Read a Banned Book: Comics

Originally published in 2014.

This is the week to read. No, wait, this is the week to read a comic. No, no, even better- this is the week to read a questionable comic. Simply, this is the week to read a banned comic book.🙂

My favourite week of the year, Banned Books Week kicks off Sunday, September 21, and runs until the 27th. The purpose of the annual event is to celebrate literature of all kinds, and most importantly the freedom to read. Banned Books Week is a celebration because it showcases titles that have been challenged and restricted but have stayed on the shelves because of the tireless efforts of the literary community who pursue the promotion of freedom to read.

This year spotlights the too often disgraced genre of comics.

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To say that I enjoy reading comic books is an understatement; I love them and read them voraciously. I advocate for their inclusion in classroom curricula, for community book clubs for youth and adults alike, and I encourage those who are foreign to the medium to pick one up and give it a try. But in my endless promotion of the genre I am faced with constant criticism from people who think comics are basic, juvenile,  and simple-minded. If you are someone who believes likewise I urge you to educate yourself, for if you sit down with a copy of Persepolis, Maus, Saga, The Long Halloween or Essex County I sincerely believe you will change your perspective- at least you will if you are someone who likes to be challenged by literature and can handle a little unorthodoxy.

Comics are both literary art and graphic art. They extend far beyond the realm of superheroes and address social and moral dilemmas, history, war, love, friendship, and coming of age. Comics challenge the reader to read on multiple levels. Unlike an illustrated  novel where the image captures a description of the narrative, the images in the comics are narrative themselves. They are as equally important as the text, often times more so. Learning to follow panels and paying attention to the intricacies of splash pages takes patience and practice. For some, reading a graphic novel can be as time consuming as reading one of full text because the subtleties and metaphors are often found in the drawings not in the words.

Seeing the story unfold before you is a powerful experience. The first time I read Maus, by Art Speigleman, I had to keep putting it down- this is very unlike me. Maus, the first and only pulitzer prize winning graphic novel, is the biographical account of the author’s parents enslavement at Auschwitz; the tale is anthropomorphic, with Jews represented as mice who are chased down and entrapped by Nazi cats.  Each character is given a distinct voice, each nationality a biting commentary through artistic representation. It is haunting and honest and from the point of view of the author, it is true. This is not a book to devour in one sitting. Nor is it a read to take lightly. But it has been challenged for being too graphic and for the misrepresentation of ethnic groups. This is not a simple minded piece of literature. The reasons for its ban do not conform to the base outline of comic discrimination, and sadly this is the case for the majority of banned comics across North America. Persepolis, Pride of Baghdad, Fun Home, The Killing Joke, Sandman, and Maus have been challenged in schools and libraries, not because they are simple stories, but because they are complex and mature.

No one has the right to tell someone what they can or cannot read. Sure, parents can choose to monitor their child’s reading habits, but to take that monitoring a step further and to protest the inclusion of a book on the shelves of a school or a library is violating someone else’s right to engage with literature. As a parent I understand wanting to protect children from potential harm, but it is our duty as parents to ensure children learn how to interpret the information before them and address how this information affects them. Reading is the gateway to knowledge. When we allow books, of any kind, to be banned we limit knowledge.  My role as a mother is to encourage a love of learning in my children. If they are exposed to something that may seem questionable to me, them, or society at large it is my duty to discuss the reading experience. Not to limit it, pretend it did not exist, or prevent the experience in others.

Banning books is taking away choice. As adults and role models we should promote choice. It is our duty to guide our children through this world, to teach them that sex, profanity, violence and different points of view exist. If we try to keep them from learning about these things, we are putting them at risk and worst of all, not giving them the opportunity to discuss and to feel safe to ask questions. Books often provide answers, but most always prompt critical thinking. Even the most basic stories have the potential to cultivate thought. I am reminded of the sophisticated artistic devices in Maurice Sendak’s wonderful children’s book, Where the Wild Things Are. Max, who was naughty and sent to bed without supper, dreams of a wild world of fantastic beasts where he can escape the confines of reality and revel in fantasy. This classic has been frequently challenged for being too scary- but it need not be scary at all. Instead, why not marvel at the wonders and endless possibilities of imagination? Kids can be encouraged to think critically. In fact, without knowing it most do. Why cannot many adults?

