Trickster Drift by Eden Robinson

Trickster DriftTrickster Drift by Eden Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Eden Robinson you have created such delicious characters. If Jared or Georgina or any of them knocked at my door and said, “There’s an emergency! The coy wolves are eating the dolphin people and they need your help!” I’d shape-shift into my amphibious alter-ego, take their hands and jump into another dimension. I want to believe and Robinson’s books have helped him get closer than ever.

Jared’s enemies are worthy of his gradual transformation in that they are both based in a harsh reality and so unspeakably evil that they must be fantastical. As Jared realizes his true self and increasingly gravitates towards magic, the revenge that the reader seeks becomes enticingly like a feast laid out on a table.

I devoured this sequel after picking it up like a true fangirl at one of Robinson’s more corporeal visits in Oakville last month. You know when you’re reading a great book and it calls to you when you have to leave it to go back to reality? This is that book.

If you’ve read and enjoyed (of if you’ve finished these two books and are waiting impatiently for the third like me):
Half World and Darkest Light by Hiromi Goto
The Magicians by Lev Grossman
The Library at Mount Char by Scott Hawkins

I hope Ms. Robinson gets to hang out with these authors, and if not, maybe we could arrange a party in her honour and I could simply serve canapes while eavesdropping on their banter. I am going to get everything else she’s ever written, right now.

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Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

Son of a TricksterSon of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A set of this book was generously purchased for our school by our First Nations, Metis and Inuit (FNMI)consultant at the board office. 5 pages into it many of our teachers were too scared to teach it and put it down. Boldly daring to say “You can’t scare me!” Eden Robinson, I read the whole thing ….you know, with my ‘I love reading anything fantasy’ brain, not with my ‘I run a secondary school library and must consider my sensitive audience’ brain. And I loved it! Would I teach it to a whole class at once? No. But we summoned our courage to offer it as a selection to senior level English classes in a literature circle format, and it was chosen, read and students loved it.

And who wouldn’t? There’s a healthy amount of crass language, for sure, but that shouldn’t keep readers away from Robinson’s rich characters and the trouble that Jared encounters.

As an FNMI choice, Robinson introduces us to some Heiltsuk beliefs but not in an instructional way. I mean, I feel enticed to know more about the culture but not in a way that is pedantic or alienating. As a reader, I’ve been invited to participate in an immersive cultural experience set in modern day but with timeless implications for these stories. I think this approach will also be appealing to readers.

After hearing Robinson speak this month in Oakville, I hope she would be happy to learn that this book doesn’t belong in an FNMI canon of literature but instead as part of a canon of great writing. As someone who enjoys fantasy fiction, who is open to new ideas, cultures and language, and as someone who certainly wants to understand truth and be part of reconciliation, I highly recommend this book.

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Celebrating school libraries today!

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I am the Head of the Library and Learning Commons at my secondary school, and that means I work 4/6 in the library, 1/6 in a EWC 4C/4U classroom, and 1/6 in a fully online ENG4C class.  I have held this role since 2010 with variations on which classes I teach.  So my year as the school librarian is divided between

a) making sure that the library has a culture reflecting the learning commons philosophy b) advocating for the use of technology in the classroom and helping students and staff do this and

c) making sure that students and staff are using everything that is available to them for inquiry-based research.

As Head of the Library and Learning Commons, I additionally go to every staff and department head meeting and I am the Literacy Lead for our school planning all interventions for our standardized literacy test in grade 10.  As you can imagine, this work keeps me hopping!

2 of our foundational documents are:

Together for Learning http://www.togetherforlearning.ca/t4l-vision-document/

Canadian School Libraries Leading Learning http://llsop.canadianschoollibraries.ca/

If you’re new to the learning commons shift, then you’ll find both really interesting.  If you’re already shifting your school culture to include learning commons then jump to Leading Learning, because I talk to my principal all the time using this sort of rubric to say “This is where we are and this is where we need to get to”.

The Manitoba School Library Association is PHENOMENAL) and is really pushing boundaries in your province.  Tomorrow is National School Library Day in Manitoba Canada and Manitoba’s provincial parliament will be reading a bilingual address about the importance of school libraries for student success.  Oh that we could make this happen nationwide.

A smaller ask then….

Would you please have a conversation or write a letter to someone with power and/or influence to make sure that the work and necessity of school libraries is valued and recognized?  Across Canada we need to have equitable staffing and per-pupil budgeting models in all publicly funded schools.  We need to have diverse print and digital resources available for all staff and students.  We need to recognize that the literacy work of school library staff is foundational for student success.  We need to have school libraries open during and beyond school hours to allow for the messiness of robust inquiry-based projects.

