Teen Ink

Bibliographic Information: Teen Ink (magazine). Newton, MA: The Young Authors Foundation, Inc.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Ink is a magazine that does not employ writers, reporters, or artists.   The content of the magazine is entirely made up of submissions from teens from all over the country.  Topics covered are diverse, from health issues to discrimination, teen activism to sports.  Teens write fiction and non-fiction and provide paintings, photographs and other forms of artwork for the magazine.  Each monthly issue contains articles written around specific themes, in the December 2011, issue the themes were “Celebrating the Season” and “Sibling Stories.”  The magazine is organized with the following “sections:” Art Gallery, College Directory, College Reviews, Community Service, Environment, Feedback, Fiction, Health, Heroes, Nonfiction, Points of View, Poetry, Pride & Prejudice, Reviews: Book, Reviews: Movie, Reviews: Music, Reviews: Video Games, Sports and Travel & Culture.  The wide range of topics covered provides a place for teens with varying interests to enjoy both reading as well as contributing to Teen Ink.

Critical Evaluation: Teen Ink is packed full with interesting and high quality writing and artwork.  The honest, authentic teen voices that can be found throughout the pages of the magazine lend it depth and significance.  The teen contributors to Teen Ink, both young women and young men, are creative and intelligent, interesting and interested.  Teen Ink provides an opportunity for teens to become published writers and artists, “Hundreds of thousands of students have submitted their work to us and we have published more than 45,000 teens since 1989,” (Teen Ink: About Us, n.d.).  Teen Ink empowers and engages, it provides an important forum for teens to exchange ideas and discuss issues important to them.  It is by teens and for teens making it a great resource for information and inspiration.  The magazine is used in English, creative writing, and journalism classrooms across the country.  Several books have been published by the Teen Ink organization, they are entitled Teen Ink and contain themed collections of essays gathered from the magazine.  The Teen Ink website contains content from the magazine as well as content unique to the web and is an additional place for teens to engage and exchange thoughts, feelings, and ideas.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young adults deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has been praised by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, Teacher Magazine and many more.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this magazine included? Teen Ink is the perfect magazine for older teens of both genders to include in a library collection.  I found it when I was in search of interesting and independent teen magazines that do not simply repeat the same beauty tips and celebrity gossip as many magazines on the market.


Precious directed by Lee Daniels

Bibliographic Information: Daniels, L. (director). 2009. Precious, Based on the Novel “Push” by Sapphire (DVD). Santa Monica, CA: Lionsgate.  ASIN: B002VECM4A.  110 minutes, Movie Rating: R.

Plot Summary: Clarisse “Precious” Jones is sixteen, pregnant, illiterate and living a life of unimaginable horror and suffering.  The physical and emotional abuse, that Precious endures at the hands of her mother is so brutally and meanly inflicted, that most viewers will wonder how a person could be so incredibly cruel.  Precious lives with her mother. Her father only appears every so often, and his visits resulted in the rape and impregnation of his daughter Precious.  The depths of abuse and cruelty leveled at  Precious might make another person crumble, but she pushes forward. She keeps trying to make a life for herself, dreaming, in beautifully filmed fantasy sequences, of being a much adored star.  When she is kicked out of her high school for being pregnant, Precious attends an alternative school. There, Precious has a teacher who believes in her students, often when they do not even believe in themselves. At her new school, Precious finally learns to read and write and she literally and figuratively finds her voice.

Critical Evaluation: This film is intense.  I expect that people familiar with the type of abuse and suffering Precious is subjected to, could experience some level of post traumatic stress.  Others, who have been fortunate enough not to have experience with this level of cruelty and brutality will likely find themselves in disbelief.  But, there is something about the acting and directing and scenery and dialogue that forces us to look at Precious’s life and recognize that there are people who suffer in similar ways.  Even those viewers who do not want to believe will be hard pressed not to, given the gritty realism of the film.  There is sadness and such devastating circumstances that viewers could become overwhelmed by emotion, but there is a tempering force.  Precious is strong, sometimes witty and often triumphant, and these moments, make worthwhile the viewer’s endurance of the suffering in the movie.

