Monday, September 29, 2008

Thoughts and support

I read "A Long Way Gone" over a year ago and was very excited and impressed that it was chosen for the 9th grade curriculum. I have been reading it again this time with my son and have really been able to appreciate the immense humanity of Ishmael and the depth of his writing as I wasn't so shocked by the contents this time. I am really amazed at the depth of his memory especially prior to the war and the eloquence of his thoughts. After a horrible shooting spree he comments: "The branches of the trees looked as if they were holding hands and bowing their heads in prayer." The images and emotions that he portrays - both graphic and redeeming - are amazing.

This is such an important book as it exposes the rest of the world to the humanity of conflicts. To watch the descent of an innocent boy into the depths of a killer and back again is draining yet hopeful. I hope that this book really touches the kids and makes them better global citizens for having experienced it. We are too desensitized by violence especially when it happens "over there". Ishmael has made "over there" come into our homes and hearts. It is also such an important book because Ishmael is dedicating his life to trying to change the world through his experience. Our children have the benefit of being energized to make a change in the world by experiencing only his book - not his life.

I applaud the teachers that selected this book because our children need to know about the world that they live in and their neighbors around the world. The fact that this study also teamed with the World Geography class is also critical as the history and context of this book must be understood. Being invited to read this along with my son gave me the ability to talk with him about the graphic war scenes and to help him to digest all of this with some parental insight. I think that the teachers really thought this through and came up with an excellent and much needed experience for our kids.

One final thought: isn't it amazing that the world community has such a hard time getting food and medical supplies around the world but guns and drugs have always traveled unimpeded even into the remotest regions on earth..........

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Two Great Questions

Thanks McCara for the insight into your reading. I will do my best to answer your two questions for you.

1) why THIS book?
This book was chosen by a committee of 9-12 Language Arts Teachers (of which I am a member.) We spent a long time creating and perfecting our new Language Art's Standards. Some of the goals of the new standards are to get students to actually read, look at real world issues, and to create interdisciplinary opportunities for this year (but even more for next year!) A Long Way Gone was chosen because it met this criteria and our Language Art's Standards for ninth grade. The book was tested on a group of high school readers and some of them said it was the first book they ever read in their high school career from cover to cover. The biggest selling points for me though were the fact that this book is relevant to our students and it was on the NYTimes Best Seller List within the last two years. Now believe me, I wouldn't suggest English teachers should just read books on the NYTimes best seller list, however it is great to actually have our students read something that is being read in mainstream culture and not just in English classrooms and universities.

Will there be books in the near future that looks at world issues from a FEMALE point of view?
Our second book for this year is Finding Laura Buggs. It is a dramatic change of pace from A Long Way Gone and is written from the perspective of a female high school student. It does not focus heavily on "world issues," but is more of a mystery. It was chosen because of the female perspective and for its considerably lighter tone.

In Honors Literature and Writing, we will be read a series of short stories. 

Looking at the scope and sequence of 9-12 Language Arts, I think your students will have some great opportunities to read a variety of texts from the female point of view. The new curriculum does a nice job of balancing the old with the new and still picking texts that are engaging to students. 

I hope this answered your questions!
Enjoy the rest of your weekend!
Travis Rother


My daughter and I had a discussion about the book the other night... Neither one of us is finding it overly graphic, in fact, I think we both wish that it was more descriptive, not just regarding the fighting, but in the other things that Ishmael sees and does; the things he is experiencing. An example, it's quite obvious that Ishmael and his soldiers are addicted to drugs, and yet during their time in the rehab center, there's not a single discussion about the realities of the detox process...
It did lead to an interesting discussion of the careers we had in the early - mid 90's and the things we (her father and I) saw American children go through during that time period, AIDS crisis, horriffic sexual abuse, suicide... I was honest with my daughter, it was hard as a young professional to be concerned with the other side of the world when you're involved with children completely broken and abused by those who proclaim to love them the most.
Travis, I do have a couple of questions for you; 1) why THIS book, and 2) will there be books in the near future that looks at world issues from a FEMALE point of view?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fear and Family

A couple of the themes that I see coming through are the fear the character is facing and how he copes with it all alone, without his family. He seems to avoid thinking about home, family and his normal life. Is this because he has to stay "hard" to survive? I'm hoping that the lessons the kids learn will be worth reading through the violent portions of the book so far.
As a Vietnamese refugee, I have been telling my daughter about the similarities with what happened in the book as well as my "real" life experiences in Vietnam. It is very interesting that we may all come from different parts of the world but we share in the same thoughts, emotions, aspirations. I hope that you will do more on the history of what led to the turmoil. I believe it is important to help our children as well as ourselves to understand why peopole are here. By understanding why people come to the United States, it helps us have a greater appreciation for them as well as being "American".

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Why are they fighting?

I am surprised that my daughter does not have more of an emotional reaction to what she is reading. The most she expresses about her emotions around what she has read is that it "disgusts" her. We watch very little tv here so I can't believe she is desensitized by over exposure to graphic images. We limit movies to pg13. Is she just not thinking about the words?

Personally I am caught between wanting to read it as fast as I can, to get it over with, or not reading it at all. I find it very upsetting. Just preparing meals and washing my hands can send my mind back to what I read and how grateful Ishmael would have been for clean hands and food.

We have been asking each other what this war was all about (yes, we know diamonds play a part in this) and why anyone would think that killing unsuspecting families could solve their problems. Is it power, religion, control, race...?
Peggie Zoerhof
at page 110

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I'm really enjoying this book. It is wonderfully written. How incredible that such a young boy could cope and survive as well as he did. I wonder why he tends to reference memories of his grandmother and not his mother so much. Does anyone have any take on that?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Started the book --

My son warned me about some of the more disturbing parts at the beginning of the book. Compared to some of the other books he has read in the past, this one isn't a lot worse but I think what makes it more disturbing is that it is a true story. I usually don't read this type of book and I'm glad to have the opportunity to read it with my son. This is also my first attempt at "blogging" and I'm finding that to be fun. I hope to catch up with the reading assignments over the weekend.

Video From Annie K

Annie K. (a 2007 Chaska Graduate) had the oppurtunity to go to Sierra Leone this past summer. She took some amazing pictures and created this slide show titled "Faces of Justice." I thank her for letting me post it.

The Novel

I agree that the book is graphic (and my daughter was definitely disturbed by it), but I think it is important that the kids learn that there are indeed places in this world where life is hard. Most teenagers are not aware of what other teenagers face in other parts of the world. I'll admit it, my daughter's biggest concern is if she went over her texting limits on her cell phone or if she has done well on a test. Never has she (and I pray that she will never have to) woken up on a floor wondering if this day will be her or one of her friend's last.

I have read up to the first assignment. I plan on spending some time with the book this weekend!!

Thanks for letting the parents participate!!

Thursday, September 18, 2008


The history teachers are doing different things to give kids background information about Sierra Leone. Most of my students have Mr. Bachman and he is going to work Sierra Leone in at several different times. On friday, he is having a guest speaker who has visited Sierra Leone come in and talk about her experiences there also. He is also going to touch upon some of the factors that caused the civil war and some background information about the blood diamonds. 

We are definitely trying to team up as much as possible. 
Have there been any discussions about the history of these civil wars to help the students understand the events that led to what's going on in the book?