder.  The boy can’t cope with the situation he is in; primal fear of prison is abundant.  So, in order for Steve to make sense of the situation he finds himself in he creates a movie.  Steve is very good at this, and before the trial he was working on a film for school.  During Steve’s trial he begins the entire script.  This book is written like a play, but includes terms of film such as CU (close up), MS (middle shot), LS (long shot), etc.  These film terms help out immensely with capturing imagery and emotion of scene.  Steve will use these techniques of film script to portray the action taking place inside the courtroom, the prison, and personal flashbacks  At the end of every scene, Steve includes his own inner thoughts on the days proceedings.  It’s just fantastic technique.  It would be a great way of teaching students to write more creatively about scene.  Myers moves the camera in this work, literally, by telling you he is doing it.  While this would get old after awhile because it is too blatant, it works like magic in this book.

The plot of the story is pretty touching.  If you are a person to like any writing or movies that deal with prisoner exoneration, and court room trials, then this is the young adult book for you.  Steve is standing trial for something he didn’t do; only the circumstances of his day-to-day life have landed him here.  But he is here, and he has to fight the image of who the prosecution and jury thinks he is, a criminal.  This book includes heavy commentary on the reasoning process existing in a courtroom and how the principles of law might not have the heart of a sixteen year old boy in the subtext.  Well, Myers knows this too, and he pins the desires of a young boy to be free against an ardent prosecution calling for “justice.”  This book includes unreliable criminal testimonials in abundance, touching family visits to the prison, and prejudicial thoughts and processes that exist in community and in the courtroom.  The title “Monster” deals with labels, and how Steve may never escape his even if he is proven innocent.

The Drive to Read

The four readings presented to us this week all had the common theme of motivation; specifically, how to motivate young adult readers.  So, how is this goal accomplished?  Well there are a numerous amount of methods, but one constant method is readers’ choice.  Giving the students the ability to choose their books is a sure fire starting method of inspiring life long readers.  This article from “Three Teachers Talk” breaks down the advantages of allowing students to choose the books they would like to read, especially in advanced placement English courses.  By allowing students to choose, it encourages better reading and writing workshops, in some instances, if not most.  In a middle and high school level students desire the need for independence, and by allowing them to choose what they want to read it places the power in their hands.  They feel a part of the process, and if anybody feels they are an integral part of a system, they are going to participate more.

Teachers should encourage and motivate students right out of the gate to read, and there are many ways to do this.  The best method is through praise.  Any student wants positive feedback on things they have done well.  As soon as a student reads a book, teachers should not immediately push and drive them forward to the next book.  Instead, reflect and engage with the student on what they learned from the book, how it made them feel, and how it gave their life meaning.  This process of engaging with a student once they have read a book is called “book talk.”  It consists of many different levels of teacher-student engagement and is outlined by Phyllis Hunter in her professional paper. Hunter says it is all about intrinsic motivation and I completely agree.  Intrinsic motivation is simply a hunger to learn with the reward being self realization, enlightenment, and the development of professional reading and writing skills.

Students need to be motivated to read, but without the heavy burden of reading goals.  Some students will be able to handle heavy reading lists with anticipation, but other students will see it as another arduous task.  This goes back to knowing your students’ methods of learning.  If it is necessary to take it one book at a time, then do that.  If the one step at a time method is used then the teacher needs to be able to recommend an array of texts that fit the personality and interests of the student.  Hence, teachers need to be readers and have a diverse inner catalogue.  For example, I am terrible when it comes to following reading lists because I get lost in the enormity of it all.  Therefore, I pick and book and just go without knowing what the next book will be.  This also keeps my reading life loose and free, and can be tied directly to the motivation that comes with student choice.  More important than setting reading lists and goals, is to track the progress that is being made.  By tracking progress, teachers can encourage and give positive feedback on the results in front of them.

Know your students, know what their interests are, and allow them to develop the intrinsic motivation to read.  This development comes through sound recommendation, great reading and writing workshops, and most importantly, positive feedback and encouragement for all students.  Have fun with the entire process, because if reading is only one thing, it is fun.

 

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

I read a Coretta Scott King Award Winner last week entitled “When I Was The Greatest” by Jason Reynolds.  I hope some other people in class have an opportunity to read this story and check it off our book bingo sheet.  If I was to say one thing about the book, it would be simply be “it’s a good story.”  The narrative is never stagnant and action is happening regularly, keeping everything fresh and alive.

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This book covers inner city culture and the joys and struggles of the protagonist, Ali.  The book is told in the first person.  The main theme of the story is loyalty, and the extremes people go to to prove it, even if it proves detrimental for themselves.  This book arrives at the question, “When do we let go of unhealthy friendships?” or  “How do we solve our friends and family?”  Ali is a young teenager, fifteen, in Brooklyn living with his mother and sister.  Soon enough, conflict in the book arises when two brother move in next door with their mother.  Ali forms a friendship with the two brothers, Noodles and Needles (the book uses nicknames for everyone).  Needles has likes to knit to keep his turrets under control, Noodles likes to draw comics, and Ali likes to box.  Even though Needles is the brother with a “disability” it is clear that Noodles is going to be the one to drag the other two down, but not in the traditional sense of drugs and crime.   The book centers around the preparation for an exclusive party, and the fifteen year old boys are somehow admitted, and this is where the serious conflict arises.  I won’t give the entire book away but it does not disappoint.

