Back to Brendan.
Brendan has been kind enough to answer a few interview questions. Take a few minutes and get some added insight into the workings of this gifted author.
Brendan Kiely has a New Book and Laurie Halse Anderson is Going to be with him to Talk about Tradition.
Brendan Kiely is a happy guy! He should be. He has a new book out. I don't think I have ever seen Brendan when he hasn't been brimming with enthusiasm. Well, he should be, his books are fantastic. I know, I know you might have heard of a little book that made a splash a couple of years ago--All American Boys. Well, if that is the only book of his that you know you are missing out. The primary thing you need to know about Brendan, is that he is not afraid to speak truth to power. His debut novel, The Gospel of Winter is compelling and powerful. His writing gets more powerful as he moves along. I feel in hard for his third novel, The Last True Love Story. As I was reading about it, I kept thinking, I am going to write about this book. It is fantastic. Music is a dominate theme that helps establish character, setting, and connects ideas family across time and space. So, I did. My son, Isaac Bickmore, a music educator at the University of Central Missouri, teamed up with me and we wrote a chapter about project based learning and alternate assessments using music as a base. The chapter is entitled "A Music and ELA Project: Connections through Brendan Kiely's The Last True Love Story" I was published in Adolescent Literature as a Complement to the Content Areas: Social Science and the Humanities edited by Greathouse, Kaywell and Eisenbach.
Back to Brendan.
The new book, Tradition, is another book that deals with male aggression and rape. It tackles the subject with the same literary strength as Speak, Inexcusable, and Wrecked. These are the first few that come to mind, but there are many others and Kiely's effort is fine addition.
Brendan has been on tour with the new book--unfortunately, he isn't coming to Las Vegas. He is, however, going to be Fairless Hills, PA with Laurie Halse Anderson on May 4, 2018--Today! Wouldn't you just love to be in this conversation? I certainly would. If you are in the area, you ought to make your way over to that particular Barnes and Noble bookstore.
While you are there don't just buy a copy of Tradition, pick up the rest of his works.
Brendan has been kind enough to answer a few interview questions. Take a few minutes and get some added insight into the workings of this gifted author.
Until next time.
Jo Shaffer, co-founder of Teen Author Bootcamp, has a novel! Georgia McBride's Month9Books debuts Jo's book Stanely & Hazel. This book is a shockingly gritty "histopian" that offers readers an honest look at our history, religious beliefs, and extremism through the eyes of two teens from different worlds who could have easily walked away when faced with an unspeakable crime.
Jo's book, is out this week. Please check out Stanely & Hazel. In addition to writing an essay about history and YA for Dr. Bickmore's YA Wednesday Blog, Jo will be participating in the 2018 Summit on the Teaching and Research of Young Adult Literature. She was also kind enough to answer some interview questions that will be posted at the bottom of the post. She will join a group of established and emerging authors who will be participating in the summit through conversations, reading, and presenting. You can find a list at this link. I am so excited about the opportunity to discuss the state of research around YA literature with such bright and engaging authors. Their contributions will add a great dimension to the conversations that academics, graduate students, teachers, and librarians are all ready bringing to the table.
Take it Away Jo.
Our current culture is obsessed with what is new, hot and “on trend”. With the many distractions of popular culture, and our relative freedom and affluence, it’s easy to disregard the lessons of the past. We seem to forget that consequences exist for every attitude, social movement, or action we choose. We need reminders. Literature has played an important role in exploring the past as well as the future. Writers and storytellers should be students of history if they really want to engage their readers. And unlike Professor Binns: make history relevant to readers.
For the YA writer, this can be easier said than done. Dystopian novels are a way to use history to engage YA readers. Books like Hunger Games and Divergent often read like “future history” books warning us of what could happen. They aren’t t just fantasies of an impossible future, but rather reflect actual philosophies and movements that have led to the tyranny and horrifying travesties of the past. They serve as cautionary tales for rising generations and show us where our good and bad intentions can take us. Racism, sexism, classism, fascism and xenophobia have emerged in every culture and society throughout history. Ironically, often these things are born of society’s efforts to fix inequality and eliminate pain and suffering until the solutions take on a sinister life of their own.
Imaginary futures are deeply rooted in the past. We look back on history and wonder how atrocities like the Holocaust could even happen in a civilized society. We wrongly think they are disturbing flukes of the past and not things we would ever allow. But to avoid repeating history we need to understand how things start. People don’t just throw fellow citizens into gas chambers at the slightest provocation. It starts small. Little prejudices, being suspicious of differences, small intolerances, demonizing, unkind thoughts and words. Bias throws gas on the fire through stereotyping, mocking and eventually full on character assassination of an entire people. The parallels to our current cultural situation are obvious.
