Saturday, February 28, 2015

The Book Thief by Mark Zusak

As I am reading The Book Thief by Mark Zusak, I have been underlining and flagging the story to keep track of powerful quotes and moments that stood out to me. However, I have had to really determine whether or not something is worth marking because I am finding that my book is becoming covered in ink and Post-it notes. It is difficult to be selective, however, since the book is filled with such rich imagery that truly enhances the reading experiences. Since I am a person who has trouble creating detailed visions of what I read, I found this imagery to also help me picture the setting, characters, and scenes in the story. For example, on page six Zusak sets the scene by saying, "It felt as though the whole globe was dressed in snow. Like it had pulled it on, the way you pull on a sweater. Next to the train line, foot-prints were sunken to their shins. Trees wore blankets of ice." Through this imagery, I was able to not only see the winter wonderland that had been painted for me, but I found myself almost feeling cold. I never knew that words could have such power.

The power of Zusak's imagery and words made me ask myself,  "how could this book have possibly been adapted into a movie?" I don't think that the movie could begin to capture the images that Zusak has led me to create in my head. Furthermore, I fear that if I watch the movie, that the amazing images that I have generated in my head will be completely destroyed or replaced. 

Have any of you seen the movie? How do you think it compares to the book? Is it worth the risk to watch?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Book Trailer for Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty

Since I am going to be making my own book trailer very soon, I thought it would be helpful to look at book trailers for some of the books we have read. I came across this book trailer for Yummy and absolutely loved it! The music was so creative and I thought it captured the literary elements and theme of Yummy perfectly! Although I am not sure if my book trailer will appear as professionally done as this one, it does give me some inspiration for my own!

The story also inspired me to do a little research on Robert "Yummy" Sandifer and the events that took place in Chicago in 1994. What I was most interested in finding was the Time Magazine article published about Yummy. At first I was super frustrated because I could not read the article unless I signed up for a paid subscription to Time Magazine. However, with a little searching on Google Scholar, I was able to finally find the article. The downside is that I could only download a Word Document of the article, so I can't post a link to it for you to read before class. I will print copies of the article for you though and bring it with me! I think you will find it to be an interesting read. 

Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty by G. Neri

When I first found out we would be reading graphic novels this week, I was little unsure about how I would like them. I have only read one graphic novel before and I never considered graphic novels to be "real books." After reading Part One of Jesse Karp's book Graphic Novels In Your School Library, I gained a new appreciation and respect for graphic novels. Prior to reading this section, I had never realized how complex and sophisticated graphic novels are. I was amazed to learn how much time, thought, and consideration goes into creating a graphic novel and just how detailed they are. This new appreciation peaked my interest and made me feel more prepared to step outside of my literary comfort zone. 

I began my journey outside my comfort zone with G. Neri's Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. When I learned that this graphic novel was based on a true story, it made me so excited to read it. It may just be the history geek in me, but I love reading about things that really happened. For this reason, and many more, I absolutely LOVED this book! Not only did I find the story interesting, but Neri asks some hard questions that really made me think. One question that the narrator Rodger posed really stuck with me. He said,

"I tried to figure out who the real Yummy was. 
The one who stole my lunch money?
 Or the one who smiled when I shared my candy with him? 
I wondered if I grew up like him, would I have turned out the same?" (Neri, 63)

This quote stood out to me because while I was reading, I had a hard time determining whether or not Yummy was a victim or the bully. Although he clearly made poor choices and committed horrible crimes, I don't think I can agree that it was entirely his fault. Even if I wanted to dislike him, I couldn't. However, I was hoping that Neri would provide some sort of answer to this question. At first, I was a little frustrated that he didn't. But after I had put the book away, I realized how awesome it is that Neri trusts his readers to reach their own conclusions. Not only was that a great moment for me, but as a teacher, I think it is important for kids to also learn that they're capable of answering the tough questions too. 

