Beginning with Memoir

I am back in Tunis and less than two weeks away from 7th grade students in seats in my classroom.  I have been reading as prolifically as I have been able:  young adult novels (see blog posts), books about monotheism (World Perfect, A History of God, The Gifts of the Jews, Desire of the Everlasting Hills), books about history (Alexander the Great) and writing craft books to challenge my technique a little further (Writing a Life, The Power of Grammar).  Now it is time to spin the thread.  What will the overarching story be?  What will be the Essential Questions and Enduring Understandings?  What will I introduce first?  How will I get the multiple balls of humanities into the air?  What will students be doing?

Writing a Life, by Katherine Bomer, is the book coaching me on the first unit:  Memoir.  She writes with such passion about the genre and urges writers, me included, to press further than before in writing with honesty and reflection about the stories of their lives.  I am grateful to have her by my side, right now.

She wrote that the earliest known autobiography is Confessions written by St. Augustine around the year 397.  It so happens that just today I was being led on an Early Christianity tour here in Carthage and we went to the ruins of the St. Augustine basilica and discussed his notoriety in North Africa.  I am going to use St. Augustine as the first thread tying together history and literacy.  Here are a couple of quotes I captured:

“Tolle, lege: take up and read.”
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

“And men go abroad to admire the heights of mountains, the mighty waves of the sea, the broad tides of rivers, the compass of the ocean, and the circuits of the stars, yet pass over the mystery of themselves without a thought.”
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions

This painting looks like it could be the site of the basilica we visited today, a couple of thousand years ago
Photo Credit: Augustine of Hippo, georgetown.edu

Yes! Magazine, Teacher Resources

My friend, Jing Fong, creates the educational resources link for Yes! magazine.  Yes! is a thought provoking magazine directed toward sharing ideas and solutions to issues in the categories of Peace and Justice, Planet, New Economy, People Power, and Happiness.  Jing then culls the research for the magazine and adds her own supplements to offer to educators,  along with ideas for possible classroom use. Jing is married to master teacher, one time English Teacher of the Year and literacy consultant, Barry Hoonan, and he consults on some of the curriculum integration ideas here, too.

When Jing showed me the site, I immediately saw the benefit of having a source of current articles that may connect to themes students are reading about or that we are discussing in class.  This link will go on my student digital readers  as a place I would like them to continually do issues-related reading.

Jing hosts a writing contest a few times a year.  While my students, being outside the US, can’t directly compete, we can use the prompts and then look at the winners and analyze their writing and ideas against our own.  I think Jing’s writing prompts look fresher than many I have seen lately.  Here is the prompt from spring 2012:  “Does it matter who you eat with and how often you eat together?” and a link to the winning essayA new contest is beginning in August and I think I will use it as the prompt for the baseline assessment piece of writing I want my students to write over the first few days of school.  If you teach in the US, here is how you can enter the contest.

Another feature of this magazine resource I am inspired to utilize is around visual literacy.  I will be completing part three of the Certificate of Educational Technology and Information Literacy this fall and the focus of this next course is visual literacy.  I anticipate photos and ideas from this website will be useful to me in helping students analyze the messaging behind visuals.

The age focus of this resource is middle school into college, making it a gold mine for upper level teachers when so many engaging resources are aimed at elementary level.

Finally, do you know about the blog Guys Read?  Jing also shared this with me.  It’s got book lists in the categories that males might find interesting such as At Least One Explosion, How to Build Stuff, or Boxers, Wrestlers, and Ultimate Fighters.  There is a good audio link there, too, and I know personally that pumping our car full of audio books while my own sons were developing their literacy wings helped form them into wonderfully literate men.

Young Adult Fiction Finalists: NPR

It is really indulgent to just post this entire list, but I want it to be up front where I can reference it, often.  At least I’ve read a few of these books this summer.

