Archive for the ‘Diverse Books and Movies’ Category

Movie Wednesday: The Darkest Minds

Movie Wednesday The Darkest Minds

by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum

In the near future, a mysterious pandemic has killed most of the world’s children. The children who survive develop superhuman abilities. In an attempt to control the youngsters and “protect” the populace, the government begins rounding up children and sending them to camps. Once there, the children are given colors which indicate the nature of their abilities and how dangerous they are; Reds and Oranges are “disposed” of immediately because their powers are too strong. Ruby Daly is an Orange who manages to disguise herself as a safe Green and survives in the camp for several years. But one day after a test, Ruby’s Orange status is revealed and she makes a desperate escape.

Once on the outside, Ruby meets Liam, Chubs, and Zu, children with superpowers who are on the run just like her. Together they search for a place where they can be themselves and safe from the government. But once there, they will learn that things aren’t always as they seem.

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The Darkest Minds is a 2018 dystopian film and was released in cinemas on August 3rd. It is based on the YA novel of the same name by Alexandra Bracken. The first book in Bracken’s series was published in December of 2012. Somewhat inspired by Bracken’s experiences during 9/11 as an adolescent, the themes of the book include the resilience of kids and teenagers through crisis.

The Darkest Minds is dystopian science fiction. What does dystopian mean? You might be familiar with the term utopia or utopian. A utopia is the idea of a fictional world in which everything is perfect. A dystopia, then, is a fictional world in which everything is awful. Dystopian fiction as a genre typically deals with totalitarianism and/or environmental crises. The crisis in the Darkest Minds is a deadly disease that affects only children.

Nontraditional casting, more commonly referred to as colorblind casting, is a practice wherein the actor’s race or ethnicity is not a consideration in the casting process for a traditionally white role. Nontraditional casting is sometimes used to counteract whitewashing in film and television, which is a practice that prevents actors of color from landing parts by casting white actors in those minority roles instead. A famous recent example of nontraditional casting is the musical Hamilton. The Darkest Minds is also just such an example. The leading role of Ruby, although originally white in the novels, was given to Amandla Stenberg, who is an actor of color.

A note to parents: The Darkest Minds is rated PG-13. We recommend looking up the film on sites such as Kids in Mind before deciding if it is right for your family.

Discussion Questions

  • Colors in the Darkest Minds are very important. Did you notice that Ruby’s full name (Ruby Elizabeth Daly) is an acronym for red (R, E, D)? Other characters in the story have color related names (either actual colors, acronyms, or name meanings). This was done purposefully by Bracken. Which color names did you notice and what do you think these colors might reveal about who the characters are?
  • When adapting a novel to film, changes and cuts have to be made to fit the format and time restrictions, so some details can get lost. If you’ve read the book, was there anything that the film did not include that you wish they had kept? Explain your answer.
  • Dystopian fiction can often be seen as a warning that something like this could possibly happen. Do you think if there were an outbreak of a disease, like the one in The Darkest Minds, that the public would react the way they do in the story? Why or why not?
  • In the film, the kids are assigned colors that describe their powers and how dangerous they supposedly are. Reds and Oranges are considered the most dangerous, but as we see throughout the film even the supposedly less dangerous powers can be used to cause damage. Why do you think this fictional society sees telepathy/mind-control and pyrokinesis as so much more dangerous than, say, super intelligence and telekinesis? What makes these abilities seem more or less threatening?

Additional Resources

Official Movie Trailer – 20th Century Fox YouTube video

The Powers Behind the Darkest Minds – 20th Century Fox YouTube video

Young Minds with Alexandra Bracken – 20th Century Fox YouTube video

Amy Frantz is a Brave Writer alum. When not over-analyzing Star Wars, in her spare time you will find her…actually, she mostly just over-analyzes Star Wars.

Movie Discussion Club

Movie Wednesday: Kubo and the Two Strings

Movie Wednesday Kubo

by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum

Kubo’s eye was taken when he was a baby by his grandfather, the Moon King. His mother was able to escape from her family with her son, but lives in fear knowing that the Moon King will one day come for her child’s other eye. At twelve-years-old, Kubo must tend to his mother, whose mental state is deteriorating, and earn money by enchanting origami with his magical shamisen to tell the local villagers stories about his father, the great warrior Hanzo. But one day, Kubo stays out after dark and the Moon King is able to find him. Now Kubo, with the help of his shamisen and two unlikely companions, Monkey and Beetle, must find his father’s legendary armor so that he may defeat the Moon King and protect those he loves.

[This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases,
Brave Writer receives compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you!]

Kubo and the Two Strings is a 2016 fantasy stop motion animated film.

Kubo is set in the Japanese feudal era. Feudalism is a social structure around the holding of land by nobles where the peasant classes owe them service for living on the land. In Japan, the feudal period was roughly from 1185 to 1603 (with some historians also including the Edo Period in this time which extends it to 1868). The feudal period was decisively ended by the Meiji Era, which saw major social reforms and westernization in Japan.

