Today I finished this book. It’s from my classroom library. I picked it up to read it so I could recommend it to my students. It is told from the perspectives of 3 very different narrators. The story follows them as they navigate relationships with family and friends through huge changes in their lives. Their lives beautifully converge during a solar eclipse. In a lot of ways, it is coming of age story. It’s about change. It’s about beauty. It’s about being comfortable in one’s own skin.
My favorite quote comes from a minor character in the book, Stella, an old lady.
“When I was your age, I knew nothing about the world or my place in it. I figured I’d be someone’s wife, then someone’s mother. It never occurred to me to be someone myself.”
For the last few school years, I’ve shared this poem with each of my English classes. In these last few years of teaching English Language Arts & Reading, I’ve learned a whole lot that I didn’t know before. I’ve learned that some of us have voices in our heads, and some of us don’t:
And, I use this poem to find out who has a voice, and who doesn’t in my classes. I tell my classes that I might be the only teacher that ever hopes they have the voices in their head. Why? Because reading is easier and makes infinitely more sense if you have a reading voice in your head.
And, for the kiddos who don’t, I spend the year helping them develop theirs. I read passages, books, and poems aloud to them to model my reading voice and teach their brains how a good one sounds. I let them whisper read their independent reading and work because if they don’t have voices in their head, they can use their real one.
This week we’ve been examining elements of story telling with the purpose of identifying patterns that play out across genres. So far this week, we’ve looked at songs, poems, news articles, short stories, scripts, and shorts (film). And it’s only Wednesday!
10 minutes of independent reading to start the class.
Today this poem was their Quick Write.
We took notes on conflict (internal/ external/ Man vs. (person vs.) _____)
I introduced our first annotation strategy (thoughts– just writing whatever you are thinking on the text) and read aloud a quick short story: Boar Out There
Students identified the conflict in the passage, found text evidence, and categorized the type of conflict (internal/ external & person vs.___)
The text had a simple conflict. We ended class with the short “The Present“, and students worked to identify the many conflicts between/ among all of the different characters as an exit ticket.
Here’s my current unit plan overview:
What is a story?
students will explore the elements of story-telling across genres (fiction, biography, autobiography, memoir, personal narrative, narrative poetry, drama and more)
What is my story?
students will use the elements of story-telling in their own reflective writing
What is our story?
students will explore historical and personal stories to answer the question: What does it mean to be an American?
Today when giving my students a chance to share their writing with their tables, I said, “Writing can be like speaking. We speak to be heard. Sometimes we write to be read. You are welcome to share if you want to. Writing can also be something we do just for ourselves. If it’s something private, you don’t have to share.”
I didn’t know I was saying something profound when I said it, but I haven’t been able to put it out of my mind. I keep coming back to it.
How is speaking different than writing? Why is writing for oneself so powerful, even if no one was ever meant to read it? Why is the act of getting words out of one’s brain so important? What does it say about us when we write to be read? How does writing to be read form a social experience? Writing and speaking are both productive modes of communication. In that way, they are lumped together. However, it’s clear that their purposes, though they often overlap, can be quite distinct.
When I ask kids to share their writing, some of the kids share a gist of what they wrote, and others read word for word from their page. What does that mean, I know it means something, but what? Is it important? Is it confidence? Do the kids who share a gist of what they wrote conceal something about their writing when they do that? Are the kids who share their exact wording relying on their exact wording to get them through the social act of sharing? Or are those kids genuinely sharing the craft of their writing? Does it depend on the kid?
Whoa. There is a lot to unpack here. I borrowed this book from the library, but I love it so much and plan to use some of the poems in my units next year, so I’m going to have to buy it.
I have a lot to say, but I want to split my thoughts up into sections that make sense because all of my thoughts are jumbled.
Classroom Use/ Library
This book and other books that address abuse, trauma, sexual violence etc. should absolutely sit on our shelves. I’ve written several times in this series of posts that our kids need to have access to books that they can 1.) see themselves in and 2.) see others in. What I love most about this book is that the reader can see what becomes of the survivor. She grows up and becomes an author and tells her story and raises kids and lives her life. Our kids who’ve suffered horrible things need to know that this can be in the cards for them, too.
If you are unfamiliar with the book, it is a memoir in verse<– two things our students probably don’t read enough of, but will fall in love with if they do. Memoir is a powerful genre that our students should be reading and writing in, and verse is an amazing vehicle for it. I find that reading in verse can lower the burden of length for students who don’t view themselves as successful readers. The pages flip faster, and this builds confidence. A student who likes this book might pick up other books from the author.
This book was both hard for me to read and too easy for me to understand. It is hard to relive familiar experiences. It’s easy for me to empathize with things I already know too well. I suspect that will be the case for many of my students who pick it up.
