Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time IndianTitle: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian  
Author: Sherman Alexie  
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: 2007 
Genre/Format: Teen Issues-Fiction/Novel 
Summary: Junior is growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation when he decides he will leave the rez to get a better education by attending an all-white high school that is 22 miles away.  This book tells his story as he deals with adolescence and trying to find his place in the world. 
What I Think: I listened to this book on audio a little over two years ago (May, 2008) and as I opened the book to read through and look at the language in this book I instantly remembered hearing Sherman Alexie's voice as he narrated the book.  He has an accent and a kind of lilt to his voice that is unforgettable.  This is definitely a book I would recommend listening to because it adds so much to the book and to the character.  I'm not good at "hearing" a character's voice in my head as I read, I usually hear my own voice unless it's a biography of someone famous or of an author I've heard before.  Here is a snip of audio from Sherman Alexie's website that is a perfect excerpt from the book to share.
     I chose to review this book (even though I read it a couple of years ago) because it is on this year's banned books list.  It's amazing to me that this book is on the banned books list but has won numerous awards and been chosen as the best book of the year by various groups.  I do remember cracking up as I listened to this book and I kind of remember thinking it was a high school level book because of the content and language, but it doesn't ever need to be banned.  As I flipped through the pages I remembered why I would recommend it to an older student - because the main character is a teenage boy who thinks like a teenage boy and expresses those teenage boy thoughts in the book.  Obviously, there is nothing wrong with this, and I think it's healthy for teenage boys to be able to read a book like this and relate to what he is dealing with, but I would hesitate to recommend this to one of my 7th or 8th graders, maybe to an end-of-the-year mature 8th grade reader, maybe.
     For high schoolers, I think this book is great!  I think it's important to read books about people from different cultures and to be able to gain some perspective about their lives.  I think the fact that our country forced people onto reservations is a sad part of our history and I feel like the repercussions of that are not often portrayed in mainstream culture...have you ever seen a sit-com set on a reservation?  Me either!  Alexie does a good job of writing a hysterical book with a character you can't help but love while also portraying life on a reservation.  
Read Together: 9 - 12 (I don't think I would choose to read this aloud myself, I might read parts of it or play parts of the audio for students-see above-because the writing is so good and/or booktalk it.) 
Read Alone: 9 - 12 
Read With: Sleeping Freshmen Never Lie By David Lubar; King Dork By Frank Portman; Spanking Shakespeare By Jake Wizner; Drums, Girls, And Dangerous Pie or Notes From The Midnight Driver by Jordan Sonnenblick; I Am the Messenger By Markus Zusak 
Snatch of Text: "I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats." p. 6
     "Last week, my best friend Oscar got really sick.
     At first, I thought he just had heat exhaustion or something.  I mean, it was a crazy-hot July day (102 degrees with 90 percent humidity), and plenty of people were falling over from heat exhaustion, so why not a little dog wearing a fur coat?" p. 9   *Good for inferring who Oscar is.*
     "I was hot mad.  Volcano mad.  Tsunami mad.
     Dad just looked down at me with the saddest look in his eyes.  He was crying.  He looked weak.
     I wanted to hate him for his weakness.
     I wanted to hate Dad and Mom for our poverty.
     I wanted to blame them for my sick dog and for all the other sickness in the world."  p. 11
     "Can you imagine what would have happened to me if I'd turned around and gone back to the rez school?
    I would have been pummeled.  Mutilated.  Crucified.
     You can't just betray your tribe and then change your mind ten minutes later.  I was on a one-way bridge.  There was no way to turn around, even if I wanted to."  p. 55
Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Asking Questions, Making Inferences, Making Predictions, Visualizing 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Personal Narrative, Anaphora, Metaphor, Descriptive, $100 Words, Slang, Voice
Writing Prompts: After reading pages 9 - 14, write about a time when you felt disappointed in yourself, someone else, or something - use anaphora like Sherman does to add emphasis to your writing.
Topics Covered: Spokane Indians, Reservations, Family, Friendship, Bullies, Poverty, Love, Adversity,  Courage, Prejudice, Death, Disability, Taking Risks  
Translated to Spanish: Yes! Here's the link to Diario completamente verĂ­dico de un indio a tiempo parcial, although it seems like it might be hard to get your hands on.  Bummer.
This book review is posted in honor of ALA Banned Books Week 2010.

