Grades 7-12 Riveted By Tales from Storyteller Gail de Vos

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Gail de Vos at Swan Hills School

Following in the tradition of storytelling throughout the ages of humanity, storyteller Gail de Vos captivates her audience with tales that hit home. On October 15, our Junior and Senior High students were fully engaged as she told old and new tales. Perfectly timed with the upcoming Halloween atmosphere, Gail told her version of urban myths like ‘The Exploding Toilet’ and ‘The Vanishing Hitchhiker’.

Gail explained that anyone that has ever made up an excuse, engaged in gossip or told a friend about a book or a movie, is a storyteller. Like the way we improvise, elaborate and spin words to suit our ‘audience’, Gail explained how the most effective stories are those that are modified to meet the present time and place. Gail told a story that she performed  for a Halloween Graveyard event at Fort Edmonton Park. She craftily incorporated surrounding sounds, scents and objects to increase the ‘fear factor’ of the tale. Readers may have heard the story of the sunbather who woke up with a cheek full of hatching spiders, which is a contemporary adaptation of an ancient cautionary story. Gail told about the 60′s version of the story, which was told with effect to girls with elaborate beehive hairdos who might end up having spiders nesting in it  if they didn’t wash their hair more often.

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The Wendigo from Deadliest Fiction.com (click)

Gail also delved into ancient characters who have stood the test of time and how their stories vary by region and culture. There are many stories told about La Llorona (Weeping Woman), who watches over the lake where she drowned her own children and herself, variously drowning children or protecting them from drowning and/or murdering men, who represent the husband who rejected her. The Golem, from Jewish folklore has appeared in 6 major comics in the past 2 years. The Vanishing Hitchhiker is a 400 year-old-story that has taken on many forms including the 1960s hit ‘Tell Laura I Love Her’. Gail set her version on Alberta Highway 2 near Blackfalds. Canada’s Sasquach and the First Nations’ Wendego also fit into that category.

Gail talked about the current fad of ‘Legend Tripping’ – going into haunted houses and other scary situations – as well as the vicarious version, where we watch YouTube videos of other people doing it. ‘Bloody Mary’ (locking oneself in a dark bathroom and performing the ritual expected to call the murderess through the mirror) is a form of this game that is familiar to many of our students. As our students were not able to name a local haunted house, more creative means have likely been found for Legend Tripping possibly involving the forests surrounding our town.

Comics, graphic novels, animated movies and even computer games are all in the realm of Gail’s interest in popular culture.  She explained how ballads are stories told in song and that Disney’s Mulan started out as an ancient ballad. She warned of the danger of progressing from enjoying old and new myths to immersing oneself and losing perspective as in the case of the Slenderman  tragedy earlier this year.

Books

Click for the books on Gail de Vos’ website

Gail de Vos is a professor at the University of Alberta, an award-winning author and a leader in the international storytelling community. She specializes in Urban Legends – those tales we almost believe are news until the truth comes out. She has published several books including the following, which we have in our library and which I’ve linked to their Goodreads entries:

We feel very fortunate to be able to host a literary artist thanks to the Young Alberta Book Society’s Taleblazers festival, which covers expenses. We cover artists’ fees with the income from our annual Scholastic Book Fair.

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SHS Elementary Inspired by Visit from Illustrator Georgia Graham

20141006-DSCF5021Yesterday,  elementary students at Swan Hills School were treated to presentations by Alberta illustrator and author, Georgia Graham. Growing up on an Alberta farm and now living on a tree farm in central Alberta, Georgia has a natural affinity for animals and wildlife which shows in the  beautiful and realistic drawings in Where Wild Horses Run among others. Georgia also excels in a completely different style with the humourous cartoon-style images in books like Here Comes Hortense and The Lime Green Secret.

6164409While fascinating the kids by drawing detailed pictures, she told her stories  and showed slides of her illustrations and the photos she took while researching. She showed pictures of herself as a child and her early drawings, and talked about how she had been fascinated with pastels since her mother gave her a set in Grade 4.

