I am so happy to talk about Thug Notes. If you aren't familiar with author Sparky Sweets, you should be. He creates videos that break down classic pieces of literature with a "street smart" twist. I consider myself to be a very literate person. I have a degree in English, I teach English, I read a lot, I can talk about literature all day... and I learn something from every Thug Notes video that I watch. I can't say the same for SparkNotes.
One of the problems with literature is that it doesn't seem accessible to the average person. People think that they need to be academics to appreciate Shakespeare, Faulkner, or Kafka. This couldn't be father from the truth. In reality, these books were created with the common man in mind. Reading books from a wide variety of authors has enriched my life. It makes me a better person who is able to appreciate life in a different way. I make new connections. I understand people and perspectives different from my own. I have greater empathy. These are the reasons that I am a reader. But how can I convince a teenager or a non-reader that they should spend their precious time and energy reading Beowulf or Homer's Odyssey so that they can be a better person? Those books look hard!
This is where Thug Notes comes in. It presents literature in a new way and illustrates why it is worthwhile to read complex texts, but it never "dumbs things down." Sparky Sweets breaks down each text for the average person, but also teaches the reader about things like motif, themes, images, and symbols. Here is an example of the Thug Notes video breakdown of To Kill a Mockingbird (warning: adult language and content):
The Thug Notes book is very similar to the videos, just in written form. Many of the books that we teach year after year (Romeo and Juliet, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Great Gatsby. Lord of the Flies...) are included. Sparky Sweets breaks down why a reader should care about the text, plot summary, characters, themes, images, symbols, and significant quotes for each piece of literature. You will also find classroom tips sprinkled throughout. For example, "What is a foil? There all kindsa ways to describe thangs, and one of da easiest for us to understan' somethin; is when there's some kinda comparison bein' made. A foil is when you got a character contrastin' wit' anotha so you can see betta what a playa's like." That might be the best definition of "foil" that I've ever read.
I would suggest that you check out a video or two and see what you think. If you're a big fan, definitely pick up the book as well. Thug Notes is not for the weak of heart - there is definitely strong language and content throughout. But if you're okay with that, I think that you're in for a real treat.
Food for thought... what do you think of Thug Notes? Is it something that you would ever introduce to your students?