At the end of the day your kids are going to learn about sex, they will fill their vocabulary (even just in thought) with profanity, they will be overwhelmed by different religions and ways of thinking. One day kids will learn that The Joker is a murdering lunatic, that sex is everywhere and death can be devastating. The more we try to censor our children from the realities of the world in their youth the less we prepare them for adulthood. Instead of banning literature, we should be exploring it and having conversations about it, all the while enlightening ourselves and them with the myriad of ideas that exist in this world.

Banned Books Week starts today, and as always, I am clearing my schedule to delve into the pages of “questionable” book. I wonder what I will learn this time?

 

Written by Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Short Shorts and The Troubling Perception of Women in Comics

Wherein I respond to a troubling segment of Fox and Friends.

http://comicbook.com/2014/09/22/fox-news-upset-popeye-isn-t-smoking-thor-is-a-woman-and-wonder-w/

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I don’t care that Wonder Woman wears short shorts and a strapless top. I don’t care that Emma Frost always looks cold because she lives in nothing more than lingerie. I don’t care that Ms. Marvel is often in danger of getting a wedgie from her body suit when she blasts off into space. I don’t care about these things because I don’t think about them. When I read a comic I actually read it for the content. Not the outfits. After a disturbing segment of Fox and Friends, I urge others to consider doing the same.

The blatant mockery of the unfinished editing of Sony Animation’s film, Popeye (for creating a title character without his trademark pipe and tattoos) is unfounded as the comments were made about test footage. We have no way of knowing yet if either of these things will make the final cut, but if they don’t, what is the hurt of having a protagonist who doesn’t smoke? What will it matter to kids of a new generation if Popeye’s arms are simply muscular? If an American icon is neither tattooed nor a smoker he should not be branded a “wuss,” and he should certainly not be emasculated. I grew up with Popeye, too, and his tattoos made very little impression on me. I remember the importance of eating spinach.🙂

As for Thor, and the issue of Odinson now being unworthy so a woman has taken up his mantle, I say it is time to embrace change.  Thor is no longer worthy of Mjolnir, and this is not the first time, either. Remember when he used to carry around Jarnbjorn? (If not, Jarnbjorn is a really big axe.) True comic book fans should be able to at least make peace with the situation and greet the new Thor as a potential hero in her own right, not a new “bustier” Thor with “two additions”. Even in comic books women can be more than big breasts. At no point was her physical strength mentioned, which is hard to miss given that she is not much smaller than Thor Odinson. Also, women can be superheroes without having overtly female names like Thorina. In an age where we are striving for gender equality, it is important that female heroes have their own names. As all women should.

Many fans are upset because Marvel is making so many changes of major characters, many have been outspoken against a new Thor (even I wish Odinson could be Thor and Marvel would highlight a female character in her own right), but to regale her to the size of her breast plate is inappropriate. If we are going to cast her aside, let’s at least have substantial reasoning for it.

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Now, for the points about Wonder Woman. The truth seeking Amazon princess, Diana, who battles for justice alongside some of the greatest heroes ever written has been reduced to her short shorts and halter top. First, let me just say a halter top has a strap that goes around one’s neck. Wonder Woman’s top is strapless, just a fashion FYI.  I love Gadot’s costume in Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice, which I know strikes a nerve  for not being patriotic enough, but as a reader of comics let me point out that she is coming into a film that has been said to be heavily influenced by Frank Miller’s Dark Knight Saga, so dark tones will prevail. Also, she looks tough. Much tougher than the bright red and blues. Perhaps an icon like Wonder Woman deserves a costume better than that of a “roller skating” outfit. I wonder if anyone is offended by the changes to Superman’s costume, or can male superheroes undergo costume alterations and still be taken seriously?

