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Inside Practically Paradise

Top Teen Titles #75-79

WHOA! There is a theme going on with the five titles on today’s list. Read on and see if you can detect it… 

Night Cover# 79 Night by Elie Wiesel. Hill and Wang; Revised edition (January 16, 2006)  ISBN13: 9780374500016. 128pp

Quote from one of the nominators:
First read this as a sophomore in high school, and it has stayed with me ever since. Some heavy stuff here, but really makes studying the Holocaust personal to the reader. 

Publisher’s Note:  A terrifying account of the Nazi death camp horror that turns a young Jewish boy into an agonized witness to the death of his family…the death of his innocence…and the death of his God. Penetrating and powerful, as personal as The Diary Of Anne Frank, Night awakens the shocking memory of evil at its absolute and carries with it the unforgettable message that this horror must never be allowed to happen again.

The context of the novel from the Sparknotes website tells us:

After observing a ten-year vow of silence about the Holocaust, in 1956 Wiesel published Un di Velt Hot Geshvign (Yiddish for And the World Remained Silent), an 800-page account of his life during the Holocaust. In 1958, he condensed his work and translated it from its original Yiddish into French, publishing it under the title La Nuit. The work was translated into English and published in 1960 as Night. Some scholars have argued that significant differences exist between Un di Velt Hot Geshvign and the subsequent French/English publications, chiefly that in the Yiddish text, Wiesel expressed more anger toward the Nazis and adopted a more vengeful tone.

Although publishers were initially hesitant to embrace Night, believing that audiences would not be interested in such pessimistic subject matter, the memoir now stands as one of the most widely read and taught accounts of the Holocaust. From a literary point of view, it opened the way for many other stories and memoirs published in the second half of the twentieth century. 

Elie Wiesel is a 1986 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate. UCF has a video on their Digital Booktalk site to help introduce this book. I’d recommend showing it several times while a class reads Night. 

An interesting review of Night by Cynthia Ozick of the New York Times Book Review relates this to The Diary of Anne Frank: 
"The seminal story of a child the Germans intended to murder, more to the point than the partial narrative of ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ since it describes the place of Anne Frank’s doom." Cynthia Ozick, New York Times Book Review

Also from Sparknotes

It is implied throughout the text that silence and passivity are what allowed the Holocaust to continue. Wiesel’s writing of Night is itself an attempt to break the silence, to tell loudly and boldly of the atrocities of the Holocaust and, in this way, to try to prevent anything so horrible from ever happening again.

One reason why I believe this title is important to teens is that many of our teens are learning how to question what is happening around them and how they respond. This title and the discussion that ensues helps teens focus on action and personal responsibility to the larger world around us. You may want to look at the webquest "Who Should Be Remembered?"

Students who tell me they don’t like history class do insist this is a worthy book to read. They are moved by the horrors suffered and understand that something like this should never happen again. I wonder how we help them realize that studying history in general helps us to prevent the horrors of the past from re-occurring?

This is one of Oprah’s Book Club titles. Her site has many resources for you to use including a teacher’s guide. 
I’m happy it is available in paperback as I have many young men asking for a copy. I need multiple copies of this title. In fact, I seem to become a clearinghouse for used copies because the community will donate worn copies of Night and I will give them away to middle and high school students. I recognize that this title has changed many people’s lives through their reading, so I am happy to assist them in obtaining their own copy.

There are resources available through the Schools of California Online Resources for Educators (SCORE) Project. I found many student versions of booktalks on youtube doing a simple search. The WebEnglishTeacher site has activities and links. The Macmillan website has both a reader’s guide and a teacher’s guide. 

Be sure to visit the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. Their mission is "to combat indifference, intolerance and injustice through international dialogues and youth-focused programs that promote acceptance, understanding and equality."

#78 Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. Currently available: Aladdin (December 26, 2006). ISBN13: 9781416936473. 192pp

I don’t think I need write much about this title. Instead, I can just point out to you that Betsy Bird’s survey of titles for Children’s Novels placed Hatchet #26 with 28 votes. Her blog post is extensive and contains many Hatchet Coverquotes, reviews, and covers. Here is a snippet from her blog:

In an interview with School Library Journal in June of 1997 Paulsen said that when writing this book, "I didn’t think of boys at first. At one point, I actually toyed with the idea of writing Hatchet with a girl protagonist." Later, when asked which of his books are his favorites he says, "Hatchet is in the sense that it struck some nerve that I still don’t understand, and that has made it one of my favorite books. It was not when I wrote it."

