Everyday or I Wish More Books Were This Original

Everyday

This book is really about how relationships are hard.  Sometimes, issues like race, gender, distance, and time complicate relationships.  In this book, the complication is caused by a very different issue.

Everyday, by David Levithan, explores identity through the circumstances of the main character, A. A, wakes up (assumes consciousness?) each morning in the body of a different person. A pays diligent attention to that person’s life and tries not to make a mess of things. Memories are accessed and roles are played, and eventually, A falls asleep only to rise the next day somewhere, and someone, else…

This story explores gender identity as A is able to slip in and out of the lives of male and female bodies with ease and shows us that it’s easy to understand social norms if you pay attention. In this way, Levithan deconstructs society with the same weight as Laurie Halse Anderson did in Speak.

This book is full of examples of the narrative element “conflict” and there are several passages we could use as mentor texts.  So much of the story is an examination of the interactions between people. But also, we see the internal conflict in a character that wants something impossible to possess, a relationship.

One false move, though, brings unwanted attention to this bizarre situation and the conflict becomes truly threatening.

The story seems to be moves along until A wakes up in the body of Justin, a high school student who escapes his own vapidity just long enough to have a completely devoted girlfriend.  This is love at first sight for A.  Feelings rapidly grow and what used to be a process of making it through someone else’s day quickly becomes an obsession with finding face time with Justin’s girlfriend, Rhiannon.

As I read through the middle third of this book, a feeling of dread crept into my thinking.  A and Rhiannon worked through the process of figuring out what this relationship was and could be, and for that big chunk of the book, nothing really happened. But our students are going to love that part of the book because something did happen: Two young people explore their place in the world through their experience with each other.

This book made me think about Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.  I thought about how Yoon’s characters struggle with a relationship forbidden by disease.  That story is different, but really it’s the same.

References:

Anderson, L. H. (2006). Speak. New York, NY: Penguin.

Levithan, D. (2012). Everyday. New York, NY: Random House Children’s Books.

Yoon, N. (2015). Everthing, everything. New York, NY: Ember.

Charles Moore can’t wait to read the sequel to Everyday. Too bad one of his students is only halfway through it.  He’s thinking about buying second copy, but it’s been so cold lately that money might be better spent on a coat.  If you want to read more by him, check out www.threeteacherstalk.com or his incessant twittering.

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Salt to the Sea or A Thriller Disguised as Historical Fiction

IMG_4850Like my freshman students, I judge a book by its cover, and thickness, and weight.  I’ve been side-eyeing this book all semester, dreading the almost 400 pages of historical fiction, stereotyping it as having to be boring, long winded, and obtuse.

Somehow, I’ve never read the work of Ruta Sepetys, even though her books are constantly being checked out, read, and returned to my classroom library, their covers wearing faster than most of our realistic fiction books.

Instead of the anticipated slog through snow covered Poland, the narrative moved quickly towards its inevitable tragedy.

The reader figures out quickly, through the multiple perspective narrative structure, where this story is headed.  These shifting viewpoints lend the book a flexibility that kept me engaged.

First-person characters Joana, Florian, and Emelia journey under the constant threat of exposure, both from nature and man, ice and fire. All three run from something more personal and threatening than an invading army as they struggle to reach the port of Gotenhafen.

Joana, a Lithuanian deserter, relies on her medical skills to earn her place on the Wilhelm Gustloff, a recommissioned German cruise ship representing safety for those who make it aboard.

Florian, an art restorer, whose skills translate well to forgery, deceives his way onto the ship. His connection to the art world that Germany plundered before their collapse pushes him towards escape.

Emelia, a young woman nearing the end of her pregnancy, makes it into the maternity ward on-board the ship just in time. Tragically, the pain of this baby’s conception represents a terrible scar on Emelia’s soul.

The fourth narrator, Alfred, a German sailor, thus a Nazi, inflates his own importance, both in his own mind, and in the letters he writes to a girl back home. He represents himself as an up-and-coming organizational mastermind, but, in reality, takes and executes orders from those above him.

