Saturday, August 1, 2009

Briar Rose #6

Questions to ponder:
1) Mr. Potocki says, "We were all heroes of the moment" (163). Is Mr. Potocki a hero? What about the priest, trying to tell these terrible histories that the villagers want to forget?
2) Think about how the three different layers of story in this novel fit together: the fairy tale, the story of Becca's life and quest, and Josef Potocki's telling of his story. What does the novel reveal about the power of fairy tales and storyteling?
3) How is Becca like (and unlike) a fairy tale heroine?
4) Why does Gemma tell her unusal version of "Briar Rose" obsessively but not tell about her past directly?

Briar Rose #5

"The old woman opened her eyes. 'I was the princess in the castle in the sleeping woods. And there came a great dark mist and we all fell asleep. But the prince kissed me awake. Only me'" (19). How is Gemma like the princess from the fairy tale? Find a specific example from the novel and discuss it. Consider the similarities from her story to the Holocaust and discuss them as well.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Briar Rose #4

I want you to think about the diction that Yolen chooses to use in this novel, and I want you to focus on the various writing styles employed by Yolen.

Sparse and heroic language is used by Josef Potocki in the section titled, "Castle." He speaks as the well-educated, cosmopolitan observer. He recognizes the importance of story, of the creation of legends as a spur to the actions of the partisans:
"A voice inside of him said, 'We rescue one, they kill one thousand. Still--one is enough.' . . . And he understood why Henrik and his followers cared more about making a powerful story than life itself" (216-217).

Repetition and echoing of key motifs reinforce the message of the novel. The one/one thousand contrast recalls the death toll of Chelmno camp--one day, one thousand dead (ein tag--ein tausend).

Contrast between the formal, traditional language of the fairy tale and the childish, informal chatter is shown when the children comment, question, or bicker as Gemma proceeds with her storytelling.

Explain the contribution these variations in diction and style make to the atmosphere (mood) and message of the novel.

Briar Rose #3

Would you call this novel a mystery? How is this story like a mystery novel? Even though Becca's family dismiss Gemma's fairy tale story as merely the ramblings of an old woman, Becca feels compelled to break through the mystery of Gemma's past. What are her clues? And what about this element of mystery? Does Becca's journey of discovery add tension to the book? Does Becca's exploration of her grandmother's past bring more understanding of herself and her family? Why do you think her parents never tried to learn more about Gemma's history? Why are people willing to leave this kind of mystery alone?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Briar Rose #2

I want you to pay attention to Gemma's version of "Sleeping Beauty." What are all the allusions to the events of the Hollocaust and to the Nazzi regime? Think of the symbols in her story. For example, what do the briars stand for?

Keep in mind also what Stan tells Becca: "Stories. . . we are made up of stories. And even the ones that seem the most like lies can be our deepest hidden truths" (64). How is Gemma's story both a lie and a truth?

Leave your comments and we can have an online conversation!

Friday, June 5, 2009

Briar Rose #1

Perhaps you've already heard of the tale of Sleeping Beauty. Maybe you remember the Disney movie from your childhood or maybe you've read Wendy Mass's book, Twice Upon a Time, No. 2: Sleeping Beauty: the One Who Took the Really Long Nap. However, did you know that fairy tales were originally written for an adult audience? Many were even violent. You may enjoy reading other versions of the Sleeping Beauty tale. If so, go to these two links: and As Gemma does in this novel, each reteller of the tale altered the story to make it more appropriate to the moral point they wished to emphasize. Be sure to read Terri Windling's introduction at the beginning of the book.

So, what are the essential elements of the fairy tale genre? J. R. Tolkien listed the essentials elements as fantasy, recovery, escape, and consolation. Another writer believes an element of threat is also needed. Tolkien said that they need to show "recovery from deep despair, escape from some great danger, but, most of all, consolation."

While you're reading, be thinking of an answer to this question: How does the story of Gemma's life show the essential fairy tale elements of fantasy, recovery, escape, consolation, and threat? Look at her version of Briar Rose and at Potocki's account of her wartime experiences.

Also, be thinking of the answer to this question: How does the novel follow and deviate from the fairy tale? You should look for at least 3 examples from the book and at least 3 examples from the fairy tale. It matters not which version of the fairy tale you use.

You may begin discussing this topic in the comments section of this blog post.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Briar Rose

Stay tuned for updates on the pre-AP summer reading blog for Yolen's Briar Rose. Blog posts should be ready about a week after school gets out.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Summer Reading

Jones County High School has a revamped summer reading program, and it's one that we hope students will enjoy! I personally recommend North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley. Here's my review:

Amazing. This one word just doesn’t do enough justice for this book. It was more than amazing; it was so incredibly delicious. I could barely control the impulse to NOT put it down when there were other things to do in my life. I haven’t felt that in a while. The book left me breathless for more by this author.

Description of the book:
The main character, Terra, is a tall blonde who is beautiful in every aspect except one (as she believes): she has a port-wine birthmark covering half of her face. She says, "While my face couldn’t launch a thousand ships, it has the power to make any stranger whip around for a second look. Trust me, this mixture of curiosity and revulsion is nothing Helen of Troy would ever have encountered" (1). She also hides a secret at home: her over-bearing, verbally abusive father. She wants to leave her small town to go to a college far, far away, but her father denies her the opportunity. Her one avenue of escape is her art, but she doesn’t believe in it the way that others do. While coming back home from another failed attempt to have the birthmark removed, she meets handsome Jacob, a Goth who immediately understands her in a way no one else does. On the road to self-discovery, she also discovers things about her mother, and their relationship is changed forever.