Monthly Archives: October, 2012

TQ Review: Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Review: Perfect by Ellen Hopkins

Title: Perfect
Author: Ellen Hopkins
Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry Books
Publication Date: 2011

Good Reads Synopsis

This is another Ellen Hopkins YA novel. If I see an Ellen Hopkins book, especially one I haven’t read, I grab it and read it immediately. Ever since I first read Crank, I have been hooked. I love Hopkins’ books because:

  • they are written in verse form
  • they are so poignantly real
  • the characters are fully developed, yet elusive enough for us to fill in with our own background knowledge
  • the themes are ones we all struggle with, or know someone who struggles with it
  • they are thought provoking

I have not yet read all of Hopkins’ novels, but she is one I return to time and time again. My oldest daughter has read them all, since beginning with Crank when it was first published. I read Crank, because she recommended it. And the gritty reality of life with addiction and what it does to those surrounded by it made me yearn for more understanding. I picked up Perfect because it was suggested for a lower level reading student (it’s funny how something with such powerful themes and concepts can be deemed “lower level” because of things like sentence length–which is always short in a verse novel–and how many syllables the words have–but that’s a completely different post!). The student in question did not want to read it, which I think was a good choice, because the themes and concepts written in verse form would have proven difficult for this student. Perfect is a follow up to Conner’s story in Impulse (which I have not yet read, but didn’t seem to get in the way of my reading it).

So, I read it instead. It took me the better part of a semester–because I only read it during the Independent Reading time I use in my classroom, so fifteen minutes here and there added up eventually! I finished it and wished there was more.

Four seemingly independent story lines begin to tell the story and struggle each one faces in the search for a perfect version of themselves, which does not exist. Cara, Andre, Sean, and Kendra each have separate lives, but they intertwine through a variety of relationships. These four characters struggle through some very emotional and adult themes and ideas.

The themes and ideas covered include:

  • Perfection
  • Homosexuality
  • Eating Disorders
  • Use of drugs to enhance athletic performance
  • Suicide
  • Identity formation
  • Following one’s dreams when they conflict with others around you
  • Rape (touched on)
  • Drugs and alcohol use as a coping mechanism

What Hopkins does so well is develop the characters and have them tell their stories. These characters quickly take on a persona we can all identify with, or at least can consider identifying with. Her words for these characters flow from poem to poem and instance to instance. Her poems build the story up and interweave to tell, at once, individual and collective stories. I discovered, soon after starting it, that the end of one character’s “chapter” (for lack of a better word) alluded to the beginning of the next character’s “chapter” beginning. After reading the first set of “chapters” for the four characters, I knew I could use Hopkins’ carefully crafted characters as a way to show my students how characters are developed through their actions and interactions with those around them.

Overall, this is another Hopkins winner. She creates perfection driven students and leads them on a journey to self discovery every one of us goes through at some point in our lives.

My Rating

5 stars!

My Recommendations

  • Anyone who loves Ellen Hopkins
  • Anyone who loves novels in verse form
  • Anyone who loves or needs a good book on identity formation
  • Anyone who struggles with the idea of perfection (which doesn’t exist ;)!)

TQ Review: Write Like This

Write Like This: Teaching Real-World Writing Through Modeling & Mentor Texts
Kelly Gallagher
Stenhouse Publishers 2011
ISBN 978-1-57110-896-8

“Writing has become foundational to finding meaningful employment across much of the workforce.” pg 3

7 out of 10 students leave school

“…without the necessary skills to actively participate in either civic life or in the global economy” pg 5

Why I Chose to Read this Book

I read Readicide two summers ago, in the midst of a teaching identity crisis and was working to figure out how to get non-readers to read again. When I received an email from Stenhouse Publishers announcing the release of Write Like This, I knew it would be well worth the read, because I have adopted many of Gallagher’s ideas from Readicide into my classroom.

A Brief Summary

In Write Like This, Gallagher argues two basic premises for teaching students to write:

  1. Why students should write (real-world discourse), and
  2. for teachers to step out of their comfort zone and start writing before, in front of, and with their students, as well as find and use mentor texts to help students learn how to write for authentic audiences.

He argues this thesis by providing research based evidence, as well as, anecdotal observations.

He provides explanations of six pairs of authentic discourses, while stating there are many more than he could possibly mention. The six pairs he chose to focus on as part of what should be in any writing teacher’s classroom are:

  1. Express and Reflect
  2. Inform and Explain
  3. Evaluate and Judge
  4. Inquire and Explore
  5. Analyze and Interpret
  6. Take a Stand/Propose a Solution

He also briefly covers editing and revising, explaining how and why the two of these are very different steps in a writer’s process.

My Take Aways

Gallagher offers up so many examples—both of his own writing, mentor texts, and student writing—you can pick up the book and immediately have ideas to use in your own classroom.

I was already a big fan of “I do, we do, you do” in a classroom and Gallagher makes an even better argument in regards to writing instruction. My favorite (already tried—with varying levels of success) activities include:

  • Six Word Memoirs leading to longer Expressive and Reflexive writing
  • A Mistake that Should Last a Lifetime
  • “So What” Paper
  • Congrats Newly Minted _____ (Inform and Explain, great to teach/reinforce satire)
  • Sometimes You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover
  • the many ideas offered up about college and career writing
  • using mentor texts like written book reviews, columns from major publications, and many more
  • how to take this writing with real world applications and use it for literature (as so many of us teach reading and writing together)—I particularly like his use of the rating scale activity he uses for consumer products and transfers to literature like Animal Farm

Persuasive techniques, expository, narrative, and persuasive forms of writing are all covered, but in a way to encourage real world applications of such writing. His method of teaching grammar is also one I am hoping to incorporate into my classroom this year. I am always looking for ways to incorporate grammar into my classes and his method may be more effective than some I have tried.

Overall

I will read anything of Kelly Gallagher’s. He has not disappointed me yet. He includes real life “combat zone” examples and explanations, which are often more meaningful to me than research based data in the form of numbers and letters. He also writes in an easy to read style, with many metaphors and analogies to help make his ideas make sense. For me, this means he acknowledges, as we should as teachers to our students, his readers are as varied in understanding and knowledge and may need things presented in different ways.

Overall, I give this one a 5 star—any writing teacher, language arts teachers, or teacher in general who wants to incorporate MORE writing into their classroom should pick up this book and find some useful strategies.