Grades: Primary and Intermediate (though the theme of absent Purpose: Picture Book (Wide Reading Project)
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Format: Picture Book
Grades: Primary and Intermediate (though the theme of absentee parenting can be extended into middle school and secondary)
Subjects/Themes: See the bookshelves above.
Classroom Use: Great potential as a read aloud on a very sensitive and difficult subject of a parent who leaves her kids at home for days on end and the foster care that ensues. This book has great relevance in urban settings, though as a teacher, I would first have to know my class to decide whether or not to read to the whole class. The subject matter is tough, though I feel that Woodson's honest presentation could be cathartic and good release for some children who may unfortunately find themselves in similar situations.
Review: This picture book felt like a punch in the gut, with one moment early on especially sad and hard to comprehend, though Woodson provides an honest look at an issue that needs to be discussed. With a social worker knocking on their door, a young girl and her little brother refuse to let her in. One of the children says that Mama has left before but always come back, essentially asking a rhetorical question of whether or not she will return this time. The fact that any child has to ask this question is heartbreaking yet realistic for many kids who have to grow up way earlier than they should. In her typical style, Woodson tells it like is from her characters, resulting in a painfully touching masterpiece as far as I am concerned. ...more
Subjects/Themes: See the bookshelveStudent Name: Chris Maynard
Purpose: Realistic Fiction (Wide Reading)
Genre: Realistic Fiction
Grades: Middle School
Subjects/Themes: See the bookshelves above.
Classroom Use: Spinelli's Maniac Magee needs to be in a classroom library though its use in the language arts classroom is debatable in my opinion. This semester, I worked with a low-achieving, urban sixth-grade classroom that was reading Maniac Magee in book clubs. The interest in the book seemed to be mixed. With that said, it was difficult for this classroom of sixth-grade students, which was reading anywhere from 2-4 grade levels below where they should be. As there are so many powerful themes and literary devices (e.g., literal and figurative language) taking place in this book, I can see why so many teachers love to teach this book and how some students really love it. However, having seen some students not like it (and say that it is boring) I would hesitate to teach it, though I would encourage students who love to read to read it.
Review: I was surprised to find that Maniac Magee, written in 1991, felt really outdated, even with its universal themes transcending time. I really read this book with a critical eye after getting to work with a great bunch of students who were struggling readers, and I did not get the hype. It was kind of a boring read. Interestingly enough, I read this book as a kid, and don't remember liking it that much then. Of course, I know many people who love the book and are strong advocates of its use in the classroom. Don't get me wrong. The book addresses themes that need to be discussed, but it just didn't click for me and some students in 2011.
Overall Response: Of all the books that I purchased for this class at the beginning of the semester, I Here is my blackboard response on Hitler Youth.
Overall Response: Of all the books that I purchased for this class at the beginning of the semester, I was most eager to read this one, given its subject matter. With that said, I enjoyed Hitler Youth but not as much as I anticipated, though I understand that the Holocaust is hardly a period of history that should leave you feeling good about humanity, with the events that led up to this ghastly tragedy occurring – and going unknown for so long at the time, even to the German people – still quite shocking and disturbing all of these years later.
What I especially liked about Hitler Youth was how author Susan Campbell Bartoletti introduces the reading audience to relatively obscure individuals (at least to Americans) such as Herbert Norkus, a 14-year-old boy/Hitler youth member who was killed by Communists while distributing National Socialist Party (Nazi) propaganda, 17-year-old Helmuth Hubener, who was beheaded for distributing printed materials that told the German people that Hitler was lying to them, and the White Rose leaders/brothers and sisters Hans and Sophie Scholl, who were also killed for distributing anti-Nazi materials, this time when a janitor caught them sprinkling leaflets from the top of a building at the University of Munich. Bartolleti essentially contrasts figures like Hubener and the Scholls with Norkus and the other Hitler Youth, whose overall numbers were quite striking, dedication awfully impressive, and vicious contributions to the end of the war effort really unsettling. Just how eerie and uneasy is this concept of the Hitler Youth? Bartolletti details how several Hitler Youth members had their parents arrested because they were critical of the Nazi movement, showing how the maniacal Hitler divided not only races but the individual families of his own people, the Germans.
