Friday, October 28, 2016

HS Book Group Goes Trickster with Neil Gaiman's Anansi Boys

Tiny gathering for this afternoon's book club, but when the dedicated gather, interesting discussion happens.  We listened to the NPR Q&A (students hadn't realized that Neil Gaiman is British), and talked about the issues of race, our recollections of Anansi stories from picture books in the elementary library, and the godlike nature of parents. Usually for teenagers,  parents go from godlike to human, and that's when they become seriously irritating. For Fat Charlie, his father goes from a seriously irritating human to a god, and becomes more understandable and helpful.  Hmmm.

The collage below represents 11 years of Anansi Boys cover art, since publication in 2005.  Check out the "retro" cover (click on the image for more info) -- it was 'specially designed for the mass market edition (like old Dashiell Hammet stories) just released this week!  We talked about how it's accurate in the depiction of Mr. Nancy (don't think he ever got a first name) and the beginning of the story, but doesn't really show what the book's about.

1st edition hardback cover

paperback cover

paperback cover

paperback cover
2016 "Retro" Cover --
Just published this week!

 NPR interview with Neil Gaiman

We also talked a little bit about how Neil Gaiman is white, and he's writing about (and from the point of view of) black characters.  If you've listened to the interview above, you'll know that this is very deliberate on the author's part.   One student commented that the novel is about brothers, girlfriends, parents and folktales, rather than about the experiences of a specifically black man.  Sort of like The Snowy Day is about a little guy in a snowsuit having a great time.  The experience is universal, regardless of the external appearance of the main character.

Next up is The Art of Racing in the Rain -- a regular guy's life as seen by his dog, who's seen it all.

Neil GaimanActor Lenny Henry,
Neil Gaiman's inspiration for Fat Charlie
Lenny Henry in 2006

Greg Changnon's Reading Group Questions
(on ProQuest -- use our database pw or click link at school for access)

Reading Group Questions --

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Junior High Reading Club:
Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

I am having the best time with Junior High reading club this year!

Since its inception several years ago, I've been the assistant grownup, with homebase teacher (and reading club founder) Greg Changnon taking the lead.  This year, though, Greg has left the homeroom to to write, do special projects (the Author-in-Residence program, coaching the National Championship(!) academic bowl team), and to work with the Alliance Theatre as they bring his play Slur (co-written with his Paideia class) to the professional stage (premiering next week - how exciting is that??! ).  I'm now the official grownup-in-charge, for better or for worse.

Anyway, so far this year, reading club has been very small, with just 4-6 members.  The unexpected and wonderful upside of this is that every single one of these students is excited about the books and has lots to say!  We've met twice this year, and both times everyone had read the whole book and offered insights, frustrations, favorite characters and scenes for discussion.

Our first meeting was at the end of September, and the book was The Rule of Three  by Canadian YA author Eric Walters.  A "what if" survival thriller about modern civilization & society when computers suddenly stopped working (set in utterly suburban Toronto), it got students thinking about everything they use and own that depends on computers.  Yep, those smartphones wouldn't be so smart anymore.  Yikes!

So they read the whole book?  Well, I'd forgotten how long The Rule of 3 is (just over 400 pages), but no one was in the least bit fazed.  When I suggested our October book, Afterworlds, I'd also completely forgotten its length -- 600 pages!  As it turns out, no apologies needed. The club LOVED the book and both of its storylines (the novel alternates chapters between a contemporary teenager working to publish her first YA novel, and the text of her finished book).  We talked for much of the hour about characters, plot, and construction.  Wow.

November will be easy -- we're reading More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera.  The author will be here at school as the junior high Author-in-Residence, and reading club members will be having lunch with him while he's here.

Another reason why I'm loving these avid readers?  They voted to meet in December, despite the craziness of the end of the semester.  They all wanted a fantasy, and despite warnings of its length (400+ pages), they decided that Daughter of Smoke and Bone was a must-read.

It's an ongoing challenge to find books that this group hasn't yet read but would still like to read.  My rules are 1) YA/teen genre (there's so much good reading that flies under the popular radar, no need to jump to the adult market yet), and 2) in paperback.  So far, so good.  Yes, this is fun stuff!

Below are four short videos we watched toward the end of yesterday's meeting, to spur thought and even more discussion.

~ ~ ~

Scott Westerfeld talks about his book

"Where I get my ideas."

Official Publisher Book Trailer

Not how our group envisioned the characters.

A Reader Review and Analysis

"Westerfeld takes self-referential to new heights!"

Reverse Psychology!!!

So duh, of course "Standerson" is John Green.  Too funny!