Week 10, Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

Week 10, Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher

Crutcher, C. (2001). Whale talk. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

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This book is an emotional thriller as the audience follows along through the eyes of lovable T.J. Jones as he goes out of his way many times to help others in need. All of this kindness happens as he recruits people for a the brand new Cutter High School swim team. Along his journey, T.J. (as well as the audience) gets very close to Heidi, a five year old with an unfortunate home life. Eventually, things take a turn for the worse and the audience experiences what happens when a gun gets into the wrong hands at the wrong time.

Keywords: swimmers; domestic violence; tragedy; varsity jacket

What I Think:

I LOVED this book, even with its intensity and emotion. I thought the characters were thoroughly developed so that the audience could clearly understand their thoughts, decisions and feelings. I felt as if I was a friend to the main character by the end of the book, so much so that I was way more emotionally attached to the story than I normally would find myself. For example, Tao says, “I didn’t earn a letter jacket because I could, and all my friends did because they couldn’t. Some things really don’t get any better” (Crutcher, 2001, p. 204). By having a deep understanding of Tao, the audience can understand such a complicated statement. It actually makes so much sense to come from Tao and truly defines who he is as a person. Knowing this as an audience member makes the entire story believable, relatable, and truly gets readers attached.

What the Experts Think:

Gr. 8-12. Crutcher’s fans will recognize the author’s signature style and subject matter in his new novel, his first in six years. Adopted, biracial high-school senior The Tao Jones (his birth mother seems to “have been a little too ‘spiritual”‘) is well-adjusted on the surface. A smart, likable kid with a great sense of humor and athletic ability, he glides through academia with everything an adolescent boy needs-decent grades and female companionship. What T. j. doesn’t need is competitive sports, which Cutter High School jocks and coaches see as a personal snub. T. J.’s resolve weakens, however, when English teacher-coach Mr. Simet makes an unconventional offer: Be the anchor of the swim team and pick your fellow fish. Perfect, especially since racist football bully Mike Barbour has taken up letter jackets as a cause. It seems developmentally disabled Chris Coughlin has been wearing his dead brother’s jacket, and Mike is annoyed. If Chris, naturally comfortable in the water, is on the swim team, T. 1. reasons, Chris will earn a jacket of his own, and Mike will be put in his place. The veteran author once again uses well-constructed characters and quick pacing to examine how the sometimes cruel and abusive circumstances of life affect every link in the human chain, and a heartwrenching series of plot twists leads to an end in which goodness at least partially prevails. Through it all, as expected, shines Crutches sympathy for teens and their problems. For more about the book, see the Story-behind-the Story on the opposite page. -Kelly Milner Halls

Kelly, Milner Halls. 2001. Whale talk. The Booklist 97, (15) (Apr 01): 1462

Classroom Recommendations:

I would incorporate this book within a larger study of gun violence in American culture. I would have the students read through this book in class and at home to give them a narrative and characters that they can relate and connect to. Then, in class, I would bring in excerpts from Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart as well as other resources such as current events in newspapers. All of the articles and excerpts provided to the students would relate to what we were reading in the narrative and discussing in class. These pulled excerpts would either support opinions in the group or provide a different perspective in order to add variety and depth to the discussion. I think this process would provide for a rich discussion and development of opinions on such a controversial yet important topic. The goal is to allow students to develop their own opinions of gun control and violence in American society through discussion with their peers on these texts.


Week 10,Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart

Week 10, Taking Aim: Power and Pain, Teens and Guns edited by Michael Cart

Cart, M. (2015). Taking aim: Power and pain, teens and guns. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers.

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This book is a collection of stories that essentially explores the relationship and impact of teens and guns in American society. From a love story gone wrong to the tragedy of a school shooting, this book provides an enlightening look into the idea of guns in our society and their (sometimes) unintended consequences.

Keywords: guns; American society; tragedy; love; accidents

What I Think:


I enjoyed this collection of stories. I think it provides a variety of unique perspectives on such a controversial issue as gun control. Because this book has so many different stories with multiple themes flowing throughout, it is a great way for teens to connect and witness many different people who have different perspectives. Giving teens this opportunity allows them to discover their own beliefs and thoughts about the topic.

I specifically liked this book because it often provides a challenge to those with specific ideas. It is almost as if the book is challenging the audience to rethink what they know and believe about gun violence and positions on guns. For example, “there’s some kind of unwritten rule that, if you love the environment, you have to hate guns” (Cart, 2015, p. 103). This is a bold statement that is supported by the context of one of the short stories. However, the story challenges the reader to deeply think about whether he or she aligns with these beliefs. This challenge could be good for a young developing teen as they are just beginning to create opinions and beliefs of their own.

