Book Review: The Stars Beneath Our Feet

I had just finished The Stars Beneath Our Feet by David Barclay Moore and was perusing the comments at Goodreads (I try not to read comments until after I have read the book) and noticed that while many adults were praising the story (which I liked well enough), one young middle school reader wrote the opposite. And her response has me wondering if too many of the books coming out now with cultural diversity are becoming one-trick ponies.

This is some of what this young reader – her name is Lola — wrote:

I don’t see what everyone else sees in this book.

Perhaps that is because I have read so many, many, many books featuring characters dealing with the loss of a loved one? I want to say that is probably the case, but the truth is I constantly read these books and I tend to enjoy them as a general rule.

So what happened? The writing is lovely. It drew me in from the start. I was curious about the story and I certainly could not complain about the cool cover. But it took time for me to understand why there was tension between the characters,

Someone died. Who died? Oh, his brother. Really, how? Well, you’ll have to wait until I’m ready to share that part. Oh, come on, I’d like to understand now, not later. But I’m not ready to share that with you! And what’s up with his father, what’s going on? It’s complicated…

I felt confused a lot. And even when I wasn’t anymore, when the hero finally decided to shed some light on issues, I realized there is absolutely no plot and the little boy is just wandering around, making connections, pretending to be okay, trying to live on after the tragic death of his brother, doing mundane things like buying gifts, ….

Her comments had me thinking to many of the novels I have been reading in the past year or so, since a wave of frustration and lobbying for more diverse books finally began to take hold. There does seem to be a trend now of African American protagonists, from urban communities, dealing with the tragic loss of someone close, with the story of the loss only hinted at until something dramatic happens to bring a sense of understanding to the character.

That’s The Stars Beneath Our Feet. And I enjoyed reading this book, and I was rooting for Lolly (Wallace) as he struggled to deal with the loss of his older brother to gang violence, and resist efforts from his brother’s friends to recruit him into the gang life, and how the building of cities with Legos helped him to understand himself, and others around him.

If our stories are now becoming too predictable — I have also been reading On The Come Up by Angie Thomas, and the echoes of the same storyline are already ringing true, even as I am really enjoying the story and the main character — then we are doing a disservice to young readers, who deserve a variety of narratives — a variety of cultures and protagonists and events, told in a variety of forms — in their reading lives.

That’s something to think about, even as we can celebrate the diversity of books now on our shelves. Read The Stars Beneath our Feet, for sure, and put it on your classroom shelf, but also be attuned to other narratives. Be diverse in culture as well as in stories. We want as rich a tapestry as we can make, and read.

Peace (in the pages),

Digging Ever Deeper Down into The Art of Is

Book nibblers

Terry has us tunneling into the book The Art of Is by Stephen Nachmanovitch, a book with the tantalizing subtitle of “Improvising As A Way of Life” that caught my attention. The introduction has my attention, for sure, as Nachmanovitch weaves in the concepts of improvisation to all sorts of ideas — music, art, text, collaborations, etc. I like the scope of it.

We’re inside NowComment as an annotation space (contact Terry if you want an invite), I am working to make art out of my reading experience. The comic above is a play on Terry’s invitation on Twitter and Mastodon, about “nibbling” at the edges of the work.

I then made this comic on my first reading start, trying to reframe the cover of the book as a piece of art and trying to explore the strange wording of the book’s title.

Comic reading

I’ve also been writing poetry — some of it found right inside the book —

found poem inside The Art of Is

Who knows where this improv will lead … following threads takes faith that the unraveling leads to understanding.

Peace (inside, outside, beyond),


Novel-in-Verse Review: Siege (How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution)

It’s possible this book wins the award for longest title in my reading activities this year. Siege (How General Washington Kicked the British Out of Boston and Launched a Revolution) by Roxanne Orgill is a free verse narrative of … well … what the title tells us — the historical time in Boston just before the full onslaught of the American Revolution unfolded and tensions were running high in Boston.

Siege spins the story through a multitude of voices — and this use of voice in free verse is its most effective trait. While I do enjoy free verse books, the poems where never quite captured my fancy, for some reason. I was intrigued, though, by how the poems represented both the powerful (on both sides of the military standoff) and the common people caught in the middle of escalating violence.