6321955Working through pastel drawings of a circle transformed into an apple, a scene with a road through hilly hay fields (from The Strongest Man This Side of Cremona) , a sled dog (from A Team Like No Other) and several others,  she demonstrated how to create depth and perspective in objects and scenes with shadow and light. She described the process involved in creating a book from concept to publication and how she often uses an inspiring true story to ‘tweak’ into a great fiction book.

GeorgiaGrahamSwanHillsSchool2014Division Two learned the proportions and shading techniques of making a realistic portrait and Division One watched her create the whimsical, cartoon-style protagonist of The Lime Green Secret. After each drawing was complete, she drew the name of a student who would take the drawing home. The kids were amazed and enlightened as she laid transparencies in cyan, magenta, yellow and black over one another to create a final image of one of her illustrations from the very popular Tiger’s New Cowboy Books written by Irene Morck.

3141384Students had been introduced to Georgia Graham’s books in library classes and were eager to meet her. They were not disappointed as she fleshed out their experiences with the books and gave them the motivation to check them out more closely on their own, which will broaden their understanding of Alberta, of nature, of people and of life – those things we all gain from intimacy with books.

6881719With their beautiful, realistic depictions of Alberta’s landscapes, several of Georgia’s books are listed in Learn Alberta’s Social Studies Literature Connections (K-12), and more could be added for students studying Alberta in general, various geographical regions, rural life and individual identity. Based on a true story, The Strongest Man This Side of Cremona tells of the destruction of a farm during a tornado that hit the area in 1965. Sweeping prairie vistas and period-accurate illustrations strengthen the story of how the experience must have felt to one small boy.  Sled dog driving is featured in A Team Like No Other,  a story of love and trust set in the spectacular Rocky Mountains.

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Illustration from ‘Where Wild Horses Run’ by Georgia Graham

Our annual author visits are partially funded by the Young Alberta Book Society, who in turn are sponsored by many groups and agencies. We pay the artist’s fee only with the money we earn through the excellent local patronage of our annual Book Fair.

Next week is the Junior & Senior High’s turn when storyteller and urban myth exploiter Gail de Vos visits on the 15th.

Georgia Graham’s Website
Reviews on Goodreads
Young Alberta Book Society’s Taleblazers

 

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Franklin Expedition Book Display

Book Cover of Buried in Ice: The Mystery of a Lost Arctic Expedition linked to Goodreads listingBuried in Ice has often caught student’s attention with its graphic pictures of the “perfectly preserved” body of John Torrington discovered in 1984, 140 years after his death in the frozen north. The recent discovery of one of the ships from the Franklin Expedition inspired me to create a book display with our related books and some borrowed through our regional library. A former student, now a father himself, generously delivered a close replica for the display. A QR code in the poster leads students to find out more about the find and research going on around it.

Swan Hills School Franklin Expedition Book Display

Swan Hills School Franklin Expedition Book Display

Franklin Expedition images labeled for reuse

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Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, Education, Library Management, Reading

Text Polling on Reading Habits With Grades 7-9

The kids were surprised that I asked them to bring their mobile devices to library classes and they surprised me too!

Hands holding phone texting

By Jhaymesisviphotography on Flickr

Mostly I was surprised that only about half of them had devices with them and a few of them were not text-capable. So the sample in my poll was quite small, although I did get some more answers by a raise of hands.

Not Enough Reading For Fun

I used PollEverywhere (a free and friendly site) and embedded the questions in a Power Point. I found that only about half of the students often read for enjoyment, and some did rarely or not at all, which was a little disappointing. Although I know that reading for fun is not part of some kids’ lives, I guess I had always hoped that most of those who were not checking out materials from the library were finding their reading materials elsewhere.

I also discovered that print magazines are still more popular than those online, however there is a possibility that some students weren’t identifying some of their online reading as ‘magazines’ and I will have to show and discuss more of this medium in the future.

Asleep with book in hand

By Quinn Dombrowski
on Flickr

Most of the readers did most of their pleasure reading in bed, which didn’t surprise me and is why I encourage parents to set bedtime at least a half-hour earlier than they expect their children to be asleep, and allow reading-only during that time. Most readers like series and most still buy from bookstores in spite of the fact that there is not one within 200 km. of our town. A few buy online or get from the public or school library and (another surprise) none swap with friends or buy used books.

