Friday, January 20, 2012


The reason that we've both been MIA for half a year is because we have been reading tons and tons of excellent YA novels!

Okay, so that's a lie!

We have been reading tons of YA novels, but we have also been really, really busy. I moved back to Florida and took a job at my alma mater and the fall was conference season. We presented at NMSA, NCTE, ALAN, and LRA!

But, we're back and will be writing about some of the great books we've been reading.

I actually want to revisit a book that has become a national obsession: The Hunger Games!

I used the whole series last summer in my YA Lit class and the students created body biographies (one example is below) for Peeta and/or Katniss. If you haven't tried body biographies, they are a great mechanism for students to show their knowledge and interpretation of a character and a work.

In my new role here in FL, we include YA literature in our content area literacy courses. The other sections are using The Giver, but I chose The Hunger Games. As we read, we talk about the cross-curricular and interdisciplinary connections that can be made with this book. We brainstorm every couple of class sessions based on how far we are in the book. Last fall the students came up with interesting and creative ways to use the novel in all of the content areas, including art. I can't wait to see what they come up with this semester. For this reason alone, it should be used for whole class (or whole school) reading.

I am also using the novel with 6th and 7th graders as part of my ALAN research grant. We'll hold our discussion next Monday. I am curious to hear what the students think about the book.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

With a Little Help From Our Pens

Several students who took my GLBTQ YA Lit class this summer created a blog called "With a Little Help From Our Pens" in order to create a space where people can submit their stories, poems, etc. about GLBTQ issues.

Collaborate – from the original Latin collaborare (col “together;” and laborare “to work, labor”): To work in conjunction with another or others, to co-operate; esp. in a literary or artistic production, or the like.

The verb “to collaborate” was our initial purpose. The four of us—all from different backgrounds and possessing different skill sets—found ourselves in a class together, studying GLBTQ young-adult fiction. From the critical perspective, the overriding focus on this genre seems to be that of examining and cataloging representation. Are the novels, stories, and narratives fair? Accurate? True? The consensus finds that GLBTQ fiction is moving in the “right” direction, but that representation, historically, has had many faults.

We thought: “We could write. We know what’s missing; what’s cliché; and what the previous authors have gotten wrong.” And so, our mission was to put together a collaborative anthology: fiction, non-fiction, criticism, and poetry. How are the roots of our assurance, however, any stronger than the authors who have gone before? Millions of people have the same thought about any given situation everyday: “I could do that.”

And we don’t want to focus on being the “same.” If we’re going to speak about difference, we must understand the meaning of difference. We realize that our stories are exactly that: ours. We could never write your story, even though that’s what we wanted; so, we invite you to write it yourself.

This space is the final product. We will christen it, so to speak, with the material that we prepared for the inceptive idea; but after that, it’s yours. We want your words, in whatever form is best for you. And we want your raw emotion, from one side of the spectrum to the other, for collaboration will not otherwise bring about fruition. While the process is “to work,” which can be joyful; it is also “to labor,” which involves struggle. There are so many different ways that you can collaborate with us. Of course, we look forward to your creative submissions, but we hope for much more. Make recommendations for the users of this community: show us websites with important information; tell us about books that moved you or spoke to you; share videos of your favorite author explaining his or her work. Give feedback to your peers; a key component of collaboration is support. Begin discussion forums so that authors know how they can better speak for and about GLBTQ young-adults.

We will update the forum every weekend, and we ask only that you whole-heartedly seek the understanding that we realized: there is no “right;” there is no “same;” difference is beautiful. Until we can teach this to the world, we’ll get by with a little help from our pens.

Guidelines & Regulations

This site is a safe space that is being monitored and moderated by the administrators and you are welcome to join us! Please take note of the following guidelines and regulations for a safe and productive experience at With a Little Help from Our Pens:

--Never post or share your personal information online (this includes your full name, address, telephone number, email address, phone number, school name, parents’ names, credit card number, and/or social security number, etc.) or your friends’ personal information.
--Never share your Internet passwords with anyone, except your parents.
--Do not post photos of others without their permission.
--Never meet anyone face-to-face whom you only know online.
--Try to have an open communication with your parents about what you do online.
--Try not to write too specifically about yourself. For example, you could write “I’m in my local marching band” rather than “I’m in the Lincoln High Marching Band.”

