Reading with Ms. Holmes: Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals

At various points throughout the last couple of weeks, Ms. Holmes said things like:

Nothing happens in this book. 

The segregationists do mean and nasty things to prevent Melba from going to school and then she does go to school and they do slightly different mean and nasty things to her.

“Melba goes to school and gets beat up” is what happens in practically every single chapter.

She goes to school, goes to a news conference, and then does the whole thing over and over and over again.

It’s like she took her diary entries and put every single thing that happened in them into the memoir.

Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattillo Beals has so much potential. A memoir? Meet those Common Core Non-fiction requirements! A female author? Excellent. Writing about her year as a member of the Little Rock Nine integrating Central High School? Relevant, difficult, important content about history and identity and difference! An eighth-grade accessible reading level? Amazing. Even the first two chapters, which describe her life pre-integration, making particularly clear the way segregation affected her adults’ opportunities and self-worth, suggest that this is going to be a tour de force aimed at the middle school crowd. Furthermore, Beals handles early instances of violence in the memoir with pitch perfect tone: she conveys that the danger is very very real, without exaggeration or melodramatics. Continue reading

Reading with Ms. Holmes: Miracle Worker by William Gibson

Ms. Holmes is my dear friend and currently an 8th grade English teacher at a public school in New Jersey. Reading with Ms. Holmes is an occasional series in which I write about my experience reading along with her students (and keeping up with the homework too!) in addition to my own thoughts on the book itself.

Miracle Worker is a play about Helen Keller – which, admittedly, doesn’t sound like a promising start for an excellent middle school English text. Helen Keller has largely become a figurine, a means for adults to expound on certain virtues to children. “Perseverance is key to success,” many an elementary school teacher proclaims. “Look at how much Helen Keller was able to accomplish and she was blind and deaf! Look how many challenges she overcame!”

But how did she overcome? On this, they are silent. Enter William Gibson’s Miracle Worker, a play which shows the story of how Helen learned to sign, thanks to the persistence of her tutor, Annie Sullivan. As a result, the play presents a challenge to middle schoolers in both style and content, but that challenge is achievable (the best kind) and Ms. Holmes’ students were making sophisticated comments about characters and their development by the end of their unit. Continue reading

Reading with Ms. Holmes: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton

Ms. Holmes is my dear friend and currently an 8th grade English teacher at a public school in New Jersey. Reading with Ms. Holmes is an occasional series in which I write about my experience reading along with her actual students (and keeping up with the homework too!) in addition to my own thoughts on the book itself.

Have you seen those lists of the most common books read in American high schools? Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Great Gatsby were likely at the top of the list. I’m not here to suggest these aren’t worthy, but rather add a book to the list: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton, which should be on middle school curricula everywhere.

Ponyboy is a greaser. He’s not part of a gang, precisely, but a group of young men from the “bad” part of town who look out for each other. The greasers have an ongoing spat with the Socs, the rich boys from the other side of town, who pick on them. When Ponyboy and Johnny get into trouble with the Socs – big trouble – their situation reveals friendships and loyalties, the heart of the novel. Continue reading