This year, we got was is the PRIMO spot for us--RIGHT in front of the CARY LIBRARY!
This holiday season, Heroic University is once again sponsoring a display in the Town of Cary's Gifting Tree program. Academy Street in downtown Cary is lined with small evergreen trees that are decorated by Cary groups and organizations to represent their missions. It provides some festive, secular decorations for the month of December, and also lets people know about the many vibrant organizations in our town.
This year, we got was is the PRIMO spot for us--RIGHT in front of the CARY LIBRARY!
This year, students created handmade ornaments representing over 20 of their favorite books (some books are represented more than once). We are inviting the public to submit their guesses here. Books range from preschool through adult, with both American and International authors. If you look carefully, you might be able to guess some of them from the picture! But if you live in the Cary area, we recommend you visit the library and check out our tree in person!
There is a contest for the tree the public likes best. Please vote for us at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/cqhnpy9
Thanks to the Heroic U students and families who created all the beautiful ornaments, and especially those who came down this week to help decorate our tree.
Submit your guesses here and check back for some close-ups on some ornaments with some hints...
I like to read North Carolina authors, and I like to read multicultural authors, so this book is a "twofer" because author Renée Ahdieh is a woman of mixed race married to a Persian husband as well as an UNC-Chapel Hill graduate living in Charlotte. The Rose & The Dagger is a satisfying conclusion to her debut novel published last year, The Wrath & The Dawn (read my review of that book here).
The series is a modern retelling of 1001 Arabian Night, in which protagonist Shahrzad agrees to become the wife of the murderous Khalid the Caliph with the intent of killing him before he kills her on the dawn of the day following their weather. But once in the palace, Shahrzad finds the situation is more complicated, and even finds herself falling for the man she thought she hated for having married and then killing her best friend.
The second book gets deeper into the alliances and conflicts between different tribes in this early Persian world. As is common in YA novels, there are star-crossed lovers and love triangles and unrequited love and lots of love drama in general. There is also another common element of magic in this ancient world. However, the magic is more of a decoration than the main trust of the plot. Rather, the story concentrates on familiar and all-too-human issues: bravery and betrayal, selfishness and sacrifice, and whether one should follow one's family or follow one's heart.
It is a lovely, exotic world that is fun to lose oneself in. There are also some strong and well-rounded female heroes. Like most princess stories, they are all devastatingly gorgeous, but they are also clever, caring, and courageous. This ends up being a great "girl power" book, featuring a minority culture that we Americans should probably appreciate more than we do.
Plus, kudos to the author for telling the story in two books and not trying to stretch it out to the seemingly-inescapable trilogy in YA series. Although the characters all have flowing dark hair, the length and pacing of this book seemed to me, like Goldilocks, to be "just right."
Now that our 2015-16 Heroic U classes are officially over, I have some time to catch up on some other great YA reading that I missed when teaching. So my first book of the summer was Simon Vs. The Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli. And what a great book to start my seasonal reading binge!
This book is all about teen love, particularly the gay-but-not-out-of-the-closet Simon Spier. Simon is falling for a guy at his school outside Atlanta, but doesn't know who it is because they have only been emailing each other using anonymous accounts. But when Martin, one of Simon's classmates, stumbles upon his secret, he wants Simon to help set him up with a popular cheerleader who is part of Simon's crowd, or else Martin might "out" Simon at school. If Simon helps Martin out, he might be in hot water with Nick, one of his two oldest friends, who is also interested in Abby, the cheerleader. However, it might restore the equilibrium with his other oldest friend, Leah, who has fallen for Nick and would like someone else to take Abby out of circulation...
So, yeah, high school drama. But it is really well done. Most of these relationships are not the "grand statement" relationships you see in movies like Say Anything, but the kind of fumbling, "does he/she like me?" "is this what loves feels like?" beginning explorations that are much more typical of real life teenagers. Also, I appreciate how the author handles Simon's concerns about his sexuality becoming public–he is clear about being gay but has not admitted it to his best friends or his family. Simon worries about coming out, but it isn't presented as a big huge deal that will dramatically change his life forever. I think it is much more in line with today's teenagers, at least in educated and fairly sophisticated communities like Cary, in which homosexuality and non-traditional gender identification is much more open and accepted than it was in high school years (so don't get me started on HB 2 and how it does NOT represent the majority of beliefs in North Carolina).
Perhaps one reason all these characters and their relationship or identity issues is handled so deftly is because author Albertalli is also a clinical psychologist who counsels teenagers and was a co-leader of a support group for gender nonconforming children. So some of these important issues, like being gay or bi-racial or a minority in a majority culture, etc., are significant aspects of the characters without defining the characters. I love that these are parts of interesting, well-rounded, and believable teenage characters, rather than being the single lens through which these characters see the world.