Kubo is a stop motion film. Stop motion is an animation technique where physical objects are incrementally moved in-between still shots, so that when the film is played back at a fast speed the objects appear to be in motion. A combination of puppets, miniatures, and special effects were used to create the magical stop motion world of Kubo.

Discussion Questions

  • Kubo and the Two Strings has a lot to say about storytelling and the importance of stories in our lives. At the climax of the film, the villagers tell Kubo’s newly human grandfather stories about who he is, which we the audience know aren’t true but which the grandfather accepts because he has no memories of his own. What do you think the film is trying to say concerning the power of the stories we tell about ourselves and about others?
  • Kubo and the Two Strings is a quest story and follows many aspects of the monomyth or the Hero’s Journey. Do you find stories that follow these patterns predictable or do you like seeing the different ways that different storytellers interpret a pattern? Explain your answer.
  • Kubo has two guides on his quest, Monkey and Beetle. If you were to have two guides on an epic quest, who do you think they would be and what might they be like?
  • Do you think it was ethically wrong for the villagers to essentially lie to Kubo’s grandfather about who he is? Is a lie always wrong even if it causes positive change in a person? Explain your answer.
  • Kubo and the Two Strings caused controversy because no Japanese voice actors are featured in the main cast, despite the film being set in feudal Japan. A few Asian American actors, notably George Takei of Star Trek fame, can be heard in minor supporting roles, but the main cast is comprised of non-Asian actors leading to accusations that the film is whitewashed. Do these casting choices detract from your experience of the film? Explain your answer.

Additional Resources

Credited As: Stop Motion Animator – Academy Originals YouTube video – Behind the scenes of the stop motion animation of Kubo and the Two Strings

Origami Crane Tutorial – YouTube video

5 Things You Need to Know About: The Shamisen – JapanSocietyNYC YouTube video

Amy Frantz is a Brave Writer alum. When not over-analyzing Star Wars, in her spare time you will find her…actually, she mostly just over-analyzes Star Wars.

Movie Discussion Club

Movie Wednesday: Coco

Movie Wednesday Coco

by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum

Miguel comes from a family of shoemakers and in the Rivera household there is absolutely no music allowed. Miguel’s great-great-grandmother’s husband abandoned the family many years before to pursue music and ever since then the family has forbade music on principle. But Miguel dreams of one day becoming a renowned musician. His idol is the famous Ernesto de la Cruz, who was a popular singer before his untimely death. And now it seems like it’s Miguel’s lucky break. During the Day of the Dead holiday there will be a music contest and Miguel hopes to enter. But magic is in the air, and when Miguel’s plan goes wrong, he finds himself in the Land of the Dead! Now Miguel must find his musician great-great-grandfather to receive his blessing and transport Miguel back to the living before sunrise or he will remain among his deceased ancestors forever!

[This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases,
Brave Writer receives compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you!]

Coco is a 2017 Disney Pixar 3D animated film. As is the case with some films, Coco underwent extensive rewrites and re-imaginings before finally forming into the finished product we have today. That finished product is a film filled with color and whimsy as it tackles issues of family values, forgiveness, and identity, all through compelling characters, catchy tunes, and dazzling visuals.

Coco features an all Latinx cast and is considered a stride forward by many for representation, especially in a time where there is increasing social awareness around issues of whitewashing (which is the practice in film and television of casting white actors in non-white roles).

Discussion Questions

  • Miguel feels misunderstood and unsupported by his family in his dreams to become a musician for much of the film, which causes him to make rash decisions. How do you think his behavior might have been different if his family had been more supportive from the start?
  • Family history and family secrets are important themes in Coco. How well do you know your family history? Have you ever learned something about your family that surprised you? Explain.
  • Coco contains several plot twists. A plot twist is a device that produces an unexpected outcome or change in the direction of a story’s plot. Were you able to predict these twists or did they take you by surprise?
  • Disney landed in hot water for attempting to trademark “Día de los Muertos” (Day of the Dead), since the phrase was originally going to be used in the film’s title, drawing loud criticism from the Latinx community for cultural appropriation. Do you think it’s inappropriate for corporations to trademark culturally significant phrases and traditions? Explain your answer.

Additional Resources

Remember Me – Official Lyric Video

What Mexicans think of Coco – YouTube video

Movie Discussion Club

Movie Wednesday: Howl’s Moving Castle

Movie Wednesday Howl's Moving Castle

by Amy Frantz, Brave Writer alum

Sophie works in a hat shop and mostly keeps to herself, until one day after work she encounters a young handsome wizard who escorts her on her way to visit her sister. And, oh yes, he also takes her flying above the city streets on nothing but magic. However, that night the jealous Witch of the Waste puts a curse on Sophie, which transforms her into an elderly woman and prevents her from explaining what has happened to anyone. Sophie sets out into the country to try and lift her curse, but instead she finds an enchanted scarecrow who leads her to the dreaded Howl’s moving castle. Within the castle Sophie finds magical friends, a lot of housework that needs doing, and Howl himself, who is selfish and vain but also charming… and is none other than the wizard she met before being cursed. But outside the castle, war is brewing and the king has summoned all the witches and wizards to him and Sophie soon realizes that her own curse is not the only one that needs breaking.

