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.

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Grasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

Grasshopper JungleGrasshopper Jungle by Andrew Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Andrew Smith ‘s book Grasshopper Jungle came highly recommended to me as a secondary school teacher-librarian as something that would connect with those elusive, hard-to-read teens. Scientifically it checks a number of those ‘should-I-buy-it’ boxes: involves issues of gender-identity, bullying, marginalized characters, and it’s all set in a dystopian crisis.

I am a lover of the bizarre, characters on the fringe, and science fiction but this book did not connect with me. For one, the language is more like poetry as the main character, Austin, speaks wildly and tangentially connecting present-day with military experiments, family history, and far beyond. The rhythm of the poetry is continually interrupted by the action scenes of escaping giant man-eating praying mantis, and vice versa. It’s a science-fiction novel that is continually interrupted by the sexual appetite of a 16 year old boy whose bisexual tendencies are causing major friendship fiction. There are really only 2 characters who develop: Austin and his boy/friend Robby who star in the action of having to save their families from certain doom. We are left wondering about Austin’s brother/parents who are in a Germany military hospital; and Austin’s girlfriend Shann who is sidelined by her own concern for her family and a surprise pregnancy. Smith’s description wants to be cinematic but never quite achieves this. The book is both bleak and hopeful and only a strong reader is going to ‘get it’ although many will enjoy the sex-filled, swearing-filled, action-packed nature of the book. This book is not for the faint of heart and I’ll need major convincing to pick up another of Smith’s books.

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Book trailer:

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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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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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:

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

DramaDrama by Raina Telgemeier

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am so thrilled that there is a female protagonist who loves theatre and isn’t dying to be onstage. Callie is a great role model for pre-teens and teens alike as she is the master of her own learning of stagecraft in order to help put on the school production of Moon over Mississippi. She encounters some very mature problems of how to work through her own limitations. She is also introduced to a couple of brothers who are new at the school and they teach her about making new friends. Telgemeier is able to call attention to the young character’s budding sexuality, openly recognizing that one of these characters are gay, without making it dominate the rest of Callie’s own story. The struggle she experiences is emphasized through the organziation of the novel into Acts, mimicking the structure of a play. I would recommend this book for students as young as grade 5 as long as they understand that it essentially explores ideas of romance. As a teacher, I think it could lead to some very real discussions with students who are confronted with the ideas of homosexuality for the first time in a school situation. I applaud Telgemeier’s bravery for writing this book. It’s not just a brave book…it’s a funny, endearing book about the awkwardness of first love.

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Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

“>Friends with BoysFriends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I think my favourite thing about the main character, Maggie, is that her personality is so well-developed. Before the ghost is even introduced we find out that: she’s the only girl with 3 brothers, her Dad has a new job, and her Mom has left the family. Besides all the other normal angst that goes with being a teenager, she’s starting her first day of regular high school after being home-schooled her whole life. The jacket is very well done and I think the description:”… and, oh yeah, she’s haunted.” is sure to appeal to readers in my library. I also really like how the main conflict in the novel is really approachable for all teens: new friends, learning the grey areas of right and wrong, and, oh yeah, how to put a ghost to rest. Ok, maybe not that last one. Maggie’s brothers are also well-developed and have distinct personalities especially Zander who is both wise and immature. With all their cavorting about it makes me wish that I had brothers too.

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DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke

DC: The New Frontier, Vol. 1DC: The New Frontier, Vol. 1 by Darwyn Cooke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I selfishly chose to read DC: The New Frontier because I’m doing an assignment on DC and I wanted more meat. I’m a self-acclaimed noob when it comes to graphic novels and The New Frontier was my first foray into any superhero comics…..any….ever. This was my first. So I was completely blown away by how emotionally involved I became with the characters as they rushed to find a solution to stop the world from ending. I also found the artwork absolutely absorbing. There were 2 page spreads of one single frame, 2 page spreads split into thirds, and many many more combinations that I had never seen before. I think I may have developed a crush on Wonder Woman.

wonder-woman-on-paradise-island

I’m also struck by how accessible this giant book is especially in comparison to the other DC comic I’m attempting: The Watchmen. The New Frontier is told from many many characters’ points of view but they all have a singular focus that brings them together. I will recommend this book to all the readers in my library.

