Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Young Adult Rant

Margo Rabb’s Aricle “I’m Y.A., and I’m O.K.” in Sunday’s New York Times is the perfect starting place for what I was planning to discuss today. (At some point I’m going to go off in a tangent and it won’t make much sense but it does to me in my semi-warped head).

I can certainly understand the frustration that novelists feel when they think their book isn’t taken as seriously as it should be because the publishers have decided to label it young adult. After all, most teenagers don’t feel as though adults treat them as maturely as they should, so why should their reading material be treated any differently? And as for adults who read young adult books – well they just need to grow up (or at least some in the blogosphere would argue).

I’m a middle school librarian so I get special dispensation for reading young adult materials – it’s for my job. But I must say that even my mom (who was also a librarian) says that she wishes I would read some “serious literary books.” Quite frankly, many of the “adult” books I’ve read recently I’ve only felt so-so about. Last year I tried to read Atonement and simply couldn’t do it. I was miserable so it became the first book I’ve given up in a long time. I will confess to have read a number of adult thrillers and murder mysteries over the past year, and whereas I would argue their worth to many people, others would certainly disagree. I also read a couple of classics each summer. I just finished Persuasion by Austen (wonderful, by the way, one of my favorites) and will read The Taming of the Shrew before summer is over.

Last year, because of my blog reading, I began to read a number of young adult books that weren’t middle school appropriate but that were important books to read if one were to consider herself well versed in young adult literature. Looking for Alaska (John Green) was one of the best written books I’ve read in years. I also enjoyed The Bermudez Triangle (Maureen Johnson), Deadline (Chris Crutcher), Thirteen Reasons Why (Jay Asher), and Boy Toy (Barry Lyga), among others. Since these books were better suited for the high school library I purchased them on my own, and then placed them in my office and let the teachers in my book club know they were there. These teachers are also not afraid of the young adult label and they have devoured both the books in my office and in the regular media center. In fact, they are some of my most demanding readers, wanting ever more book recommendations than I can keep up with. To them the phrase “YA book” has lost its stigma and they can now look at what their students are reading and be able to talk intelligently about it. I look at these teachers with a sense of accomplishment (and actually few are language arts teachers – I have math teachers, science teachers, social studies teachers, the chorus teacher, a guidance counselor, the school secretary, and even the occasional physical education teacher who have participated in my book club). With them, I feel some sort of success in my mission to share young adult literature with all.

But where do I feel unsuccessful (and here I am – off on that tangent I warned you about)? I have too many teachers who don’t read, some who don’t read young adult literature, some who don’t read anything at all. I can accept that, albeit grudgingly, if the teacher teaches math or maybe even one of the electives (although I’m telling you that nothing is more effective than a beloved physical education teacher reading a sports biography and then recommending it to his students). But what really kills me is to have teachers who teach middle grades language arts but who don’t ever choose to read middle school literature. How can they be decent language arts teachers without exploring current literature? It’s incredibly frustrating to watch a teacher bring in a class to check out books and then to sit down and grade papers while their students wander about aimlessly instead of helping them find books and recommending books that they have read and enjoyed. Now I grant you that it’s my job to help students find books and actually it’s one of my favorite aspects of my job; however, it’s hard when it’s one person helping 28 – 30 – it goes so much better when there are two people helping a class. For one thing we can bounce ideas off each other as we are trying to help students find the “perfect books.” I think it sends an unconscious message to students when teachers don’t read young adult literature – a message that says “your books aren’t good enough for me.” And that, while not illegal, is a crime.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Host

The Host
Stephenie Meyer

I have actually owned The Host since the week it was released, but I decided to wait until I went on vacation to read it. I picked it up on the ride to the mountains and haven’t been able to put it down.

Earth has been taken over by an alien race. Think Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The aliens tried to be subtle about it but they tipped off their hand when the humans began to realize how peaceful and kind everyone else was. Some humans tried to resist. Few succeeded.

Wanderer has been placed in the body of one of the resistors. Melanie was captured trying to rescue a relative and she fights Wanderer with everything in her. The aliens aren’t used to this – they are used to their hosts’ minds giving in and then going away so that they can take over. At first Wanderer cannot stand Melanie, but then she develops a friendship with her and together they find one of the last outposts of rebel humans – humans who at first are not the least bit willing to accept them.

Although in part a bit predictable, I found this to be a well-crafted science fiction novel. I love Meyer’s characters and the conflict they feel throughout the book. I also loved the themes in the book, especially the one that asks what does it really mean to be human?

This is one of my books for the Stephenie Meyer Mini-Challenge.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Remember Little Bighorn

Remember Little Bighorn: Indian, Soldiers, and Scouts Tell Their Stories
Paul Robert Walker
National Geographic, 2006

Although I am an American history major, I really know little about the history of the Native Americans (yes, this is a fault I need to correct). But I am always looking for good, short nonfiction that I think will appeal to boys so I picked this book up in order to write a booktalk for it. I found myself reading aloud parts of it to my husband (whose knowledge about Little Bighorn was a bit better than mine). I think this will be a winner at my school.

