Monday, August 3, 2009

Reaching for Sun

A. Bibliography
Zimmer, Tracie Vaughn. 2007. Reaching for Sun. New York: Bloomsburg U.S.A. Children's Books. ISBN 1599900378.

B. Plot Summary
Reaching for Sun tells the story of seventh grader Josie who has cerebral palsy. Written in first person free-verse poems, Josie gives the reader a year-long glimpse into her life as a 12-year-old with a disability and how difficult life can be with students at school who ignore her, a demanding mother, a do-it-all grandmother, and finally a true, close friend who doesn't see Josie's disabilities at all.

C. Critical Analysis
Reaching for Sun chose to not dwell on Josie's disabilities. How her cerebral palsy affects her physically is mentioned very little "with my odd walk and slow speech..." "the new occupational therapist" "But my thumb will always be pasted to my palm, and my left wrist and shoulder connected by an invisible rubber band called cerebral palsy".
Once the physical limitations are mentioned, Reaching for Sun focuses on Josie's feelings letting the reader know how it feels to be ridiculed or ignored by other "perfect" students as they do on Christmas Eve, "Kids from school who usually pretend I'm invisible wish me Merry Christmas and say hello in front of their parents".
A hint to the emotional family angst a disability can cause was mentioned to explain why the near 1,000 acres of her grandmother's farm had been reduced to 5 acres: " medical bills stacked up on the dining room table, Gran resigned herself to sell it to her friend..." Gran herself makes only one comment to the loss of the acreage, "My momma would understand what I had to do, but I'll have to answer to Daddy one day."
True friendship finally comes to Josie with a boy named Jordan, who, in his own way, has handicaps of his own with a mother who died when he was young and a father who copes with her death by being a workaholic. However, Josie says "...I've learned this fact for myself: Days spin faster than a whirligig in a spring storm by the side of my new friend."
Reaching for Sun will provide for much discussion on how students with disabilities feel and how student who are not in special ed classes should treat them. The novel would lend itself well to a class read aloud with students responding with journaling to each daily read.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal—Josie, a girl with cerebral palsy, lives on the shrinking farmland owned by her family for generations and now being sold to developers. Her mother works and attends college and her grandmother tends her diminished patch of land. The story is told in the seventh-grader's voice in a series of free-verse poems. She is a bright and wry narrator, acutely aware of her limitations and her strengths. When Jordan, wealthy but neglected by his widowed father, moves into a mansion behind her farmhouse, they discover a common love of nature and science, and Josie finally has a real friend. She and her grandmother are both passionate about plants and gardening, and Zimmer does a nice job integrating botanical images throughout the novel. Josie feels like a "dandelion in a purple petunia patch" and thinks, "I must be a real disappointment—/stunted foliage,/no yield." Through growing maturity and Granny's wisdom, she gains confidence in herself. Reaching for Sun will have wide appeal for readers of diverse ability. Reluctant readers will be attracted to the seeming simplicity of the text, with short chapters and lots of white space on the page. They may not even realize that they are reading poetry. More sophisticated readers will find added enjoyment as they begin to appreciate the poetic structure and imagery. Readers of all levels will enjoy spending time with Josie and may gain an increased awareness of what it's like to live with a disability.

Booklist As if seventh grade weren't enough of a challenge for anyone, Josie also struggles with cerebral palsy, social isolation, a mom she needs more time and support from, and monster bulldozers that are carving up the countryside to build huge homes around her family's old farmhouse. Enter new neighbor Jordan, a sensitive kid whose geeky, science-loving ways bring a fun spirit of discovery into Josie's days. He melds with her and her family, especially the warm and wise Gram, and the friends create a kind of magic as they conduct all kinds of plant and pond experiments. Further challenges face Josie when Gram becomes ill and Jordan goes off to camp. Then, risking her mom's wrath, Josie secretly ditches her hated therapy sessions; when mother and daughter eventually reconcile, Josie emerges from her rough patch in a believable and transforming way. Written in verse, this quick-reading, appealing story will capture readers' hearts with its winsome heroine and affecting situations.

E. Connections
Encourage students to conduct research into disabilities like cerebral palsy.
Research the American Disability Act.
Invite the school's special ed teacher to come to the classroom to describe teaching students with disabilities and how to accommodate for them.

RaInbow Road

A. Bibliography
Sanchez, Alex. 2005. Rainbow Road. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0689865651.

B. Plot Summary
Rainbow Road is the sharing of a cross-country trip three friends make after high school graduation. With each chapter focusing on the thoughts, feelings, and emotions of each boy, readers are allowed inside each character to understand his feelings on being gay in today's society.

