Monthly Archives: January 2013

Julian’s Story: A Reflection on “Wonder”

     For those of you not familiar with R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, it is a young adult novel about a boy who was born with a very unique face. This novel tells the story of August Pullman’s struggles beginning school. He meets peers that befriend him, peers that are afraid of him, and peers that make fun of him. While reading Wonder it becomes readily apparent that Palacio tells this harrowing story from multiple points of view. One thing however, seems to be missing. Julian Alban is this book’s greatest antagonist. He bullies August and makes sure no one will be his friend. Many people have expressed the desire that Julian should have his own entry in Wonder, giving greater insight into the thoughts and feelings of his abrasive personality. When asked why she left out this unique perspective, Palacio felt that Julian had nothing worth reading to add to August’s story. I however, disagree. Including this young antagonist’s story could shed great light on why children choose to bully others. This post is an excerpt of what Julian Alban’s entry in Wonder may have looked like if Palacio had included his point of view in her book. As you read, keep in mind that Julian was an antagonist. He had a hard time accepting August’s different face, and he loudly vocalized his opinions. Here is Julian’s story:

     “Today Mr. T. Called my parents and asked if I would go into school to show the new kid around. I really don’t want to. I mean, who wants to go to school over summer break? But I think I’m going to go. It’ll win me some brownie points with Mr. T. and my parents. They’ll think I’m such a good kid for doing this, and I am! Besides, I really want to see what this kid looks like. Apparently he has some weird facial deformity.  So, maybe I’m not doing this to be nice, but what my parents don’t know won’t hurt them.”

     “Haha, I’m so glad I went today! This kid looks like he belongs in the circus! If I were him, I would do the rest of the world a favor and go play in traffic. And his name is August, but his parents call him “Auggie”. What a baby name. I can just picture his parents calling him that and talking to him like a baby. “Oh AUGGIE! You are SUCH a big and brave boy for going to real school!” “Auggie, you are such a SPECIAL boy!” “Auggie, need me to wipe your nose for you?!” Gag me. There’s nothing special about him except for that freaky little face of his.”

    “I’m a hero. Everybody else is too afraid, but I said what they were all thinking. I called August Pullman what he is: a freak! People seem to think I’m brave for it. I’m really doing them a service. Mr. T wants to force kids to be Auggie’s friend, but I’m letting them know they don’t have to! I for one won’t  be his friend. Nobody can make me do something I don’t want to do, not even Mr. T. And if he does try, I’ll tell my parents. They’ll take care of it. After all, who wants to catch a case of Auggie’s face? I don’t, and all the other kids should know they don’t have to either. I’m standing up for us. I’m a hero.”

     “What is up with people? What is their problem? People are so stupid. One minute I’m a hero, the next minute I’m a jerk. But I don’t care what they think. I AM a hero. People don’t have to talk to that freak if they don’t want to. He shouldn’t even be here! This isn’t a school for “special” people. Auggie needs to go back to the circus where he can’t bother anyone. Seriously, his face grosses people out. I almost puke every time I look at him! I think I’m going to tell my parents he’s making people feel uncomfortable because he’s making ME feel uncomfortable! When Mr. T. asks Auggie not to come back to school next year, I’ll be a hero again. Everybody just feels sorry for Auggie, but when I rid this school of that terrible eyesore, everybody will be THANKING me!”

 

 

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Book Review for “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”

   Book Review for  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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Alexie, S. (2007). The absolutely true diary of a part-time indian. New York: Hachette Book Group.

     Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the story of an unlikely hero. Meet Arnold Spirit, or “Junior”, as they call him on the rez (that’s slang for reservation). Most people wouldn’t like twice at Junior unless they were gawking at his unusually large head, gangly body, and dopy feet. Arnold was born with “water on the brain”, and this is why he describes himself as having a head too big for his body along with a whole other host of medical problems. That’s not the only reason people might stop and stare at Arnold Spirit. He’s the only Native American kid attending a predominantly white high school off the reservation. As you quickly find out by reading the story, the Native Americans on the reservation occupy a low place on the social totem pole. It seems to Arnold that all the white kids he goes to school with are privileged. They have plenty of friends, “normal” family structures, and plenty of money to spend. However, life on the rez is much different. Every child experiences the loss of close family members and loved ones to largely preventable deaths. As Arnold explains, most Native Americans in his town get stuck in a vicious cycle of poverty and alcoholism which leads to unfortunate ends. This is because the Native American Indians on his reservation are largely secluded from the rest of society. The story goes on to describe that the Spokane Indians of Wellpinit are shunned by white people. They are considered poor, dirty, alcoholic barbarians. They are suffer poverty and don’t have the same opportunities available to the white folk that live right off the reservation. With all of this considered, it’s not hard to see why Arnold is initially considered a freak by all the white teenagers he goes to school with.

