Today I Read…Every Day is Malala Day

Everday is Malala DayToday I read Every Day is Malala Day by Rosemary McCarney with Plan International. It won the 2015 Golden Oak award from the OLA Forest of Reading.

Malala Yousafzi’s story is well-known, as the young girl who was shot by the Taliban for trying to go to school. She is now the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, and she has become a symbol of the fight for the rights of girls and women and all children to get an education. Every Day is Malala Day is an open letter to Malala from girls around the world, expressing their admiration and their thanks for her continuing advocacy of education and peace. With beautiful photographs of girls from around the world illustrating their message, this book is a wonderful introduction for Western students of the challenges some children face just for trying to go to school.

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Disclaimer first: I was on the selection committee for the 2015 Golden Oak award, and I did recommend it for the list of finalists, which was then read and voted upon by the as a public. The Golden Oak award is for adults who are beginning to learn how to read English, so while I do refer to Every Day is Malala Day as a children’s book in this review, it is suitable for and enjoyed by adults as well.

This is a terrific story and a great introduction for children to some of the barriers that women face in other countries. As a read-aloud, it is more suited to older children. I would probably recommend at least ages 8+, based on the references to Malala being shot and violence against women. However, it’s important to point out that this is something that is actually happening to children, and sometimes there’s a very fine line between protecting children and being honest with them. When I was coaching a children’s literature trivia team, I had to try explain the Holocaust and Nazi propaganda to grade 3s. Not easy, but they asked.

The story itself is based on a short video produced by the young people who took over the UN on the first Malala Day, July 12, 2013. The book also includes a brief description of what happened to Malala and part of Malala’s speech to the UN from that day, advocating for education for all children as a way to help lift them out of poverty and ignorance and warfare. While she isn’t really in the daily news right now, Malala is an important figure for our time and I am certain that we will hear from her again. This book is an excellent introduction to her remarkable work.

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“So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are out most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.” -Malala Yousafzai, July 12, 2013

 

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Freedom to Read Week 2015

 

Freedom to Read 2015Freedom to Read Week in Canada was February 22-28 this year, so this post is a little bit late, but I still wanted to write about it.

At my school this last year, I had a high counter right beside the main door that I used for a book display, which I changed weekly. I used different themes, genres, holidays, and once a month I asked a grade to pick out their favourite books for the display. I tried to combine fiction and nonfiction and different reading levels so there was usually something for everyone, and I’d often select the books I read to the younger grades for storytime from that week’s display, unless the teacher had made a special request. For Freedom to Read Week, I wanted to display challenged books but to also give some of the reasons they were challenged and encourage the students to think about not just why were they challenged, but why were they defended, and did they, the students, agree with either side?

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I put up a Freedom to Read poster that I got from the OLA Super Conference and added two sheets above outlining what Freedom to Read Week was about and a copy of the Ontario Library Association Position on Children’s Rights in the Library.

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The sign above says:

FREEDOM TO READ WEEK

Freedom To Read Week celebrates the fundamental right of ALL Canadians (including children!) to think, believe, and express their own ideas and opinions, and to have access to materials that express different ideas, as guaranteed by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Challenging a book means that someone complained and thought a book should be taken out of a library and nobody should be allowed to read it. All of the books on this display have been challenged at one time, because people thought they were bad books for children to read.

Can you guess the reasons? Look inside the book for the answer!

Do you agree with the reason? Do you want to read it?

 

I searched for lists of commonly challenged books online and the arguments both for and against them, and then I searched the school library to see what books we owned. I made a large bookmark for each book I selected for the display with the title, author, original publication date, arguments for and against each book, the source I’d found the information from, and ended each one by asking “What do you think?” You can somewhat see the bookmarks sticking up from the books in the display photo above.

The books I selected were:

  • The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  • The Wizard of OZ by L. Frank Baum
  • Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
  • Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh
  • The Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey
  • The Giver by Lois Lowry
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
  • The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  • Thomas Snowsuit by Robert Munsch
  • Hop on Pop by Dr. Seuss
  • Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
  • Walter the Farting Dog by William Kotzwinkle and Glenn Murray
  • Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak
  • Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
  • Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
  • The Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins
  • The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein
  • The Chronicles of Narnia series by C.S. Lewis
  • Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Road Dahl
  • Three Wishes: Palestinian and Israeli Children Speak by Deborah Ellis
  • A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle

The Snowy DayAnother challenged book that I read during storytime that week was The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats, published in 1962 and awarded the Caldecott Medal in 1963 among controversy. The story is about a little boy who wanders around his neighbourhood exploring after a snowfall. I read it to 2 classes, around 35-ish kids or so (I usually let the kids vote between 2 books for storytime, and the other classes wanted to hear Where the Wild Things Are), and at the end I asked them why they thought some people would not like the book and think that it shouldn’t be in libraries and at children shouldn’t be allowed to read it. The kids suggested all kinds of things from the story, how Peter didn’t tell his mother where he was going and went out without a grown-up and shouldn’t have knocked down snow with a stick and shouldn’t have thrown snowballs with the bigger kids and shouldn’t have tracked snow inside and a lot of reasons that probably say a lot about our helicopter parenting society, but not one of them guessed the real reason, nor did some of the older students who tried to guess what was wrong with it. Every adult I asked looked at the cover and knew right away.

