Trillium by Jeff Lemire

TrilliumTrillium by Jeff Lemire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Jeff Lemire ‘s graphic novel reminds me of this version of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel. As Nika and William come together through time and space and then are separated again, Lemire presents this as happening on two separate planes of existence. He uses the mythology of Mayan temples and an alien race to hint that these two people need to meet. The message is not explicit, but Lemire hints that these disparate people are meant to be together. The layout of the novel, which switches voices and combines the two planes of existence in unusual but effective ways is another convention-breaking strategy of Lemire’s to build the story. Although Trillium is rated by Vertigo as “Suggested for Mature Readers” there is no content or visualization that is beyond the capability of the adolescent readers in my secondary school library. More so what will challenge them are the style of the layout, and the topics of time, space and spirituality. Personally, I can’t wait for them to read it so we can have those great conversations.

weirdest-burp-ever

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Breath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by S. Niles, D. Wachter, M. Santoro

Breath of Bones: A Tale of the GolemBreath of Bones: A Tale of the Golem by Steve Niles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Set in World War II, our main character struggles to help his grandparents make ends meet. To keep the village safe, a tiny clay man is given to the grandson and he is told to “Get to know it.” Although it’s purpose is at first confusing, grandfather explains that “…sometimes it takes monsters to stop monsters.” This story was originally released in 3 parts but the beautiful collector’s edition is spectacular to behold printed in high quality, glossy paper. There is even a couple pages at the end from Dave Wachter’s sketchbook. This story is so short that it could easily be categorized as a picture book and often the framing bleeds across the page. Like The Arrival Breath of Bones crosses historical, mythological and fantasy boundaries bringing this powerful legend to a state of modern belief. I would recommend this to anyone who is learning about the horrors of war for the first time or to anyone who can appreciate humanity’s ability to find light even in the darkest of times.

breath-of-bones-a-tale-of-the-golem-end

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The Troop by Nick Cutter

The TroopThe Troop by Nick Cutter

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As The Troop is nominated by the Ontario Library Association’s for the White Pine award, I picked it up in audiobook. This book is seriously scary….I have an 11 year old boy named Maximilian (weird coincidence) and the idea of him going anywhere overnight is nerve-wracking. Now I’ve taught Lord of the Flies, read Island Heart of Darkness and Robin Cook so I’d like to think that I had a pretty good idea of where Cutter was going, but there are many surprises along the way.

I enjoyed the experience of Cutter’s suspense, and there were times where I had to do deep breathing exercises to summon the courage to keep listening as the boys first are without guardians, turning on each other or hiding in the cellar. But while it was about the right age group for White Pine readers, and Cutter’s style in and out of the action and aftermath was masterful, I didn’t really enjoy it. Is it because I’m not in the right demographic? Maybe. But I also think it’s because the creation of horror is more important to Cutter than the originality of his premise.

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The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim (The Story of Owen, #1)The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim by E.K. Johnston

Give me a book about dragons in the White Pine section of the Ontario Library Association’s Forest of Reading http://www.accessola.org/web/OLA/Fore… and I am your girl. Now if you set that book in my area of Ontario and revise Canadian history to include all sorts of dragon mishaps, I am hooked. (And you thought the Great Lakes were just a great summertime getaway destination?) I devoured The Story of Owen, like a dragon on a blacksmith shop. Attracted to carbon emissions, dragons are set to be a dangerous nuisance across the globe and Ontario’s Owen is destined to become next in his family line. The narrator is Siobhan, whose academic and musical talents make her the perfect sidekick as Owen’s training accelerates with a sudden increase in local dragon attacks.

This fantasy tale would be a great entry point for any reader who wants to try fantasy as it combines 2015 realism with the dragon slayer’s athleticism. However, fantasy lovers and Canadian history lovers will really appreciate author E.K. Johnston’s revision of familiar events. Personally, I will definitely recommend this book to the readers in my secondary school library and I can’t wait to read her next one in the series.

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Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day (Every Day, #1)Every Day by David Levithan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you think that all young adult fiction is about dystopias and shallow relationships, give Every Day a try. I found it really impressive that Levithan could carry this unusual format through the entire book. At first I was quite worried that the days would become preachy as every new body protagonist A inhabits has an identity that is less about humans and more about Levithan’s need to celebrate diversity …and there were very few days that came across this way. It reminded me both of Orlando: A Biographyand also Black Like Me in its scifi but humanistic approach to becoming an “other”. I will highly recommend this book to the teens in my secondary school library.

