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Persevering Like Palm Trees in the Wind of Adversity: The Boy from Willow Bend by Joanne C. Hillhouse

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Red Wines in Antiguan Nights

By Alexandra Caselle

I’m Tanty’s beloved—

tattooed with his mark, red

wine welts on my skin.

They hum and vibrate.

They channel the other spirits,

women I have lost.

My nerves convulse with

synapses of energy,

the call of nature.

Wind rustles through trees,

earthen vessel flooded by

eternal kisses.

Light particles, dust

specks swirl into a tribe,

chanting soucouyants*.

Words flow from their lips,

an all-healing salve, soothing

my prism of pain.

Daydream disperses

like dandelion flurries.

I rub red wine welts,

left by grandaddy’s belt.

His drunken rage, Tanty’s tales

One remains; one gone.

Whisper those four words:

I’m Tanty’s beloved.  Nothing.

Inside , I’m crying.

*soucouyant = [a] woman who is said to have the ability to remove her skin and transform herself into a ball of fire which glides through the night in search of a sleeping victim whose blood she sucks. (word taken from glossary found in the back of Hillhouse’s book)

JoanneHillhouse-Lrg

Image taken from Google Images–(original source) http://www.365antigua.com/arts/literature/BoyFromWillowBendRedux.php

 

 

 

Hillhouse, Joanne C. The Boy from Willow Bend. Turnaround: 2009. 978-1906190293. 95pgs.

Vere Joseph Carmino is a young Antiguan boy enamored by stories.  As The Boy from Willow Bend begins, he is enchanting Kim, one of his first crushes, and others with a tale.  He gets the love of stories from his grandmother, Tanty.  The musicality of the authentic, Antiguan language resonates like wind dipping in and out of multicolored bottle trees as Tanty scolds Vere for not being in the house before dark:

   “Vere Joseph Carmino, why you won’t take telling? I tell you make sure you find yourself home before night fall, an’ every night you come running down the road after dark like some devil chasin’ you.  Then you still expect to go back an’ watch TV.  You best haul your tail inside ‘fore I get vex.”

Tanty envelops Vere into a nurturing warmth and love that is missing from his life.  His mother is gone, and his grandfather only shows affection through physical abuse.  He spends his pension check on alcohol, and Vere’s grandmother has to find odd jobs to maintain a small cushion of money for Vere’s needs.  But soon Tanty is gone and she becomes one of the many women, Makeba the Rasta Queen, Kim, and Elisabeth who abandons him.

Imagine being a youth with no one for support, only a drunk grandfather who takes out his frustration on you.  Imagine handling all of this turmoil while trying to survive poverty.  But Vere survives and develops an inner strength that frees him from his situation.

Vere’s story may take place in Antigua, but the problems he experiences are universal. The book is a great resource to discuss those experiences in the classroom and learn about different cultures and language.  Language inquiry offers adolescents to study language through a network of social constructs such as gender, power structures, race/culture, and class.  It also provides them with an opportunity to study the structure of language linguistically.  Students can examine the lexicon/vocabulary, morphology, phonetics, syntax, rhetorical features, and pragmatic nature of the Antiguan language.

They realize that different languages and dialects are more than just “slang.”

Hillhouse includes an Antiguan glossary in the back of her book, which could be used to introduce the language study. Through language inquiry, teachers will instill an appreciation for language diversity.

The Boy From Willow Bend brings two classroom activities to mind.

When I first started teaching 7th grade Language Arts in Orlando, back in 1996, I taught a multicultural literature unit called Around the Literary World in 9 Weeks.  After reading and discussing several short stories from the literature anthology, I had students to research a country, create a brochure advertising the culture, share a poem or short story by a writer from that country, bring in food indicative of the culture, and choose another activity from a list to represent their research.

During the day of the presentations, I remember how I did not think about all of the specifics dealing with the food aspect of this group project.  For each of the six periods, I had to run downstairs to the faculty lounge, heat up food, and haul it back to the classroom.  It was worth it because some students who were from some of the countries felt pride sharing their culture with their classmates. All in all, everyone, including other teachers who popped in for a bite, enjoyed it.

