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Summertime Reading

Before school let out for the summer, I kept getting asked, “What are you going to be doing this summer?”

I always responded with, “Taking a Reading Endorsement class, attending workshops, and getting my classroom ready for August.”

I didn’t see much time in my schedule for anything but work.

Thankfully, my summer is turning out a lot more pleasant than I’d anticipated.

I successfully completed my class seven and a half weeks ahead of schedule thanks to my digging in and working hard as soon as that final school bell rang.

Working in my classroom has come to a halt until the previous teacher, now “officially” in the role of Administrative Assistant at my school, removes her stuff from her old/my new classroom.  That should happen next week.

My inservice workshops kick into high gear the week after next.

Thus, I’ve had some down time.

What have I done with the time?

Take a look at the following…

Those are five of the six books I purchased for my classroom as soon as I got my summer paychecks.  I didn’t want to put them in my classroom without at least having read them.  After all, it’s hard to recommend books for students if you haven’t actually read them yourself.

So, I started working my way through them.

I started off with Hate List, by Jennifer Brown.

This book is about Valerie, a girl whose boyfriend kills and injures students at the high school they attend.  He wounds Valerie before killing himself.  The book is told from her perspective and tells the story of how she must come to terms with his actions, which stemmed from a list they made of those they hated.  The book ultimately tells the story of forgiveness.  A side theme, but no less important, is how we misconstrue the small actions of others.

The entire time I read the book, I kept thinking about the Columbine tragedy.  It was eerie, I’ll admit, but my heart went out to Valerie as she struggled within the arenas of home and school to fight through the blame and hurt surrounding this tragedy.

It made for a very good read.

The next book I read was Sarah’s Key, by Tatiana de Rosnay.

I’ve always been intrigued by stories about the Holocaust.  I have read extensively about it, both in history classes and on my own.

This book is about a French Jewish girl, Sarah, who locks her brother in a hidden closet during a midnight raid, now known as the Vel’ d’Hiv’ roundup, that’s initiated by the French police.  She promises her brother that she will come back for him when she’s let go.

She’s too young to understand what’s happening, and she doesn’t get to go back as promised.

Fast forward sixty years, and American-born journalist Julia Jarmond is assigned the task of writing about the roundup.  Through carefully constructed twists of fate, the lives of these two women intersect, and the secret of what happens to Sarah’s brother is revealed.

This story was difficult to read, as is most literature about this time period.  The thought that humans could be so cruel to a race “selected” to be of lesser value is beyond comprehension, and this story is heartbreaking.

I love the way the book’s chapters alternate between Sarah’s story and Julia’s.  I love the open ending, which allows the reader to create a future to suite one’s taste.

I hope my students enjoy this book and will use it as a springboard to researching other incidents in history.  I may use this as a read-aloud with just such an assignment attached.  We shall see.

It wasn’t long after closing the cover on Sarah’s Key that I began my next book…Snitch, by Allison van Diepen.

I first discovered this book last school year when I saw it on Amazon when I was looking for other books to buy.  The cover caught my attention immediately, as it will my students, I’ll bet.

This story is about Julia, a gal who does her best to avoid getting involved in the gang scene at school.  Despite her promise to herself and her best friend, she does get sucked in, thanks to her attraction to a member of the opposite sex (I’ve always advocated that teenage dating is not a good idea).

To protect her new guy, she warns him of an attack, and boy does she pay the price, as only a snitch can.

Julia finds herself caught between a rock and a hard place, with difficult choices to make and each choice leading to its own consequences.

This is a story about how, sometimes, things aren’t black and white.

As a person who doesn’t see a lot of gray areas in life, this book caught me off guard.  I realized that I live life with rose-colored glasses and often fail to see what’s simmering below the surface of my students’ lives.

I never had to worry about things like gangs and drugs in school, thank heavens.  However, the kids I teach do have to worry.  I’ve seen students looking over their shoulders as they try to get to the bathroom safely.

After reading this book, I understand the gang dynamics a lot better, and it’s my hope that with me teaching ninth graders, perhaps I will be able to really “hear” what’s going on…the challenges my students face as they adjust to high school…the pressures they face to fit in.

The next book I began reading was by the same author…Street Pharm.

This was a wonderful book and such an eye-opener for me!

It tells the story of Ty, a high school student who takes over his father’s drug business after his father gets sent to prison.

Prior to reading the book, I thought I wouldn’t like Ty.  I mean, knowing what his occupation was made me turn my nose up.

Then, I started reading his story, and I couldn’t help but feel empathy for him.

He tries so hard to do the right thing, and he does sometimes; however, he’s so caught up in the business that he can’t get out.

Ty’s story isn’t all that different from any other person’s.  We all get caught up in doing stuff we know isn’t right (although I’d like to believe that the majority of us don’t participate in illegal activities).

Everyone fights the side of us that wants to act “right” … until our humanness takes over.

I saw so many of my own students through the struggles that Ty goes through, and it broke my heart.

I really think my students will like both of van Diepen’s books…both for the short chapters and for characters that are easy to relate to.

The last of this group of books that I read was Cut, by Patricia McCormick.

This is the story of Callie, a young girl who is in a treatment center because she cuts herself.

Callie tells her own story…about the group of girls she’s placed with…about her struggles to speak…about the one-on-one therapy sessions she must endure.

Callie’s story is raw, and you feel her emotions deeply.

Her story moved me.  I was touched as I watched her grow fond of the other girls who are struggling with their own issues…mostly cutting and eating disorders.

Callie’s family is a mess, to boot, so this story isn’t just about her coming to terms with what’s causing her to harm herself but seeking forgiveness from her family and learning to forgive herself.

The last two sections of the book include an interview with the author and her own final thoughts on the book.  I was impressed to read about her uncertainty when she asked a group of girls from a rehabilitation facility to read her manuscript and provide input.

She wanted to make sure she got the details correct and was astounded when all was, surprisingly, accurate.

This is another book that I believe my students…probably the girls mainly…will enjoy.

All of these books books should be in a high school reading or English teacher’s classroom library.  They are relevant to kids’ lives, and they provide openings for discussing the issues that kids are facing today.

3 Responses

  1. Your initial photograph of that stack of books actually made my stomach leap with pleasure. Who would have thought that a pile of books would do that?! I consider myself a bookaholic and I suppose seeing those books is like a chocoholic eyeing up a huge bar of Dairy Milk!

    I am not keen on books about the Holocaust (perhaps because they make me too uncomfortable, nothing wrong with that) but I do really like the look of the the two books about teenagers, caught up in the horrible grey areas between right and wrong, and where they are faced with choices that aren’t always that straightforward. I’d love to hear how your students get on with them in class. Even more so I’d love to know how those stories affect them later in their lives too. I envy you your position working with these kids at such a critical age. To share their journey is such a privilege.

    Hope you have a good summer and you get to enjoy your downtime 🙂

  2. Fabulous list. I have seen a few of these in the shelves. I will have to check them out. I think finding literature that is current and real is key for students who don’t necessary like to read. If you can put the right book in their hand you can change their perspective on reading for pleasure and possibly change their life. (That sounds profound, but reading is everything.)

  3. That is a powerful stack of books and should appeal to your students.

    I respect you even more for having read the books before you recommend them to your students. Trust me, that doesn’t happen very often. Kudos, my friend.

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