I love the complex characterization of her parents. Humanity is complex. We are complex. We forget that about people. I want to explore this more with my students. How can we love someone we know is flawed? What does it mean to love someone? Does it mean we should put ourselves in danger? (no).
In a lot of ways, I feel like she wrote the book I’ve wanted to write about my life. Of course, the books would be different. But she said so much of what I wanted the world to hear. Does that mean that I can breathe deep and move on? Or does the world need all of our stories?
I feel an uncomfortable dichotomy. When people suffer trauma and they don’t recover, others view them as victims, or they view them as weak. After a time, empathy breaks down. (If they ever received it at all, since so many people never report abuse and sexual violence). When people suffer trauma and manage to survive and even thrive, others minimize their pain. It frustrates me to the point of wanting to scream, but that would make me “weak”, so I’ll stick to blogs instead.
So, as I started reading this one, I didn’t love it initially. I’m a language person, but the language isn’t particularly beautiful. There isn’t a line in this book that rocked me or made me need it as a tattoo. I struggled with the male protagonist because of how he objectifies his female counterparts. In the first 10 pages, it was *almost* enough to turn me off completely.
I gave it a chance.
The male’s thoughts are pretty authentic. Honestly, it’s what I hear come out of the mouths of high school students in the hallway. I wish it weren’t the case, but here I am in 2019 admitting that people actually talk about others that way. If nothing else, it is an entry point for a conversation about how we talk about others. As I read the book, I tracked the character’s evolution not only in his ideas about his identity, but also in the way he related to his girlfriends and spoke/ thought about them. It was refreshing to see him grow in that way.
The language isn’t beautiful, but it isn’t bad. There is a LOT that a teacher could use in the classroom from this book.
The book is code-switching heaven. For any teacher wanting to focus on dialogue an dialect, this would be a great read. The narration is primarily in standard English, but the dialogue ranges from “teen speak” to various levels of cultural interaction depending on the social context of the scene.
The book is a mix of typical narrative writing/ script-style dialogue/ and of course, the letters to MLK Jr. Introducing students to books written in mix-ed genres is always fun, and a great way to cover multiple genres with one text.
The situations are realistic. The bring up questions that society and teenagers are asking. What does racism look like today? Who’s fault is it? What is “my” identity? Why does it matter? How does poverty affect my education? Am I a traitor if I…? If I am successful, am I betraying my family, my culture, etc.? There’s a lot of substance here. And it’s worth exploring.
Once I decided to give it a chance, I couldn’t put it down. There were points that it seemed like the protagonist just couldn’t “catch a break”. One might say that is for dramatic effect or to add to the plot, but I know for a fact that life really breaks that way for some people. Some of those people are my own students who just never seem to be able to break the cycle that was started long before they were born.
Here’s to them, and the strength to change what we can.
My 6th graders and I started this book as a read aloud, but then I missed 3 days of school for a family funeral and I assigned the rest of the book as independent reading. Little did they know I hadn’t read the book 😬😬😬 Kids read at different speeds, so as they got to the climax and began to then finish the book, I could tell it was GOOD! I kept telling them to remember not to spoil it for “the rest of the class” aka: me 😬😂 I finally had time to finish it this summer.
This one was really good. There were several things I didn’t see coming at all, and to be honest, after reading as many books as I have, patterns emerge. This one does some things I didn’t expect.
Another thought: I’ve seen that several #ELAR teachers read this book during their Hero’s Journey unit. In a way, I could see it being a best companion book to a literary analysis unit also… not just as a piece to analyze, but as a piece to learn from. The author weaves a King Arthur allusion throughout the book, but more importantly, the allusions are broken down and explained along the way. The piece analyzes itself in many ways. What could our students learn from that?
So. In February, I walked in to a training on literature circles (5 min late) and the group was just finishing a read-aloud from this book. I didn’t actually hear any of the book; I just saw their faces. I knew then that I had to read the book. What followed was a discussion on the value of engaging options for students to read, student choice.
I’m also part of an ELAR teacher group on Facebook and this title regularly comes up!
I finished the book; then I offered it to my exchange daughter from Spain. Before I started it that morning, I flipped to a random page with her, and we admired the fact that the book is written in verse. Then, I turned it into a read aloud, and ten pages later, I realized she was hooked. So, I closed the book. I read it, and that evening at dinner I offered it to her.
Sitting there, she started to read. And flip page after page after page. #win
See, she was my kid for the year, but her mission here was education. I’m a language person, so I’ve been paying close attention. One thing her mom mentioned to me in the beginning was wanting her to read while she is here. Being a language learner and a teenager, I picked a couple of less complex but super engaging texts. She started both and set them aside. The picture below is from the book #180days, and the middle box could have been a direct quote from our girl: this bright, bilingual future lawyer hasn’t read a book cover-to-cover not assigned by a teacher in… a very long time, in either language.
