Tag Archives: YA Lit

Racism, Black Lives Matter, and Young Adult Literature

When Jason Reynolds gave me an advanced copy of his book, All American Boys (Scholastic, 2015) four years ago, I knew I held in my hands a powerful book that initiated authentic discussion about racism today. At the same time, it helped my students draw connections across texts and see the relevancy of reading To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 1960) in our classroom today. Racism still exists and police brutality has hit record heights.

Since Reynolds and Kiely’s groundbreaking YA Novel, a number of new young adult titles have continued to address racism, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter movement in poignet ways. Here are five new ones:

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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas is now being made into a major motion picture and what I love about Thomas’ book is that the protagonist, Starr, is honest, heartfelt, and conflicted at times. As one of the few African American students at a prep school, Starr is torn between the assumptions made by her peers at school and the neighborhood she grew up with. The protagonist’s voice throughout this novel is reflective and authentic.  

 

Similarly, Dear Martin (Crown, 2017) by Nic Stone tells the story of Justyce McAllister, a sixteen year old African American student at a predominately white private school. When Justyce is driving with his best friend, Manny, with the music blaring from their luxury SUV, a verbal altercation at a red light with a white off-duty police officer leads to shots fired by the police officer and Manny dead. The event shakes Justyce. He writes to Martin Luther King, Jr. after studying King’s legacy in school in order to reflect and understand the appropriate actions he should take in response to the media, his friends, and classmates and America’s treatment of African American males.

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Whereas Dear Martin calls attention to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s writings and teaching, Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little Brown, 2018) brings Emmett Till to the forefront. After twelve year old Jerome is shot because the police mistake his toy gun for a real gun, Jerome is a ghost observing his family, friends, the police officer and his family. Guided by Emmett Till, Jerome learns Till’s story and how racism and the murder of innocent African American boys has been happening for over a century. Able to communicate with the police officer’s daughter, Sarah, who is struggling to come to terms with her father’s actions, both realized that we can make the world better. Jerome is not the only ghost boy but there are hundreds of ghost boys who roam the world reminding readers of the many lives lost in the hands of police officers who are suppose to “serve and protect.”

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Jay Coles’ Tyler Johnson Was Here (Little Brown, 2018) is the newest YA Novel to add to this growing list. First, I have to talk about the cover of the book which looks so much like one of Kehinde Wiley’s portraits. Los Angeles native and New York based visual artist, Wiley’s “larger than life figures disturb and interrupt tropes of portrait painting, often blurring the boundaries between traditional and contemporary modes of representation and the critical portrayal of masculinity and physicality as it pertains to the view of black and brown young men.” The stark image of an African American young man staring at the reader enveloped in bright, colorful flowers (a Wiley signature) draws you in. Tyler and Marvin are twins brothers. When Tyler disappears from a party, he quickly goes from a boy who disappeared one night to another black boy who was murdered at the hands of police brutality. This book addresses family, education, poverty, and racism. Coles presented characters who go beyond stereotypes and it blurs between fiction and reality.

Whether you are looking for summer reads, new books to incorporate into your classroom library, or a book that is going to grab a students and make them sit up, read and want to talk. All of these books are worth reading, sharing, and talking about.

 

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NCTE#17 TakeAways

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I am in St. Louis, MI to attend NCTE (National Council of Teachers of English) and it is always empowering to be among thousands of English Teachers, Literacy Coaches, Researchers, and Authors. From 7:00 AM through the wee-hours of the night we are listening, learning, networking, collaborating, discussing, sharing, and inspiring each other. This annual convention is one of the best in-person professional development opportunities for someone in the English Language Arts and Literacy field.

Yesterday the kickoff included a meet up for Middle School Teachers with Ignite Keynotes from Kylene Beers, Donalyn Miller, Penny Kittle, Chris Lehman, and author, Olugbemisola Rhuday-Perkovich addressing the role of Middle School and literacy in shaping student identity. This morning the power of poetry was the theme with Jimmy Santiago Baca and youth Poet Laureate, Amanda Gorman.

