Graphic Novel Review: The Stone Heart (The Nameless City)

You know a book has captivated your attention when you find yourself on the edge of your seat, wondering what will happen next, and then stare for a long time at the cliffhanger at the last page. Such was the case with the second book in The Nameless City trilogy by Faith Erin Hicks entitled The Stone Heart. (I wrote about the first book — The Nameless City — here).

Hicks has tapped into the very elements that make graphic novels so special to read and experience — using her artwork, historical research and development of characters, Hicks has created an imaginary world (based on Ancient China and the Silk Road) that feels alive and real. The artwork is really exquisite and detailed. Reaching the end of The Stone Heart is a disappointment but only because Hicks is still working on the third, and final, installment of the story.

Now we have to wait …

And what is this story? A city of mixed tribes and people that has two potential paths — war and conquest, or peaceful transition in which all tribes determine the future. For now, war has won out, or the prospect of war, and our two main protagonists — Rat, an orphan girl raised by monks in the Nameless City, and Kaidu, son of a Dao warrior — are faced with a dangerous task that may shape the Nameless City for years to come.

The mysterious backdrop to the story is a past people — the ones who first built The Nameless City and whose reign mysteriously came to an end  — and a hidden book that contains a power of great destruction, a book once protected by monnks that has now fallen into the hands of a young leader who has killed his father in order to ascend to power. He believes the book will forge his way forward. Others, like Kaidu and Rat, understand that the book was hidden for a reason and fear what it may unleash on the world.

The Stone Heart is an adventurous book that stays true to its historical (if fictional) roots of Asian culture. It continues the magic of the first book, and I am hopeful Hicks will bring the overarching story to a close with the third book with all the elements that has kept me reading (as well as my middle school son). The Nameless City series is appropriate for upper elementary, middle and high school students, with some violence as part of the plot of palace intrigue.

Peace (hoping),
Kevin

Book Review: The Poet’s Dog

The title is what caught my attention: The Poet’s Dog. Poetry. Dog. Book. I’m in.

But it was the story that kept me reading, devouring this short but sweet story in one sitting, and wanting to read it again. Then I realized that the author, Patricia MacLaughlan, lives in the town right next to mine, and I felt an even deeper connection. (I admit: I have not read her other books that have brought her much attention, including her novel Sarah: Plain and Tall.)

The Poet’s Dog has beautiful prose, with whispers of poetry everywhere, as the story explores the notion that dogs can talk to children, and to poets — both of whom have open ears and open hearts to the world. Here, a dog saves two children in a winter storm, and then the children save the dog from his sorrow, and in-between, we learn the real story of Teddy, the dog.

There are no wasted words in MacLaughlan’s book. Each sentence, each piece of narrative, is there for a reason, and I found myself in the poet’s house, huddled up amid the fierce winter storm, as the dog and children become part of each other’s lives with words and love. The ending, too, is very satisfying, if not too surprising, allowing us a glimpse into the kindness of the world, and the possibilities of poetry.

Dogs. Poets. Kids. Kindness. What’s not to love about all that?

Peace (after the storm),
Kevin

#NetNarr: Maps as Stories/Stories as Maps

 

Thanks to my friend, Daniel, for sharing this intriguing map-building/story-telling site with us on Twitter called Story Maps a few weeks ago. As we continue to dive into  Networked Narratives (NetNarr), I wonder if this kind of mapping site might be a useful resource for building maps and worlds, with stories.

I like the site seems to be open-source, with plenty of links for tutorials on how to build and share story maps.  The map that Daniel shared — Bruised Borders — looks at places where disputes over boundaries of countries have erupted into conflict. (The embedded materials aren’t great here … I suggest following links to the site itself for full experience. If your browser won’t load the embed, you might need to allow for unsafe scripts.)

 

Or this one, about economic inequities in American cities.

I am not sure how this Story Maps site might be useful for consideration of Networked Narratives — which has shifted into interactions around fictional worlds.

But the underlying idea is to nurture a “civic imagination” so that we can make the world a better place (or that’s how I am understanding it right now) and maybe these kinds of maps as stories might allow us another entry into that concept..

Peace (on the map and beyond),
Kevin

Slice of Life: Check Your Spelling, Chalkboy

(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 came stomping into the house, overstating my frustration.

“Hey,” I told him, and he looked up from playing Minecraft. “You know you live in a house with two educators?”

Silence. He was trying to figure out what I was getting at.

“Yeah?” he answered, rather reluctantly.

“Soooo,” I said, drawing out my word, “when we write with chalk on the driveway, you better check your spelling.”

Silence. Now he could see where this was going.

“And you have two spelling errors in what you wrote at the end of the driveway. Too and You’re. Common errors, for sure, but fixable.”

“OK.”

“Get out there and fix it!”

He looked up at me.

“You’re kidding me, right?”

My wife, who is much more of a stickler for public spelling errors than I am, joined in.

“Yes, you are going to fix it. That’s our driveway!”

“Why?”

“Because,” she said, “if you don’t, you will lose all screen time for the week.”

“This is ridiculous.”

