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Review: Cantero’s “Meddling Kids”

First things first, I recently posted about my love for tea and as much as I hate that the internet monitors my searches, it sure does benefit me from time to time. Pinterest recommended a monthly tea subscription service and I got my first delivery a few weeks ago. I was able to tell them about my aversion to cloves and got a very kind “Welcome!” email from the CEO and the Facebook group community. My first style was an Orange Blossom Black Tea and it is so fragrant and delish! They also have a shop with lots of other varieties (all hand blended without any unwanted, mass market additions) and tons of covet-worthy accessories. I’m in love and already spreading the recommendation far and wide, hither and yon. Very much looking forward to my next delivery in a week or so. I was going to put this at the end, but it’s important to talk about what you love.

 


I recently finished Edgar Cantero’s novel Meddling Kids and, overall, I very much enjoyed it. But it made me think: why must there always be a love interest? Why?!?

From the moment I found out that this novel existed, I was excited to read it. It ticked several of my boxes, being inspired by my childhood obsession (Scooby-Doo and the Gang) and containing elements of the supernatural and true crime. I want to say I first hear about it on a list of books that “will legit scare you;” it did not scare me even remotely, but it was a good mystery/thriller, nonetheless.

1990. The teen detectives once known as the Blyton Summer Detective Club (of Blyton Hills, a small mining town in the Zoinx River Valley in Oregon) are all grown up and haven’t seen each other since their fateful, final case in 1977. Andy, the tomboy, is twenty-five and on the run, wanted in at least two states. Kerri, one-time kid genius and budding biologist, is bartending in New York, working on a serious drinking problem. At least she’s got Tim, an excitable Weimaraner descended from the original canine member of the team. Nate, the horror nerd, has spent the last thirteen years in and out of mental health institutions, and currently resides in an asylum in Arhkam, Massachusetts. The only friend he still sees is Peter, the handsome jock turned movie star. The problem is, Peter’s been dead for years.

The time has come to uncover the source of their nightmares and return to where it all began in 1977. This time, it better not be a man in a mask. The real monsters are waiting.
 

For a while, I was worried that it might risk irritating me, since I was far from casual about my love for Scooby-Doo. Call it what it is: obsession. Sometimes, if things based on beloved originals take too many liberties, it risks offending the sensitive feelings of the fans, especially if formerly innocent teen characters are portrayed as drug-addicted, alcoholic, suicidal, mentally unstable twenty-somethings. However, I went into it knowing it was one person’s interpretation, so if it didn’t parallel my interpretation, or at least entertain me, I could always opt-out.

At times, the supernatural elements got a little eye-roll-inducing. However, it was at least consistent. It didn’t pepper it in there for occasional flavor; it established a supernatural element pretty early and maintained the “wtf is happening”-ness, but it at least had the decency to have the characters acknowledge the oddness of it all. Cantero meshed some characters, so that both of the girls had Daphne elements and both had Velma elements. Fred’s character (they have different names) was dead but still an active participant (hello, supernatural), and Shaggy’s was decidedly un-Shaggy-like throughout. He made the characters his own while still leaving “Easter eggs” of relevance for the die-hard Scooby fans. I’m also a big fan of a mystery that surprises me; I get a little bummed when I figure out the big reveal before-hand. I didn’t see this one coming and it was a nice surprise.

So that just leaves the ill-fitting love story. Why did that have to exist? In no way is it a spoiler for me to reveal that there was something of a lesbian interest constantly bubbling on a back-burner. That was made evident within the first few pages. However, this was one of those rare, end-of-the-world scenarios that was somehow overshadowed by inconsequential arguments and confusing emotions. These “kids” would find out that supernatural beings exist, and they’d put a pin in that in order to get to the more pressing matter of someone unexpectedly saying the l-word. And what’s with the unrealistic depiction of a girl who is loved by and lusted for by every single other character?!? Please. Enough.

