ROBOT – review one book on Thursdays- Divergent by Veronica Roth

robotI’ve mentioned Divergent several times on this blog. Thing is, it’s on the top of my mind- next week I begin teaching it. So, I thought, why not review a book I am teaching? Especially since I am rereading it right now, making notes in my kobo and designing/modifying a unit of study for my students to complete on it. My brain is all divergent right now!

Divergent by Veronica Roth is a modern dystopian novel. Set in future Chicago, the world outside of the fence has been destroyed by war. Those who were left set about building a society, each with different ideas about why the last society went wrong. Some felt cowardliness, some felt dishonesty, some thought it was because people did not value knowledge. Others still felt it was because people did not help enough and more felt it was because people were not accepting enough. So they formed five groups – Dauntless (the brave), Candor (the honest), Erudite (the intelligent), Abnegation (the selfless) and Amity (the friendly). Each faction lives apart, but each contributes to the well being of the society. When a child reaches the age of 16, they choose which faction they will belong to for the rest of their lives – do they stay with their parents or seek a different way of life? Divergent hc c(2) They get tested, a test which is supposed to help them understand who they are. Our main character, Beatrice, was born into Abnegation. She is questioning if she belongs there -and then is tested. Her results are inconclusive – a dangerous result in their society. She is deemed divergent by her tester and told to never speak of it. She knows she could choose from any faction – stay with her family, as they are expecting, go to Dauntless or Erudite, the other two factions that came up as results for her. I will give a spoiler – she chooses Dauntless and becomes Tris, the first jumper and the “stiff” who is trying to be brave.

Divergent follows Tris through her training and we see her building relationships with her fellow transfers. She has to try to fit in to a faction that is perhaps the polar opposite from how she was raised and has some struggles. The biggest struggle, however, is suppressing her divergence – hiding that she can be more than one thing. This comes to a head in the end as she is forced to make choices and determine where she fits and what she feels is right and fair.

Divergent is a great book for teens, especially in the grades seven to twelve category. They are figuring themselves out – where do I fit, do I need a faction of support or can I survive without a group of people like myself? When you are forced to decide on one characteristic that defines you, sometimes you are hard pressed to determine what it might be – can I not be brave and honest? Caring and wise? When is it brave to be selfless or selfless to be brave? In teaching this novel, teens find themselves questioning these issues, which is a huge part in their development.

This novel is not perfect. It’s a little simplistic at times and there are characters that could be more developed. There are questions that you might have as a reader that are not addressed in this book – is there more to the world? Where do they get some of the things they can’t make? However, it is the strongest of the three (well, three and a set of novellas) that make up this series. And it does get you thinking, even as an adult – where do I belong and why?

I have read this book too many times to count,  in hard cover, soft cover and on my kobo app. The ISBN is 9780062024039.

Ten for Tuesday – Favourite Series

My top ten book series are hard to pick. And ever changing. Currently, this is the list. And, for the purposes of this list, I’ve considered not just series but books written as connections to each other – if a group of books could be read as stand alones but you find out what happens to other characters in books the author wrote, I’m going to count it.

anna dressed in blood

Anna Dressed in Blood series by Kendare Blake

1. It’s funny, I dislike horror books. I recently read ‘Carrie’ by Stephen King and am haunted by the story. However, the ‘Anna Dressed in Blood‘ series by Kendare Blake is one that I really enjoy. It’s just spooky enough but original enough – ghost hunter falls in love with a ghost. Personally I felt a little better with the concept of ghost hunters and loved how this one presented that profession as an accepted fact. Nicely written, great characters and action makes this series one I recommend to kids all the time if they like ghost based supernatural.

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And the…. series

2. This is one of those series that has major characters appearing as minor characters in books that follow theirs. I shall call it the ‘And the…‘ series by Stephanie Perkins.  Each titular female – Anna, Lola and Isla – has a story of their own. However, we see them and their companions in other books, sometimes in the circle of friends of the main character, sometimes referred to as people from the past. Anna graduated from the school where Isla goes and now works with Lola. They all end up in the same place at the end and we get a bit of resolution to all of the stories at the same time. Each book can stand alone, but together, it’s a beautifully connected story of romance and self discovery. At times, a little overly sweet but nicely done.

3. The Cinder series by Marissa Meyer is a mix of many of my favourite things – a retelling of a popular tale in a fresh new way,

The first three Cinder books.

