Innovation: Education

Piecing Me Together, with Jory Hearst

Also featuring: The Green Mountain Book Awards!

Legendary Librarian Jeanie Phillips is back on the podcast talking about what else but books! Not just any books, but how books can help educators unpack some of their privileges and connect with students. Joining her this time around is Jory Hearst, Vermont educator and six-time Green Mountain Book Awards committee member. They’re discussing Renée Watson’s Piecing Me Together, and what they learned from it about identity, racial microaggressions and teaching around deficit theory.

A full transcript follows.


 

Jeanie Phillips: Today I’m here with Jory Hearst and we’ll be talking about Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson. Thanks for joining me, Jory. Tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Librarian Jeanie Phillips, left, hosts Jory Harris (r) as they discuss Rene Watson's book "Piecing Me Together".
Librarian Jeanie Phillips, left, hosts Jory Hearst (r) as they discuss Rene Watson’s book “Piecing Me Together”.

 

Jory Hearst: Well, thanks so much for having me, Jeanie. I’m thrilled to be here. I love talking about books, especially young-adult books. I am an educator and an avid reader. I’m not sure which should come first in order. I have taught middle and high school, both in Southern Vermont and up here in Burlington. In English and History. I’ve also been a bookseller for many years of my life. I also currently serve on the Vermont Green Mountain Book Award (GMBA) Committee, which is our teen pleasure reading award list that the state comes out with every year. This is my sixth year serving on that committee. So I spend a lot of my time reading young-adult fiction.

Jeanie: Let’s start with Piecing Me Together. Could you give me just a brief summary?

No spoilers, a little bit about our main character, our setting and the big themes of this book?

Jory: Yeah, I would love to. Piecing Me Together was on our GMBA list last year, and it’s a book I loved and I’m so glad to see on this list. This is about from 2017, and the main character is a high school girl name Jade Butler. She lives in North Portland. She has a full scholarship to a private, sort of hoity-toity private school called Saint Francis, that she has a very long bus ride from North Portland to her school. Every day. It’s a school where not having much money is less likely than being a person of color.

And for Jade, she is both of those things.

Her mom is desperate for her to make close friends at the school but for her, she is just want to kind of keep her head down and plough through. And she talks a lot about sort of knowing she has to take advantage of the “opportunities” that this school has to offer.

Jade is a lovely, lovely character for many reasons. She is an artist and she makes these beautiful collages from scraps of other people’s trash, and we’ll talk about that hopefully little more today. As this book begins, a main point in the story is that Jade’s guidance counselor, Mrs. Parker, sets her up with a mentor. In this woman-to-woman — sort of Black woman to Black woman mentoring program. Jade, when she gets called in to the guidance office, thinks she’s about to get the scholarship for the study abroad program and she’s thrilled. But she finds out instead that she’s been chosen to be a mentee. She just feels like another thing where somebody is coming to help me. Like, “Do I really need all this help?”

That’s sort of where the book begins, and it’s sort of follows her trying to figure out who she is and how to feel more whole in her life as she is sort of collaging her own life together.

 Jeanie: That’s a great summary. Thank you for consolidating that so nicely. I think one of the reasons I loved this book so much is that, as a white woman in the world, a book like this gives me the opportunity to step into the shoes of somebody having a very different experience from my own. From the beginning of the second chapter — if you turn to page two — Jade is learning Spanish. Really loves language. I love that she uses these Spanish words at the start.

Tener éxito

Piecing Me Together, by Renée Watson

Jory: The top of chapter two says in Spanish: tener éxito. Which means to succeed. The chapter begins with,

When I learn the Spanish word for succeed, I thought it was kind of ironic that the word exit is embedded in it. Like the universe was telling me that in order for me to make something of this life, I’d have to leave home, my neighborhood and my friends.

Jeanie: Yeah, that exactly sums up Jade’s world’s view. That she has to leave the things that are familiar in order to make a success of herself. And her mom’s dream for her really is to do just that.

Jory: And makes me think about something we both loved about this book. Not only is Jade a really thoughtful, insightful character that gives, I think, both of us windows into other worlds, but the writer Renée Watson is a beautiful writer. And it makes me think of another passage where Jade talks about feeling stuck in the middle.

