Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Summer Reading Book #4 -- Pride by Ibi Zoboi

Okay, this may be my favorite book so far this summer.

Pride is a retelling of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Instead of early 19th century England, this version is set in modern-day Brooklyn; the neighborhood of Bushwick, to be exact. The protagonist is 17-year-old Zuri Benitez. She has four sisters and lives in a cramped apartment with her parents, in a building owned by Madrina, a self-proclaimed Santería priestess from San Juan who often advises on issues of love, fortune and future from her smoky basement.

Zuri is fiercely proud of her Dominican and Haitian roots. She is proud of her neighborhood. She has her eyes on going to Howard University.

She is also a poet, and the narrative is punctuation with her poems about Bushwick, her sisters, and life in the “hood.”

She is also feisty and quick to judge, often pushing others away before knowing them. Her tough exterior, though, hides a fear of change and the unknown. This makes her very suspicious of the “bougie” family that has bought and renovated the “mini-mansion” across the street. 

Although there is something about Darius Darcy, the boy her age who now lives in that house and who goes to a private high school in Manhattan, she can’t help but to dislike him from the start. 

That, of course, will change.

This is a book about love, of course. But, like the book from which it draws inspiration, Pride is also about class and culture. As a teacher of sociology, I was drawn to the subtext. Above anything else, this is a book about gentrification. And if I were still teaching sociology, I would use it in class.

The opening paragraph sets the stage for this subtext:

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that when rich people move into the hood, where it’s a little bit broken and a little bit forgotten, the first thing they wanna do is clean it up. But it’s not just the junky stuff they’ll get rid of. People can be thrown away too, like last night’s trash left out on the sidewalks or pushed to the edge of wherever all broken things go. What these rich people don’t always know is that broken and forgotten neighborhoods were first built out of love.

It took me a bit to warm up to Zuri, though, and I found her relationship with Darius to be the least interesting part of the book. The strength of the book rests in Zuri’s attachment to her community and family. The conversations she has are authentic, as are her relationships with her sisters. A discussion she has with her father near the end is particularly touching. 

And when she takes a trip to D.C. to tour Howard University on her own and timidly takes the stage at an open mic night to read her poetry in a bookstore near campus, her independence and hope for her future explodes from the page in a truly believable fashion. That may have been my favorite scene in the entire book and, from that point on, Zuri had me rooting for her all the way. 

If you are not traveling anywhere this summer, why not take a trip to Brooklyn? Pride is a quick read and is available in the ARC and on the SORA app as well.

Monday, June 21, 2021

Summer Reading Book #3 -- To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han

When I saw To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before on my summer reading list, I thought to myself, “This should be interesting.”  Let’s be honest: I am a (almost) 53-year old man, what could I possibly get out of this book? After all, I am not the target demographic. Right?


That’s the thing about books.  Books transport us to different places and people. Books allow us to experience, if just for a little bit, what it is like being someone else.

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is told through the eyes of Lara Jean Covey, a junior in high school and the middle sister between Margot, who is just leaving for college, and middle-schooler, Kitty. They lost their mother many years before, and live with their doctor father, Dan Covey.

The plot is pretty simple: Lara Jean has written “letters” to crushes she had in the past. These letters are like a diary, never intended to be read or sent. She keeps them hidden in her closet in a hatbox that had been given to her by her mother. As you can expect, the letters are “mysteriously” sent and Lara Jean has to deal with the ramifications of these boys reading her thoughts about them. It’s pretty clear, though, how the letters got out from the get-go, but Lara Jean somehow fails to see it. 

Nonetheless, Lara Jean has to deal with the fact that her inner thoughts have now been read by people who were never supposed to read them in the first place. She ends up lying to protect her feelings. She forms a “fake” relationship with Peter, one of her first crushes. She has to deal with the complicated fact that one of her crushes was Josh, her older sister’s former boyfriend. This story has been told many times before in many different ways, especially when the fake relationship with Peter begins to turn real.  I was immediately reminded of Cyrano de Bergerac. Much Ado About Nothing. Not to mention 90s movies Pretty Woman and While You Were Sleeping, plus countless other YA novels. 

It is not that trope that I found endearing about this book. It was the authenticity of Lara Jean and, in particular, the relationship she has with her family. That is what stands out for me.

