Use it or lose it!

I realised this morning that language is something that you need to use or lose. Most of you are probably thinking…

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… but it was quite the light bulb moment for me. I was in the car with my fiance and we were talking about how his use of the English language is primarily for stating the obvious in simple terms, and it bugs me! After some very entertaining discussion where I crowned him Captain Obvious, we agreed that we would both use more descriptive and complex words in our every day conversation. Shortly after this conversation he used the word “tardy” and although not a complicated word it was definitely one that I hadn’t heard him use, ever. I laughed for a long while at that because it made me so happy that he was actively trying to use “bigger” words.

After our giggles subsided he came to the conclusion that he’s always trying to “dumb things down” so that everyone can understand what he means and that because of that he always goes for the simple explanations. I was shocked, I said “what about me? You can use big words with me!” We realised that by using the big words around each other that we could extend and maintain our own vocabularies. When he raised the question of “what if I or you use a word that we don’t understand?” I replied with “then we’ll find out what it means so that we know.” He laughed and jokingly said that it can be part of what helps to build and grow our relationship.

The point of me sharing all this with you is because I want others to think about making the commitment to use the big words so that our language doesn’t deteriorate further. I am concerned by the fact that we feel the need to simplify our language so that we can be understood. We should be using the big words but then providing simple explanations or alternatives so that in our every day conversations we are using more descriptive and complex words. I feel it’s the only way that our current and future students will have the confidence to use the English language in all its glory.

In Awe

On Tuesday night this week the iCentre hosted a Celebration and Signing Party for Lynette Noni’s 3rd book, Draekora and it was a FANTASTIC evening. We had approximately 90 people attend, and our Launch Committee girls represented themselves and the college extremely well; we are very proud of their efforts! However, this is not a post about the event (I might write one of those later) but rather a post about a conversation I had with a parent during the evening and some observations I have made about my wonderful students over the year so far.

Basically, I am in awe of the young women that I get to work with.

A few things have lead me to wanting to write about this:

  • The conversation I had with the mother – we were talking about her daughter and how she does her own thing and doesn’t care what others think. We were specifically talking about how at a recent school event her daughter was the only student dancing to the band that was playing and she was having a great time.
  • Remembering the reenactment of the new Beauty and the Beasts “Gaston” scene that the Launch Committee girls treated me to while we were setting up – it was the most entertaining thing I have seen in a while and they did it with such a care-free “I don’t care who’s watching” attitude. (For those that don’t know the scene, watch the video, you won’t be disappointed!)

  • A video that came up on my social media feeds this week of a young boy that does ballet – he gets teased for it but still wants to tell other boys that doing ballet is fun and quite challenging. (Again, if you haven’t seen it, you should! It warmed my heart.)

These three things had me thinking: “what is it about these young women that I work with that gives them this care-free, I-don’t-care-who-sees attitude?”

To answer this I compared my experiences here at Mt A to my previous co-ed school experiences, and I have got to say on that alone I have noticed that the girls here are far more willing and free to be themselves then I have experienced anywhere else. I then got to wondering if that was because:

  • We’re a girls school and they’re not worried about making a fool of themselves in front of boys.
  • We have a great sense of community.
  • We are a school based on relationships and those relationships allow the girls to feel safe.

Or perhaps it is a combination of all of the above. As far as I am concerned, I am so fortunate to be able to work with these brilliant young women, to watch them develop into the adult women they will become and to know that the experiences we give them here are part of that.

In short, I don’t think I ever felt this free when I was growing up and attending school, its not something I experienced until I become a 3rd year university student or later. To see these girls participating in so much and having so much fun while they do it is incredible and just one of the many reasons as to why I LOVE my job.

Shatter Me -Mafi

Over the Christmas holidays I read the Shatter Me trilogy by Tahereh Mafi, and I fell in love with writing style and main character Juliette. The series itself goes in a direction I never would have picked and it only made me love it even more.

Synopsis:

Juliette has a terrible ability, her touch can kill. She has spent the majority of her teenage years isolated from society for the protection of others. She lives in an underground bunker that has overlords that monitor and feed her, with little to no interaction with other human beings and is essentially treated like an animal. One day, Juliette is given a cellmate, and it completely changes her world. Juliette will learn to trust, and then have that taken away from her. She will struggle to not become the monster the world believes her to be.

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Thoughts:

I love this series. Juliette is such a fragile character to begin with but she grows and develops into a strong, independent character – this transformation develops across the 3 books and is done so well that it feels real. Her leading man changes frequently and the internal conflict this causes is felt by the reader. Mafi has done a beautiful job of making readers question character loyalties and agendas.

 

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:

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