Romanov by Nadine Brandes

I am a sucker for Anastasia stories, I do admit. When I was a young girl, her remains had not yet been discovered so there was still significant mystery about what happened to her and I sucked up the Anna stories. I was looking forward to this read and it did deliver. Romanov is the tale of magic being stamped out under the Red Revolution of Lenin. Considering all the other policies, I suspect that if magic had existed, Lenin would have considered it anathema to the Soviet way. This is also a love tragedy, the tale of a princess and a pauper and their ill fated affection. There are brutal moments in this story. They aren’t made any easier by the magic that is supposed to exist. But overall the writing was so well done, the world and character building so lovely, that it is worth the tough moments, even for those of us who read to escape. I was left wondering though…. if the royal family were so lovely, why were they so hated? Was the Tsar really the dedicated humanist we read about? I supposed Romanov did it’s job – now I have to go find out. #netgalley #Romanov

TheBoy, the Boat, and the Beast by Samantha Clark

You don’t know from the get-go if this is an allegorical story or a literal one or something else. And I am not spoiling it for you here.  TBTB&TB was a deceptively simple book to read.  While a readers ability level need not be high to enjoy the book, the story does eventually give way to darker and very realistic elements.  This is about a young boy stranded both emotionally, physically, and metaphysically.  Dissecting these issues of loss and abandonment should be tackled with appropriate students.   If you are looking for a short but intense book that can appeal to a wide range of reading skills, this might be the book for you.

All is Fair by Dee Garretson

All is Fair is a well written, intriguing WWI rescue story with a hint of romance. I read the ARC tonight and in just one sitting. I love a good female empowerment book and our heroine in this novel has moxie, brains, and a good sense of humor. While it is possible that some people will sigh about ‘another rescue’ novel (we have had some incredible ones recently), I especially like this novel for upper middle school and lower high school. It has some complexity that will appeal to a slightly older reading set but (spoilers) a resolution that is somewhat fanciful and a tiny bit incredible. Yet in the details, it is often more realistic than any other rescue novel I can think of. The author’s descriptions of the smell of a wrist watch or the hair oil and petrol oil on a scarf really struck me as adding a truly authentic layer. So, if you have someone new to the genre and/or a reader who adores the genre, All is Fair would be an excellent book to put into their hands.

#netgalley @deegarretson

Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal

We can all agree that it is rare for a reboot to rival the original. But in this world, where #MeToo and #WeNeedDiverseBooks live, I have found you a single novel that can be a gateway drug to fine literature, world literature, and women’s literature.

Unmarriageable is indeed “Pride and Prejudice in Pakistan.” But more importantly, it is the version of Pride and Prejudice modern students NEED to read. While a modern Westerner can intellectually understand the dilemma of Elizabeth Bennet in 19th century Regency Britain, the predicament of her and her sisters is somewhat removed emotionally for us. Women’s lives got better. Women became able to inherit and work and even marry for love. Having this tale play out in modern day Pakistan adds a level of reality and urgency to the story that is hard to experience from the original with our perfect historical hindsight.

Simply put, Unmarriageable has legs because so many of the original norms Austen wrote about are still at work in the world today. We read stories about honor killings, forced and arranged marriages, preference of boys to girls, shooting of girls going to school from all over the globe (not just South Asia). And in this novel, we see the seeds of how small micro-aggressions lay the ground work for macro-aggressions against the disenfranchised.

Because Unmarriageable is able to step just a bit beyond Austen’s exposure of the misogyny of the day, I hope and encourage educators to read it and consider adding it into your ELA curriculum. Unmarriageable not only presents the plight of women, especially “older” unmarried women, but also touches upon the struggles of gay men, interracial couples, unwed pregnant women, plus sized women, and class biases. And while the setting is Pakistan, many of these biases hit disturbingly close to the mark in Western society too. This book will also give educators an opportunity to teach about Partition, colonial occupation, India-Pakistan relations, Islam, the importance of education to women. And it may help some students realize how little they know about this important, populous and critical area of the world.

So…

Dear ELA Teachers Everywhere,

Please put down your copy of Pride and Prejudice. Just stick in that drawer next to you. Now open your computer and place an order for a class set of Unmarriageable by Soniah Kamal (due out January 2019). Your Jane Austen discussions are about to get wild.

#Unmarriageable #NetGalley @Soniah Kamal

Information Literacy – Part Deux

Screenshot 2018-10-31 18.11.08This afternoon I watched a really interesting Webinar on Digital Forensics (via Common Sense Media and EdWeb).  The speaker, from the News Literacy Project, was @PeterD_Adams . He had some great insights and I recommend watching his presentation (free from the above websites).  But in case you want the crib notes, here is my Very Important takeaway.