I also really liked the dynamics with Simon's family. Simon's parents are reasonable, reasonable, and loving parents with a few quirks, like gathering the entire family to watch reality TV dating shows together and a tendency for his father to make gay jokes, unaware of how uncomfortable that makes his son. The family is trying to recalibrate itself now that Simon's oldest sister is going to college up north. And I'm sure I'm not the only parent who could relate to how Simon doesn't want to tell his parents certain things because, in their efforts to be supportive, they make such a BIG DEAL out of everything....
All in all, I think it is an honest and charitable story of high school life. Almost everyone in the book hurts, angers, or annoys at least one other character by doing something dumb. But the wrongdoing is generally motivated by cluelessness or self-centered thoughtlessness, rather than maliciousness or prejudice. But also everyone also has acts of courage, creativity, and caring. In the end, it does all come down to love. Whether it is love between two males or two females, or between a black person and a white person, or between friends and family members, or even, and perhaps most importantly, a person who can accept her-or-himself the way s/he really is....well, it's all good.
As part of the Town of Cary's Giving Tree program, in which local community organizations decorate trees to be displayed at the Town Hall campus over the holiday season, Heroic University is sponsoring a tree. What makes our tree unique, though, is that all the decorations were created by hand by our students and their families, AND, each one represents a favorite book of a student at Heroic U.
Using a QR Code on the tree that directs visitors to this blog, we are inviting the public to try to guess which book each decoration is supposed to be. The books range from elementary level to adult, so the whole family can be part of the "Guess What Book?" game.
We will be posting some hints, or focusing on specific ornaments in the coming days, so come back for the clues or to post your guesses.
Also, please realize that some of the ornaments refer to the same book. See if you can tell what book is monopolizing the imagination of our high school students.
Our tree is located on Academy Street between Chatham Street and Chapel Hill Road. We are by the side entrance of the Town Hall, right before you get to the colorful geometric sculpture that is part of the CVA annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition.
Thanks to the Heroic U students who created all the beautiful and imaginative ornaments. And extra special thanks to the students who came out in the cold and the rain to decorate the tree.
In the beginning of October, there were books hiding in bushes, lying against walls in alleys, and other assorted cubbyholes in downtown Cary. Maybe you found one? If so, you can thank the students of Heroic University for supplying your hidden literary treasure.
The hunt was inspired by a middle school-level book called Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. In it, an eccentric publisher hides copies of his books, and puts clues on his website that allow his readers to search for the book. Once found and read, the searcher becomes the hider, and posts a new clue about where the book has been concealed.
It sounded like so much fun that I wanted to replicate the experience in our community!
So one rainy September evening, I hid books for my high school class to find and posted clues on the simplified book hunt section of the website for the book, BookScavenger.com. Using their smartphones or tablets (supplemented with some printed copies of the clues for those who didn't have access to those technologies), the high schoolers searched out the books I found, then hid other books that has been secretly prepared by the parents for the middle school class. The next day, it was the middle schoolers who were searching, and then hiding additional books for a general book scavenger hunt for our homeschool group.
The following week, a cross-section of our homeschool group early followed the clues that revealed books hidden all around the heart of the downtown area of Cary. We sent them home with they books, but suggested that maybe after they had spent the winter reading them, we might sponsor another scavenger hunt in the Spring.
It was a lot of fun both searching and hiding. And some of the books for each group were never found, so....maybe they are still out there. You can check the website to see clues for the books that were never marked as "FOUND."
YA readers who have grown out of Rick Riordan's Egyptian-based Red Pyramid series (Kane Chronicles) may enjoy this book, if they are up to a slower-paced and more romance-focused adventure tale of a modern student meeting ancient Egyptian mythology. At the start of the book, protagonist Lillianna Young seems to have a dream life--she lives a rich and privileged life as the only child of a wealthy professional couple in Manhattan. Sensible, high-achieving, and responsible, Lillianna's world starts to fall apart when a revived Egyptian prince with god-like powers co-opts her into assisting him in reuniting with his brothers to perform a mystical ceremony to keep the world from falling into darkness under the rule of Seth, the Egyptian god of chaos. But is Lily helping to bring Amon and his brothers to life...or vice versa?
I liked the exotic setting of the book, and actually preferred it to the Riordan series, which was so jam-packed with myths and monsters that I was unfamiliar with that I had a tendency to get lost. With fewer characters and ancient stories to keep up with, I could appreciate the mythology lesson better. And this book (the first of a new series) places much more attention on the relationship than just on the action. While the crux of the book is the Lily-Amon relationship, I was more interested in the triad of the brothers and how each interacted with Lily. There are lots of YA romances, but fewer explorations of the love between brothers (especially those associated with ancient Egyptian gods) and how a female in the mix can change everything.
It had lovely imagery, interesting characters, not too-frenetic action, and a good brush-up on Egyptian history, culture, and, of course, mythology. So I found it to be a good read.
