Saturday, February 28, 2015

Many Many Books

Here is the latest on what we're reading in class, both together and on our own (sort of).

Together, we recently finished Louise Erdrich's Tracks, a novel that, like Helen Oyeyemi's Icarus Girl, with which we began the year, falls generally into the genre of magical realism. Toward the end of our reading of Tracks, I looked it up on the interwebs to see what critics said about it. The experts identified the same themes our kids did: the unreliability of testimony and memory, embodied in Erdrich's book by the two very different narrators, Nanapush and Pauline; the power and ways of the trickster in assorted aboriginal cultures, realized in Tracks by the clever and charismatic Nanapush; the intermingling of magic with history--woven into the lives of the hardscrabble Anishinaabe people in the person of Fleur, protagonist and heroine of Tracks, who was compared by many of our readers to the strange, powerful and ultimately more malevolent TillyTilly, Oyeyemi's Yoruba antiheroine.

Whew! That was some deep magic. Now we're reading some significantly lighter fare: The Martian, a story about an astronaut who is abandoned on Mars with a month's worth of food, no way to communicate with Earth, and nearly no hope of rescue.

That doesn't sound like any fun, but it is! Andy Weir's 2014 novel has made a big splash, and it deserves this recognition for its verisimilitude, propulsive plot, and jovial, ingenious, and dauntless hero, Mark Watney. Weir first published the book a chapter at a time on his blog--then on Amazon for 99 cents, because readers asked him to and Amazon wouldn't put it up for free; a few thousand readers later, Weir had a publishing deal and a movie deal within a week. Not bad.

The kids are loving The Martian. Nearly half of them have taken it upon themselves to read ahead and finish the book, and have, as always, done an exemplary job of keeping spoilers to themselves.

The many many books of the title refer to our second round of seven, this time arranged around the theme of American immigration:

Code Talkers, Joseph Bruchac
House on Mango Street, Sandra Cisneros
Narrative of a Life, Frederick Douglass
Witness, Karen Hesse
Monster, Walter Dean Myers
When the Emperor Was Divine, Julie Otsuka
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith

As in the Topia Books series in the fall, this series is circulating amongst the fourteen students in pairs. When a student finishes the assigned book, he or she then moves on to one of the other six, then another, and another. We will be pursuing an exploration of American history with these books as touchstones, beginning with Crevecoeur, Paine, and Jefferson to answer the ticklish question What is an American? and carrying that topic through to Ferguson, Staten Island, and other most pressing events of this past year.

The next round of Exhibitions, scheduled for late April, will comprise projects on the theme of Transformation--another interpretation of the schoolwide theme of Magic--and will be inspired, in part, by this series of books.

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