When realisation hits… We are lucky!

As part of my role as Teacher Librarian, I teach 2 geography classes: a year 9 class and a year 10 class. I absolutely love this. It means that I am still in the classroom every day, and I get to form really good relationships – something I think I’d miss out on if I didn’t have a class that was my own. Fellow educators, you know what I mean…

I was recently able to invite a refugee from Afghanistan into my classroom to share her story. She has been working in our kitchens as part of her TAFE studies and offered to visit classes in her last few weeks here. Having her visit was one of the best decisions I have made this year. To protect her identity, I am going to refer to her as Sam.

Sam’s story has a happy ending, she is here in Australia, she is safe, and she has a bright future. The beginning of her story however, is quite an emotional rollercoaster and an eye opener. Despite her history, Sam wanted my girls to understand that she loves Afghanistan and that her people are a happy, peace loving people. She shared not only her story, but the story of her people as well.

Here is a quick recap of Sam’s story:

Sam lost her parents when she was very young. She went to live with her uncles in the country side. When she was 12 years old she was told she had to marry an older man. She refused and was physically abused by her uncle. After a number of reconstructive surgeries she recovered and returned home from hospital, only to be forced into another engagement. At age 13 and 2 days before her wedding, she escaped to Pakistan with her aunt and cousins. After some time, they shared their story with the United Nations, and ended up being accepted as refugees to Australia. Sam now has plans to complete her English course at TAFE, and to follow that up with a social worker degree. Her end goal is to go to university.

At the end of Sam’s presentation, both my classes sat there in stunned silence, not quite sure what to say. After a few minutes of thinking, they asked some great questions and Sam very kindly answered them all. Once Sam had gone, my year 9s erupted into conversation, mostly focusing on “how can these things still be happening?!” and “imagine if that happened here!” The discussion my 9s had around the issue was interesting, and allowed us to discuss a whole range of things, least of all how lucky we are.

The reaction of my 10s was even more touching. After Sam left, my most vocal student looked me straight in the eyes and said “Ms, is it possible to adopt a refugee? I don’t know if I want to have my own kids now, or give a child like Sam a better life. Maybe I could do both?” I was floored. The discussion that followed was so heartfelt and compassionate. We talked about a whole range of things. It was such a great opportunity to discuss human rights and what they mean for us and people that have a story like Sam’s. It was one of those lessons where I walked out feeling so proud of my students, and amazed at their capacity to love and ability to envision a brighter future.

I wanted to document this experience and to share it with you all. This was such a simple lesson to deliver, but one that I will remember. In this day and age I feel it is important to raise awareness among our students about what is going on in the big wide world – lessons like these are just some of the ways in which we can prepare them to become global citizens and inspire them to think beyond themselves and their world.

Image attribution: Michael Cote. Earth at Night. (CC BY 2.0)

Critique Reading for Lynette Noni

Last year my school hosted the beautiful Lynette Noni for a writing and book chat with our year 8 students. As soon as I met her I knew that she was a kindred spirit. After a few long and hilarious emails back and forth, we decided to meet for coffee. Since then we have spent heaps of time discussing all things book related and I now refer to her as my bookish friend.

When we started corresponding a colleague of mine asked me if I was hoping to become one of Lynette’s critique readers and my response was “I hadn’t even thought about it.” I was simply enjoying being able to completely fangirl out and swap recommendations with an adult! (Don’t get me wrong, I love discussing books with my students but it’s nice to meet an adult that loves all the same things I love. Like I said, kindred spirit…) So when she asked me to be one of her critters (critique readers) towards the end of the year last year I was floored and honoured. I was also not allowed to make a decision until the holidays started because Lynette wanted to make sure that I was in a sound state of mind before making such a big decision. Needless to say, there was never going to be any answer other than “YES!”

Since then I have been honoured to read and critique her Medoran Chronicles, plus discuss a few more of her exciting upcoming adventures, such as WhisperI am astounded by the number of stories that Lynette has floating around in her head, each one detailed and intriguing. I love the way she writes and how she allows her characters to tell their stories. I have discovered that critique reading is an interesting challenge – when asked “what would you change?” or “what didn’t you like?” it’s really difficult to actually pinpoint a specific scene. I know that the feedback I give has to be genuine and detailed because it will potentially influence the final print and that is both terrifying and exhilarating. The hardest thing I have found is always wanting to know more…

Take The Medoran Chronicles for example. They are scheduled to be a 5 book series but I could honestly keep reading about Alex and her adventures forever and I know that Lynette could definitely keep writing many more stories. However, we both know that at some point it has to stop and that has got to be the hardest part about critique reading, not giving in to the “what ifs” or “maybes” and never moving on from the story.