What the Experts Think:

This short story collection explores one of our America’s most hot-button issues: guns. A brief introduction by the editor and a prologue by Marc Aronson, Will Weaver, and Chris Crutcher prime readers for the stories to come, which span the numerous ways that guns affect teen lives across the country, in both urban and rural settings. Gregory Galloway writes of teens on a backwoods hunting trip contemplating shooting each other for the stories it’ll allow them to tell. Alex Flinn follows a girl embarrassed by her dad’s gunnut friend, until the zombie apocalypse makes her rethink things. Francesca Lia Block shows an elementary teacher faced with a reptile expert unexpectedly wielding a gun. In a wordless comic, Eric Shanower provides an interpretation of what goes wrong when Eros trades in his bow and arrow for more powerful, modern weaponry. As a collection, this anthology functions less as an evaluation of whether guns are good or bad but, rather, as an incisive glimpse at how guns function, both symbolically and literally, in contemporary society. Sobering and thought-provoking. -Jennifer Barnes

Barnes, Jennifer. 2015. Taking aim: Power and pain, teens and guns. The Booklist111, (21) (07): 60
Classroom Recommendations:

Although this book could be used in its entirety in the classroom, I would probably pull specific stories with plots and themes related to discussion. I would want to incorporate this book within a larger study of gun violence in American culture. Instead, I would use more of a narrative chapter book that fully develops its characters to truly relate and connect with the students. Then, in class, I would bring in excerpts from Taking Aim that related to what we were reading in the narrative and discussing in class. These pulled excerpts would either support opinions in the group or provide a different perspective in order to add variety and depth to the discussion. I think this process would provide for a rich discussion and development of opinions on such a controversial yet important topic.

Week 8, Ash by Malinda Lo

Week 8, Ash by Malinda Lo

Lo, M. (2009). Ash. New York: Little, Brown and Co.


Reading with a sleepy puppy!


Ash, the main character, has just suffered through her father’s death and is left to fend for herself with her cruel and violent stepmother. To heal her grief, Ash spends her time rereading fairy tales her mother once told her. One day, Ash meets a dangerous fairy named Sidhean, who can grant wishes for a price. Next thing Ash knows, she meets another impactful soul Kaisa, the King’s Huntress who begins to change Ash’s heart. Eventually, she must make a choice. Who and what will she choose? Her fairy tale dream or the possibility of true love?

Keywords: fairies; huntress; fairy tales; true love; Cinderella

What I Think:


I very much enjoyed this retold fairy tale for a two different reasons. First of all, I can always appreciate and enjoy a plot or story that is familiar to me, especially if it is familiar from childhood. This book, Ash, has many similarities to the classic version of the fairy tale, Cinderella. For example, both stories have a character who is truly an evil stepmother. similarity of characters to cinderella. “The candlelight beneath Lady Isobel’s face made her look like a monster. Her lip curled in anger and she said, ‘You have been absent all day and you expect no punishment? Come her!'” (Lo, 2009, p. 70). This is said directly before Ash is shoved into a dark cellar to be alone in the cold for the night.

I also enjoyed this retold fairy tale because it included twists and turns that the original or traditional version of Cinderella  did not include. For example, Ash does not have a fairy godmother like in Cinderella  but rather a dark fairy named Sidhean. This fairy does not grant Ash wishes just to be kind and helpful, yet has his own agenda. This is confirmed when Ash inquires if there is a price to pay for her wish to be granted and Sidhean responds, “There is a price for everything, Aisling” (p. 162). This makes the decision Ash has to make even more intense knowing that, in return, Ash will belong to Sidhean. This intensity attracted me to the book and kept my attention so that I finished it quickly!

What the Experts Think:

An unexpected reimagining of the Cinderella tale, exquisite and pristine, unfolding deliberately. Aisling—Ash—knows the fairy stories and lore told her by her now-dead mother, but she does not know if she believes them. When her father dies and her stepmother and stepsisters move her away from the Wood to the City, she finds herself returning to her mother’s grave, where she meets the fairy Sidhean. Ash barely notes her harsh treatment at the hands of her stepfamily, as she both longs for and fears her glimpses of Sidhean. He longs for her, too, in ways she is slow to understand. Ash also is slow to see Kaisa, the King’s Huntress, as the source of her own desire. When she does, Ash turns to Sidhean to make it possible for her to spend time with Kaisa, despite the price Ash knows she will have to pay. Ash and Kaisa’s dance at the King’s Ball is a wild and gorgeous moment, no less so than the night Ash must spend in Sidhean’s Wood. Beautiful language magically wrought; beautiful storytelling magically told. (Fantasy. 12 & up)