The Boy From Willow Bend offers an opportunity for this type of project.  Students can research Antigua and other Caribbean countries in a thematic unit.

Another activity allows students to engage in creative writing by writing prepositional poems.  I learned about prepositional poems from a Florida professional development workshop.  Students used books they have read, pictures, or any kind of prompt to write a short poem in which each line begins with a preposition. Students wrote the final drafts on construction paper and decorated the border with scraps of fabric.

Students reading Hillhouse’s book can write prepositional poems about Antigua, a place in the book, or something else from a character’s point-of-view. They can use any type of material from a crafts store to create a mosaic as a background for their poetry. Teachers can also have the students each write a poem that can be combined into one class poem. To introduce the activity, teachers may want to construct examples, write each line on sentence strips, and allow students to put them together in poems.  Afterwards, they have students create their own prepositional poems.

Here is one that I wrote for The Boy From Willow Bend:

In front of the emerald green waters

On top of the pearl white sands

Inside the grove of palm trees

Behind the shanties

Down the dark road

At the dead end

Against the brick wall stands Vere, looking

for a way out.

Here is another one written by someone else:

Above us all a star

with shiny silver reflections.

Over all the mountains it glares.

Onto the water it shines.

Through the trees it glows.

Throughout the sky it’s seen.

From my window

During the night I see a star.

To learn more about additional themes in The Boy From Willow Bend, Althea Romeo-Mark has written an in-depth critical analysis of Hillhouse’s book here:http://aromaproductions.blogspot.com/2012/03/from-dead-end-alley-to-willow-bend.html

 

For more information about language study and inquiry, please see the article, “Feeling the Rhythm of the Critically Conscious Mind” in The English Journal Vol. 93, No. 3 (Jan., 2004), pp. 58-63.

Author Information

“Five Questions for Joanne C. Hillhouse”

http://www.shewrites.com/profiles/blogs/five-questions-for-joanne-c-hillhouse

Text-to-Text Connections

Here are more examples of Caribbean young adult and contemporary novels, short stories, and nonfiction that can be used with The Boy From Willow Bend in a thematic unit.  I have also included poems from American poets that would fit into some of the literary themes.  Even though City of Beasts is set in the Amazon rainforest, I still think it would fit into a thematic unit involving these works.

fresh girlFresh Girl  by Jaira Placide

behind the mountains Behind the Mountains  by Edwidge Danticat

before we were free Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez

esmeralda santiagoWhen I Was Puerto Rican by Esmeralda Santiago

city of the beasts City of the Beasts by Isabel Allende

annie johnAnnie John by Jamaica Kincaid

brother i'm dyingBrother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat

flight to freedomFlight to Freedom by Ana Veciana-Suarez

cuba 15  Cuba 15 by Nancy Osa

browngirl, BrownstonesBrown Girl, Brownstones by Paule Marshall

krik krak Krik?Krak! by Edwidge Danticat

in darknessIn Darkness by Nick Lake

“Parsley” by Rita Dove http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/172128

“Harlem Dancer” by Claude McKay  http://www.poetry-archive.com/m/the_harlem_dancer.html

“NaPoWriMo: Poems 4-6”  by Stacia L. Brown  http://stacialbrown.com/2011/04/08/napowrimo-poems-4-6/

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When Your Back Is Against the Wall, What Else Are You Gonna Do Except Hustle?: Tyrell by Coe Booth

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images

Edu-my-cation

By Alexandra Caselle

Extra! Extra!

Read all about it!

Urban schools

are failing, failing, failing!

People, people,

What must be done?

Our kids can’t read or

write ; they can’t do math.

Man, please.

I know how to read and write.

I know that 2 + 2 =4.

I am not illiterate.

See, where I come from

2 + 2 don’t always equal 4.

It equals me getting shot

if I walk on a certain set

or getting beat down for

what I wear, who I associate

with, or where I live.

