This book — Airborn by Kenneth Oppel — has been kicking around my house and classroom for years now. Long ago, I had started it as a read-aloud for my oldest son (now a high school senior but then, in elementary school) and the vocabulary was too dense for him at the time, so we put it aside. My middle son later found it when he was in middle school, read it, and then devoured the next two books in the series.
He then proceeded to pressure my youngest son (now in fifth grade) to read Airborn this past summer. There was resistance (maybe due to brotherly recommendation), and I put Airborn on my “maybe to read aloud” pile of books. Well, let’s just say that my youngest son and I finally read this story with a steampunky theme — airships replace airplanes as main modes of travel — and we were very quickly knee-deep in the adventures of protagonist Matt Cruse in a tale that involves air pirates, the beauty of airships, friendship across economic lines and a mysterious flying creature that lives in the clouds.
Oppel does a fantastic job with character, which means the story gets off on a sort of slow pace as he sets the stage for Matt Cruse and his friend, Kate, before kicking the plot into high gear with a pirate attack and an emergency landing on what seems to be a deserted island. Ingenuity, friendship, sacrifice … all the themes are here.
Peace (in the adventure),
PS — Since the time I wrote this review, and let it sit in my blog bin (I seem to have a fair number of book reviews hanging around in there), we have read the two other books in the series — Skybreaker and Starclimber. They were good, too, but not as good as Airborn, I don’t think.
I am in the midst of reading Participatory Culture in a Networked Erawith the Digital Writing Month community and thoroughly enjoying the format (discussions among Ito, boyd and Jenkins) and the topics, which connect nicely to my own diving into Connected Learning.
Chapter Three of the book centers on access and equity issues (under the academic guise of “genres” — at least, in my mind) and as I was reading, this comic began to form in my mind. It’s a bit metaphorically simple: the locked door and no access to the inside from those on the outside.
But it was tagline that seemed most important to me: What if they is all of us?
What if we (us teachers, us adults, us) are the ones closing that door on different elements of our population? What if we are doing it inadvertently? What if we don’t even know the door has been closed? Who’s waiting out there, wondering?
And then, of course, the ancillary question: how do we break that door open wide so no one feels left out? Pass me that sledgehammer won’t you?
It’s hard to escape the voice of Percy Jackson in the new series launched by Rick Riordan that moves away from Greek and Roman mythology and into Norse myths. Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: the Sword of Summeris the kick-off point for some new adventures, and my sixth graders are all over this book right now. I read it aloud with my 11 year old son, and he loved it, too.
I liked it.
But Riordan’s style of writing and sense of voice with his main character, Magnus Chase, is so similar to Percy Jackson — with sarcasm and teenage humor and tenacity tinted with doubt — that I wondered aloud to my son if maybe Riordan isn’t pulling some sort of narrative trick on us — transforming Percy into Magnus in a new mythology. Heck, even Annabeth Chase — my absolute favorite character from Riordan’s growing archive — makes a visit, as she is Magnus’ cousin.
My son scoffed at me, as if I were crazy. But … we’ve been wondering about this ever since reading The Red Pyramid stories, too. How can Riordan NOT be pulling these stories together sometime in the future?
So, here’s what to like about Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: the Sword of Summer: the pace of the plot moves quickly; there is plenty of humor and references to past Riordan stories; we learn a whole bunch about a relatively unknown and untaught mythology (who knew a giant nutso squirrel protects the tree of the worlds?); and this one kicks the series into high gear in an engaging way.
You know what I had the most difficulty with? Reading aloud all of those Norse names for the Nine Worlds. My tongue got tied more than once.
There has not been a whole ton of interacting itself for our slow-read book talk on Participatory Culture in a Networked Era. Folks are still getting the book, or recovering from the holidays, or just plain ol’ busy in their lives. But that hasn’t stopped Terry Elliott and myself (mostly Terry) from trying to encourage open participation along many different sites and technology platforms.
Mostly, this is because no single experience captures the kinds of participatory activity we envision for a book talk. But also, this is because exploration and dispersion of ideas is part of the experience itself. We don’t want ideas confined to one space.
The chart above is my attempt to keep track of it all, and I am sure I have missed bits of it. I know, and I hope, there are discussions unfolding outside our field of vision. There be dragons …
But there is the danger of too much dispersion of interaction, too, and the worry is that all will be lost in the haze of connections. Or, that someone entering now will think, I’ve missed it all and don’t know where to begin. We can say “there is no fixed beginning point” all we want, but we need to show that and keep the invitations open. Terry is working on a place where links to all of these discussions can be had for anyone just entering the discussions or interested in what’s going on.
What I realized as I was putting the chart together is that it is not easy to keep something like a slow-read book talk moving forward over weeks and months time. Momentum gets lost rather quickly. Maybe our aim to build a participatory culture experience around a book about participatory culture ideas won’t quite work. If all of the energy falls to the organizers, is it truly participatory? Don’t know. Prob not. What you get then is a small book group or conversation, not a participatory experience.
