Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Misfits

As I cracked open the first page of this novel, I was immediately welcomed by the strong sense of voice that Bobby had in his narration. It is this voice that helped me understand and process the events of the book. James Howe did a wonderful job of writing from Bobby’s perspective, for his voice was unmistakable, so realistic that I often felt as though I were listening to a middle school student talk. This strong sense of voice was one of my favorite literary elements that were combined to create The Misfits. Because the voice helped the reader gain a strong understanding  of Bobby as a character, I felt as though I was able to really understand him. At the conclusion of the book, I knew who Bobby was as a person, what made him tick, and what drove him crazy. His unique voice really brought the story to life, capturing and propelling me forward.
There was no shortage of strong and personable characters in this book. Aside from Bobby, Addie, Skeezy, Joe, and Mr. Kellerman (Killer Man) brought the story to life. It was easy to create images of them in my mind, further drawing me into the story. I felt just as thought I were a fly on the wall, able to physically observe and experience all that the characters were experiencing. This sense of complete immersion in the story made it an interesting and worthwhile read. The Misfits evoked feelings similar to those that I experienced when I, myself was in middle school, creating a strong bond between myself as a reader and the characters in the book.
I was surprised by the articulation skills of these characters, including their ability to communicate as effectively as they did. Part of this effective communication was important to my experience, as a reader, for it helped me to better relate to the characters and become a fly on the wall in the action. Not only were the characters able to articulate their feelings and beliefs in regard to the student council third party, but even more important, their feelings, aspirations, and understandings of the world. Overall, I felt very connected with the characters, as I was pulled along through the entirety of the plot.
This book has several important messages that readers can take way at the completion of the reading experience. First of all, that it is important to fight for what you believe in. Even if you don’t “win” or get “your way” or “change the world” (or in this case the school), there are important consequences of fighting for what you believe in. In the process, the ultimate goal should be to make people more aware of issues that you feel are important. It is okay to speak your mind and fight for what you think is right. Not everyone is going to agree with you, and there will always be struggles and obstacles, but there is something to be said for those who stand up for what they believe. If anything, The Misfits showed that even small changes in attitudes and behavior can result from our efforts. While the No-Name Party didn’t win the student council election, there were many positive outcomes that resulted from their fight for “justice for all.” Possibly most important, was the pride and self-cofidence that Bobby felt at the conclusion of the story.
Another important lesson to be gleaned from this story is that name calling can be very hurtful. Furthermore, when students observe behaviors that are detrimental to the morale of the student body, with hard work and determination, improvements can be made. Often, the most important step is to bring as issue to everyone’s attention, just as the No-Name Party did with the name-calling. This is a powerful message to provide for students. In the end, the principal of the Paintbrush Falls school was able to initiate positive changes in the school based upon the No-Name Party’s platform, that “sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit.” Along with this message is that which Bobby learned from Mr. Kellerman: it is important not to judge a book by its cover. As human beings, we are all dynamic individuals who are so much more than what the world, in an instant, observes. There is a lot more to each of us than that which meets the eye, which makes it important to get to know one another on a deeper and more meaningful level. This idea was represented not only in the interaction between Bobby and Mr. Kellerman, but also between the Gang of Five and "outsiders" such as DuShawn.
All in all, I found this to be a very powerful book and an enjoyable read. The literary elements combined beautifully to create and powerful and very moving story that the reader was completely immersed within. The themes that continually arose were ones that provide an opportunity to discuss important life lessons and goals that we should all strive to achieve. The strong narration by Bobby would make this a wonderful read for any student of his age, for he really embodies and discusses some crucial issues that children of his age face.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Jacqueline Woodson Experience

          After reading The Dear One and conversing with classmates who had read other novels by Jacqueline Woodson, several commonalities arose. Primarily, Woodson writes about deep and controversial issues, including sexuality, race, teenage pregnancy, death, alcoholism, divorce, socioeconomic status, crime, and abortion. All of these are have topics in and of themselves, but Woodson often combines them, incorporating more than one into each story. For many, these would be considered controversial literature, for the topics addressed are controversial. What I found through my experience with her work though, is that she incorporates them tastefully, without the controversy being on the forefront. While she may discuss “controversial issues,” when reading her work, it is easy to get lost in the story and forget that she is talking about such controversial issues.
            Her work is very successful in the way that she draws the reader in and creates a situation in which the reader cannot put down the book. I would not say that her books are suspenseful, but they are page-turners in which the reader becomes so immersed that he/she can’t put the book down. The characters are all interesting and very three-dimensional, making them very dynamic characters. It is these characters that work to propel the stories forward, in addition to the difficult topics that are addressed. The “controversial issues” create a certain mood in her books, again that draws the reader in. Since the moods are so strong and personal, as readers, we feel connected to the characters and the situations that they may face. Overall, Woodson’s use of the literary elements is very successful and creates wonderful stories that are interesting reads.
            I was unaware prior to class discussion that Woodson’s books all contain a bit about her own personal life, but knowing this makes the books seem even less controversial for some reason. To know that the stories are based upon an actual individual’s experience makes them more powerful and relatable. While controversy might be intertwined in Woodson’s novels, with a mature audience, they are definitely doable. I would strongly argue for the inclusion of some of her work in a classroom experience, for her writing is beautiful and her stories are of a length that is easy to handle. The controversial topics spark interesting and meaningful conversations that would be important to have with maturing students. While I would not suggest such novels for use in an elementary school, they would be very appropriate for a middle school English class. At that point in life, many students, if they have not already, will begin experiencing and hearing about some of the deep topics that Woodson’s books touch upon. Therefore, the classroom would be the best environment to begin discussions and sorting through such topics.
            Overall, I really enjoyed my “Woodson Experience” and feel as though she has a lot to contribute to the literary world. 

