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If, like us, you’re still immensely impressed by the performance of Canadian athletes at the summer Olympics in Rio, particularly Penny Oleksiak’s performance, then you will find Leanne Shapton’s Swimming Studies engrossing.
In this autobiographical novel, Shapton reflects on some important moments in her life that were shaped largely by one activity: swimming. To most of us, swimming is just that – an activity. But to Shapton, swimming was all encompassing. Whether it was swimming for the Olympic trials, or swimming for the pure enjoyment of it, she spent much of her life in the water.
Slipping into a body of water is to Leanne what strumming a chord is to a musician, or what painting is to a painter. It feels right to her. It is in describing how she feels in water where the writing in Swimming Studies becomes so serene and poignant. Swimming becomes a source of inspiration for her, not only as a writer, but also as a painter.
The book’s ruminations on a life spent in water doesn’t follow a straight, linear path. Instead, the book starts at one moment, jumps three years into the future, only to go back ten years in the subsequent chapter. However, the book does focus on the significant stages of Leanne’s life, particularly, her time training for the 1988 and 1992 Canadian Olympic trials.
The life of an athlete is often distilled down to superficial statements about having to work hard, train hard, and strive to be the best every day. Leanne’s story goes beyond stale platitudes and shows us the strain of chasing perfection; the almost daily 5:30am practice sessions, the cardio, the strength training, the drills, and the carbo-loading before a race.
Although the book takes us through the routine tasks of an athlete, the reader is also shown how the obsession to get better can manifest in interesting and unique ways depending on the athlete.
For Leanne, the time one minute and 11 seconds (1:11:00) was significant to her as a teenager, but it also haunted her. It was the time she wanted to swim in the 100-metre breaststroke for the Olympic trials. While nuking her breakfast in the microwave on mornings before practice, she would set the timer for 1:11:00. She would then close her eyes and visualize her race, trying to beat the microwave on its countdown to 00:00:00. There are many idiosyncratic moments sprinkled throughout Swimming Studies, like Shapton’s race against her microwave, and they breathe so much life into the book.
But as the reader learns from the outset of the book, Leanne didn’t make it to the Olympics. Once she accepted that she wouldn’t be a competitive swimmer, she had to figure out who she was and what would come next. Identity quickly surfaces as a major theme in Swimming Studies. Is she an athlete? Is she just a casual swimmer? Can she be a teacher? Like the ebb and flow of a tide, Leanne had to find a balance between the competitive swimmer she was in her adolescence, and the person she will become in her adult life. Her struggle to move on from a sport that defined her offers some of the most emotional and relatable moments in Swimming Studies.
Swimming Studies is an engaging read about the author’s journey of self-discovery, and her efforts to reconcile her feelings about swimming after walking away from competitive swimming. The book offers a look into the mind of a former athlete who finds the beauty and tranquility in a sport after years of seeing only competition and five different coloured rings.
Why this is good for teachers
This is a great book for teachers that are looking to include materials into their curriculum that cover the sporting world.
Swimming Studies is an honest look at the life of an athlete. The book, however, doesn’t just explore the physical and mental demands, but also the relationship between the author and the activity that makes her sport a sport: swimming.
Swimming Studies will satisfy teachers that are looking for something that can appeal to the sports fans in their classroom, while challenging their students to view sports from a different perspective.
Why this is good for students
Leanne Shapton’s reflections not only on her career, but also her love of swimming and being in the water, will be thought-provoking for many students, especially those that are involved in a sport or enjoy watching sports.
Shapton’s autobiography reveals her deep appreciation for everything swimming has given her: the friendships, disappointments, familiar smells, bathing suits, and the cathartic, self-affirming moments spent floating calmly on water.
Swimming Studies gives the reader a glimpse into an athlete’s mind that is unique, and young people either involved in sports or just interested in sports will be intrigued by Shapton’s views on swimming.
Book of the Month for September – Intro to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, 8th Edition
From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed, we are bombarded by messages from hundreds of media sources. The man on the ad tells us the deodorant he uses will help you smell like an Irish spring, the people on the latest reality TV show present their version of an ideal lifestyle, and the news anchor tells us the top story of the day involves a squirrel and a jet ski.
