Book Review: My Life with BOB (Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues)

A book about reading books? I’m in. I know that sounds strange to be reading books about the reading of books, yet I find it strangely fascinating to wonder what other people are thinking as they read and love (or hate) their own books.

Pamela Paul has an envious and powerful job — she is the editor of the New York Times Book Review. Part of what she does is discover new writers and determine which books get reviewed, which get noticed, which get featured. Needless to say, Paul reads a lot of books.

The BOB in the title of this memoir is not a man, but a book of books (or Book of Books: BOB) that she has been keeping as a private curation for years. My Life with Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues taps into her love of books, as she connects novels to major events of her life, and dives deep into why we love reading so much and how powerful books can shape a life, anchor our memories and change our perspectives on the world.

It helps that Paul comes across as a regular, if voracious, reader, and her style of writing is very inviting. You can sense the reluctance to share BOB with the world. It really is her private list, and I envy that she has BOB. I have Goodreads, which is not the same, is it? Amazon owns Goodreads, which means someone else owns my list. If only I, too, had kept a BOB of my own for the past thirty years or so. What would I notice?

Overall, I enjoyed Paul’s tour of her literary world, and her world escapes, and the connection between the writing she was reading, the writing she was writing, and the bridges made visible between our reading lives and our lives outside of books.

Peace (I read it),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Moon Over My Shoulder

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

I spent Labor Day night in Boston, bringing my middle son and his friend to a Red Sox game at Fenway Park (we gave him tickets for a birthday present way back in winter). It was a beautiful night in Boston, and at one point, after many of us in the seats noticed the moon being shown on the small television monitors, we all turned our heads to look behind us.

The moon was dangling in the air, a beautiful orb of light.

Later, I grabbed a selfie with the moon.

Boston Moon

Peace (shine on),
Kevin

An Infographic Reminds Me of Stability

My teaching stats

Someone in the Slice of Life community had shared out this simple tool to create an infographic of “teacher stats” — you provide it with some data and it spits out a small infographic. Nothing too fancy, but that’s OK.

What I realized as I was doing mine is how stable my teaching career has been over the 15 years I have been in the classroom (after a 10-year career in journalism and a few years as stay-at-home daddy). I know I am lucky in this regard, particularly given the budget situation in my school district (we are among the lowest per-pupil expenditure communities in the entire state of Massachusetts).

And I am grateful for the stability, for it affords me to keep digging deeper into my teaching practice, and so far, I have not hit the boredom button. That’s one of the magical elements of teaching: every day offers something new and every student is a challenge and a celebration.

I am grateful for my first principal — the one who took a chance in late August on me, an inexperienced teacher, and supported me along the first year to become a confident (as much as possible) sixth grade educator, which is where I still am, every single day.

Peace (looks like),
Kevin

Graphic Novel Review: Flying Machines (How the Wright Brothers Soared)

FirstSecond Publishing has been putting out a series of graphic novels under a “Science Comics” banner that are quite interesting for merging informational text with story in graphic novel form. The latest — Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared by Alison Wilgus and Molly Brooks — is a fine example of how this format works.

Narrated with sass and wisdom from Katharine Wright, a somewhat-forgotten sister of Wilbur and Orville, the story is a deep look at the engineering marvels of flight, and while the focus is on the Wright brothers, the book does not skimp on many others (mostly in Europe) who contributed to the art of flight over a short period of time in the early part of the 1900s.

While the Wright’s story is familiar, the graphic story takes on a very scientific approach to the ins and outs, and ups and downs (sorry) of success and failure, of the move to get into the air with wings. Wilbur and Orville’s passion, and intentional engineering design approach, come through clearly. They were both driven to fly, and faced danger along the way. Many pioneers of flight died in crashes.

The book does not skimp on the science, either, giving over full pages to explain the technology and engineering ideas behind flight. This may leave some readers wanting more story, and less science, but Wilgus and Brooks do a nice balancing act, with Katharine as our host.

