Tag Archives: Humour

“Half Brother”:hooking the reluctant reader

Being an ELA (English Language Arts) teacher is fun and exciting because I find myself excited about the literature I can introduce to my students, especially to the reluctant readers.  David Bouchard says that it only takes one book to make someone a reader.  Just that one book that hooks them in and makes them realize what they’ve been missing.  There is joy in reading.  That is why I was happy to read Half Brother by Kenneth Oppel.


Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7942534-half-brother

Talking with the other ELA teacher at my new school, I guess this book went viral last year.  It was so funny, engaging, and heart-warming that kids were waiting to read it, even asking parents to buy it so they could read it sooner.  Half Brother is the story of Ben, a typical teenager whose parents work a lot.  But his life changes forever when his parents move him from Ontario out to Victoria and they bring home his new baby brother: a chimpanzee!

Ben’s father is a scientist and is hoping to teach the chimp, Zan (after Tarzan), how to communicate and develop language skills through American Sign Language.  They teach Zan new words, yet they don’t teach him a lot of nouns or connecting words, mostly just nouns.  So when the experiment isn’t the success Ben’s Dad was hoping for, things get tense.

For Ben, Zan is not a pet or a scientific experiment: Zan is his brother.  The two have a great relationship as the novel progresses.  Ben tickles, hugs, kisses, plays with, and loves Zan.  They become best buds, even to the point of Zan protecting Ben from some bullies.


Source: https://www.pinterest.com/lauramixtacki/monkey-business/

The novel isn’t just about Zan and Ben, it’s about Ben growing up and becoming a teenager.  He has angsty moments where he wants to make his own decisions, yet is held back by his parents’ rules.  He wants to date a girl, but she rejects him and dates someone else.  He learns about the cruelty of animal testing and becoming extremely angry at the work his father does with rats.  It’s like Degrassi episodes, but with a chimp!

I can see the appeal of this book for young teens.  It’s about pushing boundaries, dealing with anger, living with disappointment, creating friendship, and learning how to become your own person.  The funny parts, like Zan stealing the dish soap and spraying everyone and everything, or like Zan loving Jell-O, or like Zan peeing on the father, help bring this novel to life and keeps the reader engaged and curious.

There are a few books that I keep on my shelf because I know that they engage reluctant readers, and Half Brother is now part of that collection!


Source: http://www.webmd.com/parenting/raising-fit-kids/mood/slideshow-decrease-family-stress


“Undermajordomo Minor”: bending the rules

The job of the undermajordomo is to help and assist the majordomo.  Lucy Minor is up to the challenge! From there, I can’t really explain more because you won’t believe me.  This is a book that you need to read yourself (especially if you were a fan of Patrick deWitt’s previous novel The Sisters Brothers).


Source: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/books/what-to-read/undermajordomo-minor-by-patrick-dewitt-review/

What genre is this novel?  What genre is Napoleon Dynamite?  The Princess Bride?  Moonrise Kingdom?  Breaking the genre barrier = suspension of disbelief in a new way.  Yes, deWitt employs humour and fairy-tale/ morality tale-like qualities, yet it doesn’t feel like I’ve read this before.  Just as with Napoleon Dynamite, I’ve seen teen/ high school dramas before, but this one bends the mould.


Source: http://www.usmagazine.com/entertainment/news/napoleon-dynamite-stars-then-and-now-see-10-years-later-20141111

I think the reason I loved the novel and the afore mentioned films is that they take the boundaries/ the lines, and they play within them in sure a new and creative way that I can’t help but fall in love with the genre or type all over again.

This is also true with music.  For example, here are some songs that play just enough to be hard to categorize, yet stay true:

Feist, “The Bad in Each Other“: they syncopation causes you to stop and truly listen, because it’s unexpected.

Metallica, “Nothing Else Matters“: they play with a symphony.  Heavy metal with classical instruments and singing.

Alt J, “Left Hand Free“:  Blues?  Rockabilly?  Pop?

Beirut, “Gibraltar“: A scaled-down acoustic song?  Live performers or machines?

I love bending the rules and working within the parameters to create something creative, which is why I appreciate the genius of others who are capable to creating something so intriguing and captivating.  This is how I felt reading deWitt’s Undermajordomo Minor.  I was constantly surprised at the twist of events and reactions.


Source: http://www.vitamin-ha.com/funny-literature-reading-15-pics/

It’s authors like deWitt who renew my love and joy of reading.  So, thank you Patrick deWitt for your witty books!!


