Book Snap #113: The Anthropocene Reviewed

My last post was a year ago. That seems likely, and also sort of sad. It was a long, drawn-out, painful year.

We went back to school hopeful: cheeks shining from summer’s kiss– masks firmly affixed over mouth and nose. It paled in comparison to the promise of the new year: a jumble of in-person learning, quarantines, lock-downs, sickness, and even a strike. My desire to read dwindled in lock step with my depleted energy and my To Be Read pile lay dormant and dust-covered. (1 star).

I, optomisitically, agreed to participate in a book relay hosted by our district literacy leads, but more often had to pass the novel onward at deadline before making it completely to the end. I repeatedly fell in bed exhausted after reading Isaac his bedtime stories, (I could review and recommend a multitude of Gordon Korman’s novels for fourth-graders!) neglecting the books calling to me from my own night stand. However, one of the books offered in the relay was John Green’s The Anthropocene Reviewed. I just purchased a copy, because, like many of the relay titles, I didn’t get to finish before the deadline. But what I did read, I loved! And thinking about it again inspired me to write this post, a year since my last.

When it first arrived in school mail, I had been setting my students up to write reviews of their own. We had been exploring all kinds of mentor texts: we read reviews of songs and albums; video games; movies and TV shows; sports plays; and books. This has always been one of my favourite pieces to write with my students. Two reviews that remain my past-all-time-favourites include one that analysed Matthew McConaughey’s performance in Dazed and Confused. The essay begins with the perfect hook: All right, all right, all right. And second, the review of Steph Curry’s basketball acumen where I first discovered what a G.O.A.T was; and the criteria with which to evalute one. Green cracked open yet another realm of choice and I couldn’t have been more excited to share these ideas with my students.

I had noticed the title in passing (it remained on best-seller lists and was promininetly displayed in many book-selling venues), and wondered: “what the heck is an Anthropocene?” Green explains: “The Anthropocene is a proposed term for the current geological age, in which humans have profoundly shaped and reshaped the planet and its biodiversity” (p.6). Green imparts that having been employed for several years at Booklist, reviewing hundreds of books, he became well-versed in the style and format of a review (they specifically hold a tight word count of 175 words or less.) He then started to notice that “everyone had become a reviewer, and everything had become a subject for review” (p.7). Indeed. I often seek out reviews of: restaurants (hello, Yelp!); vacation ideas and accommodations (hmmm, TripAdvisor?)… A small gripe: 1 star for the review in the Fodor’s guide of Japan (print edition from forever ago when I was there) that recommended (and convinced my genki companion and I) to “slide down” the volcanic ash of Mt. Fuji, which turned out to be terrible, awful, dreadful advice. But I digress. Of course, Facebook and Twitter have become platforms for all kinds of verciferous reviews — of products, services, businesses, opinions, politics, behaviour– everyone is a reviewer and everything is a subject for review!

Green walks through what he knew and what he discovered about review writing, which was powerful in helping my students create strong reviews themselves. When he reviewed books, “I” was never in the review: How many times have students also been told to use this disinterested observer stance? Too many. And the result is wooden writing. It was his wife who {thoughtfully} surmised: “…in the Anthropocene, there are no disinterested observers; there are only particpants… when people write reviews, they are really writing a kind of memoir— here’s what my expereince was eating at this restaurant or getting my hair cut at this barbershop” (p.8). And so, amidst a global pandemic, Green wrote about songs, comets, scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers, Diet Dr. Pepper, teddy bears, air-conditioning, the Internet, sunsets, CNN, whispering, Kentucky Bluegrass, Googling strangers, and so much more of what the anthropocene has to offer. Each essay embodies Green’s quirky vibe, lots of thoughtful details and compelling support, and a final 5-star rating. I highly reccommend you listen to my favourite essay (from what I have had the opportunity to read so far), “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” on John Green’s podcast: The Anthropocene Reviewed; my students and I read this together to inspire our writing. They wrote thoughtful and passionate reviews on all kinds of artifacts from the anthropocene, including: soccer shoes, french fries, napping, roadtrip-playlists, movie scenes, and more!

I offer you my own Anthropocene-inspired reviews using the tight Booklist word count! (A fun quick write exercise for students (or playful writers) too):

This Morning. I was fully prepared to do Teddy’s morning walk: I had a podcast cued up and earbuds charged; a tank top and joggers, left conveniently, on the floor next to my bed– ready to wear collection. But, Teddy-the-adorable-fluffy-personal-trainer is in high demand! He trotted off with Ben before I could get my feet on the floor. Awake, and rested, and presented with new possibilities for the morning, I hopped on my yoga mat. Delicious stretch! Deep, centering breaths. Letting (more) go. Enjoyed a hot coffee with my Starbucks Almond and Oat Non-Diary Caramel Macchiato Liquid Coffee Enhancer (that name is so gob smackingly pretentious, but it’s so delicious!). Got the Wordle in three tries: impressive! Overall, I’d give this morning a solid 4 and half stars (for the missed the walk in the woods!)