Dystopian novels can be, sometimes unconsciously, dismissed as “fantasy.” But, novels set in actual history where real events took place, can invite YA readers to contemplate human history and meditate on Winston Churchill’s words, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
My house has been grand central station for teenagers and troubled youth. Many have lived with me for periods of time. They have taught me to treat them as people first, and teenagers second. Teens are not dumb. They are open to thoughts and feelings that adults may have shut out long ago. YA books can be fun and entertaining, but not all stories need to be rolled in rainbow sprinkles. Much of what is being written for young adults these days, deal with the heavy issues that they face every day. Realities like drugs, sex, depression and abuse. They can handle it. They have to because it is relevant to the world they live in. We owe them honesty about our history and can trust them to wrestle with the complexities. Even more, we owe them literature that can prompt these questions and be ready for the conversations.
Read the Interview Below!
Until next week. Remember, join the Summit come be #VegasStrong and #YACritical
Please spread the word! We are giving away 30 books! Sponsored by ethicalela.com and Steven T Bickmore's http://www.yawednesday.com/.
Are you a high school English teacher? Sarah Donovan love to give you a class set of Alone Together. Maybe you'll take a few for a book group and share the rest with your department.Maybe you'll give them all away for summer reading. You have until May 8th to enter, and all you have to do is buy a book and show me a copy of the receipt. Go to the link on my profile to read more about this giveaway!
#bookgiveaway #bookstagram #alonetogether #debutnovel #yaliterature#versenovels #2ndaryela #englished #englishteachers #booklovers
Furthermore, Sarah Donovan will be reading and presenting at the 2018 Summit on the Teaching and Research of Young Adult Literature in Las Vegas. Come meet Sarah and help us be #VegasStrong and #YACritical
Come meet Sarah and the rest of these authors.
Click on the images!
This blog post takes the time to celebrate collaboration while pointing to the ways that Young Adult Literature can be used as a tool to bridge the subject silos of both Social Studies and English Language Arts classrooms.
The Academy can be lonely, isolating work. We have to create independent reputations and that requires at least some individual work and writing. At the same time, most of us understand that we need help from other to frame our ideas, to receive feedback, to do collaborative work on committees, to plan program curricula, and a variety of other projects. For example, as a relatively new assistant professor I was a coeditor of The ALAN Review. While we often had independent tasks, the work with Jackie Bach and Melanie Hundley was rewarding, grounding, and helped me frame how I thought critically about Young Adult Literature through my work with them and reading the work of other scholars in the field.
Skip forward in my academic career.
After several years at Louisiana State University, we hired a new Assistant Professor of Social Studies education.
Enter Dr. Paul Binford.
Paul and I began working together on several department projects. Primarily we each had a responsibility to communicate with our corresponding subject departments, teaching subject specific methods classes to undergraduates, and working with a yearly cohort of graduates students in a fifth year teacher certification program. We began discussing where our pedagogical concerns overlapped and whether or not there were avenues of collaboration. Paul introduced me to historical simulations and a teaching technique called visual discovery. Both concepts belong in an ELA classroom. I know some ELA teachers are doing some form of simulation in terms of court room simulation with To Kill a Mockingbird or something similar. Even though I thought I often incorporated visuals into my teaching and writing prompts, nothing I had planned or discovered on my own lead me to the richness of Visual Discovery. I have been thinking about it ever since and trying in my own limited way to usher novice English teachers into using this strategy.
Three years ago we both left LSU, but we have continued to collaborate. (Would anyone be interested in a book that discussed how to teach state history through YA historical fiction or Non fiction?) Furthermore, Paul has been a contributor to the YA Wednesday blog. He discussed Chris Crowe's Mississippi Trial, 1955. Find it here. Later, he discussed Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. You can find that post here. So there you go, I know at least one Social Studies educator who thinks about Young Adult literature. As an added bonus, Dr. Binford will be presenting at the 2018 YA Summit in Las Vegas (Come be #Vegasstrong and #YACritical).
Dr. Binford and I have presented at Kennesaw State University at the KSU Conference on Literature for Children and Young Adults about how to bridge these curricula silos. We have published together and with Dr. Getchen Rumohr-Voskuil. We have been fortunate to present with Laurie Halse Anderson and then with Rich and Sandra Neil Wallace. You can find out about latest collaboration with Gretchen here. The title of the article in the Middle Grades Review is Crossing Selma's Bridge: Integrating Visual Discovery Strategy and Young Adult Literature to Promote Dialogue and Understanding. We hope you share it with both pre-service and inservice Social Studies and English Language Arts teachers.
This coming fall we will be present at 2018 NCTE Annual Convention in Houston, TX.
