Oh. My. Gosh. I just finished Winter (actually about a month ago--if you read these posts often, you know how long it takes me to actually post.) This is the final novel in Marissa Meyer's Lunar Chronicles series, which began with Cinder (and includes Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, Fairest, and finally Winter). (Thanks to GoodReads.com for the lovely cover image.) It's been a long time since I got to the end of a series and enjoyed it so much. (This is especially true if I'm reading the series as the books come out... I've noticed I enjoy them more if I read them all at one time, but I do love the joy of waiting for a new book in a series to be released.) I love so many of the YA lit series books-- Marie Lu's Legend series, Laini Taylor's Daughter of Smoke and Bone series, and Cassandra Clare's The Infernal Devices series all come rushing to mind--but The Lunar Chronicles is a good contender that would be great for teaching and/ or lit circles.
Meyer plays with traditional fairy tales and spins them in new, interesting ways. Her books are set in a futuristic sci-fi world where life is established on Earth's moon (where the Lunars, who have varying degrees of mind manipulation powers, reside) as well as still on Earth (with the "Earthen Union", which is enjoying a long era of peaceful coexistence). As you might guess from the title of the first novel, Cinder plays with the Cinderella fairy tale, and in this telling, Cinder is a cyborg teen mechanic who is quite out of place on Earth. She does have some of the same traits as Cinderella--she's a misfit whose stepmother and one of her stepsisters are both totally evil to her, and she does in fact meet a prince.
What I love most about the series is the way each new novel integrates new characters that weave into the storyline and add more dimension to the plot. The second novel focuses on Scarlet, who might bring to mind some of the traits of Little Red Riding Hood, and the third focuses on Cress, who echoes the tale of Rapunzel. Fairest is more of a companion piece than the others, and it focuses on the Lunar queen, who harkens back to the evil queen in Snow White. (I read this one after I finished Winter, and I'm glad I read them in that order.) Finally, Winter tells the story of Princess Winter, who certainly connects to character traits of Snow White herself. I feel the need to say that I don't often enjoy twisted fairy tales or things of that style, but these novels, with their sci-fi and fantasy elements and powerful, complex characters, greatly appeal to me.
In the classroom: These novels would be a great way to talk about diplomacy, the tradition of rule by bloodline rights, and the aspects of equity and fairness (as they relate to cyborgs on Earth who are treated as inferior OR "shells" on Lunar who are treated horribly). With biowarfare and other brutal military tactics, the lengths that regimes will go to in order to gain power certainly speak to what we see in our own world.
In lit circles: These novels would work great with other novels that build on fairy tales. Here's a nice list of YA books that relate to fairy tales provided by GoodReads.com. This series would also work well with other novels that focus on diplomatic relations, and they'd be a great complement to other novels with dystopian tropes (such as the Legend series by Marie Lu, the Graceling Realm series by Kristin Cashore, or the Divergent series by Veronica Roth). While Cinder would be the easiest to work with as a single work in the classroom, you could probably teach any novel in the series (they fill in gaps quite well and could stand alone).
I love Marissa Meyer (a successful NaNoWriMo novelist!), and I've thoroughly enjoyed the series. As a series, it's accessible, compelling, and fun while having enough depth and complexity to make it worth the read. I look forward to seeing what she comes out with next!
[A quick side note to my frequent readers: I have taken a LONG break from the blog to finish my pregnancy term, prepare for the upcoming school year with my absence and new class preps, and have my precious baby, but I'm back now and plan to be consistent with posting each week or two. Thank you for your patience and for reading!]
Over the past few months (which, not coincidentally, paralleled my pregnancy), I had the pleasure of rereading the entire Harry Potter series. Every single book. Every single page. In truth, it was the first time I'd actually read at least one of the books--we listened to at least one of them on audio back in the early 2000s during a particularly hard year that required a lot of time on the road.
I'm not one to reread things in general. Of course, when teaching a text, I reread it to refresh my mind and develop a deeper understanding of it, but it's not a practice that carries over into my general attitude toward reading. I often see it as a waste of precious reading time--there are so many other things out there waiting to be read! I am, however, a big fan of watching reruns (much to my husband's dismay). I've seen every episode of both The Simpsons (up until about season 20; I'm behind on the new ones) and Futurama, and I could still watch each of them on a daily basis (and often do). It's extremely difficult for me to start a new series, and it often takes several episodes (and the rather persistent prodding of my patient husband, who has a far wider taste when it comes to shows) before I can get even remotely invested in any new show.