The Snowy Day was the first full-colour picture book with an African-American protagonist. All of the kids, regardless of race, thought this was a bizarre reason to object to the book. It gave me an excellent opportunity to point out how attitudes change over time, and what some people find objectionable others have no problem with or want to promote, and all of those people use the library and deserve to have books.

You can find the bookmarks I made here: Reasons for challenged books .

Today I Read…The League of Regrettable Superheroes

League of Regrettable SuperheroesToday I read The League of Regrettable Superheroes: Half-Baked Heroes from Comic Book History by Jon Morris.

Batman. Captain America. Wonder Woman. Iron Man. Superman. Thor. Batgirl. Phoenix. Green Lantern. Spider-Man. These are the names of heroes, tales of their deeds told over and over again. Beloved and respected, they have stood the test of time. But what of their less famous brethren? What of Bozo the Iron Man, Pat Parker War Nurse, Ultra the Multi-Alien, Stardust the Super-Wizard, The Ferret, or Captain Tootsie? What of their…um, exploits?

Jon Morris has collected together some of the most obscure and possibly most ridiculous superheroes of the past 80 years in this high entertaining history. From a police commissioner who dresses like a clown, to a Nazi-fighting witch who speaks in rhyme, to a man who turns into a UFO to fight evildoers, to a superhero who fights shoe-themed bad guys with his shoes while making shoe puns, this book is a terrific resource for the comic history buff with an excellent sense of humour.

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This book was another one I won from a Goodreads First Reads contest. I thought it sounded like an interesting idea, but I wasn’t passionately interested like when I won Felicia Day’s memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) or Anne Jamison’s fascinating study Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World. I was wrong–this book is terrific. The writing is highly informative and highly entertaining–Jon Morris clearly has a great deal of interest and affection for comic history, but he also recognizes how absurd and badly done some of it is.

The book is organized first by timeline, divided into the Golden Age, Silver Age, and Modern Age of Comics, with a summary of the sate of comics at the time, and then alphabetically by the superhero’s alias. Each hero has approximately a page’s description, accompanied by a full page of coloured imagery, either a cover of an interior page of story. Morris also includes the creator and first appearance of each hero, and another joking fact, such as Amazing-Man’s “Great act of bravery: Wearing shorts and suspenders as a superhero costume” or Doctor Hormone’s “Adherence to basic medical ethics: Spotty.” Many of the heroes chosen are quite obscure, making only or two appearances before hanging up their tights.

It’s hard to decide which is better, Morris’ skillful and delightful writing, or the engaging illustrations included with each entry. The art does a wonderful job of showing the development of comics over the years, how heroes have been portrayed visually, and the marketing of comics since many of the illustrations are of covers that would have been used to help sell the issues. The entries wouldn’t have been as effective without the large full-colour artwork, and it’s fortunate that Quirk Books was willing to include it–black and white art wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

Honestly, I think the only thing I didn’t like about this book is the dropcaps that start each page–sometimes the large shadows on the letters make them a little difficult to read, but that’s really quite minor.

The League of Regrettable Superheroes is an engaging read for superhero fans, especially those with a lively sense of humour about the heroes they love and respect but also understand possess many foibles, and not a regrettable book at all.

Today I Read…Project Superhero

Project SuperheroToday I read Project Superhero by E. Paul Zehr and illustrated by Kris Pearn.

Jessie loves superheroes. Completely, utterly, loves them. So she is THRILLED when her grade 8 social science teacher says that their major project that year will be about…can you guess…SUPERHEROES! How cool is that? They have to each choose a hero and research them, and figure out what makes them a hero, and debate with each other over whose superhero is the best.

There are so many to choose from, at first Jessie has a hard time narrowing it down. But one thing is for certain–it has to be a girl superhero. Dylan in her class keeps being a jerk and saying that girls suck and they can’t be superheroes, so Jessie needs to prove him WRONG! And to help her, she chooses the very best superhero of all, strong, smart, determined, resourceful, and a great team player–BATGIRL.

To help her figure out what makes Batgirl a hero, Jessie starts her own training program to become Batgirl. She takes karate lessons from her aunt and tries to eat healthier food because Batgirl has s strong body, does all her homework and learns about all kinds of different things because Batgirl is super smart, and interviews real-live heroes to figure out how and why they did remarkable things, just like Batgirl.

Jessie’s all ready for the Superhero Slam. But Dylan, her nemesis, has chosen Batman for his superhero. Can Batgirl beat Batman?

