Hit or Miss: The Problems with Citing ONLY Online Sources

Today in my Teaching Reading class, we had to get into groups to talk about the new Colorado Common Core Standards. My initial small group was supposed to discuss Standard 2 (Reading for All Purposes) for the middle school/junior high grades, and then the big group was the three small groups who had been discussing the middle grade expectations for Standards 1, 2, and 4. One of my peers brought up a point that I didn’t particularly agree with. I’ll paraphrase what she said:

As part of Standard 4 (Research and Reasoning), beginning in the sixth grade students are required to use a “variety of sources” when doing research projects, “variety” meaning “both print-based and online-based texts.” We’re all familiar with this idea, yeah? The fact that we are supposed to be using print sources along with any online sources has been around for my entire education, because some people didn’t want to go to the library to look up a book. Anyway, her point was that she doesn’t agree with this. Her response was, and I quote, “Why not?” Why not let kids use the technology they have at their fingertips to easily and readily access information? Why not make them go look, or at least double-check, in a book?

Another student’s response to this was that recently she was given a project where she could only use print-based sources. Even though the textbook is available online, her professor wanted the students to physically go to the library and check it out, and her exasperated response was, “I don’t know how to find anything in the library.” Personally I don’t either, but the point is moot.

Then I spoke up (which is pretty hit-or-miss with me). I disagreed. I think that knowing how to navigate a library and how to look up items in a dictionary or an encyclopedia are good life skills to have. It may be hard to believe, but even in our technology-crazed society there are still people without access to high-speed internet or even a computer whenever they need it. I have a laptop, you know, but I don’t carry it around with me all the time. I do carry my phone, but I don’t have internet access on it (or anything fun, really, because it’s not a smart phone), so I can’t just Google something every time I have a question when I’m not at my house. My sister’s best friend has a computer at her house, sure, but the thing is probably fifteen years old, takes ten minutes to turn on and log in, and then has to update constantly. It’s slow and unreliable, and that’s just turning the stupid thing on. Heaven forbid you actually needed to use it for something, like typing up an essay or Googling what “meritorious” means.

Like this. If you're under 13, you probably don't even know what that big thing on the left is.

Like this. If you’re under 13, you probably don’t even know what that big thing on the left is.

Point is, using a book is a good life skill. I’m not saying books should be the be all and end all (Shakespeare quote!), obviously – I spent at least an hour reading random Wikipedia articles, beginning with on the movie The Silence of the Lambs, which was completely irrelevant to anything I was supposed to be doing – but I personally think kids should know how to use them.

The downside to this, of course, as someone in our discussion pointed out, is how do we as teachers justify teaching students how to use print sources when they can, often just as easily, find it online? Now that I’ve had a little time to think about it, here’s what I’ve come up with.

Firstly, and perhaps rather lamely, this is a skill that they will need for the rest of their education. It feels like a weak reason because yeah, it’s pretty weak, but it’s still perfectly valid. Like my classmate with her project, there are going to be teachers who are so anti-technology they want you to lose yourself amidst dusty bookshelves and dustier books with onion-skin pages so thin just breathing too heavily might tear them (not saying her professor is, but I’m sure such people exist). Even if you’re not totally forbidden from using the internet, you’ll probably still be required to have at least one book on your list of sources. I’d like to think there isn’t an element of “Well, I had to learn it so now you do too,” but I don’t know. I’m obviously biased.

The other major reasons have to do with the books themselves, and the two things a book can almost always promise that the internet never ever will: depth and veracity. The great thing about the internet is that you can find out lots of little bits of information, or one very general idea, very quickly and you mostly understand it and could recite it back later if someone asked. But there isn’t a whole lot of depth on the internet, not unless you’re willing to devote more than the half hour max you normally devote to research sessions to scouring dozens of websites and reading tiny print on a bright screen. The other problem with the internet, present in this scenario, inherent and inseparable from the whole institution since it was established in the 90s, is accuracy and veracity. Obviously Wikipedia is the perfect example for this. How many years did teachers warn us all away from EVER using Wikipedia because most of what’s on there is a lie? Okay, they still don’t like us using Wikipedia, although I’m pretty sure it’s more accurate than it used to be.

