American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Graphic Novels, Quick Reads

Bibliography

Yang, G.L. (2006). American Born Chinese. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596431522

Plot Summary

Gene Luen Yang tells three different stories in this graphic novel. One of Jin Wang, a boy who just wants to fit in and not be picked on because of his ethnicity. The second tale is of the Monkey King and his quest to get into heaven and be equals with the gods. The third story is of Chin-Kee, a poster child for the negative Chinese stereotype who embarrasses his caucasian cousin, Danny every time he comes to visit. These three stories are seemingly unrelated, but Yang twists them together in a way that will blow the reader away.

Critical Analysis

This book displays nothing but strengths from Yang. His illustrations are superb and filled with action, just like the story lines in his book. Yang makes each character vivid and distinctive so the reader has no trouble identifying each one. There is enough text to fill in the gaps and move the story along, but not too much to bog the reader down. The drawings are large enough to allow for detail and there are only a few per page so the reader does not get overwhelmed with cluttered pages. Perhaps the best part about this book is the way Yang weaves the stories together in the end. He catches the reader completely off-guard with the unexpected twists. In American Born Chinese, Yang takes a fun format and teaches a powerful lesson about being ok with who you are and that it is ok to need help from other people. Yang does such a good job teaching this lesson that teens might not realize at first that they have just learned something so significant from a graphic novel!

Yang’s graphic novel is listed as 10-12 grade and recommended for those grades and adult collections by professional reviewers. This book contains topics that are suited to older teens and young adults and, despite what some might think due to the nature of the format, there are actually some words in the book that are fitting for a higher reading level.

Teens will love this book mainly because of the graphic novel format. It is a quick, fairly easy read with good illustrations and action-packed pages. The relationship issues in the book will also appeal to teens and allow them to identify with the book.

American Born Chinese is a Printz Award winner, a National Book Award finalist, and has won many other awards. This book was published in 2006 and has remained popular since that time. It will continue to remain popular in the future as well because of its high quality illustrations, the rich cultural heritage of the story, and the masterful intertwining of the three stories.

Activities

In the book, the three main characters of the three storylines all want to be someone different and take on a different form. Working with the art teacher to teach basic drawing techniques, have students draw themselves in the form they would want to take. Then students can partner up and share their drawings while discussing the advantages and disadvantages to taking on this form. Students can also discuss with each other reasons why they think their partner should be happy with the way they are.

Put students into groups and have them pick one scene from the book to perform. The group will write a script, each member will have a part, and there will be a director. Each group will perform their play for the class, or they may film and produce a short video to present to the class.

Related Resources

How to make webcomics

Kurtz, S. (2008). How to make webcomics. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics. ISBN 9781582408705

This book is an instructional manual type book on how to make comic strips and graphic novels to post online. The summary of the book says that it is hard to get published in this area and that posting on the web can help you gain some traction with publishers. This is a good book to pair with American Born Chinese because some students may want to try their hand at the form after reading this title.

Boxers and Saints

Yang, G.L. and Pien, L. (2013). Boxers. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596433595

Yang, G.L. and Pien, L. (2013). Saints. New York, NY: First Second. ISBN 9781596436893

This is another tale about Chinese culture and folklore by the same author as American Born Chinese. Yang tells the story in two volumes this time, using each volume to tell the same story from a different point of view. These two books are good for young adults who want to read more about Chinese culture and history after reading American Born Chinese..

Published Review

Karp, J. (2006, September 1). [Review of the book American Born Chinese]. Booklist. Available online from: http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/american-born-chinese-gene-luen-yang/1100351546?ean=9780312384487

Cover Picture Citation

Yang, G. (2006). Cover of American Born Chinese. Retrieved from http://geneyang.com/american-born-chinese

Laughing at my nightmare by Shane Burcaw

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Burcaw, S. (2014). Laughing at my nightmare. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press. ISBN 9781626720077

Plot Summary

Shane Burcaw was born with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a condition that makes his muscles deteriorate over time and makes it hard for him to perform the simplest of physical tasks. This condition has no effect on his mind though, and in this book, he recounts several stories from his life and tries to explain how he has had to work to convince people that he is not mentally retarded just because his body is deformed. Burcaw shares daily routines and adaptations that he and his family undergo due to his SMA.