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This was one of the books I picked up at the Word on the Street festival last year, just because it looked like a really cool book. I was even happier when I found out that the publisher, ECW Press, has a program where if you provide proof of purchase of one of their print books, they will send you the ebook for free. And another nice thing is that Kris Pearn’s terrific illustrations are in colour in the ebook, though the double-page Superhero Slam Brackets are easier to see in the print edition since the pages are printed side-by-side.

I like the idea of studying what makes a superhero. The categories that the students have to study for the Superhero Slam are Wisdom and experience, Physical strength and agility, Perseverance and determination, Critical thinking, Recovery, Courage, Preparation, and Leadership. These really emphasize that what makes a superhero is not just who can hit the hardest (though who would win in a fight between Superman and the Hulk?). Jessie also begins to think about how each of these qualities can be demonstrated in real life, by her family and friends and people she admires.

What really makes this book special are the interviews that Jessie does. She writes letters to real-life heroes to ask them questions about what they did that made them famous and what drove them, how they trained, and of course who their favourite superhero is. The interviews are all actual interviews that Zehr conducted with actual experts in different fields, including:

  • Mike Bruen, retired NYPD Sergeant on duty at Ground Zero for 9/11
  • Kelly Sue DeConnick, comic book writer for Captain Marvel and Avengers Assemble
  • Clara Hughes, Canadian 6-time Winter & Summer Olympic medalist in speed skating & cycling and mental health spokesperson
  • Bryan Q. Miller, comic book writer for Batgirl and Smallville
  • Christie Nicholson, Contributing Editor, Scientific American & SmartPlanet
  • Yuriko Romer, film maker (“Mrs. Judo—Be Strong, Be Gentle, Be Beautiful”) who documented the life of Keiko Fukuda—the highest ranking woman in Judo history
  • Nicole Stott, NASA astronaut who spent more than 3 months on the International Space Station and has been in space 6 times
  • Jessica Watson, author of True Spirit: The True Story of a 16-Year-Old Australian Who Sailed Solo, Nonstop, and Unassisted Around the World
  • Hayley Wickenheiser, 4 time Olympic medalist in ice hockey and community advocate

The book is written as Jessie’s diary, as a kind of record both of her life and her research. Her project inspires her to make changes in her own life to emulate the qualities she most admires in Batgirl. It also leads her to examine her life and her interests, and think about her future and what she wants to do. Since she likes writing and finding things out, she thinks about becoming a journalist. Different people have different qualities that she admires, and she learns to take the best of everything to make herself the best she can be, as well as seeing the good qualities her family and friends around her.

Superheroes are hugely popular right now, with Marvel’s terrific MCU and DC’s strong tv shows Arrow and The Flash. Sure, the costumes and the powers and the snappy one-liners while they punch out the villain du jour are fun, but the thing about superheroes is, they’re good. They save the world when it needs to be saved. And maybe if more people tried to save the world, it wouldn’t need to be saved quite so much.

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MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 8

The first day of my diary.

Or first entry. Or whatever.

Grade 8 is already crazier than I imagined it would be. That’s why I started this diary  to keep track of all the craziness. But I think it’s going to be fun. I really like writing: it’s like thinking out loud but in a quiet way. I think maybe I’ll be an author or a journalist when I get older. Or maybe a scientist. Something where I can ask questions and get answers!

But of all the questions I have, my main one is this: why are all the homework assignments and projects coming up already? Didn’t the teachers get the memo that it’s still only the first week of school?

I wish we were kind of “easing into” the year. Maybe gradually introduce some homework as we go along. Like, say, after Halloween or perhaps even later. I’m very flexible on the “later,” just as long as it IS later. It could be as late as March break.

Lots of questions are being asked, and asked too soon, in my humble opinion. (Which I guess isn’t all that humble, since I think I’m right.) But seriously, this early into the year should we really have expected questions like, “Who are you anyway?” and “Who do you want to be?”

Here’s an example from Socials today. Which again, just in case it was unclear, was day 1 of grade 8.

Ms. King, my friendly neighborhood homeroom supervisor and Socials teacher, was giving us some “food for thought” (her words).

“This year we are going to explore what it means to be a hero. What characteristics do heroes have? What does it take to be a hero? Are heroes born, or are they made? What’s the difference between a hero and superhero? And why is our culture so interested in superheroes?”

To which I shot up my hand and answered, “Um . . . obviously because superheroes are way cool!” I didn’t say that actually, and I didn’t shoot up my hand. I just thought about doing it.

I was so busy thinking about what I might have said that I almost missed the big announcement.

The big thing is this:

WE ARE DOING A PROJECT ABOUT SUPERHEROES!

She called it the “Superhero Slam”! And guess who’s into superheroes and superhero comics  me! How awesome is grade 8 going to be? Really awesome . . . except for all the homework.

