Wednesday, April 21, 2010

My Recommendation

I think out of all the books from this semester, Copper Sun would be the best choice for your Emerging Scholars. This book is beneficial to readers of all ages, especially high school students. At this point, the students will have learned the history behind the story and are mature enough to handle the more intense subject matter. The novel tells a powerful story from a unique perspective that will be new to the students reading it. Amari’s journey to freedom illustrates that there is no obstacle that cannot be overcome and that you can do anything as long as you never lose hope. These lessons, and the many others found in this book, would be valuable to any teenager in the midst of the difficult transitional period they all must face. Though the two main characters are girls, I believe readers from either sex could gain a lot from reading this novel. I recommend Copper Sun for your group of adolescents because it is exciting to read and it would provide its readers with a message of hope at a crucial time in their lives.

Mulan: a Mixture of the East and West

Disney’s Mulan is westernized, but not overly so. While Disney definitely added some western values to the original story, I think the movie maintains a balance between the old storyline and American additions that is necessary for its audience. The songs are typical of other Disney Classics, with a small hint of the oriental mixed in (they are also some of the most fun Disney songs to sing). The beautiful young girl ends up with the manly man, but only after proving her strength, heroism, courage, and that a girl can fight as well as that manly man. Hollywood made its mark on the story, but it also includes some of the critical points from the original. Critics may argue that the western elements hurt the story, but I would argue that the film includes those elements in order to better connect with the audience, while educating them about Chinese culture and a story that is central to it. The Disney version of Mulan enables people of nationalities other than Chinese to relate to a famous Chinese heroine. Though I enjoyed the original version, and believe Disney could have stayed closer to it, I think the film gives its young American audience an interesting look into Chinese culture, even if it is not completely untouched by western influence.

Black and White

Black and White is based on real experiences observed by the author. This novel enables readers to see what the author has seen. When young people read this book, they are given the opportunity to better understand the unfortunate situations that other adolescents find themselves in because of poor choices. Good kids make bad decisions, which, as in the case of this story, can change their lives. Volponi’s depiction of these two kids, their atypical friendship, and the choices that affect their future, is based on real people and experiences. This novel pays tribute to the true-life experiences on which it is based by revealing the nature of the regrettable circumstances surrounding the events that occur both in the novel and in real life, as well as the nature of the teenagers that get involved in them. Through the story he tells, Volponi exposes the truths that are often ignored in favor of stereotypes and assumptions. Black and White honors the real stories on which it is based, sharing the truth in the hope that the future may bring change for the better.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Precious Princess

As the only girl with five brothers, fairy tales were very important to me. Growing up surrounded by boys made me both a tomboy and extremely girly. I played sports, watched “Transformers,” and preferred G.I. Joe to Ken, but I also loved to wear frilly dresses, play house, and watch Disney movies. The classic Disney fairy tales were a very large part of my childhood. I loved them all, as did my brothers, though they may not admit it. In each story, I wanted to be the princess. Many times I would dress like them and prance around the house singing all the songs. It helped that my mom already called me a princess, Precious Princess to be exact, and bought me pretty dresses I could twirl around in. I distinctly remember having a dress just like Cinderella and Belle and a costume that looked like Jasmine’s outfit in Aladdin. Jasmine was my favorite princess, but the other classics also made a major impact on my childhood. I still love watching them and singing along. I remember all the stories and songs vividly, probably because I watched them so often. In fact, I may watch Aladdin when I finish this post.

Disney movies were not the only fairy tales in my childhood. My parents are avid readers, so we were always surrounded by books. One book in particular, a very large book of fairy tales by The Brothers Grimm, was a favorite among my brothers and me. This version was for children and therefore was less gory than the stories I later read by them, but I remember reading Red Riding Hood, Rumpelstiltskin, and Hansel and Gretel many times as a young girl. These three stories stuck with me, though I’m not sure why. Perhaps because the stories were so vivid themselves, so the images they conjured remained in my mind for a while.

