The Role of Fate and Survival in Hatchet and Walk Two Moons (NC)

While I’m not normally one for “Castaway” type narratives (Sorry, Wilson), I must admit that I found Paulsen’s Hatchet striking in its narration of Brian Robeson’s survival in the Canadian wilderness. Within Hatchet, I think there’s something to be said for this concept of “faHatchette,” or “luck”as Brian might call it. While one might say that Brian suffered bad luck or fate by becoming victim to a plane crash, ultimately, a series of small good turns of fate lead to his survival and recovery (namely the hatchet on his belt, the windstorm, and the recovery of the survival bag followed by the accidental turning on of the emergency transmitter all working in tandem). He needed each of those occurrences combined in order to live on through his journey.

We see “fate” acting in similar manner in Walk Two Moons; the characters are brought together via unfortunate event and ultimately manage survival through each other. Phoebe and Sal heal each other from the loss of their mothers, as Mrs. Cadaver bonds with Mr. Hiddle from their common interest of having had a deep connection with Chanhassen (Sugar).

The question being presented at hand is how much does “fate” affect our chance of survival as people? Do the small, seemingly innocuous actions we take part in (strapping a hatchet to one’s belt to please your saddened mother, for instance) make the most differenceWalk-Two-Moons? Are small chance encounters the ones that end up mattering the most over the course of our lives (Mrs. Cadaver being seated next to Chanhassen during the six day bus tour to Lewiston, Idaho).

I’d be extremely interested in exploring these ideas in a classroom setting with students.


*P.O* CHAINS – “Is freedom all that it is cracked up to be”

I believe the phrase “being free” seems only exist in books. No one is really free, not even the Lockton’s. Everyone has a shadow that follows them and is always there to remind them of their dirty laundry. In a sense Isabel shadow was her past and ruth.

Everyone in present time can feel and can say they are free but the question is are we really free? What is the real meaning of being free? I don’t believe we are free. I think we are slaves to society.  We wake up everyday, go to work, go to school, and have the government monitoring our every move. I can bet money if we had the choice of going to school or of going to work, a lot of people would actually plead the fifth. Yet, there is the other side of the argument consist of the idea that, if we were actually “free”, we would actually be digging our own graves. We should be digging our own graves because we would start becoming so bore with life that we would start doing crazy things and God only knows what the outcome of would be. Sometimes I feel that if humans did not have some kinds of boundaries or government looking out for our own “interest”, we would all go wild and loose. Most importantly, we  would loose the understanding and value of  being “free”.

Isabel’s shadow was that constant reminder that kept her safe and from going insane because she had to worry about her sister Ruth she had to maintain the sanity. Maybe being “free” isn’t what we all think it is. Does anyone agree? If so, can anyone give me an example of when being a slave, to the world, to their job or their school actually saved their life.

Pairing YA literature with literary classics

As I read more and more YA literature this semester, I find myself connecting stories with literary classics that I have read.  So far, the strongest instance of this happened while reading Crutcher’s Deadline.  Here was a story about a protagonist who knew he was going to die and decided to live his life to the fullest anyway.  Not only does Ben live the life he wants to lead, he also manages to think beyond himself and attempt to help others.

Only a few pages into the text, I found myself thinking about Tolstoy’s The Death of Ivan Ilyich, the story of a man who learns that he is going to die and spends a long time bemoaning his fate.  Ivan rails against the idea that he could have lived such a good life and then die over something as ridiculous as…well, if you haven’t read it, I won’t spoil the rest for you, but, suffice it to say, I think there are plenty of points of comparison with the Crutcher text.

This all made me think about ways of potentially pairing YA literature with some more challenging literary classics.  Tolstoy’s novella isn’t exactly light reading, but I think that getting students to engage with challenging classics should be one of our goals as English teachers.  What better way in to a difficult text than to compare it with a more contemporary, less dense work?  This would then lend itself to helping students learn compare and contrast strategies and thinking deeper about why authors make certain choices in their writing.

I’m wondering if anyone else has thought of any literary pairings for some of the YA literature we’ve read so far.  For example, what about The Story of a Girl and The Scarlett Letter?  Just a thought…





The Power of Teachers

The article “Making an Impression: YA Authors and Their Influential Teachers” made me smile, reflect and cry, a little. It made me smile because it reminded me of the influence and how teachers cultivate their students, the students that will be the next writers, doctors, lawyers, inventors. It made me reflect on the teachers that have influence not only my career routes but also my ideology of life. Teachers from different grades have played a role in the development of my character and have inspired me to  remain headstrong on my goals. It made me emotional because the career we are all going into, or are already apart of, can be a real life changer for our students. Throughout history the  respect society has for teachers in my opinion has been diminishing. This article brings back the power to teachers.