Young Adult Fiction Finalists

The Complete List

July 24, 2012

Many of you told us you just can’t wait until mid-August — when we unveil the results of the Young Adult Fiction Vote — to start reading. So here’s the complete list of finalists, nominated by you and the NPR Young Adult Fiction Panel. Happy Reading!

13 Little Blue Envelopes, by Maureen Johnson

Abhorsen Trilogy / Old Kingdom Trilogy (series), by Garth Nix
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
An Abundance of Katherines, by John Green
Across the Universe, by Beth Revis
Airborn, by Kenneth Oppel
Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater
Along for the Ride, by Sarah Dessen
American Born Chinese, by Gene Luen Yang
Anna and the French Kiss, by Stephanie Perkins
Anne of Green Gables (series), by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Annie on My Mind, by Nancy Garden
Ash, by Malinda Lo
Ashfall, by Mike Mullin
The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing (series), by M.T. Anderson

The Bartimaeus Trilogy (series), by Jonathan Stroud
Beauty Queens, by Libba Bray
Before I Die, by Jenny Downham
Before I Fall, by Lauren Oliver
Betsy-Tacy Books (series), by Maud Hart Lovelace
Between Shades of Gray, by Ruta Sepetys
Blood Red Road, by Moira Young
Bloodlines (series), by Richelle Mead
Bloody Jack Adventures (series), by L.A. Meyer
The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley
The Book of Blood and Shadow, by Robin Wasserman
The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
Boy Meets Boy, by David Levithan
Brooklyn, Burning, by Steve Brezenoff
Bruiser, by Neal Shusterman

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
Chaos Walking (series), by Patrick Ness
The Chemical Garden Trilogy (series), by Lauren DeStefano
Chime, by Franny Billingsley
The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci (series), by Diana Wynne Jones
The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica (series), by James A. Owen
Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
Circle of Magic (series), by Tamora Pierce
Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein
Confessions of Georgia Nicolson (series), by Louise Rennison
Copper Sun, by Sharon M. Draper
Crank (series), by Ellen Hopkins
Criss Cross, by Lynne Rae Perkins
Crown Duel, by Sherwood Smith
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, by Mark Haddon
The Curse Workers (series), by Holly Black

Dairy Queen, by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
The Dark is Rising (series), by Susan Cooper
Darkest Powers (series), by Kelley Armstrong
Daughter of Smoke & Bone, by Laini Taylor
Daughter of the Lioness / Tricksters (series), by Tamora Pierce
Delirium (series), by Lauren Oliver
The Demon’s Lexicon (series), by Sarah Rees Brennan
Discworld / Tiffany Aching (series), by Terry Pratchett
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, by E. Lockhart
Divergent (series), by Veronica Roth
Dolphin Sky, by Ginny Rorby
Dreamland, by Sarah Dessen
Drums, Girls & Dangerous Pie, by Jordan Sonnenblick
Dune, by Frank Herbert

Earthsea (series), by Ursula K. Le Guin
East, by Edith Pattou
Elsewhere, by Gabrielle Zevin
The Enchanted Forest Chronicles (series), by Patricia C. Wrede
Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King

Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
Fallen (series), by Lauren Kate
The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green
Feed, by M.T. Anderson
Fire and Hemlock, by Diana Wynne Jones
The First Part Last, by Angela Johnson
Flowers for Algernon, by Daniel Keyes
The Forest of Hands and Teeth, by Carrie Ryan
Forever…, by Judy Blume

Gallagher Girls (series), by Ally Carter
The Gemma Doyle Trilogy (series), by Libba Bray
The Girl of Fire and Thorns, by Rae Carson
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, by Catherynne M. Valente
The Giver (series), by Lois Lowry
Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
Going Bovine, by Libba Bray
Gone (series), by Michael Grant
The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale
Graceling (series), by Kristin Cashore
Graffiti Moon, by Cath Crowley
Grave Mercy, by Robin LaFevers
The Green Glass Sea, by Ellen Klages

