Why I Dropped Everything And Started Teaching Kendrick Lamar’s New Album

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Brian Mooney

When Kendrick Lamar released his sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly (2015), I was in the middle of teaching a unit on Toni Morrison’s novel, The Bluest Eye (1970). My freshmen students were grappling with some big ideas and some really complex language. Framing the unit as an “Anti-Oppression” study, we took special efforts to define and explore the kinds of institutional and internalized racism that manifest in the lives of Morrison’s African-American characters, particularly the 11-year-old Pecola Breedlove and her mother, Pauline. We posed questions about oppression and the media – and after looking at the Dick & Jane primers that serve as precursors to each chapter, considered the influence of a “master narrative” that always privileges whiteness.

Set in the 1940s, the Breedlove family lives in poverty. Their only escape is the silver screen, a place where they idolize the glamorous stars of the film industry. Given the historical context…

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Student art, inspired by our latest novel study

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Maze Runner Costume Day

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My classes have finished the novel, so today is The Maze Rubber theme day: speech presentations & costumes inspired by anything from the novel.

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What I love about my teaching day

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What I love about having some variety in my teaching load: helping an Academic Strategies student with geometry questions.

Strangely, I miss figuring out math problems and the mental gymnastics they put my brain through.

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Dusting off the blog & back-to-work

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It’s been quite a few months since I’ve blogged…any almost two years since I’ve written anything related to teaching and learning.

This week was my first week back-to-work since I disappeared on maternity/parenting leave.

My first few days were definitely exhausting. I blanked-out a few times and rambled until I caught my train of thought again. My voice ran out of steam partway through the days because I’m no longer used to talking this much. My appetite hasn’t quite synced to the scheduled times for break and lunch. I’m not as fast with remembering names. I got lost a few times…which is embarrassing since the building is essentially one big square.

But overall, it’s GREAT to be back in the classroom. I am remembering how much I enjoy presenting stories and ideas to students, and hearing their opinions and interactions.

 

Highlight of the week

Conflict Skits — I’ve been focusing on the literary term of conflict all week. For the final activity, students formed groups and acted out examples of conflict types (person vs. person, p vs. nature, p vs. society, p vs. the unknown, p vs. self).

It was entertaining — there were gorillas, ghosts, paranormal activity, fake-fighting, and various internal monologues being acted out.  Lots of energy and audience participation in guessing which type each group was presenting.

 

 

A Creature of Moonlight by Rebecca Hahn [book review]

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Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Published May 6, 2014

I loved Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, so I thought A Creature of Moonlight would be just as easy to love.

It’s a novel for young teens about a girl named Marni who lives in the woods with her grandfather. The two of them are outcasts, and scrape by making a living growing and selling flowers to nearby villagers and nobles from court. As Marni matures, she eventually feels a strong draw to runaway to the woods, which are a magical place hiding sprites, living trees, mythical animals, and a dragon. When her life is threatened by the king, Marni flees and hides in the woods, and discovers exactly why the king wants her dead.

I had lots of questions about Marni’s character and her family background, which kept me reading. As Marni’s past is revealed, there are a few twists and surprises, which I won’t spoil in this review. She is an independent and impulsive character and there are many scenes and lines of her’s that I cringed at, for how rude or headstrong she was.

Overall, I was unsatisfied with the novel because it felt like there were gaps, and subplots that are underdeveloped. For example, I wanted more scenes between Marni and the dragon. She talks of riding along during his flights, but we don’t get to witness it. Characters are also superficially developed. Marni’s grandfather is predictable. The king is just lightly sketched in. Even Marni’s friend, Annel, and the Queen — the two people who are kind to Marni, and whom she thinks of fondly — are only developed generally.

The book creates several intriguing threads, but I felt let-down by the latter part of the story because I couldn’t feel a strong connection to Marni. I just couldn’t immerse myself in the plot like I normally can, and I suspect it had something to do with the Marni’s point-of-view, and the gaps that remained. I also found jarring, the introspective voice that emerged near the end, which indicates to me that the pacing wasn’t quite right for the change in Marni’s thinking.

A Creature of Moonlight could almost be the origin story to a powerful, ruthless, impulsive witch like Maleficent, but it falls short in the end. There are magical ideas and elements, but I wanted more from the characters and plot.

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly [book review]

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Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly.  Book #1 in the Waterfire Saga

Publisher: Disney / Hyperion

Sale date:  May 6, 2014

About the book:

Deep in the ocean, in a world not so different from our own, live the merpeople. Their communities are spread throughout the oceans, seas, and freshwaters all over the globe. 

When Serafina, a mermaid of the Mediterranean Sea, awakens on the morning of her betrothal, her biggest worry should be winning the love of handsome Prince Mahdi. And yet Sera finds herself haunted by strange dreams that foretell the return of an ancient evil. Her dark premonitions are confirmed when an assassin’s arrow poisons Sera’s mother. Now, Serafina must embark on a quest to find the assassin’s master and prevent a war between the Mer nations. Led only by her shadowy dreams, Sera searches for five other mermaid heroines who are scattered across the six seas. Together, they will form an unbreakable bond of sisterhood and uncover a conspiracy that threatens their world’s very existence.

The first in a series of epic tales set in the depths of the ocean.  [Source:  Goodreads]

 

My thoughts:

It was hard not to think of Disney’s The Little Mermaid while reading Deep Blue. My main exposure to mermaids has mostly been from watching The Little Mermaid numerous times as a child (loved the music!), and seeing her statue in Copenhagen as an adult. (So, really, I don’t have much to go on in terms of mermaid mythology.)

What’s interesting is that according to Publisher’s Weekly, Disney Publishing approached author Jennifer Donnelly with their idea for a mermaid story and she used their “story bible” to help write her novel; a method that sounds more like what would go into developing a TV/movie script, rather than a novel.

I wonder if this is the reason why the novel somewhat feels like three separate stories?

The first part is about princess Serafina’s life at court. This section provides the background information on the politics of their world.

Then the novel switches to Serafina’s journey to find the Iele, a secret group of witches. We get to know her character, and that of her best friend, Neela, a little better. The pacing and events during this part of the book feel a bit contrived, as if these scenes and encounters are mostly to introduce future characters, potential plot points, and themes about the damage that humans inflict on the environment.

Finally, the last part is about the formation of the team of mermaids who will embark on a quest to fight evil forces. This section of the story presents the mermaids as if they are just your typical teenaged girls, albeit with some really big expectations on their shoulders.

The mermaid characters come across as acting younger than their 16 years. Their use of slang is jarring (“merlfriend!), and the additional mermaids aren’t as memorable yet because they enter the story near the end of Serafina’s journey to the Iele. We don’t know much about them aside from what they reveal to Seraphina and Neela.

There are definitely some intriguing characters and I hope they will take on bigger roles as the series progresses:  Queen Isabella, Blue, the Duke of Venice. The antagonist, Traho also needs more of a backstory to him. And I love that the story is about a group of selfless and brave young (mer)women.

So far, this first novel in the Waterfire Saga holds a lot of promise, but feels a bit light. I really wanted more complexity in character and plot development, and a little more subtlety in the expression of themes.

Deep Blue would be better appreciated and loved by middle school/junior high students, so I would recommend this novel to younger teens and pre-teens. I think older teens would find the story simplistic compared to other YA fantasy novels.

 

 

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