What I mean by simplifying.

So last summer I read this book. The title looked as if it were written to me ( I mean who doesn’t want less clutter, kids or no kids!), and I am not usually a self help book type gal, but I really couldn’t pass it up. I had recently started following some slow living and minimalist writers, and was fascinated by there ideas and lives.

I have always been a super picky person, trying to minimize what comes into my home, especially since having children. There really is no better place to notice how much stuff you have then children. It accumulates very quickly. (because holy shit, the amount of toys and clothes, and bouncy balls!) But in all seriousness, it was a major stress in my life. The endless piles of papers and books and toys. It was really overwhelming. So I started living more ecologically and environmentally friendly. Started preaching quality over quantity, and experiences over things.  Life started to get a little easier, but I was still feeling overwhelmed. I had a particularly hard year after that,  giving birth to a child with a congenital heart defect and the aftermath of that on my mental health made the need for control and order in my house hold much more important. Not to mention that it made my priorities seem skewed, material things were not something I was particularly attached to regardless, but they seemed of even less importance. I wanted to spend less time organizing crap we didn’t need or use, and spend more time with my kids.

Then I found this book. Clutter free with Kids- By Joshua Becker, and I found a name for the lifestyle I was attracted to, and what my aim had been. To own less stuff, schedule less, minimize the things that were not priority in my life. It was the first time I had read a book like this and just nodded the whole way through.

If this is a lifestyle you like the sounds of, I highly recommend this book, kids or not! It really helped me shape my goals, and deal with parts of my over cluttered mind and home.

I started a purging process that continues to this day, moving on from items that I knew someone else could use, getting rid of trash and broken things that I really had no intention of ever repairing, minimizing our possessions. It was honestly a very eye opening experience for me,  and amazingly, the farther I got into it, the more I wanted to simplify. This effect bled into every aspect of my life, realizing I could simplify my schedule,  my routines, my foods! This all being said, I would say I am maybe half way to where I would like to be, but I like to keep the process slow and simple, so the new habits emerge and stick.

Learning to slow down, prioritize, and minimize my life has been a curve for me. The farther away I get from consumer driven culture, the happier I am. The happier my children are. I really hold out hope that they will live by my example, buy what we need, what brings us joy, and spend the rest of our time and resources inward. Work on our important relationships, spend time on becoming people who we want to be. Invest in ourselves instead of trying to find that temporary high in something we bought, just to wake up the next morning and do it all over. Same highs, same lows.

I’m most definitely not here to sell anyone on any sort of lifestyle, if what you are doing is working for you, and it doesn’t hurt anyone, I say keep on keeping on!  The important part of this for me has been recognizing that what I was doing wasn’t working for us and who we want to be. Changing our perspective and living more practically has been such a good experience so far. I just had to share it.

Written by Candace Hoskin

 

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 Teachers: Superhero Responsibly

This post is an extension of a radio interview that I participated in addressing the presence of superheroes in the classroom.

superheroThe board and faculty of a private school in my hometown has, with the support of many parents, endeavoured to ban superheroes from its halls. As both a teacher and mother I cannot condone these choices. It goes without saying that as a comic book enthusiast I am deeply disappointed. To the parents and teachers willing to censure superheroes I have this to say: please, superhero responsibly.

With the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) And recent DC films, superheroes are at a cultural peak. Those who do not understand the broad scope of superhero literature, its many facets and depth, choose to select this medium as a scapegoat for undesirable behaviour and disinterest in reading. Superheroes are not the problem; disrespect for the power of comics is the problem.  Arguments against superheroes in the classroom and hallways of schools range from being too violent, addressing only very basic story lines, and stamped with the label “bad” literature. There are many adults in the education system who still devalue the worth of the graphic novel as a medium for teaching literature. It is not only a question of misunderstanding superheroes, but of graphic storytelling and art as a whole. A paradigm shift needs to occur to eradicate this archaic perception.

I do not, under any circumstances, want my six year old son watching violent television, film, or reading violent books. So he doesn’t, but he watches and knows all about superheroes. As the responsible adult in our relationship, I monitor what he reads and watches to ensure its age appropriateness. The popular films from the MCU, along with the Christopher Nolan Batman films and DC’s burgeoning Justice League films are not for children. Nor are the majority of graphic novels and weekly and monthly single issues at your local comic book store. Superhero comics are largely targeted towards young adults and adult audiences. The characters are targeted to children. Books, comics and films for children do not touch on the same themes as the films you watch or hear about in popular culture. The Superhero Squad, for example, treat themes of friendship, teamwork and personal growth. Doctor Doom is always bested, sometimes with Iron Man’s blasters, but more than the fighting are the plot driven discussions about why the problem at hand exists. Often the show ends with a moral. My son can watch this show. He is not violent as a result. He uses his words, not his actions when faced with a disgruntled friend. He wants to be as good a friend as Wolverine and as strong a leader as Iron Man and Captain America are. It is ok that he doesn’t know exactly what Wolverine is best at, but when he does find out later on he will already know that Wolverine is a character that can be counted on- a leader who makes tough choices. Wolverine will become more believable as my son’s world becomes more real. My son lives in a violent world. He doesn’t need comics to teach him that. If anything, they can help him escape it.

