LIT 3333 discussion

The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing Vol. I

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message 1: by Clarissa (last edited Nov 27, 2008 11:18AM) (new)

Clarissa West-White (clarissawestwhite) | 15 comments Mod
Recently, I bumped into a veteran teacher at the NCTE conference who stated that he thought the book was attempting to cross-over into adult literature. In essence, he felt that the writer was not writing a book for young adults for writing sake, but was writing a "young adult novel" in hopes that it would cross-over and reach a much older audience; so, he could then be welcomed with open arms and a fan base. I was unable to attend the writer's session where he spoke of his works, but I too wondered if he could come and explain his purpose of writing the narrative the way it is written. It seems to be well over the heads of most middle schoolers and the teacher at the conference said he could only see it taught to seniors who would need a lot of coaching in order to complete the book. What do you think?

I bought the second volume to the book which is actually thicker. I would like to think of myself as a reader, but even I am uninterested in reading this installment of the novel, which I know held no freedom for the protagonist. The teacher even wondered about the historical accuracy of the novels. Now, this is when I began to ignore his view since at the end of the novel the author goes through great pangs to explain the historical relationship between the events of the novel and history.

I was also able to pick up the prequel to Sista Soulja's The Coldest Winter Ever. The young man who sold the book said that the two are used in schools throughout the country. This was perplexing since I had only a few hours earlier attended a SLATE meeting where we discussed censorship and how one school board banned all 'canon classics' until each teacher could provide a justification for its use, but somewhere in America students are being taught both works of Sista Soulja!? Only in America!

Again, enter the conversation. Do you think there is a place for Soulja? Octavian? Where and under what circumstances would you assign either work? Did you enjoy reading Octavian Nothing? What other media, books, poems, short stories, etc. could you pair with this book?

message 2: by Kaffee (new)

Kaffee | 8 comments Truthfully, I did not enjoy reading Octavian nothing. I agree that this book is over the heads of many middle schoolers and high schoolers. At some times it was even over my head, and think I'm pretty smart. With this being said, I'm sure there are some students who will love this book and its sequal. It kind of reminds me of an advanced Harry Potter book. Maybe the students who read those books, will be challenged to read Octavian nothing.
Personally, I am torn in rather books like The Coldest Winter Ever should be taught in school. I will have to agree with the school board that says there must be a justification in using it. Nothing technical but maybe a short summary of what the book is about and how it will be used in the classroom and what standards it related to. I do think this book would be acceptable as a free reading book. When I was in school, we had free reading periods and we always read books like this and Flyy Girl. This will begin a love for reading for the students if they are allowed to choose the books they read for leisure. These books have a certain connection with many students because many readers feel that they can relate with the characters in the books.

message 3: by Dominique (new)

Dominique Ferguson | 7 comments Ok so I loved "Octavian". Yes it was long and the vocabulary was a little over my head but I could not put it down! It was so intriguing and bizarre. In my opinion it seems to be a fictional story turned slave narrative with no particular style. Although "Octavian" is amazingly bizarre I doubt I would use it in my classroom. If I did, however, I would only use one book (since it has three) or a certain section and then leave it up to my students to explore and read the novel at their leisure.

As far as Sister Souljah I absolutely love her novels and her style of writing but I do not see her place in the classroom. She has a strong message for teens and young adults but she covers social issues; many of which have no place in the classroom. At times she glamorizes the foolishness that Winter (the protagonist) goes through, which could have a negative impact on a teacher's classroom.

I think when choosing novels teachers should look for books that connect to state mandated standards, stimulate discussion, and entertain.

message 4: by Kiffani1.jones (new)

Kiffani1.jones | 8 comments Alright...some of the things you said the other teacher said to you at the FTCE conference were things I thought of when I read the novel...well, some of the novel. The content is definitely something students would have to be coached through. While the plot is good, it takes a while for he interest to build and students would not be open to it. I wasn't even open to it until I got much further into the book -- like when his mom died. The way the story is written is waaaaaaay too extra for middle or high school students, so I wouldn't bother teaching it UNLESS it was a gifted, honors or ap course.

