Top Picks for Boston Book Festival 2015

2015 will be my fourth year attending the Boston Book Festival, yet this is my first blog post about this special event that has become a fall tradition for me. After the past three book festivals, I was so overwhelmed that I could not even craft a post that summarized this spectacular experience.

This year, I am older and wiser, and therefore I am posting before I go into a “reader’s coma” on Saturday evening. I just finished handwriting my Boston Book Festival schedule (below) on the back of my copy of fellow Boston teacher Jennifer De Leon‘s “Home Movie”, this year’s  One City, One Story selection, and I am sharing it with you, dear reader, so you can see my “Top Picks” for this year.

See you Saturday in Copley Square!

BBF2015

Malala Yousafzai News Broadcast

Below you will find three wonderful video clips from Japan’s NHK Television Broadcast about Malala Yousafzai’s speech at the United Nations in July. It was interesting to watch and re-watch these clips in Japanese. Although I do not speak any Japanese, the images alone served to tell Malala’s story and how it has affected children in Pakistan and around the world.

 I am so pleased that my student Quddus Rodrigues and his fabulous “super mama” Filomena are featured in this compelling program. Quddus is a model of how reading and writing can inspire us and empower us to advocate for others. I love that he is a young man that stands for education. As Malala says: “Let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge…Education is the only solution.”
Quddus’ Clip in the Broadcast
Malala Broadcast, Part I
Malala Broadcast, Part II

Letters to Malala Yousafzai

A group of my seventh and eighth grade intermediate ESL students  felt shocked and outraged after reading an article about the Taliban’s attack on 14-year-old award-winning activist, writer, and student Malala Yousafzai. They decided to write her letters in order to wish her a speedy recovery and to ask questions and express their feelings.

Quddus’s Letter to Malala: “I felt sorrow, I was weeping for your recovery.”

Diligence’s Letter to Malala: Human Rights

 

Muslim student Nadira felt compelled to explain the differences between her understandings of Islam and the images conveyed by the Taliban via the media. 

page 2 of Nadira’s letter

Angely’s Letter, page 1

Angely’s Letter, page 2: asking questions about regret

Mariah’s Letter to Malala: I think the Taliban should suffer.

Angel’s Letter: “You are like the second governor.”

Change Agency: 826 Boston, Egleston Square’s Inspiration Center

I was really surprised to find myself out on a school night, especially after the very first day of school last Thursday. However, the lure of free pizza, visiting a book store, and talking with writers at non-profit youth tutoring and writing center 826 Boston‘s Write-A-Thon launch party proved irresistible.

826 Boston’s field trips allow classes to create their own publications with each student writing his or her own ending.

“3035 Washington Street,” I told my husband,”It’s right by that Dunkin’ Donuts at Egleston.” We walked toward the building, right on the corner. “Oh, it’s right here at this bank,” I said, as we walked closer. GREATER BOSTON BIGFOOT RESEARCH CENTER read the letters on the front of the building. “Well, this is 3035,” said my husband, ringing the doorbell for 826 Boston. A smiling woman greeted us and quickly escorted us through the “research center” – which turned out to be the clever disguise for 826 Boston’s very own bookstore, full of books published by the organization’s students.

As we entered the back room, the center’s tutoring center, we were presented with hard-cover writing journals as well as name tages to write our pen names – our childhood pet’s name as the first name and our childhood street name as the last name. Assuming my new identity as “Birdy Thornbrook”, I sat down and helped myself to a slice of pizza while I scanned the room. I noticed a cartoon drawing on a white board, a story being typed and displayed on a projector, and another display of a Skype homescrren.

Before we arrived, the other partygoers had created the beginning of an extremely silly story – this particular story was about an animal named Petunia who hoped to become a shortstop for a Syracuse sports team. Then, each participant wrote their own ending to the story, and several of the endings were read to a bearded and bespectacled editor via Skype. It turned out that this activity is exactly what 826 Boston youth visitors experience when they come on school trips to 826 Boston headquarters, and they then receive a copy of the beginning of the story as well as a book with their ending. If the laughter and smiles of adults are any indication of what children experience at the center, it must be a very joyful place.

This assumption was affirmed by my conversations with 826’s volunteers and staff. Northeastern University student Toby Fox, age 20, volunteers at 826 as part of the Civic Engagement Program at the university. He says that he enjoys leading field trips and tutoring students, and he loves seeing the stories that the students write. Although Fox studies environmental science, he says that his experience at 826 has inspired the desire to continue volunteering with youth.

Northeastern University student and 826 volunteer Toby Fox feels inspired by the students at 826’s Egleston Square writing center.

When asked about her favorite publication in the Bigfoot Research Center Bookstore, Store and Events Coordinator Sarah Skolnick responded by showing me A Place for Me in the World, a collection of interviews and prints written by the middle school students at the Mission Hill K-8 School. The interviews focus on the theme of career, and the interviewees consist of professionals working in cake decorating, marine biology, and even government – the grinning jowls in the print portrait of Mayor Thomas M. Menino are immediately recognizable.

Store and Events Coordinator Sara Skolnick (left) and writing teachers Aria Hamada-Forrest (center) and Julie Drench (right) pose with the center’s latest publication, written by Mission Hill School middle schoolers.

826 Program Coordinator Karen Sama claims to face an addiction to the center’s students. She displays her favorite publication, a well-designed palm-sized volume titled A Handbook of Practical Knowledge for the Modern Spy, which I purchased for $5. The book is full of ciphers (I spent about twenty minutes trying the first one, and I plan to return to it later) as well as stories about spies. Sama recalls a memorable student: “His name is Kamari. I remember he never wanted to hear the feedback. He just wanted to finish his stories, and that’s it – just to get them done. Then, one day, he went to put his folder back. It was almost put away, and then he pulled it back close to him. He said he just wanted to add something to his story. It was a great moment.”

Program Coordinator Karen Sama sits among student publications holding her favorite 826 volume.

Note: I have set a goal of raising $250 for 826 Boston’s Write-A-Thon. Please support me in this endeavor if possible.

Book Review: Black Ships Before Troy

The cover displays Helen looming above the black ships.

Black Ships Before Troy: The Story of the Iliad (ISBN:  0-553-49483-X)by Rosemary Sutcliff retells Homer’s epic poem in the form of a novel. Several themes emerge in this retelling –  betrayal, loss, revenge, and heroism.

Agamemnon Betrays Achilles

Achilles feels betrayed by Agamemnon, the king of the Greeks, when Agamemnon threatens to take Briseis – a captured maiden and spoil of war – away from Achilles, and, although he is the pride of the Greek army, Achilles refuses to fight any longer for Agamemnon.

The war wages on, however, and the Greeks become more and more disheartened. Agamemnon wants to give up on the war entirely, but Nestor, an old wise man, advises him to beg forgiveness from Achilles by offering him Briseis as well as many riches if Achilles will agree to rejoin the Greeks in battle. Two accomplished members of the Greek army, Odysseus and Ajax, are sent to make this offer to Achilles.

Achilles, still brimming with anger, refuses the offer, declaring his distrust for Agamemnon. However, upon witnessing a severely wounded friend returning from battle, Achilles sends his best friend Patroclus out to gather news from the front lines. Patroclus returns extremely distressed by the scenes of war, and he requests to borrow Achilles’ armor, as Patroclus intends to fight in disguise as Achilles.

The Death of Patroclus

Achilles allows Patroclus to borrow the armor, but he carefully instructs Patroclus to fight only until the Trojans are beaten back from the Greeks’ black ships. However, Patroclus does not heed Achilles’ instructions, and he continues to fight in battle even after the Trojans have cleared away from the ships. Patroclus perishes at the hands of Hector, the Trojan leader, who strips the famed armor of Achilles from Patroclus’s body.

The Revenge Upon Hector

Upon learning of the loss of Patroclus, Achilles becomes mad with grief, and he wishes to avenge the death of his friend. After obtaining new armor procured by his mother, Thetis, Achilles kills Hector, and then Achilles gruesomely straps his body to a chariot and drags it through the filth of the battlefield. For many days, Achilles continues to anguish in guilt at the death of his friend, and he reacts to these emotions by further abusing the body of Hector. However, upon advice of Thetis, Achilles finally returns the body of Hector to Hector’s father, Priam, the King of Troy, and Achilles and Priam weep together in their grief for those that they have lost in the war.

The Heroism of Odysseus

While Homer’s Iliad concludes with the funeral of Hector, Sutcliff continues the narrative with several more tales of the Trojan War, including two stories that illustrate the heroism of Odysseus, the central character in The Iliad‘s sequel: The Odyssey. The first story, “The Luck of Troy”, displays how Odysseus’s chicanery enables him to steal The Palladium, a black stone that symbolizes protection of Troy and the Trojans. The second, the famed story of “The Wooden Horse” and “The Fall of Troy”, shows Odysseus’s cunning and patience as the Greeks emerge as the victors of the Trojan War and as Odysseus saves the life of his long-time friend, the famed beauty Helen.

Conclusion

Suttcliff’s short and easy-to-read version of The Iliad serves as a supplement to or preview for translated versions of the original text. Although it omits much of the detailed descriptions, historical backdrops, and deep emotions of a translation such as that of Robert Fitzgerald (ISBN: 0-385-05941-8), Suttcliff’s retelling keeps the narrative flowing with action and purposefulness that makes the epic tale accessible to young adult readers.

Note: I found this article useful in the preparation of this book review.