Archive for the ‘Multicultural’ Category

Movie Tie-Ins: The Help by Kathryn Stockett     help

As I mentioned earlier, I read Worth Dying For because I wanted to try a Jack Reacher novel. If you read my post, you know I didn’t like it very much. As I was thinking the other day about good books for movie tie-ins, I was reminded of The Help by Kathryn Stockett. Since the movie was so popular—and award winning—you might have already seen it. This is a book that makes an easy transition to the screen. Whether you’ve seen the film or not, you’ll enjoy the read. If a teacher asks you to write a compare/contrast of a book made into a movie, The Help is a good choice.

Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny are the protagonists who alternately tell their stories. It’s 1962 and the three women live in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter has just graduated from college (Ol’ Miss) and comes home to her parents’ farm. Her close friends quit college and got married. They have one or more children. But Skeeter’s a bit frustrated as a ‘new’ adult who is being told what to do by her mother. She wants to be a serious writer, and, as many people come to feel at this age, she is realizing that her values aren’t the same as those of her longtime friends.

Skeeter can see how her friends treat their help—the Black women who take care of their children, clean their houses and cook their meals. (Since the white women in this novel don’t work outside the home, and seem to do absolutely nothing in the home, I wasn’t surprised that they filled their lives with gossip and backstabbing. If life doesn’t have any drama, people are sure to create some!) Aibileen and Minny are the help. Aibileen is great with kids—she’s raised seventeen of them. She is slyly boosting the self-confidence of Mae Mobley, whose mother, Elizabeth (a friend of Skeeter’s), is pretty lousy with kids. Unfortunately, Aibileen’s own son died a few years earlier, and she is grieving. Minnie appears to be the opposite of Aibileen—she tells it like it is and has been fired more than once over her comments. She has five children of her own and a husband who is a drinker and wife abuser. She’s known as the best cook around.

The three women embark on a book project. They recruit other maids to tell their stories—to shed light on what it is like to work in white women’s homes and to care for children who will later treat them as inferiors. All the while, Skeeter is wondering what happened to Constantine, the Black woman who raised her, but disappeared just before Skeeter came home from college.

I’ve seen professional reviews of this book that say it will prick consciences. I don’t agree with that. I think that it’s a book that feels safe because the treatment of the maids is now considered heinous, and readers can be smug when comparing themselves to Hilly, Skeeter’s truly awful (and possibly one-dimensional) friend.

Still, outside of a few details that I couldn’t come to terms with—the issue of toilets on Hilly’s lawn was one (Skeeter wouldn’t have jeopardized those Black men’s very lives with such a stunt, and they would have been too afraid to participate anyway)—The Help is an achievement. We care deeply about the characters, we worry about the setbacks in each of their lives, and we are filled with anxiety over the suspense. In short, we are immersed in Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. We’re stunned by what is considered normal, by the way people treat one another. And glad for changes since then.


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life of pi   Note: Ms. Waddle wrote this for Colony Library Lady back in 2007. Now that the book has been made into a movie, she thought Chaffey students might be interested in checking it out!

Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Here’s another story that begins in India, but marches to a very different drummer. The main character, ‘Pi’ Patel is named after a swimming pool in Paris. His father, a zoo keeper, decides to immigrate to Canada, and sells the animals. Most of these stay in India, but a few are destined to cross the ocean and live in distant zoos. During the Pacific crossing, the ship capsizes and Pi is thrown overboard into a 26-foot-long lifeboat. Though his family all die, Pi finds himself floating with Richard Parker—a 450 pound Bengali tiger from his father’s zoo—as well as a zebra, a hyena, and an orangutan. The most rudimentary knowledge of the animal kingdom will tell you which of the animals survives. But Pi tells the reader that this is a story with a happy ending, so the reader wonders–how will Pi survive with Richard Parker on board?

Pi does survive with the tiger—for 227 days. And, yes, the journey is an epic one. Pi uses all his knowledge of the animal kingdom as he realizes that the tiger’s survival is necessary to his own. He expounds on faith and his understanding of Christianity and Islam as well as his native Hinduism. He makes an argument for the environmental value of zoos. Both his ill-fated meeting with another castaway and his salvation on a mystical island may be unbelievable, but who cares? The story is so weird and intriguing on so many levels, that the reader will follow Pi’s faith in the universe anywhere it takes him.