Beach vacation. Sand flats, flip-flops, tide is high, salt water, time off, barefoot. Northumberland Strait, lobster rolls, read and fetch, Tomohawks, bonfires, freckles. Marshmallows, peaceful place, reading books, swimming. Breathe the air! Sea glass, local brews (Tatabrew & Leo), poker-face, Isaac’s omlettes, hose your feet, Jerk chicken, tired doggy, lighthouse! Birthday lunch, old friends, haskap berries, sweet earth, doodle duo. Beach vacay? 5 stars! (Writer’s craft move: all evidence, unexplained: A list of what makes a perfect 5!)

Walks with Teddy. It has been scorching lately– 39 degrees Celcius (literally, in the shade.) That calls for a leisurely walk through the woods so as not to overheat Teddy (or me, for that matter), but he is only minimally slowed by heat. Slow walks are for flip-flops instead of sneakers– I like barefoot, or as close to it, as much as possible, all summer. I listen to a podcast (Arm Chair Expert is my clear favourite), moving slowly and feeling part of the conversation. I breathe more deeply; inhaling fresh air, earth, flowers. When coaxed to (finally) slow down, Teddy gets busy sniffing it all in too! Walking with Ted is always 5 stars, although accumulated evidence may vary by season, weather, or location.

Lunch with a special friend. I needed to connect with someone special in person yesterday, because texting doesn’t give hugs, and sometimes you really need them, and I have really missed hugging, and it was truly lovely. The day sizzled but we were cool ladies in sundresses (love an excuse to get a little more dressed up on a summer day!) the waitress complimented us as we arrived. We had a nice umbrella-ed table at The Lighthouse, with a view of the Wolastoq, enjoyed a Tickle Fight and savoured every last morsel of lunch; watermelon salad and flatbreads. We shared recommendations for documentaries to watch and podcasts to listen to. We connected, we talked, we hugged. A blistering hot 5 stars.

Snapshot: Jason Reynolds

The time I was lucky enough to meet Jason Reynolds, NCTE Annual Convention, Atlanta, Georgia, 2016

If you are one of my students, then you have already heard how much I love Jason Reynolds. Right after reading and loving his novel co-authored with Brendan Kiely, All American Boys, I was lucky to attend the National Council of Teachers of English conference in Atlanta.

All American Boys is a 2016 Coretta Scott King Author Honor book, and recipient of the Walter Dean Myers Award for Outstanding Children’s Literature. In it, two teens—one black, one white—grapple with the repercussions of a single violent act that leaves their school, their community, and, ultimately, the country bitterly divided by racial tension. This novel went on to be a class novel I studied with a group, and a title that is always on loan to students.

Following that read, I was quick to pick up The Boy in the Black Suit, for which Reynolds won yet another Coretta Scott King Award. Matt wears a black suit. First, beacuse his mother has died. Second, because he got a job at the funeral home to help pay the bills. Life is rough, and then he meets Lovey– someone who understands his loneliness and tries to to ease its burden as well. Then I read the story of Ali and his friends, Noodles and Needles in When I Was The Greatest. I loved the story of these boys and how they end up exactly where they shouldn’t be and how they manage it somehow just the same.

Reynolds captivated me in Long Way Down, which I reviewed here; and in his letter to teens everywhere in For Everyone, which I talk about here.

Simply, I love everything he writes.

He writes young middle grade novels too (which I haven’t yet read or reviewed, but plan to get at…) titles include, Ghost, Patina, Sunny and Lu.

I even taught a lesson on writing a bio, using Reynolds’ bio as a mentor text for my writers, because he is irreverent, honest and funny. Check it out here.

Reynolds speaks to the teenagers he writes for, holding to his promise to not write boring books. He has also been forthcoming and honest about how he hated to read and felt no one ever wrote books that he could relate to. So, he started the books he wanted to read.

Reynolds has been named the 2020-2021 National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, a position he is deserving to hold.

Currently, Reynolds is also hosting the Write. Right. Rite. Series a GRAB THE MIC: Tell Your Story video series. Throughout the series, he shares his passion for storytelling while discussing topics like creativity, connection, and imagination. At the end of each video, Reynolds will share a prompt that encourages young people to work toward a specific idea. The activities are fun-filled and some are more challenging than others, but Reynolds always makes sure to include brainstorming “get-you-going” questions.

If you have teenagers in your life, get them reading Jason Reynolds! Or, writing with Jason Reynolds!

You can also follow Reynolds on Twitter or Instagram.

Snapshot: Sentence Study

In sentence study, I share sentences with students that stand out while reading. After we notice and note what’s going on, they are invited to try and imitate the techniques. Take a look at this one:

“My ankle sang a terrible song like my tooth ache had sunk to my foot. Rot and damp and hopelessness and hunger and fear and anger twisted up in a clamp around my ribcage.”
(The Marrow Thieves, p.13)

Dimaline uses personification of the ankle singing in pain, and then adds the simile of tooth ache pain- she makes clear the terrible pain, giving readers a relatable pain to connect with. The second sentence bumps along with and, and, and, and, and… adding on all of the things piling up on the chracter. This technique is easy for students to imitate!