We live in an age where women and men should be treated equally. The comics industry is making strides to accommodate this, so I would hope daytime television personalities would strive to do so as well. A true fan, I would hope, appreciates heroes for their abilities, cunning, wit and skill. They also love comics for the content, and yes, they probably enjoy the costumes, but the costumes can change without changing the integrity of the person who wears them. And as for Thor, let’s at least give her a chance. If she is good enough for Jason Aaron, she should at least be worthy of us.

Instead of focusing on the superficiality of character clothing, I encourage everyone to pick up a comic and read it for its originality and content. But if you cannot, try not to insult those of us who do.

 

Written by Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Sounds of a Library

*This is a response to an assignment for my MLIS program wherein I contemplate what I believe to be true about libraries.*

Listen.

Padded footsteps on a carpeted floor.

Clickity clack go the toy trains on their table tracks.

Whispers.

Teenage jabber.

Tap, tap, on the keyboards.

The clanging of the return slot- closing.

Toddlers bleating in a corner.

Swosh, doors open, swosh, doors close again.

Angry Birds, a theme song for iPad children.

The closing of a hardcover novel, fhwip.

A conclave of creativity.

Thank you, have a nice day.

These are the sounds of a library.

When I think of my experience with libraries, my own personal story collection, no tale is particularly quiet. From my days as a teenager sitting at the upstairs corner table, looking out over the harbor, the ships sailing in and out, the sun setting, I think of the stories I wove for my English class, the inspiration I got from the view of the city across the water, and the reading aloud of my work, editing with my peers.

I think of the first day I took my toddling son to explore the shelves and the worlds within. As he clambered to reach the texts that were too high and as they fell around him in a crash on the floor, I was met with smiles and squeals of delight from the staff who leapt into action to help me re-shelve the fallen tomes. With open arms and eyes brimming with delight, my son learned that a library was a welcoming haven. Somewhere he could be adventurous, mischievous, and greeted with smiles.

As he and I continued to visit the libraries in our community, I was struck with the plentiful program offerings for all ages, all manner of interests. My son learned to glue candles on a paper cake, shake an and get his sillies out, while I found free university lectures and met like minded mates at a graphic novel book club. Four years later their friendship, conversation, and shared interests contribute to the best nights of my months.

Every second month, as the new program guide is delivered, I wait patiently to pick up my copy. I circle dozens of programs. Some I will attend: book club, kids craft days, baby stories and songs. Others I will strive to make, astronomy 101, palm reading, laughter yoga- but in the end, I will concede to joining another time. There is not enough time to learn about all the themes the library provides through programs, but there is something for anyone who wants to learn. And this is the great purpose of our libraries today- to provide a place where people can learn, create and meet like-minded individuals. A library can be the setting for the forging of great friendships, as it can be a place to access and unlock information.

In that regard, librarians are no longer the gatekeepers of intelligence; they appropriate wisdom, share their knowledge and ensure their patrons are informed. Librarians guide their patrons to the information they seek, helping first to clarify and fully comprehend what is needed, then teaching how to access and unearth the information buried deep within electronic networks or between the dusty pages of a book. Librarians no longer shush us. They encourage us! They point us towards the answers we seek and sometimes, often times, they enjoy learning right along with us. They cheer on our desire to read and learn. They applaud our curiosity. They invite our questions.

The image of the library is changing, this I believe to be certain. Libraries are a powerhouse for innovation and creativity. They are no longer about amassing quantities of books (though the books are there for those who cherish them), neither are they there to provide a reserved, muted space for study (though these rooms do exist). When someone asks, Will there be need for librarians in the future? Shout a resounding, Yes! and explain their role in the creative community, their role as information harbingers and providers. Librarians are there to help you connect with information; the library is there to connect information with the community. Walk into a library with questions, with curiosity. Shuffle your feet through the aisles and drum your fingers along the stacks. Tap out your questions and print your findings. Raise your voice and ask a question.

Libraries are bustling. They bustle with knowledge. They bustle with information. They bustle with creativity. They bustle with life. Gone are the days when libraries were places of quiet, contemplative solitude. There is very little shushing in a library now, though a rowdy crowd might warrant one, from time to time. The library of today, on the precipice of the year 2015, is alive with ideas, people and noise! It is the epicenter of creativity; a place one can research business ventures of the past, flops and successes; a place to discuss and debate ideas; a safe haven of inclusion for those who need it most. Ideas are being exchanged and these ideas are making noise in the branches of their communities.