Monday, September 27, 2010


Speak: 10th Anniversary EditionTitle: Speak     
Author: Laurie Halse Anderson   
Publisher: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux / Penguin Group 
Publication Date: 1999   
Genre/Format: Realistic Ficton-Teen Issues/Novel
Summary: After calling the cops at an end-of-summer bash, Melinda finds herself as an outcast when school starts again.  She struggles with what happened that night at the party but has no one she feels she can confide in so she keeps it all to herself.   
What I Think:  It's hard to talk about this book without giving away what it's all about, and the book itself is written so artfully that it's not really fair to give away what it's about.  Part of the message in this book is that Melinda doesn't know how to deal with what has happened to her, she doesn't want to deal with it and she can't talk to anyone about it.  Anderson does an amazing job expressing Melinda's feelings by implying what has happened to her without coming out and saying it.  This book is an amazing lesson in making inferences.  I strongly believe this is an important book in young adult literature.  There are so many young adults who can relate to what Melinda is going through, whether they themselves have suffered exactly what she is going through or something similarly traumatic.  (**Warning - I am going to list what happens to her below in the topics area - so don't look if you don't want it to be spoiled for you - or look if you really want to know what it's all about.**)
     I have only worked for one year in a high school, but I would definitely recommend it to high schoolers (mainly girls), but I do work in middle schools and I think it's appropriate for mature 7th or 8th graders.  I actually think this would make a great book for small group or whole class discussions even.  I've found that middle schoolers seem to love the realistic fiction genre or teen issues genre and this one definitely fits the bill.    
     This book has recently been challenged for its content.  If you do read this with students or know a student who has read this, it's a great way to start of author's purpose.  Anderson wrote a poem based on all the letters she received after writing Speak.  I think it illustrates why she wrote the book and why the book is important.  You can read her response to this book be challenged here.
Read Together: 7 - 12  
Read Alone: 7 - 12   
Read With: Snatch of Text: Other teen issues books like books by Sarah Dessen - Someone Like You or The Truth About Forever, Jay Asher's Thirteen Reasons Why, Jerry Spinelli's Stargirl and Love, Stargirl, Sharon Draper's Tears of a Tiger or The Battle of Jericho; Nonfiction about depression or traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses   
Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Making Inferences, Author's Purpose
Writing Strategies to Practice: Personal Narrative  
Writing Prompts: Write about a time in your life when you felt sad or betrayed.  Write about a person in your life that you trust.    
Topics Covered: Rape, Depression, Trust, Friendship, Family     
Translated to Spanish: No, but another of Anderson's books, Wintergirls, is translated to Spanish!  I haven't read Frio, but it looks good from the summary.  It was just released September, 2010.
This book review is posted in honor of ALA Banned Books Week 2010.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

ALA Banned Books Week!

Today starts the American Library Associations Banned Books Week.  I just read through the ALA website and their pages about banned books.  I love that they promote everyone's right to free speech  and everyone's right to read what they want to read.   

Looking at the list for challenged or banned books in 2009-2010 I recognize that there are 9 books on there that I have read already and 2 that are actually on my to-be-read pile and right here in my house already!  I pretty vividly remember reading all of the nine books, and I do have to say that I can see how they could be controversial.  Two of them I read in school and the others I have read since being a teacher/mother.  As a teacher I'm always thinking about which of my students would enjoy a book I have read, and some of these I would definitely have to think carefully about who I would recommend them to, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't recommend them to the right student who I think would be mature enough to read, understand, and interpret the book.  
The Perks of Being a WallflowerTo Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary EditionThe Complete Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway: The Finca Vigia EditionTwisted
Anne Frank - The Diary of a Young GirlTwilight (The Twilight Saga)ttyl (Talk to You Later-Internet Girls)The Glass Castle: A MemoirThe Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Have you read any of these?  These are the 9 I have read that have been challenged or banned recently.  I was surprised at some of these and even more surprised at others that have been challenged or banned in the past (like Harry Potter!!!).  It's crazy.  I believe books should be available to all.  If you want to read it, okay, if you don't, then don't.  If you're a parent and you don't think it's appropriate for your child, then I do believe it's okay to talk to your child and explain why you might not think it's right for him or her, but banning it from a school, library, or school library is not cool.

