It’s Monday! What are You Reading?

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I’ve never read Les Miserables. I’ve never watched the play or the movie. So what do I do? I jump into the manga version. Yeah, that would be me. I can’t stay away from good looking manga. So here it is: Les Miserables, originally written by Victor Hugo, adapted by Crystal Silvermoon, scripted by Stacy King, and featuring art by SunNeko Lee.

Les Miserables manga 2

The story gets good right off the bat. It reads a bit like a classic fairy tale. The best thing about the whole thing though is the art. As you can see in the picture above, the art in this graphic novel / manga adaptation is absolutely amazing. I have another graphic novel by the same people, The Scarlet Letter, which I will be getting to after this one and I am already excited about it.

If you’re into manga or graphic novels in general and you like the classics like I do, this is definitely one to get your hands on. Pick it up, read it, and hit me up. I would love a good discussion on this book. 🙂

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Diversity in Literature: A Generic Title

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The blog for this week is one that I still don’t really understand after having read the articles on it: diversity in literature. The questions asked include why are there not more people of colors portrayed as main characters of books and what affect this might have on students.

Certainly when a student reads, they look for a character they can relate to. Kids look for something that represents their own lives in the literature. From what I can figure out, it seems that the authors here are saying that children of color can’t relate to a white character or a character who is even assumed to be white. While I have read quite a few books starring children of color this semester, I have to say that the authors are right in assessing that most books are written from a white perspective.

My question is this: if most characters are written from a white perspective and we want this to change, how do we go about changing it? It seems to me that the answer would be get more racial diversity represented as authors. However, if it is so difficult to inspire students of color to become readers and writers, how do we get them to become published authors? What we are presented with is a catch-22. If we can’t get more diversity in literature, we can’t inspire more minority students to become authors. If we can’t inspire more minority students to become authors, we can’t have a sharp rise in the amount of literature that we want. After all, white people can’t really write the kind of literature that these authors are demanding. Even if they do, they get criticized (no matter whether the book is good or bad) for pretending to know the struggle of minority groups.

So how do we fix the problem? Because of society today, as a white male, I feel completely powerless to change anything. The best I can do is put more books with a more diverse cast of characters in my classroom library. I would like to now take suggestions from the community.

Sold on Sold

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For this week, I thought I would bring you all my thoughts on a book that we read for this week’s book club meeting: Sold by Patricia McCormick. The book is a realistic, researched look at modern day slavery in Nepal and India. A girl named Lakshmi leads a simple life in a small mountain-top village in Nepal. Her family doesn’t have a lot and their situation isn’t helped by the fact that her father spends his days gambling at the local tea house. One day, Lakshmi’s father sells her to a woman she calls Antie who she thinks will take her to work in the city as a maid. However, the truth is worse than she could ever have known.

[Minor Spoilers Ahead]

The biggest thing I noticed throughout the course of the book was how sheltered Lakshmi was in her mountain town. When she starts her new life in the city, the girls she works with put makeup on her which she describes as being like “red chilis” and “black crayon.” When she sees a television for the first time, she has no idea what to call it. When she goes to the city, she expects to see rooftops made of gold, but instead, she sees the same poverty she grew up in on a larger scale. Everything is new yet painfully familiar.

Images of sickening brutality are soon to follow in Happiness House, the brothel to which Lakshmi has been sold. Red chilis are used in unimaginable ways as punishment for the girls who work there when they disobey Mumtaz, the madam of Happiness House. When the older woman who works there crosses her, Mumtaz suggests she sell her her own daughter, now only a baby. Mumtaz says that in only a few years men will pay a lot of money to sleep with the pure child in hopes of curing their diseases.

Though so much of the story is bleak and violent, there is hope yet. Lakshmi shows strength throughout and holds onto hope for a better future. Read the book for more. I highly recommend it to anyone who doesn’t mind shedding a tear.

Banning Books: Knock it Off.

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Those who know me are probably aware that I’ve been called a radical. I don’t believe in censorship in any form, but least of all the censorship of books. To paraphrase George Carlin, controlling language is how you control thought. Those who seek to control your language seek to control how you think. If you try to keep everything you don’t agree with away from everyone else, how is anyone expected to form their own opinions and come up with their own ideas?

Of the challenged books of 2014, I didn’t see many that I recognized. One of the few I did was Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. The reasons listed for the book being challenged were gambling, offensive language, and having a “political viewpoint.” First of all, how are we going to teach kids about the dangers of gambling addiction if the subject never comes up? Do we really want to shield our children from any and all representations of gambling? If so, what is stopping them from falling into the pit themselves?

I won’t even go into “offensive language” because of how incredibly stupid the idea of “bad words” seems to me.

The last reason listed was that the book had a political viewpoint. When you break it down though, couldn’t you say the same about absolutely everything? By including a point of view of any sort, you have opened up the possibility that it will be politicized. Furthermore, if we are so offended by political viewpoints, then why do we teach the United States constitution in our schools? That thing is one huge political viewpoint.

