Tag Archives: Lois Lowry

Hungry For More

9 Jan

Excuse the bad pun in the headline (and the one coming up), but I devoured Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and its follow-up Catching Fire over the holidays. I hadn’t realized that the third one wasn’t out until later this year, so now I just have to sit and wait like a chump.

The Hunger Games is set in the near future, after some never explained (but juicy nuclear-sounding) disaster. Dystopian fiction pretty much always gets a pass with me, especially that of the YA variety (The City of Ember series by Jeanne DuPrau, The Giver by Lois Lowry, almost anything by Monica Hughes, but especially Invitation to the Game).

I’m kind of late to the Hunger Games party, but if you haven’t heard of it, it’s a bit of a twist on a Greek myth where the Athenians are forced to pay tribute to Crete by sending their children to be killed by the Minotaur. Then add some Battle Royale, because the kids have to kill each other until there’s only one standing. Then add some American Idol/X Factor/Survivor, because it’s also a reality show! 

The first one was a better read because it’s all about the skim-worthy plot*, which is really what this series has going for it. The political reasoning behind the action didn’t always make sense, and some of the descriptive writing didn’t always gel with me either. But I had to slow down to even notice these issues, and that hardly ever happened because it was all just SO EXCITING.

There was an article in The Guardian last month about a parent’s search for “anti-princess” books suited for young future feminists. I’m not a huge fan of the overly prescriptive “Jenny doesn’t like pink and can run and play and SO CAN YOU!” books, but it made me think about books with a kick-ass heroine, that both boys and girls could easily identify with. The arrow-slinging, boyfriend-slinging Katniss definitely fits the bill.  

* Skim-worthy is a good thing as far as I’m concerned. I think the mark of a good book is when I can’t remember the last third because I read it too fast.

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They Made Me Read This

1 Dec


My university chum (and future teacher) Miss Randell has been thinking about what she would make high-schoolers read if the curriculum were up to her, and has decided that she would limit the Shakespeare:

Why should students be forced to read Shakespeare every year of high school? I mean, it has to be translated for them (“OK y’all, so this is why Sampson biting his thumb was so badass…“) and as anyone who’s ever paraphrased Willy S will know, changing the language pretty much ruins the play.

You know what ruins anything? Being forced to listen to the entire class taking turns reading every line out loud. This is the required reading from high-school that stuck with me:

Grade 6: Hatchet – Awesome. Only downside? That it made us all secretly wish we were lucky enough to be in plane crash in which the pilot is tragically killed. Also, I drew a sweet hatchet on my book report cover.

Grade 7: Nada – I was busy hating everyone and wishing I had cooler jeans.

Grade 8: I think we just read short stories arranged around themes like “family” and “courage.” Then we’d talk about these themes in “literature circles,” my worst memory of high-school English. We pushed our desks into clumps and asked pre-set questions like, “Do you think a family has to have two parents to be a real family?”

Grade 9: Of Mice and Men – I always got George and Lennie mixed up, because Lennie is a smart, skinny name and George is a big, dumb name. The Pearl – I just kept hoping, over and over again, that maybe everything would turn out ok in the end. I’m not sure if we were really supposed to read two Steinbecks in a row, but I had a just-about-retired teacher that year and he probably thought, to hell with it, The Pearl is really short.  

Grade 10: The Chrysalids – Humans evolve, with extra digits and telepathy. I liked it. Flowers for Algernon – Miss Randell’s right to add some funnier picks to her reading list. It’s a good story, but, at risk of being spoilery, a real downer. Macbeth – Ditto.

A-levels: (I moved to a Brit school in Warsaw). Great Expectations – I wrote essays about Miss Havisham and thought I was a genius. Macbeth again – I dusted off my old “witch voice” routine to use during all class discussions. Genius. Lots of William Blake – My friend Vic and I used cell phones to compose music for The Lamb. Genius. 

More A-levels: (Moved to Worcester here in the UK). Wuthering Heights – I didn’t enjoy it, and having to read it five or six times didn’t help much. I just didn’t buy the whole dying of a broken heart thing. Antony and Cleopatra – We got to go to Stratford-upon-Avon. Before I moved, my Warsaw class was about to do A Clockwork Orange, Nineteen Eighty-Four, and Death of a Salesman. I remember because I kept the books.

If it were up to me, I would add some juicier Young Adult Fiction to junior high, to ease the transition between poems about family and tomes about Society. A little Lois Lowry, perhaps? Some Mixed Up Files or Selected Works of T.S. Spivet? And why not let them go to town on The Catcher in the Rye? Hell, they might even think it’s grand, or swell, and not goddamn phony at all.

Teachers out there (or other people who think those darn kids need some good literature!) – what’s on your dream syllabus? Think about it – some of these kids may never open a book again.

Buy More Book (Stuff)

6 Nov

John Steinbeck's The Pearl, as a purse

Right after reading this way-harsh diatribe against Penguin’s practice of lending their covers to mugs, notebooks, and yes – deck chairs, I found out about Olympia Le-Tan’s collection of clutches made from hand-embroidered renderings of first edition book covers. And I liked it. 

I should confess that I’m a huge sucker for the Penguin merch (I’ve been eyeing the Pride and Prejudice mug for a while, and have even added it to my bookmarks folder “Gift Guide,” which is packed with reasonably-priced items for the discerning shopper, should they want to light up my face this holiday season). I was the kind of kid who would hit up the Scholastic book fair and – after picking up a copy of Julie of the Wolves or The Giver – spend the remainder of her allowance on kitten posters and troll-doll pencil-toppers.

So although I won’t be spending my rent money on a Nineteen Eighty-Four purse anytime soon, and I don’t have anywhere to actually put a Brighton Rock deck chair, it really doesn’t bother me that other people do.

These penguin mugs would make a lovely present for Lija

The offending goods taking up shelf space at my local Foyle's