There’s the key phrase, of course: “more accurate than it used to be.” This implies that there are still elements of untruth and bias lurking within the hundreds of thousands, probably millions, of pages that comprise Wikipedia.org. And there are. I love Wikipedia – it’s just so gosh-darn convenient – but I know that’s written by random people all over the world, probably more than a few who think they know a lot about whatever subject they’re writing about but don’t. I’ve gone to Wikipedia articles before and found them to be lacking, like when I read the plot summaries for movies or books or whatever, or sometimes flat-out wrong. I can’t even imagine what the “global warming” page must say; it’s probably super-biased one way or another.

And therein lies the problem. You can’t really trust anything you read about on the internet. It’s like that State Farm commercial, with the guy and the girl and her “French model” date, who is this big, bearded dude with a fanny pack and mispronounces Bonjour. 

Yeah, 'cause this guy looks like a real winner.

Yeah, ’cause this guy looks like a real winner.

She’s wrong, of course (not just about her date); you can most definitely put things on the internet that are not true. How many times have celebrities been reported dead when they’re so very obviously alive? Answer: a lot. Or did you hear about that Wikipedia article some British guy published, about a famous composer who died when really he just made the guy up? It doesn’t even matter, because Wikipedia has a whole page dedicated to Wikipedia hoaxes. Or that new show on MTV, Catfish, which is about a guy who helps people meet the people they’ve been talking to online and 90% of the time it’s been a lie (from names to pictures to gender)? Yeah. So much for truth online.

Another thing I found kind of in my favor popped up in my email today. See, Google alerts sends me daily emails about nerdy, fangirlish things like Benedict Cumberbatch, Doctor Who, and Sherlock Holmes, and this video came up in the one about Holmes (sorry, don’t remember how to insert the actual video into the post).

According to the video (transcript; I didn’t watch the thing), “people who used Google and who thought that they would be able to access information on a computer later on didn’t remember it as well as the people who didn’t think they would have access to it.” Konnikova goes on to say how you might not remember the fact but you’ll remember where you stored it, but I like the point about memory. You know, memorizing facts is good. Certain facts. I’m probably never going to need to know ever again that The Ecclesiastical History of the English People was written in 731 CE, but because I have a good memory, I can access prior knowledge about things like the Bernard Bouriscot scandal I read about once and connect that with the fact that that scandal was the inspiration for the play M. Butterfly.  Or how the line of succession works in British Royalty, and that Prince Charles will be king before William and Kate (I thought everyone knew that), so I can be confused about how the line of succession worked in Denmark according to Shakespeare. Or that the US entered WWII in 1941 (I really thought everyone knew that).

So I advocate for books. More books! Books are great; I love books. Kids should read more of them. And that’s about it. I had a lot of feelings on the subject and what better place to express them than on the blog I primarily use/d for education-related stuff anyway? Now I will go read Hamlet and Utopia, whatever that is, and press my hand to the tiny tiny print on the rice-paper-thin pages Norton anthologies love and ask myself, very tongue-in-cheek, “Can’t you just feel the magic?” Can’t you?




TV’s Holmesian Detectives: Shawn Spencer

What you do in this world is a matter of no consequence. The question is  what can you make people believe you have done.
Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

I’m tired today. Actually, I’ve been tired for the past couple of days, which is ironic because I haven’t actually done anything since break started. Well, nothing particularly productive. Haven’t tackled my reading list yet (although I did actually start The Last Guardian). But my creative writing endeavors are, unfortunately, stunted, and my baking attempts for the past couple days have been about fifty-fifty, so I’m going to tackle two things right now that I know I’m good at: writing and talking about Sherlock Holmes.

I really enjoyed writing the post last week about Patrick Jane, even if it got fewer hits than my reading list (why is that?), and I actually would like to make this into a series, if only for myself. Also, I’ve really got nothing better to do while I wait for the oven timer to go off, so I’m going to write here. And, going along with the theme of fake psychics, I’m going to write about Psych.

Psych is about a guy named Shawn Spencer who is interrogated after giving the Santa Barbara Police Department one too many tips, convincing the department that he must be a criminal to know so much. In order to evade arrest, Shawn claims to be a psychic (when really he just has an eidetic memory and amazing inference skills) and becomes a free-lance consultant for the department while also starting, with his best friend Gus (against his will), a detective agency called “Psych.” They go around Santa Barbara being witty and hilarious and occasionally solving crimes.


