English 341: It’s Like This

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Author: Lily Butzow

Breaking into a difficult book is worth it…

Breaking into a difficult book is worth it…

I have always been interested in the issues that surround WWII, and the human stories that come out of that horrible time. While the larger overarching problems are interesting in themselves, I have always fond personal, individual stories to be much more compelling. So when I heard about the story of the Book Thief, I was enchanted. It took me a few years to even watch the film, and once I had, I really wanted to read the book. I always found something to distract me, however, and used school as an excuse to read for pleasure less. That is why this semester, when I noticed The Book Thief on our list of book possibilities, I was floored. I would get to read a story I’ve been wanting to read for years, and get academic credit while I was at it.

Breaking into this book was difficult, despite my eagerness to read it. I had trouble at first due to the slightly irregular narrative style, and I feared that I wasn’t going to be able to read this after so much build up and anticipation. Once I made myself push through it and really try, for the sake of my past self, I recognized that this was actually an effective tool for telling this story, but also for representing the tragic times in which this story takes place. Also, the notes that are set apart from the rest of the text are helpful and informative, which at many points answers a question that the reader may have.

Obviously, as a book set during WWII, The Book Thief tackles many difficult issues, and it does them through an unfamiliar lens. Often these stories of from the perspective of a soldier, of a victim, or of someone involved in some of the horrible things that happened. This is the story of a girl who is just trying to live her life in the world that is changing around her. She goes through typical adolescent issues, like feeling inadequate in school, her friend trying to kiss her, wanting to learn to read, spending time with her new papa, and wishing she had more books.

Overall, this book is not only an amazing human story, a heroic story, and a war story, it is a moving tale of a girl coming of age in a difficult time. While the circumstances may not be the most relatable, this book really allows for people to work through problems. Whether it is a problem of poverty, being behind in school, relationships, or anything else that this girl endures, this book takes issues that should be only relatable within the confines of this book, and makes them applicable to today. This book is something that I believe that people of all ages from middle school to adults should read.b

Learning to Love it…

Learning to Love it…

These last couple of weeks I have been tackling a project for class that is traditionally one of the most difficult things for me: reading poetry. Now, last year in Spring I took a course that I thought was going to be the most miserable few hours of my life every week. I took a poetry writing class. During the first week, I ‘fessed up to the teacher (more like practically yelled) that I absolutely HATE poetry. While this took her breath a way for a moment, she came around to the idea of converting me. I was adamant that no one would ever convert me to even tolerating poetry, let alone liking it, or writing it well. The next week, we read a “poem” (which to this day I maintain is not poetry) that was literally a list of words typed out onto the paper. I was even more convinced I would never convert. Cut to the end of the semester, and I have not come to really love all poetry, but I do appreciate it, and some poems touch me in ways I never believed poetry ever could.

Flash forward to today, and I am reading poetry in a way that I would never even have thought existed. I am reading Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson, which is a memoir in the form of a series of poems. Now, this is a book that would have caught my eye in a bookstore, and I would have probably ended up purchasing it eventually, but maybe not reading it. I have learned that poetry allows a writer freedom of expression that is limited by traditional prose. I also have learned (from Jeanne Clark) that there are no Poetry Police. So when I picked up this book, I treated it as a book of poetry first, and a chronological memoir second. My first read through was not organized in any way. I would simply open the book, and read whatever poem I arrived upon. I wanted to appreciate each poem as beautiful in its own right, and really come to know the individual stories before I moved on to taking it all in as a full book in the “proper” order.

Now, y’all know that I don’t intend to teach, and I am a self proclaimed horrible poetry student, but I think that had I been presented with this text, or excerpts of this this text in a poetry class or lesson, I would have been a fan at a much younger age. This book really lends itself to many aspects of academia; it has a family tree in the front, it has a family album in the back, and many of the poems lend themselves to imitation and teaching. I truly enjoyed this book in all of the ways that I never thought I could enjoy poetry. I also got back into poetry writing, and in the current situation in my life, having our writing assignments in class as springboards for reviving my writing I am beginning to think that this will be an outlet for me going forward into my life. Below, I will insert two poems inspired by, and using lines from, Brown Girl Dreaming.

 

This first is a starter line poem, in which I used a line from Brown Girl Dreaming as my first line, and continued my poem from there. It is a work in progress, as all poems are. It is tentatively titled Illumination.

And begin searching for brilliance…

words on pages

seem to mean nothing

and everything

Hunting,

searching through the forest

of life. Seeking meaning,

purpose,

love.

These are the things

that make life

worth wanting

worth living.

Without living, there can be no discovery.

                                   discovery of evidence

of science or belief

                                no new lives to live.

Brilliance isn’t just

smarts.

It is light.