Essentially, Hitler Youth is the story of a collective movement in which Hitler and company manipulated the naivete and innocence of young German boys and girls to carry out his awful vision, which was foreshadowed years earlier in his autobiography Mein Kampf, yet also a collection of deeply individual and personal vignettes of how the Nazi movement affected Germany’s youth in so many different ways, what initially seemed positive but was ultimately negative when learning that they had supported a mass murderer, as is written several times throughout the book.
Specifics: While Hitler Youth had a unique balance of detailing individual narratives while still feeling like a history book at times, what especially stood out to me were the black-and-white photos throughout, specifically those of Hitler. Given my education on and recollections of Hitler, I have most always seen him in his Nazi uniform, especially when giving furiously frightening speeches to the German people. With that in mind, Bartolleti’s ability to find pictures of Hitler in different settings really painted a new picture of this monster and provided me with a better understanding of how the Hitler Youth could become so engrossed with and loyal to this despicable figure.
Consider a picture on page 16, where Hitler is shown sheepishly waving to a crowd of supporters. Rather than wearing his Nazi garbs, Hitler is seen in a black-and-white suit, creating the feel as to how he was much more than some larger-than-life politician but a hero/rock star to the Hitler Youth.
Or a picture on 20, where Hitler is seen intently listening to the radio results of the March 1933 Parliamentary elections. Once again, Hitler looks as if he is a caring man genuinely concerned about the good of all when it was ultimately apparent that he was most concerned with enacting his frightening vision for mankind. Of course, Bartolleti lets us know that the Nazi movement – which infringed upon liberties like the freedom of press and suppressed anything that could be construed as oppositional to him – was the master of propaganda itself, especially in how it portrayed Hitler to gain the support of youth.
And then there is the picture on page 141, when an “appearing worn-out and shaken” Hitler (sans his mustache) is seen shaking the hand of a loyal Hitler Youth, whose wide-mouth look is equivalent to what any of us would look like if meeting a hero from our youths. Yes, it is quite disturbing to think that Adolf Hitler was a hero to many German youth.
Essentially, it is such pictures of not only Hitler but various members of and opponents to the Hitler Youth, along with other images – especially the one on page 132 of a Hitler Youth training lesson on the Panzerfaust (if there is a scarier weapon used in war, I have yet to seen it) – that made Hitler Youth different from other things that I have read about the Nazi movement and World War II.
While Bartoletti’s writing was not as compelling, her research and perspectives were really phenomenal, especially the chapter in which she describes the roots of the Holocaust. While I had known that the Nazis had first started killing people who were mentally or physically handicapped, arguing that these citizens drained resources, I did not know that the German people were opposed to the movement so much that Hitler called off this secret program. Unfortunately, despite this opposition, the foundations for what Hitler would do to the Jews and others in the concentration camps had been set, as 12 million people would sadly experience.
Curricular Connections: To me, Hitler Youth is best used with students beginning in seventh and eighth grade. Not only does Hitler Youth provide another perspective on the beginnings of World War II but it relates to the age level of these students. It would be really fascinating to have students explore how Hitler tapped into the innocence and naivete of German youth, potentially resulting in not only historical understandings but personally relevant and meaningful connections for early teenagers, who can be quite impressionable and stubborn in their beliefs. To be honest, I wish this book was around when I was finishing up grade school, as its effects would have been greater than as compared to now. With that said, I would definitely urge that this book be included in any social studies classroom for seventh and eighth graders as the combination of individual stories and black-and-white photos are quite thought-provoking. ...more
Here is my blackboard response on The Hunger Games, which may have been the most disappointing read in CI 546.
Overall Response: Whew! I began this boHere is my blackboard response on The Hunger Games, which may have been the most disappointing read in CI 546.
Overall Response: Whew! I began this book at 2:30 p.m. today and finished at 9:49 p.m. (with about an hour break somewhere in between for dinner and a nap), leading to a pretty exhausting experience, perhaps one in which I would have been better off to space this book out, at least in terms of having a more solid comprehension and level-headed (?) opinion of it.
