Saturday, October 29, 2011

Is Toni Morrison's Beloved Appropriate for My 14-Year-Old?

I have three sons, two of which have grown up to be aliterate readers(they know how to read, they choose not to read). I know they can read with comprehension. I made sure of it. We may not have had much, but we were rich in books. The kids went to the library regularly. We all read. We did read alouds even when they were teens. This did not make them lifelong voluntary readers. That has nothing to do with me.

But my youngest is a voracious reader. That too has nothing to do with me. At 14, he has gone through the YA books and finds their predictability too one-dimensional. He read the Hunger Games Trilogy and doesn't need to read the other dystopian novels. He doesn't want to read paranormal. He does not gravitate towards the same kind of readings that I can "sell" to my reluctant readers. All of my tricks for book recommendations don't work on him.

I wanted to challenge him, so as a former AP English teacher, I decided to look through some of my old book lists and I created a challenge list for him with a short synopsis of the storyline. I told him we'd read it together and talk about it, but I wanted him to choose books he had never read before.

He chose Beloved and right away I got the same panicky feeling I got when I assigned it to my AP students. Did I really think this through? Was I going to be able to steer the students away from the horror and shock enough to really have valuable conversations about why Morrison may have chosen to tell this particular story in this particular way? Was it appropriate for this particular group of students? Did I really want this for my son? Should I have protected him a little while longer?

Beloved  has a history of being challenged in the schools, but isn't that why it SHOULD be read?  Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go actually created a tongue-in-cheek list of the top 10 "unsuitable" books for teens and Beloved is on it. These are really his list of books that kids should read because people will say that they're too young to read them.

 I remind myself that we are going to read this together. I can guide him. I trust my ability to see the worth of this book. This is a boy that can talk to me about Jem's frustration and "crying anger" at the injustice in the Tom Robinson verdict. He can tell me that Scout's confusion stems from her being too young to understand.

Is 14 too young? Will he tell me if he is bothered by something? Can we talk it out? Am I helping to challenge his thinking or am I simply exposing him to the horrors of a world that we wish were fictitious?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief: Graphic Novel

Authors: Rick Riordan; adapted by Robert Venditti
Illustrator: Attila Futaki; Jose Villarrubia
Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Hyperion Books (October 2010)

My thoughts: 
The original Riordan book is a fast read for reluctant readers and they easily get sucked into the series, but the movie, for those kids that need the visual stimulation of a big screen event, this was a total flop, especially for those of us who invested time and effort into reading the series.  Everyone expects directors to change the story a little to make the time frame, but changing key facts is a NO-NO.

This version is a great starting point that feeds the need for pictures, but still synthesizes Riordan's text in a satisfying way.

Like many graphic novel adaptations, it's sometimes a killer to wait for the next book, so please - get on it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

How To Bake a Perfect Life

Author: Barbara O'Neal
Paperback: 398 pages
Publisher: Bantam Books (2011)

Rating: 4 out of 5

If you're looking for a light read, chick lit, recipes interspersed, multi-generational romance, this is a great book to hunker down with. Try to eat ahead of time and let it sweep you away.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Cirque du Freak Volume 5: Manga version

Author:  Darren Shan
Artist: Takahiro Arai
Paperback: 195 pages
Publisher: Yen Press

Now that I have absolutely no time to read anything besides my graduate class materials, I thought that I would drown in all the YA books coming out that I won't be able to read in the next three years. Three years in YA time, that's like one generation.

Now that we have no local bookstore (our Borders stores closed around the island), I can pretend that there are no YA books, but when the local elementary school had a book fair, I couldn't resist. Instead of gobbling up all the books, though, I was selective and just bought graphic novels and manga, my true way into the hearts of reluctant male readers. Plus, with school on fall break, I can slip in twenty minutes to finish a manga and then go back to statistics.

My thoughts:
Cirque is a great series for reluctant readers, but it does go a little long for kids that don't have the reading stamina. Don't judge that awful movie as an indication of the series, the producers didn't have faith in the readers.  The manga versions are a great bridge, and volume 5 is the most exciting in the series, both in manga form and in written form.

Our little half vampire protagonist, Darren is in Vampire Mountain at the Trials of Death. This story has challenges, betrayal, fighting and death in a fast-paced package.


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