At MiddleWeb: A Look at Thriving, Not Just Surviving

Thrive-coverMy latest post over at MiddleWeb focuses in on Meeno Rami’s new book, Thrive. Reading her book about finding ways to stay invigorated and connected to teaching young people, even in the face of difficult days and situations, reminded me of a book that I used to read every summer when I began teaching. Sometimes, we need touchstone texts. Rami’s book is one of those.

Read my piece at MiddleWeb

Peace (in the text),
Kevin

 

eBook Review: The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies

Cover (CC BY { pranav }I am a big fan of Doug Belshaw, and his work via the Mozilla Foundation and on his own to shine a light on what it means to be a writer/composer/creator in the digital landscape. Belshaw thinks deep about what it means to be literate in this technological world, yet he offers an even eye on the world, too — being critical when criticism is needed and being a cheerleader when possibilities emerge.

Belshaw has now published an interesting ebook — The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies — that expands this thinking beyond his insightful tweets and weekly newsletter and short blog posts (with a few longer ones in the mix from time to time). He is involved in some interesting projects with Mozilla around digital literacies, including some mapping projects related to how we use the Web to learn, write, read, interact and more. What he wants to get a handle on, as do many of us, is how the influx of powerful and relatively cheap technology is changing our literate lives.

“As devices become cheaper and easier to use, the barrier to entry becomes less to do with technology and affordability and more to do with cultural and social factors. Digital literacies are not solely about technical proficiency but about the issues, norms and habits of mind surrounding technologies we use for a particular purpose.” Belshaw (45)

Belshaw’s ebook is an intriguing look  inside that shifting landscape, as Belshaw brings us on a journey to explore the difficulties of understanding digital literacies (or it is all just one larger Digital Literacy? This is one of the questions he tackles); how our sense of what has come before us in terms of literacy is shaping what is now in front of us, and maybe hampering our abilities to comprehend those changes; how memes are an interesting metaphor for the ways in which the spread of information and collaboration has taken hold in digital spaces; and how remixing content, in any of its many forms, is an act of purposeful composition that should be embraced and valued, and taught.

Belshaw helpfully breaks down his own view of digital literacies into eight main elements or lenses from which to view the digital world, and our own interactions:

  • Cultural
  • Cognitive
  • Constructive
  • Communicative
  • Confident
  • Creative
  • Critical
  • Civic

These eight elements become the threads of Belshaw’s analysis throughout the book, and I found these anchors to be useful as discussion pieces and reflective points in my role as a teacher. It certainly moves us beyond the harmful dichotomy of the Digital Native/Immigrant idea.

I  highly recommend The Essential Elements of Digital Literacies as an insightful look at how our world is in the midst of intense change, and how we can think of literacies at the heart of it all. If nothing else, put Doug Belshaw on your radar as someone to follow and learn from. The book is only available as an ebook, I believe.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

I’ve written warm words about Ben Hatke’s series of books about Zita the Spacegirl before, and I am going to keep on writing those kind of positive words until he proves he me otherwise with stories of his heroine, Zita, the young Earth girl with a heart of gold and more savvy, pluck and courage than most of those adult characters you find in these kind of science fiction stories. In fact, it’s her heart and compassion for others that makes Zita a hero to cheer for, and a fine girl role model for young readers of graphic novels. (My nine year old son practically ripped this book out my hands when I opened the package with it, and then proceeded to spend the next 30 minutes reading it through, with a huge Thumbs Up review)

In the last part of a trilogy – The Return of Zita the Spacegirl — Zita is in deep, deep trouble — captured as part of a scheme to destroy the Earth, and it is up to all the friends and aliens who have populated the first two books of the series to come to Zita’s rescue, returning the favors they owe her for all that she has done to save them in other parts of the galaxy. Watch the stars float off in an attempt to spread the news of her capture, and you will understand. Listen, the story here itself is not all that original (hero gets captures, Earth in trouble, rescue mission ensues), but the graphic novels are driven by Hatke’s ability to conceive interesting characters and move the plot along. And his wonderful inviting artwork.

It’s been a few years since I read the very first book, so I was pleasantly being pulled back into old story lines and characters. You don’t need to have read the first two books, but it makes it easier to know why the leviathan that powers the planet needs to be saved, and why there is a giant mouse in a cage that needs to be saved, and where the boy came from and what he is up to. Add in a cat, a few pirates, and a talking skeleton who teams up with a living pile of rags to escape a dungeon (and a rock with eyeballs) and you get a little taste of the odd adventures of Zita.

