Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos


dr bird's advice for sad poets

Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets
Author: Evan Roskos
Published: March 5, 2013 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Summary: “I hate myself but I love Walt Whitman, the kook. Always positive. I need to be more positive, so I wake myself up every morning with a song of myself.” 

Sixteen-year-old James Whitman has been yawping (à la Whitman) at his abusive father ever since he kicked his beloved older sister, Jorie, out of the house. James’s painful struggle with anxiety and depression—along with his ongoing quest to understand what led to his self-destructive sister’s exile—make for a heart-rending read, but his wild, exuberant Whitmanization of the world and keen sense of humor keep this emotionally charged debut novel buoyant.

Ricki’s Review: Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets is such an important book. It captures depression and anxiety in a way that is both authentic and heart-wrenching at the same time. I wanted to reach into the pages of the book to give James a big hug. Similarly to It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, this book employs humor without detracting from the very realness of James’ struggles with loneliness and isolation. Teens (and adults) will find themselves in James because he is depicted in a sympathetic way that is very human. This novel is brilliant and should be in every classroom library.

Kellee’s Review: I concur with everything that Ricki said. Dr. Bird’s is a very special book. On a Top Ten Tuesday list, I wrote that I wished there were more books about kids with chemical imbalances, and Dr. Bird’s is the closest I’ve read yetEvan Roskos captures the feeling of a manic depressive state. The energy of the writing actually changes as James’s state of mind changes: anxious, manic, depressed. However, what makes it truly special is that even in the end, there is optimism. Although James is fighting his own chemical imbalance, he keeps doing just that—fighting.

Another thing I adored about this book is the idea of art and writing as therapy. James finds solace in photography and poetry, which is a positive lesson for teens because it shows the power of art, writing, and poetry.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: It would be interesting for teachers to do literature circles with texts that concern mental health. Students might read this book along with titles like: Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. I imagine that reading these titles would foster incredibly rich discussions about depression, anxiety, and suicide. In my opinion, we must have these conversations with our students.

Also, Walt Whitman is a huge part of James’s life, and Whitman is mentioned throughout the book. The Whitman references (and James’s poetry emulating Whitman) would great to be examined in a classroom.

Discussion Questions: If James didn’t have abusive parents, do you think his life would be the same? Do you think depression is genetic in his family?; How does James show bravery?; What role does Walt Whitman play in James’ life?

We Flagged: “People in the world suffer from greater calamities than I do. I eat, I have clothes, I have a house. I read about people around the world who survive on less than a dollar a day. I read about how there are hundreds of millions of widows living in poverty. I see ads for kids who are born with ragged lips and jagged teeth. I don’t have anything like that. I just wake up with a deep hatred of myself. How selfish is that?” (p. 115)

“Later, as my father drives me to the pizzeria, his gassy, grumpy body reeking of judgment and anger and disappointment, I can’t help but wonder how little he knows about the depth of my sadness. The depth of my very being. Will he be upset to find me dead, or relieved?” (p. 214)

Read This If You Loved: (Many of these are listed above.) Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Reality Boy by A.S. King, Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

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RickiSig andSignature

Bruised by Sarah Skilton



Author: Sarah Skilton
Published March 5, 2013 by Amulet/Abrams

Goodreads Summary: Imogen has always believed that her black belt in Tae Kwon Do made her stronger than everyone else–more responsible, more capable. But when she witnesses a holdup in a diner, she freezes. The gunman is shot and killed by the police. And it’s all her fault.

Now she’s got to rebuild her life without the talent that made her special and the beliefs that made her strong. If only she could prove herself in a fight–a real fight–she might be able to let go of the guilt and shock. She’s drawn to Ricky, another witness to the holdup, both romantically and because she believes he might be able to give her the fight she’s been waiting for.

But when it comes down to it, a fight won’t answer Imogen’s big questions: What does it really mean to be stronger than other people? Is there such a thing as a fair fight? And can someone who’s beaten and bruised fall in love?

My Review and Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: Imogen is broken and she must overcome this feeling of hopelessness that surrounds her constantly. What an intense way to introduce us to a character? We then go on a journey with Imogen as she tries to rebuild her life, her memories, her friendships, and her family.

At first I struggled with this book because the timeline was choppy, and Imogen was hard to pinpoint. But then, through the flashbacks, Imogen starts to become clearer to us, the reader, and Imogen’s memories start to become clearer to her. Then you are so sucked into wanting to know everything, and you can only know everything if you stick with the book and see Imogen’s memories as they are revealed. This is a pretty brilliant tactic in making the reader feel like they are in the protagonist’s brain.

Bruised actually reminds me a lot of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Both young ladies are thrown into a tragedy, let that tragedy eat away at their hearts and souls, and have to figure out how to find themselves again. Truly a remarkable journey to go on with a character.  And, like Speak, there are some intense topics/themes dealt with in Bruised that will definitely grab a teen’s attention: sibling rivalry, a disabled parent, disconnected family, friendship, sex, love, survival, and martial arts. It is one of those books that teens need to read, so they can learn to become resilient and to overcome whatever is in their path.