It is a wonderful feeling, knowing that I don’t have to hover over my children when we step into the library. They scuttle towards the children’s section, bumbling and fumbling as they make their way, and as they become chefs, conductors, puzzle masters, and elocutionists of fairy tales, I know they will not be silenced. They will be encouraged to play and create. They will be prodded into conversation by staff, and once and a while they will be listened to as they read their favorite books out loud. And as they grow they will learn to use the library and its staff as a soundboard for ideas, sounding their barbaric yawps, waiting to create and discover. Making beautiful noise as they go.

 

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

So, You’re Just Getting into Comics

To the thirty year old newly defined geek there is nothing more stinging than the question, “So, you’re just getting into comics?”. Ugh. It’s like piercing my heart with a jagged dagger, twisting until breathless. If you want to make me shudder and cower into a corner, here is how to do it.

“So, you’re just getting into comics?”bf-2

Some of the most interesting people I know, and people I would gladly listen to for hours on end, are true bonafide savants of the comic genre and industry. They work in comic book stores, give presentations at conventions, choose the reading materials for the city libraries, and have been fans of comics most of their lives. They, and the comics they read, have a history together. They don’t need movies to entice them into a comic book store, they are the people who have kept the stores afloat. They are the genuine article, and I feel like a poser.

This is a hard time to be a comic fan and to find footing in the vast clubhouse of the Comic Reader Brotherhood. Since the Marvel Cinematic Universe imploded and Chris Nolan’sBatman trilogy skyrocketed to success, comics have become the “it” thing. Everywhere you go someone is wearing a Spiderman t-shirt, children dress up as Captain America (I anticipate many Star Lord’s this Halloween), and the superhero and the actor portraying them have become synonymous (Nick Fury, anyone?). Comics have never been cooler, and it is at this juncture that I have jumped on the bandwagon. Or is it?

Let’s rewind. It’s 1987, I am only five, but I am glued to the television set at noon to watchJem and the Holograms. Soon after, She-Ra and He-Man come on. In the evening, I cap off the day with The Amazing Spiderman and Adam West’s beautifully drawn eyebrows in Batman. When I reflect on my childhood, these shows, their action figures and costumes resonate in my memories. I still watch reruns and introduce these characters to my children. My Little Pony, ThunderCats, and Transformers were as much in the books I read as they were on the screens I watched.  These characters hold a very important place in the hearts of the geek community. Mine too.

As I got older, I would watch Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson spar over and over until we needed to buy a new VHS. Buffy the Vampire Slayer was my raison d’être every Thursday, then Sunday night. I read Spiderman comics and The Incredible Hulk, at first because they reminded me of a favourite cousin, but soon after because they were coming of age stories, and I was coming of age myself. Even the first Sam Raimi Spiderman left me speechless as my friends and I drove home from the theatres. I was completely engulfed in the story- despite their choice of using Mary Jane over Gwen Stacy. Tsk, tsk.

So for a while, I knew some stuff.  And then I kind of cut out.

I still watched movies and read all the time, but I tried to be too classic, too artsy, too grown up. Could comics be grown up? I wasn’t so sure. When my son was born, very stereotypically, superheroes crept back in. Then I met Alex, who gave me a world of graphic literary possibility on a jump drive. I joined book club. I read amazing graphic novels that had nothing to do with superheroes. I fell in love with reading and storytelling all over again, in the most visually stunning and visceral way. And yes, I have read (almost) every major Marvel event from the 1990’s onward, but I just did it a little late. Batman, we still have some road to travel, you and I.

In the end, I believe, to be taken seriously by a community driven to explore, accept and promote the wonderful world that is comics (and seriously awesome ’80’s cartoons) you just have to love them. Read them. Reflect on them. And not be afraid to engage. Some of the best people I will ever know are still out there for me to meet, to discuss comics and the things labeled as geeky that they and I love. And even though I might wonder if I am just a poser looking to fit in, the terrific people I have already met lead me to believe I’m not. Maybe I am on my way to being one of you, too.

