Monday, March 9, 2009

The Giver

Lowis Lowry's The Giver is the story of Jonas in a utopian society. Jonas is just like any other member of the society who learns to use precise language (avoiding phrases like "I'm starving" because he is not and never will be--He is just hungry), manages his years as a One, Two, Three and so on, and works to complete his Community Service. When Jonas becomes a Twelve, he receives a special Assignment as The Receiver of memory. He is told that his job will be painful but he has no idea what the struggles are that are before him because he is not familiar with the concepts of color, choice, and individuality.

Students will struggle with several things in this novel. First of all, teaching this novel to a reading-level appropriate students will be difficult because students may not be able to maintain maturity at the concept of "Stirrings." Just before Jonas becomes a Twelve he has his first dream and is further assigned to take a pill each day to eliminate these "Stirrings." Secondly, students will struggle with understanding the setting at the beginning of the story. Since many students read books about and watch television shows where the characters are about them, many will struggle to understand the environment which Jonas lives. At first, they may not be able to identify with his struggles to understand the concepts of snow and color.

Two key literary features are imagery and the characteristics of a specific genre. Even if I were not able to teach the entire novel many of the descriptions provided through The Giver's memories are beautiful. As Jonas first encounters snow, the descriptions that Lowery provides are very interesting. Many of the images provided by The Giver's memories are unique because they are Jonas's first experiences with concepts that appear very different to us. The world of The Giver is a utopian society, a perfect world as envisioned by its creators. The members of the community do not experience fear, pain, hunger, illness, conflict, and hatred. But in order to maintain the peace and order, the citizens of the community in The Giver have to submit to strict rules governing their behavior, their relationships, and even their language. They have to give up individual freedom and human passions. They also lack the basic freedoms and pleasures that our own society values. The Giver is of a particular brand, called dystopian literature, where societies that might seem to be perfect because all the inhabitants are well fed or healthy or seemingly happy are revealed to be profoundly flawed because they limit the intellectual or emotional freedom of the individual. Jonas becomes angry when he realizes that no one ever has a choice or knows when they are doing something profoundly wrong. Jonas makes the decision to leave the community after seeing his father "Release" or kill an infant.

One teaching activities include having students act out or write one of their daily interactions as if they were members of the community. This application level exercise would help students to connect to the literature and realize the freedoms they have in their daily lives. Students would also learn from writing their own first memory of snow or their first visit to the ocean. After reading the passages describing some of the memories students would be able to develop stronger descriptive writing.

The Great Gatsby

This content may be useful when studying for the English Praxis test (0043).

2 Literary Features / 2 Obstacles to Understanding / 2 Teaching Activities

The Great Gatsby- F. Scott Fitzgerald
I cannot take credit for many of these ideas as they come from a Jane Schaffer book I was given.

