Book Review: Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation

Now, here’s my story of how I found Jack Blank. My 10 year old son and I had just finished reading aloud a book and we panic (not really) when there is nothing in our Queue. (not really true … we have stacks of books but still …. ) Luckily, we have a public library (cheering now) and so, we ventured there on Saturday morning, and as he sat on the ground with a pile of graphic novels and comics, I perused the shelves.

I had no plan for choosing our next read aloud. You ever go into a library with no plan? Just let your eyes wander and see what they will see? Pull books out. Look them over. Put them back. Move a few feet. Pull. Back. Look. Move. I do it all the time, and I have come to mostly trust my instincts, even though I realize that cover design and titles of books play an important role in getting my attention in the stacks. So be it. I am sure there are folks in publishing companies whose entire jobs is to make sure their book hooks my attention. I am a happy fish most of the time.

That’s how I came to find Jack Blank and the Imagine Nation. (And later realized, with some confusion, that an earlier version was called The Accidental Hero.) Anyway, the title was intriguing. The cover was pretty cool looking, sort of echoes of Percy Jackson. We took the thick book home, dove in and got hooked pretty quickly. While my son is often the first to notice how writers steal (*cough* borrow) from each other, and while he has made many observations about writer Mike Myklusch’s tale of Jack Blank having similar characteristics to other stories we and he have read, that has not stopped either of us from devouring this story on a daily basis, and now we are on to the next book in the trilogy (The Secret War).

Maybe it has to with the superhero theme or how comic books inform the first part of the story. Whatever. We are locked in tight with 12 year old Jack Blank, whose past is sort of a mystery, and whose powers over machines and technology become a centerpiece in the fight against an alien invasion that uses viruses (human and cyber) in an attempt to destroy the Imagine Nation (where superheroes and others who believe in the unbelievable) and the Real World (where we all live .. most of us, anyway).

Myklusch is spinning a interesting story, full of action and the unknown, and I am surprised this one was never on our radar screen before. I had never heard of it. You want to hook adolescent boys into reading? Put Jack Blank in their heads and watch out. They will devour this book, and the second book is just as good (if not more layered than the first).

We’re in it until the end …

Peace (not blank),
Kevin

PS — Since I wrote this, and kept it in my draft folder, we finished The Secret War (thumbs up) and are now on the last book in the trilogy, The End of Infinity.

Student Game Review: The Legend of Zelda Twilight Princess

As a companion to our game design unit, my students also write (and many podcast out) persuasive game reviews. The lesson is to integrate writing into our understanding of game design and writing with authority on a topic. Plus, I get a better sense of what games my students are playing year to year (It’s not easy to keep up).

Here is a review of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

Peace (in the voice),
Kevin

Annotating a Connected Song

The other day, I shared out my tribute song to my various communities, in the form of an animated music video of sorts. It is my way of saying thanks to people who inspire me all year in various online homes.

I decided to show a bit of where the song writing came from, and used my comic app to annotate the original piece of paper. My songwriting process is very messy, musically and physically. I am constantly scratching on and scratching out words, drawing lines to show movement of phrases and verse/chorus, and yet, I often take photos of the paper later, to keep a trail of the song.

Annotating a Connected Song

So, if you are interested, I tried to reconstruct the writing of the song with annotated notes before I forget it all (which I am bound to do). Thanks for being part of my network as a visitor here. This song is for you.

Here is the audio-only version, too. Feel free to remix.

Peace (in the script),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Tiny Tiny Writing from a Digital Native

(This is a Slice of Life, a regular writing activity facilitated by Two Writing Teachers. Come write with us.)

SOL

I’ve often harped on and on against using the dichotomy of the digital natives versus the digital immigrants. It’s a false dichotomy to say that young people “get” technology and adults don’t. ¬†All of us are in the middle, depending on the situation and context and technology. And yet, every now and then, a student will do something that has me scratching my head, discovering some workaround they figured out that I would not have thought about.

This one from yesterday had me scratching my head, and also giggling out loud.

A little pretext: my students are working on a persuasive piece of writing in which they review a video game. It was due yesterday, and one of my students was on a family weekend ski trip, so she worked on her paragraph in the car on the way North. Apparently, all she had was an iPod, so she found one of the Art/Drawing Apps, and used the text feature to write her paragraph that way (Can you get that picture in your mind? This kid in the cramped back seat of the family car, huddled over an iPod, tap-typing in a program designed for drawing?)

