Talon Top 5: Mrs. Hankins and her favorite books

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Calderon: Hello, and thank you for tuning in to Talon Top 5, where teachers introduce you to their “top fives.” This week, Mrs. Hankins lists her top five favorite books of all time. 

Hankins: Okay! Alright, well my name is Jennifer Hankins, and I teach English at Oak Park High School. Currently, I am teaching English III Honors and next year, I’m excited to be teaching a senior English elective class called Movements for Social Change. I will still be teaching English III Honors for next year. Alright, well, my top five books? It’s tough to choose just five, but if I had to choose, these are the books I would say are my top five, and it kind of depends on the situation, and it’s my favorite kind of because of the circumstance in which I first read the book and was introduced to it. 

Hankins: So I’ll start with one that I think will be familiar to many people, which is R.J. Palacio’s “Wonder.” If you haven’t read the book, you’ve probably seen the movie, and both are great – I feel like oftentimes when we watch movies about books, they don’t do it any justice, or anywhere close to what the book deserves, but the “Wonder” movie is one that I felt like really came closest to what the book was all about. For obvious reasons, why this would be a top five book is because of the beautiful and touching storyline. You’ve got Auggie, who’s the underdog of the story who overcomes his challenges to be victorious at the end, right, so there’s that theme that I think we can all cheer for, but when I read the book for the first time, we were actually on spring break in Mexico, and I distinctly remember being at the airport almost done for the book. For those of you people who haven’t read the book, I don’t want to spoil the end in case you want to read it, but it’s a very emotional ending, and here I was in an airport in Mexico, crying because of how the book ends. So to me, that’s one thing that I always think of when I think about the book “Wonder,” and that’s just an emotional attachment that I have to the book, so I definitely recommend that. 

Hankins: Another book that actually – speaking of memorable experiences while reading it – another one that I would definitely recommend is called “Educated,” and it’s a memoir by Tara Westover, and when the book first came out, I think it gained popularity right away. I knew it was a book I wanted to read because basically it’s a story about – you know, the protagonist, the one who writes the novel, she as a little girl grew up in a family who just had a very unconventional lifestyle, and therefore had a very unconventional approach to education. Definitely not a formal education whatsoever; her family was kind of an off-the-grid family that struggled and viewed education as more something that you learn through personal experiences, you know, in real life as opposed to going to school. Anyway, I don’t want to reveal too much, but it was another spring break trip and I started reading the book toward the tail end of spring break, and needless to say when we arrived home – I read it all throughout the plane – and when we arrived home, I couldn’t put it down. I basically stayed up until four o’clock in the morning continuing to read the book because I just couldn’t wait to find out what was next. So not only is the book an amazing memoir, but to me it’s kind of the emotional experience that I attach to the book that makes it really special. 

Hankins: Okay. And then, another book that’s also very emotional but for different reasons – I did not read this one at an airport – is called “Know My Name,” and the author is Chanel Miller, it’s another memoir. I do tend to enjoy memoirs quite a bit, depending on whose perspective is telling the story. If there’s a book that I could recommend to every person that’s graduating from high school, every senior, boy or girl, this would be the one, just because the topic it deals with – first of all, it’s a memoir, it’s a true story. Chanel Miller, many will recall that she’s the one that had the harrowing experience of being sexually assaulted at a college campus, and drinking was involved, and it ended up becoming a nationally-known news event, and she actually wrote this very emotional letter; she wrote it anonymously, but she wrote it from the perspective of what had happened to her when she was sexually assaulted. This was when the trial case against the college boy who had assaulted her, when his case was going on. So this is all about her experience, beginning to end, and like I said, it’s very emotional and it’s definitely a very tough subject to read about, but I think it’s one of those things that can be very eye-opening, especially as students go off to college and especially in light of the social scene, and especially when it involves alcohol, and kind of what that can all do and the impact it can have. And that’s not to say that you yourself might personally find yourself in that situation, but you might know someone who you could help who could be in that situation, or for that matter, it could be a way of prevention. It could be a way to just be aware and potentially prevent similar instances like what Chanel Miller talked about from happening again. So that’s why “Know My Name” by Chanel Miller is another one in my top five.

Hankins: And then of course, because especially when I think about the class that I’m going to do next year, Movements for Social Change, social justice is definitely a big emphasis of mine in the classes that I teach, so I definitely recommend Bryan Stevenson’s “Just Mercy.” It’s definitely nonfiction, not quite memoir in the true sense that it’s about the whole span of his life, but it definitely talks about his personal experiences of working for the Equal Justice Initiative as a lawyer who defends people on death row. As you can imagine, defending people on death row are a lot of times the people who society has given up on, and yet here he is as a tremendous defender of these people who for the most part really have gotten to their last resort in life. So it’s an amazing story, not only of his work but the people he has helped throughout his career, so I definitely recommend that. 

Hankins: And last but not least, I want to talk about “The Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan. For anybody that had me this year in English III Honors, you know that it’s a book that I introduced to our curriculum. Unfortunately, I couldn’t introduce it in its full extent, just because of time, but I definitely hope to incorporate it more next year and the years to come. This is a book that I actually first read as a freshman in college. It was actually a required book; every freshman class, they were assigned two books to read to start off the year as a way to discuss books with your new dorm mates, basically, and your roommates. So, “The Joy Luck Club” was one of the books that was assigned when I went off to college as a freshman, and I remember really liking it then, but I’ve definitely come to appreciate this novel more so now, as a teacher, especially as a mother, too. So really quick, “The Joy Luck Club” spans four different mother-daughter relationships and the stories of their experiences; the mothers, mainly talk about their experiences in China, and then of course coming over as immigrants to the United States, whereas the daughters’ perspectives show more their Chinese-American heritage and their perspective. And the themes! Everything from the struggles of immigrants when they come to this country, and of course there’s struggles with identity no matter where you are: China, the United States. There’s also the whole notion of developing one’s self-worth. These are just all themes that I think resonate universally, no matter where you’re from, and not just with mothers and daughters; I think anybody, fathers and sons, can relate to the universal themes. So I’m really glad that I got to incorporate this novel this year, like I said, I think it has a lot of different perspectives to offer, and for that reason, it is one of my top five books.

Hankins: So thank you for the opportunity, and I hope that at some point you all experience one of these great books, and if you do, I would love to talk about it. 

Calderon: Thanks for tuning in, and see you next time on Talon Top 5. 

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