Graphic Novel Review: Supernova (Amulet #8)

The first thing I did when I got the very last page of the newest Amulet book — Supernova — by Kazu Kibuishi (one of my favorite graphic novelists) is rush to my 14 year old son and proclaim: “There’s only going to be one more book in the Amulet series!”

He wasn’t quite as excited and depressed as I was, even though he has been reading the Amulet series nearly his entire life. The first book came out in 2008, when he was four. His older brothers, now at college, devoured the books, and re-read them with passion. Every time a new one came out, they would battle over who got to read it first. The youngest son, the one still left in the house, ended up with the entire series to peruse and read without squabbling.

I was excited to read that a ninth book will be coming down the road (it usually is a few years) and depressed that the series would be coming to a close. The Amulet storyline — of multiple protagonists on multiple worlds caught up on a struggle between the shadow creatures and Stonekeepers, who wear amulets of ancient magic) — is intricate but accessible, and Kibuishi’s artwork will sometimes take your breath away with its beauty.

The newest book — Supernova — continues in that tradition, with a fast-paced story that follows a handful of main characters, all working their way back to each other (for the last book, no doubt). Kibuishi does not bring you up to speed at the start of new editions, but if you have read the story, you are immediately transported back to the worlds, to the adventure, to the moral and ethical decisions facing the young heroes — most of all, Emily, the main protagonist and newest Stonekeeper for whom the fate of many worlds rest.

My young teenage son, the one at home, has been reading Supernova, too, but it was a student in my classroom, who saw an extra copy I put out, who captured the excitement that I have for the Amulet books. She nearly skipped over to me when she saw it, nearly bubbling with surprise, and asked: “Can I borrow that book?”

You bet, I said, and she left the classroom with a huge smile, hugging the book. Now, that is a moment worth savoring.

Peace (among worlds),
Kevin

Writing for the Reading Zine: In Praise of the Locked Room Mystery

Summer Library Zine Project

It was early in the summer when I saw a little notice at the local library about a reading book Zine they were putting together, and if anyone wanted, they could submit something. Of course, I figured: I’ll make a comic! So I did – I created one about locked-room mysteries, as I was reading Waste of Space by Stuart Gibbs.

I sent it in and forgot about it.

Locked Room Mystery Comic

Well, I got an email last week, saying the Zine was out, and that I had won a free movie pass to a local independent movie place, and a copy of the Zine was waiting for me. I went and perused the tiny stapled publication, and I absolutely love the variety of art and writing. They way they call it a Literary Magazine is also a nice gesture.

I even saw a neighbor’s 10-year-old daughter had a short story in there — a lovely piece about the sun and the moon — so I congratulated her for her writing, and she beamed.

I love the simplicity of Zines and the connection to the library as a public space.

Peace (zine-ing it),
Kevin

 

Slice of Life: Four Presentations in the Days Ahead

(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.)

In the next two weeks, I am facilitating or co-facilitating four different workshops at three different places, and while I am making good progress, I still feel a bit scattered, thinking through all of the tasks I have to do to get it all into place.

October Presentations

This weekend, my Write Out colleague Bethany Silva and I are doing an online presentation for the 4TDW (teachers teaching teachers about technology and digital writing), and we used Zoom this weekend to finalize most of the planning. Online presentations like this are tricky because you want to engage the audience and encourage them to visit resources, but then you need to have them all come back to the platform. The virtual conference is free, by the way, and our session on Write Out (an initiative between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service) is on Saturday, from 11:15 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

A week from today, meanwhile, I am gathering with some grade 3-6 colleagues in our school district, as I have been asked to lead a Professional Learning Community around Project-Based Learning. I have a bunch of activities and activators all set up, but there is limited time, and we will meet only one more time this year. Yeah, not really a PLC. More like a PBL teaser, but I’ll do my best to get conversations started and underway.

Finally, two other presentations take place a week later at our Western Massachusetts Writing Project’s annual fall conference. on October 13 at UMass Amherst. There, I am doing another version of the Write Out workshop (but this time, more localized, around our work with the Springfield Armory National Historic Site) as well as a workshop about digital annotation and the Writing Our Civic Futures project from Educator Innovator. My aim is to get us annotating a text (by Linda Christensen) on paper (first, solo, and then as a workshop), then together, online, joining the crowd annotation project.

Phew. October just started, and it already seems busy.

Peace (sharing it),
Kevin

A Found Poem from a Shared Text, Composed in the Margins

As part of my annotation of War in Translation for Equity Unbound, I found a sentence/passage that lent itself to a poem, so I wrote in the margins of the piece. Later, I took the poem and created this video version, which I think is powerful for the combination of words, image and music.