In this passage she’s talking with a friend and feeling stuck between these two worlds. Kind of like she does not really quite fit anywhere. And her friend is saying,

“It’s weird, huh? …Being stuck in the middle. Like, sometimes I hold back at school, you know? Like I don’t ever join in on those what-are-you-doing-this-weekend? conversations, because I know nothing I will say can compare to the weekend excursions those girls of Saint Francis go on,” Sam says. “But I also don’t talk much about what I do at school with my family or with my friends who don’t go to St. Francis. …God, Jade, I don’t know how you’ve done this for two years.”

Jade responds, ”I don’t either, but now that I have you, maybe these next two years won’t be so bad.”

This is the beginning of her friendship with another girl in her school who is also busing in from far away and on scholarship. She happens to be a white student, but they have a really interesting friendship about, sort of, they’re like the two kids who get that, like, this is this world of incredible privilege and no one else there seems to see that except for them. They’re in-between places.

Jeanie: I know a lot of students and adults in Vermont are reading The Hate U Give right now, and that really reminds me of Starr’s predicament.

She code switches between her private school and speaks one way about certain things there, and then goes home to her neighborhood and speaks a completely different way and about different things there. Jade is in — it’s not exactly the same but there’s a lot of commonality with Starr.

Jory: And while we’re on the topic of other books, this connects to another one that, I think, is really apt is Dear Martin, by Nic Stone, which is another book of the 90s. It’s a male protagonist, who writes letters to Martin Luther King, but he is also a Black student at a pretentious — pretentious and prestigious university — and he is constantly trying to navigate where he fits. And what it feels like most of the time is that he doesn’t really fit anywhere.

 I think a lot about for us in Vermont, there are increasingly more and more students for whom that experience is so true in our schools.

And I think this book can just be really helpful to remind, especially for you and I as educators, as white educators in the state, how many of our students — for race reasons or may be just because of [economic] class — are straddling multiple worlds. How difficult that is for them.

Jeanie: That makes me think of another place in which, I think, students can find some affinity with Jade. Which is that her parents are not together. Her mother had her at 16, and her parents did not stay together. There is a quote on page 11, that I really love, that captures that so beautifully:

“I think about this as I ride to school. How I am someone’s answered prayer but also someone’s deferred dream.”

Jade’s really talking about there is that her mother has put all of her hopes into Jade and Jade’s success. Because she cancelled her own plans to go to school because she got pregnant at 16. Her father on the other hand, feels like he is living his best self because of his daughter. Because of her, he feels like he’s become a better person than he would be. There’s this contradiction for her with her parents. I feel like she carries a lot. And I have seen a lot of my students, that I teach, carry a lot from the expectations or the lived realities — the lived experiences of their parents.

Jory: One of the other really beautiful things I think about this book is the way Jade is able to talk about herself not always feeling whole.

That is for due to lots of reasons. Partially as a female and especially as a Black female in the world she lives in. She has this explanation of it that I love, when she talks about the space as she feels whole and then the places that shatter her.

She says,

Listening to these mentors, I feel like I can prove the negative stereotypes about girls like me wrong. That I can and will do more, be more. But when I leave? It happens again. The shattering. And this makes me wonder if a black girl’s life is only about being stitched together and coming undone, being stitched together and coming undone. I wonder if there’s ever a way for a girl like me to feel whole. Wonder if any of these women can answer that.

Jeanie: That is such a beautiful passage. It really, Renée Watson’s beautiful prose really shines through there. And the beautiful image as it pulls us back to the title: Piecing Me Together. It pulls us to collage art that Jade has such expertise in, and then just that central conflict of how to hold yourself whole in a world that doesn’t see you as a whole. That sees you as broken, or as something that needs to be fixed.

Jory: Yeah. When I think about how many students I’ve had that feel broken in different ways, right? That there’s this sense of: there are many ways in which the world we live in shatter us. I think in this book specifically, but also that being a student of color in Vermont, I think, can be a really shattering experience. Especially if you are in more rural area here, you may be one of very few students of color in your school and so it feels really hard to have all those pieces of yourself honored.