Messages like the ones above can have a very obvious impact on individuals, their behaviour, and the culture they’re a part of, while the impacts of other messages are less apparent. This begs the question: how aware are we of media’s influence on us, and are we able to scrutinize the messages aimed at us to discern their intent? Stanley J. Baran’s Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, 8th Edition takes a comprehensive look at media and mass communication, and how we can learn to effectively comprehend images and messages targeted at us, the consumers.
Baran does a good job unburdening the reader with weighty concepts and theories. That’s not to say there aren’t a lot of key terms in the book, because there are many. He makes it easy for the reader to conceptualize everything he presents by using plenty of real world examples that young people will find interesting and relevant to them (i.e., the rise of Apple products, pirating music, product placement in movies like The Social Network, and the rise of shock jocks on the radio). This makes the text more engaging, and the information easy to retain.
The book takes the large, messy and convoluted world that is media, mass communication and our relationship to the media, and lays it out in a clean, methodical fashion. The author groups his deep dive into this world into four chapters: 1) Laying the Groundwork, 2) Media, Media Industries, and Media Audiences, 3) Strategic Communication Industries, and 4) Mass-Mediated Culture in the Information Age.
The book begins by introducing the reader to the key concepts and terms that continually pop up in the book, then looks at the history and influence of the most pervasive media industries (film, Internet, TV, PR, advertising, etc.), and finally, it explores the social responsibility of the media.
The section of the book that looks at the dominant media industries is a very intriguing part of the book. The chapter on the Internet, in particular, is equal parts interesting and concerning. As I previously mentioned, the author takes a holistic approach to the content in his book. That approach is used in an effective way in the chapter on the Internet, as he tasks the reader to confront the good, the bad, and the ugly of the World Wide Web. The chapter invokes many mixed thoughts and feelings about this technology that has such a strong influence on our lives.
Needless to say, there is a lot to digest in the book. Although there is a lot of content (to the point where it could seem daunting), the text is neatly divided into easily digestible chapters, and the reader always knows what to take away from each section, with each chapter having learning objectives and a detailed review section.
The thoroughness of the review section is very helpful, as it helps the reader memorize important information. It covers the key terms, provides review questions and review points that sum up all the important information succinctly, and features thought-provoking discussion questions that make the reader apply what they learned using critical thinking.
Author Stanley Baran is able to take a dizzying amount of information and present it in a clear and concise fashion, making it easy to both retain important information and use it to interrogate the world of media and mass communication.
Why this is good for students
Students will enjoy using Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture, 8th Edition because it covers a world that they are steeped in every day. With the amount of time they spend on the Internet, social media, television, etc., and as key media targets, students will enjoy learning how to scrutinize ubiquitous messages and images.
Furthermore, the text does a great job relating its concepts to people, places and events that young people are familiar with. Many examples are from events that students have witnessed in their lifetime, which they will feel more connected to, and they will have already formed an opinion on them.
Why this is good for teachers
For anyone introducing students to media and mass communication, Introduction to Mass Communication: Media Literacy and Culture 8th Edition is the perfect teaching resource. The textbook takes a holistic look at media and mass communication – no stone is left unturned. The book reduces the need for supplementary materials considerably, if not completely.
Teachers will also appreciate how far the book goes to foster discussion and critical thinking. Along with the numerous discussion questions, there are plenty of opportunities for the reader to apply their media literacy skills in the real world (i.e. any of Donald Trump’s campaign literature).
For me, reading was a way to explore fascinating worlds and wild stories. I also used it as a way to keep learning – I had heard on some newscast that reading fiction makes you smarter. I wanted to get ahead of my class and excel at school. So, while I tried to play it cool with my peers, I was secretly a book nerd.
Although we have tons of novels to offer, summer reading may not be the best option for all kids. Not everyone digs fiction, our minds work differently. Still, being on summer break doesn’t mean that learning has to stop, or worse, regress.
At the risk of making a gross generalization, I think most people would agree that children love to show off their smarts. Kids light-up when they finally “get” that math formula, learn to “do math” in their head, or when they know the periodic table and what happens in chemical compounds. They also want to express themselves well, because they like sharing their experiences with others.
