What Makes a Great Character: Katniss Everdeen

I’m a people person.  I enjoy striking up a conversation with a shopper behind me at the Walmart check-out.  Or swapping fun and useful tweets with people in cyberspace.  Add my “people person”-ness to my “word nerdy”-ness and you get a reader who wants to find great characters.  If I’m going to spend hours of my precious free time with someone, even if that someone only exists in the pages of a book, I’d better like ’em.

So I’ve decided to make “Great Characters” a regular blog post topic.  And who is the hottest character to discuss right now?  Yes, Katniss Everdeen.

For those (three) of you who don’t know, Katniss Everdeen volunteers to represent her district in a brutal fight to the death in the dystopian YA novel, The Hunger Games.

Why does everyone LOVE this girl?  Usually, YA books attract female readers, but The Hunger Games has managed to draw young men as well.  How does Katniss do that?

File:Jennifer Lawrence at the 83rd Academy Awards crop.jpg
Photo of Jennifer Lawrence
from Wikimedia Commons

 Last week during an NPR interview, Jennifer Lawrence, who plays Katniss in the recently released The Hunger Games movie, explained what she likes about her character:

“She’s not a hero…She’s just a girl standing up for what’s right when something is wrong, when it’s hard and when it’s scary.”

Great message, especially for the many young adults who have devoured this book, who undoubtedly face overwhelming pressures and temptations to NOT do the right thing.  Katniss proves that one person can be powerful, something that naturally resonates not only with adolescents, but also with all of us who feel manipulated or controlled by our circumstances. 

But Katniss also impresses me for almost the opposite reason: her sacrifice.  Without much deliberation, she steps up in place of her younger sister to spare her from a violent and potentially lethal situation.  And Katniss never regrets her choice.  In fact, she spends most of the time worrying about her family and how they will cope if she dies.  In a society ruled by immediate personal gratification, we need more examples of characters who show such remarkable humility and love. 

Katniss also demonstrates compassion and integrity in a world that isn’t black or white, but very grey.  She debates protecting herself (for the good of her family and her district) with trying to help some of opponents survive.  She never loses sight of how cruel the games are, and inspired by her competitor Peeta, she struggles to remain “herself” in a terrifying situation that could fundamentally change her. 

So, why do you like Katniss Everdeen?  Can you add any other outstanding qualities to define her?  What about faults?  Every good character has a weakness – what’s Katniss’s?  Add to the discussion by clicking on the comments link below.  And thanks for stopping by!

Related post:  Who Should Read the Hunger Games?


Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand: Nonfiction Inspiration

Honestly, I don’t like non-fiction.  Give me plot, dialogue, metaphor!  When I flop into bed at night, I want an escape, not facts.  But that’s the great thing about a Book Club– it forces you to read books you might not choose on your own.  So, since “the club” picked it, for the past few weeks, I’ve plowed my way through Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (author of Seabiscuit).

Unbroken doesn’t give me great dialogue, but it does give me an extraordinary character, Louie Zamperini.  This amazing man grew up fighting the world around him- he stole, pranked, and caused mayhem as a kid in the small town of Torrence, California.  Nothing could contain him.  As a teen, he channeled his boundless energy into running (specifically long distance), and he earned fame competing for America in the 1936 Olympics and the 1938 NCAA Track and Field Championships.  After his spectacular showing at those events, experts predicted he would run the mile four minutes, and Louie planned to prove them right.

Then World War II interrupted his training plans.

Unbrokenchronicles Louie’s experiences on the Pacific front of WWII, something I never learned much about in history classes.  I’m aware of it mostly because my father spent several years of his young life as a POW in a Japanese camp in Indonesia.  I can only hope the conditions were better for him than they were for Louie. 

Louie launched bombs from cumbersome planes, survived a horrific crash, floated for weeks (let me repeat, WEEKS) in a poorly stocked life raft on the Pacific, and suffered for years in various POW camps.

This isn’t lighthearted reading.

But, I read not only for entertainment but also inspiration.  And Louie inspires me.  I don’t necessarily enjoy the gory details about air battles or the beatings in POW camps, but stuff like this causes me to pause and think:

Though they (Louie and his pilot friend Phil) both knew that they were in an extremely serious situation, both had the ability to warn fear away from their thoughts, focusing instead on how to survive and reassuring themselves that things would work out.

I’ve never faced anything as challenging as Louie did.  The struggles that currently push me to my limits seem mild and petty compared to Louie’s, but I still can learn from him.  By the end of Unbroken, I understood that Louie’s perception of his experiences ultimately determined how much power they had over him.  During this season of Lent, I appreciate the potent reminder I can control my reactions to the stresses of life, and through the graces of humility and perseverance, I can attain peace.

Do you have a favorite inspiring character, either fictitious or real?  Can you recommend another inspirational read for the rest of us?  Please add your thoughts by clicking on comments below, and thanks for stopping by!