The second chapter of Participatory Culture in a Networked Era is a fascinating discussion and inquiry in ways in which youths use technology and digital media on their own terms, and I appreciate that Ito, boyd and Jenkins tear into the notion of a Digital Immigrant/Digital Native divide. I hope we can all agree by now that such a dichotomy is too simplistic to be of any value.
I went back to my highlighted notes and pulled out some quotes that I like from the three researchers in their discussions, and put them into Haiku Deck for a visual tour of the chapter.
It’s hard not to connect the graphic story of growing up in the Middle East and Europe during the late 1970s and early 1980s by writer Riad Sattouf with events unfolding in the modern day. Syria. Libya. France. In The Arab of the Future: A Childhood of the Middle East, Sattouf explores the world of shifting political sands through the eyes of his own childhood and family.
The result of using a child’s lens on the world, as told through graphic storytelling (in a style reminiscent of Marjane Satrapi in Persepolisalthough I reluctantly make the reference because such echoes to the other famous Middle Eastern graphic novelist does not diminish Sattouf’s art and writing in the least) is that the privileged Western reader (ie, me) and the young Riad experience the unknown together. I am brought into his world with the same sense of the unknown and unbalance.
This is the true power of writing and graphic novels. We are brought visually into the time period and setting, and we experience it on a very visceral sense. Sattouf’s use of smells, which any young person is sure to remember over time, is a constant element here — the smell of perfumes, and of sweat of women and men, of the scent of rubbish on the streets and of the foods and spices. The young Riad navigates us through the transitions of his family from France to Libya (as Gaddafi is in full power) to Syria (where the elder Assad is in full power) and back to France again, with all of its historical connections to the Middle East.
I am grateful for the experience of a world both apart and of the same as my own, of growing up in another country in a similar time period (I am a little older). Reading and enjoying The Arab of the Future reminds me of how narrow our own childhood visions of the world become when all we see is what is around us, not beyond us. Graphic novels like the one that Sattouf has created here have the potential to stitch our world together, making common ground through understanding.
We’re just launching our #DigiWriMo slow-read of the new book — Participatory Culture in a Networked Era — by eminent scholars Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd. Terry Elliott has set forth a few collaborative annotation options for people to feed into as a way to demonstrate participatory culture as a shared reading experience.
I hope we begin to examine how technology platforms promote and/or hinder participatory involvement.
After reading the first section — which is, as the rest of the book, mostly in the form of a transcribed/edited conversation between the boyd, Ito and Jenkins — I was struck by a number of phrases and ideas. My highlighter (I am reading paper copy of book) had been busy, and as I looked over my notes, I began to see a found poem taking shape.
The phrase “Toward a collective ownership of stories” keep ringing around in my mind. This phrase resonated with me and all of the collaborative projects that we undertake in places like #DigiWrimo or #CLMOOC or #Rhizo(add year) or whatever. While the platforms of technology open up possibilities, it is always the people that make the collaborations happen. We tell stories, together. I am making connections between that work/play and what the three writers here are talking about when it comes to participatory culture.
Those words in the text became the anchor point for a found poem. I had this vision of doing it as a podcast, and trying to get many people to read that line “Toward a collective ownership of stories” together, as a chorus. I might still try that, but I have been swamped and I know others are, too.
You are invited to slow-read this book with us, too. This slow-reading idea means we are not in any rush. The discussions will probably unfold over a few weeks, right into and through the new year. People will get their books when they can. Semesters need to end. The holidays need to pass. We’re starting but there is no real starting point.
Come along with us.
Some of what we will do will be in our DigiWriMo Google Community. Some will be via the Twitter hashtag of #digiwrimo. Some will be at your blog. Or my blog. Some may unfold in Facebook. Some will take place who knows where. That’s good. That’s fine. We like that. Disperse your ideas in ways that help you move forward.
We would love to keep the conversations going with Digital Writing Month, even though the so-called “month” is over. So, we are inviting friends (and you are a friend, so you can join in, too, even if you did not take part in DigiWriMo) to read this new book by Henry Jenkins, Mimi Ito and danah boyd: Participatory Culture in a Networked Eraas a way to stay connected and explore a fascinating topic with some talented researchers/writers.
We’ll be starting some discussions over our existing DigiWriMo Google Plus space, but I suspect things will spill over into other platforms as we move along. In fact, I would hope so. I am only part of the way into the first chapter, and already, the three have made it clear that we should never talk about platforms being “participatory” — it is the culture of the community that can be considered participatory.
So we hope that members of the group will become leaders of the book talk as we move ahead. As such, we will likely platform jump through the book ….
Please, join us. We’d love to have you in the mix.
I recently read a great book by New Yorker magazine writer John Seabrook called The Song Machine: Inside the Hit Factory. It’s a fascinating, if scary, look at how the songs we hear on pop radio are constructed together these days, in an era where producers and engineers are more influential than many of the artists themselves.
The concept brought to light in The Song Machine harkens back to the era of the Brill Building, in which songs would be written and handed out to artists, and sales would primarily benefit the music publishers, not the writers nor the artists. Today, thanks to technology, assembly lines of engineers produce what our ears hear: one person might work only on riffs for verses; another on the chord progressions for choruses; another singing nonsensical sounds for melody; another only doing guitar lead parts.