The first three Cinder books.

a series where all the title characters have their own story that mixes with that of the others, strong females who kick butt. It starts with a retelling of Cinderella, in a futuristic world. It then moves to Little Red Riding Hood and her version of a big bad wolf and then to Rapunzel. The fourth book comes out next year to complete the Lunar Chronicles and hopefully bring Cinder to the place where she is meant to be. ‘Cinder’ is a book I book talk often and is one that is an option for our grade tens to choose for their book group study.

divergent-trilogy

Divergent.

4. Of course, of course, of course. The Divergent series by Veronica Roth. This series is not the strongest in terms of writing, it is one of the most popular and one that I enjoyed immensely. Sure, the second book is a placeholder to get to the third and sure there were issues in what was presented in terms of their world. But it has stayed with me and continues to bring me enjoyment as I revisit the world of Tris every fall when my grade ten classes study ‘Divergent’.

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Hunger Games!

5. If I mention Divergent, I have to mention The Hunger Games. I teach ‘The Hunger Games’ to my third year class. However, I love all three books. When I first read ‘The Hunger Games’ I didn’t know it was a series – finding out that there were two more books to experience the world of Katniss was a beautiful gift. I do think that Gale is a… well, I don’t like Gale. I do like the ending – it’s not a big ending, not a huge ending but it’s the right ending for Katniss and I like that. I can’t wait to see the third movie!

HarryPotterU.K

Harry Potter

6. Harry Potter. Harry Potter. Harry Potter. I have written before about how Harry Potter  impacted me and my reading – how I came to it late but embraced it wholeheartedly. I think that it’s an excellent example of how one character can be a hero through a series, but each story can have their own hero arc. I love how the relationships develop. I love the memes and graphics that have come from it and the emotions that so much of the world has for these series. My favourite book (besides the last one, out of necessity of story conclusion) is the third book – ironically it’s my least favourite of the movies. I love theories about how one gets into Gryffindor. It’s a wonderful series.

Percy!

7. Percy Jackson is a series that I enjoy, but that my son enjoys as well. It’s great being able to talk about series with my son. He plans to be Percy for hallowe’en and we’re having a fun time finding a costume for him. We both love that there’s spin off series (Heroes of Olympus! Last book out on the 7th of October!) and that there are characters who mess up, try hard and eventually find their way home. I like the portrayal of all types of learners and the validation that we all act, think and learn differently. As a kid I loved studying Greek Mythology – it’s so fun reading a series that incorporates it so well in to the story.

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Chocolate illegal? Ack!

8. The Birthright series – All these things I’ve done and Because it is my blood. Different view of society, different view on “the family” – a mafia style family with a teenage girl at the helm, running the illegal chocolate business that belongs to her family. It’s an interesting view of a world – imagine caffeine was illegal – and how there are always people able to fill a need. But what of the needs of those people? This series examines those concepts and more and presents one of the more interesting female protagonists I’ve read in a while.

 

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Five of the Kenneally books

9. The Kenneally Books. Not a series name. Not even a series – a set of novels that could each stand alone but weave together to form a community. I read two without realizing the connections, then when searching for other books by that
author, read more and realized how they all hung together. Characters appear in one or the other and then might disappear. A wedding attended by a character in one might be the conclusion to a relationship in another. A standout athlete might appear as a coach to a later generation of the towns athletes. While the

My Favourite

My Favourite

books themselves were not the best literature out there, the way that they were intertwined and woven together spoke to me and I sought out all of them. My favourite was ‘breathe annie, breathe’, but they all presented a nice story. A lovely set of characters in a quaint town, learning and connecting with each other. It was nice to see some characters grow up – almost two generations of students, and reminded me of my life and seeing kids grow into adults in the span of a few years.

 

10. And finally, perhaps my favourite series. I hunt killers. Nature vs nurture, good vs evil, learning from your father and trying to learning how to not be your father. Suspense, thrills, relationships, cliffhangers (grrrr!), great supporting characters and a vibrant town. I really love this series and if you’re at all into thrillers or psychological studies, this series is for you. Read and enjoy them all – and try not to get a little scared!

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Banned Books? Seriously?

This week is Banned Books Week. I will admit, I always find the idea of banned books ridiculous. Here we have a legion of kids who we are trying to get reading and what happens – books get banned! In some ways, it’s the best thing for them – perhaps more people will read them to figure out what’s so wrong about them. But banning books just seems so very wrong.

