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

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

The Art in Teaching the Literature Instead of the Literature’s Art

Teachers need to give their students credit. This is the first lesson in teaching I learned on the job, but for whatever reason, one that escapes many fellow teachers and college professors.

I am reminded of an essay I wrote my first year of university in my Introduction to English 1000 class. It was about the patriarchal society in The Vicar of Wakefield (the bane of my literary existence), and how I struggled to identify with its themes as a contemporary feminist.

It was also my professor’s favorite novel. Of all time.

I got an F.

The essay wasn’t that bad. Sure, there were some grammatical errors, some formatting issues, but on a fundamental, novice post-secondary, level the paper was OK, maybe a low B or high C. At least that is what the other three professors said when I asked them for another opinion.

On that fateful marking day I was faced with the most important lesson I would learn as a Red pencil marking an F on paper close up. Image shot 2009. Exact date unknown.university student (and one I would avoid as a teacher): contrary to popular belief, a student’s opinion is not always welcome in a classroom, and how a teacher teaches is the difference between a pass and a fail.

Northwestern Fellow, Gary Saul Morson, thinks that the teaching of literature is the very reason why so many current university students are avoiding it. I am inclined to agree. In his article, “Why College Kids are Avoiding the Study of Literature,” Morson makes a number of compelling arguments for his theory.

First, teachers need to approach their lessons from the perspective of a student who knows nothing about the very subject that the teacher knows absolutely everything about. I can attest that once you allow your own mind to be engaged, and dare I say, changed, if only for a millisecond, you will garner the respect of your students and, in turn, they will allow themselves to be engaged by you.

Next, if you want your students to appreciate a sense of time and place, don’t make the book only about the setting. Let the setting be accentuated by the reader’s experience, first with the characters, then by the awe of the times. As Morson points out, if you really want to hit home about the hard times workers endured in Victorian England, a short factory inspectors report would be a lot more revealing than a lengthy novel by Dickens.

This brings me to my last point: let the students connect to the stories in their own way.

If you are teaching a book only to teach its syntactical elements and figurative language then forget about it. Crickets are already chirping. Stories need to matter to the reader; even the novice student who doesn’t understand the term “protagonist” has to identify with the bare bones of the story. One way to do this is to emphasize the empathy and the human factor of a narrative, then the elements of fiction will follow. I actually gasped out loud at the passage about the professor who admitted that he tells his students never to read the characters as real people. Why on earth would you expect anyone to spend any amount of time with any character if the suspension of disbelief could not allow the reader to see through the characters eyes, to feel their pain, to love as passionately, and to live implicitly? Why teach literature at all?!

A reader must be allowed a personal experience with a story, even one that does not conform to the teacher’s own agenda or point of view. Sadly, many students will learn that there is often only one way of approaching a paper, only one possible analysis of a poem, and a right and a wrong thesis statement.

In my own class I preface each course by assuring students that I am open to any and all narrative interpretations, so long as they can prove their arguments thoroughly. As a result, I read wonderfully creative and insightful takes on the literature I love,  the literature I believe I am an expert on. How wonderful it is to realize that, maybe in the end, I am not an expert at all. The beauty of literature is that there is just so much to learn!

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

To read or not to read (because of censorship). That is the question.

This is a strange time to be literary.

I have an intrinsic desire to share all the amazing books I have read with absolutely everyone I know. Like Whitman, I want to “sound my barbaric yawp from the rooftops of the world” when I truly love a book.

But sometimes I feel like I shouldn’t.

I am not allowed.

We live in an over protective society that has built glass walls around our children. Of the many issues I have with this fact, the censorship of books is at the top of my list.

It is a struggle, as a teacher, to know how a student, a parent, or a colleague is going to react to my choice of reading material. I have been approached because The Call of the Wild is too difficult for a vegetarian to read, Peter Pan has the word “orgy” in it, and the concern that Harry Potter is not, in fact, appropriate literature for private school students. Everything is a touchy subject with someone. Luckily, I have not had to stop teaching a book. I am fortunate.