“So, you’re just getting into comics?”

No. As it turns out, I have always been into them. Maybe I didn’t know it at the time. But in these last five years I have been consumed by them.

Maybe that’s the better question to ask, next time you meet someone like me.

“So, you’re consumed by comics, too?”

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Time to rethink your comic prejudice

The other day at the playground, a mother of a toddler made a passing remark that there was no way, whatsoever, that she would let her daughter wear a Spiderman t-shirt. “Superheroes,” she said, “are not for girls”.  I found myself ashamedly looking at my toddling two year old bounding up the slide in her favourite outfit (hand picked herself!), a well-worn
Halloween costume, which was, of course, Spiderman. Then I glanced at her shoes, again, Spiderman. To add insult to injury, I was wearing and X-Men shirt under my winter coat.Spiderman_Image

I spend a lot of time reading and advocating comics to everyone and for everyone, so it was hard for me to hear her point of view.There is a perception that comics are “sub-literature” or “comedy” or “for semiskilled readers” only. I vehemently oppose this because I am very well versed in Shakespeare, Keats, Whitman, and Tennyson, but also in Waid, Bendis, Lemire, and Loeb. This week’s readings remind us that this perception of comics is not new, that adults have been trying to censor (and still do!!) the availability and content within these graphic novel books because the very word “graphic” denotes something dirty or violent. Slapping a Comics Authority logo on the corner of books in the 1950’s began a censorship of freedom to read by putting the axe to horror comics and crime comics (the biggest sellers of the time), violence, sex, and social critiques for fear of delinquency and bad behavior among youth. (I can’t help but wonder how what logo they would stick on Stoker’s Dracula, or Conan-Doyle’s, Sherlock Holmes.) I was most struck to find out that it was a panel made up of the majority of women deciding what is or is not appropriate. I suppose because librarianship was mostly a woman’s role then, and in the cult of true womanhood where values of the virtuous are concerned who better to show the way than the well-intentioned woman? It struck me, however, because I think there is still a (mis)perception of comics now that says comics are not the way to critical and calculated thought, and women still have a role to play in this.

The mainstream readership of comics (superheroes, in particular) is 90% male. I suppose I sit comfortably in the 10% as I know, without a doubt I am an Active Comics Enthusiast. Woman, on the other hand, make up for their lack of superhero reading by being the 40% readership of graphic novels of other genres. I guess I sit comfortably here, too. But 10% and 40% is low, to me. I know so many female fans. So many female con attendees that I am shocked this number remains this low. And after reading books like, Chicks Dig Comics, Ms Marvel, or Faith, I can’t help but wonder how quickly these percentages are changing.

Comics are great. They have been tackling social constructs and paying homage to ancient myths and stories since they began (Superman is not an original story, he is Hercules all the way!). There is more to a comic than most people realize, and just because there is a visual, a graphic component, to a narrative does not discount its effectiveness nor its power. I mean, come on, Maus won a Pulitzer Prize! As soon as we get rid of the misconception that comics are not real literature the sooner people can stop being ashamed of what they read, and the sooner my daughter and I can wear our super t-shirts without fear of ridicule!I am all for that!

 

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Owly, A Humble Tale

I was eager to read Owly because I had seen it so often as a display text at my public library, but had passed it by every time in favor of something that struck me as more compelling. You see, the cover art did not attract me due its simplicity and cartoonish, animal art. It struck me as a simple story.

I am so glad I was WRONG!!! J

Owly is deeply moving, honestly real, and tremendously humble. It is the age-old story of discovery; the owlystaple of children’s literature as the journey tale. Owly, with his large, expressive eyes, and small stature is more than an animal; he could be any child or any adult, for that matter, who is lost in his story.

Through very basic, black and white art (almost reminiscent of sketches) author Andy Runton transitions from complete delight to utter sorrow within the space of a few panels and the direction of a few lines upon Owly’s face.

