Leveraging this year’s Booker Prize Short List for #PBL

How can we measure growth or create a capstone assessment at the top of a vertical design? How can we ask students to figure out what makes a novel literary? More specifically in each work of fiction, how do we locate a novel’s literary qualities? Moreover, how can a project encourage opportunities for life-long reading? We will leverage this year’s Booker Prize short list novels to create a project-based landscape in our curriculum two or maybe three times this year. We will embrace the dynamic power of literature circles, aka #LitCircles, and give everyone an opportunity of choosing a Booker Prize Shortlisted novel from the exciting 2021 list. Follow us to learn more. https://thebookerprizes.com/

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Real Life and Real Artwork

Real Life and Real Artwork

Megan Swanson, Daniel Ennis, Emma Krasemann, Nick Maggi, and Hunter Tran

As we read Brandon Taylor’s “Real Life” and explored the complexities and challenges that Wallace endures, we were inspired to create. Below you will find a culmination of the most important moments from the text in a visual format that is easy to digest and understand. 

I have always wanted to do abstract art because I am not the best artist. I took this project as an opportunity to explore this style of art by using different shapes and colors. I really like the colors I used as well. The quote I wrote above the art is my favorite quote in the novel because it emphasizes the importance of letting go. 

Emma Katherine Krasemann

This work shows how Wallace is conflicted with his own identity as well as how outsiders think of him. Wallace struggles with confining to societal standards while he suppresses his true feelings and expressions. Outsiders just see his shell and never see the true genius Wallace has inside him.

Nick Maggi

A small, simple, expressive graphic of the mistreatment of Wallace by Dana exemplifies the marginalization and dehumanization that Wallace constantly needs to fight against as a gay black man. It’s a simple cartoon that captures a very powerful moment of conflict between Dana who uses her identity as a frequently-marginalized woman to marginalize Wallace.

Daniel Ennis

 I am nominating my Real Life drawing to become the new cover for Real Life. This idea came to me because life is full of scribbles which are all different colors and go all sorts of directions. Nothing is ever extremely clear, especially when you are growing in a new environment. We need to highlight our own path in this world and differentiate ourselves from the chaos. ​

Emma Katherine Krasemann

Ultimately, we were very excited to read and create this artwork to exemplify and portray our largest takeaways from the novel, exploring conflicts of identity, intersectionality, and complicated discrimination. This beautifully written novel was a fantastic read and we recommend it to everyone.

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Shuggie Bain ft. Tish Murtha

Davis Warren, Joe Rusnock, Sean Tashijan, Jack Hommeyer

We discovered Tish Murtha’s photographs to be a great companion element to have as we read through the early chapters and learned more about Glasgow and the circumstances in which Shuggie grew up.

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The Secret War of Independence

What do you think of our #OnePager?

Near the beginning of The Shadow King, Aster is presented as this sort of mean stepmother, who uses Hirut as an outlet for her anger that should be directed towards her husband, Kidane. As readers, we learn that Hirut was brought to Aster’s house by Kidane exactly one year after their infant son died. Kidane was very close with Hirut’s mother and promised to take care of Hirut after she died. Aster, however, believes Kidane wanted to maintain his power over Aster and rubbed Hirut in her face. She becomes resentful of Hirut because she reminds Aster of her son that she will never be able to raise. Aster has no respect for Hirut and will never see her as a daughter. Our perception of Aster dramatically changes after a chapter told from her perspective in which she explains that first night of her marriage with Kidane. We learn that Aster once was a fiery spirit who had attempted to run away because she does not want to be trapped in her arranged marriage. As Aster is describing the scene, we see her try to resist Kidane. Her struggle is symbolic for her resistance to the entire marriage and the tradition within her culture. Aster further displays her resilience when sounding the call for war, riding around on a black horse, proclaiming for the women to take up arms as well. People rumored that she was the spirit of the late Empress Taitu, cursing the invaders and spurring people to defend the Ethiopian Empire. Right at the end of the latest passage, Hirut watches as Aster dons a battle uniform, picks up a rifle, and salutes in front of the current Empress’ broadcast. Aster acquires a newfound resolve after seemingly losing her spirit to years of an oppressive marriage.

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Want an engaging #CliFi novel that will make you question the world? Well then, read The New Wilderness by Diane Cook!

I absolutely love this book! Diane Cook’s writing style really whisks me away to the future, while also grounding me in the present. She outlines issues that are extremely relevant now and suspends them into the future. She allows the reader to evaluate the impact of humans on the earth and gives us a glimpse into what our future could look like. This can be eerie but also fascinating because there is a reality in this dystopian future. The flashbacks that look at Bea’s mother’s life are especially eerie because she lived in the same time period as we are living now. The fact that this dystopian fantasy could be humanities future is very disconcerting.

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Why is Tambudzai Such a Dislikable Character?

