I somehow spaced and forgot to post this yesterday, but I’m still calling it Monday Update. Anyways, this week, I’ve been reading Eleanor and Park. It follows the story of Eleanor, a “not normal” looking girl who has significant family issues, and Park, an attractive dude who’s pretty popular in school with a great home life, and their blossoming romance. I read this several years ago, I forget how many, and I remember that my reaction was overall positive, but that I didn’t exactly love the book. As I read, I started remembering exactly how I felt and realized I still feel the same way. Maybe I’m wrong, but I do feel that this book was written more for girls, which is fine, but I feel like I don’t read many books like that when I think about it. The author is also female, so it’s obviously written by someone with experiences at least somewhat similar to Eleanor.
I find myself not being able to fully dive into the story. I can’t seem to let myself fall into the characters. I can’t pinpoint why. Maybe it’s because the romance seems forced at times to me. I’m really not sure. If I read more books written for girls by female authors, I think I’d have a better idea as to whether or not that’s why I can’t connect. When I read the scene where Park first holds her hand, the description of it was written in a way that made me feel like I was getting cooties form reading it. That’s the best I can come up with for how I feel about this book hahaha.
The book is super readable though. I’m interested to see what happens to the characters even though I’ve read it before. The overall plot points are still in my memory, but the details are pretty much gone. 3.5/5 (This is completely subjective. When I look at it objectively as I can, I can see it being 5/5, but I’m not going to rate it objectively ha)
It seems that building and maintaining a classroom library is extremely important for an English teacher who wants to build students into independent readers. Since I hope I can achieve this, it looks like I’ll definitely be talking a crack at the whole library thing. Beyond just having an in-class library, there’s a lot of work to be done before any actual books are bought. Building a relationship with the students seems to be first and foremost in importance. The students aren’t going to read books you recommend or provide if they don’t like you in the first place. Establishing a trusting rapport with my kids will be the first step in getting them to pick up a book. When they know me and enjoy my thoughts and opinions, they’ll be much more inclined to follow my suggestions. I’ll also have to keep up with the popular YA literature. Sure, kids will always read Harry Potter, but there are going to be new pop culture gems that kids will flock to, and it will be important for me to stay up to date with them. If I haven’t read the next generations Harry Potter, they are going to think I’m out of touch and won’t trust my suggestions. But if I can banter with them about the new book that everyone’s reading, they’ll be more open to my ideas.
Building stamina is also very important. Those chapters in “Book Love” reminded me of our class immediately. This was the first class where I had reading requirement measured in time instead of pages or chapters. This was incredibly freeing and I know that I’ve read more than four hours a week, and I’m completely fine with that. Had a teacher given me a time requirement in high school, I really believe it would have made a lot of readings easier. It probably wouldn’t have worked with Shakespeare, but for every other book it would have made for a better experience. If the assignment is in pages and some students easily reach the goal while others struggle, the struggling students are going to grow to dislike reading even more than they already did. But when it’s a time requirement, two hours is two hours; some read more than others, but they’re all completing the assignment. This definitely builds up stamina and confidence in reading, which is all we can hope for.
This past week, I’ve been reading “All American Boys” by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely. The book follows the narratives of two teens in high school, Quinn and Rashad. Quinn is your fairly average high school kid. He’s definitely in the popular group. He plays sports and has a good group of friends. His father died in Afghanistan and that has shaped his upbringing greatly as well as how others treat him. He’s the “All American Boy” in his town.
Rashad is a black teenager who goes to the same school as Quinn, but they don’t really know each other. He’s in JROTC, plays sports, and receives “decent” grades. His father is extremely hard on him and pressures him to always look and act presentable. His mother is much more nurturing.
I give these short backgrounds because they’re important. One day, Rashad is picking up a bag of chips and a pop from the local store. Under a few unfortunate circumstances, he is mistaken for stealing. A cop in the store leads him outside and slams him into the concrete for resisting and proceeds to beat him. Quinn was about to head into the store and sees this happen right in front of him. The cop is also his best friend’s brother, so he’s conflicted about what he sees. Quinn and his friend’s run away out of fear of being associated, and Rashad is hospitalized.
What follows shows how Quinn wrestles with his conscience and how Rashad proceeds after the incident. It’s really interesting, so I’m not going to spoil anything. It’s obviously very topical and relevant to today’s issues. I really like how it gets me into the perspective of black people. I think police brutality is terrible, but the way this book was written opened my eyes to another facet of that perspective. It’s written by a white guy and a black guy, so I’m sure it’s a great representation of how both sides feel. The narration switches between Rashad’s point of view and Quinn’s, which I like. The writing is very conversational, which put me off a little bit. Sometimes I struggled to follow the parts that weren’t dialogue, because the whole book read like dialogue. I definitely recommend it! 4.5/5
I learned a lot from the readings this week. It revealed just how easy it is for a book to be censored in a variety of ways without us knowing about it. We can’t be expected to follow every new book release, so the responsibility to not censor falls to librarians and editors. If bias is present in these people, then the general public doesn’t get as broad of a selection as they should.
