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Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1)Cinder by Marissa Meyer

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As much as I wanted to get into this book about a Cyborg with way more problems than Cinderella (who the book loosely resembles), I had trouble with the world-building and the flow of unfolding the politics of this fantastic setting. I had trouble understanding why she wanted the respect of her really mean stepmother. The unintentional relationship that forms between Cinder and Prince Kai seems too natural given the differences in their statuses. There’s barely enough time to realize that Cinder’s true identity will give her an edge in her battle of wills against the threatening Lunars, before she’s asked to make big life decisions. As the reader, I felt more confused by the local politics. Maybe Meyer has too many subplots or maybe she was asked to cut out 100 vital pages, but I felt leaving dissatisfied. I’m not sure that I will pick up the next one.

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Posted by on January 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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The Bear by Claire Cameron

The BearThe Bear by Claire Cameron

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The UGDSB has just chosen this book as our board-wide novel for secondary students and author Ms. Cameron will be visiting schools in May 2015. After reading this terrifying novel, I am nervous about the problematic areas in Cameron’s choices. As a parent, I can only describe the first 2/3 of the books as horrific, as main character Anna, 5 years old, attempts to care for her 2 year old brother in the wilderness of Algonquin Park after a trauma happens to Anna’s parents and the two children are left on their own. Nothing could be scarier except…trying to find food, and exposure to the elements, and the confusion of being suddenly alone. Every minute of Anna’s narration is heartbreaking. As a secondary school librarian, I hope the teens who pick up The Bear won’t be turned off by the narrative voice, and won’t be scared to ever go camping again. There are many issues to explore about wilderness, survival, bears and PTSD so I’m hoping the book will open avenues to inquiry. There is nothing explicitly horrific that I fear censorship on, only that the power of the imagination leads the reader to a dangerous place of what could be around the next corner for Anna with every turn of the page. Having said that I devoured it in 48 hours of my busy life, so I’m hoping teens will have the same reaction.

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Posted by on January 31, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Revisiting Treasure Mountain 2014

I need to start off this blog post by once again speaking to the imbalance I experience in blogging itself.  Try as I might, I sometimes take years to process an experience or a reading and I find it really challenging to write regularly.  Today is no exception and I’d like to revisit an experience I had in May 2014 called Treasure Mountain Canada.  Treasure Mountain is a research retreat of school libraries and I’ve attended 2 of them…one in Connecticut in November 2013, and one in Victoria, BC where I presented my M.Ed. capping paper on Transliteracy.

Today we are trying to recreate the experience for the participants at the annual Ontario Library Association conference in Toronto.  To give you some background, there is no better place to start than with Anita Brooks-Kirkland’s blog of the Treasure Mountain experience last May.  The audience at Treasure Mountain is small but extremely diverse … there are major stakeholders in school libraries present.

In the week leading up to today, the revisiting of Treasure Mountain, I have really enjoyed going over my own thought process from January 2014 to May 2014, and I’m glad I was so visible in my thinking about it.  One of my favourite elements to revisit was a Google Hangout experiment where, as part of the capping paper requirements, I needed to present my ideas to a public audience.  I knew Treasure Mountain was coming up in May but wanted to make the experience as authentic as possible.  So….in true transliteracy fashion, I arranged via social media to make a Google Hangout to present my 20 slides and ask my authentic audience of educators some seriously deep questions about implementing transliteracy.  I considered editing this down to something manageable, but at the risk of appearing self-indulgent, here is the whole messy experience.  For at least 3 of the participants, it was their first Google hangout.

Joining me in this video are Kimberley Flood, Kevin Greenshields, Robin Feick, Kathy Inglis, Tim King, Peter McAsh, Daniel Beylerian and Heather Leatham.