Critics loudly applauded this film; it received numerous awards and nominations, fifty film organizations nominated Precious for a variety of awards, the film won several of these.  Here are some highlights:

  • The 2010 Academy Awards: Best Supporting Actress, Mo’Nique (Won); Best Writing (Adapted Screenplay), Geoffrey Fletcher (Won); Best Picture, Precious (Nominated); Best Director, Lee Daniels (Nominated); Best Actress, Gabourey Sidibe (Nominated); Best Film Editing, Joe Klotz (Nominated)
  • The 2010 Golden Globe Awards: Best Motion Picture – Drama, Precious (Nominated); Best Performance By An Actress In A Motion Picture – Drama, Gabourey Sidbie (Nominated); Best Performance By An Actress In A Supporting Role In A Motion Picture, Mo’Nique (Won)
  • Independent Spirit Awards: Best Feature, Precious (Won); Best Director, Lee Daniels (Won); Best Female Lead, Gabourey Sidibe (Won); Best Supporting Female, Mo’Nique (Won); Best First Screenplay, Geoffrey Fletcher (Won)
  • NAACP Image Awards: Outstanding Motion Picture, Precious (Won); Outstanding Independent Motion Picture, Precious (Won); Outstanding Actress in a Motion Picture, Gabourey Sidibe (Won); Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Mo’Nique (Won); Outstanding Writing in a Motion Picture, Geoffrey Fletcher (Won); Outstanding Directing in a Motion Picture (Theatrical or Television), Lee Daniels (Won); Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture, Mariah Carey (Nominated) and Paula Patton (Nominated); Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture, Lenny Kravitz (Nominated)

An extensive list of awards and nominations for the film can be found here.

Reader’s/Viewer’s Annotation: Abused and ignored Clarisse “Precious” Jones is sixteen, pregnant, and illiterate.  When she gets kicked out of school for being pregnant, she starts attending an alternative school, with a teacher who believes in her, and her journey toward a life of her own begins.

Information about the Author/Director: In addition to being a director, Lee Daniels is an actor and a film producer.  Notably, he produced the highly acclaimed film Monster’s Ball for which Halle Berry won the Best Actress Academy Award and which won the Best Screenplay Academy Award as well (Lee Daniels, n.d.).

Genres: Drama

Curriculum Ties: Discussions of poverty, abuse, acceptance, self-respect, self-esteem

Reading/Viewing Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to adult

Challenge Issues: Violence; Emotional Sexual, and Physical Abuse; Mature Language.  In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.

Why is this film included? While this movie is difficult to watch and painful at times, it also sends a message of hope and the strength of the human spirit.  It is feels frightening real and provides a voice to Precious, and other young women, who deserve to have their voices heard.

References:

Lee Daniels. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lee_Daniels


The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Bibliographic Information: Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Forney, E. (Illus.). New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.  ISBN: 0316013692.  288 pages.

Plot Summary: “My parents came from poor people who came from poor people who came from poor people, all the way back to the very first poor people.” Fourteen-year-old Arnold Spirit, Jr., called Junior by his friends and family, lives on the Spokane Indian Reservation. His best, and only, friend Rowdy protects him from kids on the “rez,” who use Junior as a punching bag. He is teased and picked on because he’s skinny, he wears glasses, he lisps, and, according to him, “Everyone on the rez calls me a retard about twice a day.” But, Junior is smart and thoughtful, he’s an aspiring cartoonist, and he has managed to eke out a small amount of hope for his future. He makes the life-changing decision to leave the rez school to attend Reardon, a school 22 miles from the reservation, with only white students in a wealthy, all-white town. Students at Reardon are high achievers, both academically and in athletics. Will Junior’s Indian community feel betrayed by his decision? Will the kids at his new school open their hearts to him? Readers will root for this unassuming, honest, witty and smart protagonist, as he makes his way through the murky waters of growing up and self-discovery.

