Canadian School Libraries Journal

This week editor Derrick Grose and his team of editors released their inaugural edition of the Canadian School Libraries Journal.  Derrick says: “This first issue of the Canadian School Library Journal reflects the exciting times in which we are working” and “the actual work being done in school libraries”.

For those of you who don’t know, Canadian School Libraries has gone through some redevelopment in the last couple of years.  Like a phoenix from the ashes, it is reborn and lead by the Canadian movers-and-shakers in school library.

Here’s my contribution:

A Book Club for the Ages: An OSLA and TVO Collaboration

What they don’t teach you in teacher’s college is how lonely teaching can be.  The professors don’t tell you that if you wanted to you could completely fly under the radar, inherit a dusty binder of outdated material and recycle it for the next thirty years of your career alone in your classroom. You may have a department office where you can bounce ideas off of each other, but if you’re like me, and there are only eleven of you in the whole district, then that opportunity doesn’t come around enough.

In 2009 I began to feel the power of developing my own professional development through online places as reaching out to internet-based PD suited my autonomous, asynchronous and rural lifestyle. I co-wrote an Ontario Ministry of Education English course for these new-fangled platforms called eLearning and I discovered the possibilities for distance education.  I joined Twitter, I started to blog and I found my tribes both through the Educational Computing Organization of Ontario (ECOO) and the Ontario School Library Association (OSLA). The commitment of these groups to hosting really great face-to-face professional development conferences is profound.  Through this new knowledge I emerged as a leader in educational technology in my school, district and beyond.  I did all of this simply by showing up and sharing.  It’s actually that simple.  About the same time, I became a teacher-librarian and my opportunities to promote global competencies [See Exhibit A] exploded.

Ontario 21st C competencies
Exhibit A: Towards Defining 21st Century Competencies for Ontario, p. 56

When I arrived at teacher-librarianship, I inherited a library that felt deeply confused…the books had become second-class citizens to the clunky desktop computer lab that pulled focus.  In 2012 we transformed our library into a learning commons.  I went through my first emotionally draining power weed going from 12,000 items to 9,000 in 6 months and the average publication date of my collection went from 1989 to 2003. Like a bad boyfriend, I washed that confused adolescent library out of my hair.  There is nothing like a renovation to rejuvenate…and then the really hard work began.  It wasn’t enough to buy new furniture.  I needed to shift the culture of learning in my school.  As an innovating early adopter of the learning commons model, I felt alone [See exhibit B].

Exhibit B (CC BY 2.5)
Exhibit B (CC BY 2.5)

I was in a trough of disillusionment [Exhibit C]. I often struggle with the cheerleading aspects of teacher-librarianship because I need to feel deeply committed to whatever I am advocating. That’s really easy to do about innovative ways to deepen critical thinking but less so about standardized testing.  Easy: Graphic novels and makerspaces. Difficult: having every student write in proper APA format. You get the picture.  So what does anyone in need of a professional pick-me-up do?  I started my M.Ed. in teacher-librarianship at the University of Alberta completely online.  I relished every moment of the four years I studied and I fell into a deep mourning period the moment it was over.

It's Complicated
Exhibit D: Alanna’s book review in Goodreads

That year at our ECOO conference, I was having post-workshop beverages with my tribe and we started talking about how to keep the good feelings growing.  We had just come from a marvellous session that was essentially a panel discussion about a riveting book [See Exhibit D].  We were talking books at an educational technology conference. We were moaning how one conference a year just isn’t enough when your professional development tribe is spread all over the world.  That was the eureka moment for a crazy journey of online partnerships.

The first year I promoted twenty books using just Twitter and Goodreads.  The second year we tried ten. I used my WordPress blog to go deeper in my reviews and questions.  I tried to get these introverted book nerds to meet up once a month in a Google Hangout  and once a year at the conference for breakfast. I interviewed people reading the books and I interviewed the authors.  I promoted our book club with publishers and most times I was able to secure a review copy and even a discount for our book club members.  Overall I had 94 people interact with the book club worldwide.  It was exhausting and rewarding all at the same time but the book club wasn’t yet running itself.

Through my volunteer work for the OSLA, I met Katina Papulkas who came to our quarterly meeting in November 2015 with an idea for a partnership.  I told her about my experiments to build community through online book clubs and she told me about TV Ontario’s (TVO) TeachOntario. So the OSLA volunteered to run two pilot book clubs and I rebirthed our discussion about danah boyd’s book.