Typically when I read, I am so concerned with the author's words that I completely ignore the illustrators contributions. I knew that when I read Yummy, I would have to slow down and allow myself to acknowledge and appreciate the illustrations in the book. Even though this was a little awkward for me at first, I was so glad that I pushed myself to do it because it improved both my reading experience and my overall understanding of the story. Also, I realized that the illustrator can convey messages as well. For example,in the beginning, when Neri is talking about all that Chicago is known for, the illustrator, Randy DuBurke, inserted Rodger into these scenes. He's on the court with the Chicago Bulls, arresting Al Capone, and so on. To me, this was DuBurke's way of making it clear to the reader that Rodger, and all children, have a connection and a role in the history of the city. The fact that I was able to gain so much from just a few pages made me realize how critical it was to not only look at the illustrations, but to question the illustrator as well. By doing so, I was able to realize that the illustrator has things they want to say to the reader as well. This is a huge "ah-ha!" moment for me. 

I think these images of pages 4 & 5 are interesting because they don't have the words. This really allows you to focus on the illustrations and what the illustrator is trying to say.

I am so relieved that venturing out of my comfort zone was a rewarding experience. I look forward to reading Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi and to reading more graphic novels in the future. If you have any recommendations for some to add to my list, please put them into the comments! I would greatly appreciate it :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

A Buzzed Interview with Laurie Halse Anderson

While scrolling through Buzzfeed, I came across an interview with Laurie Halse Anderson, the author of Speak and other wonderful books, promoting her new book The Impossible Knife of Memory and talking about all things related to young adult literature. 

Two things in this article stood out to me. The first was Anderson's response to the question, "What do you hope readers take away from the story?" As part of her response she said, "...Not all people love all books, because you can’t write a book that’s going to speak to the condition of every heart." After reading Feed, this quote really resonated with me. I felt almost guilty for not liking the book and that I was unable to relate to it well. It was comforting to know that it is okay, and normal, that not every book will "speak" to me. What matters most is that it does speak to other readers and helps to provide them with new insights, understandings, and comfort for whatever they may be dealing with. 

The second thing that stood out to me was Anderson's thoughts on why adults should read young adult literature. I think that many adults are afraid to read young adult literature because they may not think of it as being as challenging or meaningful compared to the literature that their friends may be reading. However, Anderson's explanation of why it is important really helps to shine a more positive light on reading young adult literature. She says that adults should read it because, "It gives them insight into what their kids and the next generation of Americans are dealing with, which is important. It can also give them insight into some of their own stuff, some of their own sadness and sorrows, and shine a light on maybe some work that they need to do emotionally, which is very helpful. And also, the writing’s amazing."

I think that young adult literature has done all of that for me and more. I highly recommend checking out this article and reading more of what Anderson has to share with us!

Here's the link to the article!


Feed by M.T. Anderson


Feed by M.T. Anderson was a challenging read for me because I am very resistant to reading science fiction. Although this was not my favorite book, I still found it to be thought provoking and I can understand and appreciate why young adult readers and fans of science fiction novels would enjoy this book. Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the book, one thing that motivated me to keep reading was Feed's similarity to our world. Today, we are constantly spending time in front of "feeds." These may not be in our brains, but they are easily accessible on our phones, computers and tablets. We are able to access tons of information and are always being exposed to new information and media. What is scary is that companies are able to access the things that we look at on the Internet and tailor the advertisements that appear on webpages to what we are looking at online. For example, I recently was searching for a new pair of earrings. Now every time that I log onto Facebook or do a Google search, advertisements appear on the sides of my screen for earrings. It is like the computer is reading my mind just as if it were in my brain. After this realization, I thought, maybe Anderson is right; Maybe the Internet does tell us what to think. Or at least, it has an impact on our thought processes and choices. 

Furthermore, like the characters in Feed, information is readily available to us and we can access it quickly and easily. However, it is so accessible that people may be confusing collecting knowledge with thinking critically. A professor of mine once said that everyone today thinks they are an expert but he cautioned that anyone can do a few google searches. But to be a true expert, it is important to take that information and be able to analyze, critique, and apply it. That's a skill not everyone has. 