Refresher plot summary
The Great Gatsby is a book about American society during the years from WWI to the Depression. The story takes place during the 1920s in New York City and on nearby Long Island. The 20s were a decade of Prohibition, bootleggers, the advent of the automobile, popular fads, and the broth of materialism. The novel depicts the “American Dream,” the belief that anyone can accomplish his or her goal through hard work. The belif in the American Dream is called into question in the course of the novel. Fitzgerald once said “America’s great promise is that something’s going to happen, but it never does. America is the moon that never rose.”
The story opens with a retrospective from August 1923 from the narrator, Nick Caraway. Nick is a mid-Westerner and Yale graduate who, in the summer of 1922, has moved to Long Island to work as a bonds salesman in New York City. He rents a house in West Egg on Long Island next to that of the wealthy Jay Gatsby and near the East Egg house of Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan and her husband Tom. Nick pays a visit to the Buchanans where he meets Jordan Baker, a professional golfer, and, beginning in June, attends parties at Gatsby’s mansion. Daisy and Tom are not happily married, and Tom has a violent temper. Tom also has a mistress, Myrtle Wilson (wife of George Wilson, an auto repair shop owner); Nick, Tom and Myrtle go to New York City where Tom keeps an apartment for him and Myrtle to use. Myrtle and George live in the “valley of ashes,” a dismal, dirty section of town between the communities of East and West Egg and New York City.
Nick begins dating Jordan Baker in July. Gatsby takes Nick with him to New York on a business trip I July, where Nick meets Gatsby’s business associate Meyer Wolfsheim and beings to sense that Gatsby’s wealth comes from illegal activities. In July, Jordan tells Nick the history of the romance between Daisy and Gatsby before Daisy and Tom were married; in mid-August, Tom and his friends come to Gatsby’s house; after that, also in August, Tom and Daisy attend one of Gatsby’s parties. Nick arranges a private meeting at his house for Daisy and Gatsby, at Gatsby’s request. Gatsby tells Nick the story of his past as “Jay Gatz,” an uneducated and unsophisticated Midwesterner. He met a wealthy man named Dan Cody and learned about the life of the rich. He joined the army during the war and earned several honors, which he shows Nick. When he returned to the States, Daisy had married Tom. Gatsby has taken advantage of living near Daisy to try and rekindle the relationship.
Shortly after the meeting between Daisy and Gatsby in late August, Gatsby stops giving parties and replaces the servants in his house with newcomers, all of who seem to be connected with Wolfsheim. Nearly at the end of the summer (probably Labor Day), the Buchanans, Jordan Baker, Nick, and Gatsby go to New York and take a room at the Plaza Hotel. The party there is uncomfortable, and Tom accuses Gatsby of having an affair with his wife. The group returns in two cars; Tom, Jordan, and Nick in one; Daisy and Gatsby ride in the Gatsby’s yellow car. Myrtle Wilson is killed by a yellow car in an automobile accident that night. Daisy is driving the car but Gatsby covers for her. George Wilson tracks the car down, finds Gatsby, and kills him in Gatsby’s pool in Autumn, 1922. He kills himself as well. Nick handles the funeral arrangements and meets Gatsby’s father there, Henry Gatz. Almost no one attends the funeral, and Nick decides to return to the Midwest, disillusioned with the fast life that he has shared for several months.

2 Important Literary Features
Discuss with students symbolism as a driving force of the novel, where symbols appear in text and what they mean or represent. Examples of good symbols include:
The billboard eyes of Dr. T.J Eckleburg
The green light at the end of the dock (why is it green?)
Situated at the end of Daisy's East Egg dock and barely visible from Gatsby's West Egg lawn, the green light represents Gatsby's hopes and dreams for the future. Gatsby associates it with Daisy, and in Chapter I he reaches toward it in the darkness as a guiding light to lead him to his goal. Because Gatsby's quest for Daisy is broadly associated with the American dream, the green light also symbolizes that more generalized ideal. In Chapter IX, Nick compares the green light to how America, rising out of the ocean, must have looked to early settlers of the new nation.
Owl Eyes, East Egg, West Egg, The valley of ashes, Gatsby’s yellow car, Gatsby’s shirts
Another important feature is theme. Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work. A theme cannot just be “love.” As teachers we must encourage them to think further and develop full themes. Themes for The Great Gatsby include the penalty of materialism, appearance vs. reality, death and rebirth, the rigidity of the class system and disillusionment and disenchantment.

2 Obstacles to Understanding
In The Great Gatsby there are 100 characters introduced. Only about a dozen or so of these people are central to the plot. Students will no doubt have difficulty distinguishing between who is an important character and who is simply in the book as a partygoer. Oftentimes in classrooms, students get distracted and by attempting to keep people straight. With so many characters arriving at parties, it may be difficult for students to tell whose actions are important to the plot and who is merely there as a device.
Period pop-culture terminology and allusions to music and musicians may also be confusing to students who are not familiarly with American society in the 1920s. Students will need to spend time discussing or researching on their own The Jazz Age and The Roaring 20s to place the novel in a proper setting before they read. Some ideas of things to discuss with students that were common or important to the culture in the 20s include new fashions, the effects of WWI and the American people, and prohibition. Other students might need clarification when common customs of the upper class are discussed. Some examples of these confusing customs include silver service, the game polo, and the purpose of finger-bowls. With any discussion of terminology, it is also important to point out that the appropriate terminology for African Americans has changed considerably since this novel was written. It is no longer appropriate to call African Americans “bucks” or “negroes” or any root of that word