C. Critical Analysis
Rainbow Road reads well and easily, but is definitely for the older teen as it has many scenes of sexual activity or characters thinking about sex.
The novel is exemplary in that it focuses on three very different young men, all of whom are gay, and the myriad of emotions involved in being gay in today's world. Flashbacks of how family members accepted the boys' "coming out" are woven into the story, along with experiences with other gay communities and bisexuals or those who call themselves "heteroflexible".
The boys' memories of how life was like when they were young comes out when, at one camp ground, they meet a little boy, age seven, who exhibits the same characteristics as the bigger boys, along with the same overbearing, abusive, narrow-minded father.
Mixed in to the story of examining emotions, feelings, and relationships are all the ups and downs of a 2,700 mile road trip, packed into a small car, characters getting on one another's nerves, ergo- a typical "family" road trip. A vacation of disasters many teens will be able to relate to.
Rainbow Road allows teens who are gay or lesbian to have a book they can relate to, that is written for them, and about them, that lets them know they are not alone on their life's journey.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal–The final installment of this trilogy is a true winner. Even though coming out publicly resulted in Virginia high school basketball star Jason Carrillo's losing his college athletic scholarship, it turned him into an important role model for gay and lesbian teens. And so, when a new GLBT high school in Los Angeles is searching for a keynote speaker for its opening ceremony, it is not surprising that Jason is given an all-expenses-paid invitation. His boyfriend, Kyle, definitely wants to be there, too. And Kyle's best friend–pink-haired, boy-hungry Nelson–has a car and thinks that this would be the perfect opportunity for a post-senior-year road trip. Virginia to L.A. by car: 3000 miles and plenty of time to gain an understanding of what being gay in America is all about. These boys are distinct personalities and genuine teens, searching for clarity and identity and acceptance, trying to make sense of themselves and a world that can be equally bright and dark. Sanchez writes with humor and compassion. Some mature romance scenes, occasional frank language, and an inclusion of transgender/transsexual/bisexual story lines translate into a tender book that will likely be appreciated and embraced by young adult readers.

E. Connections
Encourage students to read other books in the Rainbow series, Rainbow Boys and Rainbow High.
If allowed, offer students access to LGBT websites mentioned at the end of Rainbow Road in the appendix.

Ask Me No Questions

A. Bibliography
Budhos, Marina. 2006. Ask Me No Questions. New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. ISBN 1416903518.

B. Plot Summary
Nadira and her family are illegal aliens from Bangladesh living on expired tourist visas in New York City. After the horrific events of September 11, being Muslim changes everything. The family tries to leave the US for Canada only to be turned away at the border. When Nadira's father is arrested and detained at the border, Nadira and her sister Aisha are sent back to Queens to try to carry on life as usual- but noting in their lives will ever be the same again.

C. Critical Analysis
Ask Me No Questions is set in modern New York City where the family lives in modern apartments with modern amenities. Nadira and her sister attend school and wear blue jeans, tennis shoes, and carry backpacks, like every other American school kid.
Culture markers occur in the novel through food like tea, fish, lamb, and rice, prepared especially for Nadira's father when he is allowed to go free after being detained.
Clothing is mentioned, especially the shalwar kameezs and saris and dupattas of the older women. Personal customs like bathing twice a day and using hair oil are spoken of.
Cultural names are used, 'Abba' for father and the girls use the term 'Ma' for their mother. The names of the uncles are used before the term 'uncle', ie, Ali-Uncle or Naseem-Uncle.
Religion is briefly noted but is not a major part of the story's plot. the Koran and Ramadan and praying at the mosque are not a major part of Nadira's family now that they live in the US. Nadira mentions, "Abba and Ma, they do some of the holidays, like they fast for Ramadan, but it's been a long time since I've seen Abba pull out the prayer rug from the closet."
The main reason for the cultural markers mentioned in the story is to explain why the story exists: that a family like Nadira's would be looked at suspiciously in the days immediately following 9/11.
A class of students whose family are not immigrants would benefit from hearing or reading a story that describes an immigrant family's desire to remain and fit in the US.

D. Review Excerpts
School Library Journal -As part of a U.S. government crackdown on illegal immigration after 9/11, Muslim men were required to register with the government and many were arrested because their visas had long-since expired. Families who had lived and worked in this country were suddenly and forcibly reminded of their illegal status without any likelihood of changing it. For 18-year-old Aisha Hossain, this means the end of her dream of going to college to become a doctor. For 14-year-old Nadira, her younger sister and the story's narrator, it means coming out from behind the shadow of her perfect older sister to reveal her own strength and find a way to reunite her nearly shattered family. Immigrants from Bangladesh, the Hossains have lived illegally in New York for years, their visa requests handled by a series of dishonest or incompetent lawyers and mired in the tortuous process of bureaucratic red tape. Following their father's arrest and detention, the teens put together the documentation and make a case that requires the judges to see them as individuals rather than terror suspects. The author explains their situation well, but the effect is more informational than fiction. Nadira and Aisha are clearly drawn characters, but they don't quite come alive, and their Bangladeshi-American background is more a backdrop than a way of life. Still, this is an important facet of the American immigrant experience, worthy of wider attention.

E. Connections
Encourage students to research the Patriot Act. Discuss why the Act was put into place and the effect it has had on Americans of Middle Eastern descent. How is this Act both good and bad?