Washington is the reluctant general, in some ways (as history has shown) and he railed against the restraints he was given as he sought to build up a military force to face the British. Food was scarce as disease was not. Gunpowder, the key to winning any battle, was in low supply.

The most intriguing storyline here, for me, was Washington begging his former secretary — Joseph Reed — who had returned to Philadelphia after his stint with Washington ended, only to be on the receiving end of many letters from Washington himself, giving full account of the chaos of turning regular rebels into an army, and calling on Reed to leave his family and return to Boston. There is something in the humanity of the two men that comes alive in the poems in the book.

Siege would be a solid entry into a middle or high school shelf, and of particular interest to those history geeks who love to learn more of the minute and human aspects of the time before the start of the American Revolution.

Peace (on the hill),

Novel-in-Verse Review: Voices from the March on Washington

Let me begin with one of the first poems in this intriguing collection of free verse narratives of fictional characters who are making their way to Washington DC in August 1963 to protest for Civil Rights.

For All, 1963

If you contend the noblest end
of all is human rights, amend
the laws; The beauty of the sun
is that it shines on everyone

In Voices from the March on Washington, by J. Patrick Lewis and George Ella Lyon, the poetry sings the stories of the people who gathered to be part of the 250,000 protesters.

The poets here invent some fictional characters — a white teenager from the midwest, a young black girl from the south, a lawyer from the north, a Japanese internment survivor from the West — and brings their voices into a mix that will remind you of how far our country has come, and how far it has yet to go.

I started this book, thinking it would be a non-fiction collection, and so was pleasantly surprised to find myself immersed in poetry of all stripes. The poems dig deep, from those who are not sure why they are on the bus, to those on the bus being attacked with objects against glass windows, to those doubting whether MLK’s famous words are enough, to those making connections between races in ways that would have been impossible in the communities from which they departed. All are changed by the experience.

So is the reader, and this book is appropriate for any upper elementary to middle school classroom.

I’ll leave you with this last poem from the book:

Last Impressions
black without white
a moonless
a life
white without black
p. 97

Peace (as poems heal),


At the Eric Carle Museum: A Lens on Graphic Novels

Graphic Novel Exhibit at Eric Carle MuseumWe’re lucky in that we live in a vibrant literary community in my small Western Massachusetts city. There are writers and illustrators (and filmmakers and artists) everywhere you turn. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is not far away (just a town over the river and Eric Carle himself is local) and I took some time yesterday to head to the museum to see their special exhibit on graphic novels.

I really appreciated an entire museum room, dedicated entirely to the art of the graphic novel, and the Out of the Box exhibit was well-done, with visual timelines and examples of graphic stories across history along with a pretty diverse representation of featured writers and artists from the field. In addition, there was a rich library of graphic novels, and a few kids were scattered in corners, reading stories. (I wrote down a few titles I want to read myself).

I also really appreciated a display that invited museum participations to create and add a page to an ongoing community graphic novel on display. Tutorials were included on elements of comics. You could make your own frames and add to the story (which, to be honest, was a little odd and strange and non-linear), and I spent as much time enjoying the work of kids and adults in that collaborative graphic novel/comic strip writing piece as I did the formal displays.

In a few weeks, we’re having graphic novelist Jarrett Krosoczka come to our school to present to our students about the art of graphic novels (you have to read his Hey, Kiddo, if you haven’t done so already), and how art and writing come together to tell stories. Our plan is to have all of our sixth graders create their own comic/graphic novels celebrating a “support staff” member at our school, based on Krosoczka’s Lunch Lady series. It will be fun way to honor and recognize the work of those who are critical to a school community.

So, I grabbed a few pics from his display (he’s local, too) to share with students before his visit.

Jarrett Krosoczka Display at the Eric Carle Museum

I still fondly remember the Words & Pictures Museum that was in our city’s downtown. It was created and supported by the guys behind the Teenage Ninja Turtles, after their indie comic hit the big time. Both men began their careers here in our city. The museum was in this circular building structure, so you wandered your way from top to bottom, with walls covered in comic art. Too bad it had to close.