Book Club Partnership
Book Club Partnership.

The trick about running online communities is that you really have to redefine the idea of “participation”. I have been greatly influenced by the participatory culture ideas of museum curator Nina Simon and of communications professor Henry Jenkins. Lurkers are people too.  I just appreciate it when I can measure their lurking.  In that first book club we had 24 people join, but there are some discussions that have had 994 views since then.  I’m not kidding!  In our current book club using Trevor Mackenzie’s Dive Into Inquiry, I have 140 page views on one discussion thread this week. Whether I would ever have been able to gain that kind of traction all on my own through Twitter or not is beside the point, because I am reaching a different audience through TeachOntario.  The audience inside TeachOntario is made up of public educators who are wary of their online presence and who have specifically asked for a walled garden approach to their PD, learning in this space so that they can be free to be themselves.  I am finally reaching the early majority, the late majority and maybe even some of the laggards.

For face-to-face time, we’ve tried breakfast at the ECOO conference, book giveaways to entice new readers to join us but our best yet has been to partner again with #PubPD.  The Edtech Team who create Google Summits came up with the idea to coordinate a date once a month North America-wide where like-minded people would come together at a common watering hole and talk about a specific PD topic.  The creator delivers five questions on the topic via Twitter, so it’s a Tweet Up Meet Up.  Last summer I was presenting at a different venue each month and I got to meet a lot of new people and sell them on the idea of joining us in TeachOntario.  In August, we broke a record with 39 people at once attending our #PubPD while at the Pedagogy B4 Technology conference in Markham, Ontario.

The biggest advantage of partnering with TeachOntario is that Katina’s team is filled with extraordinary people who design the online space, manage the technology, promote our activities, encourage us to do more and relentlessly pursue the authentic and cost-free sharing of professional development. If I say to the TeachOntario group, “I have an idea…” they run with it and make it happen in a polished, professional way.  They are flexible, adaptable and vigilant in their mandate to deliver quality professional development. They enable us, and they empower me to keep working hard to contribute to the growth of this community.

My goals for the future of these book clubs is that I hope that the book clubs will feel like they don’t have a start date and an end date.  I want to step away from being the fulcrum of the momentum.  I want it to take on a life of its own and for past participants to propose new readings for discussion and to lead.  I’d like the walled garden to include all educators in Canada if not beyond our borders to the globe.  My online professional development experiences are as rich, or richer, as the ones I have face-to-face. No, I take it back. They’re definitely richer because they are self-driven.


Alanna KingAlanna King is an agent of change in the Upper Grand District School Board. She works tirelessly to improve availability and access to resources in all media forms in her secondary school library learning commons. Alanna is proud to represent the Central West region with the Ontario School Library Association and can best be found on Twitter @banana29.

Medicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

Medicine WalkMedicine Walk by Richard Wagamese

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Masterfully written. This is my first encounter with Wagamese but certainly not my last. I admire his ability to weave the novel as the background stories reveal themselves. This is a must-read in the Canadian canon. I think anyone would like this book but especially someone who feels connected to our home and native land or anyone who has had to make personal sacrifices for family members or anyone who has defined their own family outside of the traditional norm. As a secondary school teacher-librarian, I will recommend this book to the senior students in my building for the adult choices that our characters have to make.

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Delusion Road by Don Aker

Delusion RoadDelusion Road by Don Aker

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is nominated this year for an Ontario Library Association White Pine award and It is hopping off the shelves in my secondary school library. At first I found the book to feel very abrupt as the chapters interchange between the two essential plots and subplots of the novel. This contrived double-narrative improves towards the midway point as the plots begin to come together. The characters of Willa and Keegan are very believable and well-developed so that we really care about what’s happening as the plot thickens. Ayer even makes me feel sorry for Wynn at one point! This book, with its predictable structure, and it’s classic themes of good vs. Evil….vs. Evil will surely appeal to teens from grade 7 and up.

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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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A Game for Swallows and I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to ReturnA Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such an important book because the voice of young Zeina is so authentic. She doesn’t know that life inside Beirut in the 1980s is unusual as it is as it has always been. The richness of her black and white cartoon-style drawings reinforces the stark contrasts of home life and war. The chronicles of Zeina’s everyday life where city’s infrastructure works intermittently, is juxtaposed with the comic events of her family and neighbours. This book must be in every school library for its art and its voice.