2 Teaching Activities
To introduce students to the Roaring Twenties and the Jazz age in America. Have students create a newspaper of the times. Students may work in pairs to generate a newspaper that would have been published near the summer of 1922. To begin the assignment, give students a list of newspaper topics. Break them into groups and ensure that each student writes at least one story for their groups’ newspaper. Topics for newspapers stories include
Art Deco, Freudian psychology, Model A and Model T cars, Jazz Music, a profile of a Jazz Musician, the dances and other entertainments of the 1920s, the Saint Valentine’s Day massacre, film stars such as Charlie Chaplin Rudolph Valentino and Laurel and Hardy, a warning of the Stock Market crash to come, one of the presidents from the time period, or another writer from the time period, the Russian Revolution, the Gilded Age, the beginnings of the movie industry, new fashions form women

Because many students, especially those in Arkansas, may have difficulty understand the travel time and distance between many of the settings of the novel, have students freehand a map of the places mentioned in the novel. A free-handed drawing of the places mentioned in the novel ensures that students will not just fill in the blanks of a worksheet. Locations to be sure students include are West and East Egg (both fictional places but models of Great Neck and Manhasset Neck, Long Island), Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Plaza, the 6 houses mentioned in the story (from Gatsby’s house, to George and Myrtle’s apartment, to Nick’s cottage), Staten Island, Fifth, Avenue, Lower East Side, Coney Island, Montauk Park ect. Having students create a map of a book is an opportunity to encourage interdisciplinary study.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Something to blog about

Norris, S. (2008). Something to blog about. New York, New York: Amulet Books, pp 246.

I read an uncorrected proof of this book.

Libby Faucet is like most other girls in high school. She is unsure of herself and prone to dwelling on her flaws. She dwells on those flaws in her private blog throughout the fall of her 10th-grade year. Starting with a hair burning incident involving a Bunsen burner, Libby’s fall semester of school is a roller coaster of emotions. Libby’s mother is dating a new man who also happens to be her arch enemy’s father. Seth, Libby’s crush of two years, asks her to tutor him in chemistry—to bad the only chemistry that interests Libby is what she hopes will happen between her and Seth. All the while, her arch enemy continues to torment her at school. However, things hit the top of the hill of that roller coaster when Angel posts Libby’s no longer private blog all over the school.

Honestly, I picked this book out of Dr. Goering’s had because it was pink. As I started reading I was slightly disappointed but later in the novel a message became clear. This books takes an approach to privacy and the amount of information that young people put on the internet that is non-threatening and not condescending. I know that when Libby’s blog was posted around the school I should have been upset and felt sympathy for her but I was happy that someone had written a book that addressed the issue without acting like they thought the internet was evil and full of stalkers. Also, I thought the romantic high school relationship was a realistic depiction.

4.) I would use this book as an individual choice. I might read it aloud to the class if I thought that there could be a problem.

5.) This book would be appropriate for students in grades 8 and up.

6.) I enjoyed reading the book because it only took me a short amount of time and I thought the message was unique. This book may get a mention or two because it is a bit different than many of the other books I have read and seen other people read for this project but I doubt that it wins the Newberry Award or the National Book Award. I thought it was a realistic depiction of young people today and would be very relatable for students.


Meyer, S. (2007). Eclipse. New York: Little, Brown and Company 629pp.

Teen Fiction, Teen Drama

Eclipse is the third book in Stephenie Meyer’s vampire love series. In this book, Edward and Bella continue their romance under the impossible circumstances. Jacob and his werewolf pack are ever present as are threats from the Voltori and Victoria. Edward claims he wants Bella to make an informed and well thought out decision to become a vampire. Jacob makes a convincing argument to Bella about the amount of love he has for her. At the end of the book, Bella is still human and even more confused about who she loves. However, she is engaged to Edward but there is a shadow of doubt in her mind.