As an aside, I really enjoyed Hatke’s insights at the book on where Zita’s story and character originated from (Hatke’s girlfriend-now-wife, it turns out) and how the story emerged over time into this series of graphic novels. Oh, and what book has sat on the top of the New York Times best-seller list? You got it! The Return of Zita the Spacegirl.

Peace (in the adventure),
Kevin

 

A Page from a Student Comic

Homer Figg comic
I’m writing more about a project in which my class constructed a graphic novel version of a novel we are just finishing reading. This page really blew me away with the sense of artwork. So, I am sharing it out, with little context. (More to come later …)

Peace (in the frame),
Kevin

PS — Bonus points if you can figure out the book …

Graphic Novel Review: Steve Jobs (Co-Founder of Apple)

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

Story Summary: Not to be confused with the recent bestselling biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson, this comic book version of the Life of Jobs by Bluewater Comics is like a whirlwind overview of the innovator’s highs (with some token nods to the lows). STEVE JOBS aims to present Steve Jobs’s life in an accessible format, and give this comic book’s length, there is a lot about Jobs that is not told. Mostly, STEVE JOBS celebrates Steve Jobs. We don’t get much of the ways in which he treated his employees and the people around him, but we do get a good sense of the ways that Jobs changed the way we look at and interact with technology. You get the impression that Bluewater rushed this comic biography into production to ride on the coattails of Isaacson’s book, and Jobs’s passing. (I found a few proofreading errors)

Art Review: There’s nothing special about the art here, to be honest. It’s fair, but not innovative. I suppose, as a reviewer, one would hope that a comic about someone obsessed with design would be more beautiful to read. It isn’t. I did like the layered text and images behind the main scenes, particularly towards the end when we encounter a sort of “highlights reel” of his life. The art there gave the book a bit of a mash-up feel.

In the Classroom: I am sure there are plenty of students in our classrooms who want to know more about Steve Jobs and who would be put off by Isaacson’s definitive biography, given its hefty size. There are other biographies floating around, too, and this comic by Bluewater might be a nice companion piece for students interested in the ways that Jobs and Apple have transformed personal computing.

More Information:

Paperback: 32 pages
Publisher: Bluewater Productions (January 10, 2012)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1450756727
ISBN-13: 978-1450756723

My Recommendation: I would recommend STEVE JOBS: CO-FOUNDER OF APPLE for its use in current events and biography of the moment, but not necessarily for the art of the comic. The writing could be stronger, and the illustrations, more interesting. But I suspect students with an interest in “all things Apple” won’t really care about those points.

Peace (in innovation),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

 

Story Summary: Don’t tell my wife, but I am somewhat smitten with Zita, the spacegirl. You will be, too. In LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, writer/illustrator Ben Hatke brings us into the second adventures of the young Zita, who is fearless, brave and kind, too. And she can save the world! What’s not to like? LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL picks up where the first book (Zita the Spacegirl) left off (and even provides a nice in-book play that retells that first adventure), and here, Zita is seeking to return home to Earth. Which is not easy, particularly when the galaxies are full of nutty aliens and strange accidents, and more than a few oddball obstacles standing in Zita’s way. There’s even echoes of The Prince and the Pauper here, as a robot stand-in for Zita almost completely takes over her life. Still, Zita is nothing if not determined, and resourceful, and the adventures in this story unfold at a quick pace for the intrepid heroine. And a bit of foreshadowing at the end by Hatke leaves no doubt that this is not the end of the story for Zita. That’s a good thing.

Art Review: Colorful illustrations are a hallmark in the Zita stories, and this second book does not disappoint. What I also love most are the very strange aliens characters that pepper most pages. They’re cute, but often dangerous, and yet, Zita rarely blinks in the face of it all. And speaking of Zita, Hatke has really created a smart-looking heroine whose expressions and movements are all emblematic of a great protagonist that you feel compelled to cheer for (see, I told you I was smitten).

More Information:

• Reading level: Ages 8 and up
• Paperback: 224 pages
• Publisher: First Second (September 4, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1596434473
• ISBN-13: 978-1596434479
In the Classroom: There may not be any overt connections to teaching with Zita the Spacegirl, but the fact that Hatke has created a strong female protagonist in a science-fiction graphic novel is something worth celebrating, and relishing, and this fact alone should open up some space on classroom shelves for readers of both genders.