But the brain is a muscle, and, as the saying goes, “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” According to a study by Harris Cooper of Duke University, the average student loses at least a month’s worth of learning over the summer. Other studies conducted throughout the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, came to similar conclusions, finding that students lose an average of 2.6 months of math, and 2 months of English over the summer when they don’t actively practice their skills. Further studies have also determined that there is a correlation between a family’s socioeconomic status and the degree to which children fall behind in the summer – most families need affordable ways to keep their kids actively learning.
Since it is part of Alpha Textbooks’ mission to provide affordable educational resources to families, this summer we teamed up with Popular Book Company to promote Popular’s SummerSmart series. Our business is in education, we care about the quality of learning and student success at school, and we want to help students keep achieving while still enjoying their summer.
Popular’s summer workbooks serve a unique function. The age/level appropriate books give kids the opportunity to hone their existing skills, but also get ahead. The books function as a bridge between two grade levels. Children review what they learned in the previous school year, but also learn ahead for the coming grade.
Staying true to our education system, the workbooks correspond to the Canadian curriculum and explore Canadian content and themes. They can be used as eight week courses that cover English, math, science, and social studies. The books also contain “hands-on” activities – after all, it is summer.
We are offering a special summer promotion for the series. From now, until July 31, you can pick up the SummerSmart books at Alpha for 30% off the retail price.
… In case you are wondering, with all that reading, math was never my strong suit. Unfortunately, I was looking for the other kind of popular in the ‘90s. Although I excelled at school in the liberal arts, I wish I could have been a stronger student in other subjects. My own experience has made me a big advocate of encouraging children to keep trying at all the subjects all year-round, even if they think it is too hard.
Posted by Cris Costa, Alpha Textbooks Communications Manager
If someone tells you that history (particularly Canadian history) is dry, then hand them a copy of Chester Brown’s biographical comic Louis Riel. To put it simply, Brown brings Canadian history to life in his comic, a format that succeeds in creating an engaging reading experience for learning about Canada’s sordid past.
Brown’s comic tells the true story of Louis Riel, a nineteenth century Métis leader. His struggle with the Canadian government – to secure rights for his people –takes the reader back to a time of much violence and uncertainty in Canadian history.
In the mid-nineteenth century, Canada was made up of four provinces: Ontario, Québec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia; and the Canadian government had its eyes on expanding its boundaries into the Red River Settlement – which today is Manitoba. At that time, the Red River Settlement was part of Rupert’s Land, which the King of England granted to the fur-trading enterprise, the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Louis Riel opens in 1869, when Prime Minister Sir John A. McDonald makes a deal with the Hudson’s Bay Company to govern the Red River Settlement. The residents of the Red River Settlement, of which 80% were Métis, were dissatisfied with the news and concerned about governance.
Eventually, Louis Riel emerges from the confusion, anger and uncertainty, as the leader of, and to some a revolutionary for, the Métis people.
The fight for the Red River Settlement’s independence and self-governance is brought to life by Brown’s clean, simple and charming illustrations. The black and white graphic novel is done in an artistic style reminiscent of Serge’s Tin Tin stories (though Brown insists he got his inspiration from another source). Brown’s style is also similar to the Persepolis graphic novels.
Brown pulls us into Louis Riel’s life with a series of vignettes that focus on the integral moments of his 16-year struggle with the Canadian government. Brown keeps the narrative quick and focused throughout the story. The reader never has to wait long for the significant, emotionally charged moments to reach their climax. Even with the fast pace, the narrative never feels rushed, and none of the story’s important moments feel underwhelming.
Throughout the story, Brown portrays Riel’s highs and lows, and his inspiring – and contentious – moments. This is one of the book’s best qualities: it paints an unbiased portrait of Riel. Is Riel a good man, or is he a bad man? Was he a clever leader, or was he madman? Like any revolutionary, Riel does not perfectly fit the pristine image of a hero. Brown puts both sides of Riel on display, and leaves it up to the reader to make their own judgement on Riel’s character.
