Book Review: Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles

jumping off swingsTitle: Jumping Off Swings

Author: Jo Knowles

Publisher: Candlewick Press

Release Date: August 11, 2009

Source: E-book purchased by reviewer

Reviewer: Cindy Minnich

Summary (From Goodreads): 

One pregnancy. Four friends. It all adds up to a profound time of change in this poignant, sensitively written YA novel.

Ellie remembers how the boys kissed her. Touched her. How they
begged for more. And when she gave it to them, she felt loved. For a while anyway. So when Josh, an eager virgin with a troubled home life, leads her from a party to the backseat of his van, Ellie follows. But their “one-time thing” is far from perfect: Ellie gets pregnant. Josh reacts with shame and heartbreak, while their confidantes, Caleb and Corinne, deal with their own complex swirl of emotions. No matter what Ellie chooses, all four teenagers will be forced to grow up a little faster as a result. Told alternately from each character’s point of view, this deeply insightful novel explores the aftershocks of the biggest decision of one fragile girl’s life — and the realities of leaving innocence behind.

Jumping Off Swings is hardly the same old cautionary tale of boy-hooks-up-with-girl-and-girl-gets-pregnant. Jo Knowles thoughtfully weaves together the thoughts and reactions of four friends to the “one-time thing” that happens between Josh and Ellie – and the consequences that come from it.

What I love about this book is that there is no one same response to what has happened. We learn that Ellie is desperate for love and has been heartbroken more than once by “one-time things.” We learn that her friend Corrine is both frustrated and curious about her best friend’s experiences – and more than a bit disappointed as she is sure from watching her sister’s relationships that you can have a sexual relationship that doesn’t leave you feeling the way Ellie seems to feel. Josh is quick to brag about his sexual conquest to his friends, but he’s haunted by what he saw in Ellie’s face as he quickly got away from her that night out of embarrassment and shame.

Even though I appreciate the other characters’ voices in this story, I find that it’s Caleb’s narrative that intrigues me the most. He has been in love with Ellie since the first grade and hearing the locker room banter of Josh and the other boys who have hooked up with her crushes him – leaving him to realize that “[his] best friend has officially become an asshole” (p. 10 of 149).  Caleb’s smart enough to wonder though if he’s angry about them talking this way about any girl – or if it’s only because they are talking about Ellie…and he wonders if he isn’t any better than the rest of them.

The other part of Caleb’s narrative line in this story is his mother. She is quick to catch on that her son is angry about something and they have a close enough relationship that he feels safe to tell her what’s happened between Josh and Ellie. She challenges the double standard at work in Caleb’s mind when she asks him, “Since when does having sex make someone less special?” (p. 22 of 149). Her questions about the motivations and possible explanations for his friends’ actions challenge the reader to think about public words versus private words/thoughts about sex, values, and attitudes towards the roles of both men and women in intimate relationships as the book goes on and the relationships of the four friends evolve.

This book should be in classroom libraries and easily available to our students. Unfortunately, many students are probably not blessed with parents who would be so open to having these conversations with their children – or they don’t feel comfortable enough talking about these issues with the other adults in their lives. Books offer a safe place to consider these questions and the consequences of their actions and words.

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Posted in Gender Relations, YALit 2.0 | Leave a comment

Audiobook Review: Beauty Queens by Libba Bray

Beauty QueensTitle: Beauty Queens

Author: Libba Bray

Narrator: Libba Bray

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Release Date: May 24th, 2011

Source: Audiobook borrowed from the library

Reviewer: Sarah Andersen

Summary (From Goodreads): 

The fifty contestants in the Miss Teen Dream pageant thought this was going to be a fun trip to the beach, where they could parade in their state-appropriate costumes and compete in front of the cameras. But sadly, their airplane had another idea, crashing on a desert island and leaving the survivors stranded with little food, little water, and practically no eyeliner.

What’s a beauty queen to do? Continue to practice for the talent portion of the program – or wrestle snakes to the ground? Get a perfect tan – or learn to run wild? And what should happen when the sexy pirates show up?

Welcome to the heart of non-exfoliated darkness. Your tour guide? None other than Libba Bray, the hilarious, sensational, Printz Award-winning author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Going Bovine. The result is a novel that will make you laugh, make you think, and make you never see beauty the same way again.

For my sophomores, we finished the school year reading Lord of the Flies. At one point during the unit I told them about Beauty Queens and admitted that I hadn’t read it, but that I knew it would be a good book to read if they were enjoying Lord of the Flies. I decided this summer that I needed to read Libba Bray’s satire even though I won’t be teaching sophomores again this coming school year.