Our session title is: Crossing Selma’s Bridge with Visual Discovery Strategy and Young Adult Literature: Allowing Voices from the Past to Echo in the Present
The Panelist will include: Laurie Halse Anderson, Steven Bickmore, Paul Binford, Brendan Kiely, Luke Rumohr, Gretchen Rumohr-Voskuil, Rich Wallace, and Sandra Neil Wallace.
We will be focusing on Anderson’s Seeds of America series, Wallace and Wallace’s Blood Brother, and Kiely and Reynolds’ All American Boys.
We hope you join us.
Now Paul's Turn
I first met Dr. Steve Bickmore during the “campus visit” phase of the interview process at Louisiana State University. As you can imagine mind my head was spinning, but one of my distinct recollections from that experience was that I would enjoy working with this guy. After arriving on campus in the fall of 2015, Steve served as my informal mentor, and he kindly inducted me into the professional world of higher education. I would also be remiss if not also acknowledging a mentor that both Steve and I shared—Dr. Jacqueline (or “Jackie”) Bach. Jackie regularly touched base as I transitioned to LSU, and she had a keen knack for alerting me to various deadlines, issues, and opportunities associated with the College of Education. Jackie also included me on several writing projects not only because I could make a meaningful contribution, but because she was looking ahead to my tenure needs.
Both Steve and I made the transition to higher education in mid-career, so--needless to say--it was a high stakes decision. The great thing about Steve was that he was approachable, self-effacing, and an open-book about the tenure and research process. My first year he spent countless hours (yes, countless!) answering my questions and responding to my requests for advice. Through this mentoring relationship and a common hobby--golf (the frustrations, vagaries, and all too few skilled shots on the links), we forged a friendship and began recognizing opportunities for cross-curricular collaboration.
“Arctic Exploration 1818 to 1909: Fact or Myth,” is a pre-reading activity, in a game format! Using a slide presentation, the teacher projects a series of statements, augmented with images, about this period of exploration. Then, each student must decide whether he/she believes each statement on the “question slide” is a fact or myth? Each student records their “fact or myth?” decision on a record sheet. This is shortly followed by the “answer slide” with the correct answer—“Fact!” or “Myth!” along with some additional historical information related to that slide’s topic. If the student correctly deduced the answer, they place a check-mark on their record sheet. Regardless, all students use this record sheet to note the historical information provided. For example, here is a two-slide combination on one of the “fact or myth?” topics from this activity:
Mode of Travel
While a large majority of the Arctic expeditions were ship based, there were four expeditions during this period conducted by balloon.
Fact or Myth?
There were 4 balloon-based, 25 land-based, and 63 ship-based Arctic explorations.
In essence, this pre-reading activity is a presentation, using guided notes (the record sheet), with a game overlay. It takes about 30 minutes to complete and your students will love it! More importantly, they will be reading Bound by Ice in historical context.
For this “Fact or Myth?” activity and a during reading activity—a side-by-side comparison and Venn Diagram of a passage from Bound by Ice with a journal entry about the same event go to this link: https://ringoftruth.org/social-studies-links/young-adult-literature-and-social-studies.
Thanks for following the blog. Until next week.
This blog will also be co-posted on Dr. Binford's blog for Social Studies educations--Ring of Truth.
Get Kids Talking About YA Books by Jennifer Paulsen
The TBR List: If you are a reader, you probably have a TBR (to be read) pile or two in your house. Students need some sort of record-keeping system for remembering books they’ve heard about that they might want to read. The last couple pages of our class notebook contain the TBR list. Any time we are talking about books in some way, that page is open and ready to record our reading intentions. When students ask me for a recommendation, my first question is always, “What’s on your TBR list?” The systematic use of a TBR list to track interesting titles helps students learn to have a reading plan. While there are terrific apps or sites to use like Goodreads, and I do use it as well, the trusty old notebook is my standby. Updating this list is a routine I emphasize strongly throughout the year. Sometimes, I have kids pair up and compare TBR lists, talking about similarities and differences and adding titles. Take a look at the following student TBR lists to see what a couple 8th grade students are interested in reading. Check marks and crossout indicate books the student has read.
