Monster: Walter Dean Myer

Monster

Author: Walter Dean Myers

Publisher: HarperCollins World

Year of Publication: 1999

Personal Comments:

  • My favorite parts of the books are Steve’s journal entries, which allow readers to depart from the formal, matter-of-fact language of the script to get a glimpse into Steve’s feelings.  The first entry of his notebook (p. 1-5) was particularly hard to read.  At sixteen, most boys feel tough and like nothing can defeat them, and are great at masking their emotions.  Steve is presumably tougher than most boys, since he’s hung out on the streets of Harlem, with some rough, shady characters.  It’s hard to imagine what kind of conditions he experienced in jail that would cause him to shed his macho exterior and reduce him to a sniffling, little boy.  It’s sad to think that even when he’s that scared, he has to figure out when’s the best time to cry, so as not to draw attention to himself.

    I like how the journal entries also reveal his struggle with identity, how a few months in jail have made him doubt who he was:

    • “When I look into the [mirror], I see a face looking back at me but I don’t recognize it.  It doesn’t look like me” (p. 1).
    • He writes in another entry, dated July 8, “I want to look like a good person.  I want to feel like I’m a good person because I believe I am.  But being in here with these guys makes it hard to think about yourself as being different” (p. 62).
    • A day later, he observes that Miss O’Brien doesn’t really see him.  “Who was Steve Harmon?” he writes.  “I wanted to open my shirt and tell her to look into my heart to see who I really was….  I know that in my heart I’m not a bad person.”
    • Even after the trial is finished and he is acquitted, he is unsure of himself.  “That is why I take the films of myself.  I want to know who I am.  I want to look at myself a thousand times to look for one true image.  What did [Miss O’Brien] see that caused her to turn away?  What did she see?” (p. 281)

    The other thing the journal entries revealed were his close relationship with his family, which humanizes him and adds to his childlike qualities.  I love the scene where he and his brother Jerry talked about being superheroes, and Jerry said Steve should be Batman, so he could be Robin (p. 58).  It’s sweet that Jerry so unabashedly looks up to his older brother, and the friendly shove from Steve only goes to show his obvious love for Jerry.  The scenes where Steve’s parents visit him in jail are almost unbearable, especially the one where Steve realizes his father might also start to doubt him and see him as a monster (p. 116).

  • Monster was actually the first book I read this term, a couple of weeks before classes started.  One scene stopped my reading right on the tracks, kept me awake for a couple of nights, and still haunts me two months later.  As powerful as this book is, this scene defined the entire story for me.  On page 73:

    CUT TO: Weird shot of INTERIOR: DEATH ROW.  STEVE is seen walking down the hallway between two guards.  He is brought into the death chamber.  The guards are pale, almost greenish.  They lay STEVE on the table for the lethal injection and strap him down.

    CU of STEVE’s face.  He is terrified.

                VO (as camera focuses on STEVE’s face)

    Open your legs; we have to plug up your butt so you don’t mess yourself as you die.

    STEVE’s face grimaces with pain as they put in the plug.

    I can hardly type this scene without tearing up.  In one sentence (the voiceover), Steve is completely dehumanized.  I think about the sheer terror…what if he were my child…that he is someone’s child…that someone’s child/brother is put to death like this, reduced to nothing but something that could mess up the cot and cause extra clean-up…a nuisance.  And yet, this is a life.  I was never one to take a stance for or against capital punishment – I’ve always just thought it’s not up to me to decide about someone’s life – but this one sentence really rattled me.  I don’t know if I’d want even the worst criminals to face what Steve faces….

    The book also reminds me of the unfair treatment of black youths and racial profiling…as Steve wrote in his notes at one point, “What did I do?  What did I do?  Anybody can walk into a drugstore and look around.  Is that what I’m on trial for?  I didn’t do nothing!  I didn’t do nothing!” (p. 115)  It’s painful to think about the vicious cycle inner-city kids are stuck in.

  • This book will most likely appeal to teenage boys exclusively, particularly those who are interested in crime/murder fiction, even though the book is about much more than that.  It makes a powerful read for both African-American and non-African-American students, and offers an insightful look into our judicial system, our own prejudices, and the fragility of self-identity.  Because the book is written in script form as well as journal entries and lower reading level, it can be read quickly and  appeal to reluctant/struggling readers.  Though the courtroom scenes are matter-of-fact, some of Steve’s descriptions of life in jail might be too upsetting for younger readers.  For that reason, I would recommend this book for older middle-schoolers and up.