If you want to know more about inner city culture for young adults then I would suggest this book.  Also if you want to study writing and how to develop “setting as its own character” then this book is for you.  The book also offers great commentary on the disability of Needles and how the brotherhood of Needles and Noodles is bound to fail without intervention.  The book is a great guide for young adults on the importance of family, friends, and hobbies over being drug down into the muck of a life of crime and depravity.

Social Media and Reading

I’ve had a tough time finding many articles on this topic.  I’ve also found it difficult to track down teen reading circles on various social media sites.  I’m of the group that would say social media doesn’t inspire teen readers to read as much as other methods, nor does it necessarily organize a reader’s life.  But, and I say but, this week’s research has opened me up to a few new avenues of thinking on this topic.  The main takeaway is that social media can certainly promote reading, offer an organized gathering point for various book clubs, and actually help square away a reader’s life to an extent.  The full participation of my book club this semester has been through Skype, so I can’t bash all forms of social media.  The definition of social media is wide and can include sites such as this one, WordPress.  Therefore, the vast connectivity of this encompassing topic can be difficult to wrangle with.  I found a very good young adult book club on Goodreads, but it was open to everyone and not just teen readers.  Teenagers should be exposed to social media sites that promote reading, like the book club at Goodreads.

There are also many interesting booky hashtags on Instagram that promote a reading community through interesting and stunning photography.  Now do sites like Instagram promote reading on their own? No.  They have to be used properly in order to be effective in a sub goal of reading promotion.  The same goes for Pinterest, which has to be streamlined effectively in order to promote a reading environment.

Don’t let my cynical nature on this topic let any readers stray from a certain point.  This point is that social media can be a haven for teen readers who want to be a part of an online reading community, and teachers should push and push to promote it.  But it can never replace face to face interaction with others who love to read.  It can supplement it well, however.  Blogs are a great way for teenagers to get their voice heard, and can help them join an online community of similar and different individuals.  When I become a teacher I will be an advocate for teens to not be shy about sharing their reading life, and how social media is a good place to express their reading life, if used effectively.

Bookish Behavior #yalitclass

Penny Kittle is bookish, extremely bookish, and head over heels in love with books.  She just exudes bookish behavior in her classroom and it makes me envy the minds she is tapping into.  The advice she gives is great, the passion she has is palpable, and her heart for teaching is pumped into the words she is delivering in her text entitled “Book Love.”  This week I read over chapters five and six and came face to face with what Mrs. Kittle calls “Book Talk” and the specifics of “Conferencing” with students.  I just nodded my head and turned the pages; embracing the methods I will someday use, but with my own less attractive spin I’m sure.

The “book talk” centers around an engaged classroom while reading over texts.  I’ve found the engagement is the secret here.  While Kittle is reading, her students are underlining sentences they like and are actively engaging with the text while the teacher is reading.  Then, after the reading session has been completed, students will answer questions dedicated to the writing craft of the author.  All of this is pretty simple, but the message is powerful.  By having students simple underlining sentences they like, they have the ability to respond to questions and their feelings using “textual evidence.”  This is just good academic practice.  The “book talk” goes beyond comprehension and craft skill, though.  It leads students to create their own classroom community of readers.  After choosing the right books to discuss as a group, high school students will have an array of insights to deliver.  These insights are all categorized into an “encyclopedia of writing topics” that the class came up with.  Kittle is giving her students the reins to steer writing topics, and this is marvelous at the high school level because it keeps interest at a peak.

What about those students who are having a hard time engaging with book talk, and are finding it difficult to read at all?  This is where “student conferencing”comes in.  Here the power is in the practiced pedagogy of a teacher, and the language and mood of the conversation.  Kittle shifts everything to the motivations and problems faced by the student, with her own insights on the world of reading.  The conference is three stage in the text: conferences that monitor a reading life, conferences that teach a reading strategy, conferences that increase complexity and challenge.  These three methods are in order of difficulty.  At its heart, conferencing, is about organization.  All of this needs to be documented or else the teacher and the student will get swamped.  I will use layman’s terms for these conferences.  Number one, they don’t have to be scheduled, but the teacher needs to get to all students.  The first question involves the “what?”  Meaning what are you reading?  The second conference question involves the “how?”  Meaning how is your book going?”  The third conference question involves the “where?”  Meaning where do you go from here to challenge yourself as a reader?  The last conference stage is where every teacher needs to have their students at by some point.

In closing I have some advice for teachers, and mostly this is me talking to myself, for aren’t all blogs really a conference with yourself?  I think so.  Here is some advice inspired by Kittle.  Read to your students with an intense fervor, give your students the reins to create classroom activities that are beneficial to them and you, and never shy from inspiring students to mark their life with reading.  In all of this, stay organized, because students deserve organization.

Since I read Jason Reynolds this week here is short video of him discussing diversity.  Always teach towards diverse reading.  Keep Mirror and Window reading in mind.

Today we also lost Chuck Berry, R.I.P.