Again, this story is very suspenseful and very entertaining. In the other two books, Meyer addressed the issue of premarital sex. However, this book really tackles it and conservative parents would be pleased with Edward’s responses. At the end of the previous book, I was angry with Edward and Bella because I thought their relationship was unhealthy. They were completely fixated on each other in an extremely unhealthy way. I still believe that but now I am annoyed with Jacob too. He was such an interesting character when he was introduced and even as he became a werewolf. However, his attempts to win Bella’s love are not in keeping with his personality before he was a werewolf and that is why I not longer claim to be on “Team Jacob.” I am on “Team Bella.” I want her to become a strong woman who believes in her decisions.

Again, after reading further into the series, I would only recommend this book for individual choice. If a group of students selected it for a literature circle, I would not protest.

I believe it would take an older student to understand the dynamic between the characters. Perhaps, the reader of these books should age with the characters. Between the beginning of Twlight and the end of Eclipse there is about 1 ½ years.

Again, I enjoyed reading this book but at this point might be a little embarrassed to be seen with it on an airplane. I read it very quickly and ignored phone calls as I read the last 100 pages. I am very excited about the new book coming out and plan to read it as soon as it does. I am also excited that kids are excited about reading this. I would be curious to see how the Bronte sisters’ sales are going since this book came out too.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bad Boy

Myers, W. (2001). Bad Boy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 214 pp.

Memoir, African American Author, Coming of Age,
Author has won: 1994 ALA Margaret A. Edwards Award for lifetime achievement in writing for young adults, 1994 ALAN Award for outstanding contributions to the field of young adult literature.

Bad Boy is a story of a young man finding his path in life. Strong and smart, Walter struggles to discover is place in a society that does not value his intelligence. Growing up in Harlem during the 1940’s and 1950’s, Myers relates a tale of the struggle of a young black man who wants to do more with his life than work in the garment district. Myers is an avid reader and writer and a relatively good basketball player with a quick temper. When he joins the Special Progress class he realizes for the first time that he has an opportunity to become something more. However, as he begins Stuyvesant High, Myers begins to realize that the opportunities that await many of his white classmates do not await him. This book is a reflection on how Myers coped with that realization and how he was a “bad boy.”

Myers delivers an eloquent memoir about how he became the writer he is today. He shows how he struggled with poverty, racism, and a general lack of opportunity. While he adoptive mother and father play an important role in his development, the strongest character in the novel is Walter. His insights belong to those of a matured adult who is proud of struggles to become accomplished. To a young reader, this book may make all the petty worries in the life of a teenager seem small. Walter’s father can not read, Walter is constantly under the threat of being caught by a gang, and reminded that his family will not be able to afford to send him to college if he could get accepted as an African-American. In this book, Myers addresses the complicated issues of racism and poverty with the experience of a talented children’s author.

I would select this book for a possible read aloud. Also, if I had a group of students who had read and enjoyed Myer’s other books (Monster) I would suggest this book for a literature circle- knowing that the reading level is higher and I would have to provide them with guidance. Also, throughout the book, Myers drops the names of some books he liked when he was reading. I took some ideas for future reading from him and I would hope my students would too.

This book is at a higher level than many of Myer’s other works that classmates have reviewed. I would recommend this book to 8th grade and up. I believe that older students who have not read anything by Myers in a while can still get a lot out of this particular book.

As I was reading the book, I kept thinking of Anne Petry’s The Street. I was reminded of how everything seems to come down on Lutie and then she finally exploded and kills someone with a candlestick. Well, Walter did not explode like Lutie- he acted out consistently. That is why he was a “bad boy.” I kept this train of thought going until Myers said he read The Street and hated it. Yes, there are many behaviors in this book that I would not want my students to mirror but that fact would not keep me from suggesting it to anyone. Yes, Walter skips school but he skips school to sit in Central Park and read. If I grew up in Harlem, I probably would have done the same thing. At the end of the book I was proud of him for his success (kind of jealous actually). I would recommend this to adults for pleasure reading as well.

New Moon

Meyer, Stephenie. (2006). New Moon. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 562 pp.

