Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wanting more...

I am no doubt, a fan of the classics.  However, I think in today's modern society, teens lack the ability to relate directly or even be impacted by books written so long ago.  History is something they snore at, albeit ignorantly, but they do.  I want to spice up the reading list for my students, I want to bring fresh authors to light and study books that are relevant to them NOW, not through years of probing and prodding.

The following books were chosen as Morris Award winner for Young Adults for 2012.  I'd like to each one next year.  Which do you think is the best option?  I am leaning towards Paper Cover Rock by Jenny Hubbard because it references A Separate Peace on multiple occasions.  I thought maybe we could read A Separate Peace in the fall in lieu of short stories, let that lead us into research covering World War II, and then connect it all with Paper Covers Rock at the end of the year.  Call me crazy, but I want them to like learning!

2012 Winner

Where Things Come Back
Where Things Come Back by John Corey Whaley, published by Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.  ISBN 978-0-4424-1333-7.
Lily, Arkansas, seems like a sleepy town where it would be unlikely for anything of note to the outside world to happen. But Cullen’s seventeenth summer is marked by the overdose death of a relative, his brother’s disappearance, and the discovery of a woodpecker thought to be extinct. These seemingly disconnected events collide in this novel which demonstrates that nothing is random.  Whaley’s story will absorb readers as they follow Cullen on his journey through an unforgettable summer.
“With plot twists and surprising connections, this is one of those rare books that does not come along often,” said Morris Award Chair Teri Lesesne.

2012 Finalists

The Girl of Fire and ThornsPaper Covers RockUnder the MesquiteBeween Shades of Gray
The Girl of Fire and Thorns written by Rae Carson, published by Greenwillow Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.  ISBN 978-0-06-202648-4.
Elisa bears the Godstone.  She is a chosen one.  What she is chosen to do is unclear, but perhaps her journey to marry the king of a neighboring country in the midst of war will provide some of the answers.  Carson weaves together religion, politics, prophecy,  and more in this fast-paced fantasy that brings Elisa to a destiny  no one could have anticipated.
Paper Covers Rock written by Jenny Hubbard, published by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. ISBN 978-0-385-74055-5.
Alex, a junior at an exclusive boarding school, uses his journal (neatly hidden inside a copy of Moby Dick) to relate the disturbing events that led to the drowning of a classmate.  Hubbard’s literary references, her creation of Alex’s poems and journal entries, and her storytelling skills combine in a story about the code of silence that often compromises the code of honor.
Under the Mesquite written by Guadalupe Garcia McCall, published by Lee and Low Books.  ISBN 978-1-60060-429-4.
This novel in verse tells the story of Lupita, the oldest of eight children.  When Lupita’s mother is diagnosed with cancer, it is up to Lupita to step into a role she never considered taking in her drama class:  surrogate parent.  McCall’s chapters are exquisite poems with language that sings and stings.  Finding hope amidst despair, finding the chance to laugh, and finding the incredible power of family  make this a memorable reading experience.
Between Shades of Gray written by Ruta Sepetys, published by Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group USA.  ISBN 978-0-399-25412-3.
In lyrical prose, Sepetys introduces readers to 15 year old Lina and her family as they are evicted from their home in Lithuania  and transported to Siberia as prisoners during Stalin’s reign of terror in the 1940s.  The journey is perilous; not all will survive. Lina is determined to document it all in her art and her journal. Sepetys shines a light on a corner of history not often seen in YA literature. The juxtaposition of lyricism in the midst of the horror underscores Lina’s indomitable spirit.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Contemporary and Classics

Right now, I am reading To Kill a Mockingbird with my 10th grade English classes.  I will soon begin Of Mice and Men with my 11th grade English classes, and Holes with my Reading class.  Of these three novels, on Holes by Louis Sachar is considered to be young adult reading, but each year we perpetuate the cycle of classic literature onto today's high school students.  I find myself this year asking why?

It's not that I don't believe in the validity and power of the aforementioned novels, I do.  Wholeheartedly.  To Kill a Mockingbird is one of the best novels ever written, and while many students do become attached to the novel, rarely do they do so until Tom dies - even throughout the court case, they keep waiting for the Disney ending to come along and save the day.  It isn't coming.

I guess what I'm pondering here is the question - if they won't read the classics, what will they read that has literary merit?  There is a slew of Young Adult novels out there, but which ones are best to teach?  I'm writing one myself, and I'm not sure it'll ever see the light of publication, but if it does - can I teach it?  Does it merit an in-depth study.  It has language, and sex, and violence, but it's real.  I believe young people want to read something real and relevant to them.  Just this year, we as teachers, requested to teach The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  We were denied for two main reasons:

  1. They claimed the reading level was too low.  I assure you, based on what I am working with, it was NOT too low.
  2. The content was not appropriate.  In the novel their is a masturbation moment of a teenage boy - really, is that far fetched?  I think not.
The content is age-appropriate, the reading level allows for understanding, and the historical work we could have done with Native American tribes would have been fantastic.  I believe it was the mention of masturbation that upset the powers that be more than the reading level.   Yet, it's okay to read about murder, mayhem, drinking, suicide, drug use, incest, sex, racism, rape, and retardation.  These are just a few of the topics I teach in the "approved" selections for 10th and 11th grade reading.  But masturbation, that is over the line.

There is a debate in our county over selecting books kids would read anyway, saying that "If they would read it anyway, we shouldn't teach it."  But, I disagree.

Teaching a book is very different from simply reading for pleasure.  And some books that are great stories require an in-depth look at the historical basis for students to really appreciate the literature.