Critical Evaluation: Alexie’s honest, authentic writing tells Junior’s story with intimacy and feeling.  And while this book reads like a memoir, it is fiction, but heavily based on Alexie’s own life.  Readers get the opportunity to be present for day-to-day life as well as some of the more dramatic moments of Junior’s life, and through it all Alexie’s dry wit and social commentary are meaningful and not at all didactic. The complex issues of race and class intersect, intertwine, and give readers plenty to think about.  Part devastatingly sad, part funny, and part hopeful, this coming of age story provides pause for thought about life’s complexities, as well as some of its most simple, and basic, pleasures.  Alexie’s is an important voice in young adult literature, as there are very few books depicting contemporary Indian Reservation life.  Though Junior is fourteen, the novel’s content is mature enough to keep older teens engaged.  In fact, the many levels of this book would likely be best understood by teens older than the main character.  While the content is often heavy, the writing is accessible for a wide range of reading levels; this book, with its many cartoon illustrations, is enjoyable to read, and could be a great choice for reluctant readers.  The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian won the National Book Award

Reader’s Annotation: Junior’s life takes a dramatic turn when he decides to leave the Spokane Indian Reservation school for an all-white school in an affluent town 22 miles away from his reservation home.

Information about the Author: Sherman Alexie is an author, a poet, and a filmmaker.  He has written 22 books, and has received numerous honors for his creative works.  Alexie has a strong voice and does not shy away from controversy (see “Challenge Issues” below). He is a frequent public speaker and an advocate for Native American Youth.

Genre: Issue, Realistic Fiction

Category: Issue: Social Concerns: Racism; Issue: Life is Hard: Multiple and Unique Issues, Outsiders

Topics Covered: Growing up, American Indian, Indian reservation, racism, poverty, discrimination, Bullying

Curriculum Ties: This book would provide plenty to talk about for a high school English or social studies class

Booktalking Ideas:

  • “I think Rowdy might be the most important person in my life. Maybe more important than my family. Can your best friend be more important than your family?” (p. 123)

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 to 19

Challenge Issues: This book contains a lot of cursing and references to sexuality.  It also exposes readers to poverty, racism, hatred, sadness and grief, things that some adults feel they need to protect young people from.  Alexie’s own experience of hearing from teens that this book speaks to them and they appreciate its honesty is discussed in his Wall Street Journal Blog piece, entitled Why the Best Kids’ Books Are Written in Blood.  More information about censorship of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian can be found in the Blog of The Office for Intellectual Freedom of the American Library Association.

Why is this book included? This book is included for several reasons.  1) Authentic American Indian voices are underrepresented in American literature in general, and in young adult literature in particular, so it is important that Alexie’s voice is heard and available for young people to read. 2) It is a great book, funny, poignant, and gives us all a lot to think about.  I enjoyed it a lot and think you will too.  3) Related to #2, it won the National Book Award among other honors and was highly critically acclaimed.

References:

Alexie, S. (2009). The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. New York, NY: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.


Teen Voices

Bibliographic Information: Teen Voices (magazine). Boston, MA. ISSN: 10747974.

Plot/Content Summary: Teen Voices is not your average teen magazine.  It is a print and online magazine for teen girls, BY teen girls.  The mission: “Teen Voices supports and educates teen girls to amplify their voices and create social change through media.”  Teen Voices is not just a magazine but a non-profit organization that supports teens’ development in creating the magazine and mentors teens through the process.  Teen Voices also supports teen girls’ leadership development and social justice awareness and activism.

Articles in Teen Voices cover a wide breadth of topics, like arts and music, book reviews and author interviews, diversity and equality, food, health, the media, careers, teen activism, relationships, social networking.  The magazine also includes fiction and poetry written by teen girls.  Recent articles include:

  • Recent Events in Egypt from a Girl’s Eye View
  • Girl’s Hurt by Gang Violence
  • Got the Knowledge to Go to College? Teen Voices Helps You on Your Way!
  • When Relationships Get Tough, Can They Be Too Rough?
  • Got the Facebook Blues?