Illuminating

Following this poem, I had a lot of trouble editing it, I played with form and format, and tried to get away from my tendency to make simply straight, end stopped, boring looking poems. I feel that this is something that Jacqueline Woodson accomplished well in Brown Girl Dreaming. My next poem is lines only derived from this book, and it is called a Cento, which I have learned is not plagiarism, but is imitation and a true form or poetry. It is currently untitled.

He wants to know where the sky ends

and how;

Write down what I think I know.

The knowing will come,

just keep listening.

I am in the world

but not of the world.

How can I explain to anyone

that stories are like air to me.

I breathe them in

and let them out

over and over again.

 

My sister tells me

our school was once a castle

and it’s not even strange

that it feels the way it always felt.

Like the place we belong to

like home.

 

 

Synesthesia and Melody’s Melodies

Synesthesia and Melody’s Melodies

In the book Out of My Mind, the main character Melody is defined by so much more than her Cerebral Palsy. She has many gifts, such as a photographic memory and synesthesia. Synesthesia is when the mind experiences one sense, and automatically creates a link with another of the body’s senses. In Melody’s case, when she hears music, she doesn’t just hear it. She sees it, and she can smell it. When she hears the song Elvira by the Oak Ridge Boys, which is her favorite song, she sees bright yellows and greens, and she can taste lemons and lemonade. When she hears classical music her mom listens to, she sees blues and purples. When she hears jazz, it is browns and tans, because she doesn’t particularly like jazz. When Melody hears Moon River sung by her school music teacher she sees varying shades of greens, deep emeralds and even paler green. This book is about so much more than a girl in a chair overcoming her limitations, This book is about a girl who refuses to be defined by her limitations, and instead chooses to define herself by her gifts. This playlist is a compilation of the songs and the composers who are mentioned in the book. It is titled Melody’s Melodies.

We live in a land of stories…

We live in a land of stories…

Coming into this semester as a senior bound for law school, I had resigned myself to the lack of choice that comes with finally fulfilling each requirement needed for graduation. Then, as I was scrolling through the selections for my English electives, I saw, like a light in the darkness, that a class with Dr. Kim Jaxon was being offered, was open, and fit into my schedule. I knew in that moment that at least in one class, I would have some choice.

Donalyn Miller discusses the importance of choice in the second chapter of her book Reading in the Wild. While her references are mostly to children in elementary or middle school, the idea of having a say in what you do resonates with all of us. One of the most interesting things that is discussed is the idea of a “preview stack” that is given to students as a selection of recommended books from which they may choose. Kim embraces that idea when giving book assignments; as a class, we were given a list of books in each category we will be focusing on this semester, and from that list, we could choose the book in that category that most interested us.

Currently, we are only on our first book selection, and I have to say, I am pleased with my choice. The genre in which we are reading is young adult series books, and I am thoroughly engrossed in Chris Colfer’s series The Land of Stories. The two main characters, Alex and Connor, are twelve year old twins who are polar opposites in the academic world. Alex, the young girl, excels academically and has a good rapport with her teachers, but is seen as obnoxiously overzealous by her classmates. Her brother Connor is just as smart, but is seen as the class clown, and he doesn’t do well on tests. They have been through a rough time in their family after the loss of their father, and despite the school making concessions and their mother working long hours, they have become accustomed to spending long amounts of time alone.

Enter the twins’ grandmother, and her wonderful collection of fairy tales entitled The Land of Stories. Now, while the book has been the twins’ favorite for a long time, they always knew it was their grandmother’s book; on their twelfth birthday however, they were gifted this special book, and from that point on, their lives are changed forever. As one can assume from the title, the twins are thrust into a magical world where the stories they grew up hearing were real, and the lives of the characters within them continued on after the happily ever after was written.

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This was particularly compelling to me, as I have been studying fairy tales and the many versions, since my senior year in high school. I knew that there was more to the tales people grow up hearing than the saccharine and mellowed out versions that Disney serves us once every few years. For me, this was the ideal book, not only to introduce audiences to the fact that there is more than one version to every story, but to give my younger self a visit into the land where all of these amazing things have happened. I would have devoured this series in less than a week, probably at least one book per day, when I was younger, hungry to know what happens when someone from the modern world falls into a land where anything is possible, and where they must rely on themselves and their knowledge to get by, mostly without the aid of adults.

Now, this isn’t to say that there aren’t adults in this story. There are. However, the adults in the spotlight in the real world have definitively real stories. The twins’ mother works double shifts nearly every day to get out from under the debt her husband’s unexpected death caused, and this causes her to miss her children’s birthday. The grandmother lived her life to raise her children, and now is taking time to help needy children around the globe, and to live her life as she sees fit now that she has fewer obligations. The teacher is irritated with some of her students’ unwillingness to learn, but feels that she is responsible for giving others a stable environment at school. Each adult faces the dilemma of probably wanting a more fairy tale life, but having to recognize the realities of living in a world which is unfair to so many.