Each narrator is crucial to the others even after the tragedy that changes the course of the story.

Setting struck me as an integral part of the telling of this story.  Each was painted with such incredible detail that I felt a connection to the places.  A muddy road, an empty manor, a movie house in a port city, a sinking ship, even frigid life boats drifting in the Baltic Sea felt real and those feelings were powerful.  Many mentor texts live in this book.

This book reminds me how much I enjoyed The Book Thief and how excited I am to read Zuzak’s new book, Bridge of Clay.  World War II provides a sobering back drop upon which a story can be built.  So much tragedy. So much pain.  Opportunity for stories, heroes and redemption.

References:

Sepetys, R. (2015). Salt the the sea. New York, NY: Penguin Books.

Zuzak, M. (2006). The Book thief. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf.

Zuzak, M. (2018). Bridge of clay. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Charles Moore can’t wait to read more books by Ruta Sepetys.  Thanks to this book, he’s going to have to think a little harder about going on his next cruise.  If you would like to see his frequent brain bursts, check out his twitter.

Bomb: The Race to Build – and Steal – the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon or Nonfiction Narrative Nirvana

Only a few times in my reading life have a I been fully and deeply invested in a non-fiction text the way I often am with fiction.  Hillybilly Elegy and The Glass Castle are two Bomb pic

of those times.  This book, by Steve Sheinkin, is the third.

One take-away from the structure of this book is that Sheinkin starts with several distinct story lines and gradually brings them closer together. The disparate characters are pulled towards the center of the story like they are affected by gravity.  At first they operate independent of each other, but gradually, their orbits begin to overlap and they bounce off of one another eventually resulting in not one, but several, explosions.

The reader learns about nuclear chemistry, military politics, and international espionage; issues I’ve read about in books by Tom Clancy. This book grows into a non-fiction thriller, except the villains don’t  live in volcanoes, they lead countries or walk the streets as real people.  Sheinkin weaves multiple story arcs in and around each other in a way that we see often in fiction, but don’t see done well in non-fiction.

Robert Oppenheimer is, ostensibly, the main character and his story is the frame upon which this story hangs. He is the perfect leader for the most important mission in the history of the world.  The reader feels his tension and the weight he bears. We see him physically shrink from the strain of having the world on his shoulders and marvel as his nation sized will propels development of history’s greatest weapon.

One of the greatest gifts we give our students is the chance to feel real struggle. This book overflows with powerfully developed characters who struggle through problems and find ways to overcome.

The pacing of this book is phenomenal. Its starts off slowly as the historical context builds.  As the story progresses, though, the speed of the narrative increases in a way that matches the importance of the task.

Two parts of this book stood out to me:

  1. The moments after completion of the first nuclear test.  The emotions felt by the men and women were palpable and we all relate to the feeling of success we experience when we bring a big task to completion.
  2. The moments after the first bomb was dropped when Oppenhiemer shares the nervousness we sometimes fell when something we’ve created could possibility be used for ill begotten means.

References:

Clancy, T. (1994). Clear and present danger. New York, NY: Berkley Pub Group.

Sheinkin, S. (2012). Bomb: The race to build – and steal – the world’s most dangerous weapon. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.

Vance, J.D. (2016). Hillbilly elegy. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Walls, J. (2005). Glass castle. New York, NY: Schribner.

Charles Moore loves to love non-fiction except when he’s not loving non-fiction.  He also loves watching his 11 year-old drive the robot for the robotics team. Frisco, TX. better prepare itself for the arrival of the Robocats. 

 

Cruel Prince or a great book for someone, just not me…

CPMy experiences with fantasy stories, like the stories themselves, has been volatile and unpredictable. I’ve burned through fantasy series before so the themes and tropes to which I had become accustomed were not unexpected.  I read straight through The Lord of the Rings and spent six months of my life with A Song of Ice and Fire. But YA fantasy is different, I knew, so I reached back to my experiences with Daughter of Smoke and Bone and Children of Blood and Bone.