Recently, a third grade teacher in North Carolina resigned after receiving little support from his school board for his read aloud of King and King, a picture book addressing the presence of o-KINGANDKING-570 same-sex marriages in our contemporary society. In the same week, a college student and her parents asked for the “eradication” of seminal graphic novels: Fun Home, Persepolis and Sandman (in a graphic novel English course, by the way), because she found the content too sexually explicit and violent.

She said she was expecting Batman and Robin, she obviously hasn’t read The Killing Joke, but I digress…. She, and her parents, called the books garbage.

They are among three of my favourite books, and since I consider myself to be quite literary, I refuse to accept the undignified slander she and her parents impose upon them. A word of wisdom, one needn’t like everything, but one should not insult nor eradicate books that bring pleasure to others.

If only more people were so obliging.

There was a time when teaching was content oriented and teacher centric. This is no longer the case. I teach the kids I have in front of me, I decide the content once I know them. Since the 1960’s teachers have been introducing kids to books that speak to them, about their lives, feelings and pressing social concerns. We treat the students as people who should be heard, who have an opinion. Trust me, teaching them this way is much more enjoyable for them and for us as teachers. The discussion is rich and engaging, and if we can successfully address some metaphor and alliteration along the way, bonus! Teachers are yearning to give their students choices for reading and a platform to sound their voices in the hallways of their schools, but those academic institutions who are slow on this transition are letting books be banned, and worse, are letting good teachers go as a result.

We are no longer teaching our students to anticipate the adult lives of the middle-class European white man or woman. We are teaching them to be global citizens who are aware of the ever-shrinking world we live in; aware of the connectivity between countries, classes, regions, religions, and culture. Our North American countries are increasingly becoming multicultural. They are becoming more accepting of sexuality and gender equality. Why should our youth not be allowed to read books that address these contemporary issues?

Even in libraries, some school library technicians I know are putting books behind their counters and in the office off the floor because parents do not want their kids exposed to the gruesome realities of mummification or the busting bosoms of caricatures in comic books.

I look at the list of most banned books, scanning titles like, Of Mice and Men, I know Why the Caged Bird Sings, The Catcher in the Rye, and Lord of the Flies, and I am disheartened, knowing that the opportunity for some youth to enjoy these books has vanished.

This year, Sherman Alexi’s book, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian, was the most banned book in North America. I love this book. I would teach this book. I recommend it to The_Absolutely_True_Diary_of_a_Part-Time_Indiananyone who will listen to me talk about it. But many feel it is inappropriate because it deals with bullying, drugs and alcohol, and sexuality. It also addresses some racial tension between American aboriginal people and European descendants, an issue I suspect has more to do with it’s banning than the few passages about sex. The sad truth is that in the curriculum students do not get a real glimpse into the hardships suffered by the aboriginal people in North America. God forbid we should try to rectify that problem by reading a book about them by a member of their own community.

I feel bad for the kids growing up today. When I was a preteen I was fully immersed in overtly sexual films like Grease and Dirty Dancing. My parents bought me the movie, Pink Floyd’s The Wall, for Christmas when I was twelve. I understood Romeo and Juliet before the end of elementary school and loafed with Walt Whitman before I was old enough to legally drive. I read contentious material, and I grew up fine. Much better than my students who live in glass houses.

It is a strange time to be literary; the adults of our world are attacking so much of the quality literature available to us, to kids, for being too something-or-other. The adults are put off by the words in these books. The kids aren’t. The kids are excited by them, they long for them.

What are the adults so afraid of?

I hope I am always the teacher who shares these books with the students who need them.

I hope I can guide their understanding of the world around them when the other adults in their lives refuse to, and in the process, I hope these kids learn to love to read.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Why Should We Let Kids Choose Their Own Summer Reading?

Why would we not let kids choose their own summer reading material?

The idea that we, as adults, would presume to know what kids want to read while they are out enjoying the freedom from the confines of their schools is absurd to me.

Maybe it is because of my generation.

I never had a summer reading list growing up. Teachers did not preemptively assign work to be done over the summer to ready us for the following year (I am sure some of my peers would have benefited from such an exercise; I know far too many people who have not picked up a novel since high school), but I wonder if it would have made much of a difference. I mean kids who want to read are going to read, right? I always did. In fact, you had to encourage me to do anything else in the summer months. But maybe kids like me are not the ones who need the summer homework.