I teach. With that job, I make decisions that will impact students daily. However, within these decisions, there is still choice and there is still freedom. Students are given the time to work on something  – the decision is made to assign work. If they do not do it, they have decided that they would rather choose the negative consequences of not doing work over the positive consequences of having their work done. If I assign a book, students choose if they will read it or not, thus making that positive vs negative consequence choice again. And further to that, if I assign a book and they read it, they will make decisions about how they feel about the book – did they like it, did they hate it, was it believable, did they agree with the theme – so many decisions happen, just by reading a book.

To be fair, when I was in the library, there were a couple books I did not put out, even though I purchased them. One book, very detailed about suicide methods, I debated internally and then got advice from the Guidance Councillor. She got advice from the board Educational Psychologist. We determined that due to school climate, it might not be a good idea to put out, however, I could put it in the catalogue for those searching for a book. This was to have a conversation with the person checking it out, just to gauge some of their reasoning behind their interest. This was not an easily made decision, but it was one that we felt kept choice in the hands of the students.

So, if I ban books, I’m taking that choice away. I’m saying that they can’t be trusted to make up their mind about an issue and that they are not strong enough to resist the messages of that book. There’s magic? Obviously the child reader is not strong enough to resist devil worship (even if the devil isn’t mentioned at all). There’s sex? Well, when will we hold the baby shower as they will obviously be pregnant with twins within minutes of reading it. There’s “alternative lifestyles”. Road to heck, seriously, the road to heck. However, if I let a child read a book that may contain what some deem “questionable themes”, I’m letting them explore the world. They might learn about something more than I could ever teach – how friendship can help save the day. How love is love, no matter the gender. How hate can win if you let it – but here’s how to stop it. Books can bring you the world – you just have to be ready to explore.

Plus, who’s to say that things I feel are wrong are wrong for everyone? Who’s to say that what I don’t like to read because I disagree with it won’t open up the eyes and mind of a child? I applaud not making anti-Holocaust materials available from retailers, but for the child that is doing research, that move is one that limits their ability to see both sides. We can only trust that they know enough to come out on the side of right – the Holocaust did happen (and genocide continues to happen)  – but they won’t be able to understand the personal side of it all if we keep it from them.

According to the ALA, the top ten banned books of 2013 are:

  1. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
    Reasons: Offensive language, unsuited for age group, violence
  2. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
    Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence
  3. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, offensive language, racism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey, by E.L. James
    Reasons: Nudity, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  5. The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
    Reasons: Religious viewpoint, unsuited to age group
  6. A Bad Boy Can Be Good for A Girl, by Tanya Lee Stone
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit
  7. Looking for Alaska, by John Green
    Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  8. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
    Reasons: drugs/alcohol/smoking, homosexuality, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group
  9. Bless Me Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
    Reasons: Occult/Satanism, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit
  10. Bone (series), by Jeff Smith
    Reasons: Political viewpoint, racism, violence

‘Captain Underpants’ has done so much for literacy, especially in hard to reach boys. ‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’ is a great way to introduce issues in First Nations studies. ‘The Hunger Games’ has no religion in it (maybe that’s the issue!). ‘Looking for Alaska’ and  ‘The Perks of Being a Wallflower’ tell of teenage life, perhaps dramatizing it a little, but show a specific journey people take at  that point in their lives. None of these books are banned for being poorly written. I would guess most are banned because the complainant didn’t read it before their child did and are mad about them getting a hold of it.

If you don’t want your child to read something, don’t let them. Discuss it with them and determine what they have to do, maturity wise, to read a book. Give them lessons in history and context and allow them to apply those as they approach their reading. Talk to them about communication and encourage them to ask questions as they read. Have a read-a-long with them so you know what they’re doing. Be prepared to tell them a book is a little too mature for them and explain what that means. Communicate. Don’t ban. Allow them to choose and help them develop their ability to choose well. They’re the ones who will be making those choices in the future and we need to make sure that it’s a skill they have.

And with that, 19 Banned Books with redone titles, just to make them a little more palatable.

 

 

Ten for Tuesday

There is a meme going around Facebook – 10 books that stayed with you. It’s funny – I read a lot but books that have stayed with me… harder to list. Here goes:

anne1. ‘Anne of Green Gables’ (and series). Childhood in a series. I remember being quite young and reading my moms copies of the first three green gables books. This lead to the discovery that it was a series of eight – and that L.M. Montgomery published other series such as ‘Emily of New Moon’ and ‘The Story Girl’. This book opened up so much for me, reading wise, that I have to list it as one of my ten – even if it’s not my favorite of the series. Whenever I get a dress and the sleeves are puffy, I think of Anne!

