#IMWAYR – It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Picture books and poetry

 #IMWAYR is hosted by  Jen at Teach MentorTexts & Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders 

AndreaLoney tells the interesting and historically important story of the photographer James VanDerZee in Take a Picture of Me, James VanDerZee.  Born in small town Lenox, Massachusetts, James was artistically inclined but had difficulty expressing his ideas through drawing. When the only photographer in Lenox brought the only camera in town to take a family portrait of the VanDerZee family, James was captivated by the instrument and immediately began to save up for a camera of his own.

He taught  himself how to both take as well as develop photographs, practicing on his classmates and his family.  The call of Harlem, then in the midst of an exciting artistic and societal renaissance, eventually brought James to New York City, where he continued to hone his craft in a studio of his own.  Over the decades, James took thousands of pictures of middle class African Americans and their pride in the lives they were working hard to make.  These photographs, many years later, became the focus of an exhibition called “Harlem on My Mind” at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, a moving and important historical record.  Andrea Loney tells this meticulously researched story beautifully, and Keith Mallett’s vibrant paintings made this book visual treat, as well.

In Martí’s Song for Freedom , Emma Otheguy writes about the Cuban poet, revolutionary hero, and journalist José Martí.  Having witnessed the cruelties brought by Spain when they colonized Cuba as a young boy, Martí began writing poetry and thinking about ways in which he could use his words to fight for justice.  Exiled because of his activism, Martí travelled the world with his message about equality and Cuban independence, eventually settling in New York.  But his homesickness for his beloved homeland, and its continued fight for freedom brought him back home.  Martí was killed in the Battle of Two Rivers early in this new war for Cuban independence, and did not live to see it succeed, but his poetry and writings inspired his people then and continue to inspire all those who believe in freedom, equality, and justice.

I loved the way Emma Otheguy wove Martí’s verses into this story, and I loved Beatriz Vidal’s stunning illustrations.  This will be a wonderful addition to my classroom library of picture books dedicated to social justice.

I found this anthology of interviews Bill Moyers conducted with poets presenting at the annual Mabel Dodge Festival of Poetry in New Jersey.  Moyers is an insightful and informed interviewer, and I learned so much from each of these conversations with some of my most  favorite poets – what the act of writing means to each, how they go about practicing their craft, and what they hope their words will inspire.  I especially loved the way each poet spoke about specific poems, analyzing their process and sharing thoughts about what brought these poems about.  This will be a fabulous book to draw from in the new school year, and to share with my students.

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Mary Lee Hahn had blogged about Bob Raczka’s Lemonade some time ago, and I finally got around to reading it last week – what great fun!  The idea is, literally, squeezing poems from a single word, which is quite challenging, I must say (after having tried and failed multiple times).

I’m going to share this book with my kiddos at whichever point in our poetry year that calls for something completely different…something fun to take a swing at.  I can just imagine the classroom when I project Raczka’s word gymnastics up on our screen – I just know that after all the oohs and ahhs, my kiddos will want to take a crack at creating single word poems, too.

#IMWAYR – It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: See You In The Cosmos & Short

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   #IMWAYR is hosted by  Jen at Teach MentorTexts & Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders 

I’ve come to the last two books in my summer to-read book bag, and happily loved both of them.

See You In The Cosmos is Jack Cheng’s first novel for middle grade readers, and it is such a great read!  Eleven year old Alex Petroski has a lot going on in his life – his mother has disappeared into her own world after the death of his father, and his older brother is too busy with his own life many states away to seem to want to bother with him.  But Alex has his great love of astronomy and rocket making, his faith dog Carl Sagan (named after his hero), and his plan – to use his iPod to record what human life is like, and launch this into space so that other life forms there can become well informed about life on planet Earth.

With his home built rocket and Carl Sagan in tow, Alex sets off for Albuquerque, New Mexico and the SHARF Rocket Festival, where he intends to set his plan in action.  The journey is filled with adventures and people Alex could never have imagined, in the process of which Alex comes to learn more about himself and the real meaning of love and bravery and truth.

Alex is a wonderful character – he is an innocent and yet he is wise beyond his years in many ways, an open and easy to love boy who has a way of bringing out the best in others.  Each secondary character has also been beautifully crafted, and the way in which they connect and communicate with each other rings poignantly true.  This would be a great readaloud or book club selection. You can hear the audio to Chapter One  here,for a sense of what Alex is like – unforgettable!