Critical Analysis

The greatest strength of Burcaw’s book is his ability to laugh at himself, lessening the awkwardness and diffusing the tension of some situations he has found himself in over the years. He uses humor in his writing and in his life to stay positive and that humor makes the book a very entertaining read. Burcaw is quite sarcastic himself and portrays his brother as such also, adding to the humor of the book. The fact that Burcaw is so honest about his life is refreshing also. He shares challenges he has faced and tells the reader how he has grown over the years. Burcaw’s recounting of life experiences demonstrates to young adults that they can make a difference in people’s lives no matter what situation they are in themselves. The one weakness in this book is the organizational structure. It is roughly chronological, but it is slightly confusing at times because Burcaw jumps back and forth some and retells a few stories.

This book is aimed at high school students and is suited to that age group. Burcaw shares events, feelings, and stories about things that high school students will relate to and will be going through themselves. The reading level is fairly high as well and suited to older teens in high school and even early college.

The appeal of this book is based on its honesty and the author’s willingness to be vulnerable and reveal personal moments and experiences. Young adults will also enjoy the book because of its frank discussions about sex and relationships. Lastly, the cover makes the book appealing to young adults as well because it looks humorous and has a cuss word on it.

Laughing at my nightmare is a current and fresh and Burcaw’s organization is doing things right now, and continuing to grow, so this book will be relevant for a while. The prevalence of bullying and the energy devoted to anti-bullying campaigns, along with a renewed focus on teaching children and young adults to treat everyone with respect make this book a good addition as well. The good writing, honesty, and humor will keep this book in circulation for many years to come.

Activity

Using wheelchairs (if available) or rolling chairs, students will experience what it is like to be Shane and to have someone help you with daily tasks such as drinking from a glass, reading a book, checking email, getting your phone off a table, etc. To make the experience as similar to Shane’s as possible, have students hold their arms as close to their body as possible and maintain body contact throughout. If students wish to fasten their arms to their body with an item such as a belt, they may, but should be closely supervised, and should never be required to do this part.

Students can create objects to help them manage these tasks easier such as the straw that Shane mentions in his book. Students may be as creative as possible in making up these items, but they must get their partner to complete the physical portions that they cannot complete with their arms touching their body at all times.

Related Resources

Muscular Dystrophy Association Webpage

Muscular Dystrophy Association. (n.d.) Spinal Muscular Atrophy: Overview. Muscular Dystrophy Association. Retrieved July 17, 2015, from http://www.mda.org/disease/spinal-muscular-atrophy/overview

This web page is on the website for the Muscular Dystrophy Organization. The disease that Burcaw has is a form of muscular dystrophy and this page tells about the disease. This is a good informational resource to pair with the book to provide more details about SMA.

Laughing at my nightmare Website

Laughing at my nightmare, Inc. (n.d.). Laughing at my nightmare. Custom website designed by Propelfolio.com. Retrieved July 13, 2015, from http://laughingatmynightmare.com/

This website is the home for Shane Burcaw’s non-profit organization and includes a link to his blog, information about booking Shane and his team, a place to donate, a place to shop for merchandise, and a section of funny photos and posts to make you laugh. Sharing this website in conjunction with this book will provide a place for readers to learn more about Shane and his team and keep up with him and his endeavors.

Published Review

Wexler, T. (2014, October). [Review of the book Laughing at my nightmare]. Publishers Weekly. Available online from: http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-62672-007-7

Cover Picture Citation

Carr, M. (2014). Cover of Laughing at my nightmare. Retrieved from http://laughingatmynightmare.com/

Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life by P.J. Hoover

Fantastic Fiction

Bibliography

Hoover, P.J. (2014). Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life. New York, NY: A Tom Doherty Associates Book. ISBN 9780765334688

Plot Summary

After a battle in ancient times with his uncle Horemheb, King Tut and his uncle are both made immortal by the gods and “Tut” ends up living the next three thousand years as a 14-year old. The story follows him to present-day Washington, D.C. where is he trying to survive the 8th grade when mysterious things start happening. Tut comes to find out that his uncle has found him and is seeking revenge, but Tut goes on a journey to find revenge of his own before his uncle gets to him.

