Thursday, July 24, 2008

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel describes the harrowing year he spent in a series of concentration camps during WWII after he and his family were "relocated." The men and women were separated upon arrival at the first camp and Elie never saw his mother and sister again.

He and his father managed to stay together in the camps and were a comfort to each other amidst the horrors of camp life. While I have read other reviews that wished for more detail, I think that the spare style captures the terror and unreality of his experiences. Anyone with even a bit of background knowledge about WWII will be able to feel the author's pain.

The author finds himself questioning the wisdom of worshipping a god who would allow such atrocities to occur, and is staggered by the unfathomable evil of the Nazi's "final solution."

The ending is heart-breaking and the author gives us no easy answers. At the end of the book, he is shattered by his losses and tormented by his memories, but he survives. And he shares his story so that we will not forget.

You can lead a kid to the library...

Encouraging reluctant readers to discover books that they actually want to read has long been a passion for me. There has been a lot of debate on the subject, but when it comes right down to it, creating readers is not as difficult as you might think.

Step 1: Read great books. There are loads of wonderful sites for book reviews. Some of my personal favorites for young adults are,, and For an excellent database of award-winning books, check out I also buy way too many books (if there is such a thing) online. Amazon's recommendations are usually very good. They have sure got me pegged! Once you establish a browsing and/or buying history, you'll get suggestions for more books you will likely enjoy.

Step 2: Know your children--their abilities and interests should be the primary guiding factors in what is "appropriate" reading material. The key is to provide books that are interesting and not too hard. We've all had the experience of reading something that is way too hard--maybe we CAN read it if we struggle, but we aren't going to seek out that experience again. It's no fun.

Step 3: Talk about books. Share the great books you read and be willing to take recommendations as well as to give them. Let your children see you reading. Make them wait while you finish just one more page. Laugh out loud or gasp in surprise as you read. Demonstrate by your own excitement how entrancing and meaningful a book can be. Expose children to a wide variety of books. Try different genres and encourage them to do the same.

It may not happen on the first try, but once a child has a single positive experience with a book, that "home run book" will help lead them on to the next great read.

As a middle and high school teacher with students who are very street smart, I lean toward edgier reading material that addresses the issues that many of my students face--drugs, sex, and violence come immediately to mind.

A couple of years ago, a parent complained about a book in our library (Forever by Judy Blume) and got it removed from the library because she objected to the sexual content. Her argument was that she got pregnant at a very young age and did not want her daughter to do the same thing.

Forever does contain numerous sex scenes between a high school boy and girl, and the sex scenes are graphic. I remember this book getting banned when I was in middle school, which meant that everyone ran out to get a copy and put a book cover on it. Then we passed it around and giggled over all the good parts. Just for the record, I did not become a raving sex maniac after reading Forever in 7th grade. How could I? I was alone in my room...reading.

Forever is a sweet and realistic story about first love, finding and eventually losing it. I want my students to learn the lesson in the story. You might fall head-over-heels for someone and think you're going to be together forever. But forever is a long time and things don't always work out. And you move on.

Okay. I completely respect a parent's right to censor their own child's reading material, just as they should also do for movies, music, video games, etc. However, where I have a problem is that the other 900 students were also kept from reading the same book. I wish more parents would monitor what their kids are doing. But I don't believe banning is the answer.

Imagine if parents read the same books their children were reading and then they actually (gasp) talked about them? What a marvelous teachable moment. What if that particular parent had read Forever with her daughter and followed up with a frank discussion about love and sex and responsibility and consequences and whatever else happened to come up?