According to Erin Kelly, a fourth year paediatrics resident at the University of Rochester Medicinal Unit, kids who are not reading during their summer months lose a whole month worth of reading achievement. Children in low-income families, in particular, are at risk. The lack of available resources for these students often leads to what is referred to as The Summer Slide, a dropping off point in academics and a catalyst for poor achievement across academic disciplines in the future.

One way to curb these dismal results is to assign summer reading. Sounds easy enough, maybe to some it even sounds enjoyable. But wait, there is a catch- schools and teachers have been assigning books that they want kids to read, and in return, expect their students to write an essay about them before the fall semester begins.

I am a teacher. I am a student. I am a voracious reader. I think this idea stinks.

Assigning homework, particularly of the expositional variety, is a sure fire way to discourage reading. Summer is a time to get outside, play, get creative and blow off academic steam. Adding books that kids are not excited about does not help.

I think summer reading is a great idea. I wish all kids read, regardless of the season, with as much gusto as I always have. My own son, who is in grade one, could do with some of his mother’s scholarship. He is not a book-nerd like me; and nine times out of ten he would rather play soccer, karate chop his sister, or defeat King Bowser on his 3DS. But even in the summer he does read, and the way I encourage him to pick up a book is by letting him pick it out himself.

Do I wish he were already reading Beverly Cleary novels like I was when I was his age? Sure. Am I going to discourage him from getting to that novella stage by rejecting Star Wars stories and Scooby Doo mystery comics? Absolutely not! The reason he meets his summer reading goal every year is because he gets to choose the books he is destined to spend time with over his precious summer months.

His school also offers a terrific reading program. I guess it is, in its own way, assigned summer reading. But there is an awesome catch: before the summer books are shipped out, the students have to fill out a survey detailing exactly what they like to read. Lo and behold, when the books come in the mail, the kids are excited to see them. The books are unlikely to be filled with tremendous literary merit and there are not any classics. But there are some terrific Garfield cartoons, secret agent super spies, and books about dragons or hockey. That is why my son likes to read in the summer. It’s his time, so the books better have him written all over them.

All kids should have this luxury. The sad truth, however, is that this is not the case. It is the exception, not the rule, and I firmly believe that with this sort of opportunity more children would be eager to read.

What shocks me is that our society is relying on case studies to prove that reading retention improves when children select their own material. Shouldn’t we know this intrinsically?! This is not an academic issue. This is a personal issue. Adults rarely spend their time reading the things they don’t want to. Why should kids?

Let’s let children choose their own books, then when teachers want them to write an essay, that essay will be filled with an analysis worthy of an erudite, literary child; not the ramblings of a kid who would rather be outside as far away from books and academia as possible.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke download (25)

Parents and Kids! Experience Instead of Censorship

* A response to the article, “All These Choices!-Parents and Censorship”, by Heather Rae *

I let my seven-year-old son watch Avengers: Age of Ultron. I also let him watch all the previous  Marvel films that came before it. Needless to say, the parents of many of his friends think I am crazy for introducing him to  such mature content at such a young age. He would do well to wait and be exposed to them when he is older; he is just a little guy, after all.

So when I read the article, “All These Choices!-Parents and Censorship”, by Heather Rae, I was momentarily paralyzed with the fear that I was a poor influence on my child. I was, *shudder*, a bad parent! Lucky for me, Rae helped me get over that feeling pretty quickly.

The article begins with a flashback to when  Rae allowed her seven and five year old sons watch Indiana Jones. She had genuine concerns that the maturity level and adult content would upset them. And she was partly right. Her eldest son expressed fear for a characters safety. She found herself wondering if he was able to comprehend the justification of plot choices and resolution of the story.

I had a similar situation occur when my son was five.

Five was, my husband and I agreed, the right age to watch the original Star Wars films. After all, we watched them as five year olds and we turned out all right. But lo and behold, when Darth Vader sliced off Luke’s hand, my son panicked. He was upset. He didn’t understand the brutality of the situation, the purpose of the scene.