I loved Holly Goldberg Sloan’s Counting By 7’s, which soon became a classroom favorite, too. Short, her most recent book, is every bit as memorable.  

Julia may be short and small for her age, but she makes her presence known anyway.  Her mother insists she try out for their town’s summerstock theater production of “The Wizard of Oz”, along with her younger brother, as a way to be gainfully occupied while her mother works.  Julia knows she can neither sing nor dance, but (to her great despair and indignation) is cast as one of the Munchkins anyway.

Events take a turn for the better when she meets Olive, one of three adults with dwarfism cast as Munchkins, too.  Olive has much to teach Julia, who comes to realize that “this is going to be the summer when the little people call the shots.”  I love the way the ways of the theater and theatrical folk are written about, and I fell just as much in love with Julia Marks as I did with Counting By 7s’ Willow Chance,she’s honest to a fault, hilarious without knowing it, and perceptive about the quirkiness of adults; I enjoyed this book, its laugh out loud moments, and its engaging story.  This would make an excellent first readaloud for the school year, too

Here is an interview with the author, in which she shares the inspiration for Short.

#IMWAYR – It’s Monday and here’s what I’m reading: Refugee by Alan Gratz

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   #IMWAYR is hosted by  Jen at Teach MentorTexts & Kellee and Ricki at UnleashingReaders 
                             

Refugee by Alan Gratz was the most important book I’ve read this summer; its powerful story is timeless, mainly because we don’t seem to be able to heed its message or behave in ways which create unceasing wars that lead to waves of refugees seeking sanctuary from danger and devastation.

Here’s the jacket copy summary:

Three different kids.

One mission in common: ESCAPE.

Josef is a Jewish boy in 1930s Nazi Germany. With the threat of concentration camps looming, he and his family board a ship bound for the other side of the world…

Isabel is a Cuban girl in 1994. With riots and unrest plaguing her country, she and her family set out on a raft, hoping to find safety and freedom in America…

Mahmoud is a Syrian boy in 2015. With his homeland torn apart by violence and destruction, he and his family begin a long trek toward Europe…

All three young people will go on harrowing journeys in search of refuge. All will face unimaginable dangers–from drownings to bombings to betrayals. But for each of them, there is always the hope of tomorrow. And although Josef, Isabel, and Mahmoud are separated by continents and decades, surprising connections will tie their stories together in the end.

Joseph, Isabel and Mahmoud are all the same age when they must flee their homelands – twelve; they are at that stage of their lives when they are between the innocence and magical thinking of childhood, and a more circumspect and realistic understanding of the worlds they live in.  This kind of dual perspective lends their individual stories a moving poignancy, and makes a powerful impact – how do children who have seen their worlds fall apart in such cruel ways ever return to having hope, to believing in humanity?

Gratz does not hold back from describing what war and persecution looks like and feels like; he is especially careful to also include unexpected acts of kindness, as well as moments when people turn away from doing what little they can to assuage suffering. In other words, Refugee is realistic.  What makes it a difficult book to read, however, is the way we see history repeating itself time and time again, in every part of the world.

I was moved, too, by the way Gratz described the anguish and frustration of the refugee.  Here, for instance, Mahmoud ponders over the predicament of his family as they make one harrowing journey after another trying to find safety:

But Mahmoud wasn’t ready to give up.  He wanted life to be like it was before the war had come.  They couldn’t go back to Syria. Not now. Mahmoud knew that.  But there was no reason they couldn’t make a new life for themselves somewhere else.  Start over. Be happy again. And Mahmoud wanted to do whatever it took to make that happen. Or at least try.

But making something happen meant drawing attention. Being visible. And being invisible was so much easier.  It was useful too, like in Aleppo, or Serbia, or here in Hungary.  But sometimes it was just as useful to be visible, like in Turkey and Greece.  The reverse was true too, though: Being invisible had hurt them as much as being visible had.

Mahmoud frowned. And that was the real truth of it, wasn’t it? Whether you were visible or invisible, it was all about how other people reacted to you.  Good and bad things happened either way.  If you were invisible, the bad people couldn’t hurt you, that was true. But the good people couldn’t help you, either. If you stayed invisible here, did everything you were supposed to and never made waves, you would disappear from the eyes and minds of all the good people out there who could help you get your life back.