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A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel adapted and illustrated by Hope Larson

A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic NovelA Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel by Hope Larson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am at a disadvantage in reading the graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time because I don’t remember the original story enough to compare it.  The only thing I do remember is “It was a dark and stormy night…”.  At the same time, I have the advantage of reading the graphic novel fresh for the first time and I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I found the illustrations in black, white and blue to highlight the surreal and stark settings as well as give a reminiscent feeling to the tale.  My favourite illustration in the book is on page 296 when Meg is entering the dark thing, but her father’s hand is reaching through the frame to pull her back.  The abstract combination of lines meeting Meg’s limbs somehow conveys that her soul in as much jeopardy as her body. I think this drawing of Hope Larson’s would make Picasso proud.

The story itself reminds me of The Root Cellar by Janet Lunn and The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis.  I don’t know if I’ve ever read a book that hinted at the mathematics and physics behind time travel theory as much as A Wrinkle in Time.  I’m also surprised how much spirituality is hinted at through references to the Bible and other philosophical works.  I suppose the spiritual questioning of Meg is why most of all this book reminds me of Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.  This graphic novel version of A Wrinkle in Time is already part of my secondary school library collection and now I’m glad that I’ll be able to recommend it.

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Owly by Andy Runton

Owly, Vol. 1:  The Way Home & The Bittersweet SummerOwly, Vol. 1: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I can’t say this with any certainty but Owly has the feeling of being written for school-aged children. The pictures are sweet and the text is minimal but the stories themselves seem to have a moral impetus driving them….like you just know there’s a lesson at the end. Andy Runton even includes this teacher resource page on his blog: http://www.andyrunton.com/teaching/in… …as if Andy Runton sat down one day and said “I have the perfect thing for those elementary teachers…” The pictures are sweet and the text is minimal which is certainly an achievement but the stories themselves seem to have a moral impetus driving them….like you just know there’s a lesson at the end. This makes the stories seem disingenuous and I have to question the validity of the purpose. However, there is a very nice storytelling moment when during their quest Owly and Wormy meet a pair of fireflies to light their nighttime path. The reader realizes that Owly released these two fireflies from a jar earlier in the story so they are repaying a favour to Owly.

And another thing….While I mostly like this cute character Owly, I’m a little miffed when in “The Way Home” that he can have worms as friends, because I think any owl with any self-worth would munch on that worm quick as can be. Owly just isn’t very ….owly. My son was given a book called “Ducklings love…” once when he was about 3 and it was super cute that the ducklings love something different on each page like: water, swimming, their Mommy and Daddy, and then the ducklings were said to love cats and dogs and I thought “Ducklings do not love cats and dogs or rabid-duckling-eating-wolves” and I threw it away. There’s something about Owly’s quirky relationships with much smaller animals that I find unnerving. Maybe the leap from personifying an animal to taking all of his animal characteristics away is just too great for me to take.

I appreciated “The Bittersweet Summer” a little more because of the natural cycles of migration that Owly discovers. I particularly enjoyed the pages where Runton conveys time passing through the calendar and the plants are starting to bloom again. Runton’s use of black and white does not diminish the emotions he’s trying to convey through Owly’s expressions. Only occasionally does Runton break his style to provide a whack of information regarding a plant or the hummingbird’s migration patterns in writing. The structure of the frames on a page is generally reliable and this would be comforting to a new reader of the comic genre.

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The Arrival by Shaun Tan

The ArrivalThe Arrival by Shaun Tan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The universal human experience of moving or migrating is beautifully illustrated in The Arrival. The fact that the story is told without words somehow brings more emphasis to the language of the new city where the main character travels to. Anyone who has travelled can relate to the exhilarating and wearisome experience of trying communicate your basic needs to a stranger.url

 

 

 

 

I was struck by the characterization of the city itself in Tan’s illustrations and thought immediately that it looks like New York City. There seems to be a pyramid shape to the city’s landscape that reminds me of downtown Manhattan where the Empire State Building faces the Rockefeller Center. I had the opportunity to visit New York City for the first time last year and it is possible to see this view from Ellis Island of the Statue of Liberty.

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Although the book is filled with whimsical and fantastical creatures, they don’t detract from the power of our main character’s experience in setting up a new life for himself and his family. On the contrary, he meets others like himself who tell their own story of escaping some kind of hardship (like the monster in our main character’s homeland) and then being greeted by a kind stranger in the new land. The final panel in the book communicates the cyclical nature of migration.

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Brian Kelley (2010) says:
Using images and illustrations, with or without words, is one of the many ways humans communicate.        Humans are visual beings as well as oral-aural beings. To process our world not only through language, but also through viewing, thus forming a deeper understanding of life and communication when our sense merge (pp. 6 – 7).

