Love. Thoughts of murder. Young, rich men becoming blood-thirsty soldiers. War. Peace. When choosing a novel to read for my English class, I wanted these aspects to be included in it. Unfortunately, not many books have all of these attributes. Then one day, I went to a book store and bought the one book that I have always wanted to read, "War and Peace," by Leo Tolstoy. In this book, I have found all of the things that I wanted to find, and also a bit more. When discussing "War and Peace," one is not sure where to begin. I have decided to tackle two subjects: why I read it and why I liked it.
When I tell people that I have read "War and Peace," I don't think that they believe me at first. When they finally accept that I have read it, they ask the same question, over and over and over: "Why?" There is a simple answer to that question. It had to be read. You see, I leave for the Navy in May. I will be working full time and going to school at night. I would have not time. I decided that I had to read it while I still could. I mean, "War and Peace" is a classic that not only should be read but demands to be read. Many years ago, it was required to read it in high school. I think that the disappearance of this book from the curriculum is not only a tragedy but a detriment to the school system.
The reason I liked this book is rather broad and can be answered on many levels. One of these levels is Tolstoy's portrayal of the Russian nobles. It amazed me how these people lost almost everything that they had: land, loved ones, money, even their nobility. Yet at the end of the novel, the ones that were still alive were happy. They had survived, and that was all that mattered. In this way, Leo Tolstoy depicted a side of the human soul seldom seen, or even mentioned: the unconquerable human spirit.
The other reason that I like "War and Peace" is maybe a little egotistical. The prestige and recognition that I have received from reading this classic Russian novel have far surpassed my expectations. Most of the people I know haven't read "War and Peace." Most people are really amazed that someone like me actually read it. It is a testament to my commitment, and, hey, how many people can actually say that they have read "War and Peace"?
-- Joseph Steffen is a senior at Lawrence Alternative High School.
There are many books I have read that have affected my life in various ways. There is one book that I feel has truly opened my eyes to the world differently than all the others. That book is "The Joy Luck Club" by Amy Tan.
I first heard of this book from my parents, who advised me to read it. At the time, I was a little too young to fully understand it and opted for the movie instead. The movie was good, but my theory is that if the movie is good, then the book must be great. I waited a couple of years and then read it. When I finally did read it, I was touched and impressed. The basic story is about four Chinese women who play mah-jongg and tell stories of their life while doing so.
There are a lot of reasons why I enjoyed this book so much. The author has a way of drawing you into the story so you feel as if you're a part of it rather than just reading it. She reaches inside of you and tugs on your emotions. It was also interesting to see the comparison of Chinese and American cultures. I was especially interested in observing the traditions that are passed down through families, stories from one generation to the next. From grandmother to mother to daughter, some of these stories are tragic and not easily swallowed.
A lot of people (teen-agers) in our society today seem to be all wrapped up in feeling sorry for themselves. They let petty problems like not having the right dress for prom and daddy not buying them a second car get them down and ruin their day. What they don't see is all the other people in the world who are truly suffering. Try having to give up your babies in the heat of war so your hands will stop bleeding from the weight of their cradles. Try watching your mother swallow poison and die in front of you only so you can have a better life. Then maybe you will have earned the right to say that you have suffered.
This book opened my eyes. It forced me to realize the world and its pain. It puts life into a whole new perspective. So many people (teen-agers) fail to see the value in their lives: to have a family that loves you or even just to live in a country that is so free. Things may not be wonderful, they may not be ideal, but I believe that what we do have is too often taken for granted.
-- Maya Lubin is a senior at Lawrence Alternative High School.
"Seek and ye shall find" is an often-used cliche that perfectly describes my philosophy on reading. All through my childhood and now as I continue my journey through adolescence, I've found that literature, particularly books, can only reach out to a person when he wants to be reached.
