Oh, what a semester it has been!! This summer in and of itself has challenged me in ways I never would have expected, but I am hopeful that it has all been worth it! From the Y.A. class alone, I have seen my mindset transition from solely student to teacher of students/student teacher, and, maybe, my next step is teacher student – where I learn things from my students far more transformative than anything I can teach them about structuring an essay (a little too cheesy? sorry, I couldn’t help it). I plan to work here and there with Bookshelves & Brainstorms even after this summer semester goes to a close because I have a passion for utilizing technology in the classroom, and I think it is important for me to practice and promote digital literacy in my own life.
From beginning this semester with a lot of nerves about my schedules and work load to wrapping up the final week of all of my classes, this summer has had its highs and lows without a doubt. Our Young Adult Literature class has taught me so many things while reminding me of a fact I think I knew all along… that being a reader is so important in shaping and reshaping my worldview through lenses provided to me in novels and that Young Adult Lit. is not the second-class status we often see literary snobs (oops, sorry if that offends anyone) place as lesser than other genres. I posted a clip from Friends From College, where one of the characters is acting as if he is too good for YA – and come on, you have to admit its enjoyable for everyone at some level – this class served as a reminder of that. Also, as silly & behind the curve as it may seem, utilizing Goodreads has been a wonderful, new tool for developing my personal reading list! This course has encouraged me to keep at reading in my personal time while Goodreads has made it easy for me to curate a list to reference when I’m in need for a good book.
I leave this course knowing importance of being a teacher that reads. Knowing the content that is reaching your students is important in understanding how their perceptions and world views may change based on whatever is popular for them to be reading or whatever text is put in their hands. Therefore, being a teacher that reads is just as important as being a teacher in the loop. This course has inspired me to invest time in reading books not only for myself, but for my students – I hope to read Wonder by R.J. Palacio because of its potential to use in a classroom and teach me more about empathy towards my students. I hope to continually find ways to fuel my passion and soften my heart for my students & I think investing in them through reading is the perfect place to start!
The Girl In the Blue Coat is a perfect example of how to write historical fiction. The way Monica Hesse crafts these characters and this story line was simply captivating. The plot twist (which you will encounter if you’re smart enough to read this book) through me for a loop, and had me retracing everything that I had read prior in the book. Hanneke’s wit and street smarts help her to navigate the Nazi-occupied Amsterdam and the heartache she deals with through the time of war. The perspective Hesse creates in this book is important to read, and is just intense enough to portray the seriousness & devastation of war, but also articulate underlying lessons about friendship, family, and loyalty. Throughout the novel, Hanneke (or “Hannie” as her father lovingly calls her & how I read her name in my head) is not only facing the hardships of war and rationing, but also the heartbreak she is experiencing through the loss of her boyfriend, Bas, who died at the beginning of the war. There are instances throughout the book where we are able to read letters between Bas and Hannie, but there are lots of things left unsaid between these two, so what better way to do my alternative book project this week than to write the words through a letter exchange I wish they would have had the opportunity to say to each other?
Below is pictured the letter I believe Bas would have written Hannie (that she ripped up and refused to read):
My version of Hannie’s letter to Bas:
Let me take you back several years ago to when I came home from 7th grade world history class complaining about all of the dates I had to memorize because (*insert bratty eye roll here*) who even cares about all of this stuff that happened a hundred years ago? Little did I know that I was asking for a life lesson from my dad. He simply explained the importance of history is knowing history – in and out – because if we do not remember the mistakes of past generations, how do we know to not repeat them? How can we know ways to move forward and not backyard? What signs can we look for as indicators of dictators or oppressive circumstances? I remember this conversation completely transforming my perspective on studying history. Instead, it sparked my interest and the stories of those who lived history. Therefore, I believe that we must articulate the importance history, and consequently, historical fiction is in our classrooms. Although we must emphasize the “fiction” part of historical fiction because can’t have students thinking the individual’s stories are historical fat, it is an awesome way to provide students with perspective. By setting the scene during a particular time in history, for example, Nazi-occupied Holland like in The Girl In The Blue Coat, the reader is provided with a perspective and a new sense of empathy for a historical period.