Word Nerd Workout: A Language Game to Stimulate Your Brain

Since I’m a word nerd, I love language games.  My husband, who has more of a “math and science” brain, does not.  Scrabble and Scattegories make him shudder.  But, thanks to his sister, we have finally found a language game he actually enjoys:  Apples to Apples.
You might not think of it as a language game, but this simple diversion uses TONS of language skills.  You need at least three people, and for each round, you need a judge.  (My daughter, the only girl and the off-center “middle child” in the family LOVES to be the judge.)  You get seven Red Apple Cards with words like “Benjamin Franklin” or “All-nighters” listed and defined on them.  Notice most of these words/ phrases are nouns.
Then the judge for the round picks up a Green Apple Card and reads it aloud; usually the card has an adverb or adjective, like “uncomfortable” or “quaint” or “macho”.  All of the players besides the judge look at the cards in their hands and try to pick the one that best fits the judge’s card. 
So, for the hand pictured above, if the Green Apple Card was “uncomfortable,” clearly I could pick “a broken collarbone” or “all-nighters”.  (I pulled one all-nighter in my college career, and it didn’t help me at all.  In fact, I could hardly read the exam the next morning.  Don’t do it!)


Quaint = antiquated, charming, odd
But sometimes, the choice isn’t so obvious, and that’s when the fun begins.  What if the green apple word was “quaint”?  From the group of cards above, I’d pick “Benjamin Franklin”.  You?
When everyone turns in their Red Apple Cards, the judge reads them all and decides the best fit.  The judge’s decision stands , no complaints.  Hopefully, you can imagine how hilarity might ensue.
Do you see all the good stuff going on in this simple language game?  Vocabulary!  History!  Parts of Speech!  And, most importantly, in this age of education dominated by the regurgitation of facts for standardized tests, THINKING OUTSIDE OF THE BOX! 
Salt water taffy could be sweet, or it could be uncomfortable if it got stuck on the bottom of your foot, or it could be inadequateif, like me, you prefer chocolate over any other candy. 
Sometimes my kids don’t get it.  They wrinkle their brows when they get a card that says “Chevy Chase” or “Beowulf”.  I laugh the hardest when my husband throws out “Uma Thurman” for any derogatory adjective, like “eerie” or “tiresome,” and my kids ask, “What’s an Uma Thurman?” 
Fortunately, we have found the “Junior” version of the game. 
Sounds like fun, right?  Okay, word nerds, flex your language muscles.  Here are your seven Red Apple Cards:


·         engagement rings
·         mannequins
·         Matt Damon
·         the seven deadly sins
·         Mr. Spock
·         under the covers
·         Walter Cronkite
I’M the judge!  Here’s the Green Apple Card, chosen randomly, I swear: 
Yummy:  mouthwatering, scrumptious, luscious
 Pick the word or phrase from the list above that best fits “Yummy” and give your choice (and rationalization) in the comments below.  Depending on your taste in men, this could be easy.  Remember to think creatively.  Thanks for stopping by.



Which is better: The book or the movie?

With the all of the excitement over the pending release of The Hunger Games movie, I want to ask you all, which do you usually like better, the book or the movie version of a story?

Now any Word Nerd worth his or her sobriquet (see last week’s post for a review of this vocab word) will tell you the book is ALWAYS better.  At the tender age of eight, my daughter had figured this out while she read the early Harry Potter books.  When I asked her why she liked the books better, she said, “There’s more stuff going on, and I KNOW what Harry is thinking.”

Exactly.  Books give us more detail than movies ever could.  So here are my top reasons why books are a much better investment of time than movies:

·         We get more details, specifically sensory details, than we do in the visually focused cinematic world.  Better to imagine how Harry’s scar burns his forehead, or how sweet Edward Cullen smells.

·         On screen, we can only see a character cry; with a book, we often know the thoughts running through the character’s mind while she cries, which hits us much harder.  Of course, if you’re a sap like me, you will shed tears in either situation.

·         A movie lasts, at best (or worst?) two hours, but even the fastest reader gets to spend much more time with the story and characters of a book. 

·         Most importantly, watching movies will NOT improve your vocabulary.  Undoubtedly, reading will. 

Now, we have ALL seen BAD movie adaptations of the books we love.  But, sometimes movies do compliment their literary counterparts and offer worthwhile entertainment.  For example, Peter Jackson’s excellent  Lord of the Rings trilogy opened up the world of Middle Earth for millions who might not have otherwise dared to pick up Tolkien’s dense books.  (A true Tolkien fan will, of course, still read the entire collection, including The Hobbit, The Silmarillion, and all the related appendixes, and will know how to pronounce Celeborn correctly in proper elvish.  Yes, I’m one of those fans.) 

Also, buzz in the media credits successful movie franchises like Harry Potter and Twilight with bringing more kids, particularly that prickly population known as “teenagers”back into the library. 

Finally, watching the movie after reading the book offers the opportunity for great discussion.  How are the characters different in the film and the book?  How did the film capture the story?  After watching all of the commentaries for the Twilight movies (I needed something to distract me while I was on the “dreadmill”), I have a better appreciation for why some things cannot transfer to the screen well.   But I get tense when films alter characters too much.  For instance, when in The Two Towers movieFrodo offers a Ringwraith the One Ring.  He NEVER does this in the book, and that scene undermines his inherent strength. 