Haroun and the Sea of Stories, by Salman Rushdie
Harper Hall Trilogy (series), by Anne McCaffrey
Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
Hate List, by Jennifer Brown
The Hero and the Crown, by Robin McKinley
Hex Hall (series), by Rachel Hawkins
His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (series), by Douglas Adams
The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
Hold Me Closer, Necromancer, by Lish McBride
Hold Still, by Nina LaCour
House of Night (series), by P.C. Cast, Kristin Cast
The House of the Scorpion, by Nancy Farmer
The House on Mango Street, by Sandra Cisneros
How I Live Now, by Meg Rosoff
How to Save a Life, by Sara Zarr
Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
The Hunger Games (series), by Suzanne Collins
Hurt Go Happy, by Ginny Rorby
Hush, Hush Saga (series), by Becca Fitzpatrick

I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier
I Am the Messenger, by Markus Zusak
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
Immortal Beloved (series), by Cate Tiernan
The Immortal Rules, by Julie Kagawa
The Immortals (series), by Tamora Pierce
Impossible, by Nancy Werlin
The Infernal Devices (series), by Cassandra Clare
Inheritance Cycle (series), by Christopher Paolini
The Iron Fey (series), by Julie Kagawa
It’s Kind of a Funny Story, by Ned Vizzini

Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey
Jellicoe Road, by Melina Marchetta
Jessica Darling (series), by Megan McCafferty
Just Listen, by Sarah Dessen

The Last Unicorn, by Peter S. Beagle
The Legend of Beka Cooper (series), by Tamora Pierce
Leverage, by Joshua Cohen
Leviathan (series), by Scott Westerfeld
Life As We Knew It, by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow
Lola and the Boy Next Door, by Stephanie Perkins
Looking for Alaska, by John Green
Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
The Lord of the Rings (series), by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lost in the River of Grass, by Ginny Rorby
The Lumatere Chronicles (series), by Melina Marchetta
Lux (series), by Jennifer L. Armentrout

Make Lemonade, by Virginia Euwer Wolff
A Mango-Shaped Space, by Wendy Mass
The Marbury Lens, by Andrew Smith
Marcelo in the Real World, by Francisco X. Stork
Matched (series), by Ally Condie
The Maze Runner Trilogy (series), by James Dashner
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, by Jesse Andrews
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Monster, by Walter Dean Myers
A Monster Calls, by Patrick Ness
The Monstrumologist (series), by Rick Yancey
The Mortal Instruments (series), by Cassandra Clare
My Most Excellent Year, by Steve Kluger
My Sister’s Keeper, by Jodi Picoult

The Name of the Star, by Maureen Johnson
Nation, by Terry Pratchett
Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist, by Rachel Cohn, David Levithan
North of Beautiful, by Justina Chen Headley
A Northern Light, by Jennifer Donnelly

The Only Alien on the Planet, by Kristen D. Randle
The Outside of a Horse, by Ginny Rorby
The Outsiders, by S.E. Hinton
Outtakes of a Walking Mistake, by Anthony Paull
The Oz Chronicles (series), by R.W. Ridley

Paper Towns, by John Green
Perfect Chemistry, by Simone Elkeles
The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
The Pigman, by Paul Zindel
The Piper’s Son, by Melina Marchetta
Please Ignore Vera Dietz, by A.S. King
Postcards from No Man’s Land, by Aidan Chambers
The Princess Bride, by William Goldman
The Princess Diaries (series), by Meg Cabot
The Princesses of Iowa, by M. Molly Backes
Private Peaceful, by Michael Morpurgo
Protector of the Small (series), by Tamora Pierce

The Queen’s Thief (series), by Megan Whalen Turner

Raw Blue, by Kirsty Eagar
Revolution, by Jennifer Donnelly
A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeleine L’Engle
Ruby Blue, by Julie Cassar
Ruby Oliver Quartet (series), by E. Lockhart
Ruby Red, by Kerstin Gier
The Rules of Survival, by Nancy Werlin

