A #coverflip Experiment with High School Freshmen

Today in class the freshmen read Maureen Johnson’s awesome essay, “The Gender Coverup“, wherein she takes a look at gendered book covers and calls to task those who think there are  “boy” books and “girl” books.

“I don’t care,” say some other people. Probably most of the people. Because a lot of people don’t read much or see why any of this affects their lives. But I believe it does affect us all, very much so, because these are all subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) value judgments on what kind of narratives matter.

“But!” some of those people who are still paying attention cry. “Boys don’t like to/can’t read about girls!”

“&^%$@,” say I.

Of course they can, and stop making their choices for them or telling them what they do or don’t want to do. This may be a big part of the problem.

I see this issue every day as a teacher.  I saw it in 6th grade and I see it with my high schoolers.  I’ll booktalk a fabulous book and the cover will influence students to read it or not read it.  I have plenty of male students who, as avid booktalkers of Thirteen Reasons Why  would love Before I Fall, but avoid it because of the cover. They deem it “feminine” and say that they will be made fun of.  A problem in and of itself, obviously, but we need to stop placing gender labels on books, too.

The conversations that stemmed from the article were fabulous.  I eavesdropped as students argued over whether girls are more willing to read broadly while boys stick to certain topics.  I watched as they analyzed the covers of the books on their desks.  And I hid a smile as they vehemently argued over whether the covers of YA novels fit gender stereotypes.  Plus, it led to a great analysis of the many editions of our current class novel, Things Fall Apart.  The students noted similarities between how Achebe’s characters were presented on some covers and how those in the Western world view(ed) Nigeria (and Africa as a whole).   Could this English teacher be any happier?

After reading the article and viewing the slideshow, I challenged my students to try #coverflip.  In groups, they decided on a book that they felt had a cover that appealed more to one gender than necessary.  Then, they searched for Creative Commons images that they could use to create a new cover.  In photoshop, they designed their new book cover with either a more neutral cover or one that appealed to gender stereotypes.  Take a look at what they came up with!

Holes

 

 

a wrinkle in time

 

 

WAR HORSE

 

 

eragon

 

 

 

Twilight Flipped Cover

 

 

 

????????????????????

 

 

 

400_F_13225159_5BT7QKgJEodkZX5q2k5uB9MUcTJjIxND

 

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-09 at 9.53.46 AM

 

 

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trafficked

 

 

 

CoverFlip_Patel_Donahue

 

fahrenheit 451

 

 

 

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coverflipet

 

uglies

 

 

 

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PJ Book Cover

 

 

 

the hunger games

 

 

1984

 

 

 

The Fault in Our Stars

 

 

 

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So impressed with what these students came up with in only 40 minutes!  And I have to admit, some of these #coverflip books really make me think.  What about you?

As a lover of books, I dream of a day when there are no “boy” or “girl” assumptions when it comes to audience.  After discussing it with my students, I think they will be the ones to make it happen.  For the most part, they see no reason why the narrator or characters should influence  the gender of a perceived audience.  You hate romance and love action?  Great!  Doesn’t matter if you are male or female.  You love character-driven stories with romance and can’t deal with gore?  Awesome!  Who cares if you are a girl or a guy?  An appealing cover should show some aspect of the story and the audience will find it, as my students said.  Marketers can’t always predict who will buy a book (data isn’t perfect, they pointed out!) so why not appeal to the broadest audience possible?

I love my students. :)

 

 

*students- if you don’t see your cover here, it’s because I didn’t get it!  Tweet or email it to me and I”ll update this post!

 

 

World Literature That High School Students Actually Want to Read- Share a Story, Shape a Future 2012

I teach World Literature and I love the responsibility of introducing my students to literature from across time and across the world.  Along with the canon literature that I am required to cover, I try to bring in as much multicultural YA as I can, through booktalks, book trailers, displays, and read-alouds.  Over the past year I have been compiling a list of books that have caught the attention of my students and I am excited to share them today. This is by no means a complete list, as I focus on the areas of the world that my curriculum centers on.

Multicultural YA for Discerning Teen Reader

Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood by Jame Richards

This marking period my seniors are focusing on environmental and engineering disasters.  We just read Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People and our next book is David McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood. When I received a review copy of Jame Richards’ Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood over the summer, I knew I would want to read it closer to when we were focusing on the Johnstown Flood disaster.  Over the holiday weekend I finished the book and I can not wait to share it with my seniors.  I plan to make it our read-aloud this marking period because it will be such a great companion piece for McCullough’s book, especially as Richards was inspired by McCullough’s book to write Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood.

