Sunday, October 29, 2017

Heartbreak wrapped in cartoon: Kobane Calling

I started this book and put it down, not because I was confused and thought this was going to be about Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain. Although that may be why I put it down after all. I put it down because the frenetic narrator who is almost sneaking off to Syria and creating alternative worlds for his mother in order to go to Kobane at first reminded me of the drug addled Hunter S. Thompson from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Even in its graphic form, I am not really a fan. So maybe the whole Cobain, drugs thing got me connecting Zerocalcare with someone whose motives are fueled by paranoia and alcohol. Yes, the character seems addicted to chai, but other than that, once he left for Syria, I was hooked.

Let me back up and let the publishers talk about it. Like the middle east itself, it's complicated. What helps is that the cartoonist is not American so his lens is less, well, American, which right now, is a fabulous thing.

From the publishers:
KOBANE CALLING is the autobiographical memoir of a young Italian cartoonist, writing and drawing under the nom-de-plume Zerocalcare, who volunteers with the Rojava Calling organization and heads into the Middle East to support and observe the Kurdish resistance in Syria as they struggle against the advancing forces of the Islamic State. He winds up in the small town of Mesher, near the Turkish-Syrian border as a journalist and aid worker, and from there he travels into Ayn al-Arab, a majority-Kurd town in the Rojava region of Syria. As he receives an education into the war from the Kurdish perspective, he meets the women fighting in the all-female Kurdish volunteer army (the Yekeineyen Parastina Jin, or Women's Defense Units), struggling to simultaneously fight off the Islamic State even as they take strides for Kurdish independence and attempt a restructuring of traditional patriarchal Kurdish society. In a story and style at once humorous and heartbreaking, Zerocalcare presents clear-eyed reportage of the fight against the Islamic State from the front lines. Originally published in the Italian weekly INTERNATIONAL, and then collected and expanded in an edition by Italian publisher BAO Publishing.

My thoughts:
This feels authentic, unfiltered by censorship and propaganda. Maybe I am naive but I think it just tells his story in panel form without agenda except to tell the truth. I was especially interested in the YPJ, the all-female Kurdish volunteer army. What we would call them in the Pacific are mana wahine which represent those powerful females who can save themselves, and their men too. 

I like how confused the author is when it seems like the enemy is the neighbor is the ally. I also have been shying away from watching and reading too much news, so Kobane is new to me and I just found this story both wrenching and heart affirming at the same time. I started re reading certain passages just to hold onto these people's stories, knowing that many of them will not live to see an end to this battle and will not live to go back to their homes just across the fence. In the end, the dead are still buried together, but in life, it is so very complicated. 

For those students in the middle, this is living history told by the people on the front lines. This is happening now,  not centuries ago. They need to know that people cannot be lumped in together and stereotyped because all we see are certain views from the media. Kobane Calling: Greetings from Northeast Syria is a portal in.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

As You Wish

From the Publishers:
What if you could ask for anything- and get it?
In the sandy Mojave Desert, Madison is a small town on the road between nothing and nowhere. But Eldon wouldn’t want to live anywhere else, because in Madison, everyone gets one wish—and that wish always comes true.
Some people wish for money, some people wish for love, but Eldon has seen how wishes have broken the people around him. And with the lives of his family and friends in chaos, he’s left with more questions than answers. Can he make their lives better? How can he be happy if the people around him aren’t? And what hope is there for any of them if happiness isn’t an achievable dream? Doubts build, leading Eldon to a more outlandish and scary thought: maybe you can’t wish for happiness…maybe, just maybe, you have to make it for yourself.

My thoughts
I like the premise of this book. As someone who reads a lot of YA, As You Wish feels new. I like that I could not figure out what Eldon was going to do until the moment he did it. I like that Sedoti doesn't just leave it at the decision nor does she just tie it up like a neat little gift. That kind of jarring even at the end is a welcome change. 
If you have students that struggle to finish a book, this is a great option for SSR because even if you are just reading in 20 minute chunks or 15 minute chunks, this story is easy to pick up again. The characters and situations are different so it is easy to just pick it up again.
Publication Date: January 2018
An advanced copy provided by the publisher and Net Galley for an honest review.

