George or a Mirror for Many Silent Secret Keepers

GeorgeThat pronoun at the end of the first paragraph blew right by me.  I read through the first sentence of George and mentally settled in.  My eyes skipped past the first “she,” but the second one, at the start of the second paragraph stopped me. I scanned back to the first paragraph and there it was, a clue, plain as day, that this book was not like most of the others that have worked their way across my path.

I read on about secret magazine stashes, memorized lines, breathtaking performances and clothing choices that society sees as gender inappropriate for a child born a boy.  Here’s the deal, though: When I see a book like this, I see my children’s generation in the characters. George’s principal, for instance, shows compassion. George’s best friend and her brother both love her for who she is on the inside. In other characters though, I see my generation, and those that came before me. Characters who assume life is as simple as a binary code. This book shows that life isn’t that simple.

My favorite part of the book is the build up to and performance of Charlotte’s Web.  I sat transfixed as our author took us back stage to witness George shrug off society’s oppressive insistence that she deny her true self. Those transformative moments are part of what I love about reading.  Sometimes those moments, like life, break our hearts.  Conversely, they can be transcendent, lifting us above the hate and pain. Also, I love the analogy of misunderstanding that exists in comparing those two characters: George and Charlotte.

The thing I like most about George/Melissa, is that she isn’t confused at all. I see a character who is completely confident in who she wants to be.  She’s fine with using feminine pronouns and I’m fine with it too.  My son and daughter wouldn’t even blink an eye.  This is their world, one in which I want to live.

Much apologies to Kittle and Gallagher, but the most powerful session I attended at the ILA Conference this summer was in the middle of the day, in a cavernous room, way in the back of the Austin Convention Center.  This was a panel filled with authors who wrote books which included LGBTQ characters.  Each panelist told the story of the first time they saw themselves in a book.  Ashley Herring Blake, author of several books, including Girl Made of Stars, told her powerful story:  Finally, in her thirties, this married, mom of two, read about a character who was bi-sexual. She hadn’t finished her thought before Amazon scheduled delivery of her book to my house.

I get it.  George isn’t about “bi-sexuality.”  What I’m trying to say is that we have to get more books into classroom libraries that allow us to learn about inclusion while learning about what makes us different.

References:

Blake, A. H. (2018). Girl Made of Stars. Boston, MA: HMH Books for Young Readers.

Gino, A. (2015). George. New York, NY: Scholastic.

White, E. B. (1952). Charlotte’s Web. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers.

Charles Moore read George in one sitting.  He’s finally caught up on his yard work and will drive his old corvette to the football game tonight.  He loves his kids, his wife, and his life. If you care to see what he’s ranting about, check out his twitter and if you want to see more of his writing, and the writing of those far more intelligent, check out www.threeteacherstalk.com

 

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Mexican Whiteboy or A Gift to Writing Teachers and to Readers

MwbKids these days are so lucky.  The volume of well-written, engaging, and interesting text overwhelms me.  The stories that Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, and Matt de la Pena build, teeming with relatable characters, settings that feel real to the reader, and the themes that are rich and authentic.

Mexican Whiteboy starts soft, not slow, as the author, Matt de la Pena eases into the story like a camera zooming in from a long distance shot to a medium view that shows us the story’s details in a way that makes us want to be in the scene, not behind the fourth wall. Danny, a teen without a foundation, torn between two cultures, introduces us to his extended family in Southern California. We learn that Danny’s mom, taken up with a rich man in San Diego, sent Danny to National City to spend his summer with family.  Danny’s father, back in Mexico, isn’t present anywhere, except for his son’s thoughts.  Please don’t think I’m being hyperbolic when I suggest that this story is almost Shakespearean.

The author touches on a theme that shows us how loss can take away from a person both physically as well as emotionally.  Danny’s loss of control on the mound is emotionally connected to the lack of control he experiences.

Danny isn’t the only character upon which we focus our attention. Uno, a young man who also experiences the world as the child of a mixed race relationship struggles finding himself as well. He, like Danny, is torn between two cultures and doesn’t have a  foundation upon which to exist.  Teachers, this story is fictional in this story, but very real in our classrooms.

There is a part of me that wishes Danny could take the same kind of pilgrimage that Julia takes in the book I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, by Erika Sanchez.  That trip was a journey of discovery for her, and something like that could help Danny as well. But Danny does take a journey.  His friendship with Uno, through the hustles, the parties, the close calls, is their shared journey.  Each discovers some of himself in the other.  They were destined to be friends. Star-crossed, some would say.