As most of you are well aware from your own experiences, I learn a lot each time I present new material, and this time was no different.  Looking back at that experience, I realize now that sometimes I need a big push to try these things.  Reflecting on that idea alone, isn’t that what I ask the staff and students at my school to do every day?  One of my drama students a few years ago said, as she was fearfully preparing to take the stage, “I just need to put my big girl pants on and do it.”  Everytime I feel fearful of risk-taking, or worn out by being a change agent, I say to myself, “Just put your big girl pants on and do it.”  There are times during this presentation where I’m just giddy with happiness of the sharing and comraderie I experienced as I struggled through it.  Treasure Mountain itself, is just like that….a bunch of experienced and knowledgeable people coming together to share and loving the sharing.  I always feel energized and motivated by experiences like this.  This is the reason I’m addicted to supporting my own professional development.

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Launching a book club with a riddle

My White Pine book club is growing stale. The same few students join every year (which is awesome) but I’m not reaching as far as I’d like to in my secondary school of 1200 students. So I’m trying an additional book club this year in a different format. The book I’ve chosen is “This Dark Endeavour” by Kenneth Oppel and if you haven’t read it you should!

So each week we’ll run a seminar on an interesting topic within the book in hopes of engaging new students!  I hope it will also promote inquiry-based thinking and lead to new possibilities.

This week’s seminar will be lead by Adam Wallace, and he’s going to talk all about Switzerland and cover many of the places the characters visit in the book.  Here’s our promo:

 
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Posted by on December 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

The Painted GirlsThe Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Recent winner of the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen fiction for 2014, Cathy Marie Buchanan transported me to another place and time with this story of sisters surviving all the odds against them in 1880s Paris. I love it when a book prompts me to do more research and I’ve spent the week since finishing it searching out Degas, Zola and even maps of Paris. As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will recommend this book to my mature readers. There is one scene where Antoinette performs sexual acts that are too adult for my intermediate readers, but the rest of the book is magnificently constructed. The plot and setting are steeped in art, history and most importantly, the sacrifices that sisters make for each other. In trying to escape their circumstances, the sisters come to realize the importance of staying true to each other. Buchanan has filled her website with Degas’ studies for his ballet paintings and sculptures and includes her memoirs of her own research trip to Paris for this book. I can’t wait until she writes another book and I sincerely hope it is similar in proposing a fictionalized story behind works of art.

The main character, Marie, models for this Degas sculpture.

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Posted by on November 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley by Jan Andrews

The Silent Summer of Kyle McGinleyThe Silent Summer of Kyle McGinley by Jan Andrews

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my first read of the 2014-15 Ontario Library Association’s White Pine picks for this year and based on this book alone, I’m very hopeful. Like last year’s Old Man by David A. Poulsen, our main character Kyle McGinley has a very unusual relationship with his estranged father. Here the similarities end though, as Kyle’s father was neglectful and abusive before abandoning his son when he was only 8. Having moved around the foster system ever since, Kyle finally lands with Jill and Scott in a rural location which allows him the peace and quiet he needs to begin healing. Kyle takes his need for silence to a whole new level by refusing to speak with his new wards. However, the threat of his father’s return catapults him once again into turmoil. This book is a fast read of only 198 pages but it is rich in symbolism as Kyle wrestles with noise and silence, hope and despair. Andrews’ characters are very believable and her unique style of creating Kyle’s inner voices allows for some very creative interpretations of his emotional story. I would highly recommend this book to any student but I will urge reluctant male readers to pick it up the most.

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Posted by on November 22, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Reading in a Participatory Culture by Henry Jenkins and Wyn Kelley

Reading in a Participatory Culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English Classroom

Jenkins and Kelley offer an optimistic alternative to Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is doing to our Brains which is filled, as Jenkins claims, with “contemporary anxieties” (p. 10).  The book offers instead this explanation: “As a society, we are still sorting through the long-term implications of these [media] changes.  But one thing is clear: These shifts point us toward a more participatory culture, one in which everyday citizens have an expanded capacity to communicate and circulate their ideas, one in which networked communities can help shake our collective agendas.” (p. 7) I would like my library learning commons to reflect this ideal where there are always activities happening for staff and students and each of our school community members feel that they have a voice. The Canadian Library Association’s Leading Learning: Standards of Practice for School Library Learning Commons (2014) insists that one of the key steps for implementation is to “foster a collaborative school culture of inquiry and participatory learning in both physical and virtual environments” (p. 23).   That’s a tall order in a secondary school where departments act as silos preventing cross-curricular collaboration from happening.

