Monday, September 20, 2021

Top Shelf Student Book Club - Sept. 2021 shortlist & top pick

The Top Shelf Student Book Club was introduced to these five books for the month of September.  They chose to read The Girl With All the Gifts.  

  • science fiction/dystopian thriller -- now a movie adaptation
  • opens with a disturbing but intriguing scene: Melanie, an eleven year old girl, is being transported from a locked cell to a classroom in a wheelchair with many physical restraints;  it soon becomes obvious that she's part of a larger group of children in captivity -- but the reveal doesn't happen until several chapters into the story
  • teacher-librarian's comments:  main character is well-developed, likeable, and interesting (in fact, she's technically a genius);  plenty of action and suspense keep this book a page-turner;  the writing is sophisticated but not difficult to read
  • recommended for readers who enjoy The Walking Dead television series

  • Realistic fiction about coming-of-age/challenges of growing up

  • Main character is a few years out of high school and mows lawns for a living until he’s suddenly fired and wonders what he’s going to do with his life.

  • Plot premise might seem bleak but this novel has been described as "funny", "satirical", and “ultimately inspiring”.

  • Won an Alex Award -- awards for best books for teens that are adult level/mature (warning - 23 year old male humor that some readers may find off-putting)

  • quote from readers on "characters remind you of someone you know or are related to”;  “narration is funny, sarcastic and clever, and [the] conversational tone engaged me from the first page”; provided “a chance to view life through the eyes of someone less fortunate than me"

  • recommended to readers who enjoy books that focus upon social justice/class issues

  • Alex Award winner (Best Adult Books for Teens - American Library Association)

  • science fiction/dystopian

  • technically a novella (very short novel) at 174 pages

  • the fictional story of African American siblings Ella and Kevin.  Kevin is the “riot baby” born during the L.A. riots of 1992, and his sister Ella has all sorts of powers (time travel, teleportation, ability to see the future).  When Kevin is jailed,  Ella faces a choice -- stand back and watch her brother suffer or use her powers to destroy  institutions that  oppress her brother and Black Americans.

  • reader comments:  expect “big themes like racial injustice and incarceration in a dystopian setting, but also a beautiful sibling dynamic at the heart of the story that is simply moving.”; Packs a mighty punch for a novella, it hits on many levels at once - phew...Strap in & hang on *gulp*”

  • recommended for readers with an interest in social justice themes and issues -- particularly the Black Lives Matter Movement

  • Realistic fiction that has won numerous awards, including the Governor-General’s Literary Award for fiction

  • Story of five children who grow up in a residential school during the 60s and end up living in the Downtown Eastside Vancouver

  • Story follows the paths of these children as their lives crisscross over the decades; Each chapter focuses on one of the characters; readers have a window into each individual’s journey from their childhood experience at the school to their teenage and adult years on the Downtown Eastside.

  • reader comments: Story has “greater emotional impact on Canadians than dry, factual news reports”;  "descriptions of substance abuse and sexual abuse could be triggers for some readers”  although one reader described these scenes as “subtle and not overly graphic; “a great introduction to residential schools for those who are unfamiliar with the horrifying subject matter, and in general a good read for even those who are already aware."

  • recommended for all readers -- YA and adult

  • Another Alex Award winner

  • Realistic fiction:  family drama/coming of age story about  two teenage  twins who, after the death of their mother, launch a hugely popular podcast to find the biological dad they never knew.

  • What goodreads readers have said:  “It took me a bit to get into the story, but was soon hooked”; “I did like both of these characters and really enjoyed the podcast episodes sprinkled throughout the book.”;  “totally original, quirky,  filled with quirky and heartfelt characters that leap off the page”

  • recommended for readers wanting to explore themes such as  privacy, morality, the treatment of women in media, viral culture, loyalty and trust 

Thursday, September 9, 2021

New non-fiction: Sept. 2021


New non-fiction:  Sept. 2021

Challenge your thinking with these six new titles!


We Do This 'Til We Free Us:  Abolitionist Organizing and Transforming Justice by Mariame Kabata

A collection of essays and interviews,that focus upon transforming how we deal with harm and accountability, and find hope in collective struggle for fundamentally changing the world.

Recommended for Social Justice 12 and Law 12.  206 pages. Reading level: Adult


The Power of Style:  How Fashion and Beauty are Being Used to Reclaim Cultures by Christian Allaire

Bold, pictorial chapters discuss cosplay, make up, hijabs, hair, LGBTQ style and many more fashion topics.The author, of Ojibwe heritage, is a fashion and style writer for Vogue magazine.