“We are the three Song girls. There used to be four. My mom, Eve Song. Evie to my dad, Mommy to us, Eve to everyone else. Song is, was, my mom’s last name. Our last name is Covey—Covey like lovey, not like cove. But the reason we are the Song girls and not the Covey girls is my mom used to say that she was a Song girl for life, and Margot said then we should be too. We all have Song for our middle name, and we look more Song than Covey anyway, more Korean than white. At least Margot and I do; Kitty looks most like Daddy: her hair is light brown like his. People say I look the most like Mommy, but I think Margot does, with her high cheekbones and dark eyes. It’s been almost six years now, and sometimes it feels like just yesterday she was here, and sometimes it feels like she never was, only in dreams.”

Excerpt From: Jenny Han. To All the Boys I've Loved Before. Chapter 2


There are two sequels to the novel: P.S. I Still Love You (2015) and Always and Forever, Lara Jean (2017). These two sequels are also available in the ARC. 

Plus, Netflix adapted the book into a movie in 2018. 

Friday, June 18, 2021


Bruce Janu, the new librarian at Hersey High School, has been teaching history for 30 years. Over the course of those years, he has given numerous presentations about race throughout the district and has written on the topic as well. This blog post is his reflection on Juneteenth and may not reflect the opinions of others in the Academic Resource Center.


It's been a long time coming.

For the first time, Juneteenth is not only a state holiday, but a federal holiday as well. It is a recognition of the date on June 19, 1865 when the last enslaved people in Texas were informed that they were free.  Juneteenth has been a celebration in the African-American community for over 150 years, first throughout the South and then, with the Great Migration in the 20th century, throughout the rest of the United States. Although "Juneteenth" has been more colloquial, the various celebrations were known as "Emancipation Day" or "Jubilee Day," among others.

Juneteenth is also celebrated in a region of Mexico.

Emancipation Day Celebration Band in Texas, 1900
Emancipation Day Band, Texas, 1900. Public Domain.

Here's the thing, though, that illuminates the way history has been told in this country: more Americans know about the Alamo and its mythologized narrative than they do about Juneteenth. In fact, in 30 years of teaching history, I have never had a textbook that even mentioned the word "Juneteenth."

And that is endemic of the way textbooks are created. Textbooks are written to sell as many copies as possible and some states, such as Texas, select the textbooks for the entire state. In Texas, textbook selection is a political process. Therefore, textbook companies skew their textbooks to make them more palpable to politicians in Texas. Unfortunately, that means that textbooks are also not strictly for the purpose of telling history or fostering critical thinking.

In spite of the fact that Juneteenth began in Texas, it is not something that has been included in textbooks.

Although I applaud the fact that Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, I feel that it is important to note that this holiday cannot be co-opted. This celebration was created by and for African-American people.

In other words, it is not my holiday to celebrate.

Instead, for many of us -- including myself -- this should be a holiday to reflect on history; to contemplate the weight of history, and explore the ways in which history has been hidden, whitewashed or misrepresented.  It is a time to look at this history from the perspectives of the people who created the holiday in the first place.

And that is ultimately the purpose of libraries. Libraries house not only history, but perspectives and stories.  Books allow us to view the world through eyes that are not our own. Books are a medium to open the door to new worlds and new perspectives; to see life as others have seen it. 

Books are the portals to empathy and understanding. 

We have several books in the ARC that can be a starting point for reflection on Juneteenth and what it means. Take a look at this list, or go to this link.


For further reading:

"Juneteenth is Not for Everyone" by Renee Nishawn Scott via Medium

"Why Schools Haven't Taught About Juneteenth, and Why They Should" by John McDonald via The University of Southern California

"How One State History Textbook Erases the Stories of Black and Hispanic Texans" by Emily McCullar via Texas Monthly

"Texas Revises History Education, Again" by Kritika Agarwal via The American Historical Association

"Race and the Whitewashing of History in Our Textbooks" by Bruce David Janu via Medium

"The Historical Legacy of Juneteenth" via The Smithsonian Institution

"Explainer: The Story of Juneteenth, the New Federal Holiday" via The Associated Press

"Biden Signs Bill Making Juneteenth a Federal Holiday" by Kevin Freking via The Associated Press

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Listening to an Audiobook

I've started my 3rd summer reading book today! This time I am trying something new: an audiobook.

I usually like to read an actual book. I like the the feel of the book in my hands. I like to turn the pages. But, I am not adverse to ebooks. I read them on my Nook. It has the look of paper, which I like. 

But audiobooks have been hard for me to get into. I don't know: I think my mind wanders more and I have a harder time concentrating.

