Friday, September 18, 2009

On Monster by Walter Dean Myers

The question concerning this novel is...

Is Steve Harmon guilty of murder?

That's the first question we addressed when discussing the Walter Dean Myers novel Monster on Tuesday in RDG 598. The introductory activity was an interesting one. On a slip of paper, we pretended we were the jury at the end of the novel and cast our vote for guilty or innocent. In my way, I had to point out that while I didn't find Steve guilty, I also could not find him innocent. The best I could come up with is not guilty of the crime for which he was tried.

One of the main reasons I cannot find him innocent has to do with the reliability of the narrator. (We read an article about it, and of course I can't find that article now.) The story is told in script format; the main character is writing the screenplay for a movie. For some reluctant/struggling readers, this can be a little off-putting at first, especially if they have had little exposure to drama. But it's Steve's story, and he reserves the poetic license to change any details he wants to serve his purposes. We see this most clearly in his testimony, which was pointed out by one of my classmates. In his musings that do not belong to the script portion of the story, he reflects on going into the convenience store to buy mints. In his testimony, he says that he'd never been in the store. I don't know if I trust Steve to tell the whole truth now.

But should he be found guilty of murdering the gentleman in the store? I don't think so. Accessory, at best.

What's interesting is I thought about this particular discussion on Wednesday, when a student of mine locked my class in the patio, which caused a ruckus in the hallway during instructional time. I took my class outside to play vocabulary baseball--a nice change from studying in chairs under fluorescent lights. On the way in, one student convinces another to lock the door. The one doing the convincing might have been the one who also caused the ruckus, but I have no witnesses to corroborate that story. What I do have eye-witness testimony of, however, is the student who locked the door. Back in the classroom, one student tries to inflict the consequences of her actions on the other student because the other student told her to do it. Steve Harmon didn't kill the guy in the store. Student 2 didn't lock the class in the patio. They didn't like that answer too much.

Many people thought Steve to be a monster. Do I think he's a monster? No. And the message I hope kids take away from the novel is to think about the consequences of their actions, and keep themselves from becoming monsters.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve

This is my response to Here Lies Arthur by Phillip Reeve. Enjoy.

You hear the bard sing tale of my youth and exploits

He told of my play, not deeds

So I return to finish my song

The headless man in reeds.

We return to my story in the midst of battle

As we should far away of Arthur’s men

A rapid chase through wood and pine

With one who destroyed home and killed kin.

He showed and stole a woman

While through the woods he fled

And by some luck of god or goddess

His horse attacked and fell

He got back up and drew his blade

A short and pointed lance

I saw and lowered my shield

But not in time to thwart his glance

Through flesh and bone to flesh and bone

To my steed my leg was stuck

Then both went crashing to the ground

Goddess curse my luck.

I screamed and whimpered like a girl

Pounds of flesh pressed into my flank

Two comrades pulled me from the carcass

And carried me back to town on a plank

In my brother’s house I was kept

Surrounded by he, his woman and babes

And I cried more than the youngest one

When Myrridin said I’d be lame

The wound itself was deep and red

The bones within were shattered

Medwrat said, while holding my head

That god would make me better

Arthur’s wife was there too, Gwenhwyfar

Barely seen in the corner

My cause she took and had me moved

To heal better in her care

Anger seeped from my pores

That I didn’t die that night

What use to Arthur is a man

Who cannot stand and fight?

All the women sent to tend to me

I sent them all away

Even the one I took in a raid

Who came and wept all day

Those who saw me were few

My attitude made them flee

My brother, only would see me after

The only I could stand to see

What he didn’t know was I envied him

Riding with Arthur to war

Confined to this room alone

In bed, an awful bore

Console me, yes, he tried to do

With stories of the past

I’d be up and running by fall of leaf

Sometimes I thought him an ass

But somewhere within his words gave me strength

As did the stories he told

At midsummer I tried walking

Not strong enough on my own

A staff I gave all my weight

Each step filled with pain

But not halfway ‘cross the terrace

I had fallen and was crying again

Gwenhwyfar tried encouragement

Then she held me when I cried

I relaxed there, she stroked my hair

Then something stirred inside

She sent for wine and barley cakes

Then sent her girl away

Over this we spoke of future

And made plans for me to stay

She said, “Bedwyr, you’ll be my champion

When Arthur’s men are gone

When they all ride off to wars

And leave us all alone”

I was excited by this prospect

Being useful once more

But more excited for other things to come

What Gwenhyfar had in store

She told me of a sacred place

Where spring water ran too hot

Where reeds and weeds had overgrown

The bath that time forgot

I was to meet her there

The temple at the heart

There we expressed our love

Never to be torn apart

There’s a heightened sense of something I missed

Being with Gwenhyfar

It’s not the love we share together

But maybe danger, maybe fear

But every morning tending the horses

I think of the moments we share

The touch of her hands, the feel of her skin

The silkyness of her hair

But sooner or later Arthur must return

And what to come of us then?

Though he has never had interest in her

And we both are naught but men

So I ask “what will we do when Arthur comes home?”

And Gwenhwyfar says he may not

That he may be cut down as Valerius once was

And left in the battlefield to rot

I say that Arthur cannot be killed

Warriors like him never can

Not long as he carries Caliburn

He is Britannia’s safest man

We go around in circles

Predicting Arthur’s demise

Suggesting Cei take his place

His rule would be more wise

I told her I’d kill Arthur

Then she’d be mine to wed

We both knew I could barely stand

And that Arthur’d have my head

I told her that I’d treasure her

The way Arthur never did

I never saw her as an aged woman

Though we’d never have a kid

The last night in the darkness

A small voice called out “Lady?”

A girl appeared with startling news

That Arthur was back already

The girl made plans to save us

But it already was too late

We just stared, holding each other

Already sealing our fate

Arthur came in and bellowed

His voice echoed from the stone

Though I knew he was my kinsman

I knew I wouldn’t go home

Lightning flared on Caliburn

Arthur’s sacred blade

And from the hatred flash in his eye

His hand would not be stayed

My head was left in sacred spring

My lady’s shift was sprayed with red

Warrior, lover, champion, now

All I am is dead

You heard my story of youth and play

And now one of my deeds

Now I leave having told my story

The headless man in reeds.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

American-Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

I blame my recent obsession with graphic novels on the Text Messages podcast I listened to this summer that discussed the popular graphic novels and their draw to teens. I have one student in my class who is currently reading American-Born Chinese, and having just finished it, I'm rather happy about this fact. Hopefully, he can identify with the idea that everyone, really, is trying to figure out who they are, and find a place to fit in whatever social/cultural circle(s) they choose to run in.

American-Born Chinese is told in the form of three parallel stories: the story of Jin Wang, a middle school student who has just moved to a place where no one looks like him; the story of the Monkey King who lets his pride stand in the way of understanding what it really means to be a diety; and the story of Chin Kee, a caricature of the Chinese stereotype in America. These three stories come together, and each of the main characters understands what it means to have a place in America.

I do have to point out one funny bit before I sign off. Do you remember William Hung of American Idol fame? American-Born Chinese wouldn't be complete if Chin Kee didn't make fun of him, too. As much as I'd love to show you an image of that particular page, I'm not going to. If you're really interested, you can see it for yourself. What I will leave you with, however, is a video of Gene Luen Yang talking about his graphic novel. Enjoy.