Combatting Bullies – One book at a time

This weekend I finished reading Positive, by Paige Rawl, with Ali Benjamin.   It is Paige’s memoir about growing up HIV positive, and her mother’s fierce struggle to keep herself, and Paige, healthy and happy.  It is also the story of how a happy childhood transitioned to a terrible middle school period, when her former best friend betrayed her, and told everyone that she had AIDS.  Paige is terribly bullied, and has a lot of trauma resulting from the experience.

I don’t want to give away too much, because this is a valuable read, but while the text takes us to dark places on Paige’s journey, there is also a lot of hope.  I also think that this is an important text for those of us in education to read.  I am ashamed to admit that I found myself having some bias that I had to confront regarding HIV and AIDS.  I found myself flipping to the back a couple of times to read the facts about HIV that Paige wisely included in the back – she also includes information to help those being bullied, and students that feel suicidal.  In a time when bullying often leads to terrible consequences, this is another important volume to help address the epidemic, and what we need to do to help.

If anyone would like to add some other anti- bullying books in the comments, I would love to add them to a list to help students in my buildings as well.

Verse Novels – Gateway books?

Earlier this year, one of my colleagues sent students over to the library to have me help them find novels in verse.  I did as asked, and helped several students find verse novels.  Later, she sent me a text, where she mentioned that verse novels seem to be a “gateway to enjoying literature for some students”.  This seems to me to be a great way to promote verse novels, especially with other teachers, because some students and teachers are reluctant to try a verse novel.  Kwame Alexander, the author of  The Crossover,  does address the confusion about what a verse novel is, in quite an entertaining way.

This weekend, I read May B., by Caroline Starr Rose, which deals with a twelve – year – old girl that is sent to work on the homestead of another family.  The novel is set on the Kansas plains, when the land was new frontier.  The harshness of the land, and the difficulty to survive really comes through in this novel in verse.  It  also made me think this would be a good paired text with some of the world literature stories students read about child labor, or give a different perspective on pioneer life.  It also made me think that verse novels really can be gateways into literature.  Their short text load per page can help motivate a struggling reader, and in the case of May B, the main character is herself struggling with dyslexia.

Maybe next year I will try and share more verse novels with students, both those that struggle, and those that need to expand their horizons into a new format.

Alienation and Loss through the End of the World

I recently read three novels that really drove home the importance of using a somewhat bizarre premise to get to the Truth.  Vivian Apple at the End of the World, by Katie Coyle; Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future by A.S. King; and the graphic novel Essex County Volume 1: Tales From The Farm, by Jeff Lemire.

All three have characters dealing with significant losses, and all of the main characters experience varying degrees of alienation from those around them.  While these are emotions typical in YA fiction, the methods the author’s used were refreshingly diverse and interesting.  For Vivian, the apocalypse has been predicted, but she does not believe it will happen.  When she goes home after a party, there are two holes in the ceiling, and her parents are gone.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future has a main character that is stuck.  She has been drifting since the suicide of her photographer mother, which happened when Glory was only four.  She is terrified of the same fate herself, and it takes the end of high school, and a really bizarre drinking choice, before she really starts to engage. The future is somewhat revealed to her, and it does not appear bright.

Finally, all of the characters in Essex County Volume 1: Tales From The Farm are dealing with deep personal losses, and it colors all of their interactions.  There is also the fear of an alien invasion.

All three texts deal with loss and alienation, but because of luminous writing, and making a premise that seems outwardly strange work for them, they all create the distance that people need to cope with a loss.  By seeing characters in a difficult, but somewhat fantastical situation, it can allow us to live the loss vicariously without it being too close to handle.

In a final note, part of what prompted my thinking here, was a perceived hashtag of #keepYAwierd – a hashtag I cannot seem to find.  Did I dream it?  Did it exist?  I don’t know, but these novels are part of what is #keepingyaexcellent.