You can view the France 24 interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yBtr7bFc5Q4

At first glance, Tambudzai is a cold, cruel character. She does not care about her hostel mates, she is focused solely on money, and she is self-centered. But, after taking a deeper dive into the novel, one can see that Tsitsi Dangarembga created such a dislikable character in order to better portray Tambudzai and all of the real problems she, and many others like her, face. Her life is not romanticized, and it is nearly impossible to view it as anything other than difficult. In an interview with Dangarembga and France 24, Dangarembga explains her use of the second person, and how it forces the reader to see Tambudzai as detached. She does not like the person that she is, nor does she like her actions, so she refuses to claim herself as the person behind these decisions. Instead, the use of “you” and “your” personalizes the novel, and makes the reader feel even more connected to the tragedies of the story. The protagonist’s detachment from herself creates an interesting relationship between the reader and Tambudzai–as the reader does not know whether to empathize with her because they are inserted into the novel, or to dislike her because of her shameful behavior. Looking even further, because Tambudzai is a complicated character, the reader learns that “we mourn for all bodies, not just some bodies” (Dangarembga 5:15). Tambudzai is not likable, yet the second person narration causes the reader to relate to her and understand her feelings, which allows them to understand her and mourn for her. It teaches the reader to put themselves in another person’s position, and creates an overall more empathetic person, which is crucial in today’s society.

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Shuggie Bain Minecraft Scene Proposal


Temperament- Big shug has anger issues. They stem from his frustration with his life/standing in society. He then takes this frustration and blames it on Agnes effectively gaslighting her.  

He tells her he is leaving her because he cannot make her happy.  

He only goes back in the evening to have sex with her and has complete control over her, and he loves that control.  


  • There is constantly a battle between the Protestants and the Catholics.  
  • Religious conflict is not presented in any major scenes, but it is very underlying and serves as the reason as to why so many characters act the way they do. 
  • “Celtic,” … “Oh, fur f***’s sake, might’ve known ah’d get in a Pape’s taxi.” 
  • Rangers: Protestant soccer team 
  • Celtic: Catholic soccer team 
  • No tolerance for the other team 
  • “‘You need a lot of things.’ Then she added, ‘You should have stayed married to that Catholic.’… ‘Jesus can’t pay my catalogue.’ Lizzie gave a fake laugh. ‘No. But hell will mend you.’”

Proposal (setting, scene, how themes apply): 

The setting will be a church (God church). The plot will feature a parking lot and a walkway towards the Church entrance. The Church will be non-denominational, but it will be established that the Church is monotheistic and associated with Christianity. There will be a large cross positioned above the main Church entrance. Inside the Church, there will be pews (traditional church benches), an altar, and a large statue of Jesus that will be positioned on the wall behind the altar. There will be pews for approximately one hundred people. There will be two rows of pews separated by a central aisle. The Church will be Gothically built but relatively plain on the inside. The blocks used will include stone bricks, cobblestone, glass panels, glowstone, dark oak logs, dark oak planks, oak logs, oak planks, white carpets, white quartz blocks, signs and flint and steel.  

Theme illustration: 

Escapism: This theme will be integrated into the build through the use of glow stone and flint and steel to burn the church. These elements are inspired by the juxtaposition of two scenes: Agnes when she visits Blackpool and when she attempts to burn the house. Agnes, a hopeless alcoholic, desperately tries to escape her dire circumstances in Glasgow. Stuart informs the reader of Agnes existential longings when she sees the flashing lights in the casino. This is contrasted with her attempt to burn to the house; which is symbolic of her desire to escape her mundane existence.  

Religion: Because religion is more of an underlying theme that doesn’t have a concrete presence in any major scenes, two scenes will be used to describe religious conflict. The first one will occur in the parking lot. It will be the scene where Shug and his passenger are talking about the soccer game and Shug says he supports Celtic, implying he is Catholic, and then receives scorn from his passenger, a Protestant. A sign will be placed outside the car with the following quotation to provide context to the scene: “Celtic,” … “Oh, fur f***’s sake, might’ve known ah’d get in a Pape’s taxi.” The second scene will be when Lizzie is talking to Agnes, which will take place on the pathway into the Church. This scene is when the two are arguing and Lizzie makes the point that Agnes should’ve never divorced her first husband. The following quotation will also be added on a sign for description of the scene: “‘You need a lot of things.’ Then she added, ‘You should have stayed married to that Catholic.’… ‘Jesus can’t pay my catalogue.’ Lizzie gave a fake laugh. ‘No. But hell will mend you.’” 

Gaslighting: The scene will be in the isle of the church; Agnes will be in front of the alter with a Jesus statue hanging on the wall behind her. She will have her hands up and apart, like Jesus nailed on the cross. She is taking the burden of Shuggs sins, similarly to how Jesus took the sins of man. The Church will be on fire to show the discrepancy between her sacrifice and Jesus’s with hers being self-destructive and his not.  