Critical Analysis

P.J. Hoover has crafted a fast-paced fantasy adventure based in an historical tale. King Tut was not buried in his tomb after all, but became immortal and ended up in present-day Washington, D.C. where he uses witty humor and an unlikely set of sidekicks to outwit his evil uncle. Hoover’s strengths lie in the multidimensional characters she has created. Tut is not just the boy king; he also has a softer side where he cares about the weird kid from class who becomes his friend and ends up in grave danger. In turn, that same weird kid from class is more than that as well: he turns out to be clever and daring, willing to risk his life to help Tut on his mission. Readers of this book will also benefit from Hoover’s ability to impart some factual knowledge without being too didactic. The author also does a good job of presenting a moral lesson without hitting readers over the head with it: the curse plaguing the city immediately disappears once Tut decides to give up on his revenge plot. In the end, the mighty Pharaoh who tradition dictates care mostly about himself, is more motivated by helping others and making things better for those around him. This overarching theme gives the reader a good feeling and allows a connection with the characters and an investment in the story so that the reader is pulling for Tut and his friends all the way until the end. The one weakness I found, if it can even be labeled as such, was the fact that Tut’s name was not really changed at all and yet people seemed to have no idea who he was or think it was weird at all that a modern day teen was named “Tut”. I suppose willing suspension of disbelief plays into this equation.

This book is listed as intended for grades 4-8 and the reading level is easy enough for those fourth graders without being too basic for eighth graders. Also, the fast-paced action will keep the older kids entertained. Older students will also be challenged to pick up on more nuances throughout the text. The book contains small hints at a romantic relationship and one split-second kiss, but nothing inappropriate for the fourth grade end of the suggested age range.

Tut will appeal to young adults by way of its unique subject matter. Fans of Percy Jackson will enjoy this book as well due to the mythology content. The fast-paced action and humor make the book appealing to boys, but the lack of crude humor will make it attractive to girls as well.

P.J. Hoover is a Texas-based author and has found recognition for this title on the Texas Lone Star List 2015 and in the Spirit of Texas Middle School Reading List 2015-2016, but it is easy to see this book garnering nationwide acclaim as well. As mentioned above, this book has been likened to Percy Jackson. That fact, plus the hint of a sequel in the closing pages leads one to believe it could be a popular title for some time. Turning this into a two book or even three book series would keep readers interested in the exciting adventures of King Tut and keep this title flying off shelves for the next several years. The resources in the back about King Tut, mummies, etc. also serve to make it an enduring title.

Activity

Pharaohs were entombed with things they thought they would need in the afterlife and with prized possessions.

Have each student determine what would accompany them in their tomb if they were to be mummified like a Pharaoh. Have them create an info-graphic using a Web 2.0 tool to display their choices and explain the rationale for each item.

Related Resources

King Tut Unwrapped DVD

Quilici, B. (Producer, Director), & Goldberg, R. (Writer). (2010). King Tut Unwrapped: Royal Blood [TV Mini-Series]. United States: Discovery Channel, Inc. Retrieved from: http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/other-shows/videos/other-shows-unwrapped-videos/

Quilici, B. (Producer, Director), & Goldberg, R. (Writer). (2010). King Tut Unwrapped: Life and Death [TV Mini-Series]. United States: Discovery Channel, Inc. Retrieved from:http://www.discovery.com/tv-shows/other-shows/videos/other-shows-unwrapped-videos/

This series of videos available on the Discovery Channel website show an inside look at King Tut, using DNA testing and CT scans to learn more about the “Boy King”. These videos will fit well into a science lesson that relates to the novel.

National Geographic Website

National Geographic. (n.d.). Unravelling the Mysteries of King Tutankhamun. Retrieved July 7, 2015, from http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2005/06/king-tut/mysteries/home

This is a virtual tour of King Tut’s tomb that has audio narration available. This would be good to pair with the book for a social studies or science lesson.

Published Review

Rico, M. (2014, September 1). [Review of the book Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life]. School Library Journal. Available online from SLJ through Book Verdict http://www.bookverdict.com/details.xqy?uri=Product2014-09-01-8331304.xml

Cover Picture Citation

Madson, J. (2014). Cover of Tut: The Story of My Immortal Life. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Tut-Story-My-Immortal-Life/dp/0765334682/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1436317994&sr=8-1&keywords=tut+the+story+of+my+immortal+life&pebp=1436317995022&perid=1H1DK53B397AYCV2280W

I’m Just Me by M.G. Higgins

Contemporary Realistic Fiction

Bibliography

Higgins, M.G. (2014). I’m Just Me. Costa Mesa, CA: Saddleback Educational Publishing. ISBN 9781622507214

Plot Summary

Nasreen is a muslim who wears the traditional hijab head covering and endures verbal abuse and horrible bullying each day at the almost all white Arondale High. Mia is an African-American teen from the inner-city who ends up transferring to Arondale and befriends Nasreen. The friendship increases the amount of bullying the two must endure and efforts to tell adults are met with threats of increased efforts from the bullies. The two friends decide to take matters into their own hands and formulate a plan to fight back against their tormentors.