So when I was asked to ponder the question, "What book have you read that has most affected your life?" I immediately referred to this simple philosophy for the answer. And since I cherished the belief that the more receptive one is to a book, the more likely he is to gain from it, I wondered, "When was I most receptive and open to things I read? What novel or story have I been the most open to?" And the answer was quite clear. The book that has most dramatically changed or affected my life is, without a doubt, "Madeline and the Bad Hat" by Ludwig Bemelmans.
And though my choice seems odd, I don't see why the most meaningful piece of literature shouldn't be a child's picture book. I can guarantee all those I know that without the influence of Madeline (the story's sprightly little heroine), I probably never would have turned out to be so bold in my opinions as I am now. The story follows a simple plot, as any child's story would. Madeline, a small French etudiante (student) who attends a boarding school with 11 other students, meets Pepito, the son of the Spanish ambassador, when he moves into the house next to her boarding school.
Pepito seems to be a sweet, docile little boy but is really a braggart and what Madeline describes as a "bad hat." Pepito delights in hunting and caging little defenseless animals. He even comes to a point where he makes a guillotine so he can help the cook slaughter chickens for dinner.
One day while Madeline is out walking with her teacher, Miss Clavelle, Pepito tries to get a bunch of hungry dogs to chase a cat across a field. To his dismay, the cat jumps on his head and the ravenous dogs try to rip him and the cat to pieces. Madeline calls the cat and saves little Pepito from an untimely doom.
While he is recuperating, Madeline comes to him and teaches him the importance of being nice to animals and people. She also teaches him the dangers of being mischievous and naughty. Pepito turns over a new leaf, and when he sets all his animals free once more, Madeline is the very first to commend him.
As simple as this little story is, it held some real-life lessons for me as a 4- to 5-year-old -- real-life lessons that I have retained and used right up until today. The first lesson I learned from this book is the undeniable truth that bigger does not necessarily mean better. Madeline was a small girl, the smallest in her school, but she was still the leader and heroine of the story. Ever since I read (or was read) "Madeline and the Bad Hat," I've always tried to have the courage to stand up for what I feel, regardless of my size, color, age or even gender.
And that brings me to the next life-lesson I learned, the lesson of the women of empowerment. It may seem far-fetched, but "Madeline and the Bad Hat" was one of my favorite books because the hero was a heroine.
When I was still new to the outside world, I was a child who knew little of the struggles women of the past had to experience in order to eliminate gender discrimination. I could never help feeling intimidated by males, except, of course, my father and brother. Boys always seemed to be able to get the better of me, from soccer to crafts to quirky comebacks.
But Madeline was different from me. She was the first little girl that I saw easily overcome that barrier. In all the other books I read at that age, the girls were wimps, like bewildered little flowers in the world of children's literature. As I read more mature forms of literature today, sometimes it's hard to find that sort of obvious heroism in female characters.
Growing up in the home of a Victorian women's studies professor, I've come to know a lot about the rights of women and their place in society in past civilizations. I find myself extremely lucky to live in a day and age where I am not discriminated against because of my gender. It's amazing to me that just 100 years ago, the idea of a children's book with a little girl for the hero would have been absurd. I'm glad that while I blossom into womanhood I can have a great amount of influence on those around me in spite of my gender or anything else.
The third, and probably most important, lesson I learned from "Madeline and the Bad Hat" was that people can change. Many other children's books portray villains that are bad through and through; that cannot and will not change. I think that maybe the authors don't realize how seriously their innocent little audiences take their work. Children often refer to stories for an example. I know I certainly did. Whenever I was frustrated about not being able to achieve something, I always thought of Madeline.
The thing I loved about this charming story was that little Pepito metamorphosed throughout the course of the tale. I'm sure the book was meant to teach other lessons, such as the importance of being kind to animals. But the most meaningful lesson I learned was that people, even "bad hats," can change.
I think that this is one of the most glorious and uplifting truths that children should be taught. So many times, people get lousy first impressions of their peers and then refuse to believe that those individuals could ever change. I try to be the least judgmental I can, never forgetting the story of "Madeline and the Bad Hat."
