Reflecting on Stories

Jalem reflects on a story about homeless teens.

Paintings from the Cave

 Paulsen, Gary. Paintings From The Cave. New York: Wendy Lamb Books, 2011.

 “In these three novellas, Gary Paulsen explores how children can survive the most difficult circumstances through art and the love of dogs.” – FVRL. [Art; Dogs; Homeless persons; Violence]

“Before the dogs, she didn’t have any friends” (68).

Have you ever met somebody without any friends besides their pets, or maybe none at all?

 “She didn’t look in the windows as she walked by or even glance at the yards because maybe everything in those homes were perfect, like on T.V, and she tried not to look at things that made her feel even more ugly and broken” (76).

Have you ever felt like other people are worth so much more then you are and that you are just worthless next to them?

 “Rose Rose Rose, no no no, she felt like hitting something, like breaking something.”

Have you ever felt so sad that you wanted to completely obliterate something?

“All they want to do is help us and not be alone” (103).

Have you ever had someone in your life that just wanted to be around you and help you with every single thing? Or maybe you are the one wanting to be around them?


The novel Paintings from The Cave by Gary Paulsen changed my view of life by sharing with me the knowledge that there are people here in North America – Canada and the United States of America – that need help just like the people in the third world countries in Africa, South America or Asia. Another thing that this book did to change my view of life is show me how you do not have to be related to anybody in your family for them to be your family. There are no papers or blood relationship needed to make someone a part of your family and that what really matters is whether you think of them that way or not. Family does not even need to be human. For example, it shows in this book that dogs and cats or any other pet are just as good of a family as humans.  It might still be good to have someone who speaks your own language to talk to, but it is not necessary. For example, when a pet owner returns home from a hard day’s work, their pet is always excited to greet them and spend time with them. The book also reminded me that everybody has feelings. I used to think that people that do not have anything only think about alcohol, drugs, and cheap food but I realize that they actually have dreams to be people that are normal and have real jobs to make real money instead of pan-handling for the rest of their lives. After reading this book I have a better understanding of how other people in the world live, people who are not as fortunate as I am. I also now have a better understanding of how people with little still have the same feelings, hopes, and dreams as I do.


Reflecting on Stories

Jalem reflects on a story about World War II.

Code Talker

Bruchac, Joseph. Code Talker. New York: Penguin Group Publishers, 2005.

 “After being taught in a boarding school run by whites that Navajo is a useless language, Ned Begay and other Navajo men are recruited by the Marines to become Code Talkers, sending messages during World War II in their native tongue.” – FVRL. [Cryptography; Navaho Indians; World War, 1939-1945)

  1. “Looking back at that day, I wonder what he actually thought about all those Navajos gathered there in front of him” (41).

Have you ever had a friend who you thought you were pretty close with but that’s actually the opposite of what they thought?


  1. “Our hearts felt full while we studied the code” (82).

 Have you ever had one thing in school or at home that was so interesting and just made you so happy to learn about?


  1. “Deep water! It scared the pants off me” (88).

Do you have anything that you fear a lot like water or heights? Does it scare the pants off you?


  1. “I had grown up hearing only criticism and harsh words… we were stupid, we were lazy, we couldn’t be taught anything. To hear what was now being said truly made the sun shine in my heart.”

Have you ever been told by somebody that you suck at something over and over until you actually believe it only to learn that the opposite is true?


  1. “I was with other Navajos and we were speaking our sacred language together. I should have been happy, but instead it made me feel ill at ease. I found myself wondering what was happening to Georgia Boy and Smitty” (220).

Have you ever gone somewhere like camp and felt such an urge to go back home and when you finally get home, all you want to do is go back?