I am super excited to see what the future holds for Lynette Noni. If half of her ideas make it to print then the readers of YA will be very lucky people indeed.

 

2016: Favourite Books

Looking back on 2016 I thought it would be well worth the time to list my favourite books. I’d say that I read more in 2016 than I have in the last 5 years at least! Without the pressure of study (and the joy of saying “I’m working” whenever I get questioned over my reading habits) I was able to churn through a total of 110 books this year. Originally I set myself a goal of 52 books through the Goodreads Reading Challenge – thinking that one book a week might be achievable. It’s safe to say that I seriously underestimated my reading ability. I am also living proof that the more you read the faster and better you become. I started off the year thinking that a 300 – 400 page book was quite a task but that’s now the average size book I can read in a day. So, if you want to get better and faster at reading, you really just have to do more of it.

I’ve decided to limit my list to the few books that I would consider reading for a second time, otherwise my list would be at least 50 books long! For each book I’ve included a short statement explaining what has made me fall in love with these books.

1. A Court of Mist and Fury – Sarah J Maas

I have written so much already about why I love and recommend Sarah J Maas’ books so I’ll keep this very brief. It comes down to the fact that I love her characters. Maas’ lead characters are strong, independent females with male characters that are supportive, strong, and view their female counterparts as equals. I particularly love the characters in this book, the second of her A Court of Thorns and Roses series. I won’t say much more as I don’t want to spoil anything, but the development and change in these characters from the first book is really well done.

You’ll find more reasons as to why I love Sarah J Maas’ writing in A New Favourite Author.

2. Illuminae – Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I just love the way this book is written. I call it a cross between a graphic novel and a normal novel. The way that the words on the page are displayed creates a visual representation of the action and events of the story. When the ships are fighting an epic battle, the words are actually traced across the pace in what might be the flight path of the ship. It is VERY cool, but can take some getting used to.

For more of my thoughts on Illuminae, read my review.

3. Akarnae – Lynette Noni

Part of my love for this book actually comes from the fact that I have met the author and discovered that she is a lovely, approachable, down to earth person. However, that is not the only reason! I love this book because it combines aspects of some of my favourite things from my childhood, and yet still manages to stand on its own two feet as its own work. It combines Harry Potter, Narnia, and The X-men and even though I can see how it does this, when reading the book I forget all these other stories and love it on its own. It’s very clever, with a strong main female character and level of comfort due to the feelings of familiarity with other well-known and well-loved stories.

Stay tuned for a further reflection on the fabulous Lynette Noni and her writing.

4. Counting by 7s – Holly Goldberg Sloan

I am not usually a fan of Young Adult Contemporary, but this one blew me away.  I was given this the school holidays before I started in my current position. It was thrust into my hands along with a few other books that we have class sets of and it has since become one of my all time favourite stories. The sweetness of main character Willow, coupled with her resilience and uniqueness made me fall in love with her. I felt her own pains and triumphs as my own. This is a story that I tell all my readers, particularly year 7s, to read.

 

So there you have it! Four of my favourite books from 2016. As stated before, I absolutely could have listed many, many more but those were the four that were life changing in their own special way. I hope that 2017 is just as good a year for reading as 2016. I have set the goal of 52 books again and we’ll see how far I get. Happy reading everyone!

Follow Me Back – Cloke

This book was thrust into my hands by one of my avid year 7 readers. She said I had to stop reading everything else and give this a go. Whilst it isn’t one of my favourite books of the year, I can see why it grabbed her attention. So, what makes Follow Me Back by Nicci Cloke a book that compels year 7 students to excitedly express themselves in loud ways over their feelings for this book?

Synopsis:27799026

Aiden’s world is turned upside down when Lizzie Summersall goes missing.

Aiden was the new guy in town two years ago but, as in most small towns, he is still considered to be the “new guy.” He is a  football star with the potential to play for a premier club and also considered to be a nice guy.

Lizzie Summersall has always been the quiet girl with little to say unless she was on stage in a drama production. She dreams of being an actor in theatre productions, but first she must learn to deal with a semi-famous big sister . Cheska is on the local soap opera show filmed in and around their home time. Lizzie despises her sister and makes it well known, often having to put up with ill feelings towards her due to her sisters actions on and off screen. When Lizzie goes missing, her sister uses this new and scandalous story line to her advantage, raising questions regarding her involvement.