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Want Real Curriculum? Brandon Taylor Dramatizes Untold Stories

The systems in America were built to help Straight White Men succeed. Politics, economics, judiciary, education, all these branches of the United States were designed without the well-being of minorities in mind, and while much has been done to try and create equality, we need equity. Brandon Taylor addresses the effect this has on the Black Psyche, specifically the Black Gay Male psyche. The protagonist, Wallace, faces constant prejudice and bias from white people. Constant racist and homophobic remarks that slowly dig away at the accomplished and smart man he is. He begins to doubt, to hate what he once loved. These microaggressions are a real story, though the novel is a fictional work. In other words, it is a reflection of the experiences Taylor had in his life. Taylor is very vocal about the reception of this novel; it was not written for the white gaze, it was written to introduce nuances of the black experience into the contemporary literary world. Through reading many articles and listening to many podcasts about Taylor himself, I can now clearly see the story he was trying to convey, and the life he was trying to reflect. This was real life for Brandon Taylor, real life for Wallace, and it is the real life for many minorities. This novel’s emotional landscape reflects real experiences that create the joint “Black Experience” or the “Queer Experience.”  Far too often in literature, especially with the White Authors schools love to read, white is assumed to be the default, Black is the other, Black features are noticed and talked about. While many argue this is merely description, it highlights race and creates a world where Black is the “other.” In this novel, however, white is pointed out and described. White skin and speech patterns have attention called to them. To a white reader, this is different and uncomfortable. But it should be uncomfortable. Black people and other POC have to experience this every day, in their classrooms or when they read for leisure. Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is what we need to see for the future of American Literature, it tells stories that need to be told and shares a point of view that is far too often undermined in American dialogue.  

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Social-Emotional Learning in Real Life

The Impact of Social and Emotional Learning on Key Student Outcomes |  Edmentum Blog
Picture Source: https://blog.edmentum.com/impact-social-and-emotional-learning-key-student-outcomes

One really interesting angle to understand Brandon Taylor’s Real Life is through a Social-Emotional Learning lens. Mark Bracket describes the difference between an “emotional scientist” and a “emotional judge” in his work. A “emotional scientist” recognizes, examines, learns from emotions and accordingly regulates their response. An “emotional judge” decides if feelings are “right” or “wrong” without much reflection or examination. Real Life’s protagonist, Wallace, is an emotional judge. He feels as though he doesn’t have the right to mourn his father. He thinks there is a correct and incorrect way to mourn. Because his complex emotions regarding the death of his father do not perfectly fit his expectations, he denies his ability to feel them entirely. When his friend shows genuine emotional vulnerability in response to the news, Wallace is immediately sent into an inner dialogue over whether her level of empathy for him is valid or performative.  

Within Real Life, Brandon Taylor highlights a very unique experience of a gay, black man who struggles to navigate his own emotions and connections with others. Wallace struggles with this and often turns to his work because it is his comfort zone; He retreats to his work both physically and in conversation when he does not know what else to do. During Wallace’s struggles, there are others like Vincent who make offhanded remarks which cause great Turmoil for Wallace but appear insignificant to Vincent. Taylor uses this scene to emphasize the importance of emotional intelligence both while reflecting upon yourself as well as in interactions with others. It is imperative to pick up on cues that others give off and read the situation well. 

By: Cassie, Will, and Kate

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Appreciating Our Literature Circles aka #LitCircles

How can we measure growth or create a capstone assessment at the top of a vertical design? What makes a novel literary? How do we locate a novel’s literary qualities? How can a project encourage opportunities for life-long reading? How can we offer seniors the opportunity to demonstrate their literary knowledge and appreciation for writing style in a collaborative project? Given that we learn more deeply in collaborative ventures, how might we also incorporate our social and emotional learning goals of the year into this reading and writing endeavor? We will embrace the dynamic power of literature circles, aka #LitCircles, and give everyone a second opportunity of choosing a Booker Prize Shortlisted novel from the exciting 2020 list.

We have been reading, thinking, and sharing terms of emotional intelligence all year. It’s amazing to take a moment and reflect on how more fluent we are in our conversations about emotions! So, when you make your SEL claim in this post, focus on using one or two terms or a singular phrase. Then your argument will be more concise and clear. Use any of our Marc Brackett materials. Recall and use materials from our deep dive on Chapter 4 that we used during our winter and early spring trimesters. Also utilize these terms from the great CASEL page on Social and Emotional Learning. Use terms from this SEL Tool Kit that we have used this year. Does your character exhibit these traits? Or was there a moment in the text where that character’s deficiencies in one or more of these emotional intelligences led to a downfall or negative (and avoidable) consequences? Or can you write a letter to your character from the point of view of a best friend and suggest how they might change their life for the better?

  • Empathy and Compassion
  • Integrity and Self Control
  • Courage and Perseverance
  • Humility and Gratitude
  • Teamwork and Communication
  • Curiosity

There are more ideas and resources about each of these phrases on this great webpage. Click here and scroll down to the middle of the page: https://www.commonsense.org/education/toolkit/social-emotional-learning

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