Ms. King went on for quite some time. She was in that teacher-on-a-roll mode. She’s pretty great so far, and I actually like her. But I had gone off daydreaming about superheroes. I’ve read just about every superhero comic book and seen all the movies. But I’ve never really thought about why I like them in the first place. And why they might be important.

I started to think about superheroes in a new way. Like I always wondered if Spider-Man would have still been a hero without his Spidey sense. And although I think he’s a great character, is Batman really a superhero? He doesn’t actually have any superpowers. I guess I’ll get a chance to look into this in detail because we all have to choose a superhero and then argue that our superhero is the best! Cool!

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I started off this diary in September wondering (or being forced to wonder) what I had inside. What I was capable of. Basically, who was I?

I still don’t know for sure. But I do know I feel pretty good about what I could do. And can do. What the possibilities are. Not sure if I really want to become a superhero like Batgirl. (And not just because of what Hayley Wickenheiser said about the costume! Too funny.)

But I do know a lot more about the work and effort needed to do something big. All the people I wrote to this year told me that.

So for my big diary finale here’s my list of the Top 10 Things I Learned From My Interviews. In random order!

* “I don’t think you have to have superpowers to achieve amazing things; we can all do amazing things if we believe in ourselves!”  Jessica Watson

* “Do you ever defeat fears or do you just get used to them?? Well, I guess a little of both. There is no substitute for training and the ­other side of that is there is really no ­substitute for actually doing.”  Mike Bruen

* “I have a real live superhero and that is my mom. She is superhuman to me!”  Clara Hughes

* “You should never go to a place of ‘a girl wouldn’t say that!’ Anyone, of any race, of any sex, can do or say anything. How they behave is based on their past experiences and their current sense of self.”  Bryan Q. Miller

* “What’s best for us is who we are. Each of our challenges is unique and we are uniquely ­qualified to live our lives our ‘best.’”  Kelly Sue DeConnick

* “I believe that you should always go after your dreams, no matter how high or how hard they seem that just makes you try harder!”  Hayley Wickenheiser

* “Today I look around and I see many real ­women superheroes! I hope we keep adding more and more women to our list of ­super­heroes.”  Yuriko Romer

* “We did so much training so we could respond to things we could control if something did happen” Nicole Stott

* “We have to trust ourselves.”  Christie Nicholson

* “There’s a superhero in you.”  Jessie (That’s me. I needed one more to make 10. And I learned this year that this is true.  )

Today I Read…The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy

Fangirl's Guide to the GalaxyToday I read The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy: a Handbook for Girl Geeks by Sam Maggs.

Are you a newcomer to the wide world of fandom? Are you not quite sure what an OTP is, even though you know that Dean and Cas belong together? Do you plan your Halloween costume months in advance and hand make each piece? Do you know why the cake is a lie, and the ultimate answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything? And are you looking for someone just as passionately nerdy as you to talk to about your favourite nerdy things? Then, young fangirl padawan, you might need The Fangirl’s Guide to the Galaxy.

Chock full of interviews with prominent professional fangirls, invaluable tips for attending your first convention, a field guide to the more common geek groups, and much much more, this is a fantastic resource for those new to fandom, and a terrific refresher for the old hands.

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This was the book I wanted most for myself from the OLA Super conference this year, and I was so happy I got a copy. Sam Maggs is a fellow member of the Toronto fandom community, a former associate editor for fabulous nerd news site The Mary Sue, one of the outgoing Cineplex pre-show hosts, and generally, pretty cool. Plus, that title–how could I possibly resist?

Way back in the dim mists of history before the internet was a thing (okay, it was the 80s), I started my fangirl life, and I entered the world of fandom just at the start of web 2.0 and when interactivity was becoming the watchword. I would have LOVED to have a guide like this way back when I was convinced that I was the only person in my city who liked Star Trek, let alone the only person at my elementary school. It wasn’t until university that I met my first real fangirl, who became my best friend. One of the best parts of fandom is sharing what you love.

In a way, I suppose I’m lucky. I don’t think I’ve ever been personally challenged on my level of geek knowledge, just because I’m a girl. My experience of the Toronto fandom community has always had a strong mixture of boy, girl, and other nerds, with women making strong contributions to our community and with fan-run events. Girl geeks are pretty common, at least in the spaces I hang out in. But like all geek girls I’ve desperately searched for myself in the media I love–a heroine who doesn’t get fridged and isn’t there to be the token female, or worse, the one-dimensional love interest (or worst of all, all three). I’ve put up with the absurdly impractical and oversexualised superhero costumes, having to look in the boys’ rows of the toy store for action figures, and every bloody nerd girl shirt being pink. I ask you, when did Supergirl or Batgirl EVER wear a hot pink costume or a hot pink glittery shield? EVER? AND WHERE IS MY BLACK WIDOW MOVIE ALREADY??? Seriously, Marvel, *ten years* from the release of Iron Man it takes you to release a female-led movie, and it’s Captain Marvel instead of Black Widow, a character you’ve already used 4 times? /rant

Back on track, chapter 4 is about Geek Girl Feminism, looking for the best representations in media and pointing out that unlike the stereotyped antisocial teen nerd boy who lives in his parents’ basement and can’t talk to girls (and his awful, AWFUL counterpart the mythical Fake Geek Girl), women make up a large part of fandom and we have the right to love what we love and to know that we are the heroes every bit as much as the guys are. (See Sam’s awesome Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism below.)