I have little patience for jamming a puzzle piece where it doesn’t fit in order to appeal to more readers, and this just felt like pandering. It’s as though Cantero wrote a perfectly love-free novel and his publishers went back and said, “okay, but this won’t appeal to people who like love stories, so we need to force that in somehow.” No, you don’t. Some books appeal to some people but very few (a.k.a. none) appeal to all, so why taint those that truly appeal to one audience by diluting them with essence-of-other-people’s-interests? The love story was uncomfortable and inorganic, and after suffering through it for 300 pages, it wasn’t even resolved in a way that offered a satisfying ending. They have a VERY rocky road ahead of them.

I won’t even go into my thoughts on a thirty-something male writing the perspective of a teen lesbian. I’m going to let that sleeping dog lie.

Anyway, I gave it four stars, since the overall experience was a pleasant one. Worse comes to worst, I can always skim sections that are dripping with unnecessary sappiness. Am I alone in this?

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Why So Sour?

I recently read a book and hated it. I’ve been sour ever since. For weeks now, I’ve been miffed, not only because I didn’t like it, but more so because I expected not only to like it, but to LOVE it (based on my obsession with the other books in the series). Of course, as is my nature, I’m mad at the author, as though he let me down by writing the book against my wishes. That’s absurd, since I’m sure we can all agree that it’s 100% MY FAULT that I went into reading it with certain expectations.

Oh, did I mention that the book is Pierce Brown’s fourth installment in the Red Rising Saga, Iron Gold? Truth be told, I’m still not ready to do a review, mostly because I still don’t know how I feel about it. A play-by-play of my feelings are as follows:

Image result for iron gold


While reading: “Oh my gosh, this is so depressing. Maybe it will get better.” 

Still reading: “Please just let this be over. Must suffer through.”

Upon finishing: “(*throws book across the room*) FINALLY! Get outta muh life!!”

Following day: (*texts disappointments to a fellow-sufferer*)

Days later: (*still thinking about that darned book*)

Still days later: (*typing this*)


 

Usually, when I really hate a book, I put it down and walk away, never wasting another minute’s time thinking about it. However, I clearly can’t shake Iron Gold. I feel like I need to know why I didn’t like it. I can’t even pinpoint whether I owe it to myself, Pierce Brown, or the series as a whole to figure out exactly why I disliked this book.

Even now, I hesitate to say that I “hated” it. The feelings while reading were undoubtedly hatred, though. I genuinely didn’t enjoy a single page, but to say that I hated it feels too strong, too personal, especially considering my utter adoration of Brown’s three other novels. So here I sit, racking my brain in the sake of fairness, trying to isolate the reason why this novel missed the mark, so to speak.

What makes a person hate a book?

  1. Simple Preferences: This can encompass things like genre, POV, format, etc. This is the most frequent reason for me to abandon a text due to dislike. Although I do my best to try various genres (especially ones that might help me recommend books for students with varying interests and preferences), I have very clear preferences of my own. I tend to lean towards Mystery/Horror, Historical Fiction, True Crime, and Sci-Fi, especially “Space Operas.” I do not like romance and I often find realistic fiction and non-fiction to be boring, too much like real life and too little of an escape. If a book falls outside of my standard genre, it is that much more likely to be abandoned due to dislike. Similarly, a lot of people are turned off by a format other than prose. Remember how many people freaked the eff out about Cursed Child being in a screenplay format? If readers get too stuck in our ways, we can easily find anything “abnormal” to be unlikable.
  2. Writing Style: Somewhat less common of a cause for abandonment is a dislike for the author’s “voice,” or writing style. As with the others, this is entirely subjective. I recently read a memoir and simply hated the author’s voice, feeling that the whole memoir was a humble brag. While I found it off-putting, my students related to it and thought it was honest and exciting. Similarly, while students are often overwhelmed by Shakespearean language, I find it to be refreshing, challenging, and illuminating. What causes some great pleasure causes others to run and hide.
  3. Life: Now that I’ve had some time to think back and really force myself to separate my feelings from what I had expected from this novel, I’m realizing that I just was not in the right frame of mind for this novel. As I recently explained in a recent post, I’m navigating some new and uncomfortable life circumstances right now, and my quick solution is to avoid anything that increases my stress. Undoubtedly, this novel added to my stress. I’m far too invested in these characters and this series to not take these changes personally. It’s entirely possible that this novel would be more welcome during a less stressful time in my life. Therefore, I plan to re-read Iron Gold this summer, when I’ll be more removed from the everyday stress of teaching and I can afford to take on the struggles of fictional characters.

