Book Review for The Hunger Games

Yes, the time has come.  I finally bowed to the pressure and picked up The Hunger Games.  To be honest, I was not avoiding the book so much as I had lacking time and reason to really read it until this YA Lit class.  After hearing all of my friends and family rave about it, I went into this endeavor with high hopes, but I was kind of disappointed.

I mean, I was not disappointed by the style of writing or the subject matter, but I was disappointed by the way it ended.  At the beginning, about ten pages in, Katniss makes it clear that there has never been anything romantic between her and Gale.  Later events in the book give cause to question whether that lack of romanticism was one-sided or not, but that does not erase the fact that the lack exists for her.  However, by the end she is questioning having any sort of relationship with Peeta because of what she has with Gale.  The only problem is that there is nothing between her and Gale!  This makes it feel as though the author felt a love triangle would make everything better, but it absolutely does not.  The lack of reason for it and the utter absence of evidence to support it make it feel forced and trite.

Additionally, it must be said that I found some of the plot pieces to be completely ridiculous in their execution.  For example, I was okay with the mutated wolf-things until, all of a sudden, they had the eyes of the dead tributes.  There was no reason for this, the wolf-things were fine on their own.  The aforementioned love triangle was another big one, and the unrequited love that the baker had for Katniss’ mother was almost completely unnecessary.

Overall, I actually enjoyed the book.  I enjoyed how the familial dynamic between Katniss and Prim translated into a protectiveness for Rue.  One of my favorite parts is how Katniss managed to avoid directly killing anyone until Rue was murdered.  This kept her lethal actions from being the wanton destruction that Cato exhibited and instead stayed strictly within the realm of making Katniss more than a governmental plaything.

Conclusively, it must be said that I give The Hunger Games a 3.75 out of 5.

The Hunger Games

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The Importance of Representation

It is difficult to put into words exactly how important diversity and representation is to people. Growing up, I never had stories telling me that it was okay to not have a crush on anyone while everyone else was becoming twitterpated. I never had books with characters who had difficulties picking up on social cues and expectations. I certainly never had books telling me that it was okay to be the potato to everyone’s day lilies.

However, this is nothing compared to the people who are not being represented at the most basic level let alone in more complex ways. Not only are diverse characters and authors not being represented, but they oftentimes are being blocked from ever having that opportunity. We can do better than 3%. In fact, we must do better than 3%.

Additionally, authors who attempt to write diverse characters, for one reason or another, but are not necessarily from the group they are trying to represent often do more harm than good. They too frequently use the diverse character as a plot device or a gimmick, playing up the stereotypes for kicks. We don’t need the cheap laugh at the expense of another, and we certainly don’t need the half-assed excuse for diversification to show that the author is “not prejudiced”. What we need is authentic representation and respect for diverse groups being engendered in both authors and audiences.

It is time to cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war. Demand books with real, genuine diverse personhood. Step up when stereotypes and prejudices are being perpetuated. Don’t make excuses or apologies, but instead make a change.

diversity
Sourced from Ron Mader on Flickr

Why a Classroom Library is Essential

Looking back on my elementary school years, I realize that I took the presence of classroom libraries for granted. During reading time and on days where the weather did not allow for having recess outside, I was free to wander over to the bookshelves and peruse the stacks. However, these reminiscences bring about the adult understanding that these collections were woefully lacking. Not only were the books limited in number, but they were also limited in subject and genre.

That is not to say that some teachers did not try, but I now see that many did not try nearly as hard as they could if they were trying at all. Each time a book fair came through, my teachers would gaze wistfully at the titles on offer before herding the students back to the classroom. Rarely did they purchase books, and if they did it was often at the expense of other things needed such as tissues and dry erase markers. There was also the lack of space to take into consideration as teachers were being assigned classes of 20-25 students in rooms that were maxed out at about 15.

There were some teachers who asked for donations from parents and students, but one teacher in particular made people leery about the practice in my school. If a student wanted to bring in a book just to share with others before taking it back home at the end of the day, this teacher would talk circles around the poor child until somehow the text was placed on her shelves and the kid left school in tears sans book.

Finally, there were teachers who often sighed about how they wished they could just buy the books themselves. You may be thinking, why didn’t they? Well, that’s because they were worried that students would damage the books or not return them, and they didn’t want to “waste” money if their students were just going to be ungrateful like that. To be honest, I don’t place all of the fault on them since we live in a society that fetishizes material things and commodifies people.

With that being said, these experiences, and reading Penny Kittle’s views on the matter, I have come to my own conclusions about classroom libraries.

First of all, there are ways to have extensive classroom libraries even with space constraints. Solutions such as floating shelves and corner shelves are a must, and with the increased prevalence of iPads and Kindles in schools there has to be a way to formulate an electronic collection as well.

Secondly, underhanded means of book accrual will turn your students, parents, and colleagues against you. Therefore, everything must be above board if I am to receive any help from them. Additionally, I must also be prepared to defend the variety I wish to have gracing my shelves. As such, I must make sure that I have read, or at least know enough if I haven’t done so yet, to answer any questions my students might ask. This is tied into Kittle’s premise that “interest in reading comes from engagement”. This, as I understood it, means not only engagement with the text but also engagement with the what the text is trying to convey and engagement with the teacher as a facilitator of understanding and feedback.