The first session I attended was with Penny Kittle on “Creative Structures for Organizing Writing: Beyond the 5 Paragraph Essay.” She mentioned that the five paragraph essay is nothing that students have to complete in college so why are we using this limited writing structure to teach writing. Breaking free of the 5 Paragraph essay structure allows for more authentic writing like Op-Ed pieces, reviews, profiles and Public Service Announcements. Show students the models and mentors to help them succeed in writing these types of texts and build their writing repertoire. Her handouts are available on her website under NCTE.

Kelly Gallagher spoke about Fake News and helping our students develop world knowledge and being critical readers. Too many people accept information for what it is where a website, news story, or text and don’t ask questions about who is writing the story? What is their purpose? What is being left out? Who is the audience? Does it pass the CRAP Test – Currency, Reliability, Authority, Purpose? He argued that maybe we need to put literary analysis aside in order to bring to the forefront the value of the reading experience.

I was one of the presenter in the next session on Igniting Wonder in the Classroom along with Laura Robb, Kristen Ziemke, Carol Varsalona, Blanca Duarte, Laura Purdie Salas, and Wonderopolis. I presented on Quest Based Learning to spark wonder and play in the classroom. My slide deck is below.

Since there are so many amazing authors at NCTE, I could not forego seeing a few outstanding YA authors including A.S. King, Somon Chainani, Lynda Mullaly Hunt, Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, Andrew Smith, and e.E. Charlton-Trujillo. Let’s just say, these are a few of the badass authors who write great YA fiction. They addressed social justice, humor, and tackling tough topics with their readers.  For all of them writing has been “freedom, power, and voice.”

Dropping into the exhibit hall, a few ARC copies of soon to be released books were shared and cannot wait to start reading. New titles that tackle historical fiction and zombies, dystopia, and poetry.

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For Evan: Speak Up, Speak Out, Know the Signs to Prevent Teenage Suicide

Disclaimer –  This article addresses the topic of teen suicide and includes some sensitive information.

Evan Hyman was the class president of his high school. He was a solid student with lots of friends. He started an initiative in elementary school called “Cupcakes for a Cause” to raise awareness and money for hospice care after his father had passed away from brain cancer. He liked to go hiking and was active in his Temple Youth Group.

But on January 31, 2016, Evan committed suicide. He left no note and no signs that he was putting this thought into action.

Over 1,000 people attended his funeral in shock, despair, awe, grief, that this sixteen year old took his own life.

Suicide is the second leading cause of death for ages 10-24. More teenagers and young adults die from suicide than from cancer, heart disease, AIDS, stroke, pneumonia, influenza, and chronic lung disease combined as reported by the Jason Foundation, a nonprofit organization for the awareness and prevention of youth suicide. The organization also reports that four of five teens who attempt suicide have given clear warning signs.

But what about the one who shows no clear warning signs? The one who was seemingly happy, gregarious, friendly, caring, family oriented and then hanged himself in his bedroom.

I recently read All the Bright Places, a young adult novel by Jennifer Niven (Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2015) about two teens who develop a friendship over suicidal thoughts. Both characters are battling inner demons and throughout the story the warning signs were like bread crumbs dropped along the pages insinuating what is to come. Yet, in the book there were no adults, parents, siblings, friends, teachers who were keen enough to help these two teens. The book ends tragically.

In a twitter book chat with the author I asked Ms. Niven why she did not have anyone help these two teens when it was clear that they were struggling with suicidal thoughts from the beginning of the novel. Her response to me was she receives hundreds of tweets and letters from teenagers telling her that they do not have an adult who cares or they can turn to. I was shocked by her response. I thought how can that be possible.

And two weeks later the news that Evan committed suicide rocked my community. His mom found him. The fire department had to come to the house and remove the body. I thought it was an accident. I told everyone there had to be a sign. Or it was a mistake. Why would this seemingly smart, popular, and all around good kid do something like this? How could no one not notice anything. His friends were as dumbfounded as I was, maybe even more so compounded by heartbreak and mourning.

