Friday, January 3, 2014


Happy New Year!

Best films, best photos, most newsworthy events, most memorable statements—all I hear or read since Christmas is lists.  So why not throw my hat, or rather my list, into the ring of New Year listographers.  Here are my favorite personal and professional reads, in English and French, from 2013.

1.              Joseph Boyden’s complete works:  
a.     Three Day Road is the best novel I have read set during World War I.  It is the poetic and gripping story of First Nations youths who become snipers in the Canadian army;
b.     Through Black Spruce, winner of the Giller Prize in 2008, is the story of Will Bird, a former bush pilot in Northern Ontario,  and his family, as the challenges of cultural flux impact their lives;
c.      The Orenda, the story of First Nations characters Bird and his daughter Snow Falls, and the Jesuit missionary Père Christophe, at the time of first contact between First Nations and Europeans in Canada.  Boyden spares nothing in his dramatization of the mutual impact of the cultures.  The novel is so powerful that I had to read the book in increments to digest the characters and the events, and to make connections between the past that Boyden describes with such empathy and insight, and the present.  Wab Kinew, Winnipeg hip-hop artist and broadcaster, will defend The Orenda during the 2014 CBC Canada Reads from March 3 to March 6.

2.              Almost John Green’s complete works: 
a.     Looking for Alaska
b.     An Abundance of Katherines
c.      Paper Towns
d.     The Fault in Our Stars (movie to be released later this year). 
Green peoples his books with memorable, distinctive characters with unusual idiosyncracies.  Miles Halter from Looking to Alaska, for example, collects the last words of famous people.  Green’s words also provide insight on concepts we think we understand.  In An Abundance of Katherines, he distinguishes between prodigies and geniuses:  “Prodigies can very quickly learn what other people have already figured out; geniuses discover that which no one has previously discovered.  Prodigies learn; geniuses do.”

3.              Two books on the horrific experience of First Nations after Treaty in Saskatchewan and the West: 
a.     Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation and Loss of Aboriginal Life by James Daschuk;
b.     A Geography of Blood: Unearthing Memory from a Prairie Landscape by Candace Savage.  
4.              For the educators among you, two books on rubrics:  
a.     How to Create and Use Rubrics for Formative Assessment by Susan Brookhart walks educators through building and using rubrics for assessment;
b.     Rethinking Rubrics in Writing Assesssment by Maya Wilson points out that rubrics can narrow a student’s perspective on the characteristics of “good” writing, and presents an alternate to rubrics in writing assessment.

5.              Two series in French targeting adolescent readers:
a.     Z. de Cathleen Rouleau, quatre tomes qui racontent les aventures de Zachary Zed lors du début du secondaire;
b.     Les bravoures de Thomas Hardy de Phillipe Alexandre, une collection qui offre une perspective différente sur les conflits de l’adolescence—s’en sortir en organisant des projets qui répondent au besoin d’autrui.   Félicitations à l’auteur d’avoir créé un personnage intéressant, des interactions authentiques, et une intrigue engageante hors du genre fantaisiste.

6.              I also thoroughly enjoyed:
a.     Tenth of December by George Saunders, a masterful collection of short stories I purchased after hearing Saunders on The Colbert Report and because December 10 is my son’s birthday;
b.     Room, by Emma Donaghue, a novel about a woman held in captivity for seven years, narrated by the son she bears during that time.  This book is an eerie harbinger of the plight of Amanda Berry,  Gina  DeJesus, and Michelle Knight, freed after ten years of imprisonment in Cleveland in May, 2013.
c.      La petite rapporteuse de mots  de Danielle Simard (texte) et Geneviève Côté (illustrations), une histoire touchante d’une petite fille qui collectionne les mots que sa grand-mère a perdus.
d.     Write Beside Them, Penny Kittle’s narrative detailing her successes and challenges teaching writing to high school students.  This is an honest, compelling, and real book—the highest compliment I can give to a professional work.

In July of 2012, I set a goal to read more and to document my reading as an incentive.  Notice my goal had nothing to do with New Year’s resolutions, which I never make.  I continue to carve out nooks for reading in the sculpture of each day’s projects and demands.  The treasures I have shared with you today engaged my mind and heart, and altered a few personal paradigms on both personal and professional fronts.  What more can you ask of a book?

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