Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin

For this year’s summer school novel, I picked Nancy Werlin’s Black Mirror.  This is a gripping, young adult mystery novel that I find myself coming back to time and time again.  I have used it in my ninth grade English classroom and in summer school sessions with both ninth and tenth graders who are reluctant readers.  Written on about a seventh grade level, I would recommend this novel for high school students in ninth grade who struggle with reading or reading motivation.

Black Mirror tells the story of Frances Leventhal, an awkward, self-conscience teenage girl attending a prestigious, private preparatory school on scholarship.  From the start of the novel, readers find out that her older brother, Daniel, has died of a drug overdose.  As the story unfolds, readers watch as Frances struggles with her identity and the loss of her brother.  With each turn of the page, readers will speculate about who was involved in the events that led to Daniels death.  Was it suicide or murder?  If it was suicide, why?  If it was murder, who did it?  

The subject matter in this 250

 page novel is a bit mature for a middle school audience.  It deals with drugs and has a bit of unnecessary profanity. However, it is fine for a ninth grade reader and beyond, in my humble opinion.  This is a mystery novel that will keep young readers turning the page.  Werlin ingeniously ended many of the chapters with exciting cliffhangers, leaving students asking if we could read just one more chapter before the end of class. As a teacher, I can’t ask for more than that kind of enthusiasm, especially from reluctant readers. If you are looking for a unique, contemporary mystery combined with a coming of age novel, this might be the right pick for you.  

Check out the ELA Lessons section for lesson ideas for this novel.  (Coming soon!)

Black Mirror by Nancy Werlin

Writing for the Stage – A Reflection

Dug out of my files, I am sharing a piece here that I wrote in a college theatre class many years ago.  The questions posed at the end of the first paragraph make a great prompt for writing in a drama or theater classroom.  Enjoy!

Art is created in many forms: painting, sculpture, music, dance, poetry, theatre, and much more.  It is the creative work produced from craft, skill, and imagination.  The art of theatre can be broken into parts.  Acting, directing, playwriting, scene design, choreography, costume design, etc. are different types of art that come together to create the art of theatre.  I was in a discussion recently where the suggestion was made that theatre would not exist without a script.  The question was then posed: why do playwrights write plays?  What makes these artists create?

A play reflects life.  Many plays teach a lesson or moral value to a society.  Some support a cause, whether it is political or social.  Playwrights expose human nature, sometimes to the extreme.  They explore the mysteries of life.  A playwright creates an art that leaves an audience asking who are we and what are we doing here?

The question still stands:  why do they write? I don’t think there is a concrete answer.  Maybe they have something personal to share. Maybe they feel that they have an obligation to society.  I think that they do.  The late African writer, Chinua Achebe once said, “storytellers create history.”  They do.  In fact they shape our perceptions of history.  That is a powerful platform.  However it is a platform they share with all writers.

So why do they write plays instead of novels or poetry? I believe that for some it stems from a love of theatre and the challenge of writing a play.  It is difficult to write anything well. It is difficult to write for the theatre.  In a novel, the writer has room to create characters and their stories in an endless number of pages.  A playwright is more confined.  A playwright writes for the stage.  In a novel, characters can travel to a number of places.  In a play, the scene is often set in only one or a few places.  A novel can present the background of a character in detail.  This is more difficult to do in a play, and often the details of the background come through the performance.  An actor has to interpret the character’s past using character analysis.  Although it is difficult to write anything well, writing for the stage presents a unique challenge.  My guess is that most playwrights live for that challenge.

It is a unique art, as playwrights eventually give up their creation, the script, to directors, actors, and technical artists.  These artists give life to the playwright’s art.  The script translates into ideas in motion.  We can never really know what inspires others to produce their art, but we certainly can appreciate their art.

What I am reading…

About a week ago, I was wide awake and searching my bookshelf for a book to take to bed with me.  It was about 10pm, and I figured I would be asleep after a chapter or so.  My pick?  Mountain Whippoorwill by Suellen Holland.  Published in 1985, this is an oldie but a goody.  I was pleasantly surprised to find the old, tattered copy of this short novel on my shelf.  Having read it tons of times when I was a young girl, I thought it would be a fun read down memory lane.

Mountain Whippoorwill tells the story of Tara, a teenage girl who lives with her bad-tempered, widower father in the Ozarks.  A budding fiddle player, Tara is coming into her own as she comes of age.  Readers watch her as she accompanies her teacher, and neighbor, to bluegrass jamborees where she overcomes her nerves to play and wow the crowds.  Her coming of age is further developed when she meets Dusty, a fellow musician.  As Tara learns more about herself and her music, she gains confidence and falls in love with Dusty.  As the story unfolds, Tara faces embarrassing teenage moments and more loss in her life.  Her triumphs prevail, however, and the story ends on a high note.

Throughout this beautiful story, Holland weaves the lines of “The Mountain Whippoorwill,” a poem by Steven Vincent Benet.  She describes the musical moments and brings the musicians to life.  If you listen hard, you can almost hear the music coming off the pages of this beautifully written story.  I highly recommend this novel, which I stayed up half the night to read again.  It is hard to put down, and it will leave your feeling warm and good about the world.

Mountain Whippoorwill by Suellen Holland

Welcome to Pencils and Props!

Welcome to Pencils and Props!

I am a high school English teacher, drama director and adviser, and a mom.  Pencils and Props is my new creative endeavor where I will reflect on my teaching practice and share my ideas and experience with readers.  I hope that you enjoy this site and that it is helpful to you in your teaching experience.