Can you recommend any movies that have adapted well from page to screen?  I suggest Water for Elephants.  Some characters have changed, but the essence of the plot remains, and the setting, a Depression Era circus, lends itself well to visual media.  Besides, I don’t want to smell the animal poop.

Please add your movie recommendations, as well as your thoughts on the books vs. movies debate, by clicking the comments link below, and thanks for stopping by!


The Fault in Our Stars: Insightful Teens with Impressive Vocabulary

I’d seen positive reviews about John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars in the blogosphere, so when I spotted it on display in the YA (young adult) section of our local library, I snatched it immediately.  Our children’s librarian has done such a great job of stocking our small town library with current titles.  TFIOS just came out this year!

Synopsis: Although a medical miracle has bought Hazel “a little more time,” she knows better than to expect exciting things for her future.  Then charismatic Augustus Waters shows up at cancer support group, and all of her assumptions about life get turned upside down.
Cancer.  Oh no, I thought, this book WILL make me cry.  I’m a sap, and it’s getting worse with age.  But, nevertheless, I peeked at the first few pages, and despite my better judgment, I fell in love anyway, just like the characters in The Fault in Our Stars.  When I found out that the title is derived from one of Shakespeare’s poems, I really became a fan.
Hazel and Augustus pulled me in with their witty and incredibly insightful banter.  Sometimes while reading I wondered if there really are teenagers who speak and think as these two precocious characters, but then again, I’ve never known an adolescent who has endured the trials of cancer treatment.  I imagine it ages you, physically and mentally.  In Hazel’s words (well, really John Green’s, but…)
I present to you Augustus Waters, whose existential curiosity dwarfed that of his well-fed, well-loved, healthy brethren. 
Amid humor and clever dialogue, Green mixes in beautiful prose, for example:

While he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.

Yet Green also includes painful punches of reality, never letting you forget that these two kids live with grave illness.  Hazel says to her parents:

“I’m a grenade and at some point I’m going to blow up and I would like to minimize the casualties, okay?  … I can’t be a regular teenager, because I’m a grenade.”
Hazel and Augustus humbled me with their extensive vocabulary.  I had to consult the dictionary more often while reading this book than I have while reading several adult novels.   Two of my favorite new word nerd words:
·         Now, it wasn’t as if I held my phone in my sweaty hand all day,… waiting for my gentleman caller to live up to his sobriquet.
Sobriquet-\ Sō-bri-kā\ , noun, French:  a descriptive name or epithet; nickname
·         …the inexorabletruth is this: They might be glad to have me around, but I was the alpha and the omega of my parents’ suffering.
      Inexorable   \in-‘neks-sə-rə-bəl\ adj, Latin:  not to be persuaded, moved or stopped; relentless
With those tid bits in mind, I HIGHLY recommend The Fault in Our Stars to spark a cerebral and emotional response on many levels.  Just be sure to keep a tissue (or box of tissues) nearby.  If you can read this book without crying (I had to seek out my husband to comfort me), I want to hear about it! 
WORD NERD WORKOUT:  Use sobriquet or inexorable in a sentence
·         When my husband comes home and greets me with the complimentary sobriquet “Beautiful”, I always respond with a kiss. 
Now it’s your turn.  Click on the comments below to practice some new vocabulary or to add any thoughts about The Fault in Our Stars or John Green’s other books.  Thank you!

Read Across America Next Week

Next Friday, March 2, should mean something to Word Nerds everywhere.  The National Education Association (NEA) and at least 50 other organizations are promoting literacy all next week with activities culminating on Friday with Read Across America (RAA) day.




Word Nerds helping to promote reading!

RAA started 15 years ago when a special task force decided to devote a day to celebrate reading.  Organizers wanted to “build a nation of readers” because they knew that children who enjoy reading have better success in school. 

Motivating children to read is an important factor in student achievement and creating lifelong successful readers.  (www.nea.org) 

This year, RAA is linked to Dr. Suess’s birthday and the release of the movie “The Lorax,” based on one of his books.  Cast members from the movie, including Zac Efron and Taylor Swift, will serve as co-chairs for RAA this year, and they have filmed videos designed to encourage young readers. 

At the official RAA site and the NEA site you can find plenty of information about activities, events, discounted books, and other resources to promote literacy.  The NEA also needs volunteers to pledge donations of money or to organize reading events.  You can check with local schools and libraries to see if anything has been planned for your area.  NEA also has “Fan” and “Cause” pages on Facebook that you can join to stay up to date on important information.

With so much focus in our culture on celebrities, sports stars, and consumption, I’m excited to see so many people spending time and energy to encourage reading.  Literacy definitely deserves, and needs, national attention.

Do you know about any events in your town associated with RAA?  How can you participate, even in a small way?  What can you do throughout the year to help make better readers in your community?  Click on comments below and share how you’ll be celebrating reading!