If you can’t tell already, I loved this book.  I liked the love story for what it was. I liked the baseball action as it was described in way that made it feel real.  Even that last showdown against the rich, white, soon to be professional player, made me feel like I was there, in the empty high school baseball stands, watching the story unfold.  That scene, transcended the label of “YA.”  That scene left me transfixed.

Functionally, this book is great for younger high school readers, partly because each chapter is segmented into several parts.  The kids in my classes hate putting down their books in the middle of a chapter and are reluctant to stop reading. This book helps with that problem by providing shorter sections for our younger readers.

I could warn our readers about some violence, or some suggested sexual interactions, but what’s the point?  Please read this book.

Peña, M. d. l., (2008). Mexican whiteboy. New York, NY: DelaCourte Press.

Sanchez, E. L., (2017). I am not your perfect mexican daughter. New York, NY: Knopf Books for Young Readers

Charles Moore just finished one of the best books he’s ever read and is looking forward to the start of the second grading period at his new school.  Both his desks, the one at home and the one at school, are disasters.  That might not change anytime soon.  If you want to see his frequent twitter musings, check out his twitter. If you like what you read and you want to read more, check out his posts at the Three Teachers Talk blog.

Deadline or How to Write Football Wrong and Teenager (kinda) Right.

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I didn’t like this book, then I liked this book, then I didn’t like it again.

The book revolves around the idea that our main character, Ben Wolf, learns, before his senior year of high school, that he has a terminal blood illness.  Instead of seeking treatment, however, he chooses to keep this diagnosis a secret from everyone, including his family, and attacks his senior year with reckless abandon.

Ben is small, light, and perfectly built for cross-country, the sport at which he excels.  Football is a sport Ben avoided, until this ill-fated senior year.

At first, Ben asks the coach not to use him, except on specials teams so as not to upset the balance of personalities.  He spends many hours preparing his brother, the star quarterback, for each opponent.  A football savant, apparently, Ben embodies a school-boy coach persona.  I wish that part of the book reminded me of the movie “Varsity Blues.”  It didn’t. The brothers Wolf share great success on the field before falling to the other best team in the state in the game before the championship game.

Ben successfully pursues the attention and affection of the gorgeous volleyball star, who we learn has a secret of her own.  We even glimpse a post-coitus, confused, main character fairly early in this relationship, which was, reasonably well executed.

While his football field performances were unbelievable, I still rooted for his, and his brother’s, successes.

The football thread that ran through the book annoyed me.  The contrived death sentence for the protagonist, Ben,  annoyed me.  More than anything, the little detail that, in order to become a high volume reader, Ben had to face his own mortality, annoyed me.

The small-town setting was forgettable, the “mentor” football coach inauthentic, and the brother-bond missed the mark.  But, this book has legs.  Subplots centering around a disgraced ex-priest and the physical abuse suffered by another player blended well with the protagonist’s manic-depressive mother issues and his stand against the probably racist government teacher.

Oh, and let’s not forget Ben’s conversations with “Hey-Soos,” a Jesus representation that only visits him in dreams.  Those scenes were bizarre and somewhat off putting.

This book covers so much territory that it’s hard to keep up, but the territories are authentic, real places that our students live, and thus, our older students might find something relevant and interesting.  We have no idea about the lives our students live outside our classes, this book might help bridge that divide.

If your students want football stories look to the writing of Mike Lupica, Micheal Lewis, or Buzz Bisinger.  Those guys know how to write compelling sports stories that bring in the interesting stuff from the periphery.

References

Bisinger, Buzz (2000). Friday Night Lights. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley

Crutcher, Chris. (2007) Deadline. New York, NY: Harper Teen.

Lupica, Mike (2000). QB 1. London, UK: Puffin Books

Lewis, Micheal (2000). The Blind Side: Evolution of a Game. New York, NY: W. W. Norton & Company

Charles Moore loves going to concerts with his wife in the rain.  He adds an annoying amount of videos to his Instagram story.  He loves writing about literacy instruction for the Three Teachers Talk blog.  He also loves talking about reading and writing with teachers and students.  Please check out his Twitter and Instagram.

brown girl dreaming or What History Texts Should Look Like

“True Ease in Writing comes from Art, not Chance, As those move easiest who have learned to dance. ‘Tis not enough no Harshness gives Offence: The Sound must seem an Echo to the Sense” (Pope, A., 1711)

Brown Girl Dreaming

Jacqueline Woodson wrote brown girl dreaming in verse and as Alexander Pope recommended so long ago, it matches the “sound” to the “sense”.  I love the words of Pope, and, the words of Jacqueline Woodson are just as beautiful.  They flow over your soul like honey. When a book like this crosses my path or maybe Jesmyn Wards’ Sing, Unburied, Sing, I revel in the language, hang on every word.

