Book Annotations and Discussion
Questions Written by Renata Sancken
Alexie, Sherman. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time
Indian. New York: Little, Brown, 2007.
Arnold Spirit (aka Junior) is a young misfit on
Indian Reservation who finds solace in drawing cartoons. The only thing
could make him more of a misfit would be if he transferred to a nearby
all-white public high school where the only other Indian is the school
But he’s determined to stick it out there and get a better education,
relies upon his family and his sense of humor to get through the school
despite facing harrassment and personal tragedies.
- Before you read this book, what was
your impression of Indian reservations? Did reading it change your
- How do you interpret the book’s title?
Is Junior really a “Part-Time Indian”? Is his story “Absolutely True”?
- For me, one of the most surprising
scenes in the book was the way Roger and Penelope reacted to learning
that Junior lives in poverty. Often in books and movies, “popular”
characters scorn low-income characters. Was this scene surprising to
you? Was it realistic?
- Junior talks very frankly about race
and, particularly, what white people are like. How did you feel about
his assessment of white people? Of his tribe?
- Junior says, “Poverty doesn’t give you
strength or teach you lessons about perseverance. No, poverty only
teaches you how to be poor.” Can you think of other books or movies
that have a different attitude about poverty? Which do you think is
Oscar. Dark Dude. New York:
Growing up in Harlem in the 1960s, Rico Fuentes
nowhere. His Cuban-American heritage means he doesn’t fit in with the
kids, but his light skin means he doesn’t fit in with the Latino or
So Rico runs away to work on a farm in Wiconsin, where he makes some
friends and gains a new perspective on his culture.
- Both Rico and Junior from Absolutely
True Diary of a Part-Time Indian find escape in creating comics. What
role do comics play in their lives? Do you like to read comics or
graphic novels? If so, what about them appeals to you?
- This book takes place in the 1960s. Do
Rico’s struggles for acceptance feel relevant to you? How do you think
this story would be different if it were set in modern-day?
- Rico relates very strongly to
Huckleberry Finn. He says, “If you ever end up cutting out from a
place, or even think about it, like I did from New York City, you suck
up that Huck Finn story—with all the stuff about ‘lightin’ out’—like
it’s your own.” Have you read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Did
you enjoy it or relate to it? What novels do you most relate to?
- Gilberto’s farm attracts a strange
community of people. What purpose do these characters play in the
novel? In Rico’s life? Did you have a favorite character?
- The book ends before Rico actually
returns to New York. What do you think he does when he gets back? How
has he changed from his time in Wisconsin? How do you think he would
have changed if he had gone to military school?
Abdel-Fattah, Randa. Ten Things I Hate About Me. New
Orchard Books, 2006.
Jamie is a blonde, blue-eyed Australian teen who
to blend in at school. Jamilah is a Lebanese Muslim girl who plays the
drums in an Arabic music band. Unbeknowst to her classmates, Jamie and
are the same person. But how much longer can Jamilah hide her culture
classmates? And would it really be so bad if her friends knew she was a
- This is the first book we’ve read that
doesn’t take place in the USA. Based on this novel, how different or
similar is the way immigrants are treated in Australia to the way they
are treated in the U.S.? Particularly, how does the way that Muslims
are treated in Australia correlate with the way they are treated in the
- Why is Jamie so afraid to have people
come over to her house? Are there things your parents do that embarrass
you when your friends come over?
- Did you think it was plausible that
Jamilah could so completely hide her heritage at school? If you wanted
to hide your religion or culture at school, what things would you have
to avoid mentioning?
- Jamilah says, “The only introduction
most people have to my Lebanese Muslim culture is through headlines
about terrorists under pictures of men with unibrows, missing teeth,
back hair, and guns.” What do you know about Lebanon? About Islam? Did
reading this book change your perception of that culture?
- Both Jamilah and Junior from The
Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian face stereotypes about their cultures at
public school. Do you think that Jamilah and Junior would be friends if
they went to the same school? Why or why not?
Alvarez, Julia. Return to Sender. New York: Alfred
Time are hard on the Paquette family dairy farm,
father hires a few migrant Mexican workers to help out. The new workers
Tyler nervous—are they here legally? Are they going to cause trouble?
his fear, he finds himself making friends with Mari, the daughter of
one of the
workers. Tyler and Mari have a lot they can teach each other, provided
get past their differences.
- How would you react if you found out
that your parents were hiring undocumented workers on their farm?
- Do you relate to Tyler’s fears about
homeland security? Do you think undocumented workers are dangerous?
- How do Tyler and Maria relate to
Tyler’s grandmother? What kind of relationship do you have with your
- Tyler’s grandfather said, “We
Paquettes came down from Canada back in the 1800s. Nobody but nobody in
American got here—excepting the Indians—without somebody giving them a
chance.” How did Tyler react to hearing this? What do you think about
- Do you think this book is a realistic
portrayal of the lives of undocumented workers? Have you read or seen
other books or movies about undocumented workers that you can connect
with Return to Sender?
- Before reading this book, had you
heard of Operation Return to Sender? Do you agree with the premise of
the act—a “massive sweep” of illegal immigrants, intended to focus on
dangerous criminals? To date, over 23,000 illegal immigrants have been
arrested through this act.
Budhos, Marina. Ask Me No
Questions. New York: Atheneum, 2006.
Nadira’s family came
to the United
States from Bangladesh to try to make a new life for themselves. Their
expired, but they stayed on, hoping to make things work. Unfortunately,
Nadira’s father is arrested under suspicion of being a terrorist.
he’s innocent, but can she find a way to prove it before INS forces her
to return to a country she and her sister barely remember?
