Tag Archives: High school

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

SwanHillsSchool_Gail_de_Vos (1 of 1)

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.


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.


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.


Filed under Education, Library Programs

Make Your Soul Grow

Kurt Vonnegut

The following letter is Kurt Vonnegut’s response to requests from high school students in 2006 for a school visit.

Click on either image to read the transcript of the letter and about the students’ letters at Letters of Note.

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Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators, Wisdom

Account of Plane Crash Has Much to Teach

I don’t often write reviews, especially of adult literature and even less often do I share them on this blog. However, as local history and an examination of the some of the cultural and political transitions our province has faced over the last century, I recommend the following book for high school.

Click for Summary

Into the Abyss: How a Deadly Plane Crash Changed the Lives of a Pilot, a Politician, a Criminal and a Cop by Carol Shaben

There are a few reasons why I would be predisposed to appreciate this book. First, it happened in my neck of the woods just a month before I moved here. Secondly, at the end of his career as a military transport pilot, my father flew Hercules aircraft for 435 Squadron, one of the aircraft and the squadron that was deployed in the search and rescue effort. And then, after his retirement from the military, my dad worked for the Ministry of Transport as an inspector (a job he didn’t like very much except that it allowed him to continue to fly). He was still with MOT when this plane went down. (I’m eagerly awaiting a conversation with him.)

When I picked up the book, which I did for just those reasons listed above, I expected a dry, factual report on the crash, the events leading up to it and the follow-up. I was pleasantly surprised to discover a page-turner. Shaben crafts the book beautifully, with good pacing and well-drawn characters.

She does not, however succumb to sensationalism or judgement. She presents a balanced, objective account of the facts despite the emotional weight of her father being one of the survivors. It is a testament to her depiction of her father as an honest, humble and compassionate man that he clearly raised a daughter who could be unbiased and forgiving in the face of an accident that could have killed him.

Instead, it is clear that the blame lies across a broad spectrum: from the historical culture of the northern frontier to the regulated but competitive commercialism of our modern society. Shaben portrays each individual involved as a truly human, thus complex mixture of qualities struggling with his or her own journey in life.

Although well crafted, this is not a novel. There is no pat denouement. Don’t read this for a thrill – danger and survival is not always exciting – or for the satisfaction of watching the wrongdoer get his just deserts.

There are no villains and the hero is, after all, only human.

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Filed under Books, Authors & Illustrators

Friday Funny: Exam Time

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Filed under Education, Humour

Will the book you read yesterday be available tomorrow?

Browsing last night I came across a wonderfully positive article, Platt Middle School’s library using Nooks to get kids reading.

“I’m reading a lot,” he said. “It’s a lot easier than lugging a big book around and you never lose your page. I like how it’s new, but it still looks like a book page. It’s really cool.”

The Nook has a text-to-speech feature that I really wanted for struggling readers and the Kobo does not, but the Nook is not available in Canada. Nevertheless after reading the article, I though, That’s It,! I’m going to bite the bullet, get some gift certificates, start buying popular books for my Kobo, and then get in line for some funding for some more of these little gems. It’s time.

There was one sentence that made me squirm a little. Platt has 50 eReaders and has uploaded 28 different books on each one. “Just” two Nooks have been broken so far. That’s 56 books! Even if they only averaged $5.00 per book, that’s $280 plus the cost of the reader! Yikes! That’s a little scary. I don’t think I could in good conscience charge a student five to six hundred dollars for breaking a ‘book’.

So, I’m back to caution again, when I come across eBooks on Fire by Charles Hamaker.

Ubiquitous web and print ads tell individuals and libraries to “buy” ebooks. But long-term preservation and retention rights to stable content are not the norm, because many resellers and vendors don’t possess those rights from the publisher or author. Instead of true ownership, most ebook “purchases” are more like leases, and leases with few residual rights at that. The only way to assure continuing access and storage for an ebook is a permanent download to a device with rights not governed by strict DRM (Digital Rights Management) systems. With content delivered from a hosted service on the web (aka the cloud), the “purchaser” has no control over the content. Even Google Books bears the disclaimer:

‘[I]f Google or the applicable copyright holder loses the rights to provide you any Digital Content, Google will cease serving such Digital Content to you and you may lose the ability to use such Digital Content.’

The extensive article lays out several issues with eBooks including the publisher’s right to modify the contents.

The ability to modify the published text without notification, tracking, versioning, archiving, or any other means that might provide the original text for readers is destructive to the tradition of the history of the printed word and the tradition of Western scholarship.

Hamaker makes a point of one of the major issues for libraries: the license under which eBooks are purchased. He uses as an example from Simon and Schuster.

S&S (Simon and Schuster) grants you a limited, personal, non-exclusive, revocable, non-assignable, and non-transferable license to view, use, and/or play a single copy of the Materials and download one copy of the Materials on any single computer for your personal, non-commercial, home use only,

Libraries would be expected to purchase institutional rights.

Hamaker discusses issues of confidentiality,   archiving, borrowing and lending rights (which has implications in the economic divide) and and points out how libraries must be aware of the difference between buying a digital material and printed books, which can be in the collection as long as it they are required.

Who owns the book? Ebooks are a challenging area for libraries. Licensing is a critical issue because ebooks are being marketed as if they were analogous to print purchases. They most definitely are not. They can be available one day and gone the next.

This article is a must read for all libraries considering the eBook issue and further supports my feeling the decisions must be made and policies put in place at the school district level before our libraries can safely venture into the eBook market.

Note: I’ve added a category for eReaders in the School Library for those who want to see all posts relating to this vexing issue.

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Filed under eReaders in the School Library, Rethinking My Library

Junior and Senior High Advisors and Reading Mentors

I have recruited Junior and Senior High students as Library Advisors and Reading Mentors. We had our first meeting this past week at lunch time. They brought their lunches and I brought desserts. (Man, can they eat a lot of desserts!)

Library Advisors are focusing on getting more popular junior and senior high materials in the library. They will be helping with ideas for integrating technology especially iPads and eBook Readers. On their own initiative, two of the high school students have specifically set a goal of getting more high school students using the library and have already done a quick survey to determine what materials, programs and services will appeal to them.

Reading Mentors have each given me a period where, on approval from their teachers, they will be available ‘for rent’ (as one student phrased it) to elementary classrooms for one-on-one, small group and whole class reading and reading promotion. They are eager to spread the love of reading and to try to use their built-in idol-status as older students to communicate the importance of reading in their lives.


Filed under Library Programs, Rethinking My Library