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Thanks to Mr. Sanchez for arranging for author Michele Serros to come to Chaffey High! She’ll be here:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Period 3

Chaffey Memorial Library, South Reading Room

Come on over to the library and check out one of her books to read, so you can talk to her about it when she comes. Here’s a little information on each title:

Chicana Falsa: From the white boy who transforms himself into a full-fledged Chicano, to the self-assured woman who effortlessly terrorizes her Anglo boss, to the junior-high friend who berated her “sloppy Spanish” and accused her of being a “Chicana Falsa,” the people and places that Michele Serros brings to vivid life in this collection of poems and stories introduce a unique new viewpoint to the American literary landscape. Witty, tender, irreverent, and emotionally honest, her words speak to the painful and hilarious identity crises particular to the coming of age of an adolescent caught between two cultures.

How to be a Chicana Role Model: Kliatt (professional review) says, “Serros tells us what it’s like to be a Mexican-American who was born in the U.S., ate microwaved pot pies when she was growing up instead of homemade Mexican food, and barely speaks Spanish. She also tells us what it’s like to be an aspiring artist in today’s commercial, corporate world—and what it’s like to be an American twenty-something (of any race, color, or creed).” They describe How to be . . . as “insightful, witty, laugh-out-loud funny.”

Honey Blonde Chica

Evie Gomez is one chill chica.

She and her best friend, Raquel, hang with the Flojos, a kick-back crew named for their designer flip-flops. And their habit of doing absolutely nothing.

But the return of long-lost amiga mejor Dee Dee wrecks Evie and Raquel’s Flojo flow. A few years in Mexico City have transformed their shy, skinny, brunette Dee Dee into a Sangro nightmare. Dee Dee has reinvented herself as “Dela,” complete with tight designer threads, freaky blue contacts, and that signature blond hair.

When Raquel wants precisely nada to do with the new Dela, Evie finds herself caught between two very different friends. At heart, is Evie a Cali-casual Flojo chick, or a sexy Sangro diva?

How’s a chica to choose?

Scandalosa: Evie Gomez finally has it all: a sweet boyfriend, two mejor amigas, and an upcoming sixteeñera that’s the talk of the school. Quécool, no?

Too bad reality has a way of ruining things. When her grades start to slip, Evie’s parents threaten to cancel her party. The good news? All she has to do is volunteer in the community to raise her grades. The bad news? Since it’s the middle of the semester, the best remaining option is working at the Southern California Horse Reserve. Then again…ranchero life? Charros? Maybe things will work out after all.

Or maybe not. Things with boyfriend Alex start to fizzle, party-girl pal Raquel slides down a spiral of boys and booze, Dee Dee — who only recently re-entered Evie’s life — considers moving back to Mexico City, and to top it all off, Evie’s flirting with someone she never expected to like — ranch hand Arturo (even with his que fugly cowboy boots).

Things can’t get más complicated…can they?

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What about mature teens who are asking for books that delve deeply into the difficult subjects they are grappling with? Do we sanitize reading too much for your age group? You are, after all, sprinting on the heels of adulthood.

The problem for those of us adults responsible for teaching you is that you have such a wide range of maturity. A freshman is usually very different from a senior. Some books that take on difficult subjects are welcome—a relief, really—to students who’ve had a tough go and need to have their experience validated. Those same books may upset certain parents who feel that reading about the seedier side of life encourages the reader to participate in it when s/he wouldn’t have otherwise. I’m not that sort of parent myself—my kids have always read widely, on every sort of subject—but I respect that most parents are trying to do the best they can for their kids in a world that’s hard to figure out.

Ultimately, I believe both you and your parents can make the right reading choices for you if you have a pretty good idea what books are about. So, I want to write periodically on books that cover difficult topics including violence and teenage sexuality. I want to show you books that deal explicitly with the subjects, but that have value—that help you do that mature grappling with the difficult world. And if you feel that the content of the book is too explicit, then the review will have helped you make your choice to find something more appropriate.

My first go at this is to reflect on books with violence. And I do intend to look at teen books that address violence, but while thinking about the subject, I couldn’t forget that—while rather a wimp myself—some of the absolutely best contemporary books I’ve read were breathtakingly violent.

All of those great, yet violent, books were by Cormac McCarthy, a man widely regarded as one of the country’s best living authors. I asked some English teachers whether they thought their students could read McCarthy and get something valuable from him or whether those students would just see the novels as endless rounds of murder and mayhem. Based on their answers—they believe teens can benefit from the books as the violence in them is not of the gratuitous sort found in current movies—I am going to start my series with them.