One of the strongest points in Rae’s article is that parents should be active participants in their children’s learning. Instead of deterring children from (all) mature content, they should explore that content with their children, offering explanations and encouragement when necessary. My son was fine once he realized that Luke would get a bionic hand out of the confrontation. He was even more excited when he learned that other Star Wars films, and even the Marvel ones, have a hand-chopping scene. Not because we turned him into a sadist, but because we introduced him to science fiction tropes. Through our discussion he comprehends how that scene drives the plot of the series and how directors and writers of other franchises (Marvel, in particular) tip their hats to its importance. I would argue the experience honed his visual literacy skills as he actively seeks out the similar scenes in other films.

Rae rightly suggests that we live in a time where everything has the potential to be censured: superheroes for fighting, Harry Potter for magic, Darwin for evolution. But can we shield our children from everything? More importantly, is it right to?

Libraries and Schools across North America receive challenges for materials frequently, but there doesn’t seem to be an established line between what is a valid concern and an invalid one. Rae reminds us that discrepancies exist when questions of appropriateness are concerned.CCAseal-469x600 What is inappropriate for one person may not be for another. Should we allow materials to be censured so that no one may enjoy them? Should I keep my son from watching an Avengers film because the mothers of his friends deem it unacceptable? No, that’s just not a good enough reason for me.

In my opinion, everything has the potential to be a teachable moment. Our society has shifted from one that creates and instills values in our youth (as Rae mentions, family, church, community were once the harbingers of values) to one that muddles those values. The burden of teaching everything to our children has increasingly fallen on the shoulders of our schoolteachers. They impart lessons in life as much as they demonstrate mathematical equations; and through all of this, while carrying the weight of this new responsibility, parents are challenging the teacher’s choices of content and resources.

As Rae implies, the task of exploring media (books, film, television and the ever increasing popularity of the Internet) should be a partnership between child and parent so that when questions of content appropriateness arise, parents can discuss issues and themes as they relate to their personal values. As she notes, parents need to help children dissect and explore the concepts they don’t understand or like. A teacher alone cannot interpret the values of each individual family, each individual student. But a supportive family environment, along with a teacher’s guidance, can be a life changing lesson for a child.

In the end, kids are going to be exposed to the world around them. Whether it is through a complicated novel, a difficult current issues debate, a questionable film, the brutality within the frames of the nightly news, the lewd entertainment available to anyone with cable television, or the far reaches of the Internet, kids are going to be exposed. Wouldn’t it be great if they had a parent, an adult, to help them navigate this uncharted, perplexing territory?

My son watches superhero movies. He is seven. When he doesn’t understand, my husband and I guide him to insight. He will not be censured because others choose to avoid rather than enlighten. And he is pretty enlightened, for a little guy.

We are a family of superhero enthusiasts. We just superhero responsibly.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

Whedon and the Honest Woman

Warning: Avengers Age of Ultron Spoilers Ahead!

Joss Whedon’s been getting some flack about his lack of feminism in his latest flick, Avengers: Age of Ultron.

I find this unsettling.

I mean, among Whedonites around the world, Joss is akin to a Sci-Fi/Fantasy god, not to mention the male poster child for feminism. He is, after all, both an avid supporter of women’s rights and equality, and the creator of one of the strongest female characters of all time, Buffy Summers, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The part that is unsettling, however, is that I don’t think he missed the mark in this film. For me, he kinda nailed it.

I am a thirty two year old  woman and I spend an obscene amount of time reading superhero comics. I am also a mother. A stay-at-home mom. A stay-at-home mom with three university degrees and a career I have chosen to put on hold so I can have extra time to cuddle with my children and ensure they develop a love for superheroes early on. Very early, I might add. So I am dismayed about Whedon’s feminist condemnation, because for me he got it right.

images (1)Next to Ms. Marvel, The Scarlet Witch is my favourite female superhero. She harbours an immense power that overwhelms and sometimes overcomes her. She is flawed, tragic and frightened of herself, her desires, and the uncertainty of her place in the super world in which she dwells. As a woman I am drawn to her because I can relate to these struggles. I often see myself in her stories because she can’t quite accept the hand she was dealt, she yearns to be a better version of herself. So do I. In fact, I can say that if I had her power set I would have broken the world as she did in House of M if my children, real or illusion, were ripped from me. I am no better or worse than she is. She is the quintessential anxiety ridden character. There is honesty in her development, and Elizabeth Olsen’s portrayal of her is good. Really good. She is a constant bundle of nerves striving to understand her place among mortals and gods. She needs her brother for balance (not for worth) because she fears herself and the path down which she leads others. She is obviously dealing with an inner-torture that many women with anxiety can and do relate to, and towards the end of the film we see her making a good start at overcoming these personal obstacles without unrealistically surmounting them.

