Book Review: The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

 

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

It’s not easy to bring a sprawling, creative series of books that bustle and brim with incredible doses of imagination to a close.

But Catherynne M. Valente does a pretty decent job with The Girl Who Raced Fairlyland All the Way HomeSuffice it to say that if I tried to summarize the plot here, you would be completely confused (I’m not sure exactly what happened all the time, either) but the gist of the book is that the protagonist, September, does indeed find a sort of “home” by the end of this book, which began many books ago with The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making.

September has become Queen of Fairyland, and in order to keep her crown, she must go off on a race and find the Heart of Fairyland in order to keep her crown. All other past royals who ruled Fairyland (including a quite happy talking Stone) want to regain the crown, too, and duels and mishaps happen. The race is called The Cantankerous Derby, and that it is.

What strikes me is how true Valente has stayed to her vision of Fairyland and imagination itself, and how every page in every book in the series provides the reader with places to pull the fabric of reality aside, to see another world of strange creatures and odd ideas, and September trying to figure out her place in one world while hoping to return, and then leave, the other world.

As always, the language in this last book in the series is challenging and interesting, as Valente writes like no other writer in the young adult market that I have come across. It’s not just the vocabulary. It’s syntax and sentence structure, and the periodic way the narrator is suddenly there, right by the reader’s side, giving advice and inserting herself into the story. It all works together like a magic reading spell.

I was hooked from the first book, but I know this series is probably not for everyone. Maybe hidden worlds are not made for everyone. Maybe only some readers can enter through those passageways. Good luck, Rachel.

Peace (there and back),
Kevin

Slice of Life: A Song for the Boys

The 'rents performing These Boys

My eldest son has just graduated high school, and we threw a large party at our house the other day for the family and and friends of our family and his friends. As a surprise, I wrote a heartfelt yet slightly sarcastic song for the group of “Boys” who have known each other for many years. A group of parents (and my dad, at the last minute, got on the snare drum) came together to rehearse the song (well, we rehearsed once), and then, we performed it for them at the party.

Peace (sing it),
Kevin

Bringing the Animals In

Today’s Daily Create for DS106 was one for the audio senses. It asked us to use a Nature Soundmap project (where people post audio recordings of animals in nature) and mix five sounds together. I was tempted to add some backing drumbeat … but then found that the first track, of frogs, created its own internal rhythm.

The way it works is you can download some of the audio tracks from the map and use an audio editing system to mix them together. I used Soundtrap but Audacity or Garageband would work just fine, too.

In this track, along with the chorus of frogs, I have birds and raccoons and even the rush of bats leaving a cave. It’s a nifty meshing of natural sounds.

Peace (it sounds like …),
Kevin

An Inside Glimpse of Digital Picture Books

Gabby Book Overview

My students have been beta-testing a site that is designed to allow students to design Picture Books that lead to publishing in hard-cover format. It’s been an interesting experience, which I hope to write about down the road a bit, but last week, they finished working on their books (about their years at our elementary school as they prepare to move on to the regional middle/high school).

I took some screenshots for this video teaser ….

Peace (in the pictures in the book),
Kevin

Design Problems: What You Get Is a Mess

I am participating in an online course through FutureLearn about using movies as literacy moments in the classroom. It’s been interesting, but in the first week, one of the activities was about creating context for a character and then sharing a photo on a Padlet wall.

I went there, just to see what was going on. I thought my computer was melting down. The Padlet Wall is so overstuffed with posts that it is impossible to even look at. Well, unless you are intrigued by bad design, as I am. Then, you realize, this activity in a massive, online course is not the right scale for an interactive wall such as padlet.

What you get is a mess.

Bad Padlet

Now, there is a certain chaotic beauty to the wall. But discerning any one thing is now nearly impossible. I suspect that this wall was used for previous iterations of the course, too, and folks just keep on layering.

Peace (the wall’s crowded),
Kevin

Book Review: The Trials of Apollo (Hidden Oracle)

Well, Rick Riordan is at it again, taking on mythology to weave a story of action and adventure. And he succeeds again at spinning a solid story (and start to a yet another new series of books) with The Trials of Apollo: The Hidden Oracle. If the title isn’t self-evident, the god Apollo has been cast down to Earth as a mortal by Zeus, and he must earn his godhood back by performing heroic deeds.

If you like Percy Jackson and all of the other Riordan books about Greek, Roman, Egypt and Norse mythology, then you are sure to enjoy this one. I’ve had a handful of students loving the book, and as a read-aloud book with my son, I enjoyed it for what it is. I’m finding the narrative voice of his characters a little too much the same, but that’s my own critical reading, I guess.

Actually, I don’t want to review the story here. Rather, I want to note a subversive element that Riordan is working into his stories these days. Let’s note that, in my estimation, the target audience for these books is probably nine year olds to 13 year olds.

The subversive element (which perhaps is the wrong choice of words) that I am noticing began with Nico di Angelo, the son of Hades, in the Heroes of Olympus series, and continues with Apollo in this one. Riordan is making visible the gay sexuality of some of his characters, and while it did not make me or my son uncomfortable (if you knew the community we live in, you’d know why … diverse families are part of the fabric of our city), it did strike me as a daring move by Riordan, given the size of his youthful audience.

Now, let me be clear. There is nothing risque about what Riordan is doing. In fact, there is a tenderness to it. And Riordan does not make a big deal out of Nico being a gay character in this story (in an earlier book, we learn that that he had a crush on Percy Jackson). But here, Nico has a male partner (Will) in Camp Half-Blood. The two hold hands and show love openly. And Apollo, as Gods are oft to do, is clearly bisexual. He has loved and cast away female loves of the past as much as male loves of the past, and those memories haunt him.