Source: https://vannahscreations.wordpress.com/2014/01/14/fire-giant/


“I don’t necessarily want to make people stomp and clap. I simply want to engage people.” (Patrick deWitt)



Source: http://romanfitnesssystems.com/articles/what-would-roman-do/

“Stone Mattress”: nature

My sister lent me Margaret Atwood’s collection of short stories Stone Mattress: Nine Wicked Tales and I really enjoyed them all!  I have to say that my favourite was the first one and the one with the frozen groom.  It is such a joy and pleasure to pick up an Atwood book.  You know there will be some tough relationship issues, yet there will always be humour.


Source: http://www.amazon.com/Stone-Mattress-Nine-Wicked-Tales/dp/0804173508

I like how Jeet Heer writing for Quill and Quire picks up on the title in his review: it’s about tales, not stories.  Again, Atwood is playing with our assumptions of morality.

One of the things I love most about Margaret Atwood is how humble, open, and honest she is.  She is always aware of society and where we’re heading.  I love that in her interview with Peter Mansbridge she is able to be frank and up-front with her process and her ideas, including her “beam me up, Scotty” moments and the moments when cats help her write.

I also love following Atwood on Twitter and Facebook because she is a voice for social justice and for the environment.  In fact she is so well-known for her work (poetry and novels) with the environment that an artist in Norway, who is creating a Future Library made from specific tress in a forest in Norway, has asked Atwood to write a novel for the project that will be published in 100 years.  What an amazing project!! In her interview with the concept artist Katie Paterson, Atwood is acknowledged as an author who can help us to see who we are right now and what could happen to humanity in the future.  As always, she is capable to thinking about and expressing some hard truths: “Nature doesn’t really care if there are human beings or not.”


Source: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/may/27/margaret-atwood-scribbler-moon-future-library-norway-katie-paterson

So from the mind of a fantasy writer, to the pain of being cheated on, to the frozen groom in the storage unit, I truly enjoyed Atwood’s collection of tales that look at all kinds of problems through all kinds of eyes.  And I wish I was going to be around in 100 years to read her novel buried in the Future Library in Norway.


Source: http://rebloggy.com/post/quotes-oscar-wilde-edgar-allen-poe-kurt-vonnegut-authors-writers-ray-bradbury-ma/22726671680

“Reality simply consists of different points of view.” (Atwood)

“Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” (Genesis 1:28)


Source: http://www.nationalobserver.com/2015/07/31/news/margaretatwood%E2%80%99s-bold-new-take-climate-change


“Keeper’N Me”: always learn

I will admit that it took me a long time to read this book. We are talking multiple renewals from the library. It’s not because the text is complicated. It’s more about the fact that this is a powerful story. I am sure that I was not the intended audience, yet the power of Richard Wagamese’s story hit home nonetheless.

Source: http://penguinrandomhouse.ca/books/184587/keepern-me

For Richard Wagamese, part of this story is autobiographical and I will admit that this fact had me curious. The novel revolves around Garnet Raven. He was part of the 1960’s Scoop, where so many children were taken from their homes and place in foster care. When Garnet’s family finally finds him, he is an adult in jail and makes the journey back to his home reserve after he is released. The exposure to a new way of living and what Wagamese calls the puzzle pieces coming together is powerful. Garnet ends up learning about his ancestors, their culture, and their way of life and he seeks to learn through the teaching and wisdom of Keeper, an elder in his community.

For me, I enjoyed the dreams and the learning that Garnet goes through. As someone who is not First Nations, I found it interesting to read how a man who knows nothing about his history to learn about himself and his culture through experiences and listening to those around him. As someone from the outside looking in, this novel is such a powerful glimpse into what it means to be one of Canada’s first peoples.

The most interesting parts of the novel were the discussions around the bald eagles. Both Keeper and Garnet have visions and dreams and experiences with bald eagles. Just last week, I had the amazing opportunity to see two bald eagles up close while I was on a trip to St. John’s, Newfoundland. If you look closely at the picture below, you can see an eagle in the middle of the frame.


Wagamese’s novel is encouraging because it shows that anyone can learn about their tradition, which is especially encouraging considering the government’s initial plan of destroying all First Nations’ cultures. Yet as long as there are people devoted to learning from the land and of learning from elders, I think that as Wagamese shows in his novel, many of the First Nations’ cultures are sure to endure. Despite the harsh realities of foster homes, homelessness, and prison, Wagamese shows that not everyone is lost. In fact, there are some amazing people around who are willing to share their knowledge. Recently, there has been an initiative to teach young people and children how to speak Blackfoot by using rap. Genius! As someone who is 100% white, it is so encouraging to see that First Nations survived colonization and are hopefully starting to thrive to the point where they can teach Canadians more about how to truly belong to this land.