Saving Francesca, by Melina Marchetta
The Scorpio Races, by Maggie Stiefvater
The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel (series), by Michael Scott
A Separate Peace, by John Knowles
Seven Realms (series), by Cinda Williams Chima
Shatter Me, by Tahereh Mafi
Shine, by Lauren Myracle
Ship Breaker, by Paolo Bacigalupis
The Shiver Trilogy, by Maggie Stiefvater
The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (series), by Ann Brashares
The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson
Sold, by Patricia McCormick
Something Like Normal, by Trish Doller
Something Wicked This Way Comes, by Ray Bradbury
The Song of the Lioness (series), by Tamora Pierce
Soul Screamers (series), by Rachel Vincent
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
Split, by Swati Avasthi
Stargirl, by Jerry Spinelli
Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
Stolen, by Lucy Christopher
Story of a Girl, by Sara Zarr
The Summer I Turned Pretty, by Jenny Han
Sweep (series), by Cate Tiernan
Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr

Teach Me, by R.A. Nelson
Thirteen Reasons Why, by Jay Asher
This Lullaby, by Sarah Dessen
Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
Trash, by Andy Mulligan
Treasure Island, by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen
Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt
Twenty Boy Summer, by Sarah Ockler
Twilight (series), by Stephenie Meyer
Twisted, by Laurie Halse Anderson

Uglies (series), by Scott Westerfeld
Under the Never Sky, by Veronica Rossi
Unwind, by Neal Shusterman

Vampire Academy (series), by Richelle Mead

Wake (series), by Lisa McMann
The Watch That Ends the Night: Voices from the Titanic, by Allan Wolf
Weetzie Bat (series), by Francesca Lia Block
Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
Where She Went, by Gayle Forman
Where Things Come Back, by John Corey Whaley
Why We Broke Up, by Daniel Handler
Wide Awake, by David Levithan
Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green, David Levithan
Willow, by Julia Hoban
Wintergirls, by Laurie Halse Anderson

The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jaclyn Moriarty

 

Feed

http://images.booksource.com/HandleImage.aspx?Large=True&img=9780763622596

I remember my son, Anton, who is now 21, reading Feed when he was in high school.  I asked him this week if he thought our society had moved closer to the possibility of having a continuous corporate brain feed installed in the brains of individuals than he had believed possible a few years ago and he said he did.  I almost feel that potential this summer as I keep restocking my reading.  It feels seamless to go from my mind to Amazon to my Kindle to me reading in about one minute.  One-click-shopping.

This is another book of the dystopian genre.  In this society, all of human thinking is enhanced and also customized through a digital mind feed, implanted in the brain.  It’s convenient and fun and most people can’t imagine life without it.  In many ways, though,  this story just develops as a first love between young teenagers.  Their innocence begins to plummet, however, when the feeds of a group of them is hacked while on a vacation to the moon.  All of the students’ feeds are repaired, but one.  Because her parents were more of individualists, they hadn’t had her feed installed until she was older and they also couldn’t afford the top of the line model with an excellent warranty plan.  Her feed begins to malfunction and the company that made it removes themselves from responsibility.  At first she just notices loss of small functions, but gradually, she begins to lose control of her gross body functioning since the feed is wired into her neurological system.  This is a lot of pressure for a tender relationship.  Illness and loss of ability is difficult to respond to at any age and in any time.  Despite the science fiction setting in which they live, this is actually a sweet story about regular young people trying to make social and personal decisions, given great and constant societal pressures.

The male protagonist writes his own synopsis of the story of himself and his girlfriend, Violet, as it might have been heard through the feed. “It’s about this meg normal guy, who doesn’t think about anything until one wacky day, when he meets a dissident with a heart of gold.  Set against the backdrop of America in its final days, it’s the high-spirited story of their love together, it’s laugh-out-loud funny, really heartwarming, and a visual feast.  Together, the two crazy kids grow, have madcap escapades, and learn an important lesson about love.  They learn to resist the feed.  Rated PG-13 for language and mild sexual situations.”