Critical Analysis

I’m Just Me is a raw and emotional account of what it is like to be different and to be bullied because of that fact. The novel’s main strength is that it does a fantastic job of evoking a wide range of emotions. The reader feels anger, sadness, empathy, frustration, disgust, joy, the feeling of a new crush, and hope all within the two hundred one pages. This novel also does a good job of giving a very honest account of what it is like to be bullied and of putting the reader in the situation. The story is told from the viewpoints of the two protagonists, both of whom are being bullied. The situations they find themselves in and their reactions to those situations are completely believable and will make the reader identify more with the book as he or she is almost certain to have witnessed similar situations before at school. Both of the protagonists are well-developed female characters and Higgins does a good job of revealing their many dimensions to the reader through her prose. As good a job as this novel does at evoking emotions and providing strong characters with which readers can identify, it has many weaknesses in other areas. For starters, the build up takes a large portion of the book and then the climax and ending seem rushed, a little forced, and underdeveloped. Also, throughout the book, the adults are unaware of the situation and in one instance where Mia tells the principal what is going on, he is very flippant about the whole thing, saying that the accused bully is “a model student. He’s very popular” (p. 125) as a means of explaining why he would never do such a thing. Sadly, this behavior probably does exist from some teachers and administrators, but it felt as if the lack of recognition and action from adults in the novel was a little over exaggerated. This novel also falls short in providing sound coping mechanisms. The suggestions given by the school counselor for dealing with it are to be assertive and let him or the principal know if anything else happens. While these are both good pieces of advice, Higgins missed a real opportunity to provide a rich repertoire of coping mechanisms. Also, there are no references at the end of the book for information on bullying, suggested readings or websites, or hotlines where teens can turn for help with bullying. Finally, there is one aspect that can be seen as a strength or a weakness, depending on how it is viewed. The book is listed as a third grade reading level, but focuses on high school characters and deals with topics that are advanced well beyond the elementary years. This can be a weakness in that it is not challenging for readers of the intended age group. It can also be a strength in that it is good for young adult/teen readers who read below grade level.

While this book is certainly not developmentally appropriate in regards to the reading level, the subject matter is appropriate for readers in grades 9-12. The novel can help teens who are being bullied identify with characters who are experiencing the same thing and learn one or two surface level coping mechanisms. There is some mild language in the book, but it is aimed at high school age young adults, and the language actually strengthens the emotions felt by the characters, and in turn, the reader.

This book will appeal to young adults first because it a quick, easy read. It will also appeal to those who are or have been bullied or who have a friend who is or has been bullied. It may be off-putting to those young adults who are themselves bullies, but if they stick it out to the end, it could result in changes in their behavior.

Higgins has crafted a good read that does address a topic that is very relevant to today and probably will remain relevant in the future as well. This novel has won a few awards, albeit none of them major name awards, but a lack of offered solutions and a mediocre ending will keep it from being around for long.

Activity

The Compliments Activity

In order to help students learn how to look for good in people and celebrate differences, have students make thoughtful positive comments about their classmates.

First, each student can decorate a piece of paper with their name at the top and leave their paper on their desk. Then, students can move around the room, writing a compliment on each classmate’s paper. At the end of the activity, each student will have a page full of compliments about them.

Prior to completing this activity, you could discuss with the students examples of compliments that are thoughtful and meaningful versus “you are pretty”, “you have nice hair”. You could also add a targeted language arts element to this activity by requiring students to write in complete sentences rather than just fragments.

Related Resources

Beyond Bullies Website

Sandhu, R. (n.d.). Helping Teens, Youth and Families Facing Bullying and Cyberbullying. Retrieved June 29, 2015, from http://beyondbullies.org/

This website offer several great resources for teens on bullying. There is information about what to do if you are being bullied, a place to talk with a teen leader who has experienced bullying, and information on several anti-bullying programs.