With that said, I am really torn about The Hunger Games. I absolutely enjoyed the first two parts of the book (which I thought were brilliant, especially the presentation of the pre-Hunger Games as this distorted twist/social commentary of a media spectacle that had a surreal feel of the NCAA Tournament selection show, the Olympics, reality television, beauty pageants, the freaking Gong show, etc., and the initial interaction between the 24 participants in the arena), but was extremely annoyed by the love story between Katniss and Peeta in the third part. When I put two and two together, realizing that this is the first part of a trilogy, the love angle really started to frustrate me, with some of the lines between the two (especially from Peeta) too damn hokey and diminishing from some of the clever yet subtle humor that Suzanne Collins inserted earlier in the book (e.g., I loved Katniss’ various cynical observations of the superficial, PR lady Effie throughout the book), as mentioned by one of my colleagues. All in all, I think the third part of the story was a bit grinding, all for the sake of setting up a love triangle with Gale in the next book, which was disappointing to me, especially when considering that Katniss and Peeta were literally not out of the woods yet, though it was predictable that they would survive at the end. While Collins introduced an interesting twist in the form of the wolves, returning as all of the deceased participants, near the end of the story, her attempt to have Katniss and Peeta die this Shakespearean death was symbolic of the forced nature of the third part, which became too much of a make-out fest in my opinion, a slant that may hook middle school students and ensure interest in the rest of the trilogy but was a disservice to what was an interesting and well-developed but compromised story. In many ways I feel that Collins sold out the story in the third part.
With all of this considered, as of right now I would avoid the second part of the trilogy, Catching Fire, something that I probably would not have said after the first two parts of the story, which I thought was shaping up to be a classic. While the book certainly kept me interested during my 8 hours of power-reading, I was very disappointed at the end.
Reminding me of George Orwell’s 1984, The Hunger Games definitely fits the science fiction category of dystopian societies. I would also consider it as fitting the “Surviving Environmental Catastrophes”, as Collins informs us that Panem “…rose up out of the ashes of a place that was once called North America” (p. 18) and then describes “…the disasters, the droughts, the storms, the fires, the encroaching seas that swallowed up so much of the land” (p. 18), setting up “the brutal war for what little sustenance remained” (p. 18).
In many ways, The Hunger Games reminded me of another book from high school, The Lord of the Flies, though with a more purposely violent premise. Overall, I was not all that shocked by the premise of children being selected to fight to the death in this yearly lottery. In many ways, I felt like this topic has been done before (i.e., The Lord of the Flies, Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery, which was mentioned by Elizabeth, I believe), and given the violence that we see today on television and in other media, I felt that Collins was rather subdued with the presentation of some of the deaths. For example, she avoids detailing the death of Thresh at the hands of Cato by removing Katniss and Peeta from that action. One can only imagine how bloody that fight must have been, though Katniss and Peeta were probably swapping saliva at the point of the story.
While I like how Collins tied in Peeta with Katniss’ past, specifically when he gave the starving girl bread as a child, the relationship was just too forced. In comparison, I much rather enjoyed the alliance between Katniss and Rue, with the young girl symbolic of Katniss’ younger sister Prim, not only in appearance but name, both derived from flowers. I was most saddened when Rue died, though I appreciate the fact that Collins made this death quick rather than setting it up. We quickly found out that Rue had been captured in a net, and then she was suddenly done for, with Katniss taking care of her killer without hesitation.
I would not consider myself a sci-fi guy, though certain elements of this book solidified my previous experiences with this type of fantasy, including the super killer bees, the force field that would not allow Katniss and Peeta from jumping off the top of the building, the hovercrafts, the demonic wolves, etc.
Curricular Connections: Interestingly enough, this book has been very prominent in the two schools that I have been observing at this semester. In a sixth grade language arts class that I am observing at Shield Elementary, The Hunger Games is being read out loud to the students. Just a few weeks back, I also saw a fifth-grade student named Julian reading The Hunger Games during the 20 minutes of silent reading after lunch at Portage Park Elementary on the Northwest side.
