The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

When I began reading The Graveyard Book I had no idea what to expect. I hadn’t heard of it before, or had any prior information as to what type of novel it was. So when the first scene is that of the murder, I was in shock. I found it hard to get into initially, because I couldn’t follow the logic. It truly is easier to enter into fantasy scenarios with the imagination of a child. I believe adulthood leaves us a bit jaded, and so after entering into a suspension of disbelief, I ended up really liking it. I do enjoy novels of the fantasy genre, and especially with a bit of mystery. I thought that this book would probably go over exceedingly well with my 7th graders since they all enjoy mystery stories.

The story is that of Bod (short for Nobody), who is the sole survivor of the opening murder scene. At the start of the novel he is a baby, and having escaped the killer, manages to be saved from certain death by entering into the close by graveyard, where its inhabitants are the ghosts of the people who were buried there. An older, ghost, couple essentially adopts Bod, and he grows up in this environment, receiving food, shelter and education from the ghosts of the graveyard. He is invisible to outsiders who are living, but can be seen by other children. When a young girl comes to the graveyard with her mother, the two develop a friendship that ends up being long-lasting. The conflict of the story is that the killer will not stop searching for him, with the intention to kill him. Bod’s naïve nature, and lack of education essentially prevents him from understanding how he is being protected by this evil that is searching for him, and also gets him into trouble when he follows the ghouls to the depths down below. And true I really liked how the author never gave too much away but left little hints to the reader. Like how we never are told what Silas is. Which in the beginning puzzled me because he was said to not be alive or dead. So naturally I connected the dots and said that he must be some sort of undead or vampire. Even though he says he is a reformed evil creature, who has the ability to leave and return the graveyard, something that the spirits cannot do. Bod, as a protagonist, is clearly how the students would connect to the story. Although he is being raised under strange circumstances, he is still going through things that they have experienced as well. It is a true coming of age story too; that I think is what humanizes the mystical premise.

Due to the fantastical nature of the novel, I think that a creative writing assignment would be an excellent way to end a Unit on the book. I would provide the student’s with a list of characters from the story, all of which would be minor characters that live in the graveyard, and have them write their story. What happened to them, how did they die, why did they end up there? I would also have a visual component to the assignment and ask the students to create drawings or pictures of their characters, trying to use details from the story. I think that the writing activity will be one they enjoy to write.

AH

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander, was unexpectedly marvelous. I loved so many aspects of the book. The story centers on the Bell family that consists of twins Josh, who goes by the name Filthy McNasty, and Jordan. The twins are basketball players at their junior high school, and the backbone of their team. The story is told through the eyes of Josh, who is going through the regular growing pains of entering puberty. He must deal with his brother getting his first girlfriend, Miss Sweat Tea, and his father’s health issues, that remain a puzzle to him for a large part of the story. He lives and breathes basketball, and has acquired his nickname from his basketball skills. The boys’ father, a former professional player, now is a stay at home dad, that also is their role model and, especially Josh, aspires to be like him. Their mother, the assistant principal, tries to keep the boys focused on their education, and constantly worries about her husband. Josh feels his hair, he has long dreads, are a source of good luck for his game, and when his brother cuts off his hair, the conflict that develops between the siblings becomes magnified. Josh becomes jealous of his brother’s girlfriend, and his jealousy leads him to make questionable decisions, one of which gets Jordan injured during a game. He is jealous of Jordan’s newfound relationship because he finds himself having lost his other half, and is no longer a part of the dynamic duo he is used to. He cannot understand why Jordan wants to spend all of his time talking or with this girl.

The most shocking part of the novel, though, is Josh’s secretly ailing father, who has been keeping his condition a secret from everyone, ends up in the hospital, and ultimately passes away. Alexander does an excellent job showing this loss through Josh’s eyes. As the reader, you are truly pained by this reality, and fell for this boy who has just had his life turned upside down.

What was truly amazing about this novel, apart from the beautiful language and great plot, is the poetic form the author uses. It gives the words movement on the page. The rhythm of the words mirrors the rhythm of the ball bouncing on the court. Also, the use of vocabulary words is great. In terms of using this book in the classroom, I can definitely see how the vocabulary can be an essential part of the Unit. I will definitely be adding it to my class library but will also request to have the books ordered for use as a class novel. I can incorporate it in a poetry Unit. As I read I was thinking of activities that I would develop for a culminating activity, and I think that a creative writing assignment would be perfect. I would have the students to write an autobiographical narrative, using the poetic form. The finished works can then be read in class to music perhaps, or shared in a larger grade level assembly. I see a lot of possibilities for this book, and am so excited to have discovered it. I have also recently found out that the novel has won the Newberry Award for 2015. It truly is a winner.

AH

Friendship and Intimacy in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower”

the_perks_of_being_a_wallflower_book_cover_drawing_by_pigwigeon-d5j78elStephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” centers on a group of teens and their early sexual experiences. We see characters form friendships that ripen into intimate sexual relationships. We learn about various formations, their depths, secrecies, tensions, dramas, and denouements, and finally how the characters cope with the ends of these relationships.
Charlie, the narrator, is the eponymous wallflower, and though he is decidedly passive at times, he is not what I would consider a wallflower, a shy person who doesn’t get involved. He definitely participates, particularly in his role as a friend. He is a keen observer of his scene, though Chbosky at times gives him a naivete for comic relief, but this naive stance doesn’t always ring true to my ears because of his obvious talents as a chronicler of his friends.
The main characters find themselves in emotional turmoil when their sexual relationships fail.
Charlie’s two relationships both turn out badly. The first with Mary Elizabeth ends on a passive aggressive note when he kisses his true love Samantha (Sam) instead of Mary E. during a Truth or Dare game at a party.
An interesting element of the novel is how friends ripen into lovers, break up, and find themselves integrating back into friendships, as if the friendship was the more important relationship and the sexual one simply an experiment.
Charlie’s 2nd “sexual” relationship ends before coitus despite Sam finally giving assent to him.
Why wasn’t Charlie able to go through with the act even though Sam had been his dream lover almost from the moment he met her? The issue isn’t fully explored though prior to the seduction, Sam criticizes Charlie for being passive. She said she didn’t want to date someone who had a “crush” on her, but someone who could have a reciprocal relationship. Charlie was also unable to be reciprocal with Mary E. She did all the talking and moves.But it’s understandable that he might feel intimidated by older women, particularly if they were first friends whom he admired. It wasn’t “wrong” in other words that he couldn’t go through with the sexual act with Sam. The reality of sex was too overwhelming. What he was afraid of is inferred, but not explicitly explored, and this might be a good place to ask students why he turned down a chance to sleep with the girl of his dreams.
Homosexuality, not surprisingly, is explored in this novel. Gay sex is treated with no more emphasis than straight sex, though the gay characters have the added burden of homophobia and gay bashing once their relationship ends.
How might this novel be the anchor for a generative unit?
The unit could be on friendship and intimacy or if I wanted to be more provocative, Friendship and Sex, but intimacy is a better term because it encompasses sex as well as the emotional closeness we experience in love relationships as well as friendships during these formative years. The teen years are when most people begin to actively explore their sexuality and this novel goes there without blinking.
The story is written as a epistolary novel, letters written to an unknown recipient. I anticipated that this unknown character would eventually be exposed or introduced, but he never is. It was a little disappointing, and I would question why the novel took this form. It could easily have been a diary.
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