Little, B. (2009). Ash. Kirkus Reviews.
Classroom Recommendations:

In order to use retold fairy tales to engage readers, I would first inquire about if Cinderella was a fairy tales the readers were exposed to. I would want to determine if this fairy tale would be of interest to the students to revisit and reconnect with from their childhoods.  Next, I would allow the students to read a short, picture book version of the fairy tale to refresh their memories about the fairy tale. Additional activities could also be implemented to remind the students of the fairy tale, like sequencing or retelling. Finally, I would engage the students in the book, Ash, while guiding the reader to compare and contrast this story to the picture book version read. I find that analyzing the similarities and differences between the classic and retold fairy tales can be engaging to discover. Finally, after reading Ash and comparing it to the picture book version, I would allow the students to watch the movie version and add this to the comparison of the other versions. I think it would be interesting both for the student as well as for myself to discover the similarities and differences between all of these different versions of the same story!

Week 7, Feed by M.T. Anderson

WEEK 7, Feed by M.T. Anderson

Anderson, M. T. (2002). Feed [CD]. Cambridge, MA: Candlewick Press.

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Finishing the last few chapters actually reading and not listening! Phew!


In this strange, disturbing, futuristic world you will find teenagers following the typical stereotype – traveling to the moon to party on spring break, disrespecting adults, and even becoming consumed and essentially brainwashed by the commercial advertisements constantly playing on the feed.  It is almost haunting as a reader to follow the characters in their boring day to day lives which are consumed by the feed telling them what to do, buy and eat. One day, a particularly rebellious and unique teen, Violet, winds up in some serious trouble as her feed shuts down and malfunctions with nobody willing to fix it. Why does this society not want a unique teen like Violet?  Follow along as this dreary dreadful world gets turned on its side.

Keywords: advertisements; implants; lesions; futuristic; friendship

What I Think:

This is another book that I decided to listen to instead of read because I knew I would have to spend a lot of time in the car driving for this week. Although this might have been a coincidence, I was definitely glad I made the decision to listen instead of read. One of the reasons I feel this way is because of the format of the book. At the end of many of the chapters are some weird excepts that appear to be advertisements. For example, there is an advertisement for a radio station, hit song, and restaurant (Lo, 2009, p. 15). These advertisements are meant to show exactly what the characters in the book experience through their implanted feeds that basically take over their lives. I felt that reading these ads would not have given me the same great experience as I had listening to them. By hearing the ads, I could actually experience how the feed would feel and sound as a character in the book, instead of just reading and imagining what it would be like. This allowed me to relate better with the characters. However, regardless if a person reads or listens to the book, the advertisements give the book a unique and interesting structure.

One reason that I did not enjoy listening to this book was because of the person reading the different characters’ voices. There was only one reader, a man, attempting to do all voices in the book. However, when a girl was speaking, this reader sounded almost a bit offensive, like a silly valley girl. Although this is not related to the actual text or content of the book, it was simply an observation and one downside to the audio version of such a great book.

What the Experts Think:

In this strange, disturbing future world, teens travel to the moon for spring break, live in stacked-up neighborhoods with artificial blue sky, and are bombarded by a constant advertising and media blitz through their feeds. They live with a barrage of greed and superficiality, which only one teen, Violet, tries to fight. Intrigued by Violet’s uniqueness, Titus begins a relationship with her in spite of his peers’ objections. Yet even he cannot sustain the friendship as her feed malfunctions and she begins to shut down. “They” refuse to repair her feed because she is too perceptive and rebellious. This didactic, also very disturbing book plays on every negative teen stereotype. The young people are bored unthinking pawns of commercialism, speaking only in obnoxious slang, ignoring or disrespecting the few adults around. The future is vapid and without direction. Yet many teens will feel a haunting familiarity about this future universe. As a cautionary tale, the story works; it is less successful as YA literature. — Frances Bradburn

Bradburn, F. (2002). Feed. The Booklist, 240.
Classroom Recommendations:

In the classroom, I would use this book to talk about dystopian societies and how they might come about. Many great discussions could be prompted by this book. Additionally, I would have my students create an advertisement that they think might appear on the characters’ feeds. This could be an advertisement that would make sense in the context of the book or even an advertisement for the characters to actually read the book, Feed. The students could be creative with this assignment while also having to know about the book to create an accurate advertisement. Students could choose to use a video, podcast, digital story or other form of media for their advertisement on the feed. After creating these advertisements, the students could share these with their peers!