I know how to read words.

I sometimes comprehend what I read.

But, I also know how to “read” life.

I got to “read” guys standing on

the block trying to find out if

they are trying to be down with me

or use or abuse me.

I got to “read” the cops patrolling

my hood, trying to figure out

if they are really trying to serve

and protect or are they trying

to put another brother in the clank.

I got to worry about if my mama

is coming home tonight or if

I  have to feed my little brother

and be both parents

and on top of that handle being

a kid my damn self.

Oh, yeah.  I know how to write.

But, writing on some bs topic about

why the principal should enforce uniforms

doesn’t help me.

Let me write about why society

doesn’t erase the class boundaries that

make junkies and the homeless

roam aimlessly.

Let me write about the importance

of daddies sticking around so

their daughters don’t seek love inside

a fifteen minute sexual excursion

instead of themselves.

I know I need to get the skills

needed to survive in the real world

and gain my e-co-nom-ic  mo-bil-i-ty.

But, every time I look around you telling

me how I am failing and I’m trying to push

all these obstacles out of my way.

And now you wanna wonder why so

many of us are dropping out.

You hear those bells ringin’?

Class is over.

tyrellBooth, Coe. Tyrell. Push: 2007. 978-0-439-83880-1.

Tyrell is facing a lot to be only fifteen years old.  His father has been sent to jail for the third time.  His mother is not the poster child for the typical parent.  She wants him to get out on the streets and hustle to bring in income.  The burden of taking care of his young brother falls squarely on his shoulders.  To add to the family drama, he has girl trouble.  A new girl, Jasmine, poses a threat to his relationship to Novisha.  But he discovers that Novisha may have some skeletons in her closet that may destroy his trust in her.  Will Tyrell succumb to the sway of the streets?

I truly enjoyed reading this book.  I had used this book as a read-aloud with 11th & 12th grade struggling readers who had failed the state assessment exam several times.  They connected to Tyrell’s story and looked forward to hearing about what happened next every day.  Some of these kids abhorred reading.  A book was the other four-letter word just like pork was the other white meat.  But Booth pulled the students into the narrative.

Tyrell is a gritty tale that includes some mature scenes.  With the read aloud format, I could skillfully skip over those sections and maintain the students’ interests.  Since my classes had no set curriculum, I read aloud young adult novels as an opening exercise for my classes.  It gave me an opportunity to model reading strategies, teach vocabulary, and hone comprehension skills.  I often created tests based on the read aloud books because I believed in the interconnections among curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

 I specifically chose Tyrell for another reason.  It highlighted the broader definition of literacy that our students function in today.  Learning the basic tenets of literacy such as reading, writing, and mathematics is very important.  Literacy also entails technology and discourses.  According to James P. Gee, author of Social linguistics and literacies: Ideology in discourses, literacy is a type of a discourse.  A discourse can be defined as ways of reading, writing, acting, believing, thinking, etc.

With school literacy (reading, writing), there is a certain way to interact with text.  Within one’s neighborhood, church, family, workplace, culture, or society itself, there is a certain way to act, believe, think, etc.   All of those literacies impact our students, and we should embrace those other types of literacies in our classroom as a stepping stone toward guiding our students to the mastery of school literacy.

Tyrell is an excellent example of how different types of literacies or discourses impact an adolescent.

Text-to-Text Connections

upstate Upstate by Kalisha Buckhanon  This epistolary novel describes the relationship between a young girl and her boyfriend and how his imprisonment changes both of them. I used this novel as a read aloud as well and used the epistolary format to teach different reading skills and reinforce vocabulary development.

bronxmasq  Bronx Masquerade by Nikki Grimes  This multigenre novel blends poetry and narrative to tell the stories behind each chapter’s character.  Adolescent readers see how domestic violence and other social issues affect young people.  This is another great choice for a read aloud because the chapters are short and it works well for teaching different reading strategies.

bees  The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd  Lily and Tyrell are connected by the impact their circumstances make on them.  Both live with one parent, and Lily’s father and Tyrell’s mom are cut from the same cloth.  One can’t say that kneeling in grits for a long period of time will not distract a child from learning the three R’s.  Adolescent readers also learn the discourse of sorrow as they read about May’s wailing wall.

firstpartlast The First Part Last by Angela Johnson  Being a teenage father is hard enough.  Raising a young daughter alone because her mother is no longer there is even harder.  This is the dilemma that Bobby faces as he takes care of Feather.  Johnson’s narrative style of alternating chapters between the past and present engrosses reader into Bobby’s life.