Jeanie: Right. This makes me think a little of the story this summer, about the camp for children of color in Stowe. Did you hear that story? They brought a camp of students to Stowe, and they experienced a lot of racism and racial slurs. I think a lot of us were heartbroken by this experience. And it makes me wonder about what our job is, as educators, to expose Vermont students who are white, to stories of other people so they can see the humanity in others.

Jory: I think one thing, you and I have talked about, is that this book does a really good job illustrating how microaggressions work for people of color. I think this book is full of places where Jade experiences these little pricks. Like, a microaggression is this little comment that may be is meant with good intention but it just digs at her and it others her, right? She is constantly aware that she is “Other” than the other kids at Saint Francis, so that she needs more help than other kids or more “Opportunity,” right. All of those things in little ways dehumanize her, right? She has to work hard to hold on to her humanity.

Jeanie: There’s an excellent example on page 18, if you could read that for us, Jory?

Jory: Yeah, on page 18, she’s talking with her guidance counselor, an older white woman: Mrs. Parker. Of course, Mrs. Parker has a photo on her wall of her daughter and her son-in-law. And her son-in-law happens to be a man of color. And all of her grandchildren are mixed race, and so in some ways, I think, Mrs. Parker has the sense of like, Oh, I get you honey, right? That Jade always feels like there was like little bit of condescension there. Anyway, Mrs. Parker is setting her up with the mentor and Jade responds, “Mrs. Parker, I don’t need a mentor.”

Mrs. Parker responds, “Every young person could use a caring adult in her life.” Jade says:

“I have my mother.” And my uncle, and my dad. “You think I don’t have anyone who cares about me?”

“No, no, that’s not what I said.” Mrs. Parker clears her throat. “We want to be as proactive as possible, and you know, well, statistics tell us that young people with your set of circumstances are, well, at risk for certain things, and we’d like to help you navigate through those circumstances.” Mrs. Parker takes a candy out of her jar and pops it into her mouth. “I’d like you to thoroughly look over the information and consider it. This is a good opportunity for you.”

Again, we have this moment where this caring adult with really good intentions — l like Mrs. Parker, she’s trying her hardest. But in the process of trying to help Jade, the reader is very aware that she’s actually putting Jade down, right. Jade is saying, “My mom, I have my mom. I have all these caring adults.” [Mrs. Parker’s] like, “No, no, but you need real role models.” As if to say: your parents aren’t going to help you get out. Right.

Jeanie: Which adds insult to injury because what Jade really wants is to give.

She doesn’t want to always be the recipient, and so what she’s hearing from Mrs. Parker is, Oh, you honey, you just get to receive. You don’t have anything to give. These microaggressions, well-intentioned as Mrs. Parker may be, add up. And some of these have real impact.

Jory: Right. Because what Jade thought was going to happen when she went to Mrs. Parker’s office — what she was going to find out, and I’m going to quote from it — she says, “Of everything Mrs. Parker has signed me up for, this one means the most.” She’s hoping to sign up for a service learning project. Jade thinks, “This time it’s not a program offering something I need, but it’s about what I can give.”  So she wants to be able to say, I’m doing okay. Like, I want to give back, right.

It’s like we don’t even let her. Or, the world is not even letting her give back. They’re only seeing her need, right.

And the reality is Mrs. Parker as a white woman wants to be the giver, because giving feels good. It’s like we’re depriving Jade of this basic human need we have to help other people, right, and that she can only be helped, she can’t help others.

Jeanie: My educator self can’t help but think about the way we talk about moving from a deficit lens — what’s wrong with students — to a strengths lens about what do they have that they’re good at, what can they do well, what do they have to offer, and think about the power for Jade of Mrs. Parker shifting from this deficit lens to a strengths lens, and what impact that would have.

Jory: Can I just talk about her mom?

Jeanie: Yeah.

Jory: The other place, I think, in the book where it’s really obvious how these microaggressions, these little digs, are really effecting the characters is when Maxine, who is a seemingly more upper-class Black woman from Portland but who has been assigned as Jade’s mentor, shows up at her house. And she hasn’t contacted Jade’s mom. She’s just made plans through Jade. She comes to the house. Jade’s mom says, “I’ll answer the door.” Jade’s mom says,

“Good morning,” she says. “You must be Maxine.” Mom has her hand on her hip and she won’t let Maxine through the door. “I’m sorry, you wasted your time and gas coming over here, but Jade is not going with you today.”