Read my review of The Marrow Thieves here.

Snapshot: Pandemic Teaching


I am sad. They have officially cancelled school for the remainder of the year.

I feel lost. My identity is very much wrapped up in my teaching. I love what I do.

I miss my students and colleagues, I miss the excitement of interacting with people everyday and exploring their curiosity and ideas. I miss being able to commiserate with my friends. Moving online with my team and students is not the same as being together in our school. People are anxious and overwhelmed and not sure how to best move forward.

It could be any day of the week, as we have lost all of the markers that delineate one day from another. It’s like living in the movie GroundHog Day. I believe today is Tuesday, because Mommy School was up and running, the emails from school have not stopped and I think Isaac might have an online piano lesson this afternoon.

There are many lessons that will come with this time, I hope we will be better able to see them as we try to move forward through this quagmire. I will try to write through the successes as we continue through.

I did want to link this article from Edutopia, as it has lots more great YA Book Recommendations, that might be just what you (or someone you’re spending your days with) needs right now.

“22 Young Adult Novels to Help Students Process the Pandemic (or Forget It for a Bit)” Check it out here. Order online from your local book store!

Snapshot: Passage Study

Take a look at this passage:

from Shoe Dog: A Memoir By The Creator of Nike by Phil Knight.


        “Perhaps nothing ever revealed my mother’s true nature like the frequent drills she put me through. As a young girl she’d witnessed a house in her neighborhood burn to the ground; one of the people inside had been killed. So she often tied a rope to the post of my bed and made me use it to rappel out of my second-floor window. While she timed  me. What must the neighbors have thought? What must I have thought? Probably this: Life is dangerous. And this: We must always be prepared.

          And this: My mother loves me.”

I loved this passage. As a writer, I like how he poses several questions after he shares such a vivid image of he and his mother practising escaping a burning building. In recounting the story, he wonders what it must have looked like to others– but more importantly, he answers what it made him think of… and in the stragest of circumstances, he sees that his mother’s odd behaviour was really her love for him.

This was a great passage for students to note and imitate craft. Share a vignette, pose the questions. End with possibilities: Probably this:… And this… And this…

Read my review of Shoe Dog here.

Snapshots: Teaching

This blog started because I read a lot because I want to be able to recommend titles to my students. I also look for wonderful passages and beautiful sentences– those too are for my students. I want them to take notice of what they read: what it means to them; what it makes them think about; what they question; what it looks like on the page; how it is crafted to get our attention.

The Snapshots Page includes posts that snapshot moments and thoughts about my teaching of reading and writing.

Snapshot: Why Reading Matters

Reading stories. The Paperbag Princess; his first feminist story.

“A child who reads will be a child who thinks.”

I have spent all of my adult life studying children’s literature; the effects of reading; how to help students who strive to be better readers; and overall, espousing the powerful effects that reading can have.

My own childhood was replete with books and stories: I can still hear my mother reading to me lovingly, in voices I can still recall in vivid audio in my own head. There is no single piece of furniture I have bought more frequently than a book shelf– all manners of sizes and shapes. And still, I do not have quite enough shelves to house all of the books that have meant something to me throughout my life.

Marie Kondo, the sweet, Japanese organizing guru (whom I adore because she makes me recall all of the sweet Japanese women I taught with 20 odd years ago)– would have us believe that we should only keep things that ‘spark joy.’ She’s against books that don’t continuously add value to your life; but takes care to recognize their importance: “Books are the reflection of our thoughts and values,” she says. Over the years, even I have let some books go– passed them on; donated them; made them part of the collection I loan out at school. But many of them still spark joy.

An online Twitter colleague posed the question: “When a student asks: What’s the point of reading literature… what’s your answer?” and I was so thrilled to read the responses, because they resonate deeply as to why I believe in the power of books! Here are a few:

Shelly Boyd Stephens
‏@smbpinky
Replying to @piros_grant @ncte @teacher2teacher
All literature is actually about you. Authors use themes that make us think about common human experiences. Sometimes, we can easily see ourselves in a book, sometimes it’s subtle, but they’re all actually about you.

Karl Ubelhoer
@MrU_ishere
Replying to @piros_grant @ncte @teacher2teacher
To travel the world; to explore love, loss, and greatness; to live the lives of a thousand people; to breathe life into stale lungs; to find my better self.

Meredith Johnson – #BookCampPD
‏@mjjohnson1216
Replying to @piros_grant @ncte @teacher2teacher
from @matthaig1 Reading isn’t important because it helps get you a job. It’s important because it gives you room to exist beyond the reality you’re given. Reading makes the world better. It is how humans merge. How minds connect. Dreams. Empathy. Escape. Reading is love in action.

Here’s a fun Infographic on how Reading Makes You A Better Person.

So, READ. Read to your kids, read for yourself. Just READ.

A well-loved series of amazing potty humour. Never gets old.