Here is another article that discusses in a scientific way about how good teachers can affect students.



While reading “YA Literature—Where Teens Find Themselves” I kept rereading, the line “teachers must read YA themselves so they can have a better feel for what books will appeal to which students.” It is important in my opinion for teachers to be actively reading and keeping up to date with new YA books that are coming out. To a certain degree I think teachers should know what students are using, technology wise, and are interested because of media or what not, is important as a teacher. I’m not saying teachers should use these social medias, or dress or listen to the music their students like but it is important to understand your audience.


*P.O* “Story of a girl” by Sara Zarr

How do Love, Betrayal, and Loss of Innocence affect Deanna’s life? Do you believe these themes affected Deanna choices? Why or Why not?

This question brings up a lot of discussion when analyzing Deanna character.

For example the “loss of Innocence”, demonstrates Deanna coming of age, where she finally began understanding the reality of her choices.

“Betrayal” was demonstrated when Deanna herself, kissed Lee knowing he was with her best friend and that it could have devastating outcomes.

“Love” for Deanna meant two things, the love needed for a parental guidance she seemed to have lost because of her actions with Tommy and the first time an adolescent experiences their first love.

All three themes seem to affect Deanna development and transition into adulthood. Teen’s have a hard time understanding that tomorrow is another day and what seems important today, might not be as important tomorrow. Just imagine to have to experience all these emotions at once. Poor Deanna…

Here a couple of ways to describe some event’s and character’s:

Overall Adolescence’s:










Fishbowl as Panopticon

Familiar guises of power, in German

In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, we follow Frankie, a sophomore in a private school in Connecticut, as she pushes the envelope of what is personally and socially acceptable, exploring her sense of self and the Other in her relationship with her boyfriend, Matthew. She discovers her taste for subversive acts, both against the institution, and the boys’ club, the Bassett Hounds, to which her father, now a repressed doctor, once belonged, and in which her boyfriend Matthew, is currently king Dog. She reaps the rewards of seeing herself actively redefined in the eyes of the boys club, the school, her friends and family, and herself, while paying a minimal price for her actions of manipulation and resistance.

Two elements of The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks caught my attention: class and privilege, and language. Since one is a key factor in framing the other, my interest lay in showing how language reflects class and privilege, and as an extension, character and identity. Naturally, gender issues are a foundational aspect of the above distinctions as well, and are reflected as well in language.

I enjoyed the wordplay in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks. What is possible when a young person is given endless instruction, guidance, support and direction? Everything. Certainly the creative and idiosyncratic use of language, a tool in creating identity; a set of witty and imaginative calling cards that designate cliques; clever monikers reflecting status and roles within peer groups in a school that walks a tightrope between modern values and the codified social and gender hierarchy of the privileged classes.

So Frankie, already impressively developed as the product of endless attention and support,  is given great latitude to find her own voice, her own relationship, her own stance vis a vis male hierarchy and power. And most of it is cost-free. She breaks free of her limited role in her family; she re-defines herself romantically; and she has the luxury of considering becoming a social critic, from a secure, educated position. A win-win situation. The worst hits she receives are occasional grammatical corrections from Matthew, the language freak. Interesting that the ultimate marker of his social status is his  acquisition of the most meticulously developed language, as well as the right to correct any of his peers. Language is power, and everyone in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks has mountains of it.

I found myself wondering if I would ever be able to use this book with any student groups I have taught: I finally decided that maybe the girls I taught part-time at the Spence School, an exclusive all-girls school on the Upper East Side, might work. Many key aspects of the life written about in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks are shared by Spence girls, from the easy and blithe access to travel, food, resources, support, encouragement and attention to individual development; to the casual assumption of props, toys, accessories, and goods of any kind. So, while the ease of daily existence shared by almost everyone at Alabaster Preparatory Academy was not dwelt upon much in the book,  class allusions were made to the differences between the merely well-off (Frankie and her doctor father) and the super-rich, (Matthew and his famous newspaper father). The material difficulties of scholarship students such as Alpha were glossed over, while it was clear that Alpha’s method of compensating for his lack of social  and material position was to outdo the others by being “Alpha Dog” amongst the young studly men; his eagerness to abandon public school and return to Alabaster’s privilege and sequestered life indicated his desire to return to the upper class setting of Alabaster.