In discussing the use of violence in literature and teen reading, we need a common definition of “gratuitous.” If it the definition means that the violence is ‘unnecessary to tell the story’ rather than meaning ‘a very heavy dose,’ then McCarthy’s violence is not gratuitous. Nevertheless, it’s unrelenting. And his narrative often has a camera-eye quality in the sense that we learn what happens and are left to sort it out for ourselves. Sometimes the camera extends into people’s musing on life and fate (as it does with Sheriff Bell in No Country for Old Men), but even then, no moral judgment is made for you. You must figure it out on your own.

The question then, at your age, is: Can you read this kind of violence and be able to form your own judgments? If you haven’t had some good practice in critical thinking, then I really don’t think McCarthy’s books are for you. If you have had that practice, a second question to ask yourself is whether you enjoy the qualities of excellent storytelling, the mythic sweep of a great narrative, and some of the best imagery/pictures of landscapes that you will ever read? If so, give McCarty a try.

Blood Meridian: This book is an unflinchingly realistic portrayal of the some of the worst examples of lawlessness in the wild west of the nineteenth century. I grew up in a time when all westerns were of the John Wayne variety with strong, silent men forging a new America. For anyone who knows nothing other than that image, Blood Meridian is an excellent antidote.

The nineteenth century in America was a time of deep culture clash (but then, when isn’t that true?). Blood Meridian is historical fiction in that its subject is the Glanton Gang, scalp hunters who were paid by the Governor of Chihuahua, Mexico in 1849-50 to kill Comanche and Apache Indians. Those two tribes had raided Mexican towns, and Glanton received $200 per scalp, scalps being evidence that the Indians had been murdered. But, as the cliché goes, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to imagine the possibilities. Considering that lots of folks in Mexico had black hair, when the Glanton Gang ran low on Apaches and Comanche to kill, they just started killing anyone they could get their hands on.

Gruesome? Absolutely. The Glanton Boys kill indiscriminately—men, women, children, old people. They pillage. They rape. One of the main characters, Judge Holden, is well educated, always curious, something of a botanist and purveyor of human nature. He is also pure evil, and the banality of his wickedness—the way is it just an ordinary part of his life—will highlight for the thoughtful reader the fact that the west was ‘won’ by groups of men who included demonic characters.

Critics compare Blood Meridian to many works of classic literature, some of which you’ve read in high school or will read in college—Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness; Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick. There’s Huck Finn lighting out for the territory, but not in a way that Mark Twain’s satire makes you smile at our cultural foibles. It’s so straightforward and void of emotion that you may feel physically sick over man’s inhumanity to man. You might think of your sophomore literature, Lord of the Flies, because the gang is outside of the reach of the law for so long. Their instincts for hurting others take over just as the marooned boys’ did after the plane crash.

If you are seeking a book to read for a literary analysis paper, there’s much to go with here—conflicts include man v. man and man v. nature (the deserts of Mexico and the borderland between the US and Mexico are arid, brutal in their lack of food and water). Ultimately, for the mature reader with an iron stomach, Blood Meridian has value in helping him to be able to recognize the ‘heart of darkness’ within us.

No Country for Old Men is another story that takes place along the border between Mexico and Texas, but this one has a contemporary setting—and the lawlessness is also contemporary.

A man named Llewelyn Moss is out hunting and accidentally stumbles upon the carnage that has resulted from a drug deal gone bad. When he realizes that most of the dealers are dead in the cars and all the drugs are still there, he also knows that the drug money couldn’t be far off. Finding the (now dead) man who tried to get away with the suitcase with the millions, Llewelyn takes the case. Once he does so, the novel primarily follows three characters: Llewelyn Moss; Anton Chigurh, a true psychopath without any conscience or remorse, a hit man in pursuit of Moss; and Sheriff Bell, the lawman attempting to sort out the details and catch Chigurh. Bell’s sections of the novel are more monologues about both life in the past and the present and about the crime. He thinks of Chigurh as a sort of ghost because he is impossible to catch—but he’s real, and he’s out there.

In No Country for Old Men the universe is not a benevolent one, and if you think it’s just the bad guys who are killing off one another, or at least bad guys killing off folks whose greed gets them mixed up in the seedy side of life (like Moss), McCarthy wants to show you otherwise. The evil can be purely arbitrary—especially for Moss’s wife (Carla Jean), whose only connection to the madness, for which she pays dearly, is to have fallen in love with and married Moss.

