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Background Information: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

Background Information: Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

TA Noel P. pairs a book taking place in 1911 New York with an informative research about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire…

The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman

The Museum of Extraordinary Things is set in turn-of-the-century America, and focused on two very different teenagers: Coralie, a “mermaid” in her father’s abusive freak show on Coney Island, whose diminishing audience forces her into darker acts; and Eddie, a Ukrainian immigrant who struggles with relationships with his father, and learning to live in a new and unfamiliar world during one of the most exciting times in history. While this novel is mainly about these two characters and what they come to discover about themselves in their troubled lives, one of the most fascinating aspects about this novel is the setting. Set in the time period right on the brink of WWI, social status and class are being reimagined, immigrant identities are becoming more prevalent, forms of entertainment are evolving, and so many other things come to life. In this time period, France was going through their “Belle Epoque,” and US itself was experiencing its “Gilded Age.” The world was, mostly, at peace.

But that’s in the span of the entire world, and what Hoffman does is show not the warfare of country against country, but the tragedy of life, and the internal warfare that occurs underneath the gold and the glitz and the propaganda. Undoubtedly the biggest tragedy portrayed in this book is the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire–one of the darkest consequences of industrialization in the US and the abuse on its workforce. The fire not only serves to juxtapose the backdrop setting of the novel, but also to act as a sobering catalyst for the characters’ lives.

A photograph of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire

For more information on this time period, especially on the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, visit Remembering the 1911 Triangle Factory Fire. Put together by Cornell University, this website has background information on the Triangle Factory Fire, as well as primary source interviews, documents, images, and the names and basic information on all victims of the fire. Check it out!


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Why I Love The Database Issues and Controversies

Why I Love The Database Issues and Controversies



TA Christine C. wants you to know that this database is the best.




Issues and Controversies saved my life last year. I was preparing for my APS debate on the Affordable Care Act, commonly referred to as “Obamacare,” and couldn’t seem to find a sufficient amount of reliable sources for both sides of the argument. How was I going to write my whole debate when I didn’t have enough reliable evidence to bolster my arguments? I would completely embarrass myself during the debate by having to cite my sources with “the website Republicans Hate Obama says” or “according to The Onion.”

I turned to the magical library databases and stumbled upon Issues and Controversies. After I typed in “The Affordable Care Act” on the search bar, the database led me to a vast amount of trustworthy websites and scholarly articles. Even better, Issues and Controversies had articles written from both perspectives and blurbs on every article titled “Supporters Argue” and “Opponents Argue” that gave me a concise and informative summary on the issue as well as ideas for arguments and counterarguments. Thanks to Issues and Controversies, the condition of my debate was saved.

Knowing what issues, domestic and international, are present and having a deep understanding of those issues allow us to become well informed and make stances of our own. The majority of our political stances are affected by our environment and it can often be difficult to clearly understand the other side of the argument when people around us paint the opponents as the “bad guys.” I personally recognize that going to a liberal school and living in one of the most liberal places in the country have shaped my political views. When biases become increasingly evident and ubiquitous, understanding both sides of an issues becomes more important. Issues and Controversies allowed me to look at a multitude of issues from a different perspective and critically think about my own biases.

Whether you need evidence for a school paper or want to learn more about the world around you, Issues and Controversies is a reliable and informative database to use. Think about issues in a new light and learn more about what was just on the news. Who knows? You might just learn something about the world and yourself.

By Christine C. ’17.

Check out Issues and Controversies here on our databases page.

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A Grim Fate for Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Censorship Based on Age Groups

A Grim Fate for Grimm’s Fairy Tales: Censorship Based on Age Groups

Sky, ’19 writes in defense of letting teens and kids choose for themselves what reading material they can handle.

We have all heard by now that the fairy tales we loved and knew growing up, are heavily edited versions of the originals. Even Wilhelm & Jacob Grimm, who published the most famous fairy tales, heavily edited the first edition of their stories. There was a recent survey {Source} that revealed that a lot of parents refuse to read most or some of the Grimm’s fairy tales to their children. We see a trend of this, of parents censoring books for their children, but how do we draw the line between what is acceptable for children to read and what is not acceptable for children to read, and should we be drawing the line at all?

Some people argue that some books should not be read by younger people because the complex themes in the narrative will not be appreciated or picked up on by younger audiences, not because of the content. There are also reading levels in some schools, where children are given a reading level based on a letter from A-Z  and not allowed to read below that letter, on the basis that the books would be too difficult for them to read. Is there a better way to seperate books by age group, and should they really be separated at all? It’s understandable that parents do not want their children to be exposed to older concept too young, but after a certain age is it still beneficial to not allow children or teenagers to not read certain books?

Parents are the biggest pusher of censorship of books and the banning of books in schools and libraries, {Source} but banning books limits people’s freedom to draw their own ideas from books. Literature can be very powerful,  and it is not necessarily a bad thing for children and teenagers to read books that challenge the ways they think about the world and what they know about the world. Do we really need to censor the violence and the gore out of the classics like the Grimm’s fairy tales, or the language out of Huckleberry Finn, because it might make a kid scared or worried? Even if teenagers or kids don’t understand or fully pick up on the themes of the book, shouldn’t they still be allowed to read them?

