Week 6, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

WEEK 6, Seraphina by Rachel Hartman

Screen Shot 2016-02-22 at 2.20.05 PMHartman, R. (2012). Seraphina: A novel [CD]. New York, NY: Random House.

This enchanting fantasy novel meshes the human and dragon world as the 4oth anniversary of peace between the two species approaches.  In this world, humans and dragons live amongst each other, dragons even folding themselves to look like humans on occasion. Even though 40 years have gone by in peace, tensions grow as Prince Rufus is found beheaded, a typical sign of death by dragon. Seraphina, a half-dragon, half-human with a past meant to be kept hidden, has no choice but to get involved with the investigation of Prince Rufus’ death at Prince Lucian’s request. Will she be able to keep her musical talent and her secret past hidden and protected?

Keywords: dragons; humans; silver blood; red blood; musical talent

What I Think:

Unlike most books that I have discussed on this blog, I was not a huge fan of this one. First of all, a dark fantasy book revolving around a conflict between dragons and humans simply isn’t my style. Due to this, I found the book hard to follow and had to continue to re-listen to multiple tracks on the CD. I should have chosen to read the book in print in order to avoid this, but I could still foresee me having to look back and reread pages and sections of the book in order to fully comprehend. Because of having to reread or re-listen, it took a lot longer for me to listen to this book than it has for others in the past. For these reasons, I thought the book was hard to follow and conclusively unenjoyable.

Although I did not personally enjoy this book, it did include some excellent descriptive language. “It was as if I had been watching the world through oiled parchment or smoked glass, which was yanked abruptly away. Everything grew very clear and bright; the music burst forth in majesty; we stood still and the room turned around us; and there was Kiggs, right in the middle of all of it, laughing” (Hartman, 2012, Chapter 17)*. This shows an example of how the narrator uses descriptive language to illustrate a situation. Therefore, excerpts from this novel would be a great model for students who often struggle to add descriptive details.

*Page numbers are not included because I listened to this book on CD and was not able to obtain a print copy.

What the Experts Think:

Hartman proves dragons are still fascinating in this impressive high fantasy. After 40 years of peace between human and dragon kingdoms, their much-maligned treaty is on the verge of collapse. Tensions are already high with an influx of dragons, reluctantly shifted to human forms, arriving for their ruler Ardmagar Comonot’s anniversary. But when Prince Rufus is found murdered in the fashion of dragons – that is, his head has been bitten off – things reach a fever pitch. Seraphina, a gifted court musician, wants only to go unnoticed as the investigation draws close: she is the unthinkable, a human-dragon half-breed, and her secret must be protected. But when Prince Lucían Kiggs asks for her help with the murder investigation, she has no choice but to become involved, even if Kiggs’ acute perceptiveness is a danger to her. Equal parts political thriller, murder mystery, bittersweet romance, and coming-of-age story, this is an uncommonly good fantasy centered upon an odd but lovable heroine who narrates in a well-educated diction with an understated, flippant tone. Fantasy readers young and old who appreciate immersion into a rich new culture will not mind the novel’s slow build, especially as it takes wing and hurtles toward the stratosphere. This is an exciting new series to watch. – Krista Hutley

Hutley, K. (2012). Seraphina. The Booklist, 108(18), 62.
Classroom Recommendations:

As I mentioned in the section titled “What I Think”, this novel had excellent descriptive details so that the reader could truly visualize characters, settings and events taking place during the plot. Conclusively, I would challenge students in my classroom to recreate this novel in the form of a visual representation. This could be in the form of a cartoon, graphic novel, or even video.

For example, if my students wanted to create a graphic novel form of this book, I would have the students create a summary of each of the chapters in graphic novel form to then turn into a full summary of the actual book. This could be done with a graphic novel as well as any other form of visual representation. This activity would encourage and require creativity in order to match to the descriptive details in the novel.


Week 5, El Deafo by Cece Bell

WEEK 5, El Deafo by Cece Bell


Reading one of my favorite scenes featuring El Deafo, the SUPERHERO!

Bell, C. (2014). El deafo. New York, NY: Abrams.

If you thought elementary school was hard simply with the challenges of making friends and avoiding bullies, this graphic novel will make you think twice. El Deafby Cece Bell takes the reader through the ups and downs of a little girl who becomes hard of hearing at an early age after recovering from meningitis. Cece has to overcome the struggles of being a little girl (or bunny in this case) who has wires sticking out of her ears, hearing aids. Her classmates and friends notice these dissimilarities and treat her differently than other classmates throughout her years. However, when Cece figures out that her differences can actually be something positive, like a microphone into the world of teachers, she discovers that she can be a superhero to all her classmates and friends afterall!