A more recent fairy tale, or version of one, which I have read and will never forget is the Grimm brothers’ original version of Cinderella. We read it in my English class in eighth grade. I still remember many of the gory scenes that differ greatly from the story I familiar with from my childhood. One scene involved the step-sisters cutting their feet so they could fit in the glass slippers and getting blood everywhere. I was shocked to read this version but I think it is interesting how much Disney changed for the version everyone knows and loves.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Don't Judge a Book by Its Author

Park makes a valid point in her article about children’s books written by celebrities. Often times, books with famous names on the cover receive more attention than those that are written by more experienced, possibly much better writers. Due to this trend, it is imperative that those books get more attention before they are published. Unfortunately, it seems that publishers allow celebrity authors to publish their stories without much review. Rather than letting celebrities have an easier time getting their stories on the shelves, publishers need to pay special attention to ensure that the children’s books with famous names on the front are of the best quality because that is what their readers deserve.

It is important for children to read good books because it can inspire a love of reading that will last their whole lives. I know so many people who do not like to read and perhaps if they had been exposed to well written books as kids, they could benefit now from the knowledge and vocabulary book lovers have as a result of their lifetime of reading. Reading is not only relaxing, but it also teaches valuable lessons. For example, books like Esperanza Rising and Fresh Girl, as well as the other books from our class, teach us lessons of acceptance, overcoming obstacles, and finding inner strength. These lessons will be useful in our everyday lives. Children who begin to love reading at a young age are more likely to learn the lessons from books like these. The quality of children’s books, therefore, is vitally important.

I am glad that celebrities try to use their status as well known members of society to get parents to buy books for their kids, as well as to get more money, but I find it unfortunate that lesser known authors do not sell as well. After all, writers who create their stories for a living have more time to devote to their writing and therefore are likely to publish very good books. Hopefully, parents do not simply judge books by the names on their covers.

Looking at the Big Picture in Multicultural Literature

The Beach article explains the difficulties high school teachers face with teaching multicultural literature in their classrooms. Most students have trouble recognizing and understanding the larger concepts of race, class, and gender in the works they read, focusing instead on the characters as individuals. While it is important to be able to relate to characters on an individual level, it is important for the teenagers to learn about the big picture as well. Multicultural literature is supposed to open the minds and widen the horizons of its readers on both a large and small scale. If students only get the smaller concepts out of the multicultural literature they read in school, half of its value and purpose is lost. When taught correctly, students not only are able to recognize the larger social concepts, but also may undergo changes in their personal views and beliefs about those concepts. This article shows how, over time, students’ attitudes towards race, class, and gender change when their class discussions help them read and think more critically. Any of the multicultural literature we’ve read can be applied to this article. Each text should be taught and discussed thoroughly so the students who read these books can both identify with the characters and recognize the larger forces working in the text, relating them to the society within and outside of the novel.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Researching Death

For my research paper topic, I want to focus on how the death of one or both parents affects the growth and development of the young protagonist. Adolescents who have lost a parent are affected for life and not only have to overcome the obstacle of grief, but also have to face the obstacles that their parent’s death creates. These obstacles include losing someone on whom they can rely and look to for wisdom, trying to figure out who they are without having steady ground on which to stand, not being prepared for additional responsibilities, and having to mature faster than usual teenagers.

Protagonists with missing parents are common in adolescent literature. The stories I thought of that apply to this topic are the Harry Potter series, The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen, and the majority of Disney Classics. Harry Potter lost both his parents at a very young age which caused him to have to spend his childhood in a cupboard being beaten by his cousin. Their deaths also prevented him from knowing that he was a wizard, who he really is, and the reason why he never felt like he belonged in the world he lived in. Harry has to find a different family, in the form of his school friends, and other sources of support.

In Sarah Dessen’s novel, the main character witnessed her father die and blames herself, in part, for his death. She and her mother never express their grief, hiding it beneath their seemingly perfect day to day lives. Her father’s death confines her to a life of studying for SAT’s on Friday nights, parting her hair in a perfect line down the center, and dating the safe, smart, unaffectionate guy that likes the mask she created and shows to the world. This teenage protagonist has to overcome the grief, difficult circumstances and unhealthy attitudes that are a product of her father’s death.

The Disney stories we are all familiar with center around characters who have one parent or less. Cinderella, Snow White, Ariel, Simba, Aladdin, Belle, and more live with less than both their parents. All of the journeys they take in their stories are affected in some way by the death of their parent(s).

I’m interested in this topic because I’ve seen it in a lot of my favorite stories (see list above) and the importance of family dynamics in literature has always been interesting to me. One question I have is why the death of one or both parents is so common, especially in Disney stories. Hopefully I will find the answer in my research for this paper.