She started to do the dreaded “countdown to doom.”

“One. Two. If I get to three …”

“OK. OK. Sheesh. I don’t even know if we have more chalk.”

I chimed in. “Let me help you find some, then,” and I did, and he and I walked out to what he wrote. We stared at the sentence for a bit.

If your reading this, it’s to late.

“You’re is a contraction. You and Are. To means also. Double o’s,” I pointed out.

He reached down and fixed the two words, with a big more dramatic chalking than was necessary.

“This is so ridiculous,” he muttered, and then wandered back into the house, tossing the chalk for good measure.

Chalk

Peace (spelled correctly),
Kevin

My Sunday Morning Cup of Weekly Poems


poetry flickr photo by Felixe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

The world’s still asleep (mostly) and I am writing poems in the dark of the morning, fueled by some coffee. Every day, I have been writing some form of poetry suggested by the fine folks at Global Poetry Writing Month/National Poetry Writing Month, and each Sunday, I have been curating the poems from the week. So you can read Week One’s poems here and Week Two’s poems here, and now we are into Week Three.

I have been sharing the first lines of the poems here, and then giving a link to the full poem over in Notegraphy, which has been my primary writing space for poetry this April.

The first poem’s theme was invented words, and working them into poetic form. I love wordplay, so this poem flowed rather quickly for me that morning.

I am staring off into
spaceytime, reaching for
vaikie fallenwords, the black hole
of wondering.

read more

The second poem was to be written in the form of a letter. I took the approach of a father to child, with some creative license. While it is inspired by my own family, some of the facts might not quite be true. Such is the freedom of the poet, right?

I am writing, dear child,
in hopes you’ll remember
the dishes, the clothes,
your mother’s birthday
in November

read more

This poem had the theme of a myth, so I imagined some God or Goddess reaching down to knit the Network.

Giant hands
knit
small nodes
for
strong connections

read more

A prompt about childhood games as a point for inspiration brought me back to a game we used to play on pavement called Skully. One summer, that’s all we did, as I remember it.

It happened one lone summer —
consumed us like crazy —
kids on the street with chalk
and wax-filled bottle caps,
sliding our pieces along the ragged board
on rough pavement.

read more

An overheard conversation became the focal point of this poem, as I tried to leave what was being discussed unsaid, and instead, I tried to show the verbal dance these two were doing.

“Did you ask her?” he asks her,
juggling books by the lockers
between writing and science.
“No,” she tells him, eyes down,
watching his feet dance on the floor,
a nervous two-step.

read more

An environmental theme emerged on Earth Day, and although the form of the poem was one I did not know — a georgic — I sort of ignored that and kept my eye on the soil.

Flowers bloom,
beckoning;
My knees are now soggy with dew,
knotted with the pressure of
of this winter-weary Earth

read more

And finally, this morning, there was a call for something known as an elevenie – a sort of cinquain variation with 11 words and four lines — so I combined three verses together, on the topic of creating and living an invented persona in Networked Narratives.

Hiding
Veiled existence
Wearing another’s voice
I slip inside their skin,
Wandering

read more

And one more week or so of poems every day, and then … I will miss it, no doubt.

Peace (sounds like poems),
Kevin

Book Review: Book Scavenger

Now, here’s a book with a cool story (and perfectly suited for read-aloud, as I did with my son) that comes with a perfect activity for all of us book-loving, game-loving fools of the world. Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman is a mystery story of sorts, as our protagonist, Emily, must solve a series of puzzles, found in books, to solve a larger mystery of a game set across the city of San Francisco. It all begins and centers on Edgar Allen Poe, but that’s about all I will say, so as not to give anything away.

Suffice it to say that Bertman has infused her novel with a love of books on many levels, with allusions all over the place to much-loved classics, and established Emily Crane as a heartfelt character. Her family moves .. a lot. Her parents aim to live in all 50 states, and then write a book about it (they already blog about it), and so Emily (age 12) never connects with other kids her age. She knows it is all temporary.

But James, a boy whose family owns the house where Emily’s family rents, is the first kid whose love of puzzles and challenges draws her into an unexpected friendship, as both kids try their hand at Book Scavenger, a website where people hide books and others find them, and collect points. Garrison Griswold, publisher and creator of Book Scavenger, has set in motion a new game, but then falls victim to a subway attack. Emily finds one clue and then game begins… and the story twists and turns, full of cryptic notes and odd discoveries.

Although Book Scavenger, the game and website, is part of a fictional novel, Bertman (and no doubt, her publisher) have created a real-life Book Scavenger site, where you can hide books and track the progress of those books being found. My son was very interested in this literary hide-and-seek game, and I am sure we will be doing some book hiding in our part of Western Massachusetts. Of course, we hope others in our area have read the book and followed the path to the website. (And you can track activity via the #bookscavenger hashtag on Twitter)

Now, the question is: what book shall we hide? And where?