I am so thankful for my devoted library teaching partner and my wonderful library technician.  I am so thankful for a principal and a school board that recognizes the value of this work.  Celebrate with me! To school libraries across Canada!

Put all your money down on literacy intervention

After reading Reading and Writing: The Golden Ticket, I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting on my role as both teacher-librarian and Literacy Lead in my job.  The article is very stimulating if you’ve got a minute.

I really felt motivated by the article from the Globe and Mail, and although I know this course is about writing, my current passion for helping students in my school become proficient on the OSSLT, is to focus on their reading.  Very often we put our attention on the output, writing, but the really tricky part for secondary teachers in particular, is to focus on reading, or the input of language ideas.

 I’m the Literacy Lead in my school and this is a fairly new role for me in that I’m taking this lead position for the 2nd year..  What that looks like is that I’m designing the literacy interventions that we’re going to make happen for our grade 9s and 10s this year.  We know that we’re hitting a fairly consistent 81% success rate with our test results (above board and province average) but this doesn’t seem to make a difference for the other 19%.

19%.  19%.  19% .

I say that over and over again because that’s nearly 1 in 5 of our students.  The administration seems to only be concerned with looking good on paper and we’re 1 of 3 schools in our board who raised a % in our success rate.  The rest is up to me to make happen.

We have an early intervention course, similar to what is described in the article that is run in grade 9 who are deemed at-risk by their grade 8 teachers. Unfortunately this course is often taught by brand new teachers or teachers who lack the commitment to the continuity of this crucial piece because they’re LTOs.  I wish that someone like the senior English teachers, would teach it instead.  I asked if I could teach it and they gave me creative writing grade 12 instead.  Not that it’s a horrible trade-off but you have to go where you’re needed, right?  More on creative writing in another post.

 I had the blessing of funding and support to do a research project about 7 years ago which allowed me to test my hypothesis that grade 9 literacy intervention would prevent behaviour and lack of school engagement later in high school.  This is about the time when school to age 18 became mandatory in our province.  So what I did is I took aside students from a data point of view and thoroughly examined their Ontario Student Records (OSRs).  I found that the one thing they were most likely to have in common is that there was some sort of family trauma around grade 4 or 5.  A divorce, a death in the family, an illness, or an injury that derailed that poor kid in grade 4 or 5 affected their literacy path for the rest of their academic career.  Not surprisingly then, when we were able to do a Woodcock-Johnson test on 20 of these students, they came out as having reading skills stunted at about a grade 4 or 5 reading level.  As the teacher-librarian in chief at my school, I developed relationships with these students and peppered them with literacy attention from my end. That could be individualized help on their assignments, or simply convincing them that reading all 25 volumes of The Walking Dead was a worthy pursuit. Many of them shook my hand as they walked out the door upon graduation.  It was very satisfying.  In fact, I think I’d say that it has changed the way I think about literacy forever.

If I had to pick a winning bet on where to put the most money in Ontario’s education system today, I’d put everything down on literacy in Ontario at the intermediate level. It is the golden ticket.

My ongoing professional learning

My love affair with Mindomo continues. Here I am trying to explore the Ontario College of Teachers’ Standards of Practice. I’m focusing here on just one of these standards: Ongoing Professional Learning.

https://www.mindomo.com/mindmap/beliefs-and-learning-about-our-own-writing-0586b22d3bd64316b6f45a9e97b86981

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Scarborough by Catherine Hernandez

ScarboroughScarborough by Catherine Hernandez

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is my favourite book that I’ve read this year HANDS DOWN. It first came to my attention because I enjoy reading from the Ontario Library Association’s Evergreen book list each year.  I enjoyed the audiobook version through Audible as Hernandez narrates her own book. I listen to audiobooks a lot on my commute to and from work, but this summer, I used the audiobook to motivate me as I was weeding my garden. I found myself, on more than one occasion, weeping openly in my yard.

It’s a small but mighty hyperfocus on a neighbourhood in Scarborough, Ontario. It centres around the a Family Literacy centre which feels so real that I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Catherine Hernandez has done this work before, which is to say, scraping together a program and creating a culture of welcome using virtually nothing at all. The families that come and go each come to the centre for a different reason, and each child has unique challenges. 3 children’s lives, in particular, are emphasized: Bing, Sylvie and Laura. Through their lives, Hernandez calls the reader to attention and reveals the crucial necessity of outreach programming.