Again, if you are looking for a novel to read for a literary analysis paper, there’s a lot here. You have the same man v. man and man v. nature as in Blood Meridian. You’ve also got the chance to discuss nihilism and morality.

More recently, McCarthy published The Road, and while it’s about a post-apocalyptic United States, surprisingly, I found more hope in it than in the two books above. I reviewed it earlier and you can read the review here.

OK, if you are saying, “Ms. Waddle, I am a mature person, and I know I need a dose of reality in my reading, but this is just way more than I can take at once,” then I recommend you start with McCarthy’s Border Trilogy, the first book of which is All the Pretty Horses. The title, while appropriate, is unfortunate in that teen guys will turn away from it, thinking it’s a sweet little book meant for girls. Ah—no.

I reviewed All the Pretty Horses here. If you are working on literary analysis or asking yourself the bigger questions, the novel makes you think: What’s in a national identity? What does it mean to be Mexican-America? Can someone be multicultural if he stems from European (Anglo) stock but has a Mexican nanny who teachers him Spanish, and later crosses the border to live in Mexico for a period of time?

If you want to read critical analysis of McCarthy’s books, there are some good articles on the library’s database. You can click on these links, but you may need to type in your Ontario City Library card number to view the articles. (They are in the Literature Resource Center database.

Eaton, Mark A. “Dis(re)membered Bodies: Cormac McCarthy’s Border Fiction.” Modern Fiction Studies 49.1 (Spring 2003): 155-180. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Vol. 260.Detroit: Gale, 2009.Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.


“Blood Meridian.” Contemporary Literary Criticism Select.Detroit: Gale, 2008.Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.


Cooper, Lydia R. “‘He’s a psychopathic killer, but so what?’: Folklore and morality in Cormac McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men.” Papers on Language & Literature 45.1 (2009): 37+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Dec. 2011.


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It’s 1949, and sixteen-year-old John Grady Cole plans to leave Texas after his grandfather’s funeral. His mother is selling the old family ranch, built in 1872. John Grady has a deep love of horses and the ranch life. If allowed, he would try to run the ranch himself, but his mother refuses to consider it. It is clear that he and his mother don’t get along, but that they love one another. John’s father, divorced from his mother, is dying. He and John get along well.

John sets out to Mexico with his friend, Lacy Rawlings. Before leaving, the two run into a girl John has dated. When Rawlings comments that girls aren’t worth the trouble John puts into them, John answers, “Yes, they are.” He seems a modern-day Romeo who will fall deeply and tragically for the right girl.

The two guys have many adventures on their way through Mexico. Of most significance is their meeting with the young Jimmy Belvins. Jimmy, riding a beautiful stolen horse, follows them, and trouble begins. On the run, Jimmy separates from the two older boys. John Grady and Lacey find work at the Hacienda de Nuestra Senora de la Concepcionin Coahuila. The owner, Don Hector Rocha y Villareal, treats them well and entrusts John Grady with breaking wild horses. But Grady is smitten with Alejandra of the black hair and blue eyes. When Alejandra’s great-aunt finds out that the two are star-crossed, she intervenes. She’s a philosophical woman and her stories of the Mexican Revolution and of life are fascinating for the reader. However, she knows what a bad reputation can do to a woman in Mexico, and has decided against John Grady. One day, seemingly out of the blue, John Grady and Lacey are arrested.

The adventures keep coming with jail, the reappearance of Jimmy Belvins the thief and more.

This book was recommended to me in way back time when I asked for ‘guys’ titles. Although I do think this will be a good read for high school guys—and lament the choice of a title, which I think guys will automatically turn away from—I also thoroughly enjoyed it myself. It has the stuff of a great bildungsroman (coming of age story)—an odyssey away from home, death of/break with the parents, a great romance, imprisonment, loss of the loved one, recovery of property, etc. Yet the language is poetic and the description vivid—it draws the reader to its rhythm. Conversations are often metaphysical without seeming unnatural. It’s a great read, and while hardly gentle—in fact, there’s lots of violence—it’s a way to ease into the stunning work of its author, Cormac McCarthy.

In a periodic series on difficult topics for teen reading (violence, teen sexuality, and the like), I’ll soon be posting on McCarthy’s work. Check back.

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More interesting books for high school students who are learning to read or improving their reading skills. Today we’re looking at Night Fall, a horror series.