This experience of rereading Harry Potter led me to ponder why students so often reread books instead of trying something new. I had one student who clung (literally--I'm not being metaphorical here) to The Hunger Games to read it a fifth time as I did my best to patiently but firmly pry it out of her hands and replace it with something new, similar in genre and style, and far more exciting than rereading the same story (I think I chose Graceling by Kristin Cashore, a great book in an awesome, interconnected trilogy).
I examined my own desire to rewatch shows, and I considered why that habit is so much more appealing to me than trying something new. I don't watch much TV (in fact, we didn't have a TV until last year, though we would watch things on our laptop, and I've never had cable or any kind of live TV in my adult life). I'm not opposed to TV or watching shows; it's just not a priority to me. When I do watch shows, I seek them out as a way to unwind at the end of the day. I watch them for comfort and relaxation rather than as a way to grow, learn, or experience significant emotional responses. I'm introverted, so I feel pretty emotionally drained at the end of a work day. I have watched several shows that I find captivating, but that I wind up drifting away from because I do not ultimately enjoy the emotional strain they cause.
The above approach is not at all how I approach reading. I love trying new things, and I passionately seek out books that challenge my views or enable me to empathize with characters. I love suspense and action (This is Not a Test by Courtney Summers was a fun action zombie read that I plowed through shortly after my daughter was born), and I enjoy raw, moving books. For example, I LOVED The Fault in Our Stars (I plan to revisit that book for more concrete teaching plans, but here was my first reaction), but I couldn't bring myself to go to the movie. However, when I thought through that process, I began to realize why students so often cling to their beloved novels rather than venturing out to explore new ones. It's hard to take risks, and many times young readers see new books as a frightening risk.
But I digress... this brings me back to good old Harry Potter and his adventures. Pregnancy was the exception to what I just proclaimed about myself as a reader. The last thing I wanted to do was experience any kind of emotional strain, even one induced by reading. I read very little during that nine months (which saddened and embarrassed me--what will people think of an English teacher who doesn't read?!?--but there were lots of things I gave up, and I'm working on the acceptance and humility that the process of having children brings). When I did read, I found that I could not stomach anything that required too much stress or emotion. That meant that I was suddenly unable to read and enjoy most books.
And so I came back to my old friend, Harry Potter. And I'm so glad that I did.
He and Ron and Hermione helped me through many long, sleepless nights. I even bought the ebook version of the novels (which was complicated, but can be done at this site) so that I could read them in the darkened early morning hours.
Rereading them gave me the opportunity to rediscover the richness of the story. It was amazing to see the way some of the threads of the later books came up in the earliest novels, and the development of the characters was so much more intricate than I remembered. Because I have seen the movies, I remember those parts much better, so it was fun to see all of the events and details that the movies overlooked. I'd forgotten, for instance, how Harry and Ron first met Hermione, and how they kind of despised her for a while before becoming friends. I'd also forgotten how goofy looking Harry was, particularly in the early books. I loved the richness of some of the dialogue, and I marveled at Rowling's style and structure.
From a teaching perspective, there seem to be some easy ways to incorporate the Harry Potter series into the classroom, if one so desires:
There are many ways that you could incorporate a touch of Harry Potter and his friends into your classroom. That series holds up to reading it again and again, and it's a wonderful, fun series to share with our students, some of whom are now too young to know much about it. Have you ever taught it in your classroom or used excerpts to illustrate some concepts or skills? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments section!
[It feels so good to be back here, hearing the clicking of the keys that coincides with the flowing words in my brain. I look forward to writing more posts soon!]
Thanks to this fun BuzzFeed article for the image below:
Our students come back on Tuesday! We've had meetings since last Tuesday, so at this point, the thought of having class, and of getting into the normal routine, seems exceedingly blissful. I intended to post about back to school/ first day activities today, but after staring at my screen for a while, I decided that is a post for the near future. Today, I'd like to reflect on young adult literature that I discovered during summer reading this year.
This is the list of what I read from YA Lit this summer:
I couldn't say that I didn't enjoy any of these. They were all excellent novels. In fact, I was beginning to worry that I would reduce my credibility on Goodreads with my recent high ratings. I've given pretty much everything I've read this summer four or five stars. However, I realized eventually that the seemingly inflated ratings come from the fact that all of those books were recommended to me by a friend with excellent taste.
That brings me around to recommendations. I've discovered in the past year that talking with kids about books is the number one way to get them to read. I read things and tell my students about them; the next thing I know, they are reading them for themselves. They make their own judgments--I particularly enjoy it when a student plows through a book that I loved and then tells me that s/he did or did not particularly like specific things about it.