Keywords: deaf; hearing aids; the Phonic ear; superhero; friends

What I Think:

As my first graphic novel, I really enjoyed this story about a little girl going through the struggles of being deaf and having to be introduced to technology like a hearing aid. I enjoyed this book because of how relatable the main character was, while also having one major difference from most readers, hearing problems. For example, as many can relate, the main character, Cece, often jots down notes and thoughts about life, like a pros and cons chart, a list of facts about a cute boy, or even a common sleepover packing list. “Packing list: cute pj’s, toothpaste (possibly just for show), toothbrush, sleeping bag, clean shirt for tomorrow, pill-pill, extra hearing aid batteries (I do NOT want to run down and miss everything!!!), lean underwear, socks, Miss Bunn (may need to keep hidden??), birthday present for Ginny!” (Bell, 2014, p. 87). Even though this action and other events in Cece’s life are relatable, she still goes through unique experiences that can be diverse for readers, like sign language classes.

I also enjoyed this book because of the structure as a graphic novel. This structure allows the reader to experience dialogue and conversations the way a person who is deaf would experience it while also viewing the context of the setting and situation. Without being a graphic novel, the author would not be able to demonstrate this experience. For example, during a sign language class, the batteries in Cece’s hearing aids die (p. 109). This is represented by the words in the quote bubbles slowly fading until nothing is left but blank space. This scene allows the reader to experience exactly what it would be like to be in class listening when all of a sudden there is nothing there to hear. This scene would be a lot more difficult to illustrate through a traditional novel. For scenes like this with dying hearing aids, the structure of a graphic novel is best.

What the Experts Say:

When cartoonist Bell was four years old, a case of meningitis left her severely deaf. In this graphic memoir, she tells readers about the friends and family who help her adjust, the frustration she feels when learning to communicate, and the devices she uses to assist her hearing, most notably the Phonic Ear, a large machine that connects to a microphone her teachers wear and amplifies sounds in her hearing aids. Aside from making school easier, the Phonic Ear gives Bell a superpower: when her teachers forget to doff the microphone, she can still hear them anywhere in the school (including the bathroom!). She keeps her newfound superpower a secret and daydreams about being El Deafo, a super alter ego whose deafness makes her powerful. Bell’s bold and blocky full-color cartoons perfectly complement her childhood stories-she often struggles to fit in and sometimes experiences bullying, but the cheerful illustrations promise a sunny future. This empowering autobiographical story belongs right next to Raina Telgemeier’s Smile (2011) and Liz Prince’s Tomboy, reviewed on page 58. -Sarah Hunter

 Hunter, S. (2014). El deafo. The Booklist, 110(22), 57.
Classroom Recommendations:

Although this falls under the title of graphic novel, it also represents an autobiography as Cece tells her story about going through school as a person with a hearing disability. This book would be a great prompt and introduction for students to unique points of views or perspectives of everyday lives.

As an additional project to add to the discussion about unique perspectives, students could be challenged to write about the everyday struggles of others from different perspectives, like someone with a visual impairment, learning disability, or even nontraditional family. Students could do research on what it would like to live the life of someone different from themselves by talking to others in the actual situation, reading books about the situation or disability, and even searching on the internet for videos and journals from the perspective of people in that situation. After researching, the students could then create their own graphic novel to represent that unique perspective. For example, if a student wanted to write from the point of view of someone who was blind, the student could interview someone who is blind, watch videos about how people with blindness maneuver through busy sidewalks, and read about the accommodations for those that are hard of seeing. Then, the student would create a graphic novel (or simply write a story in this situation) from the perspective of a blind person.

Week 4, Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw


Late Night Reading: Can you spot the puppy snuggled on the blankets in the background?

WEEK 4, Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw

Burcaw, S. (2014). Laughing at my nightmare. New York, NY: Roaring Brook Press.

This biography is about the life of a man bound by a wheelchair since the age of two after being diagnosed with spinal muscular atrophy. The book recounts hilarious memories of everyday struggles from the eyes of a man who started a blog about his hilarious life. Events include ones that only someone with spinal muscular atrophy would encounter, like the time his head falls all the way backwards and gets stuck in the middle of class.  The memoir also retells everyday tussles, like attempting to flirt with females in order to find a girlfriend. You won’t be disappointed when you follow this inspiring yet hilarious young man’s story as he experiences everyday life in a not-so-normal way.

Keywords: wheelchair; blog; muscles failing; relationship turmoil

What I Think:

I thoroughly enjoyed this book because of the humuourous light it shed on a unfortunate and potentially bleak situation. I can’t count on my hands and feet how many times I laughed or felt like I couldn’t stop reading the account of this man’s story because of the humor found within the events. For example, during a presentation in class one day, Shane’s mouth began to freeze up as his muscles began to tire. “It got really bad really fast, and I could tell from my classmates’ faces that nobody could understand me anymore. Then I made the situation worse” (p. 146). This embarrassing yet hilarious event is just one of the many that ends with the reader in hysterics along with the characters.