The book is so poignant, so concise, as if no words are wasted. The overlapping timelines, character development and continuous threads allow the reader to see cause and effect repeat with often catastrophic results. Hernandez masterfully builds hope and then thwarts it with a harsh blow of reality, making each development really earn its place in building to the conclusion.

It turns out that Hernandez splits her time between writing and the theatre which maybe why I can tell that we’re kindred spirits. This book could easily be staged or turned into a film. The images in my mind while listening were like a movie. I’ll be following Hernandez’s work and waiting impatiently for the arrival of whatever she’s written. I can’t say enough about the power of this book. Just go get it.

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West and back: Animal spotting in Montana

We woke up in an average hotel in Hamilton, Montana and began our last leg towards Yellowstone. We followed the Bitterroot river for sometime in and out of the mountains until we were suddenly in grassland.  I screamed to a halt when I saw a large herd of deer-like creatures milling around to our left.  We later found out from a Yellowstone park ranger that these animals are the Pronghorn antelope in Montana.  We found them sporadically in Yellowstone National Park too, but never in the size of herd that we found them here.
As usual, Tim took this photograph of Max and I gaping at their sproingy, curious yet skittish behaviour.

Habibi by Craig Thompson

HabibiHabibi by Craig Thompson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Graphic novelist Craig Thompson first launched into my world having written Blankets. Habibi is not new but it is a clear favourite of one of my favourite students (I know we’re not supposed to have favourites) whose family moved here from Nepal just as she was starting grade 9. She said “Mrs. King you have to promise me that you will read this book this summer.” So I did.

Main character Dodola, an orphan, a child-bride, a slave, a prostitute, latches onto another orphan named Zam. Together they try to struggle through a horrible desert existence finding their love (habibi in Arabic) through story-telling and making a home in whichever safe place they can. Dodola and Zam are separated and escape their harsh realities by remembering the cozy life that they had built together, always thinking of each other and wishing to return to this comfort. The book is epic, and filled with Thompson’s beautiful and devotional attention to bringing the stories to life through exquisite detail in the drawings.

Like Blankets, Habibi is in my secondary school library with a red sticker on it, warning readers that the content and graphics are for mature readers only. Unlike Blankets, Habibi isn’t really about sex…it’s about rape and prostitution and I could compare some of the themes to Margaret Atwood‘s book The Edible Woman, in which the women are pretty much consumed by patriarchy. There is a Westernized exoticism of the culture, the locale of the setting, and especially of the incomparable beauty of Dodola that strikes me as appropriation, if not plagiarism. There I said it. It’s beautiful, it’s well-executed, but is this Thompson’s story to tell? There are credits to the mentors that Thompson used for accuracy. Perhaps this is why Thompson has faded away himself. For the sake of my devoted student, I will keep my comments about Habibi focused on the positive.

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School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6 – 12 by Leslie Preddy

School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12School Library Makerspaces: Grades 6-12 by Leslie B Preddy

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As a secondary librarian, without planning time, without my own students focused on design/construction/creativity, I’m launching a full-time makerspace this fall that is filled with mostly donated items from the now-extinct home economics and fashion programs at my school. We have a severe shortage of electricity because we were built when libraries contained only books and the occasional microfiche reader. Nonetheless, after successfully executing at least 1 makerspace per semester for the first two years, I’m confident that a full-time makerspace will bring two qualities to my library learning commons (LLC) culture that I struggle to maintain on a daily basis: creativity and community. What I mean by that is that libraries were made for consuming information and to truly understand the nature of manufacturing/designing/inventing we need to shift to becoming as much creators as we are consumers….in life, in general, for all people, but certainly for the students in my LLC. The other thing that students (if not all people) are sorrily missing is community. They need to have places to hang out and learn from each other while enjoying the company. Flashback to the quilting bee, the hunt club, or as I experienced it, the 4-H homemaking club.

So with these ideas already in mind, I approached this book, particularly excited because it’s aimed at grades 6 – 12 whereas so many other resources on makerspaces are targeted at elementary folks. I purchased the book after having listened to author Leslie Preddy speak at a library research conference called Treasure Mountain in Connecticut a few years back. Maybe I read it already, maybe I’ve picked up most of what Preddy has to say through other means, but I found that for a book devoted to secondary makerspaces, that it was lacking in innovation. I suppose what I wanted most was to feel a reassuring hug with a few sure-fire strategies for success and didn’t. In fact most of the book is devoted to Pinterest-style pages of what to do with very little. I already thought of that.