2. ‘Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone’ (and series). I was a latehp comer to Harry Potter. I think there were four books out when I originally read the first one. This was good in some ways – I didn’t have the same wait in the beginning that most readers had. However, once I started, I couldn’t stop. I read and reread all the books as they came out. I would read the books from start to finish of the series every time a book or movie was released. I left my house the day the last one came out and did not go back until I had it finished. This book reminded me of the joys of childhood reading and the value of friendship – two lessons that no one should be without.

holocaust3. ‘Holocaust’. I reread this one every year it seems. I do a lot with Holocaust studies and this particular book has stayed with me to the point I continued to revisit and even book talk it quite often. The story of a Jewish family, told by a surviving member and the story of Nazi officer as told through his journals, it brings both sides of the story to the page. It was made into a miniseries in the 70s. I’ll be honest – I don’t know if the book was based on the miniseries or the miniseries based on the book but I don’t care. Wonderfully told story – stories – and one that has stuck with me. And the IMDB Trivia for the miniseries is fantastic.
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4. Ah… ‘Flowers in the Attic’ by V.C. Andrews. Actually by V.C. Andrews and not the ghostwriter employed after her death. This book was a grudging gift to me by my parents – they were thrilled I was reading but felt it wasn’t good literature. And it’s not. Not really. It’s modern gothic horror at its finest – girl meets boy, girl loves boy, girl and boy run away and get married because they’re uncle and niece, boy dies leaving girls with four kids, girl moves home and locks kids in the attic, never to be seen again. This is their story. It’s been made into a movie and a tv movie and has been rereleased for a modern audience. This was a book that was raw and inappropriate in many ways but for teen age me, was one of my few ways to read young adult literature when I was actually a young adult.

annefrank 5. ‘Diary of a Young Girl’ was a book I bought after reading an excerpt in my English textbook. I think it was after grade seven I found it. I did not have a clue what it was really about (the Holocaust wasn’t really taught, at least in my small town school) and didn’t realize what a big deal it was. I just remember being so touched by the small part of it published in my textbook that I had to seek it out in my small town bookstore and read it. I still have that copy, a book I won’t get rid of even though it’s falling apart. It was learning others thought like I did and relating to this young girl who thought like I did… it was everything at that point in time. Realizing my historical ignorance, especially as I teach Holocaust novels and take kids to DC after intensive Holocaust studies – heck! I’ve done courses from Yad Vashem at this point! – is amazing. This book stuck because it was beautiful and true.

gonewiththewind6. Speaking of historical ignorance…. ‘Gone with the Wind’ taught me about the American Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan and much of the basics of American history. I know so much more now, including how much this was one story and a story that was more about the main character than the world around her. But it is a book I read and reread – devoured even. I was taken in by the world created and the time of lords and ladies of the south. Funnily enough, I never saw anything wrong with what Scarlett did – something she realizes in the (fairly horrible) sequel – she did what she needed to do and made her own way. I liked her, even if I thought she was fairly horrible at times. This is a book I have replaced as it fell apart in the last year or so from overuse!

hungergames7. ‘The Hunger Games’. Has to be included because it opened up a whole world for me. I was a librarian but I wasn’t reading everything I could – I was not totally aware of what was out there. I saw a write up about this book where Jennifer Weiner, Stephanie Meyer and Stephen King praised and recommended this book. Three totally different authors talking about this book. So I picked it up and was engrossed. I was heartbroken when it ended as I didn’t know it was a series. Finding out a new one was going to come out – a sequel! – well it was a good day. I teach this book now and I know it has faults. But for me it was the first real foray into YA lit, a foray that has become a lifestyle.

8. ‘The Red Tent’ fits into my love of historical novels that retell a story from an alternative viewpoint.tent It tells the story of Dinah, sister of Joseph, daughter of Jacob. She gets a mention in the bible but only a mention – she’s not the story. But she has a story and this is one version of it. This book tells the story of the women behind the men, the story of how they lived while being brought from place to place. I love alternative tellings of popular stories and this is one of the best ones I’ve read. It even prompted me to pull out my childhood bible and read the story of her family. Yep, she’s there, as a victim. In this book, she’s a hero. Funny the role perspective plays in a story.

mists9. Speaking of perspective, ‘The Mists of Avalon’ was another story of perspective. The story of Avalon, of King Arthur, of Lords and Ladies, told by Morgan Le Fay. His half sister and mother of his child. Lady of Avalon. Priestess. Welder of power. This is, like the ‘Red Tent’, a story of perspective. The story is familiar but being told from this perspective brings a new view to an old story. For me it awakened ideas of spirituality and beliefs and cemented my views of equality and the need to tell all the stories. I began this book on the plane to China – I was going to a UN conference and NGO forum as the youngest person from my province. I loved China but I couldn’t wait to get back on the plane and finish it.