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that. I was hoping to do an early b-day celebration with her and spend some quality time together,” Maxine says. “Is she okay?”

“Oh, she’s fine,” Mom says. “I would just appreciate it if you would contact me first before you and Jade make plans. Jade is not grown. Believe it or not, she does have a mother. That’s me. …Please let this be the first and last time you try to take my daughter out of my house without my knowing and giving permission.”

I guess I love this scene because it’s the mom saying, like, you might be her mentor but you’re not saving my daughter. Mom says:

“At the end of the day, when this program is over, she is not going to be anyone’s mentee but she’s still going to be my daughter.”

For her mom, she’s feeling all this hurt. Like, [she] can’t take care of [her] own kid.

And there this sort of undoing of her own humanity and people making assumptions about what she is capable or not capable of.

Jeanie: That’s so intriguing because it falls to that strength-base versus deficit-based approach.

When people have all these stereotypes about students of color, families of color and families in poverty, and one of the stereotypes is that they don’t care about education. And yet the data shows that actually they care about education really a great deal. And I think, for Jade, the biggest advocate for her for getting a good education is not Mrs. Parker, is not her teachers, it’s her mother.

Jory: Right. Her mother is working her butt off for her.

Jeanie: Her mother is working multiple jobs, and, yeah, holding things together. In this society, mothers like Jade’s don’t always get the respect and dignity that they deserve.

Jory: I think just another way Renée Watson creates a lot of whole-feeling characters in this book.

Jeanie: Jory, how would you use this book in a Language Arts classroom or Humanities classroom? In middle school or high school?

Jory: Well, first of all I love that this book is on the shorter side and yet so rich and full-feeling. Like, there’s so much here and yet it’s not a super, super-long book. I find when I am teaching books even to super-loving reading classes, I actually prefer less text because it means that you can spend more time on other things. For me this book is perfect because who doesn’t want to make collages?

One way that I think would be really fun to use this book in the classroom is to kind of do it in collaboration with some art. And to talk about collaging and figuring out how students may want to piece themselves together.

I want to just read one little quick part on Jade’s philosophy on finding beauty in the world, and as sort of a jumping-off point for how you might use this in art with your students. So Jade says,

Lots of people can’t find beauty in my neighborhood but I can. Ever since elementary school, I’ve been making beauty out of everyday things–candy wrappers, pages of a newspaper, receipts, rip-outs from magazines. I cut and tear, arrange and rearrange, and I glue them down, morphing them into something no one else thought they could be. Like me. I’m ordinary too. The only fancy thing about me is my name: Jade. There is nothing exquisite about my life. It’s mine, though, so I’m going to make something out of it.

This idea of taking all these ordinary things in our life and creating something that pieces together a representation of us? I think with an eighth or ninth -grade student — which I think that this book is perfect for sort of late middle school, early high school — there’s so much stuff around collaging and identity.

But even from there you could do so much around piecing yourself together in poetry or interviewing a bunch of your friends about who you are, and then collaging their ideas of who you are and creating a written piece about who you are. I think this book is really useful in getting at who each of us are, which is an added layer of beauty in this book.

I also think, on a very concrete level, this is a really powerful book for Vermont students to hear in terms of thinking about “What do microaggressions look like?” 

And for students of color, for them, maybe, to feel like there is an allied  voice or — they may not resonate with Jade but maybe there is another character on the book they do. Or just sort of giving out other voices in our students’ lives that they hear other people? Is a powerful tool for this book.

Then as we talk about microaggressions, I think you could use this book really concretely to help kids define what it means when those little pokes at your humanity are constantly happening. That othering, and what that looks like and feels like for a character. I think this would be a really safe space to do that in. So lots of ideas. Yeah, do you have other ideas? What are you thinking?

Jeanie: Well, I love all of that. I think it really strongly connects with any identity work that’s happening in the classroom, really powerfully connects with that. I also love it as an opportunity to look at the way we build our identity from the inside? But our identity is also how we experience the world, and how the world experiences us. And this book is a really great example of that.

