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Author Stephanie Kuehn Visited For Banned Books Week

Author Stephanie Kuehn Visited For Banned Books Week

Stephanie Kuehn, author of Charm and Strange, Complicit and other books beloved by Casti students, visited last week during Banned Books Week. Elle G. and Supriya L. wrote a recap of her visit.

Stephanie Kuehn is a young adult author who visited Castilleja on September 26, 2016 for Banned Books Week. Some of her books have been challenged, and she talked to the eighth graders about her views on censorship. Ms. Kuehn believes that many young adult authors’ intentions are misunderstood, often being blamed by adults and parents as being “too dark” when these authors are just being honest. She thinks that YA authors should be able to express their ideas about dark subjects without feeling the need to sugarcoat, and therefore shield shield the message from readers.

She talked about the ways that YA authors give stories the positive overlay that some adults feel that they need. One of the main ways that they do this is by incorporating hope. She said that stories with hope either have a character finding their voice or their identity, the character’s life has meaning, or it shows that the characters can be themselves (or learn to be themselves). However, the main point that she stresses about these themes is, is it true? Do we really live in this idealistic world? Of course not! So why should we tell our YA readers that we do? After all, aren’t most of them going to be looking after themselves in the real world soon enough? Now this begs the question, why should we hide this from them? Well, Ms. Kuehn said that it sometimes has to do with control. She said that if you’re a parent and are used to regulating what your children read, it may be hard to let them read about dark ideas, such as suicide, and violence, unless there is a way “back up” from the dark place. Nonetheless, readers should be able to understand their own development, and choose books which correspond to this development.

In conclusion, Ms. Kuehn’s visit enlightened us about Banned Books Week, and told us a lot about herself as well. She grew up in the Bay Area, and went to boarding school in the East Coast, which partly inspired the setting of her first book, Charm and Strange. In addition, she started writing at a young age, particularly being influenced by her father, who was a writer, journalist, as well as editor. We are so glad that Ms. Kuehn came here to talk about censorship during Banned Books Week, and be sure to check out all of her books, especially her new book, The Smaller Evil, in celebration of Banned Books Week!

Written by Elle G. ‘21, and Supriya L. ’21

 

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Poet Tracy K. Smith Visits Castilleja Next Week!

Poet Tracy K. Smith Visits Castilleja Next Week!

Poet Tracy K. Smith, in addition to being one of the most awarded poets of her generation, is a poet who explores race, family, faith, and the strange idiosyncrasies of our existence through a deeply personal lens. Her hypnotic, surprising, even absurd, work offers elegant socio political commentary in vivid verse. She has explored her challenging ideas and poignant stories in three collections of poetry and her memoir. Her work has met much critical acclaim, with Publisher’s Weekly’s starred review noting her “lyric brilliance and political impulses.” She is currently the director of Princeton University’s Creative Writing program.

She obtained her BA from Harvard University, an MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia University, and held the Wallace Stegner fellowship at Stanford University from 1997 to 1999. Her first collection of poetry, The Body’s Question (2003), explores the intersection of race and family, and addresses the difficulties of confronting loss. It won the Cave Canem prize for the best debut work by an African American writer. Her second, Duende (2007), explores the history of often ignored cultures, as well as sharing stories of personal survival and political change. In 2006, it won the American Academy of Poets’ James Laughlin award. Her most recent collection, Life on Mars (2011), is a powerful elegy for her father, a scientist who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, that won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 2012. It explores both the boundaries of space and civilization, as well as the beautiful reality of the mundane. Just as Life on Mars paid homage to her father, her memoir, Ordinary Light (2015), is for her mother. Detailing her experiences from childhood, to her coming of age, till the present day, Ms. Smith dissects the same critical issues addressed in her earlier poetry through a deeply personal lense. Ordinary Light was a finalist for the National Book Award. For her compelling body of work, she received the 2014 Academy of American Poets Fellowship, as well as numerous other awards, fellowships, and grants including a Rona Jaffe Award and a Whiting Award.

As this year’s Arrillaga speaker, she will be speaking at an all school assembly on October 6, after which there will be a reception for faculty and parents. On October 7, students are invited to attend a roundtable discussion with her. Ms. Smith will also be visiting English classes over these two days. Look forward to hearing from this evocative poet and author, and come to the Library to read her mesmerizing work!

–Arushi G. ’18

 

Header picture: tksmith5_cMarlene Lillian: Poet Tracy K. Smith by Tulane Public Relations/Marlene Lillian licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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Illustrator Christian Robinson Visits Castilleja!

Illustrator Christian Robinson Visits Castilleja!

DSC_6991Christian Robinson, illustrator of the Newbery Award winning Last Stop on Market Street, visited Castilleja today. He worked with Upper School Drawing and Painting, visited with sixth graders, and helped the entire eighth grade design collage illustrations of characters from their lit circle books.