Overall, I've found that the book most meaningful to my life is the story of Madeline, a courageous little nymph who stuck to her guns ferociously in her story and provided a virtuous example for me to follow even at a young age. I'm sure that I'll read this book to my children and encourage them to treasure it and learn from it as I did. I feel that the more children I can teach to stand up for their values and rights while maintaining a sense of unconditional love and compassion for all they meet, the better all our lives will be for having done it.
-- Jane Elliott is a sophomore at Free State High School.
Mentally challenged, retarded, slow -- whatever label society places on the challenged minority is derogatory, whether insult is intended or not. Those of us not in close contact with their enchanting smiles tend to shy away; they remind us of how we might have been different had our DNA combined wrongly. Daniel Keyes writes about one challenged man in his 1966 book, "Flowers for Algernon." Originally published as a short story and later expanded, it deals with society's desire to "improve" its members.
Many of us in the Lawrence public school system have read the novel for one class or another, and it usually makes an impact. For me, especially, this was true. I found a battered copy in my parents' library and sat down one afternoon to read it. I did not rise from that seat the same teen-ager who sat down. The book was that much of a revelation for me.
Mr. Keyes wrote about a mentally challenged man named Charlie Gordon. The novel is written as a series of journal entries. This style allows the reader to glimpse both the protagonist's improvement and degeneration. Charlie is 32 years old and works as a janitor at the bakery of an old family friend. He attends the Beekman School for Retarded Adults at night and is taught by Miss Kinnian.
It is while being schooled here that he is chosen as a possible candidate for a brain improvement experiment. Scientist at the Beekman University think that they have discovered a "cure" for retardation. Charlie has an IQ of only 68, and so it is naturally assumed he both wants and needs improvement. Of course, the former is a given. Charlie desperately wants to be smart, brainwashed by a society run by the IQ elite. The need for improvement is a much grayer area and subject to personal opinion. Approval is given, and the operation takes place, but the progress is not immediate. Instead, a gradual change is recorded in the journal the scientists have him keep. The grammar and spelling improve; indeed, the entire style of writing slowly shifts.
During his treatment and progress he comes to face several serious consequences. First, Charlie is asked to leave his job; the change in him upsets the employees. Second, he loses his naivete about the people surrounding him. He realizes all the people he thought were his friends had always been laughing at him, not with him. And, finally, he becomes deeply attracted to his former teacher, Miss Kinnian. She always cared for him as a student, and that caring develops into something deeper. However, some of the changes in him scare her, and so the relationship is doomed from the start.
Charlie's change also leads to his being paraded around like a trained monkey. The scientists still patronize him and bring him out like a dancing bear at scientific conferences, a monument to their own ingenuity. Then, it is discovered there is a flaw in their experiment. The control mouse, Algernon, of whom Charlie had grown quite fond, regresses very quickly, and then dies. This leads Charlie to discover that Newton's third law of motion applies here: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. The rate of degeneration is directly proportional to the rate of progress.
This discovery also leads to the recognition that he cannot ever have a lasting relationship with Miss Kinnian. Eventually, he will regress past his starting level and have to be institutionalized. While he is still able, he contemplates suicide but cannot sentence the old Charlie to death. He returns to the job at the bakery. Finally, he records his last entry in his journal and boards the train to spend the rest of his life at the State Institution for the Mentally Retarded.
Our culture is one of pill poppers and miracle quick-fixes. We have invented pills for everything from AIDS to zinc deficiency. We have pills that make us happy, pills that make us sad and pills that will totally change our personalities. The idea of a pill or operation to increase intelligence isn't that far-fetched. We already have herbal examples like melatonin, which is supposed to boost memory. It is the idea that we must improve upon what we are given that is abhorrent. Our culture easily accepts this unnatural postulate, and so we have things like "fat camps" and plastic surgery.