Teen Fiction, Teen Drama
New York Times Best Sellers List

New Moon is the continuation of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight. Shortly after the second novel begins, Edward leaves Bella. Then, Bella makes terrible attempts to recover from her loss. She begins to pursue a new interest in motorcycles and a new friendship with a character that played a minor role in the first novel, Jacob. Jacob helps to rebuild the junk motorcycles Bella recovered and expresses romantic interest in Bella after a trip to the movies with the ever-annoying Mike. Shortly after Bella explains why she believes the two can never be more than friends, everything changes very quickly (but not in Jacob’s favor). Bella nearly kills herself with a cliff diving adventure, Jacob becomes a werewolf, Alice Cullen returns and then the fantasy adventure gets really crazy.

This book was entertaining in a suspenseful, young person appropriate trashy romance novel sort of way. Other than that, I would not say this is a piece of literature everyone should read. Many parts of the plat of this book were dictated by what appeared to be unimportant details in the first book. So, for a reader whit a good attention to detail, this book would be more about watching things unfold and looking for details that will be important in the third book. The relationship between Edward and Bella has developed into one of the unhealthiest relationships in the history of literature (that may be a bit harsh). I understand that high school relationships are usually overly dramatic but add the vampire werewolf element and they become more emotional. This book also brings up the idea of “suicide in the name of love.” I do not think that the issue is condemned enough in the book because no one dies they just all think up crazy ways of attempting to kill themselves.

After reading further into the series, I would only recommend this book for individual choice. If a group of students selected it for a literature circle, I would not protest.

5.) I would up the age on this book a bit from my last suggestion. Issues like suicide and murder of innocent people lift the tone up a bit more, thus restricting the age. Maybe---14 or 15 and up

I enjoyed this book for the same reason my grandma reads large print editions of Danielle Steel- I don’t have to think much when I read it and I am entertained. However, I have come to the conclusion that entertained readers make life long readers- and that is the goal after all, right? I must add that this book is a feminist nightmare. The way Bella acts when she is around Edward drives me insane. **Spoiler** Even when she stands up to him near the end of the book and asks his family to vote if they want her to become a vampire or not, I thought the entire scene was ridiculous. Edward runs out to the next room and breaks something. Yeah, that makes him a keeper.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Watsons go to Birmingham---1963

Curtis, C. (1995). The Watsons go to Birmingham---1963. New York: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc., 210pp.

Coretta Scott King Award, Newberry Honor Book,

A large portion of the early part of this novel deals with the family dynamic of the “Weird Watsons.” Curtis sets the family up as…
Daddy- the entertainer
Momma/ Wilona- the skeptical but loving mother
Byron- the juvenile delinquent older brother
Kenneth- the smart but self conscious narrator with a lazy eye
Joetta- the exasperatingly perfect but lovable little sister
As the story develops, the Watsons head to Birmingham to take Byron to stay with Grandma Sands where he will learn how to behave. With the help of Grandma Sands and an extremely unfortunate event (that if I told would spoil the entire novel), the family comes together.

The characters are developed through the family dynamic. There were times when I was reading this book that I literally laughed out loud and thought of my family. After spending weeks getting the “Brown Bomber” ready for the drive, Daddy says there is one more thing that the car needs and he has it. He builds up, builds up, builds up and then with the help of Joetta reveals a scented pine tree to hang from the window. I thought of my dad directly. Set in Flint, Michigan, we learn how intolerance can impact someone even though they might not be directly at a loss. After the trip to Birmingham, everything changes in the family, specifically Byron. In the epilogue, Curtis addresses the Civil Rights Movement. He takes his work of fiction to the real world and makes direct connections to the everyday life of the reader.

I think this book would make a great read aloud. With some practice, I believe I could pull of a great performance when impersonating thick southern accents. I was a little worried when I was reading that I would not be able to address difficult issues like race and intolerance. However, Curtis does include an epilogue that does it better than I ever could. I would also suggest it for individual choice or small group.

The accelerated reader sticker on the copy I have says the reading level is 5. I would suggest this book for an individual choice for students in grades 5-8. This is a book for boys or girls.

I thought this book was amazing. As many readers would, I saw my family in the Watsons and believe that is what Curtis wanted his readers to do. I thought of myself as Kenny and Byron as my older brother. When we were young my brother and I did not get along. However, like the relationship between Bryon and Kenny changed, I now consider my brother my best friend. There are lessons in this book about characterization through action, tolerance, and the importance of family.