I also found similarities between the language skills exemplified by each character and their social standing in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and the kind of expressive and precocious communications coming from Spence girls, whose every thought, feeling, desire and opinion is articulated, and almost instantly responded to. The myriad ways the administration of Alabaster Preparatory Academy responded to expressions by Frankie and the Bassett Hounds, as well as others — discreetly, diplomatically, politically astute, was the book’s counterpart. A difference  would be that in Alabaster Preparatory Academy,  sexism and gender inequality is passively reinforced through a historic acceptance of the rebelliousness of the (male) Bassett Hounds, and the unchallenged  top social positioning of the upperclass young men. At Spence, the young women play out their power games, like Frankie, against a backdrop of endless support and security, challenging and sometimes taunting their teachers, boyfriends, fathers, chauffeurs, nannies, cooks or tutors. Their self-identities are reinforced by their social positions of power and money and while their all-femaleness is strengthened and supported at Spence, they, like Frankie, might be confronted out in the world by their gender, although still socially supported by their class. For Frankie, the gender issue is the clearest and easiest boundary to push against in a mixed gender school. I kept waiting for Frankie’s ultimate trump: the re-framing of the name of the boys’ club history book, The Disreputable History of the Loyal Order of the Bassett Hounds into the Reputable Future of the Loyal Order of the Panopticons, a new, all-female challenge to school authority, since the gender restrictions at Alabaster are not to be seriously challenged, just appropriated. If I were teaching this book at Spence, I would target the 5th grade girls, as there the levels of social awareness and sophistication are developed early. I would focus on the gender issues, as well as the creative uses of language.

So, while yes, we as readers can identify and support Frankie in her quest for self-autonomy and identity against a more unconscious projection of her female role in society, it seems imperative to factor in the ease of agency and minimized consequence the world of privilege and class provides her and her circle. I also have to ask: other than Spence girls,who is able to relate to these rarified circumstances? Really?


‘Quaking’ Shakes up an Authentic Portrayal of a Struggling Teen


Quaking, Kathryn Erskine’s story about 14-year old Matt who has been shuffled around from one family member to another and is finally sent to live with distant Quaker relatives touches on a number of serious themes, some more successfully than others.

Matilda, known as Matt, comes from a home where her father physically abused her and her mother. Matt has learned from an early age not to trust anyone or form attachments. The book does an excellent job of portraying how detrimental both physical and verbal abuse are to the development of a child. It follows this issue further into adulthood and our larger society to examine the power of words and violence on our culture.

Where the story falters is in following through on Matt’s family history. Where is Matt’s father and what are the consequences of his actions? Matt must have an opinion about him besides fear and that is never brought up in the book. Continue reading

…and now Miguel by Joseph Krumgold

“When his deeds go unnoticed, he prays to San Ysidro, the saint for farmers everywhere.  And his prayer is answered…but with devastating consequences.”  This book blurb is the shrewdest ploy I’ve ever read.  Actually, not even necessary because the ending of this coming-of-age story was completely satisfying.  I was infected with Miguel’s burning desire to enter the adult world of his family and community.  And I think that eighth graders as well as seventh graders would identify with Miguel and learn some important lessons.  I’m writing another lesson plan that will allow me to use the 1953 movie version for …and now Miguel produced by the author, Joseph Krumgold. RS

Too Old To Die Young in ‘Deadline’



If life is like a candle bright
Then death must be the wind
You can close your window tight
And it still comes blowing in

So I will climb the highest hill
And I’ll watch the rising sun
And pray that I won’t feel the chill
‘Til I’m too old to die young

The song Too Old To Die Young is referenced at the start of Deadline when Ben first receives the diagnosis that he has a terminal blood disease. It comes around again toward the end of the book when Ben makes a playlist about loss that starts and ends with the song that signals the beginning of the end for him. Finally the music comes full circle with Dallas and Cody listening to it together after Ben’s death.

The song symbolizes one of the central themes of the story that Ben makes clear in the letter he leaves behind for his family and friends when he says he realizes the truth about the quote ‘Live every day like you’re going to live forever and every day like it’s going to be your last.’ Ben has learned that the essence of living life is to be thoughtful about the decisions you make because they have consequences that will leave a lasting impact but to live your life to the fullest and take chances because you may not get another opportunity.

In his final year Ben does seize life and lives it to the fullest. Despite the fact that he’s only 18, he crams enough living into that final year that he does live until he’s “too old to die young.”