As for Sistah Souljah? The issues brought up in her books are issues that would interest a high school group, however the language associated with the book isn't appropriate for a school setting. The prequel, "Midnight" is okay--I've already read it and there isn't much cursing or violence. As a matter of fact, if you compared it to "The Coldest Winter Ever" on an appropriate gauge, the Coldest Winter being 10, "Midnight" would be a 6. Midnight would be a good book to teach students about self-respect. I wouldn't want to teach it, but it could be a great novel for students to get into because they think it's going to be some more sex, violence and drugs, but it's so far from that. They'd keep turning the page hoping for something vulgar and it never comes. It is possible to read certain novels and compare them to works in the African American canon.

What could I compare? For Octavian Nothing, I would pair it with Battle Royale. I can't really think of any right now...but that was the first one that came to mind.

message 5: by Kierra (new)

Kierra J. | 8 comments This probably is the best question that I identify with! At first glance, I thought “She expects us to read this?!” Then, it took me a while to get into the book and actually understand what exactly was going on. I’m in the middle of the book, but I think that this book is challenging for anyone in secondary schools because they’re nowhere near this level of thinking- if they can’t finish average-under-two-hundred-supposed-to-be-interesting-books, then they definitely would throw this book in a corner and not look at it again. I was semi-interested because anything with topics concerning Black people interests me (my freshman year African-American history class memories are still with me!) Then again, it’s taking me a while to complete this book because I have to read it slower and refer back to previous pages to really grasp what’s being said.

Sister Soulja? I don’t think so. Okay, I see where the teachers are going trying to include something that would automatically interest students (read the first line of the book, my goodness!), but I still think there’s a time and a place for everything. Maybe The Coldest Winter Ever can be a “reward” and read after finishing books with substance, part of the classroom library or a book to explore for a personal project. Not to downplay the accomplishments of African-American novels similar to it, I just don’t think Sister Soulja off the bat when deciding on novels to choose to teach.

Octavian Nothing is a heavy dose and could probably encompass the entire school year. There are so many things to pair with this book, but I would try to find untraditional works concerning Black people (especially the Black male) not the ordinary Martin Luther King-Malcolm X tedium. I suggest:
-Makes Me Wanna Holler- Nathan McCall (a highly recommended book that I have to think about including somewhere when I start teaching)
-Tell the students to look up Kevin Powell and what he’s done (he came to FAMU for a “State of the Black Student” conference; he provided a list of recommended books, movies, to-do’s, etc. that I’m working on finishing)
-Have students compare/contrast popular African-American male poets like Langston Hughes, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Amiri Baraka, etc.

message 6: by Jana (last edited Dec 05, 2008 04:33PM) (new)

Jana Smith | 14 comments Octavian Nothing.......? I personally did not like this book. I guess that's why I only got through a small portion of it. From what I did get from the novel, I felt this would not be a book of interest for a middle or high school classroom. The vocabulary and choice of words would certainly go beyond a middle or high school students head. It took a minute to get to the meat of the story as well which I think would not be good for the secondary classroom, which also allows me to say I agree with Kiffani in saying I wouldn't bother teaching this unless it was honors,ap, or a gifted class. I guess It would be a novel that would challenge those students and trigger something in them.

As for Sister Soulja Not at all....I do like everybody else enjoy reading her novels but I would never bring them into the classroom. If I were to use them some sort of way it would be in excerpts or something like that where the students got bits and pieces of the novel to compare to some other novel we were reading.I agree in saying she has powerful messages, but her writing style is one that needs to stay at home and be read in the students' leisure time.This book is very heavy for the middle and high school student and I feel would be a book that students would do anything to get out of reading .
I honestly don't even know what activties I would do with this book, or books I could compare it with.

message 7: by Renee (new)

Renee Job | 6 comments Well, I had mixed feelings about this book. It was a good read but it will not be a book that I would recommend to someone to read in their leisure time. I liked the plot but the vocabulary was a bit challenging. I think that students will be turned off by the book because it is kind of slow. I would not teach this book to just any student. They would have to gifted students or something of the sort.
I enjoy Sista Soulja novels. I don't think that i will teach her novel as a whole in the classroom. However, I can see myself pulling out some chapters and incorporating them into a unit. She does have strong messages in her work despite the extreme content.

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