The sexual situations are just sweet, but there is a little too much rough language in this book for me to actually direct a student toward it.  If, as is sure to happen, a student finds this on his own, I will dive into a conversation with him about corporate domination of our thinking, incessant connectivity to social media, and whether he could see a life one day that was similar to this one.

Utopian to Dystopian

Uglies, Unwind, Feed... I have been living in a dystopian world this summer and I anticipate a lot more of it in the upcoming school year.  This is actually perfect, though, to have such a rich collection of dystopian writing to read and discuss this year.  I am going to begin the year asking students to consider, discuss, and write about their thoughts and beliefs about what values and principles they feel need to be upheld in order to make our world as perfect as is humanly possible.

This very question was researched by Ken Spiro, rabbi, author, and lecturer through a survey of 1500 individuals from countries in Western Europe and North America.  The results were surprisingly similar and he found they could be grouped into six categories:  Respect for Human Life, Peace and Harmony, Justice and Equality, Education, Family, and Social Responsibility.

He then considered these questions:  Are these six  basic ideas intrinsic to human nature?  Have people always felt this way?  If not, where did we get these values?  What is the source of this utopian world vision?

His search for the answers to these questions is the content of his book, World Perfect where he develops the premise that these values weren’t always present in human societies, but came into our conscientiousness through the development of monotheistic thinking.  They were codified by the Israelites and then spread through Western Civilization through Christianity and Islam.  While not always providing a perfect model of a society where these values are practiced, the monotheistic beliefs have ushered them forward effectively enough that they are assumptions of the rights of all humans in democratic societies.

This year in seventh grade,  we will trace the path from Abraham to modern day democracies, while simultaneously reading literature of many genres and picking up on the themes developed by Spiro, along with others.  We will spend time, too, examining the accompanying  responsibilities of humans in society and the skewed world that can occur when values are lost and a society becomes disproportionately focussed on other objectives.

Uglies

http://images.booksource.com/HandleImage.aspx?Large=True&img=9781442419810

In this dystopian society, children can’t wait to turn 16, the age at which they undergo  radical cosmetic surgery turning them forever into a Pretty.  In the meantime, the Uglies, what they even call themselves, live in dormitories where they are lightly schooled and enjoy the technological conveniences or their day like hoverboards and smart walls that produce almost anything they want or need.

Two young women, only weeks before their 16th birthdays, begin to discuss a renegade colony they have heard about called The Smoke.  This is a settlement where people have resisted the surgical transformation and reconnected with the ancient lifestyle of the Rusties, their ancestors who were nonrenewable energy dependent and eventually reached the end of their civilization.

The girls make it to The Smoke, but once there, learn that the surgery alters more than a person’s looks.  It seems that lesions are created in the brain limiting the thinking capacity of humans and causing them to be placated by a life of pleasantness and parties.

A great adventure ensues with some of the Smokies attempting to rescue their own from surgery forced upon them by the secret police.  The ending is just a set up for the next book, but I would be happy to continue in this story.

The book is leveled at Z, but the lexile level is 770, making it readable for most 7th graders.  This is a good dystopian/science fiction story for students who prefer more of an adventure and don’t like getting too creeped out.

There are good conversations to be made around choices of beauty vs. individuality and free will.

Stormbreaker (Alex Rider)

http://images.booksource.com/HandleImage.aspx?Large=True&img=9780142406113

This is such a great series to have on hand.  The reading level is Z, but the lexile level of 670 means it is accessible to most middle school readers.  This has become a popular series in upper elementary lately, but it is not too young for 7th grade.  Many strong readers will have moved to a less predictable story line, but this is a series that can be a breakthrough for students who are still struggling with finishing books.  The action moves quickly and predictions are quickly rewarded with plot details.  This is a young James Bond type spy story so their are plenty of unbelievable props that get our hero out of a pinch just at the last moment, but that is what keeps you reading on.  It’s fun.