Tuesday, 22 November 2011

White Pine 2012 Nominees

Quick links to this year's list of nominees:

List of White Pine 2012 Fiction

White Pine 2012: Something Wicked

Something WickedSomething Wicked by Lesley Anne Cowan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Something Wicked by Lesley Anne Cowan is the story of 16-year-old Melissa, who seems to be looking for a whole whack of trouble. Nominated for the 2012 White Pine competition, Something Wicked has been noted for its controversial subject matter: There’s plenty of sex, drugs and at-risk behaviour being done by this teen.

Written by a secondary school teacher of at-risk students, the book is intended as much for 16-year-old, at-risk female readers, as it is for teachers, parents and classmates of such teen girls. I benefited from reading the book for its insights into the reasons behind the behaviours.

The amount of sexual activity and drug use is shocking, but believable. Melissa is a girl who is drowning in her world and seeking every means of escape. The choices she makes in the book, even until the end, provide plenty of fodder for discussions.

View all my reviews

Sunday, 20 November 2011

The Elephant in the Room: Why Researchers Need to Find Multiple Resources

Here's a great link to answer the questions students sometimes ask:

Why Do I Need to Find Multiple Resources?

Sourced from K-M the Librarian - links to her blog are in my blog list below.

Giller 2011 Reviews: The Cat's Table

The Cat's TableThe Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

November 1, 2011:

I'm reading The Cat's Table. My husband is listening to it on audio book. It's a race.

November 9, 2011:

My husband won the race. I ended up borrowing his audio book and alternatively listening to and reading the novel. We both enjoyed listening to the texture and cadence of Ondaatje's voice. My husband finds it a pleasure to hear a book read by its author.

The Cat's Table takes place in a mere 21 days, but in those few weeks, a lifetime occurs. This novel captures what I loved best about Ondaatje's earlier work, The English Patient: A group of people "so oddly aligned, [who]...would never see [each other] again", yet continue to feel a love and longing for those with whom they had experienced a brief, but intense, period of time.

The journey by boat adds to the sense of romance and Ondaatje's language contributes to the glamour. The book has a few contradictory moments and mysterious characters that are left to the reader's imagination to resolve.

View all my reviews

Giller 2011 Reviews: Half-Blood Blues

Half Blood BluesHalf Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The story of Half-Blood Blues revolves around two African-American jazz musicians, Sid and Chip, as well as Hiero, a wunderkind half-German, half-Senegalese trumpet player. The action begins in 1939 Berlin and then moves between 1992 Berlin and Poland, and 1939 Paris.

Here’s what I loved about Half-Blood Blues: the crackling dialogue, the history, and the brilliant beginning of the novel. The cover is absolutely gorgeous, and once you develop an ear for the dialect, the book is quick to read.

Unfortunately, many things in Half-Blood Blues bothered me. As soon as the characters go into hiding from the Nazis, the pace crawls. Perhaps this tempo is a result of Sid the narrator becoming a passive observer of events. He just watches all the other characters take action. This passivity meant I couldn’t get a good sense of who Sid really was, and that affected how I perceived the relationships in the book. I did not get the feeling that he was particularly ambitious (one of the possible motivations in the story, but he gets over slights quickly) and I kept wondering what the story would be like if another character had told it.

I would have loved to have seen more of an exploration of identity, half-bloodedness (as the title suggests), and the irony that African-Americans went to interwar Europe to escape the racism back home. These elements are touched upon by Sid mentioning that some of his family pass for white, his girlfriend Delilah’s “mixed-race face”, and rival Hiero’s stories about who his father was. One of the telling details I really liked was the shocking visit to Hamburg’s Hagenbecks Zoo.

But there are many contradictory details: For example, Hiero carries his trumpet with him everywhere, then suddenly does not have it with him when they flee Berlin; Sid and Chip are able to give a history lecture to Louis Armstrong about German culture, but they don’t know that France has declared war on Germany. Also, the idea that a black man was able to live peacefully in a remote Polish village during communism, doesn’t jive with my experiences of visible minorities in Eastern Europe.

As well, Sid is aware that he speaks with a dialect and claims Hiero has transposed the dialect into German. But Hiero doesn’t understand English, so how does he create a Baltimore-German accent? It’s also linguistically questionable because German has a different syntax.

There are flashes of genius when the characters start to talk about friendship, love, art and sacrifice, but the heart of the discussion comes too late in the book and ends too soon.

Half-Blood Blues did give me with a chance to witness Nazi-occupied Europe through a new lens, but I find myself looking to Edugyan’s reading list at the end of the book, to help provide the grit and details of how a person like Hiero would have survived.

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Sunday, 6 November 2011

Imagine Your Library Video

Imagine Your Library is a great presentation by Anita Brooks Kirkland, using ideas from the Together for Learning document to think about how to use a school library in the 21st century.

I liked that she showed how traditional thinking limits creativity and the possibilities that the library brings.

My favourite quotes from the presentation:

  • "A safe place to explore dangerous ideas."
  • "Knowledge is free at the library. Just bring your own container."
  • "The library program is learning to learn."
 For more insight on the use of school libraries, follow her on Twitter: @AnitaBK