What I always found perplexing was that there was never any reference – and I mean any – at all to Sherlock Holmes in discussions about the show. Steve Franks, the creator, always mentions that it started from this “hat” game he used to have to play with his dad, who was a police officer, where he had to suddenly close his eyes and describe the hats that were in the room (which, if you’ve seen the pilot for Psych, is the very first scene we see). Yet Shawn, Gus, and Psych in general, take so many cues from Holmes it’s just ridiculous. Why is no one talking about this?

What’s so Holmesian about Psych?

*Shawn is a consultant too. Again, this is pretty common in the genre. Why? Because consultants don’t have to follow as many rules as the law-bound officers they often assist (not that they would anyway).

*Apparently CBS likes to rip off popular ideas (cough, Elementary, cough) because Shawn is also a fake psychic. Actually, he came first (2006), hence the ripping off. However, the key difference is that Jane used to be a fake psychic, while the only reason Shawn is a consultant is because he’s a fake psychic. Anyway, Shawn’s “psychic” powers mask his amazing skills of observation and inference, and the lie came about in the first place because no one could possibly believe that some guy could solve murder cases by watching the evening news (see Pilot). But Shawn can! Psych actually does this really cool camera move where they zoom in on items of interest so the audience can see all the clues just as Shawn sees them and (potentially) solve the mystery before him. Classic detective stories, like Sherlock Holmes, highlight details this way for the same reason, and so it doesn’t feel like the author tricked you when he/she reveals the solution.

*Shawn disrespects the law too. He often breaks into active crime scenes and suspects’ houses, but he also steals information from the police department where he works – he’s broken into evidence, the police chief’s office, and the morgue multiple times. Unlike Jane (and like Holmes), Shawn had little respect for the detectives he worked with, at least in the beginning, and he always gets a kick out of making the head detective, Detective Lassiter, look foolish.

*Holmes was always more of an amateur detective than a professional one, specifically because he wasn’t a policeman, didn’t work for the government, and didn’t have a license to practice privately. This goes for Shawn as well, who is not strictly employed as a “police consultant.” In fact, the name for the show is derived in part from the name of his detective agency, “Psych,” which is really Shawn’s full-time job. The majority of Holmes’s cases came from outside the police station as independent clients, although the cases would often overlap with official police ones. Now, while most of the cases Shawn consults come straight from the police, he has also received cases from various clients looking to hire the Psych detectives (although these always end up overlapping with police cases).

*Shawn once described himself, in response to the comment “Are you crazy?” as “Maybe an eccentric who looks good in jeans.” Yep, yet another slightly off-balanced, bored bachelor who really has nothing better to do than bother the police. I can’t even begin to describe Shawn’s personal oddities because yes, there are a lot. Shawn’s detecting partner is his best friend Burton Guster (called Gus; more on him in a second), and Shawn loves to introduce Gus by something other than his name whenever they meet new people. This probably happens at least twice per episode, and since there are over 90 episodes… well, you can imagine. “Ghee Buttersnaps” is quite popular. The other thing Shawn always does that perplexes people (besides his behavior in general) are his odd, random references to obscure 80s’ movies, which also happens a couple of times per episode. No one but Gus ever gets them. Oh, and Shawn is obsessed with pineapples. I think a pineapple or an image of a pineapple appears in almost every episode. To see the other nine hundred eccentricities Shawn has, click here and see Characterization.

Definitely not even close to all of them...

Definitely not even close to all of them…

*Did I mention that Shawn’s a bachelor? So was Holmes. There must be something about detection and steady relationships that don’t work (which actually plays out on Psych in his relationship with Abigail Lytar). Holmes disliked the company of women because he believed they were frivolous and flighty (not that he held a higher opinion of men, which he didn’t) and had zero interest in pursuing a romantic relationship, much to Watson’s chagrin. Shawn, on the other hand, doesn’t much care for commitment and so prefers to flirt outrageously with all the women he meets rather than settle down, although there have been a few notable occasions (Abigail and Juliet).

