I read this book to my freshman reading classes, and they loved it. I chose it because it came so highly recommended, because I already had it on my b...moreI read this book to my freshman reading classes, and they loved it. I chose it because it came so highly recommended, because I already had it on my bookshelf, and because it was short. My intention was to show my kids--who hate reading with every fiber of their beings--that reading can be fun and valuable and interesting. And sometimes, you don't even have to take a test.
I hated the book, hated reading it, hated that I'd tied myself into continuing it.
But my kids ... they LOVED it. For a month, all I'd have to do (most days) was say, "Oh, I guess we won't have time to re--" and they would close their mouths, sit up straight, and smile at me with that creepy Stepford gleam, trying to convince me for just one second that they were model students and they'd never done a single bad thing in all their lives, now COULD I PLEASE READ THE BOOK.
Every non-freshman person who saw this book on my desk would say, without fail, "Ms. Vincent, THAT IS SUCH A GOOD BOOK!!!" and they would go into these rapturous summaries about how much they loved it and I would smile my own Stepford-smile and nod politely and grimace behind my eyes.
So here's the thing: I don't like abuse. I mean, that's a given, right? That most people don't like abuse. And I'm not trying to one-up anybody or imply that my emotions are somehow more deeply felt than anyone else's, but seriously ... I CANNOT TAKE IT.
I don't like graphic violence of any kind, and Dave Pelzer describes his abuse in explicit detail with lots of gross-making adjectives and word images that make my stomach hurt. And I had to read them aloud--TWICE--while I tried not to cry or throw up or have a nervous breakdown. Ultimately, I had to divorce myself from the text while reading, so I could just get through it, and then I had to make a conscious effort not to think about it when I finished.
Also--and this is the part that makes me a bad person, probably--I kind of ... it's not that I don't believe that Pelzer was abused, because I do, or that it was as bad as he describes, because it probably was, but the writing seems a little ... calculated. Like each phrase has been chosen specifically for its emotional heft, like he went through the thesaurus and was like, "Oooh! That'll make 'em cry!"
And, while reading aloud, I found myself skipping over a lot of passages, because they were out of place or went on too long. It wasn't even the parts with the descriptions of the abuse, but the parts where he was analyzing his feelings or looking at the sunset or something totally irrelevant to the story. Like all of a sudden he'd gotten a hankering to be "literary," so he stuck in a couple metaphors and big words to satisfy the cultural elite, or the Pulitzer committee.
Is that mean? It feels mean. I don't want to downplay the fact that I'm talking about a kid who had this really awful childhood. But on the other hand, I appreciate good writing and an author who allows me to come to my own conclusions and who doesn't try to manipulate my emotions. I'm sure I could have figured out that his mom was crazy and and his life was horrible without all the extra emotional manipulation. I mean, geez; I'm not stupid.
Regardless of my personal feelings, I'm really glad my students liked it. It's one of the few things they've shown any interest in all year, and if I have to read TEN books about abused kids, I'd do it, for them.
This is how I taught Romeo and Juliet to my freshmen this year.
The book carries the text in Shakespeare's language side-by-side with modern (understa...moreThis is how I taught Romeo and Juliet to my freshmen this year.
The book carries the text in Shakespeare's language side-by-side with modern (understandable, to my students) language.
While we did go over the most famous passages in the original language, we read the majority of this play in the modern translation.
If you want to know the truth, ninth graders aren't exactly ready to tackle Shakespeare in the Elizabethan text. Sure, YOU did it (so did I), but these are different times, and different kids, who don't want to work for anything and who rarely if ever rise to a challenge (does that sound cynical? well, it's true).
So giving them this version made my life a whole heck of a lot easier and it increased their comprehension and their enjoyment of the play. That's my goal: YOU MUST LOVE SHAKESPEARE.
So apparently Denmark's citizens reluctantly accepted Nazi occupation, since they knew there was no point in trying to defend their tee-tiny country f...more So apparently Denmark's citizens reluctantly accepted Nazi occupation, since they knew there was no point in trying to defend their tee-tiny country from the invading German army. But they did not take the occupation lying down, as it were; instead, they did everything they possibly could to bring down the Germans from the inside, up to and including blowing up their own naval vessels (so the Germans couldn't use them) and helping thousands of Danish Jews escape to Sweden.
