Recommendation Wednesday: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny HanThis week’s Recommendation Wednesday post is also a part of Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe challenge!

So, I really liked To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han.

For one thing, it features a regular teen doing (mostly) regular things. There are two big conflicts in the story. One is that Lara Jean’s sister has left home, so Lara Jean is trying to figure out her place in her family/how to be the big sister. The other one is that the secret letters she has written all of her former crushes have somehow (and it’s pretty easy to figure out how, though I love that Lara Jean seriously doesn’t figure it out on her own) been sent to them.

That’s it.

HOW REFRESHING.

As I’ve said before, I really love to see teens doing regular teen things in books because family/school life is fraught with drama. All of the extra stuff that most authors pile on their main characters are just not within the realm of most teens’ experiences.

ANYWAY.

The real highlight of this book for me, though, is that it features fake dating. FAKE DATING. I love fake dating stories. Because I know that eventually one or both of them will fall for the other, and it is glorious figuring out the moment it goes from fake to real. I LOVE IT.

This is a thing I didn’t even really knew I loved until I was excited that it showed up in this story.

So. Fake dating. Yes.

Lara Jean also has a completely unrequited and borderline inappropriate crush on her sister’s boyfriend, which is also delightful. Because I love unrequited love! It is where I live, so it speaks to me.

Plus, you know, throw in all the sister stuff, and I was in my happy place.A More Diverse Universe 2014

Also, I looooooove the cover.

All in all, this was a really solid and fun story.

 

Recommendation Wednesday: Pointe

This week’s Recommendation Wednesday post is brought to you by Aarti’s A More Diverse Universe challenge. The parameters for the challenge are very simple:

  • Read and review one book
  • Written by a person of color
  • During the last two weeks of September (September 14th – 27th)

So, one book I’m highlighting for the challenge is Pointe by Brandy Colbert.

Pointe by Brandy ColbertI really liked this book, even though it is super dark. (And by super dark I mean it deals with really dark subject matter: child abduction and child rape.) While the book does deal with heavy subject matter, I think what keeps it from being too is that Colbert keeps the focus on main character Theo and her relationships with her friends, her parents, and, of course, ballet. So while the book starts with Theo’s childhood best friend Donovan returning home after being abducted, the story is mainly about how Theo navigates her feelings about it while going about her day to day life.

That means, of course, going to school every day and dealing with everything that goes along with that. And keeping up with ballet practice.

Because Theo interacts so much with so many other characters–all of whom are affected by Donovan’s return in some way, though none as directly or deeply as Theo–the narrative takes much needed breaks from the turmoil Theo feels because she has to do stuff like run the concession booth at school.

God, I’m making this sound boring. It’s not.

What I Liked
– That cover!

- Theo is a fascinating character who is friends with fascinating characters. She is flawed and believably so. Honestly, I just wanted to give her a big old hug when the story was over.

- I really love that Theo is screwed up and comes from a normal family. She has loving parents, she has a relatively good life, but at the same time, her life is a mess. So often in literature, there’s a straight line from trauma to family, and in this one, there is no straight line. Theo’s parents love her and they’re involved, but she’s just…a mess. And that’s something that happens in real life.

- I also love that, ultimately, Theo has to ask for and get help from adults because her problems are so big that she can’t tackle them on her own.

What I Didn’t Like
– The book isn’t perfect. One thing my book club agreed on is that we wish there had been more ballet and more of Theo processing her feelings through ballet. (The cover is misleading in that way. Though Theo is a ballerina, the cover makes it seem as though dance is the crux of the story. It’s not. The story is about a dancer, not about dance.) And one woman thought the book read a little like tragedy porn. So those are things to be aware of.

In conclusion: While more of a focus on the use of dance to process feelings would have been nice, the characters (especially main character Theo), relationships, and overall plotting make this an engrossing and worthwhile read.

Movies Based on Books: Think Like a Man

(source: IMP Awards)

(source: IMP Awards)

I was flipping channels one Saturday and came across Think Like a Man on VH1.

This is an odd little movie that is also a typical (fun) rom-com. Most of the weirdness comes from the fact that the movie is based on the self-help book Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man by Steve Harvey, and, in the movie, the women are reading the book and Steve Harvey makes appearances throughout discussing the points in the book. Those appearances are played as interviews on talk shows, but it’s so meta and breaking the fourth wall that it feels like a huge commercial for the book.