In addition to re-reading this summer, I also hope to meet up with my like-minded pal Bekah and record another 5-star episode of SPACE BOOKS! There will be plenty of time to mull over my feelings from this first reading (don’t worry, I’ve recorded them so I don’t forget my initial reactions) and potentially adjust them based on research, discussions, and re-reading.

What I can say, though, is that I also finished reading the Sons of Ares comics. I highly enjoyed them, although I must say that I hate being done with the experience in 5 minutes flat and feeling like the comics left me with more questions than answers. All the same, I’d highly recommend them.

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Ready As I’ll Ever Be: Classroom

A while back, I posted about my budding classroom and the many tools I would need in order to prepare for the beginning of school. Well, that beginning is less than a week away now, so I’ve been slowly but surely “setting up” my classroom so that my focus won’t be compromised during pre-planning, which started this week. Thanks to the kind responses both on here and on my social media pages, I got a ton of great suggestions on ways to streamline the processes in my classroom in order to make my life easier and my students’ educations more effective.

I’m also lucky to have a number of family members and friends who want to contribute to my classroom and, accordingly, to my peace of mind. A big fat THANK YOU goes out to my siblings and their spouses, my in-laws, my parents, and my friends, Savannah and Hannah. Due to their kind contributions, I’m way more prepared and not bankrupt!

 

In addition to my luck at having the most thoughtful and generous friends and family members in the world, I’m also really lucky in that I somehow was given the biggest room on the hall! I have 5 double windows facing east-ish, so I get immense amounts of sunlight and it looks like I won’t have to worry about the overhead fluorescent lights being an issue, since I won’t ever need to use them. Another interesting detail is that the room is a rectangular shape with the majority of the room to the right when you walk in the door; to the left of the door, however, is about 6 or 8 feet of space that isn’t exactly functional in terms of student desk space. I’ll use it for my storage closet and student station, but otherwise, I’m able to spread out! I brought in my bookcase and positioned it next to my desk, which gives me a nice private space that will be all my own.

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Special shout out to the hubs for modeling my desk

Don’t worry, I’m under no delusion that I’ll ever have much time to sit down at my desk, but I’m just a big fan of privacy and personal space. In conjunction with that, the desk provided by the school has a gap at the bottom which would show my ankles (again, just give me some privacy, please) and more importantly, let out valuable heat from my space heater for my little footies. In an effort to come up with a creative solution, I decided to make “book spines” that could serve double-duty while also looking fly and relevant.

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I know what you’re thinking; yes, they’re awesome and yes, that’s a HP pencil holder on my desk. It’s amazing what you can find on Etsy and, as a fellow person-who-tries-to-be-creative-sometimes, I want to support people in their creative endeavors as often as possible. And you should, too. Here is the link for the pencil holder and here is the link for these AMAZING author posters, with which I am certifiably obsessed.

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Tangential to my aforementioned attempts to be creative, here are some pics of the DIYs featured in my classroom!

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These obscenities are the original versions of my lamps. I don’t have a lovely “after” pic, so just scroll back up to the pic of my desk and you’ll see them. I replaced the shades with cute beige/brown specked ones and spray painted the bases with textured gold outdoor spray paint. They remain as “thic” as ever, but now they’re also fierce!

You may have noticed my golden snitch string lights on my bookcase. These took one slow afternoon plus some yellow paint and white construction paper I already had. A.k.a. free.

In summation, I love my family and friends and I’m extremely lucky and totally optimistic. Again, let me know what I’m missing and wish me luck!!