Peace (hidden but in plain view),
Kevin

The Daily Arganee: A Slanted View

Daily Arganee video

I spent a good part of the first 100 days of the Networked Narratives adventure trying to do the Daily Arganee prompt just about every day, both in my guise as The Internet Kid and Horse with no Name, and as myself, using an app called Legend to create short bursts of creativity. I stopped at the 100th prompt but may soon jump back on board. (I hit 98 with the Kid/Horse combo but only 79 as myself, according to the Daily Araganee leaderboard).

I stopped to take a breather when it started to feel like a chore rather than like fun. In addition, the NetNarr experience has shifted into a Mirror World element, and that has included new personas (I have another alternative fictional character in play) and different activities. I’ve been concentrating on that NetNarr aspect for now.

Using the Legend app gave me both some freedom (merging art with words and movement) and structure (limited text/characters) and I worked hard to try to see each prompt from a different angle, to come at it from the slanted view. I can’t quite explain what I mean, except that I never tried to directly address the prompt. Instead, I tried to come at it from an unexpected angle. Obviously, some days were more effective than others.

I have now gathered up many of the prompts that I responded to (although you can find them one at a time at the Daily Arganee site, too) , and put them into Animoto as a curated video space. I like the effect of them all together.

Take a look.

Peace (each day),
Kevin

Book Review: Best American Non-Required Reading 2016

One “count on me reading it” book is often the latest edition of The Best American Non-Required Reading collection for a number of reasons:

  • I can often read pieces I missed during the year from publications like the Iowa Review or Granta or various chapbooks that would likely never be in my radar;
  • The collection is always curated by high school students from California and Michigan as part of the 826 Valencia (an organization started by Dave Eggers) and proceeds from the book purchase support the literacy work of the organization;
  • There is always a cool mix of non-fiction, fiction, poetry and comics, and other assorted odds and ends, and that mix is right up my alley as a reader.

While Eggers has mostly moved on from this project (yet still has his hand in the mix, I think), the venture remains in solid hands, and the high school students who spend a year as curators of material makes it always worth a look because it provides some insight into what is deemed important and interesting to at least one group of young literacy buffs.

The 2016 edition of Best American Non-Required Reading has the expected wide range of pieces, from an oral history of a Palestinian refugee’s life story to the conception of an amazing collection of mostly forgotten bird taxidermies on display in Iowa to the graphic story of a homeless man that shows the cyclical nature of despair to a studied history of the Black Lives Matter movement. There are always a few pieces that I skim through, but that’s to be expected in a collection like this.

Overall, I trust the judgment of the high school curators, and each year, my trust is rewarded with an enriching reading experience. This collection is no different.

Peace (read it and write it),
Kevin

Where Social Media Tumbles into Civic Engagement


Wired Laundrette flickr photo by mikecogh shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

I was recently re-reading an interesting article by Clive Thompson, in Wired magazine, entitled “The Social Medium is the Message,” (which has a different title online, for whatever reason) and some of what he writes about resonates with the connection between social media, storytelling and civic imagination that forms the core anchor of the Networked Narratives course.

Here are some bits from Thompson’s article that stuck with me, and then some of my own commentary afterwards.

“Over the next year, the mainstream culture will grapple, for real, with the civic and political effects of our lives online.” — Clive Thompson, Wired, “The Social Medium is the Message”

That’s a fact. Whether it will be a productive discussion remains to be seen. The opening days of this presidency are not holding out great hope, with talk of “alternative facts” and outright lies to the American public and media.

“The most effective disinformation usually begins with an actual fact then amplifies, distorts, or elides; ban the distortion and you risk looking like you are banning the nugget of truth, too.” — Clive Thompson

See above. Trump, as Thompson notes, smartly understands this piece of how disinformation can be used. I suspect media outlets will be under gun until they find a way to harness the power they do have to hold officials accountable for their actions, and their words, and their tweets. We’ve already seen that happening in some of the major news organizations.

“There are limits to what technological fixes can achieve in civic life. Though social networks amplify American partisanship and distrust of institutions, those problems have been rising for years.” – Clive Thompson

Which means it may not be technology, but us, the people, who need to find ways to make this new system work. We need to pressure social media to reduce our bubbles (don’t just share with me things I want to read) and we need to reach out to others. Obama’s quote of calling on someone, in person, to discuss differences of opinions? Yes on that.

“The old order was flawed and elitist and locked out too many voices; it produced seemingly consensus by preventing many from being heard. We’re still fumbling around for new mechanisms that can replace that order and improve upon it.” — Clive Thompson

It seems to me that the Networked Narratives is evolving at the right moment in time, and that while we are celebrating the notions of digital storytelling in a very connected age, we also have to acknowledge and grapple with the reality of darkness that comes with such a shift. This week, we saw some of that darkness emerge with Facebook being the platform for a murder, playing out for the world to see, and all of the ensuing questions that arise about responsibility and censorship and viral natures of digital platforms.

If we want ourselves, and our children and our students, to become engaged in civic life, then we need to find ways to harness the potential positive power of networks for the good of the world (even though what one person defines as “good” might be “bad” in the mind of someone else).

I’m curious to know what you think.

Peace (brimming through the wires),
Kevin