It’s me!

How seeing themselves in books can help students read better

Hamilton was released on Disney+ just in time for Independence Day. In light of recent events, I know alot of people did not think year was a good year to celebrate Independence Day. I disagreed.

In fact, events like Hamilton are THE reason why Independence Day should still be celebrated during tumultuous times in our country. Alexander Hamilton was an orphan from the Caribbean who became one of the founding fathers of the U.S. Hundreds of years later, my White dad and Asian mom brought me to this country. Mixed couples like my parents who tried to get married a few decades earlier were thrown in jail. That is why I celebrated Independence Day this year.

After Hamilton was released for streaming, a video of a young girl seeing Phillipa Soo portray Eliza Hamilton went viral. “It’s me!” the girl exclaimed. The little girl was Asian and excitedly recognized her face in Soo’s face, just as I, a 39-year-old-woman, did.

Growing up, seeing someone like me on tv or in books usually just meant looking for the character who was good in school or, if I was lucky, the girl with brown hair. Thinking on it now, it’s interesting because my school was about 50% White and 50% Hispanic and Black (I was one of two Asian kids in the school). Fourth through sixth grades switched to primarily hispanic because we bussed in kids from a smaller and poorer school who were all hispanic. So, even though I went to school with mixed cultures, most of the kids still flocked to the books entrenched in White culture. There were only two books in the library that featured Asian culture at all, but I still identified more with the Black faces on books than I did with all the White faces.

As I got older, I loved fantasy books and mystery, but they usually featured White boys (Chronicles of Prydain, My Father’s Dragon, Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher among my favorites). I loved my Baby-Sitters Club books because there was an actual Asian girl in there. Later, the books featured a Black baby-sitter too. Two characters of color out of eight total doesn’t seem like much, but it was in the 1980s. It always seemed like the girls in school were divided by the Sweet Valley High fans and the Baby-Sitters Club fans. There was no way that I could identify with the pale skin, blond hair, and blue eyes, much less twins at a well-off school.

Last year, I taught first grade at a school with primarily low-income Hispanic students. My class mostly picked picture books that were related to popular characters – Pokemon, Disney Princesses, etc. My higher kids really liked series books like Dog Man and Pete the Cat. The most popular pop culture characters in my class were Sonic, Mario, and Pennywise (!) among the boys and Elsa, JoJo Siwa, and any fuzzy animal among the girls. Because their own picks did not seem to reflect their own heritage, my teacher team made sure to provide classroom reading books with diverse characters. We actively added topics and images of students in our lessons who looked like our students. One of the reading objectives was for students to find how they could relate to characters and events in stories. Truly, how could a student of color living in Section 8 housing identify with a story where a White kid’s White parents have two cars and live in a two-story house with more rooms and bathrooms than people?

As a book lover and teacher, maybe I am biased about the power of books. Even so, I honestly believe that one of the best things you can do for your children is surround them with books about a variety of subjects and characters. This year, I will be teaching third grade. The diverse library of books I have for first graders needs to be updated so that my new third grade class can see themselves in the books. If they can see themselves in the characters and relate to the stories, then they are more likely to be interested in the books and want to read more.

With that in mind, I created a Donors Choose project because I cannot afford to buy all of the books for a new class library. Texas schools will be opening in person in August and my students will already be stressed about our new rules and having to come back to school after five months at home. While we try to deal with the ever-changing landscape that the Coronavirus forces us into, I want my students to be comforted by familiar things like books. When the virus gets bad enough and we all have to return to remote learning, I want to be able to send books home to any student who does not have internet access or limited access to technology and/or parental help. These students and parents are struggling and trying their best in a difficult situation. For many of my students last year, the couple of books they took with them were the only books they had to read at home.

If you are able to, please donate to my Donors Choose project and spread the word! If you add the code LIFTOFF, donations up to $50 will be matched for the next seven days! If you have any other suggestions about what I can do in my classroom to encourage an environment of inclusion or to help my students when we switch to distance learning, please let me know. I am open to anything that will help my students learn or ease the stress that they and their families face during these confusing times.

Random Saturdays – Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

FULL DISCLOSURE – Jack and I are blogging buddies.  He gave me an advanced review copy of his eBook, but did not pay me or beat me into the agreement to review the book.  He requested only that I read the book and give an honest opinion of it during the week of its release.  I agreed because I wanted to read the book before everyone else.  Suckers!

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise will be released on Tuesday, October 20th.  This is the third book in a series written by my buddy, Jack Flacco.  I will say right now that this book made me cry.

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

Ranger Martin and the Search for Paradise

From reading the previous books, I’m fond of Ranger and his rag tag group of kids.  I call them kids, but by the third book, even Jon, the youngest, has lost all traces of childhood.  I guess you have to grow up pretty quickly during the Zombie Apocalypse.  I wouldn’t know, having never been through one and intending to kill myself immediately upon hearing of at least five dead people who are eating living people.

