Get with the program!

There's an article in the NY Times about a 'revolutionary' idea- letting kids pick their own reading materials for class.

So. not. new.

“What child is going to pick up ‘Moby-Dick’?” said Diane Ravitch, a professor of education at New York University who was assistant education secretary under President George H. W. Bush. “Kids will pick things that are trendy and popular. But that’s what you should do in your free time.”


How can we NOT foster a love of reading? I think that's my primary role! (That and teaching possessive apostrophe rules...)

And Meg Cabot agrees.

b00k H00t #14 The Other Side OF The Island

Yes, another dystopian YA novel on the list for year nines. But this is my favourite yet! It is eighteen years after "enclosure", the world as we know it has been flooded, presumably due to global warming, and there is only a series of numbered islands left. "Earth Mother" who is in charge of the Corporation, has enclosed some islands to control their weather, and the people's minds!

Allegra Goodman's combines globalisation and global warming in her dark vision for our potential future. The writing is tight and pacy and there's certainly much to be discussed in terms of language choice and her extrapolation of current global events. For example, the punishment for not filling out forms correctly is 24 hours of "Persuasive Reasoning and Positive Reinforcement" and the potential loss of teeth. As in all the best dystopian texts, the price of freedom is pain.

Honor (all the children in her birth year have names beginning with 'h') and her parents move to island 365 where there is New Weather and all people are controlled down to their jobs, housing and reproductive rights. Sound familiar? This totalitarian scenario has been seen before in texts, and of course in our world. The complications come when Honor's family defy the rules- even her name isn't really complying, and they begin to fight back. Of course along the way Honor tries to fit in with this new order.

I can't recommend this one highly enough. Speculative fiction has an important place in the classroom and in our lives, it always has. There are subtleties that adults will enjoy. For example: the Corporation are in the process of 'ceiling' the world; there are hotels just visible beneath the ocean and there's one memorable scene with a lone polar bear which reminded me of the scene from An Inconvenient Truth.

I think teenagers will lap this one up- and Honor certainly kicks some corporation ass!

Happy reading,

Barking Owl

No Blyton-esque endings- but where's the hope?

There's an interesting article over at Guardian books blog about Anne Fine's comments at the Edinborough international book festival (how cool would that be?!)

It raises some of the issues that I'm interested in, namely the fine line between reality and despair.

Recently as a faculty we were discussing just this problem; we want students to read realistic texts, that are gritty and deal with issues worth discussion, BUT we also want them to retain a sense of hope. If you're being fed texts about the end of the earth in English, then moving to science to learn about global warming and then to social studies to learn about overpopulation, then you can see why some of them have such a bleak outlook.

And is it our place as English teachers to raise these issues?

I'm about to read Tender Morsels which has been so controversial in the UK this summer.

Watch this space :)

BooK H00t # 13 Life As We Knew It

I loves me a good disaster book and Life As We Knew It delivered in spades, BUT it also had a feisty female protagonist and that made the read all the better for me.

The disaster that initiates the apocalypse in this novel is that the moon has been hit by a meteor and has been knocked closer to earth. This causes all sorts of cataclysmic events such as tsunamis, volcanic activity and climate change. The family's response to this forms the bulk of the novel.

Miranda is 16 and is preoccupied with all the things readers and viewers of American texts will recognise: prom, grade point average, friendships and budding romance. Her father has remarried and is expecting a new baby, and Miranda's response to this modern, but common, family composition will be a point of recognition for many readers. Over the course of the text she moves from the typical self-centered, argumentative teenager to someone who will do anything to ensure that her younger brother (at least) will survive.

Susan Beth Pfeffer tells the story in diary entries from Miranda's perspective. She has captured an authentic teenage voice with all the complaining, angst and arguments that will certainly ring true with teenagers, and those who live or work with them! Her relationship with her mother is an example of this- she loves her, she hates her, they fight hammer and tongs. I'm just grateful that the mother character isn't killed off! So much of this relationship forms the heart of the novel, and I found it both realistic and moving.

If you were to compare this disaster novel to some of the adult versions of the genre, then it is probably closest to Cormac McCarthy's The Road, which I loved. BUT the humanity in this text is completely different: the doctor character remains working in the local hospital when most are fleeing; people volunteer in the post office; teachers try to keep the schools open and the community shares when they can afford to. There is also lovely relationship with an older woman.

My one gripe is with the representation of faith. The church and its representatives are certainly not shown positively, and the character who chooses to starve herself to be closer to God is one I could have done without. I think discussing this in a christian school might be tricky.

This is the first in a trilogy, and like The Hunger Games, I'm hooked.

If after reading this, teenagers can get an appreciation for the little things in life, like hot showers and electricity, then that can only be a good thing!

Happy tales, and don't forget to stock up on the canned beans, *just in case!*

Barking Owl

Book Week Dress Up Day

As promised, here's today's dress up efforts.

Can I tell you that suit was like wearing a doona and I BAKED most of the day, despite it being cold and rainy.

My year 12s found it hard to take me seriously when I was discussing Anti-American Imperialist discourse dressed as Tigger.

bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy
Fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

Book Week!

Yes it's Book Week and that means lots of fun activities at school, culminating in a dress up day tomorrow.

The theme, as you can see is Book Safari and here you can dress to the theme OR come as your favourite character. I will be combining the two and dressing as Tigger (photos tomorrow.) Do you remember parading as your favourite character when you were a kid? And who would you choose now?

On Friday the winners of the CBC awards will be announced. Have you read any of these?

