Book Review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Book Review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

I’ve been meaning to check out this book, and a conversation with a publisher at NCTE prompted me to grab a copy because I mentioned I was looking for a companion piece for Their Eyes Were Watching God and she told me it had similar themes of female friendship and coming of age elements.  I am so glad I picked up a copy.  This novel is like prose poetry and it addressed the issues of friendship, of family, and of finding yourself.

August, returns to Brooklyn for her father’s funeral, and the visit with  her brother and seeing an old friend bring back a flood of memories about the 1970s Brooklyn she knew as a girl. They moved from a farm in Tennessee, and she remembers trying to comfort her brother: “The green of Tennessee faded quickly into the foreign world of Brooklyn, heat rising from cement. I thought of my mother often, lifting my hand to stroke my own cheek, imagining her beside me, explaining this newness, the fast pace of it, the impenetrable gray of it. When my brother cried, I shushed him, telling him not to worry. She’s coming soon, I said, trying to echo her. She’s coming tomorrow. And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.” The language is rich with substance and allusion.  The future/now August looking back on her younger self shows compassion and understanding the August of the past would have longed for at the time.

You will like this book if you like coming of age novels, if you like beautiful prose, if you like stories about friendship between young women.  Another benefit this book has is representation. August’s father turns to Islam in his grief, so we have a regular guy who also happens to be a practicing Muslim, along with the family friend who helps them shift eating habits. I’m excited to see what my students say about it, as I have a few of them reading it for a choice novel right now.

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Posted by Kate, Blog Editor PCTELA

Book Review: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

Book Review: Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Book Review: Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo (i.e. a fangirl post)

So every time I go to the NCTE conference, I hope for three things: a session where I learn something I can take home and implement immediately; a new book to put into the hands of my students; and a meaningful interaction with new people. This post is how all three of those things converged in one person: e.E. Charlton-Trujillo.

The Friday morning session at the 2016 NCTE conference in Georgia consisted of a panel of authors: G. Neri,  Jason Reynolds, Ibtisam Barakat, and Sharon Draper (who calls me her book fairy) who talked about the need for diverse books. The conversation was compelling and the message, summed up by e.E. was this: “All students deserve to know a character that looks like them, that loves like them, that lives like them.” What a simple, yet powerful notion. The other big message from this session was that we all have a book in us that only we could write.  Sharon Draper repeatedly exhorted us to “write that book!”

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After the panel, I went up to the stage to talk to e. because I was so moved by her comments–by everyone’s comments, really, but I hadn’t read her books or, quite frankly, known who she was before the panel.  She took the time to chat with me before she had to go on to her next commitment.  I vowed to find out more about this remarkable person.

Well, not only is e.E. Charlton-Trujillo an author, she’s also a filmmaker and an activist for at-risk youth.  At her webpage, BigDreamsWrite, you can see more about her, but At Risk Summer chronicles her unconventional book tour where she “packs her belongings into storage to afford to set out on a book tour to empower youth on the fringe and redefine at-risk in America.” Seriously, the trailer alone will make you cry.

So I made sure I waited in line for e.E. to sign my newly acquired copy of Fat Angie. Right, this is supposed to be a book review of that book.  Here you go: Fat Angie presents teenagers as real, as flawed, as complex.  Her protagonist, Angie, struggles with her family (her mother is distant, and when she does pay attention she’s judgemental; her sister is missing in Iraq after being deployed; her adopted brother is angry; and her dad left). But Angie also struggles with a high school full of judgemental people who harass her regularly–until KC, a new girl, shows up and takes interest in Angie–because she truly sees Angie. The writing captures with great verisimilitude the rhythm of a teenager’s life and thoughts. Her integration of definitions transforms the way we read a scene:screen-shot-2016-12-04-at-7-56-49-am

 

But most of all, this book shows how one young woman struggles to discover who she is and what she is capable of, regardless of what the world, or her family, thinks of her. It is a powerful message, and an engaging story.

After I had my book signed, I kept running into e.: at the session to hear S.E. Hinton speak, in the exhibit hall. And she always had a smile, and a conversation for me.  When I happened to run into A.S. King, Ellen Hopkins, and Laurie Halse Anderson on my way home through the conference center as they were headed to ALAN, I mentioned e. to them about how awesome she was and how cool it was to meet her and they all agreed. (Also, holy cow, I ran into the triumvirate of awesome.) When I returned from the conference, I was thrilled to see a follow-up email from e.E. with a link to her webpage, because I’d mentioned trying to have her as a speaker at our state conference.  Every interaction with her confirmed her as awesome.

So read Fat Angie, and all e.E. Charlton-Trujillo’s other books. Watch her movies, have her come speak to your students.  She’s inspiring and accessible. And she’s just a kind human being–and we need more of those.

