Friday, February 25, 2011

Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Ugly Truth

I finally got to read the latest in Jeff Kinney's Diary of a Wimpy Kid series and it is definitely one of my favorites. Some people don't enjoy these books but they have worked miracles in my classrooms. They are lower level, but the humor and relatable plots make them favorites of all students, who line up when a new book is released. These books are part of our culture of literacy; a reference to Greg Heffley is one that everyone in the school understands. This feeling of belonging is crucial to students who often feel left out of the "book club".

I particularly liked The Ugly Truth because Greg is experiencing puberty and all its horror/glory. My students will be able to relate to the nervousness of a first boy-girl party, the importance of whose textbook they inherit (getting a cool student's old book authomatically makes you cool, right?), and struggling with the new responsibilities of being an adolescent. I am excited that my developing readers will be able to read about a character that resembles them; it's hard for eighth graders when the books at their reading level are all about fourth graders.

Reading self-esteem aside, Jeff Kinney's writing is so funny and addictive. The Wimpy Kid books make readers happy and belong in every classroom.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

House Rules

I've found myself really enjoying Jodi Picoult novels this year. With limited access to YA books, I've found that Picoult's writing satisfies my need for quick reads with entertaining plots. I appreciate the amount of research that goes into her novels and find that some of them make great 'bridge' books -- novels for readers who have outgrown YA lit (or have read everything in the library!), but aren't quite ready to only read adult fiction. As always, I recommend reading the book yourself before recommending it to a young person.

House Rules seems to fit the bill. It is the story of Jacob, a teenage boy with Asperger's syndrome who is accused of the murder of his tutor. Told from the perspectives of Jacob, his brother, his mother, his lawyer, and a police detective, the plot keeps the reader wondering what really happened until the very end. The changing narrators give insight and beg sympathy from the reader. Jacob's chapters are powerful and show that he is just a boy that wants to fit in, but never really will.

I have taught one student on the autistic spectrum and spent much of the novel thinking about him and our interactions. With the increase of Asperger's diagnoses, this would be a great novel for teachers to read, as well as students...really anyone would benefit from the lessons of tolerance and patience that resonate in Picoult's novel. I think that if my autistic student's classmates  read this book (and they are at about the right age now), his life and theirs would be richer.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Chocolate War

"Do I dare disturb the universe?" T.S. Eliot's quote resonated in Robert Cormier's 1974 classic and it continues to be relevant to young adults today.

I've been avoiding The Chocolate War my whole life because the cover is so unappealing. I'm actually glad that I waited so long because I don't think I would have appreciated how dark this novel is. The evil Brother Leon's chocolate sale is really just another excuse for Archie Costello and his gang, The Vigils, to exert their power over the other students at Trinity High School. When Jerry Renault decides not to see the required 50 boxes of chocolate (with inflation, they cost a whopping $8 each today), the heat of the student body is impossible to bear.

The tension in The Chocolate War never lets up. Like the Trinity students, the reader is eager for a respite from the bullying. Cormier is unrelenting to the final pages, with a gloomy ending that disturbs, rather than satisfies. Adolescent me would have hated this novel, but teacher me takes it as a reminder of how brutal bullying feels.