I have dog-eared so many pages with passages I thought were significant and important and interesting and inspiring. Yet what more can be said? Wagamese uses humour. There are so many ridiculous and truly funny stories (I think I laughed out loud on the plane!). There are so many moments of clarity and beauty. Family and community because essential and inseparable from the individual.

Wagamese is a beautiful story teller. And although I think that this story was not really meant for me, it still spoke to me. It still challenged me. It still made me laugh to the point of tears rolling down my cheeks. That is the sign of a great book.

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/books/booksandauthors/richard-wagamese.html

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance” (Proverbs 1:5).

“That’s what’s important really, Keeper says. Learning how to be what the Creator created you to be. Face your truth” (Richard Wagamese).

Source: http://frabz.com/3xi2

“God Loves Hair”: growing up

Here is another young adult book on my summer reading list. It is actually a collection of short short stories by Vivek Shraya.

Source: http://vivekshraya.com/books/god-loves-hair

In this collection, Vivek Shraya moves from childhood into adolescence and all of the shocking and confusing and inspiring things that come along with becoming an adult. In this case, Vivek explores “sexuality, gender, racial politics, religion, and belonging” (from Vivek Shraya’s website). I cannot relate to wanting to shave my face, but I can certainly relate to wanting to shave my legs. The pain of being bullied in Junior High is very real in Shraya’s stories. I love his description of Junior High: “Junior High has marked the sudden death of sweat pants. They have been replaced by name-brand denim and name calling which will continue every day for the next six years” (55). Almost every one you talk to has similar memories of Junior High. It almost seems like a test: if you can survive Junior High then you can survive anything life throws at you.

Throughout the collection of stories I couldn’t help by think, YES! to some of his descriptions. When his friends tries to get him to dye his hair red, Shraya’s reaction is perfect: “This is my induction, my own episode of My So-Called Life. I am Angela Chase to her [Vicky’s] Rayanne Graff” (71). My favourite TV show!!

I went to England for a summer to stay with my cousins and aunt and uncle. While there, my cousin and I got into a routine: ham sandwiches, The Crystal Maze TV show, and always My So-Called Life. Then an ice cream sandwich. Glory days! What more could a 13-year-old girl and her cousin of the same age want?

Source: http://www.thefrisky.com/photos/8-best-bff-costumes/angela_rayanne_101111_m/

My So-Called Life was an important show, especially if you were tired of Degrassi. My So-Called Life looked at so many issues that face teens and it never trivialized them. I feel like Shraya’s God Loves Hair is the same: it looks at growing up in an honest, humorous, yet respectful way. He writes about depression, suicide, gender identity, puberty, sexuality, faith, and just being human.

This is an important collections of stories for teens to read to know that it is ok to be different and to ask questions. Shaya’s ending is fabulous; after finding a picture of Ardhanaraeeshwara, a half male and half female deity, he writes: “I am not invisible anymore” (pg 110).

Every teenager needs that message: they are not invisible!

“The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17)

“This project [film What I Love About Being Queer] is about celebrating our resilience, that we find ways to love this part of ourselves in spite of—and sometime through—the struggle.” (Vivek Shraya interview)

Source: http://vivekshraya.com/news/2012/06/12/what-do-you-love-about-being-queer-new-tumblr/

“Motorcycles and Sweetgrass”: it’s ok to laugh

As a teenager my biggest fear coming home late at night was making it safely to my front door without encountering a raccoon. In Ontario, there were so many raccoons. Having spend a lot of my childhood in the Prairies, these nocturnal creatures terrified me. Their eyes shone in the night and their human-like hands always made it look like they were up to no good.

Source: http://www.sciencebuzz.org/blog/coming-soon-trashcan-near-you

Luckily my encounters with the racoons were few, but that fear still lingers. So reading Drew Hayden Taylor’s book Motorcycles and Sweetgrass allowed me to laugh at myself and my fears.

Source: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/7337483-motorcycles-sweetgrass

Motorcyles and Sweetgrass tells the story of Nanabush (the Anishnawbe trickster) coming to town (well, the reserve) and causing all kinds of trouble. As John (Nanabush) rides into town on an Indian Chief motorcycle, strange things start happening. My favourite moments were John vs. the racoons. Nanabush and the racoons have a generations-old feud and the antics they pull against each other had me cheering for the racoons. (Mostly because they are assuaged by piles of junk food.)