Awards, Honors, Prizes, Best Lists:

Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Excellence in Children’s Literature, 1999 Honor Book Fiction United States
Coretta Scott King Book Award, 2000 Honor Book Author United States
Edgar Allan Poe Award, 2000 Nominee Best Young Adult Novel United States
Isinglass Teen Read Award, 2003 Winner New Hampshire
Kentucky Bluegrass Award, 2002 Winner Grades 9-12 Kentucky
Los Angeles Times Book Prize, 1999 Finalist Young Adult Fiction United States
Michael L. Printz Award, 2000 Winner United States
Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 13th Edition, 2002 ; National Council of Teachers of English
Best Children’s Books of the Year, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education
Booklist Editors’ Choice: Books for Youth, 1999 ; American Library Association
Books for You: An Annotated Booklist for Senior High, Fourteenth Edition, 2001 ; National Council of Teachers of English
Books in the Middle: Outstanding Books, 1999 ; Voice of Youth Advocates
Bulletin Blue Ribbons, 1999 ; Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
Capitol Choices, 1999 ; The Capitol Choices Committee
Children’s Literature Choice List, 2000 ; Children’s Literature
Horn Book Fanfare, 1999 ; Horn Book
Lasting Connections, 1999 ; American Library Association
Lasting Connections, 1999 ; Book Links
Middle And Junior High School Library Catalog, Eighth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson
Middle and Junior High School Library Catalog, Ninth Edition, 2005 ; H.W. Wilson
Not Just for Children Anymore!, 2000 ; Children’s Book Council
Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media, 1999 ; Parent’s Guide to Children’s Media, Inc.
Publishers Weekly Book Review Stars, April 1999 ; Cahners
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education
Senior High Core Collection, Seventeenth Edition, 2007 ; The H. W. Wilson Co.
Senior High School Library Catalog, Supplement to the Fifteenth Edition, 2000 ; H.W. Wilson
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2000 ; American Library Association
YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers, 2000 ; American Library Association

Accessed at: Personal Library

Thank You, Mr. Falker: Patricia Polacco

Thank You, Mr. Falker

Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Philomel
Publication Year: 1998
Brief Summary: An autobiographical story about Polacco’s struggles with reading and how one teacher in 5th grade helped her overcome her problem.

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

ABC Children’s Booksellers Choices Award, 1999 Winner Picture Books United States
Emphasis on Reading: A Children’s Choice Book Award Program, 2000 Winner Grades 3-5 Alabama
Keystone to Reading Book Award, 2000 Winner Primary Pennsylvania
Parents’ Choice Award, 1998 Gold Story Books United States
Rhode Island Children’s Book Award, 2000 Winner Rhode Island
South Carolina Children’s Book Award, 2002 Winner South Carolina
Storytelling World Award, 1999 Honor Book Stories for Pre-Adolescent Listeners United States
Adventuring with Books: A Booklist for PreK-Grade 6, 12th Edition, 1999 ; National Council of Teachers of English
Best Children’s Books of the Year, 1999 ; Bank Street College of Education
Children’s Book Sense 76 Picks, Fall 2001 ; Book Sense 76
Children’s Catalog, Eighteenth Edition, 2001 ; H.W. Wilson
Children’s Catalog, Nineteenth Edition, 2006 ; H.W. Wilson
Dealing with Alienation, 2000 ; Bank Street College of Education
Educators’ Top 100 Children’s Books, 2007 ; NEA Survey
Los Angeles’ 100 Best Books, 1998 ; IRA Children’s Literature and Reading SIG and the Los Angeles Unified School District
Notable Children’s Books in the Language Arts, 1999 ; NCTE Children’s Literature Assembly
Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, 1999 ; National Council for the Social Studies NCSS
Recommended Literature: Kindergarten through Grade Twelve, 2002 ; California Department of Education
Teachers’ Choices, 1999 ; International Reading Association

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library and/or brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core, etc.:

  • Discuss bullying…how does the bullying make Tricia feel?
  • Discuss different learning disabilities
  • Discuss traits such as hard work and perseverance.  How does Mr. Falker finally help Tricia over come her problem?  What are some things (academically or socially) that you struggle with and what are some ways you can keep from losing hope?  How does Tricia’s story help you?  How can she inspire you or someone who’s struggling to keep trying?

Special features included (if applicable) — index; timeline; author’s notes; further reading; etc.  

Accessed at: Signal Mountain Library

Lightship: Brian Floca

Lightship 

Author/Illustrator: Brian Floca
Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Year: 2007
Brief Summary: Learn about lightships, which serve as lighthouses where they cannot be built, guiding sailors safely through bad weather.

