Top Ten Tuesday is a meme by The Broke And The Bookish. This one is a random pick from their list of previous topics.
A lot of the books assigned to us in Fiji were interesting but somehow had little to do with us. A lot. But there were some books that I was made to read that I am thankful appeared on the syllabus. I don’t know how ready I was mentally for the book but I don’t know that I would have read it without a teacher making me. Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe for one. I don’t think I appreciate the story fully until a later reread but still. I Heard the Owl Call My Name by Margaret Craven is another one that had a lot of impact on me. Stuff like Swiss Family Robinson and The Jungle Book though? Phweh. Here are my choices and the reasons for these choices:
- The Ravenous Gown by Steffani Raff
This collection of stories offers an alternative look at body image and teaches positivity and acceptance of physical flaws. It also teaches awareness about the unrealistic societal standards of beauty. All of this is done with humour and without didacticism. I don’t see why pertinent issues like these cannot be approached through stories that can ease into discussion about more major (and relevant) themes.
- Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
This nonfiction memoir has a lot of good points but most valuable in a classroom is the voice in which this story is told. The narrator is not privileged and experiences life in a way that is not often available as text for children. Diversity aside, this book narrates very solidly the life of a remarkable young woman and invites children to share their own experiences.
- A Time To Dance by Padma Venkatraman
This book has one of the most courageous protagonists I have seen to date. Someone who faces terrible odds to come back and succeed. That kind of determination and perseverance cannot be taught but can inspire. Inspire your students.
- Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass by Meg Medina
Bullying is a sad fact in children’s lives and while we cannot always protect them from being bullied, we can teach how to behave in situations that involve bullying. This book is not easy to read and is quite painful at times as the protagonist runs the whole gamut of emotions associated with bullying. Still, she is a survivor and her story will prove cathartic and inspiring to other kids who may be going through the same things.
- Princesses Behaving Badly: Real Stories from History Without the Fairy-Tale Endings by Linda Rodriguez McRobbie
This text offers an alternative look at historical women who have subverted the stereotypes attached to princesses thanks to Disney. Women who are flawed, fierce, and deserve to be remembered.
- The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-mi Hwang, Kim Chi-Young (Translation), Nomoco (Illustrations)
A deceptively simple story that speaks to the human condition presented through the eyes of a hen. No really, don’t take my word for it. Go read it.
- Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor
An alternative to Harry Potter, this provides diversity, magic, and a fascinating narrative. Thematically heavy and technically sophisticated, this book will be a hit among students.
- Drowned Ammet by Diana Wynne Jones. This second book of the Dalemark Quartet is set in the South, where powerful nobles rule unchecked by any power other than their conniving neighbours. Two protagonists who hate the regime, one poor, one noble, both work in different ways to be rid of its influence; their narratives dispel any notions of romantic revolution. Characters in all positions are made human, their motives comprehensible, if sometimes repugnant – and sometimes admirable. The worldbuilding is enough and only just enough; there is no exact parallel to our world, and no more is given than the characters would be aware of, much as we in our own times are not necessarily aware of all that goes on around us and has come before us. Drowned Ammet is ostensibly middle grade but could well be assigned to high school students as well.
- Flare by Kallie George and illustrated by Genevieve Cote. This book is for students a little young to be assigned readings. Instead this could be read in classrooms. Flare, an infant phoenix, refuses to cry, despite the best efforts of his guardians – until the day that Flare comes across an injured bird and weeps out of compassion.
- Each Kindness by Jacqueline Woodson and illustrated by E. B. Lewis could also be read to students, perhaps in grades one or two. This excellent book has been praised abundantly and deserves every word.
- Nimona by Noelle Stevenson – assigned to classes a) studying graphic novels and the interplay of illustrations and words, b) desirous of including a graphic novel in their otherwise standard curriculum in order to introduce students to the art form, and c) studying creative writing/illustrating. Nimona brings to the foreground questions of heroism and villainy, murder vs. justified violence vs. anarchy, trust and betrayal, and does it all with noteworthy diversity, including a protagonist who chooses to appear, most of the time, in a female shape that does not conform to western beauty standards. There’s a whole lot of heavy-hitting stuff right there with the downright fun, humour, and action.
- The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner. This is the third in the series affectionately called by fans The Queen’s Thief series. Our protagonist and focal character does not appear in the previous two books. He is naive and believes in honour, and when a moment of idiocy places him in the hands of the king he detests, our poor young soldier is reluctantly made part of court politics, however little he understands and relishes his role. Why this book in particular of the series? For one thing, the resented king is the narrator of the first book and the (co-)protagonist of the second, so readers who follow the books in order already know a lot about the king. But our new protagonist doesn’t, nor does anybody he knows well. We see the king through fresh eyes – and while he is adapting (reluctantly and with many thrown inkwells) to a situation he never wanted. We see the king’s maneuverings. We see the queen’s. We see the many court factions, despite the half- and dawning awareness of our focal character. We see them – all of them, every single character of significance in this book and several who are not – develop and grow in response to new circumstances. Meanwhile, the worldbuilding, already very strong in this series, continues at a remarkable pace, and so naturally it is almost beneath the reader’s notice. I recommend reading the first two books before The King of Attolia, but it is perfectly possible to enter the series here and pick the threads up at once; I did.
I am so not a good teacher. I was barely a good student. I don’t know how this is going to go.
Badly, probably. I do know I’m not going to do a high school syllabus. I think I’m just gonna reconstruct the syllabus for that undergraduate Children’s Literature class. The kinds of books I would have loved studying in these classes would have been: pop culture and fantasy (would have to figure out a time period, but I’m probably going to go with contemporary because who am I kidding), books that dealt with power and corruption, stories that explored traditional heroism versus alternate types of heroism. I think the following books would fit the bill:
- Select Grimms’ Fairy Tales + A History of Glitter and Blood: Every children’s literature class starts off with fairy tales. They are the oldest crossover stories. They have mass appeal– so much so that when the world turned from oral traditions to written stories, these stories clung on for the ride. I feel like it could start an interesting conversation on heroism over the years, as well as power. (I think people might also want to think about what is “appropriate” for children? Maybe? I mean, so much cannibalism!)
- Malory Towers + A Great and Terrible Beauty: I’m not sure about this one. I want to do a boarding school story that also looks at colonialism, but I feel like maybe I would do better having just A Great and Terrible Beauty and Something Else. I just don’t know what that Something Else would be …
- Clips from Star Wars + The Young Elites: NGL, I am woefully ignorant about Star Wars but obviously, if I got to teach Adelina’s story, I would make myself watch them all in one go. Maybe invite Janet over.
- Volumes 1 & 2 of Captain Marvel + Volumes 1 & 2 of Ms. Marvel: Superhero stories are, after all, as popular as fairytales in our culture.
- Select Angela Carter Fairy Tales + Tender Morsels: Return to fairy-tales, because why not. These are intense stories. I think bringing them to the classroom setting could make it less intense, easier to explore outside of one’s own (mildly panicking) head.
And while we’re imagining implausible classroom scenarios, let’s pretend they have all the time to check out some extra books for their essays: Through the Woods (to go with section 1/5), Nimona (for section 3), The Ring + The Girl from the Well (for section 3 also), She-Hulk, and Miles Morales: The Ultimate Spiderman (for section 4). Man. My list is low on WOC. I am definitely going to keep thinking about this one forever …