I Remember BeirutI Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this follow-up to A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, Zeina takes us into a non-sequential look at the details of her life growing up in Beirut. She isn’t always the young voice represented in A Game for Swallows as her teenage self is developing. She expresses a hunger for new music, and freedom and contrasts this with self-deprecation and humility. Zeina also talks about coming out of the war and realizing with shock that there is a ‘normal’ worth fighting for. Told in the same black and white cartoon style, this book is a great accompaniment to A Game for Swallows, but relies on the reader having read them in order for context.

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Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples

Saga, Volume 1Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I find it amazing how quickly Brian Vaughan’s characters can be developed in this short graphic novel. As usual, Vaughan’s visual aesthetic does not disappoint. However because there are about 4 pages of nudity and sexuality that are outside the limitations of my secondary school library’s audience, I cannot include it in my collection. Too bad because it’s a really good story and I look forward to reading the next volume.

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We Are Water by Wally Lamb

We Are WaterWe Are Water by Wally Lamb

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I often describe Wally Lamb as a writer who really gets in the heads of women so I was pleasantly surprised to see him prominent male characters in We Are Water. Like his other books, this novel delves into some heavy topics of neglect, abuse and the perpetual cycles of both. No character is perfect and each offers many facets. The issues didn’t speak to me personally as much as in She’s Come Undone or The Hour I First Believed, but I thoroughly enjoyed Lamb’s writing especially the historical subplot of the family home. There are many scenes of adult behaviour that I will caution the students in my secondary school library about, but overall Lamb presents complex issues and tests the limits of what any family can deal with.

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CanConnectEd2015: Transliteracy and the teacher-librarian

This week I’ve been attending the Connect conference in Niagara Falls for the first time and as a representative of the Ontario School Library Association Council.  It also gives me a chance to speak about my M.Ed. capping paper on how teacher-librarians are in the ideal position to facilitate transliteracy. I mean, we really do have a very unique perspective….and we are generally non-threatening (unless I’m tired and hungry).  If you don’t have a teacher-librarian in your school, I hope you have someone who is working tirelessly to integrate pedagogy with cross-curricular happenings.

In many ways I need to percolate ideas, and since I wrote that paper I’ve been trying to walk the walk.  So, in my humble opinion, the best of the presentation is in the last few slides where I get to talk about pushing the boundaries of literacy in multiple modes with a) the help of some awesome governing documents by Canadian school library experts and b) some strategies I’ve tried and had some success with this year.  The entire logic thread though is built on the premise that we (as educators in the year 2015) are redefining text and reading.  If you can get your mind around that switch, then you’re ready for more! (insert trumpet flourish)

Here is the presentation in full:

It is set to flip through the slides every 5 seconds so you might not get the opportunity to see the full Miwa Matrayek video at the beginning.  Here is the link to that video in full:

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:

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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The Shallows by Nicholas Carr

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains

When Nicholas Carr wrote the infamous article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” (2008), he made waves in the education community who had bought into the Marc Prensky vision of today’s students as “digital natives” (2005).  While making impetuous decisions about technology integration in schools, Carr halted everyone into thinking maybe we should be a bit more skeptical about technology’s long term effects on the brain.  Essentially, Carr asks if our depth of thinking has been doomed to ‘the shallows’ with the advancement of digital technology.  He cautions that society has lots of breadth in the sources we have available to us to skim and scan, but that we are losing our ability to read deeply.  Using himself as a research subject, he argues that his behaviour in reading digital material appeals to his need for instant gratification, but has caused to become more easily distracted and more susceptible to the control of information corporations.

I really appreciate how Carr maps out in history how the very nature of reading has changed with advances in technology.  Carr (2011) says: “it is our intellectual technologies that have the greatest and most lasting power over what and how we think. They are our most intimate tools, the ones we use for self-expression, for shaping personal and public identity, and for cultivating relationship with others” (p. 45). The argument of the publication’s power has existed since the invention of the printing press … what are we going to publish and with whose voice?  Who is being left out of publishing and at what cost to society?  It’s possible to question this same problem of equity if we admit that “reading and writing are unnatural acts” (Carr, 2011, p. 51) and are shaped by parents, environments and school.  My concern is that in public education in a G8 country, that we need to try to level that playing field so that every student has an equal opportunity to learn.

