Book Review: Unbound (A Novel in Verse)

This book packs a powerful voice — that of nine-year-old Grace — into its pages, and Ann Burg’s Unbound never lets up. Grace is a slave, sent to the Big House to help, but even her mother and step-father know she will have trouble keeping quiet. Grace is a girl with a mind of her own, and slavery’s injustice gnaws at her.

In fact, it is Grace’s words that set the story into motion, as she and her family escape the plantation in the night, making a run for Freedom, with a capital “F” even if Grace does not know what or where that is.

Burg’s historical references to the Maroons — communities of escaped slaves that did not head north to Canada or elsewhere, but instead, stayed hidden in the South — is a fascinating piece of forgotten stories, and Grace’s harrowing adventures into the Great Dismal Swamp of Virginia and North Carolina remind us of these stories of slaves who risked everything to leave the shackles and to help others along the way.

What resonates is Grace’s inner voice, brought to the surface with talent and compassion and spoken poetry by Burg’s writing. It’s nearly impossible to read Unbound without your heart jumping to save Grace from the violence and struggles of her times, and to give her strength on her journey.

Unbound never loses track of the internal narrative struggles — the doubts, the joy, the love, the worry — of young Grace, even as the novel reminds us of yet another chapter of our country’s horrible past and the yearning of those in chains to be free.

As Burg noted in her Author’s Notes at the end of Unbound:

The choice to brave the wilderness rather than suffer the brutality and humiliation of bondage is a towering testimony of an oppressed people who risked everything for the chance to be free.

Peace (and Freedom),
Kevin

Combining GIFs Together in Digital Alchemy Experiment

Combining Gifs

This morning’s DS106 Daily Create call for “making stuff” was to merge a name with a famous person with the name of something else. Betty White Cake was the example (chuckle).

I wanted to do Edge of Darkness, with the U2 guitarist. And I wanted to merge two animated GIFs — the Edge with a dark scene — but I didn’t know how to do that. So I learned how.

I searched the Net and re-discovered Animated GIF Maker (which I have used before to make a single GIF) and learned that you can upload multiple GIFs at a time and then arrange and re-arrange the frames. It’s not perfect but it worked for what I wanted, a hint of the darkness of The Edge.

Now all I need is a soundtrack for the end of the world …

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

An Invitation to Collaborate: The Writer’s Block by Grant Snider

If you have never checked out Grant Snider’s wonderful illustrations, you have been missing out. I have long loved seeing his work, and have bought his calendar (2018), bought his book, and purchased a poster from him for my classroom, and I’ve shared his work through my networks.

See his site — Incidental Comics — for yourself

Grant’s latest piece was in the New York Times Book Review (although I saw it first in my RSS reader) and is called Writer’s Block, and it is full of visual puns and elements of literacy. I borrowed his image from his site and put it into Thinglink, and invite you and others to add layers of text to it.

Go to the Thinglink overlay of Writer’s Block

Peace (in textual surfaces),
Kevin

Digital Palimpsest: Words Lost to the Night

Here’s a poem that emerged rather unexpectedly from a daily alchemy prompt through Networked Narratives.

It began here with some silhouettes and a call for wondering who shadows might be. I wrote a poem and layered it on top of the prompt image itself:

Notice how Wendy took that and went a step further, layering another piece on top of the layer.

I took that piece by Wendy and added a few more layers, writing a second poem (video at the top of this post) and then using a few different media apps to create what was fast becoming what Wendy called an onion. Only hints of the first layers are visible.

 

To which Mia commented about the layering process itself:

And I had to look up the word:

To which Karen added:

Neat, right?

Peace (in the discovery),
Kevin

 

 

 

 

 

YOU and The Way Social Media Tells the Story

My wife and I have been watching the television show, YOU, for the past few weeks, creeping out on the storyline. Besides shouting at the television for all the narrative holes in the plot (there are many) and for characters not seeing the obvious, it’s been sort of fascinating to watch how social media is baked into the fabric of the show of obsession.

This isn’t the first television show to necessarily do this — use social media and technology as a key storytelling device — (see Black Mirror for other examples) but YOU utilizes it so well for telling the story over an entire season — for the obsessive surveillance of one character over another (usually Joe watching Beck but sometimes Beck watching Joe); for a character who is a social media influencer, as her job; for creating fake accounts to create a false reality; for ghosting people and people worried about being ghosted; for tracking people down through bits of information; and more.

Wikipedia notes:

As You is situated in modern day New York City, it explores the dangers of social media culture with an emphasis on a lack of digital privacy.

Mobile phones for these young adults living in New York City are never far away from any character in the show, and when one character – Beck, a writer, of all things, who’s at the heart of Joe’s obsession — has her devices and apps and router all shut off by a colleague so she can actually write, the cold-turkey-syndrome of being so bored we see her pacing her apartment, doing all sorts of things (other than writing, alas) before finally giving in and booting up her router.

This might be you. Or me.

Television has long been a window on culture, if often slightly warped by narrative design. YOU is one of those shows, reflecting our desire to be connected to the stories of others and to project our own version of stories for others to read. YOU also shows us the surveillance state we have allowed ourselves to be part of, where tracking the histories and present of another is often as simple as following accounts, where we openly and freely share lots of information.