Books/Movies Divide

When I asked the question: “More than anything else, I want stories (movies & books) to be: exciting, funny, realistic, romantic or supernatural”, there were choices across the spectrum. But curiously, most chose “funny”. However, when I asked them to name some funny books they liked they had no suggestions! It turned out that most thought only of movies when they answered the question. I do wonder then whether I need to purchase and promote humourous teen fiction. I also need to either rephrase the questions or ask it about books and movies separately.

Teenager reading by window

By Demi-Brooke
on Flickr

So, although the sample was too small to be really instructive, I did learn a few things. There are still students who are not reading for pleasure at all and some rarely. Since research is showing that reading for pleasure is one of the most important factors influencing life skills and academic success (one source), even one in that category is too many. I need to identify and target those kids. These non-readers tend to put up a brick wall when approached directly with book suggestions so I need to find out why they’re non-readers and then find some kind of back-door to sneakily get them to open a book that will grab their attention. Are they ‘reluctant readers’ or just too busy with other things?

What to Do?

I touched on teens and home reading in my September newsletter but maybe there’s more I can do. Junior High library classes have always been their book exchange and silent reading time. With their teachers’ approval, this year I will be showing online resources, book trailers and discussing books more as a group for part of their class. I’m also printing QR codes to attach to books so students can access trailers, reviews and series lists on their mobile devices.

By  Jayel Aheram on Flickr

By Jayel Aheram
on Flickr

Here is some of the reading I’m doing to strategize my approach to those kids who haven’t discovered or have forgotten the joy of reading for pleasure. If you know of any great tips or sites to share, please do in the comments.

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Easy Street Gets a Makeover

Well, not a total makeover, but a pretty big one. When I first renovated the library, I kept the platform that the circulation desk had been on, thinking it would make a great little ‘room’ for elementary library classes.

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Easy Street 2012

Easy Street 2012

(More pics here and here.)

I loved it and for the most part, the kids loved it but after 2 years, I finally decided it had to go. A class of 27 Grade 2 students decided it for me. They were just too crowded. So after compromising with the maintenance department, my husband, my sons and I ripped the platform out and maintenance got the carpet relaid and fixed up the bottom of the walls. I purchased 3 book carts on casters with the profit from my book fair and this is what I have now.

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Easy Street 2014 (From Behind the wiring pole on the circulation desk)

Now there is much more space for the kids and a much more flexible space. I can roll the carts out for classes and can even roll up the alphabet carpet and place chairs for a sizable gathering. I loved the platform but I’m liking this even better.

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Jillian Jiggs says Hurrah! There’s room to dance.

Three more sleeps till the kids come back and still a list of things to do including getting textbooks ready to go and barcoding 75 new Chrome books.

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Yellow Everyone!

Today is our first official day back for staff meetings and professional development before the students return on September 2nd. I’ve been in for a few hours here and there to get some decorating done since it’s always hard once the teacher’s dig in and the kids have occasionally come back to a very dull library.

I’m not a huge fan of books behind glass but until I get some classroom projects to display, something had to go into the entry-way display cases.

Yellow Everybody!

Yellow Everybody!

Orange You Glad to Be Back?

Orange You Glad to Be Back?

Yes that’s me dressed oh-so-professionally in my orange hoody. You can also see the bulletin board behind me covered in black paper with a bookish border. I was quite proud of myself to have the foresight to snap these shots before I cluttered up the bulletin board. I didn’t predict the reflection I did get.

Here’s the bulletin board finished.

Grow With Great Books

Grow With Great Books

I kept it quite simple to showcase these great posters that I believe I got from Carr McLean.

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Raise a Reader Infogram

Cindy Kilpatrick:

I’m collecting ideas for the September newsletter to parents and I love the way Nancy has promoted reading aloud to children in this great infographic.

Originally posted on Nancy Ann's Blog:

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