My Name is Yoon

Written by Helen Recorvits, Illustrated by Gabi Swiatkowska
Multicultural Children’s Picture Book: K-3
Stars: 4.5 (out of 5)

Summary: This is a story of a Korean girl who moves to the United States and must begin attending American School. She struggles with having to give up her Korean name, and refuses to write her American name, Yoon, on any of her papers.

            In this story, Yoon struggles a lot with her move to America. She feels out of place in her new life and wishes that she could go back to Korea. Thus, the story depicts how challenging it can be to move to a new country and be expected to adopt that new country’s rules, traditions, and expectations. Yoon struggles with giving up her Korean name, for I believe that for her, it symbolizes her Korean roots. It is a struggle that many of today’s students face: how to assimilate into the American culture without losing your home culture at the same time. It takes time for Yoon to adjust to the American schools and eventually, she writes her name in English, after trying out several other English words such as cupcake and cat.
            This book has many places in the classroom. First, it would be a nice read if I were to have a class comprised of several new students, particularly from other countries and cultures. Yoon’s story might help them feel more at ease and comfortable in their new environment. Even if I do not have new students, it would still be a useful theme to explore, for my students to better understand what it might feel like to move to a new school or place.
            The story also incorporates information about the Korean culture. Thus, this book could be used not only to explore Korea, but could be the springboard to explore the various cultures that my students may occupy, including those that may not be represented in my classroom. With my students connecting with their own cultures and sharing those with the class, I could find similar multicultural stories to supplement their cultural explorations as well. My Name is Yoon could act as either a window book or a mirror boo, depending on the individual students in my class. I think that this book could be an appropriate one to use, for Yoon is a character that is around the same age of the students that I would share the book with, and thus, despite the cultural differences, they could relate to her.
            While there are many lessons that could come from this book through its use in the classroom, it is also simply an enjoyable read with entertaining illustrations that children would love to look at. Meanwhile, the students would be learning something about another culture and the struggles that such a student might face coming to an American school. 


Written & Illustrated by Allen Say
Multicultural Children’s Picture Book: K-3
Stars: 4 (out of 5)

Summary: This is the story of an adopted child, Allison, who looks nothing like her parents. Allison struggles with the fact that her mother and father aren’t her real parents. In the end, she finds a stray cat that does not have any parents, and decides to take him in, recognizing that this is just what her parents did for her.

            This book touches on several important components for children to explore in literature. First of all, this story talks about adoption. Included in this is how a young adopted girl feels, as she looks very different from her parents. When she watches the other kids in her preschool class get picked up by their parents, she recognizes that the children all look like their parents. In her case, she does not, and she struggles with the anger she feels because of this. What I particularly like about this story is that the reader is able to really connect with Allison and feel her pain and anger as she explores her adoption. For adopted children, Allison would be a great character to connect with. Regardless of her anger and sadness, in the end, Allison is able to work through these feelings and finally recognizes that her parents are her parents, even if they did not give birth to her.
            Another aspect of this story is that Allison is a young Japanese girl. She has her doll, Mei Mei, who is a Japanese doll herself and is the only person that Allison can find who looks like her. She struggles with her appearance and looking different from her parents. I think part of her difficulty is that she does not have a sense of her Japanese culture. As she was raised by Caucasian parents in the United States, Allison is not familiar with her Japanese roots. All that she has to remind her of Japan and the Japanese culture is her doll, Mei Mei, and a kimono that her grandmother sends her from Japan. I think that Allison would feel more secure in her own person if she had the opportunity to explore and experience some of her native culture. This being said, it also begs the question of whether or not her Japanese roots are part of her culture, considering that she has grown up in the United States. This all depends on how we define culture and what we consider to be the important aspects of culture.
            I think this would be a fun book to read to students, for the illustrations are very realistic and Allison is a character that is easily relatable. The book is focused on the outward appearance that makes Allison different from her parents. It would be a nice way to begin a lesson or discussion of how outward appearance is not as important as what is on the inside. We all might look different, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, or even friends. It is also a book that explores how family is deeper than what is on the outside. Just because we might not be living with our biological parents, or maybe we have an adopted sibling, or a cousin living at our house, doesn’t mean that we are not a family. In this sense, my class could also explore what it means to be a family.


Written & Illustrated by Kevin Henkes
Children’s Picture Book: K-2
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: Owen, a young boy who is about to start school, is absolutely attached to his blanket. His parents try everything to get him to part with the blanket, until finally, they have a brilliant idea that solves the “blanket issue.”