Fangirl post done.

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Posted by Kate, Blog Editor for PCTELA

Book Review: Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

Where’s Your Diploma? Claiming Respect as Teachers

So here’s an idea for all my friends who are educators drawn from my recent presentation at NCTE…

Where’s your diploma?
Where are your credentials?

When I go to a doctor, lawyer, dentist – even my mechanic and the young man who cuts my few meager hairs, they have their diplomas and other credentials framed and on their walls.

Where are YOURS?

We teachers do a TERRIBLE job of “tooting our own horns.” That sets us up for a massive amount of disrespect from administration, parents, community, even fellow teachers. What do we know? We’re “just teachers.”
Well, we know a lot. To quote Fredo in The Godfather, ” I’m smart! … I’m smart and I want respect!”

So, in the subtlest, way possible, let’s claim a little respect. A small gesture. An action at an entry level to greater advocacy.

POST YOUR CREDENTIALS. Find your diploma that’s buried in a box in the attic. Find your certificate. Some of you may have them framed (but are they in your office or classroom?). Some don’t even know where they are! If you’re unwilling to frame and post the originals, just make a photocopy of them and post them on your bulletin board. Have fun. Mount them on construction paper. Make borders. Color the copies. Put them on the wall. Make a new copy every year.

Post items that certify or indicate that you were at a professional development workshop, took a class, attended NCTE. (I used to prop up my program book from NCTE in the chalk tray. Some student would always “bite” and I was afforded the opportunity to tell them about all the great people I got to meet and from whom I learned.)

Let everyone know that YOU ARE A PROFESSIONAL. That you are studied. That you know “current best practice”. That you are learned. ADVOCATE for YOU and for your profession!

Let’s start a movement. When you do it, take a photo, post it, share it with me. I respect you. You’re smart. You know things. Let the rest of the world in on it. If you like this Idea, spread the word.unnamed

Bob Dandoy is a Past President and Executive Director of PCTELA. Although still active in PCTELA and NCTE, he is now retired from the classroom after 38 years of service.

Where’s Your Diploma? Claiming Respect as Teachers

Friday Five: Conferences to Attend as an English Teacher

I’m always amazed at how rejuvenated I feel after attending a conference. NCTE’s recent conference in Atlanta Georgia reminds me how important connecting with colleagues from all over the country and the state can be for educators.  Coming together and realizing we’re not alone, and we face similar issues and share similar triumphs is an important part of my mental health as an educator.  To that end, here’s a Friday Five list of conferences you may find useful to attend in the future to rekindle excitement, to spark ideas, and to meet kindred spirits.


  1. NCTE: National Council of Teachers of English
    next conference date & location:
    St. Louis, Missouri, November 16-19, 2017
  2. KSRA: Keystone State Reading Association
    next conference date & location:
    Hershey, PA, October 8-11, 2017
  3. PCTELA: Pennsylvania Council for Teachers of English Language Arts
    next conference date & location:
    Hotel Pittsburgh, Greentree, PA October 16 & 17, 2017
  4. AP: Advanced Placement / College Board
    next conference date & location:
    Washington, DC, July 26-20, 2017
  5. ISTE: International Society for Technology in Education. 
    next conference date & location:
    San Antonio, Texas, June 25-28, 2017
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Friday Five: Conferences to Attend as an English Teacher

Poetry’s Recent Resurgence and the Import of Teaching It

Poetry’s Recent Resurgence & Importance

Recently, The Atlantic published an article titled “Still, Poetry Will Rise”  where Megan Garber interviewed the editor of Poetry magazine asking why so many poems went viral in the wake of the 2016 election.Don Share explains “Poets are kind of like—it’s a bad metaphor, but—canaries in a coal mine. They have a sense for things that are in the air.” 

With the current tension in the air with politics and concern about the unknown, Share elaborates on how poetry can help create empathy: “What poetry does is it puts us in touch with people who are different from ourselves—and it does so in a way that isn’t violent. It’s a way of listening. When you’re reading a poem, you’re listening to what someone else is thinking and feeling and saying.”‘

I found this to be true with my own students. It was sheer coincidence that I started a mini poetry unit in one of my classes immediately after the election results, but I was grateful because writing poems allowed my students–on either side of the political spectrum–a chance to voice their opinions, thoughts, and concerns in a healthy, meaningful way. We read  recent poems from Amit Majmudar, Maggie Smith, Margaret Atwood, Billy Collins,  Warsan Shire, and Wislawa Szymborska. Then, students wrote odes, free verse, and light rhymes about the world today–technology, politics, relationships.  Afterward, a few confessed to me they felt better about writing out some of their feelings. 

