Tag Archives: Teens

“We Are All Made of Molecules”: surviving with grace and humour

I am a huge Susin Nielsen fan. We Are All Made of Molecules is only the second book I’ve read of hers, but I know this is true love.

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Source: https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/we-are-all-made-of/9781770497795-item.html?ref=social:organic:quickview&s_campaign=social:organic:quickview

In this book, Nielsen tackles some heavy teen issues: bullying, homophobia, sexting, popularity, and heartbreak. These are not simple or easy topics. In fact, these are some of the hardest conversations to have with young teens. For teens, life is heard because they are balancing that line between being a kid and being a young adult. They want freedom, yet aren’t always ready to deal with the consequences that come from their choices. Add in peer pressure and the desperate desire to fit in somewhere with people and being a young teen can be a harmful disaster.

The book is told from the perspectives of two characters: Ashley and Stewart. Almost overnight (well, not quite), they become step-siblings. Ashley is a fashionista who is high-up on the social ladder and is trying desperately to be cool and get the hottest guy in school to fall in love with her. Stewart is a nerdy genius who just wants to make friends at his new school and get along with his new sister. So not only do you have two teens the same age trying to survive school, but they are also trying to create a new family.

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Source: https://twitter.com/susinnielsen/status/593819905020985344

One of the most beautiful scenes to me is of Steward sitting under the afghan that his dead mother made and breathing in deeply. When Ashley asks him what he’s doing, he explains that he’s breathing in his mother’s molecules so he can be near her. Although Ashley is grossed out, the ideas sticks with her: we are all connected because we are all breathing in each others’ molecules all the time. The idea comforts Steward and it is a revelation to Ashley that people can be so similar, and race, religion, interests, sexuality, and gender have nothing to do with our connectedness.

interconnected

Source: http://www.spblearningcommons.com/single-post/2015/12/10/SPB-Pick-We-Are-All-Made-of-Molecules

I can see why this book is so popular. It deals with heavy ideas and emotionally charged issues, but Nielsen does so with grace and humour. She tells the story from the experiences of teens and doesn’t get caught up in explaining or dwelling, unlike adults. For teens everything is immediate and Nielsen captures that spirit and it is a beautiful thing.

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Source: https://www.linkedin.com/company/we-are-all-connected

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“The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen”: healing with literature

Susin Nielsen is a genius. She writes for teens, but she had me hooked. Her novel The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen had me fighting with my students over the school copy of the book. This book is about Henry and his journal that his counsselor makes him write after his brother’s death. The entire book is a glimpse into the world of teens living with trauma and trying their best to survive.

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Source: https://www.amazon.ca/Reluctant-Journal-Henry-K-Larsen/dp/1770496548

My teenage self connected with Henry is several ways:

  • I loved wrestling growing up, and I loved watching it with my family.
  • I love trivia and watching Jeopardy and would have loved to join a quiz team in high school
  • I was also hassled and bullied during school and dreaded encounters with certain groups of boys
  • I had amazing friends in junior high and high school who liked me for me, weirdness and all.

As a teacher, this book was hard to read because most of the negative interactions happened in the halls and stairwells, locker rooms and cafeteria. There isn’t much power teachers have in helping kids survive the horrors of being bullied 100% of the time. As much as teachers long for a safe school and a group of empathetic kids, that’s not always the case. Power struggles are real and this books was a reminder, a funny reminder at times, yet a reminder that being a teenager is so hard.

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Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/493636809126860552/

Today in my Gr 8 Health class, we were talking about emotions and healthy ways to share and express emotions. Kids know what happens when they bottle up emotions. We watched Inside Out and talked about what happens when we get to that place where we don’t feel anything at all. We looked up websites and centres where teens could go to get help. I sincerely hope that parents are having these same conversations at home, yet I know that’s not always the case. It’s easy to fall into the trap of “real boys don’t cry” and “good girls smile more.” It’s easy to default to societal norms, yet that’s what bogs down teens: they don’t know what is normal, what is weird, what is healthy, what is unhealthy, and who to talk to about all of this. So I am grateful to the arts for once again allowing us an opportunity to have these important conversations.

The Reluctant Journal of Henry K. Larsen is a book that encourages teens with a broken family to have hope. Life might suck, yet there are always people around and those people make life worth living. Henry’s mother is in Ontario in a mental illness hospital, his dad works long hours at a construction job, and his older brother is is a box under his dad’s mattress. That’s rough. Yet the neighbours in their Vancouver apartment building become family. Through his journal and through his conversations with his school friends and his neighbours, Henry starts to heal and start to live life again. Neilsen doesn’t sugar-coat life, instead she shows true depth of feeling and pain in the midst of a truly horrible situation. Life never turns out how we want or plan, yet that doesn’t stop Henry from losing all hope. What an amazing story of resiliency for teens to read.

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Source: https://www.pinterest.com/explore/resilience-quotes/

Teens reading about teens in well-written books that include humour is an amazing way to engage reluctant readers and to help teens see positive ways of expressing their emotions. I think of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian and Susin Neilsen’s other book We Are All Molecules. These books use humour as a way in for teens to see that they are not alone. What a powerful message.  So thank you Susin Neilsen and other YA authors who are tackling really hard topics and doing it with respect, humour, and depth.

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Source: http://blog.book-pal.com/education/25-teachers-who-have-seen-books-change-lives

“Half Brother”:hooking the reluctant reader

Being an ELA (English Language Arts) teacher is fun and exciting because I find myself excited about the literature I can introduce to my students, especially to the reluctant readers.  David Bouchard says that it only takes one book to make someone a reader.  Just that one book that hooks them in and makes them realize what they’ve been missing.  There is joy in reading.  That is why I was happy to read Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel.

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Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7942534-half-brother

Talking with the other ELA teacher at my new school, I guess this book went viral last year.  It was so funny, engaging, and heart-warming that kids were waiting to read it, even asking parents to buy it so they could read it sooner.  Half Brother is the story of Ben, a typical teenager whose parents work a lot.  But his life changes forever when his parents move him from Ontario out to Victoria and they bring home his new baby brother: a chimpanzee!

Ben’s father is a scientist and is hoping to teach the chimp, Zan (after Tarzan), how to communicate and develop language skills through American Sign Language.  They teach Zan new words, yet they don’t teach him a lot of nouns or connecting words, mostly just nouns.  So when the experiment isn’t the success Ben’s Dad was hoping for, things get tense.

For Ben, Zan is not a pet or a scientific experiment: Zan is his brother.  The two have a great relationship as the novel progresses.  Ben tickles, hugs, kisses, plays with, and loves Zan.  They become best buds, even to the point of Zan protecting Ben from some bullies.

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Source: https://www.pinterest.com/lauramixtacki/monkey-business/

The novel isn’t just about Zan and Ben, it’s about Ben growing up and becoming a teenager.  He has angsty moments where he wants to make his own decisions, yet is held back by his parents’ rules.  He wants to date a girl, but she rejects him and dates someone else.  He learns about the cruelty of animal testing and becoming extremely angry at the work his father does with rats.  It’s like Degrassi episodes, but with a chimp!

I can see the appeal of this book for young teens.  It’s about pushing boundaries, dealing with anger, living with disappointment, creating friendship, and learning how to become your own person.  The funny parts, like Zan stealing the dish soap and spraying everyone and everything, or like Zan loving Jell-O, or like Zan peeing on the father, help bring this novel to life and keeps the reader engaged and curious.

There are a few books that I keep on my shelf because I know that they engage reluctant readers, and Half Brother is now part of that collection!

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Source: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/mood/slideshow-decrease-family-stress