Discussion Questions: Is it ever okay to lie?; Would you have been able to forgive your best friend if she’d done what Shelly did?; Was it right of Imogen to call Grant down during the demonstration?; Why was having Ricky there such an important part of Imogen’s recovery?

We Flagged: “Don’t you recognize me?” says Ricky after a moment.
Confused, I force myself to look up from the floor, up his legs and along his body, until I’m looking him in the eyes.
I hear gunshots, the cashier crying, and the police sirens, but I don’t look away.
He’s my friend from under the table.” (p. 60)

“Today, eleven days later, I slide down the wall of my own shower and curl up in a ball, tuck my knees under my chin, and wrap my arms around my head. I’ve taken showers since the diner, but this one’s different. Get smaller. Small as you can be. Low to the ground is comforting, standing up is bad. Why is standing up bad? What happins if you stand up? (You don’t want to know.) Reset button. Start at the beginning. Gretchen’s in the bathroom when the gunman comes in. I see the glint of his gun, and I hide under the table. There’s Ricky, under a different table, he brings his finger to his lips. Shh…” (p. 95-96)

Read This If You Loved: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Stained by Cheryl Rainfield, Rape Girl by Alina Klein

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Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick



Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock
Author: Matthew Quick
Published: August 13th, 2013 by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers

GoodReads Summary: In addition to the P-38, there are four gifts, one for each of my friends. I want to say good-bye to them properly. I want to give them each something to remember me by. To let them know I really cared about them and I’m sorry I couldn’t be more than I was—that I couldn’t stick around—and that what’s going to happen today isn’t their fault.

Today is Leonard Peacock’s birthday. It is also the day he hides a gun in his backpack. Because today is the day he will kill his former best friend, and then himself, with his grandfather’s P-38 pistol.

But first he must say good-bye to the four people who matter most to him: his Humphrey Bogart-obsessed next-door neighbor, Walt; his classmate Baback, a violin virtuoso; Lauren, the Christian homeschooler he has a crush on; and Herr Silverman, who teaches the high school’s class on the Holocaust. Speaking to each in turn, Leonard slowly reveals his secrets as the hours tick by and the moment of truth approaches.

In this riveting book, acclaimed author Matthew Quick unflinchingly examines the impossible choices that must be made—and the light in us all that never goes out.

Review: I have read every one of Matthew Quick’s books. He is a teacher, and I feel as if he understands teenagers in ways that many people don’t. Quick’s characters feel like real people, and while I read this one, I kept forgetting that I was even reading a book. To be cliché, I was lost in the story.

Leonard Peacock is a complex character. Even with his evil intention to murder a fellow classmate, the reader comes to understand that he is deeply troubled and not at all evil on the inside. His plan is to give three gifts to three individuals who have positively impacted his life, then kill his classmate, and then kill himself. I read this book with an uncomfortable stomach. I couldn’t put it down because I needed to know how the plot unraveled. Kids will be hooked. It teaches incredible messages of bullying and loneliness. Leonard’s mother is such a terrible parent that I think it will make many teens appreciate their own parents. I had the urge to scream at her at several points in the book. I have read many books that are somewhat similar to the themes of this text, yet it felt very different. I would urge teachers to read it because it sheds light on issues that are often difficult (or maybe even taboo) to discuss.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: My initial thought was that this would make an incredible read-aloud. I think all types of kids would appreciate it. My only hesitance are there are several references to awkward scenes (like masturbation), and even the most liberal teachers might feel a bit uncomfortable reading these aloud. That said, I think this would make an excellent whole-class text or literature circle book. Teachers would also find value in close readings of portions of this text to jumpstart difficult (but important) conversations with students about bullying, depression, and suicide. The book has over sixty footnotes, and it would be interesting to discuss this text feature and/or the experiments that Quick takes with the text structure. The book ends a bit abruptly, and I think students would love to write and discuss extended endings to the text. I would love to see this book bridged with classic texts like The Awakening by Kate Chopin or Hamlet by William Shakespeare. There are a plethora of Shakespeare references that will make teachers drool!

Discussion Questions: What leads a person to make rash, violent decisions? Can s/he be stopped?; How does our past influence our psyche?; Is revenge sweet? Can it ever be justified?; How do our parents shape our mental behavior?; What happens after the conclusion of this text?

We Flagged:

“I admire [Humphrey] Bogart because he does what’s right regardless of consequences—even when the consequences are stacked high against him—unlike just about everyone else in my life” (p. 23).

“How do you measure suffering?

I mean, the fact that I live in a democratic country doesn’t guarantee my life will be problem-free.

Far from it.

I understand that I am relatively privileged from a socio-economical viewpoint, but so was Hamlet—so are a lot of miserable people” (p. 94).

Read This If You Loved: Endgame by Nancy Garden, Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher, Hamlet by William Shakespeare, The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick, Burn by Suzanne Phillips, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, The Spectacular Now by Tim Tharp, Inexcusable by Chris Lynch

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