Reading facilitates new ideas and introduces new concepts, and teenagers and kids should be allowed to read books that appeal to them, regardless of the difficulty of the language or themes. Separating books by age groups and reading level, and censoring classics for younger audiences is not beneficial to anybody. It goes against the point of writing and reading; to be able to express, learn, and think about anything in any context or way. We need to stop separating books, and let kids and teenagers decide for themselves what is too upsetting, scary, or old for them to read.

By Sky Y. ’19


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An Interview with Nayanika K., Author and Castilleja Student

An Interview with Nayanika K., Author and Castilleja Student


Our intrepid TA Margaret Z. ’17 interviews Nayanika K., Castilleja senior and the author of Skye’s the Limit and The Accidentals.






Hometown: Transylvania

Favorite Novel: The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Favorite Song: Ocean by Andreas Moe



A prominent theme in both of your books is the importance of friendship. What role does friendship play in your own life?

Friends are a crucial part of my everyday life. They are cool as heck, and they always make me laugh or smile. I think it’s important, especially during the high school years, to have a good support system inside and outside of school. You really need people who you can count on during this time of life.

What I value most in my friendships is loyalty. You can never really build deep connections with someone unless you know they’re going to be there for you through everything and make you a priority in their lives. It’s hard to open up to someone if you know you’re just a backup.


Your books also focus on social status and popularity in school. What role did popularity play in your life when you were in middle school?

Popularity actually did not play a large role in my middle school life. I went to Castilleja for middle school, and at Castilleja, there aren’t as many distinct social levels as there would be at, for example, a public, co-ed school. I had friend groups throughout my time at Castilleja, but there was a lot of mixing of the friend groups, which is a totally different experience from what I portrayed in my books. Most of my knowledge about popularity and social status from what I’ve seen in pop culture and what my friends outside of school have told me.


Why did you write based on pop culture?

At the time, I wanted to write about stuff that a greater majority of the population would find more relatable. The Castilleja experience is not exactly relatable: what I experience in high school on a day-to-day basis is not what most people experience. I wanted my books to be accessible to a larger audience, and I made them more relatable by balancing my own experiences with what the majority of teenagers experience, in terms of high school at least.


Do you feel like you’ve missed out?

I feel like I haven’t experienced the “conventional” high school or middle school experience. But if I had the choice now to have gone to a different high school instead, I would not.


Do you have a favorite book? Why do you like it, and how does it inspire you?

The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini, makes me feel intellectually stimulated. It’s such a real, raw story about a world that we don’t always get to see, and that is fraught with stereotypes in our society. I appreciated getting to see it from a different perspective. It’s also an immigrant story with a whole new twist.


Why do you write?

So that nice people like Margaret can interview me. Just kidding!

So I can be rich and famous. Just kidding! That makes me sound like a terrible person.

I write so I can connect with and understand people better. There are so many different perspectives and experiences in this world, and writing often allows me to better empathize with people through thinking about how their values have shaped them, or what feelings they may have been feeling in a certain situation.


What inspires you?

Cool people inspire me. By cool people, I mean people who want to make a change in the world, and who actually follow through with what they want. People who, despite obstacles, beat the odds and still end up helping people and doing good in the world.


Any advice for young writers who want to publish?

Just write. Get everything out, and don’t be upset if it’s not exactly what you want. As you grow as a person, your writing is going to grow, and your ideas are going to change. You’ll go back and find something in your writing that resonates with you on a deeper level.

In terms of the publication process, there are so many resources online. There are so many different options to explore for your specific needs and wants, and you’ll definitely find one that you’re happy with.


Nayanika’s books are available through Amazon >HERE< and at the Castilleja Library!

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Gene Yang Visits Castilleja!

Gene Yang Visits Castilleja!

Gene Yang










Last Wednesday, Gene Yang, the author of American Born Chinese, visited the seventh grade to talk about his new book. Linnea L. ’21 wrote a recap for us.

Gene Yang is a graphic novel writer and a coder, and though he loves both of those things he had never before been able to connect them in an organic way. He has finally been able to, by writing a book called Secret Coders. This book is a story about three kids who learn to code, and as you follow along their journey, it teaches YOU the basics of coding, too! Gene Yang introduced us to binary, the base method of coding that all programs are created from, and also showed us a programming language called Logo.

We didn’t just learn about coding, though—we also got a chance to ask him about American Born Chinese, which we had just finished reading in English class. Our class had a lot of questions about the themes in the book, because he does a wonderful job of including symbolism in the story. It makes the reader question what is real and what is a representation of something else deeper. We got to delve deeper into the meaning of the book, and make up some of our own stories, too, to wrap everything up.

I’ve read a few other of this author’s books, and they all addressed one of the many issues that lots of people struggle with in our daily lives. My personal favorite, Level Up, made me think about what happiness really is, and about how much parents should control about their children’s’ lives. It was a wonderful experience to have Gene Yang at our school, and I hope he comes again!