I read a lot of news and magazine articles from my iPad which I control the flow of information using an app called Zite.  It allows me to turn on or turn off subjects of my interest and filters in my favourite writers, and filters out writers who I deem unworthy of my attention.  I love that every time I connect that there is a magazine filled with articles just for me.  Yet I’m turning into one of those people at parties who can’t talk about anything other than books, school libraries, chiweenies and the humble kitchen garden.  I read a lot but what I read doesn’t represent my renaissance upbringing.  It represents what Amazon has recommended for me based on my past choices, or what my filters have chosen for me in Zite.  However I don’t think that I’m reading any less deeply. I’m able to make big leaps in my intellectual logic, because I’m able to make room in my brain for bigger ideas than the quick facts that I can Google.

In contrast to Carr’s premise, Jim Collins (2013), Department Chair at the University of Iowa, argues that in order to get past “the debate between the defenders of traditional literary experience and the celebrants of digital culture…we need to distinguish between a delivery system and a medium.”  I’m still choosing to read a breadth of material on deep topics, but my reading has definitely changed in that I’m able to now metatag and share my reading with others in a way that I never have before. Collins (2013) also argues that “Reading literary fiction on an e-reader is not a gateway drug that leads to the hard stuff of digital culture — become psychologically dependent on that e-reader, and you’ll find yourself in an alley somewhere with a cell-phone novel written by promiscuous Japanese teenagers sticking out of your arm.”  Although I may be juggling a lot of new information (Carr, 2011, p. 139), I’m also making connections in new and interesting ways. Instead of tapping into a culture of fear about the internet’s potential for corruption, we should be using it to further our culture of reading into something more participatory.

Although Carr wrote The Shallows in 2011, his vision of libraries (p. 98) doesn’t represent my reality in 2014.  In 1994, the main floor of my library was converted to an open computer lab that could accommodate two classes at once and the books were relegated to a new lower level.  We’ve just made a major overhaul in moving the desktops out, the books back upstairs and doubling our computers by using cheaper, lighter mobile devices.  The emphasis isn’t on computers or books…it’s on learning.  Which makes me question once again Carr’s opinions on how schools should scaffold the use of technology?  I am more concerned that students in my community are missing out on technological advances, than if they’re indulging in technology for self-gratification.  Where is Carr’s research on the digital divide?  Does Carr believe as the United Nations does that access to the internet is now a fundamental human right? (Jackson, 2011).

While Carr has some valid arguments, especially those steeped in the rich history of language that he outlines in detail, I don’t want to believe him.  I want to believe that we are in a cultural infancy and that while we may be sacrificing some skills, that new ones will emerge.  Someday I believe that society will use the power of the global internet to solve the world’s problems rather than spending it playing Candy Crush Saga…unless each candy crushed will somehow eliminate poverty and hunger.

 

References

Carr, N. (2008, July 1). Is Google making us stupid?: What the internet is doing to our brains. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2008/07/is-google-making-us-stupid/306868/

Carr, N. (2013, April 20). The death of deep reading [Blog post]. Retrieved from big think website: http://bigthink.com/in-their-own-words/the-death-of-deep-reading

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Collins, J. (2013). Reading, in a digital archive of one’s own. Publications of the Modern Language Association, 128(1).

Jackson, N. (2011, June 3). United Nations declares internet access a basic human right. The Atlantic. Retrieved from http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2011/06/united-nations-declares-internet-access-a-basic-human-right/239911/

Prensky, M. (2005/2006). Listen to the natives. Educational Leadership, 63(4).

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Essex County by Jeff Lemire

The Complete Essex CountyThe Complete Essex County by Jeff Lemire

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was deeply touched by Jeff Lemire’s Essex County, as to me, it portrays my version of home in Southwestern Ontario. The contrast between his drawing of Toronto’s hubbub and Essex County’s stark isolation is vivid and particularly resonates with my experience growing up in a rural community. His characters are so well-developed and the threads between them are surprising in their complexity. Their stories are intimate in a way that compels me to read more even though I feel like I’m intruding in their underwear drawers. I particularly fell entranced by reading the story of Lester and the complicated relationship between his father and his uncle. I found Lemire’s artwork to be mesmerizing as he uses broad brush strokes and intentionally muddies his images. A thought occurred to me the other day….that Terry Fallis should collaborate with Jeff Lemire and create a graphic novel version of “Best Laid Plans”.

Although this is part of my secondary library collection, I think it will come across to students a bit like Margaret Laurence’s Stone Angel…not relevant to their age of experience.  I will, however, recommend it to all the staff.  I’m going to rate it for senior teen, but not because of content, but because of themes.

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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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