In this book, Ranger and his crew hear about a place called Paradise where he and the kids might finally be able to live in a world without 24 x 7 adrenaline battles.  Could it be too good to be true?  Before they could figure that out, they’d have to get to Paradise, and travelling anywhere in the Zombie Apocalypse is a trying task.  They meet new people and run into old allies along the way.

As with the others, the book starts out in media res, so it’s hard to get a grip on what’s going on at first.  I assume that’s intended by the author to make the reader as disoriented as the characters must be.    When Ranger’s group stumbles upon another group, they seem to grow close quickly.  There’s a reason, but it was still a bit too quick for me.  It felt like that part of the movie where you see something happen quickly with one line as an explanation and you yell at the screen, “Oh, the book goes into it much more than that!”  Moving through the story, there are some flashbacks that explain a bit more of Ranger’s past than before, which was nice.  Although, I’m not sure that it moved the story forward much at this point.  When the group decides to set out for Paradise, the real action starts.  Jack excels at, “Woo!  That was close!  Oh crap, it’s not over yet?!?!” moments.  It’s quite a battle to get to Paradise, but when I saw how many pages were left before the group could get into Paradise, I knew that I wouldn’t be enjoying a peaceful ending any time soon.

If you like your endings tied up in a pretty package, then you will hate the end of this book.  Initially, I was mad, wondering if there were going to be more books even though this was supposed to be a trilogy.  Then, I let it settle in and came to accept the ending as fitting to the zombie genre in general.  Good zombie books and movies do not have pretty endings.  They always leave you with questions and they always leave you wanting more.  For Ranger Martin and his group of adolescent comrades, it would be unfitting to have the group live happily ever after.  Overall, I’m pleased with the series and this was a pretty exciting read.

I will admit that there are some misspellings and poor grammar sprinkled throughout the book.  Jack wrote and published the book himself, so it’s hard to get everything as sparkling clean as expensive publishing houses require.  Even then, a certain red-headed wizard in a very well-known book series was referred to by the name of the actor who played him in the movie, rather than the book character’s name.  I have read some other self-published works that were just too painful to slog through at all, no matter how much I wanted to like the book or how free the book was.  If’ you’re unsure, go ahead and read the first chapter on Jack’s site.  Then, buy the book.  It’s a relatively quick and easy read that will keep you engaged and excited.  I’m grateful that Jack gave me the opportunity to read and review the book in advance.  I’m still waiting to see how he tackles leprechauns and unicorns, though.

Pimp It Friday – Ranger Martin and The Alien Invasion

FULL DISCLOSURE – Jack and I are blogging buddies.  He gave me an advanced review copy of his eBook, but did not pay me or beat me into the agreement to review the book.  He requested only that I read the book and give an honest opinion of it during the week of its release.  I agreed because, hey, I wanted to read the book before everyone else.  Duh.

Since I am not currently the voracious reader that I once was, I have not gotten around to reading Jack Flacco‘s first book, Ranger Martin and The Zombie Apocalypse.  It’s on my Amazon Wishlist, but I’m slooooooowly working my way through a stack of books on my bookshelf right now and have not made it to any new Wishlist items yet.  Having read the sequel to Zombie Apocalypse, I now need to go back and read the first one.

Ranger Martin and the Zombie Apocalypse

As a fan of Jack’s blog, I was curious about his literary style and how it would carry over to fiction.  Turns out, his blogging style is quite different from his fictional writing style, which is a good thing.  Having not read the first book, I wasn’t quite sure what was going on at the start of this one.  The action was so quick, that I got into the moment, though.  After a few chapters, I kind of picked up the vibe of the characters and assumed some history between some of them.  I think the story could have used a page or two summarizing the history between the characters the way many series do, but there was enough action that I didn’t really worry about knowing the characters very well until I already got to know them.

Reading the story actually reminded me of a [do not click on the following link if you do not like spoilers] post that Jack had awhile back.  I’m not sure if the post provided the idea for this book or if this was Jack’s sneaky way of feeling out his readers’ thoughts on his writing subject beforehand.  Either way, Ranger Martin and The Alien Invasion is an exciting read.  The story picks up where Zombie Apocalypse left off – right in the middle of a zombie mob attacking Ranger Martin.  Ranger, Randy, Matty, Jon, and others continue to battle zombie filth while uncovering an alien invasion that is set to wipe out mankind, or rather, have us wipe out ourselves.