Fantasy stories have been places I’ve returned to, periodically, to find new reading experiences and force myself to step outside my safe zones inhabited by Jack Reacher and Aloysius Pendergast.

Cruel Prince begins in the human world as a we zoom in on what seems to be a typical family of five: a mom, dad, and three daughters.  Two of the daughters share the man of the house as their father and the other daughter is from a previous relationship. The domestic tranquility is short lived as a powerful being, cloaked in hate, bent on revenge, arrives at their door, quickly murdering the parents.  This mysterious figure takes the girls and returns to his world, one of faeries, nymphs and other strange beings.  This Court of Faeries,  is complicated by schemes and plots and, of course, romance.

Our main character, Jude,  navigates a chaotic world that doesn’t diverge far from the one that our students experience.  In that way, I think fantasy worlds analogize our technology world exceptionally well.  Imagine a teen brain struggling to synthesize social media, friendships, romance, and the adults in their worlds.  Now replace those stimuli with ogres, fauns, giant toads and elves.

YA fantasy readers are going to love this book.  It has a splash of Tolkien and even a Neil Gaiman vibe, though books like American Gods are far too mature for YA readers. Readers are going to look at the characters to see themselves in the different races, much like we all did with the different houses of Hogwarts.

This book is a safe place for middle grade and early high school teachers to send kids who want to explore fantasy but aren’t ready for the brutality and sexuality on which more mature fantasy novels like A Game of Thrones thrive.

One note that I hope doesn’t spoil the book: If you’ve seen The Princess Bride, you might see the ending coming.

References:

Adeyemi, T. (2018). Children of blood and bone. New York, NY: Henry Holt Books for Young Readers.

Black, H. (2018). Cruel prince. New York, NY: Little Brown and Company.

Child, L. (1997). Killing Floor. New York, NY: Putnam.

Gaiman, N. (2001). American gods. New York, NY: HarperCollins.

Preston, D. and Child, L. (1995). Relic. New York, NY: Tor Books.

Taylor, L. (2011). Daughter of smoke and bone. Columbus, GA: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Tolkien, G. R. R. (1954). The Lord of the rings: The fellowship of the ring. London, England: Allen and Unwin.

Charles Moore likes books from many genres, just not all books from all genres.  He knows reading is like a roller coaster and that sometimes you struggle up a hill only to fly down the next slope.  He’s ready for Robotics practices to end, even though his son loves them.

Speak or a Must Read for Boys…but also girls.

SpeakTwo years ago, amidst this hurricane of self-selected independent reading that washed my traditional teaching methods away, opening up new thinking about literacy, and pushing me into reading young adult literature, I picked up Speak. I read it over a weekend and, a year before the #metoo movement went mainstream, I began talking to my senior English students about the issue of consent.

Two years later, Speak remains one of the most important books I’ve ever read. I’m a father of a son and a daughter and this book informs my relationship with both.

Our narrator is young woman entering her freshman year of high school.  Melinda is innocent and inexperienced and a perfect target for a monster. Anderson slowly feeds us details about,  an older boy from her school raped her at a party that summer.  At home, Melinda’s distracted parents neglect to notice her withdraw into herself.  At school, she doesn’t talk much, especially when she finds herself face-to-face with “It,” the popular and charismatic boy who destroyed her.

I remember seeing this book as an indictment of high school culture.  From the comical, but familiar, caricatures of ineffective teachers to the descriptions of student cliques, Anderson excoriates popular culture, education, parents, and even war.  As the safety of her main character is ripped away, so is the veil of protection for our society.  This tone is set forth within the first few pages of the book, far earlier, even, than the revelation of the character’s first name.

The book is written so that the reader has to make a lot of connections that aren’t apparent in the text. Reality is hazy.  What isn’t hazy, is the victim blaming that Melinda’s peers inevitably heap upon her.  These scenes are all too familiar and all too authentic.

