Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Inspiration to Give Hope to Teens

"One Life May Change the World"

~ Sarah J. Maas

Within the walls of our classroom, intolerance is not acceptable.  Our history and reading programs are filled with lessons to help inspire empathy within our students.  Yet, somehow when we look out our windows our country is still filled with so much racism and hate.  This year the students in my classroom were lucky enough to have a visit from someone whose story changed their lives.  New York Times and USA Today Bestselling Author Sarah J. Maas was gracious enough to bring her grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, to visit our school. It was an experience we will never forget.

Many of the students had fallen in love with the worlds and characters Maas has created in her Throne of Glass and A Court of Thorns and Roses Series.  Her heroines find strength from friendships, from within themselves, from bonds, and even sometimes (one of my favorites) within the pages of books.  They must battle evil and monsters, save princes and high lords, and overcome seemingly impossible obstacles.  We love to read the stories she so incredibly weaves and puts onto the pages of her books.  Unfortunately for many of us, at some point in our lives we will have obstacles to overcome and battles to fight in our own real world.

Sarah's grandmother Camilla Maas' story is that of a real life heroine.  As with Sarah’s fictionalized characters, her grandmother has experienced a world with monsters to battle, and real obstacles to overcome.  In class, our students read and learn about many historical and current events that depict horrific violations to human rights.  This year, we were grateful to have Camilla in our classroom to tell us about her battles, her journey, and how the kindness and courage of everyday people can change the life of another.  Here's how her inspiration and time with us impacted one of my eighth graders...

Dear Mrs. Camilla,
 After reading Sarah J. Maas’ blog and hearing your presentation on your life during the Holocaust, I saw how much this historical period affected your life. You lost your family, your brother (for a time), friends and family when you were taken away from them and sent to live with a foster family. The difficulty it must have put on your life must have been tremendous. I can't imagine what it would be like to live in fear of capture and death every day, and not even being with my own brother and family. You are very strong and very brave, and you should feel very proud of living through that time period and being able to share your story with kids like me, at schools like mine. It takes a lot to live through something like the Holocaust, but it takes even more to share your story of survival with humans who maybe be uneducated about it.
You persevered through so much in your life. From even the time before you were taken from your family. As a small child you were affected by the the Nazi rise of power. Kids today will never have to deal with being banned from their local swimming pool or even being stoned so badly they are knocked unconscious. These are things you had to deal with at such a young age, just because you were a certain religion. The terror you must have been in is unimaginable, as a young child being picked apart left and right because of a choice she had no input in making must have made life so stressful and confusing. It is a miracle that you overcame all diversity to live through this terrible time.

You've had a pretty amazing life. Definitely one you can share with the world and have pride of claiming it’s your own. Sadly, your story isn't as popular as Anne Frank’s and or Ellie Wiesel. But, I feel as though your story is just as important or even more. The story of a girl from Frankfurt, Germany, who was stripped of her family at the age of only 6 or 7. The horrors it must have caused. You're story, Mrs. Camilla, has a huge affect on the world. Your story shows that the Holocaust affected even children of the toddler age. Kids like you, who were younger or a teenager, were also affected greatly. It says in Sarah’s blog post that you were the age of 10 when you traveled across the ocean from Lisbon, Portugal to the United States, then when you saw the first view of the Statue of Liberty. Also in Sarah's blog, your granddaughter stated that before you even boarded the boat, you had made up the decision of waiting for your brother. That in itself, took a lot of bravery and courage because, what if the people couldn't find your brother? You could've possibly lost your spot on the boat. Then you might not have escaped the Nazi reign. In conclusion, you proved to yourself and to the Nazis that that you were a strong and courageous woman at the age of 10, you didn't have to fight in a war, kill or use any violence, all you did was to strive to escape to the US.