 

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Love This? Try This! – “Romeo and Juliet” Graphic Novel

r&j

It’s been a hot minute since I did one of these! But then again, it’s also been a while since I read something that so strongly reflected its predecessors or inspirations. I mentioned in a previous post that I’ve read another graphic novel by Gareth Hinds while teaching Homer’s The Odyssey; similarly, I know I have to teach Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet this year (*eye roll*), so I got Hinds’ graphic novel version to see if I can find a way to incorporate it.

Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches — including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all-consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together? In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page.

First things first, if you love the classic tale of literature’s most famous star-crossed lovers, this adaptation does the original story justice. The language remains the same, so you’re not getting a “cheat sheet,” per se; however, in this format, you have the visual advantage of being able to see the characters and conversations, see who is speaking and to whom they are speaking. I really can’t say enough about having visuals, especially for stories that have elevated language that might confuse current-day readers. Having that visual assistance can only aid in understanding the plot.

Another advantage (in my opinion) of this format is that the content must be condensed so, thankfully, many of the pointless, rambling monologues are cut out entirely or reduced to only the parts that drive the story. To me, those moments where the Nurse would go off on a tangent never added to the story and instead only added to the level of student confusion. I’m thrilled that those are omitted and, honestly, wish I could teach with this graphic novel as the primary text. This adaptation includes everything that is pivotal to understanding the plot and social references. For those who are only reading this out of obligation and not by choice, this version would serve just as well as the original.

The most obvious difference between this graphic novel and the classic play is that the character families are portrayed as minority groups; the Capulets are Indian and the Montagues are Black. Hinds makes it clear that the choice to portray them as such is not pointed in regards to either culture and simply exists in order to show that the story is “universal” in its popularity and influence. Whether it was the goal or not, portraying the families in this way also makes it easier to determine which characters are Capulets vs. Montagues. Instead of just having a bunch of white people fighting and not knowing whose side each is on, for better or for worse, the difference in ethnicity helps readers understand sides. However, potentially also unknowingly, this gives the impression that the family feuds could relate to cultural differences, when such is not likely to be true in the original play.

My mission is to find a way to incorporate this graphic novel into our reading of the classic play as much as possible. If you remember my efforts with The Odyssey and Nimona, I have faced trouble with giving students access to the text. However, those attempts were at a school that did not have one-to-one capabilities, which I will have this year, so it is possible to give students access to an electronic copy. I’m going to go with that and see where it takes me.

In addition to the graphic novel, there are numerous film adaptations of the play. I was kindly gifted a copy of Luhrmann’s “Romeo + Juliet,” featuring my boyfriend Leo. There are also other versions, like “Romeo Must Die,” “Gnomeo and Juliet,” and “West Side Story.” I also have several songs that would be great for lyric analysis in regards to this play. I’m excited to teach it, in spite of the fact that Juliet and Romeo are as irritating as the day is long.

 

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Reviews Aplenty: “Dark Matter,” “Y: The Last Man,” and “The Winter of Our Discontent”

Remember my summer reading plans? Remember how those plans were derailed? Well, they weren’t thrown off entirely, since I was able to squeeze in several texts of my own choosing, one of which was even on my original summer reading list!

“Are you happy with your life?”

Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious.

Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits.

Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”

In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

Is it this world or the other that’s the dream? And even if the home he remembers is real, how can Jason possibly make it back to the family he loves? The answers lie in a journey more wondrous and horrifying than anything he could’ve imagined—one that will force him to confront the darkest parts of himself even as he battles a terrifying, seemingly unbeatable foe.

I finished this one a while ago and didn’t feel inclined to blog about it because I really had very little to say. This was partly because I felt a bit confused at times and that often overshadowed the excitement. It should come as no surprise that particle physics isn’t within my comfort zone; Neil deGrasse Tyson’s Astrophysics for People in a Hurry has been on my nightstand for at least a month, since I read the first 5 pages and got a headache. I’m not ashamed to admit that thinking of that level is far over my head. However, although Crouch’s narrator, Jason, is clearly a genius, he has conversations with people who are not, giving the reader the opportunity to catch up on the situation. Anyone who has read The Martian and felt sorely inadequate at maths will sympathize and, sadly, I don’t think Crouch’s attempts to make the subject matter relatable and simplified is as effortless as Weir’s.