Buzzing: I first learned about this simple strategy in Matt Copeland’s book Socratic Circles, though the original source of the activity comes from Stephen Brookfield and Stephen Preskill’s Discussion as a Way of Teaching. This strategy can be used as an icebreaker before more formal discussions, as a sharing tool following a notebook response, or any time you want kids to get up and move around the room while talking to multiple partners. Mondays after independent reading time is an opportune time to start the week by sharing what kids are reading. You can give them verbal prompts to meet specific learning targets, you can have them talk from a list of prompts prepared in advance, or you can let the conversations flow naturally about whatever book they are currently reading or just finished. Copeland recommends that topics be “open-ended and allow students to think critically and speak persuasively about the material” (42). Example topics I’ve used before are:
Book Discovery Box: This strategy evolved after a book pass session. You can read more about the Book Pass strategy (sometimes called speed-dating) in one of the most useful books I own: Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles by Harvey Daniels and Nancy Steineke. I discovered that about ten or so books, depending on size, fit nicely in the lid of a copy paper box. After we finished our book pass, a student asked if we could leave the book boxes on the tables and switch them around every couple of days. The closer the students' proximity is to books, the more likely they will read, so I readily agreed. Pretty soon, I started planting books I thought students would like in the box at their tables for them to discover. Often other students would say, “Hey, I think this book is here for you. Put it on your TBR!” And conversation ensued. Students would wander around to other book boxes in the room when they arrived and talk about books until the bell. I loved that they started realizing what others like to read and taking ownership of finding books for others' TBR lists as well as their own.
These four strategies promoted a strong reading community, buzzing with actively engaged readers talking about high quality young adult literature. Isn’t that what we’re shooting for?
Bio: Jenny Cameron Paulsen is an instructional technology coach, former English teacher, and future social studies teacher at Holmes Junior High in Cedar Falls. She is Past-President & NCTE Liaison for the Iowa Council of Teachers of English and a state representative for ALAN. When she doesn’t have her nose firmly pressed into a book, you might want to check her pulse and breathing! Her passions are history & genealogy. She loves working with discussion techniques and censorship issues in the classroom. You can find her fleeting and occasional thoughts about teaching, learning, and YA at http://2020teachervision.blogspot.com or on Twitter @jennypaulsen555.
Atwell, Nancie. In the Middle: a Lifetime of Learning about Writing, Reading, and Adolescents. Heinemann, 2015.
Atwell, Nancie. Reading in the Middle Workshop Essentials. DVD. Heinemann, 2011.
Brookfield, Stephen D., and Stephen Preskill. Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. Wiley, 2012.
Copeland, Matt. Socratic Circles: Fostering Critical and Creative Thinking in Middle and High School. Stenhouse Publishers, 2005.
Daniels, Harvey, and Nancy Steineke. Mini-Lessons for Literature Circles. Heinemann, 2004.
Kittle, Penny. Book Love: Developing Depth, Stamina, and Passion in Adolescent Readers. Heinemann, 2013.
Neuman, Susan B. “The Importance of a Classroom Library.” Retrieved 7 Apr 2018.
Come to the YA Summit and be #LasVegasStrong and YA Critical
After my (Steve’s) freshman year in high school, my best friend asked me if I wanted to go work on his uncle’s farm. I said yes. Thus began three summers of intense farm work that framed much of how I viewed the world and interacted with other people. I learned how to work hard. I learned the difference between a pair of pliers and a wrench; and more importantly, the difference between a wrench and an “effen” wrench.
I also learned that I was going to college. After the first summer, I knew that college provided a variety of different work options that went beyond dark, early mornings, cold water, mud, and heavy lifting. In addition, much of what I learned, I learn alongside undocumented Mexican laborers who worked hard and kindly taught us the tricks of how to move pipe through sugar beets, potatoes, and grain. In the rural farm land outside of Nampa, Idaho quite different from Las Vegas, there were 400 people moving pipe. About ten of us were high school students. Most of the rest, were Mexicans who traveled back and forth between Mexico and Idaho for six to eight months at a time. There were not taking the work from adolescent, most of those adolescent, at the time, wouldn’t take the work. Most of the other adolescents we meet at church, at drive-ins, or other activities thought that we were crazy for doing the type of work we did. I also learned not to judge others just because they were different or their language was different. They were kind, funny, and tried to be inclusive. For two of those years, my buddy, David, and I lived in the same labor camps that were provided for the other workers. The sound of Spanish became familiar and even though I didn’t learn to speak it during those summers. When I began to study Spanish intensely, it was familiar and came easily.
A few years ago, I took a position as a literacy consultant at a summer in a migrant education program near the lakeshore in West Michigan. Many of the kids we served had immigrated from Mexico, crossing the border in south Texas and becoming a part of the migrant farmworker stream. There were many families from Mexico, but there were also families from Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. Many had “crossed” undocumented, and a few had crossed alone-- a truth rarely spoken because of the stigma it carried, the danger it could put students in, and the trauma that frequently accompanies the journey.
Dominant narratives in Trump’s build-the-wall presidency would have us believe that “illegals” who cross the border are criminals, looking to exploit our resources, take our jobs, and take advantage of our social systems (among other things). In my experience, and as told by the stories in Illegal, The Border, and Enrique’s Journey, these deficit narratives are gross oversimplifications of deep-seated political and historical dynamics that persist outside of the characters, yet control their every move.