All in all, you have lived through so much throughout your life. From surviving the Holocaust to seeing the iPhone 7 being released. To remember the vivid details of your childhood so perfectly that you can share them with people around the US is phenomenal. It takes a brave and forgiving heart to do that. To forgive the Nazis is something that not a lot of people can do, those people forced you away from your family, forced you to live with a foster family for most of your childhood. All we can do is say, thank you. Thank you for expressing your story with us and showing us the kindness human beings have.
Ben C

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Student Letter to Author Wendy Wunder

Dear Wendy Wunder,

I hate you.
Way to open a polite letter to a complete stranger, you may be saying to yourself. And, believe me, I’m kind of second guessing whether or not I will get a phone call home and an automatic F for such a boldly rude statement. But please, do me a favor and hear me out, okay?

Hello. My name is Arianna, and I’m a fourteen year old bookworm who absolutely despises feelings. Growing up, I was never one to cry and throw a tantrum over literal spilled milk. While other girls lost it over a Barbie they couldn't have or a kindergarten boyfriend who refused to give them a hug until after nap time, I was the kid who sat in the corner with a chicken leg in one hand and Go Dogs, Go! in the other, rolling her eyes at all the pointless drama. And over the past few years, it's safe to say that I haven’t changed much. I still read religiously, roll my eyes even more religiously, and chuckle when my friends go on and on and on about pointless boy trouble. I still don't cry at The Notebook or dive in a pool full of tears when girls decide to be jerks to me. Instead, I do the thing I do best and do not care.

I guess having my feelings be so null and void can have it's downsides. People thinking you’re insensitive or self absorbed or full of yourself is so common that you learn to even disconnect yourself from that. For some reason, I’d much rather be stone hearted and not bat an eyelash at tear jerkingly horrid things than to be overly emotional, because showing sadness or talking something out with someone else is something to be avoided. I totally disengage from the girl talks and heart to hearts and sad novels about death and last loves. That is, until I came across your book, The Probability of Miracles. And if we're being completely honest,  I half expected it to be one of those I-hate-boys-because-im-dying-of-an-incurable-disease-and-love-is-pointless-but-also-hey-you're-really-cute type of sob story. But, much to my surprise, it wasn’t.

Not. At. All.

Picking up the book, I thought it was going to be one of those that would barely be able to hold my attention longer than past the first chapter. I so desperately yearned for something that would give me a new feel, a new taste. I had no idea that this I-hate-boys-because-im-dying-of-an-incurable-disease-and-love-is-pointless-but-also-hey-you're-really-cute type book was going to give me what I needed.

Boy, was I wrong.

Campbell, a wonderfully sarcastic teenager who has already accepted her doomed fate, was so far beyond such a well-written character that I truly cannot even begin to describe how much my head was churning post novel. Let’s just sum up how “Stone Heart Arianna” was feeling up in her heart regions:
  • Crushed
  • Confused
  • Confused again, because WHAT IN THE HECK are these feelings?
  • Borderline depressed
  • Hungry (I’m sorry. You can  make me emotional, but don’t even attempt removing my love for my dang drumsticks. That’s just plain cruel.)

I especially loved it when you progressed the love story between Asher and her so that it seemed impossible that you would actually kill her off. But yes. You did. It's safe to say that I was not exactly happy with that. Campbell was such a pessimist and wasn’t about that “love lasts forever” life. When she was lying on her deathbed and you wrote, “Cam felt her entire soul become imbued with love. How about that Cam thought. Death did not mean being without love,” part, I seriously had to put the book down and recuperate. Cam, one of my newly added ultimate favorite characters was being killed off? That was to expected. But not soon after, I was just grateful I could go on such a journey with her. 

Finishing the book, needless to say, I felt as though you came and ripped my heart out. I felt like I wouldn’t ever feel happy and my normal self again. I was so very confused and astonished that I was even capable of feeling so heartbroken. I mean, I barely get upset about anything. The last thing that I would guess could chew me up and spit me out was a silly old fiction story.I loved the last moments she had with Asher, to them night swimming with dolphins to telling each other sweet nothings on the beach and down to even their last fight. It hurts my soul having to reflect on the sweet smiles painted across my face when I read through them. But, if a book doesn’t make you feel emotion, it's not truly a good enough book. The hundreds of novels I’ve read over the past 14 years were all great stories, but they lacked what yours doesn’t: the capability to make people like me feel as though the end was near.