However, I thought the idea was quite original and I wasn’t so lost that I was unable to enjoy the story. I know people who were unresolved with the ending and, I must admit that I was slightly peeved, since it was left so open-ended that it felt a bit like a cop-out. But alas, by now, it comes as more of a surprise when an author does give a satisfying ending than when s/he puts all the effort into the rising action, conflicts, and climax. I’m not pleased, but I’m not surprised, either.

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“Y” is none other than unemployed escape artist Yorick Brown (his father was a Shakespeare buff), and he’s seemingly the only male human left alive after a mysterious plague kills all Y-chromosome carriers on earth. But why are he and his faithful companion, the often testy male monkey Ampersand, still alive? He sets out to find the answer (and his girlfriend), while running from angry female Republicans (now running the government), Amazon wannabes that include his own sister (seemingly brainwashed), and other threats.

Not really sure what to say about this one. It managed to be feminist and anti-feminist at the same time; it was empowering, at times, and extremely discouraging at others. It was fun to read for a teacher of English, since the main character has an English degree and the story contains tons of references that might only be relevant or funny to those with similar interests. The illustrations are amazing and detailed, so this graphic novel would be a huge success even if only based on the images. The story itself is unique and intriguing, so I enjoyed reading it, but this is volume 1 of 10; I’m not that invested. I will not pursue the series further, but that is mostly because 10 volumes is just too much of a commitment for this lazy person. I also won’t keep it in my classroom, as long as I’m teaching 9th grade, at least. There is a great deal of mature language and the subject matter itself could be too much for some audiences. It’s too risky to keep it within reach of all, but some mature students could really enjoy it.

Ethan Allen Hawley, the protagonist of the novel, works as a clerk in a grocery store that his family once owned. With the decline in their status, his wife is restless & his teenage children are hungry for the tantalizing material comforts he cannot provide. Then one day, in a moment of moral crisis, Ethan decides to take a holiday from his own scrupulous standards.

My grandmother gave me her copy of this text and I haven’t read enough Steinbeck, so I decided to tackle this one this summer. I had forgotten how long-winded the classics can be. There were entire pages describing the street upon which the main character lived. I could’ve done with a bit more conciseness and a lot more action, but I can’t say that I disliked it. It was slow and a lot of things that seemed like pointless conversations or comments ended up proving meaningful in the end. However, I hate to have to get to the end of a book before I realize that what I read was purposeful instead of ramblings. I may have been steeped in YA for too long, since I used to be all classics all the time, but this one just seemed dull and pointless until the very end. Ain’t nobody got time for that. I do, however, feel as though it is a good representation of small town life, especially in the 1960s. Life in a small town isn’t always (or even often) exciting, as I know all too well, so it is highly likely that the lack of plot twists is meant to reflect a mundane life. I had no trouble seeing why Steinbeck is considered a great author of the American experience, but kids just won’t buy into this. No intentions to teach this.

I’m currently reading Waking Gods, which is the second book in the Themis Files series. My review of the first book is here and I hope to finish the second one soon. I need something awesome!

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Poll: Classroom Must-Haves

This week I went to sign my contract for my new job and fulfill some county training. While I did totally pay attention and no one can claim otherwise, I will admit that my brain was constantly thinking of items that I need to get for my classroom. While we were instructed about the hazards of overloading and outlets, I noted that I need like four power strips. While being told to be cautious about securing cleaning solutions out of student reach, I jotted down a desperate need for an endless supply of Clorox wipes.

It made me think about all the many things I may not realize that I need. Whether these are things for a brand new classroom that I’ll need to stock to levels of functioning, or if they’re just secret tools of the trade which are known only to seasoned veterans, I need to know about them! So let’s think about what all I know I need and then I can “poll the audience” to see what I’m missing!