Linda Cardellini’s character as Susan, Hawkeye’s wife, was a little glimpse into my own reality. She exudes a kind of  strength that even a super hero cannot fully convey. She is a mother, a wife, and an outcast. In the cyberverse she has been branded as nothing more than a housewife, but I don’t see her that way. I see a strong woman who gave up everything to live a remote existence on a farm away from everything in order to protect her family. She might be “barefoot and pregnant in the kitchen” but it takes a damn strong woman to raise three kids alone. The very fact Whedon chose to make her look tired and a little unkept shows that she is a real woman. A real mother.  She is the hero of her family. Stay-at-home mom’s have as much self and social worth as the woman who battles droids on a freeway. Which brings me to my next point.

If I hear one more complaint about Black Widow’s back story I might scream. The fact that she laments that she cannot have children does not reduce her value as a strong female character. Instead, I would argue that it enhances her strength. After all, feminism is about equal rights and the right to choose how to project said femininity; this is a right she is not afforded. Black Widow had all of her rights stripped away from her by a sadistic, brainwashing, body mutilating government agency. She is not necessarily in mourning because she can’t have children insomuch as she mourns the loss of her ability to choose whether or not to have those children. She is  the fictitious superhero embodiment of women who have their rights torn from them when forced into a life of compliance (luckily for her, she gets out of that pesky situation).

Black Widow’s character development represents a feminine frankness that is sorely lacking in female superheroes, particularly for the audience to which I belong. I wish there were more instances where I could connect with Jessica Jones’ tug of war, crime fighting vs. life with kid, which is very much like my own, work or life with kid conundrum. I wish Sue Storm had more opportunity to fret about the choices she makes for the good of her children. I am glad Black Widow would have at least liked the opportunity to have them at all. And as for the budding romance with Banner, though I do not see it as necessary, I do believe it represents a desire to connect with someone, and who better to understand her pain than Banner? luke-cage-jessica-jones

I appreciate Whedon’s portrayal of the women in his movies. No doubt he would have had more, but I suspect that two superheroes, a SHEILD first in command, a world renowned scientist, and some advanced computer programmers were as much female power as the big wigs behind production could withstand. For now, at least. Joss did a good job with what he had to work with.

In the meantime, if a superhero wants to have an honest flaw like raising a family, anxiety and insecurity, or uncertainty of personal worth, that’s ok with me. It doesn’t  make me feel so bad about being an old, anxious, stay-at-home comic reader, mother of two. Actually, it makes me feel pretty damned good about it!

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke

 

To Blog or Not to Blog, That is the Question.

I have never “blogged”.

I had no idea that the word“blog” was a verb until a few months ago. I thought that the term blog could only be classified as a noun ie: I have a blog; would you like to write an entry for my blog; I read blogs; have you heard of his/her blog about __________? etc… So here I am, blogging…and I am humbled. Do I really know enough about anything to think that what I have to say matters to anyone? Perhaps this is the beauty of blogging. The role of the blogger and bloggee are essentially the same, yes?

unnamed (1)As the Blogger, I am hoping that one person from the vast number of people in cyber-space who are hoping to learn something, or to have their actions, feelings, thoughts, validated, will read this and feel just that, validated. If I achieve this, than I, too, will feel validated. Conversely, the egos of both myself and potential readers, may suffer a serious blow. If I receive negative feedback, or if my thoughts, ideas, feelings, actions etc are met with disapproval, or even indifference, what then? And what of the readers? Nothing appeals to all; I am bound to insult, or be in opposition to another’s beliefs, values, ideas, etc. Hence my humility…I find this blogging business a very slippery slope. But also like a new adventure…blogging is my I really am actually giddy. Not that you care, I’m sure. So…will I fail or surpass my teensy tiny expectations?

I will find out soon enough…

By Danerra Speares