Jade has this rich inner life and knows who she is, but she also has to go out and face the world in ways, and she writes in lots of different ways about how her body takes up space in the world and what that means. But I’m wondering if there’s also a connection to youth voice. I don’t want to give any spoilers, but there are powerful ways in which Jade finds her voice in this book and uses them within that mentoring program. And I wonder about using that as a spring board for how did the voices of our students show up at school? How do we make space for the things they think are important, or the good ideas they have? So I’m curious about that as another avenue for this text, for this book.

Jory: Yeah, I love that idea. Again, no spoilers, but she does find some empowering ways to use her voice, totally.

One other thought I just have: I would hate to read this book with the class where that, maybe, makes a student feel really obviously targeted to. I think there needs to be just some thought about who’s in your class and reading a book like this, because it is a story about a girl who feels like she’s the only person with her perspective in the room.

I think even if done with good intentions, the book itself could be taught in a way that feels unsafe for a student in your room? Where it’s like, if there’s one kid in the room who’s aware that they’re the sort of the “othered” one that this book may actually be like, Oh, well, now my teacher is picking a book to make me feel normal but everybody knows who this book is for! Or something.

I think it doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be taught, because I think it can be really powerful for everyone? I am just thinking about my sixth-grade class last year. And they were a little young for this book, but if I had done it with them, I might have only focused on identity and collage. Like, I may have only used parts that felt really inclusive of everyone.

Jeanie: I think that’s really a good point. Like, we want to be prepared for our students to encounter any book, right? It could also be the case if you only have one student of color in your class that you’d want to do the work ahead of time to make sure everybody is comfortable and ready to experience this book and the discussions you’re going to have.

I really loved The Hate U Give. I really loved Dear Martin by Nic Stone as well, but in both of those the people of color in those books experience police brutality. And I like this book because they don’t. Like, both the racism is more subtle in this book. It comes in the form of microaggressions and deficit thinking, but also that doesn’t become the only experience of people of color, that someone they know gets shot. I like this as an alternative story to that.

Jory: Yeah, and I totally agree. We are seeing a real trend in young-adult fiction right now about police violence, and that’s powerful. I am thinking about All American Boys, which came out last year. Or, this year, Tyler Johnson Was Here, is a brand new one that I am just reading. They’re really powerful important stories, but there are a lot of other stories about being a person of color. So I think you’re right that I appreciate that this book does not feel like it has to have it all. Like, it doesn’t have every issue. There is a calmness and a quietness to this book too, which I appreciate.

Jeanie: Let’s talk about some other books it puts us in mind of.

For me, it brought up Jacqueline Woodson’s Brown Girl Dreaming. A beautiful memoir that was a Vermont Reads book a couple years ago. Were there books that it brought to mind for you?

Jory: Well, we’ve already talked about Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give, which is really being read a ton, and libraries are buying tons of copies of, which is great; although it’s also banned in some places. It’s been getting a lot of attention. This book also that reminded me of an older book called The Skin I’m In by Sharon Flake, which is another book about being “othered” and what it feels like to be Other, and to have an adult in your life who might feel the same otherness you do. That I read actually as a middle schooner, and I’ve taught in middle school and have found it to be a really powerful book to this day. It’s an oldie but goody to keep around.

Jeanie: Excellent. I also just read Jacqueline Woodson’s Harbor Me which is for a younger audience but I think it speaks to some of these other themes about feeling other, because of your family circumstances, and creating a safe harbor, a safe space, for students to be themselves. I think that’s another great connection for the fifth and sixth grade classroom.

Jory: It’s a little bit of jump from here, but one of the things that’s been really exciting about serving on Green Mountain Book Award over the last six years has been seeing the huge increase in authors of color writing about … writing characters of color. There’s been a big movement: the #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement has really, I think, had real impact on publishers, and in a way that maybe Hollywood has been slow to respond. I think in especially young-adult fiction, we’re seeing this just huge increase.

I’m thinking about two books I’m just reading.

One, American Panda by Gloria Chao, which I read few weeks ago. I’m just finishing up a book called Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi, which I’m loving. Both are young-adult novels with Asian-American characters written by Asian-American female authors.

