Thursday, May 5, 2011

FEED – M.T. Anderson

On 10/15/10 ACHS Literati met to discuss their choice of three titles and I hosted Feed by Anderson. Several students had expressed an interest in resurrecting this class set but when it came down to getting it read I ended up with two kids and only one had completely finished it. Oh well… I had used this title with success several years ago but his group seemed to think it was too harsh, the language was too bad, or they just couldn’t get into the somewhat convoluted plot.

I liked it, even though the language is very low-class. We talked about why we thought that is and I am proud to say that both my group from the past and these students realized that the author was making a point about evolving language and cultural mores. In this book many things that are taboo today are the norm in a future world where people live in stratas, mobility is accomplished easily vertically as well and horizontally, and people party on the moon.

Children in this future world download their lessons at their appropriate maturity level through a feed into their brains. The feed also delivers ads and collects marketing information from the kids. At a party a virus is introduced to some feeds which results in brain illness making the kids very ill and one begins to die. We discussed the love story, family issues, and cultural issues also included in the plot lines. The environmental issues seemed to be what interested my students particularly. They seemed not at all to think that the world in this book is unlikely and they wondered what it would be like to have no easy access to plants, trees, and animals. We did discuss whether it would be really “cool” to have no school, just a feed that along with your lessons you get adds directly into your thoughts… continually... similar to pop-ups adds on the Internet now.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

THE HUNGER GAMES – Susanne Collins

On 12/10/10 our middle school had a “Hunger Games Book Party.” Our school purchased multiple copies of this dystopian YA novel and for a long period of time last year they were all checked out with reserves pending. The high school Literati group read it liked it so much that this school year we decided to open it up to the middle school and plan a “Hunger Games Party” to follow up. Any student in grades 6-8, who wanted to, could sign up to take part. They were given a period of several weeks which was over Thanksgiving break and through the first two weeks of December. 45 students completed the book, passed a quiz, and were sent invitations to attend a “Reaping in Area 12.”

The library was set up segmented by numbered “Districts” using large paper circles on the tables. A cornucopia was at the entrance containing folded papers with items printed on each one to signify what might have been available to the tributes. On a table, were decorations to set the scene such as bows and arrows, loaves of bread, herbs and bandages, and a large North American map with transparencies representing districts so we could discuss where they might have been and move them around on the map. In preparation for our own “Hunger Game” we made up brown paper bags with treats and prizes to be awarded during the game.

The students got invested in this post-apocalyptic world where Panem is a loosely disguised North America. Most knew that Katniss was from somewhere in what is now Appalachia but placing the other districts around the continent took a lot of clue searching and speculation. It is amazing what the readers remembered about the differing districts. Some high school students had been able to relate this book to Brave New World by Aldous Huxley and Orwell’s 1984, but middle schoolers are not so savvy so I was very please that some knew to connect it to The Giver by Lowry, and The Last Book in the Universe by Philbrick. They of course were intrigued by the concept of the hunger games, the sponsors sending things to the tributes as they fought for survival, and the idea of the rest of the nation watching the games live on TV. The students were very vocal about the character development and of course they liked the love story unfolding. I retrieved some discussion questions from the author’s web site but we didn’t need them. These readers were so into this book that they freely discussed how they felt about the plot and what they thought would happen, their feelings about the deaths, and even the psychology of the effects on the tributes who survive. By the end of discussion I was sure most of these students would go on to finish the series.

Students sat by “district” as each got a corresponding number and also one item from the cornucopia. A “parachute” (umbrella) hung from the ceiling with a basket of snack food attached which was the final prize for the winning team of our game. At each place was a treat, relevant to the book, of bottled water, bread & jam, and cookies (from Peeta’s dad), and score sheets.

We played a simple but animated game which I would like to say I made up but I am pretty sure I simply adapted one I heard or read about. I read short pretend game scenarios which included points for having cornucopia items which each team tallied. As I was reading I would stop occasionally and shout out an announcement and give out “sponsor packages” such as a bag of beef jerky to the team with the least amount of points, candy coal to those who were resourceful and took shoes from the cornucopia, or candy corn to the team with a shovel. At the end of the game the team with the most points got the parachute prize.

It is rare to get so many kids this excited about one book. Discussion was animated and there was much speculation about what actors would be good to play the lead parts.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

NOTES FROM THE MIDNIGHT DRIVER – Jordan Sonnenblick

On 9/17/10 Five students met to discuss this contemporary teen problem/comedy book. I was really pleased to hear what they had to share. The first item up for discussion was the cover. Several students said that until I pressured them to they didn’t want to choose this title because they viewed the cover as elementary and too silly. I believe they had a point. The garden gnome behind the wheel of a car did seem a little funny, especially since in the story he is decapitated and under it. However, we all really liked the book.

A worry had been at the beginning when Alex, who is portrayed as a good kid and a good student, rebels against his parents who are separating that this would be just another problem teen book. So it was interesting to the students when Alex evolved into a caring, intelligent, insightful young man. After he gets drunk, steals his mom’s car, and vandalizes the neighbor’s lawn that is. The students found it refreshing that the growth occurred because of new relationships, sharing music, and a developing sense of responsibility and not through harsh judgment as is usual in many teen novels.

They found Alex frustrating but quite believable and likable. The introduction of a tad bit of romance didn’t hurt the story either as cute pixie-like Laurie added some dimension. They liked her character and knew she was Alex’s girlfriend before he figured it out. Also, they liked the humor and cantankerous Sol Lewis the aging ex-jazz guitarist to whom Alex is assigned for community service.

I knew the vocabulary and plot was a bit simple for high school sophisticated readers but for the beginning of the year and especially for the freshmen it was still a good choice.