It can be intimidating to insert yourself into a tightly-knit yet wildly diverse community like fandom can be, especially when you get nonsense like GamerGate giving nerdiness and gamers a bad name in the media. (Yes, it was nonsense, if you feel the need to dox and threaten to injure, rape or kill ANYONE in the name of your argument you are an asshole and you lose any modicum of respect for your argument and for you personally). That said, fandom can be an amazing place and you can meet amazing people who not only love what you love, but can share with you other amazing things that you will love. Fandom can enrich your life, give you friends and interests and sometimes even a career. Fandom is filled with smart, creative, hardworking people, and they can be very welcoming to newbies. If you want to jump into the deep end and sally forth to your first convention all on your own, go ahead– it’s how we used to do it (it’s what I did). If you want some great tips, this book is a great guide for how to venture in, both in person at cons and good online spaces to introduce yourself.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, Sam made some great recommendations and I think I need to go hunt them down (and rewatch/reread any old favourites she listed). Hey Sam, any time you want to trade kickass-chick book lists, let me know. I have a feeling you would LOVE Esther Friesner’s Chicks in Chainmail anthology series. Two words: Amazon Comedy.

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The Geek Girl’s Litany for Feminism
I am a geek girl and I am a feminist. I embrace the word “fangirl” with open arms. I don’t have to prove my nerd cred to anyone, ever. Whether I’m a comics noob, Or a fic writer typing up her next chapter, Or a hard-core gamer who sometimes forgets to sleep (Not that I ever do that), No one else gets to decide whether I do or do not belong. From SuperWhoLock to Shakarian I accept all fandom and ships As equally meaningful and important In our geek girl lives. Even if your OTP is my NOTP, I will still like you (Even if I have to unfollow your blog). I can wear makeup and R2D2 mini dresses, Or a Chewie T-shirt and ripped jeans, And the world has to deal with it; Because a geek feminist looks however she wants And doesn’t apologize. I will support empowering, lady-created media, And amazing female characters That make me feel like I could be Batgirl, If I just had some yellow Doc Martens And a vigilante complex. I’m the Doctor, not a companion; Buffy, not Bella; Nobody’s sidekick, love interest, or token female. I’m driving this ship. I’M A FANGIRL, A FEMINIST, AND A FORCE TO BE RECKONED WITH.

Fangirl's Litany

Today I Read…You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost)

Today I read You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day.You're Never Weird on the Internet

Nerd Queen Felicia Day (she doesn’t embrace the title, but let’s face it, she is) has titled her new memoir You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost). Well, she may not be weird on the internet, but in this book she manages to be hilarious, honest, and quirky (quirky is better than weird, right?). From growing up homeschooled (for hippie reasons, not God reasons, as she assures us) to finding out online friends are very different in real life to video game addiction to sneaking around her neighbours trying to film The Guild Felicia Day shares her life in all it’s neurotic, nerdy, nifty (I needed another ‘n’ word, okay?) glory.

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Best Temporary CoverI won this ARC from a Goodreads First Reads giveaway, and I was THRILLED to get it because I REALLY REALLY REALLY wanted to read it. REALLY WANTED. There was squeeing when I read the email saying I had won, I won’t lie. I added it to my 50 Book Pledge shelf so long ago it still had the temporary cover attached to it.

I’ve been a fan of Felicia Day’s since The Guild season 1 (watch it), and of course since Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and her commentary solo about art and The Guild. She was at my first Fan Expo in 2010, but she had to leave early to catch a plane so I couldn’t get her autograph (but I got Amy Okuda’s, who came along with her and who isn’t at all like Tinkerballa IRL, I don’t think she threatened to punch anyone). Fawkes & CodexI even have the Fawkes’ Codex Highlander sextasy poster signed by Wil Wheaton. (And when she comes to Toronto next month on her book signing tour, I’m going to try to get her to sign my poster and my book. Click on her name at the top of the post for her book website including tour dates.) I love her Charlie Bradbury character on Supernatural, and since I haven’t yet seen season 10 I am ignoring any and all rumours of her death (yes, I know it’s Supernatural and everyone dies, shut up, she’s fine).

So basically, I was probably going to like the book.