By Linnea L. ’21

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BookMusic: Tell The Monster That I’ll Give Him Home

BookMusic: Tell The Monster That I’ll Give Him Home

Sky Y. ’19 is back to give us more books paired perfectly with songs.


Tell The Wolves I’m Home By Carol Rifka Brunt
Let Your Heart Hold Fast By Fort Atlantic:

Tell The Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt is a book that will stay with you. A quirky and poignant novel, Tell The Wolves I’m Home revolves around fourteen year old June Elbus during 1987. June’s uncle, Finn, is dying of AIDS and as a last masterpiece paints a portrait of June and her sixteen year old sister Greta. Although losing any family member is heartbreaking, June is incredibly close with her uncle, more so than with her parents and sister, and has been in love with him for a while. In the wake of Finn’s death, June drifts more apart from her parents, and from her sister, especially once she meets Toby, Finn’s boyfriend. The story goes on to beautifully weave together themes of family, grief, opportunities, choices, and their consequences. The beautiful and often unseen exploration of the different and complex kinds of love will remain with you well after you turn the final page. Let Your Heart Hold Fast by Fort Atlantic is a perfect match in both melody and lyrics for Tell The Wolves I’m Home. The bittersweet tone and melody of the song align well with the incredibly joy and sadness of June’s story, as something that somehow breaks you and puts you back together all at once. The storyline of the lyrics deals with grief, and lost chances, while also offering hope and solace. The lyrics almost perfectly embody some of what I would want to say to June and Greta if given the chance to comfort them. Tell The Wolves I’m Home and Let Your Heart Hold Fast will leave you with a unique bittersweet and heartfelt feeling, a feeling that can sometimes hard to find in books.


A Monster Calls By Patrick Ness
Put Your Lights On By Santana & Everlast

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a vivid, heartbreaking, and incredible book with beautiful illustrations that centers around themes of letting go and the complexity of people, morals, and emotions. The story revolves around a boy named Conor who suffers from terrifying reoccurring nightmares in which he his sick and dying mother is falling off a cliff, and his grasp on her is the only thing keeping her from falling. Conor always drops her, and that’s when he is awakened from his nightmare. The story opens with Conor waking up to find that the giant yew tree in his backyard has turned into a monster. The monster will over the course of the book tell Conor three different stories while Conor deals with difficulties both at home and school. Conor is first upset by the monster’s stories, stories as they have no clear morals or ties. By the end, however, he has decided that the monster must be there to save his mother. In Conor’s mind, this is the only thing that makes sense, because it must be the right and moral ending of the story. The monster is not actually there to save Conor’s mother, but to help Conor let go of his mother. He is also there to help Conor learn that sometimes it is okay and sometimes kinder to let people go, and that death is nobody’s fault, so guilt does not rest with him or anybody. Put Your Lights On By Santana & Everlast is a beautiful song with an intricate and lulling guitar line. The lyrics match the themes and plot of the book extremely well: “Hey now, all you children/Leave your lights on, you better leave your lights on/Cause there’s a monster living under my bed/Whispering in my ear…/There’s a darkness living deep in my soul.” This song really speaks to Conor’s character arc as he learns that everybody possesses both dark and light, and that there is nothing wrong with wishing something horrible is over. It also speaks to the book’s motif of nightmares, morals, and light versus darkness. When things are hard and dark, we all sometimes need someone to save us, and sometimes that someone is not a hero, but a monster.



20820994I’ll Give You The Sun By Jandy Nelson
Needing/Getting By Ok Go

I’ll Give You The Sun by Jandy Nelson is a gripping and engaging book that flips between the perspectives of twins Noah and Jude and flips between their stories at ages thirteen and sixteen. Noah narrates the story of Jude and him at age thirteen, while Jude tells the story of her and Noah at age sixteen. Once incredibly close, Jude and Noah have been driven apart by tragedy, lost connections and misunderstanding. I’ll Give You The Sun touches on something indescribable about family, as well as offering a narrative that will have you racing to turn the page. If you’re anything like me and you cry at most movies, I would recommend against reading this book in public, as it can be heartbreaking at times. However, at the same time, it leaves you in the end with feelings of hope, optimism, and faith that connections can be reconstructed after they’ve fallen apart. The reason that Needing/Getting by OK Go is a great song to listen to while reading I’ll Give You The Sun, is mainly because of its title and its lyrics. Part of the reason that I’ll Give You The Sun is sometimes heartbreaking is because, we see the characters struggle between what they love, what they have, what they want, what they are given, and what they think they need. As in life, the characters often make choices based more on themselves and what they think they need, and it breaks or constrains their relationships with others. The lyrics of Needing/Getting also match the tone, of wanting, and regret over broken connections that is explored throughout the book: “There ain’t much that’s dumber/Than pinning your hopes on a change in another/And I, yeah I still need you, but what good’s that gonna do?/Needing is one thing, and getting, getting’s another/” Both I’ll Give You The Sun and Needing/Getting are interesting and complex works of art that reveal as much about the reader or listener as they do about the characters along the way.
By Sky Y.

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