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library and/or brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core, etc.:

  • Discuss lightships — what are they and what purpose do they serve?  How are they similar/different from other ships?
  • Discuss various roles different sailors play on the ship.  Is anyone more important than another?  Talk about how even the seemingly insignificant roles are important…relate to how even though everyone’s different, we all play an important part in our community.

Special features included (if applicable) — index; timeline; author’s notes; further reading; etc.  Author’s notes in the back with more information about lightships.  A picture of lightship with labelled parts on the end-papers.

Accessed at: Capilano Library

Mr. Lincoln’s Way: Patricia Polacco

Mr. Lincoln’s Way

Author/Illustrator: Patricia Polacco
Publisher: Philomel
Publication Year: 2001
Brief Summary:  Mr. Lincoln, “the coolest principal in the whole world,” helps a school bully, Eugene, change his behavior and learn the importance of celebrating one another’s differences.

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library and/or brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core, etc.:

  • Discuss bullying…how does bullying make the kids feel?  Why do you think Eugene bullies?
  • Discuss intolerance/racism.  What did Eugene’s grandfather believe?  How does this differ from what his father believe?  How do their beliefs affect what Eugene thinks?
  • Eugene “almost” refers to Mr. Lincoln using the N-word…  Teachers might want to figure out ahead of time how to approach this touchy subject.  Children might ask about it, what it means, etc.
  • How does Mr. Lincoln finally reach Eugene?  What did Eugene learn at the end of the story?

Special features included (if applicable) — index; timeline; author’s notes; further reading; etc.  

Accessed at: Capilano Library

Life in the Ocean: Claire A. Nivola

Life in the Ocean: The Story of Oceanographer Sylvia Earle 

Author/Illustrator: Claire A. Nivola

Publisher: Frances Foster Books, Farrar Straus Giroux
Publication Year: 2012
Brief Summary:  The story of Sylvia Earle’s childhood love for adventure and how her curiosity led her to a life of ocean exploration and environmentalism.
Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library and/or brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core, etc.:

  • Science: What does an oceanographer do?
  • Why do you think Sylvia wants everyone to spend at least one day in deep ocean?
  • What are some ways humans are affecting the ocean?  What are some ways the ocean can become damaged, and what can we do to help?  Have students make posters with key facts and ways we can help.
  • What are some other ways we damage the environment?  What can we do to change this?
  • Discuss some of Sylvia’s accomplishments and make a timeline.

Special features included (if applicable) — index; timeline; author’s notes; further reading; etc.  Extended author’s note and bibliography in the back.

Accessed at: Capilano Library

Electric Ben: Robert Byrd

Electric Ben: the Amazing Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin

Author/Illustrator: Robert Byrd
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Year: 2012
Brief Summary: Byrd’s beautiful and colorful illustrations and detailed text take readers through the life and times of Benjamin Franklin.
Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library and/or brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core, etc.:

  • Discuss some of the quotes found on the endpapers of the book.  Older students can pick one and write a short essay about it, or write a fable based on it.
  • Discuss the life of Benjamin Franklin and some of the important facts in the book.  Have students pick 10 events from the timeline that particularly stood out.
  • Pair with more traditional informational books on Ben Franklin.  Which appeals more to the students?
  • Good for older readers.

Special features included (if applicable) — index; timeline; author’s notes; further reading; etc. 

Accessed at: Capilano Library

Coolies: Yin

 

Coolies

Author: Yin
Illustrator: Chris Soentpiet
Publisher: Philomel Books
Publication Year: 2001
Brief Summary: A little boy listens to the story of his ancestors, who were part of the Chinese work force that helped build the transcontinental railroad.

Awards, Honors and Prizes:

Ideas for using this book in classroom or library and/or brief notes on curriculum connections/content learning standards/Common Core, etc.:

  • Social studies: history of how the transcontinental railroad is built.  Who were the other immigrants used for the railroad building project?  Why do you think immigrants were the ones used?
  • Discuss the term “coolies”…what does it mean?  Why do you think it might be a derogatory/racist term to use?  How do you think the Chinese workers felt when they were called that?
  • Discuss the unfair treatment of workers back then.  Why do you think Chinese workers were paid less to work more?  How did the Americans judge them? (by their small stature)
  • Discuss Chinese culture.
  • Discuss immigration.  Do you know which culture your family might have descended from (most Americans come from immigrant families)?  How might the immigrant experience today differ from that of a long time ago?

Special features included (if applicable) — index; timeline; author’s notes; further reading; etc.  

Accessed at: Thrasher Elementary Library