If you know me even a little bit, you know what I do Monday through Friday from 7:10 AM to 2:40 PM. If you don’t know me at all, allow me to enlighten you. I’m a teacher. I make no apologies about that, and I’m pretty damn passionate about my “job,” but that is a post for another day. Seriously, I’ll bend your ear about education at a later date.
Because of what I do and who I work with, I’m surrounded by literature and all sorts of readers. Kids who devour books and tear apart a carefully crafted book shelf. Kids who must be guided into a selection, make that every selection. Kids who only read when they have an assignment due. Kids read just graphic novels because there are pictures. Kids who don’t read but magazines are okay. Kids who “read” but only look at the book when they think you are looking at them. Kids who put the book under their desk because they don’t want to be rude when you’re instructing, but dammit, you aren’t as interesting as that book. Kids and books . . . I’ve seen every type. And believe it or not, occasionally, they ask for my opinion on books because they know I read what they read. That’s right: I read books geared toward 12- to 15-year-olds. Surprised? You shouldn’t be because there is some awesome literature out there for kids. Technically, it’s called Young Adult literature, but people call it YA for short.
If you’ve been living under a rock, then you’ve avoided the whole The Hunger Games media hoopla. But if you’ve been among the rest of society and you’ve thus far avoided the craze, I have two words for you: embrace it. That’s right . . . embrace a book that, at its heart, pits people against each other for survival. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that can capture both the interest of the boys and the girls in my class. The first book? It’s regularly stolen from my classroom library. Sounds horrific, right? Kids stealing books, but that’s a true testament to how good a book is. I’m on my fourth copy in the classroom, and I’ll buy a fifth if that means a kiddo is reading something that doesn’t talk down to them or treat them like a simpleton or shelters them from the cold, hard facts.
I read the book last year on a plane headed to San Antonio. The flight itself was fraught with minor disasters (canceled flights, driving through Texas with strangers, no food), but the book wasn’t one of them. The second book? Consumed it on the return flight. The third book (it’s a trilogy . . . and a good one) I finished to and from an amusement park for our end-of-the-year field trip. In the end, it made enough of an impact to warrant a second reading of all three to review the subtleties of the writing and the plot points that pissed me off.
If you are watching the news these days or reading blogs or Facebook posts, people are concerned about the violence in the movies and the books. Guess what? When your plot pits 24 children between the ages of 12 and 18 against each other in a fight to the death, it’s going to be violent. Absolutely, the movie is bloody and gory. Half the movie brings me to tears: Katniss volunteering to take her sister’s place in the Games, Rue’s death and Katniss’s tribute to her with the flowers, the song that she sings. But the part that actually causes a tear to drop: when Katniss reflects on Peeta saving her life when they were home by throwing some burned bread in her direction. It isn’t bloody. It isn’t gory. Nobody dies. There is no stirring music. So why do I cry?
Because while we don’t have an annual “pageant” in which kids kill each other, we do have hungry kids . . . and that pisses me off. Because that is reality.