So what can I add that is unique? 

Hatchet was a 1988 Newbery Honor book losing to Lincoln: A Photobiography by Russell Freedman. Why do I repeat that fact? 1989 was my first year teaching as a school librarian in Highland Park, Illinois. I wanted to share my love of reading with students and introduce them to award winning and honor books. Hatchet was an instant hit with my students and teachers at Sherwood Elementary school and inspired many young boys to become readers. Lincoln: A Photobiography was read during February then filed on the shelf as an "award winner."

The impact of reading Hatchet helped many discover that reading could be fun and enjoyable. Students would come to me and say that they were "thinking" while they were reading. It sparked a need for survival titles that continues today. I found links to libraries with teen survival lists at places like the Berkeley Public Library, Ocean County LibrarySan Jose Public Library‘s Survival List (and their Adventure List), Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library, the Madison Public Library,  the Logan, Utah Public Library list of survial and list of adventure novels, the Wheaton IL Public Library list in pdf format, and the Tulsa, OK library list. When I get bored during my next break, I think I’ll have to compile a personalized list for my library. I have reading teachers who spontaneously decide to send all of their students (95-120 of  them) to the library to check out a book in the adventure genre.

To this day when a reluctant reader seeks help finding something, I will ask "Have you ever read Hatchet?" From their response I can tell which way to go with reader’s guidance. Girls do love reading this book, but by having a male protagonist, my young male readers who reject anything that resembles a "chick book" can claim ownership. Each of them believes Gary Paulsen has written this book for them. 

While my students don’t care about the role of divorce Brian agonizes over, they do relate to the mental struggles of survival. After reading Hatchet, many will pick up The Dangerous Book for Boys just so they can "be prepared." Should this title be on both Betsy’s Children’s Novel list and my list of the Top 100 Teen Titles? Absolutely! Any teen who reaches middle school and hasn’t read Gary Paulsen’s book Hatchet needs you to place it in their hands.

The Diary of a Young Girl Cover#77 Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. Bantam pb, 1953. ISBN13: 9780671824495. 258ppAnne Frank: The Diary of A Young Girl

Quote from one of the nominators:
"The Diary of Anne Frank is important for girls to read because Anne is going through the same emotions they are. It helps them see that they are not the only person who has ever felt this way."

Publisher’s comments from Powell’s: 

"Discovered in the attic in which she spent the last years of her life, Anne Frank’s remarkable diary has since become a world classic — a powerful reminder of the horrors of war and an eloquent testament to the human spirit. In 1942, with Nazis occupying Holland, a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl and her family fled their home in Amsterdam and went into hiding. For the next two years, until their whereabouts were betrayed to the Gestapo, they and another family lived cloistered in the "Secret Annex" of an old office building. Cut off from the outside world, they faced hunger, boredom, the constant cruelties of living in confined quarters, and the ever-present threat of discovery and death. In her diary Anne Frank recorded vivid impressions of her experiences during this period. By turns thoughtful, moving, and amusing, her account offers a fascinating commentary on human courage and frailty and a compelling self-portrait of a sensitive and spirited young woman whose promise was tragically cut short."

Powell’s has an impressive list of books on Anne Frank. The lovers and haters of this book make for very interesting reading on Here’s a teen’s review from TeensReadToo

The Diary of Anne FrankThe 1959 film version won several Academy Awards among other awards. Every eighth grader in Nashville, TN, reads the Diary of Anne Frank since it is on their Essential Literature list. I wish I could take my students to the Anne Frank center in New York. Instead, I can take them to the Anne Frank Center website. Even better, we can visit and see the former hiding place where she wrote her diary, teaching materials, and the YouTube channel devoted to Anne Frank.

For a brief time Disney considered producing a new movie version of the Diary of Anne Frank with David Mamet directing. It was rumored to not be a direct adaptation of the book but to focus "instead on a contemporary Jewish girl who goes to Israel and learns about the traumas of suicide bombing." The MTV Movies blog carried an interesting article and discussion on this. What? You don’t read MTV’s blogs?! I thought you taught teens. Good thing you’ve got us out there finding all the bizarre news of the day. Anyway the status right now is that Disney has rejected the script for being too dark. The Jewish Journal and the Hollywood Jew blog by Danielle Berrin has an interesting view of this topic and a link to the only nine seconds of film footage of the real Anne Frank. 

