Key Issues: The issues dealt with in this book are mainly centered upon racial harmony, gender equality, and the cooperative, friendly spirit of African people. It is a good lighthearted, happy read.
Warnings: This is a very wholesome book. I have few warnings as there is little outright violence and no foul language. There are instances of real danger, but it is relayed with such levity as to consider it harmless.
Audience: This book should be targeted towards High School students. It may work well for use as a whole class, but using it for a small group book club might be even more fun, as students could talk more intimately about the subtleties of humanity that McCall Smith expresses so cleverly.
Teaching Ideas: One of the reasons that I believe that young adults will be able to relate to this is that the series has become such a staple of the daily dietary intake of pop culture. What gives this series merit in teaching it to kids is the endearing way with which Alexander McCall Smith expresses the purity and good nature of the people of Botswana in telling his story. This can lead to great writing assignments wherein students empathize with those they have very little in common with. Students can attempt to design a story about people they know very little about. Their story should be told from the perspective of someone who is completely different from themselves. This character must be either of another race, gender, religious background, or country. The student must attempt to empathize with their very different character and relate events from their daily life in a way that helps to express the similarity between all people.
Plot: Carmen is a freshman in high school and she lives in a small town in England. She is somewhat shy and awkward, as to be expected at this age, and faces many challenges, such as a rocky relationship with her mother, Maria. Her “mum”, on the other hand, is not your typical mother. She is obsessed with her weight and diets constantly to maintain an unhealthy, low body mass. Maria is so paranoid about body image that she even insists upon Carmen following her strict, bizarre diets. The book provides a realistic insight to eating disorders and the stress it is places on a person, their family, and relationships.
Key Issues:Eating disorders, divorce, changing schools, friendship, relationships, and family issues.
Warnings: Drugs, alcohol, smoking, sex, profanity, and graphic descriptions of eating disorders.
Audience: The book is geared towards a female audience between the ages of 13 and 16 and is written specifically for people who have dealt with eating disorders. But, the issues are not necessarily suitable for young girls and I would be cautious to suggest this novel to a student.
I probably would not teach the book, but if I were to use it in the classroom I would suggest it for an individual reader or a small book club.
For pre-reading, students should study British culture (it will help them to understand some of the terminology/dialect at least).
Research online to find common English phrases
Suggest watching commercials or short clips from England
Write a summary of the clips and note words or phrases that are different from our own language.
It illustrates eating disorders from multiple perspectives, so students would benefit from studying some of those disorders in a small group setting.
Either create new dialog based upon their research or get into character and re-enact some of the events/dialog in the book.
It will help them to form a greater sense of the mind-set associated with this disorders and highlight the negative consequences.
Title: Before we were Free
Author: Julia Alvarez
Publisher/Imprint: Dell Laurel-Leaf/ Random House Children’s Books
Copyright Date: 2002
Plot: Anita de la Torre is a twelve-year-old girl living in the Dominican Republic, during the 1960’s—when Trujillo was dictator. She never contemplates her limited freedoms, until her family starts fleeing to the United States. She finds out that her father and family members are in on a movement to overthrow the dictatorship. She struggles growing up through this difficult time, and eventually has to go into hiding with her mother; before fleeing themselves. It is a spectacular journey to take with Anita, as she makes her way through adolescence.
Key Issues: Hispanic, historical fiction, dictatorship, and coming-of-age.
Warnings: Depictions of death.
Audience: 8-12th grade.
Historical research: Small group--students will write a research paper on different aspects of life in the Dominican Republic during the 1960’s. They will be required to put together a small presentation about their papers, and present them to the class.
Creative Writing: Small group--students will act as if they are American news journalists. They will put together a news article that will be worthy of the front page of the newspaper, covering the difficult times in the Dominican Republic, and the influx of immigrants into the United States.
Title: The Mysterious Benedict Society
Author: Trenton Lee Stewart
Publisher/Imprint: Little, Brown and Company
Copyright Date: 2007
Plot: When Reynie Muldoon read the words, “Are you a gifted child looking for special opportunities,” in the local newspaper, he could never have guessed what would be in store for him. After passing several difficult tests he found himself in a strange situation—along with three other children: Sticky, Kate, and Constance. They were all asked to join Mr. Benedict’s quest to save the future of the world; by going on a secret mission to the “Institute.” They have to learn to depend on one another in order to succeed in their mission, but for them this is easier said than done. Mr. Curtain, head of the Institute, has been secretly sending messages through T.V.'s and radios around the world, so that one day he can manipulate every person’s mind into thinking he is the “master.” The children must learn his secrets before it’s too late, but doing this is no simple task. By quick thinking and bravery the children can defeat anything.
Key Issues: Friendship, bravery, mystery, and morality.
Audience: 7-12th grade.
Creative Writing: I believe this book would be a great addition to a child’s library, but not necessarily one I would teach to a class. If I were to use this in class, I would have a small group of students read this book and do a creative writing project from it. Students can choose their favorite character and write a paper about how they think the character should have been portrayed, or how they would act if they were in that character’s shoes. The students could also change the ending of the story, and write about how they would have liked it to end.
Art: I think children would have a blast creating a piece of art from this book. After reading the entire book, the students can create a map/drawing of what they think the Institute looks like. The book gives several descriptions of the Institute, which can aid in their creation. They don’t have to stick to paper and pencil; they may use any materials they choose. They will make a small presentation to the class about the book and the art they created from it.
Author: Julie Anne Peters
Publisher/Imprint: Little, Brown and Company
Plot: Regan’s older brother Liam feels like he is a girl stuck in a boy’s body. By day, he is Liam, a boy who gets good grades, has lots of friends who are girls, and fights with his dad who wants him to try out for every sport imaginable. By night, he is Luna, a girl who loves to wear dresses, wigs, and make up, and looks at herself in the mirror for hours. Regan seems to be the only person who understands her brother, and is the only one who knows his secret. Every day, Luna feels like she is trapped more and more inside Liam’s body. He doesn’t feel like he can show his real self, mostly because of his super-macho dad, and often gets depressed. Regan helps Liam through his times of depression and suicidal tendencies. Regan supports Liam when he finally decides to show the world who he really is -- a girl. They start out in safe places, like a mall 30 minutes away from their house. Liam changes his clothes in the bathroom, and emerges as Luna. They browse the mall for girl clothes, and Regan notices some stares and repulsed looks from other shoppers as they walk by Luna. When Luna notices herself, she is thrown back into her pit of depression, and continues to feel even more trapped. When Liam finds a fellow transgender on the Internet, he realizes he can take the first step to becoming the girl he wants to be, and maybe even eventually get Sex Reassignment Surgery.
KeyIssues: Transgender, Coming of Age, Family, Love, Dating, Sexuality
Warnings: The book is heavily centered around the issue of transgender, which you may want to mention to parents before teaching. Other than that, there are no other warnings.
Audience: Upper high school, students who are mature enough to handle a story dealing with transgender issues.
1) Start a discussion with the students: Why was the story told from Regan’s point of view? Why were her thoughts and actions such an important part of the story? How would you feel, and what would you do if your brother or sister was transgender?
2) Tell the students to create a bio body of Luna. Have them describe why they dressed Luna the way they did. Would Luna describe this outfit as her “blending in outfit,” or her “prom outfit,” etc. and in what situation would she dress this way?
3) Play the “Carmen” CD that Regan listens to in the novel. While the music is playing, have the students write a journal entry told from Regan’s point of view. What would she say in her journal about Materas, about Liam and Aly’s relationship, about her parents?