My thoughts about the books from this summer:
Lauren Oliver is brilliant. I've thoroughly enjoyed discovering her writing this summer. Her narrators are complex and challenging, and she moves forward at a riveting speed that leaves the reader breathless. I think (despite my initial doubts during the first 100 or so pages) I ultimately liked Before I Fall better than the Delirium series, but both were amazing reads that have been enjoyed by my students as well as me.
Saenz is a phenomenal writer and his story poignantly and directly attacks the struggles that teenage boys encounter when they discover that they are a bit different from their peers. It's a story of loneliness, self-discovery, and compassion, and I loved every minute of it.
Me, Earl, and the Dying Girl is a hilarious, insightful story with a brilliant narrative voice. It moves quickly and is a great read for teens navigating the complex pathways of social networks in high school, as well as those who are struggling with the illness of a friend or family member. It's honest and sheds an authentic light on the hilarity and absurdity of life as well as the complexities of the human experience.
I just finished Bitterblue, and I can't say enough about how much I love the world that Kristin Cashore created. She thoroughly engrosses her reader in the fantasy world of seven kingdoms (with another world accessible only through tunnels). What I particularly like about those books is the continuity of progressive thinking and strong female narrators throughout each of the novels. I also love the way that the novels complement one another while telling unique, fascinating stories. Though I loved all three novels, I found Bitterblue the most powerful as Cashore reveals through that novel the long lasting impact of a devastating tyrant and the challenges that people face in the aftermath of such a horrible experience.
John Green's novel was brilliant--funny, moving, and perfect for teen readers who are feeling alone and learning to relate to the world and their friends. This is an awesome story about the unlikely meeting of two very different teenage boys who discover that they have some things in common. It's an excellent book for teenagers who are dealing with relationship issues, loneliness, sexuality issues, or depression. It's simply a great novel for readers who are looking for a fun read about the struggles of "normal" teenage life.
Marie Lu's series is AWESOME! I love the alternating narrators and the way that their lives intertwine. The story itself is compelling, and Lu unveils her post-apocalyptic, dystopian world bit by bit in a way that keeps the story ever suspenseful and intriguing. They are excellent reads and are among the best of the genre that I've read so far.
I loved, loved, loved Hold Still. It was raw and honest about the devastation that people experience in the wake of suicide. However, what makes it remarkable is the way that LaCour shows with candor and authenticity how art and love and reflection can bring about healing and remembrance. It is a story of bravery and hope, and it addresses mental illness and self harm in a way that is approachable for teen readers as well as adults.
Finally, I will end with the book that began my summer. The Dog Stars is a phenomenal book. It took me quite a while to get into that one, but it was well worth the wait. It is a brilliant book that shows the desire to keep living in a post-apocalyptic world where virtually nothing is left. The narration is powerful with curt, broken syntax and sharp realities depicted in single word phrases. “Life and death lived inside each other. That's what occurred to me. Death was inside all of us, waiting for warmer nights, a compromised system, a beetle, as in the now dying black timber on the mountains.” This is a remarkable story, and it would be a good one to teach in an advanced or AP class.
Well, this has turned out to be longer than I anticipated... I loved the novels I read this summer (almost as much as I loved the summer itself), and I can't wait to share them with the students this coming week. Best wishes to all of you fellow teachers as you settle in to a new year with your students.
“There is no great secret. You endure what is unbearable, and you bear it. That is all.” ~Clockwork Princess (The Infernal Devices Book 3), Cassandra Clare
Summer is here! I thought for a while, especially after the feet of snow that we had in March, that it would never actually get here, but as I sit on the balcony at the beach in SC, I realize the incontrovertible truth that summer has finally come. Woohoo! I have big plans for this summer, including a ridiculously long reading list (I've brought home a giant crate of books along with another massive bag holding the overflow) and a gigantic revision of my writing. I just finished The Dog Stars by Peter Heller, a novel I started in March but just now came around to reading. It was awesome, and well worth the wait. I'm now plowing through four of Lauren Oliver's books, which I'm sure I'll write about soon enough. But alas, I did not sit down at my laptop to write about summer, or the current novels. I sat down here to write about the phenomenal series I read a few weeks ago, The Infernal Devices series (also familiarly called the Clockwork series) by Cassandra Clare.
Where to begin with this? First, a confession (that may lower your view of me as a literary person): I do not particularly like Victorian literature. I've never been big on Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, or even Charles Dickens (though I did find myself strangely in love with Great Expectations when I was a sophomore in high school). I've never been a big fan of third person omniscient narration, nor have I enjoyed reading about the way that things were in the 1800s. In college, I focused on Postmodernism, and I was fascinated by deconstruction of metanarratives and the notion of the simulacrum in literature. In essence, I could not have been more removed from the study of Victorian literature.