It’s hard to tell who to root for and who the real enemies are in the story.  As soon as you pick a side, that side either dies or does something that you  find morally questionable.  When you decide that you don’t like a character, that character shows a hint of a redeemable quality that makes you wonder from where the character’s motives really stem.  Then again, life isn’t black and white.  So, I can’t imagine that zombie apocalypses and alien invasions would make things any easier.  In general, you do get a sense of good vs bad, but I like that the characters aren’t completely flat.  Part of that is due to the age of the main characters.  Imagine figuring out who you are and what your place in the world is when the world is coming to an end.  The forces they are up against are much older, wiser, and more powerful than them in multiple ways.  I really don’t know how I would handle  dealing with some snotty teenager if aliens were taking over the world.

It’s less than 300 pages and the pace of the book makes it a relatively quick read.  This is an excellent book for long flights and long weekends.  The action is steady, the story is fun, and there are some surprising twists to keep readers eager for more.  I look forward to seeing how Jack tackles other subjects like unicorns and leprechauns!

Pimp It Mondays – Vee Hoffman

A few months ago, I found out that one of my very first internet friends published a book last year.  She has since published the second book in that series.  So this Monday, I’m pimping the literary works of Vee Hoffman to you.

Book 1 in the Acclamation series

I met Vee during my first foray into the online email list world, and she later introduced me to the online group that we refer to as RQ — short for Random Questions.  Although I still talk to most of the RoQers (and try to vacation with at least one of them at least once a year), I haven’t talked to Vee in a few years.  In fact, Vee is a newer incarnation of her online persona, and I keep having to correct my typing so that I don’t refer to her as Veronica or Shadow.  Vee is probably a better fitting name for her though since she’s all growed up now and isn’t the goofy early 20s kid that I once knew.

That’s not to say that she isn’t still hilarious, but she’s no longer just dreaming of one day being a published author — she is one now.  Vee is someone who immerses herself in her fictional characters’ minds and the worlds in which they live.  For this reason, she doesn’t write short stories, but instead offers readers a rich world filled with seemingly personal interactions with her characters.  You feel like these characters are real, like the events are real, and you experience everything as if it were happening to you.  The book reviewers seem to agree with me and eagerly share their enthusiasm for the books’ story and characters.  These books are available in Kindle editions, and if you start now, you’ll have time to read the first two books before the next in the series is released.

Pimp It Mondays – Teresa’s Books

Since I’ve been pimping so many books lately, I thought I’d pimp Teresa’s books.  I’ve mentioned her blog on here before, but not her non-blog work.  Below is a list of her work that you can purchase.

1) On the Ground Floor – This is a chapbook containing a handful of short stories.  I own this one and have gifted it to a few friends.  This was my first introduction to Teresa’s fiction-writing and is definitely worth reading.

It might not be your dad or your birthday, but this is good, so don’t throw it on the ground.

2) Crossed Genres Issue #24 (Characters of Color Issue) – 2010 – This issue contains Teresa’s short horror story, “December”, which features a Latina protagonist. It was her first professionally published fiction.  The issue is no longer in print, but you can read the story on the Crossed Genres website.  Though reading the story is free, I encourage you to donate to the site since it’s a completely independent publishing group.

That fish needs to be thrown on the ground.

3) Whedonistas: A Celebration of the Worlds of Joss Whedon By the Women Who Love Them (Mad Norwegian Press, 2011) – I have this one as well.  It’s a must have for any Joss Whedon fan.  I was never able to get into Buffy because I have never really liked Sarah Michelle Gellar, but this book made me think that maybe I should try watching the show again.  Teresa’s essay is entitled “Why Joss is More Important Than His ‘Verse”.

Whedonistas! Our knitted hats are so fun!

4) Chicks Unravel Time: Women Journey Through Every Season of Doctor Who (Mad Norwegian Press, 2012) – This one has “All of Gallfrey’s a Stage: The Doctor in Adolescence”.  I don’t own this book, so I can’t vouch for it personally, but it’s Dr. Who, Mad Norwegian Press, and Teresa;  I can’t imagine that I’d dislike the book.

Best scarves in fandom.

5) Outside In (ATB Publishing, 2012) – More Dr. Who!  Teresa’s essay, “The Interconnectedness of Tibetan and Gallifreyan Cultures. Sort of.” is about the Classic Who story, “Planet of the Spiders.” 

Wooo wooo wooooooo wooo woo woo wooo wooooo…It’s just not as effective typed out for some reason.

6) For anyone who reads Spanish, Teresa recently landed a gig with Al Dia.  Here’s a link to her Shakira article (in English) that wasn’t included in the first link for some reason.

This is the face of the hand whose writing you will read.

7) For those who like to time travel, Teresa is also working on an eight-page comic for the anthology, MONSTROUS, edited by Mariah McCourt.  Mariah McCourt also edited HEROIC, so you know MONSTROUS will be good.  Please follow the MONSTROUS Project blog and check out the final product when it’s available.