By: Mrs. McLean
Eddie Huang’s Fresh Off the Boat offers a unique perspective on culture. His frankness about race and cultural relations in the United States made this white girl fresh off the farm feel uncomfortable and confused at times, and that was likely his goal. It’s easy to identify a plethora of reasons that growing up as a minority in white America is difficult, but knowledge and understanding are two very different things. Although I will not claim to understand Huang’s experiences, how can anyone claim to understand anyone else’s life, I will say that reading this text gave me a glimpse into what his life was like. I learned some things about Asian cuisine, streetwear, and Taiwanese customs, but more importantly, Huang’s text made me think. Specifically, he made me consider how I work with students who are first generation American or who are new to the country. He made me think about how I work with students with whom I do not easily identify. He made me think about why students act out. I am confident that I am kind and fair and empathetic…just like every other white teacher I know. Teachers all want to think that we do the best we know how with all of our students, and white teachers want to think that we do the best we know how with our students of color. Maybe I (read: we) have been missing something though. Huang has spent a huge portion of his life being angry, and he talks a lot about how educators did not understand him or his anger. Perhaps this is because his teachers did not care enough to chip away at his armor or perhaps it was because they did not know how or perhaps it was because his defenses were impenetrable. In any case, he rarely got what he needed from the American education system, and it gives me pause. Do I give my students of color what they need? Can I?
I can think of several students off the top of my head who were frustrated, angry. Some were minorities, some were not. Some were privileged, some were not. Most were marginalized. I am ashamed to say that I know I did not make progress with several of them. I recognize that this is part of teaching. Not all students will like you. Not all students will enjoy your class. Not all students will open up to you. I am a good teacher, but I am not a good teacher for every child. That’s impossible, but most of the time there are other teachers in the building who are good where I’m not, and then students are able to connect with someone who cares about them, their stories, and their direction. I worry about those students who do not find that though. Eddie Huang did not have a great educational experience. He did not connect with his teachers, but he turned out great from what I can tell. He’s successful because he followed his passion and his heart. He worked very hard for this success, and from his tale, I doubt he takes it for granted. But not all kids are like him. He was angry, but he was very bright. Though he struggled with family dynamics as outlined in his book, he had a support system. A lot of kids don’t have that, and that is scary.
I want people to read his book because it makes a person think about some tough issues and challenges one’s conclusions. I want teenagers to read his book because it’s relatable and thought-provoking. I want those on the fringe to read his book because he delineates between the things about which a person should be angry and those for which anger is a wasted emotion. Further, Huang brings the humor through the pain, and when a person can do that, he or she has beat out whatever demon he or she was fighting.
By: Miss Luckow
This collection of poetry and prose by Rupi Kaur is split into four chapters ranging from pain to love to healing. Her poems are paired with simple illustrations to bring the reader through the darkest moments of her life and find the sweetness in them.
I have been trying to find more modern poetry to read lately and it’s been a struggle to find an author that doesn’t come off as pretentious or trying too hard.
This collection was exactly what I was looking for. Kaur hits all of your emotions with a punch that’s cathartic in a way that is accessible and relatable.
Some poems, I actually cheered afterwards because someone was finally perfectly putting into words feelings I’ve never been able to.
The illustrations that are paired with some of the poems are super simplistic as to not distract from the words and are a nice pairing to the messages throughout.
I would highly recommend this collection of poetry to people who love poetry and to people who have never read a poem in their lives.
By: Mrs. McLean
Rachel Dratch’s Girl Walks Into a Bar was supposed to just be a quick, easy read over Spring Break for me. I love Rachel Dratch, but I did not expect much in the way of connections or themes. Boy, was I wrong.
Girl Walks Into a Bar is funny without being just schtick. It is thought-provoking without being touchy-feely. It is inspiring without being a sob story. So often I think famous people all have a similar Cinderella story. They have a goal, they pay their dues, and eventually they make it. Hooray! The end! Happily ever after! Rachel Dratch is different though. She had a goal, she paid her dues, and she made it, but she goes further. She goes on to describe her “Now what?” Dratch is brutally real about her life post-SNL. She discusses her struggles to find meaningful work and meaningful relationships in way that while a little self-deprecating is also relatable.