So now do you see, Ms. Wunder? Do you understand why I chose to open this letter up by stating something very out of the ordinary? And, just in case you haven’t noticed, I don't actually hate you. If anything, I’m extremely grateful that you could single handedly provide me with not only one of the first times I’ve shed tears over something my head knows isn't real, but made me realize it isn't all that terrible to have a few pesky bouts of sadness now and then.
Thank you.

Arianna P.(unofficially named “Stone Cold Heart or something like that”)

Open Letter to Victoria Scott

Dear Victoria Scott,
Your books, Fire and Flood, and Salt and Stone, have impacted me tremendously. Ever since I attended your meet and greet at Woodstown Middle School, I loved your books, especially your first, Fire and Flood which reminded me to not to be a follower, but to be a leader. When I began to read Salt and Stone, I realized this issues continued, and it would be one of the main points of conflict. It stabbed me right in the heart when the ocean portion of the race began! This book series has influenced me the most of any books I’ve read. The lessons you weave into the words on the page fascinate me! 

Then, a few weeks ago,Violet Grenade, was released. I was dying to read it ever since you came to our school and gave us a sneak peek of it. I got the bookmark, and listened to every reading you did of the book until finally, it came out. I called it first in our ELA classroom, and I think I had everyone hating me until I finished it three days later. Everything about this book was astounding. From cover to cover, I was never able to set it down. I read for hours at home, and every free chance in classes I’d take it out. The characters were flawless in every way: Domino, Cain, Madam Karina and Wilson.

Overall, my favorite thing about the story itself were the characters. Normally, in a young adult novel, with a female protagonist, you think it would be the ordinary. Skinny, somewhat rebellious, has a boyfriend, everything like that. However, in Violet Grenade, you make the main character someone readers wouldn’t picture being in a book. Right on the first page, you can see she’s different from all other female protagonists. Right in the first sentence, she’s picking out a wig! Well, maybe you’d think she doesn’t have hair, but nope, she does. Now does she seem weird? Then, a little later in the book, Domino begins hooking and unhooking her piercings. No. Not just ear piercings. Ear, lip, gauges, eyebrows. All of that. Just how you make your main character a “freakish” character like Domino, you grab readers right from the first word. Most importantly, thank you for showing the cruelty of bullying and abuse in one book. Since Domino is different, she gets bullied. This is a shame, and it shouldn’t happen. Without a doubt, Violet Grenade, will keep readers on the edge of your seat 24/7.

Usually in YA novels with a feminine protagonist, you’d expect some girly girl. Then Tella and Domino come along. It hits you right on the first page of both books that these girls are not like other girls. In the end, all of your books have impacted me greatly.
Tara T.

New to Our Shelves!

Jilly Gagnon

    An innocent joke between a girl and her best friend is the one thing that sends her life into the hands of millions. Rachel, a curly headed antisocial, has had the biggest crush on Kyle: a lacrosse playing, burger flipping, wonderfully wonderful teenager. As a cute like pickup joke, Rachel sneaks a picture of him at his Burger Barn job and sends it to her friend; who then reflits it online for the world to see. Unbeknownst to them both, this simple action is what sends Kyle and Rachel head-on into the scrutiny of millions of other eyes.

    #Famous is single-handedly one of the most cutest/gut wrenchingly powerful books I’ve ever had the luxury to read. Set in a modern day teen life, Rachel is put through so many things that are both relatable and prominent in this day and age. She is constantly being bullied and pushed through terrible social situations due to the mere fact that, horrendously enough, she has a crush! People deface her property, make her the butt of every joke, and poke fun at her hair and curvy body. She felt as though everyone hated her guts just for trying to lighten up and joke around with her best friend. When she finally decided not to let the haters get to her, I couldn’t put the book down. Kyle, the very reason why she had millions of people tell her to kill herself, was the one person who treated her the best. He made her know that she was a funny and good looking girl who didn't deserve to be put down for a simple joke. The message was beautiful and inspiring.
5/5 stars.

Reviewed by Arianna P.