Book about Bullying

Meyer, S., Meyer, C., Sperber, E., & Alexander, H. (2013). Bullying Under Attack: True Stories Written by Teen Victims, Bullies & Bystanders. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI Teens. ISBN 9780757317606

This book has no professional reviews, but has a large number of endorsements from authors, teens, parents, teachers, and librarians. Even though it is not critically acclaimed, it contains true stories from the teens who lived through bullying experiences and as such, could be an invaluable tool in providing help to a young adult who is in a bullying situation.

Published Review

Randall, J. (2014, June 1). [Review of the book I’m Just Me]. Voice of Youth Advocates. Available online from VOYA: http://www.voyamagazine.com/

Cover Picture Citation

Saddleback Educational Publishing. (2014). Cover of I’m Just Me. Retrieved from http://www.amazon.com/Im-Just-Me-Gravel-Road/dp/0606352201/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&sr=8-1&qid=1435779424

The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the impossible became possible…on Schindler’s list by Leon Leyson

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Leyson, L. (2013). The Boy on the Wooden Box: How the impossible became possible…on Schindler’s List. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9781442497818

Plot Summary

Leon Leyson recounts his time as a Polish Jew during World War II, telling of his exodus from his village into Krakow and then back and forth between work camps and concentration camps. Due to his father’s job, Leyson was a member of “Schindler’s List” and his story tells how that fact ended up saving his life.

Critical Analysis

This gripping narrative that recounts the story of one of the youngest survivors of the Holocaust hooks readers from the very first line and has them turning pages until the end to find out if “little Leon” makes it out of the Holocaust alive. Leyson was one of the members of Schindler’s List and after the release of the critically acclaimed movie, he broke his silence and told his story of escape, shame, despair, and hope. Even through telling about countless tragedies and being shipped back and forth between the ghetto in Krakow and several Nazi camps, Leyson manages to maintain the slightest thread of hope. His straight-forward, honest approach allows the reader inside the travesties that were committed during this period in history. Leyson’s account also pays tribute to Oskar Schindler for his role in saving countless Jewish lives and conveys to the reader that there can be good even in those who are associated with evil things. Leyson takes no wrong steps in the re-telling of his story.

This account is aimed toward middle and young adult readers and is well-suited to that age range. Young adult readers may get slightly bogged down in some of the minutiae, but Leyson manages to tell the truth about what happened without being too graphic for younger readers. As with any book on such sensitive subject matter, parents should read the book first and decide for themselves if the book is appropriate for their child.

This book will appeal to Jewish and non-Jewish young adults alike by way of its young man’s point of view and honest account of very real events. Readers will be able to connect with Leyson through his journey and experiences, and will feel like they know him personally by the end of the book.

The Boy on the Wooden Box received multiple awards, critical acclaim, and fills a need for a fresh take on the Holocaust survivor story. This book is a great addition for middle grades and young adults that has the potential to become a classic.

Activity

In collaboration with the art teacher who will demonstrate a few artistic techniques, students will create a memorial piece of artwork.

Students may pick one member of Leyson’s family that was lost or perished during the Holocaust or they may create a memorial work for those members as a whole. The piece should include symbols and images mentioned in Leyson’s book.

Related Resources

Graphic Novel on same topic

Dauvillier, L., Lizano, M., & Salsedo, G. (2014). Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust. New York, NY: First Second Publishers. ISBN 9781596438736

This is a graphic novel story about the Holocaust for children. This would be a good companion to Leyson’s first hand account and will appeal to reluctant readers or students who struggle with reading.

YouTube Video of Leon Leyson Interview

Eliezrie, S. (1995). Holocaust Survivor Leon Leyson Testimony. Fullerton, CA: USC Shoah Foundation Institute. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LMyZ4LTpqWo

This is a 3 hour long video of an interview with Leon Leyson in which he tells his entire story. Obviously, it would be impractical to watch the whole video, but picking out a handful of clips would be helpful in giving students a visual representation of the book.

Published Review

Kamin, R. (2013, November 1). [Review of the book The Boy on the Wooden Box. Available online from School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/

Cover picture citation:
Heiden, Jamie. (Photographer). (2013). Cover of The Boy on the Wooden Box. Retrieved from http://books.simonandschuster.com/The-Boy-on-the-Wooden-Box/Leon-Leyson/9781442497818

What My Mother Doesn’t Know by Sonya Sones

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Sones, S. (2001). What My Mother Doesn’t Know. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 0689841140

Plot Summary

In this novel in verse, Sophie, an almost fifteen year old girl, recounts the story of her first, second, and third love. Sophie shares the hopes, thrills, and confusions of her young romances.