In Borderlands/La Frontera (1987), Gloria Anzaldua writes “The U.S-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds” (3). This “grating” may be the only common experience between people in stories of border crossing. In a place where everyone is forbidden, unwanted, and simply trying to live, there is not one single narrative, but rather a symphony of the voices of thousands who have run out of options. Bringing these voices into the classroom not only fosters empathy, but provides a necessary counter-narrative to what we hear on the news and in the media.
Bettina Respito’s Illegal adds the voice of a 15-year-old girl, Nora, to the symphony. Nora crosses the border (along with her mother), in search of her father, who leaves the family in search of an income in the States. Crossing the border as a (young) woman poses its own unique set of challenges. Gendered experiences of border crossing would be one theme to explore with students, in addition to themes of loss, resilience, family and faith. The imagery in Illegal is filled with recurring sensory details that form memory in the protagonist and the reader. Another way this text challenges dominant narratives is by providing a story that starts in a small-town in Mexico, largely untouched by narcos. In addition, much of the story takes place in Houston, demonstrating that problems don’t disappear once the border is crossed, in fact, it’s often quite the opposite.
The Border by Steve Schafer offers another perspective, this time from a teen and his three friends who attempt to cross together. It’s fast-paced, and will appeal to students who may struggle with getting “hooked” on a text-- escape from narcos is at the core of the story. The characters challenge stereotypes in different ways, via gender roles and representations of poverty. For the majority of the text, the group of friends encounter very real hardship in the form of gangs, bullets, snakes, and dehydration as they attempt to cross the desert into Arizona. One salient moment is when the protagonist realizes the border is merely some barbed wire between posts; more of a statement (you don’t belong here) than a physical structure. This would be an excellent opportunity for students to the messages behind current rhetoric.
Although not necessarily a YA text, I have to mention Enrique’s Journey: The Story of a Boy Determined to Reunite with His Mother. There is an adapted version of this text for young readers. Enrique’s Journey is the true story of an adolescent Honduran boy more than a decade in the making, who tried to cross the border six times before he is successful on the seventh in order to reunite with his mother. This text (or parts of it) can add an important missing piece to the narrative of border crossing; those living in Central America who need to ride “The Beast”, a relentless train through Mexico that takes the lives and limbs of the hundreds who ride atop its cars each year. These travelers face additional hardships, many of them a result of increased discrimination.
Freakboyamzn.to/2GuHud5 by Kristin Elizabeth Clark
Brendan has always identified with his birth-assigned gender. He lives as a male; he is an athlete, and he has a serious girlfriend. But during his senior year, Brendan realizes that he wants more, or wants different, and begins to question his sexuality and/or gender identity. When he meets Angel, a transgender woman, he finds someone who has suffered adversity and now is confortable with herself, demanding that others accept her as she is. Angel works at the Willows Teen LBGTQ Center and wants to provide Brendan, who is not a client, with the support he needs. Brendan’s girlfriend Vanessa now worries what she is since she loves Brendan who says he is trans. Told through three perspectives, this verse novel gently examines gender fluidity and leads readers through Brendan’s, Angels’s, and Vanessa’s stories.
The author includes few shape (concrete poems) as well as an interesting technique where the last word of stanzas, read vertically, create their own messages.
Moo by Sharon Creech
Reena, Luke, and their parents move from the big city to rural Maine where Reena and Luke are volunteered by their parents to take care of their eccentric neighbor’s cow (and pig, cat, and snake). The story is delightful, but it is the text that will grab the reader’s interest. The story is written in prose, and all types of poetry—free verse, shape poems, and there might have been some rhyming poetry. And the author plays with script and fonts and spacing to enhance the story—as on page 29,
and page 61,
f l u t e m u s i c
and then abruptly stopping.
Readers will examine not only how relationships are portrayed but the effectiveness of style and punctuation choices.
We Come Apart by Sarah Crossan and Brian Conaghan
I fell in love with Jess and Nicu as they fell in love with each other. Both teens have reasons to escape; Nicu is an immigrant, and Jess comes from a violent home. This is a story about bullying, racism, cultural values, abusive parents, but most of all it is the story of building a friendship—standing up for others and putting them first. There are two characters and two authors—and an unfortunately realistic ending and powerful message. Two authors, two voices.
I also recommend two other verse novels by Sarah Crossan: The Weight of Water, about an adolescent immigrant with a broken family. Kasienka and her mother emigrate from Poland to England to find the father who has left them. She discovers prejudice in her middle school but also a new family and a new friend. In this novel Crossan makes an important point of many teachers who choose to ignore bullying in their classrooms and bullied students who don't know what to say when one finally intervenes. And One, the story of conjoined twins, told from the viewpoint of one of them, about love, sharing, and an impossible, critical choice.
