Tag Archives: Coming of Age

‘Refugee Boy’

12 Mar

I have just finished reading Benjamin Zephaniah’s Refugee Boy.

Despite some initial concerns that Refugee Boy would be simply another variation on Boy Overboard or Girl Underground, I found myself hooked from the outset.  I think my interest was stimulated by the text’s opening – a short outline of a mixed-race family’s experiences in Ethiopia, followed by an almost identical incident, this time in Eritrea.  I found this to be a very effective way of illustrating the complexities of that family’s situation and in illustrating the challenges faced during times of war.

I think this would be an interesting text to study in Years 7 or 8 in a unit with a focus on identity.  Indeed, the text deals with the tensions between self-characterisation and social identification.

It would also be worthy of inclusion in a ‘Coming of Age’ unit as it charts both the protagonist’s growing awareness of his social surrounds as well as his community’s growing awareness of the political and social landscapes in which they exist.

It would also be interesting to study this text in a unit about migration or refugee experiences, perhaps in combination with Boy OverboardGirl UndergroundThe Arrival and/or some newspaper clippings.

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Further exploration of race and racism

23 May

One of my junior classes and I have spent a lot of time recently studying how racism and responses to racism are represented in poetic form.  As part of this unit, students have had opportunities to analyse poetry, engage critically with social issues, and to make connections to the realities of their own worlds.

I have been really impressed by how well my students have engaged with the ideas raised as part of this unit, and how willing they have been to present their opinions, engage with the views of others, and even revised their views when presented with particularly persuasive opinions by their peers.

Although the unit is almost over, and the poems have long been set, I cannot help but think about all the other amazing poems that could have been included.  For example, I would have loved to have taught Nate Marshall’s ‘When the Officer Caught Me‘ which begins with the quote “What is the age when a black boy learns he is scary?”  I think this would be a great companion poem to Maxine Beneba Clarke’s ‘Even if it gets to 104 degrees’ which explores the shooting of Tamir Rice by the police.  It would also have been interesting to allow students to explore Lia Incognita’s ‘Floodgates‘ – a poem about Australia’s refugee policy and governmental attitudes towards difference.  I think it would have been particularly interesting to study alongside newspaper articles on the subject

REVIEW: ‘The First Third’

26 Mar

Until recently, I had not heard of Will Kostakis.  In fact, my decision to read his novel The First Third was an ‘anti-boycott’, a response to a much publicised decision by a school to revoke an invitation for Kostakis to address their students in light of the coming out announcement made by Kostakis on his blog.  To me, the school’s decision made little sense.  After all, Kostakis was to address students about his novel not his private life.

I am very glad I was prompted to purchase and read The First Third because it is a fantastic book!  The novel is a coming of age text, following the experiences of Billy as he navigates the complexities of school, love, family and friendship.

In this text, Kostakis does a fantastic job of representing the diversity and complexity of our worlds: for example, Billy and his family are Greek, Billy’s best friend Lucas is gay and has cerebral palsy, and Billy’s mother is a single mum.  The text also features an opinionated grandmother, and a family divided by interests and distance. To me, this world seems far more ‘real’ than some of the cookie-cutter type families represented in YA fiction and, I suspect, will thus resonate better with my students.

REVIEW: ‘The House on Mango Street’

13 Mar

I recently read The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  The House on Mango Street is an acclaimed coming of age novel that explores Esperanza Cordero’s experiences in her neighbourhood.  The text addresses the emotional spectrum of the coming of age journey, highlighting moments of joy, sadness, belonging and pain.

One of the things I found most interesting about this text was the way it showed that an individual’s coming of age journey does not occur in isolation.  Indeed, Esperanza’s journey intersects with those of others in her community.

Extracts of this text would be interesting to use as introductory material to a a ‘Coming of Age’ unit.  They could also be used as stimulus for creative writing, used as models for students to depict significant moments in their own coming of age journeys.

Experiences of growing up

5 Mar

I have written previously about texts that engage with the concept of coming of age.  I have since found a few more that I think could be relevant (in whole or in part).

The first text I want to show my students is the lyrics to Lukas Graham’s song ‘7 Years‘.  This song is about a coming of age journey and the challenges and experiences at each turn.  It is interesting in the way that it looks backwards and forwards, and thus both reflects and anticipates.

Another relevant text is an article entitled ‘Casualties of War‘.   Through engaging with this text, students will learn about how a parent’s experiences can shape a child’s experience as s/he grows up.

Yet another interesting text is Benjamin Law’s article ‘A Will to be Weird’.  In this text, the author reflects (sometimes with humour) on the challenges and responsibilities associated with being grown up.

Challenges of growing up

29 Feb

My Year 9 students are currently midway through a concept study about Coming of Age.  As part of this unit, I want them to understand that while the coming of age journey does not look exactly the same for everyone, there are interesting points of commonality.

One text which I want to show them is an article entitled ‘Boys Behind Bars‘.  This article touches upon the circumstances that cause children to find themselves in juvenile detention and explores, in greater depth, what it is like to grow up behind bars.  I think students will find it interesting to be exposed to (what I hope) is an unfamiliar environment, while also coming to appreciate the points of similarity and difference between the boys’ experiences and their own.

I also want my students to listen to Cyrus Bezyan’s ‘What’s in a name?‘ podcast in which he explores the way in which personal and cultural identity impacted his experience of growing up in Australia.  I have a fairly multicultural class, and I think Bezyan’s experiences will prompt some interesting reflections by my students on their own lives and experiences.

Another interesting text is Benjamin Law’s article ‘What is Cool?‘  In this text, Law reflects on his adolescence, the importance of ‘being cool’ and the changes he now sees in himself and society when he reflects from the vantage of adulthood.

Through engaging with these texts, I am hopeful that my students will come to appreciate that coming of age/growing up is associated with the gleaning of knowledge and understanding.  I am also hopeful that they will recognise that growing up involves facing and overcoming challenges.

‘The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian’

21 Dec

I recently read Sherman Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.  It is the story of Arnold Spirit, better known as Junior, as he moves beyond the familiar world of the Indian Reservation and ventures into the ‘white’ world.

From the outset, we are invited to experience the world from Junior’s perspective.  We learn, for example, that this narrative is one told from the perspective of someone who is different, a boy “born with water on the brain” who had “ten teeth past human.”  However, Junior is not self-pitying.  Rather, he approaches his difference with humour, thus endearing himself to us.

Junior’s humorous commentary, however, masks some serious issues within his society.   We learn, for example, of the less than ideal educational opportunities offered on the reservation, and the way the alcohol abuse is damaging families and social cohesion.

These issues are made clearest when Junior decides to leave his school on the reservation and enrol at Reardan, a ‘white’ school 22 miles from the reservation.  As expected, Junior initially struggles in his new environment.  However, he eventually finds his way, and, in the process, comes to better understand himself and his world.

This novel functions well as a coming of age text for a lower ability Year 9 or 10 all boys class.  Indeed, it is a story about difference, acceptance and new understandings.  It is also a story about the challenges that individuals experience in order to move them towards new perceptions of self and others.