In summation, banning books is a dangerous proposition that threatens to create closed minded adults out of our students. If you don’t teach kids that anything exists outside of the bubble they have grown up in, what are they going to do when confronted with another opinion, or God forbid, change?

Red: An Uplifting Story of Depressing Mortality

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WARNING: Small spoilers ahead. Not bad, but a warning is in order.

This week, I got back to the book Red and finished it up. The book is a re-imagining of the classic fairy tale of Little Red Riding Hood by Liesl Shurtliff. Red is a witch taught by her grandmother, the wolf is her companion, and her friends are Rump (Rumpelstiltskin) and Goldie (Goldilocks and the Three Bears). Though we don’t hear a lot about Rump, Goldy is present throughout the whole story. There’s an entirely different book by the same author about Rump, so I’ll be getting to that next or after one other book.

Without giving away too much, this story is about a girl’s journey trying to preserve life while slowly coming to the realization that death is inevitable. It doesn’t have to be a bad thing though; some things are just meant to be. Because of this, the overall message of the story is something which everyone can really connect with, some more than others. I finally figured out while reading the book why my teacher said she couldn’t bear to read it to her adopted son. Goldy has some issues and they’re not ok (with my brain anyway; not ashamed to say I almost cried).

One thing in particular that really interested me about this book was the imagination of the author in creating different versions of classic fairy tale creatures we all know and love. For example, who has heard of the fact that dwarves have to lead you anywhere you want to go or give you directions if you catch them by the beard? I’ve never heard of such a thing, but it was a great way to introduce other things into the book. Further on, the dwarves serve the purpose of exploring the reasons for humanity’s fear of mortality.

Overall, a really great read. This book fits perfectly into the “young adult literature” category despite its fairy tale appearance. If you like fairy tales and childhood (and who doesn’t) but you’re also an adult who has their own problems, pick it up.

Required Reading (*snore*)

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Are teenagers reading too little in high school? Definitely. Are teachers the reason? For the most part, yeah. We have to admit there is a problem before we can start to solve it. Who else remembers being assigned the book To Kill A Mockingbird in high school? How many of us actually read it all the way through? Not many. While I found the book to be enjoyable, I know the majority of the class never made it past the first few pages, if they even started at all.

I didn’t find all of the assigned reading to be enjoyable though; far from it. All throughout high school, I probably read a total of three books that were assigned for class. One of those was a text book on American history too, so that tells you how uninteresting the books I was being assigned in my English classes were. The rest of the reading I did was all at home. I read for fun. Some of my favorite books were ones that my English teachers suggested I read outside of school. They themselves were limited to the books that students had been reading in the same school since the 1960’s, but they knew that not many students these days (if ever) would be interested in them. Consequently, because they were limited to these few books, students quickly lost interest.

It was because of my teachers that I read anything at all. It was because of the restrictions placed on them that I read next to nothing that I was actually supposed to read for school. I think all of the teachers knew that this was what was going on too. Some teachers in other schools simply teach this way because this is what they know. This is how they were taught. Other teachers have less of a choice. Together though, we can make a difference. Allow your students to read what they want to read. Find out what excites them and make use of that. If your school has a set curriculum, work to change it for the sake of your students!

Thirteen Days of Midnight

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Here we go with another book review. Between O&P and this being a book randomly picked off of the shelf at the school library, it took me a while to get around to it and even longer to get it finished while reading other books. Glad I got through it though. To begin, let’s give you the general idea:

The main character, Luke, is an average teenager. Problems at school, a teenage crush, the whole nine. He’s got a dad he doesn’t know too much about too. We’re starting off pretty generic. Things get a lot more interesting though when Luke’s dad dies and leaves Luke a considerable fortune. When Luke is asked to sign the papers for his father’s estate, things get a little hectic. You see, this is why I always read contracts: because maybe I too will one day inherit a horde of angry ghosts. Unlike most characters we hear about coming up with magical powers, Luke’s powers are just sort of thrust upon him when he unknowingly signs up to become a necromancer. It’s not the typical necromancer I’m used to who raises an army of the bloodthirsty dead, but still good.

Now that Luke has found his real inheritance, it’s time to find out how to get the ghosts under control before they turn against him. There are a host of rules and instructions to follow left to Luke by his father which both help him and complicate things a bit. We have to have some hurdles to jump, after all. The book kind of goes on from there to the ending I expected, but all the same, I wasn’t disappointed.

Of the writing style, I will say it was better than many I have read, but nothing particularly outstanding. The author threw in a bit of humor here and there, but it wasn’t really my style. It did at least stay interesting enough throughout because of the threat of ghosts ripping the protagonist to shreds (though this is YA lit so I didn’t really expect it to happen).

Overall, not bad. Given I have my own tastes and opinions which tend to differ wildly from other YA readers, I think I would give this a six out of ten. I feel like that might be a bit harsh, but then again, I’m a tough customer. Try reading it yourself and tell me what you think. I know a lot of people out there who would probably get a real kick out of it.