We must wonder, though, where the boundary should stop; what is acceptable to pinch and tuck and what isn't? Should the human psyche be subject to change with the downing of a little white capsule? With the advances in science, this may soon be an issue. I have no answer that can be formulated into an easy 12-step program for the American people to follow; everyone should let his own conscience decide. Now, all soap-boxing aside, I would like to discuss my personal reaction.
We are all guilty of cultural desensitizing. I myself used to walk past the "kids with problems" and try not to make eye contact. Moving to the other side of the hall or joining in the derisive laughter was not uncommon. Then, this novel forced me to imagine what life would be like if I were challenged. I would probably be a happier person, oblivious to the mockery and petty cruelties that make up all our lives. But since I am not, the best I can do is stop the laughter that they receive, meet their eyes and learn from their never-ending good humor.
Perhaps, if we all read this book, we would be kinder, gentler people, but we should not have to read it to be sensitive to others. Basic human kindness and simple dignity command us to humor those less fortunate than we. However, our innate goodness is overcome by the truncation of our kindly advances toward the challenged because of pressure from our peers. Since we are obsessed with a desire to fit in, we sway with public opinion. Charlie is loving and giving, everything that we as a culture are not. I can only hope there is a little "Charlie" in us all, letting us take pleasure in the simple joys all around us. If you do nothing else after reading this, when you see someone you usually deride, smile at him for Charlie.
-- Renee Fullerton is a sophomore at Free State High School.
When I look back at my life, short as it is yet, I see two major events in my development. The first is the day I lost my first tooth while attempting to bite open a Folger's coffee can. The second is the day I read (all by myself, mind you) Crockett Johnson's immortal piece of literature, "Harold and the Purple Crayon." This was a turning point in my existence, to be sure.
I had always wanted to learn to read. As a child, I always remember our living room as being filled to the proverbial rim with books of many shapes and sizes, all of which, to my dismay, contained little more than incoherent scratchings. The books managed, nevertheless, to capture my parents with their powerful magic, and hold them there, staring blankly at the pages, for hours on end. During one of these periods of inactivity on the part of Mom and Dad, I decided to save them from the force: I decided to learn how to read. What followed was an immense and frustrating period in my childhood spent being bombarded by "Dick and Jane" and "The Cat on the Mat," whose very attempt at education made them unacceptable for enjoyment.
It was at this point that Johnson's "Crayon," as it were, made its first purple imprint into my psyche. It is about a young boy named Harold, who, with his purple crayon, creates a world of imagination. Harold sails in a purple boat, eats purple pie with a purple porcupine, and flies in a purple hot-air balloon, with the purple moon always as his guide. This world, however, is a lonely one. The purple policeman doesn't answer Harold's questions, the porcupine stares blankly into space. In desperation, Harold starts drawing windows in an attempt to find his, but he cannot. Even though he does eventually draw a new bed and a new room for himself, he is never really home. It is a purple world he has created, which has now overcome the old one.
This story touched me deeper than any Poe, Melville or Hawthorne ever could. Johnson's almost unconscious commentary on imagination, but also insanity, is childlike in its simplicity, but universal in its message. I was Harold, and all I desired was to sink into the purple deluge of imagination and never come back.
Of course, it was years after my first exposure to this story that I worked all this out in my head. Even though it made me feel genuinely lonely when Harold stood alone among hundreds of grant purple skyscrapers in a city he created, it also made me aware of the amazing possibilities in life. In all honesty, Harold was my very first role model, a "peer" that succeeded what I could only emulate. It was no coincidence that Lewis Carroll's tale of a similar journey through the eyes of a young girl named Alice became my favorite novel when I was a preteen and remains so.
-- Ethan Shaftel is a junior at Free State High School.
Although they may seem short and insignificant, children's books can be very important. They can leave a lasting impression on their young readers by conveying lessons and morals. Also, children can learn from and identify with the events in the story. Edna Mitchell Preston's "Squawk to the Moon, Little Goose" made a strong impression on me as a child, because it shows the naivete of youth, and the embarrassment that can come with it.