Which it is, I guess. The book plays prominently in the story. Not only do the women carry the book around with Harvey promoting it in the background, but the men also read and discuss it. I mean, if the point is to show what happens to women who read the book and the men they’re involved with, then that makes perfect sense. It’s still weird.

The premise of the book is that a man gives women advice on how to get and keep a man instead of women going to other women for advice about how to get and keep a man. So, I feel as though there is a better way that could have been handled in the movie. By, I don’t know, having the women befriend a man who still gives them the advice from the book or something.

What I’m saying is I found those parts of the movie really jarring because they took me out of the movie as a movie and made me think of the movie as a commercial.

(I watched this with my daughter, and she didn’t have this problem at all. She just went with it. So I’m guessing most average viewers wouldn’t care either. Maybe just people who study stories for a living.)

That said, the actual characters are a lot of fun. And there are lots of good-looking people being good looking and also making out. I found myself rooting for almost all of the characters and their relationships, so the romance part was nicely handled. It also helps that there’s a happily married man to balance out all of the wacky single people shenanigans. (And Kevin Hart’s character is bitter and going through a divorce, which adds a bit more of fun.)

Plus also, I love Meagan Goode’s haircut in the movie. And looking at Michael Ealy is always a good time. As is looking at this guy who I don’t remember from anything else, but is super cute and adorable.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie. The characters were all likeable, and I think it helps a lot that they all wanted to be happy. Also, the movie was funny, so it wasn’t a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Recommendation Wednesday: The Colors of Madeleine Trilogy

The Colors of Madeleine

Okay, it’s a bit presumptuous of me to recommend an entire trilogy when only two-thirds of the books are available to read, but I really liked A Corner of White and Cracks in the Kingdom absolutely DELIGHTED me. I was delighted! I mean, I seriously read the last third or so of the book with a smile on my face because it was making me so happy.

That almost never happens.

I loved the second book so much, and I don’t even know if I can articulate why. I think, mostly, it has to do with the fact that the book is fanciful and full of fantastical elements, but there’s this edge of sadness and melancholy to all the events. Characters are in denial or they’re a bit lost or they’re trying so hard to make things right or everything’s falling part. And at the same time there’s this wonderful relationship between Elliot and Madeleine developing that’s kind of flirtatious but not really but also kind of really but mostly just both of them finding someone they can talk to about the insane things that are happening in their lives.

Did I mention that Madeleine lives in England (aka the World) and Elliot lives in the Kingdom of Cello, and they communicate via letters through a parking meter?

I mean, of course they communicate via letters (this is Jaclyn Moriarty after all, queen of the epistolary novel), but they communicate through the parking meter because there’s an illegal crack open between the two worlds.

I know. I can’t believe I like it either.

Except I can.

(I should point out that these are not epistolary novels, though the reader does see some of the letters the two characters send back and forth.)

Some of my favorite moments are the ones with Princess Ko’s family (LOVE HER. She is super clever and smart and brave) as well as Elliot’s interactions with the princess. And everything with Madeleine and her friends, of course. (Of course.)

I cannot wait for the third book. Cannot wait.

Source: Library

Reboot

I have been largely MIA this summer because…summer, you know. Anyway, I require my composition students to keep weekly blogs throughout the semester, so I figure I should do the same.

Their first assignment is to introduce themselves, but this blog is pretty established, so instead I’m going to talk about some of the things I plan to do during the next sixteen weeks. In my first post of the year, I said I wanted to vary my book reviews and try to get excited about blogging again, so I have listed a few ideas that should help me do just that.

1. Recommendation Wednesday – a few months ago (March? April?) on Twitter, Sarah from Clear Eyes, Full Shelves put on her tiara and declared Recommendation Tuesday a thing. I said it was brilliant, and I wanted to do the same, but I never did. (She, of course, has posted tons of recommendations since then.) I’m doing mine on Wednesday since I often participate in Top Ten Tuesday and don’t want to over-commit my days. #bloggerproblems

2. Movies Based On Books – I watch a lot of movies based on books. I have thoughts about them. Sometimes I have seen the books; sometimes I haven’t. Either way, they fit the whole book blogger deal.

3. Teaching Thursday – I recently combined this blog with my teaching blog and want to expand beyond my Lesson Plan Friday posts. So Teaching Thursday will be a place for me to talk about teaching stuff that’s not related to lesson planning, basically.

4. Mini reviews/reading round ups – Longform reviews are too much pressure (even if it is pressure I put on myself). (Another candidate for #bloggerproblems). Not that I will never do longer reviews, but I will definitely be doing more mini reviews.