Superheroes are only written into simple story lines in the minds of the uneducated people who don’t read comics. I would argue they are full of substance, figurative language, advanced vocabulary and rich plot detail. I have a degree in English Literature, a degree in education, and soon I will have a degree in library sciences. I know good literature when I see it, or read it; and I read A LOT.

As a teacher I would often use superhero story lines in my English and senior history classes. For example, Superman: Red Son is the story of Superman’s crash landing in Russia. In my History 12 Global Studies class, we consider the outcome of the Cold War if Superman had been raised in the Soviet Union. The purpose is to encourage students to think outside of the box. To buoy their curiosity as they consider what they take for granted as normal and look at it from another perspective. Our role as teachers is not to indoctrinate our beliefs and ideas, it is to inspire youth to acknowledge their own. If I use Superman as a vehicle to get them to think of the world from a soviet lens, then I have granted them permission to reject, momentarily, what they know for what could have been. Similarly, in an effort to make Hercules more interesting to a disinterested World History 10 student, I suggest All Star Superman, where our protagonist takes on Herculean trials as the student realizes his hero is a flawed being; god-like, but not a god.

Superheroes are flawed. Stripped bare of their powers and technology they are flawed men and women who do not conform and fit into conventional society. The X-men are spokesmodels for the marginalized. Batman is constantly seeking an outlet for dealing with the death of his parents. Captain America struggles in vain to ensure morality, ethics and values in a world saturated in corruption. Readers, every single one of us, are flawed beings. Each of us longing to belong. Why not let our young readers engage with the stories of their cultural icons and heroes who reflect the very struggles they endure?

The role of the parent, the teacher, and the educational system is to provide mentorship for our students. To enlighten a future society to appreciate and concede to the perspectives of others. Teaching them that the literature and the characters they admire and love are not appropriate, unacceptable, or rubbish is teaching them to censure what they do not understand. Censorship is fundamentally backwards in a society where we value free thinking and education.

I will continue to teach with superheroes. When my students walk into my classroom they will be greeted with a poster of Spiderman and a collection of comic figurines lining my desk. I will discuss the movies they watch, the comics they read, and in turn students will continue to ask to be in my homeroom; the space they feel safe to express who they are and where they see their interests proudly positioned on the walls around them. My son will be encouraged to learn more about the superheroes he loves, he will be praised for the comics he himself creates, and when the time comes, with his mom and dad as excited as he is, he will watch superheroes on the big screen.

Banning superheroes is an act akin to the malevolence of super villains.

Don’t be a villain. Superhero responsibly.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke   @ldchiasson17

 

How Comics Saved My Life

Ok, so comics didn’t actually save my life.Keep-Calm-and-Read-Comics-565x800

There were no major catastrophes, no near death experiences, no apocalyptic-this-is-the-end moment of truth. Quite simply, I just felt lonely, and I desperately needed an outlet. Then one day, out of the blue, I serendipitously stumbled upon a call for participants in a new book club- Graphic Novel Book Club.

I thought to myself that it had been years since I really immersed myself in any comics. A year prior I had given a lecture to a Children’s Lit class about the profound story telling, stunning visuals, and intricacies of reading the comic genre. A year before that I revisited Riverdale because my childhood friend, Archie, found himself simultaneously engaged (albeit in different dimensions of reality) to both Betty and Veronica- obviously I needed to see how that one played out. But being immersed in comics was not part of my ordinary, everyday experience.

The first book we read was Maus, by Art Spiegleman. *Disclaimer* If you have never read Maus, and you are one of those critics who see little value in the genre of graphic novels and comics, put your prejudices aside and read it. It is a pulitzer prize winning work of art. READ IT*. As I was saying, Maus not only rekindle a love of reading the comic genre, the book club itself breathed new life into me.

Most people, if not all of us, struggle to accept who we are. No, let me rephrase that, we struggle to understand who we are. I have spent my whole life choosing paths and feigning interests because I am predisposed to be concerned with what others think of me. When I joined this book club, I was surrounded by a (small) group of people who loved what they loved and knew a hell of a lot about what they loved. And what was so amazing was that they aired their love and knowledge openly without concern for what others thought- and I was so envious. After the first meeting I realized I had more in common with these five strangers than most of the friends I had had my whole life, but I was too shy or too scared to embrace who I was.