I eagerly returned to this book, recently, after having read it as a part of Penny Kittle’s  summer book club. The second experience with the book was as amazing as the first and I’m sure this will be a book to which I will return often, both as a reader, and a writer.

Woodson takes us on a journey, not just of her youth, but of our country through the tumult and terror of the Civil Rights era.  Her first entry, dated February 12, 1963, records her birth and comes more than a year before the Civil Rights Act followed her into this world.  Her journey is our journey.

The beauty in this book stretches beyond the craft, into the content.  Woodson recounts her childhood and in doing so, a part of our history as seen through the eyes of a child.  From the early separation of her parents, to the lead poisoning of her younger brother, to her grandfather’s death, she guides us down this path; childish innocence mixed with underlying adult wisdom.  We see the world through the lens of her youth, and she shares, with us, the struggle that her African-American family endured, first in Greenville, South Carolina, then in New York City.

Whether she writes of visits to her grandparents’ home in Greenville or her family’s apartment in New York, there is an awareness of the world that peeks through the words and shows us what life was like for adults who are now grandparents or great grandparents today.

There is something bigger than the story of a little girl I want to take from this book. Not only should we remember our history, even the parts that show how ugly we can be to each other, but we need to recognize, all around us, are people who fought through it, and still do. Grandparents and great grand parents of our students still tell the stories of this country’s past.  Woodson reminds me that we need to listen to these stories.  These stories have wisdom and grace that our country, our kids, need now, more than ever.

References

Pope, Alexander. (1711). An Essay on Criticism.  [Google Books Version]. Retrieved from https://books.google.bg/books?id=tt4NAAAAQAAJ&dq=essay%20on%20criticism&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q=essay%20on%20criticism&f=false

Ward, Jesmyn. (2017). Sing, Unburied, Sing. New York, NY: Scribner

Woodson, Jacqueline. (2014). Brown Girl Dreaming, New York, NY: Penguin.

Charles Moore is a stressed out teacher of 9th grade ELA students in League City, TX.  He loves his wife and his children, and also his pool.  If you like this writing and want to see more like it, check out www.threeteacherstalk.com where he, and others better than him, post reader’s/writer’s workshop centered pieces on the daily.  

Monster or a Mentor Text Extravaganza

monsterMost of the time, when reading YA, I read like a writer. I’m always looking for authentic textual examples of moves writers make that I can share with our students. The mentor texts that I take from books in my classroom library serve as the bulk of the material I use in mini-lessons throughout the year.  Reading Walter Dean Myers’s book Monster was hard for me because I struggled to keep up with the content as I was overwhelmed by the craft.

This book follows the story of Steve Harmon, a sixteen year old boy on trial for, allegedly being an accessory in the murder of a convenience store worker in a robbery gone bad. Steve chronicles this journey by recording the events as if they were the script of a film. From his arrest to the end of the trial, he meticulously records his experience. Not just the facts, though, he also shares his feelings.

I can’t get over how Myers wrote this book in a style that mimics the script of a movie.  One lesson I took from the book is that when a writer commits their thoughts to text, they “embellish” or take a “poetic licence” with the subject. Thus, we have to keep that in mind as we move through the text and keep our eyes on that possibly unreliable narrator. Oh, and if a student wants to mimic a movie script, look no further.

A story doesn’t have to look like a traditional novel.  The font in this book changes for a reason and an experienced reader uses those differences to interpret meaning.  Walter Dean Myers was a real writer and as real writers, our students can use that move too.

The issue of justice and its status in this country didn’t emerge in YA in Nic Stone’s Dear Martin or Angie Thomas’s The Hate You Give. Those books are amazing and deserve space in our classrooms, but we should recognize that Monster went there before the Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown tragedies brought national attention to the injustice in our country.

Life Imitates Art. This book was published in 1999.  The next year, Adnan Syed was convicted in the murder trial of Hae Min Lee.  Eighteen years later and the record is still unclear whether justice has been served in that case. Maybe you’ve heard of the smash hit podcast “Serial” that seeks to unravel Maryland’s case against Syed.

I can’t wait to read more from Walter Dean Myers and share those books with my students.

References

Koenig, Sara. (2014). Serial [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://serialpodcast.org/season-one

Myers, Walter Dean. (1999). Monster. New York, NY: Harper Tempest.

Stone, Nic. (2017). Dear Martin. New York, NY: Crown Books for Young Readers.