Lastly, the second I start valuing money, an inanimate object that value has arbitrarily been assigned to and has no real use outside of what it has come to represent in our society, over the education and opportunities my students so desperately crave is the second I have failed as a teacher. Respect is a mutual thing as is trust and learning, so I must honor my students by believing that books are replaceable, whether their replacement be necessitated by damage or loss, while that chance to read, learn, and grow as a person is not. As Kittle says, “The most important condition in my classroom is my relationship with my students.”

classroom library
Sourced from BarbaraLN on Flickr

Censorship and Sexuality

When I was a kid, I didn’t really have a reading comfort zone, at least in terms of genre.  When it came to type, I definitely tended towards novels because anything shorter did not satisfy me and I, to some extent, did not recognize the existence of plays and books of poetry because I was just not seeing those in the young adult stacks when I went book hunting.  However, as I got older and began to solidify my identity and beliefs, I became more picky about what I would and would not read.  This occurrence is somewhat similar to self-censorship, but more in the way that I was focusing on the maintenance of my emotional well-being.  Certain books, such as those dealing with child abuse and violence against women I will often avoid because I do not have the spoons to deal with it at the time.  Very rarely, due to factors like stress, will I have the spoons to read a full novel that deals with those topics.  However, since I feel that it is important to read about and recognize the reality of such things, I will read a short story or drabble, a story of 100 words or less, about those themes.  Ergo, it can be argued either way whether or not I have a reading “comfort zone” in the traditional sense.

Turning to the issues raised in the article, I was really affected by the reasons behind some of the censorship.  Particularly, I was impacted by the reaction to the topic of sexuality and sexual identity.  The fact of the matter is that adolescents are having relationships that go beyond holding hands and passing notes.  Not only that, but kids, in this sense, are facing many dilemmas that adults face.  They are experiencing lust, love, partner abuse, manipulation, heartbreak, and everything else that relates to sexuality and sexual identity.  However, many parents, adults in general really, do not want to admit that this is possible let alone happening in today’s society.  It is detrimental to adolescent well-being that this occurs.  To be fair, no parent wants to believe that their child is growing up and will soon leave the nest, but it is inevitable and so they must prepare their children for this reality.

Continuing along this vein, there is an issue with the censoring of material considered to be sexually explicit just because it discusses adolescent sexuality that extends beyond the cute and innocent, but for the most part this just pertains to straight kids.  Let me explain what I mean.  Straight young adults, through censorship, are being told that they cannot have adult relationships, but LGB+ young adults are often being told that they cannot have a relationship at all.  For many people, LGB+ sexuality and sexual identity is only found to be acceptable when it is dealt with in the realm of the abstract.  This is due to the fact that abstraction distances it from reality in a sense.  The minute an LGB+ relationship is portrayed realistically or frankly, it is quickly censored.  When this occurs, LGB+ youth are being hypersexualized and ostracized.  In other words, they are being told that they can only have a relationship when they’re an adult, and even then it is still widely debated.  This ties into what I did not know about banned/challenged books.  I thought that more books would have been challenged for discussing homosexuality, but in truth more books were being challenged for sexually explicit content.  However, my question then becomes, how many books were considered “sexually explicit” due to the hypersexualization of the LGB+ community?

Conclusively, I hope to have as many different books and literature on my shelves as possible as I believe that education must extend beyond the classroom and the curriculum and instead encompass all aspects of life and knowledge.

lgbt flag
Sourced from CFJ20 on Flickr

 

 

Physics and Literary Freedom

When I was in elementary and middle school, I loved to read anything and everything I could get my hands on.  Even the reading assignments that I was given, such as book reports and reviews, gave me the freedom to choose what I wanted to read and how I would present the book to the class.  That all changed the second I went to my first high school English class.  The teachers started telling me not only what to read, but also how to read and then prove that I not only completed the reading but understood it as well.  I hated this method.  No longer was I reading interesting things like The Outsiders and Number the Stars, but instead I was reading books that were irrelevant to me in almost every way.  To be fair, I did enjoy some of what we read, but the majority of it was dry, dull, and took up most of the time I had previously allotted for the books I actually wanted to read.  However, this was just freshman and sophomore year, and it became even worse during my junior and senior years.

During my junior and senior years of high school, not only was I reading stuff that was even drier and duller than previous years, but the amount required each night was doubled or even tripled.  As such, since this increase was reflected in all of my classes, I was incapable of completing all of my work each evening and would then have to choose between losing sleep or skipping breakfast to finish it all.  My wellbeing suffered all over stories that were hundreds of years old and all written by people I could neither relate to nor cared to do so.

It can be said that some of the works we read were important from a historical context, such as To Kill a Mockingbird or Macbeth, but arguments can be made that they are no longer relevant from a literary standpoint.  As such, teachers should instead be introducing, within a literary context, works that are not only contemporary but diverse and relevant.  Additionally, teachers need to also take a step back from choosing the books for the students, and instead give them criteria to meet in order to ensure a well-rounded literary education that they will be more inclined to not only complete but enjoy as well.  Penny Kittle, as was seen in the video, gave her students the freedom to choose what books they wished to read and saw a dramatic increase in not only number of books, as this is a difficult number to utilize in comparison data, but the number of pages read skyrocketed.

Book Love only builds upon this point with Kittle’s idea that nonreaders can become readers when given the time, opportunity, and encouragement.  As such, can it not be said that there is no such thing as a “nonreader”?  Instead, we should think of everyone as being potential readers in order to better align with the aforementioned goals.  This concept is very similar to a science concept I learned when I was in high school Physics.  The difference between a potential reader and a reader is the same as the difference between potential energy and kinetic energy.  Potential energy exists from the object’s presence at a precipice of sorts.  Once the object tips over that precipice, then the energy is transmuted into kinetic energy.  With this in mind, we should be presenting those potential readers with the time, opportunity, and encouragement to tip over that precipice and transmute from potential readers into readers.

books
Sourced from faungg’s photos on Flickr