My Recommendation: I highly recommend LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL for the rich storytelling, colorful illustrations, and science-fiction setting. It’s a book told with humor and adventure and it is sure to engage boy and girls readers in elementary and middle school classrooms. There is no profanity or anything objectionable in either of the Zita stories (unless you have something against Star Heart scavenger aliens, and well, who doesn’t?).

Peace (in space and beyond),
Kevin

Picture Book Review: A Home Run for Bunny

A Home Run For Bunny

In our house, it is baseball all the time these days. All three boys play ball, and the Red Sox are always on the radio (even during the dark stretches of the losing streak that finally ended yesterday). My youngest son’s book club is reading A Home Run for Bunny, by Richard Anderson.

This story, set in 1934, tells the tale of Bunny Taliaferro, an African-American athletic standout from nearby Springfield, whose American Legion team went south to play in a national tournament, only to be confronted head-on by racism. Bunny was the only black athlete on the Springfield team, and in the tournament, and his presence sparked confrontations everywhere, from the hotel that did not want him to sleep on their beds, to the practice field where people threw garbage at him, and more.

In the end, the entire team decided to go home rather than play in the tournament, after Bunny was told he would be not be allowed on the field with the white teams. It’s a powerful moment when Bunny’s teammates, although confident they could win this tournament and move to the next level, take a stand and pack up to leave in order to support their black teammate rather than play without him.

A statue of Bunny Taliaferro now stands in one of Springfield’s parks, and the governor honored him and his teammates in a recent ceremony, noting the racism that Bunny endured during this time as an athlete and the sacrifice that his team made in choosing friendship over winning. The story is written in a removed first-person narrative, allowing the reader to see the story unfold from one of the teammates, and this is effective.

Times may have changed, even if racism is still an issue, but it is important for us to remember that even before Jackie Robinson and other pioneers who broke the race barrier, there were people like Bunny Taliaferro suffering the sting and scorn of a country still driven by hatred of skin and culture. By focusing on the team’s response to such racism, writer Richard Anderson reminds us of the goodness of people, too.

Peace (please),
Kevin

 

App Review: Adobe Voice for Digital Stories

I have to admit: the new digital storytelling app from Adobe, called Voice, is such a breeze to use that I wonder why other apps are not set up. With a clean design, clear steps and access to Creative Commons images and infographic symbols and my own pictures, Adobe Voice really raises the bar for how you can tell a story on a mobile device. I’ve been toying around with it for a few days.

Here, for example, is a book trailer that I did yesterday as my son and I finished reading Scat:

Here is one from the other day, as a promo for Making Learning Connected MOOC:

Both stories took me about 10 minutes each to make and to publish. I did not hit a single hurdle in either story. Clear commands on what to do — record your voice, add an image, choose a theme, pick a song — are easily accessible. You have to have an Adobe account to publish your story to the Web. And the story, as far as I can tell, can’t be saved natively to your mobile device, nor shared directly into YouTube or other video sharing sites. That’s too bad, but I suspect Adobe made this app free (yep, free) so that people would have to come under the Adobe umbrella.

If you are interested in Digital Storytelling, I suggest you check out Adobe Voice. For ease and design, I have not yet come across anything similar, and I can live with the drawbacks that I listed above if the trade-off is in design.

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Escape to Gold Mountain

(Note from Kevin: A few years ago, I was a reviewer for The Graphic Classroom. I really enjoyed the way we look at graphic novels with a lens towards the classroom. The site got taken over by another site, and then … I guess the owner of The Graphic Classroom stopped doing what he was doing. Which is fine. But I still had some reviews “sitting in the can” so I am finally digging them out to share out here.)

