Julian & Mariko Tamaki: This One Sumer

Cousins Julian and Mariko Tamaki have teamed up to write and illustrate a compelling graphic novel about two preteen girls encountering several events of adult life during a summer vacation at Awago Beach.  This is an outstanding graphic novel that would require parental consent as it deal with topic from sex, graphic language, suicide and miscarriage.  There are descriptive conversations about puberty and dialog about teen sex.

I would strongly encourage parents to sign a consent form for this book because there are several topics that I feel teens need to discuss and understand.

First, I feel that thee could be some great discussion about appropriate conversation.  When should we be free to sling obscenities and when should we curb our tongues?  There are many points in the book when the conversations of others is offensive and inappropriate for the ears of others.  Yet, the speakers encourage each other to continue the vulgar dialog rather than waiting for the young girls to pass, or the crowd with children to disperse.  The main character engage in a conversation about breasts that is only halted when an older couple at the beach asks the girls to stop.

Next, students could discuss the social norms in which people can refer to each other in highly negative terms but be drawn into comfort and acceptance with degrading treatment from others.  Why would anyone accept being called a slut be a person claiming to be a friend?  And why would anyone seek a physical relationship with a person that clearly objectifies and mistreats them?

Similarly, students could also explore the desire to be accepted by the older crowd and how many teens are taken advantage of by the older kids.  They could conduct surveys and formulate persuasive positions to either allow degradation or, hopefully, discourage it.

The family paradox of preferential appearance could also be explored in this book.  Clearly, Rose’s mother was still in tremendous pain from the events of the prior summer, but she tries to pretend as though it does not bother her.  She and her husband keep the secret from Rose and unsuccessfully attempt to keep the tension between them hidden as well.

I think it would be interesting to have students debate the father’s and mother’s positions on dealing with the grief from their loss.  I feel that if the students could learn how to empathize with both positions it would lead toward the understanding that people need open communication with partners in any kind of relationship.  To me this is far more important than avoiding grammatical errors.


Marilyn Nelson: A Wreath for Emmett Till

I have read a wide range of poems in my life.  Many poems hold special meaning for me and hold a special place in my heart like Birches  by Frost, The Raven

by Poe, or To This Day


by Koyczan.

 Marilyn Nelson’s A Wreath for Emmett Till has become one of my favorites — in a few readings — that I look forward to sharing with my students in my classroom as we discuss the Civil Rights Movement.   To be honest, I had no idea of the history and I look forward to enriching my students knowledge of the events leading up to the Civil Rights Movement.  This poem has a ton to teach students and seems to be a great way of sneaking poetry into reading and discussion.  I say sneak because it is so well written that most of my students would not likely notice it as a poem until I would call attention to some of the poetic devices used.  As a poem in and of itself there are countless lessons students could study from iambic pentameter to rhyme scheme, but the poem has too many life long learning opportunities to shelve as being only for the discussion of poetry although there is clear justification for solely using it in a creative writing classroom.

A Wreath For Emmett Till

Students have several opportunities to grow as human beings simply by discussion of the poem.  Why would Emmett’s mother want an open casket?  This one question could lead to debate, argument, research, emotional response, empathy, more questions, and a probable thousand other outcomes from which each student could learn a great deal.

This poem could also lead to discussion about the very concept of America and the global and internal perspectives of our country.  All of this could happen without ever analyzing the several allusions within the poem.  I am very excited to share this poem with my students and hope that they will allow it to impact them as much as it has impacted me.

G. Neri: Yummy

Not many people realize how difficult life can be.  Our society claims to make an effort to help children avoid the trauma and difficulties suffered by Yummy yet many young ones fall through the cracks of the system — a system that is very much broke at times.  Greg Neri seems to understand the struggles of todays youth and calls attention to the challenges of teenage life.

Some students are all too familiar with the pains of life well prior to ever stepping foot in a classroom of any kind.  In the case of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, life was a challenge from a very young age.  Many children try to follow the same path as Yummy.  These troubled students turn to crime and gangs to find acceptance that they cannot or do not find elsewhere.  I truly feel that if more students understood the trials that Yummy endured and the immense desire he had for a since of self worth that would be much more likely to choose a different path to finding the same emotional support that Yummy searched for in the shadows of Chicago.

I feel that my students would all benefit from reading this book.  Many of my students have issues at home.  Several have been arrested and are in gangs by the time they are in junior high.  At the same time, there are other students in my school that are completely oblivious to the lives of their classmates and how similar the lives of some of their classmates are to that of Yummy.

I feel this is a great book for every student.  All reading levels would likely digest this book very quickly because it is a graphic novel.  There are several lessons that can be learned from this story.   I can imagine this book leading to a large research project.  Students could explore the topic of child abuse and the link to criminal activity.  They could also explore the motivation behind either physical or social bullying.  It would also be interesting to see the students discuss Yummy’s funeral and why so many people can to view the body of a young man that had fallen through the cracks of society.  This book would also be great for teaching writing dialect.