Shaun Tan accomplishes this merging through his book. I feel as if I have a deeper understanding of the immigrant experience having read The Arrival.

References

Kelley, B. (2010). Sequential art, graphic novels, & comics. SANE Journal,
1(1), 1-24.

Tan, S. (2006). The arrival. New York, NY: Arthur A. Levine Books.

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The Taming by Eric Walters and Teresa Toten

The TamingThe Taming by Teresa Toten

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I expect high things from anything that Eric Walters puts his name on. After the Ontario Library Association nominated this as one of the best Canadian young adult fiction of the year, I expected even more. Until halfway through I thought I had found a predictable teen romance. When our main character Katie’s life starts to imitate her art on the stage of her high school Shakespeare production, I became engrossed. The rest of the story strikes me as very true dealing with the bizarre power struggles that sometimes arise in first love relationships. Although I wish that the ending will be true in the case of most young people caught in Katie’s circumstance, it was a bit too hopeful to be believable. This book would suit most of the readers who would pick it up…young females searching for love.

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Is it possible to grow readers who are also digitally savvy?

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Penny Kittle speak about reading and how complex it is for intermediate/senior teachers to teach.  Kittle estimates that in 1st year college/university that the average pages a student reads is 500.  She proposed that the #1 reason that students drop out after first year is that they can’t keep up with the demand of reading.  Meanwhile Don Tapscott tells us in Grown Up Digital that we need to appeal to the multimedia savvy of the NetGeneration students in our classes.  How do we balance both of those ideas?  Heather Durnin tells us how she does it in her blog post about modifying literature circles in her grade 8 classroom.  What I love about Heather’s work is that she’s still focusing on  teaching reading, critical analysis and through social interaction (Vygotzky would approve).  The students develop their skills in analysis face-to-face with their peers and their teacher, before being accountable to the technology. I suspect that as students hear the types of questions and comments that lead to richer discussion, that in turn their reading becomes stronger as they look for ways to contribute.

What’s the next level?  Maybe it’s that the students publish their work to an authentic audience and get feedback.  The hardest part of inquiry-based learning for me is to ask really meaningful questions that will lead to critical thinking.  I’m at the point where I am conscious of designing my questions to be evaluative ….so that students are developing criteria as well as their analysis, but the questions don’t come naturally to me yet. Is there an app for that?  I don’t think so.  #teachersrock

Eragon by Christopher Paolini

Eragon (The Inheritance Cycle, #1)Eragon by Christopher Paolini

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It’s a solid first novel …. lots of world-building and the dragons are introduced well. Paolini’s writing style is juvenile …. self-indulgent in terms of cryptic vocabulary use, and the plot is predictable. The best part about this book is …the dragon.

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Under My Skin by Charles de Lint

Under My SkinUnder My Skin by Charles de Lint

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This Young Adult fantasy begins in Santa Feliz, California in present day. The story unfolds through two voices, Josh and Marina, who are best friends. In this school year, each character has become a Wildling, a shapeshifter from human to animal form. As more and more local teens are becoming Wildlings overnight, government and corporate organizations move in to lock down the situation. Josh’s quest is to make sure any external interest has good intentions, and Marina’s journey is more about acceptance and making sure that Wildlings are treated with respect.

Both Josh and Marina are caught up in the movement as different factions of Wildlings compete for their attention. Some come across as eco-warriors, while others explore the spiritual blessing nature of shapeshifting and other natural gifts. Every single adult and teen group involved in the Wilding phenomenon has a different agenda, and neither Josh nor Marina can identify where they belong. Instead, Josh is singled out as a natural leader, as his animal self, the mountain lion, is one of the oldest animal clans known. Marina’s intentions of aiding the Wildling cause confuse her as she has to choose between the cause and her own dreams.

The alternating voices in each chapter allow the reader to understand the perspectives more deeply. The novel is a familiar story of teens being misunderstood as they go through their quest for identity. The shapeshifter motif allows the author a way to explore questions of identity in sexuality, race and belief. As the shapeshifter story is now a popular culture meme, this puts Under My Skin clearly in a fantasy category for beginners. The novel ends only as Josh and Marina escape their first test of Wildling experimentation leaving room for the proposed sequels to take place. The story hints briefly at stirrings of sexuality and the violence is dramatic but not overdone. This novel’s realistic and modern setting will appeal to most any reader who is ready to dabble in the fantastic. Readers who are more experienced with the genre may find de Lint’s explanations of fantastical elements to be juvenile.

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