Two Books We Should All Read and Discuss

Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper, like R.J. Palacio’s Wonder, is one of those books that everyone needs to read. It is a great book for upper elementary or even early intermediate grade discussions. Kids at that age are beginning to understand injustice, see the good and bad in the world around them, and sense that they will be able to make a difference in it.

This book tells Melody’s story. She is a brilliant eleven year old. In fact, she’s one of the smartest students anyone will ever meet, but she is treated by most teacher’s like a toddler and repeatedly subjected to the same alphabet and nursery rhymes year after year. When you have Cerebral palsy, are unable to speak up for yourself, are stuck in a pink wheelchair, and have very limited control of your limbs, it is hard not to feel like a prisoner in your own body. Fortunately for Melody, she does have Mrs. V. Mrs. V realizes Melody’s abilities and uses technology to allow Melody to truly communicate with others. This opens Melody’s world and enables her engagement with her peers unlike she has ever experienced. It even offers Melody an opportunity to show everyone her intelligence.

Not everyone is comfortable with her newfound voice. My daughter read this book a few months after I. She told me this book made her mad. Hearing that assured me that she understood the book. There are few books out there that can completely change how you think about the world and how you view those around you. This is one of those books.

Stella by Starlight is a great book for book discussion. There are readers who don’t like historical fiction because it seems too far removed from the life they are living now. Closer inspection reveals that the story of the past can offer great insights into the struggles of the present. Stella’s story takes place in North Carolina during 1932. She and her brother JoJo are out in the middle of the night when they stumble across a meeting of cross-burning KKK members. JoJo is confused about the purpose of the men in white hoods, but Stella knows they mean trouble.

This book deals with some of the harsh realities of segregation. Stella and her community are going to have to determine what is worth fighting for and how to fight for those things. There is a great scene in this book where Stella goes with her father so he can register to vote. The scene is affecting and understated, and one of the most moving in the whole book. Discussing this book with kids, it is easy for them to see how unequal segregation was and how terribly people can be treated because of prejudice. That is a great place to transition the conversation into one about bigotry and prejudice in America today.

The great thing about Sharon’s books is that they don’t conclude with pretty resolutions where all the world’s wrongs are put right. Although they are children’s books, they don’t shy away from real world situations. These books allow children to grapple with and discuss issues of substance and give adults a great platform from which to begin these conversations.

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Werewolves of Montpellier

I think I’ve actually come across a book that earns the title Graphic Novel. The vast majority of graphic novels I read are simply the fun, super hero types that, in my mind, are simply bound comics (I realize this distinction may make no sense to anyone else, but it works for me). However, Werewolves of Montpellier, by Jason, feels like a graphic novel. It is a story of a likable, if not exactly confident or industrious, expatriate living in a French city and trying to figure out his life, love, etc… I’ve flipped through others of this type that work to be serious, Maus comes to mind, and Persepolis, but what separates this work from the others is that it is completely charming and not so overly serious as to drown the story or emotion out of the work.

The art is simple and telling. Often the silence, the lack of a caption, says more than any words could. There are a couple scenes where the characters are either looking at each other, or sitting in such tense silence, that the panels really grab you. One scene in particular made me laugh at the reality and absurdity of it, and another, on the last page, was packed with unspoken conversation. As far as actual conversation, some of the dialogue exchanges are really, really good. I would quote them here, but I don’t want to ruin it.

In the end, however, it is the plight, sincerity, and charm of the main character that make this work. I immediately read another of Jason’s other works, The Last Musketeer, and, while I enjoyed it, it didn’t have that special something to make it memorable. That’s when I realized that it was the main character I identified with, and it was that same character that made this book so fun for me. I’m actually having a hard time turning it back in, but that would be a bad librarian thing to do, and I will turn it back in today, or tomorrow…  

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