Open Student Letter to Paige Rawl

Dear Paige Rawl, 

Bullying is a very hard thing to overcome. I've heard plenty of stories of kids not being able to overcome this situation; however, plenty of people have been able to put bullying aside and keep going through life. They say that every person will be bullied at least once in their lifetime, but what you don’t hear is that almost everyone will bully or hurt someone in their life, even if it’s indirectly. You don’t hear a lot about how bullying affects those people. Most teenagers who get bullied is through your ‘typical’ stereotypes and exclusion, which is probably what a teenager would think of as the worst thing in the world. As a teenager myself, it can be awful, but reading your memoir Positive has changed my point of view. I realize that there are many different ways to be bullied. Now I know that exclusion and other types of bullying, although they hurt, only hurt as long as you want them to. As you almost went to the all-time low and thought about something as horrible as taking your own life, you eventually made your way back to the top. You couldn’t of done that if you didn’t want to. In the end, it’s your mindset that decides if you let the bullying hurt you or not. As you say in your book, “If we can let ourselves, all of us, be united by the simple fact of having a difference, we will be bigger and stronger and more powerful than anyone who might otherwise make us feel small.” We can only control ourselves, not anybody else. In the long run, I believe that we pick and choose who hurts and makes us feel better. We just have to have the strength to do it and it takes a long time to get that mindset.

Positive has taught me three very valuable lessons, among others. The first one is to always be nice to people, to be friendly, and to stand up for people. When your friend stood up for you and helped you clean the drink that someone dumped on you off of your clothes, it really showed how important this lesson is. The second one is to dwell on happiness, not sadness. If I am in a bad mood or upset, I will do something to lift my spirits rather than to sit in my room and think about what went wrong today. When reading your book, you tried to hang out with your supportive friends, or listen to music, and compete in pageants. All of these things would distract you from the pain, but also you chose to do them to make yourself happy. The third is to always to remain positive. Throughout your experience I always saw little bits of positivity and hope within you. When I first started reading your book I always thought the title Positive came from being HIV positive, but I realized that either you or the people around you, influenced you in one way or another, to be positive and to have hope. Though your middle school experience left you miserable and depressed, you always hoped that the next day would be better. The joy that you found in other activities, like pageants and cheerleading, helped you not to dwell on the pain and to remain positive. 

Needless to say, this book has really changed my view on the world. You never know what people are going through and you should not judge someone by what they look like or because of others point of views. Just because it may be ‘uncool’ to hang out with someone or do something, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hang out with that person or do what you enjoy. It has touched my heart, because I believe that people can overcome different obstacles and your words have helped me overcome some of my own. I, too, abide by the lessons (and plenty more) I’ve learned. Even though you went through something worse than me, and other people are going through different levels of pain from bullying like me and you, the pain and exclusion still hurts. Sometimes, I need to remind myself, but now I know that I’m not the only one feeling hurt from people hurting my feelings. Even though it will take me a long time to reach the mindset of not letting people hurt me, I know that I will eventually get there, because of you and I thank you for that.

Mia B.

Open Letter to Author J.K. Rowling

Dear J.K. Rowling,

  So much of my work can be credited to you...whatever the subject, whatever it's about. Your books were a turning point in my life. I first read the Harry Potter series in 6th grade, only two years ago, and I fell in love. I remember as a 4th/5th grader. I thought everyone was crazy for loving those “nerdy” books about magic, but I honestly had nothing to judge it about. My friends were the biggest motivation for me to start reading the books and I tried reading your first book of the series, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. At first I sped through it, trying to prove my friends wrong to show that I still didn't like them. I didn't understand it or take the time to try. So... I quit reading the series. One of the biggest mistakes of my life. Again, in 6th grade, I made my own decision to read the series again. I don't know what type of mystical force possessed me to, but I have to say that I'm grateful it did. Now I know to not question magic.