Just seeing the volume of authors of color and seeing feels exciting. All of us this year have been like, “Wow.” Like, “This feels exciting.” We’re in this moment where we finally hearing just a broader range of voices to represent our country. It feels, I think, especially in these political moments it’s feeling exciting to feel like there is some hope out in the world. Some good is happening in the world of stories.

Piecing Me Together: Books Discussed in this Episode

 

Jeanie: Stories are powerful. Tell me about the Green Mountain Book Award or what we often call the GMBA award?

Jory: GMBA is Vermont’s reader’s choice award for high school students in the state. We select a list of about 15 books every year, and they are meant to be books that are for high school students of Vermont to enjoy. Really the goal of it is really about pleasure reading. While it’s meant to be books that we enjoy, but it’s not always about literary acutance. It’s often about what do we think teens are going to pick up and what do Vermont teens specifically need to be reading, which is really fun.

The 2018-2019 list includes some of my favorite books, such as Robin Benway’s Far From the Tree, which is a story of three children who have all been either adopted or in the foster care system. They didn’t know they had siblings and they sort find each other. It’s a really beautiful, beautiful book. It was also a National Book Award winner from last year. Another book that was fun and sort of different for me was David Elliot’s Bull, which is a novel in verse retold about bunch of different Greek myths, and they are — it’s witty, and hysterically funny and also just sort of pithy. Couple other ones that were highlights from last year were, S. F. Henson’s The Devils Within, which I think for Vermont high school students is a really important book. It’s a fictional account of a teenager trapped in a white supremacy group, and they get out, and what that looks like. It’s a terrifying, page turning, harrowing book.

Jeanie: I read it. It’s so gripping and so informative. Yeah, it’s a powerful book.

Jory: Yeah. Another great one to do with a class or just hand to teen to read on their own. Then another one that I really love from last year was a non-fiction title: The 57 Bus: The True Story of Two Teenagers and The Crime That Changed Their Lives. which is the story of a transgender student who is lit on fire on the number 57 bus, a public bus in California, and all that transpires. They survive but all that transpires afterward with the accused and the victim, is a really powerful, powerful true story. Yeah, lots of lots of things and a whole mix of stuff from last year’s list.

Jeanie: The 57 Bus would have been perfect, Jory. When we used to teach together we could have taught that as a part of your juvenile justice unit.

Jory: Yeah, and it also would have fit really well with my narrative non-fiction. I am a huge fan of non-fiction that feels like a story. Where it’s like it to really like be a page turning gripping reader in the midst of non-fiction. Yeah, you’re right. We could have taught that in lots of good ways. If you go to the Vermont Department of Libraries, the 2018/19 list is there as well as all the previous 10 years of list. There are just awesome books on there. We work really hard to pick a mix of things that we love, but also things that, maybe, haven’t been given much voice and then need a little trumpeting.

Green Mountain Book Awards

 

Jeanie: I have always been a fan. When I was librarian and I collaborated with the high school language arts teacher. We would give kids choice from the GMBA list and for there one book a year, so they weren’t reading Shakespeare and weren’t reading what was in the cannon, but they had some choice. It was always their favorite book of the year. It was always huge. We did it for years because they loved it so much and the teacher saw the value of it as well so. I want to ask, a lot of middle school kids read these books, so how does GMBA work … it supposed to be a high school? Can middle school kids vote? What do you say about middle school participation in this program?

Jory: That’s a great question. A lot of people are very familiar in Vermont with the DCF list — the Dorothy Canfield Fisher list — which is also a reader’s choice award. DCF is meant to go from grades three or four through eighth-grade. GMBA was created as the high school equivalent, but what we’ve really seen and learned is that most students, by the time they’re in eighth for sure but even seventh, are really ready for older books. We’re pretty aware of that on GMBA. We do consciously chose books that will appeal the high school students, but we know younger readers would read them.

Part of how we have accommodated for that is that come usually around end of March, we open up voting, and it’s online through the Department of Libraries. There is a link to how kids can vote, and every kid can fill up their own individual voting form. There is a way to check that you are not in either ninth or 12th-grade. You can say you’re a middle school student, or you can say you’re a college or older student, because we know actually lot of college kids also read these. Yeah, we welcome middle school kids reading them; although we will say some of the content in these books is hard.

