Saturday, February 18, 2012

Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic Week 6: Exploring the Love of Dystopian

When the idea of this feature first started churning in my brain, I began to think about who I would ask to be part of this journey.  One of the first names I thought of was my tweep Jillian because I knew that Jillian was a lover of dystopian but also I knew that she did a dystopian unit with her students which fits with the feature as well as the theme of our blog.  

When Kellee asked me if I would be interested in doing a guest post for this series, I was pretty excited because I’ve read, and loved, a lot of dystopian novels. In fact, I’m pretty sure my response was something along the lines of “I’d love to - dystopian is my favorite!” I figured this was a great opportunity to explore and share why dystopian, where my love came from, how I use it, and where I see it going. My caveat: I know this will drive Kellee crazy, but I honestly don’t distinguish much between dystopian & post-apoc - while I understand the literary and definitional differences, I tend to clump them all under dystopian - mostly because I seem to stray away from the true post-apocalyptic because I don’t usually like them quite as much.

My reasons: 
For some reason, ever since I first started reading dystopian books, I’ve been drawn to them. For me it’s all about the world and the characters. 
The world - it’s a chance for an author to use their most extensive imagination, while tied to things that are going on in the world around us today in which to ground the story. It’s a way of grappling with the changes and struggles in our current world, and creating an idea on how they might evolve into a society in which we think things are better.  
The characters - I’m a sucker for a strong character who fights against “the man” (playing to my sense of rebellion). I get involved and want to root for them.  So, when we get to meet likeable characters, and follow their journey toward not only self-discovery (playing to my sense of the intrapersonal), but also learning what their world is really like (playing to my sense of the intellectual), and then they stand up for what is right and fight against it (playing to my sense of integrity and stubbornness), I’m pulled further into the story and fully engaged in what is happening, making me enjoy the book even more.

My history:
The first dystopian young adult novel I read was The Giver by Lois Lowry. I loved it. It was during my undergrad teaching language arts for middle school course. I was totally drawn into the story, and before I even really understood the genre, I knew it was one I wanted to read more of. I started seeking out similar themes/ideas in the books I was picking up, like City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau, as I started building up my classroom library and choosing books to read.

My present:
Last year I had a class that I was able to create a mini-unit for, and I chose to do a dystopian book club. I knew the genre was popular, and I had a lot of books in my own library to choose from, and I had a group of twelve students who were really excited to read them. The unit was a hit, the kids had a great time reading and discussing the books, and I got a chance to really hear their thoughts about these types of books. The one thing we realized, however, was that one can easily suffer from dystopian burn out if too many are read in a row without a “happy, cheerful” book interlude. My students, and I, gave ourselves permission to take a break after having read so many dystopian books, which can tend to be a little bit depressing, and go back to them after a break for some light-heartedness.

This year, my group of grade level reading teachers has decided to do a dystopian unit at the end of the year, with The Hunger Games as our mentor text/read aloud. The timing works well with the movie coming out, but we’re taking an interesting twist on the dystopian unit in how we’re leading into it. In the past, they have done a Holocaust unit, but the students also get that in language arts and social studies at the same time. So, instead of overwhelming them with too many classes all about that heavy subject at the same time, we’re tying in the dystopian as a way to look at other situations where they were trying to create “utopian” societies, but ended up devolving into dystopian worlds. I’m hopeful that this will make a strong connection to lead them into the unit, and pique their interest in the genre while they spend some time exploring it.

My future:
The dystopian genre seems to be continuing to build popularity in the teen and middle grades book market, which is great for me and my students who enjoy these types of books so much. I will still grab these books and promote them to my students because they do provide a way of grappling with the world around them, learning to stand up for what one believes in, and having a sense of what’s right in the world. I know I will continue to seek out, reach for, and buy/borrow more books in my favorite genre.

Whether you’re new to the genre, or it’s an old favorite like it is for me, I hope that you will enjoy some of my favorite titles below if you haven’t read them yet! You might find that my dystopian favorites are actually quite diverse.

My favorite dystopian recommendations (for the sake of space, I’ve only listed the first title in a series):
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (obviously!)
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Uglies  by Scott Westerfeld
Legend by Marie Lu
Shipbreaker by Paolo Bacigalupi
Delirium by Lauren Oliver
Matched by Ally Condie
Under the Never Sky by Veronica Rossi
Shatter Me by Tahereh Mafi
Unwind by Neal Shusterman
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Naughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Epic by Conor Kostick
The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann
Eye of the Storm by Kate Messner (releases later this month)
Insignia by SJ Kincaid (releases in July)

Mrs. Heise moved this year from six years of teaching 8th grade to a new district and a 7th grade classroom in her role as a language arts and reading teacher in the suburbs of Milwaukee. She is an avid reader, a book pusher, a blogger, and a member of the Nerdy Book Club who strongly believes it is crucial to her work with middle schoolers to be well-versed in the selection of books she can recommend to them. Jillian welcomes you to join her conversations about books and teaching on twitter @heisereads. She also shares her thoughts and recommendations for a variety of middle grades and young adult books on her blog, Heise Reads & Recommends, at


Past Dystopian vs. Post-Apocalyptic posts:

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