5. Pet peeves/opinion/discussion posts – I have lots of opinions about a lot of things related to books. Probably I should start talking about them here.

Oh, and it’s possible I may post about TV sometimes. Maybe. I haven’t decided yet.

So, yes. Those are my ideas. I’m posting them to help hold myself accountable. And to show my students that it’s possible to write 300 words (with links) about something you care about–or have to do for an assignment.

Word count: 370

Lesson Plan Friday: The Power of Poetry

Lesson Plan Friday @ The EnglishistI have a confession. I was terrified to teach poetry. As part of the Writing about Literature course at my school, there are three units: fiction, drama, and poetry. I have a creative writing degree…in fiction. I have taken screenwriting/drama classes. But poetry? Of course, I’ve encountered poetry throughout all of my many, many years of schooling. But I’m not a poetry expert, you know?

So my first time out, I thought for sure it would be a disaster.

Add to that the fact that most of my students also have an aversion to poetry. They don’t understand it, they think it’s stupid, and, of course, most of their experience with poetry was how it means something besides what they think it means.

However, in terms of student engagement, student response, and student interest, the poetry unit has wound up being the best.

I think the main reason the unit works so well is that poetry isn’t a trick: it’s all about word choice and word order.

I cannot tell you how many of my students feel super smart because they can explain a poem, and it’s all based on “Well, in line 4, the author uses ‘x word’ which means ‘this,’ so the poem is about ‘y.’”

Poetry solved!

The other thing that helps is our final poetry assignment***. My students have to write their own poems and then explain their choices. And then we have a poetry slam where they read their poems aloud.

The effect of that assignment?

  • I had a student who “didn’t read” before my class and was a math/engineering guy so was only taking the class because it’s required. He wrote so many poems that he didn’t know which one to choose for his final paper. He worked in retail and would write poems on the back of receipt paper at work. Any chance he got, he was scribbling poems.
  • They come to office hours because they have too many ideas and don’t know which one to pick.
  • They figure out inventive ways to do picture poems (one in the form of a broken heart, another in the form of a dancer, yet another in the form of a quadratic equation).
  • This past semester, my students were so proud of their poems that they told me I should make future classes analyze their poems like we did to the ones in the books.

This is huge. My students tend to have notoriously low confidence in their writing. But they recognized and felt that their poetry was as worthy of being analyzed as the poetry in the textbook.

Poems aside, their explanations*** (which is what they’re really graded on) are fantastic. They know and understand the terminology; they know and understand the inspiration poems or poetic forms. Their papers are a joy to read.

THEIR PAPERS ARE A JOY TO READ. (!!!!!)

So, yes. Poetry. It’s amazing.

***Here’s the assignment:

Part I: The Paper

Length: no word count (poem) / 500-750 words (explanation)

You have two options for this paper.

Option 1: Write a poem that imitates or is inspired by a poem that appears in any of the assigned reading on our syllabus. Then, explain the choices you made writing your poem, focusing on how it matches the original. Use the correct vocabulary when explaining the poems and their similarities.

You are using the original poem as inspiration, which means you can write a parody (humorous imitation) or something more serious on whatever topic you wish.

Option 2: Write a fixed form poem (sonnet, villanelle, sestina, limerick, or haiku) on the topic of your choice. Then, explain the choices you made while writing your poem, focusing on how it fits the chosen form and why you chose that particular form. Use the correct vocabulary when explaining your choices.

In order to successfully complete this paper, you must first understand the features of the poetic form and how to properly implement them. Only then will you be able to craft your poem.

Part II: The Final

Our poetry final will be an in-class poetry slam held during the assigned finals time. You will read/recite your poem to the class.

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This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Top Ten Favorite TV Shows & Movies

So, I vowed to myself that my next post would be actual content (I have read books and taught classes and I have thoughts about them!) and not a Top Ten Tuesday post. I did! And then I saw the topic for the week was favorite shows/movies, and I succumbed. My next post will be a real post. I PROMISE.

I couldn’t pick between TV shows or movies, so, you know, I did both.

Favorite TV shows (with YouTubery)

1. The Cosby Show (Theo sings the blues)

Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday: #YesAllWomen

“I know how things can be—for women. I tell you, it’s queer, Mrs. Peters. We live close together and we live far apart. We all go through the same things—it’s all just a different kind of the same thing.”