Recommended for  Textiles 9-12, Hairstyling 11-12 Social Justice 12, Gender Studies, and any students interested in the connections between culture and fashion.  90 pages. Reading level:  Young adult


The Cat I Never Named:  A True Story of Love, War, and Survival by Amra Sabic-El-Rayess 

The author describes her life Bihac, Bosnia, circa 1992, when as a sixteen-year-old she and her family faced starvation and the threat of brutal ethnic violence, while a stray cat, Maci, provides solace.

Recommended for History 12 and readers who enjoy true stories and learning about events in modern history.  370 pages.  Reading level:  Young adult   Awards:  multiple literary prizes for excellence.


Covid Chronicles:  A Comic Anthology

A collection of short comics about the COVID-19 pandemic. Diverse artists address disruptions in work, school, and family life as well as failures in public policy, racial biases, and systemic inequalities revealed by the pandemic.

Recommended for fans of graphic novels, and readers who enjoy books about current issues. 281 pages. Reading level:  Young Adult


Women of the Pandemic: Stories from the Front Lines of Covid-19 by Lauren McKeon

Through intimate portraits of Canadian women in diverse situations and fields, Women of the Pandemic is a gripping narrative record of the early months of COVID-19, and a clear-eyed look at women's struggles, which highlights their creativity, perseverance, and resilience as they charted a new path forward during impossible times.

Recommended for Social Justice 12 and Gender Studies, and readers who enjoy books about current issues. 310 pages.  Reading level:  Adult


The Story of More: How We Got to Climate Change and Where to Go from Here by Hope Jahren

Discusses the science behind technologies that release untenable amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, explains the current and projected consequences of greenhouse gases,and shares the science-based tools that could help us fight back. 

Recommended for Environmental Sciences, Earth Science, and readers who enjoy books about current issues. 208 pages.  Reading level:  Adult.  Recommended by Library Journal.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Bookstagram: a unique and original perspective on The Marrow Thieves (Cherie Dimaline)

Created by Isobel and Micaela, Eng. 12 Honors, Fall 2019

Set in an overgrown world represented by the plants placed throughout this image, The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline follows the story of a young indigenous boy, Frenchie, running from a racist government.

The lock of hair refers to the cultural importance which the main character places on his braid, as well as to the grief experienced by the novel’s characters, and by all people living under a violently oppressive system. This grief is also represented by the child’s boot, which more specifically comments on the loss and targeting of children in the residential school system — the system on which the novel’s governmental institutions are based.

In these institutions, the government extracts indigenous people’s dreams through their bone marrow and stores them in glass vials, like the one in the photo. In contrast to this violence, the drumstick is a symbol of cultural resilience, as well as representing a point in the novel where Frenchie’s traveling family meets another group that has been able to continue their cultural practices, including drumming, in secret.

Bookstagram: a unique and original perspective on American War (Omar El-Akkad)

Created by Aja and Emily, Eng 12 Honors, Fall 2019

Our novel, American War, is nuanced with themes of loss and ruin. The main character, Sarat, faces many adversities through her war-riddled lifetime. However, one of the most challenging things she must face is the loss of her family members. The illustration of the virgin Guadalupe is representation of the loss of Sarat’s father, as it is an imperative possession to him during his lifetime. Secondly, we have a campsite made up of tents to represent the death of Sarat’s mother. She died in Camp Patience after many years of living there. The camp also represents the last years Sarat got to experience life as a child, before being introduced to a violent adulthood.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Book Bento Box: a unique and original perspective on The Handmaid's Tale (Margaret Atwood)

Created by Sienna, Hannah, Alexa, Zoe, Ella, Jill, Esmee: Eng. 12 Honors, Fall 2019

Purity Objects: 
  • Pearl Necklace
  • White Flower
  • Bible
  • Face Cream
Violent Objects:
  • Red Flower
  • Bottle of chemicals
  • Scrabble Tiles 
  • Knife 

In a dystopian future where women are considered to be nothing more than “two legged wombs”, there is a substantial contrast between the totalitarian portrayal of society, sustained by rigid rules, discipline and above all, brutal punishment, and the dark reality of oppression.

On either side of The Handmaid’s Tale in our book bento box are two starkly different collections of objects, which represent the difference between the beautiful, safe utopia the founders of Gilead supposedly had in mind, and the gruesome underbelly of this dystopia.