Nonetheless, I have to walk. Sometimes I walk upwards of 3 hours a day. That's because I few months ago I came down with gastroparesis. In other words, my stomach doesn't quite work correctly anymore. It takes several hours for me to start digesting after I've eaten something. Walking, however, helps get my digestive system moving.

So I decided to use this time to give audiobooks another try. And I started To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han today, using Hoopla. If you have a public library card, you can download audiobooks (and ebooks, too) using Hoopla or other services from from your public library.  Click here for instructions.

You can also download audiobooks from Sora, which is available from Hersey's ARC. 

There's Axis 360 that also gives you access to ebooks and audiobooks.

If you would like to listen To All the Boys I've Loved Before along with me, you can listen by clicking on the image below.  Let me know what you think!

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Summer Reading Book #2 -- The Perks of Being a Wallflower

“I Feel infinite.”

I was recently discussing this book with a friend and she told me that a mutual colleague had once referred to The Perks of Being a Wallflower as if “MTV had vomited a book.”  I laughed.

And part of that is true, of course. The edition I am reading was published by MTV.  And the book is like one very long music video.

Perks is an interesting book. At times very poignant and real, and then at other times goes out of its way to make a pop cultural reference that would be lost on a lot of readers. In fact, author Stephen Chbosky often approaches the pop cultural references with a wink and a nod, as if proud to be making them. Sometimes, they seem to distract from the narrative. 

The book is set in 1991-92 and, other than the few references made to the band Nirvana, who released Nevermind in 1991, most of the references are from the mid-1980s. The book, however, came out in 1999 -- so most of the people who would have read Perks of Being a Wallflower at that time wouldn’t have been familiar with many of the references.  And in 2021, I am not sure many high school students would understand much of the context. How many even know what The Rocky Horror Picture Show was, let alone the popular midnight showings with audience participation?

Here’s the thing: the book triggered many memories for this 53-year-old-man.  Perks is set in a world that was very real to me. I attended Hersey High School from 1982-1986. The music and culture that is referenced in the book was very much a part of my life. I listened to the Smiths.  I went to midnight showings of The Rocky Horror Picture Show with friends, bringing bread and squirt guns and other props. I made and exchanged mix tapes*. Went to “art films.” Rented VCR tapes and watched them with friends.

In many ways, too, I was a wallflower just like “Charlie.” I liked to quietly sit on the side and take in what was going on around me. 

The book is structured as a series of letters that “Charlie” writes to an unknown person, only addressing the letters to “Dear friend.” Charlie is quiet, sensitive. He is dealing with some pretty tragic events: the suicide of his friend Michael and the death of his aunt, Helen. 

These two events are merely plot devices and never are realistically addressed. The book is really about Charlie and the relationships he develops with a set of friends, most of whom are in their senior year and he is merely a freshman. It’s a coming of age story, to be sure. But it is also a story that models a different kind of male protagonist: sensitive, empathetic, thoughtful. Often, even among adults, Charlie is the most adult person in the room.

And the relationship, in particular, with his sister ebbs and flows like often happens with siblings, but also grows and matures. It was really rewarding to witness this relationship deepen through the narrative and it really moved me. I think that was my favorite element of the book.

Overall, I enjoyed the book more than I should have. There are scenes that are really well-done. And others that feel incomplete or forced. 

I am not sure why the book had to be so concretely set in the early 90s (That's postmodernism for you!). But, for me, I am glad it was. It allowed me to probe my own memories and recollections. It brought over me a wave a nostalgia. However, that is only something that can be fully experienced by people in my age group, I feel.

On the other hand, there are some themes about high school and growing up that are timeless and true regardless of the time period.

That being said, below you will find a playlist featuring all of the music or bands mentioned in the novel. As I was reading, I kept a running list.

And yes, just like on Charlie’s mixtape, “Asleep” by the Smiths is on there twice. Enjoy. 



*Mix tapes were a big part of my life. That was one way we communicated with each other, sometimes by making a cassette tape of music specifically for other people. I have digitized many of my mixtapes. I have them online via Mixcloud. Here is one of my favorites that I made in the early 90s, for I show I used to host called "Mix Tape Memories:" 

Pride Month 2021

This last weekend, my wife and I, plus our two boys attended the Woodstock Pride Parade. It was nice to be out after more than a year of quarantine.  Woodstock's Pride Parade has always been good, and this year was no different. And that's the thing about Pride -- it is joyous. It is celebratory. It is inclusive.