The book is made up of two short stories, both of which are engrossing. In both tales, Owly experiences the highest highs and lowest lows of friendship, and through minimal detail and varied panel size and layout, a complete range of emotions is exchanged between Owly himself and the reader. When he waits patiently by the bedside of his new friend, nursing him back to health, Runton creates atmosphere and tension in three pages of a single 3/4 panel each to convey the dismay, the worry, and the patience it takes to heal the sick. Runton’s ability to convey the passing of time is seamless as Owly waits worriedly beside a dwindling candle, or as he and worm experience a snapshot of seasons while awaiting the return of their hummingbird friends.

It is hard not to see yourself reflected in at least one moment of Owly’s story. Whether you are a nature lover, as he is; a committed friend, as he is; suffering from loneliness, as he does; or living for quiet moments, as each panel shows, Owly is a book that spans ages. The minimal to no dialogue and text makes this a perfect story to read across languages and cultures as well.

In the beginning this was a book I was not interested in from seeing the cover art alone. In the end, Owly has become a book I cherish, a gem in my collection, and one I instantly handed off to my eight year old son, who’s initial reaction was, “Oh, what a nice looking owl. I bet I will like him”. I know he will!

 

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

The Arrival, A Timely Tale

ShaunTanTheArrivalTitlePageShaun Tan’s beautiful book, The Arrival, invites readers to experience the pain, fear, despair, longing, and ultimate hope in this intimate experience of life as an immigrant.

From the moment it is picked up and it’s weight felt in the reader’s hands, we know a profound read awaits us. Coupled with the tattered replica of an old photo album or passport as the front and back cover pages, and the strong and dense interior pages, the book itself is a work of art that looks old and wise beyond its years.

The fine pencil art, various tones of sepia, which mirror Victorian photography, captures the essence of each individual in his or her passport photo. The asynchronous items on the first page, stilled in time and through large gutters and small panels place equal importance and insignificance of what is left behind. The acute detail of husband and wife, their hands on each other, is so real and intimate to look at the tenderness feels almost intrusive.

Words in this story are unnecessary.

As the visual narrative progresses, the identical panel sizes and gutter spacing is reminiscent of an old silent film, moving quickly with small gestures as to bring them to life. The contrast of whole page images, splash pages, or blank pages reminds us we are reading and privy to only a moment in time.

The representation of corruption and power as reptilian shadows looming overhead resonates with the world we live in today. This is not the tale of immigration of days past, nor solely of the futuristic landscape created in the images, this is the timely tale of immigration as it happens, whenever it happens.

Close up drawings ofimages (19) physical exams, teeth checking, eye tests, the struggle to communicate, are powerful and honest statements of what immigrants endure to enter a new country. Flashbacks, rendered in darker tones, but with the same physical layout and paneling give life to secondary characters, which informs and expands the protagonist’s own personality and moves the story along. Again, the art captures what words would most often convey, but in such a delicate and seamless way that words are not required at all.

The companion animal, a futuristic pet of sorts, reminds the reader that appearances are not the foundation of a person, and that different is not necessarily frightening or bad. Likewise with the food, homes, and clothing in this new land, Tan is encouraging readers to consider that different can be good. The bird, which appears in a variety of incarnations throughout the book (at home with his daughter, upon the statue in the harbour, through the steampunk city) is the visual reminder of hope through uncertainty.

This book is exquisite and I can’t help but think that if everyone on the planet were required to read it, the world might be a better place.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Dear Hockey Family…

 

Dear Hockey family,

Tomorrow is our last day together.

When the final buzzer sounds, the hands are shook, and our sons take their final salute off the ice, our six-months journey together comes to a close.

hockey-clip-art-hockey-player-clipart-2 Those first practices were wrought with uncertainty as we waded through tides of a seven- year-old’s self doubt, the murky waters of complete commitment, and the arduous prospect of fundraising. Those September days were spent  with children stumbling on the ice and parents hesitantly hovering awkwardly at arms length of each other.

As the season progressed so too did the team, and the seeds of family were sown.

Our sons embodied the numbers on their backs, the wings on their helmets, and the colours of their jerseys. We watched, as one by one, their names changed and their identity strengthened. Loyalty transitioned from a vague concept to a way of life.