 

My favourite English department assignment at my school is a novel study where students explore contexts of the author, protagonist, setting and date of release.  In building in student choice, each one is able to research a context (or two) that relates both to themselves and to their chosen novel. The notion of exploring contexts in literature is similar to the chapter by Kolos and Nierenberg on negotiating cultural spaces (pp. 153-157) where Aurora high school students learned how to effectively protest to their local government.  This cultural negotiation, fitting into spaces where you haven’t fit in before, seems to be a requisite to developing a participatory culture and is highlighted in the Flows of Reading digital accompaniment to the book.  It particularly stands out in the video clip  

http://videos.criticalcommons.org/transc oded/http/www.criticalcommons.org/Member s/ebreilly/clips/rockabillies-in-tokyo/v ideo_file/mp4-high/rockabillies-in-tokyo -mp4-mp4.mp4

where Japanese rockabilly fans are dancing in Yoyogi park in Tokyo.  Having lived and worked in Japan for 3 years, I was often hit with cultural negotiation experiences where I had to fit in to the dominant culture and after a while I was allowed to sit cross-legged during tea ceremonies and the sushi would stop arriving at the table still breathing for the sake of my comfort.  Having to work through the awkward feelings of feeling out of place is a life lesson that everyone should experience.

One of my biggest epiphanies from this book is the idea that students are learning to negotiate cultural spaces between home and school in their discourse.  “While the Discourse of formal schooling is fairly well aligned with the home discourses of middle-and upper-class kids who want to achieve academic success will need to learn to “code switch”, to cross communities and alter speech, behavior, style of dress, and so on” (p. 161).  Of course, I understood the complexities of how public education’s expectations don’t match those at home, but I’ve never read the dilemma put so eloquently before.  It speaks to the same surprise I had when during the “Reading and Negotiation” chapter when a cosmetology class read two different novels. That would never happen in my school!  In my school, novels are for English classes and for pleasure reading.  Perhaps I need to negotiate reading into these foreign places.

A few years ago Dufferin County, where I grew up and where I teach, was threatened by a Megaquarry taking away some prized farmland.  A few teachers and I organized a debate where the stakeholders were allowed to come and talk to our students for 30 minutes each on their perspective.  We had five speakers in total including representatives from First Nations, Gravel Watch, a professor of Environmental Science, the North Dufferin Agricultural and Community Task Force, and of course, the company that had purchased the land for mining.  We had to prep our students on the issues and how to ask succinct questions that used appropriate language for the presenters and audience as did the students in Aurora High School (p. 163).  The debate outside our school went on for months and after an environmental impact report was released, the company withdrew their mining application and the megaquarry was defeated.  I can’t say that our school’s debate had a direct effect on this decision, but the youth participation in this issue was extraordinary. In a twisted way, I wish I could recreate this excitement over a local issue every year in order to see the students become so invested in a topic that affects environment, economy, food, politics and culture.  The true learning was that these students mattered, and this small rural community mattered on a provincial, if not national, scale.  Truthfully, other than for communication and public relations, we didn’t need technology to reach our goal.  We needed a forum for negotiation and that was in my library learning commons.

There are moments in this book that remind me why I became a teacher…pre-library, pre-technology, I wanted to be a teacher so that I could have enlightening conversations with students. Jenkins and Kelley are asking educators to simply harness the teachable moments that come with honouring student voice, give it an authentic forum for expression,  and give students choices that reflect their own expression, and that in doing so any common text can be relevant to current generations of students.

References

Canadian Library Association. (2014). Leading learning: Standards of practice for school library learning commons.

Jenkins, H., & Kelley, W. (Eds.). (2013). Reading in a participatory culture: Remixing Moby-Dick in the English classroom. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Reilly, E., Mehta, R., & Jenkins, H. (2013, February 19). Thinking about subcultures. Retrieved from http://scalar.usc.edu/anvc/flowsofreading/3_6_thinking-about-subcultures?path=3-negotiating-cultural-spaces

 

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Posted by on July 29, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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