And colorful.

In honor of Pride Month, I have put together a short collection of books in the ARC by and about the LGBTQ+ community.  Click on the link below to go to the collection.

We will be opening the ARC in early July so you can check out books for the summer. Check back for dates.

Happy #Pride2021!

Monday, June 14, 2021

The A.R.C.Light Podcast is coming!

It is almost here: The new A.R.C.Light Podcast. This monthly podcast illuminates stories about the people and community of John Hersey High School. Why A.R.C.Light? Listen to this new preview episode below and subscribe using your favorite podcast app.

The A.R.C.Light Podcast is available wherever you get your podcast. Subscribe today so you don't miss an episode! 

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Summer Reading Book #1 -- Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block

There is something refreshing about going into a book without knowing anything about it and being plucked fully into a different world, punctuated by eccentric, loving characters. That was my experience with Weetzie Bat

The story is about a young woman named Weetzie Bat and the people in her life. At the forefront is Dirk, her best friend. He confides to her early on that he is gay, and the two spend time trying to find the perfect partners, or “ducks” as Weetzie calls them. Dirk finds that partner in “Duck,” and Weetze finds it with “My Secret Agent Lover Man;” or is his name Max? It doesn’t matter.

The four of them live together in Los Angeles in Fifi’s house --- Fifi was Dirk’s grandmother, who died and gave them the house and Weeztie was given her clothes. They make movies and eat sushi.  And eventually Weetzie has a baby. She is named Cherokee, and she is unique because she has three dads. Oh, and then there’s a witch baby, too. Her name is Lily. 

Plus, I forgot to mention the genie. Yes, a genie makes an appearance.

And through it all, Weetzie deals with love, divorced parents, sadness, love, loss, and more love. The prose is minimalist, but peppered with some beautifully vivid imagery:

Weetzie clung to Buzz’s body as they rode his motorcycle through the night. The wind blew on their faces, a summer wind thick with the smell of all-night taco stands.
I was taken with the pop-cultural references throughout the book. When Burt Reynolds was casually mentioned I did a double take and checked the publication date. 1989.  I was in college in 1989, and was roughly the age of Weetzie Bat when the book came out, I realized. Maybe that’s why I was so taken with her world. However, it is a world that is unlike any world I know: dream-like and postmodern to the core. There is something truly authentic about these characters. Eccentric, yes. Weird, yes. But also loving. Flawed. Accepting. And forgiving.

The book is a quick read; a mere 100 pages. And since its publication in 1989, Block has followed up Weetzie Bat with six other novels. The last of which was Pink Smog, published in 2012.

The series has been dubbed "Dangerous Angels," which is a line and a chapter title from Weetzie Bat

I find it comforting to know that I can revisit Weetzie’s world six more times. 

There are two copies of this book available in District 214. Plus, it is available at  the Arlington Heights Library and the Mt. Prospect Public Library.


Saturday, June 5, 2021

My Summer Reading List

I am Bruce Janu, the new librarian at Hersey High School. I am looking forward to the start of the school year in a new role. But for now, summer is here and my book list is long!  This is going to be a very different summer for me. Last summer, I didn't get a chance to do much reading because I was finishing up a documentary called This Sacred Place: The Story of Old Lynn Concerts. That ate up much of my reading time.

This summer, I am taking a course at the University of Illinois called Teen Materials. There are 9 novels on this list. Some I have read; some will be new. For me, this will be the Summer of Reading! And it is a welcomed change of pace.

Here are the books on my list:

  • Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block
  • The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
  • To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
  • Pride: a Pride and Prejudice Remix by Ibi Zoboi
  • This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
  • The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
  • Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  • 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  • Dread Nation by Justina Ireland
Throughout the next few weeks, I will be posting about each of these books as I read them. Join me on this journey. First up:  Weetzie Bat.

Friday, June 4, 2021

Happy Summer and Happy Reading!

We hope your summer is off to a great start! To help you get motivated for summer reading, we have a Spotify playlist devoted to songs about books and reading. There are probably some songs on this list you haven't heard!

Lots of students signed up for summer reading. We will be opening the library several times this summer to help you get your books. Sign-up for the newsletter or follow us on social media so you don't miss the dates. They will be announced soon!

We have lots of great stuff planned for the upcoming year, including a new book discussion group, a podcast and a film series. Keep checking back for updates.

Have a great summer!