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#BIT15Reads: The Innovators by Walter Isaacson

The Innovators: How a Group of  Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital RevolutionThe Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution by Walter Isaacson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a must-read for anyone who wants or needs to understand the evolution of the digital revolution. At times the computer science went over my head but for the most part Walter Isaacson‘s style was very accessible. It is jam-packed with information about each collaboration and often sidesteps culture and historical continuity in order to show you how innovations were happening in multiple locations at the same time in history. I really appreciated the timeline at the beginning of the book which I referred to often. What can I say? I learned a lot.

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#BIT15Reads: Interview with author Jose Luis Vilson

Bright and early Sunday morning at 10 am EST (we changed the clocks back an hour in Ontario), author Jose Luis Vilson joins me to talk about his book This is not a test: A new narrative on race, class and education.

Taking a moment to reflect on Jose’s work and how he described it in person this morning here are some of my takeaways:

  • public education as it exists now is a band-aid approach.  We need to get better at predicting inequities and solving them before they happen
  • blogging is an amazing tool for personal and professional reflection….the act of formalizing my thoughts has lead me to experiment in greater ways….it was nice hearing that Jose’s approach to writing began as writing for himself and to connect to his community for support
  • the internet is amplifying inequities rather than solving them. This is a constant source of disappointment and frustration for me.
  • our students may struggle with digital literacies long term but the immediate need is to solve inequities through strong pedagogy first
  • the government, across North America, needs to invest in equity and renew efforts to see students as change agents by giving them voice and agency

If you’re following along, you’ll know that Jose and I just lost our connection.  I had to start a fresh hangout.  Here it is now:

I will make an effort soon to edit that together to make it less disjointed.

#BIT15Reads: Interview with author Clive Veroni

Today at 5:00 pm ET Clive Veroni joins me to discuss his book Spin

Veroni’s book Spin revolves around the idea that modern media marketing has completely changed politics and business practices from autocratic to democratic….much the same way that education is moving.

There are so many things that Clive said that both reaffirm and challenge by beliefs in what I try to do in school each day.  In the book and the interview I tried to get Clive to talk about his own creative process and he shockingly says he doesn’t have a process!  In fact approaching each challenge in his marketing work with a fresh perspective is a strength which he uses all the time.  As I suspected through Clive’s own writing, he has a deep relationship with literature, art and beauty which helps him in non-linear problem solving.  It is refreshing to hear how much his arts education background has helped him with the empathy-building and narrative-constructing that he requires on a daily basis.

Final words, dear reader:  You need to read this book.

#BIT15Reads: Interview with Will Richardson

Author of From Master Teacher to Master Learner joins me today to discuss his books and his journey as a teacher/learner. at 6:30 pm ET.

…and there you go!  A fascinating discussion….I took 4 more sticky-notes worth of notes, did you?  I’ll keep wondering about how we can

  • create opportunities for teachers to bust out of their silos and get time to collaborate together about cross-curricular concepts and skills
  • sustain intrinsic motivation in learners….make sure it lasts all the way through school and beyond
  • make and curate connections to experts who would be there just in time for students who are on a self-determined learning curve

Really exciting.  Please, if you’re finding resources or having reactions to Will’s work or your own thoughts as a learner/teacher, please comment or reach out to us in #BIT15Reads.

#BIT15Reads: Spin by Clive Veroni

Spin: How Politics Has the Power to Turn Marketing on Its HeadSpin: How Politics Has the Power to Turn Marketing on Its Head by Clive Veroni
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Clive Veroni is a masterful writer and this is a timely book. Not until most of the way through this book does he reveal that his degree in English literature has served him well in the world of marketing…and it has also served him well as a writer. This 295 page book is tightly edited to emphasize the organization of Veroni’s argument and and the marvelous flow of his ideas. Although it is largely a retrospective on politics and marketing in order to show cause and effect relationships, Veroni’s introspective analysis rings true about current events as well. My favourite chapters are #4, The Age of the Open Brand, and #7 The Impropable Team. Veroni argues that real-time social media has “turned the old brand autocracy into a new brand democracy” and I think we’ve just seen that happen in the Canadian election with the sweeping majority won by now Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. In line with this concept, Veroni also argues that the best think tanks happening today are a heterogeneous group of people from different backgrounds and that their varied perspectives create a tension that they have to work through in order to harmonize. In education, we call that creating dissonance. There is a lot to learn from Spin and I hope to see more from Veroni.

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#BIT15Reads: Google Hangout with Heather and Deb

Tonight at 7:30 pm I will go live with Heather Durnin and Deb McCallum about their reading and experience in the BIT15Reads bookclub so far.  Deb is reading Motivating and Retaining Online Students by Rosemary Lehman, and Heather is reading This is Not a a Test by Jose Vilson.  Both authors have agreed to be interviewed in the near future so I’m hoping that Heather, Deb and I can agree on some questions.