Thomas, Angie. (2017). The Hate You Give. New York, NY: Balzer + Bray.

Charles Moore loves “reading time” at his house, which is really just an excuse for everyone to put away the devices. He believes in the voice of Cornelius Minor an educator who rails against intolerance and promotes social justice likes it’s his job. It is his job. If you are a teacher, it’s your job too. Please check out my twitter page and visit www.threeteacherstalk.com to see pieces geared toward readers/writers workshop.

13 Reasons Why or a Tragedy in 13 Parts

13Jay Asher’s book, 13 Reasons Why, is much discussed, review, debated, and argued over. It’s so controversial that a school district in Colorado banned it.  It garnered so much attention that Netflix translated it into a two-season (so far) streaming series.

This book is an exhausting exercise in exploring multiple first person points of view. Whether you are voyeristically tagging along through Hannah Baker’s antehumous cassette tape memoir, or following a modern day Odysseus in Clay Jensen, you have to constantly be ready to drop in and out of italics to know who’s character is pulling you forward.

The reader joins Clay on this journey to discover the “reasons” that Hannah, a fellow high school student, took her life.  He follows a map and confronts heroes and villains that let Hannah tell the story of her life and death.

As a reader, switching back and forth between two different characters’ points of view within the chapters is difficult, at first, to adjust to.  However, all that work pays off when the tension peaks in a scene that brings together the male and female main characters in a conversation where one of them is no longer alive and the other is having his heart ripped out.

While the first half of the book required some discipline to stay focused, that pivotal chapter kept me riveted as the main characters interacted without the ability to communicate. The connection between Hannah and Clay in that moment was incredible.

If you are looking for incredibly well developed prose, look somewhere else.  This book doesn’t project the beautiful language of Jesmyn Ward or Ta-Nehisi Coates, but it doesn’t have to. There is a rawness to this story, like an open wound.  This world, our world, doesn’t deserve that kind of poetic portrayal. The words should be more along the likes of One of us is Lying or Truly Devious.

The tragedy is that this fictional story is true in so many ways for so many people.  Media reflects society and in that spirit, books like this HAVE to exist. They are heartbreaking and scary and unlock doors that hide skeletons we’d all rather not acknowledge.  It’s much easier to ignore the scars and live in a world where this wasn’t a true story for so many, but it is, and sometimes books have to hit us in the face to make us pay attention.

Citation:

Asher, J. (2007). 13 Reasons Why. New York, NY: Razorbill

McManus, K. (2017). One of Us is Lying. New York, NY: Delacorte Press

Johnson, M. (2018). Truly Devious. New York, NY: Katherine Teegan Books

Charles Moore loves talking and writing about books.  He loves reading them too. His freshman English students keep him on his toes and challenge him in ways he’s not used to.  He looks forward to sharing more book reviews and for it to stop raining in Houston so that he can drive his old corvette.  Please check out his writing, and the writing of many teachers far smarter than him at www.threeteacherstalk.com. And follow him on twitter.

Persepolis – A History Lesson in Words and Pictures

There are a few books I’ve experienced that should be used as foundational texts in non-ELA classrooms. One of them is Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson and this one, Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.persep

Satrapi’s graphic-autobiography explores the author’s childhood amidst the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It journeys through her life from the age of 10 to 14.  She deals with learning about the Cinema Rex Fire, where over 400 people burned to death and the thousands who died on Black Friday, and so much more.  Martial law and nationwide strikes rock her country. Chaos ruled and many died.

Attwell’s fictional Handmaid’s Tale shares territory with Satrapi’s non-fiction as she highlights the oppression faced by so many women. One terrifying thought is that the rhetoric shared by both stories isn’t far from what we hear in our country right now.

Sometimes innocent, sometimes brutally frank; this book tellsthe story of a country riding a bloody, scary roller coaster, through out-of-control cultural and political turmoil.

Want a book that tells an amazing story? Look here.  Want to show kids about history that we have to make sure doesn’t repeat? Look here. Want a trojan horse truth bomb that lays bare how truly brutal a world looks through the eyes of a child? Look here.

Something about the simplicity of the pen and ink visuals numbs you,while the events of the story rip you apart. You read the words through the lens of a young girl, but you see the images through the camera lens of war documentary.  Those two lenses, when overlaid should produce a cloudy muddled mess of red and black.  Instead, this woman’s story shows through crystal clear.  This is a truly incredible achievement.

Please visit Charles Moore’s other writing gig at www.threeteacherstalk.com where he and many far better writers share their best tips and teaching experience.  If you like what you see here, check out his twitter and instagram feeds.