This novel is about how a Native American boy goes through the troubles to enlist in the military during World War II despite being only fifteen years old. Once he is in the military, he becomes a code talker. I used to think Native American and aboriginal people did not want to cooperate with European Americans in any way and just wanted them to get off their land or just die. I thought that way because all the stories, books, and movies that I have watched and read have them being that way. An example would be Pocahontas where the British and the Indians are always in a conflict and the movie even refers to the Indians as savages, red necks, and devils. Another example would be a movie called The Revenant where the British men are going hunting to get meat and fur when out of nowhere a group of Indians just pop out and for no reason start to attack and murder the British men and leave them stranded in the middle of the forest. This novel [by Bruchac] showed me that that is not always how it was. The native Americans actually contributed quite a lot in World War II. They served well as soldiers as well as code talkers that spoke code to help the Americans as double agents. This novel taught me just how much the native Indian people actually contributed to both Canada and America.

Reflecting on Stories

Maya reflects on a novel about World War II.

De Vries, Maggie. Hunger Journeys. Toronto: HarperCollins, 2012.

The Hunger Journeys

 “In World War II Amsterdam, Lena and her friend Sofie set out for the town of Almelo, on the German border, in search of food, but their false papers lead to unwanted complication with the German soldiers.” – CIP. [World War; Netherlands; Soldiers; Friendship]


 “A big bubble of hope lodged in Lena’s throat” (7).

Have you ever hoped for something so much that you felt as if you could physically feel it?

“Despite their energy and excitement, the bodies didn’t feel quite real to her” (8).

Has something ever not felt real because you were feeling so many things at once?

“The joy in the streets grew and grew, nourished by the strengthening rays of sunshine as dawn turned to morning” (9).

Has an entire group of people ever all seemed to feel the same because of how they could relate to each other?

“I am beyond their reach. All of them” (13)

Have you ever had to completely isolate yourself to feel safe?

“There, the excitement and determination Lena had been clinging to evaporated, replaced with a sickness in the back of her throat” (18).

Have you ever experienced something that made your mood change completely?


The main idea I got from this book was that sometimes taking risks is worth it. Taking risks is something that can be hard for me; I do not enjoy stepping out of my comfort zone very often. The bravery in this story was incredible. Even when the characters were faced with difficulties, they continued on their journey. I aspire to be able to do that one day. The idea of danger both terrifies and excites me. I think some people, especially at my age, are in love with being adventurous, whereas others want nothing to do with it. I guess you could say I’m somewhere in between. I now believe that as long as it is for the right purpose, it’s important to step out of my comfort zone every once in awhile. I’ve been working on doing things I need to do, but don’t want to do, lately. In the future I am hoping to keep up that attitude. Taking risks is an important part of living. In my opinion, life would be pretty boring if I stuck to the rules all of the time. Obeying rules is definitely a large part of life, as well, due to the fact that without them, the world would be worse than it already is in terms of breaking the law. However, I also believe that I should be allowed to speak freely against what I do not agree with. I believe that anyone’s opinion is valid. So, yes, following and obeying rules is important but rebelling can sometimes be good too, as long as it does not get me into too much trouble in the end. 

Reflecting on Stories

Megan reflects on a novel about a soldier in Iraq.

McCormick, Patricia. Purple Heart. New York City: HarperCollins, 2009.

Purple Heart

“She was back home and ‘sooo scared’ about a pop quiz in bio while he was in Iraq with some traumatic brain injury.”

 Have you ever realized how silly some of our fears and worries are, compared to people living in situations that can threaten their safety?


“Everyday life wasn’t about filling up a gas tank or ordering a bucket of wings. Everyday life was about getting your gas mask on in ten seconds or calibrating the distance between your position and a sniper’s nest.”

Have you ever thought about how different some people’s everyday lives are?


“All he could see was the deep green of the army blanket. He flushed with embarrassment. He had pulled the covers over his head like a baby.”

Why should people feel embarrassed about showing fear or weakness?


“’Any, uh, emotional agitation or any other, uh, problems?’ Matt’s right leg was still weak and out of sync with his left, and he still found himself on the verge of tears half the time. ‘Nope,’ he said. ‘I’m all good.’”