Forget Me Not by Carolee Dean
One of my favorite verse novels is Forget Me Not, not only for the storyline, which will generate important conversations among teens about cyberbullying, shaming, and suicide, but for the format. Dean creatively employs a variety of poetic forms—villanelle, pantoum, cinquain, tanka, shape poems—and meter, as well as script writing to identify the characters and alter the mood of the plot so subtly and artistically as to not disrupt the reading and the reader. In response to a compromising photo of her that is texted throughout her high school and the resulting shaming by her peers, Ally commits suicide —or so she thinks—as her only way out. A friend tries to save her by showing her that her life has value and that she can make the decision to live.
Somewhere Among by Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu
Ema is binational, bicultural, bilingual, and biracial. Some people consider her “half,” and others consider her “double.” Her American mother says she contains “multitudes,” but Ema sometimes feels alone living in Japan somewhere among multitudes of people. When fifth-grader Ema and her mother go to live with Ema’s very traditional Japanese grandparents during a difficult pregnancy, readers experience six months (June 21, 2001-January 2, 2002) of customs, rituals, and holidays, both Japanese and American. There are challenges, such a choosing a name for the new baby that will bring good luck in Japan and that both sets of grandparents can pronounce. Ema celebrates American Independence Day and Japanese Sea Day, and she now views some days, such as August 15 Victory Over Japan Day from diverse perspectives. On September 11, 2001 she experiences both two typhoons in her town and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in America on television. As the reader traverses the intricacies of two fusing two distinct cultures with Ema and her family, our knowledge of others is doubled.
One reason we read is to experience other cultures, times, and places. With diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba recently restored, it is crucial that our children learn more about its history, culture, and people. And what better way to learn than through the provocative, well-written, diverse verse novels written by Cuban-American author Margarita Engle.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings: A Memoir by Margarita Engle (memoir)
Through this memoir in verse, the narrative of Engle’s childhood as a Cuban-American growing up in LA during the 50’s and 60’s, readers can experience the challenge of children torn between cultures and, and learn about the Cold War.
The Lightning Dreamer by Margarita Engle
The story follows feminist Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, known as Tula from 1827, from when she tells us that “Books are door-shaped portals…helping me feel less alone” to 1836 where she begins the first of her books to spread her hope of racial and gender equality.
As a girl, Tula reads in secret and burns her writings as reading and writing are unladylikes. A13 she is nearing the age of forced marriage, and her grandfather and mother make plans to barter her for riches. The reader follows Tula through Engle’s beautiful verse as she writes plays and stories to give hope to orphaned children and slaves; refuses not one, but two arranged marriages; falls in love with a half-African freed slave who loves another; and at last independent, moves to Havana to be healed by poetry and plans the writing of “a gentle tale of love,” a story about how human souls are “free of all color, class, and gender,” an abolitionist novel written by the real Tula to spread her hope of racial and gender equality.
Tropical Secrets: Holocaust Refugees in Cuba by Margarita Engle (historical fiction)
I have read many Holocaust novels and memoirs of diverse people in diverse situations set in Europe but had not read about the Jews who sought refuge in Cuba. In Tropical Secrets, Engle shares the intertwined stories of Daniel, a young boy who is a German-Jewish refugee, unwittingly arriving in Cuba in 1939, of Paloma, a Catholic native teen surviving a mother who left and a father who is profiting from the refugees, and of David, a Jewish refugee who fled the pogroms, both serving as Daniel’s (and the readers’) “guides” to island life. Interestingly, I found the verse grow smoother and more lyrical as David adapts to Cuban culture.
This book is even more relevant today as xenophobia grows, no longer allocated to specific places or times. It is important that our children learn
not a spy.
Still, there is the terror
of being questioned
it will help them
that those who feel safe today
could be the ones in need of refuge
Between the Lines by Nikki Grimes
Grimes’ newest publication is a prose novel where poetry is employed so the readers (and the other characters) can be introduced to the characters. Why do we read and write poetry? “Because poetry, more than anything else, will teach you about the power of words,” says Mr. Winston, the librarian, as he explains to Darrian why he should learn about all sorts of writing, even poetry. And Grimes shows us the power of words—to heal, to strengthen, to discover. Like Bronx Masquerade, this novel takes place in Mr. Ward’s English classroom where he holds Open Mike Fridays and students work towards a Poetry Slam.
