Friday, January 21, 2011

Scout, Atticus & Boo

Murphy, Mary McDonagh. Scout, Atticus & Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of To Kill A Mockingbird. New York: Harper Collins, 2010.

Plot Summary
This is not a work of fiction.

My Thoughts
Reading this book made me excited to teach To Kill a Mockingbird this year. I usually teach this novel every other year and this is the year for it. After reading this book, I can't wait to share what I learned from it with my students.

Mary McDonagh Murphy collects people's stories of how this novel made a difference to their lives. She includes notables like Tom Brokaw and Oprah Winfrey as well as journalists and former teachers and others who live or lived in Monroeville that credit Nelle Harper Lee's one published work to creating a change not only for them personally, but for our nation. Was Harper Lee a courageous writer or was she just a great storyteller? Was she trying to advocate for the social injustices she witnessed growing up in Alabama?

The most special treat of the book was including Harper's sister Alice Finch Lee's story. I was delighted to see Mockingbird and the fame and publicity that followed through someone as close to Nelle Harper's sister's eyes. One thing that shocked me was when Alice reveals that "Nelle loves British literature" (Murphy 129).

There is much discussion in this book concerning the movie that followed (with great success) three years after the novel was published. Yes, it is a great movie on its own, but (as in most cases) the book is SO much better!

I enjoyed seeing the novel through the eyes of the myriad of people Murphy interviews. Some you can feel were deeply moved by the novel. There was one person's story, however, that I felt that he was just self-promoting his own writing. That was a bit disappointing. Another interview clearly was from the perspective of a black person living in Monroeville. I'm glad that Murphy included her story.

This book is a great reference book for teaching the novel.

Friday, January 7, 2011

A Break with Charity

Rinaldi, Ann. A Break with Charity: A Story about the Salem Witch Trials. New York: Scholastic, 1992.

Plot Summary
This is another story of the Salem Witch Trials. The plot follows Susanna English's role in the hysteria that surrounded Salem in 1692. Rinaldi combines fact and fiction to create an accessible story about this black mark in American history.

My Thoughts
This was a pretty interesting read about the Salem Witch Trials. Rinaldi uses enough factual evidence to make her story seem plausible and true. As I read, I kept thinking about the movie I show my students entitled "Three Sovereigns for Sarah." There are some additional characters in this book that do not appear in the movie, which I enjoyed reading and seeing the story fleshed out even more. In the author's note section, Rinaldi states that she takes some creative license in making Susanna English a "silent voice" to help the stopping of the hysteria.

I think the author explains with great accuracy with how the calling out of "witches" happens. The girls were bored. They were seeking attention and they got it from the magistrates. The girls were trying to "escape [life in Salem]'s suffocating effects (Rinaldi 73). Finally they were given some power in their dull little worlds. "No one our age ever got such attention before" (Rinaldi 97). Boy, did they use it!

The description of Ann Putnam, Jr. is so vivid. She truly believes she's "doing this town a favor" by naming the troublemakers and outcasts as witches (88). She tells Susanna that the girls are "doing the Lord's work" by accusing witches (Rinaldi 153). Susanna realizes that Ann actually believes the fits and afflictions are real.

I found the title reference on three different pages: 88, 136, and 152.

The irony of the entire situation is, of course, that the magistrates did not see the false testimonies the girls gave. The townspeople thought, "Let this matter be dealt with by learned men" (Rinaldi 111). These "learned" men convicted and hanged 19 people and had one man pressed to death.

The take away advice from this book is from Tituba. She is going to save herself (Rinaldi 118) and tells Susanna, "the secret is to know when to speak and when to remain silent" (Rinaldi 119). I wish that I would heed this advice. I often speak when I shouldn't.

Fall of Giants

Follett, Ken. Fall of Giants: Book One of the Century Trilogy. New York: Dutton, 2010.

Plot Summary
This 985 page novel covers the lives of a few principal characters who represent many interests leading up to The Great War. This novel is part history and part human interest.

My Thoughts
Despite the length of the book, I got so absorbed reading that I didn't stop and take notes. Follett creates memorable characters and it was easy to keep up with their stories even when they were not present in every chapter. As I was reading , I felt like I better understood why World War I happened. Follett explains (at least to me) the significance of certain historical events and just what the ramifications were for the rest of the world. I don't feel like I read a history book; I feel like I read mini biographies.

I appreciate the fact that Follett included global characters and not simply the Allies. We have characters from Russia (which helps me understand just how powerful the Russian Revolution was) and Germany. Events are not isolated. Alliances and deals and unofficial diplomacy all play a part of all or our history. As an American, I am connected to Russia's history (as Follett explains).

I really enjoyed reading this book and will probably pick up the next book in the trilogy. I'm curious if Follett will keep this cast of characters or will he flash forward to another set of people in another time during the century. I'm certain that he will be writing about World War II and I look forward to seeing that war through Follett's lens.