Month: March 2015

The Crossover by Kwame Alexander

In basketball, a crossover is the following:  “A simple basketball move in which a player dribbles the ball quickly from one hand to the other.”  In life, we are exposed to many crossovers—these quick shifts that have to be handled adeptly and with care.

Kwame Alexander deals with this topic magically in The Crossover.  This verse novel possesses a variety of poems, including narrative, free verse, and hip hop, which energizes the book throughout.

The storyline focuses on twins (Josh, a.k.a. “Filthy”, and Jordan, known as JB).  The love of basketball has always been in their lives, thanks to their father, a former European pro player who guides them in life and on the court through various playing rules:

Basketball Rule #1

In this game of life
your family is the court
and the ball is your heart.
No matter how good you are,
no matter how down you get,
always leave
your heart
on the court.

Family life and basketball is what drives these boys, and when JB gets his first girlfriends, their tight (and occasionally competitive) relationship is headed for a shift.  In sports, loss is inevitable, and sometimes life is all about how you rebound from the losses.  These rebounds end up being the rhythm of the story, and it propels you into the court of these young men’s lives, and it’s a game you don’t want to miss.

Five Myths about The Crossover:

Breakfast on Mars edited by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe

Breakfast truly is my favorite meal of the day.  It’s generally light, easy to digest, and has quite a bit of options.  The same can be said for the book Breakfast on Mars.  Complied by Rebecca Stern and Brad Wolfe, this book is a collection of accessible essays that are creative, clever, and captivating.

As noted in the introduction’s “A Special Note for Teachers,” Stephen King recommends that all writers “…must do two things above all others:  read a lot and write a lot.”  This advice can be transferred to writing of all kinds—poetry, narrratives, and (of course) essays.

The book begins with a striking Foreward by Margaret Cho and recalls her struggle with having teachers who used writing as a punishment.  She notes that writing is “an art and a gift and a privilege and a lifesaver, and if children learn that it is meant to be torture they will never discover that.” This aim of the book is clear from the very first page and is carried throughout by authors such as Rita Garcia-Williams, Alane Ferguson, Ransom Riggs, Ned Vizzini, and Scott Westerfeld, among 14 others.

What’s striking about all of the essays is that these 37 “delectable” pieces are all writing that will snag student interest.  As Kelly Gallagher notes in his book Write Like This:  Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling and Mentor Texts, ““Teach your students real-world writing purposes, add a teacher who models his or her struggles with the writing process, throw in lots of real-world mentor texts for students to emulate, and give our kids the time necessary to enable them to stretch as writers.”   These essays accomplish just that—they provide engaging real-world mentor texts that will empower students in their own writing choices as they continue down their writing journeys.  So sit back, relax, and truly enjoy the quirky and unique pieces that all come together and make up Breakfast on Mars.



Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer

Belzhar—an unique name for an unusual place.  It’s a world where people can visit in order to return to the past.  It’s a place where friends and family remain unchanged.  And it’s where the teenagers in Meg Wolitzer’s novel want to go.

The book starts with protagonist Jam (Jamaica) starting a new school—The Wooden Barn, which is a “therapeutic boarding school” in Vermont.  Jam is signed up for a class that is only occasionally taught (Special Topics in English) when there is supposedly the right mix of students for the class.  Each time the class is held, the students study a specific author.  This time around, the author is Sylvia Plath.

The class mainly consists of discussion and journal writing.  The instructor’s directions for the homework is clear:  write two times a week in your journal and look out for one another.  Both tasks seem straightforward, but it is soon discovered that they are not.  When the students begin to compose in their journals, something unexpected occurs:  they are transported into another world where they can reconnect with their lost loved ones, who haven’t been changed by time.   When awakening from this journey, the students’ journals are filled with pages and pages of narrative reflections.

The “other-place” they travel to is Belzhar, a take on Plath’s book title.  The students wanted to name the place “[s]omething kind of exotic […] like…the name of a foreign country.  Which it sort of is.”  The teens continue to travel this world, and their reasons for being at the boarding school are revealed.  Although Plath and her works aren’t explored as much as the students’ own pathways to The Wooden Barn, readers may just be intrigued enough to explore Plath’s The Bell Jar or her poetry, for they will see how the magical journals help the teens to heal and how words do indeed matter.

Once by Morris Gleitzman

Once I read a story about a young Jewish boy named Felix who created stories wherever he went.  The stories were fantastical, imaginative, and mesmerizing.  The stories helped the young boy process and deal with the horrors he saw and experienced in 1940s Poland.

Felix believes that his parents are saving their bookstore business while he is in a Catholic orphanage.  When he thinks that they might be in danger, he escapes to help save them.  This quest provides him with the opportunity to meet such memorable characters as Barney the dentist and Zelda, a young girl whose favorite line is “Don’t you know anything?”  And at first, Felix doesn’t, but his stories become more real as the novel advances and his understanding of what is going on in the world around him grows.

At one point, the stories stop helping Felix deal with the atrocities he has experienced.  He even notes that “Once I loved stories and now I hate them.”  The journey, however, continues and Felix realizes that   “…everybody deserves to have something good in their life at least once. I have. More than once.”  Insights such as these is what makes Once quite remarkable.  The innocence of Felix contrasted with the devastating realities at hand blend together to create a story where people’s imaginations can both dramatically help and dangerously harm.

Author Morris Gleitzman created Once after reading many stories from the Holocaust.  The people in several of the stories he read became his heroes, and he became inspired by the bravery he learned.  Gleitzman then decided to write one of his own, and the Once Series was conceived.  As he noted, “This story is my imagination trying to grasp the unimaginable.”  And that is exactly what he accomplished—bringing all of these stories together to create a noteworthy one of his own.

Tomboy by Liz Prince

In the graphic novel Tomboy, Liz Prince knows exactly who she is: a girl who likes wearing a ball cap, sneakers, and “gray hand-me-down blazer” from her friend Ben.  In other words, she is a tomboy, which the dictionary defines as a “girl with boyish behavior” when Liz looked up the definition.  For her, though, being a tomboy was more than this simple statement: “to me, being a tomboy went beyond clothing.  Or extra-curricular activities.  I felt like it really defined ME.  It was a lifestyle I took seriously.”

And it this lifestyle that Liz struggles with as she begins school, moves towns, and moves in and out of friendships.  Prince does an amazing job capturing the essence of her youth and her desire to be who she is.  Questions about gender roles and expectations, sexuality and sexual identity, as well as acceptance of others are all explored.

Every once in awhile, you read a book that captures your heart.  This book caught mine.  I loved Prince’s approach, topic, and everything in between.  Even if you have never been a tomboy, there are moments of marginalization that everyone can connect to in this book.  After all, many of us have days when we can be “Totally happy as long as I (we) don’t have to wear a dress.”

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Welcome to Jill’s Bookmark, a place where you can read about current Young Adult Literature titles, keep up on certain topics in the field, enter giveaways, and ask for book recommendations.  It’s a place where I hope to store thoughts, reactions, and insights on the works I’m reading.  So just like a bookmark holds your thinking or spot for a moment, so does this blog.  Enjoy–

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