Author Lina Mounzer writes:

 In the considered, deliberate act of translation, these I’s bump up into one another again and again until they are accidentally shattered, the various pieces of these commingled selves becoming, for long moments, indistinguishable from one another.

I wrote:

from you
comes I
for I have
become you;
these words
now of us
co-mingle,
indistinguishable
in these long moments
where we both emerge
accidentally shattered
by story.

Peace (outside of it),
Kevin

What a Reader Brings To a Collective Story

Reader Interpretation

There’s a moment of realization upon reading “War in Translation: Giving Voice to the Women of Syria” by Lina Mounzer when her opening stories of anguish and war and struggle give way to the realization that she is writing in a collective voice. I found myself jolted (although, to be honest, if only I had spent more time reading the title of the piece, perhaps I would have better realized the situation).

I made a note of this surprise in the annotated margins of the article, as folks in Equity Unbound (including Maha’s class in Egypt) are crowd-annotating Mounzer’s powerful piece. I don’t want it to be a criticism of Mounzer’s writing, because it is not. (You can read and annotate, too, if you want. Just follow this link to the piece.)

But it did get me thinking about the role of the single reader experiencing a collective story. In this case, Mounzer is distilling the stories of multiple women in Syria who blogged about living in a state of war, and how it impacted their families, their lives, their futures. Her role was as translator, and also as curator of collective voices. Her intention was to give voice to the struggles of women in Syria, and she succeeds.

So what is my role, the reader removed from the scene, in this story? These are some rough thoughts this morning, before I head back into the text for more reading.

A reader must determine veracity. We live in the age of Fake News and Unreliable News. I did my due diligence by following the biography of Mounzer and her organization, and determined as best as I could that she seemed to be who she says she is, and that I could believe in her work. This is key to a collective story format like this, as a curator and translator could easily invent stories to make a point. The ‘multiple voice’ format is easily manipulated by a writer. That does not appear to be the case here. I believe these stories.

A reader must be willing to be transported. Aleppo is far from my home. I am in a comfortable, and safe, space as I read about these brave women trying to survive under a brutal regime and violent revolution. As reader, I must try to make their stories present in my head and in my heart. I must try to understand. In this case, the act of crowd-annotation is helpful, for it forces the reader to interact with the text on a meaningful level. I can’t ignore the stories. I have to acknowledge them.

A reader should find other readers. This may not be true in all cases — there are plenty of pieces I read alone and never share with anyone — but here, in a piece about collective voices that comes within a theme about avoiding “the single story,” it seems rather important that readers gather together to read together. The use of Hypothesis helps this. The reader is not alone, as the Syrian bloggers are not alone. As Mounzer brings the writers together, so does Hypothesis and Equity Unbound bring readers together.

A reader brings themselves and their own stories into the texts. I am thinking of how engaging with the text from other people from other parts of the world has the potential to expand my own understanding of the world. One’s perspective of Syria from the United States is likely different from the perspectives of someone from the Middle East, I suspect. This is because we have different stories to tell, and different ways to make connections to the story of stories we are reading together. I’m not talking about sharing intimate experiences with the world, with people we don’t really know. But readers bring where they were to where they are, and reading other readers is powerful.

When the reader becomes writer, the writer knows they are being read. Sorry for the tricky phrasing, but I was thinking of how the annotations would be received by Mounzer, and if she would find a way to send those comments forth to the women bloggers she has curated. I can visualize this loop, from stories, to curation, to article, to readers, to annotation, to comments, to stories, to writers. Those bloggers needed an audience. They used writing to make sense of an unpredictable world. A world of sadness and violence. We are their audience. You are their audience. Annotation makes the reader visible.

What do you think? What’s the role of the reader in any text?

Peace (thinking),
Kevin

 

Considering Perspectives: There Is No Single Story

Beyond the Single Story

The topic of The Danger of a Single Story by Chimamanda Adichie in the Equity Unbound course suddenly seems everywhere in my field of vision. First, of course, the professors who are collaborating in the Equity Unbound (Mia, Maha and Catherine) have invited the open participants to view the TED talk on this topic.

But then, at a meeting this week for the Western Massachusetts Writing Project, a colleague who teaches at a middle school was sharing with us one of his educational ideas to broaden cultural perspectives with his seventh graders, and he mentioned how that very day, he had been showing the TED talk with his students to spark writing and conversation.

I nearly jumped out of my seat, to say, we’ve been talking about that, too, in Unbound Equity. I didn’t jump but I did talk to him later about the discussion threads unfolding online.

Which all got me thinking about the unit I am in right now with my sixth graders, around short story writing. We’ve been exploring Narrative Point of View, and the choices a writer makes in telling a story, and how different Narrative Points of View (first person, second person, third person) bring to light different elements of story.