*What most fascinates me about this show in terms of its relationship to Holmes are its characters. Holmes has Watson, Jane has Lisbon, and Shawn has Gus. Gus is the straight man to Shawn’s comic, the professional to Shawn’s unprofessional, the black to Shawn’s, uh, white. Although perhaps not as smart as Shawn, Gus is quite intelligent in other ways. As a pharmaceuticals salesman, Gus is well-versed in the identification and effects of medicines, drugs, and poisons – this is also a direct reference to Watson, who was a medical doctor. He has also many unusual hobbies, such as high-tech safes and lock-picking, that allow him to fill in the gaps in Shawn’s theories. He is also, obviously, Shawn’s best friend (they once discussed that, when they’re both married, they’re going to live next door to each other and share backyards) and, while not Shawn’s only friend, he is the only one who really understands Shawn’s antics. He is very much Shawn’s partner-in-crime (literally) at Psych.


The whole reason this show is successful: Shawn, Gus, and pineapples.

*Holmes often liked to poke fun at the Scotland Yard detectives’ deficiencies, such as their lack of imagination or their overwhelming skepticism of his methods. His favorite target was Inspector Lestrade, probably because he cropped up in the most stories and therefore was an easy target. Detective Lassiter, the head detective for the department, embodies that character in Psych. Skeptical and overbearing to the point of being downright mean, Detective Lassiter loathes Shawn and Gus for several seasons before finally reaching a point of grudging respect. He, like Lestrade, always jumps to the first conclusion and is ready to arrest the first person he suspected by the time Shawn steps in, confuses him, and then corrects him. He’s quick to discount Shawn’s “visions” but often acknowledges that he needs him.

*However, in the Sherlock Holmes stories there was one notable young detective, Stanley Hopkins, who greatly admired and respected Holmes and willingly consulted him on cases. This character is reflected in Psych’s Juliet O’Hara, originally a Miami detective transferred to Santa Barbara in episode 2. Juliet has always believed Shawn when it comes to a case and is much more willing to ask for his advice than Lassiter, as well as support him in the face of his outrageous claims. She will sometimes pretend to agree with Lassiter, only to turn around and help or enable Shawn.

*Finally, there’s that one person who’s smarter than the lead character. For Holmes, it was his much older brother Mycroft, who appeared in three stories. For Shawn, it’s his father Henry. Shawn would not be a police consultant if it weren’t for Henry, who taught him everything he knows about detective work, from honing his observation and logic skills to how to beat a lie detector to how to escape when you’ve been kidnapped. Whenever Shawn is stumped on a problem, he reluctantly asks Henry for help. Despite being out of the loop, Henry always understands the case immediately and offers just the clue to send Shawn careening off in the right direction once more. And, like Mycroft, he always seems to know much more than he ever lets on.

Wow, that was even more intensive than the previous one. I probably should’ve started with Shawn instead of Patrick; now I’m mixing them up in my head!

Okay then, tune in next time for more on TV’s Holmesian detectives!

Previous post: TV’s Holmesian Detectives: Patrick Jane.

TV’s Holmesian Detectives: Patrick Jane

There is nothing new under the sun. It has all been done before.
Sherlock Holmes, A Study in Scarlet

Recently I’ve started watching The Mentalist starring Simon Baker and Robin Tunney. Basic plot summary: it’s about a man named Patrick Jane, a con man and former “psychic,” who works as a consultant for the fictional California Bureau of Investigation so he can track down notorious serial killer, Red John, and avenge his murdered wife and daughter. Heavy stuff, right? Well, most of the episodes don’t even mention Red John, so the show’s mostly about Jane and the Serious Crimes Unit (the one he works for) going around California and Nevada solving crime.


Watching crime drama/police procedural shows is not a new hobby. As a family, we used to gather around the TV on weeknights and watch USA network shows for a couple of hours. What interests me about the shows, besides the actual crime-solving and the badass characters, are the similarities to my hobby/obsession: Sherlock Holmes.

Because it would take me at least a week to confide all of my knowledge and opinions on everything Sherlockian (or Holmesian, if you’re British) to you, I won’t bore you with details of his amazingness. Rather, I’m going to discuss how much the crime dramas I watch have been inspired by the world’s first consulting detective. Since I’ve already mentioned The Mentalist, I’ll start there.

What’s so Holmesian about The Mentalist?

*Patrick Jane is a consultant. I’m pretty sure (but don’t quote me) Holmes was the first police consultant, and while they would probably still exist today without him, Holmes is most likely the reason police consultants consistently crop up in pop culture.