Critical Evaluation: The content of Teen Voices, like the voices it represents, is diverse and intelligent.  Since teens are creating content, the magazine is highly relevant and authentic.  Articles cover real-life issues and, while there is always room for fun, the magazine addresses young women as competent, intelligent people with the ability to think and analyze and question the status quo.  Other teen magazines, with their emphasis on appearance and social status, do not compare to the depth and strength of the content in Teen VoicesTeen Voices and its staff have received awards and honors, that acknowledge the important and life-changing work that the organization does.

Genre/Format: Print and Online Magazine

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 14 -18

Challenge Issues: There are many real issues that young women deal with covered in this magazine, so there might be a challenge to some of the content.  However, this magazine has won awards and has a positive review in School Library Journal.  In response to challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.


The Body of Christopher Creed by Carol Plum-Ucci

Bibliographic Information: Plum-Ucci, C. (2000). The Body of Christopher Creed. New York, NY: Volo Books.  ISBN: 0152063862.  276 pages.

Plot Summary: Christopher Creed has gone missing, leaving only a mysterious note via email. Did he kill himself?  Or run away? Or, was he kidnapped or murdered? Christopher was not what one would call popular. Though he was well known to students throughout the school, he was considered weird and annoying, and was a frequent recipient of violence at the hands of his peers. Torey Adams is a popular football player, boyfriend of the prettiest girl in school, and in Chris’ eyes, one of the “perfect people.” But is Torey’s life perfect? Why does he feel so angry when his friends make derogatory remarks about Chris after his disappearance? Torey, along with Ali, Chris’s neighbor, and Ali’s boyfriend, Bo, investigate what really happened to Chris, ending up, themselves, knee deep in the mystery. Along the way Torey discovers his own empathy, what it really means to “fit in,” and that people are not always what they seem.

Critical Evaluation: This suspenseful book will keep readers hooked, anxiously awaiting the answer to: what happened to Christopher Creed? Written in the first person voice of 16-year-old Torey Adams, the narrative flows with Torey’s realistic reports and reflections. Addressing the universal teen concepts of intolerance of difference, adults’ lack of understanding of young people, and the difficulty of finding one’s place in the world, this book has staying power.  Plum-Ucci’s first person account from the perspective of Torey allows readers to enter the world of a teenager and join him in his difficult struggle to realize that the thoughts he had always had about the world and people’s places in it might not be accurate.  This book has won numerous awards and honors: Michael L. Printz Award Honor 2001, Edgar Award Nomination for Best Young Adult Mystery 2001, Children’s Book Council’s Children’s Choice List Honor 2001, ALA and YALSA’s Best Books for Young Adults Honor 2001, ALA and YALSA’s Most Popular Paperbacks 2004.

Reader’s Annotation: When Christopher Creed goes missing, popular football player Torey becomes an unlikely ally in the search for what happened.

Information about the Author: Carol Plum-Ucci lives in Southern New Jersey.  Plum-Ucci grew up on a New Jersey Barrier Island and often uses the south Jersey shore as the backdrop of her novels.  She was raised in a funeral home, but interesting trivia about Plum-Ucci does not stop there.  For years she worked for the Miss American organization, including being assistant to the producer of the pageant.  Also, “Plum-Ucci has ghost written for six Miss Americas, two CEOs and others who are nameless by discretion. “ (Plum-Ucci, About, n.d.).

In September of this year (2011) a follow-up novel to The Body of Christopher Creed was published; it is entitled Following Christopher Creed.  Plum-Ucci is dedicated to interacting with and helping out her readers.  Her website has a page entitled, “Students” where one can find several sections, below is an example of some of the links she offers.

Genres: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Issues, Realistic Fiction

Categories/Themes: Mystery/Suspense/Thriller: Contemporary Mystery, Issues: Life Is Hard: Outsiders and Missing Teens

Topics Covered: Bullying, Intolerance, Stereotypes

Curriculum Ties: Discussion of stereotypes, outsiders, assumptions

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Use the mystery aspects of the book to draw potential readers in

Reading Level/Interest Age: Ages 13 – 17

Challenge Issues: This book was challenged in the Appleton Area School District in Appleton, Wisconsin.  It was challenged by several parents for “innappropriate words in the book” and one parent critic stated, “The Body of Christopher Creed is not a book to motivate and entice kids into reading.”    In response to any challenges, one can refer to the library’s collection development policies.  Additionally, there are several positive reviews of the book, and it has won several awards and honors.