The Youth Suicide Prevention Program lists the following signs that may indicate that someone is thinking of suicide:

  • Talking or joking about suicide
  • Current talk of suicide or making a plan
  • Strong wish to die or a preoccupation with or romanticizing death
  • Writing stories or poems about death, dying, or suicide
  • Engaging in reckless behavior or having a lot of accidents resulting in injury
  • Saying things like, “I’d be better off dead,” “I wish I could disappear forever,” or “There’s no way out.”
  • Giving away prized possessions
  • Signs of depression, such as moodiness, hopelessness, withdrawal
  • Increased alcohol and/or other drug use
  • Hinting at not being around in the future or saying good-bye
  • Seeking out pills, firearms, or other ways to kill themselves

So, if a friend or child or sibling or student mentions suicide or shows one (even many) of the warning signs take it seriously. Get help immediately. Do not leave the person alone.  At the same time, show the person you care by sharing your concerns and listening carefully to their feelings.

Maybe Evan’s suicide could have been prevented. Maybe there were signs that people missed or he hid his pain. We will never know. What we do know is the hole that he has left in so many by ending his life so unexpectedly is deep. Evan’s death has made me more aware and vocal about this “silent epidemic.”

For more information how to talk to a person with has suicidal thoughts and shows signs of depression and despair check out the resources below:

Helpguide.org — This non profit organization offers extensive information about ways to talk to a person about suicide or suicidal person as well additional preventative tips

The Jason Foundation — This organization is dedicated to the prevention of youth suicide through educational programs, an app, and informative information on its website.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — 1 (800) 273-8255

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, call this number immediately.

A few Young Adult Novels That Address Suicide:

411mjmptsel-_sy344_bo1204203200_13 Reasons by by Jay Asher

41r-skjj61lLooking for Alaska by John Green

18460392All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

the-pact-06-lgThe Pact by Jodi Picoult
18075234Challenger Deep by Neil Shusterman

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Alternative Book Reports to Promote Literature Rich Classrooms

What are our objectives when using literature in the classroom and curriculum?

To help you people find books that will be meaningful to them.

To help young people develop the habits of good readers – active readers – who make meaning of words on the page and take an active stance while reading.

Emphasize gender-fair and multicultural resources and the attitudes, interests, problems, and opportunities of young adults in contemporary society.

This summer I have gone on a young adult book binge and I am currently rethinking some of the book assessments that I offer to my students. I believe that teachers need to be interacting with young adult literature on a regular basis to explore current publications, revisit favorites, and discover new and renewed ways to connect young readers with books.  I strongly feel that teachers need to create options for students in assignments and culminating assessments. Projects should promote authentic learning and writing for real purposes.

Below are three different book assessments I have had my middle school students complete in lieu of a test to show me their reading and understanding of an independent reading text.

1. Bookseller’s Day – Hold a bookseller’s day in your classroom where each student will try and sell their independent reading book in a book talk and display. Students create a “pitch” to review and promote their book to whole class. Props, costumes, and music are encouraged and visual aids might include posters, book jackets of your own design, stickers, bookmarks, business cards, or postcards. Students prepare a  brief summary of the book, a book review, and if the book has been made into a movie, compare and contrast the book and the film.

2. Author’s Study allows students with a favorite author to complete an author’s study project. Students write a report or create a presentation that offers key biographical information about the author, genre of writing, key quotes from the author about their writing life and craft, pictures of the author and images of book covers. Students can create an annotated bibliography of the books the author has published and a one page reflection about how this writer inspired or influenced them.

3. Book Reviews – To help students dig deeper in reflection about a book he or she has read – and to avoid surface plot retelling that comes with traditional book report assignments – book reviews found in newspapers and magazines are an authentic method for evaluating a text. I often give my students guidelines for writing book reviews. Paragraph 1 offers a brief summary of the plot in 2-4 sentences with an attention grabber in the first sentence. Paragraph 2 addressed whether or not the reviewer recommends the book with reasons to back up his or her opinions. Paragraph 3 – When the book is finished, what stays with you?

Looking for more project ideas, I have written in previous posts about video projects and technology based projects to do with students as alternative book reports and assessments.