Peters highly discourages having students create Fake news or Fake Tweets (all easy to do on many many websites or via apps these days).  I wasn’t sure I liked this idea (having created a few myself for teaching purposes.)  Yet, the more he talked, the more I agreed.  In most classes or courses, we don’t ask students to do something incorrectly in order to learn the right way.  (“Please incorrectly solve this equation” or “Please use poor grammar in this essay”).  Rather we accept accidental errors as opportunities to learn but we don’t assign improper tasks.

Peter recommends that we treat the multitude of websites and apps that can create Fakes like pollution – something you notice in order to plan to avoid it in the future.  It makes sense.  EVERYTHING on the Web is there FOREVER. So no matter how you try, you can’t really purge your Fake creation – even if it was created just for sake of a class or as an example.  In some instances, purging a Fake might give you no forum to explain that it was a Fake (think Twitter).  This is especially egregious if your Fake went viral.

No, there are (alas) MANY good opportunities to decry Fakes without us making our own.  Peter recommends not just NewsLit.org but also Checkology, Snopes.com, factcheck,org, Politifact.  All have great examples that can be used while at the same time promoting beneficial, digital citizenship positive sites. This has the added benefit of denying the Fake Creation websites clicks, which in turn denies them revenue.  Because, as Peter pointed out, that is ALL Fakes are – a way to drive revenue (see https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-38168281 or read Peters analysis at https://newslit.org/get-smart/rumor-review-denzel-washington-supports-trump-false/).

 

 

My Plain Jane

So there is this Thing in books. I think it must also be in film and TV as well but I am not an expert in the writing of either. It is one of those Things you don’t realize or appreciate until it has been broken. Indeed, violating this Thing can sometimes be a great story vehicle and sometimes it can be a cop-out. The Thing is the fourth wall…. that window that readers or viewers get to peak through when consuming a story. Think of The Office (US) and how periodically Jim stares into the camera, talks directly to the audience. That is the breaking of the fourth wall.

I bring this up because I think it can be quite difficult to do. And it is done in My Plain Jane and done well such that it was unobtrusive. The direct conversation with the Reader provides context for the era, a useful tool considering the target audience is probably not familiar with the Victorian Age and its historical nuances. It also supplies a fair bit of the humor… including some that will appeal to young activists, particularly in the US.

This is the second in the “Jane” series – focusing on Jane Eyre and her writer, Charlotte Bronte (oh, and her brother). It is a fun, paranormal retelling of the Eyre story and is enhanced with a knowledge of Jane Eyre (such as Charlotte Bronte’s male pseudonym) though that isn’t strictly necessary. The novel is not scary despite the ghost plot line and it is has the morality of the time (so no sex, drugs, or rock n roll). The reading level would make it suitable for Middle Grades and above. But most importantly, this would be a truly entertaining hook for students into the original Jane Eyre novel and all the controversies it brought up in its own time.

I am obviously a proponent of reading for fun. But I am coming around to the idea that all school “assigned” reading really should be for pleasure’s sake. Comprehension as a skill is a by-product of empathy for characters and their travails. Trying to teach it is possible but so much more difficult than letting it happen naturally.

So Readers, allow me to break the fourth wall as well and directly implore you. If you don’t want to read the book assigned, dare your English teacher to let you choose your own reading material. Bring them your favourite stories and ask them to compare them to the classics. And if they don’t, demand they enter your reading world by writing your essays about how Hunger Games relates to the Odyssey or compare Steampunk and Victorian novels. Your reading choices are vast and varied and deserve validation.

As for My Plain Jane, this is one strong sample of the way that modern authors are handing out gold-gilded invitations to ELA teachers to join their students in reading first for fun.

The Black Witch Chronicles : The Iron Flower

It was a good week for me as it comes to books.  One of my recent favourite series had a book birthday!  The Iron Flower (part of Laurie Forest’s Black Witch Chronicles) is continuing to sooth my soul during these crazy times.

One of the things I love about this series is the way in which it humanizes conflict on all sides.  You appreciate why one group of people are bitter.  You understand why another group can’t forgive.  But because you see folks on all sides at different times in the conflict, you know that these enemies are living and breathing the same emotions and worries and concerns.  They are outwardly distinct and inwardly homogenious.

And even if you didn’t want to be given any sense of perspective on this world (BTW, why are you reading Sci-fi Fantasy then?), it is a really good book.

Screenshot 2018-09-27 20.43.53.pngFast paced, amazing world building, empathetic characters, and a plot that can not be presumed.  For YA and Adult readers.