And I did. Reading her book you feel like Felicia is exactly the kind of person you’d like to spend all night chatting with at a room party during a con. Smart, cool, passionate, and nerdy, just like most of my closest friends. The conversational tone she takes throughout the book is very reminiscent of how she wrote and performed Cyd Sherman/Codex in The Guild–you come away from the book with the idea that Felicia is a more successful and slightly more confident Codex. Codex leveled up, maybe?

I loved reading about the process of making The Guild and the beginning of Geek and Sundry. As someone who has helped run volunteer-led conventions, it was interesting reading her perspective as someone who attends as a guest and how she uses them as a marketing tool for her projects. She also includes a chapter on last year’s GamerGate and her reactions to it. I remember reading articles about her post about GamerGate, and understanding and agreeing with her point of view.

This is Felicia’s story, but it’s also a story about the evolution of internet culture and about fandom, and the participatory nature of both when they’re at their best. In so-called Real Life, it’s possible to be the only nerdy person in your local community. Online, it’s so much easier to meet people who love what you love, or at least who understand what the heck you’re talking about when you say Jack/Daniel Forever!, even if they are confused and misguidedly believe in Jack/Sam when they’re very very wrong (looking at you, Sheena)

My sole criticism of the book is the pictures, which while interesting are black and white and a little too small and hard to see clearly sometimes. This is an ARC, so I’m hoping that the final publication makes them larger and in colour.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I need to rewatch The Guild, because reading about everything she went through making it has reminded me of just how much I loved watching it.

Me and You're Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) ARC

Today I Read…Made You Look

Today I read Made You Look: How Advertising Works and Why You Should Know by Shari Graydon and illustrated by Michelle Lamoreaux, the revised edition.

Made You LookHow many ads do you see in a day? Where do you see them? What are they for? How do they influence you? And why should you care?

Ads are everywhere in our everyday life, and they target you from birth to death, trying to sell you everything under the sun. Sometimes ads tell you important things like public awareness campaigns, and sometimes they just want to buy stuff you don’t really need. The important thing is to be a critical consumer–to think about ads and what they are trying to do and to make up your own mind. For a well-balanced look at an industry that effects and targets kids from a very young age, Made You Look is a great resource for kids to explain the ins and outs and tips and tricks of advertising, with funny and thought-provoking illustrations from Michelle Lamoreaux to accent the text.

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Sorry, I’ve been having laptop troubles, and I finally had to get a new one. Windows 8.1 is awfully finicky, though. Any tips to make it less sensitive and stop changing windows on me?

This is one of the books that I got from the OLA Super Conference this year. The cover grabbed my attention, with the confused look and the sea of advertising that the figure was surrounded by–it certainly feels like that sometimes, especially since I was in the middle of a trade floor at the time, where there were a thousand people present with booths all designed to sell things to librarians. Books, furniture, archival supplies, databases, library schools, magazines, audiobooks, ebooks, graphic novels, book-themed merchandise…we wee there because we were librarians, and the products that they were selling were of interest to us, but it’s very crowded with a lot of things to see all at once.

I really enjoyed this book. The language Graydon uses is plain and direct, and she poses a lot of hypothetical situations and simple experiments that encourage the reader to think about their own experiences and to recognize the effect that advertising can have on them. It points out different strategies, like using celebrities or cute cartoon characters to connect to kids, or showing toys dong things they can’t really do or with lots of accessories that are sold separately and can greatly increase the price of a toy. She uses charts to compare the arguments for and against advertising, explains some of the history of advertising and the laws and how they’ve changed over time, and lists some of the words ads use to persuade someone buy something and why they work. The cartoon-style illustrations are colourful and funny, but also do an excellent job of enhancing the text and illustrating the point in a different way (pun intended). This would be a great school library resource, or a book for a parent trying to show their child another way of thinking about advertising. It’s especially apropos at this time of the year, when advertising to children is ramped up so much, between Black Friday and Christmas.

Today I Read…Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World

FicToday I read Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison, with a foreword by Lev Grossman.

Fanfiction…the final frontier. These are the voyages of academics, actors, lawyers, editors, authors, online archivists, activists, students, and of course, fanficcers. Coming from all walks of life and all fandoms, professor Anne Jamison has put together a stunning collection of essays about a hobby millions of people have had for decades, but were too often afraid to admit, out of embarrassment or fear of the copyright holders’ reaction. But fanfic has a history since long before the days of ‘zines and has expanded far beyond stories about Kirk and Spock, or Kirk/Spock. From Sherlock Holmes’ pastiches to the influence of Star Trek to RPF, bronies, the success of the Twilight-inspired Fifty Shades of Grey, and the growing understanding of the legality of fic, Fic is the perfect resource for the fan studying fandom, and for anyone else who ever wondered “what if the story happened this way instead?”