http://www.arsenalpulp.com/titleimages/book%20covers/9781551524764_Escape.jpg

Story Summary: After reading ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN, David H. T. Wong’s account of 100 years of Chinese immigration to North America, I came away from the story feeling disgusted with so many things. First and foremost, I was struck by the level of discrimination and racism that the Chinese have encountered over the years as they left their home to try to build a better life, only to encounter violent racism and political hurdles in the United States and Canada. This is the rhetorical argument that Wong makes in ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN as he traces a family’s descendants over the years as the lure of Gold Mountain (which is what the Chinese families called North America) looms large for poor families in China. However, I was also unsettled by the way Wong demonizes just about every white person we meet in the story, except for the periodic politician calling unsuccessfully for compassion in the face of stiff immigration policies aimed at the Chinese. Still, from the building of railroads through the labor of Chinese workers suffering under horrible conditions to the creation of Chinatown slums to the outright violence in some places against defenseless Chinese families, the story told here should ignite indignation in all of us. ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN ends with a note of apology, from the governments of both America and Canada for the ways that Chinese immigrants were treated in the 1800s and early 1900s. Wong’s graphic story of the Chinese coming to North America opens a page in the history books that all too often gets forgotten because it puts countries in a bad light. Wong’s story reminds all of us that we need to learn from this history, and find a way to create a better future free from discrimination and racism that lines so much of the past.

Art Review: I can’t say I am a big fan of the art here in this book. The simple line drawings lack the kind of complexity and uniqueness in art that would really bring the stories of the family alive to the reader. All too often, the drawings lack depth and clarity, which unfortunately takes away from the reader’s connection to the characters that Wong is highlighting. In graphic stories like this one, the art is what first grabs a students’ attention, almost always, and I’m not quite sure how this book accomplishes that. Which is not to say that Wong is not an artist of talent. It’s just that, in my opinion, too many of the pages here don’t have the kind of vitality and detail that will keep the attention of a young reader.

More Information:

• Reading level: Ages 12 and up
• Paperback: 256 pages
• Publisher: Arsenal Pulp Press (October 30, 2012)
• Language: English
• ISBN-10: 1551524767
• ISBN-13: 978-1551524764

In the Classroom: Certainly, for any unit around immigration and racism (particularly institutional racism and government policies around immigration), ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN has a lot of potential value and would add nicely to textbook stories about the Chinese coming to North America for a better life and about immigration itself. As I was reading the book, I could not help but draw some parallels between what I know about other immigration waves from other countries in other time periods, including the more modern immigration debates that seem to center on Hispanic immigrants. History repeats itself, in some ways. But the Chinese endured more overt violence and hurdles than one can even fathom, and still they remain central to the American Dream of a better life. Wong’s story is an important one that needs to be remembered, and not repeated.

My Recommendation: I would recommend ESCAPE TO GOLD MOUNTAIN for an upper level high school or university class as a companion text for studies around immigration and racism. There are scenes of violence, and death, in this graphic novel, as Wong does not hold back his punches in telling the story.

Peace (in the book),
Kevin

 

Graphic Novel Review: They Changed the World (Edison-Tesla-Bell)

https://d2na0fb6srbte6.cloudfront.net/read/imageapi/coverforissue/239124/comic/300/new
What? Barely any Marconi?

I really enjoyed this nonfiction graphic novel — They Changed the World: Edison-Tesla-Bell – for the way it pulls together the stories of these three pioneering inventors as they worked to bring ideas to fruition that ultimately did change the world in so many ways. It’s amazing to think of how these men were working during a relatively common time period, and how their lives overlapped at times. (And how many women were also inventing but never written about in our history books? Just wondering)

The graphic novel by Campfire Press weaves in the biographies of Alexander Graham Bell, Nikola Tesla and Thomas Edison in ways that bring their hardships and success to … eh … light, as each pursued visions of electricity and more. Each man brimmed with ideas and each man took a different route to success, failure and then success again. Writer Lewis Helfand does a nice job of showing us “warts and all” of the men — their failings and their goodness (when Edison gives space in his laboratory to Tesla, a bitter rival and former employee who lost almost everything in a fire, it comes as a shock and shows Edison — famous for his business acumen –  in a new way.)

The artwork by Naresh Kumar (who does many of the Campfire books) captures the spirit of the times, when innovation and invention were in the air, and when many people were suddenly working on similar inventions in different parts of the world.

As I mentioned, Marconi gets only scant mention, even though his work on transmitting voice and data over wires (and wireless) was also underway around the same time. I guess three inventors was enough to write about. He gets mentioned during some legal proceedings over who invented what, and when, and who would get credit for the inventions.

I want to mention a nice bonus at the back of the book, too.  In the spirit of the “Make,” the graphic novel details how a kid can create their own version of a rudimentary telephone, with a glass, some water, a nail, batteries and string. I love the story ends with an invitation to make a telephone and maybe have kids begin their own path “to change the world.” Nicely done.

Peace (in the invention),
Kevin