Whether you like Riel or not, Brown’s comic will certainly entertain you, while shedding light on an intriguing man, and his involvement in a struggle between two cultures that is not talked about too often in Canada.
Why this is good for students
Brown’s comic isn’t 300 pages of dates, names and places that students have to memorize for a test. Louis Riel brings Canadian history to life.
In one sitting, a student can learn about the important moments of Louis Riel’s struggle with the Canadian government in the same way they can read about Batman’s latest confrontation with The Joker.
Why this is good for teachers
Chester Brown’s Louis Riel is great for teachers who are looking for innovative ways to teach Canadian content. Not only is the engaging text by a Canadian author, but it also covers a chapter in Canadian history that teachers can use to discuss today’s social studies and current events.
While Canada continues the process of reconciling old, but harsh, truths about how indigenous people were persecuted in this country, students can discuss the treatment of indigenous people today, civil and human rights, and Canadian politics.
Louis Riel is a great comic for introducing students to the turbulent relationship between the Canadian government and indigenous people of Canada. Brown highlights many issues, like ownership, land distribution, governance, language, and cultural erosion. The book is thematically rich, and will give any classroom many avenues towards interrogating the treatment of indigenous people in Canada.
On the surface, Gary Barwin’s Yiddish for Pirates is a swash-buckling story about the yearning for adventure, the thirst for discovery, and the pursuit of ever-lasting life; and Barwin succeeds in telling a fun, enthralling adventure story full of memorable characters. But Yiddish for Pirates has more depth than one might initially suspect, as it depicts the plight of Jewish people living in Spain in the 15th century during the Spanish Inquisition.
The Spanish Inquisition was a time of intolerance and oppression for Jewish people living in Spain in the 1400s. The story’s main character, a Jewish boy named Moishe, finds himself in this precarious climate as he embarks on a quest to explore the world and live a life of adventure. He gets his wish early on when, in a whirlwind 25 pages, he becomes a servant on a ship, gets caught stealing, his ship is destroyed, and he is then marooned on a beach where he meets Christopher Columbus. This is a typical 25 pages for Moishe, as his narrative takes him from unassuming boy, to a bold and adventurous pirate. Indeed there are very few moments where the narrative stands still in Yiddish for Pirates, as Barwin maintains suspense throughout the novel.
Moishe’s faithful, yet sardonic, anthropomorphized parrot Aaron narrates his exploits – and he is fantastic in this role. Aaron continuously provides hilarious commentary on the significant events of Moishe’s life. Like a narrator of a Christopher Moore novel (à la Biff from Lamb), Aaron’s sarcastic, irreverent wit breathes humour into any dire situation he and Moishe encounter. He is a wonderfully entertaining narrator, as he deftly turns bleak moments into light-hearted ones with his comedic charm – through Aaron, Barwin shows off his clever word play and comedic flare. No matter what transpires in the story, Aaron always manages to put a smile on your face.
Aaron’s witty narration is welcome in the story, especially when he and Moishe come face-to-face with the imperialistic and oppressive modus operandi of the Inquisition. Early in the story, our heroes encounter Jewish people struggling to preserve their faith and culture under a regime that seeks to erase their culture from the world. As Moishe and Aaron attempt to help this Jewish diaspora find a safe haven, they cultivate strong relationships with some quirky and lovable characters. It is here where the heart of Yiddish for Pirates emerges from under the flotsam and jetsam of its action-packed moments.
Yiddish for Pirates is a fun action-adventure story about a boy who wants to see the world. But it is also a story about a group of displaced, persecuted people trying to find a place where they can embrace their culture in the harsh face of intolerance. It has everything you’d want in a book: action, humour, romance, and adventures into the unknown. This wonderfully written novel takes you through a nautical journey with lots of heart, while providing hilarious commentary on the ideologies that fuelled the Spanish Inquisition, courtesy of a wise-cracking parrot. This book is definitely worth checking it out.
Great for Students
This book is a great for students looking for a fun adventure story. Yiddish for Pirates is an addictive page-turner, and an easy book to get lost in for a couple hours. Moishe is a great protagonist whose sense of adventure is something many young people will find relatable.