The last sections of the graphic novel include short biographies of other pioneers of flight, as well as bio of Katharine, and a glossary of scientific terms and more resources to wander into. Overall, Flying Machines: How the Wright Brothers Soared is a solid read, and may appeal to a middle and high school audience.

Peace (fly free),
Kevin

Order Your Own: CLMOOC Collaborative Coloring Book

CLMOOC Coloring Book Storefront

Way back in early summer, the first Make Cycle of the Connected Learning MOOC (CLMOOC) was centered on coloring and art. Since CLMOOC is all about collaboration and creativity, the folks facilitating the Make Cycle (led by Algot R.) decided on creating a collaborative coloring book.

We used Google Slides to gather coloring pages from all over the world. But Algot also wanted to turn the collaboration into a publishing opportunity — to create a physical book that teachers could use in the classroom as either art prompts or as an example of how collaborative ideas could turn into publishable works of art.

And so … here is our CLMOOC Collaborative Coloring Book, available now for order from Lulu Publishing. Lulu is a self-publishing site, and the process is relatively simple: you create a PDF of your work, choose the style of book you want, design the cover, and Lulu does the rest of the work in setting up the storefront.

CLMOOC Coloring Book Cover

Our coloring book costs less than $3 for about 50 coloring pages. Shipping is another $3 or so in the US (not sure about in other places around the world). No one is making any profit off this venture, although I wish there was an easy way to add to the cost of the book to act as a fundraiser for Hurricane Harvey recovery.

If you would rather just have a free PDF of the book and the cover, you are welcome to do that by downloading (just click on links).

Thanks to all who donated drawings and artwork, and thank you to the entire CLMOOC community for always inspiring others in the community to do art, be creative, find connections and nurture an online community spread out across all sorts of networks.

Peace (color it rainbow),
Kevin

Network Fade: The End of the iAnthology

ianthology

After eight years, we finally pulled the plug on something known as the iAnthology Network. Hosted on Ning, it was created for National Writing Project teachers to connect, to write, to share in a closed space. We had weekly writing prompts, photo prompts, book groups and more. We were not part of the official NWP umbrella. More of an unofficial space.

In recent years, participation in the site dropped and became a trickle and my Western Massachusetts Writing Project and our sister site, Hudson Valley Writing Project, decided not to fund the Ning anymore. The National Writing Project funded the launch and supported the iAnthology for the first few years with small grants. The whole structure and original design of the iAnthology was based on something that was known as the eAnthology, which was a summer writing space for teachers going through their Summer Institutes.

My friend, Bonnie Kaplan, and I worked closely together to launch the iAnthology  — I remember us both thinking, will anyone sign up? — and we guided it through the years, working to give more ownership to members (we had a large list of folks who volunteered to host writing prompts every week).

When it was active, it was wonderful.

But it was time.

Most social networks eventually fade as part of the natural arc of participation over time. With us, Facebook and Twitter and other social spaces began to fill in where there was once a gap.

Still, we celebrate that 800-plus teachers with National Writing Project affiliation were able to find a writing home for a bit that kept them connected. If you were part of the iAnthology, thank you. I hope we stay connected and that you keep writing your heart out.

This infographic captures some of the iAnthology:

Remembering iAnthology-network

Peace (lingers),
Kevin

Book Review: Child Labor Reform Movement (An Interactive History Adventure)

To call this an “adventure,” as the subtitle does, seems awfully odd to me, but Child Labor Reform Movement (An Interactive History Adventure) by Steven Otfinoski does effectively use the elements of interactive fiction by giving the reader choices. Unfortunately, as you might guess from the title, nearly all of the choices end badly, as the book explores the horrible working conditions of children in the workforce during the 1800s.