While reading the book, I often found myself laughing. Fried bologna= Indian Steak. Petroglyphs across the country and the generations are just graffiti by a bored Nanabush. I was endless entertained by a sneak in the humourous world Drew Hayden Taylor creates on a reserve in Ontario.

My absolute favourite part of the book is the dream John has: Nanabush and Jesus having a conversation. Please, allow me to share some the best lines (well, what I think are the best lines!):
Jesus: “You know, I have a cousin named John.”
John/Nanabush: “I read that book about you, your biography . . . Needed an editor. No offence, but it went on forever. And repeated itself. But man, you had a rough life.”
John/Nanabush: “You’ve got a nice smile . . . You should smile more.”

This conversation made me excited to get my hands on Alanis King’s play If Jesus Met Nanabush. Here is the synopsis of the play:
“If Jesus Met Nanabush, When Jesus disappears from the bible as a young man, he emerges here, in Canada during the turbulent 1970s.The first person he meets up with is trickster Nanabush, the great Anishinaabe impersonation of life. Together the two make an odd cosmological couple. Nanabush is earthy, irascible, hard—drinking. Jesus is formal, a little naïve and a whole lot introverted. Yet as they adventure through downtown streets and bars and bus depots, the reader will discover that the two are not all that different after all.”

Source: http://www.fifthhousepublishers.ca/forthcoming-titles

The idea of looking at the connections between religions is very interesting, especially because so my FNMI people in Canada believe in Jesus. On the CBC radio show Revision Quest, they have an entire episode (Jesus vs. Nanabush from 2009) looking at religion in Canada and the mix between FNMI religions and Christianity. Again, humour! They are on the quest for the “Real Red Road.” Behind the humour, we can see a tragic truth and the interview looks at the Government/Church’s history with Canada’s First Nations people.

This last week Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission made it’s report and the numbers are staggering. There are over 90 recommendations for changes in policies and programs. It was an important week in Canada’s history.

Even within Motorcycles and Sweetgrass, Drew Hayden Taylor does not overlook those in Canada who are without a voice. In novel, John/Nanabush stays with a Residential School survivor, a man who can only speak in Iambic Pentameter, even in his own language. Within Sammy’s tragic story of his experiences at a residential school, Drew Hayden Taylor is able to see some humour in this character by having him speak in Iambic Pentameter, and therefore beating the English teachers at their own game.

Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/aboriginal/truth-and-reconciliation-commission-by-the-numbers-1.3096185

The problems within Canada are very real. The truth of what the Government allowed to happen to thousands of children is real. The effects of generations of Nations within Canada without parents is very real. Yet healing is starting.

The way forward? Truth, and also humour. Drew Hayden Taylor’s novel shows that humility and understanding are required to move forward. And also a laugh or two.

It’s my belief that it’s our sense of humour that’s allowed us to survive 500 years of colonization. I like to celebrate the native experience, not lament it. (Interview with Drew Hayden Taylor)

A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (Proverbs 17:22)

Barry Ace, Nanabush Was NowHere, 2005

Barry Ace, Nanabush Was NowHere, 2005

Source: http://www.akimbo.ca/22927

“Something Fierce”: emotional evolution

I’ve had Something Fierce: Memoirs of a Revolutionary Daughter by Carmen Aguirre on my bookshelf for a while. I love Canada Reads on the CBC and I love Shad, so of course I had to buy the book that Shad defended in the 2012 CBC Canada Reads debate. I bought it, then shelved it . . . until now.
Source: http://arts.nationalpost.com/2012/02/09/carmen-aguirres-something-fierce-wins-canada-reads/

I know next to nothing about the politics of South America. I know that the US liked to interfere with coups. I know that there is a lot of corruption. I know that the drug trade is huge. I know that there is a huge gap between the rich and the poor. Next to nothing. Yet my sad knowledge of South America did not stop me from devouring Aguirre’s memoir. Aguirre writes about her experiences of the underground revolutionaries in Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, and Brazil from the time she is a young 12 year-old girl until she is an adult. The politics of these countries and the horrors that revolutionaries experienced are seen from a personal perspective.