Number crunchers of story

Right now, my students are flipping a touchstone text story from the start of the year (Rikki Tikki Tavi) and re-writing the story from the view of what was the antagonist, turning her into the protagonist. Some of my young writers are struggling with this shift in perspective — they get locked into a story as it is told (as if a writer can do no wrong) and can’t twist it another way. Others are excited about the freedom this shift gives a writer.

A phrase I have tried to repeat to them: Every character is a hero in their own story. Everything is perspective.

And all this discussion and conversation has me wondering if it is nearly time to consider bringing The Danger of a Single Story into my classroom, as an extension of our writing. I feel inspired by the work and insights of others in Equity Unbound and beyond. I need to watch it again myself, from the perspective of my young students, and consider the appropriateness for our learning space.

Meanwhile, one of the participants in the discussion thread on Twitter brought up an interesting perspective on digital interactions and story, and raises the question of whether a digital platform expands or contracts the story. This, of course, is an ongoing question …

Multiple Stories and the Digital World

Peace (at different angles),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Waste of Space (Moon Base Alpha)

Stuart Gibbs sure knows how to hook adolescent readers in. His various series of books — Fun Jungle, and Spy School, and Moon Base Alpha –– are all fun to read, with fast pace and quirky characters that will remind a reader of Carl Hiassen in a good way.

Waste of Space, the third book in the Moon Base Alpha series, is a closed room mystery, in which our narrator — Dashiell Gibson — has to solve an attempted murder in a space station on the moon. There is no way for anyone to arrive and no way for anyone to leave. Whoever attempted the murder by injection of cyanide is still on Moon Base Alpha.

There’s plenty of tension on the moon station, as families mix with astronauts and engineers, and what seemed to Dashiell as a fun adventure becomes something more dangerous, even to the point where he himself gets attacked on the moon’s surface.

And so the narrative line goes, as Gibbs adds humor, squabbles, and even strange alien interaction (in way that doesn’t seem overly forced, as he has been setting the stage for the encounter and its aftermath in the series), that provides for quite a satisfactory ending.

This book is perfect for middle school readers, and even elementary readers will enjoy the story. Gibbs gets a huge thumbs-up from me, and from many of my students.

Peace (in the stars),
Kevin

Word Walls and Sticky Notes: Where Novels and Vocabulary Collide

Word Wall with Context Sticky NotesI’ve been making a concerted effort with my special education colleague/co-teacher to spend more time helping our students make contextual connections to our vocabulary acquisition system. We have a lot of language-based disabilities and a handful of ELL students this year that need more support than ever. I’ve begun using Word Walls, for example, and we have been integrating the various words into games and activities.

This image shows our Word Wall with sticky notes in which students had to connect the words to the novels we are reading (Flush and Watsons Go to Birmingham) in context. They had to write a sentence about a character or scene, using one of our words from this week’s vocabulary unit. This was easier for the Watsons group than for the Flush group, since the them of the words were Civil Rights. But all students in all the classes found a way to success.

I’ve used Word Walls, but not with any real dedication through the year, so I am trying to keep it going and aim to be using the wall as a place for review and learning.

Plus, you can’t go wrong with colorful sticky notes and 11 year students.

Peace (on the wall),
Kevin

 

And … they’re off … more #clmooc postcards

CLMOOC postcards Sept2018

I’ve been lax the last few months with the CLMOOC postcard project (we have a list of about 70 people who periodically mail postcards to each other). This past weekend,  though, I got my act together and mailed out 18 postcards to CLMOOC friends on our list. Some of the cards may already be arriving. Some may take longer.

Peace (in the mail),
Kevin

Slice of Life: The Class of Infectious Curiosity

(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 almost title this post “The Chatty Class in Room 8” or “The Class of Non-stop Talking.”

But I didn’t, because the more I thought of this one particular class of sixth grade students (out of four groups that I teach), the more I realized that the talkative nature is driven more by wondering and curiosity than anything else. I’ve had plenty of classes through the years where the talking was difficult to keep in check (and I am pretty lenient most of the time) and where small clusters of students (last year, it was a group of boys) think class time is social time all the time, and that the teacher’s voice is one to tune out.

Not this group.

These students always have their hands raised, always want to contribute to the conversations, whatever the topic might be. They always are asking insightful queries to their classmates during presentations. They bring us on tangents, true, but interesting ones, with odd angles of looking. They always seem to want to know more, more, more.

And I think that curiosity is infectious, is it not?

I noticed the leaders of the class — smart, strong students — being kind to others, by asking them to share more, explain more, think more, question more. And their classmates have followed their lead, which is quite interesting to watch and to see. They’ve already built on my work with them to create a safe space to wonder in.

So, even if the room gets loud at times, it’s the right kind of loud. The curious kind. The kind of talk every classroom in every school, everywhere, should be open to.

Peace (and wonder),
Kevin