Sunday, July 23, 2017

Challenger Deep

Summary:  This story is about a teenage boy, Caden, who is experiencing a break from reality and is struggling with mental illness. There are two different worlds that Caden goes between. The first is he is aboard a ship as the ship’s resident artist to document the journey to the Marianas Trench through his drawings. The second world is reality, where he is in the real world, going to high school and struggling with paranoia and schizophrenia there too.  When he is aboard the pirate ship it is a metaphor for being on this journey headed toward Challenger Deep, the deepest point of the earth. It seems that he feels he needs to hit rock bottom before he could come back up for air or back to reality.  His crew mates aboard the ship are representative of the other patients that are in the ward with him. Sometimes Caden is aware of his surroundings and has rather lucid thoughts. A few times his break is so complete the story unfolds and it is hard to tell where he is and where he is coming from. It is often confusing and that is probably the point.

Shusterman, N. (2015). Challenger Deep. New York: HarperTeen.

Commentary:  This book is an interesting story that will have you trying to figure out which world Caden is living in.  If anything it will help you to understand the confusion and paranoia that comes with mental illness and schizophrenia 

Connections:  I would consider this book a Realistic Fiction novel that addresses mental illness, specifically schizophrenia in a very unique way.  Caden drifts back and forth between reality (with his friends and family) to another world that he has created for himself abroad a ship headed to the Marianas Trench.  In a very impactful way this story sheds light on a very tough topic, helping us see the reality those suffering from mental illness may see. Dealing with these things and the emotional scars they leave are a lot for any person to handle.  Your family can help.    

Neal Shusterman's webpage

Author interview

Book Trailer

Video of Author accepting 
2015 NBA Young People's Literature Award for Challenger Deep.

Discussion Guide

Lily and Dunkin

Summary:  This book is about Norbert and Timothy, both who are entering 8th grade with some really heavy baggage. Tim has known most of her life that she was born a girl but is trapped in a boy’s body. She wants to be called Lily. Norbert prefers to be called Dunkin.  He is bipolar and just moved in from town.  One day Lily went outside to help her dad with grocery bags while wearing a dress.  Dunkin was mesmerized by those blue eyes on the first day of school.  This is where their friendship begins.  Norbert joins the basketball team. He’s really tall. The basketball players are the ones who are picking on Lily the most. Lily learns that Dunkin is bipolar when he goes off his medication in hopes of being a better basketball player. Dunkin learns of Lily’s true self later in the story. They are able to be themselves when they are together, no matter how the world sees them. Lily’s mother and sister have come to accept and love Lily for who she is but her father on the other hand is having a very difficult time with this reality.  

Gephart, D. (2016). Lily and Dunkin. NY: Delacorte.

Commentary:  This book is a brutally honest and open book about a some really sensitive and timely topics. It is real and something that teenagers will be able to see themselves in. If anything it will give readers a better understanding and hopefully empathy toward everyone, because you never know what a person is truly dealing with.  

Connections:  I would consider this book a Realistic Fiction novel that addresses two really tough topics, transgender and mental illness, specifically bipolar issues.  Both of these secrets that the characters are keeping are ingrained in who they are.  Dealing with these things and the emotional scars they leave are a lot for any person to handle, let alone teenagers in middle school.    

Donna Gephart's webpage

Link to interview with the author.

Donna Gephart - school visit.

Book Trailer

Video of Author giving a book talk about some of her other books including Death by Toilet Paper.

Link to order a free teacher resource guide for Lily and Duncan.

Educator's Guide

Friday, July 21, 2017

Freak Show

Summary:   Billy Bloom is going into his senior year in high school.  He is a self-appointed “Gender Obscurist” living happily in Connecticut until his mother banishes him, for reasons we don’t find out about. He has to move to Fort Lauderdale, Florida where his father lives. In Florida things don’t work out so well with his sense of style and voice. Billy is not your everyday, run of the mill high school kid, he is gay and a fabulous drag queen who doesn’t hide it and even flaunts it. This is a problem in his new elitist, conservative school.  He is everyone’s target, even the other outcasts target him. In a final attempt to put an end to the homophobia, Billy decides to go to school in the most outrageous drag you could imagine. This doesn’t work out so well for him, he is beaten into a coma and spends the next month recovering at home. Flip Kelly comes into the picture and to his rescue.  He is a star football player who saved Billy from near death and agrees to tutor him while he’s recuperating. He, Flip and Blah Blah Blah, a girl who doesn’t necessarily do what’s expected either, all become friends, which gives Billy hope for the future.  He decides to run for Homecoming Queen with the strong declaration that “Gender is a choice, not a life sentence.”

St. James, J. (2007). Freak show. New York: Dutton.

Commentary:  Billy's first person recount of this story will have you laughing out loud and crying the very next moment.  After listening to his interviews, this story is somewhat autobiographical. In the beginning Billy is self-centered but grows throughout the book into a kind and more self-aware teenager, which is really hard to do as a teenager.

Connections:   I would consider this book Realistic Fiction, even though the author admitted it is somewhat autobiographical.  It was difficult to find book trailers because there is so much stuff on the movie.  I also never found the author's actually webpage.

Author panel with James St. James

Video interview with the author about the book being turned into a movie.

Author reads from his book Freak Show.

Book Trailer


Summary:  Steve Harmon, a high school film student, is in jail and on trial for murder. He has been accused of taking part in a felony murder. He was the lookout for a drugstore robbery that went wrong and the store-owner was killed. Steve tells what happens through the trial and his incarceration in the form of a screenplay for a movie and the rest is written as journal entries. He does this as a way to deal with his stress and anxiety over the trial, with his family, all those other outside pressures being placed on him by the lawyer and his fellow inmates. He writes this screenplay all throughout with dialogue and camera shots, like close ups, flashbacks, etc.  He comes from a family that had hopes for their son.  They hoped he would will play football and go to Morehouse College.  Instead Steve could spend the rest of his life in a jail cell for what he thinks is an “accident.”  

Myers, W. (1999). Monster. New York: HarperCollins.

Commentary:  This book is heartbreaking.  You begin to feel bad for Steve, especially because of his parents hopes and dreams for him.  One the other hand you wonder what he is hiding, what he won't fess up or admit but you know how teenagers are.  They don't like to take responsibility.  All of his books are experiences brought from his life.  I think there a quite a few teenagers who will see themselves in these characters.  Every though they are in a extremely tough situation, I would hope that teenagers could learn from it.  Your choices matter.

Connections:  This book is hard to describe.  Part of it is written as a screenplay and the other part of it is written as journal entries by Steve.  Although it is not autobiographical, Mr. Myers weaves in a portion of his experiences into this book.  I would consider this book Realistic Fiction in a journal or screenplay format.

Walter Dean Myer's webpage

Author's book talk about Monster.

Video interview with the author from PBS News Hour : 
'Reading Is Not Optional' for Kids

Video interview with the author about second book in the series.

Book Trailer

This is a Book Talk about Monster by Rukhsana Khan, one of my favorite children's author that's why I included it.  She talks about crossing racial barriers and using this book as a teacher resource.

Monster Study Guide for Teachers