Walter Dean Meyers: Monster

I think what I may have found most intriguing thing about the book, Monster, were the formats used by Walter Dean Meyers.  The first of which was the personal journal/notes of the main character Steve.  Steve accounts the horrors of his time in jail takes notes while in court (though it seems all he wrote down in court was one question and the word monster, over and over).  The second format was the script, complete with camera angels, that Steve writes to distract himself from the events occurring in his life.  I think it would be a great writing assignment, in general, to have students take notes on the events of their lives and create a movie script to tell the story with multiple points of view.

Meyers discusses Monster: 

One aspect that Meyers discusses in his interview and highlights in the book, Monster, is the audiences’ desire for a predictable resolution in which they are left with a sense of understanding that the end is a justified result of the story.  I think it would be great to have students debate the pivotal point in the story where Mrs. O’Brien stiffens and turns away from Steve when he reaches out to her for a celebratory hug after the not guilty plea.  It seems that she does not share the opinion of the jury.  There are many reasons why she may have shunned him but the most obvious is that perhaps Steve is guilty of the crime.  Students could reference other parts of the story to see if they feel he is guilty of innocent.

Another topic students could explore is youths in correctional facilities.  In my small school district, I am personally aware of several students that have been to Juvenile Detention and of others that are on parol from crime ranging from drugs to robbery.  Crime touches us all and students should be able to explore consequences of the actions that they choose in order to promote good citizens.

Marissa Meyer: Cinder

Cinder by Marissa Meyer is a futuristic twist on the story of Cinderella.  In this story, Cinder is a cyborg, Lunar.  In the future, Earth is racially inclusive, yet, there is an outsider subcategory of humans that have cybernetic modifications —cyborgs.  These (cyborgs) are shunned by society and viewed as impure human beings.  Perhaps the only thing more disliked than cyborgs are Lunars.  Lunars are humans that have genetically adapted to life on the moon.  They can control bioelectrical fields and use those fields to influence others.  It is sort of a telepathic mind enslavement.  As a result, humans distrust them.  Not to mention that the Queen of all Lunars, Levana, is a vile woman that constantly forces her will upon her people and threatens to bring war to Earth.

The plague also plays a major role in this story.  Even the plague, the most purely destructive force on Earth, allows Lunar Royalty to survive but claims the lives of everyone else.  In a way it is a weapon of the elite class sent to wipe the Earth of all that would oppose the hierarchy.

Cinder also deals with the topic of slavery.  Cinder, herself, is an indentured servant to her adoptive family.  Just as in the fairy tale, Cinder is raised by an abusive mother-in-law.  The difference from the original story is that she has a wicked step-sister and one step-sister that is kind and overlooks that Cinder is a cyborg.  It seems that the cyborg is just one step above the disposability of an android.

There are several themes that students could explore with this book.  The first topic would be inclusion.  Students could explore the concept of total inclusion.  They could bring up discussion topics from the book.  Even though the world seems united, there is still a great deal of inequality.   There are homeless people.  People are discriminated against for having mechanically systems that help them to survive —cyborgs.  Students could also explore the message of empowerment of self, being comfortable in your own skin that is present throughout the novel.   Another topic student could explore is the use and creation of multiple genres to drive the story.

Laurie Anderson’s Speak

Teenagers rarely think about the consequences that can arise for the simplest actions.  A victory celebration with some beer and a car can end two teenage lives as in Tears of a Tiger, and attending a senior end of the year party prior to starting your ninth grade year can also destroy lives.  All it takes is the irresponsible actions of one to damage countless lives.  The tale of Speak by Laurie Anderson is one such story.  Through no fault of her own, Melinda Sordino became a victim.  A victim of social conventions.  A victim to countless acts of bullying.   And, she became a victim of rape.

Had Melinda know that she would: be a rape victim, lose her friends, be mocked by the entire school, and terrified to speak to anyone; she would have likely not gone to the party, drank alcohol and would have likely been waiting for her attacker with the upper hand, sober.  The first thing that comes to mind is to discuss this book and how each small action has major implications.


There are several topics that are great for both discussion and writing in this book.  I think a fun one would be to parallel Hairwoman’s writing assignments (perhaps my students would believe that other kids must write papers as well).  When Melinda is told to write about the symbolism of Hawthorne, they could write about the symbolism Anderson uses for characters(like the Marthas)  or places (like the school without an identity).


Undoubtedly, there could be some great discussion about cliques and who and why people belong, or don’t.  With luck some may even see the idiocy of the system and make an effort not to participate as a stereotype, but as a member of the same school.


I think an interesting project to do with this book would be to have students try to explain why Melinda never spoke up to protect herself.  Why did it take the IT, Andy Evans, coming after her ex-best friend and a foreign exchange student, to provoke Melinda into action to help someone — not herself?

Another interesting topic would be to have the students make there own piece of art to represent Melinda like one of Mr. Freeman’s projects. Image from: http://undergrowth.org/system/files/images/tree-of-life-web.jpg

Perhaps I could recommend students watch the movie Speak and discuss similarities/differences and maybe ponder if the film would have been more successful post Twilight, since it stars Kristen Stewart.