She could not figure out how to print it out, so her mother emailed me the file and asked that I print it out, which I had gladly do if necessary. But when I opened up the file, this is what I saw:

tiny writing

 

Yes, tiny tiny type. If anything, my screenshot does not do justice to how small those words really are. So small, in fact, that when I held it in my hands, it was like looking at a collection of ants on the page. (Granted, I have old eyes … digital immigrant eyes?) It reminded me of that famous scene in Spinal Tap, with the tiny Stonehenge on stage. You know what I’m talking about, right?

‘This Is Spinal Tap’ – ‘Stonehenge’ from filmc3ption on Vimeo.

Anyway, the student and I were both amused at the paper I printed out. She even declared, “I can read it just fine, Mr. H,” and then bent down, eyes very close to the paper, and started to read it to me …. before bursting out laughing.

Last night, they tried a few ways to get the text bigger but of course, the app converted the text into the drawing itself, making the text un-editable, so it is final. In the end, they took a screenshot of the writing and sent that to me, and that’s just fine.

Peace (in the tiny tiny writing),
Kevin

Video Game Design: Sara’s Into an Animal Cell Game

One of my students has published her video game that we have been working on as a collaboration between my ELA classroom and the science classroom. The topic of the game is cells, and you can tell that the mentor texts we used (Magic School Bus) had a big influence on Sara, who has emerged as one of the top video game designers in the sixth grade.

Give Inside an Animal Cell a try and see what you think.

sara Into an Animal Cell game

Peace (in the cell),
Kevin

Words Upon the Wall: A Gift of Song

For everyone who is in all of my various online networks and communities and adventures, I thank you. Here is a song, with some animated words, as my humble thanks for all the inspiration and support you give me throughout the year as I write and explore and learn.

Peace (with words on the wall),
Kevin

Book Review: The Moor’s Account

I love this line right near the end of The Moor’s Account by Laila Lalami, in which our protagonist — Estebanico — remarks about how those who tell the stories of history shape the history itself in the collective memories of those who come afterwards.

Moors Account

If only …

The Moor’s Account is a engrossing telling of the exploration of the Americas by the Spaniards, through the eyes of a Muslim slave — Mustafa al-Zamori, but whom the Spaniards named Estebanico. This hook by the talented Lalami gives the reader insights into the New World, in all of its wonders and all of its hardships. Lalimi notes in her acknowledgements that the story is fictional (thus, that quote I shared is sort of a meta-narrative anchor point), and that there is nothing known about the real Estevanico, who only gets mentioned in one line of one of the explorer’s own stories.

From that mention, Lalami spins a story of his life, and his travels, and finally, his freedom that comes from his wits and understanding of what freedom from enslavements — both physical as well as spiritual — means. Her story gives the Story of the America’s a new point from which to view history, and if that is not one of the purposes of writing, I don’t know what is.

Peace (in the explore),
Kevin

Video Game Design: Playtesting and Feedback

Playtesting Peer Review 2014
In designing games, as in writing, a valuable step to the process is to gather feedback from someone outside of your own head. During our science-based video game design unit, we play-test each other’s games, and work on giving feedback to what is noticed. While this happens quite a bit informally (“Hey, anyone want to try my game?” – a pretty common refrain in my classroom these days), I do try to formalize it a bit. The form we use comes from a new book on systems thinking, but I also had a similar form that I had made on my own.

I like how this new form incorporates the warm/cool feedback concept, and allows for reaction notes from the game designer. Obviously, this activity began with a mini-lesson on giving constructive feedback to other game designers, and how to use warm/cool feedback on someone else’s work.

It’s still interesting how some students read and accept the feedback, and ask for clarification from the play-testers, making adjustments to their projects, while others just shrug and go on as if the process never happened. They can’t get out of their own heads, and see the game objectively (“Well, I BEAT that level. You should, too. It’s easy.” — a student said this to me the other day. Me: “Well, you BUILT that level, so you know it inside and out. It’s not easy at all if you don’t know it.”). This is part of the learning process.

Peace (in the game),
Kevin

 

On the Hunt for Words (A Poem of Found Poetry)


Found – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires

I am taking part in a small, open MOOC through some friends in San Diego, using an education book called The Writing Thief as its anchor text (and the book itself is about mentor texts). There is a roll-out of Make Cycle activities and the most recent one asks us to do a word scavenger hunt in the world.

I decided to use an online random poetry line generator, just to see what it would spit out, and whether or not I could pull lines of a random poem together into something with structure (sort of). Interestingly, I think it works, particularly when you add visual media to the lines.

What helped is that the reference to a poet happened twice for me, so I used those lines as bookends.

Peace (in the hunt),
Kevin