Although not everyone engages in this critical thinking, I hated how many of the teens in Feed were portrayed as mindless and overly impressionable. They came off as having no authority over their own feeds or technology itself. In our reality, this is not the case. The Internet has plenty of smart teens who are in control of their feeds and "the Network." They use the Internet as a platform to think critically and to use it in productive and meaningful ways. For example, there are numerous teens who blog, join forums, create YouTube videos, and so on to talk about things that matter in our world and to start conversations that may inspire others to think in a new way. I think it is important to remember that there is some good that can come from the use of technology and the Internet and it is important to acknowledge both the good and the bad that comes from it. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

In the book If I Stay, Gayle Forman uses flashbacks to help the reader better understand Mia and the current situation she is. Although these flashbacks did help me to get a better understanding of the relationships Mia had and who she was a person, I felt like there was something missing from the story. As I mentioned in my previous post, after reading Wonder by R.J. Palacio, I have been finding myself thinking about all of the characters in the story and the impact that they have on the main character and the overall book.  When I was reading, If I Stay by Gayle Forman, I think that other character's perspectives were missing from the story. I wish that I had the perspectives of Kim, Gram and Gramps, Adam, and even the nurses, the social worker, and the pickup truck driver. This may have helped to know what happened to Mom, Dad, and Teddy and to gain a better understanding of the relationship Mia had with all of these people. I am also curious to know their thoughts, emotions, and reactions to what is going on. As R.J. Palacio clearly pointed out, there are at least two sides to every story and all of these important for fully understanding what is going on.

On page 82., the nurse tells Mia's grandparents that she has full control over whether she lives or dies. That the choice is all hers. Although I am no medical expert, I did not fully buy into this idea that Mia had the option to choose whether she lived or died. It just didn't make sense to me that in that situation, she would have much control over what happened to her. On p.180, Mia says, "I wonder if every dying person gets to decide whether they stay or go." It seems like she doubts that death is always a choice as well and maybe is even starting to question whether she really has the choice or not as well. Although I enjoyed the story, especially the parts about Mia's relationships with Adam and Kim, I feel like I needed to really buy into this theme of the "power of choice" in order to completely love this book. However, I do think it was well-crafted, because the cliff-hanger ending has me wanting to read the sequel to see if Mia lived and what her life will be like if she did. I am also interested to watch the movie and see how it compares to the book! From my experience, the book is always better!

The Julian Chapter- A Wonder Story by R.J. Palacio

The Julian Chapter is a short sequel to R.J. Palacio's book Wonder that retells the story from antihero Julian Alban's point of view, and was nothing like what I had been expecting! 

Now I must tell you that I can not say too much about the story without giving away both the plot of this sequel and that of the original book, Wonder. But what I can say is that this chapter is an example of how there are at least two sides to every story, and how it is important and worthwhile to listen to all of these sides before forming judgements about people. Julian may have been a bully, but when I read his side of the story, I was able to sympathize with him and to understand the choices he made. I think this is something that R.J. Palacio was trying to point out in Wonder as well. By offering the perspectives of Auggie's sister and classmates, it was not only easier to understand the challenges Auggie was facing, but to also understand the impact Auggie had on them, both good and bad, and how it affected the things they did and said in the story. I think as a reader, it is natural to empathize with the victim and to heavily focus on that one character's story. But as Palacio has pointed out, other character's stories also matter and play a role in the story. 

This realization has made me more aware of the characters when I am reading other books. It also has me longing for the perspective of other characters and wondering why the author does not provide them. This has made me more critical of the text, in a good way, and has me thinking deeper about what I am reading. There will be more to come about this in a later post, so stay tuned! 

Wednesday, February 4, 2015


Wonder by R.J. Palacio is about a boy named August who is as ordinary as any other boy. He loves Star Wars, playing video games, and spending time with his family. But there is one thing that makes August different. He was born with a genetic facial disorder that makes him look very different from other people and prevented him from attending mainstream school due to him needing many medical treatments. That is, until fifth-grade when August is able to start attending middle school. This is an adjustment for both August and his classmates. But along the way, August is able to meet people who opt to "choose kindness" and make his first year of school a success.

Although Wonder has plenty of moments that could break your heart, one of the hardest parts of the book for me to read was when the Pullman's dog Daisy passes away. I didn't expect to cry while reading, but all of a sudden, in the middle of Starbucks, the waterworks were just coming. I connected to this part of the story strongly because my family and I had to put my dog Shadow down in November. He was experiencing health problems just like Daisy so I could easily relate to how August's parents were feeling about having to make the choice to end their dog's suffering. It was one of the hardest things my family had to do and we are all still trying to cope with the loss.