--Remember: We all have different experiences, perspectives, and identities that should be mutually considered when posting and respected as you use this site.
--Listen and think before you post.
--Don’t say anything that might be offensive to someone else.
--Be considerate and courteous of others and their perspectives.

--Be mindful of grammar, spelling and punctuation.
--Be sure you clarify any abbreviations you might use.
--Be conscious and considerate not to post any spam, any inappropriate material or content, and any copyrighted material without a source.
--Unruly or unnecessary profanity will not be tolerated.
You will be removed from this site if any posted material contains any slurs, derogatory comments, or any inappropriate content.
--Remember: You are broadcasting yourself to the world—present yourself in the best possible light.

***The blog will be screened to remove disrespectful language and/or content. We reserve the right to delete any comments for any reason at our discretion and we reserve the right to warn, suspend, and/or remove individuals or groups that do not follow the above guidelines and regulations.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

LGBTQ Lit and YA Lit

It's been a long time since I posted--several months in fact! I am just coming off of back to back YA literature classes: LGBTQ in May and regular YA lit in June (I am still teaching the graduate level YA lit class now, just online).

I hope in the next week or so to post about the many great titles we read over the courses. I want to start with with two of the first titles we read in May:

Spring Fire was written by Vin Packer (really the famous YA author ME Kerr) and published in 1952. It is thought to be the first lesbian pulp (fiction) novel; however, it is so much more! It addresses alcohol abuse, date rape, and the pressure to conform to society's standards. The novel is about Susan (Mitch) Mitchell, a very awkward and somewhat lonely freshman at a college (somewhere in the midwest) who falls in love with Leda, a sorority sister who has, shall we say, "some issues."

We read the 2004 re-released version (Cleis Press) and according to that edition's introduction it was only republished after negotiations with the author. Packer/Meaker who had always been troubled about the books' ending: after their relationship is exposed, Leda is committed to a mental institution. Then, Mitch realizes she never really did love Leda. As with other YA literature from that time period, such sins as homosexuality (and premarital sex, and drinking, and so on) could only end badly for those involved. The book could not have a "happy ending" for the two young women.

In the 2004 edition's foreword Packer wrote that her first editor told her that because the book would be sent through the mail, there could not be any references that portrayed homosexuality attractive or the postal inspectors would return it to the publisher. One character must acknowledge that she is not a lesbian, and the other she's involved with "must be sick or crazy".

Odd Girl Out was published in 1957 by Ann Bannon (a pseudonym) and tells the story of a shy freshman, Laura, who becomes bewitched by the beautiful Beth who convinces her to join her sorority. Laura does and they become roommates . . . and then more. Like Spring Fire, there could be no happy ending for Laura or Beth. And, again, non-comformity to the social mores could only have negative repurcussions. Likewise, this book also has many of the same themes: homosexuality is bad, premarital sex is bad, drinking is bad, image is everything, etc.

I won't give away the ending . . . there is no mental hospital, but there aren't bunnies and rainbows either.


Our class had great discussions regarding these two novels. Many of the female students are/were in sororities and we all talked about how BAD the fraternity boys were in the books. This was 60 years ago . . . if they were like that then, what does that say for today? I think these books would be WONDERFUL to use in the high school classroom--maybe not as whole class reads, but definitely in literature circles. There are many comparisons/contrast that students could make regarding the views and actions of the characters to what happens today.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

We Could be Brothers

I received a copy of We Could be Brothers (Derrick Barnes) while at the ALAN workshop last November. I came home, filed it with the other 100 I need to read and it sat. Until this week. I really needed to read a "middle school" book because that is my weak area. (I never taught middle school and to be honest, that age kind of freaks me out).

