Book Review: Enchantress from the Stars by Sylvia Engdahl

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“As a fan of classic sci-fi, having read my way through the likes of Isaac Asimov and Ursula Le Guin, before moving into fantasy for many years, Enchantress from the Stars has made me fall in love with science-fiction all over again. Although perhaps already hinted at in the critical acclaim and awards cited on the cover, Engdahl’s writing and how she expresses the inner thoughts of her characters is compelling from the outset.  In the prologue I could already sense a clear potential to hook those who believe that science-fiction isn’t a genre they enjoy.”

Read the full review on Reading Time review site (Children’s Book Council of Australia)

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Book Review: Blade of Shattered Hope (The 13th Reality #3) by James Dashner

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“Dashner’s epic face-off in this ‘good kids versus evil grown up’ adventure has plenty of nightmarish mutant monsters and downright creepy scenarios faced by a likeable gang of young human characters.  The story builds into what becomes a terrifying page turner.”

Read the full review on Reading Time review site (Children’s Book Council of Australia)

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Book Review: The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid

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The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for The Worlds Most Adventurous Kid  by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco, illustrated by Joy Ang. Workman Publishing. New York. ISBN 9781523503544 Available September 2018.

 

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Cover image: Worman Publishing

Here is an incredibly beautiful book aimed at young adventurers, or even young adventurers at heart. It’s the sort of book that you will want to read with a torch under the bed covers, sprawled out in a treehouse, curled up in a window seat on a winter’s afternoon or on the grass underneath the shade of a tree.

 

 

But, don’t wait for the right place. You are in the right place! This book should be read wherever you find yourself right now, at a bus stop, in the schoolyard or even at the kitchen table.

The text, beautifully written by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco unfurls your imagination over 100 pages of quirky, curious places and facts hidden in the nooks and crannies of our amazing planet. At times achingly poetic descriptions of watching sunsets rise over distant forests, or lowering yourself into the centre of the earth, sits alongside thoughtful questions to ponder alongside scientific facts and details.

You navigate country to country on a global romp, magically illustrated with sketches and some beautiful coloured artwork that bring an element of comic and manga epic-ness to real places, through illustrator Joy Ang.

You are encouraged to emerge from the pages with eyes wide open to the possibility of discovering this fascination around you. Be prepared to find your own way! Reading this book reminds me of the thrill of the first time reading a choose your own adventure book when I was a child.

For me, what makes this book stand out, is that as readers, we are challenged to find and connect the elements of wonder in the places around us now. Although the book contains just snippets of the world found in the borders and margins of places, the writers demonstrate that any two places in the world can be connected, so that you can traverse in thought from place to place.

There are no photographs of the destinations included, but with the related Atlas Obscura website to explore, photographs really aren’t needed in the book.

This is a book to read if you are a kid, aimed at ages 8-12, but also a book to read if you forgot or refused to grow up.

The Atlas Obscura Explorer’s Guide for The Worlds Most Adventurous Kid Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco, illustrated by Joy Ang. Workman Publishing. New York. ISBN 9781523503544 (Available September 2018)


A digital review copy was provided to me by the publisher and this review is also published on Netgalley.

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Book Review: Girls who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani

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Reshma Saujani’s book Girls Who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World conjures up conflicting emotions for me, before I even turn a page. Part of me wishes this book didn’t need to exist and that there was no gender divide in coding.  Yet, the fact that this book does exist as part of Saujani’s mission to help tackle the gender gap in STEM also causes me to celebrate its very existence.

Book Review: Girls who Code: Learn to Code and Change the World by Reshma Saujani

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Book Review: Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom by Marina Umaschi Bers.

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Through my explorations of Makerspaces, I keep returning to wonder about why we create separate, distinct spaces aside from others “for making”. In a similar way, we also create designated play spaces, like playgrounds “to play”.

These boundaries of space, led me to reading Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom by Marina Umaschi Bers.

Book Review: Coding as a Playground by Marian Umaschi Bers

 

 

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Mindstorm on a hillside: learning to stay in play

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I have just finished reading Coding as a Playground: Programming and Computational Thinking in the Early Childhood Classroom by Marina Umaschi Bers, which has led me into re-reading Mindstorms by Seymour Papert.

You can read the full text of Papert’s Mindstorms here on MIT’s website. I have been a little surprised by not hearing much about Papert and constructionism in the thirteen years I’ve worked in higher education. For some ideas about how Papert came to be a bit under-the-radar in higher education,  see this paper about Seymour Papert’s Legacy.

To those I’ve asked recently, Mindstorms is perceived as being primarly about  technology and early education. It’s not a text to go to naturally for insight into learning in higher education, unless perhaps, you are in ed-tech. It has such an ageless relevance about how we learn.

