The Merchants of Cool

I personally found The Merchants of Cool funny because I was part of the tail end of the generation the documentary focused on. While I don’t remember any of the specific advertisements mentioned, I do remember being sucked into following a lot of the fads and trends. As a teen or “tween” as we were dubbed, I remember being extremely aware of what was being marketed to me and other people in my generation – primarily because I remember people pointing out the fact that they had never seen so much advertising being geared towards the younger generations – but I definitely fell for the ads (N*SYNC trading cards anyone?). Because I grew up being aware of all of the different types of marketing techniques were geared towards teens, I was expecting to be left with a so-what kind of feeling after watching the documentary. Instead I was left pretty angry.

As casual observers of advertising, I don’t think anyone really has an idea of how much effort and thought goes into creating an advertisement for any demographic, let alone teens. I was pretty shocked to learn that there are so few big companies controlling the majority of the media we consume. Having record companies, television networks, and any other number of media related companies under a larger umbrella, really represents how incestuous the entire industry is, and how controlled and planned media is. There’s almost no way to ignore a band for instance when their music simultaneously shows up on a radio stations, as a background soundtrack on a television show, on merchandise sold everywhere and on talk shows.

I think the most interesting point that was made in the documentary was the commentary about the cyclical effect of marketing – how something is found, defined as cool, and then exploited until it is no longer cool. How this cyclical effect impacts media consumers I found to be really disturbing. It’s not a new idea that people observe behaviors, or see a fashion trend on others for instance, and then repeat them – that’s pretty much the purpose of marketing. But, the portrayal of the young girl who was attempting to be discovered as a model really disturbed me. I had a really hard time watching the end of the documentary where she was shown at a party, dancing very maturely, drawing in attention and then making herself into more of a spectacle when she realized she was being filmed. The documentary’s commentary questioned whether she was just a product of the marketing wheel that pushes out representations of what is cool, to be repeated by the public, or whether she would have acted and behaved that way, without having consumed a similar image in the media. While its irrational for me to hope that media will become smarter about the kind of images and behavior they put out as cool, I can’t give up hope that something does change, because I think how that young girl was portrayed, and what actions and behaviors she viewed as cool, have only gotten worse since the documentary was made.


The Fault in Our Stars

The Fault in Our Stars
John Green
Grand Haven, Michigan: Brilliance Audio, 2011.
Read by Kate Rudd

I listened to The Fault in Our Stars as an audiobook. This was the first time I had actually listened to an audiobook, and I was expecting to get very frustrated with the format because I love sitting and physically holding a book in my hand. But, very quickly I became invested in Hazel Grace’s character, not just because of how beautifully she was written, but also because of how her character was read.

As a reader you almost don’t want to be able to relate to Hazel. We don’t really want to be able to learn what it feels like, and how hard it is to know that we have terminal cancer. It seems almost disrespectful to people who have had to face cancer, to feel as though we understand and relate to what they are going through. But Green’s novel is so beautifully crafted, that you can’t help but feel like you know Hazel and that you understand exactly what she is going through. Hazel has to deal not only with being sick, but also with rectifying her previously delayed teenage experience, while finding out what it means to stick up for what you want. The idea of what teenagers can handle and what kinds of experiences are appropriate for them is really called into question when a teenager will probably never be of legal drinking age, and will never reach an age where it is deemed acceptable to pronounce you are in love, and not have your love minimized to just being a schoolgirl crush.

Hazel asks questions, and thinks things that are not easy thoughts for the reader to consider. She worries about what is going to happen to her parents after she has died, if they’ll get a divorce because statistics show most parents who lose a child will. She worries because she once overheard her mom crying that once Hazel was gone she will no longer be a mom, and because her dad can’t stop crying anytime her health is brought up. The Fault in Our Stars portrays characters asking hard questions, dealing with hard situations, and having thoughts that reflect the illogical and irrational fears, worries and thoughts we all have when we are at our lowest point.

Hazel’s story is not easy to get through, it is heartbreaking, it is sad, but it is also a celebration of life and the people who make your life worth living. Hazel has the opportunity to learn how deeply someone else can love you, and how deeply you can love someone. In Gus, Hazel finds someone to hold onto, in a time when the easiest thing to do is let go. The Fault in Our Stars is the most realistic representation of extreme hardship in the face of disease that I have ever encountered. Green has created a novel that finds beauty in one of the most difficult and painful life experiences.

Censoring Materials

WeetziebatWeetzie Bat
Francesca Lia Block
New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1989.

My reading response this week is going to take on a bit of a different tone than my typical book review. Censorship, why people censor and how people go about censoring are topics that I am extremely interested in, and that I have spent a great amount of time researching. I believe, and I’m sure my feelings on censorship aren’t drastically different from anyone else’s in the class, that censorship of any materials (with the exception of illegal materials) is wrong. That being said, a more appropriate type of audiences can exist for a material, but the decision of whether or not an individual is part of that audience should be left up to them. One experience with censorship that I have had, where I was the one inadvertently censoring, happened when I worked at Chapters. A middle-aged man asked me if we had a copy of Mein Kampf. I was so ignorant to the title that I had to have him spell it out for me in order to search the inventory system. Only after he explained what the book was about did I clue in, and told him Chapters’ selling edict about not carrying any materials on child pornography, assembling/producing weaponry, or materials that could be viewed as sympathizing with Nazism. My manager told me that the third edict was because the family of CEO Heather Reisman was significantly affected during WW2. I never really questioned the appropriateness of these edicts, or how they were inflicting censorship. The man’s response when I conveyed this information has stuck with me ever since, he said (I’m paraphrasing), that if we can’t learn from the mistakes of others, and if we are prevented others from even learning about those mistakes, how can we as a society ever hope to be better than we were. This interaction made me rethink my stance on censorship in any form, and how reading about something you don’t understand can help you learn more about yourself, your values and the world you live in.