 I shared with my students poet Dana Gioia’s opinion on the function of: “Poetry can be analyzed, but that’s not why it exists. The purpose of poetry is not to create literary criticism. It exists to delight, instruct, and console living people in the sloppy fullness of their humanity.” I would agree–in all our messy humanity, poetry offers us an outlet to share what it means to be human. 

Additionally, Ta-Nehisi Coates writes in Between the World and Me about how writing poetry can help us find ourselves: “Poetry aims for an economy of truth––loose and useless words must be discarded, and I found that these loose and useless words were not separate from loose and useless thoughts. Poetry was not simply the transcription of notions––beautiful writing rarely is. I wanted to learn to write, which was ultimately, still, as my mother had taught me, a confrontation with my own innocence, my rationalisations. Poetry was the processing of my thoughts until the slag of justification fell away and I was left with the cold steel truths of life.”

So if you’re seeking a way to help students hone their thoughts and articulate crisp images, perhaps poetry is the vehicle.

Posted by Kate, PCTELA Blog Editor.

Poetry’s Recent Resurgence and the Import of Teaching It

Book Review: Up Late with Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Up Late with Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

I love reading Jodi Picoult’s books–they delve deeply into the subject matter at hand and often offer multiple perspectives to a situation (I briefly reviewed Leaving Time here two years ago.) Small Great Things is no exception. We see/hear/understand this story from three perspectives: Ruth, an African-American nurse; Turk, a white supremacist; and Kennedy, a white public defender. This novel tackles issues about race, but at first I was uneasy about Jodi Picoult writing about this–was it her story to tell? After reading the book, I think it was, because she approached her own racism as well as systemic racism.

Perhaps what I appreciated most was the author’s note at the back of the book (which I skipped to half way through the novel since I was curious), where Picoult writes: “I was writing to my own community–white people–who can very easily point to a Neo-Nazi and say he’s a racist…but who can’t recognize racism in themselves.” She goes on to talk about institutional power and how “it’s hard to see those advantages, much less own up to them.” As a white woman, I think it was an important reminder to me of the automatic privilege I have in our country–now more than ever.

I particularly enjoyed Ruth’s perspective, but I’m not a black woman, so I don’t know how accurately she was portrayed. However, I could relate to her as a woman and as someone who works hard and loves her job.  Early in the novel, she shares: “It just goes to show you: every baby is born beautiful. It’s what we project on them that makes them ugly.”

I appreciated when Ruth called Kennedy out on her priviledge, which reminded me of parts of Go Set a Watchman when Scout claims she doesn’t see color and her Uncle Jack takes her to task for that. Similarly, Ruth chastizes Kennedy: “You say you don’t see color…but that’s all you see. You’re so hyperaware of it, and of trying to look like you aren’t prejudiced, you can’t even understand that when you say race doesn’t matter all I hear is you dismissing what I’ve felt, what I’ve lived, what it’s like to be put down because of the color of my skin.”

I struggled with Turk’s portion of the novel, as parts were hateful and uncomfortable, but Picoult managed to help me see all people have origin stories, and many people turn to hate because they feel isolated and alone, and want someone to blame. I found myself struggling when reading his character’s perspective, but in the end, hoping for his redemption.

Finally, Kennedy’s character drove me crazy and gave me hope at the same time. I appreciated how she had to dig deep into her identity and her priviledge and how she was self-reflection.  When she starts to think about the world she lives in, she wonders, “What if the puzzle of the world was a shape you didn’t fit into? And the only way to survive was to mutilate yourself, carve away your corners, sand yourself down, modify yourself to fit? How come we haven’t been able to change the puzzle instead?” This metaphor exemplies Picoult’s writing style for me: original metaphors and relatable concepts to show how a character works through her ideas.

I read this in less than 24 hours, and have three people on a waiting list to borrow it–I highly recommend it for the story and the personal contemplation it may inspire.

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Posted by Kate, Blog editor for PCTELA

Book Review: Up Late with Small Great Things by Jodi Picoult

Friday Five: Alternative Gifts for Booklovers on Your List

Now that Thanksgiving is over, we’ve moved into the holiday giving season. Have a booklover on your list, but not sure what books to buy them? Here are 5 ideas:
1. Out of Print Clothing carries T-shirts, mugs, bags, and other gift-y items for the booklover on your list.
2. Donate books to a homeless shelter in your booklover’s name.
3. Buy a giftcard for your booklover to an independent bookstore near them.
4. Choose a booklover candle at Frostbeard on Etsy.
5. Buy a book *you* love and inscribe it to your booklover.

Peace, love, and books.

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Friday Five: Alternative Gifts for Booklovers on Your List