Why do people lie about their state of being, when they could get help to make them better?


“You don’t want to say something you might rethink later.”

 Have you ever said something that you wish you hadn’t said?


This novel, Purple Heart, has changed my view of life because it has made me feel more grateful about my life, and has made me think about how hard other people’s lives can be. I never really knew what soldiers did in the war, because I’ve seen them in movies, fighting in brutal battles, but I’ve also seen them hiding and waiting, with not much action. And this novel painted a picture of what life is like in war for the veterans. They still have fun and mess around like normal people do, but they also have to fight and get injured to save people’s lives. They also have feelings like everyone does. They are still normal people. You think of a soldier, and you picture a very tough, unbreakable person, but they actually get frightened and sad and the war can deeply affect their lives. This fantastic novel has also made me feel even more grateful for our brave veterans fighting in war, because it has shown me all the tragedies they go through to protect people.  

Reflecting on Stories

Keenan reflects on a novel about a boy and his dog:

Gipson, Fred. Old Yeller. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1956.

Old Yeller


1.     “In fact,” Papa wound up, “all we lack having a tight tail-holt on the world is a little cash money” (2).

Have you ever felt like all you need is just a little bit more money and everything else would be perfect?

2.     “I didn’t see the danger in time” (40).

What do you think someone could do to become more aware of their surroundings?

3.     “They were big solemn brown eyes and right pretty to look at; only when she fixed them on me, it always seemed like they looked clear through me and saw everything I was thinking” (67). 

Do you think that people can actually know what you are thinking by staring into your eyes?

4.     “I’ve hung around over there in that cow camp, eating my own cooking till I’m so starved out, I don’t hardly throw a shadow” (93).

Have you ever known what it was like to go hungry or not have a good home-cooked meal?

5.     “Hurting worse than I’d ever hurt in my life” (179).

Do you know what it is like to grieve the loss of someone or something you love?

The story of Old Yeller has made me realize that you shouldn’t dislike something right away because it could be very important later on in your life.  In the past, I have found myself jumping to conclusions about new things in my life and deciding right away that I did not approve or like something.  After reading Old Yeller and realizing that sometimes what I do not like in the beginning could help me later, I will try to do my best at giving new things a chance before deciding whether I like them or not. I have to trust that giving things a chance might help me later on in life but I might not see the benefit right now.  

This book also brought back memories to me from when my mom and I had to make the decision to put my dog Dani down because she was old and sick.  After reading this book, it left me filled with sadness instead of a smile because it reminded me of the love I had for Dani. She was my first dog and I got her when I was 3 years old; she almost made it to her 10th birthday.  We were like siblings and went everywhere together. She would protect me from other dogs that came near me when I was young.  This reminds me of how Old Yeller protected Travis and his family from the wild animals with the Hydrophobia Plague.

Another perspective about Old Yeller is that growing older, especially into adulthood, there is more and more responsibility. I recognize that as I get older, I will need to take on more responsibilities and take care of my family the way they have taken care of me throughout my life.  I hope I can be as strong a man as Travis has proven himself to be in this book. 


A New Journey

“Can’t it be any easier…? Isn’t there a shortcut I can take?”

Is life sometimes too hard?

Do you sometimes feel like giving up? 

Read this powerful young adult novel by the author of Now Is the Time for Running and learn more about life and courage in Africa.

Diamond Boy

Williams, Michael. Diamond Boy. New York: Little, Brown and Co., 2014.

“When Patson’s family moved to the Marange region of Zimbabwe he begins working in the mines, searching for blood diamonds, until government soldiers arrive and Patson is forced to journey to South Africa in search of his missing sister and a better life.” – CIP. [Brothers and sisters; Child labor; Diamonds; Friendship; Mines and mining; Runaways; Shona (African people); Zimbabwe]  

Click HERE for more books about modern-day conflicts around the world.