Critical Analysis

Sones employs a varied collection of rhythms in her free verse poems for this novel that capture the undulating, ever-changing emotions of a fourteen year old girl. Her word choice is direct and honest and her rhythm, rhyme, and sound combine to capture the immediacy and life or death attitude of every situation as a teenage girl. Throughout the novel, Sophie shares the stories of her different love interests, but Sones avoids the formulaic, cliché ending by having the unexpected boy end up as Sophie’s true love. Along the way, Sophie learns that she does not need to be embarrassed of this boy even though he is made fun of at school. This theme in the book will speak to young adults without being pedantic and off-putting. The other main theme in the book is Sophie longing for the genuine attention of her parents. Both of these themes are spot on for the age group and will appeal to young adult female readers as being exactly what they are going through in their own lives. Young adult males should check out the sequel, What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know, for the same story from a teen boy’s perspective. Despite the years on the book, it still rings true for young adults and is a welcome addition to any collection for the age group.

Activity

Practice writing free verse poems:

First, have students pick one of the poems in the book and adapt it to be true for themselves by changing the necessary parts of the poem. Students may practice adapting more than one poem until they feel comfortable with the format.

Then, using the adapted poems and the original poems as a guide, have students select a topic from a list (first date, first crush, first day in new school, friend’s birthday party) and write a free verse poem about that topic.

Related Resources

Girls Health Website

This website has information about several topics including relationships, feelings, and bullying. These three topics all have a presence in the book and this website geared toward teen girls could be helpful to readers of this book that are seeking more information.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2015). Girls Health. Office on Women’s Health. Retrieved from http://girlshealth.gov/

What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know

This is the sequel to What My Mother Doesn’t Know, and is told from the point of view of Robin, one of Sophie’s boyfriends. This will give the reader more insight into the male point of view of some of the same situations in the first book.

Sones, S. (2013). What My Girlfriend Doesn’t Know. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9781442493841

What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: Revised Edition

This nonfiction book answers questions about girls changing bodies and feelings during preteen and teen years. This book will serve as a good information companion to What My Mother Doesn’t Know.

Madaras, L., Madaras, A. & Sullivan, S. (2007). What’s Happening to My Body? Book for Girls: Revised Edition. New York, NY: William Morrow Paperbacks. ISBN 9781557047649

Published Review

Korbeck, S. (2001, October 1). [Review of the book What My Mother Doesn’t Know. Available online from School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/

Cover Picture Citation:
Harper, Charise Mericle. (Illustrator). (2001). Cover of what my mother doesn’t know. Retrieved from https://www.juniorlibraryguild.com/books/view.dT/0689841140

The First Part Last by Angela Johnson

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Johnson, A. (2003). The First Part Last. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 9780689849237

Plot Summary

Bobby and Nia are teenagers living normal lives in New York City until they find out Nia is pregnant. They must make tough decisions and their lives are completely changed. Readers are taken along for the ride through Bobby’s point of view to see what it is like for a 16 year old urban teen about to be a father.

Critical Analysis

Johnson’s focus on the male involved in a teen pregnancy story is a fresh take on this topic and the main character, Bobby, matures throughout the pages of the book. Johnson uses hip and current dialog to move the story along through some predictable and some unpredictable events. The story is set in Brooklyn and New York City, but details are vague enough to appeal to readers in any location. Johnson avoids the negative stereotypes of a black male adolescent and instead shows the reader that young men can make mistakes, but still be young men of character, take responsibility for their actions, and grow into responsible young adults. The alternating chapter style of “then”/”now” can be slightly confusing at first, but maintains the reader’s interest while they try to figure it out and then internalize the structure. This book is an honest look at a situation a lot of teens find themselves in. Even though a very unfortunate turn of events takes place, the ending will give hope to readers, whether in a similar situation or not. This offering by Johnson is a good addition to a young adult collection as it is well written, relevant, and engaging.

Activity

Have students log all their activities and how they spend their time for one day.