The Bare Necessities

Let’s talk logistics. My classroom is a rectangle of four walls (obvs), but they’re made of plaster (god only knows why), which poses a problem in terms of being allowed to hang things. The “front” wall has the smart board and two white boards plus some empty wall space on either end, the “back” wall is all windows, and the two small walls are empty space. I’m restricted to painter’s tape should I want to hang anything, so I need that. Each of the four walls has one outlet station (with two or four outlets each, I forget). That’s right. ONE outlet spot per wall. So obviously, power strips are a necessity in the highest. Also, I’ll have 5 classes with at least 32 students in each, so I’ll see over 150 kids every day. This means clorox wipes, kleenex, hand sanitizer, and all other germ deterrents are mucho necessito. I’m fortunate in that my school will provide most basic classroom supplies (pencils, paper, index cards, post-its, etc.), but one thing I consider to be a basic necessity, which isn’t usually provided by the school, is a set of anchor charts with sticky adhesive on each page. They’re like giant post-its and are as versatile as their smaller counterparts. NEED!!

Personal Necessities

I am cold-natured. I get cold easily and often. The blessed thing about schools is that they keep the temperature low in order to deter the spreading of diseases, a courtesy for which I am most grateful. However, that means that I am FREAKING COLD for at least 40 hours a week, a fact which I cannot abide. Long story short: I need a space heater for my little tootsies. Similarly, I like a warm drink in the morning as my good-for-you-for-getting-up-so-early reward. Thus, I need a(nother) candle warmer (I already have one but it must stay home for my weekend tea). Has anyone else realized that those things keep your drink at the perfect temperature?!?! Lastly, I simply must have plants in my classroom. Back in the dark ages when I worked as an accountant, my cubicle resembled Fern Gully in the best possible way and I intend to continue that trend in my classroom. Must have Pothos!!

Personal “Luxuries”

I am going to try to avoid fluorescent lights. Thus, I need some good cheap lamps. I found a couple at Goodwill yesterday and they were bulbous and baby pink with dusty, gross shades, but they were $5 each so I got them and bought some new shades and spray paint. They’re in the midst of a renovation. I’m also looking for cheap, comfy chairs so that I can include some alternative seating options in the classroom. Now, this is year one so I’m not going balls-to-the-walls by making everything about my classroom an “alternative option,” but I would like to go ahead and start a collection so I can incorporate it slowly over time. I’m also way into book talks, so I got some small book easels on Amazon so I can feature new or relevant books each week.

I spent the past few days obsessing over my classroom library. I realized that the time off that I have now will be a thing of the past in a few short weeks, so I need to get done as many things as possible so that my transition into the classroom is fluid. Thus, I took down all my books (totaling over 150 at this point, and always growing), entered each ISBN into my Classroom Booksource account, stamped each with the embosser Hannah gave me, wrote my name on the top of each book, listed each (categorized by genre) on a master Google Doc., made colored genre labels, and put the corresponding colored sticker on each book. If it isn’t clear, this took days to complete and it messed up my living room, but with the hubby away, the wifey will organize/label/categorize/inventory. That’s the old saying, right?

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So, here is my question to you: what am I missing? What did I forget or overlook? Maybe you’re a teacher and you see a glaring error in my preparation. Or perhaps you aren’t a teacher, but you remember something a teacher has done that stuck out in your memory. Did you play games that made your learning fun? Was there one poster that captured your attention? Or maybe on the other end of things, was there something that was highly distracting or discouraging for you, the student? Any insights won’t just help me, they’ll help my students! Thanks and looking forward to what everyone has to say!

 

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Re-reading Things Because I Must: “The Odyssey”

I had the opportunity to teach [excerpts of] The Odyssey to two separate classes this past school year, so I had plenty of opportunities to experiment with secondary sources and supplemental texts. One text I want to go right ahead and endorse is Gareth Hinds’s graphic novel of the epic poem. It can be difficult to teach from a text when you don’t have one-to-one copies for all students, so I could only scan the chapters we read and project them as we read along with the poem. It wasn’t ideal, but it often helps striving readers to have visuals (besides the 90’s movie we watched), and it’s just a more modern medium. I adore this adaptation!