I appreciated the historical, archival photographs sprinkled throughout this book (with three main story paths and 23 different possible endings). The photos, coupled with the stories and narrative choices (we call them branches when my students make their own Interactive Fiction stories) really draws the reader into the experience of a young child living, working and then mostly dying in an unfair system in which children were regularly abused in many ways.

That said, the book is very effective in its rhetorical design, and is written for an upper elementary/middle school audience.

The reader can “become” a pauper’s apprentice in England, signing away their childhood for awful living conditions; a factory girl in Massachusetts; or a newsie in New York City. The narrative keeps circling back and you realize that no choice is a good choice, because children working in these conditions had no agency or choice, only the need to survive (which many did not).

Historical anecdotes and research dot this book, and it makes clear the movement that came along to try to change the way children were used in the work force. Much has changed for the better, at least in First World countries, but a final word from the author notes that, according to a report by the International Labor Organization, there are still about 246 million children working in places around the world. That should open the eyes of young readers.

Peace (let children be children),
Kevin

#CLMOOC Collaborative Storytelling with a little Miss Direction

CLMOOC Collaboration: Miss Direction and Chalkboard Man

A collaborative writing project that began in early summer in the Connected Learning MOOC has just wrapped up, and it was a blast, as a bunch of us engaged in some story writing with an invented character Miss Direction. It all began when our CLMOOC friend, Jeannie, remembered a hacked toy from the first year of CLMOOC that she had mailed around to folks for Vine stories.

Chalkboard Man disappeared that year, never to be seen again.

This year, we used another invented character from Jeannie’s imagination — Miss Direction — and made her out of paper. More than a 16 people from all over the globe downloaded a copy of Miss Direction, took her on an adventure to find Chalkboard Man, and then wrote about it (and documented with images or video) on a shared but secret Padlet space.

I created this as a teaser for the book release:

I have been wanting to do more with iBooks Author, the app on my Mac for publishing, so I took all of the text from the collaboration and created this downloadable book. Each chapter is another writer who hosted Miss Direction. As a bonus, each writer, after finishing their section, was encouraged to mail their version of Miss Direction to the next writer, so she flew through the mail quite a bit in different disguises.

Read and Download The Adventures of Miss Direction: Searching for Chalkboard Man via Scribd.

Or you can read it here, via this embed.

The Adventures of Miss Direction: Searching for Chalkboard Man by KevinHodgson on Scribd

I am also going to work through how to publish this as an eBook in iTunes as a free story. More later when I figure that out.

I love this kind of collaboration that unfolds over time. It’s a bit tricky to do the logistics on this kind of project, particularly where you want the story to remain hidden until the end.

Miss Direction: CLMOOC Youth Sleuth

Feel free to download your own version of Miss Direction. Color her and send her off on an adventure. Be sure to share, too.

Peace (there are clues),
Kevin

Book Review: The Dark Prophecy (The Trials of Apollo)

I’ve not been as big of a fan of Rick Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series as some of his others but my son still enjoys the read-aloud aspects, so I am full in on reading the series. We just finished The Dark Prophecy, but it took us all summer to read, which is unusual for us. I think what gets me is the voice of Apollo here, as he undergoes his trials as human to learn humility.

I do appreciate seeing familiar characters — Thalia Grace, Grover, etc. — and can see how Riordan continues to plant the seeds for future books in the current ones, dipping into other cultural mythologies as he explores the main terrain of Greek and Roman myths.

Here, Apollo continues to confront past decisions made when he was  God who cared little for his human followers, and as a human now, he must both make amends and depend upon others. His godly powers come and go, and he is beholden to a young girl demi-god who has the power to give him orders he must follow. Meanwhile, his quest to confront and defeat former Emperors as well as grapple with the various powers of prophecies moves the narrative along.

I think upper elementary and middle school readers of a certain genre will appreciate Riordan’s writing style — a mix of humor and adventure that seems a bit light on development — and my 12-year-old son still wishes they could make some of these books into good movies (he was not impressed with either Percy Jackson flick.)

Peace (by the gods),
Kevin