[This post contains Amazon affiliate links. When you click on those links to make purchases,
Brave Writer receives compensation at no extra cost to you. Thank you!]

Howl’s Moving Castle is a 2004 Japanese animated film from Studio Ghibli and director Hayao Miyazaki of Spirited Away fame. The film is loosely based on the novel of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones.

Howl’s Moving Castle is considered steampunk. Steampunk is a subgenre which utilizes a seemingly historical setting, usually vaguely 19th century around the industrial revolution, combined with anachronistic technology which is steam-powered but distinctly futuristic. This gives the piece the feeling of both being familiar and strange and works well with the rich visual style typified by Miyazaki’s work.

The film features themes of age, empathy, and the impacts of war. Sophie, the film’s protagonist, is not shown as being held back by the “curse of old age” as the Witch of the Waste intended, instead she finds a sense of freedom in being old. Howl’s “heartlessness” is shown through vanity and selfishness, but never cruelty, and he learns over the course of the film how to care more deeply for others.

Discussion Questions

  • It’s implied in the film that Sophie may have magic of her own. Do you think Sophie has her own magic? Explain your answer.
  • Why do you think Howl wanted to be without a heart?
  • When we first meet the Witch of the Waste, we rush to think of her as a villain. But as the film progresses, we see that really she’s just jealous and maybe a bit childish. Do you think there is a central villain to the story? If so, who or what do you think it is and why?
  • A common theme in Miyazaki’s films is flight. If you could fly, how would you use this power?
  • This film has a lot to say about wartime. Do you find yourself ever agreeing or disagreeing with what the characters say about war? Explain your answer.

Additional Resources

DIY Glowing Calcifer – YouTube video

Movie Discussion Club

How to Find Quality New Books for Kids

How to find new and quality books for kids

Finding quality literature for children can be a challenge. Yes, there are the old classic mainstays, and there’s nothing wrong with those and they can certainly be enriching for children to read. But books are an important part of building your child’s cultural literacy and kids lit (or children’s literature) today is brimming with excellent and imaginative new titles.

Cultural literacy is important for kids. It builds a common vocabulary with their peers using cultural “touchstones” which hone their abilities to communicate effectively. In other words, to understand and be understood broadly.

But how to find good kids lit? As with all genres, there’s going to be a lot that you or your kids don’t jive with for whatever reasons. Trying to find new fiction that is current and exciting, but also appropriate for your family, can be daunting and sometimes it feels much easier to simply fall back on tried and true classic titles. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, don’t get us wrong, but it can mean your kids are missing out on the richness, diversity, and cultural experience of contemporary works.

Know your terms.

Middle Grade typically refers to books intended for readers between the ages of 8-12.

YA (or Young Adult) is meant for readers between the ages of 12-18, and typically features protagonists in adolescence or early adulthood, and can sometimes include more mature subject matter. Check out this Brief History of YA YouTube video from Epic Reads for some more information and background on YA literature.

There is some crossover between these categories (sometimes you’ll see a Middle Grade novel in the YA section, as well as the other way around), but for the most part these categories can be extremely helpful to know when you’re searching for new books. You probably wouldn’t want to get a YA book for an 11-year-old, but on the flip side your 15-year-old might roll their eyes if you hand them a Middle Grade book.

Own Voices is a term that has been popularized recently. Put simply, Own Voices stories are when the author of the story belongs to the group or experience they are writing about, particularly when those groups and experiences are marginalized.

For example, a book with an Asian American main character written by an Asian American would be Own Voices, but if the story were written by someone who is not Asian American it would not be Own Voices. Although diverse books that are not Own Voices can still have value, it is good to keep in mind where the stories your family consumes are coming from and how accurate their representation is.

Know where to look.

GoodReads is a great resource for finding books and they even provide lists that will tell you, for example, what the hot new Middle Grade titles are. You can be as general or specific in your searches as you want. Keep in mind that book reviews are user generated content and unfortunately aren’t always kid-friendly.

Amazon also has a feature that allows you to search for books by age and you can obviously read the reviews there as well.

Once you’ve found some books that look promising, you can also look them up on Common Sense Media to help gauge what kind of content will be in them. Their book section is not the most extensive but if the titles are newer and popular they will usually be included.

If you’re looking for multicultural kids lit, Scholastic has a great resource for finding diverse titles and how to spot good books for kids that avoid stereotypes. Although it’s written for teachers in a traditional classroom, this criteria can still be broadly applicable for use in your homeschool.

And lastly, finding more recent quality releases can literally be as simple as visiting your local bookstore or library. Sometimes just browsing through shelves, or asking an assistant or librarian for their recommendations, will introduce you to titles you never knew existed. And, thanks to Smart Phones, it’s pretty easy to Google a book or an author on the spot to get more information.

Resources in this post


Common Sense Media

Amazon book search by age

How to Choose Outstanding Multicultural Books – Scholastic

A Brief History of YA – YouTube video from Epic Reads

The Arrow language arts program