Mr Ward’s eleventh grade class is a microcosm of the outside world—Black, Brown, and White and maybe in-between. The reader views the eight students through the lens of Darrian, a Puerto Rican student who lives with his father and has dreams of writing for The New York Times because, “Let’s face it, some of those papers have a bad habit of getting Black and Brown stories wrong.…But I figure the only way to get our stories straight is by writing them ourselves.” So Darrian joins Mr. Ward’s class to learn about words. He does learn the power of words, but he also learns about his classmates as they learn about each other and about themselves through their narratives, their free writes, and the poetry they share. These students, as the students in our classrooms, are more than their labels. As Tyrone explains about his class the year before, “Before Open Mic, we were in our own separate little groups, thinking we were so different from each other. But when people started sharing who they were through their poetry, turned out we were more alike than we were different.” And Darrian finds out that each word can be unique and special, as Li says about poetry, but also a newspaper story “can be beautiful, especially if it’s true.” Truth is what these characters and novel reveals.
Garvey’s Choice by Nikki Grimes
This short novel is the story of Garvey, an adolescent who doesn't fit the expectations of his father who wants him to become an athlete and or his classmates who bully him. Through a good friend, he discovers his own special talents by joining the school chorus. Written in tanka, Garvey's Choice is a journey of discovery and identity that will give hope to many readers who need to find their own strengths and will help those who already have to gain empathy for others.
Full Cicada Moon by Marilyn Hilton
One my favorite female adolescents in literature is Mimi, a biracial—half Japanese-half Black—who therefore faces racial prejudice and sexism from her peers, a friend’s parent, and teachers. The year is 1969; Neil Armstrong will be walking on the moon, and Mimi plans to become an astronaut. She enters the 8th-grade Shop class in her Vermont school and is told that “Shop is for boys; Home Ec is for girls.” Sensing she needs this education for her future profession, she persists—and is suspended. When Mimi returns to school, her female classmates join her in a Shop class sit-in. As a biracial feminist fighting stereotypes, Mimi serves as a beneficial role model for teen girls and will provide a mirror and map for some and hopefully a window for others.
Every Shiny Thing by Cordelia Jensen and Laurie Morrison
In this new multi-genre novel readers follow the journey of two new friends from different types of lives as they discover themselves and how they can navigate their lives. Lauren is a wealthy teen who goes to a Quaker school. She is very close to her brother Ryan, but when he is sent to a boarding school for teens on the autism spectrum, Lauren is sure that he isn’t happy, that the school is not meeting his needs, and that her parents sent him away. She then realizes that all teens who need it can’t afford the help Ryan is getting and she designs a scheme to raise money, selling the “shiny things” that she feels her affluent family and friends don’t really need. Her scheme spirals out of control as she begins stealing items from stores, family, and friends, selling them on line, and the thrill of stealing takes over. She even involves her new friend Sierra. Sierra’s father, a drug addict, is in jail; her mother, an alcoholic, who Sierra has cared for for years in a life of poverty, is also in jail. What she wants is her family; what she needs is a stable loving family—and a friend, but not a friend who gets her involved with her own addiction.
Sierra moves in next door to Lauren with foster parents Carl and Anne, an interracial Quaker couple who are surviving the trauma of losing their own child. She pushes them away, anxious to get back to her old life. Sierra and Lauren’s friendship guides them in finding a new way of thinking. Sierra realizes she can love her mother but she can’t help her, and she can let Carl and Anne help her. Lauren realizes that she can stop worrying about Ryan who is happy in his new environment and she can’t save the world.
Lauren’s and Sierra’s narrations are written by each of the authors in their own unique style: Lauren’s narratives in prose and Sierra’s in free verse, styles which fit their lives and personalities.
The Way the Light Bends by Cordelia Jensen
Jensen's newest verse novel, like her first verse novel Skyscraping, is the story of relationships and the ways "the composition of a relationship changes as we change individually." (p.380) Though they used to be "in tempo/ in time" (p. 4), sisters Linc and Holly in their sophomore year are following "two paths/ one in light/ one in shadow/ diverging." (p. 5) They have different skills and talents—and different dreams. Holly, though adopted, appears to fit more easily into the family and consistently wins her parents approval; she is academically gifted, athletic, and a school leader. Linc is artistic, creative, a photographer. As the narrator of the story, the reader feels Linc's pain as she tries to be a better student and daughter while following her passion but she constantly fails—at academics, at love, and, it seems, at being the daughter her parents want. As her photography improves, the rest of her life falls apart—and she makes some wrong choices and turns. It takes a family secret and truthful sharing to make them all realize that "a family isn't something you're born into as much as it is something you chose to be a part of every day." (p. 370)
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
In Will’s neighborhood there are three rules: you don’t cry; you don’t snitch; you get revenge. When he older brother Shawn was shot and killed, Will takes Shawn’s gun to avenge his murder because he is sure he knows the story—well, he is almost sure. As he takes the elevator down, it stops on each floor where someone who has been killed in gun violence gets on and shares their story, and he learns that everything is not always as it seems. What will he do with this information? Samuel Taylor Coleridge wrote "Poetry: The best words in the best order." Jason Reynolds’ first verse novel proves that, maybe more than any verse novel I have read. In this powerful work, every single word, punctuation, and spacing counts. It is a perfect novel for reluctant readers because, even though the words are simple to read, the story generates inference, prediction, making connections re-reading, and employs all the reading strategies necessary to a good reader. It also brings up ideas of loss and retaliation and where, or if, we can break the chain of violence and who makes that decision for us. This novel takes the reader a long way down—in the space of a minute.