The meat of this book is in the first 8 pages where Preddy suggests creating library-style pathfinders with instruction videos on how to get started. This is an idea I’ll definitely take away. She suggests that signage and mentoring are the best ways to get students started. She also says that it might take some time for students to move to independent experimentation and to just keep the students coming back and soon it will take off. She briefly mentions some sort of badging or achievement system where students can move from novice to mentor, but doesn’t really expand on it.

I’ll be continuing my quest for secondary makerspace guidance as Preddy’s book, for me and my needs, fell short of the mark.

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Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

Milk and HoneyMilk and Honey by Rupi Kaur

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Who writes an internationally-acclaimed book of poems in the year 2018? Rupi Kaur does. I’ve had this book in my secondary school library for a year now and this summer was my first opportunity to get my hands on it. When I’ve asked how my senior students are enjoying it, they look at me with a combination of melancholy and knowing that once I’ve read this tome, that my soul will be appeased. Rupi’s book is divided into 4 sections and ranges in style from simple couplets to rants. The collection is punctuated by her very artistic doodles…sometimes realistic, and sometimes abstract. Largely it describes her past and her ability to choose bad partners which might stem from the abuse that she suffered as a child. The last chapter is optimistic though as Rupi learns to express through her pain through poetry. I’ve highlighted 4 short passages to take into my creative writing class this year as I’m sure that it will appeal to my grade 12s. Even though there is some graphic content, I can lead my students to read more on their own with a few teasers.

I’m out of the target demographic for sure on this book, but I can still appreciate how it is crafted, released in a small, manageable chunk, and has mass appeal for today’s young people

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The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

The Last Kingdom (The Saxon Stories, #1)The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having really enjoyed seasons 1 and 2 of The Last Kingdom, I was hoping for deeper insight into the history of the Danes invasion and spread across England. The book is pretty similar to the series but I was able to experience Cornwell’s masterful layering of description, action-packed faction and history. Unlike many historical fiction books, his explanations, including a glossary of place names and a map, make this book very accessible to read….especially for someone, like me, who has learned history mostly from books and travel.  I’m passing it onto my brother-in-law now and I’m not sure that I’ll seek out the next one.  If it fell into my hands, I would read the whole series, of course, but I’m not going to go looking for it.

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West and back again

When I was 10, my geography-loving father bundled our family and my grandmother into our maxivan with house trailer and we trundled off to BC and back.  I have vivid memories of:

  • thinking that Kakabeka Falls was the colour of beer
  • camping next to a grain elevator in Saskatchewan and being awoken multiple times in the night by the freight trains
  • seeing a horrific chuckwagon accident at Calgary Stampede
  • getting lost in the BC Museum

…and, of course, having the van break down in the mountains, fighting and loving my sisters, and generally making once-in-a-lifetime memories.

Max enters grade 9 in the fall and with it comes his only mandatory geography course.  The 4 goals of grade 9 geography are:

  • developing an understanding of the characteristics and spatial diversity of natural and human environments and communities, on a local to a global scale;
  • analysing the connections within and between natural and human environments and communities;
  • developing spatial skills through the use of spatial technologies and the interpretation, analysis, and construction of various types of maps, globes, and graphs;
  • being responsible stewards of the Earth by developing an appreciation and respect for both natural and human environments and communities

Like his mother, I’m hoping that he’ll learn to love the study as much as I do, but regardless, I want him to get to know ecozones on an intimate level.  I want those capitals and provinces to have memories attached, not just be words on a worksheet.  I want my husband to see what it means to take 3 days to get out of Ontario, and to fall madly in love with prairie skies.  We are making 2 longer stops on the way out: Winnipeg for the new museum and Drumheller for the bones. We’re spending 4 days in Campbell River with family and 4 more days in Tofino with family. On the way back we’re spending 3 nights in Yellowstone because if you’re gonna go, watching a supervolcano explode would be a magnificent way to do it, or less bleakly, there will be more geothermal activity to study.

We’re doing it a little differently than when I was 10 though, taking my 2016 Buick Encore and glamping it up in hotels that serve breakfast.  I’m hoping to picnic as often as possible, and we’ve purchased our annual Canada Parks pass to take us to more sites than usual.  Of course the trick about doing any of this well is to plan obsessively, and you’ll see from my map that I am all over this.  I kept begging Tim to give us one or two or seven more days, but he keeps applying the brakes, saying that I wore him out in Iceland/England over 5 weeks last summer.  We’re looking at this as a reconnaissance mission…we’ll just drive through Banff this time, and come back for more on a different excursion.