While my colleagues touched on the many themes of this book that can be taught, I would teach this book to older students from the perspective of the reality television angle. In many ways, Collins seems to be critiquing the absurdity that is reality television, especially the absurd amount of attention it gets in the media, but she does so both clearly and subtly. I am still convinced that her idea of the gongs starting off The Hunger Games was a twist of the awful Gong show from the 1970s. Anyways, just as the concept of these yearly Hunger Games are as denigrating as it comes to valuing human life, isn’t reality television as insulting when it comes to our attention span and intelligence nowadays? I think this book would be great to teach children how reality television is about as contrived and far from reality as it gets. ...more
Classroom Use: I actually read this book for a graduate level literacy class in the Spring of 2010. My feelings were mixed at the time, so I read it again for this children's literature class. My hatred for this novel was confirmed. I would not include this novel in my classroom library as it feels very forced and inauthentic to me, more about Alexie trying to be humorous and get recognition. Judging by some of the people who commented on this book during its long list of superficial acclaim, I'd say mission accomplished.
Review: This book really, really bothered me, not about its portraits of Native American life on the reservation but adolescence. My biggest complaint is that it is way too over-the-top and does not feel as if the story is coming from an adolescent named Junior but rather an adult author in Alexie. Honestly, I thought Junior was way too aware of his adolescence, which didn't seem plausible given my own adolescence and definitely had the feel of someone (i.e., an adult) looking back on this time and then adding sex jokes to be controversial. While this book has faced censorship because of such references, the bigger issue to me is that it is just not that good beyond producing cheap and easy laughs. Thank goodness it was a quick read, though it didn't deserve two reads from me.
Here is my blackboard post on Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, the first part of a three-part series that I need to read after this semester.
Overall Res Here is my blackboard post on Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, the first part of a three-part series that I need to read after this semester.
Overall Response: When respectively looking at and reading the front and back cover of Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, I was expecting to engage in a silly novel about a hyperactive child who struggled with his impulse control, resulting in entertaining misadventures that would prompt some laughs and insight into what I perceived to be ADHD. While JPSTK certainly had his fair share of funny moments, including Joey’s early chapter catchphrase of “Can I get back to you on that?” (p. 5) whenever asked a question, this novel was much more to me, stirring a wide range of powerful feelings, including far more unexpected and painful sadness when learning more about Joey’s home life, which to me was incredibly disturbing and added an incredible twist to this story. At the end of reading this novel, I certainly felt a bit tired, as if entrusted to watch Joey Pigza, yet happy for this wonderful child, who is a good kid after all despite what he has been led to feel. Having never read Jack Gantos before, I came away very impressed with JPSTK, making me want to read the rest of the book in this series.
Specifics: ● In Chapter 9 of Children’s Books in Children’s Hands, TMY write about the role that setting plays in realistic fiction, noting that “…the setting influences the way the story moves along” (p. 311). JPSTK takes place around but not in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where Joey’s alcoholic father and abusive grandmother apparently live. Like the internal and external conflicts that Joey faces as a result of his “wiring” (p. 8), a symbol for his attention deficit and impulse control problems, Pittsburgh is a place of conflict for the wild yet sensitive boy, who hopes to find his father in Pittsburgh but ultimately finds some much needed assurance at the end of the book, when a medical test reveals that his brain is not messed up like he has been told and led to believe by far too many people in his life. While the city of Pittsburgh has an important role in JPSTK, this story essentially takes place in Joey’s school, where he is viewed as dangerous to his classmates because of his roller-coaster behavior, and his home, which we find out is far more unstable than we could imagine at the beginning of this story, when his struggling grandmother is taking care of the boy, who has been abandoned by father and mother. While Gantos does a strong job of casting how we, as current and/or future educators, tend to see ADHD in terms of how it affects the classroom, his depiction of its effects inside the underrepresented setting of the home is an incredibly revealing and disturbing perspective.
Just how bad is Joey’s home? Tired by Joey’s unpredictable behavior, his grandmother tries to force him to take a timeout inside a refrigerator. Even a kid like Joey, who struggles with his decision making, knows that “there were good rules and bad rules, and having a time-out inside a refrigerator was a bad rule” (p. 13). No freaking kidding! With his Mom out of the picture, until she returns early in the book after staying with her drunken husband, Joey is tormented by his grandmother, who calls him an idiot, literally treats him like a dog, telling him to roll over, smacks him with a flyswatter when he doesn’t comply, and engages in a sick game in which she provides the boy with false hope that his mother is coming home.
