March Book Madness: The Great Glass Elevator

As part of my ongoing feature called March Book Madness, I want to contrast the project created by a student of the sequel to Charlie and the Chocolate FactorCharlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl — and my own review, as I just finished reading this to my six year old.

This is the third or fourth time I have read the Great Glass Elevator and, I am sad to say, it just doesn’t hold a candle to the original. Sure, there are crazy ideas and mayhem all around as the elevator shoots into outer space and then back into the factory. What was missing for me is a real connection to the characters (I loved Charlie Bucket, but felt as if he were mostly sidelined here) and I got tired of the scenes with the President and his nutty staff worrying about the Space Hotel and more. To me, this book felt like a throwaway of sorts by Dahl, of whom I always expect more.

Even my son, who liked the book more than I did, kept asking, “Are they ever going to get back to the chocolate factory?”

My student, however, really seemed to enjoy the book.

Peace (in the factory),

March Book Madness: Goose Chase

Here is a book I had not come across, but our school librarian recommended it to me as something to pass along to my students. Goose Chase by Patricia Kindl got rave reviews here from one of my students. This is part of my March Book Madness feature of various reviews and projects from my students and I around our independent books.

Here is a review and overview of Goose Chase.

Peace (in the chase),

Slice of Life: Microloans, the World and Me

Slice of Life 2011

This morning, I realized that today was International Women’s Day, a way to celebrate the amazing role that women play in our world and the struggles that so many still face in so many places. I also realized that I had some credit in my Kiva Microloan account — money which had been paid back from previous loans.

The two ideas are connected this morning because a good percentage of the organizations that I have donated to via Kiva over the past two years have been either women-run businesses or women collaborative projects. I remember reading in Three Cups of Tea a statement that Greg Mortenson makes about the importance of supporting women, as they are more likely to use donations and other forms of assistance to raise up the family rather than use it for themselves. It’s a sad fact, perhaps, but I believe there is truth in that idea.

(my loans on the map)
kiva loans 2011

So, this morning, I added my $25 credit to a project to support a restaurant in a part of Africa (Uganda) and I tallied up my donation into the Kiva Group called Shift Happens, which is made up of educators. That group of teachers has collectively donated out more than 400 microloans to the tune of $13,000.

The funny thing about microloans is that it seems so small, but I always feel good about doing a small part of something larger. If you have never tried Kiva, give it a look. It will make you feel good about yourself, and when that one loan gets paid back, you turn it around and help someone else. And on today, when we pay attention to the success and plight of women in the world, perhaps Kiva is one option to reach out beyond your bubble and impact the world. And be sure to join our Shift Happens group, and add to the shift.

Peace (in the change),

NWP Sells off Vowels!

nwp sells off vowels
I’ve been disheartened by the news of the National Writing Project losing its federal funding. But there’s no better time for humor, right? I woke up this morning with a funny story of NWP selling off vowels as a fundraiser. So, I headed off to the Newspaper Clip Generator site to make this. I hope you get a laugh out of it and then make some phone calls to support the National Writing Project with your representatives and senators.

Peace (in the best medicine),

March Book Madness: The City of Ember

I see a lot of kids reading The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau these days, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. Mostly, they give it a thumbs up. Here, one of my students presents her thoughts on the book, which she loved. She even gave it “10 light bulbs lit up” on her review scale. This is part of my March Book Madness feature going on here all month long as we celebrate the books we have read.

Peace (in the light),

Slice of Life: The End of Bassman

Slice of Life 2011Last year, in a bit of a hiatus between the collapse of my longtime band (The Sofa Kings) and the start of a new band (no name yet), I started to tap into the world of rock and roll bands with a webcomic called Bassman. I have always wanted to play bass in a band (even though I am only so-so — my main instruments are the sax and rhythm guitar) and the comic allowed me to explore this interest.

I worked on about 20 comic strips and then lost interest. The other day, I stumbled on Bassman again (and sent the link off to our new bass player, who is so incredibly talented) and realized that I needed to bring the comic to an end, and what better way to end the story than with the band falling apart and the members wondering what is next.

Yesterday morning, with the gift of a two-hour delay in my school (but not in my sons’ schools), I wrote out and then created the final comic strips in the Bassman series. If you know any musicians in a rock band (or if you are one yourself), you may recognize something in the characters.

Peace (in the dissonance),

Slice of Life: At the Movies with Rango

Slice of Life 2011It was a rainy post-winter/pre-spring day yesterday, so I grabbed my middle son and a friend and went to the movies. The place was mobbed. I suspect they were all feeling as we were: get out of the house.