D.M. CORNISH Monster Blood Tattoo Book Two: Lamplighter (Omnibus Books, Scholastic Australia)

Anthony EATON Into White Silence (Woolshed Press, Random House Australia)

Jackie FRENCH A Rose for the Anzac Boys (Harper Collins Publishers)

Melina MARCHETTA Finnikin of the Rock (Viking Penguin Group Australia)

James MOLONEY Kill the Possum (Penguin Group Australia)

Shaun TAN Tales from Outer Suburbia (Allen & Unwin)

My guess, and it would be a complete guess, is Melina Marchetta. I haven't read it though... just going on her cred.

So, happy Book Week and happy tales,

Barking Owl

cheating at reading/ self imposed spoliers

There's a funny article over at the Guardian about cheating at choose your own adventure stories. Go ahead, I'll wait.

Cute, hey?

So this got me thinking about whether you're the sort of reader who will peek at the ending of the book, or do you prefer to let the tale take you there?

I can't look. In fact I'm never even tempted. There are times that I don't make the ending, but that's different; if I don't care enough about the characters or the narrative to finish, then what happens at the end really isn't of much concern either.

Then there are the books that you don't want to finish, because then you won't be reading them anymore!

Here's a list of books that would have been completely ruined if I had known the ending prior to reading: (don't worry, no spoilers here!)
  • There's A Monster At the End of This Book by Jon Stone
  • The Life Of Pi by Yann Martel
  • Storm Boy by Colin Theile
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  • Extremely Loud And Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Which ending has surprised you the most? Or satisfied you the most? Do you self-impose spoilers?

happy tales,
barking owl

The Dreaded Class Novel OR how to kill reading pleasure.

At my school, we are in the process of deciding which novels to teach next year, 2010, which sounds like a date from the FUTURE to me, something from a science fiction text!

We run a class novel in every year group, with varying degrees of success. It always breaks my heart when students are casually discussing how little of these books they actually read. Some of them get by on classroom discussion, reading the bare minimum and hoping for the best.

It is always a trying process to find novels that all the teachers want to teach, that have some literary merit, aren't too adult and (as you might have gathered from my blog tagline) have strong, feisty teenage girls as central protagonists. There are lots of other criteria too: like some issues to discuss, the writing needs to be tight and the narrative satisfying. You're probably thinking it's a miracle that we find anything at all.

We had a lovely lot of books on appro from Westbooks and have enjoyed reading some of the latest YA ficiton. BUT nothing has leaped out yet.

What is your most hated class text?

Mine was taught by the most fearful headmistress, you know the kind: aging but still intimidating, formidable stare, terrifying habit of calling on you when you were dozy or unprepared. The novel was Bel Ria (something about a dog and a monkey apparently!) and her lessons consisted of reading a chapter out loud then setting questions that we would do for homework for her next lesson the following week. ALMOST killed my love of English, only saved by my regular teacher (think Miss Honey from Roald Dahl's Matilda.)

As a result, I try really hard not to kill a book with endless comprehension questions, and I try REALLY hard not to let teen apathy kill a book for me. My tens are struggling through To Kill A Mocking Bird right now, and I'm thinking of fun ways to teach it.

Ok, let me know which books were crucified for you by a teacher. Have you gone back to read it later? Or will it always be dead to you?

happy tales :)

Book Blogger Appreciation Week Meme

Here goes:

1) What has been one of the highlights of blogging for you?
I am such a newbie at this. I guess I've enjoyed the reflection on my reading, choosing the texts and thinking about what effect my comments might have on readers. I like the compliments on my writing too :)

2) What blogger has helped you out with your blog by answering questions, linking to you, or inspiring you?
My friend Sarah put me onto the joys of blogging in the first place, and gave me the confidence and kick in the pants that I needed to get started.

3) What one question do you have about BBAW that someone who participated last year could answer?
Which blogger inspired you the most?
Looking forward to the week!

Book Hoot #12 Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones tells the story of Charlie Bucktin and the insular mining town of Corrigin in the 1960s. Charlie and his friend Jeffery Lu are outsiders, but not to the same extent as Jasper Jones, a 'mixed race' boy who seems to be the town scapegoat for every misdemeanour. When Jasper knocks on Charlie's louvered windows one night, nothing will be the same for either of them again.

Craig Silvey's coming of age story makes many intertextual references that younger readers might not understand. The love interest, Eliza Wishart is obsessed with Breakfast At Tiffany's, Charlie voraciously consumes Twain, and Harper Lee's classic To Kill A Mockingbird makes many appearances throughout the text. Sometimes this is a bit forced to be honest.

I was reading Jasper Jones with teaching in mind, and it would make an excellent bridge between Mockingbird and Atonement. I feel it is important for WA students to read a text published by a West Australian, set in their home state. We tried Sorry by Gail Jones for this reason, to an underwhelming response. JJ has a much more engaging plot and more accessible themes. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps... I do have a few content and language concerns.

Jeffery Lu is the standout character in this text. He is a witty, quirky boy who will make you laugh out loud. (Sometimes I wondered if his voice would ring true with adolescent readers; there is an early conversation about superheroes that I found far too 'adult'.) In any case, he is memorable for his questions, and the cricket game is one of the best underdog performances I've read for a long time.

Jeffery Lu's best question: would you rather wear a hat made of spiders, or have penises for fingers?

Well, what would you prefer? ( And yes the spiders are venomous.)

Happy reading :)

Fantastic Mr Fox

How very cool does this look?