Of course, “the people” these three characters encounter across different time frames and continents, are the rest of us – the lucky ones who are not displaced, who live in security, whose lives are not upended by circumstances beyond our control. And, more often than not, we choose to “disappear”   the Mahmouds, Isabels and Josephs because it’s uncomfortable, or because choosing not to do something is easier than speaking up and doing the right thing.

The gift of this book is that we can share this story with our students, and open conversations about what it means to see people, to act on their behalf, to keep ourselves open to the idea that we all own a share of the suffering displaced people face, and we must change the way in which we respond.  Isabel’s grandfather says this:

“I see it now, Chabela. All of it. The past, the present, the future. All my life, I kept waiting for things to get better. For the bright promise of mañana.  But a funny thing happened while I was waiting for the world to change, Chabela: it didn’t. Because I didn’t change it.”

The idea of changing the world, of doing what we can to make it a better place, is one that is especially important now, in Trump’s America, where toxic messages of hate and indifference to suffering are reaching our kids through news every day.  We will be reading Refugee in my sixth grade class, and I look forward to many important discussions with my students – to change.

 

 

 

It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: The Ethan I Was Before & Walking With Miss Millie

It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

I continue to make my way through my boxes of summer books, enjoying each of them for different reasons, but these were my standout books of last week, books I know my sixth graders will love to read and talk about:

Ali Standish has created so many wonderful characters in her debut book, The Ethan I Was Before, beginning with Ethan himself.  The “before” Ethan was a happy middle schooler whose life was all about the Red Sox, skate boarding, and hanging out with his best friend and partner in escapades, Kacey.  Then there was a terrible accident involving Kacey, and Ethan’s parents decided to leave their lives in Boston and move to Florida to live with his ornery grandfather.  This was supposed to be a new beginning for Ethan, but there is no getting way from his memories of Kacey for Ethan – or the guilt he feels for causing her accident.  Lonely and sad, he meets Coralee, who seems to have sad secrets of her own.  Finding an unexpected treasure leads them to adventures which help both of them discover what love, truth and friendship really mean.

I loved the compassion woven into each character in this book, and the way the adults step up to the needs of the children they are responsible for and do their best to be there for them.  We need books with kind adults, especially these day.

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Walking With Miss Millie is one of those lovely stories that unfolds gently and fills you with a quiet comfort.  Eleven year old Alice is not happy about having to move to a little town in Georgia so that her mother can take care of her grandmother, who seems to be getting more forgetful by the day.   Rainbow, Georgia seems backwards in every way compared to where she grew up in Ohio, especially when it comes to the issue of race – it’s the late 1960’s after all, and yet the people in this  town seem not to be making much progress.  Meeting Miss Lillie, her grandmother’s neighbor, and taking daily walks with her dog Clarence everyday, begins to open Alice’s eyes to many things: segregation, kindness, forgiveness, and sometimes having to accept that people are sometimes just who they are and not what you hope they can be.  I love the sense of humor  which Tamara Bundy weaves into the dialogue, too, which had me chuckling many times.

 

 

It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: The Goldfish Boy, Hello Universe & Lucky Broken Girl

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

I read three very different middle grade books last week with two things in common: gifted authors and a common message of carrying compassion with us as we make our way through the smallest of actions and tasks – kindness matters.

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Lisa Thompson’s debut novel, The Goldfish Boy , is a hard-to-put down mystery with a twist: there is one mystery to be solved in the disappearance of a neighbor’s little grandson, and there is another mystery to be solved within the main character (and chief detective) himself, twelve year old Matthew.

Ever since his baby brother’s death, Matthew just cannot seem to get his hands or his room clean enough – germs are everywhere, no matter how much he washes and scrubs, and things have reached a point where Matthew can’t leave his house…or his room.  The big front facing window of his house, and his own back yard facing room, give Matthew great vantage points from which to survey the goings on in his cul de sac, though, and Matthew keeps track of his neighbor’s movements with careful and detailed notes: time, place, etc. all duly noted.  For their part, his neighbors (a wonderful cast of characters, each of whom are interesting and well crafted) see the pale boy who seems to wear cleaning gloves all the time and watches them furtively through his windows, as very, very, odd.  And rather sad, too.