I first read Mindstorms about ten years ago. I also must confess to being a child of the LOGO language. I have vivid memories of the first time I sat in front of computer in primary school and used LOGO. When I read Mindstorms it was all about computers. I now find myself reading Mindstroms very differently.  This is the first jolt:

“Thus this book is really about how a culture, a way of thinking, an idea comes to inhabit a young mind…My interest is in universal issues of how people think and how they learn to think.” (Papert, p10)

Playing ‘on’ playgrounds

I find myself thinking about a playground on a mountainside in Switzerland where I had an extraordinary learning experience, given to me by a passer-by. I think about this often and have wanted to write about this playground since we were there in 2015. Now feels like the right time.

It was a playground like no other. An adventure by cable car to get there. Equipment surprisingly plonked perfectly on the hillside. Epic views of snow-capped Alps in summer. A path out of it which led into a beautiful hillside wildflower walk.

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Sssh. At home, I know of a rare park with extra swings high enough for adults to have a swing. If the park is quiet and we have it to ourselves, I’ll gleefully hop onto a swing and swing into the blue sky. If another grown up turns up, I’ll self-consciously slow so down so that I’m sort of really just sitting on the swing. I feel, somehow, embarrassed to be seen….playing.

At this epic playground of playgrounds in Switzerland, I of course I got on the swings alongside our children.  My husband did too. Swinging through the warm summer air in the snow-capped mountains, this was truly the stuff of my imagination. The park of my childhood consisted of some swings in a shade-less hot prickly-weed paddock behind suburban houses. If you swung high enough and jumped off,  you could catch a glimpse of  foot-hills in the distance.  Something about the glimpse of those childhood hills made me feel like there was the potential of adventure to distant lands in the future. Here in this impossible land of hot sun and snow,  was my imagined landscape.

wildflowers

Suddenly, a woman, dressed in bright colours,  appeared from the wildflower path.  She just seemed to emerge from the hills as if she was a flower that had grown from them. I was merrily swinging, and characteristically slowed down self-consciously to a stop. She walked over to me and said “Hello, hello, keep swinging, keep playing, it is beautiful to see this!“. She then told me that she missed seeing adults play and being able to play herself. She explained that where she grew up (somewhere in Germany) it was acceptable for adults to play on playgrounds, but where she lived now (somewhere in France) it was not acceptable, and she had often been laughed at and mocked. She said it was beautiful to see adults playing. She then waved, said goodbye and continued on her walk, disappearing along the path down the mountain.

I think so often of this message from a stranger.  Three years on, I now see the very beginnings of my 10 year old standing aside a little,   as her younger brother plays if there are others present. At home, just the two of them, they are different.  The self-consciousness about being seen to play is creeping in.

Questions I can’t answer

Why, at some point, do we feel embarrassed to be seen to play?

Is this a global phenomena? Are some cultures really more playful than others in adulthood?

As you are reading this, in your country, what would it feel like if you were seen on a swing?

And then, I think about play-based approaches to learning that I am seeing more of through working with younger learners. When I look side-by-side at learning in primary years education and the differences between how we support children into learning, and our approach to adult education, I feel a sense of forgetfulness in higher education. Like something is lost, a pastel-wash of colours where the colours should be bright.

Must we grow out of play?

Why do we so easily give up play in formal education? Is this inevitable, or are we teaching this? Is this cultural or academic?

 Why is it acceptable that final years of high school, and higher education is acceptable as a grown-up “stressful” experience?

Why is exam and assessment pressure so normalised? Why do students who don’t have exams in their course become apologetic, and express that they  “feel guilty?” amongst their peers for not having a stressful assessment period?

What contribution does our quest for seriousness and rigor in higher education have on the brain chemistry of our teenage and adult students?

Why have we made the absence of play for adults, an acceptable culture and one that we, perhaps without realising, perpetuate?

The players in higher education

Some grown-ups are still playing.

Cambridge University is playing: Meet the world’s first professor of play.

JISC too: Learning to play, playing to learn: the rise of playful learning in higher education

Here’s some tips from The Creativity Post: Play Matters: Six Play-Full Practices For Higher Education

I’m excited to see Makerspaces in academic libraries, like at Curtin University Library Maker Space. (lucky things!)

How to play: now you try!

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The challenge of play in higher education, seems to be that to have a place to play, we first feel we need to rebuild the playgrounds. Once we have the playgrounds, will our educational culture allow us to play?

If you are an educator, my challenge for you is simple. Next time you see a swing in a playground, test your boundaries of seriousness.

Get on a swing. Swing on it. How does it feel? Is it complicated to express?

Are there people observing? What element does that add to your experience?

It’s just a hunch, but I think the complex swirling galaxies of mixed reaction that at you feel in these moments, is how learning should probably feel.

My hope is that we can make a culture of play in higher education.

“What we bloodlessy call ‘place’ is to young children a wild compound of dream, spell and substance: place is somewhere they are always ‘in’, never ‘on’.”

Robert MacFarlane – Landmarks

alps

 

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The Fear – The Dark is Rising

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“It was then, without warning, that the fear came.”

