Friday, May 27, 2011

By the Time you Read this, I'll be Dead

     By the Time you Read this, I'll be Dead by Julie Anne Peters is a very heart-wrenching, but important book to read, especially if you love a child or care about bullying.  The book was well-written and is a realistic portrayal of bullying and suicide.  
     Daelyn has been bullied her entire life.  Her parents try to help with advice like, "Sticks and stones...."  They feel helpless and struggle to help her, but it alienates Daelyn. 
     After being assaulted in the boy's bathroom, she becomes suicidal.  She has tried several times to kill herself, but always "fails."  This time will be different.  Daelyn finds a website called Through-the-Light.  It promises to help you kill yourself, but you must agree to wait for a minimum of 23 days.  Daelyn anxiously counts down days to her death.  In those 23 days we see how daily bullying can lead to a self-hatred so deep, death seems the only way out.  Daelyn cannot stop the bullies, but she can stop the hurt.  It is her way of taking back her own power. 
    I loved Santana.  He seemed very real and I liked him instantly.  Santana was totally different than the other kids in the book, which was interesting because he was also the only kid to be home schooled in the book.  By putting all of the kids together and ignoring their behavior, do they revert to savagery?  Do we as teachers and administrators subconciously (or otherwise) allow bullying to go on because it prepares them for real life?  Do we think they become harder and ready to deal with the cruel world of business?  Hmmmm...
     Although I liked Santana's mom, I felt she was an undeveloped character that just served as a foil for Daelyn's relationship to her parents.  I would have liked to see her develop more on her own merits. 
    The thing I didn't like was the ending.  I have been Daelyn in different times in my life and the ending was not believable.   Daelyn could make the decision she made in time, but it is unrealistic to come to that decision in the last two pages of the book.  I think the author should have spent more time leading her to that decision or have cut out the last chapter and left us to wonder what she would choose.
     This book is more appropriate for high school students because of the graphic details of the assault and the pros and cons of various methods of suicide.  It is a good book for teens dealing with suicide or bullying.  It is also a good book for the adults in their lives that have forgotten how horrible bullying is when you are in school.  Daelyn's parents have forgotten what it is like, so they are unable to help their daughter effectively.  

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Sideways Stories from Wayside School

     Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar is one of my favorite children's books.  Wayside School is a silly school that holds thirty classrooms, thirty stories high.  The students in Mrs. Jewls class are on the thirtieth story. 
     I love the kids in the class, but my favorite story is Mrs. Gorf.  She is an evil teacher that hates children and turns them into apples.  Everyone thinks she is a wonderful teacher because she always has so many apples on her desk.  Everyone knows that kids only bring apples to good teachers, right?  The apples and the last few children fight back in a surprising way.
     The stories are short, have great illustrations by Julie Brinckloe, and are funny.  It is a great book for kids just getting into chapter books or reluctant readers who have low reading levels.  It's also good just to enjoy as a quick read with your favorite child - my favorite way to read it! 

Winter Garden

     Winter Garden by Kristin Hannah is an amazing book.  It truly changed me as a woman and mother. 
     By living through the Siege of Leningrad as a young wife and mother, Vera is forced to make decisions that no woman should ever have to make.  She faces devastating losses and manages to keep living because that is what the women in her life have taught her to do.  Guilt and heartbreak close her heart to a relationship with her daughters.  Her husband's dying wish is for her to tell their daughters a fairy tale that she began and never finished.  Like all fairytales, this is the only hope for love and redemption.
     Kristin Hannah is an incredible writer.  Her writing is lyrical and poignant, while staying realistic and believable.  Reading her words made me feel like I was in the fairytale world of Peter's Window to the West.  Like the girls, I waited breathlessly to hear more of the fairytale that could only be told in the dark of night.  Kristin also put the two stories together seamlessly.  Although the ending was a bit hard to believe, I was very thankful she chose the ending she did because I loved the characters as if they were myself and Vera deserved her ending. 
     I often read books for young adults, but this book is written for adults - both content and the depth of life you need to understand the characters.  This book is my new favorite book.  It is a powerful book - especially for women.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Among the Hidden

     My class just finished reading Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix. 
     Luke is one of the Shadow Children; the 3rd child born in a family.  In this futuristic world, overpopulation has caused mass starvation and famines.  To alleviate these issues, the government has forbidden many things: pets, junk food, and more than two children per family. 
     Luke is forced to hide day after day in the attic looking out vents at the world he can't be a part of in any form.  Life changes for Luke when he discovers another third child hiding in the house behind his house.    
     After breaking into her house and a few minutes of danger, Luke and Jen become best friends.  Like the best friendships, the two are opposites.  Where Luke is fearful and timid, Jen is defiant and strong-willed. 
     Jen is planning a rally where thousands of shadow children will walk in front of the president's house to free the children. Luke must decide if he is willing to risk his life for his freedom. 
     Since this was our last book of the year, I let my students vote on the book they wanted to read.  The kids loved it!  They couldn't wait to read everyday.  They got very attached to the characters, so much so that one chapter brought many of the girls to tears.  It also led us to great discussions about food shortages, world population, and the One Child Policy in China.  
     It is a great book for reluctant readers, but they will need some scaffolding on the underlying issues in the book about Totalitarianism, government control, overpopulation and what people will do for their freedom. 
     I loved this book and plan to read the sequel because I need to know what happens to Luke.  I love this kid!