Slowly they grew from boys who would lean on the shoulders of their parents, relying on them to tie skates, fasten knee pads, and clasp helmets, to young men, self sufficient and basking in the profound pleasure of a parent-free dressing room.

As they matured together, the parents bonded. Each taking the other’s child under their wing; an unlimited supply of high-fives and roaring cheers of encouragement. I have never known a community of parents, who otherwise would never have met, to extend so much love, so much interest in the lives of a stranger’s child.

Coaches who gave each young player the courage to see the world from the eyes of a team; the courage to hustle through assuredness and self-doubt; awakening the responsibility and reward of promise and sportsmanship, and teaching that teamwork, passing, and being dependable are worth more than all the goals in the world. Coaches who brought kids out of their shells; who played and joked and held them upside down in garbage cans ; who brought them on road trips; and who took the lonely kids under their wings when strong male bonds were needed or briefly absent.

Our manager, our matriarch, held us together,ensured our bond, and breathed life and cultivated a family out of a motley of newcomers. How do you repay someone who believes unconditionally in the potential of hockey in the lives of children?

Our player’s siblings. The younger ones, at the rink every early morning and late night. Sometimes cheerful, sometimes engaged, sometimes cantankerous and finished altogether with hockey, but always in awe of their brothers. The older one’s, sacrificing free Saturday mornings to teach our children how to shoot pucks and circle pylons. Demonstrating the stride and dexterity of a (slightly) more seasoned hockey player. Inspiring, confidence bearing, exceptional young men. Role models we, as parents, are proud to see our younger sons aspire to.

We have shared in so much life in six short months. Winning streaks; hard losses; a new man; one man less; a knee injury that was felt compassionately by each player; a hotel stay that will be etched in our collective memories always; an uncontrollable fever that took one man away from the weekend of his year; first goals; hard hats; bottle drives; theatre productions; play dates; road hockey until dark; university idols; Fans of the Game; fierce friendships; brotherhood.skates

Tomorrow our family says goodbye. Hockey sticks will be traded in for ball gloves and shin pads. We will move independently to the summer family awaiting us on baseball diamonds and soccer fields.

When September returns some of us will mix in with new players, some of us will move up, some of us will move away. But I think, no matter where we tread, this first season, this first family, will be a beacon. One lighting our way, always in our hearts, and set as a precedent for what awaits us in the rinks to come. We will always be able to aspire greatness for our sons’ hockey experience on and off the ice, not only in terms of skill, but in terms of maturity and growth as individuals; as young men.

In our little group, while not every boy dreams of greatness, each is a Great One in his own right, and this is a direct result of the family he has been raised in this last half a year.

Thank you, dear Hockey family.

I am honoured that my son skated alongside your sons. I am proud to have cheered with you and stood along the boards with you.

Good luck, always.

 

 

Written by Leigha Chiasson-Locke

 

The Hockey Sweater

hockeyI am not, particularly, a hockey fan, but I love Roch Carrier’s book, The Hockey Sweater. I read this picture book as a child and then again a number of times as an adult. I am neither a boy (like our protagonist) or a hockey fan, but I understand and appreciate the deeply rooted struggles between the French and the English people of Canada. At the heart of this book, the story is driven less by  the mix up of a hockey sweater from Eaton’s, and I would even argue hockey, as it is with identity and overwhelming cultural oppression. The constant presence of the Catholic church in the background is a poignant depiction of the power of religion in the shaping of a regional and national identity.

From the offset we see the Church looming over the skating rink as a place of acceptance. The angel statue is holding her arms open in welcome. The curator of the church is the ref, so religion and pastime is inextricably linked. All the children are dressed the same and the herd mentality is prevalent.

When the boy gets his new parcel from the post office there is a large poster behind him that depicts the Poste Royale with the duelling French and English symbols. A little foreshadowing.

When our protagonist is ostracized for wearing a Leaf’s jersey (the dominant and over bearing English cultural that represses the French) he is seen as a traitor, I would argue onhockey2 a much larger scale than only that of hockey fanatics. He is a traitor to his culture. Can you be truly French if you wear a Leaf’s jersey? Are you a traitor to the small French community by succumbing to the lifestyle or aesthetics of the greater English community? I find the story terribly sad.