Why is this book included? Initially chosen for its multiple awards and nominations, The Body of Christopher Creed is a fresh, relevant, intelligent addition to a teen collection.

References:

Plum-Ucci, C. (n.d.) Carol Plum-Ucci: About. Retrieved from http://carolplumucci.com/About.html


Who Will Tell My Brother? by Marlene Carvell

Bibliographic Information: Carvell, M. (2002). Who Will Tell My Brother? New York, NY: Hyperion.  ISBN: 0786808276.  160 pages.

Plot Summary: Evan Hill was born to a white mother and Mohawk father.  Unlike his brother, Evan looks more like his mother than his father, so has to claim his Mohawk identity more explicitly.  His concept of his identity is confusing and complex, particularly because Evan is an artistic, sensitive, and thoughtful teen.  He is a senior in high school and decides to stand up and speak out against the racist and stereotypical Indian school mascot.  His brother, before him, tried to get the Indian mascot removed, but did not prevail, and Evan has taken up the torch.  Evan talks to teachers and students and attends school board meeting after school board meeting to express his point of view.  Those who want things to stay just the way they are are far less civilized in expressing their dissent.  Evan is harassed and even physically threatened by students, and then his family’s beloved dog is killed by people trying to send a message.  Evan wonders who will tell his brother about the dog’s untimely and undeserved death.

Critical Evaluation: Who Will Tell My Brother?, beautifully written in free verse from Evan’s point of view, is touching and inspiring.  It is accessible, even for reluctant readers, because, being in free verse, it makes its point eloquently, but with fewer words than many novels.  Addressing issues of anti-American Indian racism, stereotyping, bullying, and bystanders this book has a lot going on in it.  But, life has a lot going on in it, and this book makes these complex topics accessible through poetic free verse and deeply expressed emotions.  American Indian students who have felt this very injustice or other students who have experienced similar injustices will likely find strength and inspiration in Evan.  Students who have not been exposed to these issues will gain insight and empathy due to Evan clearly articulated outrage at an American Indian being used as a school mascot.  This book provides a great opening for discussion on racism, bullying as well as the roles and responsibilities of bystanders to bullying.

Reader’s Annotation: Evan Hill must face strong opposition from bullies and an unsympathetic school board when he fights to have his high school’s Indian mascot removed.

Information about the Author: Carvell says that Who Will Tell My Brother? was, “inspired by the experiences of my two sons.”  Carvell’s sons, like Evan and his brother in the book, have a white mother and their father is a member of the St. Regis Mohawk Tribe. Carvell’s books are well regarded by American Indian reviewers for their authentic portrayals of Indians.

Genre: Issues, Multicultural Fiction, Realistic Fiction

Subgenre/Theme: Issues: Social Concerns: Activism; Multicultural Fiction: Native Americans

Format: Free Verse Novel

Topics Covered: Racism, Violence, Bullying, Bystanderism, American Indian, Stereotypes, Family, Identity, Social Justice

Curriculum Ties: English, Social Studies, History

Booktalking Ideas:

  • What would YOU do?  If you saw bullying…
  • What would YOU do?  If your ethnic group was being used as a mascot…

Reading Level/Interest Age: 14-18 years

Challenge Issues: There are those who believe that Indian mascots should be allowed, but I doubt that would make them challenge this book.  There are no obvious challenge issues associated with this book.  Preparation for any challenge can include the librarian’s: reading of the book, adhering to the library’s collection development department, and possessing reviews of the book from well-regarded sources

Why is this book included?  This book is a high quality book in a unique format, that might have particular appeal for some teens.  It was well received by reviewers and covers an important topic not often addressed in literature.

References:

Slapin, B. (2003). Who will tell my brother?. Multicultural Review, 12(2), 98.