*Prior to his life as a police consultant, Patrick Jane was a professional con man, earning his wealth by pretending to be a psychic. In order for his schemes to work, he had to be skilled not only in cold reading, but in observation, deduction, and human nature. Jane succeeds as a police consultant because he can draw vast conclusions from minor details (“trifles,” Holmes would call them) and accurately predict how suspects will behave based on those same details as well as knowledge of their motivations. Holmes made this skill famous, and it’s difficult to find many detectives who don’t demonstrate this skill as well.

*Even though he technically works for the law, Jane has almost zero respect for it. Not an episode goes by when he doesn’t flout or flat-out break the law to get his way, anything from lying, stealing, trespassing, and breaking and entering to blackmail, aiding and abetting, assault, conspiracy, and once, even murder. The only reason he hasn’t been fired or imprisoned is because the Serious Crimes Unit has an extremely high rate of closing cases. Holmes, too, often disregarded the law when it suited him because sometimes that was the only way for him to lay hands on the criminal and the truth. One thing must be said for these chronic lawbreakers: you can’t argue with results.


Just another day at the CBI: solving crime, drinking tea, and being awesome.

*Dr. Watson, Holmes’s faithful biographer, once remarked that Holmes “loathed every form of society with his whole Bohemian soul,” eccentric that he was. He was obsessed with the study of crime and devoted nearly all of his time making himself the best detective ever, and with that kind of ambition you don’t have time to out socializing and being normal. Likewise, Jane is a social anomaly. Most nights Jane putters around the CBI office, catching a few winks on the leather couch between drinking tea and obsessing over Red John. That’s because his home is in Malibu, about six hours away from CBI headquarters in Sacramento, and there’s nothing there but a bare mattress, and a smiley face, Red John’s signature, painted in blood above it, where he sleeps. Yeah… Jane’s pretty morbid. On a lighter note, he loves tea and eating in restaurants and diners, where he always orders eggs.


Not morbid at all…

*Crime dramas love the big dramatic denouement at the end of an episode. You know who popularized those? Sherlock Holmes. Actually, Holmes was a fan of drama in general. He liked to enter the flat in a variety of costumes, perplexing poor Watson who often couldn’t recognize his friend. You know who loves drama just as much, if not more so, than Holmes? Patrick Jane. You’ve got to be theatrical to make it in the carnival/psychic scene, and Patrick Jane excels at theatrics, probably because he’s a phenomenal liar. His favorite trick? Reading people’s minds.

*Because Jane was a father once, he reserves a special place in his heart for children, whether they’re the victims of crimes or merely the collateral damage. While other police officers might make them nervous, kids are never afraid of Jane, so he’s usually the one to interview or comfort them. And, much to Watson’s and his housekeeper’s chagrin, Holmes keeps a squadron of children in his employ that he affectionately calls the Baker Street Irregulars, his eyes and ears around the city.

*For every Sherlock Holmes there must be a Dr. Watson, the smart, able-bodied companion utterly fascinated by the detective’s genius. For Patrick Jane, this is Agent Teresa Lisbon, head of the Serious Crimes Unit in the CBI. In many ways, Agent Lisbon is Jane’s polar opposite. She’s a petite brunette, he’s tall and blonde. She’s Catholic, he’s an atheist. She drinks coffee, he drinks tea. More importantly, Lisbon holds herself and her agents to extremely high standards of effort and morality and believes wholeheartedly in the law’s efficacy. And Lisbon is, truly, Jane’s only friend. She is the only one who can tolerate him in high doses without wanting to shoot him, the only one to defend him to her superiors when he offends yet another Important Person or breaks ten more laws, and the only one who really seems to understand his obsession with Red John. Not that she approves of his single-minded revenge; she’d rather have Red John in custody than Jane in prison for murder, or worse.

*There must also be a Professor Moriarty, and Jane’s arch nemesis is the serial killer known as Red John, wanted for brutally murdering nearly 30 people, including Jane’s wife and daughter. Red John is clearly Jane’s intellectual equal, always anticipating Jane’s plans before he can enact them, always two steps ahead of all the law enforcement agencies hunting him. Like Moriarty, Red John has lots of connections (his many disciples) but evidence can never be traced back to him. Even after a decade of slaying, he hasn’t made one mistake yet. Finally, he and Jane both know that one of them must die in the final confrontation, and Jane has long since accepted that his own death will not be in vain if he can kill Red John first.