Needless to say, Matthew’s parents are terribly concerned and are determined to help. Just as he begins to see a specialist, the neighbor’s grandson vanishes, and Matthew now has another concern to worry and obsess about.  His notebook and his noticings may finally be put to good use!

Lisa Storm is able to get into Matthew’s OCD mindset with great sensitivity and honesty. You feel Matthew’s discomfort with his compulsions, his struggle to try to understand why his mind is telling him to do things that he also knows he somehow ought not to do.  I love the fact that his parents, although troubled and exasperated, love their son and make it clear that they want to help him.  The Goldfish Boy is just a beautiful story – one that helps many of us understand what it’s like to be OCD, even as we read on to see how an engaging mystery is solved.

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The main action in  Hello, Universe takes place in the course of just one day, but Erin Entrada Kelly manages to weave a deeply moving portrait of the messiness, neediness and unpredictability that is being in middle school and trying to figure out who you are and how to fit in, when it seems as though you don’t fit in at all.

Here’s the jacket copy:

Virgil Salinas is shy and misunderstood.

Valencia Somerset is clever and stubborn.

Kaori Tanaka tells fortunes and reads the stars.

Chet “the Bull” Bullens is the biggest bully in the neighborhood.

They aren’t friends, they don’t go to the same school. But when Chet pulls an unthinkable prank on Virgil and Virgil’s pet guinea pig, Gulliver, the lives of these four middle schooler collide in surprising and unexpected ways.

There are a lot of funny parts in Hello, Universe, but also parts that will bring a lump to your throat.  Virgil, for instance, has been nicknamed “Turtle” by his family, because he is so shy.  Every time he hears this nickname, Turtle wishes he could say out loud what he feels out loud inside:

Don’t call me that.

It makes me feel like I’m six years old.

It makes me feel like a loser.

Erin Entrada Kelly has created a lovely story with characters that stay with you longer after you have finished reading.

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Ruth Behar’s Lucky Broken Girl may well be my favorite book of the summer – it’s just one of those wise books that breaks your heart even as it heals.

Ruthie Mizrahi is a trying to adjust to her new home in America.  She and her family have left Castro’s Cuba for the new life of promise that her father dreams of, even though he mother pines away for all they have left behind: their extended family, their traditional ways, and the warmth of being surrounded by the familiar and the well loved.  Ruthie, though, is looking forward to new go go boots, new songs to learn, and being the neighborhood’s hop-scotch queen.

Just when it seems as though things are falling into place, a terrible car accident leaves Ruthie in a full body cast for a year, uncertain about ever being able to walk again. Through this experience she learns about patience, generosity and small acts of kindness and friendship that can transform hopeless and helpless days.

In the afterword, Ruth Behar writes that Lucky Broken Girl was her story – the story she “was supposed to forget”, because the experience had been so traumatic:

All those who have been wounded know what I mean.  Maybe all who have been wounded know what I mean.  Maybe all who’ve been wounded are told, as I was, “It could have been worse.”  In other words don’t ask for too much sympathy.  I remember feeling as a child that it was wrong to talk about my pain. Wrong to feel any pain.  I buried the pain inside, where only I could feel it piercing me…I don’t anyone wait that long. Pain is Pain. Speak up. Tell your story.

Ruthie’s story speaks to all adults who have been broken in one way or another, and had to somehow make our journeys to a better place; but Ruthie’s story also speaks to children who might be experiencing brokenness in one way or another, and trying to find a way out.  Ruthie’s story is one of healing and hope – I absolutely loved it.

It’s Monday! Here’s What I’m Reading: Beyond the Bright Sea & Orphan Island.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

I am finally making my way through my summer stack of books, beginning with two stunning books I immediately fell in love with:

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Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow was such a mesmerizing read, that I had nothing but the highest expectations for her newest title, Beyond the Bright Sea.  Here’s the jacket copy:

Twelve-year-old Crow has lived her entire life on a tiny, isolated piece of the starkly beautiful Elizabeth Islands in Massachusetts. Abandoned and set adrift in a small boat when she was just hours old, Crow’s only companions are Osh, the man who rescued and raised her, and Miss Maggie, their fierce and affectionate neighbor across the sandbar.

Crow has always been curious about the world around her, but it isn’t until the night a mysterious fire appears across the water that the unspoken question of her own history forms in her heart. Soon, an unstoppable chain of events is triggered, leading Crow down a path of discovery and danger.

