We wanted to create a way where we could read a few books, learn about many titles and have fun doing it! The tournament style reading of the Mighty Smackdown means that in the first round each participant reads two books, discusses both in a blog post, selecting one book to move on to the next round. Teachers are asked to commit to one round but most, if not all, continue on. We will read to the end when we will have only one book left standing!
Given the fact that Shelley and I spend most of our waking (kind of) hours in the same building, you'd think we might find a few spare moments to sit down over a cup of coffee, discuss the merits of each and craft a subtle and eloquent exploration of each text before rendering our judgments. Dream on Smackdownians! We're in a junior high in December, after all. So here some of our still eloquent, if not exactly subtle email exchanges and our final call on these two fine books.
From: Shelley Kunicki Sent: Friday, December 14, 2012 7:54 AM To: Brent McKeown Subject: Mighty Smack Down Blog
we need to have this done for Monday.
views are as follows:
Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Klassen: While I did enjoy this
one more than I thought I would, I still feel that this topic has been done ad
nauseam. It was interesting, however, that the point of view came from
the family whose son committed murder and suicide as a result of
bullying. The narrator ‘s reaction to this situation was certainly
believable as well; he felt guilty because he was a bystander who did nothing
to help, and then he felt angry as his life changed so dramatically. The anger
at his parents, I am sure, would be something students would relate to.
this well done? Yes, it was. It was a compelling read.
it something students could relate to? It deals with many issues that are
certainly part of their lives.
I don’t think it is the “essential” literary work that we are looking for.
No Crystal Staircase: The more I think about this book and talk
about it, the more I like it and think that this is the one we should put
forward. It is a book that is not my usual choice, but I really
enjoyed it. So I think it might appeal to some students too. I
really enjoyed the “documentary” style to it and I actually visualized
each speaker as they told their story. Historically, I think it is an
undiscovered treasure – especially with the whole idea of the “power of the
word” and understanding an individual’s history is so important. All of
the important names during this time who dropped by the book store is an eye
opener as well.
we kind of thought in our few hurried conversations about these books over this
past month, we are on the same page on this one.
was pleasantly surprised with The Reluctant Journal of Henry K.
Klassen. I was a little worried in the early going that the narrative
voice would become overly cloying, but it really didn't despite a few too many
references to Henry's "wobblies" and a couple of other overly
precious touches. Overall, though, I really liked Henry and I thought all of
the major characters - with the possible exception of the weird male neighbour
with the heart of gold (whose name escapes me right now) - were complex
characters who moved beyond (maybe not far beyond, but beyond) the simple types
that they appear to be when first introduced. If not, perhaps,
compulsively readable, I still enjoyed the reading experience and I too
though the concept of telling a bullying story through the lens of a school
shooting was intriguing, but also, in some ways, overly ambitious. Is it
possible to do justice to such a complex web of emotions in such
a relatively slim volume? I don't know, but I think that Nielsen probably
does as much as she can with it given her target audience. I have read Lionel
Shriver's We Need to Talk About Kevin which looks through a
mother's eyes as she surveys the damage of wrought by her psychopathic, school
shooter son and it was one of the most intellectually rewarding and emotionally
devastating reading experiences I've ever had. I don't think we should be
looking for something similar here, but because I can seemingly never quite do
anything significantly ahead of a deadline, I’m writing this at 7:30 on Monday
night after a weekend where I just couldn't quite shake what happened in Connecticut.
While in this book, the school shooting is really used more as an expression of
how the violence of bullying can beget another type of violence, it will be
difficult for anyone to read this book in the coming months without finding
some disconcerting resonance with the real world. And, maybe that’s a point to
argue for the relevance of this novel in our kids’ lives. I don’t know.
Ultimately, this is a book that you could give to most kids in junior high or
high school and I think they would enjoy the experience.
No Crystal Stair: A Documentary Novel of the Life and Work of
Lewis Michaux, HarlemBookseller by
Vaunda Micheaux Nelson is about as different a book fromThe Reluctant
Journal of Henry K. Klassen as one can imagine. I don’t know that I’d
ever heard the term “documentary novel” before picking up this book and I’m
always excited to explore a new text form. I also went through a period in
university when I did a lot of reading in black history and I was particularly
interested in Malcolm X, so in many ways I am an ideal target audience for this
book. I really enjoyed it, but I’m well aware that it would be a
different type of read for a young person . I found it thought-provoking and
evocative both in substance and in style, but I’ve struggled with the degree to
which I would consider this to be a young adult book. As noted above, I’m
pretty confident that I could give The Reluctant . . . to
most kids and they would read it and find something of value. No
Crystal Stair would be a tougher sell in terms of immediate appeal and
it does require some persistence to work through. We are dealing with an
extremely complex period of American history and the print documentary style
requires students to synthesize a great deal of information in a variety of
what I’ve been grappling with here is how to compare a well written, in many
ways prototypical YA novel that would be accessible for most (The Reluctant
Journal . . .) versus an eclectic hybrid novel that certainly won’t be
for everyone. There is no question that No Crystal Stair is a
novel that stretches the boundaries of what YA literature can be. I still
don’t think I’d recommend it for everyone, but it is a book with some powerful
ideas about history, culture and most of all, the power of books to change our
perceptions and our space in the world.
and Shelley Agree! No Crystal Stair goes forward.