The naivete is portrayed through the character of Little Goose. He slips out of bed while his mother is gone and thinks he sees a fox devouring the moon. What he does not know is that what he sees is actually a cloud creeping in front of it. He, of course, runs to tell the farmer. Upon the farmer telling poor Little Goose that the moon is still hanging in the sky "big and round and golden," the young creature walks away in shame. Then Little Goose thinks he sees the moon at the bottom of the pond, but he is only seeing its reflection, and is again embarrassed to be shown he is wrong by the farmer.
These incidents of Little Goose show how naive children can be. Little Goose didn't know enough to realize that the fox he saw was actually a cloud, momentarily covering the moon. How could he know that the moon he thought had sunk to the bottom of the pond was actually just a reflection? Many children experience this kind of foolishness. Little Goose is a perfect example of a young naive child.
Little Goose also experiences the embarrassment of finding out just how naive he has been. He goes twice to the farmer who twice shows the young goose that the moon is in fact still in the sky. No child likes to be shown that he has been foolish. Little Goose walks solemnly away with his head lowered.
However, this young character triumphs in the end, learning from his mistakes. After the second trip to the farmer, he encounters a real fox, who attempts to eat Little Goose. Little Goose tells the fox that if he will let him go, he will give him a cheese as big as the moon. The fox of course did not believe the goose until he was pointed toward the pond. The fox released Little Goose and jumped into the pond, only succeeding in getting very wet, as Little Goose ran for home. This time Little Goose is on the other side of the naivete. If the fox was not so gullible, Little Goose might have been eaten. Having learned his lesson, Little Goose returns to his home where he receives a spanking from his mother for sneaking out of bed. This story shows its young readers that things may not always be what they seem, and of course that all little children should always obey their mothers.
"Squawk to the Moon, Little Goose" by Edna Mitchell Preston made an impression on me as a child with its examples of youthfulness. I could always identify with poor Little Goose. As Little Goose learned from his mistake, so could I. This book shows children that they are not the only ones who have made those kind of mistakes. Through children's books, these lessons and examples will continue to leave an impression on children for ages.
-- Carmen Winters is a junior at Free State High School.
Books have been a great influence on my life as I grow and develop. I have always enjoyed reading and I have learned so much from the stories of others. A very special book that taught me a great lesson was "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier.
"The Chocolate War" was a book I read for English this year. It taught the message to stand up for what you believe -- don't give in to manipulation of any sort. There has been a great controversy over whether to teach this book because it shows many positive cases of defying authority. But I believe that it shows a young boy standing up for what he believes in his heart, and not being manipulated by an overwhelming presence of authority.
Anyone in any station of life who tries to manipulate another into thinking or doing what they say is wrong in all cases. People need to stand up for what they believe in their hearts to be true. People often lack the confidence to speak out. If everyone were able to express his beliefs and opinions, the world would function better as a whole. In "The Chocolate War," one out of the entire school of boys was able to stand up for himself. The rest, even if they knew that they were being manipulated, were too self-conscious to stand by him.
"The Chocolate War" expresses the idea that even if you are persecuted, you must stand up for what you believe in until the very end. The main character, Jerry Renault, won't sell the chocolates because he does not want to. He never once in the book sells any chocolates even though he is threatened and beat up several times for defying his authorities. He begins by not selling the chocolates only because of the Vigil assignment but he "dares to defy the universe" and stands up for himself.
This book was a good influence on my life because it showed you should always stand up for what you believe, even if all odds are against you and everyone is on the other side. If you truly believe in your heart what is right, your own judgment will triumph.
-- Trish Averill is a sophomore at Lawrence High School.
Robert Cormier's novel "The Chocolate War" displays how manipulation and a dictatorship can ruin the lives of others. Innocent Jerry Renault is chosen at random for torture and punishment. He is forced to do actions against his will by Archie Costello and his gang, The Vigils. But Jerry is not the only one. Many other boys in Trinity High School face the same evil, but no one else sees the abuse Jerry does.