Wow. If you’ve made it this far, I am thoroughly impressed. You must really like Sherlock Holmes! Or The Mentalist! Or been really, really bored. Just for making all the way down here, Red John won’t send you creepy messages or draw a gruesome smiley face on your wall. Congratulations.

All righty then, tune in next time for more on TV’s Holmesian detectives!

Winter Break Reading List

In case you haven’t gathered by now, I like lists. I also like books. Thus, I am going to make another list about what I would like and/or plan to read over winter break before school comes back and drowns me in dense, archaic language and too-small print. Bear with me, the list is pretty long and random. Now, in no particular, things I want to read over winter break are:

  1. Artemis Fowl: The Last Guardian by Eoin Colfer
  2. Wisdom’s Kiss by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
  3. Sherlock Holmes! I started rereading the stories over the summer, so I’ve read 3 of the novels and the first two collections (except “The Final Problem,” where I stopped), so that means four(?) more collections and a novel (The Valley of Fear)
  4. Alice X. Zhang’s tumblr, because her artwork is amazing and she’s hilarious
  5. Stardust by Neil Gaiman
  6. The Mentalist fanfiction
  7. The Lover’s Dictionary by David Levithan
  8. The latest everything about Benedict Cumberbatch and new Doctor Who (thank you, Google alert!)
  9. The Tale of Desperaux by Kate DiCamillo (reread)
  10. The Shoemaker’s Wife by Adriana Trigiani
  11. The Storyteller’s Daughter by Cameron Dokey
  12. the three Skulduggery Pleasant books sitting on my coffee table, plus the second and third one that I need to reread before I start those (that’s gotta be at least 3000 pages altogether, not even counting the first one)
  13. the Sherlock casebook because yes, I am that much of a nerd
  14. Figment! See if my classmates had any worthwhile suggestions
  15. The Crack in the Lens by Darlene A. Cypser (yay, little Sherlock!)
  16. Artemis Fowl: The Eternity Code by Eoin Colfer, one of my favorites of the series
  17. Artemis Fowl: The Opal Deception by Eoin Colfer, where Arty pretends to be a regular teenager at the beginning
  18. Old creative endeavors on my computer I haven’t touched in months
  19. Cool ways to paint my nails that I will probably never attempt.
  20. And this guy! Because he amuses me : )

Probability that I will read all of these books/other random things over break? Pretty low. What can I say? I’m a procrastinator.

Hope you all have a good break and see you in January!

What The Book Thief Taught Me About Being German

Now that I finally have some free time, I’m going to sit down and blog about this idea I’ve been thinking about since… Thanksgiving break. So, here goes.

Over Thanksgiving break, I read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak for my adolescent lit class. I could gush about its amazingness for about ten years but that just seems so old hat, so I’m going to talk about the other thing reading that book made me think of (eventually it’ll circle back to education).

When my dad was two years old, his mom brought him and his six-year-old sister to America from Germany after she married an American soldier. They lived in Pennsylvania for a while before they settled in this tiny little town called Ballantine, twenty minutes away from Billings, Montana’s largest city (which isn’t saying much, because Fort Collins is bigger than Billings).


Ballantine is surrounded by farmland, has one post office, one gas station, and a population of maybe 50.

So I’m half German. Personally, I think this is pretty awesome. I mean, fifty percent of my known heritage is German, while the rest is from a bunch of western European countries that most Caucasian people can claim anyway (and a smidgeon of Chippewa Indian, which I will come back to). However, for a long time I didn’t think this was very cool at all, and not even for a good reason. My dad doesn’t like to talk about himself, period. Whenever we’d ask him about his heritage (y’know, basic kid question), he’d kind of brush us off with the phrase, “I’m an American, and so are you. And that’s all that matters.” Not in a mean way, of course, but definitely evasive.

My mother, on the other hand, is pretty much an open book, so the part of my ethnicity I always took interest in was the smidgeon of Chippewa Indian (I’m 1/16), so I always liked Native American history. That’s why, when I read The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, both the stereotypes and the situation resonated with me because I’ve heard that story before.

Back to The Book Thief. One of the reasons I adore The Book Thief is because it taught me about my heritage. I know my grandmother was alive during World War II and that her and her family were kicked out of Nazi Germany into nearby Yugoslavia until at least the end of the war. Beyond that I know virtually nothing, nothing except for the little tidbits of history and culture you pick up after to going to school for fifteen years.