Peace (in and out of frames),



BookSnaps: Getting Close to the Text

BookSnaps Collage 2019Last year, I tried out this close-reading technology activity called BookSnaps — an idea shared by Tara Martin — in which students use an image “snapped” from their independent reading books as a way to reflect on what they are reading. They layer “stickers” on the image that connect to the story and use text “call-outs” to put their own ideas/reflections in there.

The other day, I had my sixth graders work on BookSnaps (we use Google Draw, through Google Classroom) and my readers were quite engaged in the activity, identifying snippets of text and asking questions, making predictions, discussing characters. There were a lot of helping hands, as most needed help holding the books while snapping the picture.

While the BookSnaps themselves don’t allow for deep literary analysis, they do provide an visual and engaging means to discuss the books they are reading, and just as important, they spark interest in other readers, as a sort of BookSnap/BookShare concept.

This was the one I did as a sample for them to see — I was reading The Stars Beneath Their Feet.

Mr H BookSnap SampleHere is a video collection of the BookSnaps that were finished by students during our class period:

Peace (snap it into place),

PS — Tara Martin did a talk on this concept, which is when I first heard about it and wanted to try it out

Book Review: Art Matters (Because Your Imagination Can Change the World)

It is no surprise that I devoured this visual interpretation of Neil Gaiman pieces by illustrator Chris Riddell, nor that days after I read Art Matters that the words and images still float in my mind. With a title subheader like Because Your Imagination Can Change the World, you know this small book has grand designs to connect the way we make art with the way we see the world.

The book gathers four writing pieces that Gaiman has published elsewhere — Credo, Make Good Art, Making a Chair and On Libraries — and Riddell uses his own talents to bring visuals to the words, both through his illustrations and through the use of font design. I loved how Riddell tied the four pieces together like this, with the act of making art and noticing art as a public good for change as a unifying thread.

I guess Riddell has been illustrating Gaiman for some time, sharing pieces on social media, but I hadn’t come across them, so this was first time viewing, and the partnership is inspiring.

Whether you make art now, or want to make art tomorrow, or made art yesterday, keep on keeping on. Need daily inspiration? Come follow and participate in the DS106 Daily Create. Or find your own inspiration in the world around you.

Peace (in ink and paper),



CLMOOC Book Club: Annotation of Chapter 5 with NowComment

NowComment Affinity Online

Thanks to Terry for popping the last full chapter in the book Affinity Online: How Connection and Shared Interest Fuel Learning, being read by CLMOOC as a month-long book study, for some crowd annotation into NowComment. Like Hypothesis, NowComment allows for many people to be reading and commenting and engaging in conversations on a single text.

This chapter — entitled Moving Forward — has the researchers bringing the strands of earlier chapters together in a helpful narrative. You can join us even if you haven’t read the book. There are many pathways into the text, too, which we have outlined at the CLMOOC website.

But you are invited ….

Head to NowComment (accounts are free and NowComment is now facilitated by our CLMOOC friend, Paul Allison, so you know it is designed for engaging learning practices)

I am going to try the embed version here, too.

Peace (in the text),

CLMOOC Book Group: Exploring the World of Nerdfighters

(Note from Kevin: I actually wrote this post two days ago, thinking I would post it yesterday. I left it lingering in my draft bin. Then, the massacre in New Zealand happened, and I had a poem spilling forth about madness and hate and social media that I just could not shake without writing it, and that poem is what I shared yesterday as a blog post.

The final stanza is a call about kindness in the world. I wondered where it is, where it was. I wrote: … no one ever seems/ to stream the kindness of/ the world, only the madness.

This morning, I revisited this post about Nerdfighters, and realized, THIS is about one of those places where the counter narrative of social media is already taking place, with young people leading the way. I also remembered Friday’s global walkout on climate change, where young people were protesting on a world scale for change. I had an answer, already written, to my question in the poem, but I had forgotten it, in my sadness and bewilderment of the world. It happens like that. We lose perspective. The horrible things push aside the good.

