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Gordon, Ruth, ed. (1999). Pierced by a Ray of Sun: Poems about the Times We Feel Alone. New York: HarperCollins Children's Books. 128pp.

Grade range: 6-12

Genre: poetry

Summary and Critique

    In Ruth Gordon's compilation of poems, Pierced by a Ray of Sun, the authors write about feeling alone. The authors transcend what "feeling alone" really means and tackle controversial issues such as AIDS, teenage pregnancy, and being an immigrant in a new country. They do so in a powerful way: using poetry to tell a story about what it means to feel alone. Many of the poems have been translated and share a common theme of trying to fit in a world that often hinders acceptance. While many of the authors are familiar: Carl Sandburg, Jim Northrup, Adrienne Rich, Emily Dickinson, and Alfred Lord Tennyson; Ruth Gordon has included poets from a variety of cultures and backgrounds, giving the idea that feeling alone isn't such a unique emotion but shared by many. In Janice Mirikitani's poem"Recipe", her poem details how to create the effect of having round eyes. James Masoa Mitsui's"Destination: Tule Lake Relocation Center, May 20, 1942," is about a woman on a train after being forced from her home to a Japanese Internment camp during World War II. "Homework" by Dona Luongo Stein tells the story of a young girl who faces hardships while her mom is taking classes and her father has disappeared but realizes she must do her homework knowing she has to help her mom with her younger brothers and sisters. "Pockets" by Katharyn Machan Aal chronicles a pregnant teenager and how at seventeen her life has changed.

    Ruth Gordon presents her audience a diverse collection of poems tackling issues that face teenagers everywhere. Pierced by a Ray of Sun is a must have for young adult readers.


American Library Association's Best Books for Young Adults, 1996



    Friends and Enemies

    Race, Ethnicity, and Culture

    Challenges and Triumphs

    The Individual vs. Society

Editor Information

    Ruth Gordon is originally from Chicago and currently resides in Sonoma County, California. She is a librarian and has also compiled several other poetry anthologies which have all received critical acclaim.

Media Connections


    Real Women Have Curves (2002) A Mexican American teenager struggles between her liberal ideals and what her family wants.

    Higher Learning (1995) Prejudice on a college campus divides the students.

    Rosewood (1997) Based on a true story of an African American township that is destroyed by neighboring Caucasians.

    Snow Falling on Cedars (1999) Based on David Guterson's best selling novel, this film addresses racial tensions against the Japanese after Pearl Harbor in a quaint Northwestern town off the coast of Washington State.

    Desert Bloom (1986) A young girl deals with an alcoholic stepfather and growing up during the Cold War.

    Fifteen and Pregnant (1998) Based on the true story of a young girl who finds herself dealing with pregnancy, her parents divorce, and being alone.

    For Keeps (1988) A teenager becomes pregnant and must face growing up sooner than she wanted with a young baby on the way.

    West Side Story (1961) Two young teenagers fall in love and are torn apart by their different ethnicities and rivaling friends.

    Save the Last Dance (2001) A Caucasian girl deals with her mother's death and being thrust into a predominately African-American school. She deals with learning to accept others as they learn to accept her.

    Come See the Paradise (1990) A couple deals with racism during World War II as they are separated when she is sent to a Japanese Internment camp and he is sent off to war.

     Farewell to Manzanar (1976) Originally a made for television movie, it tells the story of a family forced into Japanese Internment camps during the 1940's.

    And the Band Played On (1993) Chronicles the AIDS epidemic from the very beginning.

    Finding Forrester (2000) A teenager befriends a reclusive eccentric man where they discover they share a passion for writing.


    Seventh Heaven A family deals with raising kids and faces problems most teenagers can relate to. Episodes have tackled issues such as teenage pregnancy, hate crimes, racism, abuse, drinking, sex, and homelessness.

    Greetings from Tucson Based on his life dealing with growing up in an ethnically diverse family. Includes issues of identity as everyone tries to make sense of who they are.

    Reba A family must deal with divorce and teenage pregnancy while trying to survive.


    "Pieces of You." Performed by Jewel. From Pieces of You. Atlantic, 1995. Tackles some controversial subjects but makes a point about why people judge others.