            This was by far one of my favorite children’s books when I was a child. What I particularly like about this book now, is that the message is one that I feel many children might be able to relate to. The main character, Owen, has a comfort object, his blanket, and is nervous about going to school without it. Many children have favorite stuffed animals, pillows, blankets, etcetera that they bring everywhere they go. This story could help teach children that they are not alone in this desire, for many others, including Owen, feel just the same.
            While I really enjoy this story, it probably wouldn’t be a great book to use in the classroom with students older than kindergarten. It’s a fun read, and I think many children would enjoy reading it or looking through the pictures on their own. Kevin Henkes does a great job incorporating his illustrations and using them to help tell the story. Even beginning readers could tackle Owen and likely enjoy the story. Therefore, I feel as though it would be an appropriate book to have in a classroom library for kids to read on their own, but I would shy away from using it with the whole class. There is not much that could be done with this book, other than simply listening to it and enjoying the story. Owen is a very relatable character that the reader can easily connect with on an emotional level. 

Monday, November 8, 2010


Written & Illustrated by Janell Cannon
Children’s Picture Book: 1-4
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: In this story a young bat is separated from her mother when she falls out of her tree and into a bird’s nest. Stellaluna is raised as a bird, although she finds herself very different from her bird brothers and sisters. In the end, Stellaluna is reunited with her mother, though she continues to spend time with her bird friends.

            I never read this book as a child, but had heard a lot about it, so I figured that it was time to give it a shot. What I really like about this book is the mix between fiction and nonfiction. Although this is a fictional story, there is a lot of nonfictional information about bats and birds incorporated into the story. Following the story, there is a few pages of information about bats as well, providing an additional learning experience. The story itself is very touching, for it is portrays the friendship between two animals that are so different, yet end up living together in the same nest. Though Stellaluna has difficulty with many of the bird activities and tastes, she does her best to appreciate them. She also does not hesitate to try all of them, suggesting that she is flexible and willing to make the most out of her situation. While some might sulk in such a situation, Stellaluna rises to the occasion and thus has a positive experience. This is an important message for children: no matter what, they should always face new challenges and activities with an open mind and a positive attitude. Additionally, they should be willing to learn from one another, even their classmates who might be very different from themselves.
            I would use this book in my classroom to talk about tolerance of one another’s cultures, habits, and lifestyles. While we may not all be accustomed to the things that our classmates might be, it is okay, and the best we can do is to learn from one another. The end of the story highlights this point, as Stellaluna has the opportunity to teach the birds how to eat and sleep like bats. Through our experiences, we are able to learn more about the world, helping us appreciate our own lives as well as those of others around us. This story would also be a means to discuss and share times when my students have been in situations where they feel out of place and like they might someplace unfamiliar and frightening. My guess is that many students have felt this way before, and by sharing with one another, my hope is that we could help create a strong and safe classroom environment. There are those universal themes throughout this story that I would bet many of my future students could relate to and bond over.
            Another application for this book would be during a lesson on bats or other animals. It would also be an appropriate way to begin introducing nonfiction to those students who make be reluctant to read nonfiction. Since this story incorporates a bit of both, it would help those reluctant students transition and recognize some of the features of nonfiction. 

Across the Alley

Written by Richard Michelson, Illustrated by E. B. Lewis
Multicultural Children’s Picture Book: 2-6 
Stars: 5 (out of 5)

Summary: This is the story of two young boys who live right next to one another, but are not allowed to play together. Once everyone in their houses have fallen asleep, the boys open up their windows and form a strong friendship across the alley.

            This book is likely one that many kids can relate to. Often, children are the victims of their parents’ stereotypes. Thus, such children are forbidden from interacting or playing with a child of a different race, religion, ethnicity, etcetera, but do not understand why. To children, this other child is just someone who is seen as a potential friend or playmate. Children are able to look past differences and play with one another, not yet clouded by society, judgment, and issues of power. Similarly, for these two boys, sharing between their windows is nothing more than a friendship. While the boys are forbidden by their parents and grandparents to interact with one another, the two share late at night when everyone else is asleep. This story is powerful in that it is a view of differences from the eyes of a child. To children, who are not yet jaded, difference in insignificant and often something that goes unnoticed. In the end, the boys are caught, but instead of being scolded for their actions, they are rewarded and provided an opportunity to show off their new talents. I particularly like the way that the ending is handled, for often, endings of similar stories result in upset parents, only furthering the animosity and differences.
            The two boys in the story share their talents and passions with one another. One child plays the violin, while the other is a baseball player. The violinist teaches his baseball friend how to play the violin, while the baseball player teaches the violinist to catch a baseball. This book would provide an opportunity for my students to explore their own talents, and to share those with the rest of the class. By giving each child an opportunity to share something that they are passionate about or particularly good at, all of the students could learn from one another. This would be a time for those who might be minority students, ethnically different, racially diverse, religious or nonreligious, female or male, etcetera, to share with one another. This experience would broaden students’ awareness of other cultures, hobbies, and important aspects of their classmate’s lives.