The second book in this pair is Berries Goodman by Emily Cheney Neville, an author who is more famous It’s Like This, Cat a novel that earned her the Newbery Medal in 1964. Berries Goodman is a book that I love. I have written about it in a previous post. It is a book that reminds me of past friendships and my introduction to Jewish literature. Reading this book opened doorways that I never imagined. It lead me to books by Potok, Uris, Malamud, Bellow, Roth (both Henry and Phillip), Singer, and a number of other writers through the years. I layered my own occasional feelings of marginalization on the characters and themes I found in this novels. For me, this memory is a good example of what Teri Lesesne might call Reading Ladders.
The second book is Whirligig by Paul Fleischman. I can’t remember exactly how I came upon this book. I used it with high school students a few years before I went to graduate school and before I started channeling young adult fiction all of the time. I am quite sure that a librarian introduced me to the book. I was teaching AP English Literature and was looking for an activity to keep the students engaged between the end of the test in the first week of May and the end of school during the first week of June. If you have worked with AP students, I am sure you can hear the high pitched whine that goes something like this: “Why do we have to work? The test is over?” As if they have learned everything there is to know. Instead, of letting them do nothing (I know I was mean, as they were fond of reminding me), I developed a three week young adult literature project. Each student had to read one of three YA classic: The Contender (Lipsyte), The Chocolate War (Cormier), or Homecoming (Voigt) and then two more YA novels for a B and three for an A. (The list would be different now that I know more, but these three proved to be a good starting point for smart students who had lost track of the joy of reading for pleasure.) After reading one of those books and discussing it in their groups they wrote a review of the book using middle grade students has the audience. In addition, during that first week I book talked other titles and the librarian visited the classroom with a raft of new books to show them. The students read widely and enjoyed the assignment. Some dedicated themselves to an author: Lowry, Voigt, Cormier, Paulson, Zindel, O’Dell, Myers, Draper, Blume, Bauer, Konigsburg, and Hinton. Others focused recent releases Holes, Esperanza Rising, Whirligig, Speak, Monster, Make Lemonade, and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. The room became a sanctuary for silent sustained reading. More students than I like to admit asked me why they couldn't read more books like these in class. You know, I didn’t have a good answer. Many confessed to rereading books they remembered enjoying from an earlier time and finding out that they were falling in love all over again with The Giver or Hatchet. I enjoyed reading their book reviews and passing them on to a few of my middle school colleagues. A year or two later the school I was in used the book as a whole school summer reading. Is drunk driving an issues you would like to discuss with your students? Then check out Whirligig and its tale of a journey of redemption.
I started writing this post early on July 7, 2016, I was buried in work and hadn’t heard much news. I was a part of the English Education faculty at LSU in Baton Rouge for seven years. My daughter still lives in the area and called me and asked if I heard about the Baton Rouge shooting and the additional news about the additional tragic shooting in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. I hadn’t, so I began looking at the out pouring of news through social media and more traditional news outlets. I wonder, are we all crazy? Just a few weeks ago, I reminisced about the tragedy in Orlando. Last week, Shelly Shaffer talked about books that might help us talk about school shootings. Perhaps we are in more crisis than we imagine.
In All American Boys, Reynolds and Kiely capture a moment of police brutality that deserves discussion. In this joint authored book, the authors examine the event from two distinct points of view. Please just read it. If you are a teacher who cares about students, you will find a host of ways to either teach this book or introduce it to your students. The next author, Kekla Magoon, who actually wrote the review of All American Boys for The New York Times, contributed to the difficult conversation of race and policing in America with How It Went Down. The plot of Magoon’s powerful novel is revealed through a variety of voices. A reader is forced to consider point of view as they contemplate the details and debate with themselves the motivations and risks of each character. Together they from a perfect pairing for classroom instruction or each could serve as a follow-up to the other as students or teacher develop their reading lists. Both of these books deserve to be a continuing part of young adult literature set in urban spaces.
"I understand how Americans are feeling. But, Dallas, I'm here to say we must reject such despair. I'm here to insist that we are not as divided as we seem. And I know that because I know America. I know how far we've come against impossible odds. (Applause.) I know we'll make it because of what I've experienced in my own life, what I've seen of this country and its people -- their goodness and decency --as President of the United States. And I know it because of what we've seen here in Dallas -- how all of you, out of great suffering, have shown us the meaning of perseverance and character, and hope."