Then, have students personalize a bag of flour to look like a baby. Have students carry around this baby for one 24-hour day. Give them a schedule of when to feed, burp, change, and rock to sleep the “baby”. They should also log all their activities for the day with the “baby”.

Afterward, students should create a short presentation using a Web 2.0 tool to show the differences in their day without and with the “baby”. The presentation should include specific times where they would not have been able to do something they wanted because they were taking care of the “baby”.

Related Resources

Teens For Life Website

This website offers free access to counselors 24/7 and also has an area where teens can talk to other teens who became pregnant unexpectedly.

Providing readers of this book a way to talk to someone for free and without threat could be a lifeline for a teen reading this book who is afraid to share information about a pregnancy.

Unknown Author. (2009). Pregnant? Teens For Life. Retrieved from: http://www.teensforlife.com/pregnant-we-can-help/

Stay Teen Website

This website provides information on sex, birth control, love, and dating in a fun and honest way for teens.

Having a resources like this designed to be interesting and appealing to teens may help to prevent some of the issues Bobby and Nia faced in the book due to Nia’s unexpected pregnancy.

Whole website. (2015). The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy. Retrieved from: http://stayteen.org/

A Certain October

Another novel from Angela Johnson that also deals with a teen having to adjust after a life-changing event.

Johnson, A. (2013). A Certain October. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers. ISBN 978068987065

Published Review

Goldsmith, F. (2005, February 1). [Review of the book The First Part Last]. School Library Journal. Available online from School Library Journal: http://www.slj.com/

Image from Amazon.com, accessed June 10, 2015. Jacket photograph copyright 2003, John Healy.

I Am the Cheese by Robert Cormier

Uncategorized

Bibliography

Cormier, R. (1977). I Am the Cheese. New York, NY: Dell Laurel-Leaf. ISBN 0440940605

Plot Summary

Adam is on a journey to find his father, but he encounters several obstacles along the way that threaten to keep him from his destination. Throughout Adam’s journey, he must overcome these obstacles and his own fear to learn the truth about his past and his present.

Critical Analysis

In I Am the Cheese, Cormier has created a suspenseful tale of a young man on a mission to discover his personal story. Readers will be eager to turn each page in this classic story of (a young) man versus the system. Except for the novelty of the witness protection program, there are few details that date this novel despite its original release of 1977. Teens today will still be able to find relevance in Adam’s journey and some may be able to identify all too closely with his mental and emotional struggles. Jumping back and forth between two settings can initially confuse the reader, but as the story unfolds, the location in time of the two places begins to be revealed and clears matters a bit. This classic is appropriate for young adults and should still be included in reading lists today as it has held up over time due to Cormier’s vivid imagery and attention to detail.

Activity

Using a preferred method of placing students into groups, create groups of 4 students each.

Students will pick a scene from the book in which Adam is conversing with “T” and they will act out this scene and record it. Students may use their own device or devices checked out from the school.

One student will play the role of Adam, one student will play the role of “T”, one student will record the scene, and one student will be the director. Use preferred method of job assignment if so desired, or let students pick, depending on the class.

Students will need to edit their finished product with an editing program such as iMovie.

Related Resources

Mental Health Website

In the book, Adam struggles with some mental health issues. This website contains a page entitled, “For Young People Looking for Help”. On this page, there is a video of Demi Lovato sharing her struggles with mental health issues and what she did to seek help. Sharing this website with students could help them feel like they are not alone and help them to realize that it is ok to struggle with these issues since even a famous singer struggles with them. It can also help the students to understand more about the struggles of the character in the book.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (n.d.). For Young People Looking for Help. In MentalHealth.gov. Retrieved from http://www.mentalhealth.gov/talk/young-people/.


CNN Article on Witness Protection

Adam’s family was one of the first families to be in the Witness Protection program started by the government in the early 1970’s. This article gives some minimal details on how the program works and explains some of the effects on families of being in the program. This information will help readers understand a little more about Adam’s life and why it was difficult for him and his parents.

Falcon, G. (2013, February 16). Inside the witness protection program. CNN. Retrieved from: http://www.cnn.com/2013/02/16/justice/witness-protection-program/

Published Review

Unknown Author. (1998, March 1). [Review of the book I Am the Cheese]. Horn Book Guide.

Available online from Horn Book Guide:http://www.hornbookguide.com/cgi-bin/hbonline.pl

Image from Google.com, accessed June 4, 2015. Cover art property of Random House, Inc.