That’s why I love this book. I learned so much about German culture, especially during World War II, because the book is about a regular German girl, not a German Jew on the run or a German family hiding a Jew (although that does, briefly, happen). Like German words. Most of them were swear words, but one that really stuck out was himmel, which is German for heaven. Even though it is a Holocaust book, even though it’s sad, I wanted to know more about what it means to be German besides possibly being associated with Nazism.

Which brings me around to education. Thinking about my heritage made me think of this old-school Disney movie I used to love and that the Disney channel always shows in March: The Luck of the Irish. Don’t laugh, but the movie is about how this boy, Ryan, discovers through a school-wide heritage project that the maternal side of his family are leprechauns, which makes him part-leprechaun. Okay, I guess you can laugh; it does sound pretty cheesy. At the risk of sounding even more cheesy, there’s also a Degrassi: The Next Generation episode like this (the heritage project, not the leprechauns; also, I didn’t watch that episode of my own accord, it was totally my sister’s doing, I swear).

My point is, I wish schools still required a project like this. Maybe some do, but not any of the half dozen I’ve attended. It’s eye-opening, inspirational, and multicultural – why aren’t schools jumping all over that? At the very least, I’d like to have learned more about other cultures, and not just the cut-and-dried histories of wars and conquests and death, but what other people do in other places. American culture is great and all, but I’ve been exposed to that my entire life.

Actually, that’s not true – I was required to learn about other cultures at two of the four elementary schools I attended. At the first one, our art projects were always based on an art form from another place. I carved a Mayan face into a piece of sheet rock, sculpted a sea serpent out of clay, wove on a loom, and probably a dozen other projects I no longer remember. At the second school, kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders were required to study a country as a class. Kindergarten studied Australia, the first graders studied China, and second graders studied Mexico. By the time I attended this school I was in the fourth grade, but I sang in the school choir and so I had to learn all the multicultural songs the littler kids learned so we could sing with them at the Multicultural Concert. Kookaburra sits in the old gum tree, merry merry king of the bush is he…

Nevertheless, that was in elementary school and only in elementary school. There were glimpses, here and there, into the other worlds, but nothing substantive. Certainly nothing relating to me personally except war and death and so on, so on, so it goes…

I wonder why this is. I wonder why the only schools I see forcing students to learn about their family histories are on corny TV shows. Hmm…

So, now I guess enjoy this cheesy clip. This land is your land, this land is my land… (P.S. I had to learn that song too)

Genre Paper 3: Intro to The Hobbit

It feels like forever since I’ve last blogged (I guess it has been a week…).

Anyway, here is my third genre paper. It’s an interactive poster that I made on glogster.com, and it is an text introduction to the novel The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien, as if it were taught in an English class. There are 10 clickable things.

Also, if you do open it, make sure your volume isn’t on full-blast. Just sayin’. To turn it off, it’s in the upper-left hand corner.

Hope you like it!

5 Awesome Books I’ve Read This Semester

In honor of finishing The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien today, here is Part 2 to my previous blog, with the 5 most amazingly awesome books I’ve read this semester. Again, in no particular order, they are:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

What a mouthful, right? I loved this book. I read it in my E 405 class last week, and it’s amazing (see Dr. Garcia, I don’t hate all of your books). The book is about this kid named Junior, a fourteen-year-old Spokane Indian who was born with hydrocephalus and growing up on a reservation in Washington state, who decides to transfer from his reservation school to a school in a white town 22 miles away. First, Junior is amazing. He’s funny, quirky, sarcastic, but also dreamy and hopeful. Plus he’s ambitious, unlike the rest of the reservation. He doesn’t want to grow up to be a depressed drunk; he wants more for himself. I also really liked the supporting characters, especially his best friend, Rowdy, who’s basically a walking, talking contradiction. He’s very angry and violent and gets into lots of fights, yet he’s best friends with the nerdiest kid on the reservation. He also loves to read old cheesy comic books, and is actually quite sensitive – as demonstrated by how angry and hurt he is when Junior transfers to Reardan. And I like the little pictures and sketches that appear on nearly every page. While not necessary, they definitely add that extra hint of authenticity, creativity, and story-telling that words wouldn’t necessarily be able to convey as well. And they represent an important part of Junior’s personality. Drawing cartoons is what he wants to do when he grows up; why wouldn’t he include them in his diary? Overall, it was fantastic, and everyone should read it.