     Throughout The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, the reader is able to see just how extensive the effects of the Spokane Indian’s socio-economic status are. Sherman Alexie paints a vivid picture of the cyclical life poverty and discrimination that many minority groups are subject to. Even once Arnold gets the courage to leave the reservation for better educational opportunities, his peers at school look down on him because he is “Indian”, and his friends at home look down on him because he is a “white lover”. This circumstance depicts the lose-lose situation that many Spokane Indians are subject to if they try to escape their oppressive life on the reservation. Though this story is a fictional work it, expresses the conditions in which the Spokane Indians and many other minority groups have suffered through in our society’s history. That is what makes this young adult novel such a genius read: it educates its reader while thoroughly entertaining them. Amidst the exciting and heart-wrenching storyline, Alexie teaches his young adult readesr how to interact with their peers that may come from different ethnic or cultural backgrounds. This moral proves that you really can’t judge a book by its cover. A high school basketball star, brain-wiz, loving friend, and altogether heroic figure can come from the most unexpected places. By the end of the story Arnold Spirit has gotten the attention of all of his peers, and this time they’re not just looking at his appearance.

      Despite the creative storyline, valuable moral lesson, and intriguing writing, Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is not loved by all readers; in fact it is a commonly banned book. Though Alexie’s young adult novel attacks the tough issue of race relations head-on, it is commonly written off for its language. Arnold Spirit is a typical teenage boy, and I mean typical in every way. He gets into fist-fights, has a rather colorful vocabulary, and shares every detail of his raging hormones with the reader. For many people, this ruins the story, but I think it adds depth to it. These “real life” anecdotes serve a larger role throughout the story. By observing Arnold’s vulnerability and candid persona, the story seems more real. Arnold is just your average teenage boy, and his way of communicating with the reader expresses that. Looking at these sometimes awkward portions of the text as a whole, one cannot help but realize how genuine they make the main character appear. These parts may offend some people, but a genuine novel grants its reader an authentic, inside experience with the main character.

     Though some might shy away from the candid dialogue in this novel, for the stout of heart this stands to make the novel genuine fun. The main character, Arnold Spirit, is genuine, caring, and relatable. Throughout the story he stands as a symbol of the change one person can make when they refuse to maintain the status quo. Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the story of an ordinary boy who brings two unlikely groups of people together in a rather heroic fashion.

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Book Review for “Wonder”

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

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Palacio, R. J. (2012). Wonder. New York: Random House Children’s Books.

     R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is a heart-warming story that touches the soul through one boy’s face. August Pullman is a fictional character, but he represents every child, parent, or sibling who has ever struggled to cope with the physical abnormalities of a loved one. Auggie feels like an ordinary boy on the inside, but it’s his extraordinary face that makes other kids stop and stare. For this reason he fears the very thing most children take for granted: going to school. Wonder is the story of his first experience in a real school, his first experience coming in contact with other children on a daily basis. Not only does this novel present an entertaining and attention-grabbing storyline, but it educates its reader on the daily life of children with birth defects. It explores important topics that many people shy away from: gawking, name-calling, and ostracism. However, Palacio approaches the subject from multiple points of view. She shows the direct effect that other people’s fear and unkindness can have on a child who feels “different”. Equally as important, she depicts the thoughts and feelings of other children when they come in contact with those that are different from them. Palacio teaches us that people can sometimes hurt each other unintentionally by expressing natural curiosities and fears. This eye-opening novel was written with young adults in mind, however it embodies important lessons that are essential for adults to learm as well. R.J. Palacio’s Wonder is about finding the beauty in every person even if you can’t see it at a first glance.

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You never know what opportunities you may deny a child by denying them the right to read.

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My Reading Autobiography: A Reflection on Reading

     Just as everybody has a distinct set of fingerprints, every person has a unique relationship with reading. Everybody has a different past, present, and future that affects their relationship with the art of reading literature. These experiences leave an imprint on our lives and influence the way we interact with reading; they form our own reading autobiographies. Every piece of literature we’ve picked up, tried, revisited, and hoped to block out from our memory has shaped how we look at words on a page. For those in the study of education, it shapes how we will one day interact with literature and our students together. Like all readers, I’ve experienced books that have changed my life, books that were a waste of time, and periods that lacked the presence of reading all together. All of these experiences combined have created my own personal reading autobiography.