I learned through reading this novel that forcing others to perform horrid acts and hurting others for no apparent reason is wrong. It is wrong because the physical and mental lives of others are at stake. The Vigils hurt many people throughout the school. These people are left bruised inside and some outside. Jerry and the other boys know this is wrong, but they don't do anything about it. Ignoring problems just makes things worse.
Ignorance by the teachers and students enabled The Vigils to perform their crime. I now realize that when a problem arises I should not ignore it. I should stand up for my beliefs and make my point known. Ignorance just leads to more problems of higher proportions.
Violence is another key issue covered in the novel. Everyone says violence is wrong, so why does it happen? It happens because our society today accepts violence. We accept it on TV and we read about it. Every year many people are hurt and killed because of it. I hope that in the future everyone can realize that violence never solves anything. It only makes it worse.
Before I read "The Chocolate War," I though violence was no big deal. People just were unlucky or got what they deserved. But now I know this isn't true. Violence is a horrible disease that needs to be cured. It can happen to anyone, anywhere. I know I can't do much, but I'll do my part in stopping violence. I wish everyone felt the same way.
-- Tom Murray is a sophomore at Lawrence High School.
"The Chocolate War," a novel by Robert Cormier, made me think about the way I live my life. Many people have strived their whole lives to be like everyone else. They don't want to draw attention to themselves by doing what they believe. This novel made me realize that in certain instances in my life, I have been just a follower.
In the novel, Jerry refuses to do something that he doesn't want to do, and because of this, he is harassed throughout the story. Jerry ponders the question, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" After thinking, he decides that it is best that he does what he thinks is right.
As Jerry did, I pondered this question also. In the past I have been a leader and I have stood up for what I believe, but there have been times when I haven't done the right thing for the reason of wanting to fit in.
I also thought about certain situations that are usually thought of as morally wrong and bad -- people in gangs and cults, for example. These subjects are very touchy with people because there are many strong and different opinions. When I think about people in gangs and cults, I realize that they are just doing something that they believe, just as people would go to church. That does not necessarily mean that some of the things they do are right, good or legal. The same thing applies to protesters; other people might not think that their cause is right or good in any way, but that is an opinion. They are just standing up for what they believe, and I think that generally that is a good moral. I disagree with a lot of things when it comes to protesters, and gangs and cults. But I don't think it is right to say that they shouldn't believe in something that they feel strongly about.
-- Betsy Willhite is a sophomore at Lawrence High School.
The novel "Ordinary People" by Judith Guest greatly affected me. Conrad had many of the same problems that I have or have experienced. It was odd that I could have so much in common with this fictional character. My outlook on life used to be similar to his, although I never attempted suicide. In today's world, life as a teen is extremely difficult.
There are so many obstacles which we must face, so many problems we must solve. Peer pressure, sex, drugs and depression are only a few. We are so misunderstood by adults. They should really make more of an effort to see where we're coming from. Sometimes we just get so lost and need the guidance of an adult. We really need our parents there for us, even though it may sometimes seem as if we're pushing them away.
Love is another large factor of a teen's life. We're at the point where we are becoming adults and discovering who we really are. We yearn to be loved. If we feel unloved, we turn to someone or something to fill the empty hole. That, more than likely, is what gets us into trouble. We begin to push our parents away and start getting involved in drugs or sex as an escape. We even begin to rebel from our parents when we honestly need them the most.
Blame is another issue. Parents seem to blame us for many things that we feel aren't our fault. That pushes us further away. They should sit down and talk to us rather than point fingers. Con felt as if it were his fault that his brother died. He thought people blamed him so, therefore, he attempted suicide, which landed him in a mental hospital.
I loved the book. It made an impact on my life and filled me with emotion. It really made me think. I personally feel that it was one of the best books I've ever read.
-- Nikki Muckey is a sophomore at Lawrence High School.