Friday, September 24, 2010

Peace, Locomotion

Today I read a lot. I called in sick: it was chemo Friday and also the Friday of my first week back at school after my stroke two weeks ago. So I would've called in anyway but I had extra reason.

I slept 11 hours then finished Seamus Heaney's The Burial at Thebes, his take on Sophocles' Antigone which my sophomores loved last year--it has all the elements, love, incest, the gods--but it's also got the distinction of having the only movie version (from the 60's, in the original Greek) that multiple students suggested I never show again. Wow.

Anyway I finished The Burial at Thebes then read Scott Westerfeld's Uglies which a number of my students have been obsessed with--I wanted to read the copy I'd bought at a yard sale before I brought it in and put it in my classroom library, so I did that, put the other three on hold at the library, and read Jacqueline Woodson's Peace, Locomotion, the "companion book" to Locomotion. In this book, Locomotion (sometimes Lonnie) is in 6th grade, and when he tells his new teacher, Ms. Cooper, that he is a poet because Ms. Marcus, his teacher last year, said he was, Ms. Cooper says "Until you publish a book, you're not a poet, you're an aspiring poet, Lonnie." Thank god that stupid evil Ms. Cooper goes on maternity leave three months into the year and the excellent Alina takes over.

You should all read all of Jacqueline Woodson's books. Peace, Locomotion takes the form of Lonnie's letters to his little sister, Lili. Miss Edna (Lonnie's foster mom)'s oldest son Jenkins comes home from (a) war, messed up and without his leg, but Miss Edna tells him, "This wasn't the dream none of us had, but it's our lives now and we need to be living it, sweetie."

Rodney, her other son, asks Jenkins how his leg is doing and he says "I don't know, it ain't here anymore." When Miss Edna comes out of the kitchen to ask what all the laughing is about, Rodney tells her, "I don't know, Mama. You the one who said sometimes you gotta laugh to keep from crying." Jenkins adds, "And sometimes you just gotta laugh."

Lonnie tells Lili this in a letter and adds, "It's true, Lili. Sometimes you do have to laugh to keep from crying. And sometimes the world feels all right and good and kind of like it's becoming nice again around you. And you realize it, and realize how happy you are in it, and you just gotta laugh."

Thank you, Jacqueline Woodson.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Matt de la Peña

I'm excited to read Mexican White Boy with my students this year. Thanks to everybody who's been helping me buy a class set!

I read all of Matt de la Peña's books over the summer, and they made me so happy. Finally some good YA fiction about Latino boys. (If you know of other books, I want to hear about them!) And of course it's not just about Latino boys, but I'm happy to have a book I can bring to my students and say this is awesome for all these reasons and one of them is that the main character is Latino. Because it doesn't happen anywhere near enough.

From We Were Here, about Miguel and Rondell, who run away from the group home they're in and take off for the Mexican border as if that might really let them start over:
I picked up a rock and thought how weird it was that people call 'em aliens. Like they're from outer space and look like damn Martians. All green with big-ass Rondell heads. And not just aliens but illegal ones too. I wondered who made up that term. And how weird is it that they put cops all along the border so no Mexicans could sneak in? But on the other side it was straight crickets. Nobody was there making sure American people like me and Rondell didn't sneak into Mexico. Shit like that is weird if you really stop and think about it.
Also awesome in this low-key incidental way: some of the characters from Ball Don't Lie are also in We Were Here. I like when that happens. He's got a whole world set up.

Also, Mong says, "It's not about what happens to people. It's how they figure out what it means." There's some smart stuff in this book. Earlier, Miguel says, "I looked at him and then leaned back and crossed my arms. I started calming down, which pissed me off even more. I hated that something some damn counselor could say would make me calm down when I didn't even feel like it."

I'd love to read We Were Here with my students, but we'll start with Mexican Whiteboy.