I really liked this book! Of the realistic "middle school" books I have read over the years this one read most true to me. I thought Brooks did a good job of balancing, juxtaposing, and exposing the mutliple stereotypes often thrown around about urban kids and schools.

The book was endorsed by Coe Booth and Alfred Tatum--not too shabby.

There is also a book trailer on the author's website.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

A Book to Hook Male Readers

Even the dead tell stories.

This is the first line in Marcus Sedgwick's Printz honor book Revolver. I was anxious to read this after reading the summary, and it didn't disappoint (I think I read it in less than two hours). Part history, part adventure, part mystery, the tale alternate between action in 1899, 1900, and 1910, and ultimately ends with a "closing" in 1967. Set in the Artic wilderness the novel tells the story of Sig and his family who, led by his father, settle in the cold north in search of gold. When the novel opens, Sig's father has just died having fallen through the ice on his way home.

Yet, how could the father, who knows the rules of traveling across the frozen lake make such a stupid mistake?

The reason for his blunder becomes evident less than a day after the father dies when a scary, mysterious stranger arrives calling for what he is owed by the father. And, he refuses to leave unless he gets what he wants. But, what is it?

The "it" is the purpose of the flashbacks to 1899-1900. The reader begins to trace the father and family's past and travels. Yet, Sedgwick is careful not to show his hand too much. We slowly begin to realize that Sig's father must have cheated his bosses during his job as an assay clerk (one who tests and measures the gold the prospectors find). But how? And how did Sig's father "cheat" the mystery man?

The answers to those questions are saved for the end of the book--and ending that boys will surely get to in order to find out!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Don't Ignore Vera Dietz!!

OMG is all I can say about A. S. King's Printz Honor book Please Ignore Vera Dietz. I bought it to read on a trip to Madison, WI, and had finished it by the time the plane landed. I could not put this book down!!!

The story--told from different perspectives, including a pagoda (yes, a pagoda)--is mainly about the complex relationship between teenagers Vera and Charlie who have been friends since childhood. It is one of those relationships where if everything was right, they would admit they loved each other, date, and then get married and be happy. But as we know in life, and YA fiction, things aren't so simple.

First, Vera's mom left when she was 12, running off with her podiatrist (and before all that she was a stripper). Vera's dad is trying, but he can't let go.

Charlie lives next door and the physical and emotional abuse his father dishes out to his mother can be heard by Vera and her father (and others) but no one does anything to intervene. Then, there's the creepy thing with Charlie's underwear (I am not going to spoil the book and tell all!).

Fast forward: Charlie finds a new crowd, turns against Vera, and dies under some "questionable" circumstances. Vera begins to see and hear thousands of Charlies at odd times.

There is, of course, much more!

I loved the change in perspectives and the wonderful balance of humor, playfulness, sadness, and seriousness. And, the flow charts provide a very interesting dicussion and instructional tool for teachers :)

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

My First Book Trailer!!!

Well, I finally did it!

After a year of sharing awesome book trailers with my students and telling them how great a trailer can be to promote a book, I finally made my own.  It took me just over two hours using Windows Movie Maker, but I surmise that this is mostly because I have OCD, and it had to perfect.  I am still not absolutely 100% thrilled with it, but I think it is awesome nonetheless.

I chose to do a book trailer for Laurie Halse Anderson's Wintergirls.  This book has meant a lot to me in the past year.  First, in the past, I have struggled with anorexia and bulimia in the quest to be perfect.  This book reminded me just how crazy I was during that time period.  Second, this was the book that began my YAL obsession.  I was a Harry Potter fan and a Twilight fan, but I had never really branched out from there.  Laurie Halse Anderson opened my eyes to a world of literature that I never knew existed.  Finally, every student who has ever borrowed this book from my library has said that it made an impact on them in very different ways.  It helped some to open up about an eating disorder and other "imperfections", others to overcome their own eating disorders, and still others to understand what their friends are going through.  I hope one day to meet Laurie Halse Anderson and tell her all of this.

Without further adieu, I present to you my book trailer:

NOTA BENE:  I chose a hardcore song for this, so if you are in an office or school right now, you might want to adjust your volume.