Night Fall titles:

Unthinkable by Shirley Duke

Omar Phillips is Bridgewater High’s favorite local teen author. His Facebook fans can’t wait for his next horror story. Lately, though, Omar’s imagination has turned against him, presenting him with horrifying visions of death and destruction. The only way to stop the visions is to write them down, until they start coming true. Sophie Minax, the mysterious Goth girl who’s been following Omar at school, tells him how to end the visions, but the only thing worse than Sophie’s cure may be what happens if he ignores it.

Thaw by Rick Jasper

“A July storm caused a major power outage inBridgewater. Now a research project at the Institute for Cryogenic Experimentation has been ruined and the thawed-out bodies of twenty-seven federal inmates are missing. At first, Dani Kraft didn’t think much of the breaking news. But after her best friend Jake disappears, a mysterious visitor connects the dots for Dani. Jake has been taken in by an infamous cult leader. To get him back, Dani must enter a dangerous, alternate reality where a defrosted cult leader is beginning to act like some kind of god.”–Amazon.com.

The Protectors by Val Karlsson

“Luke’s life has never been ‘normal.’ How could it be, with his mother holding seances and his half-crazy stepfather working asBridgewater’s mortician?”–P. [4] of cover.

The Club by Stephanie Watson

Bored after school, Josh and his friends try out an old game called “Black Magic” that promises the players good fortune at the expense of those who have wronged them. As the club members’ luck starts skyrocketing and horror befalls their enemies, the game stops being a joke. How can they end the power they’ve unleashed? Answers lie in an old diary, but ending the game may be deadlier than any curse.

Skin by Rick Jasper

Nick’s face is breaking out. The symptoms, besides his complexion, include an abiding coldness and nightmares. As his face worsens, a neighbor sends over a priest. The priest remembers a teenager who had a similar attack. He has the teen’s journal. Another teen comes into the clinic with a similar case. Does the resolution lie in the old journal?

Messages from Beyond by Stephanie Watson

Some guy named Ethan Davis has been texting Cassie. He seems to know all about her– but she can’t place him. He’s not in Bridgewater High’s yearbook either. Cassie thinks one of her friends is punking her. But she can’t ignore the strange coincidences– like how Ethan looks just like the guy in her nightmares. Cassie’s search for Ethan leads her to a shocking discovery, and a struggle for her life. Will Cassie be able to break free from her mysterious stalker?”–P. [4] of cover.


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Some good, interesting books for high school students who are learning to read or improving their reading skills. I’ve mentioned that we’ve been buying these books.  I plan to post about different series as we add them to our library. See which series sounds good to you and then come check out a book.

The first series up is Surviving Southside. Here are five titles:

Shattered Star by Charnan Simon

Cassie is the best singer in Southside High’s Glee Club and dreams of being famous. She skips school to try out for a national talent competition, but her hopes sink when she sees the line. Then a talent agent shows up out of nowhere, flattering her and saying she has “the look” he wants. Soon, she is lying and missing rehearsals to meet with him, and he’s asking her for more each time. How far will Cassie go for her shot at fame?

Recruited by Suzanne Weyn

Kadeem Jones is a star quarterback for Southside High. He is thrilled when college scouts seek him out. His visit toTellerCollegeis amazing, but then NCAA officials accuse Teller’s staff of illegally recruiting top talent. Will Kadeem decide to help their investigation, even though it means the end of the good times? What will it do to his chances of playing college football?

Bad Deal by Susan J. Korman

Fish hates having to take ADHD medication. It helps him concentrate, but it also makes him feel weird. When his crush, Ella, needs a boost to study for tests, Fish offers her one of his pills. Soon, more kids want pills, and Fish is enjoying the profits. To keep from running out, Fish finds a doctor who sells phony prescriptions, but suddenly the doctor is arrested. Fish realizes he needs to tell the truth, but will that cost him his friends?

Benito Runs by Justine Fontes

Benito’s father, Xavier, returns fromIraqafter more than a year suffering from PTSD–post-traumatic stress disorder–and yells constantly. He causes such a scene at a school function that Benny is embarrassed to go back to Southside High. Benny can’t handle seeing his dad so crazy, so he decides to run away. Will Benny find a new life, or will he learn how to deal with his dad–through good times and bad?

Plan B by Charnan Simon

Lucy has her life planned out: she’ll graduate and then join her boyfriend, Luke, at college inAustin. She’ll become a Spanish teacher, and they’ll get married. Deciding there’s no reason to wait, and despite trying to be careful, Lucy gets pregnant. Now, none of Lucy’s options are part of her picture-perfect plan. Together, she and Luke will have to make the most difficult decision of their lives.


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