YOU uses this digital connection to creep us out with how the digital world feeds and nurtures obsessions. Maybe we should pay attention a bit more to what it is telling us about our world out here, beyond the screen, too.

Peace (go dark),
Kevin

Do You Know of Dark Patterns?

This video by Nerdwriter (whom I support via Patreon) seems like it could connect with the inquiry now being done in Networked Narratives around technology, surveillance and agency.

Dark Patters are “crappy user experience that intentionally makes it difficult to do something ” that hurts the company. In other words, intentional design to thwart our own agency as a user. This is a fascinating look at this concept.

Be alert out there …

Peace (into the light),
Kevin

Book Review: The Poet X

Voice is what surfaces with absolute clarity in Elizabeth Acevedo’s The Poet X, a powerful narrative poem structure of a young woman pushing against the cultural barriers of her first-generation Dominican family in order to find herself. Xiamara Batista, or X, the main character through which the book/poem flows, is a cauldron of confusion, at times defiant; at times, fragile.

Where X finds herself is in her poetry, words as a source of expression. And slam poetry — the art of performing your poems to the world — is also where she loses herself.

When X’s mother, whose strict and confining cultural expectations of her daughter become an increasing source of tension and anguish, finds her daughter’s poems, in which X writes of a budding romance, she destroys her daughter’s book of poetry. X is distraught and angry, until she realizes her poems are in still in her head and in her heart.

The Poet X is a reminder that stories and poems flow through us all. And that these can become the threads of how we linger on our family, the past and the future. You won’t soon forget Xiamara Batista after reading this novel in verse.

Her words will linger.

 

I would say that this book is perfect for high school students, particularly those who don’t often see their own lives reflected in the books of our classrooms, but it may be a bit edgy for some middle school readers. There’s a real-life tension here, although nothing that would preclude this from being a potential classroom book. You might want to read it first. Well, of course, you should read it anyway.

Peace (in poems),
Kevin

 

Comics As MultiMedia Literacy Doorways

Thanks to my friend, Lauren Z., I took a dive into this piece by Gene Luen Yang (back when he was still in the high school classroom and not writing cool award-winning graphic novels and ambassador of young people’s fiction and all that) about the power of comics and graphic novels in the classroom.

Take a look at the piece in Language Arts journal from NCTE from back in 2008 (his points are still valid today)

Thanks, Laura!

And I saw this, too, as I started looking around Yang’s website. The Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art is a mere 15 minute drive from me, and they are going to be doing a Graphic Novel showcase in February, featuring Yang and others. I am so there!

And further rabbit-holing led me to this collection, which I just ordered through our library because the collection of stories about race and culture seems interesting. Yang is a contributor.

Peace (in frames),
Kevin

Fifteen Years of Adding Words to the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

Invented Words of 2019Since 2005, I have had sixth graders in my classroom inventing and creating new words as part of our Word Origin unit. That’s 15 years of making words. Which is pretty cool. And even cooler, I think, is that each year, every student contributes a new word the online Crazy Collaborative Dictionary, which now boasts about 1,000 invented words.

In recent years, I’ve added a podcast element, so every student contributor’s voice is now embedded as part of the dictionary, a time capsule of sound. Even cooler. I’ve written before, too, about the element of “collaboration across time” here, with siblings working with siblings, but years later — sometimes, many many years later. Of all, this is the most interesting.

The dictionary has had a few homes over the years, from wikis that are no longer around, to a Google Doc one year, and now it is part of our class weblog site, The Electronic Pencil.

Visit the Crazy Collaborative Dictionary

The above word cloud image is most of this year’s new word collection (a few stragglers didn’t make it to the image). Here are a few of my favorites from this year’s addition of about 75 new words (every student invents three new words but only “donates” one of their words to this project).

Visit just this year’s words

 

Peace (in any name available),
Kevin

Who Knows What the Future Holds?

This is oddly intriguing and a bit unsettling. The video, shared in Networked Narratives, shows kids in 1966 chatting about what they envision as the future. So much of it was about Nuclear War, overpopulation, and the end of the world, and it’s sad to think how much was on the minds of these kids.

Another article had drawings of ideas of kids imagining the future, taken from 1961. An artist rendered their ideas as illustrations. Here, mainframe computers were already “serving” us (sort of like the aliens in Twilight Zone).

What about today? I teach young students, and when we have discussions these days about what’s ahead, mostly they seem optimistic, and expect that technology will be able to fix and solve most problems. They are often startled when we do a unit on technology and talk about data, privacy and more. The one significant concern many have? Climate Change. Although, they are less worried for themselves, and seem more worried about animals and ecosystems.

I was also reminded of this picture book — 2030: A Day in the Life of Tomorrow’s Kids — which is more optimistic and fun, following a kid through a day of talking dogs and virtual classrooms, and conveniently ignores most of the social and dehumanizing ramifications of technology.

Which brings us to .. Timbuk 3 … get some shades!

 

Peace (today and tomorrow),
Kevin