Book Snap #51

Title: Moxie

Author: Jennifer Mathieu

Date Read: June 23, 2019

Two Snaps.

Consider this a primer for young feminists.

Jennifer Mathieu drops us into Vivian Carter’s high school– and her high school looks a lot like high schools do– that’s not fiction. Trust me, I’ve been in high school for more than 20 years!

Vivian is tired of the singular focus on football, and the way it proffers entitlement for its boorish players. She is irritated by a dress code that focuses exclusively on what women wear, how they are targeted and surveyed by adults, and blamed for distracting their male peers. She is annoyed with the pervasive toxic masculinity that normalizes the sexual harassment of women: they yell out sexist comments at the girls (Make me a sandwich!) Which, as Vivian explains, insinuates that women best stay in the kitchen. They wear t-shirts with demeaning slogans (Great legs! When do they open?); play a game of bump n’ grab in the hallways (groping women’s bodies); and play host to a March Madness game where they rank and sort which of the girls is most fuckable.

So, yeah. Vivian is fed up with her small Texas town high school, and she decides to fight back.

Inspired by the momentos she finds in a box of her mother’s labelled: “My Misspent Youth,” Vivian starts a zine called Moxie in which she calls the girls in her school to action.

This book explores what it means to want fair and equal treatment; to feel safe in spaces; to be a good friend and ally; and to use our voices to speak up.

I expect to recommend this one a lot in the fall when I welcome ninth graders to my reading library. If you have young women in your life, give them a little moxie too!

Book Snap #50

Title: The Marrow Thieves

Author: Cherie Dimaline

Date Read: June 16, 2019

Two snaps.

In a post-apocalyptic world ravaged by global warming, Frenchie and his compatriots are on the run from the Recruiters.

Indigenous peoples have the one thing everyone else is missing: the ability to dream.

“We go to the schools and they leach the dreams from where our ancestors hid them, in the honeycombs of slushy marrow buried in our bones. And us? Well, we join our ancestors, hoping we left enough dreams behind for the next generation to stumble across.”

You will be compelled to draw parallels to Canadian Residential Schools, they are mentioned as past markers in the story, but serve to show how when a dominant group wants something– they will stop at nothing to get it. She moves our past into our future– making it impossible to look away.

Surely, readers can draw connections to our present reality and the plausibility and gravity of her story. For me, it brings to mind the environmental degradation caused by Canada’s oil sands and their emissions-intensive extraction process and destructive land use. Canada is also home to 75 percent of the world’s mining companies. And they don’t have a great record around the world. Murders, rapes, and beatings have been reported at mines owned by Canadian companies. They’re not doing so well on the environmental front either. Contamination of water bodies from tailings pond and dam failures has become commonplace. In B.C., wild salmon have been the backbone of Indigenous food systems for millennia. Much more recently, fish farms have begun popping up on the coast. They concentrate hundreds of thousands of fish in floating farms using open net pens. The farms breed pests and diseases like Infectious Salmon Anemia, sea lice, and Piscine Reovirus, and can pass those on to wild populations. Indigenous-led activists have attacked the industry for its effects on wild fish. I would be remiss to not also mention issues of violence against Indigenous women and the violation of Indigenous Peoples’ land rights.

“Indigenous peoples are being forced into long and costly court battles to defend their traditions and ways of life because governments in Canada still refuse to accept the need to work collaboratively with Indigenous peoples on important decisions about environmental protection and resource development,” said Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, Union of British Columbia Indian Chiefs. “It’s ironic that the Committee report should come out in the midst of today’s court hearings into the Site C dam, a megaproject approved by the federal and province governments over the objections of First Nations and despite a highly critical environmental assessment.”

UN human rights report shows that Canada is failing Indigenous peoples
JULY 23, 2015

Dimaline’s novel is not entirely fiction. But it is essential reading.

Cherie Dimaline is a Canadian Métis writer. In The Marrow Thieves, she explores the continued colonial exploitation of Indigenous people and the land. She has received great acclaim for her novel: the Governor General’s Award for English-language children’s literature at the 2017 Governor General’s Awards and the 2017 Kirkus Prize in the young adult literature category. It was also a finalist in the CBC’s 2018 Canada Reads competition, successfully appealing beyond the YA category to adult readers in the competition.