The flowers on either side demonstrate the contrast of the domesticity and purity of the women, (the white flower), versus the reality of violence and brutality against girls and women that runs deep through the veins of Gilead (the broken red flower). The flowers, the reproductive organs of plants, also reference fertility, an overarching theme in the book.

The knife represents the temptation of power, as well as suicide and self-harm that the protagonist, Offred, feels, having been placed in such a lonely, bleak and seemingly hopeless situation.

The Bible represents the dominant presence in the life of every citizen in this dystopia: religion. Bible verses are cited as reason for every atrocity the government commits, yet women are forbidden by law to read one.

The Handmaid’s Tale demonstrates the dangers of not separating church and state, with a society based entirely upon religion, yet it also illustrates an equally important point: the dangers of exploiting religion to justify one’s own hatred. The government of Gilead abuses the Bible to justify their own acts of violence, discrimination, murder, and rape, when it is the founders of Gilead, and their criminal idealogies, that should be blamed this dystopia, and not Christianity.

Bookstagram: a unique and original perspective upon A Clockwork Orange (Anthony Burgess)

Created by James R., Anna, Saje, Gillian, Avery – Eng 12 Honors, Fall 2019

Alcohol bottle 
Alex uses alcohol as a way to find an alibi by buying drinks for older women at the bar. By doing so, the women at the bar are willing to vouch for him when the police are collecting suspects for crimes. Alcohol amplifies his joy of committing his crimes, also acting as a ritual for Alex. The bottle represents his manipulative nature, and reckless way of life.

Music (Sheets and record) 
Classical music, specifically Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, has been a recurring representation of his appreciation of finer things despite his violent nature. It displayed his humanity but turned against him in the middle of the book. Music grounds Alex, however, at the correctional facility they used it against him. It is shown that he has emotions during the violent scenes. 
Alex idolizes Beethoven, seeing himself at the same level of fame; seeing himself as a conductor of the gang. When others bad mouthed Beethoven, he sees it as an offense to himself. 
It humanizes him. He got mad when others bad mouthed Beethoven. 

Chai in the book is a word for tea. We feel that when chai is mentioned it is used as a connection from Alex’s very different and fictitious world to our own, just as his classical music. Chai is mentioned or used in the book the few times Alex is more relaxed, as opposed to the drugs and alcohol that he uses heavily.

Though the time this booked was based in is not specified, according to Alex, large boots are the height of fashion for young people, especially those who take pleasure in violence. Alex enjoys a variety of gruesome activities, however he feels that when ‘he kicks rots (mouth/teeth) in’, he should look stylish while doing it.

Although Alex commits many appalling crimes, he should not be forcibly reformed and his freedom of choice shouldn’t be taken away. Because Alex lacks many human emotions for others, when the correctional facility takes away his ability to choose, dehumanizing him even further. One of the only notable human parts of him, his love for music, is used against him, leaving him without a way to express himself. 

Cigarette and Lighter
The cigarette and lighter represent how committing crimes and violence is habitual for Alex, it has almost become a routine for him to go out each night and rob, rape, or commit other crimes.
Torn up pages (of A Clockwork Orange) 
The pages are in references to the torn up book pages of the man when he broke into his house and raped his wife. He most likely tears up the pages because of his intense anger of wanting to ruin everything in the man’s life, not just his physical being but his possessions that are clearly important and have a greater sentimental meaning. Alex’s home life is completely normal, therefore he feels the need to find ways to express angst in his young teenaged and young adult years.

We laid out our Bookstagram with many objects that seem to clutter the image. In ‘A Clockwork Orange’, it represents how Alex’s mind is displayed in a chaotic way.  

Bookstagram: a unique, original perspective of 1984 (George Orwell)

Created by James S., Sylvia, and Agartu: Eng. 12 Honors, Fall 2019

1 9 8 4

The ink and diary represent what remains of one’s freedom of thought and speech when living in a totalitarian society. Whilst speech can be controlled via constant monitoring and fear of repercussion, it is impossible to control one’s thoughts. In a diary, thought can be expressed without censorship or punishment.  

The bullet stands for war, as the society expounded in 1984 is strongly affected by it. The government takes advantage of the state of war by brainwashing the citizens with military parades and hatred rallies against the enemy, legitimizing all of that with the motto “WAR IS PEACE”: war is needed to maintain peace at the borders not letting enemies in and, consequently, to keep population secure.

The newspaper reinforces the censorship and filtering of information in the society of 1984. In 1984 being a “blind follower” who consumes information without question is heavily idealized, one of the slogans contained in INGSOC: Ignorance is strength, aptly encapsulates the significance of  this symbol towards the progression of the story.