This book is based on a theme that I haven’t seen covered before in YA novels (although I’m sure it has been—it’s not like I can read them all, or even most of them these days). The protagonist is Sydney, a teen who has always been overshadowed by her charismatic brother Peyton. But when Peyton gets out of control and is sent to jail for his tragic crime, he continue to monopolize her parents’ attention, even though he is no longer there. Sydney transfers from her tony and expensive private school, where everyone knows all the details of the family’s issues, to the public high school. There, she falls into a circle of artistic outliers, and gets adopted by the Chathams, a warm and kind-of-wacky family that runs a run-down local pizza parlor that is the YA version of Cheers (the bar where everybody knows your name).
So the set-up is a little extreme, but I think a lot of siblings can relate to feeling like they are invisible compared to a sibling that is either outstanding, and getting all the attention for that, or demanding, and getting all the attention because of their neediness. It is just in Sydney’s case, it is both!
This is a nice book with interesting characters. It really revolves around Sydney finding her voice, which is a real struggle for many teens...and even many adults. So it is a good read. Desson is another North Carolina author, this time from near-by Chapel Hill. I always enjoy reading a good book by a local author!
Heroic University had a display at the Cary Homeschoolers Student Showcase last Saturday, June 6. At our table, I asked visitors to vote for their favorite tween/teen fantasy or science fiction book(s). The choices were:
I also had people use different colored dots to record their votes so we could see if there was a difference in preferences between elementary, middle school, high school, and college/adult readers.
Well, J.K. Rowling blew the competition away! At all age levels, there were way more votes for Harry Potter than any other choice. The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings were in a distant second place.
So there you have it! Harry Potter officially wins the 2015 CHS Student Showcase Readers Favorite Award!
This YA novel is an alternative version of 1001 Arabian Nights. Set in the past in the Middle East, a monstrous boy-king, Khalid the Caliph, marries a different woman each night and has her put to death at dawn. When Shahrzad volunteers to be the next bride, she is more than just the clever storyteller of the traditional tale. She has every intention of avenging her cousin and best friend, who was one of the Caliph's former wives, by killing the king before he can murder her. However, once she is in the palace, she discovers things are not as black and white as she thought. Is there some deeper explanation for the Caliph's behavior?
I enjoyed this book a great deal, particularly since we had read the traditional version of the story in my World Literature class. The setting is fabulous, with luscious descriptions of the colors, artwork, smells, and sounds of an ancient and exotic Middle Eastern past. The romance is slow to build, but believable (or relatively so, set as it is in an unbelievable world). There are some interesting side characters and several mysteries to be explored.
Most of all, I love a re-imagining of a classic piece of World Literature. Most of my students deemed the Caliph of the traditional tale "the worst of the worst" when it came to terrible male protagonists. So I like imagining that there could be some explanations for his behavior that we might not know from the historic version.
I wasn't crazy about the ending. While most of the book was fairly slow paced, giving us plenty of time to immerse ourselves in this interesting world with these characters, suddenly there is a flurry of activity, some of which I found confusing, leading to an abrupt conclusion--or, non-conclusion, since things are left up in the air to be resolved in the sequel. I wasn't expecting that, and felt like I would have been satisfied if they had just tied things up in one book. But we will see what author Renée Ahdieh (who graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill and now lives in Charlotte) has up her sleeve for the coming book, The Rose and the Dagger (to be published in 2016).
With all the end-of-the-school-year madness right now, I'm sure I'm not the only one fantasizing about spending leisurely summer days reading some good books. (True admission: I have to go to the library today to pick up a book I requested months ago. I've left it until the last day before the hold expires because I was trying to delay as long as possible before my two weeks to read it since I don't see how I can possibly finish it in the next two weeks with everything else I have and hate to think about having to go back to being #427 on the waiting list, which means that the book will probably come to me again right at the end of August when I'm almost equally busy getting ready for next year's class to start!)
However, you may have to act now to get your child into some of the more popular summer reading programs, which can fill up quickly.
Sign-ups begin on June 1 for the summer B.I.R.D.S. program at my favorite independent book store, Quail Ridge Books. This very popular program for 5-7 year olds begins July 7, and runs for five Tuesday nights from 7-8 pm. There is a $20 charge for the entire program. Registrants receive 20% on any B.I.R.D.S. books purchased. Check out their website here.
Sign-ups have already begun for summer writing camps with my friend, Casey Izzet, at Young Writers' Institute. Ms. Casey has fun but instruction half-day camps for grades 2-12, with both creative writing and academic skill development options for the middle and high schoolers. But since she restricts her camps to only 6 students to ensure plenty of individual attention, you had better act quickly to snag your spot! For more information, see her summer camp page here
What ever else you do, you don't want to miss participating in the annual summer reading program at the Wake County Public Libraries. Their theme this year is close to our Heroic U hearts: Every Hero Has a Story. There are programs and prizes for everyone from toddlers to adults, and what could be better than reading stories about heroes? For more information, check out the Summer Reading Program page here.
So there are a few resources to get you started on summer. Back to the May grindstone for me, but coming in June will be updates on my personal summer reading!
Carol is the founder and Headmaster of Heroic U. Here she shares some of her thoughts about education, literature, the hero's journey, and life in general