In particular, Apollo recalls multiples times in the novel how Hyacinth was one of his “true loves.” Apollo regrets how his own jealous actions led to Hyacinth’s brutal death, and how the flowers he created from Hyacinth’s spilled blood is a reminder of that love between God and man.

Now, Riordan could have ignored this sexuality element of Apollo’s mythology, but he hasn’t. I can only imagine the discussions going on with publishers. I may be wrong. Perhaps the turning tide of acceptance makes this homosexuality element a non-discussion point.

But I doubt it.

I admire that Riordan has not flinched from that part of the mythological stories, particularly in these controversial days of awareness of gay rights and equality. Still, I can’t help but think that some parents (and maybe teachers, even), if they bother to read what their kids are reading (as many are no doubt reading Riordan on a regular basis), might feel different about the move, given the conversative political and strict religious views of parts of the country.

I remain hopeful that the storylines will spark a discussion that can lead to understanding of lifestyles. Maybe a young reader, confused about their own sexuality, will see themselves in the story and find a path forward themselves. It may take writers like Riordan to plant seeds of compassion in young readers with literature, and the flowers may yet bloom in years to come. Adults are always more difficult.

Peace (is not a myth),
Kevin

Scenes from a Student Video Contest

I am a teacher advisor to the Student Council at my school. I’ve given up planning and prep time, on and off over the years, for the Student Council as a way to empower students and give them an opportunity to be leaders in the school. This year, a group of students asked me personally if I would help re-start the Student Council because they had ideas for school spirit activities, and how could I say no to that?

I said, yes.

The last project of the year has been a Video Contest. This came from the students, who wanted to do something different and creative, and it has been a real interesting experience. The council put out the call for short videos to our entire PreK-Grade 6 school (about 500 students) in four categories (documentary, comedy, music and “freestyle”), and they wondered if they would be barraged by cell phone videos.

Not quite (which sort of surprised me for I, too, wondered how a small group would handle the load of video submissions, and I even began a back-up plan of inviting more students into the Student Council to help.) We only had a handful of videos, but it was enough for the Student Council to award prizes (gift cards to a bookstore) to winners in each category, and to recognize some honorable mentions, too.

The above video is a small compilation of clips from the winning videos, which ranged from a Lego stopmotion movie to a music video about a sandwich to a movie teaser featuring a strange raccoon to a digital story capturing the small town in which the school is located.

The 2016 Norris Tiger VideoRama was a success (and we will be sharing the winning videos over our close-circuit television system next week), even if I wonder how we could get even more students to be making videos in the future. (For my sixth grade students, I just never found time to do a lesson on using iMovie, which I now regret.)

Peace (and pass the popcorn),
Kevin

Slice of Life: You Make It All Right

Sometimes, I pick up the guitar, and the songwriting flows as if it were something else beside me. As if the song were just there, waiting patiently for the moment. This demo of You Make It All Right (Glitter and Gold) is one of those songs. I randomly sang the first line, and in that moment, I knew the entire song and story. The chords fell into place immediately. I wrote this whole song, which I really like, in about 15 minutes, tops. Maybe not even that.

Songwriting rarely goes that easy. Usually, it’s a struggle with parts of the song, moving words and editing phrases and adding bridges, and reworking the entire meaning. It’s not unusual for me to start writing a song about one thing and end up with something else entirely when I am done.

When the song just falls into place, it’s a strange, magical feeling. I’m proud of this one, for the story it tells of friendship in the face of hardship, for the mandolin-sound of the guitar (the capo is the neck) and for the possibility with my bandmates. We’ll see how it goes. Sometimes, a demo falls apart when it becomes part of the band sound.

Peace (flowing in song),
Kevin

Data? Who Needs Data? I’ve Got Graphs!

Distorted Graphs: Where's the Party At?

So, I have been having more fun that I have a right to have by making political-themed distorted graphs that have no data correlation whatsoever. I don’t even think or consider any numbers when making these. Who cares about data when you have cool graphs in a misinformation campaign!

Distorted Graph: Path to the Presidency

Actually, along a serious line of thinking, the making of Distorted Graphs (which was inspired by a Make Idea via the Letters to the President 2.0 project hosted by National Writing Project and Educator Innovator) has forced to think very visual when trying to make a satirical political point.

Distorted Graph: Healthy Run

I usually have a general topic in mind when I begin these, and then the decision becomes, what kind of graph format? Do I need a pie chart or a line chart or a something else. What visual will complement the satirical?

Distorted Graphs: Bottom Lines

I’ve been using a combination of apps to create the charts , including the chart creator built into Haiku Deck. It’s pretty, if limited. But limiting myself has been fine because it forces me to consider the content and message.

Distorted Graphs Biased News

I’ve shared some of these into the Letters to the President Twitter stream, but I have wondered, is that hashtag for students? I see some in there. What are they thinking of this Dogtrax dude, setting forth fake graphs? I hope they make their own. I was inspired by some of their real, true graphs. And I’ve been sensitive to my audience, however, and have avoided any profanity. When it comes to this presidential race, that has not been as easy as it seems.

Distorted Graphs: Talk about Education

I’ll make more as I get inspired, and share them out when I can. For now, just know that these Distorted Graphs represent the whole Distorted Political Spectrum, and like memes, offer another way to engage in discourse on the way the presidential campaign is unfolding before our eyes.

Peace (it’s off the charts),
Kevin