At the beginning of the memoir, I couldn’t help but think that Carmen and Mindy, from the TV show The Mindy Project, are very similar. Carmen is a boy-crazy young teenager. In a hilarious description of herself just after moving from Vancouver down to the South and on the Inca Trail, Carmen writes:

There was a full moon lighting our passage, and my knees were wobbly from excitement as we clambered down the steep stone stairs: one of the boys from the Indian family had been peering at me across the fires . . . Halfway down the steps made by his ancestors, I looked back, and sure enough, there he was, standing at the top, hands in his pockets. When his eyes met mine, I smiled and leaned into one of my hips, just as Olivia Newton-John had done after John Travolta collapsed at the sight of her in Grease. But I’d leaned too far, because now I was rolling down the stairs . . . [I] resumed my Sandy stance. I looked for the boy, but he was no longer at the top (pg 25-26).

Throughout her memoirs, Aguirre includes several stories about her teenage awkwardness and her boy-crazy antics. At one point, she becomes known in the neighbourhood for kissing all the boys. So much so that the mothers on her street gather, write a letter to her parents, and deliver the letter about Carmen’s behaviour.

So for those of you who have seen The Mindy Project, you can see the similarities!
Sources: http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/2012/01/carmen-aguirre-on-her-publishing-journey.html and

Yet what I love about Aguirre’s memoir is that as Carmen grows in years and matures, she also grows in her passion for the underground revolutionary movement to bring change to Chile. Aguirre was born in Chile, yet moved with her parents to Vancouver when they were exiled from Chile. Even though she was young, Aguirre developed a strong love for and bond with her home country. In a scene where she describes her Chilean grandparents visiting Vancouver, she writes: “They’d brought Chile with them in their pockets, their suitcases, their eyes and voices. I’d smelled a country on them when we greeted them at the airport, a country that still clung to my own skin and hair. It was something fierce, that country” (pg 63).

Aguirre’s love and passion for Chile is part of who she is as a person. Although she witnesses horrible events in her streets, hears about the torture of revolutionaries, has absentee revolutionary parents, and risks her life as a teenager, her love for Chile and the people of Chile inspires her to act courageously in order to better the lives of the people living in Chile. As a adult, her life is devoted to the underground revolution and to bringing equality and hope to the country she loves.

Her love for Chile comes at a cost. Throughout the memoir she describes her fear as a rat crawling up her spine. She realizes that if she is to continue the freedom-fighting work, she will have to compartmentalize herself: soul, heart, work. The state of living in constant fear and terror of being caught and tortured was too much for those in the underground to shoulder. Aguirre’s experiences with fear and the face of courage she put on in the midst of that fear reminds me of Farley Mowat’s reaction to being in WWII in his novel And No Birds Sang. In his novel, Mowat describes his experiences as a solider in Italy. In a particularly grisly battle scene, Mowat describes his fear as a worm growing in his gut and taking over:

The scouts were brewing tea in a nearby cow byre. They watched me without expression as I briefed George Langstaff and two other men. They knew I had at least glimpsed the valley in daylight and so was the logical one to lead the patrol. What they did not know was that the mere prospect of descending into that ominously shrouded valley was paralyzing me. I was convinced that death or ghastly mutilation awaited me there. The certainty was absolute! The Worm that was growing in my gut had told me so. (pg 220)

Source: http://markwestman.blogspot.ca/2010/09/book-review-and-no-birds-sang.html

Both Aguirre and Mowat are extremely brave. Not only did they experience horrible, unimaginable things, but they also had the courage to relive their experiences as they wrote about them. In her afterword, Aguirre thanks some of the people in her life. The one that stood out to me was this one:
“Thank you to one of the founding members of the resistance, who, on his deathbed, made me promise to tell this story, because it has not been told enough, because it is a story that must not die with the people who lived it” (pg 277).

Carmen Aguirre is an amazing, courageous, humble, devoted, and passionate person. As she closes her memoir she writes, “And my grateful thanks to all those who came before, those who are fighting now and those who will continue to fight for a better future for all. I am awed, inspired and humbled by your dedication to the struggle, whether you are in the Gaza Strip, in India, in Mexico or in Bolivia, continuing to support Evo. I stand in solidarity with you” (pg 277).

From a hormone-charged teenager trying to live a double life to an adult who has the courage to share her story of resistance and terror, Aguirre, as described through her memoir, will stay with me as an example of a woman who worked hard to give a voice to the marginalized.

“I have faith in Chile and its destiny. Other men will overcome this gray and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail. Keep in mind that, sooner rather than later, the great avenues will open again and free men will walk through them to construct a better society. Long live Chile! Long live the people! Long live the workers!” (Salvador Allende, 1973)
God shows no partiality. (Romans 2:11)

Source: http://fabeetle.com/che-guevara-quotes/che-guevara-quotes-2/