Susan Cooper, The Dark is Rising

Oh! The beautiful opening chapter of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper, which I’m reading in a massive worldwide book group on Twitter,  has brought back all my inexplicable moments of nature fear – or just The Fear, as Will experiences.

Have you felt, The Fear?

Those times when you find yourself alone in nature and for some reason, your sense of awe and comfort switches immediately to a feeling of pagan animism about everything around you. As if you are so very trembling and small in the scheme of tall tree things.

Being alone in nature is something I am quite comfortable with, and actually sometimes really crave now that it’s virtually impossible to have. I did have some pre-dawn walks for a hour or so earlier this year when we were camping in the remote Flinders Rangers. My husband were still asleep in the tent and I went out by torchlight. There was a slightly similar experience to the one I’m about to tell. Perhaps because I had my dog with me, or because it was morning, or even because I grew up around this wild land, I felt awe, but not fear at the strange undersound I heard as I got closer to the hills.

 

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Watching the sunrise in the Flinders Ranges

 

There have been a handful of times when THE FEAR has involved not a wild place, but a known place, like it was for Will.

THe last time I felt it, I was feeling comfortable. It was July 2015 and I was outside our rural holiday cottage in Cornwall. A house full of my children and nephews, in-laws and husband asleep. I was outside at midnight with my astrobinoculars and camera taking night sky pictures.

 

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Cosy light from the room when my young children were asleep

 

Maybe it was because I was marvelling at the novelty of seeing the emerging waxing moon traversing the sky backwards and in reverse around in the northern hemisphere after so long in the southern hemisphere (link explains this if you’ve never realised that there are differences). So, things had been changing in a different way.

 

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Waxing crescent moon in Cornish summer skies

 

 

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Watching the moon travelling ‘backwards’ in the northern hemisphere – Cornwall

 

Anyway, for some reason, being out there in the dark, even after a long night of Summer light, turned, er,  well, frightening.

It began with a sound from the fields. The gardens were surrounded by tall hedges, puncutated by one small archway cut out with a gate, with fields beyond. The sound had a hint of human cough or maybe throat clearing, but un-animal enough to confuse my senses. It wasn’t a growl, and I’d lived rurally so it wasn’t a cow or sheep or fox sound. Or bird sound. It was just, unidentifiable. Odd. Weird.

Instinctively, in that moment, when my brain could have rationalised, it didn’t. The day spent exploring ancient nooks and crannies of Cornwall took over, and I, the I that might laugh at my reaction,  was gone. THE FEAR had me.

That sound, had set my heart thumping in a rhythm for running. And I wanted to run. I just left my bincolulars and camera on the tripod and ran across the lawns to the sliding door and clambered in to the dark of house and the comfort of the lounge. After a few moments, I realised I had left all my gear outside.  As I tried to slide open the door go back to get it, I tried to let the ridiculousness take over. It wouldn’t.

I forced myself, swearing in whispers,  to go back out and fumble to detach the heavy binoculars, fold down the tripod and pack away my camera in what seemed like an eternity spent in the now thick ominous darkness. It was somehow, one of the most bravest acts against myself.

And that, is The Fear. I’ve felt it only a handful of times.

If you have ever felt it, you will understand.

Just as Susan Cooper must have understood, when she wrote it for Will to experience.

Have you known, The Fear? I would love to hear your tales.

 

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An Arthurian adventure awaits you – #TheDarkisReading

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Starting 20th December – worldwide reading of The Dark is Rising by Susan Cooper

What could be more magical than reading (or re-reading as it is for me) one of the most imaginative and wonderful Arthurian children’s/YA novels ever written, starting when the book does, on Midwinter Eve?  (Midsummer Eve for us in the southern hemisphere!)

Well, how about reading it with a fellowship of other readers, just strangers bound together within the world of limited characters (Twitter) in a shared quest to wrangle and snatch moments in time to read together in the mad days of Yule?

If you have never read Susan Cooper’s The Dark is Rising, maybe it’s time. Published before I was born in 1973,  I feel like I grew up with it, even though I was in my 20s before reading it.  I only discovered it after studying Medieval English Literature and seeking out modern Arthurian stories.

If you have an imagination stirred by Arthurian tales, Celtic or Norse mythology, magic, standing stones, quests, good and evil, it’s time to read this.

Will Stanton, our 11 year old warrior awaits.

“You are the seventh son of a seventh son, Will Stanton. You step through time. One by one, the Signs will call to you. You will gather them and gain the power of the Light. You are the Sign-Seeker.”

More details about how to participate in the reading group in the post below from Julia Bird.

Hello to new visitors in search of #thedarkisreading, an unexpected Christmas delight. Read on! ******* ‘This night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining…’ tweeted @RobGMacfarlane, posting a photo of a gift copy of Susan Cooper’s classic children’s novel The Dark Is Rising (1973). ‘A wonder!’ I replied ‘I reread it every Christmas too […]

via #TheDarkisReading: A Midwinter Reading Group — Julia Bird

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book reviews, middle & YA fiction/fantasy

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