If you want to join us live, you will receive an invite about 7:30pm.  Or you can watch the livestream below and tweet using the #BIT15Reads hashtag.

#BIT15Reads: The Glass Cage by Nicholas Carr

The Glass Cage: Automation and UsThe Glass Cage: Automation and Us by Nicholas Carr
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Like most people with an urban mindset, Nicholas Carr’s point of view focuses on being able to purchase goods and services at his fingertips. This is why, once again, his writing alienates people like me…people who live in a rural area and still do things like drive standard, grow food, filter water, use a map, and other non-automated tasks as part of my every day living. Carr believes that advances in the automaticity of machines we use is making us more and more helpless. Carr ramps up the paranoia by harping on pilots on autopilot, the number of screens he touches in a day, and how machines are starting to change our behaviour. Carr has a love/hate relationship with technology and seems to worry incessantly that he is a victim of the designer/manufacturer’s economics and politics. True, my morning muesli doesn’t contain enough dried papaya for my taste, but I am totally capable of adding more! I much prefer to hear about his arguments that technological design rarely suits the user and that as consumers we need to keep voicing our opinions. Save your energy for a worthier book that explores technology in a less-biased way.

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#BIT15Reads: Dataclysm by Christian Rudder

Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One's Looking)Dataclysm: Who We Are by Christian Rudder
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can already think of 12 people in my school who should read this book. That hasn’t happened to me since Danah Boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens.  I will pass this on to the math teachers, the social science teachers and the teachers in charge of character education in our building. If you read no other popular non-fiction this year, choose Dataclysm. It’s not just filled with brave and insightful explanations of data, both in a physical sense and in the sense of what’s absent, it is a visual feast of well-formed graphs that are very accessible to the reader.

I will also recommend it to the students in my building who have questions about love, sex, race, identity and data. This is a very important book right here and right now.

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#BIT15Reads: Passionate disagreement

“….ideas that inspire passionate disagreement can lead to success” (Clive Veroni, Spin, p. 27)

At last I’ve found a common thread between three #BIT15Reads books (two books is easy).  Veroni says that modern marketing has finally understood that being really disagreeable, can also make you memorable and he goes on to say that politicians have known this for years.  Spin is such a great book to be reading at the same time as a national election is happening as it spins the motivation behind every political sentence right now.

The data in Christian Rudder’s Dataclysm agrees. Rudder is the co-founder of OkCupid, a major matchmaking site in the U.S., and his fascinating book explains what our data can tell us when we’re not looking.  It also says that the most extreme answers often get the most attention either because they passionately disagree or maybe because they disagree passionately.  I can certainly attest that the fact that a certain significant male in my life first drew my attention by NOT reading the required books in our common Canadian Children’s Literature class and then argued vehemently for issues that he had no basis for.  (See? Still stirs me up.) According to Rudder, there are two polarizing questions to ask a potential mate:

  • Do you like scary movies?
  • Have you ever travelled alone to another country?

See what I mean?  The answers to these questions move me immediately to that deal breaker clause…..or do they?  Because what I most admire in other people is also what I am also looking to improve in myself.

So that’s the reason that I’m also currently reading (in audiobook) Nicholas Carr’s book The Glass Cage….because Carr makes me crazy.  His hyperbolic style of using ancient history to prove a very modern point makes me feel nauseated and foolish.  I say to myself: how could I not see this doomsday he speaks of coming?  Our reliance on the machine has been centuries in the making.  So despite my attraction for all things shiny and new, the archivist in me says: Yes, let’s slow down the automation and mindfully work to become more self-reliant.  I hate Carr and his smug smile because his skepticism is irritatingly well-grounded and his arguments push back all of my knee-jerk impulses to forge blindly ahead.

On that note: please if you’re reading any one of the fabulous #BIT15Reads choices, it is time for us to whittle down our list by rating your reading.  Please do so here in the long form version of “how many stars?” here:
http://goo.gl/forms/r3Y84tpveK

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

An instant classic, The Girl on the Train is delicious from start to finish. With multiple narrators involved in the same crime, readers are sure to enjoy the twists and turns of reliability and complete dysfuntion that each voice brings to the tale. Each voice is female, and each suspect is male so I imagine that this will have wide appeal to women but nonetheless no one ends up looking heroic by the end.

I am sure to recommend this to the secondary students in my library as a good read. For style, author Paula Hawkins has taken a classic creative writing exercise of writing the same event in multiple perspectives and given it new life by extending it to a full novel. There are lots of sordid adult habits involving sloth, lechery and overindulgence, but nothing that an open-minded teenager couldn’t handle.

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