Students will also enjoy Aaron’s narration. His wise-cracks will keep young readers laughing.
Yiddish for Pirates is a work of historiographic metafiction, as Barwin uses real people and events from history and includes them in the fictional, often self aware, narrative. In this respect, the novel provides information about historical events while serving as a springboard for a discussion about those events.
Students can find parallels between things that happened hundreds of years ago, and things that are happening today. Barwin shines a light on intolerance and xenophobia in the 15th century that eerily mirror rampant intolerance and xenophobia in the 21st century.
There are many great discussion topics that can be pulled from Yiddish for Pirates that should generate many spirited discussions about human nature — the lessons we’ve learned, or have not learned, from our collective past.
Teachers can simultaneously explore the novel on a textual level, examining fiction as fiction, narrative devices and the act of story telling, while also engaging students in a historical and thematic exploration.
Yiddish for Pirates is also a good teaching tool, because it immerses the reader into a fun, suspenseful, adventure story — as learning should always be fun.
As students become more connected with the world around them, the need for current and relevant course material is becoming more apparent. Subjects like English, art or politics are often top of mind when it comes to contemporary material. Rarely do we think of geography as a “current” subject. Making Connections: Issues in Canadian Geography, Third Edition (Pearson) brings geography into the real world for students.
In a previous post, we touched on the difficulty that teachers encounter when it comes to keeping students’ attention in a world of smartphones and tablets. If that is true for subjects like English, it is certainly true for geography. It’s not uncommon to hear a student say, “When am I even going to use this?” Making Connections, Third Edition, overcomes this obstacle in one great way: it shows students the real-life applicability of the subject.
Many students exhibit lack of interest in school courses, because they do not immediately see the subject’s relevancy in their lives outside of getting a grade. Making Connections, Third Edition, addresses this by posing real life questions to students, such as, “Should Canada have a one child policy?” It then provides supporting points for each side of the debate, encouraging students to make their own connections and come to their own informed conclusions.
The text also explores natural resources as they are tied to the economy. Chapters on natural, renewable and non-renewable resources, as well as population, manufacturing, the service sector, and the economy, come together to provide a complete and connected picture of the relevancy of geography in our daily lives.
Why teachers will want to use it in their classrooms
This textbook includes preparatory material with OSSLTs in mind. It also provides teachers with support in the form of sample lesson plans, summaries for each unit and chapter, answer keys, assessment checklists and rubrics, modifiable line masters, lesson support, and curriculum support.
Above all, what teachers will appreciate the most is seeing their students make connections between what they are learning in the course and the world around them.
Why students will want to learn it
This textbook is great at making difficult information accessible. It includes interactive learning opportunities through ArcGIS, Geo Flight, and Google Maps, which speak to students through mediums they use every day and can easily navigate. It also gives students a chance to apply the theory they learn in the classroom.
The book even goes a step further by including a “Skills Tool Kit” section, which breaks down the concepts, technical terms, and skills required to use and read the graphics included in the textbook.
Essentially, Making Connections, Third Edition, provides students with all the tools they need to succeed in their Grade 9 geography course. Whether it’s a question of the Canadian economy or their future, your students will leave your classroom at the end of the year with all the skills they need to advance to their next steps.
It’s no secret that Alpha considers literary excellence and creativity to be an important aspect of every student’s success. That’s why we were so grateful when Gregory Dominato, MacLachlan College Director of English and Chair of CITE (Conference of Independent Teachers of English), generously gave us a copy of InCITE 2015, at the Leading With Words conference in April, held at Hillfield Strathallan College in Hamilton. InCITE 2015 is a book of humorous short stories written by youth who attend private schools across Ontario. The collection is the product of a youth writing contest, judged by award winning Canadian author, Terry Fallis.
InCITE 2015 begins with a message from the CITE 2015 “Leading With Words” conference chair, Jeremy Johnston. Johnston notes that we don’t take comedy seriously enough. He says that humour is an essential ingredient to every story and situation. In this message, he writes, “We believe humour is as essential as tragedy in aiding our understanding of the human condition.”