We talked about it this evening before she stole away with my book. She said that when she was little, she remembers going to a place to “rent” (borrow?) books and videos. The place still exists but nobody goes there.
Not every kid in the room is a non-reader because they lack skills. Sometimes it’s something else all together. It is more than the “readicide” referred to in the book 180 Days. It is a cultural shift away from following through.
Here’s what I mean. The micro-texts we spend hours a day consuming (memes, texts, comment sections, headlines), they don’t tell a full story. They aren’t developed. And in fact, the only reason we can enjoy those texts is because our brains can fill in the rest of the allusions and implied texts. But what about the people after us who have never followed a story’s pattern to its end? The micro-texts lose meaning.
I commented on this to my kiddo, and she said, “yeah. I’m reading all the time, but I’m not learning anything.” From the mouths of babes…
I went to a training, and the presenter provided books for the “students” (us) to use while we participated in independent reading to use for reading/ writing journaling. 87 pages later, she asked for her book back 😂😂😂 So… I drove my happy butt to Barnes and Nobel and picked up their last copy.
It isn’t what I expected. I’d heard politically charged reviews, but reading it for myself was enlightening.
I wrote before about helping helping kids see themselves in books. That’s important. It is also important that we learn to see others, really see them. Books can help with that too. I’ve never lived most of the experiences or circumstances in the book. But at least, now I’ve read them through the eyes of a first person narrator. That’s a start.
This is the book that comes after Tears of a Tiger. I’ve started it, but a student asked to borrow my copy 2 years ago, and I let them have it without finishing it. Now, I’ve bought a new one, and I’m going to try again! Tears of a Tiger was good, but there was a lot I didn’t personally identify with. This book is a different story entirely. From the part I read before, I could sometimes see replacing the main character’s name with my own and calling it an autobiography… (not completely, but you get the point.) I look forward to helping some of my students find themselves in books, too.
The biggest mistake we can ever make is thinking we are alone in anything. If we can’t find a person to help dispel that myth, maybe we can give a kid a book instead. Shared experiences are powerful in delivering hope.
This book was… hard to read, but I couldn’t put it down. It tells of the wave upon wave of trauma that two young people suffer. This is a picture of my favorite page in the book—the last page. It is a sly reminder that giving a kid a book they see themselves in can maybe save their life. Give it a read: Forged By Fire.
So… I read this book, and I loved it. The teenage narrator is authentic, and the book basically addresses nearly every contemporary issue a student might be seeing in the news these days. Poverty, “whiteness”, diversity, privilege, drug and alcohol abuse, death, Native American culture, racism, identity, and more. The book does a great job of presenting these issues authentically and in a way that a student book club would be able to tease them out and allow students to explore the topics further. It is full of gems of truth.
Something else I love is the inclusion of the narrator’s drawings. Yes, the book is partially illustrated! For reluctant readers, this is sure to draw them in even more.
When a book calls it out 😬😂
If you are a human, you need to read this book. So much truth, so much wisdom, so much humor. There are a few awkward spots for adults, but for teens, it is spot-on. Read it!
After reading the book, I stumbled upon a debate on whether or not to recommend the book or use it in the classroom. There were two arguments worth noting (and plenty not worth the time).
1.) The author has had accusations placed against him for sexual harassment, and he has admitted to it. Having been sexually harassed and abused myself, I honestly don’t know how I feel about the fact that I purchased the book and know that in some small way, I lined his pocketbook. I’m conflicted. (a.) The book is freaking beautiful. It needs to be read. (b.) Maybe people can change and his admission is a step toward that. (c.) Maybe I’m a dunce, and those who have boycotted his works are right.
2.) Secondly, the narrator and other characters repeatedly use terms like gay and faggot as derogatory terms. Some argue that given the book’s modern take on so many pertinent issues, it completely misses the mark on #LGBT issues. My only reservation with this argument is that I don’t know enough about Native American culture to know if these terms are still in regular use on reservations (where the main character lives). Maybe they are, and the usage represents the culture of the narrator. Maybe they aren’t, and Mr. Modern is stuck in 90s vernacular. I honestly don’t know. If it isn’t contextual, that is very disappointing.
The other arguments about the language (curse words) and the mention of masturbation make me roll my eyes. Clutch your pearls elsewhere; its a Young Adult read for a reason. If a teacher doesn’t feel comfortable using it as a whole-class selection in their context, I think it would still make a great literature circle, book club, or classroom library selection. Heck, I’d even read excerpts from it as read-alouds or passages to spur journal writing.