The investigation centres primarily on Aiden and his relationship with Lizzie, despite him denying that they were ever more than casual acquaintances. Aiden begins to realize how lonely he is without Lizzie, how online and real life personas can differ, how easy it is for people to pretend online, and how quickly a crowd can turn against someone they once called a friend.

Thoughts:

When I first started reading this book, I was intrigued straight away. The fact that is starts with the police visiting Aiden’s house to tell him the news and how he immediately acts like he’s covering something is very clever. As the story progresses you begin to realise that perhaps Aiden is not the nice guy he seemed to be in the beginning.

There was a point where I started to feel like the story line got a little bit too out there. I kept thinking “surely these teenagers can’t be this naive?!” At one point I’m pretty sure I yelled “JUST STOP IT!” and threw the book down in a fit of shock and disbelief. However, when I really thought about what was unfolding, I realised that perhaps teenagers actually do think, feel and react the way these characters did and that’s why its so important to have these characters as role models to show just how silly this behaviour is and how much trouble it can land you in.

In terms of how the story is written, it’s very clever. It starts from Aiden’s perspective; for someone that reads a lot of books from a female character’s point of view this was a nice change! It then begins to alternate between the present and the past via messages between Aiden and Lizzie. After a while a few other characters’ perspectives are added in – this only adds to the suspense.

There is mention of sex, a few swear words, and some inflammatory name calling, however these mentions are brief and done as tastefully as possible. In this day and age it would be naive of me to believe that 13 year olds had not heard or used these words and discussed these things. Therefore I would recommend this book to all teenagers as it explores online safety, relationships, bullying, and family, and is hopefully enough of a shock to the system to make them think twice about their own actions online.

Graphic Review:

follow-me-back-review

Constantly surprised

My students are constantly surprising me, and it’s a great thing. I am about to embark upon some shameless boasting about how talented these girls are – you have been warned!

I found out the other day that I have a few students that have written whole or parts of books on the website, Wattpad. This meant of course, that I had to create an account to be able to follow and read those stories. I also found out that another of my students collaborates with other girls here at school to regularly publish posts on a fashion blog they all contribute to. They now have over 500 followers and have been approached by companies to write posts with their products showcased in them. It was at then that I realised how amazing these students are and how fortunate I am to know them. I might also add that these students are all in year 7! So where am I going with this?

Well, according to the Australian Curriculum ICT General Capabilities it is essential that students learn to use…

“ICT effectively and appropriately to access, create and communicate information and ideas, solve problems and work collaboratively in all learning areas at school and in their lives beyond school. ICT capability involves students learning to make the most of the digital technologies available to them, adapting to new ways of doing things as technologies evolve and limiting the risks to themselves and others in a digital environment” (ACARA, 2010).

It is essential that we teach young people how to connect globally with unknown collaborators in a public space safely. I particularly like the emphasis placed upon “their lives beyond school” and “learning to make the most” whilst “limiting the risks.” It is clear to me that many of my students are currently doing this and doing it rather successfully!

References:

Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Capability – Introduction – The Australian Curriculum v8.2. (2016). Retrieved from http://www.australiancurriculum.edu.au/generalcapabilities/information-and-communication-technology-capability/introduction/introduction

A new favourite author – Sarah J Maas

There are some authors that you just want to read everything they’ve ever written because you’ve fallen in love with their writing style, character development, and plot lines. I have not felt this way about an author since I was in year 6 and reading Tamora Pierce‘s series, such as Song of the Lioness, Daughter of the Lioness, Circle of Magic, and The Circle Opens, until recently. For me that author is now Sarah J Maas; author of Throne of Glass series and the A Court of Thorns and Roses series.

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So why do I love Maas’ writing so much?

Maas has this way of allowing you to relate to and understand all of her characters, even the ones you don’t like. In the Throne of Glass series, Maas writes in 3rd person, regularly jumping around to tell the story from different characters’ points of view. She does this seamlessly. You never get lost in the story, it flows really well and is very clear. Due to the switching perspectives, readers are able to gain insights into the thoughts, feelings and experiences of almost all the main and supporting characters. As the series progresses, you find yourself actually wanting to read points of view, not just the main ones, and find yourself wishing for sections from characters that don’t particularly get the limelight. This is masterful writing and demonstrates just how well Maas develops her characters. After reading the 5 books in this series, I am yet to have a concrete favourite character. I could go on and on about why I am thoroughly enjoying this particular series of Maas’, but I do not want to give away any spoilers! All I can say is this, the progression of the story from book to book only draws you into the world Maas has created more and more, and ensures that by the time you’ve read all 5 books, you are aching for the next instalment!

