Wednesday, May 31, 2006

I Heart Scott Westerfeld

Yup, I admit it, I've become a fan girl. I always expected it to happen in high school or junior high or maybe college, but I missed all the crushes on Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio and even now, I can't really think of someone whose looks would make me swoon, or blog at least.

But Scott Westerfeld, now, he's da MAN.

It's a bit of a round-a-bout story. I teach 7th grade, which means access to bookfairs. It also means that the Gremlin does a lot of her Christmas shopping at the Dec. bookfair, which is how a copy of Uglies ended up under the tree that cold morning. I read it, enjoyed it, passed it to the Gremlin, who started it, then asked her teacher to read it to the class, which she did, and they loved it, so when I got it back, I read it to all my 7th grade classes. (Yes, 13-yr-olds like to be read to, just not by their parents.)

I've shared several books with my students over the years. Most of them appeal to a certain group: just the girls, or just the boys, or the high level kids, or the low level kids, or just the Hispanics, etc. Uglies is the first book I've shared that every kid, without exception, loved. That puts Westerfeld in a catagory all his own right there.

What was the appeal? The concept, about a world where everyone gets plastic surgery at 16 and becomes gorgeous, is intriguing. The details, like tricks and hoverboards, appeal to kids. Anything that has teens beating the adults is going to be popular with students, but Uglies has the added bonus of presenting the adults as an intelligent threat--it doesn't offend the adult audience by portraying them as idiots. So when Tally succeeds, it is a greater success.

But I think Westerfeld's real genius in the book is his structure. He knows exactly how and when to end a chapter. Writing guides will tell authors to end a chapter or scene on a sort of cliffhanger so the reader wants to go on. It's the "little bit further" syndrome that cost me so much sleep in high school and college (and after). Westerfeld is the finest example I've seen of putting that advice into action. Hardly a day went by that students did not beg for another chapter--please, just one more chapter--and when time allowed, I wasn't opposed to indulging them. After all, I wouldn't read the book aloud five times if I didn't love it.

Some students bought or checked out their own copies of Uglies and followed along (and read ahead). Others not only read ahead but then checked out Pretties from the library so they could really be on top of things. I haven't seen such literary enthusiasm among teens since Harry Potter hit the shelves--except that I think Uglies and Pretties (And Specials, which I haven't read yet) will last longer. These are books that teachers will want sets of so they can read and discuss them and get the students thinking about utopias, beauty, and how we see ourselves and our world.

My hope for Specials, along with a continuation of excellent plotting and storytelling, is a real rescue for Shay. She's had her life so messed up. Of course, so has Tally, but Tally seems to have more control, while Shay is swept along in her wake, whether either wants that or not. However it goes, whatever happens, I am confident it will be an excellent read.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Consequences and Accountability

The Gremlin--AKA my middle-school daughter--had the bomb dropped on her this morning.

Some backstory:
The Gremlin chose to forgo basketbball this year and participate in Destination Imagination, a program focused on competative problem solving. Her team had to create an 8 minute skit around the theme of rules and have at least one technical device that appeared to break a law of motion worked into the skit. They created the set and costumes themselves out of cardboard and duct tape (and I tell you, I should own stock in duct tape). They dressed as ants. Incredibly cute.

They won 1st in state in their division, which means they get to attend DI Nationals in Tennessee. They leave tomorrow.

But because the Gremlin is, in fact, a gremlin, with may fine gremlin qualities, there has to be a hitch: her make-up work for the trip. She will miss four days of school. When she returns, she will have only 3 days of school left. One is the carnival day, so no classes then. One is the BBQ for her group, so again, no class. That leaves one day.

Two weeks ago, her teacher, who is also her coach, mentioned to her that she needed to ask for her homework. That was the eighth. On Saturday the thirteenth, her team mates reminded her when they gathered to work on costumes for the costume ball. On Monday the fifteen, I reminded her, as did her teacher. Her team reminded her again on Tuesday, and her teacher reminded her on Wednesday. So she has had many many OFFICIAL reminders. El Cerdito (the hubby) and I also confinscated her MP3 play, CD player and boombox until the work was brought home, finished and returned. I was quite prepared to keep them through the whole summer if she didn't do the work.

But her teacher had a better idea. Today her class went on a field trip to the Territorial Prison in Laramie, WY (where my younger brother used to work, incidentally). Up until about 7:10 A.M., she thought she was going too. Then we called her down the hall and explained that the field trip was for students who were caught up with their work--which she wasn't, since she hadn't even asked for the make-up work yet. Instead of a bus trip with friends and seeing the prison and plays, she is sitting in ISS, doing her make-up work. If it isn't done, then tomorrow, she will be doing it on the plane. But I think (hope, pray) that she will finish.

And maybe--just maybe, the reality that a body must be responsible for herself and her work will sink in just a bit.