As the months went by I read more than our reading list; I read books that looked good on the shelves, books that had stellar reviews, titles that were popular, titles that were less so, and with each one, I was enraptured-even with the ones I didn’t like- Ahem, Black Hole. Sorry again, Alex.

But the best part, aside from the hours and hours suspended in disbelief between the pages of a good book, was that I started to love something- passionately. As I got to know my new friends better I realized that I have been geeky all along. For the first time, here were a group of people willing to openly discuss the awesome cultural impact of Buffy the Vampire Slayer,the consequences of (possibly) inventing a flux capacitor, and superheroes- from their internal struggles to their morals and ethics- all things I had loved or dabbled in my whole life, but without much company. All at once I was openly geeky and above all I was completely comfortable and at ease with myself.

It has taken me a long time to realize that it is ok to love what I love. That I can be the academic person I have always been- the avid reader of Shakespeare, Conan Doyle, Tolkien, Austen and Whitman- to the eight year old, whose first crush was on Marty McFly. My youth came flooding back to me in a torrent of comic related memories, an abundance of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and it was here that I found myself. Here I am at home.

So no, comics didn’t technically save my life. Their presence brought me back to myself, pulling me out of a swelling sea of self doubt. But hey, that sounds like being saved to me.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke @ldchiasson17

 

High Literature – the comics addition: Fun Home

James Joyce’s seminal post-modernist masterpiece, Ulysses, has been collecting dust on my bedside table for five years. Occasionally it changes location from under the lamp to the top of the pile, but there it remains, spine un-cracked, pages pristine, metaphors and ambiguities unearthed- unread.

I can hear the guffaws of my peers in the literary community as I type this. That strange comic book reader calls herself an English graduate?! Blasphemy!

I am a fraud.

My entire degree in English literature is a lie because, not only have I not read Ulysses, I don’t really want to.

imageAt least I didn’t, until a comic book changed my mind.

I was late getting around to Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical, Fun Home. In fact, I was late getting around to autobiographical comics, in general. When I did, Fun Home didn’t pull at my inner historian’s curiosity like Maus, nor did it make me want to self-evaluate my own anxieties like Marbles. Like UlyssesFun Home was a book I knew I should read, a contemporary classic (a game-changer in the world of comics), but I was in no hurry to pick it up, and it took me years, collecting dust on the shelf below Joyce.

Now, I guffaw at myself.

 Fun Home just may be the most important comic I have ever read, but not for the connections I made with the characters. I have very little in common with Alison, the young protagonist who comes of age in a home devoid of outwardly affection, who watches her parent’s marriage deteriorate behind a velvet facade, brought up in a house that is both staged for beauty and death. Sure, I cheered for her as she reached her milestones and personal enlightenment, I joined her on her quest for identity, but the connection to the character was not what kept me up reading all night. I was connected, instead, to what sustained her.

Bechdel’s intimate relationship with English literature is enviable and, I would argue,  the crux of her book. This is where she got me. Hook, line and sinker; the way to a literature junkie’s heart (even one that hasn’t read Ulysses) is through reference and allusion. I could not relate to Alison’s plights and conflicts, but I could relate to the way she engaged with books to get her through each major event in her life. Like her, I lost myself to works such as The Importance of Being EarnestThe Taming of the ShrewAn Ideal HusbandThe Wind in the Willows, The Great Gatsby, and poetry by Wallace Stevens. Here was a protagonist, an author, pulled between her love of great literature and her desire to live in a world of comics- such is my plight!!!

I could’t put Fun Home down. In the panels of a graphic memoir I saw my own reflection- someone filled to the brim with literary passion, but someone who did not quite belong. A poet and a comic. An essayist and artist. I may not have seen myself in her story, but there I was front and centre in the medium.

Fun Home has broken barriers across genres, has incited discussion for gender identification and sexual orientation. It has shed light on the secrets between family and the darkness of both life and death. But for me, much more simply, it has validated my love of reading, most especially my love of reading comics.

As my foray with Fun Home came to an end I realized Bechdel likened herself and her father to the two main characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses. For the first time, ever, I had the urge to read Ulysses, not because it belongs in the pantheon of books I am supposed to read, but because the characters suddenly became real to me. Joyce didn’t do this. Alison Bechdel did. Not a seminal novel, a graphic one. But hey, no matter the medium that is what a good book does; it encourages a reader to read on, read more, and read unabashedly. It is time to dust off Ulysses. Fun Home, on the other hand, will never collect dust again.

By Leigha Chiasson-Locke    @ldchiasson17