Told in verse, from five different perspectives, Three Rivers Rising: A Novel of the Johnstown Flood does not overly focus on the disaster itself.  Instead, it takes the history and helps the reader imagine what life was like for the people who experienced the dam burst and subsequent flood.  For the most part, the reader follows Celestia, an upper-class girl who falls in love with a local boy, Peter.  Maura is a young mother struggling to raise four children while her husband, Joseph, works on the railroad. Her struggle to escape the deluge with her children is awe-inspiring and tear-inducing. I really liked Kate, a tough nurse (who has lost her childhood love to drowin),  who meets up with all the other characters at some point and even saves their lives.  The verse captures each characters emotions perfectly and the varied perspectives allow the reader to see the disaster from different viewpoints.

The Johnstown flood killed 2200 people, but I have never read any YA historical fiction about this horrible engineering disaster.  However, I also think this historical fiction novel will appeal to readers who shy away from historical fiction, because it is light on facts and heavy on story.  The events of the flood are woven into the fabric of the characters’ lives and you never feel like you are reading a historical account.  Instead, you feel like you know each character and are just hearing their story.  Teens and MG readers will readily point out the similarities to Hurricane Katrina (unidentified bodies, sickness spreading, the flood itself, the upper-class reaction) and Three Rivers Rising would be a fabulous read aloud or literature circle book.  I imagine that the conversations that would stem from this book would be stellar.  I plan to find out when I begin reading it with my seniors tomorrow!

*review copy courtesy of publisher

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

I absolutely loved this book. It is a smart, funny, witty novel full of dry humor, wordplay, and characters who refuse to just be. Rather than give you a summary, I think the flap jacket sums this one up nicely:

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 14:
Debate Club.
Her father’s “bunny rabbit.”
A mildly geeky girl attending a highly competitive boarding school.

Frankie Landau-Banks at age 15:
A knockout figure.
A sharp tongue.
A chip on her shoulder.
And a gorgeous new senior boyfriend: the supremely goofy, word-obsessed Matthew Livingston.

Frankie Laundau-Banks.
No longer the kind of girl to take “no” for an answer.
Especially when “no” means she’s excluded from her boyfriend’s all-male secret society.
Not when her ex boyfriend shows up in the strangest of places.
Not when she knows she’s smarter than any of them.
When she knows Matthew’s lying to her.
And when there are so many, many pranks to be done.

Frankie Landau-Banks, at age 16:
Possibly a criminal mastermind.

This is the story of how she got that way.

In The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, Frankie isn’t sure who she is. Is she a geek? A nerd? Her fear is that she is invisible. You know, one of those teens who doesn’t stand out, who just isn’t noticed. She has always been “Bunny Rabbit” at home, babied by her mother and father. At school, she was the little sister of cool and collected Zada. Now that Zada has graduated from their tony boarding school, Frankie finds herself floundering. On top of that, she has suddenly blossomed and become a curvy and dare she say it, hot, young woman. Beginning school, she discovers she is no longer invisible. In fact, Matthew Livingston, the popular senior, takes a sudden interest in her. She falls easily into his pack of friends, and indeed seems to be dating the group as much as she is dating Matthew. However, things change when she discovers her boyfriend is member of the Loyal Order of the Basset Hounds, a historic secret society on campus. A secret society she can never be a part of because she is a girl. A secret society that takes precedence over her in her and Matt’s relationship. She realizes that Matthew might just be more interested in her body than in her mind and ambitions. When she begins to take control of the Loyal Order from the outside, and controlling their every move, she relishes the power she suddenly wields.

Don’t be fooled- this isn’t a silly, fluffy love story. Frankie is a smart heroine, one who has quickly risen to the top of my favorite characters list. The best part of all is that Frankie is proud to be smart. She isn’t one of those girls who hides her intelligence. She refuses to be just the girlfriend while the boys have all the fun.

Definitely a must-read…..I already have a list of my higher readers who would benefit from spending a little time with Frankie.

The Luxe

Pretty girls in pretty dresses,870E1FD4-C2DB-40AB-A12E-E478CC963DB0.jpg
partying until dawn.

Irresistible boys with mischievous smiles
and dangerous intentions.

White lies, dark secrets,
and scandalous hookups.

This is Manhattan, 1899….