     Everybody remembers their first book, right? Everyone has their favorite picture book that they will forever romanticize with a sense of nostalgia in their figurative memory book. Maybe it was the book they memorized the words to, proudly told their parents they could read, and recited every word of it from sheer recollection. This seems like a common memory for everybody, everybody except for me. I’m sure it existed; I’m sure it’s out there somewhere; I just don’t remember it. Like every young child I enjoyed picture books, especially Dr. Seuss. As a young girl I enjoyed reading Judy Bloom, who didn’t? However, none of these readings stand out in my memory. The first book I fell in love with however, was certainly one to remember. This book is the one most romanticized in my memory because the years I spent reading it left me with the biggest impact. The Two Princess of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine was the first book I read over, and over, and over, and just when you thought I’d be sick of it, I read it again. The first time I checked it out from my school library, the librarian warned me that it might be too challenging for my age level. As I grew older and more capable of a higher reading level, my librarian grew tired of telling me to try something new. This book had every element that makes a fantasy story great. Two sister princesses lived in a faraway land, in a time long, long ago. One sister expressed every embodiment of bravery, courage, and adventure; the second sister on the other hand, was beautiful, graceful, and ladylike, yet timid. Then one day disaster strikes; the Grey Death emerges and claims its victims through a painful and agonizing sickness. One of the princesses falls ill with the Grey Death, can you guess who? The strong, gutsy, adventuresome princess is rendered unable to valiantly search for the cure. So guess who must find it? Yup, that’s right; none other than the dainty, fearful princess of Bamarre.  As a young girl this story captured my attention and never let it go. It will be forever preserved in my memory as one of the greatest books I have ever read.

     Still, despite my first favorite book, I was not an avid reader as a young adolescent. I read here and there, when I had too, and when it was convenient. The next book that stands out in my memory is not a book at all; rather it is a collection of books. It may be an unusual source of leisure reading for a high school teenager, but the collection of books that captivated my attention was the Bible itself. It first struck me as this: a collection of stories and histories I had heard bits and pieces of throughout my life; however, I wanted to know everything that was in it. I wanted to search it all and learn every detail, every secret, everything I didn’t know about it. Contrary to the way most people read Scripture, I picked it up and read it from left to right, all the way through, from Genesis to Revelation. What was so great about it was once you finished one book, there was always another to read. So for a year and a half I always had a book; I always had a story, and they all came out of the same binding. This was the first time in my reading life that I constantly had a new book or story to read. This perpetuated my desire to constantly have a book in my hand, and since then, I have always had to have a book to read. This was the book that made me want to pick up more books: the book that made me want to always have a story to be sucked into. This is where my avid reading began.

     Since my days reading Scripture stories I tried a plethora of different books, but I always came back to the same kind: Fiction. Not just any fiction though; my ideal read is a science-fiction, fantasy novel. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy realistic and historical fiction, poetry, and graphic novels, but nothing compares with the fantasy genre in my book (get it?). My problem with realistic fiction is, well, it’s too real. I need something fantastical, far out. I need something to get me out of my head and into a place where I’ve never been before. I need my imagination to be stretched. I want to go to places I’ve never been, see things I’ve never seen, and do things I could never even dream of doing in real life. This is why I love fiction so much: because the possibilities of topics to explore are as endless as the stars in the universe. Think of all the most prominent science-fiction/fantasy novels that are prevalent in pop culture; you name it, and I’ve probably read it. Harry Potter, The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Hunger Games, and The City of Ember; I’ve read and love them all. Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and The Lord of the Rings are my favorite books of all time. These are the books that have grown on me; I came to know the characters like they were part of my family. Yea, it’s kind of weird, but reading will do that to you; it’ll make feel like you know people that don’t even exist.

     While I love science-fiction and fantasy novels, I still seek to broaden my horizons. There is a whole host of books out there, and whole new worlds just waiting for me to explore. As I journey on into another chapter of my reading autobiography, I want to know more, read more, and come to love reading in new and different ways by reading things I’ve never read before.

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Book Review for “The Books of Ember”

Book Review for The City of Ember and People of Sparks

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DuPrau, J. (2003). The city of ember. New York: Yearling.

DuPrau, J. (2004). The people of sparks. New York: Yearling.