Do read this one.

Book Snap #49

Title: Sadie

Author: Courtney Summers

Date Read: May 12, 2019

One and a half snaps.

This is a great YA read. What I liked the best was the interspersion of a podcast in which the presenter is trying to make sense of the disappearance of a young girl, Mattie, while Summers simultaneously provides the narrative from Sadie, her sister, who is hollowed by her sister’s death and on a mission to make sense of a botched investigation.

You can actually listen along to the fictional podcast while you read.

Check it out here:

Sadie is tormented by the intolerable town she lives in; a mother who never cared for her; men who came in and out of her mother’s life and ruined hers; and the unbearable grief of losing the sister she cared for as her own.

“But love is complicated, it’s messy. It can inspire selflessness, selfishness, our greatest accomplishments and our hardest mistakes. It brings us together and it can just as easily drive us apart.” 

Book Snap #48

Title: Brother

Author: David Chariandy

Date Read: April 19, 2019

One and a half snaps.

Because life got busy, and I didn’t sit to write a reflection on this novel as soon as I should have, perhaps it isn’t getting the best review either. This is a second novel for David Chariandy, and was featured in this years’ selections for CBC’s Canada Reads.

A touching story of a family living in Scarborough in the 1990s. The teens; Michael and Vincent, face prejudice as brown boys in The Park. Vincent is shy, sensitive and over-protective of his mother; while Michael is hardened and resolved. Their over-worked mother does her best to scrape enough together to care for her teenage boys.

It is beautifully written prose and illuminates the careless prejudices and low expectations that confront them as immigrants.

A tragic shooting changes all of their lives irrevocably and packs the real emotional punch of the novel.

Book Snap #47

Title: On The Come Up

Author: Angie Thomas

Date Read: March 29, 2019

One and a half snaps.

Another YA novel from Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give.

Thomas creates strong voices for her central teenage characters that rap with swagger and trade in inner-city barbs. Maybe that’s what makes me old, unhip, and a little disengaged.

Although I can’t rave about how I couldn’t put this book down, because I did multiple times; I do know it has appeal for audiences much younger (and cooler) than I .

Bri is a sixteen year-old with a passion for rap. She is startled by her own success in ‘the ring’ where she battles line for line with some of the best rappers from her neighbourhood. The pressure however, is palpable– as she is constantly juxtaposed with her successful father who was on his way to success when he was murdered.

Thomas judiciously covers several plots that help her closely examine race, prejudice, and our deep desire to do the right thing– and to stay true to ourselves despite what looks easy and thrilling.

Bri sums it up in this short snap here:

We can’t have any power, either. I mean, think about it. All these people I’ve never met have way more control over my life than I’ve ever had. If some Crown hadn’t killed my dad, he’d be a big rap star and money wouldn’t be an issue. If some drug dealer hadn’t sold my mom her first hit, she could’ve gotten her degree already and would have a good job. If that cop hadn’t murdered that boy, people wouldn’t have rioted, the daycare wouldn’t have burned down, and the church wouldn’t have let Jay go.

All these folks I’ve never met became gods over my life. Now I gotta take the power back.

And Bri does take the power back with her intelligence, thoughtfulness and skill; she is a wonderfully strong and fully-developed female protagonist. Worth a read if you’re a rap-savvy high-school student!

Book Snap #46

Title: Bad Romance

Author: Heather Demetrios

Date read: March 20, 2019.

Two Snaps.

Another touching and authentic novel for Young Adult readers!

Grace has a home-life that makes her desperate for graduation; and the hope that she will cast-off the burdens placed on her by a severe and intolerant step-father; and a mother with implausible standards and wild mood swings that Grace can’t predict or avoid. The bleakness of her life at home weighs her down– but she finds solace, and Gavin, at the high school theatre.

Gavin is the epitome of a modern-day knight in shining armour– he writes songs for Grace; takes her on surprising and impetuous adventures; and makes her feel protected and special. But Gavin is also controlling, jealous, and unstable. And Grace finds herself oppressed by the weight of the love he’s promised her.