 

Book ten. Book ten. I don’t know what to say. ‘The Fault in our Stars’? ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’? ‘The Book Thief’? So many books that mean so much to me. I’m going to leave this particular top ten unfinished. Any of those book – and others – could finish it, but I don’t want to leave any out. To be finished…. later?

 

Movies and teaching books

Almost anytime I assign a novel, I get asked ‘Miss, is there a movie for this?’. Often, these days, given our use of popular literature and the movie industry tendency to make books of popular literature, the answer is yes. Yes, there is a movie. Yes, we can go see it (if it’s coming out now). Yes, I have seen it. Yes, we are watching it in class.

Because yes. I will show the movie in class. Now, that might seem like an easy lesson plan – show a movie for three or four classes. And, well, it means I’m not talking as much, which is, perhaps, easier for everyone. But it’s got a purpose. By showing the movie, I’m presenting a world to students, a world though up by others based on the same material they read. I’m presenting to them a visual of a text, a visual that may or may not line up with the visual they created for themselves. It’s always interesting hearing the reactions of kids as they see how characters are presented, especially if they really liked the book.

I often start with the movie – I don’t treat it as a reward, I treat it as part of the learning. Sometimes that will depend on the adaptation of the movie – I will start a novel study with ‘Hunger Games’ or ‘Divergent’, but I’ll finish ‘A Christmas Carol’ with the Muppets singing their way though that classic tale. In some ways, even if it’s worst case scenario, knowing the students at least know the story (from watching the movie). In other cases, it’s a chance to see who has connected with the novel. There are students who get quite offended if the movie doesn’t portray their favourites in the right way. There are others who don’t like how the setting they imagined is portrayed. Others notice their favourite parts are changed or left out and exclaim on their disappointment. It’s beautiful to watch their reactions, hear their conversation and talk with them about the edits they would make. Someone took the exact same book you read and made it into a visual – do you agree with what they did or not?

There is always the worry about students not reading the book, instead relying on the movie to teach them the story. And it’s true, that happens. That always has happened, as long as there have been movies based on books. Or Coles notes based on books. Or a kid in the class that reads the book and doesn’t mind telling others the storyline. I’m upfront and tell kids when I’ve seen a movie. They know I will go see movies as soon as they come out if I can. I tell them they may even might get questions asking the differences between the movie and the book. They are told that just knowing the movie will not be useful – and most realize that putting in the work to understand the differences between both without reading the book is a little much. Some try, this I know, but most give it away, in their answers or even in casual conversation that they then support in their answers. It’s hard than you think to pretend you’ve read a book and much easier to just read the darn thing.

Movies are a beautiful thing and there are people out there reading the books and then making them into masterpieces. Enjoy, critique and compare to the visuals in your imagination.

In summary, may I present the inspiration for this blog: the Mockingjay Part One Trailer.

 

Preorder wonders

There are time I find out a book I love is coming out sooner than I expected. I am so excited to find out ‘Blood of my Blood’ is out in a few days!! ‘Blood of my Blood’ is the third in the ‘I Hunt Killers’ series, a series I have loved as it has progressed. I find myself recommending ‘I Hunt Killers’ to everyone – yes it’s a thriller, but even if you don’t like thrillers, it’s a good story. A study in nature vs nurture. And, just a good book. So many kids have wanted to read it. I even reviewed it on my old blog. And now the third out comes out in the next few days and I am oh so happy!

When this happens it’s great. It balances those times when I need to wait – like when I finish a book the day it comes out and know I have to wait a while for the sequel. I have to admit, I’ve been that person, going to the book store and getting them to get a book out from the back – just because they don’t have it out doesn’t mean I’m leaving without it. Now that I e-read more, I’ve discovered the joy of preordering – ordering it and then paying for and getting it the day it comes out. I wake up and boom! books are there.

No matter what you’re a fan of, you get excited knowing something new is coming to your life. It might be a movie, a game, a tv show. For me, those things bring joy, but nothing beats the joy of the next book from a favourite author!

I admit, I’m a little giddy! So excited!