The most gratifying part of reading this book is finding humour in every single story. Without turning each story into a stand-up routine, students took average, everyday situations, and developed witty, delightful narratives. There are stories that take on the theme of differences in humour across cultures, dark humour, or even the imagined humour of inanimate objects. In all stories, readers are guaranteed a smile.
Since the book is a collection of vetted contest entries, it had three winners for three categories: middle (grades 7 and 8), upper (grades 9 and 10), and senior (grades 11 and 12). However, all the stories published in InCITE 2015 are remarkable in some way, so I’m discussing a couple of “non winning” stories deserving of attention.
“Four Philosophers (Or, The Perks of Suspending Disbelief)” (26), by The York School’s 11th grade Adrian Marcuzzi, begins with three of history’s greatest thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. The philosophers are asked to solve some of the greatest philosophical questions posed by thinkers in the future. A stone slate with “clairvoyant properties” is brought into the room, and the philosophers are told that they “are forbidden to leave until [they] come up with something deep” (26).
The three set to work, asking the slate to show them the most popular question posed by the youngest popular thinker in the future. The rest of the story narrates how Socrates, Plato and Aristotle spend their time trying to derive meaning from Jaden Smith’s tweets, beginning with, “How Can Mirrors Be Real If Our Eyes Aren’t Real #JadenSmith,” (27). By the end of the story, with the help of the temple caretaker, Socrates realizes that perhaps the reason they can’t understand Smith’s tweets is because, “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us, (28)” thus coming up with the famous philosophical statement we know today.
Marcuzzi’s story combines humour and philosophy. In his witty observations about Smith’s tweets, he manages to make some insightful statements about society, and tie in the modern day with the old. He also cleverly wrote his story in a way that managed to bring it full circle, offering readers an unanticipated ending.
Appleby College’s Sydney Kalyn is the author of “Meet the Literals” (96). The story is a perfect example of how students used this year’s prompt to display their own unique sense of humour. Kalyn’s story is about the Literal family, who take everything literally. When the Lancasters go over with their children for dinner, they begin to notice the Literals’ odd reactions to certain statements. When the Lancasters’ son, Max, tells the Literals’ daughter, Curiosity, that she’ll only catch him “[o]ver [his] dead body” (97) during a game of tag, the story takes a dark, but humorous turn that can be appreciated by readers of all ages. Kalyn’s story blends humour, horror and word play to produce a delightful rendition of the absurd.
InCITE 2015 also features student paintings, drawings and photographs to accompany each story.
Reading InCITE 2015 has been an inspiration and important point of reference for us at Alpha Textbooks, as we prepare for our 2nd Annual Short Story Contest. We anticipate that in it’s second year, the contest will grow, and students’ work will be just as imaginative. The new judges are going to have a great (and tough) time!
Ground breaking and refreshing are words usually reserved to describe contemporary literature. Rarely would you use these words to describe a textbook. In this case, we’re talking about Nelson English 10.
In a world where technology has infiltrated almost every human interaction, and school classes begin with a reminder to turn off cell phones, teachers are looking for new ways to help students stay focused and engaged. Nelson English 10 understands and addresses the changes that are occurring in the way students learn. From its design to the learning material itself, Nelson English 10 caters to students in the world that they live in.
The textbook is comprised of four different sections: conflict, innovation, humour and perspective. Each of these sections uses poetry, visual art, short stories and news articles to help students engage with the content in a way that speaks to them.
On making connections, Nelson English 10 has this to say, “In today’s world, where one text so often plays upon another, analyzing the relationships between texts has become increasingly important. For example, think of a current TV show. How much of your understanding and appreciation of that show depends on the connections you make between it and other texts or shows you have read or viewed?”
Moving from approach to content, the other refreshing aspect of this book is the material itself. Nelson English 10 tackles controversial topics that are sure to spark debate in a classroom, such as censorship, surveillance and LGBT rights. Articles and short stories written by influential figures such as Malala Yousafzai and Rick Mercer, to name a few, encourage students to think critically and develop informed opinions about world issues.
Why teachers will want to use it in their classrooms
For teachers, it includes support for the concepts covered, such as literary devices, elements of styles, and genre/text forms. The textbook also contains modifiable rubrics, comprehensive summative assessments, and of course, covers all curriculum strands. What teachers are bound to love most about the textbook is the discussion it can potentially create in classrooms.
