The Coralville Public Library’s teen book discussion group is one of 16 Teens’ Top Ten groups in the country. That means they receive galleys from publishers and have a chance to share with the publishers (and the book group facilitators!) what they think. They also nominate the books for YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten list.

The teens in this group are just all around great kids, but they’re also very astute readers. As a writer, it’s valuable to me to hear what they like and what they don’t like. I hear things like, “it’s annoying when authors write like they think we talk” (i.e. overuse words like “like” and “totally”) and “I like that this writer wasn’t afraid to use lots of details; with some writers it’s like they’re trying to protect the reader and I don’t like that.” Yes, I take notes every time we meet!

Last night we had an interesting discussion about a book called Guantanamo Boy, which is about a fifteen-year-old Pakistani boy living in England who goes to visit family in Pakistan and ends up at the wrong place at the wrong time. He is kidnapped and taken to Afghanistan and eventually to Guantanamo Bay. I think this book left an impressed on the kids who read it. The one girl said she got into a conversation with her dad about it; her dad not only didn’t know that teenagers had been held at Guantanamo Bay, he didn’t believe her! She made him look it up! (Good for her!)

We talked a lot about torture…is it ever justified? Does it work? We talked about power…and of course, we talked about racism. Then a couple of the junior high kids told me something that really shocked me. They told me about getting a substitute teacher fired.

I said, “Excuse me??? You got a substitute teacher fired????”

There were two incidents in this one class. First, the guy started yelling at a Hispanic girl. He yelled, “Do you understand? Do you even speak English?” She did speak English, but that is hardly the point.

It gets worse.

There was also a boy in the class. And according to these girls, it’s easy to form judgments about this boy. He looks tough and he can act up in class, but once you get to know him you find out he’s nothing like you thought. (Not that that really matters…)

Apparently the boy was talking in class…and the sub called him a “white nigger.” Right in front of the whole class.

I don’t care what the boy was doing; you don’t call someone a white nigger! And if you are a TEACHER, a person in a position of authority, you certainly don’t say that to one of your students! What in the world made this sub think this was an okay thing to do?

The girls talked to their regular teacher about it when she returned (I was so proud of them when I heard this…it can’t be easy to take on a teacher, even a substitute teacher, when you’re a student), and the teacher talked to the principal, who apparently talked to the sub…and he hasn’t been back. I sure hope he didn’t just move to another school…this guy should not be around kids.

How does this happen in Iowa City? How does it happen ANYWHERE in 2011?

Then again, how does a 15-year-old boy, an INNOCENT boy, end up at Guantanamo Bay?

When I first started this blog entry, I wasn’t going to mention the substitute teacher. I was just going to talk about the books the kids had strong reactions to. But 1) I can’t get the story about the sub out of my head; and 2) we need to talk about this stuff. That’s the only way to make it stop.

Teen Book Discussion Group

7 thoughts on “Teen Book Discussion Group

  • June 14, 2011 at 3:23 pm

    “How does it happen ANYWHERE in 2011?”

    Because there are ignorant racist bullies everywhere. And, sad to say, I doubt this change in our lifetimes.

    Kudos to those kids who reported the incident!

    • June 14, 2011 at 9:23 pm

      You’re right. I like to think that because this is a small university town, very diverse, open-minded, tolerant etc. that we’re more enlightened here. But not all of us are, sadly…

  • June 14, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    I would be mortified to discover that a teacher had spoken to my child or her classmates that way! And you can bet I’d be calling the district office to get that substitute teacher tossed out of the calling pool.

    I’m glad the kids felt confident enough to broach the topic first with their teacher, then with you.

    • June 14, 2011 at 9:27 pm

      Me too! In fact, I did raise a bit of a stink a few years ago when I heard about a coach storming into an after-school study session to not only drag a student out of there (because he was “supposed” to be at practice rather than this study session), but swore about it, too. No, not my kid…but my kid was witness to it. And I wanted to send a message (both to him AND to to the school) that this is NOT appropriate behavior!

      • June 14, 2011 at 11:08 pm

        Yes, I will never understand that attitude of “Well, it wasn’t *your* kid so don’t worry about it.” They are ALL my kids, in a way. They’re part of my community, they’ll be running the world some day, and it’s our job to ensure they’re up to the task of doing it compassionately and well.


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