I’ll be the first to admit that I was hesitant to read the actual book because of its length. The audio itself is over 14 hours long, but after listening to a sample and thinking about all the time I’d have to listen to an audiobook, I decided to stick with that format. And I couldn’t be more thankful! Libba Bray narrates Beauty Queens and I can’t imagine a better narrator for her book. I’ve listened to quite a few audiobooks over the past couple years and this is by far my favorite audio. I never questioned which character was speaking. In fact, I am still impressed by how well Bray changed her voice and accent for each character. Also, I’m usually not a fan of footnotes because they distract me, but listening to Bray read the footnotes was not only funny, but also usually a smooth transition between scenes in the story. The entire production of this audiobook was absolutely fantastic.

The story itself is SO SMART. Our focus in YA Lit 101 right now is gender relations and Beauty Queens definitely addresses that. Libba Bray has packed this book full of issues to consider when it comes to gender and our expectations. She raises so many questions. What do we really expect from our girls and women? What is considered beauty? What double standards exists for men and women and why do we allow them to continue? How much does the media influence our lives and expectations? Bray addresses all of these issues with wit and thoughtfulness. It’s obvious that she took her time writing this book and researching the issues.

I’ll admit that the ending is a bit campy and over the top, but it still fits the story and is so much fun. And despite Beauty Queens’ length, I would love to find a way to use this book in my classroom. It pairs well with Lord of the Flies and it also addresses enough issues to stand on its own. Because it’s a satire and so much fun to read, I think students will really enjoy reading this and take a lot away from it. There are so many articles and current issues that can be tied to this book and discussed. I think it would be interesting to come up with a variety of essential questions or themes, put students in groups that are each assigned a different essential question or theme, and have them read the book and focus on that one area. It would be exciting to occasionally have a full class discussion on each of the focal points to see what students think and how they respond to the different points.

I genuinely hope that you’ll read Beauty Queens and experience the audio. I can’t imagine reading it any other way. It may be long, but it’s worth your while and definitely worth adding to your classroom library.

Posted in Book Review, Gender Relations, YALit 2.0 | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Intro to Gender Relations: Syllabus

There has been no shortage of discussion in the news about gender relations. Stories about bullying, sexual harassment, slut-shaming, and double-standards abound. So much of adolescence is about learning to find your place in and among the groups around you and much of those navigations seem tied to our gender. We have always looked to our peers and our families and respected adults to see what’s acceptable in the world we live in. These influences haven’t always agreed, but these days learning what’s right and fair and respectful can get further clouded by the onslaught of media messages. How do we help our students learn to CHOOSE KIND – or even to be empathetic enough to know what that would look like in the new situations they will find themselves in as they grow up?  How do we make these important social changes and change the way we think and act?

this one summerOne way to perpetuate this change is through exposing readers to books that draw attention to these issues. Our common text, the graphic novel This One Summer does this through both its text and images. There are scenes that demonstrate just how impressionable teens are to the social cues around them – and how important it is for us to talk about the significance of our words and actions when dealing with each other.

Diversity, in terms of gender relations, is not so much about how many books exist with female characters or male characters – but about the number of books that call our attention to the stereotypes and biases that we might have acquired over the years. No change can happen unless we feel willing to admit that they exist.

This One Summer by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is a story that looks at two young girls on vacation with their families who give us the opportunity to experience the social world around them – of relationships close to them and those they are only just noticing – through their eyes.

We invite you to read This One Summer along with us and consider the ways in which we can discuss this as readers with other readers.

 

July 27 – August 2, 2014 Book Reviews of Related TitlesForum opens for sharing related titlesForum opens for teaching resources on this themeThis One Summer Giveaway Information Posted
August 3 – 9, 2014 Guest Blogger Book Reviews of Related Titles
August 10 -16, 2014 Guest Blogger Book Reviews of Related Titles
August 17 – 23, 2014 Guest Posts on the Theme
August 26, 2014 Twitter Chat Discussing This One Summer – #yalit101 – at 8 PM ESTWinner of Book Giveaway Announced
August 29, 2014 Chat Archive to Be Posted

Posted in YALit 2.0 | Tagged | 2 Comments

Summer Session 2014: Relaunching and Reimagining YA Lit 101

When we got a few messages asking us whether we would be doing YA Lit 101 again, we had to think about what we wanted to do. Last summer we spent time introducing teachers and readers to genres and discussing books online.

As fun as it was, it seemed like there might be something more we could do.

Since this all happened around the time when we were watching the #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign unfold and grow, it wasn’t surprising that our conversations turned to that for inspiration.

Sarah did a survey to see if her female students in class were finding themselves in the books they read. The results showed that many of her students want to read books with strong independent female protagonists. They want to see girls playing sports. They want to see girls not relying on guys all the time. But many also want love stories. They are diverse readers and want diverse stories that appeal to them. This made us think about our readers as a whole.

Sarah’s girls are not any different from any other readers. Readers are part of all sorts of demographics – gender, age, sexual orientation, race, religion, football fans, people who love cats or dogs or parakeets, people who find Monty Python funny, people who struggle with illness, people who are grieving, people who have been abused, people who play video games or read or write or plan to take over the world. We don’t always choose to read books depending on any one aspect of our personality, but when we never see ourselves anywhere – or worse, we only see the mirrors of ourselves in hazy, token, stereotypical forms – we are missing out.