Teaching Exercise for Tyrell

This exercise depicts a scene that did not occur in the novel.  I used the cloze technique (removing words from a passage and requiring students to use clues within the passage to choose the correct word) to assess students’ understanding of the weekly vocabulary words. In the upcoming weeks, I will begin posting short stories that will teach a vocabulary word, a reading skill, or literary term because I believe that stories can teach concepts.

Directions:  Choose the word from the list below that will best complete the sentences.

ransack

panache

circumvent

ambivalent

expatriate

Novisha was angry with Tyrell.  Her girlfriend, Tasha, stayed at the same hotel.  She saw Tyrell walk into Jasmine’s room.  She called Novisha on her cell phone and told her what she had seen.  Novisha cried at first. Then she wanted to believe that Tyrell would not cheat on her.  She felt (1) ______________.  Novisha caught the subway over to the hotel.  On her way there, she noticed several people from different countries on the train.  They were (2) __________________from their homelands.  Even though she was mad at Tyrell, Novisha felt badly about them leaving without choice.  Novisha got off at her stop.  She showed (3) _______________ as she walked quickly down the sidewalk with her Timberland boots, Apple Bottom jeans, and matching Apple Bottom sweater.  She went inside the building and found her friend in the hallway.  Tasha pointed to room 207.  Novisha cracked her knuckles and popped her neck. The door was slightly cracked.  She threw it open and cried about the sight before her.  Tyrell and Jasmine were kissing each other passionately.  They did not notice Novisha at all.

Tasha took off her earrings and put her hair in a ponytail.  “Oh, no!  Girl, let’s beat both of them up!”  Tyrell and Jasmine looked up.  Tyrell stumbled toward Novisha.  Novisha slapped him so hard that she left her handprint on his jaw.  Jasmine got mad and shoved Novisha.  Tasha jumped in and the girls started to fight.  While they fought, Novisha (4) _______________the room and looked for more signs of Tyrell’s unfaithfulness.  Tyrell saw his chance to (5)_____________the drama.  He paused at the door and smirked at the girls.  It made him feel good to see three chicks fighting over him.   Today was a good day.

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Supernatural Synergy of the Adolescent Kind–Manifest: A Mystyx Novel by Artist Arthur

Image found on Google Images

Image found on Google Images

It reverberates

throughout her inner being

Calling, connecting.

–By Alexandra Caselle

manifest

Arthur, Artist. Manifest:  A Mystyx Novel. $9.99. Kimani Tru/Kimani
Press: 2010. 978-0-373-83196-8.  
People always say to beware of things that look good on the outside. One never knows the hang ups that are inside.  But why does this cute guy who suddenly appears in fifteen-year-old Krystal’s life has to be a ghost?  Some boys don’t shower or have bad breath.  But who has ever heard of a boy who is part of the undead? And the undead wants her to find his murderer.

It is bad enough that her parents have divorced, her mother remarries, and she is in a new school. Now she is the teen Long Island medium.  As Krystal struggles with this newfound power, she discovers other teens at her school, Sasha and Jake, who possess the powers of teleportation and telekinesis.  Now they want her to acclimate to her new power as if she were just adjusting to a change of clothing or hairstyle.

Arthur includes new and old ways of communication such as texting and letters from someone in the past to pull middle and high school readers into the plot.  In the middle of all of this mayhem in Krystal’s life, there is the mysterious power that may not only threaten her but everyone around her.