This story is about a ten-year-old girl named Annemarie whose best friend Ellen is Jewish. Her family is tangentially involved in the Resistance until the night the German soldiers start rounding up Jews for exportation, and they are forced to become directly involved. Based on historical events, the story describes many clever ideas used by the Danish people, and of course the whole thing evokes a sort of root-for-the-underdog feeling, as this small country works together to overthrow the stupid Nazis.
*The following is full of teacher jargon*
I read this as a possibility for a differentiated literature unit on the Holocaust. This would be for the lower-level readers.
The plot does seem a bit simplistic, but the book's written on a 4th-5th grade level, maybe lower, so it would be a good one for those struggling readers. Also, I can think of several ways to tie-in expository texts as supplementary materials if, for example, I were going to make this a literature circle/book club-type assignment. (less)
Told from two points of view: Michael, who is showing off his antique Winchester and fires a shot into the air, and Jenna, who watches as her dad catc...moreTold from two points of view: Michael, who is showing off his antique Winchester and fires a shot into the air, and Jenna, who watches as her dad catches the bullet in the head two blocks away.
Jenna's grief seems very real, and realistic; there are no funny lines, no snappy dialogue to defer her sorrow. It takes her a good while to even accept the reality of her father's death, and the author does a good job of showing how Jenna's just going through the motions of life, not really connecting at all, because she's still clinging to the hope of her father coming into the house and laughing it all off as a huge joke.
Michael doesn't even find out about the man's death until the next day, and he allows his delinquent friend to convince him to stay quiet. His guilt possesses him, changes him, and he, too, disconnects with reality.
Both Michael and Jenna find comfort with Amy, who has a(n undeserved) reputation as the school slut. I wish we'd had more of her story; there's no mention of how she got that reputation, though there are some VERY realistic events that show how gossip and teenage maliciousness can tear through a person.
There are a lot of questions brought up in the story, BIG questions, with applications to real life that young adult readers can really dig into.
*Note to self* An excellent read-aloud possibility for freshmen.
This book is brutal. So many bad things are chronicled here that it's almost too much. There are victories as well, but one test after the other for t...moreThis book is brutal. So many bad things are chronicled here that it's almost too much. There are victories as well, but one test after the other for the protagonist. Catharsis at the end, but at quite a price.
Excellent book, not appropriate for read-alouds, but definitely a recommendation for my students.(less)
I'm sure it's because it's written for younger kids, but this didn't really have the emotional heft I was looking for. I guess I was hoping it would b...moreI'm sure it's because it's written for younger kids, but this didn't really have the emotional heft I was looking for. I guess I was hoping it would be like Band of Brothers.
On the one hand, I don't like the play because of its unrelenting pile-up of crap: here's something bad, then here's some more, then h...moreI don't like it.
On the one hand, I don't like the play because of its unrelenting pile-up of crap: here's something bad, then here's some more, then here's some more, oh yeah try some more, we're not done yet, have some more. Good grief, Charlie Brown.*
On the other hand, the story's realistic in that redemption doesn't necessarily mean a happy ending. I GET that; I even LIKE it. I just don't WANT it, because I'd gotten so beaten down by the aforementioned crap pile that I needed something--ONE GOOD THING--to happen, but it didn't. There's not really even the hope of a better tomorrow (to get all cliche and folk singer-y on you). Nope. Tomorrow will probably suck too.
As almost always happens, the villains are more interesting than the heroes. This might be because the heroes are few in this play, but it could also be because they are bland. Being good is boring, you guys.
Even Cordelia, the fulcrum on which this whole thing spins, or balances, or--whatever, she's the catalyst for the action, and I am bad at metaphors--even Cordelia is so boring she only shows up in two scenes. And she is capital letter B-O-O-O-O-R-I-N-G both times. I understand that I'm supposed to root for her, but it's difficult, because she's so duuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuull.
Generally, when I don't like the characters in a story, I don't like the story as a whole. I'm conflicted, though, because I love Shakespeare more than any other dead person, and it feels disloyal to criticize, especially because there are some people who think King Lear is his tragic masterpiece.
So I'm opting out of the star rating, giving credit for the writing (because my strong reaction just proves that this is some potent stuff), and staying mad for the rest of the day, so there.