I also think this book is a great real life account of a relatable person but with a very unique background, such as a physical disability. It is so important that today’s youth be exposed to all types of people, backgrounds, cultures, religions and more. This book adds to this sort of collection and provides a fresh new perspective on life as a young adult and beyond.

What the Experts Say:

Burcaw has spent most of his life in a wheelchair with progressively debilitating spinal muscular atrophy, but instead of soberly presenting the ups and downs of a potentially bleak existence, he pens an uplifting, laugh-out-loud memoir that calls out the absurdity of his circumstances and the joy he finds in the everyday. He shares such universal moments as cops-and-robbers games in preschool, as well as more unique, intimate details of his physical reality, such as the demands of excretion, or how he pursues a healthy young-adult sex life when he is keenly aware that his weakening neck can’t quite hold up his head. Quick-witted Burcaw demonstrates mastery in expressing accessible insights that are well padded in humor, as well as a realistic awareness of his situation leavened by tongue-in-cheek hyperbole, none of which gives way to offputting egoism or navel gazing. Burcaw’s smart, gracious, and funny take on his life is an object lesson in positivity, and this eloquently written and moving memoir would easily find a home in both adult and youth collections. -Francisca Goldsmith

Goldsmith, F. (2014). Laughing at my nightmare. The Booklist, 111(6), 35.

Classroom Recommendations:

This book would be great to include in an important persons’ study with the whole class. Different groups of students could read different biographies and memoirs of people in unfortunate or underprivileged situations similar to Shane’s. Then, the students could hold a discussion to compare and contrast the different perspectives and how each person recounts their personal story. For example, those reading Laughing at My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw would point out that although the narrator experiences many hardships and awkward situations, he never fails to find the humor in the situation and ultimately his own humility.

This book would also be great to kick off a writing project with students where they would create their own blogs from their own unique perspectives. The author of Laughing at My Nightmare, Shane Burcaw, has a blog where he continuously recounts his life events in hilarity. Students could use his blog and this book as an inspiration and a model for their own personal accounts of their lives on a blog of their own.

Week 3, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

WEEK 3, The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Zusak, M. (2006). The book thief [CD]. Mexico: Random House.

This historically rooted book dives into Nazi Germany, only this time exploring the life of a foster girl names Liesel Meminger. The book explores the ups and downs of a girl living with a family with members unsupportive of Adolf Hitler yet just trying to get by unnoticed. Things change when a Jewish friend of Liesel’s foster father comes to stay, and hide, during the WWII events. As if the setting isn’t downcast enough, the story is actually narrated by Death itself. The readers gets to hear and experience how Death sees the events occurring and also has to opportunity to observe the Book Thief in action.

Keywords: all about books; Nazis; death; WWII; history

What I Think:

One positive aspect of this book is how different it is from other books. This book is told from the perspective of death. In the beginning before part I, it takes the reader some time to figure out exactly who is telling the story because the narrator begins by describing colors. Eventually, the reader makes an inference based on the clues in the text and discovers that it is indeed Death who is telling the story. For example, in the prologue the narrator says, “If suffices to say that at some point in time, I will be standing over you, as genially as possible. Your soul will be in my arms. A color will be perched on my shoulder. I will carry you gently away” (p. 10). This clue leads us to believe that the narrator takes souls off the Earth. This can be confirmed when the narrator makes the joking comment about not being the grim reaper but often being called that name and playing that role. For this reason, this book would be great to actually use with the students in a classroom, even if it wasn’t the entire book. Although reading the entire book would be valuable for the embedded history, I would focus on the idea of telling a story from different perspectives and how the viewpoint can truly effect a story.

What the Experts Say:

The book concerns a young German girl, the titular thief, whose family hides a Jew in their house during World War II. The narrator is Death (yes, that Death), and even though he tells you in advance who won’t survive the war, it’s still a complete punch in the gut when it happens.

Lurye, S. (2012, Sep 13). The book thief. Reader

Classroom Recommendations:

This book is obviously a book that should be tied to history. In the classroom, I would connect the book to the events happening in WWII at the time. For example, the book talks about The Night of Broken Glass and how Liesel experienced this huge event. It is important to investigate this event and others in the book so that the students are familiar with the setting of Nazi Germany and the context of WWII.

Secondly, I would use this book in the classroom to learn about viewpoints and perspectives. One interesting thing about this book is that it is told from the viewpoint of Death. I would be curious to find out from my students how this book might change if it was told from different viewpoints, like Adolf Hitler, Rudy or even Max Vandenberg.

Students could also participate in an activity of actually re-writing an excerpt or chapter from a different perspective. To tie the book back into history, the students could even choose a true event listed in the book, research this event, and then write about it from a completely different viewpoint not even mentioned in the book. This would tie the literature to the true events of history and WWII.