White Fang (Puffin Classics) Cover#76 White Fang by Jack London. Puffin Books, June 2008 edition. ISBN13: 9780141321110. 307pp

Quote from one of the nominators:
I always was a sucker for stories featuring animals as a main character. Loved this one.

Publisher Comments:
In the desolate, frozen wilds of northwest Canada, a wolf cub soon finds himself the sole survivor of the litter. Son of Kiche — half-wolf, half-dog — and the aging wolf One Eye, he is thrust into a savage world where each day becomes a fight to stay alive.

The men in my life have a passionate love of all things Jack London. I wish I could share their love, but when I read White Fang in fourth grade, I just wasn’t as excited. I had to turn to Sparknotes on White Fang for an unbiased view. It helped to read about the two stories in one. Learning about the primal nature and the concept  "Eat or Be Eaten," I understand why this appeals to others. I know it goes with the Call of the Wild and is almost a reversal in a whole survive the Alaskan frontier kind of way. 

Wikipedia states: The novel was first serialized in The Outing Magazine in May to October 1906. It is the story of a wild wolfdog‘s journey toward becoming civilized in Yukon Territory, Canada, during the Klondike Gold Rush at the end of the 19th century. White Fang is a companion novel (and a thematic mirror) to London’s best-known work, The Call of the Wild, which concerns a kidnapped civilized dog turning into a wild animal.  

White FangFrom Simon & Schuster White Fang by Jack London. Illustrated by Ed Young. Trade Paperback, 368 pages

Jack London’s adventure masterpiece is not only a vivid account of the Klondike gold rush and North American Indian life, but it is also an intriguing study of the effects different environments have on an individual. Celebrate the centennial anniversary of the classic tale of a wolf-dog who endures great cruelty before he comes to know human kindness.

YouTube had many versions of White Fang. Here is a youtube video slideshow of many different covers.

Of course I was really intrigued by this French animated version of a trailer. It made me want much more.  

#75 Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer. Harcourt Books, 2006. ISBN13: 9780152058265. 352pp.

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Miranda’s disbelief turns to fear in a split second when a meteor knocks the moon closer to the earth. How should her family prepare for the future when worldwide tsunamis wipe out the coasts, earthquakes rock the continents, and volcanic ash blocks out the sun? As summer turns to Arctic winter, Miranda, her two brothers, and their mother retreat to the unexpected safe haven of their sunroom, where they subsist on stockpiled food and limited water in the warmth of a wood-burning stove.

Told in journal entries, this is the heart-pounding story of Miranda’s struggle to hold on to the most important resource of all–hope–in an increasingly desperate and unfamiliar world.

I discovered this book from blogs in 2007 and had to write my own post on my pre-SLJ blog I was feeling very full of myself and wittingly (in my own opinion) called the post "I’m a Pfeffer, He’s a Pfeffer, She’s…" I have some very interesting links to other points of interest so I hope you will click back and read.

 Since then two other titles have been released to extend this story and provide more viewpoints. Life As We Knew It is Miranda’s view. The Dead And The Gone is told from Alex’s viewpoint in New York City. This World We Live In brings both sets of characters together. Every week I hand Life As We Knew It to a student because I enjoyed  reading it. Even though I found some of the selfish actions of the characters deplorable, I recognized their egocentricity as being realistic.

Many teens recommended it for the best book of 2006., TeensReadToo, GoodReads, and LibraryThing provide links to positive (and some negative) reviews. My buddy Ed (Edward T.) Sullivan has written a downloadable pdf guide to Life As We Knew It.

An ALA Best Book for Young Adults
A Booklist Editors’ Choice
A CCBC Choice
A Junior Library Guild Premier Selection
An Best Book of the Year
A YALSA Teens’ Top Ten Book
2009 — Evergreen Young Adult Book Award (WA)

So readers, what theme did you sense in these five titles?


  1. Brenda Kahn says:


  2. Brenda, you are so right. Why do I think this is important? Because the teen years can be the worst years of our lives to survive. Think back to your middle school and early high school experiences. Our kids need to know about survival.

  3. Another great book about survival is I Have Lived a Thousand Years. I actually thought it was better than Night.

  4. I left out the information that Wiesel did write Dawn and Day, also. Some places list it as Dawn and The Accident for a trilogy.

  5. Reginald Droz says:

    I read about this recently in another article, but the conclusions were different. Personally, the more I like this article.

  6. Myrtis Schroeden says:

    Oprah Winfrey is among the most effective examples of being born into meager circumstances and pulling oneself up by the bootstraps and going on to become one of the foremost confident, powerful, and successful persons in the world.

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