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Social Justice: A Young Adult Book List

Summer time allows me to catch up on reading and begin to plan for the ideas swimming in my brain for the new school year. Since I have moved around which core texts that I am teaching first in my eighth grade English class, and we will read To Kill a Mockingbird in the first quarter, I have decided that the first outside reading  assignment will focus on the theme of social justice.

Each quarter my students select an outside reading book to read independently and if students are aiming for honors English in the high school they read two outside reading books per quarter. The themes of the outside reading books change based on current events and genres. The most popular outside reading assignment this past year was graphic novels.

As students are reading the historical based text, To Kill a Mockingbird, I want them to be aware of the oppression and injustices that still exist in our world today.  I have carefully selected books that I have read and have been recommend to me that cover topics of racism, classism, homophobia, guerilla warfare in third world countries, and illegal immigration.  My over all theme throughout the year is community and empathy.  Below is the book list that I have compiled for September.

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Young Adult Literature Gluttony: Summer Vacation Week 1

Always in search of a great book to share with my students, I went binge reading this week. The books I read were jaw dropping, powerful voices, and rich in beautiful language.

Doll Bones

Holly Black’s Doll Bones was a Newbery Honor Book this year about three friends who go on a journey to find the answers to a the ghost possessed doll they call “Queen.” I would recommend this book to all middle school students because it touches on the question when should one stop playing with his/her toys from childhood? Do we have to stop playing make believe games we played as little children? Main character, Zach struggles with parental expectations and when to abandon the imaginary games he plays with friends, Alice and Poppy. The illustrations dispersed throughout the book emphasize the struggle to give up childish things to meet grown up expectations. All three friends are driven to go on this quest and along the way of finding answers about the ghost of a small child, the doll, and  answers about themselves.We Were Liars

 

We Were Liars by e. lockhart is one book that I had to read in one sitting to figure out what actually happened the summer a fire wrecked Cadence’s grandparent’s house on Beechwood Island. Beechwood Island is a private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard that her grandfather made into a compound for the Sinclair family. A wealthy family from Boston, Massachusetts, spent every summer on the island. As the Sinclair daughters grew up, got married, and had families of their own, houses were added to the Island and now Cadence and her mother look forward every summer to joining her aunts, cousins, and grandfather on the island for summer fun. Although after summer fourteen, something happened and Cadence, our narrator is trying to piece together what really happened, the fire, and when the family started to unravel. The narrator’s voice is raw, curt, and draws the reader’s sympathy. By the end of the book you are trying to figure out what is the truth since the title suggests someone might not be telling the truth.

The Truth About Alice

Liars, bullying, bystanders, rumors, and cruelty among young people make up Jennifer Mathieu’s novel, The Truth About Alice. Author and English teacher, Mathieu, makes references to The Scarlet Letter, The Outsiders, and Anne Frank’s Diary throughout the novel told from multiple points of view. The story is about what everyone thinks happened at Elaine O’Dea’s party between football star Brandon Fitzsimmons and Alice Franklin. The rumors spread on social media and then a few days later when Brendan is killed in a car crash, the rumors take on a life of their own breathing hate in this small town in Texas. Think Friday Night Lights and Sharon Draper’s Tears of  a Tiger.  Few people try to seek the truth, there are no upstanders, and nobody will be the same after all the events that take place.

The Opposite of Loneliness

The Opposite of Loneliness is a compilation of essays and stories from Marina Keegan, a 2012 graduate from Yale University who died in a car crash a few days after her graduation. An aspiring writer with a job at The New Yorker to begin after graduation never came to fruition with her untimely and tragic death. Her parents compiled her writing, some which appeared in the Yale Daily News, into this collection. I am drawn more to the nonfiction essays, but her fiction writing is just as beautiful and honest. Keegan’s voice is confident, inspiring, and sensitive. I found it interesting that the first piece of fiction is about a young college student who’s boyfriend dies suddenly. In the first essay she declares, ” What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over . . . We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.” Marina’s words offer young people that the world is full of possibility and choice is another opportunity.

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