By: Senorita Alwan
Having travelled to Paris twice and given my interest in cooking/cuisine, I thought that Lunch in Paris could be a good read. It turns out that I was right. The book is more than your classic love story. It has elements of how an American, Elizabeth Bard, can navigate the culture of Paris and her French boyfriend with an open mind. Not only does Elizabeth fall in love with, Gwendal, but she gets caught up in cooking up wonderful French cuisine. At the end of each chapter is a compilation of the recipes of French dishes that she prepared. Her connection to food reminds me of the food aspect of the novel Como Agua Para Chocolate.
In addition to her relationship with Gwendal, Elizabeth is plunged into a world of bustling open-air markets, hipster bistros, and French fashion. She learns to gut her first fish (with a little help from Jane Austen), soothe pangs of homesickness (with the rise of a chocolate soufflé) and develops a crush on her local butcher (who bears a striking resemblance to Matt Dillon). Elizabeth finds that the deeper she immerses herself in the world of Frenchcuisine of France the more she understands Paris and the French culture. French culture, she discovers, is not unlike a well-ripened cheese-there may be a crusty exterior, until you cut through to the melting, piquant heart. Overall, Lunch in Paris is a story of falling in love, redefining success and discovering what it truly means to be at home. boo
By: Miss Luckow
Going into this book, I knew nothing about what to expect. I knew it was a zombie novel and that it got good reviews. What I got was a heart-warming zombie novel that explores what it means to be human.
Taking place in a near-future after an epidemic spreads around the world, turning most humans into zombies, a girl named Melanie sits in her cell and awaits for her daily routine of going to school, showering and going back to her room. The only thing she knows is that she feels love from her teacher Ms. Junstineau and that something isn’t right when students start disappearing.
From there, the story takes off in a fast-pace looking at this world from multiple perspectives, creating a complex world with even more harrowing issues that each character has to face, including the demons within themselves.
Each character is absolutely fascinating and so well developed and I became deeply attached to each one of them. This book made me feel all the feels possible and just left me in shock when it was over.
I can’t even begin to recommend this book enough.
By: Mrs. McClean
With a recommendation from Mr. Nelson, a colleague for whom I have great respect, I recently read Sarah Vowell’s Assassination Vacation in which the author explores her passion for the circumstances and lore surrounding the Presidential assassinations of Lincoln, McKinley, and Garfield.
Although I am not a natural history buff, I enjoyed this text immensely as Vowell went beyond the dreaded names and dates of the standard history text, telling not only the stories of the horrific events themselves, but also those of her pilgrimage to different museums and historical sites while she conducted her research. Vowell seamlessly combines her sense of humor with sober reflections on death, murder, children, luck, heroism, politics, and Americans as a people.
I live for an audiobook. As an English teacher, people assume that I spend the majority of my time outside of school reading. This is false. In fact, I am typically the person who falls asleep open mouth having not completed a paragraph only to wake a few hours later recognizing that I will be returning yet another library book with drool stains on page one. Fortunately, the local library also has a plethora of audiobooks available, and I have about a half hour commute to work. Some audiobooks are better than others, and it has everything to do with the voice and cadence of the narrator(s). Sarah Vowell narrates her own work (I love it when authors do this because only he or she is able to capture the true tone and essence of the text.), and she brings in some others to bring history to life. Conan O’Brien, Catherine Keener, Jon Stewart, and Greg Giraldo all make appearances, to name a few. Perhaps the best part about listening to this text, after getting to hear Violet Parr’s voice from The Incredibles tell me about the dichotomous personalities of John Wilkes Booth and his brother Edwin, is listening to a woman tell me about some interesting pieces of our nation’s history. In thirteen years of public school and nine history credits during undergrad, I had just one female social studies teacher: Ms. Odell for seventh grade civics. She reminded me of a cross between Nurse Ratched and General Patton, and while I learned a lot from her, it was out of sheer terror. History is such a male-dominated subject area in schools (perhaps due to a male-dominated curriculum) that I think many girls, myself included, have been a bit turned off of studying it. Sarah Vowell (and, to be fair, Mr. Nelson) have gotten me interested in history again through Assassination Vacation, and I look forward to reading more of her work.