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Windows and mirrors | Class #2, 2016


Please join the adolescent lit class at HGSE as we discuss three recent YA books for our second class on February 2. The students are required to comment on one of the readings, but we hope any of you who have read one of these will want to join our discussion on these individual posts:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian | Class #2, 2016

Eleanor and Park | Class #2, 2016

Brown Girl Dreaming | Class #2, 2016

Tell us what you think of the book, how it’s gone over in your classroom, respond to a previous comment, or anything else that might be relevant.

Lolly Robinson About Lolly Robinson

Lolly Robinson is the creative director for The Horn Book, Inc. She has degrees in studio art and children's literature and teaches children's literature at Harvard University's Graduate School of Education. She has served on the Caldecott and Boston Globe-Horn Book Award committees and blogs for Calling Caldecott and Lolly's Classroom on this site.



  1. I had been wanting to read Sherman Alexie’s novel for years! Ot has been inside my middle school classroom library since 2010. I got to this over the weekend. It made me feel sad, mad, scared– yet I wanted to read more. Some of the harsh details did take me by surprise. I am going to compare reading it to how I feel when viewing Quentin Tarantino. It is in many places stares you in the face with the absurd truth racism is over the top so it matches the purpose. My heart ached for Junior’s circumstances, lost friendship, lost family. I kept routing for him and I was pleased to see some hope for Junior. Junior’s sarcasm, with, and outlook is unique. I believe it is a book better suited for 8th grade and up. I have seen many of my 6th graders with it and now wondering how much they were able to navigate.

  2. Carla Cevallos says:

    Brown Girl Dreaming

    The use of language and imagery in this novel is beautiful. Something that I found particularly original was that the protagonist is telling the story in first person starting with her birth, as if she remembered everything. Later on, it is also very interesting the way in which she starts introducing the idea of being a writer and how that idea develops over time. At the very end, the last two chapers (when she makes a list of everything she believes in and then when she presents her philosophy about different worlds) her verses are so powerful and lyrical that I felt that she was practically showing-off (in a good way), demonstrating that she indeed became a writer. The reader can feel that the ending is coming because the use of language becomes so intense… The story itself, the plot, is relatively flat, and I wouldn’t be able to identify a climax. Nevertheless, the use of language creates a climax towards the end, like an explosion of beauty.

    Eleanor and Park

    Few things can engage and inspire adolescents (or me, for that matter) more than a good love story. I found compelling that the story moved away from several adolescent stereotypes. The story is far from being a perfect love story, and the characters are from being perfect characters, or even a perfect couple. I think that romantic literature somethings leads teenagers to construct idealized and erratic notions of love and relationships in their heads. In contrast, this story, while capturing the beauty and excitement of being in love, also reflected all the difficulties and struggles, from common miscommunication to a powerful but uncertain ending. Something that I consider crucial to the way that the story was told was the alternation of viewpoints. Even though neither of the protagonists were telling the story, the fact that the narrator alternates between telling the story from Eleanor’s perspective and Park’s perspective provides richness to the narrative, especially when the same event is told from both perspectives. I think that this can help teenagers to build understanding and empathy, even with the character with whom they identify less.

    The Absolutely True Story of a Part-Time Indian

    What I appreciated the most about this wonderful novel was the way that the narrative and the drawings interacted and played with each other to build a complete picture of Junior, his personality, and his view of the world. The drawings and cartoons provided the reader with a stronger sense of Junior’s thoughts and perceptions, and they tinged the narrative with a peculiar sense of humor. Following up on the idea of stories and books as windows or mirrors, I believe that this story accomplishes a little bit of both. On one hand, Junior’s life and living conditions might result unfamiliar to many young adults (or adults, like me) who have never even been close to a reservation and don’t know much about their history, conditions, and traditions. On the other hand, many aspects of Junior’s life represent situations, interests, and experiences that are very common and that many adolescents can easily identify with (i.e. basketball, the death of a loved one, being rejected in school, fighting and reconciling with friends). I think that this portrays a beautiful and important message about the commonalities of human experience and adolescence, regardless of differences.

  3. I agree with Carla about how Woodson expertly creates beautiful imagery and language. I have taught writing memoirs to middle schoolers before and I believe this book would be an incredible tool to assist student writers. The poems are special carved moments where readers begin to see how moments and memories can be both exploded and refined; and yes the writer can take some liberty and rely on “other people’s memory” in recreating a time before her she was old enough to tell her story. This is a tough lesson for many students. I have watched the struggle with this. I love this struggle because I think it is one than can change writers. I appreciate how Woodson is so forthcoming about this part of the process. I also appreciate how the Woodson shares more about this in her author’s note, ” When I began to write it all down, I realized how much I missed the South. So for the first time in many years, I returned “home” (323). Woodson is grateful to her aunt and genealogist, her “go-to” Ada Adams. (324). I also think more about how each person has, hidden, so many stories within the layers of memories of our family and loved ones. I couldn’t help read one of the poems from the novel to my ELA class today to help them share out about moments in their reading that stand out most to them.

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