The children themselves are also written as very real characters. They do not seek out strange circumstances, they seek out scientific reasons to the otherworldly things that happen to them, and they have seen real hardships in their short lives. However, they also contain vast amounts of wonder, as I believe all children should. They are presented with an unprecedented situation, and not only face it with fear, but with awe. This is what a story about children should be; characters should be portrayed as dynamic and capable of adult reasoning, without being displayed as only innocent and helpless.

Having the ability to read a book that I truly enjoy is something that, as a college student, I don’t often have. In lower schools, there is slightly more leniency in regards to choice, but even then, there are some teachers who force certain books on their students. When I was in the lower grades, I was constantly getting in trouble for finishing the required reading “too early” (reading ahead is BAD) and reading my “outside reading” during class because I had no interest in the text we were being forced to read. Even if my book was in the same genre and had the same lesson, I was seen as a bad student for not staying on track with the class. Often times, these books were so far below my reading level that they held no education for me, whereas my choice had similar educational value, but also challenged me. With Kim’s choice to give us a variety of options, as Donalyn Miller suggests, we have the opportunity to take charge of our own education, and our own enjoyment.

 

Hi, my name is Lily, and I’m a Book Addict… Lost in the Wild

Hi, my name is Lily, and I’m a Book Addict… Lost in the Wild

This week, I’ve been reading Donalyn Miller’s Reading in the Wild for the first time. I am sort of at a loss when it comes to teaching tips, as I intend to become a lawyer, but I can relate to some of the problems that Miller talks about from when I was in school. Not only is this book a great resource for people who will be entering the profession of teaching someday in the near future, it could be helpful for people with family members of certain ages. This is how I have been approaching this text. I am looking at these strategies as being helpful when my young cousins are reading, and I get a chance to spend time with them.

Personally, I am a wholeheartedly decisive reader, which can be a terrible thing sometimes. I tend to decide on whether or not I will continue reading something in the first few pages, which in itself isn’t altogether bad; however, I also tend to do this with texts I am assigned at school. If I don’t like the style of writing, or if the topic should be interesting, but a specific text isn’t living up to that, I put it down. This has been a disadvantage to me academically, because as someone who grew up choosing every single book she cracked open, I learned this habit from a very young age. Textbooks tend to fall a little outside of this category, because I know that there is material I won’t learn anywhere else, but I also learned that if I paid attention in class and took good notes, in most cases I wouldn’t have to spend my valuable reading time on textbooks.

Reading in the Wild is teaching me that I, as a self-identified reader from the minute I could read the word cat, am not alone in these tendencies, and that there are all kinds of readers in the real world outside of the classroom. I decided from page one, in the introduction, that I would be interested in this book, regardless of whether or not it is required reading. From the minute I read about Miller’s husband’s inability to go anywhere without a book, or her daughters voracity when it came to consuming and creating texts of all kinds, I was hooked. This woman understood me. She lived with the embodiments of my reading style, and she had ideas about how to help others appreciate reading as much as I always have.

In Chapter 1, Miller discusses some of the main principles of reading, from reading time in school, reading for pleasure, and what she calls “fake readers”. I feel like some people believe that a child, or a grown person, can only be one kind of reader. Miller’s book doesn’t divide into black and white categories necessarily, but is dedicated to the grey area that is people who don’t read because they haven’t found something to enjoy, or people who read a lot but don’t absorb or enjoy what they are reading. There aren’t two categories, reader or not, that each person is set into their whole life. I have been objectively placed in many of the categories discussed in the book. In elementary school, I was so far ahead of my peers on reading level that I set my own curriculum. My mother and teacher worked together to allow me to choose whatever books I wanted to read as long as they were above a specific reading level. I quickly discovered Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women as one of my favorite books. I was labeled a reader. In middle school, I had much less flexibility, and I flipped aimlessly through required reading, while hiding my own book under by desk or behind a text book. I was labeled as what Miller would call a “fake reader”. In high school, each year I had a different experience, but I almost failed my sophomore Honors English class because the teacher was so strict about the readings we had to do, and didn’t allow us to use our “Reading Period” to read outside books.

What I take from my own experience, and from the first chapter of Miller’s book is that anyone can be what is traditionally considered a reader in some way if they only make time to read, and find texts that interest them, no matter the content. I think that this is important to instill in our children, and into our academic system, as early as possible. With a more accepting and well-rounded curriculum regarding reading, I think that there is a chance to avoid the stigma of not being well read in classic texts, or not being invested in the one required reading assigned; there is also a way to avoid people like me feeling disenfranchised and abandoned by their school system when their thirst for new content is swept aside in favor of strict guidelines and the banning of outside texts.