 Initially, the first book (the second time around) got me emotional. The story of a little boy being so mistreated was heartbreaking. That was the first exposure I'd had to that kind of tragedy. I'd always been stuck in that sort of safe bubble of innocence, but even though the story was fiction, I realized that was actually something that happened in different variations around the world. One of the biggest things, however that your books did for me was give strength. Each book showed a group of friends progressing together and getting stronger, also helping me realize the kind of relationships that were real in my own life. Friends fight and make up, but the biggest thing is that when they realize their mistakes, they grow stronger together. The whole idea of giving strength that I've proposed is not blown out of proportion as you may think. Young kids, no matter how fictional, can make a stand against whatever they choose, whether the evil in the world, or little conflicts around them. Sneakiness, breaking the rules, being “snitches”, and other shenanigans aren't a great lessons to learn, but overall help teach others the consequences that follow those actions along with all the other lessons.

 Next, I want to take a moment and remind you of a quote that you wrote in your book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, “Of course it's happening inside your head Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?” This quotes sums up my love for your books with no question and that's why it's my favorite. To dream about something, there's always an aspect of reality that triggers it. It can happen both inside and outside your head, even if you may not really experience it yourself in reality. Strength and this type of friendship we as readers read in your book, may not necessarily happen to us, but we think and dream about it. It also is happening to others around us, and we should applaud them for tuning into that force inside them instead of degrading them and becoming jealous. That's why I had to reflect on one simple line that your mind imagined and made reality.

 Lastly, there is one final aspect of your books that shaped my childhood and still now as I grow older, and that is Magic. Such a wonderful and fantastic quality found even in the “muggle” world. Imagination brings great joy to people's lives and even though many say it is just part of your imagination, I say magic is real. There's a great deal of people behind me that I can guarantee would say the same exact thing, and if you asked them where they got that idea, they'd say your books. If I was to go about and define magic, there's a couple things I would say. Magic is the pure existence of hope, laughter, and a force that makes these things happen. Magic is something that makes out of the ordinary actions happen. Magic is Harry Potter. Your books have given me magic and so many others as well. We read the books to initially experience it, we watch the movies to experience it further, and we go to universal and to “Harry Potter World” to experience it even more, and that's the difference you've made.

 In conclusion, my only words are strength, hope, magic, happiness. I have become a more positive, optimistic, and caring person since reading the series, and that's made others around me happier too. With every one person that reads your books, 5 others at least experience the gifts of the books. I honestly from the bottom of my heart, from the love in all of my horcruxes, from the robe and wand in my room, my playing cards and games, my socks, and all of my Harry Potter merchandise, thank you for everything.


Sophia B.

New Release!

The Edge of Everything 

by Jeff Giles

Some say that they’d do anything for love which Zoe, a small town Montana girl, never thought she’d have to prove. The recently published novel, The Edge of Everything, by Jeff Giles is compassionately strange, exuberantly witty, and unabashedly romantic. In its first few moments of the novel, a possibly deadly blizzard approaches Zoe’s hometown. As her mother runs out on an errand, Zoe takes care of her kid brother, Jonah. Her first mistake was letting him out in the cold before the storm to play with the dogs. In a turn of events, Zoe is thrown into panic to find her brother. What comes next was drastic. A criminal who killed two family friends is back, and the one thing keeping them safe is a young man, whom Zoe names X. By the time the next sunrise breaks the horizon, Zoe has quite a story to tell. That agent is X, a man who committed no crime, yet lives his life out in underworld servitude. When Zoe stops him from reaping her attacker, it sets off a chain of events that leads to first love, terrible peril, and maybe X’s salvation—though it won’t come easy.

I had been in a reading slump for a couple weeks, so when I saw The Edge of Everything on the release list, I knew I had finally found something that interesting. I had never heard of Jeff Giles before, but I was pleasantly surprised. His extremely descriptive settings and amazing use of “show not tell” with characters left me with a clear image in my head. There was also constantly something going on. That being said, this was the perfect thing to get me out of my reading slump. My favorite character is X. X was very selfless and defensive. He would do anything for Zoe or her family. In fact, even when he was healing from a past incident in the beginning of the novel, he watched over Zoe’s family. He never gave up on her. 

As a fluent reader, I thought it was a very entertaining book. It was serious, action packed, and had a bit of romance. I never was bored and never wanted to put the book down!

In all, I highly recommend The Edge of Everything by Jeff Giles.

Review by Laney J.