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

This book is told (mainly) from the perspective of three teenagers – T.C., Auggie, and Ale – as the write essays as juniors about their “most excellent year,” which was their freshman year of high school. This book is insane in the number of risks it takes. Not only is it written from the perspective of three different characters, one of which is gay, it is written in nearly every format imaginable – email, instant message, letter, fax, article, note, essay, website, you name it. And yet (to me) this novel succeeds. The main characters are likeable, witty, and well-rounded, if a bit cliché at times (particularly Auggie, the gay character, who is sometimes a bit too effemininate). Belief definitely has to be suspended, particularly at the end when T.C. takes little Hucky to meet Julie Andrews, aka the world’s greatest nanny Mary Poppins. However, this suspension lends itself to the fanciful and almost magical quality of the novel because these three kids have big ambitions, from saving Fenway Park to directing a musical to starring in a musical. While lacking in conflict, it’s a hilarious, witty, and touching novel, and provides an excellent contrast to other popular, depressing YA novels like Crank.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King

This is a very complicated, intellectual novel that could easily transition YA and adult literature. The narrator, Mary Russell, flaunts her intelligence in her prose and philosophical reflections, writing her “memoirs” as a much older woman and recounting the year she moved back to England and befriended legendary detective, Sherlock Holmes. Regardless of her age or genius however, Mary is definitely a teenager: stubborn, rude, defiant, and with a sense of invincibility, she strives to carve a future for herself even as she clings to Holmes’s guidance. Yet Mary is multifaceted; although she projects the image of a snobbish, intellectual loner, she spends a great deal of the novel as a gawky, bookish girl, still reeling from her family’s death.  But Mary humanizes Holmes in a way Doyle never did, drawing out of him playful, intellectual banter and moments of affection that he was never quite able to demonstrate around Watson. Also, Laurie King does the best job invoking a historical world without it feeling in-your-face or contrived, especially compared to another book I read that was set in the 1920s.

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy

This book is definitely one of the best books I’ve ever read. In the same vein as the Harry Potter series, Landy introduces us to Stephanie Edgely, a twelve-year-old Irish girl who accidentally stumbles into the underground world of magic and meets the title character, Skulduggery Pleasant, a skeleton detective. Landy masterfully combines the genres of fantasy, horror, humor, adventure, mystery and suspense in a book that is appealing to a wide range of readers. His style and voice are completely unique—the exposition is straightforward and vibrant without being elaborate and it’s infused with snappy, sarcastic dialogue and descriptive, visually engaging action sequences characteristic of a screenplay. The novel is populated with witty and likeable people, each one flawed, each one struggling against their own individual darkness. I adore Stephanie and Skulduggery and their constant witty repartee. All in all, Landy has successfully created a world that is, to quote Doctor Who, “so much stranger than that. It’s so much darker. And so much madder. And so much better.”

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

Unlike the other books on this list, the plot of this book wasn’t my favorite part. The Hobbit is the prequel to The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and it’s about how a hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, is recruited by the wizard Gandalf and thirteen dwarves as a burglar in order to help the dwarves reclaim their homeland from the dragon, Smaug (I’ve blogged about it). Don’t get me wrong, it’s still awesome, if a bit simplistic at times (Tolkien wrote it for his children, so it’s structured like a children’s book even if it’s shelved elsewhere), but I’m just not in to the whole “high fantasy” genre. What I did love about this book was Bilbo. Bilbo is the unlikeliest hero ever; he really doesn’t belong on this adventure. At least, not at first. Over the course of the novel, Bilbo moves from useless scaredy-cat to bonafied burglar, leader, and hero (read: total badass). While a lot of the other characters are being corrupted by greed, power, and/or revenge, Bilbo’s still thinking about his warm little hobbit-hole back home, and he’s definitely over the allure of treasure and war before everyone else. Plus the ending was nothing like I expected, which is fantastic because I hate predictable books (ruins the whole endeavor of reading, dontcha think?). So even though it was a lot like I expected, genre-wise, it was also completely different than anything I’ve ever read. And Bilbo’s awesome. Just sayin’.