Some of you have joined the #speakloudly conversation on Twitter after Laurie Halse Anderson's book Speak was characterized as filthy and immoral.  Here's what she had to say about it: "This guy thinks SPEAK is pornography." I didn't post my own response right away, just because it's hard for me to think straight when something so insane happens.  There are two rape scenes in Speak and the book is an intense book because of what Melinda (the main character) deals with when she is raped.  I think it is an important book for young adults to read about what she is going through whether they identify with it in any way or are just gaining perspective.  This is a book that I have recommended to certain students and I always explain that it's a serious book and make sure to talk to them about what they read, mainly because I want them to understand the seriousness of the book and the gravity of it's message but also because Anderson leaves a lot for a reader to infer and I want to make sure the student gets what the book is about.  I believe so many people are outraged by this particular banning because the accusation is really off-base - and I know that because I read the whole book.

Speak and other challenged or banned books need people standing up for them and their worth in schools and libraries.  I hope that everyone out there is reading, but I truly wish that every teacher and parent out there is at least reading what their students or kids are reading.  Had I not read any of these banned books in this post, I wouldn't be qualified to make a case for them and their relevance and importance in society.  Since I have, I know what they are about and I know I would recommend any of them if I thought they were a fit for one of my students or friends.  For the books I haven't read, I can't say I would be interested in reading all of them, but that doesn't mean I'm going to stand in the way of someone who is interested in them.

I wish I could be part of the Chicago Banned Books Week Read-Out!  Even though I can't actually be there, I'm going to make sure I sit down and read between noon and 2:00 p.m. to show my support.  Here are the two books I'll be reading this week in honor of Banned Books Week:
The Tortilla CurtainThe Bermudez Triangle 
Stand up against book banning: 
read one of the books on the challenged or banned books lists, 
buy them, check them out, share them!

Friday, September 24, 2010

Eyes Like Stars

Eyes Like Stars: Theatre Illuminata, Act ITitle: Eyes Like Stars: Theatre Illuminata, Act I  
Author: Lisa Mantchev  
Publisher: Fiewel and Friends
Publication Date: 2009 
Genre/Format: Fantasy/Novel
Summary: Bertie is an orphan living in a magical theatre, THE magical theatre where all plays, characters, and their backdrops are magically housed.  When she gets in trouble, she promises to restage Hamlet and bring a soldout crowd and a standing ovation to the theatre in order to be allowed to stay.  Along the way, she discovers so much more about herself and who she is than she could have imagined.  
What I Think: I'm still digesting this book!  I'm not sure what I think.  In a way, I feel like I was a "bad" reader with this book because I just kept reading even though it didn't make too much sense to me...but as much as I read the book jacket and the summaries online, I truly think I did understand the book but it just wasn't explicitly explained so I felt like I was confused.
     I think fantasy-lovers would love this book, but I would hesitate to give it to a student without fantasy background or Shakespearean background.  Mantchev does an amazing job of incorporating characters from Shakespeare's plays, but it's kind of tricky if you aren't familiar with the characters.  The author jumps into the story and it takes off without really explaining the whole magical theatre idea or even the real-life setting outside of the story.  I thought she was in this theatre in current times because she wears jeans and dyes her hair blue, but then the night of the play fancy royalty show up.
     In the end, I really enjoyed the characters, and made sense of the story once I was done and read some reviews of what other people have said, but I can't say this is my favorite fantasy book/series ever.  I would recommend it to a high school student, but I would definitely have to think carefully about who that student is as a reader first...and make sure to follow up with them!
Read Together: 9 - 12 
Read Alone: 9 - 12 
Read With: Plays by Shakespeare such as HamletMacbeth, or A Midsummer Night's DreamGraceling by Kristin Cashore; The Looking Glass Wars By Frank Bedor;
Snatch of Text: "Bertie often thought that if she had a grandmother, and that grandmother had a parlor, and that parlor perpetually awaited a vicar's arrival for tea, it would be just like the Green Room.  Spikes of painted iris grew up the wallpaper, and the sofa's moss-velvet was rubbed so thin in places as to be nearly gray and kitten-soft. The mica window set into the petite cast-iron stove revealed the cheerful glow of burning coals.  Tiny, unexpected posies bloomed in forgotten corners, while an enormous clock tick-tick-ticked away the seconds until showtime." p. 22
Reading Strategies to Practice: Activating Background Knowledge, Making Connections, Asking Questions, Visualization 
Writing Strategies to Practice: Descriptive Writing 
Writing Prompts: Choose a place and use all five senses to describe it, try adding some compound adjectives that you make up yourself. 
Topics Covered: Shakespeare, Plays, Theatre, Friendship, Family, Love, Magic, Determination 
Translated to Spanish: No

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