Here’s a short snap of Demetrios’ writing: “Something in me is dimming, something that I already know I can’t get back. But you’re worth it. You are. I will tell myself this for several more months. And when I realize you aren’t worth it, it’ll be too late.”

Demetrios paints an unflinching picture of high school romance from both sides as Grace herself unwinds the tale trying to make sense of how it went from perfect to impossible.

Book Snap #45

Title: Mrs. Fletcher

Author: Tom Perrota

Date read: March 5, 2019.

Two Snaps.

This was a great beach read!

It was light and funny and yet probing and cutting. Newly-divorced and on her own for the first time at 46, Eve is not sure who she is anymore. Her son is off to college and she seeks an identity that might fit her properly now. She gaffs and blunders in trying to make friends and to sort out her own sexuality. Meanwhile her son also struggles with what college sends his way and the kind of man he wants to be.

Book Snap #44

Title: Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike

Author: Phil Knight

Date read: February 13, 2019.

Two Snaps.

Quite simply, I loved this memoir.

Knight takes you chronologically from his parents’ suburban home in Oregon as a young shoe dog peddling sneakers from their living room to the pinnacle of his success as the CEO of a multi million dollar international company; and it’s not an easy ride.

As a trained track runner, Knight befriended, and ultimately hired, his college track coach who constantly tinkered with athlete’s shoes looking to get the fastest run. This partnership solidified the view that they would pursue the perfect shoe– at any cost. Indeed, there were more times than not that Nike was abysmally broke than it was successful. With a ragtag group of misfits that he trusted dearly, they worked diligently over decades to sell shoes they believed in.

He writes: “Starting my own business was the only thing that made life’s other risks—marriage, Vegas, alligator wrestling—seem like sure things. But my hope was that when I failed, if I failed, I’d fail quickly, so I’d have enough time, enough years, to implement all the hard-won lessons. I wasn’t much for setting goals, but this goal kept flashing through my mind every day, until it became my internal chant: Fail fast.”

Knight is a skillful storyteller. His writing is descriptive and engaging and his life is full of wisdom, humour and sadness. Knight takes you from the boardrooms of Japan, to the factories in India, and back to Oregon; from the follies of youth; the pain of parenthood and the success of hard work. You will thoroughly enjoy the ride. Just do it.

Check out my passage study from this novel, here.

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
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
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
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.

Book Snap #43

Title: Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addicition

Author: Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Date read: January 20, 2019

Two Snaps.

I didn’t mean to finish it in one go… but I couldn’t stop! A graphic memoir that had me riveted, engaged and in tears. A must read.

You have not read a memoir told like this. Krosoczka’s story telling is doubly powerful as you connect with the characters both through the text and his wonderful illustrations.

This book has been widely touted for YA audiences, but it is not to be dismissed as only for teens.

You will want to watch Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s TED Talk: How A Boy Became an Artist.

In his talk, Krosoczka tells his own back story and illuminates how powerful and life-changing it was to use the power of his words and drawing to tell his story. He describes some of his own first comics thusly: “…it was a story that was told with words and pictures, exactly what I do now for a living, and sometimes I let the words have the stage on their own, and sometimes I allowed the pictures to work on their own to tell the story.”

Watch the talk now:  

TED Talk: How a Boy Became an Artist

If you have young children and want some snappy choices for bedtime reads, take a look at the TED Blog, where Krosoczka recommends his favourite children’s books.

TED Blog: 10 Great Children’s Books That Will Become Classics.

If you liked Hey, Kiddo may I suggest:

Title: An Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal

After reading Amy Krause Rosenthal’s heart wrenching NY Times piece: You May Want to Marry My Husband, I couldn’t wait to read her Autobiography– and it did not disappoint. This memoir is told in a wholly unconventional way, and I love her for it. Where Krosoczka adds illustrations to strengthen his story– Rosenthal approaches her memoir writing with an individual organizational structure. Using the format of an encyclopedia, Rosenthal retells snippets of her autobiography in short entries from A through Z. This unique episodic approach makes for an entirely marvellous exploration of what makes us tick. She details the moments, the emotions, and the observations of contemporary life. Great fun for the bedside table.