If you have not read this series, my rambling about literature undoubtedly seems irrelevant, but this all comes around to the fact that Cassandra Clare accomplishes a phenomenal feat in her series; she echoes the tropes and style of Victorian literature while creating a science fiction/ fantasy world full of suspense, mayhem, and intrigue that rivals anything in YA literature today. Set in late 1800s London, these novels include famous passages from the time period at the beginning of each chapter, and echo the style and description of the time period. They simultaneously challenge the traditional tropes of fiction, and Clare forces readers to grapple with the implications of stories and the way that we are all drawn into them.
Translation for the teen reader and the classroom: I should say that these novels were recommended to me and brought to me by one of my freshmen students. She told me that I would love them, but to be honest I was a bit daunted by the size and by the notion of reading all of them before the end of school (you know what May is like for teachers). When I started Clockwork Angel, three different students approached me in the hall or during my parking lot duty to tell me that those novels were the best series they had ever read. I will say that the first one in the series takes a bit of work to get into the world of the characters, but it is well worth the investment. From about page 150 through the end of the third novel, I could not put them down. I haven't read The Mortal Instruments series (City of Bones) yet, so I cannot compare them. However, I can say that these novels address many issues, such as: discrimination, deception, the value of life, revenge, and the complexities of love. I can also say that they introduce students to the tradition of Victorian literature while also creating a world that is completely fantastical and that escapes from our own. I hope that you will place these novels on your summer reading list, and that you enjoy them!
“You know that feeling,” [Tessa] said, “when you are reading a book, and you know that it is going to be a tragedy; you can feel the cold and darkness coming, see the net drawing tight around the characters who live and breathe on the pages. But you are tied to the story as if being dragged behind a carriage and you cannot let go or turn the course aside...I feel now as if the same is happening, only not to characters on a page but to my own beloved friends and companions. I do not want to sit by while tragedy comes for us. I would turn it aside, only I struggle to discover how that might be done.” ~Clockwork Princess, Cassandra Clare
The first in its series, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor is a riveting story that draws you in from the moment it begins. Much of the first novel is mysterious as Karou attempts to figure out who she really is and how she fits into the world. Constantly lonely, Karou struggles to relate to other people and to find her place. It isn’t until she meets Akiva, an angel who should be her mortal enemy, that she begins to discover traces of her true self. However, as she makes that discovery, her only true family is torn away from her and she finds that she is more alone than ever before.
Throughout both of the novels already released in the series, Karou struggles to reconcile what is in her heart with the harsh reality of her world. These novels grapple with the impact of war. Brimstone, Karou’s surrogate father, says to Akiva: “Have you ever asked yourself, do monsters make war, or does war make monsters? I've seen things… There are guerrilla armies that make little boys kill their own families. Such acts rip out the soul and make space for beasts to grow inside. Armies need beasts, don't they? Pet beasts, to do their terrible work! And the worst part is, it's almost impossible to retrieve a soul that has been ripped away.” Brimstone explores the way that war impacts communities. Although it is a fantasy novel with angels and demons, Taylor dives into the all-too-human essence of war and revenge and the way that those forces can decimate the soul.
Days of Blood and Starlight is even more riveting than Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and Laini Taylor never lets the action lapse as Karou rediscovers her past and finds new and courageous ways to help her people. I can’t wait for the next novel!
Translation for teen readers and the classroom: This is an excellent series for teens who love fantasy and who aren’t intimidated by longer books. The kids are tearing through them in my classes, and so far both novels are receiving rave reviews. As far as classroom application, what I love most about this series is the way that it gets into the heart of war. It forces the reader to reconcile the fact that there are good people (and bad people) on both sides who are simply doing what they have been trained to do, and that their preconceived notions of the “other” are shaped at birth and enable them to justify the violence. The novels do a stellar job of showing the devastation that war causes for everyone involved, both on a personal level and on an epic scale.
“Dead souls dream only of death. Small dreams for small men. It is life that expands to fill worlds. Life is your master, or death is.” ~Laini Taylor, Days of Blood and Starlight
K. Ashley Dickson-Ellison is a former high school English teacher (who is now an instructional technology teacher) interested in exploring the integration of trending young adult literature into the English classroom experience. Ashley is also a member of the podcast Unabridged; check out the podcast site below.
Please note: All ideas and opinions are my own and do not represent my current or past employers.
© K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without written permission from this blog’s author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to K. Ashley Dickson and Teaching the Apocalypse with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. All thoughts and ideas are the author's and do not represent any employer.