Forget Me Not by Ellie Askeroth Terry
Seventh grade is hard to navigate, even when you are not different. Jinsong is the president of student body, and even though he has faced prejudice in his past, he is now one of the popular kids. When Calliope June moves in next door, with her weird clothing and tics, he immediately likes her. But does he like her enough to risk his standing with his "friends," who are bullying Callie and some of whom have turned on him in the past? Callie has moved ten times during her life—every time her mother finds and breaks up with a new boyfriend. Diagnosed with Tourette syndrome, it is hard enough to fit in and make friends, especially since her doctor told her it would be better not to tell anyone. So Callie dresses to draw attention to her clothes and tries to hide her Tourette's (which only backfires) as she desperately tries to make friends—until she meets Jinsong and Ms. Baumgartner, the school counselor. Callie moves for an 11th time, leaving a legacy of tolerance and acceptance, at least between Beatriz and Jinsong—and ready to share her whole self with her new friends. "Because wouldn't/ talking/ about something/ make it better understood?"
The reader learns about Callie, her past, her present, her future dreams, through her free-verse chapters and about Jinsong through his short prose. This is a perfect novel for reluctant readers as it is very short but leaves much to discuss (and contains both a male and female main character). Author Ellie Askeroth Terry's shares her own experience in this debut multi-genre novel.
Orchards by Holly Thompson
According to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics, 28% of U.S. students in grades 6–12 experienced bullying. In surveys, 30% of young people admit to bullying others. In addition, a study in Britain found that at least half of suicides among young people are related to bullying and that 10 to 14 year old girls may be at even higher risk for suicide. As the social hierarchy intensifies in middle school, girls form cliques and can get meaner.
Kana Goldberg, an American middle school girl, feels guilty when Ruth, a classmate, commits suicide.
Kana reflects on the social hierarchy in her eighth grade class who were “electrons/ arranged in shells/ around Lisa/ Becca and Mona/ first shell solid/ the rest of us/ in orbitals farther out/ less bound/ less stable/ and you/ in the least stable/ most vulnerable/ outermost shell.” Lisa was mean to Ruth and “we all/ followed/ her lead.” Kana’s Japanese mother and Jewish American father send her to her maternal grandmother’s mikan orange farm for the summer to “reflect in the presence of [her] ancestors.” While there she learns to farm, becomes part of the family and community, and learns the rituals of her Japanese culture, but most important she reflects on her actions and those of her clique and thinks about Ruth and what happened and where to place blame because they didn’t understand her. She finally realizes that the list of what they didn’t do, what they could have done “…seems so basic and short.” There is another tragedy and through the rituals surrounding death Kana practices with her relatives and the Japanese community, she returns home with ideas of ways to create a memorial to the friends who were tragically affected by the bullying—and to help, not just the girls but the entire 8th grade class, to “go on.”
Let me start by sharing a recent text message I sent to Wendell Dunn, a graduate student in the Master of Educational Studies program at Wake Forest University and my co-organizer for the Paisley Sports Literacy Program.
“Johnny said you are a scrub and can’t play any basketball. He hopes your [football] tryout went well, though.”
Johnny, an eighth grader, was in the middle of snack, just prior to cracking open a young adult novel. On this day, Wendell, a former co-captain of the Wake Forest football team, would not join us because he was returning from training in Miami in preparation for his pro day the following week. Wendell quickly called via Facetime to let Johnny know he stood no chance in a game of one-on-one before wishing him a good day.
The most fun Wendell and I have each week is on Thursday afternoon with a group of eighth grade boys whose greatest thrill is talking smack to anyone who will listen, especially when it comes to basketball, football, and video games.
Dr. Bickmore is an associate professor of English Education at UNLV. He is a scholar of Young Adult Literature and past editor of The ALAN Review. He is a available for speaking engagements at schools, conferences, book festivals, and parent organizations. More information can be found on the Contact page and the About page.