In terms of the A Court of Thorns and Roses series, affectionately known by fans as ACOTAR, Maas writes from a 1st person perspective, specifically that of main character Feyre. Because of this, you see the world completely through Feyre’s eyes and therefore your opinion of other characters if completely influenced by how she is feeling. The advantage of this is that you really begin to understand Feyre’s motives and want her to succeed in her trials. The character development and twists that occur during the series are made even more shocking and amazing to the fact that we experience it all alongside Feyre and never see them coming – this is what has made ACOTAR my favourite of the two series! It will be interesting to see whether this style of writing from only Feyre’s perspective persists for the remaining books of the series as the last 2 chapters of A Court of Mist and Fury suggest otherwise and I simply cannot wait!

The last point I’d like to make is with regard to Maas’ novellas for Throne of Glass. It is my opinion that most novellas are written for the sake of generating more interest in the series and income for the authors. In Maas’ case, I feel this is not true. Her collected novellas, printed as The Assassin’s Blade, is somewhat vital to understanding the background of major characters in Queen of Shadows, and the arrival of new ones in Empire of Storms. Without these novellas, Maas would have had to have spent time developing these stories within the context of these two books – something I am not sure she had the time or word length to do justice to them. Therefore, the addition of these novellas allows readers a chance to explore the world more extensively, fall in love with the characters more deeply, and understand the importance of certain events more fully.

I could spend all day talking at length about the genius of Sarah J Maas and why I think she’s made such a big splash in the YA world at this time, however I will refrain from doing so. I urge those that have not had the opportunity to experience her writing for themselves to give it a go!

Twisted Fairy Tales – why we can’t let go.

I have recently read a take on the Beauty and the Beast story called “The Beast Within: A Tale of Beauty’s Prince” and I have just started “A Whole New World: A Twisted Tale,” which is based on the story of Aladdin, and I began to wonder what drove me to revisit these timeless stories and why do people continually adapt or alter these classics?

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Now, this is not an under-discussed topic. I vividly remember discussing this phenomena when completing the course “Children’s Literature: Criticism and Practice” for the Master of Education, TL through QUT. It intrigued me then, and it still intrigues me now.

Let’s have a quick look at all the fairy tale related popular culture items:

  • Disney – need I say more?
  • TV shows – Grimm, Once Upon a Time, Beauty and the Beast, and many more
  • Movies – live action versions as well as cartoons, and not just Disney ones
  • Book adaptations – most recently would be Chris Colfer’s Land of Stories, plus too many to name
  • Graphic novels – Evermore is a post apocalyptic twist and is very cool!

The list goes on and on and are often mostly based on the same, popular stories – which in my opinion, is not a bad thing. So, why do I call it an obsession?

Well, maybe obsession is the wrong word as it often invokes negative connotations, however I am unable to come up with a better term for our need to revisit our beloved fairy tales. My theory is this:

Fairy tales are familiar. We knew them as children and have grown up with them. Therefore, when we are given the opportunity to be taken back to the world the world from which we learned many life lessons, we jump at the opportunity.

When fairy tales were first created, their purpose was to teach young children moral or life lessons. It was a way of passing on family and traditional lore, thus educating the next generation (BBC News, 2016). Each continent has their own version and traditions when it comes to fairy tales, however their purpose remains the same. I truly believe, that although the lessons that are taught in fairy tales are no longer as pertinent to today, the way in which they have evolved to capture our imagination (with beautiful artwork and catchy music) has certainly assisted in maintaining their presence in our childhoods.

So why revisit them in many different ways? Well, fairy tale stories are classics. They also follow the tried and true formula of “once upon a time” and “they lived happily ever after.” This happy ending resolution is definitely something the keeps me coming back again and again because I know that no matter what trials they face, the hero will always come through. I also know that the opportunity to see the story from a different characters point of view, or with a what if thrown in that turns the tale on its head, coupled with the familiarity of the characters and their world allows me to engage with a new story without exiting my comfort zone. Would I turn to twisted fairy tales all the time? Absolutely not, but I do turn to them when I need to indulge in some comfort reading.

In terms of recommending them to my students, I love seeing a students face when they realise that there is more about the worlds they have grown up wishing about. I particularly enjoy watching students feel excited about reentering this world in a slightly more grown up sense – engaging with familiarity in terms of characters, but extending their reading abilities through slightly more challenging literature. Twisted fairy tales has definitely been high on my list of requests lately and I am pleased that there are more and more books and graphic novels coming out at the moment that meet these needs.

References:

BBC News. (2016). Fairy tale origins thousands of years old, researchers say. Retrieved from http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-35358487