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I won this book from a Goodreads‘ First Reads contest, and I was thrilled since it was already on my personal to-read list. I was even more thrilled when I actually read it, because it’s terrific. I’ve mentioned before (a few times) my interest in academic fandom, both in studying properties that inspire fandom and in studying fandom itself. I’ve been a fan since grade 3, reading fanfic since I was about 15, and I attended my first convention at 18. In some ways, this book is part of the story of my life. It also introduced me to parts of fandom that I didn’t know about–I’ve said before that I hate Twilight, but Jamison does make some interesting points about the fandom writing fanfic to correct Meyer’s (many) mistakes and problems. To be fair, that’s the entire point of fixit fics, to correct what you thought was wrong with a given episode. Sometimes rage leads to ficwriting as much as love for the original property–I still have an old half-written X-Files fic on my harddrive that managed to combine fixit, RPF, meta, and Mary Sue, and another fic that combined Smallville and House M.D. solely for the purpose of Greg House insulting Lana Lang. I can respect that motivation, even though I maintain that there was nothing redeemable about Twishite. But, whatever floats your boat.

I’ve read a lot of fanfic over the years (a lot) (no, I’m not kidding, a lot) (a lot a lot a lot), and I didn’t like everything, but most of the writers were able to make an interesting point. Some fanfic writers I’ve loved better than ‘traditional’ writers. Some fanfic writers ARE published, traditional writers playing in a sandbox they love just like the rest of us. Some writers that I know started writing in fanfic, polishing their skills, before they became published writers, and still love fanfic. All of which are points that Jamison makes so I guess it’s not just me. That’s the thing about fandom–it’s very personal, if you’re a fan, it’s your culture and your identity and your hobby and your friends. Jamison started as an academic studying fandom, but eventually she became a fan–fandom has a way of sucking you in and inviting you to play too.

And…this has devolved into a discussion of me, not the book hasn’t it? I saw a lot of myself in this book–in a nonfiction cultural study, I guess that means she got it right. The essays she collected are equally well-done, offering different perspectives from different fandoms and fans who have experienced fandom in different times and places.They look at slash, het, g, omegaverse, au, and RPF. They discuss both copyright and the different understandings of the laws regarding copyright. They look at how the internet has vastly changed the face of fandom, and truly helped it turn into a global community. They look at attitudes towards monetizing fanfic and the arguments against it, and how it affects the community that supported its creation. They look at the problems with fanfic, and the areas that it rarely touches. And they look at fanfic as art, and where it belongs in the artistic and literary worlds.

This book is a must for academic fans, for fans who want a wider perspective on fandom than their own experiences, and for fic writers who want to know the history of their hobby.

Today I Read…The Stamp Collector

The Stamp Collector CoverToday I read The Stamp Collector by Jennifer Lanthier and illustrated by Francois Thisdale. The book is currently nominated for the OLA Forest of Reading Silver Birch Express award.

Once there were two boys, a city boy and a country boy, and they grew up to be very different. The country boy was a writer, but his stories made the village leaders angry and they put him in prison to make him stop writing. The city boy was a guard in the prison, and he wasn’t allowed to give the country boy the letters that people sent him. But they were united by the beautiful stamps on the letters, which reminded the writer that he still had friends. Even when people aren’t allowed to be friends, there are always things to bring them together.

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I met Jennifer Lanthier at the Forest of Reading breakfast at the OLA Super Conference last January. I picked up her book because it was a part of a library display where I’m volunteering, and it’s a lovely and evocative story. The writer and the guard have very specific roles, and the guard is afraid of getting in trouble like the writer, but he takes pity on someone who is alone and didn’t do anything bad to deserve being put in prison. The guard collects stamps because they are beautiful. He takes the stamps from the letters to the writer because they are lovely, but he sees that the writer needs to know that he is not alone and forgotten. The bright stamps from all of the different lands remind him that there are people outside who care about him and about his stories. He is not forgotten. The guard gives him not just the stamps, but the gift of remembrance. The writer finds his hope, and the guard finds his courage.

Francois Thisdale’s illustrations are lovely and dreamlike, and suit the quasi-fairy tale ambience perfectly. The deep colours used, greens and blues and browns and grays, emphasize that this is a sad story, but the white and the gold and the bright stamps remind you that there are good spots even in the sadness. It’s dark, but it’s beautiful.

Lanthier’s end note says that the story is not based on any two particular people, but that many writers have been jailed in different countries for angering the authorities. She also talks about PEN International, an organization that advocates for imprisoned writers, and that a portion of the proceeds of the book goes to PEN Canada.

Stamps are such an everyday thing. You can never find one when you need to mail a letter, and you grumble about them when Canada Post has yet again raised the price. But stamps aren’t just pieces of paper. Stamps guide messages across the entire world. Stamps connect people from far away and from the other side of the bars.

Today I Read…Crazy Town

Crazy TownToday I read Crazy Town: The Rob Ford Story by Robyn Doolittle.

Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, has had a very…colourful year. Robyn Doolittle, a journalist writing for the Toronto Star, tells the story of Ford, his family, and how they turned Toronto’s City Hall into the insane reality show that it is today.

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I live in the GTA, though not actually in Toronto, and I do read the Toronto Star, so I’ve been following the crack video scandal since it began. I really wanted to read this book when it came out to see what details it could add to the stories I read in the paper every day. While many of Ford’s previous offences to appropriate behaviour are mentioned every time he does something else foolish in public, it’s nice to have all of the details written down in one place to put things together, for those of us who weren’t obsessively following Toronto politics for years. I really only became aware of the Brothers Ford unfunny comedy act during their public fight with the Toronto Public Library, and the ridiculous comments Doug Ford made about Margaret Atwood and comparing library branches to Tim Hortons locations.

This is one book that I think I should have read in hardcover, instead of the ebook copy that I did read. The first few pages are a timeline of various significant events in Ford’s life, and of the many scandals and misbehaviours and news stories that have happened. Doolittle, while clearly having done her research, tends to skip around a bit, connecting different events to each other instead of laying everything out linearly. I think it would have been useful to have stuck my finger in the timeline and been able to flip back to it every so often to remind myself of how it all hangs together. It’s too slow to constantly flip back and forth between pages on my Kobo.

Doolittle’s account is highly biased. She believes that Rob Ford, rather than being an unfairly attacked everyman as he would like to present himself, is guilty of everything he has been accused of–drug and alcohol addictions, anger issues, violent tendencies, habitual lying, making personal attacks on his political enemies, prone to irrational and stubborn decisions, and in total being unfit for office. Her viewpoint is certainly understandable, considering Ford’s many attacks and accusations against the Toronto Star and against Doolittle and Kevin Donovan as the reporters who broke the story about the crack video. That said, she backs up her anecdotes with as much research as she was able to do, with a substantial list of citations at the end. She names sources whenever possible, without betraying confidentiality. The biggest problem with the book is that the story isn’t over yet. Rob Ford is running for mayor again, and the election isn’t until October. Every week seems to bring a new mis-step, a new scandal or video or something else. There was even a new story this weekend, about Ford being intoxicated at a Leafs games and arguing with the security guards who denied him entry to a private function he wasn’t invited to, claiming that it was a deliberate snub for not voting for a recently proposed expansion to the BMO field. Must be nice to have the world revolve around you. After October, Doolittle is really going to have to write another book summing up 2014, or at least release another edition with more content. After all, there’s the Jamaican accent video, the murder threats video, drunken antics on St. Patrick’s day, complete with video, and of course his trip to the Oscars, during which he did nothing but embarrass himself and Toronto and did absolutely nothing to help his claimed cause of promoting Toronto’s film industry (might have helped if he had talked to any of the people whose actual job that is first).

Rob Ford, whatever else he is, is polarizing. If you’re a member of Ford Nation, you’ll hate the book and believe, as Ford would have you do, that it is a pack of lies, meant to discredit the everyman bravely standing up to a corrupt/lazy/elitest/uncaring system. If you haven’t drunk the Kool-Aid, you’ll wonder that anyone can still support someone so determined to learn absolutely nothing from his many mistakes. And if you don’t live in the GTA, you’ll be laughing at the sideshow that Toronto has been forced to put up with for far too long, and hopefully be grateful that whatever the failings of your local politicians, at least they aren’t an international embarrassment.

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A skinny Somali-looking man in a wrinkled black T-shirt appeared out of the darkness. He got in the back with Donovan. I guessed he wasn’t much older than twenty-five. He had a peculiar look about him, his face sort of caved in on itself, with his eyes, nose, and mouth squishing together between a large forehead and pointy jawline. His black hair was cut close to his head, and his arms were pocked with thick scabs. Donovan and I introduced ourselves, but he didn’t want to talk and never gave his name. He pulled out an iPhone and hit play.

I thought I was prepared, but I couldn’t hide my shock.

There was Rob Ford—and there was no doubt in my mind that it was Rob Ford—the mayor of the fourth-largest city in North America, slurring, rambling, wobbling around in his chair, sucking on what looked like a crack pipe.

Before becoming mayor on December 1, 2010, Rob Ford had spent ten years as a controversial city councillor. His checkered past included a drunk driving conviction, a domestic assault arrest (which was later dropped), and allegations of racism and homophobia. But Ford’s antics had rarely earned ink outside of the Greater Toronto Area, and even two and a half years into his term as mayor, it was unlikely the average Canadian would have recognized him on the street. That would all change on May 16, 2013. That was the night the American gossip website Gawker posted a story with the headline “For Sale: A Video of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford Smoking Crack Cocaine.” TheStar published a few hours later. By week’s end, Ford was on his way to becoming internationally infamous, a running gag on American late-night television, and the subject of one of the most astonishing political scandals in the country’s history.