Walker does an excellent job of using primary documents to allow survivors from both sides tell what happened. He lays down the background of why the Cheyenne and Sioux felt cheated by the American government. He then discusses what happened in the events leading up to the battle, and the battle itself. Wherever possible, he uses quotes from those who were there. He also clears up many misconceptions surrounding the battle. Throughout the book are photographs of the participants. There are also paintings and drawings (many by the Native Americans who were there) used to illustrate and explain the events. I thought the explanation of the battle itself was clear (I could follow fairly easily what was going on). It is gruesome in some places, but it is, after all, a story about a lot of people who were brutally killed so it’s going to be gruesome.

I must say that at first I was disconcerted by Walker’s use of the word “Indian” instead of “Native American.” I looked though the book to see if there was an explanation for this choice but couldn’t find one. I did notice, however, that the Native Americans referred to themselves as “Indians” so I can only assume that Walker used the term in order to give the book a sense of continuity.

I had originally planned to use this book to entice hi/lo readers. I still think it would interest them, but I think it will be better with my gifted students who love to read about battles. My plan right now is to introduce it to my eighth graders who will be studying American History next year.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008


As a person to do challenges, I stink. I have tried one challenge and didn't begin to be able to do it. This is mostly due to the fact that I got in a new shipment of books in my school library and was too intent on reading them.

But Becky of Becky's Book Reviews has two challenges that I think might be right up my alley. I can read books for them that are already on my to-read shelf and they don't require too much commitment. So, here goes:

First, the Presidential Reading Challenge. There are four different levels to the challenge and I'm going to do Level I which requires you to read one book by November 4, 2008. I received David McCullough's Truman as a Christmas present and I'm going to read it. Level Four also intrigues me. It requires you to read 10 primary documents (speeches, etc.). I may try this one -- I have until July 4, 2009 to complete it and I would love to read the inaugural addresses of several presidents.

Second, the Stephenie Meyer Mini-Challenge. I already have The Host and am planning to buy Breaking Dawn as soon as it is released. Since I'm already going to read the books, I figured it was a pretty safe challenge to sign up for.

My Life in Dog Years

My Life in Dog Years
Gary Paulsen

I have a confession to make. This morning I was sitting on my back porch, with the intention of reading this book and calmly writing Battle of the Books questions to it. Well let me just say that it’s a good thing it was early in the morning and nobody could hear me because otherwise they would have locked me up somewhere. I have laughed at loud at books, sometimes even hee-hawed, but never, never have I howled with laughter so much and so loudly that I ended up crying.

My Life in Dog Years is about eight of Gary Paulsen’s dogs. He got his first dog at age seven when he was in the Philippines with his parents. He knew the dog was destined to be eaten by his owners and so he saved its life by getting his mother to buy it. The dog, Snowball, later saved his life by killing a deadly snake that was getting ready to strike at him.

Paulsen talks about dogs that were pets, dogs that were sled dogs (one of those also saved his life), and dogs that were working dogs. My favorite chapter – and the one that make me so hysterical with laughter was the one about his Great Dane, Caesar. Other chapters are funny, some are sad, and many are just wonderful reminiscences of Paulsen’s different pets.

This is a wonderful book for all ages. There are a few curse words (none that offended me) and I think it would be great read aloud – in fact, I plan to recommend it to my sixth grade teachers as soon as we get back to school. So far my favorite read of the summer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008


Edward Bloor

Charity Meyers has not led a “normal” life – at least not normal by 2008 standards. The year is 2035 and Charity is one of the “privileged” rich children who live in a walled community, constantly protected by security guards carrying machine guns. Children are discouraged from leaving the community – they even attend school via satellite. The real danger is from being kidnapped. Kidnapping is now an industry, and if you’re kidnapped and you parents follow the kidnappers’ directions and pay ransom, you are safe. It all happens within twenty-four hours. After that time, if you haven’t been set free, you’re not so safe.

Charity has been kidnapped. She has awaken to find herself tied to a stretcher. She is now counting down the twenty-four hours. The kidnappers assure her that her father will pay the ransom and everything will be ok. She’s not so sure her father won’t mess up on the directions and she won’t end up dead. To pass the time, she flashes back to the time before she was a prisoner tied to a stretcher. As the time for ransom to be paid arrives, things go very, very wrong, and Charity realizes in what serious danger she is in.

I must admit that it took three tries to get through this book, but once I picked it up this morning, I couldn’t put it down. Bloor has written a pretty harsh commentary of how the rich (if they choose to be) are oblivious to the needs of the poor. The poor in this book are looked upon by most of the members of Charity’s community as lesser beings – as servants, or as fodder for the army. They are trapped in their lives, have poor educational opportunities and bad health care, and have virtually no opportunity to advance themselves. And yet, in the end we realize that they are not as trapped as Charity is, in her fancy home with servants and a famous but extremely shallow stepmother. Because of the fear of kidnapping, she isn’t allowed to do much – she isn’t allowed to have a life.

I have read all but one of Edward Bloor’s books (I haven’t read London Calling yet but it’s on my pile) and I must say I love them. He never hides the social commentary, but he always wraps it up in a gripping story.