As seen in the above descriptions, Gantos uses the dual setting of school and home to show ADHD in an entire new light, resulting in a much different and heartbreaking story than I expected.
● In terms of plot, TMY notes a big difference between events in real life, “…in which the lion’s share of our days is full of meaningless details…” (p. 311), and realistic fiction, in which “…just about every detail…is meaningful” (p. 311). This point is especially important when considering how Gantos depicts the unpredictability of not only Joey but his ADHD, thus providing the reader with an incredible perspective on what it’s like to struggle with this disorder, whether dealing with it in the shoes of the child, teacher, parent, behavioral social worker, etc.
Consider how Gantos describes a hyperactive Joey literally bouncing off the walls of the school hallway at the beginning of the story (p. 5). Not only is every detail of Joey the literal and figurative tornado examined, including how he uses his belt and shoelaces to spin himself around, but the entire paragraph, “I nodded, and when she was gone I wrapped the belts and laces around my middle and gave it a good tug and began to spin and spin and slam…” (p. 5), is a run-on sentence and fitting symbol for the craziness that consumes Joey’s ADHD and life in general.
● In terms of theme, JPSTK deals with the contemporary issue of ADHD in a very intriguing light. Like Adriana insightfully noted, we saw how the ADHD affects other characters beside Joey, including his grandmother, mother, fellow classmates, teachers, etc. While the point of view is primarily from Joey’s perspective, we see how others treat him through Joey’s own recollections, which are not easy for him to deal with.
What especially strikes me about Gantos’ depiction of ADHD beyond the incredible details of its physical manifestations is its mental effects on Joey, a sensitive soul who is always blaming himself for things, many of which are out of his control. Gantos essentially provides the reader with unique insight of the incredible pains, isolation and fear that Joey feels because of his attention disorder, which includes him being called such insensitive names like “…Retard, or Brain-Damaged, or Zippy the Pinhead” (p. 82), providing just a few examples. What’s especially disturbing is that Joey is called such names by not only some mean children but awful “adults”, including his grandma and the father of a female classmate whom Joey accidentally injures with scissors during one of his “bad” moments when he struggles to make a “good” decision. Instead of describing symptoms of ADHD, Gantos makes us feel for Joey and better understand what he deals with both physically and emotionally with his disorder, which is interestingly not mentioned as an “attention disorder” until page 114. Two pages later, we learn that Joey has been physically abused by his grandma in the past. In my opinion, these three pages (114-116) really took the story to a whole new level, allowing me to have even more compassion and empathy for Joey.
Gantos also seems to be making a powerful message about the dangers of throwing medication without thinking about their effects on children who have problems like ADHD. Self-described as a “… a good kid with dud meds” (p. 76), Joey does not seem to make progress until he is paired with a social worker and doctor when moving from his school to a special education center downtown, whom analyze the disorder in far greater detail than just solving it with medication.
● In terms of characters, which TMY notes are created in realistic fiction “…through physical descriptions, through their actions , through their thoughts and speech, and through their relationships with others” (p. 311), Gantos certainly paints Joey as a character to be remembered rather than disregarded by society. Despite what others may think about Joey’s messed-up brain, he is a far more introspective and perspective person that some of the assumed “normal” people in the story. Consider Joey’s reaction to meeting some of the special education students at the downtown center. When meeting Special Ed and talking about some of his new classmates whom deal with extremely serious physical and cognitive impairments, Joey notes “…how every kid here has been punished” (p. 96). Such a powerful statement makes the ending of the story especially more powerful for the likable Joey, who is told by the mother of a wheelchair bound student that “the medication has helped you settle down, but you have been a good kid all along” (p. 153). Amen to that.