Throughout the timeline of historical fiction, you are able to pinpoint different patterns of themes that occur, and I noticed the recurring interest in stories written about royalty and Medieval times. We see this pattern again in television as well as literature in shows like The Tudors. Although the content of The Tudors would not be appropriate to view in a classroom setting, I think that the hype surrounding these shows based in historical settings should help the cultural appeal to books that are historically focused. Historical fiction most definitely has a place in the bookshelves any classroom because we should promote literature that can impact students’ world views and historical fiction provides opportunities to grant perspective to our students. This genre also grants a space to work with other subjects and collaborate with the history department in your school. How great would it be to create a more well-rounded curriculum for students where they can learn about WWII in history class then jump over to literature class and read a novel from the perspective of a person in a Nazi-occupied region? Learning the facts with added perspective with an engaging book can only help students learn and keep them interested in the material.
After reading The Girl In The Blue Coat, I can see historical fiction as an opportunity to engage students in history and not just for nerdy readers like me. The importance of history has never been lost on me, but the ability for fiction to tell the untold stories of history grants so much room for growth in our students’ literary and academic lives.
My book of the week was The Perks of Being A Wallflower. I came away from this book with lots of thoughts still zooming around in my head. Charlie, the main character, suffers from mental illness triggered by stress and, eventually, the realization of his past sufferings. The book is written in a letter format, which adds to the intimacy you will experience between Charlie’s mind and your own. Stephen Chbosky does an excellent job portraying mental illness through a lens of empathy and authenticity. I put this book down and took some time to reflect on my own perceptions about mental illness and how these perceptions can affect the relationships I have with friends and loved ones as well as with my future students.
From Kia Jane Richmond’s article, Using Literature to Confront the Stigma of Mental Illness, Teach Empathy, and Break Stereotypes, her commentary on mental illness in the classroom noted, “In order for students to achieve at their greatest potential they must be educated in a safe and emotionally healthy environment,” (19). Providing a welcoming environment for students is an essential aspect of cultivating a community in the classroom. In The Perks of Being A Wallflower, we see Charlie experiencing social tensions as he enters high school with hopes of finding friends, which is a common stress for all teenagers, but especially those who live with mental illnesses adding tension to already stressful situations. Books like this, allow students to put themselves in the shoes of a character living a seemingly normal life while trying to cope with the symptoms of mental illness, which demands students’ attentions regarding sensitive topics such as this in society. Charlie is a lovable character learning the ropes of high school, experiencing his first parties and first love, and, throughout the book, hinting at his rocky past trips to the hospital. The enticement of a love story and a happy ending for Charlie helped me zoom through the book, but we eventually learn the reason behind his emotional and social issues that reminds us not everyone always has the happy past we hope for, but should promote our empathy and desire to take action in standing up for those who suffer and live with mental illnesses.
Initiating conversation about mental illness will help extinguish the stigma surrounding the notably sensitive topic in our culture. No person, let alone a student, should ever feel as if they have to take on a difficult time on his or her own. If there is a student who may struggle with mental illness, there should be a community waiting to back him or her up with support and resources to reach a state of stability and prosperity. As we see and know of heartbreaking stories every single day where someone has fallen victim to the clutches of mental illness, our society should be waking up and realizing that this is something we should be dealing with and working through together rather than letting those who suffer, fall alone. Although The Perks of Being A Wallflower had several instances very mature content that may be difficult to encounter in a classroom setting, it is a way to open up conversation about mental illness, and is a book I would put on a reading list as optional for students, and if I did a book talk to introduce this book on a reading list, I would be sure to warn about this content. I think The Perks of Being A Wallflower still ends with hope for Charlie because he has a support system of people around him, and that is the message we should be sending to those who struggle with mental illness and by creating an ending that still puts value on a support group is essential to setting up a positive example for society at large and for our students.
Books that were AMAZING – until the Ending…
- Perks of Being A Wallflower
- SUCH a popular book & movie, and while it surprised me at the end, it made me more sad than anything
- Outer Dark
- ehhh.. it’s a stretch to say it was ever amazing, but the ending made it worse.. important to remember Cormac McCarthy was a little out there to begin with
- American Street
- Although the ending of American Street hit home the overall points surrounding drugs and impoverished areas in America, it still disappointed me, but it does give the hardcore truth unlike the sweet, happy endings we are often used to it Y.A. literature.
A few books with THE BEST (prettiest) Covers
Fictional Characters I’d Most Like to Meet
- Sherlock Holmes – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
- Atticus Finch – To Kill A Mockingbird
- Ron Weasley – Harry Potter series
- Anne Elliot – Persuasion