So, with all of that said - any recommendations from the masses out there about more modern contemporary novels that merit a study as much as the classics? 

Thoughts and opinions welcomed.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Crossed by Ally Condie

Crossed is the sequel to the amazing book Matched by Ally Condie.  It is the second book in the trilogy.  Crossed  continues to follow the life of Cassia Reyes and her quest to find the boy she loves and the redemption from her Society life, The Rising. 

At the end of Matched, the reader is left wondering what Cassia will do - how will she solve her love choice between Xander and Ky?  We know Ky is the man of the hour, but her childhood love for Xander is never far from her thoughts.  Crossed answers that question for us and much more.  And within this simple decision of love, Cassia is also to answer questions that are bigger than she is...what is the journey of life all about?  Is their ever true freedom - freedom from The Society, or freedom in The Rising?  Cassia believes with all her heart that The Rising is the answer she needs.  The answer to her love for Ky or Xander, the answer to who she can trust, the answer to save her soul.  It's the quest of a lifetime.

Her journey is long and hard.  She meets some she can trust and finds that others she thought she knew were keeping secrets from her, secrets that change almost everything.  She is challenged.  Ky is challenged.  And the true conflict of the story is how they meet, and sometimes fail to meet, the test in front of them.  They are both seeing the world as a different place, but for Cassia it is all new.  Ky brings his family demons with him and his status as an aberration, but Cassia has never known anything outside the comfort of The Society, until now. 

She proves to be a strong heroine, not afraid to take chances.  She endures, as well as anyone else,  scourging across unknown territory.  She will let nothing stand in her way of getting to Ky, The Rising, or back to her family; even back to Xander. 

Crossed as a sequel does not disappoint.  It hints enough at Matched to keep the reader engaged and wondering about the characters met before now, but moves forward in a way that introduces new characters, settings, and plot lines to the reader in an unobtrusive way.

This book is written from both Ky and Cassia's viewpoint, it shifts every chapter.  I must admit, I found myself enjoying the chapters from Ky's viewpoint more than Cassia's.  I'm not sure why, I can't quite put my finger on it.  Possibly because I believed so much in the suffering of Ky's character and knew the true heartbreak that would ensue for him if he was to lose Cassia in this book.  I kept reading to make sure Ky was safe and loved.  My heart bleeds for him.  I'm not sure how I feel about Xander, and sometimes how I feel about Cassia.

I can't wait for the final book to hit the shelves so I can devour it as quickly as I've devoured the first two.  Ally Condie - you certainly have my attention!

I can't find a date for when this will be released, but when I do - I'll post it! :-)

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Matched by Ally Condie

Love triangle.  Yep - that's the premise for Cassia Reyes in Matched by Ally Condie.  But, before you think "not another teen drama" give Matched a chance.  I read the book in three days, could not put it down.  A love triangle exists, because we all know that love is a fundamental emotion coursing through teenage veins (and ours, to be honest), but it's different for Cassia and for Xander and Ky - her double matches; there's more at stake than just a broken heart. 

The Society, the world in which they live, has created perfection.  Couples are genetically matched by genes, DNA, and the potential for perfect offspring (as a teacher in public education, I can say this does NOT sound like a bad system).  This happens on or shortly thereafter their seventeenth birthday.  In short, The Society plays Cupid.  And while some parties are destined to be singles for the rest of their life, those that are the best are matched with the best.  Your match most likely will come from another province outside the one you live in, but for Cassia, that's where the surprise begins. 

***Side note:  Now, if you're a word nerd like I am, the idea that the outlying areas are called provinces immediately sparked your musings of war.  Province comes from the Latin word Provincia, meaning territory under domination (pro -before, vincere - to conquer).  So, as I started reading more about Cassia's love matches, it didn't surprise me that one of them came from a war-torn province with plenty of sultry mystery. 

Her match night goes as planned, with one little twist.  Her perfect match is right in the room with her; her best friend Xander.  While this is rare, most people meet their match on a screen before them, neither are upset by the match, in fact, Xander was hopeful all along.  But, the mystery begins when Cassisa gets home to read her micro-card about Xander.  This is a chip containing all information about your future betrothed.  Cassia doesn't really see the point in reading hers because she's known Xander her entire life, but curiosity gets the better of her and she pops her card into the reader.  Xander's face is there for only a moment and then it's somebody else - somebody she never thought would be a match for her, Ky Markham. 

The Society doesn't make mistakes.  This could not possibly be happening.  Why hasn't she ever looked at Ky this way before?  What are the odds that he's now a part of everything that she does?  Is The Society playing tricks with her?  Or is this who she's really supposed to love?  Does she have a choice in a world where everything is chosen for her:  who to be, who to love, where to work, and when to die?  Choice...choice...choice - Do not go gentle into that good night, rage, rage, against the dying of the light...

Matched is a well-written novel at 400 pages, and I found it to be an easy read with excellent flow to the story.  Condie's descriptive language is right on cue; not too much that you are drowning in it, and just enough to give you an adequate picture of the life inside The Society.  Lucky for readers, Matched is part of a trilogy, and the second book Crossed is in bookstores now.

Ally Condie ( is a former high school English teacher who lives with her husband and three sons outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. She loves reading, running, eating, and listening to her husband play guitar.  SERIOUSLY - CAN SHE SOUND ANYMORE LIKE ME??? (except I like watching my husband work on his car and listening to him play the drums)

For more information about Matched  and the author, visit the book's website.  In the YA world, I would give this book a definite "two thumbs up" - it's enough science fiction/fantasy to keep a reader turning the page, with just enough reality to make one wonder, "What would I do???"