- How does Ask Me No Questions’ portrayal of illegal aliens differ from
the one found in Return to Sender? How do you think the Homeland
Security-obsessed Tyler from Return to Sender would react to having Muslim illegal
aliens at his school?
- Nadira says, “We’re not the only
illegals at our school. We’re everywhere. You just have to look. A lot
of the kids here were born elsewhere—Korea, China, India, the Dominican
Republic. You can’t tell which ones aren’t legal. ... To find us you
have to pick up on the signals. It might be in class when a teacher
asks a personal question, and a kid gets this funny, pinched look in
his eyes. Or some girl doesn’t want to give her address to the
counselor.” On a day-to-day basis, how do you think life is different
for students who are illegal aliens?
- Nadira and Aisha react to their
possible deportment in very different ways. Do both reactions seem
realistic to you? Which sister did you relate to more, and why?
- In her valedictorian speech, Aisha
says, “We were the people you don’t always see, flashing our polite
smiles, trimming hedges, parking your cars in lots, doing the night
shift. You needed us and we needed you. And then one day two planes
came and smashed into two towers. … Overnight, we, the invisible
people, became visible. We became dangerous.” What are your memories of
September 11th? As children, did you perceive any shift in
the way immigrants were treated?
- Ten Things I Hate About Me and Ask Me No Questions both have Muslim protagonists. How would
you compare Jamilah’s faith with Nadira’s faith?
Myers, Walter Dean. Slam. Scholastic: 1996.
Greg “Slam” Harris is a great basketball player.
one of the only black students at his high school. He knows he can play
ball—if he can keep his grades up. But how can he get colleges to be
in him if his coach won’t ever put him in a game? And with everything
going on in his family and his neighborhood, will Slam even make it to
This story uses a lot of slang. Is it slang that you
use? Did it make this story easier or harder to understand? Why do you
the author wrote this book in this style?
Slam is one of a handful of minority students at a
primarily white school, and he thinks he got in “when they had all the
about getting more black kids to go to the magnet schools.” How diverse
you rate your school? What effect do you think diversity has on
Why do you think Coach didn’t play Slam as a starter,
even though he was the team’s best player? Do you agree with his
Goldy tells Slam,”If science is your life, then you got
to love science and do science with everything you have. If basketball
you’re about then that’s what you got to do. You have to keep your eyes
and see what’s going on around you, of course. But what you do you got
to do it
to the max. ... When you are doing what you love, you got to bust it.
you do, it works. I can’t tell you how it works, but it does.” Do you
with this? What do you love to do?
When Margie and Karen see Slam’s video about his
neighborhood, they call it “the ghetto.” How does that make Slam feel?
you think Margie’s homelife is like compared to Slam’s? What is Ice’s
like compared to Slam’s? And how do these differences play out in the
act at school?
Wright, Bil. When the Black Girl Sings. New
York: Simon and
Lahni Schuler is the only black student at her
prep school. Adopted by white parents, she’s also the only black person
family. Struggling to fit in with school and to cope with her parents’
Lahni and her mother start attending church for the first time. Lahni
unexpected inspiration in the gospel choir, and she starts finding her
Like Slam from Slam,
Lahni is one of few minorities at her school. Unlike Slam, she’s also
How do you think Lahni would be different if she had been raised by her
Do you think Lahni would have been happier if her
parents had let her transfer back to public school at the beginning of
book? How would her life have been different?
What did you make of the character Harry/Onyx 1, who
“positively thinks he’s a black guy”? Did your opinion of him change
course of the novel?
The Church of the Good Shephard plays a big part in
Lahni’s life. Would you describe her as a particularly religious
not, what else do you think draws her to church?
How does Lahni’s self-image change after she meets
Carietta? What role do Carietta and Marcus play in Lahni’s life?
Yoo, David. Stop Me If You’ve Heard This One Before. New
Albert Kim does not
fit in at school. By the end of sophomore year he’s given up trying to
and has declared himself an intentional loser. That changes over the
when he finds himself working side-by-side with pretty, popular Mia
Unbelievably, by the end of the summer he and Mia are “something.”
Unfortunately, Mia’s ex-boyfriend Ryan is diagnosed with cancer, and
school rallies behind him. How can a healthy nerd like Albert compete?
- Albert makes jokes about how stereotypically “Asian”
his parents are. How is his homelife different from that of his white
What does Albert mean when he says “Asian”?
moving to Massachusetts, Albert wonders, “Why
couldn’t we have moved to Southern California, where I’d been told that
everyone’s Asian? Plus I was skinny, shy, and my hair was too stiff to
properly like the Smith kids’ across the street.” How do you think
high school experience would be different if his family had moved to a
neighborhood with more Asian-Americans?
- Albert says of his parents, “The pressure to excel and
meet the standards established by society of what ‘success’ is are a
times more rigid and intense when you’re raised by Korean parents. This
result of the typical distorted immigrant perspective how life really
is in the
States. I’m sure it applies not just to Asians but to any foreigner
ethnicity who comes to this country.” How does Albert’s experience
that of Nadira from Ask Me No Questions,
or Maria’s from Return to Sender?
- Albert clearly has trouble fitting in at his high
school. To what does he attribute his misfit status? Do you think he
clear view of himself? If not, why do you think Albert has trouble
did Albert react to seeing the video of himself at the Walk for Cancer?
you ever had an experience where you realized it seemed very different
watching it than it felt to you at the time?
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