And few of them know where their “parts” will end up because the engineers and producers “stitch” pieces together from vast computer files … creating songs from parts that were composed and recorded out of context. It’s a quilt of disconnected threads, made ear-pleasing by the mixing and splicing.
I was reminded of the book again this week as I was collaborating a remix of a song in the collaborative Soundtrap site. The backstory is this: a student (and classmates) of an online teaching friend has shared out some songs that they wrote as part of finding an audience and pursuing their interests (in true Connected Learning fashion). They found us, in Digital Writing Month. An earlier song led to various remixes. A second song, the one we worked on last week, was a reflective piece that they recorded and shared on YouTube and as I listened, I hoped we could collaboratively remix, record and then share back to the young songwriters as a “gift.”
And we did. A handful of us took the words and chord progressions (which the student shared) and used Soundtrap to record a version of the song, and then another friend took the audio track and created a visual companion piece. I had told the young writer via Twitter that we would be working on the song, but I never invited them into the process.
This lack of direct invitation, I see now, might have been an inadvertent mistake, perhaps, as another online friend who was part of the music collaboration pointed out in a fantastic post about the uneasiness they were feeling about reworking a piece of art without the original artists involved in the collaboration. This friend wondered if we had not taken away something special from the art itself by remixing it.
… it feels like we asked him for a beautiful new thing to play with, then closed the door that we’d opened. He couldn’t even watch from the window as we had fun creating some magic with his song. We closed the door and let him wait while we had a party.
I don’t quite agree, but the post, as good writing does, forced me to step back and think reflectively about why I didn’t agree with this premise. I could be wrong about this, but here’s why I think our collaborative idea has merit in this digital age of composing and sharing.
Unlike the system of making music in Seabrook’s The Song Factory, we musical collaborators always had a notion of what the song was and what we were doing with it. We were honoring the young songwriters. We weren’t splicing in unknown parts. We were not a factor. Their ideas became the inspiration for what we did. We were creative echoes of their art. We also were in global collaboration mode, layering in tracks together from the United States to the Netherlands and beyond, in an online space, working on the song connected by our networks.
We took their Connected Learning inquiry and we used it for our own Connected Learning experience. That’s a powerful notion, for teachers to be inspired by students.
We were working from the heart, and I always knew the song was theirs, not mine. Not ours. Theirs. It was, and is, and always will be, their song. I still see what we did as a gift of an appreciative audience, but I recognize my friend’s trepidation of determining where the line is between the writer and their audience. I have long argued that in the emerging field of digital writing, the line between writer and audience is thin and getting thinner, and that this shift is a good thing. I know not everyone agrees.
Do you know the story of musician Ryan Adams and his tribute to Taylor Swift? Adams, a songwriter of immense talent, was so struck by the latest album, 1989, by Swift (herself, a songwriter of immense talent) that he recorded and released an entire cover album, song by song, that just blew me away (and led to high critical appraise.)
“It wasn’t like I wanted to change them because they needed changing,” he says. “But I knew that if I sang them from my perspective and in my voice, they would transform. I thought, ‘Let me record 1989 like it was Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska.'”
Same here. It wasn’t that the song needs changing. It is great as it is, with the three of them singing and a single guitar. The song stands by itself. It was us, the audience, that changed, by reinterpreting the song in a gesture of appreciation. I understood the song deeper once I started to play it. Recording it brought me even further into the theme and the words of the song. It was not theft or misuse of ideas, in my opinion. It was learning.
The song is theirs. It always will be theirs. It was never ours. I am happy for that.
Peace (in the think),
PS — Irony Alert: Swift recorded parts of her album with the same folks who are featured by Seabrook in The Song Factory.
PSS — I invited the young songwriter into the Soundtrap file this morning, with this note:
PSS — I also asked if they wanted to reverse-engineer a song of mine, to interpret it as they see fit. I followed their example, doing a simple demo on YouTube.
I actually won’t do a full book review here. Instead, I have pulled out 30 quotes from Sarafini’s book that I will (try to) share one every day throughout November. Consider it a “slow book review” of sorts, where I hope my curating of Sarafini’s wonderful exploration of the changing world of writing and composition and the teaching of multimedia will inspire you, and me.
We can get inspired, and what better month to do that and try our hand at digital writing, and share out our success and struggles and new understandings, than with Digital Writing Month, right?
Here is the first quote, which I will share out more widely tomorrow as DigiWriMo launches in my time zone (since we have all sorts of folks all over the world, Digital Writing Month posts may come earlier than it seems — or later than it appears — depending on your place in the world.)
Sarafini looks at not just the visual, as the title suggests, but also the various elements of multimodal compositions as a means to help teachers move this kind of literacy practice into their classroom in a meaningful and practical way.
Don’t just read the quotes. Live them. Teach them. Write them. And do yourself a favor: get Sarafini’s book. You’ll get inspired. Now I need to get my own copy and remove the sticky notes from the library version …