On the surface, Beyond The Bright Sea reads like is a suspenseful mystery, and Wolk knows just how to pull the reader along with perfectly calibrated tension and clues to keep track of and decipher.  But, it is also a story about family and love: what is a “real” family? can love survive tragedy and speak across the distance of time?  The three main characters – Crow, Osh, and Miss Maggie – are utterly unforgettable.  I loved that Osh and Miss Maggie, quirky though they may be, were  nurturing and thoughtful adults; even when they didn’t know quite what to do, they remained honest and honorable, always helping Crow to see the right way forward.  I worry sometimes that there are not enough characters like these in our middle grade and YA books – adults who behave as adult should.  And, Wolk’s writing is just exquisite; here’s a passage I read over and over:

The lobster cakes were hot and buttery, brown and crunchy on the outside, sweet and white on the inside.  She’s baked cheese into the biscuits and topped each one with a dab of pepper relish.  For dessert she’d brought out a dish of strawberries dusted with a little cane sugar.

The breeze curtsied as it passed by.

A chimney swift sketched a curlicue overhead.

If there had been music, it might have been too much to bear.

This will be our first read aloud of the year;Beyond The Bright Sea is the perfect book with which to launch a year of joyous reading.

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I read Laurel Snyder’s Orphan Island in one sitting, it was simply impossible to put down! Here’s the jacket copy:

On the island, everything is perfect. The sun rises in a sky filled with dancing shapes; the wind, water, and trees shelter and protect those who live there; when the nine children go to sleep in their cabins, it is with full stomachs and joy in their hearts. And only one thing ever changes: on that day, each year, when a boat appears from the mist upon the ocean carrying one young child to join them—and taking the eldest one away, never to be seen again.

Today’s Changing is no different. The boat arrives, taking away Jinny’s best friend, Deen, replacing him with a new little girl named Ess, and leaving Jinny as the new Elder. Jinny knows her responsibility now—to teach Ess everything she needs to know about the island, to keep things as they’ve always been. But will she be ready for the inevitable day when the boat will come back—and take her away forever from the only home she’s known?

Every aspect of the actual island in  Orphan Island is beautifully imagined and vividly described – it becomes another character in the story, to be deciphered, empathized with, and understood.  As Jinny enters her Elder-hood, she cannot imagine ever leaving this magical place of serene predictability, even though the rules say that leave she must.  The closer she gets to Changing Day, the more she wants things to stay the way they are, even it it means breaking the rules and opening the island and its nine inhabitants to all sorts of dangers she can barely even imagine.

But, Jinny wants what Jinny wants, it’s a character trait everyone else on the island has come to know well.  The question is, will Jinny be able to take that step into maturity that all children must learn to do: putting aside what she wants so that the island she so loves can continue to exist as it does for benefit of other children.

The writer Anne Ursu described Orphan Island as a “lovely fable of childhood and change” – and that is exactly right. I can’t wait to share it with my sixth graders in the Fall.

#IMWAYR: Teaching Reading With YA Literature by Jennifer Buehler

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? is hosted by Jen Vincent @ Teach Mentor Texts

NCTE Reads

My summer PD plans got off to an early start on Sunday(we have three more weeks of school, here in New Jersey!) when  NCTE’s summer book club kicked off with its first discussion.  We are reading Jennifer Beuhler’s Teaching Reading With YA Literature: Complex Texts, Complex Lives, which is a fascinating analysis of how we can teach YA lit in meaningful ways.  Buehler calls for  the “development of a YA pedagogy – one that places student motivation at the center of our teaching while upholding the goals of rigor and complexity” (pg. 8), and her book is a road map for how to get there.

We read chapters 1 and 2 for this week’s discussion, and here are some ideas I tagged:

In the real world, readers are always blending their personal response to a book with their analytic understanding of the text.  Readers also instinctively search for connections between books and real-world contexts…As teachers of YA Lit, we can foster complex reading experiences and promote autonomy if we devise classroom tasks that invite students to engage in these forms of blending and connecting.  We don’t have to create new tasks to achieve this goal. Instead, we can recast and reinvent what we already do. (pg.11)

This idea of recasting and reinventing is one that both interests and excites me.  I love working on teaching efficiency – i.e. taking a fresh look at my teaching practices through the lens of new thinking (especially thinking grounded in current research) and reshaping and refining what I do.  So, I cannot wait to read ahead for Jennifer’s guidance in this process of recasting and reinventing.

