Today I Read… My Dad Used to Be So Cool 

Image result for my dad used to be coolToday I Read My Dad Used to Be So Cool written and illustrated by Keith Negley.

My dad used to be so cool. He was in a band! And he had a motorcycle and tattoos and I bet he had so much fun. Now all he does laundry, and he vacuums, and he ties my shoelaces, and he takes me to the park. I wonder what happened?

*************************************

I found this picture book at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May (yes, I think it’s obvious that I’m behind on posting). The author also wrote Tough Guys Have Feelings Too, which I also really liked, about how men in stereotypical male jobs like superheroes and firefighters have emotions that they can express. However, since I saw these before Father’s Day, obviously I had to get copies to troll my brothers in law.

This is a cute picture book, all about the kid musing on how his dad used to be a really cool rock star, and he doesn’t understand what changed to make his dad so boring. Through the art, we see dad taking care of his son and the home. The drum set is in the closet, the skateboard is on the wall, the motorcycle is for sale. We also see a big pull out spread of Kid and Dad playing at the park, chasing each other all over the playground, and then finally wading out into the water together. Maybe dad is still a little bit cool. But then he rocks out in the car,  which is SO EMBARRASSING! This is a nice representation of dad being perfectly  competent at taking care of his home and child, and showing that dad may still have tattoo sleeves from when he was younger but they have no bearing on his ability to nurture. It’s a nice demonstration of a step away from traditional gender roles, showing a more modern family. We don’t know if he’s a single dad, or if mom is away at work, or if there’s a second dad away at work, or what the rest of the family looks like, and it doesn’t matter. Dads do not always have to be the incompetent buffoon whose mistakes mom has to fix, and they don’t have to be the one who can fix your bike but not your sandwich, and it’s nice to see that sometimes.

Still gonna troll my brothers in law and tell them they can remind my nieces and nephew of when their dads used to be cool though. After all, what else is family for?

Advertisements

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?

******************************************************************************************

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.

*****************************************************************************************

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!

************************************************************************************

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.

**********************************************************************************
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.

**********************************************************************************
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…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.

*********************************************************

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.

*****************************************************************************************

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.