The penultimate image of the boy walking to the church leaves the angel statue out. It is far less welcoming a place than before now that the young boy’s allegiance is in question.

The final painting of the protagonist hanging his head low, alone in the church, up on the balcony, is a poignant remark on personal conflict and shame. He has become an outcast. How does one stay pure to their culture when it is so often infringed upon by another?hockey1

This is a contemporary, pop-cultural, relevant and amusing way to depict a long and arduous conflict between the French and English speaking members of our country. I love teaching it in my history classes. When you get past the hockey (if you are inclined to do so) and see it as a smokescreen there is so much happening!

The picture book medium is amazing. Children are so lucky to have these books, whether they are fully comprehending, or not, the themes within. If only more adults gave children the credit they are due, as authors and illustrators do, the world would be a better place.🙂

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Jane, The Fox, and Me

This is a wonderful graphic novel that I have often seen on the shelves of my local library, but until recently I had no inclination to pick up. But in the end, I am so pleased that I did.

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Jane, The Fox and Me, by Fanny Britt and Isabelle Arsenault, is a beautiful book that should be read by a broad audience of youth and adults alike, lovers of literature and metaphor, lovers of art, and lovers of introspective fiction. It is a tale of a young girl, Helen, who struggles to accept herself as she is and to fit in to an often cruel and isolating world; is as ordinary as the tools with which she was drawn, pen and ink, colourless and fine. Finding comfort in the pages of Jane Eyre, young Helen begins to see herself as promising a person as the often overlooked Jane herself.

The illustrations are stunning, I was particularly enamoured with those of the tired mother seeing to all the chores and responsibilities for her children, when late at night, as they sleep, she is mending hems. A subtle and poignant reminder of the burden and love of parenthood.

There were two lovely contrasts that I cannot go unnoticed. The first, the mirroring of Helene’s life with that of Jane Eyre’s. Jane is a character who overcomes many odds, not least that of being perceived as exceptionally plain and an outcast, but is one who ultimately  lives a life of happiness, and I think that is what Helene is looking for. The subtleties of color and shading let the reader understand Helen’s moods and circumstances. Helen, for example, is drawn with lots of shading and I think this represents how alone she feels and the way she lives in shadows, much like Jane Eyre did. She too was dark and plain, and the ability to showcase this through the artwork without having to use words to describe it and her feelings highlights Helen’s loneliness and longing to fit in.I was pleased to see that the author did not focus too heavily on the love story, but rather Jane’s personal strength and growth, so that the Helene’s growth could be for herself and not to please others, particularly romantic interests (which I think is a tad overdone in kids books). I especially like the portraits Helene drew of herself in contrast to Jane as a coping mechanism to remind her not to spend too much time on wishful thinking. She drew herself much more plain than she is, and I think many young girls would be inclined to see themselves in a similar way. jane1

The second contrast was the nature. Helene spent many of the panels and pages outside and there was a focus on the potted plants throughout the very urbanized city. Like Helene, they are not natural to the environment, but they persist and grow beautifully, much like Helene herself. The contrast of pencil and watercolour was quite beautiful and a stark contrast to the pen and ink that Helen was rendered in. The use of splash pages showcase Jane’s own feelings, and the subtext of the plants, both potted and natural, growing beautifully amidst the concrete of the world around them, mirror Helene’s own struggle to grow and accept beauty.

Social discourse is apparent through the book. Bullying is the main theme. There was a nice dichotomy between the way peers perceived Helene and the way she classified and labelled others. She, though the victim, was still prone to dole out verbal accusations and bullying, even if she kept it to herself. The addition of her friend at the end was nice and a happy resolution to the story, but I was a little concerned that the end message could be interpreted as “self worth can be found in having even just one friend” when, and this is just my opinion, a stronger message would be in the notion that self worth comes from making peace with yourself and in so doing friends will follow…. But that is the beauty of literature, interpretations are many!!

Overall, I would love to use this book with my students. I will read it again. It was quite lovely.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke