9780807083260Historical fiction as a genre is powerful in its ability both to educate and to provide insight into the voices and experiences of those who came before us. Ruthanne Lum McCunn’s novel Thousand Pieces of Gold (Beacon Press) does just that, tracing the tribulations of Polly Bemis, a nineteenth-century Chinese woman who is sold into slavery and prostitution in America and who struggles against all odds to claim her independence. In McCunn’s adaptation of this true story, Polly’s father refers to his daughter as his treasure, his “thousand pieces of gold,” and his decision to sell her reveals the desperation brought on by intersecting historical forces in China at that time. What follows is an exploration of the value and dignity of human life as Polly perseveres and pioneers across the American frontier. (more…)

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On Tuesday, April 24, 2012, author Thomas Mullen visited Central Catholic High School in Tolelo, Ohio, where he was the featured speaker in the Central Catholic High School Reads program. Upon his visit, all students were required to read his book, The Last Town on Earth and teachers incorporated it into different class subjects.  Marie A. Arter, Director of Curriculum, said: “Author Thomas Mullen brought a fresh, intellectual and creative approach to the students and faculty of Toledo Central Catholic High School in our annual author visit event that celebrates reading and writing.  Tom meet with our community, students, and faculty to shared his love of writing, research and cultivating curiosity in life.  Indeed, he inspired our students to look at history from multiple perspectives.  Without doubt, I would recommend Thomas Mullen and his book The Last Town on Earth to any high school looking for ways to motivate their students to make curricular connections while becoming lifelong learners and readers.”

Click here for more information about the CCHS Reads program and Mullen’s visit.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom RiggsThe inspiration for a story can come from almost anywhere. I learned this first-hand a few years ago when I was inspired by some evocative old snapshots I found at a flea market. I wanted to know more about the people in them, but the photos were anonymous—long-disconnected from whomever had taken and discarded them—so instead I created their stories myself. The result was my first novel, Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar ChildrenIt’s enjoyed some remarkable success, especially for a book from a debut novelist—there’s even a movie in the works! None of which would be happening if I hadn’t let a handful of musty pictures tell me a story. Stories are everywhere; it’s just a matter of tuning our ears to listen for them.

Given the way Miss Peregrine is told, with the photos I found woven through the narrative, it’s proven to be a fascinating conversation-starter for students and teachers of creative writing. Students can easily find photos of their own to use as writing prompts, either on the Internet or, better yet, in the attics and closets of parents and grandparents. (I discovered that it’s nearly impossible to write about old photographs without becoming interested in their history. There’s something fascinating about the immediacy of a photograph, no matter how old it is; though a picture might have been taken a hundred years ago, it is always, in some sense, now.) (more…)

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford

I knew that my novel, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, was making its way onto high school reading lists when curious emails began popping up in my inbox. They tended to go something like this:

“Um, you know, your book, Motel on the Corner of Sweet and Sour—dude, it’s like m favorite novel of all time!! And I’m kinda wondering if you could, like, answer these twelve questions for me? (In my mind, I always hear this question coming from a nasally, voice-cracking, pre-pubescent 14-year-old boy wearing a Hot Topic hoodie with his ear buds in, listening to “Bring Me the Horizon”).

And just like that, I was suddenly someone’s homework. Right up there with Of Mice and Men, the Pythagorean Theorem, and building dioramas out of old shoe-boxes and craftpaper.

To be honest, I wasn’t entirely sure how my novel would be received.

So then I asked myself why so many students embrace books like The Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird—because they’re amazing novels? Sure. But moreover, these are books with young protagonists. They offer voices that are readily absorbed by the intrepid imaginations of young adults. (more…)

The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen

by Thomas Mullen, author of The Last Town on Earth and The Many Deaths of the Firefly Brothers

When reading works of fiction, students often think that there’s a right answer for how they’re supposed to respond to the book.  Surely (as they’re sometimes taught in high school) there’s a specific meaning F. Scott Fitzgerald had in mind with The Great Gatsby’s “green light,” and therefore there’s a right way to read the book and a wrong way.  A novel is a riddle, just a more creative version of a math problem, and students need to figure out the right answer, explain it in a paper, and then they’ll earn their A.  At which point they’re free to put the book away and never think about it again.

But English isn’t Algebra, and sometimes there are lots of right answers.  Or maybe—gasp—there’s no right answer.  Or perhaps it isn’t the answer that’s so important as the journey the reader takes to get there.  The travels with the characters, the experience of viewing the world through someone else’s eyes, the various lessons this act imparts—these will all lead different readers to different opinions, emotions, revelations.  This is true not only with our interpretations about whether a literary symbol has a certain meaning but also our determination as to whether characters did the “right” thing or not. (more…)

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief, recently spoke with a group of students at the Paideia School in Atlanta, Georgia. The students later emailed her book trailers that they’d made for her novel as part of a class project.

We were pretty impressed by them (and wished we were given a fun assignment like this back when we were in school!) Check the trailers out on her blog.

Haven’t read the book yet? Email us and we’ll send a complimentary copy to the first TEN people who respond.

The Last Dickens by Matthew Pearl

by Matthew Pearl, author of  The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow, and The Last Dickens (First 10 people to post a comment will receive one FREE copy of any of the books mentioned in this article. Simply post a comment and then email us with your full school mailing address).

Reading Dante for the first time was a memorable moment in my life as a student. I remember what first caught me. In the beginning of The Divine Comedy, Dante finds himself in danger in a wild forest until a spirit from the afterlife is sent to guide him. This spirit is Virgil, the Roman poet. Virgil was Dante’s literary idol, and now here was Dante resurrecting him as a character in a poem. I was just starting to read Dante, and already I had formed my next mission. I’d have to read Virgil, too.

One work of literature had the power to get me to run out and read another one. That wasn’t the first time it had happened to me. I had been a fan of T. S. Eliot, and his striking references to Dante had led me to the Italian poet to begin with. Later I’d discover the Dante Club, a group of American poets in the nineteenth century committed to bringing readers to their favorite medieval poem. In them, I found the same type of energy that had affected me when I put down Eliot to read Dante, and took a break from Dante to grab Virgil. This was reading as a continuum, a chain reaction. This would animate my writing through all three novels, each of which entered another corner of literary history: The Dante Club, The Poe Shadow and The Last Dickens. (more…)