Sample Book Talk Assignment

Please find below a sample paper for the Book Talk assignment. This book used a different "source book" (namely, Sally Smith's Power of the Arts) and a novel that we don't use this semester (Lucky Man by Michael J. Fox). But it should give you a sense of what the book talk assignment is designed to do.


Lucky Man
Book Talk: Critical Analysis Paper

There were many co-stars in the production of Michael J. Fox’s life - his parents, siblings, wife, children, agents, directors, and co-workers – but if one person were to win the Emmy for “best supporting actress,” it would certainly be Nana.
In her book The Power of the Arts, Sally Smith urges children to take an inventory of a student’s negative behaviors, and then “imagine which of those behaviors might eventually contribute to the student’s success” (Smith, 2001, 21). When Michael J. Fox was in grade school, his teachers noted his “overwhelming appetite for stimulation” and suggested that it be controlled with medication. Fox explains that Nana, however, “delighted in my accomplishments and eccentricities, always encouraging me to believe in the power of my dreams” (Fox, 2002, 40). Michael J. Fox’s parents saw creative qualities in him, but could not see the positive side as Nana could. His mother did not take hold of his talent as an “artistic type” because there were no such propensities in his family. Michael’s father was hesitantly supportive of his son’s dramatic pursuits, attending performances, but still calculating the costs of a career in the arts. It was only Nana who had complete confidence in her grandson, even while others openly considered him “something of an oddity.” Despite the doubts among Michael’s family members that he would not secure a real paying job, Nana continued to assure them that Michael was going to do things they couldn’t even imagine. And, she added, he’d probably be very famous one day. We all know who was right in the end.
Although he did not graduate from high school until he took the G.E.D. well into his adult life, Michael J. Fox excelled in school. Unfortunately, the areas in which he excelled, known commonly as “electives”, were not considered ample qualifications for a diploma. Michael describes his passion for the arts as beginning at the age of five. He took great interest in drawing, music, and of course acting. His “overwhelming appetite for stimulation” began to pay off in secondary school, when he discovered his ability to “lose himself” in any character he had been assigned to play. It was Fox’s impulsive, over-active behavior – the very behavior his teachers wanted to suppress – that made him an accomplished actor. As Smith suggests, a student’s performance in the arts often is a better predictor of academic success than a standardized test.
In retrospect, Michael’s teachers could have seen his exceptionalities, but not had the will or the creativity to unleash their benefits. Michael’s teachers must have known that he disliked math. What would have happened if they had countered his dislike by relating math to the arts that Michael enjoyed so much? Michael might have been interested in creating a drawing that involved taking measurements of diameters or angles. He might have participated enthusiastically in a lesson on the frequencies and amplitudes of sounds created by his electric guitar. Michael decided that school was not for him because it was irrelevant to him. Sally Smith urges us to make lessons relevant and interactive. Relevance engages a child; an engaged child learns effectively, not because she feels she has to, but because she has found internal motivation for learning.
After dropping out of high school, Michael J. Fox found relevance on the stage. He entered into a world where he could be confident in his acting ability because the people around him valued it (with the exception of a few judges who rejected his performance in auditions). His father accompanied him on the drive to this world, not because he fully believed in his son, but because Nana did. His father was not aware of the wealth of knowledge that dramatic performance offers. In this new world, Michael learned how to cooperate with fellow actors and directors, how to organize language into the sequence of a cohesive dialogue and storyline, and even how to keep a production budget for a television series. These things were wonderfully relevant, and Michael engaged himself in them without realizing how much he was learning.
Michael, like many of the students in our schools, is and always was a dreamer. In his childhood he felt, however, that his father expected him to be more practical and down to earth, like his father himself. During his grade school years, Michael once drove himself to tears because he wasn’t able to impress his father by building something out of wood. Soon after that experience, Michael “simply stopped dealing with people’s expectations and started going my own way” (Fox, 2002, 38). It is easy for us as teachers to hold high expectations for our students, especially in the standards-based environs of today’s schools. We must consider, though, the impact that these expectations have on our students’ self image. If a student feels he cannot meet a teacher’s standards, he may abandon them all together, as Michael J. Fox did so early on.
Contrarily, what if all teachers were like Nana? What if we strove to understand our students, as Nana did for her grandson, and then believed in them? Their self-confidence would undoubtedly increase, and they would subsequently thrive in their own unique areas of talent. What Sally Smith is trying to communicate to current and future teachers of exceptional children is that children need to be surrounded by adults who understand and believe in them. We simply cannot allow doubt and unreasonable expectations to creep in. We must maintain a positive perspective in acknowledging our students’ skills and behaviors, knowing that for every disability, there is an ability peeking out from behind the curtain, waiting to be drawn out, and applauded.

References
Fox, M.J. (2002). Lucky Man. New York, NY: Hyperion.

Smith, S.L. (2001). The power of the arts. Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing
Co., Inc.