We must establish contexts for reading that challenge students to be purposeful and intentional in their choices.  One way to do this is to foreground meta-level questions about why we read.  When we invite students to read for the same reasons that real readers do…they become more capable and committed to reading.  Students can develop agency and autonomy as readers only if we give them room to shape the course of their reading. (pg.11)

Like other teachers, I come at establishing contexts for reading through mini lessons, modeling, and our classroom discussions about shared reading.  I focus on strategies with my sixth graders, but I would love to learn more about how to deepen those meta-level questions in ways they will find meaningful and habitual.

Complexity can be found in the text – in the overall quality of an author’s writing and thinking.  But complexity can also be found in what readers do with texts…This means that as we evaluate texts for their inherent measures of complexity, we also need to explore how and why texts become complex for readers.

Because YA lit can speak honestly and directly to teenagers, and because the issues the books explore lend themselves to discussion and debate, it’s easy to see why YA lit is ideally suited to the task of teaching teens how to find and make complexity.  (pg.29 & 30)

Some of my sixth graders still read quickly and for plot. In fact, I would say that this is the natural inclination of most of my sixth graders.  So, getting them to slow down and think deeply about a character’s journey through a story line deliberately plotted out by an author would, indeed, add complexity to their reading tasks, and a greater seriousness to the way they went about their reading.  Here, again, I have much to learn.

Buehler also makes distinctions between “complexity of style: (language, structure, stylistic elements)  and “complexity of substance” (character, setting, literary devices, topics and themes, how the book is put together), and walks us through the process of looking for these in two books – Matt de la Pena’s We Were Here, and A. S. King’s Ask The Passengers.  This was a fascinating exercise in close reading in its best sense; it allowed me insight into the goals Buehler believes we can achieve with our students:

When we teach students to make nuanced judgments about complexity, we help them better understand what different books can give them.  By providing them with a framework for thinking about complexity, we empower them as readers.  We equip them with tools that will serve them in their reading lives for the long run. (pg.49)

Our task this week was to take what we had gleaned from those first two chapters and contribute to the following:

 

Week 1: Make
This week we’re going to create a curated list of YA novels with rationales for why they are complex texts. These lists may prove useful if you choose to use any of these novels in your class and are asked to justify your selection. Please share the title, author, and a few sentences explaining why a YA text of your choosing should be considered complex. Don’t worry if someone else has already listed a title you were considering; either add to their rationale or write your own. Multiple perspectives will strengthen our understanding of any of these books. Consider the elements listed on p. 37 in crafting your rationale:
  • Complexity of Style—language, structure, other stylistic elements
  • Complexity of Substance—character, setting, literary devices, topics and themes, how the book is put together

Here’s my contribution:

Some Kind of Courage by Dan Gemeinhart.  I chose this as the first read aloud of the school year because I knew that my students would love everything about this story and that it would be the perfect way to launch our reading community. Joseph Johnson has just been orphaned when the book begins, and his beloved pony Sarah, all he has left of his own the world, has been stolen away.  Joseph sets out to find her, a journey that is filled with unexpected twists and turns and more heart ache.  He comes to realize, of course, that his search for Sarah is really a search to find love and meaning in the world after so much sorrow and loss.

Complexity of style:  Although the story is told in what seems to be a straightforward style with Joseph narrating the events in a chronological order, there are many flash backs for the reader to navigate through to piece together why Joseph is recalling this particular memory at this particular time.  Many of these flashbacks are in the form of things Joseph remembers his parents advising him, and the language of these quotes is formal, deeply figurative, and of a particular voice.

Complexity of substance: Joseph encounters a Chinese boy his age, who cannot speak a word of English.  He, too, is in search of someone – his father, lost somewhere among  the Gold Rush mines.  Ah-Kee  is subject to the racism of the times, which Joseph must both console him as well as defend him from. Other thematic issues such as courage in the face of loss, self sacrifice and keeping the faith when things seem without hope are also explored. The time frame and setting of the book (1890, in the mountains and cowboy towns of Washington State) are also important in understanding the text and making sense of the characters and events.

I’m looking forward to learning about new titles to add to my must read/must have in the library lists.