My literary comfort zones are definitely genre books. I love horror, science fiction, fantasy, you name it. I love to be entertained. The biggest stretches outside my comfort zone would be poetry and LGBT themed books. I’ve never liked poetry, and every time I’ve read it, it’s been for a class, so I’ve been forced to analyze it and try to figure out its meaning. That’s led me to dislike it quite a bit. I have zero inclination to pick up a book of poetry and read it for pleasure. I don’t know what it would take for me to enjoy it, but it would have to grab me pretty quickly. With LGBT themes in books, it’s just something that I was never exposed to growing up, so I never read it. And when it was in books I read, it wasn’t the main focus, like in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I don’t dislike those books or avoid them. I just don’t connect with those characters and have a hard time getting into the book. But that’s okay, because as a straight white guy, I have plenty of other options.
That’s one of my main gripes with censorship. There’s obviously going to be books that trigger or bother some people, but that’s such a small percentage of available works that it’s pointless to get upset. If you don’t want your kids reading certain books or about certain themes, that’s technically your right as a parent, so you can individually censor them. But you shouldn’t narrow other people’s choices as well. Discussion also can solve many of the problems related to why people try to ban or censor books. Talking about tough or controversial issues is the best way to work through them. Avoiding them completely is dangerous to society; we need to be well educated in as much as possible in order to live to the best of our abilities.
This past week, I read Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli. I read this a few times around when I was 12 or 13, so this was one of the first YA books that I read as technical young adult (I cringe to consider 13 year old me any kind of adult). I loved it and had a few strong memories of certain parts of the book, so I was excited to give it a reread.
The story follows Maniac Magee, whose parents died when he was very young. After living with his aunt and uncle for several years, he runs away at age 11. He spends his time in an area that encompasses his hometown and surrounding towns. His main activity is running, and everyone eventually begins to know him. He becomes a kind of legend around town. His feats are witnessed by few and then repeated to others until he has a giant reputation in the surrounding cities. He makes many friends and a few enemies. There were a few parts in this book where my room got a bit dusty…
Reading this book made me want to just get outside and go live life. Even though it was super cold and slick, I went on a run because I just had to go think about the book while doing what Maniac most enjoyed. It makes me wonder if this is the book that got me interested in running in the first place. I don’t really remember, but with how it made me feel now, it’s definitely a possibility. This book makes me want to take chances and to just be me and not try to always impress other people, which is a great thing for a book to do. And even though I’ve only given perfect ratings so far, Maniac Magee deserves another one. 5/5
The readings from Book Love were very interesting and thought provoking. I really liked her emphasis that the focus should be on encouraging independent reading and not necessarily on what we read in the classroom. Often, teachers are trapped by curriculum requirements, so they aren’t able to include much YA literature during actual class time. The title of the book is perfect. Penny Kittle isn’t talking about the curriculum or the assignments; she’s just talking about loving books. An idea I took from it is that you can still hate the books you read in the classroom, but they shouldn’t be a challenge for you because you’re a developed reader outside of class!
In some ways, these readings seemed to convey the idea that even if a student hates everything about English class and doesn’t participate, the teacher can still try and reach them without any connection to the curriculum. If a teacher develops a bond with their students, they can recommend books for independent reading that the student will hopefully pursue. Obviously, students should read to prepare themselves for college if that’s their path. But these chapters emphasize that students can get so much more from reading other than preparation. They can find out things about themselves that they’d realized before. It can force them to ask questions and reevaluate their lives so that they better understand it. They can be pushed to take greater risks and get more out of life. School is only a small part of why reading is important. Books can do so much more for us.
This week, I also reread The Beginning of Everything by Robyn Schneider. The book follows our narrator, Ezra, as navigates high school after going through a personal tragedy. He reconnects with an old friend who he had long neglected, and he strikes up a romance with the new girl, Cassidy Thorpe. Ezra had been part of the popular jock group before his tragedy, and even though he still hangs out with them on occasion, he has, for the most part, fallen out of the popular circle. He joins the speech team with Cassidy and, as usual, their group get into some great mischief. When Ezra thinks everything is going perfectly, he is struck by terrible news and realizes that his tragedy was not his alone.
I loved this book. When it came out, I was the exact same age as the narrator, so I absolutely ate it up. And we both played tennis! Even if I wasn’t exactly the same as him, just sharing an age and a hobby with a character pulled me into the story that much more. This book really shows the power of friendship and it transcends time and popularity. It also encourages us to make the most of our lives and not live on autopilot and go with the flow. A great read with an awesome message. 5/5