Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Where I Am Now

Image result for wonder novel

Blogger Friends!

I'm doing movies the best I can these days, which is watching them and not writing about them much. Though I did just post a piece I wrote on Silver Linings Playbook. I am, however, going to use this space to share about certain readings I do as part of my current foray into grad school. I hope you'll read!

- Kevin

What follows is my introductory post in my Young Adult Literature course as part of my graduate program, the M.A. in English at Gardner-Webb University:

Kevin Powers here, coming to you from Clinton, TN, just north of where my soon-to-be-top-ranked University of Tennessee Men's Basketball Team lives. I'm excited about this. So, there's that...

I also spend much of my time outside of teaching 8th Grade ELA at my hometown middle school at home with my beautiful wife, Amanda, our school district's Secondary Reading Specialist (and YA Lit nut), and our 7-month-old growing baby boy, Kit. In between that and this grad school work, I am movie-obsessed, currently working my way through catching up on movies I missed in 2018 (due to baby), the filmography of Tim Burton, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe (of which I've seen only three over the years, so I felt I needed to be in the know). I supposed I can say that I need to get more in tune with "the kids." Admittedly, I'm not much of a YA reader, at least when compared to some of my middle school ELA counterparts.

So, that gets me to one of my goals for this course. I want to put YA lit at the front of my reading goals. I just won a huge grant for my school ($12,500 from Dollar General and Suave) to be shared for reading/books/classroom library purposes as my school continues to dig into our yearly independent reading challenge. We are so excited about reading right now! This course comes to me right on time as I work with my colleagues to think about having some real money to spend on reading in our building. My concentration if English Education, and I'm loving my experience in this program so far. After receiving this degree, I will keep on keeping on, being the best ELA teacher I can be.

Like I said before, YA lit, despite my decade teaching middle school, is just not my first choice, even though it accounts for more than half of the novels I read in a year (and I'm often suprised and delighted by them). I prefer my novels to be more in adult land, and I spend most of my reading-for-entertainment time reading/listening to politics (ugh! I know...), film criticism, and various podcasts. Speaking of podcasts, I certainly heard some things worth noting in TED Radio Hour's "Just a Little Nicer" episode, to which I listened in full. We are living in a difficult time, a time certainly more difficult than anything I experienced as a tween/teen. I was most inspired by the former nun, Karen Armstrong, and her discussion of "The Golden Rule." That segment was just expertly produced. In addition to its use of Nick Cave and Warren Ellis' score for the movie The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I also took note of an amazing connection I recently had to a scene from the novel Wonder, which I haven't read, and the notion of Armstrong (and I'm paraphrasing) that people don't want to be compassionate, they want to be right. I remember when my late father (he passed away two years ago) first got on Facebook. He had as his Religious Views on his profile: The Golden Rule. I'll never forget that. That's how he raised my sister and I, and that's the kind of world we need to show our students, our young readers how to make, a world where it's better to "choose kind" when your other choice is being right.

To that end, that's the hope I have for discussing YA literature with you fine literary minds. I'm not one to be easily offended or triggered, at least when it comes to discussing themes in literature. Now, I can indeed be triggered when it comes to much of our politics, and the way our social media 24/7 has destroyed much of the decency and calm of even my generation (I'm 34 years old). The article "The Kids are Not All Right" spoke volumes to me in those terms. I was particularly taken with the very idea realized of how my generation was indeed different. We live in a world where, as the article quotes a counselor named Steve Schneider, "At no point do you get to remove yourself from it and get perspective" (47). When I think of my teenage dramas, I think of the fact that they didn't follow me around for days. I would get upset. Talk to my Mom or Dad. It would go away. Now...it follows. The anger and pain of the world.

Here's a true story from a few days ago: One of my students of color, after hearing another student shout the "N-word" on dare (we found out) on the way back to class from lunch (both students), became very outspoken immediately about the incident, just before the culprit was called out to the office. I heard him. I talked to both students. I heard him too. I told my class one thing in response to the incident: "I hope you all understand and know that the only way to be to each other, the only way this thing works is in being kind." The young man who rightly took offense to the slur raised his hand and quoted Wonder, "If you have a choice between being right and being kind, choose kind." I was moved. There's no other way to put it. Therefore, I hope that when we face the challenges of these texts, we consider the challenges of the real world thrust upon our students all day, all night, every day. We should be open with each other and willing to listen and respond thoughtfully and respectfully about the issues in these works. And I hope that we boldly face them head on, work together to consider what's approachable and how to approach it, and to get these challenging works into the hands of the right students. The right books in the right hands can change the world.


  1. What an incredible program to introduce!

    My kids are homeschooled, but I'm such an avid reader that I try and instill that in them, and so I've delved into some YA myself (although, like you, it is not my forte). That being said, there are some great reads if you stretch you mind to your thoughts on what defines YA. For instance, I adore everything Selznick writes (Wonderstruck, Hugo, etc.) and his themes are so deep, adultlike even, but written from a childlike point of view (which I love).

    And Wonder is fantastic, as a book and a film, and the themes on kindness are just so poignant no matter your age.

    I look forward to seeing what else you post from this project...although I'm also a huge cinephile so I'm glad I found your blog :-P

    1. Right on, man! Welcome! I'm trying to write and share here as much as possible on here. I used to be a much more active movie blogger. Honestly, I don't love a lot of YA, despite my teaching middle school. Some titles are great, though. Glad you stumbled on my blog. Will be sure to follow yours. Cheers!

  2. Glad to see you back, man!

    Also... Tennessee won't be at #1 for long, because my Michigan Wolverines are coming! GO BLUE!

    And Wonder is a great book.