Piecing Me Together actually is one I would pretty happily hand to a middle school, but like The Devils Within is a really hard book about white supremacy, I would … there is a reason we say ninth through 12, but we also know middle schoolers are always looking to edge up.

Jeanie: Well played. Well played. Any other thoughts on GMBA or on Piecing Me Together, this beautiful book by Renée Watson?

Jory: I guess my final thought on this book and GMBA is just that I feel really grateful to get to read young-adult books as an adult, because every time I do I’m reminded a little bit more of what it’s like to be a teenager, and we have this funny world where people who write for young-adults and people who recommend — like you and I recommend books for young-adults — are adults. There is this powerful thing that happens in YA words often, and Piecing Me Together is a great example of. It’s really they’re stories often about someone really trying to figure who they are.

I think as an adult, as someone in my early thirties, who is constantly trying to figure out who I really am, that these stories really resonate, because the reality is it may happen for us for our first time in a powerful way when we’re 16 or 17. That’s my first memory of really piecing myself together, but that about every five years, I’m doing it again. I sort of appreciate that these books remind me of just how difficult it is to feel whole in a world that’s complicated.

Jeanie: Yeah. I strongly believe that reading young-adult and middle-grades literature makes me a more empathetic educator. Helps me understand my students … the young people in my life better.

Jory: I feel that same way.

Jeanie: Yeah.

Jory: And myself. And I understand myself better.

Jeanie: Yeah. Absolutely. Thank you, Jory, so much for taking the time to come and talk to us about “Piecing Me Together.”

Folks if you want a copy, I’m quite certain your high school librarian or middle librarian can get you one if they don’t have one on the shelf. Check out your local library, your school library, find a copy of Renee Watson’s “Piecing Me Together.” You won’t regret it. Jory, thanks for your time.

Jory: Thanks for having me, Jeanie. Talking about young-adult literature is my best life.

[Laughter]

 

 


 

The 21st Century Classroom is the podcast of the Tarrant Institute for Innovative Education at the University of Vermont. A huge thank you to Jory Hearst for appearing on this episode. If you’re interested in finding out more about the Green Mountain Book Awards visit libraries.vermont.gov. They are continually looking for new committee members and would love to hear from the reading public. Also a quick shout-out to the Carpenter-Carse Library in Hinesburg, for loaning our editor a reference copy on extremely short notice. Ahem.

You can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Soundcloud and the Google Play store, or right here on our blog. Music for this episode is by Argofox: Meizong & Yeeflex – Sunrise, used with permission.

And if you’re interested in reading Piecing Me Together with your students, check out this discussion guide about race, gender, class and intersectionality (.pdf).

Piecing Me Together Discussion Guide

Jeanie Phillips

Jeanie Phillips is a former (and always!) school librarian and a Professional Development Coordinator for TIIE. A 2014 Rowland Fellow, she is passionate about student engagement, equity, collaboration, and questions. Jeanie likes to hike the woods of southern Vermont with her dog Charlie and is always in search of a well-brewed cup of tea and a good book.

2 comments

What do you think?

  • This was such a great conversation. It actually inspired me to pick up the book and read it all the way through last night. And one of the things I really loved about it was how uncompromising Jade was about her class identity. Throughout the book she’s hyper-aware of how she’s seen as coming from a lower socioeconomic background and location to be this kind of interloper in a higher one as defined by St. Francis. But she sees such value in the skills she’s learned in order to thrive in the former, and I found that really inspiring.

    Do the two of you feel like that’s a lens that could be examined with a middle school or high school classroom? This strengths-based approach to valuing the hidden skills students learn and carry with them? Is there a way to open up an avenue to talk about this idea of “trespassing” in different socioeconomic spaces?

    Great episode, y’all. Outstanding work.

    • Thanks for your lovely feedback, Audrey! You ask a great question about the socioeconomic implications of Jade’s story. That its a really interesting theme to explore. I do think, with some work, a class could explore the hidden strengths that come from their family lives, but would caution against outing or othering students from different socioeconomic backgrounds.

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