    "Beautiful." Performed by Christina Aguilera. From Stripped. RCA, 2002. A song about body image.

    "Papa Don't Preach." Performed by Madonna. From True Blue. A teenage girl is pregnant.

    "Only God Knows Why." Performed by Kid Rock. From Devil Without a Cause. Lava, 1998. Deals with personal experiences of feeling alone even with all the success of a rock star.

    "Through the Rain." Performed by Mariah Carey. From Charmbracelet. Island, 2002. Mariah Carey sings about her triumph of overcoming depression and obstacles.

Online Resources

Related Texts

    Uchida, Yoshiko. (1995). The Invisible Thread: An Autobiography. New York: HarperTrophy. 160pp. Uchida explores what it was like growing up Japanese-American during a time when many Americans harbored animosity toward anyone of Japanese descent.

    Cisneros, Sandra. (1983). House on Mango Street. Houston: Arte Publico Press. 103pp. Esperanza describes her life in a poor Latino neighborhood in Chicago.

Achebe, Chinua. (1959). Things Fall Apart. New York: Anchor Books. 209pp. The story of a Nigerian tribe and how they deal with the traditions of their tribe and the assimilation of another culture into their own.

Cruz, Angie. (2002). Soledad. New York: Simon and Schuster. 240pp. A Dominican-American woman wrestles with her ethnicity as she searches for herself while her mother goes crazy.

    Mohr, Nicholasa. (1999). Felita. New York: Puffin Books. 105pp. A Puerto-Rican young girl deals with growing up. A coming of age story told through the eyes of a Latina.

    Jewel. (1999). A Night Without Armor: Poems. New York: HarperCollins. 160pp. A powerful collection of poems from the best selling musician. Tackles issues such as being homeless, love, and relationships.

Teaching Ideas

    (1)"Masks" Students design a mask that conveys some significant ideas about a particular work/character/or themselves. They draw, paint, create a collage, or use any form that best expresses their ideas. On the back, they write a brief description explaining the choices they made and how it affected them. Students can then present their masks in front of the class and explain their creations and the reasoning behind some of the choices they made.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Masking Intents" by Nora Sanson in Notes Plus. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English. October 1995.]

    (2) "Identity" Have students read the poem "Identity" by Julio Naboa Polanco, a Puerto-Rican American born in the Bronx. First read the poem aloud to the students then have them read the poem to themselves. After helping the students understand the poem and analyzing in class, invite the students to write about whom they are and what their identity means to them. Use the imagery of weed versus flower to help spark discussion and let the students explain what they are: a weed or flower and why. Students can then draw a weed or flower and write their ideas. This activity can be used with other poems expressing the same ideas/principles to help the students write about themselves.

    [Summarized/adapted from "‘Identity'and a Sense of Self" by Edward Armstrong and Anne Fairbrother Notes Plus. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English. October 1994.]

    (3) "Wearing Poetry" Using white t-shirts, students create a t-shirt filled with poetry that expresses themselves. The poetry can be either student created or from another source. Spend class time letting students work on their shirts. Make sure you have plenty of resources for the students to peruse through and look for works they might want to include. This activity would be great to use after a poetry unit where they have become familiar with some popular works. An option is to set a day aside where students present and wear their shirts, explaining some of the poems they have written all over their shirts. Overhead transparency markers work great for this activity. Encourage students to use different colored markers to help them express themselves.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Poet-Tees" by Joanne Paprocki in Notes Plus. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English. March 1993.]

    (4) "Dark and Light Sides" From Mark Twain's quote,"Everyone is a moon and has a dark side he never shows to anybody." After leading students in a discussion about the different faces they show, public and private, allow students to create two poems that reveal different aspects of your personality. Allow students to create their own silhouette (life-sized or other) to display their dark and light side. On black construction paper they write their dark side poem and on white construction paper they write their light side poems. Student then choose a poem or both to present to class allowing others to get to know them better. Silhouettes can be displayed in the room.

    [Summarized/adapted from "Silhouette Poems" by JoAnn Livermore in Classroom Notes Plus. Urbana, Illinois: National Council of Teachers of English. August 1999.]

(Review written by Dawn Szymanski and edited by Jennifer E. Moore)