The movie we chose was Rango (with voice by Johnny Depp as Rango the lizard) and I have to say it had to have been one of the oddest animated movies I have seen in quite some time. I’m not sure if it is was for kids, or for the parents. The story opens in a way that brought me right back to college, when I was completely taken by the Carlos Castaneda series of Shaman Philosophy books about finding oneself by metaphorically exploring inward (peyote apparently helps).

“A man can’t walk out of his own story.” (or something like that)

This quote came and went throughout the movie as the protagonist (who calls himself that at the start of his adventure in a sort of meta-nod to the audience watching) is thrust into an Western adventure where water is a commodity in short supply. And it rambled around  in my head.

Rango is filled with references to many movies and books that completely escaped the kids. Here are some that stuck out with me:

  • Greek drama (some birds sing out the Greek Chorus)
  • Chinatown (“control the water”)
  • Wizard of Oz (the hawk/witch gets killed)
  • The No-Name Westerns of Clint Eastwood
  • Shane
  • Any old-time Western movie you have ever seen

I’m not saying Rango was great. It was interesting. My son and his friends didn’t like it. I tried to explain that what I liked was how it didn’t feel like a Disney movie — it had a different style.

“It’s not Disney, dad, it’s Nickleodean,” my son grumbled.

Peace (in the hot sun),

March Book Madness: Feed

Feed (2002), M. T. Anderson

This is part of my March Book Madness series, which mostly includes student work. Periodically, I am going to include my own book reviews, too. Today is one of those days.

It’s not often that I admit that I don’t know what to make of a book. But here, with Feed by MT Anderson, I am not sure now if I liked it or not. I had heard great things about it, and I wanted to like this tale of the future world, but there was something about the writing and the characters that kept jarring me as a reader. I almost abandoned the thing at least twice. But I couldn’t. Something kept drawing me back.

The story is set in the future, where people have “feeds” installed in their minds (sort of like an internalized RSS built around interests and likes, and run by commercial entities. Imagine lots of spam cramming into your head along with important information. That would be your feed.) People “chat” each other up; get hacked into by others; go “mal” by messing with their feeds; and are connected to some internalized network of information flows.

It’s a chilling prospect, as Anderson imagines it, and the plot centers around two teenagers — one (Titus) who takes the life of the feed for granted and the other (Violet), who is slowly dying from it and wants to see life for what it is.

Anderson’s skewering of corporate America, and our increasing dependence on technology for information, is bitingly satiric. That’s what kept me coming back, I think. During the reading of the novel (which I read in class during our silent reading — this is not a book for middle school kids, by the way), I also remember reading articles in Time Magazine that seemed to echo in reality the world that Anderson had created. I can’t recall now the articles, but they sort of jolted me. Here were hints of things to come around information technology that could (only could, not will) lead to the kind of world that Anderson envisions. (Gosh, I wish I could remember the articles.)

What I didn’t like was Anderson’s stilted writing, and I never really connected with the characters. I wanted to. I kept waiting to feel some emotional response to their plight of living in this world, and trying to make sense of it all. I just couldn’t do it. It’s very possible that that distance was Anderson’s design all along — to show how technology removes us from each other. I was so removed, I felt like removing the book.

What I did find interesting is all of the invented language that Anderson uses here, as the kids talk in future slang influenced by products and commercialization. When one character gets a verbal tattoo from Nike, and begins injecting the word “Nike” into everything he says, I wondered how far off that might be. (far, far off, I hope).

Peace (without the need for feed),

Slice of Life: The First Comic

Slice of Life 2011I completely missed the boat on this year’s Slice of Life Challenge with Ruth and Stacey at Two Writing Teachers. It’s March; It’s Slice of Life. I didn’t make the connection and I must have zoomed past their call for writers in my RSS or something. Thanks to my friend, Bonnie, the Slice of Life is back on my radar but I think I will only do it periodically.

What is Slice of Life? It’s a feature in which folks write about a small part of their day, and then share it out. It could be a little nugget of something that seems larger in reflection. It could be something that happened. It could be a quiet moment. It could be whatever you want it to be.

Join the Slice of Life Challenge at Two Writing Teachers.

So, here’s mine for today:
Rowan's First Comic March2011

I was reading the newspaper yesterday morning, when my youngest son (6 years old) came up and jammed a piece of paper in front of me. He had dug it out of his kindergarten backpack.

“What’s this?” I asked.

“My very first comic,” he answered slowly, proudly, closing his eyes and raising his head for dramatic effect.

I took a  look. Before I could ask, he said, “It’s Star Wars and Batman. See?”

He then went into the whole story behind the picture, which (to be honest) I had a bit of a difficult time following. But I nodded my head, pointed out various elements of the comic and gently encouraged his excitement.

“Great job,” I said, hugging him.

“I know,” he said, walking away, leaving me with the comic.

Peace (in the sharing),