This novel gives adolescents an African American paranormal heroine and charts her journey of coming-of-age and coming into her powers. They will identify with her plight of accepting what makes her different as a gift instead of a curse and dealing with the real-life changes that occur in most families today.

Text-to-Text Connections

blood magic  Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton  Reese and Silla have family problems of a different kind than what Krystal endures.  Their parents were killed in a murder-suicide.  The whole town thinks that they are crazy,too.  Well, piercing her finger and using the blood to conjure up the supernatural doesn’t help change public consensus.  Silla discovers her father’s journal and begins experimenting with spells.  The “blood magic” rituals catches the attention of Josephine, a centuries-old ghost who is not to be crossed.

good houseThe Good House by Tanarive Due It is often heard that the sins of the father become the sins of the children, and that which is in the dark always come into the light.  For Angela Touissant, she discovers how one person’s actions can have a detrimental, generational impact on her family.  She returns to her grandmother’s home to reconcile her own family, but she ends up challenging a formaidable spirit that may be more detrimental than the loss of her son.  Due’s narrative style will send chills up adolescent readers’ spines as her details make them feel like they are standing right beside Angela as she faces evil incarnate.

Due’s short story, “Summer,” would be another chilling work to pair with Manifest.  http://nightmare-magazine.com/fiction/summer/

bad to cursedFrom Bad to Cursed  by Katie Alender  With the name like the Sunshine Club, an adolescent girl would think that this club was harmless.  All of the girls who join it become popular and beautiful overnight.  Everyone would die to be in their shoes.  In order to be a Sunshine girl, a girl literally would die.  Behind the chillingly bright smiles is a psychic connection to a force known as Aralt.  Unfortuantely for Alexis, she has already had enough of the supernatural.  She and her sister Katie just survived Katie’s ghostly possession.  Alexis and her friend, Megan infiltrate the group in hopes of saving her sister, but Alexis soon finds out how easy it is to get the “devil” in her.

sea rising red  When The Sea is Rising Red by Cat Hellisen  Vampires, magic, competing royal houses—When The Sea is Rising Red is a novel that blends fantasy, the paranormal, and the fantastic into an intriguing tale of one girl’s desire to buck tradition and live life according to her rules.  Felicita is born into one of the richest ruling classes in Pelimburg.  When her best friend, Ilven, commits suicide right before she is betrothed, Felicita runs away to the mainland and tries to shed her royal ties.  The further she gets away from home, the less power she has.  The scriven dust is the root of her power and her family is the only one who manufactures it.  As she juggles her growing interest in Jannik, a vampire who also struggles with family tradition, and Dash, the mainland’s bad boy, Felicita begins to realize the true impact of Ilven’s suicide and the true identity of the sea spirit that threatens the land.

mama day Mama Day by Gloria Naylor  Set in an island off the coast of Georgia, this novel again shows the impact of one’s actions on a family’s lineage.  Mama Day is a force to be reckoned with, a conjure woman who can cause lightning to strike with one wave of her stick.  But the beauty of Naylor’s work is how she uses the supernatural to make social commentary.  Her work is reminiscent of the late Octavia Butler’s style, whose novels Kindred and Wild Seed can also be used with Arthur’s Manifest.

Manifest is the first of the Mystyx series.  Read more about these mysterious teens who share powers that are out of this world.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a supernatural power and to be connected to someone through it?  Oh wait, we do.  As part of the human race, we are connected by the power of love.

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When Pipe Dreams Hold You Hostage: Beneath a Meth Moon by Jacqueline Woodson

Picture found on Google Images (FanPop)

Picture found on Google Images (FanPop)

A geyser spewing water up in the air

A rollercoaster hitting a low point 75 mph

A bubble popping in midair

A river raging against a dam

A soul finally seeing the brink of a horizon

A musician crooning out a high note

A woman clenching her man in a tight embrace and gazing

at him like he is the most beautiful thing she has ever seen.

A drug addict twitching and grabbing his thigh after a fix

Multiply those images by 100 and divide them by infinity.