When I saw the buzz about The Luxe hitting the blogosphere a few months ago, I immediately added it to my list of “must-reads”. Novels about the gilded age, or set in Victorian settings, have been some of my recent favorites. I also loved the Gossip Girl series and the TV show is appointment tv for me. The Luxe seemed like a perfect combination of these two. After getting a few giftcards for Christmas, Anna Godbersen’s book was #1 on my list.

First of all, how gorgeous is this cover? Despite the fact that one couldn’t even move in a dress like that, I want it! Where can I get a dress like that? If that dress evokes similar feelings in you, I am sure you will enjoy this debut novel from Anna Godbersen.

The Luxe is the story of rich, spoiled teenagers living in Manhattan. The twist? It’s 1899. The main characters are Elizabeth Holland- prim, proper, beautiful, and the eldest of the Holland clan (and hiding a secret romance with a boy below her class); Diana Holland- fun, silly, romantic, and everything her older sister is not; Penelope Hayes- rich, snotty, and full of new money…a mean girl for the ages; and Lina- the Holland girls’ maid servant with ambitions of her own. The chapters alternate from one girl to the next, with each chapter beginning with a primary document. For those familiar with the Gossip Girl series, instead of beginning chapters with emails and text messages, Godberson begins each chapter with a ball invitation, society gossip column, or correspondence. From blind items in the gossip pages to scandalous notes sent from one character to another, the primary documents are essential to the book’s plot.

It took me a few chapters to really get into this book. However, once I did I was swept into the world of balls, carriage rides, and Sunday visiting hours. While not overly heavy with historical facts, there is enough history thrown in to appease most readers. Mentions of Gramercy Park, Admiral Dewey, and the corruption that ran rampant in NYC politics at the time serve as a subtle backdrop for the scandalous lives of the main characters. I do wish the setting played a bigger part in the story. At times, it felt like the setting was merely background and the story could have been taking place anywhere, at anytime. Godbersen has an opportunity to really make NYC an important character, if you will, and I hope she takes advantage of that.

I did especially enjoy the almost circular ending. I finished the book very late last night, and immediately reread the first chapter. All of a sudden, so much more made sense. The first chapter serves as a great lead to pull you into the book, as you question exactly what is happening. It also serves as a great ending, so make sure you do reread it after finishing the book! My opinions on the characters also changed as the book went on. Godbersen slowly made each character seem more human as the plot unfolded, and characters that I hated as first began to seem more human.

This is a very fun book. The next book, in what is sure to be a 3-4 volume series, is due out in June, according to Amazon. I will definitely read the sequel, just to see what happens to these characters! Plus, I can’t wait to see what the next cover looks like- this book definitely wins the Cover of the Year award for YA!

Books I Want to Read

I find that I am constantly adding to my list of “must-read books”. It’s all the kidlitosphere’s fault, I tell you! Everyday I read new reviews of books that I suddenly have to read. On the one hand, I wonder how I ever found books before blogging. On the other hand, I now know why I am so poor. :) With the holidays coming up, I will continue to be poor, but I can still wish (and make wishlists)!

Here are the latest additions to my list of books I must, must, must read as soon as humanly possible. ;)

The Luxe: I admit it, I was a huge fan of the Gossip Girls series a few years ago. Now, I am utterly addicted to the TV show. Yes, it seems a little trashy, but we all need a break sometimes. The Luxe has been reviewed sporadically around the kidlitosphere (it is a YA title), and I am already in love with it! This is at the top of my list.

Letters from Rapunzel: I love reading stories that rework our favorite fairy tales. I also love authors who know that kids can read books about intense issues. Letters from Rapunzel takes two of my favorites and places them in one book. I need to get my hands on this one!

Sweethearts: Sara Zarr. Need I say more?

The Adoration of Jenna Fox: Mary Pearson is a fellow blogger, and I have been lurking on her blog lately. I love the blurb for this book and can’t wait to read it.

The Declaration I saw this book on the shelf at Barnes and Noble last week, and the cover immediately caught my eye. Then, I read the inside cover to discover that it is a science-fiction/dystopian novel (one of my favorites). I definitely need this book!

Faeries of Dreamdark: Blackbringer (Faeries of Dreamdark): Ok, ok! Every blog I read calls this one of the best books of the year. I need to read it so that I can make that judgement myself. :)

The Host: A Novel: I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Meyer’s “Twilight” series. Love it. It is one of my biggest guilty pleasures. I am very interested in seeing what Meyer’s first adult novel is like. I heard that ARCs are finally making their way out into the world…..

I should probably stop there. I have too many books on my wishlist. And it only grows bigger everyday!

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