     Jeanne DuPrau’s The City of Ember and The People of Sparks are the first two installments in the series of The Books of Ember. This riveting young adult series follows the ever adventurous Lina Mayfleet and friend Doon Harrow as they live in the post-apocalyptic city of Ember. The storyline chronicles their search for truth and the origins of their city. They also risk their lives and freedom to find salvation for their endangered population as their resources dwindle and their city falls apart. The Books of Ember is an ideal series for any young adult with a passion for science-fiction and fantasy reading. Reading these novels is sure to put you on the edge of your seat as the main characters search for truth, solve mysteries of the past, and teach their city life lessons along the way.

     The first novel, The City of Ember, is where the journey begins. The reader is aware that this unique civilization is endangered, though it is not clear how. The city runs out of resources, and as the electricity begins to fail, the people of Ember are in danger of being lost in the darkness forever. People begin to quarrel, the mayor hoards his possession, and warning signs of sure disaster are ignored. Protagonist Lina Mayfleet and comrade Doon Harrow devote their lives to finding a solution for their beloved yet decrepit city. Their search for truth leads them to a long forgotten secret. The creators of their city, the Builders, have left instructions on how to escape when all else fails. Lina and Doon are overjoyed at finding salvation for their city, and they cannot wait to share their victorious news with the Mayor and their fellow citizens. However, they find that the Mayor is not so receptive to their findings. In the process of their search, Lina and Doon discover that the greedy mayor has become an antagonist to all the people of Ember; he is stealing and hoarding their much needed resources for himself. The two young protagonists once dreamed of glory and renown  for their findings; now they are running for their lives. The two friends make the hardest decision of their lives: desert the city of Ember and save them later, or stay with their people and be put away by the Mayor. It’s a tough decision, but Lina and Doon know what they need to do for their city. In desperate flight they pack their few belongings and make the treacherous exit from the city of Ember. What they find when they reach safety shocks them; the city of Ember was an underground safe haven for all of civilization. They were some of the last surviving people on earth after an apocalyptic series of wars and plagues known as the “Disaster”.  Lina and Doon are overjoyed to find a world full of sunlight, space, and natural resources; if only they could find a way to communicate with the beloved people they left behind. In hopes that they will one day see their families again, the two send a note floating down to the underground city. At the very end of the story the joy is made complete when they come to find that the city of Ember has found their note and has joined them in the glorious world above. The only question now is, how will they survive in a world they do not know?

     The City of Ember kicks off Jeanne DuPrau’s series with a roaring start. This novel is full of action and adventure, though that is not the only reason it is an enjoyable read. The harrowing journey of main characters teaches lessons that are vital for young adolescents. These lessons are easily gleaned, and the consequences of not heeding this advice are evident in the trials of the people of Ember. Through this novel DuPrau strives to show young adults many things: don’t take for yourself what other people need; take care of the planet before it’s too late; do what is right no matter what it costs you. Young readers are sure to enjoy the action packed storyline as well as the emotional lessons learned. The City of Ember satisfies the craving for science-fiction and fantasy and leaves its readers ready for more.

     The People of Sparks picks up right where The City of Ember left off: at the end of the beginning and the beginning of the end. Life as the people of Ember knew it is over, but a bigger and better life waits ahead of them. Initially, this newly emancipated city believes themselves to be the only people left in this bright new world, however they are over joyed to discover that they are not alone. The people of the city of Sparks are one of the last remaining civilizations after the Disaster. This series of war and plague has left the earth desolate. In their generosity they heed to needs of the people of Ember and take them under their protection. The hosts of this new city introduce Ember to their new world; they teach them how to find food, how to build homes, and how to take care of themselves. These interactions begin peacefully, but as food begins to run low and tensions run high, nobody knows how long they can avoid conflict.

     Just like its predecessor, The People of Sparks is packed full with simple and significant messages that we sometimes take for granted. Throughout the rise of conflict the people of Ember and the people of Sparks learn how easy it is to get angry and strike out to hurt others. They learn that payback never really pays, and that doing the right thing goes against human nature. However, in the end they realize just how much their conflict has hurt each other. After a near-death situation for all, these two groups of people learn to work together and put their differences aside. There is no longer “them” or “us”; there is no longer the people of Ember and the people of Sparks. After resolving their differences they all join together as one people under one name. The People of Sparks teaches its reader how to get along with others in times of conflict, and this is a lesson highly relevant for young adults.

     Jeanne DuPrau does a marvelous job of extending the action, anticipation, drama, and peaceful lessons of the first book throughout the rest of her series. The Books of Ember are a fun and addictive read that showcases the importance of always doing the right thing in the face of adversity.

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“I don’t think you have time to waste not writing because you are afraid you won’t be good at it.” –Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

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