My contribution to #YesAllWomen [find out more here] was a quote from Trifles by Susan Glaspell, so I can pretty safely say that I process difficult topics through media. Since this week’s Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie topic, and #YesAllWomen and the incident that spurred it are forefront in my mind, I figured I’d do a top ten list featuring books/plays that highlight some of the “harassment, discrimination or worse” (as stated in the article) that women face.

Links either go to my reviews, official websites, or (forgive me) Wikipedia. Also, forgive the lack of description and pictures, but it’s late, and I’m trying to get it posted before midnight.

So, my list of top ten books that support the claims made in #YesAllWomen.

1. Trifles by Susan GlaspellTop Ten Tuesday

2. A Doll House by Henrik Ibsen

3. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

4. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

5. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

6. The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

7. I’ll Pass for Your Comrade by Anita Silvey

8. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

9. Draw the Line by Nicole Grey

10. Story of a Girl by Sara Zarr

This list is by no means comprehensive, nor is it even, really, complete. There’s just too much great literature out there for me to put into a top ten list. These are, however, ten of the books that immediately came to mind when the idea bounced into in my head. I mean, oh my gosh, The Color Purple! And on and on this list would go. So now I stop because I really do need to get to bed.

Top Ten Bookish Things I Want (Image Heavy)

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday is basically asking me to share my Pinterest with you. I wasn’t going to do this one at first, but, well, my birthday IS coming up soon. So, you know.

1. Thumb Thing / Book Weight

thumbplate

 

2. Laptop case / Kindle cover

covers

 

3. All the posters. Every one.

posters

4. Necklace, necklace, bracelet, ring, ring.

jewels

5. Coasters

coaster

6. Leggings? Yes, if they feature Shakespeare.

leggings

7. Library card catalog. Library should also be included.

catalog

8. Polly. This will keep going on every wishlist I have until I get it.

9. This cake (or its equivalent), if I ever get married. Or for my next milestone birthday. I’m looking at you, 40.

cake

10. Plates because I am a grown-up now.

plates

Also, please note that this list is nowhere near exhaustive. That’s what Pinterest is for, bless its heart.

Lesson Plan Friday: Identifying Character Traits

Lesson Plan Friday @ The EnglishistI actually got the idea for this activity from The Bedford Introduction to Literature (10th edition) edited by Michael Meyer. One of the creative response assignment suggestions is to have students write an obituary for the character of Penny from the play Dead Right by Elaine Jarvik.

In order to have students complete the obituary and to understand both characters, I had them do this little activity, which I think I’m going to use to introduce/explore characterization from now on. This activity is much more effective than asking the students to “characterize” a specific character or to describe the character’s traits. It teaches them how, exactly, to do that and where they get the information to characterize the characters.

In the book, Dead Right is a short play that covers four pages. I assigned the students one of the four pages to read. I then broke down the activity in the following steps.

1. Write down the facts the audience is given about Penny and the facts the audience is given about Bill. (I remind them that facts cannot be argued. Some of my students also think that they can remember everything they read, so I tell them that they have to actually write the facts down.)

2. Now, write down how you would describe each of their personalities (in other words,  their character traits) and what words/quotes from the play help you characterize them that way.

3. Then, we went over the facts and character traits, starting with the facts about a character before moving onto their traits. I put the lists up on the projector. This was an excellent way to reinforce the difference between facts (or details) and character traits. While doing the facts, students would sometimes say that a character was, say, “self-centered” or “rude” and I was able to say, “Well, that can be argued, so you’re moving into character traits. We’re doing facts now. Hold onto that for a minute.”

4. During the character traits discussion, I would always ask what made them describe the character that particular way and, most of the time, they referred back to the facts on the board or details from their assigned page.

5. Once our discussion was over, they were assigned to write Penny’s obituary as she herself would write it or as her husband Bill would write it. (I assigned them to either Penny or Bill.)

That last bit is also a little bit of a test in reading comprehension since Penny says exactly how she wants her obituary written. I always ask my students to share if they’re willing. If they’re not, I ask them what they did, so we can discuss their choices and why they made those particular choices. Students usually think they just come up with details in their writing out of their heads, so I use those moments as an opportunity to show them how they use details from the text in their own writing or how the details from the text inform their writing.

As I said, though, this can be easily adapted for another play or with different characters. My plan is to use this activity (minus the obituary) with a short story. That should be particularly interesting because that story is told with a first-person narrator. We’ll see how it goes.

Creative Commons License
This work by Akilah @ The Englishist is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.