On our map I’ve plotted our accommodations, collated recommended independent bookstores, breweries/cideries/wineries, good eats, espresso bars, and arts & crafts stores.  Items in green are either Parks Canada sites on our route, or must-see gardens according to various bloggers.  Unlike in Iceland last summer, I’m confident that this time that I will be able to use my personalized map and that I’ll have the data plan to use it! 10 days out, 9 days in BC and 10 days back. What we can’t predict are accidents (stuck between Thunder Bay and Winnipeg for 4 hours once), forest fires (make it rain in the Okanagan please!), and of course, Canada’s summer pastime of construction. Here’s to making memories!

Our library learning commons annual report

There is nothing like ending the school year on a high. My friend and colleague Lisa Unger diligently spends time each year to collate the work that we’ve done that may seem invisible but all together looks outstanding!

How does Lisa make this annual report?  She began by returning to one of our guiding documents:  Leading Learning   As you will notice, the document is laid out like a giant rubric so that you can rank your own work on how well you’re doing.  When our new principal began last year, I went through each of the look-fors and told him where I thought we were at and what work needed to still be accomplished.  The first slide of the slideshow shows a tag cloud that Lisa created based on the primary ideas that drive our LLC goals.

Lisa then harvested any tweet from our Library Learning Commons Twitter account @ODSSLLC, combined that with our annual goals, and tried to showcase what we do.  Once you’ve collated your evidence of your impact on student success, all you need it to have its desired effect is some uninterrupted time with your principal.  Our principal gave us 45 minutes and lots of positive feedback for us.  As Lisa showed off the slideshow and talked about the goals of each event and its success, I took notes on what our principal’s ideas were.  I may have interjected once or twice in my enthusiasm for how well this was all going.  Of course as we were talking, we also realized how much invisible work there is that we didn’t take pictures of including our smorgasbord-style staff meeting where we had 12 concurrent sessions on improving staff and student well-being and relationships.

Thanks to the success of our annual library report in conversation with our new principal, we have put a bow on the end of the year and more importantly, we’ve reflected together on what we’ll take forward into the next school year.

I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

I'll Take You ThereI’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a huge Wally Lamb fan and I have read just about everything he is written so of course I was excited to sink my teeth into I’ll Take You There. This is a purely selfish choice ….just love me some Wally Lamb.

Wally Lamb seems to be playing with more magical realism in this novel than I’ve seen before in his other work. There is a certain feeling of playfulness as our main character Felix experiences a sort of “It’s a Wonderful Life” / A Christmas Carol visitation by the ghosts of his past in order to work out a future plan of action. Felix is a film projectionist and heroines of classic movies invite him to step into the film of his life at certain points. It feels a bit like a Deus Ex Machina allowing Felix to re-experience his life. Some of the major events in the book are revealed through this revisiting, allowing Felix’s adult-self to observe his child-self dealing with family trauma. At times this writing technique seems contrived, but once I got to the halfway point in the novel, I couldn’t put it down. It’s not Felix, but his sister Frances, who is the centre of the huge family secret, and she captured my attention and I devoured the rest of the book in a day.

If you like your Beach Reads sad (and who doesn’t? for the Catharsis alone!), then this is a great little gem.

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Mrs. King’s recommended reads

I’m teaching grade 12 creative writing this fall and I’m so excited about it. I believe that to be a good writer that you need to read and write as much as possible.  At my library, students and staff can sign out any seven books they want to for the whole summer.

If you’re reading this, then you might be excited too.  Here’s a list of the books that I highly recommend

a) because they’re written really well

or

b) they connected with me personally and I want to share this part of me with you.

Life Changers

The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry

She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

100-Mile Diet by Alisa Smith and J.B. MacKinnon (non-fiction)

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

Tomboy Survival Guide by Ivan Coyote

NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity by Steve Silberman (non-fiction)

This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein (non-fiction)

The Jaguar’s Children by John Vaillant

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

The Wars by Timothy Findley

Misconceptions by Naomi Wolf (non-fiction)

Just Juicy

Son of a Trickster by Eden Robinson

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

The Winter Palace by Eva Stachniak

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

The Magicians by Lev Grossman

Origin by Dan Brown

Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison

Dataclysm: Who We Are by Christian Rudder

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
The Second Machine Age by Erik Brynjolffson and Andrew McFee (non-fiction)

Spin by Clive Veroni (non-fiction)