 

Your intrepid librarians were on the spot, distributing paper and taking many, many pictures of the designing fun.

If you had a good time or if you want to check out more of DSC_6992Mr. Robinson’s art, we have a collection of his books in the library, and you can check out his website at The Art of Fun.

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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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Author Skype With A.S. King for Banned Books Week

Author Skype With A.S. King for Banned Books Week

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Last week, A.S. King came to Castilleja through a Skype call! For those who are not familiar with the name, A.S. King is a Young Adult Fiction author, who has written many high-quality books, including Everybody Sees the Ants, Reality Boy, Dust of 100 Dogs, Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, Please Ignore Vera Dietz, and Ask the Passengers. Unlike many authors, A.S. King does not plan out her books but instead starts off with a character, then builds the story from there. Please Ignore Vera Dietz, her second novel, revolves around Vera Dietz, who sees more than she says. When she is the only one who actually knows how her best friend Charlie dies, she doesn’t know whether she has the courage or desire to clear his name. This novel won the 2011 Michael L. Printz Award Honor Book, as well as an Edgar Allen Poe Award nominee for “Best Young Adult”.

During the Skype interview, students learned about the dangers of censorship as well as freedom of speech. The 8th graders gained interesting insight from A.S. King’s responses and opinions.  Many people admired how she was able to speak the truth without hesitation and regret, and the 8th grade sent letters to thank Ms. King for taking the time to speak with them.

Although each student had their own, unique impression of A.S. King’s powerful words, the entire grade was inspired to contemplate censorship, freedom of thought, knowledge, and the reigning controversy as to how to balance all three.

By Minhee C., ’20

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Reflections on Denis Belliveau’s In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

Reflections on Denis Belliveau’s In the Footsteps of Marco Polo

 

 

 

 

After last week’s author visit and presentation from Denis Belliveau, sophomore Sara Z. kindly wrote us a piece on her thoughts…

 

In our history classes, we are often told that we need to cultivate historical and cultural empathy in order to be informed citizens of the world, and I can think of no better way to do so than by observing. Observation is the act of learning without interfering. Most people think this means stepping back to get a broader view of  the situation, and while that often works, the best way to observe is to integrate yourself so fully into your surroundings that your presence and your actions won’t affect what you’re observing. This kind of observation is not something we get to do very often, but it is by far the best way to understand a different perspective. Our guest speaker, Mr. Denis Belliveau, had the opportunity to do that sort of immersion for two years while following the footsteps of Marco Polo.

And what did he learn from all this observation? Did he find anything in common amongst the different cultures? Surely, warlords in Afghanistan don’t have anything in common with monks in Mongolia. We assume this because of the information we have already acquired. We have learned about Buddhist beliefs and rituals in history class, and they sound nothing at all like the ideologies of the gun-wielding Afghans. Sure, they have the same biological makeup, but their historical differences created two completely different cultures that foster two completely different mindsets. Beyond the fact that both groups are Homo sapiens, they can’t have anything in common. Or do they? When asked during the assembly, Mr. Belliveau said that throughout all his travels across Europe and Asia there was one common thread shared by everyone he met. And that thread was kindness and hospitality towards all humans, a sense of kinship with a stranger.

When Mr. Belliveau met with an Afghani warlord to try to obtain safe passage through war-torn Afghanistan, he didn’t know if  he would be killed on the spot by any one of the countless rifles propped against the walls. When the travelers handed the warlord a letter they had received from an acquaintance, the man replied, “The man who wrote this  is my brother. I will do anything in my power to help you.” To this man, it didn’t matter that the travelers were from America. It didn’t matter what their political ideologies were. All that mattered was that someone he respected had asked him to help these people. They had come to Afghanistan to observe, not to interfere. They came simply as human beings. And for that reason, they were treated kindly.

I think that an essential part of nurturing our historical and cultural empathy is understanding that the people we talk about are all human. Sometimes this sense of humanity gets tucked away in our minds because of more pressing issues that draw our attention to the differences between us. When we target terrorist groups, we can’t worry about the fact that those terrorists are people, too, with lives and families. It’s far more important to take actions in the interest of our safety and for the safety and liberty of other countries.

But most situations are less extreme than that. If we are ever to going to create a world in which everyone understands and respects each other, we need to remember that the people we may disagree with are humans, too. When we establish that in our minds, we can begin to see how their emotions, loyalties, and beliefs may factor into their decisions, culture, and ideologies. When we can remember that they are human, we can remember that they have needs and feelings and a heart. With that in mind, we can truly begin to observe in a less biased and self-righteous way. Unbiased observation can only lead to understanding and empathy. And with understanding, we can find ways to engage that are in everyone’s best interest. All we need is our humanity and an ability to step back, watch, and reflect.

By Sara Z. ’18

 

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