But so is everyone else who might want to have a window into the world of our experiences.

So in a reinvisioned look at YA Lit 101, we want to not only talk about how and why #WeNeedDiverseBooks of all stripes in YA, but also how we can use these titles to challenge the status quo, to offer both mirrors and windows to our students and to discover truths about each other and ourselves.

On Thursday, we’ll announce the first theme and book pick for August.  We’re excited about this book and theme and hope that you’ll add your voice to the conversation.

Posted in YALit 2.0 | 6 Comments

Intro to Dystopian: The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey

The 5th Wave

Since this whole class is optional, you can choose to participate (or not) whenever you wish.

However, if you choose to participate, we want to make clear our expectations for that participation.

  • Realize that you should have the book read before you read through the comments. Spoilers will likely appear in the conversations, so please do not be surprised or angry if this happens.

  • Bring reader questions and observations about the text. We will throw our own questions and observations out for you to consider,  but your questions and observations are as important and necessary in this as ours.

  • Please abide by the Thumper Rule when interacting with others:

  • Back up what you’re asking or saying with quotes and page numbers so that we can all follow along.

  • Think about and share possible thematic text connections (classics, YA lit, picture books, poetry, non fiction texts, news stories, movies, YouTube videos). This will be especially helpful information for the teachers among  us, but it’s good thinking for all of us.

Some additional housekeeping thoughts:

  • Please try to respond to be careful about responding to comments – keep main threads together, but try not to get where it is so indented that no one can read what you’re posting!
  • Also consider clicking “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” when you post a comment. This will keep you informed of continued discussion without having to come back at random intervals to see if there is anything new.
  • Consider introducing yourself briefly in your first post and including a link for your blog if you have one.

ONE FINAL WARNING:

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS DISCUSSION!

DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK!

Posted in Dystopian, Summer 2013 | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Intro to Dystopian: The Summer Prince by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Summer Prince

Since this whole class is optional, you can choose to participate (or not) whenever you wish.

However, if you choose to participate, we want to make clear our expectations for that participation.

  • Realize that you should have the book read before you read through the comments. Spoilers will likely appear in the conversations, so please do not be surprised or angry if this happens.

  • Bring reader questions and observations about the text. We will throw our own questions and observations out for you to consider,  but your questions and observations are as important and necessary in this as ours.

  • Please abide by the Thumper Rule when interacting with others:

  • Back up what you’re asking or saying with quotes and page numbers so that we can all follow along.

  • Think about and share possible thematic text connections (classics, YA lit, picture books, poetry, non fiction texts, news stories, movies, YouTube videos). This will be especially helpful information for the teachers among  us, but it’s good thinking for all of us.

Some additional housekeeping thoughts:

  • Please try to respond to be careful about responding to comments – keep main threads together, but try not to get where it is so indented that no one can read what you’re posting!
  • Also consider clicking “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” when you post a comment. This will keep you informed of continued discussion without having to come back at random intervals to see if there is anything new.
  • Consider introducing yourself briefly in your first post and including a link for your blog if you have one.

ONE FINAL WARNING:

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS DISCUSSION!

DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK!

Posted in Dystopian, Summer 2013 | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Intro to Dystopian: Legend by Marie Lu

Legend

Since this whole class is optional, you can choose to participate (or not) whenever you wish.

However, if you choose to participate, we want to make clear our expectations for that participation.

  • Realize that you should have the book read before you read through the comments. Spoilers will likely appear in the conversations, so please do not be surprised or angry if this happens.

  • Bring reader questions and observations about the text. We will throw our own questions and observations out for you to consider,  but your questions and observations are as important and necessary in this as ours.

  • Please abide by the Thumper Rule when interacting with others:

  • Back up what you’re asking or saying with quotes and page numbers so that we can all follow along.

  • Think about and share possible thematic text connections (classics, YA lit, picture books, poetry, non fiction texts, news stories, movies, YouTube videos). This will be especially helpful information for the teachers among  us, but it’s good thinking for all of us.

Some additional housekeeping thoughts:

  • Please try to respond to be careful about responding to comments – keep main threads together, but try not to get where it is so indented that no one can read what you’re posting!
  • Also consider clicking “Notify me of follow-up comments via email.” when you post a comment. This will keep you informed of continued discussion without having to come back at random intervals to see if there is anything new.
  • Consider introducing yourself briefly in your first post and including a link for your blog if you have one.

ONE FINAL WARNING:

THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THIS DISCUSSION!

DO NOT PROCEED IF YOU HAVE NOT READ THE BOOK!

Posted in Dystopian, Summer 2013 | Tagged , | 7 Comments