As with the previous units, I focused on an overall idea or theme, this time being “heroes;” the texts and discussions included in the unit led students to question the traits and actions that typically lead to the title of “hero,” as well as challenge whether someone can still be a hero if s/he occasionally acts in ways that go against those traits/actions. Odysseus is a perfect character upon which to focus these questions, since he is generally considered one of literature’s great heroes, but also does a great many things that challenge that title.

My main goal in this unit was to present the students with materials and questions that would force them to practice looking at events and actions through various perspectives and determine whether that perspective change affects heroic status. As with all my units, I want this to make sense on a literary level (obviously), but I also want it to make sense in the everyday lives of my students. I want them to practice seeing things from various perspectives. I want them to understand how those perspectives lead people to have different opinions of who is heroic and who is not. We live in difficult times. The more we equip the future generations to be compassionate, understanding individuals, the better our chances of creating a society in which we all treat each others with kindness and respect, and one way to gain respect for others is by making the effort to see his/her perspective.

savI challenged the students to begin by attempting to assume how the perspectives might have varied between the Greeks and the Trojans during the Trojan Horse episode, as a bit of background. To Greeks, it was a witty and brave action to infiltrate the walls and capture the city, thereby winning the war. To Trojans, though, the same actions look more like being tricked and massacred by an invading army. Similarly, students challenged Odysseus’ actions on the isle of the Cyclopes and his interactions with Polyphemus. Using a chart, students recorded the moments in which Odysseus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage, as well as when Polyphemus acted civilized vs. when he acted savage. The result was that both parties were clearly to blame for the death of Odysseus’ men and the delay in his return to Ithaca.

circeWe continued the challenge on perspective by pairing modern works with the ancient poem. Margaret Atwood is a pioneer of feminist perspective and often writes accounts of historical stories from the point of view of a minor character. After completing Book 10 and discussing Odysseus’ account of his time spent with Circe, we read and excerpt of Atwood’s “Circe/Mud Poems,” in which we get an interpretation of Circe’s negative opinion on Odysseus’ year-long visit. Students spent time reflecting on how this perspective conflicted with Odysseus’ account and in what ways the change in perspective affected Odysseus’ status as a hero in this particular Book.

pennyOur final perspective challenge was that of Odysseus’ wife, Penelope. Since women’s points of view were rarely included in ancient texts, Atwood takes the liberty to give voice to the voiceless, daring to reveal that Penelope might not be as chill about Odysseus’ 20-year absence and multiple affairs as Odysseus would have us believe. Since The Penelopiad is a full-sized novel, I gave students a handout containing the intro (from a dead and pissed Penelope) and first chorus (from the maids Odysseus slaughtered for “befriending” the suitors), and were again given time to reflect on how these perspectives challenge Odysseus’ account and his status as a hero.

Unsurprisingly, these brilliant students picked right up on the fact that the point of view was pivotal to heroic status. Most students finished the unit with powerful and passionate opinions on Odysseus’ heroic status, opinions which they argued and defended in final persuasive essays. We ended the unit by re-addressing the status of “hero,” as well as by briefly analyzing two antiheroes (Sir Ballaster Blackheart from the graphic novel Nimona and Dr. Horrible from “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog”) who often act more heroically than the heroes they fight. Going forward, if I get the chance to teach The Odyssey again, I’d love to spend more time with each of these, really digging into why the heroes in these accounts fail to to actually be as heroic as the “villains,” as well as what that means and how it applies to real life.

I truly hope that I get to teach The Odyssey again. As old as it is, I have no doubt that this unit was the most interesting and the most relevant for my students. I’d love to hear what others have done to teach it, or just what anyone thinks might help make it more meaningful and fun for 9th graders!

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