This book led me to read YA in search of texts that reveal the human condition.  I put down Speak and picked up books by Chris Lynch: Inexcusable and Irreversible. Lynch’s books tell the story from the perspective of the rapist and, honestly, weren’t good.  Next was Girl in Pieces and then Dumplin, which were excellent.  Our classroom libraries and lesson cycles should feature books like these, addressing self-harm and body image.  Our students scream for books that cover these and many other issues, we have to listen.

References:

Anderson, L. H. (2006). Speak. New York, NY: Penguin.

Glasgow, K. (2016). Girl in pieces. New York, NY: Delcourte Press.

Lynch, C. (2007). Inexcusable. New York, NY: Athenum Books for Young Readers.

Lynch, C. (2016). Irreversible. New York, NY: Simon and Shuster Books for Young Readers.

Murphy, J. (2015). Dumplin. New York, NY: Balzer and Bray.

Charles Moore reads books so that he can share them with his students, but… he also reads them so that he can share them with his kids.  If you want to check out his tweets, look here.  If you like what you read and you want to read more, check out www.threeteacherstalk.com for posts on literacy instruction.

The Rat With the Human Face or My Kids in Book Form

Rat Face

I was way to old to read Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. I never read the Wimpy Kid series and I missed out on Goosebumps completely.  “Kids” books never interested me. Part of it may be that I read so well, so early, that I was through Summer of the Monkeys and Indian in the Cupboard at such an early age that I just stuck with what worked. I don’t remember books looking like the books written, or “found,”  by Tom Angleberger. I was nose deep in Blue Bonnet Books and the Caldecot List.

At first glance, I felt suspicious about Angelberger’s book.  It appeared juvenile and I worried that it would lack the complexity I want to see in the books our primary grade readers access.

Um, yeah… I was wrong…again.

This book is delightful, engaging, and structured for ease of access.  Yet, Angleberger includes enough complexity to engage a young reader without overwhelming them.

The Rat With the Human Face is the second book in the Quickpick Papers series, following Poop Fountain! It purports to be the second of three stacks “found” by Tom Angleberger.  I really like this concept for kids that might not want to read a more traditional book.  Easy to read and almost conversational, the book flows back and forth across the fourth wall as our first person narrator tells the story.

Some of the pages look handwritten, some are typed with a typewriter, others are pictures, both from a camera or hand drawn. Maps and cartoons find their way inside the pages of this book as well.  It is truly adorable.

Our narrator, Lyle, and his best friend, Marilla, live in a trailer park and spend most of their free time with the third member of their not-really-existing investigative society, Dave.  Following their adventure in the previous book, the trio decides they absolutely must investigate the circumstances surrounding the rumored “Rat With the Human Face” who inhabits a scientific research facility in a nearby town.  Of course, things don’t go as planned, but our team finds a way into a scary basement, without electricity, that is most certainly inhabited by…something.

This story provides the opportunity for our three characters to collaborate, problem solve, and explore; all these are issues kids need to see in their books.

I hoped the climax of the book would include a face-to-face showdown with the titular monster, and, in a way it does. Angleberger’s revelation isn’t really about the journey to reveal this monster. It’s really about the journey to reveal ourselves.

References:

Angleberger, T. (2015). The Quickpick Papers: The Rat With the Human Face. New York, NY: Amulet.

Angleberger, T. (2014). The Quickpick Papers: Poop Fountain!. New York, NY: Amulet.

Gantos, J. (2001). Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key. New York, NY: HarperTrophy.

Kinney, J. (2007). Diary of a Wimpy Kid. New York, NY: Amulet.

Stine, R. L. (1992). Goosebumps. New York, NY: Scholastic.

Rawls, W. (1976). Summer of the Monkeys. New York, NY. Doubleday.

Ried, L. R. (1980). Indian in the Cupboard. New York, NY. Doubleday.

Charles Moore loves costume weddings and teaching literacy.  He gives his students the opportunity to struggle because they deserve it.  Check him out on twitter or if you want to see more of his writing on literacy instruction, check out www.threeteacherstalk.com.

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