When I am Through With You

From the Publisher:
“This isn’t meant to be a confession. Not in any spiritual sense of the word. Yes, I’m in jail at the moment. I imagine I’ll be here for a long time, considering. But I’m not writing this down for absolution and I’m not seeking forgiveness, not even from myself. Because I’m not sorry for what I did to Rose. I’m just not. Not for any of it.”

Ben Gibson is many things, but he’s not sorry and he’s not a liar. He will tell you exactly how what started as a simple school camping trip in the mountains ended the way it did. About who lived and who died. About who killed and who had the best of intentions. And he’ll tell you about Rose. But he’s going to tell you in his own time. Because after what happened on that mountain, time is the one thing he has plenty of.

My thoughts:
I just did not like Ben. I felt like he was whiny and weak and I just could not sympathize with him, but I kept reading because I needed him to change, grow a spine, do something worthy.

The power of the writing is that I could dislike the main character, dislike most of the characters and still keep reading until I was through. 

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Noble V.1: God Shots

Author: Brandon Thomas
Illustrators: Roger Robinson, Jamal Igle +

In this first series of Catalyst Prime superhero world, Astronaut David Powell is one of five astronauts sent by the Foresight Corporation and CEO Lorena Payne to save the world from annihilation by a massive meteor plunging to Earth.

Within the first two pages something goes wrong and his wife, former agent Astrid Allen-Powell sets out to not only hold her family and her two sons together, but it seems a year after the accident, Astrid finds out that David is still alive and she is not the only one trying to get him back.

My thoughts:
This will appeal to the new X-Men generation and the readers who liked the movie Logan and are currently watching the TV series Gifted. Granted the characters are adults and we need more teen characters just finding their powers and having to use them to get away from those people who either created and/or want to control them, HOWEVER, the appeal in this first volume is the identity issue.
David, who insists that is not his name, gains powers but loses his memory so he does not know who this David is. What he does have is sudden flashes of a child calling him daddy and glimpses of what happened to him. He remembers Lorena who seems to have implanted some of his powers but when Astrid tracks him down to try and bring him home, he does not remember her at all.

Like all first volumes in any series, the author uses the short chapters to give multiple background stories "to be continued," and this one has potential to hold readers and keep them coming back. 

Monday, October 16, 2017

Model Texts: I Wish You More

I need to talk to my elementary colleagues and student teachers more often because using picture books to teach in secondary is such a rich resource for our toolbox of tricks. I went to a workshop with poet and teacher Georgia Heard and got some fabulous gems. I am in love with this one for its sweet sentiment but it also works as a mentor text for the power of repetition in writing.

This can be added to another good repetition piece: When I Was Young on a Mountain by Cynthia Rylant

Author Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrator Tom Lichtenheld combine their graceful talents to create this perfect gift book. I cannot say lovely enough, but it is just lovely.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Blood of Eden Series

What I like about this trilogy - main characters die. I just think if I am  invested in a story, then important people need to die otherwise it is not satisfying and I do not get the emotional impact needed to continue reading.

Check on the OMG factor. 

Finally, I like imperfect strong female main characters who do not act like men but can still kick ass.

Check on the Xena factor.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Immortal Rules

This is the first in the Blood of Eden series from Julie Kagawa.

Do not judge a book by its cover or publisher (unless you like this cover or you are into Harlequin Teen). Personally, I passed this cover by for a couple of weeks when I went to my public library just because vampire crying. Plus it's already a spoiler, so yes, the main character, who should look Japanese rather than Caucasian as the cover depicts, becomes a vampire in the first book and then lo and behold must learn the rules of being immortal.

This is in my trash novel pile, not because I think it is trash, but because it is one of those devour without having to think too much books that I read long past the point when I should stop and sleep or grade papers or cook dinner or take a shower and then the next day I feel totally trashed. Still, the to do list piles up, the very important thing folder gets full and I find myself at the library borrowing the rest of the trilogy.