My reaction to this part of the book made me think about something. When I read about the death of a human, I feel sad and upset but I almost never cry (Unless it is extremely sad like The Fault in Our Stars or My Sisters Keeper. Then pass the tissues, please!). However, when the death of an animal is involved, I can't seem to control my tears. This makes me wonder, why am I more likely to cry over the death of an animal than that of a human? I feel like many of my friends and family experience this as well. I'm not sure if we have just become conditioned to hearing or reading about the death of other humans or if it is something else that triggers such a response.

Another thing I thought about after reading was that even though I empathized with August, I could not help myself from putting myself in the other character's shoes. When I think about Jack, Summer, and Charollette, I admire their courage to befriend August and the kindness that they treat August, and others, with. Although I would like to say that I would have made the same choices as them if I was in a similar situation in middle school, I am not so sure that I would. This is not because I am mean-spirited or extremely shallow. I am just not sure if I would have felt confident enough to drift away from the crowd. I wish that I had been able to read Wonder when I was in middle school because I think it would have helped me to consider those who were bullied or treated differently and to try to find a way to "choose kindness" just like Jack, Summer, Charollette, and eventually the rest of August's fifth grade class did. And although I can not go back in time and choose kindness, Wonder was a nice reminder that when in doubt, always choose to be kind.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Reality Boy

While packing for vacation in San Jose Del Cabo, Mexico, I threw a book in my bag in case I got bored on the plane or the beach. To be honest, I did not plan on ever taking the book out of my carry on. I usually sleep on planes and I like to participate in as many vacation activities as I possibly can. However, the plane ride was a lot longer than I had anticipated. After trying to entertain myself with SkyMall and Sudoku for an hour, I reached down for my book. For the rest of the plane ride, I read the beginning of Reality Boy by A.S. King. I was drawn to the story immediately, and the book became a very important vacation activity for myself and my brothers! If only I could read all young adult literature on a warm sunny beach...  

Reality Boy is the story of Gerald Faust, a teen whose early childhood years were played out on a reality television show. Years later, he is still struggling with the anger he felt from the consequences that came from being on the show and the lack of love and support from his dysfunctional family. On the verge of snapping, Gerald is trying to break free from his anger and create the life he deserves.

What first drew me into this book was the show "Network Nanny" because family friends of ours had been on a similar type show before. They had three five year old triplets who starred on the show at the age of five. The same age as Gerald was. I remember gathering around the TV with my family, watching the nanny come in and try to fix these unruly boys. And even more vividly, I remember visiting the family after the nanny had left. I noticed the posters and charts all around the house, untouched since the cameras had left. The boys still unruly as ever. The nanny show didn't fix them. But I had never considered what impact being on the show had on their family or how it has impacted them today. After reading Reality Boy, I feel guilty for getting so much enjoyment and pleasure I got from watching the show. It is sickening to think about how many people also got so much pleasure from watching other peoples pain. It also concerns me how there are so many reality TV shows with children as their stars today. I wonder about the consequences of this form of entertainment and I worry about the kids who have no control or say as to what their parents put on TV for everyone to see. For kids, adults are supposed to be people in their lives that they can trust. But after reading Reality Boy, it's clear that they do not always make the best decisions. As someone whose guilty pleasure is binge watching reality tv shows, Gerald's story really makes me question the type of media that I mindlessly consume. Although I cannot promise to give up all reality tv, I think that this book has helped me to make better choices about the shows that I watch.

Another aspect of reality boy that I could really connect to was the rage that Gerald feels. Even though I have a very supportive and loving family, I still find myself getting very angry sometimes. I have never harmed myself or others, but the words that I say in these moments of rage can be hurtful and something that I regret. After reading this book, I quickly passed the book along to my two younger brothers. Once we had all read the book, we talked about how we all could relate to Gerald's anger.  I am grateful for the dialogue this book inspired between my brothers and I because it helped us to discuss an issue that has affected us all and is difficult for us to talk about. It also helped us to understand one another better and even my parents are now going to read the story to get a better idea of what us kids were talking about.

I look forward to reading more of A.S. King's book. Hopefully I can enjoy them in a beautiful and tropical place again.