Make No Bones About It…

Make No Bones About It…

Hi All!!! Following the reading of four different versions of what we know as the Cinderella tale, I have composed a riddle for my classmates. Read these clues carefully, and let me know which story you think I’ve chosen. (I’ll give you a hint: It doesn’t have singing/sewing mice in it… Oh, wait! That’s Disney’s version.)

This story has no pecking order, nor any tweets,

This story has a father who likely bought sweets,

He loved his daughter until he said adieu,

Not many dresses, but one new,

Gifted from step-mother to you.

 

PS: I really dig the progression we are seeing in male characters today as well….

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Hi All! My name is Loquacious… Er, Lily!

Hi All! My name is Loquacious… Er, Lily!

Hello people of the internet! My name is Lillian Butzow, however I prefer to be called Lily. I am currently a senior at Chico State University studying English. In addition, I have accepted a seat at McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, the capitol of our great state of California. For many years, since my Gifted and Talented Education program covered criminal procedure and forensics in the fifth grade, I have maintained an interest in law. When I reached middle school and high school, I excelled in my English classes, and grew to love literature. From this point on, I was conflicted. I no longer had continuing education in law, forensics, or any other form of the criminal justice system. I was exposed every day to new literature, new ways to read and to learn from what I was reading. I began to let law fall by the wayside. During high school, I was finally allowed into English classes that challenged me; I was presented with new genres and authors of which I could never have dreamed. From that point on, I started to consider the fact that English, and most probably education, were my future. When I graduated high school, I had a plan for myself. I didn’t quite know what I was going to do after undergraduate education, but I was attending an institution where I could chase my dream; I was going to study Shakespeare in the home town of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. As any reader may be able to figure out, that did not end up working the way that I planned. After only one quarter, I ended up in a situation that saw me moving home. I attended my local community college, and after graduating, I came to Chico State. At my transfer student orientation, I met a wonderful professor who told me about the English Education major available here. So, when I began my career here at Chico State I was on track to becoming an English teacher. Somewhere along the way, I realized that as much as I love literature, my heart wasn’t into teaching for the right reasons. I decided somewhere during the spring semester last year that I was going to return to my other passion. In a span of a few months, I took the LSAT, scouted schools, and while living in Italy on study abroad, I applied to, and was accepted by multiple law schools.  This is who I am. A core part of both of these passions is the integral aspect of reading.

Now, reading in school, whether in law, English, history, or any other subject is slightly different than when you pick up a book that you’ve been waiting to have delivered, or that book that you bought at the bookstore that you’ve been waiting to crack open. Circumstances surrounding your reading are important, but not as important as how you, the person who will be absorbing the material, approach the text. As a person who does or does not identify as a “reader”, you have a definition of what that means. I personally identify as a reader. What that means, to me is someone who not only has the ability to read, which is literacy, but someone who enjoys reading and truly tries to understand what they are reading, regardless of why they are reading it. Personally, I read in similar ways academically and for pleasure, with some key differences. One of the main similarities is that when I begin reading something, regardless of reason, I tend to forget that anything else exists. I tackle every text voraciously, sometimes forgetting to eat, in an attempt to finish said text in one sitting. The largest key difference for me is that when I am reading for academic purposes, while I am attempting to enjoy and learn from what I am reading, I tend not to be able to finish an entire book in one day. Often my reading academically and my reading outside of school intersect in some ways. As an English major, and a lover of classic novels, many of my classes have seen me re-reading books that I have loved for years. In addition, I read scholarly articles that relate to either topics in these beloved novels, or even relate directly to them. Unfortunately, the nature of being a student is that there will inevitably be texts that do not interest you, do not relate to texts you have experience with, or are simply too dense to understand easily. Luckily, there are scholars who understand this problem, and they attempt to explain the dichotomy of academic versus recreational reading.

Bronwyn T. Williams is one such scholar. In Williams’ piece entitled “‘A puzzle to the rest of us’: Who is a ‘reader’ anyway?”, the notion of a reader, and especially a good reader, is discussed. I think that the most important point in Williams’ article is the discussion of perception in younger generation. It is said in the article that children perceive the label of “reader” as a negative thing, and “good reader” as a positive thing. Many of the comments regarding being a reader are about being alone and not interacting with people. A common misconception is that reading can only be a solitary practice. The largest take-away I got from this article is that we as a culture, and those of us who plan on becoming teachers especially, need to teach younger generations to regard reading, no matter the purpose, as a positive and rewarding experience. Without this change in perception and learning practices regarding reading, our culture faces a severe decline in the number of people who identify openly as readers, and fewer still who will actively be willing to read outside of academic or occupational situations. This would lead to not only a disappointing statistic for those of us interested and invested in education, but also a horrible outlook for the future of our country and our world.