Then you will understand how a high feels to me.

Then you will understand why I can’t let it go.

–By Alexandra Caselle

51ItTFMjorL__SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_Woodson, Jacqueline. Beneath a Meth Moon. $16.99 (hardcover price). Nancy Paulsen Books/Penguin Young Readers Group: 2012. 978-0-399-25250-1.   

When tragedy strikes, you feel like all of life’s anchors have unhitched and you are floating in limbo.  Reality disintegrates into white tufts of dandelions in mid-flight. Your feet are in motion on top of terra firma; to you, it feels like nothing is grounding you.

Your past becomes an old friend, walking hand-in-hand with you.  It has certain images set on instant replay, a gag reel of moments you want to go back to and retouch or edit, but you can’t and you are not laughing.  You search for a way out, even though you are already free from harm’s way, though, in your mind, it is as real and fresh as an open wound.

Traumatic events are like that.  They fracture your inner core and you are left with the pieces.  You try to put them back together, but some of the edges won’t fit into their original places. Your only solace is a coping mechanism that only deepens the dissension.

Laurel is a teenage girl who is dealing with this type of situation in Jacqueline Woodson’s novel, Beneath a Meth Moon.  Although Hurricane Katrina displaced bodies, the mind, unfortunately, was left behind.  Laurel struggles with the memories of this natural disaster and the loss of her mother and grandmother.  She relocates to another city and begins a new life. Her boyfriend, T-Boom, introduces her to the “moon,” and the drug provides an escape.

Woodson’s use of italics to enter Laurel’s mind transcends her experience to the reader.  The reader does not see her as just a meth addict.  He or she establishes an emotional connection and becomes overwhelmed with the urge to enter the story and grab her by the arms and save her from herself.  The reader can also connect to the father’s anguish as he witnesses Laurel’s decline.

Adolescent girls can also connect to Laurel’s relationship with T-Boom.  Often, they face a situation in which they must deal with someone trying to exert control over them.  They may not know how to handle it and stay where they are.

As you follow Laurel’s journey and discover if she succumbs to the allure of the meth moon, you will come to understand the true meaning of the phrase of not judging someone until you have walked a mile in her shoes.

Text-to-Text Connections

Product DetailsThe Girl Who Fell From the Sky by Heidi Durrow.   Rachel Morse is a  young survivor of a family tragedy.  Her traumatic experience is not a natural disaster, but she and Laurel definitely have similar journeys in trying to cope with life-altering experiences through different ways.  Not only does Rachel has to deal with trauma, but she also has to face issues involved with being biracial.  It is another book in which the author’s writing style draws you into the characters’ experiences and hooks your emotions.

Product DetailsThe Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper  This young adult novel deals with the issue of death by hazing.  Jericho and his cousin undergo the ritual of being initiated into the high school band.  One of the events results in the death of Jericho’s cousin.  Jericho has to cope with the aftereffects of his cousin’s death.  Draper’s book, along with Beneath the Meth Moon, offers an opportunity to bring real-life events from the media into the discussion of this narrative.

Product DetailsGo Ask Alice by Anonymous  This book is an account of an adolescent’s experiences as a drug addict.  Its eye-opening portrayal submerges the reader into what it is like to struggle with addiction.

Product DetailsLike Trees, Walking by Ravi Howard  Even though this novel looks at the tragedy of lynching through a historical lens, the common bond between it and Beneath the Meth Moon is the effects of trauma on those who are left behind, mainly young people who are intricately connected to the victims.

Product DetailsCome Hell or High Water by Michael Eric Dyson  This nonfiction book examines Hurricane Katrina through a critical and sociological lens.  It connects to the Laurel’s narrative because it provides an intimate look into the natural disaster and its effects through the social constructs of race and class.  Through Laurel’s eyes, the reader delves into the personal, psychological, and emotional effects of the hurricane.

What other books or stories that deal with traumatic experiences, natural disasters, or drug use can you suggest?

In what other ways can traumatic experiences affect an individual, a family, a community, or a nation?

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