So, here, then is a post about an Affinity Network where young people are empowered to change the world for the better, and is thousands strong, too. It’s a reminder of how social media can be a tool for the good.)

I’ve enjoyed the Case Studies inside the book, Affinity Online, as we read the book in CLMOOC this month. The studies give us a more human story insider account of different Affinity Spaces and Networks. The focus on the Nerdfighters, which I knew of but never really dug deep, is fascinating for a few reasons.

What is Nerdfighters? They are not nerds fighting nerds, but nerds fighting for a better world. Or, in the words of the community, to decrease WorldSuck, their word for a world gone mad. Here’s a blurb from Wikipedia that provides a helpful overview:

Nerdfighteria is a community subculture, based mainly online. It began in 2007, when the VlogBrothers (John and Hank Green) rose to prominence in the YouTube community. As their popularity grew, so did coverage on Nerdfighteria, whose followers are individually known as Nerdfighters.[2] The term was coined when John saw a copy of the arcade game Aero Fighters and misread the title as Nerd Fighters.[3]

Hank Green describes it as “a community that sprung up around our videos, and basically we just get together and try to do awesome things and have a good time and fight against world suck”. He defines “world suck” as “the amount of suck in the world”.[4] The Greens established The Foundation to Decrease World Suck, in order to raise funds and launch projects that would help a variety of causes.

Nerdfighters believe in fighting world suck, promoting education, freedom of speech and the use of the intellect in modern society.[5]Nerdfighters and the Green brothers have collaborated on many projects such as the charitable drive, Project for Awesome which launched in 2007, and VidCon, the convention focusing on topics surrounding the world of digital media.[6][7] Nerdfighters have been documented by websites such as The Hollywood Reporter, and The Wall Street Journal, with a following estimated to be in the millions.[8][9]

The Nerdfighter community coalesced around two writers — the Green brothers, John and Hank– who early on saw the potential for video/vlogging as a means to make possible change in the world by reaching an audience of young people who often felt left out of the typical social circles.

The demographics, if still true from the statistics in the book, is predominantly a white, female majority (72 percent female and 85 percent white, in the information in the book, but also a high percentage of queer, gay and gender-fluid members) with an activist bent, using video and presence as its main media choice for messaging and connection points.

The Affinity Online rightly focuses on the Nerdfighters as an Affinity Network because of its deep civic action and reach. One of its main projects — Project for Awesome — has raised nearly $7 million for charities in the past five years, if I read the statistics right. Its homepage is chock full of user voice, with young people making and contributing videos as a way to engage and document and share.

Exploring the Nerdfighteria site, one quickly realizes how many strands are now out there, from various communities in other spaces to charity sites, to networking opportunities. It even has its own lexicon. And a map of local groups for local action projects. And a book club.

There is also VidCon, which is a digital media conference that showcases young and upcoming vloggers in the Nerdfighter networks. But the recent acquisition of VidCon by Viacom has me wondering about whether this Affinity Network event, designed to empower young video creators, will become another commercialized vendor space. If so, that sucks. And I use that word “suck” purposefully here.

How to become a Nerdfighter? The Green brothers explain, this video from a decade ago.

Peace (decrease the suck),

#CLMOOC Book Club: Quotes for Consideration (Ch1/2)

Affinity Online Quote Collage

As I have been reading the new book Affinity Online with fellow CLMOOC friends, I have been highlighting some quotes and insights that I find valuable, and sharing some of them out on Twitter. This is a collection from the first two chapters. I do this often as a way to read a bit closer and also to surface some ideas.

This collection from the first chapters of the book remind me that many young people find their own affinity spaces because there is not a connection in school or with peers around them, and those places — school, friendship, home — might not understand the passion and connection they find in online spaces. This divided identity is normal for teenagers, of course, but affinity networks can make it even more so (not a bad thing, but something to notice).

I also note that the authors remind us that many affinity spaces are always in flux, shifting to meet the needs of new members and new trends in the focus point (knitting, gaming, dancing, etc.) and spaces that don’t adapt and renew will likely fade away.

I’m now reading into the next two chapters …

Affinity Online Book Club

Peace (quoted),