Curricular Connections: Adrian did a nice job of describing how this book can be used to teach students about ADHD. An additional power of this book lies in its message of treating people like Joey, who are deemed different because of certain impairments that are often out of their control, with respect and the dignity that you would want to be treated. This book is more about tolerance or mere acceptance; it’s about looking at the Joeys of the world beyond the surface level and as unique human beings who experience a wide range of emotions. ...more
Grades: Middle School to YStudent Name: Chris Maynard
Purpose: Graphic Novel (Wide Reading Project)
Genre: Informational Biography
Format: Graphic Novel
Grades: Middle School to Young Adult and above
Subjects/Themes: See the bookshelves above.
Classroom use: I would definitely use Maus in the classroom, specifically when teaching about the Holocaust during World Ward II. This heartbreaking story of Spiegelman's father in the form of a graphic novel is not only a sad and amazing human-interest story but an appealing format for students to learn about the brutal horror of the Holocaust in a non-traditional light beyond the textbook. Going beyond the social studies classroom and extending into the language arts, this book has strong characterization and symbolism, with the choice of mice for the Jews and cats for Nazis extremely interesting and an intriguing topic that could spark great discussion among 7th and 8th grade students.
Review: I first learned about this GN back in my first literacy class, but never read it until this semester. Boy am I glad that I did, as Maus I truly was a masterpiece that I could not put down. Spiegelman's images of the Nazis (via cats) were truly frightening, thus confirming to me why I have always had a bad gut feeling about and disliked those creatures. The more and more I read about such personal experiences during The Holocaust, the more and more surprised I am about how some Jewish people not only survived the physical dangers but avoided breaking down mentally. To me, Maus I is about as good as it gets when it comes to graphic novels and validates the importance of this literature format as a teaching tool.
School Use: I would not teach this book in the classroom, though I would have it somewhere in the classroom, probably somewhere all students would be unable to access it. This is such a sad, disturbing story that it may be very difficult for some students to deal with. With that said, I could also see it being very relevant and intriguing to other students, perhaps those living in difficult family situations. I would be very selective in regards to what students (at least in middle school) get to see this book. Even for an adult, this is a disturbing read.
Review: If there is one scene in the autobiographical graphic novel Stitches that encompasses its disturbing nature (and this is a story that includes a father who gives his boy cancer, a mother who hates her children, and a grandmother who burns down her home, resulting in the death of her husband and residence in an insane asylum), it's when a young David Small is at the hospital waiting for his Dad to leave work. Running around the hospital, Small sneaks into a room where he sees a fetus in formaldehyde. As he stares at the fetus, the creature opens its eyes, lifts itself out of the substance (seemingly growing in stature) and chases Small down the hospital hallway. Clearly a delusion from the fragile boy, this scene is something that you would not want to dream about. Nor is this story of abuse and lack of love that Small dealt with as a child something that you would want to have experienced growing up. Never again will I think of the word "stiches" in the same light, and thanks to Small's haunting pencil illustrations (including a cover that reminds me of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), I now have the frightening visuals to go along with this demented, new meaning. ...more
School Use: Coraline is not something that I would have my class read, though I would have it in my classroom library as it is a popular choice among contemporary students. In fact, and as an aside, one of the second-grade students whom I work with in after-school programming in a CPS school dressed up as Coraline for Halloween, which I thought was really cool. For older elementary students or a high school literature class, I could see using this book when teaching students about how novels may be adapted into graphic novels, as this is a strong example of doing it the right way as opposed to the junky The Jungle GN that I read earlier this semester.
Review: Interestingly enough, I first read the novel version of Neil Gaiman's Coraline. With this perspective in mind, the graphic novel was far more satisfying as it helped me visualize some of the ghostly and ghastly images that were going on in my mind while reading the novel and also clarified some points (like the giant spider sac where the old upstairs neighbors were trapped)that were hard to understand in black and white text. Gaiman is certainly a weird and creepy dude, with the GA version of Coraline fitting the bill, leaving me feeling uncomfortable yet not so scared that I would have nightmares (which I feel is important for a reading audience of children). Speaking of scary images, the buttons in place of human eyes were certainly memorable and symbolic of the lack of humanity that Coraline's alternate world mother had for children. Thinking back of the second grade student whom I mentioned earlier, this novel seems a bit mature, though her experiences with the story may be from the movie, which I have not seen and probably should check out. ...more