Julie Kagawa is not a new author, she is just new to me, but I understand her appeal and have heard great things from other bloggers about her Iron Fey series. Her writing is fast, she knows how to big picture trilogy a story and how to end it at the most inopportune time. For this series, I just have a thing for vampire stories with awkward teen characters (unlike the classic vamps like the New Orleans vamps in Anne Rice). Plus this trilogy is led by Allison Sekegawa, girl, Japanese, wields a katana and always makes the wrong decisions because the heartless vampire girl leads with her heart. Nice.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Silence of Our Friends

Publication Date: January 2, 2018

From the Publisher:
New York Times-bestselling graphic novel based on the true story of two families—one white and one black—who find common ground as the civil rights struggle heats up in Texas.
This semi-autobiographical tale is set in 1967. A white family from a notoriously racist neighborhood in the suburbs and a black family from its poorest ward cross Houston's color line, overcoming humiliation, degradation, and violence to win the freedom of five black college students unjustly charged with the murder of a policeman.
The Silence of Our Friends follows events through the point of view of young Mark Long, whose father is a reporter covering the story. Semi-fictionalized, this story has its roots solidly in very real events. With art from the brilliant Nate Powell (Swallow Me Whole) bringing the tale to heart-wrenching life, The Silence of Our Friends is a new and important entry in the body of civil rights literature.
My thoughts:
This semi-fictionalized memoir speaks to what social studies teachers today are looking for in how we currently teach and view history, as well as how we reach our learners. 
Set in the gritty graphic novel style that seems more like old news footage than the stylized gender fluid manga, this novel shows history in its most complex realism. What this graphic novel does so well is showcase how when it comes to race, how we treat each other, how the attitudes of the adults are mirrored in the innocence of children, history, even the ugliness and ignorance is still our history. What this makes me realize is that even if as a reader I am disturbed by children who don't understand why a game like "nigger knockin'' is a bad thing or I am squeamish about the blatant institutional racism present in a newsroom, if I do not accept the ugliness and horror, I cannot learn from history. I also cannot ignore what is still happening today and just accept that our history has changed. We need to be reminded by pieces like this that we have far to go as a society. 
As teachers, our job is to not gloss over the ugliness that is history, but to show multiple perspectives in order to let students create their own meaning making, debate with each other, and then give them an avenue for social justice action. 
For our most reluctant readers, this type of perspective housed in a graphic novel form is an engaging way to learn through stories and art. Put this in your social studies classroom along with John Lewis' March trilogy. Use this as additional resources to your civil rights curriculum. Do not look away.
An advanced copy provided by Net Galley and the publisher for an honest review. 

March: Like Deja Vu

March is a graphic memoir trilogy by and about Congressman John Lewis' involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. It is co-written by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. 

The first book in the trilogy focuses in on the early years of John Lewis' life in Alabama juxtaposed with a modern view of him getting ready for the first inauguration of our first African American President of the United States, Barack Obama. Book two recounts the Freedom Riders and their work to try and register voters in the south. Book three continues their efforts after the Freedom Rider summer to continue to find ways to register voters and try and get southern blacks to stand up for themselves and demand their rights in a living democracy. It ends with John Lewis invited to witness the signing of the 1965 voting rights act and travels again closes on the inauguration of the first black president of the United States, Barack Obama. 

The book focuses on Lewis' beliefs in both civil rights and non violence. It shows his early commitment as a young college student to righting injustice through his help in forming the Nashville Student Movement and their preparatory training for the non violent lunch counter sit ins. This is not a holier than thou account. Mr. Lewis shares the struggles of the group as well as his own personal struggles to try and do what he believes, even when he finds himself standing alone. He candidly shows a moment when he almost lashes back and breaks his non violence stand. He also shares his frustration about getting so many northern blacks and whites mobilized to help southern blacks who seem to just complacently accept the inequality and also see these young blacks as outsider instigators for violence in their own community.

I gave this book to one of my teacher prep students, a history major and future social studies teacher. He devoured it quietly and when he was done he said "this book is like deja vu." When I asked him what he meant, he just said that it is obvious that John Lewis really remembers what happened at that time and lived that life because it just mirrors and gives life to the primary source photos from that time and it makes it come alive from his perspective as if we are there and have been there before. 

What I liked about this book is that we see the historical figures in the movement including Martin Luther King Jr. as mentors and friends. It does not put them up as heroes but shows that in the midst of their now historic work, they continued to be human with missteps, insecurities and fear even as they kept doing the work they felt necessary. 

When I think about how little has changed and how violence and segregation still occurs, this trilogy holds more power to propel the next generations to non violent change.