Why students will want to learn it
Students will enjoy discussing the concepts taught in this book because it uses current events and issues to help students apply their knowledge. Each section begins with a “Talk about it” page, which prompts discussion using paintings, quotes and other visuals. What’s most important to note about Nelson English 10 is that it was written for young people and about young people. The real life applicability of the content will make concepts easier for students to grasp.
Heading into their post-secondary years, students will be expected to apply their English skills to analyze and write about current societal issues and events. While this is not your traditional textbook, it prepares students for the type of learning they will encounter after high school at a level that is appropriate for them now. Nelson English 10 may not be for the lovers of tradition, but it is a great option for schools and teachers looking to update their course material and offer something new to students.
Review by Piya Singhal
Last week, Alpha Textbooks went to the Toronto launch of Steve McCaffery’s Alice in Plunderland (BookThug), a new parody that situates our beloved Alice in the postmodern “mythical city” of Tronna.
I was excited to get the newest edition of McCaffery’s witty, if not countercultural, brilliance. I anticipated the reading would impress, but I didn’t expect to be a little bit shocked.
Alice in Plunderland is a daring – no holds barred – retelling of Alice’s journey that will amuse and surprise even the most skeptical of readers. Or, on the flip side, it has the potential to infuriate readers. If it were a movie, it might be rated 18A – not R, because all the “bad” swear words are starred out.
In this version of Wonderland, Alice is a recovering junkie who came from a wealthy Tronna family, and who attended one of Tronna’s best private schools. The journey begins when a running bank teller rushes passed Alice, while pulling out a thick wad of cash and kissing it. This sparks Alice’s cravings, compelling her to chase after the teller. Alice’s curiosity leads her to fall down a sewer, a “manhole.”
“Alice was not a bit hurt, and she jumped up on to her feet in a moment: she looked up, but it was dark overhead; before her was another passage, but this time sewage-free and the young bank teller was still in sight, hurrying down it with her shocking-pink hair and thick wad of hundred-dollar bills forming an aesthetically pleasing chromatic contrast.”
Indeed, as in the original story, Alice finds substances to ingest in the city’s nether-regions. Her journey though Plunderland is a racy, vulgar and a most inappropriate adventure for this well-spoken, privileged, but “sleeping” girl.
As usual, McCaffery’s book is chock-full of poetic devices, witticisms and symbolism.
Who the book is not good for:
It’s not good for teenage students. The explicit nature of the book, grotesque descriptions, and cringe-making scenes make it inappropriate for younger readers. The writing style and diction is also advanced, and coupled with the nonsensical nature of the events that occur throughout the narrative, it would be considered a tough read even for some adults. Even if younger students could grasp the language… let’s be realistic, encouraging anyone under the age of 18 to read it would be controversial.
Who it is good for:
On the other hand, the book could be seen as an interesting study for university students, or 18+ year olds who are learning to think critically about language. The challenging aspects of the book – language, themes, literary devices, allusions and symbolism – are balanced by a humorous, parodic approach. Also, the story is so bold in its approach that it might engage even the most nonchalant and disinterested young-adult to read on.
They might ask the questions: Why write this? Why represent the city this way? What’s being said? How is it effective? How is it ineffective? How is language (be it diction, sounds, content, or other variables) used to assist storytelling? Does the book have a goal and is it achieved? What does parody do for us?
Liking or disliking the book would be completely individual and relative to your experience of the world and literature. You might think it rich, remarkable, funny, or boundary breaking. Its treatment of the original text (and the tropes used) is so absurd that it’s ludicrous – perhaps much like the original story. You need to read the book though the same lens that you watch a Trey Parker performance. Then again, one could also easily say that the book is fun for a few pages, but the shock-value wears off, and it gets stale quickly. Sometimes it’s reaching.
Beautiful collage illustrations, by Clelia Scala, colour the novel’s pages. The illustrations are wonderful, funny, and they capture the essence of both Alice in Plunderland and Wonderland.
Whatever your thoughts on it, it’s safe to say that the book is different.