Walter Dean Meyers
New York: HarperCollins, 1999.

Weetzie Bat and Monster are interesting titles because they have very distinct character voices that do not necessarily represent a worldview or life experience typically represented in fiction. Not reflecting a typical worldview or life experiences, in being different, can create controversy, or give people reason’s why the books should be censored. In Weetzie Bat there are mentions of drug and alcohol abuse, overdose, failed marriage, adultery, death, same-sex relationships, and one-night-stands, coupled with the fact that Weetzie has very mature desires like having a baby, while her age and her maturity level is fairly left fairly ambiguous. In Monster, whether or not Steve is actually innocent, is left fairly ambiguous. The reader never learns if they are rooting for someone that played a part in a murder, or not. There are also strong discussions of gangs, violence and life in jail. While the events, situation, and narrative voices do not necessarily reflect typical worldview or life experience, that is not a reason for either of the books to be censored, or banned. There will be readers that directly relate to the events in Monster or the quirkiness in Weetzie Bat. Or, there may be a reader who reads Monster and makes a change in how they live their life. Neither book should be censored or banned from a library.

In the library we need to recognize what it is about these books that readers could find appealing, and what characteristics a reader won’t find appealing, the same way we would for any other title. Like the customer at Chapters taught me, being exposed to materials that reflect situations or a worldview that the reader does not personally relate to or understand will only help them become more knowledgeable, learning from other peoples mistakes, the way other people live, and the types of motivations and decisions that people who are not like them make.

Exposing ourselves to materials that others may take offence to, whether or not we like the materials, or personally agree with what the materials say, can only help us be better rounded readers and more educated Librarians. Exposure to different materials will help solidify our stance on intellectual freedom, and the right for the individual to decide what materials are right for them.

Doing It

Doing It
Melvin Burgess
New York: Henry Holt, 2006.
326 pages

Welcome to the teenage boy’s mind. Three friends, Dino, Jonathan and Ben, their relationships with each other, girls, and their conceptions about sex are the centerpiece for Melvin Burgess’ novel Doing It. Dino is the ‘playboy’. The most popular, good-looking boy at school, and he knows it. The only girl he sees as being good enough for him is Jackie, the most popular and pretty girl at school, but she wont sleep with him, even though he tries very hard to convince her she should. Jonathan begins a ‘friends-with-benefits’ type relationship with Deborah, a girl that he’s not comfortable starting a real relationship with because he thinks people will make fun of him, considering Deborah is on the chubby side. Ben to the outside world seems to be the one the least interested in a relationship or sex, but his friends don’t know that he has been in an relationship with their teacher, ‘Miss’ for an extended period of time.

The boy’s stories can be funny, sad, endearing, and annoying. Readers will feel like they have known a Dino, Jonathan, and a Ben. Whether having known these characters is a good thing or a bad thing is up to them. The boys opinions, thoughts and experiences, and infrequently added narration by the girls, can shed some light on questions that readers have, or illustrate experiences that readers can relate too. At times the situations that the teens find themselves in may not reflect a typical teenage experience, but these parts of the story add a certain amount of entertainment value to the story. The sexual content is not extremely explicit, though it could be too much for some readers depending on their maturity level. Even though the content is not explicit there are definite descriptions and allusion to many types of situations. Readers of this title should be mature enough to handle frank discussions of sex, sexual abuse, drug abuse, excessive drinking, extramarital affairs, and suicide.

The near complete lack of adults in the novel emphasizes that this story is for teenagers about teenagers. Information about sex, or knowledge of drugs and alcohol are at times off base, teenage immaturity is very evident, and they make mistakes. But because the teens are not perfect, and they are not all knowing, the story becomes much more real and relatable for teen readers.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

smile Smile
Raina Telgemeier
New York: Graphix, 2010.
213 pages, chiefly col. ill.

Meet Raina a gawky, uncomfortable girl in grade-six, facing more than just typical puberty discomforts. While running home after Girl Guides, Raina trips, knocking out her front teeth, and simultaneously knocking down her self-confidence a few pegs. Correcting her smile takes years, numerous painful surgeries and a whole lot of comfort gained from watching The Little Mermaid and playing Nintendo.

The comic is charming and adorable. Raina’s discomfort with her appearance – while more extreme than most other ‘brace-faces’, or new glasses wearers – is very relatable. From changing schools, to having friends maturing more quickly than she is, to realizing maybe those people are not her friends, and finding her own niche, Raina’s experience reflects in some way the past experiences of most adults and the current experiences of pre-teens and teens.

For readers today, some of the references won’t be recognizable or appreciated in the way that they will be for those who were teens in the 90s and 00s. While most grade sixes are probably be familiar with The Little Mermaid, other references like old school Nintendo games, hair scrunchies, The Baby-Sitter Club books, Y.M. magazine, and New Kids on the Block, may not be as familiar. In not picking up or understanding these references, younger readers will not lose out on the relatability of the storyline, but it is an added benefit for older readers.

The illustrations are bright and clear. Every frame directly relates to the narrative, adding small details and visualizations that enhance Raina’s experiences, especially because the reader has the chance to really see just how horrible her teeth situation becomes. Raina Telgemeier’s retelling of her extreme dental situation, and less extreme experiences through middle school are very clearly portrayed, and made very relatable to the reader in this medium.

Literacies Across Media

Chapter 6: Salience and Fluency
Margaret Mackey

I wasn’t necessarily surprised by Margaret Mackey’s findings in Chapter 6: Salience and Fluency of her text Literacies Across Media. I think the fact that the children being studied were able to distinguish their interest and the potential direction of the story just by reading, watching or playing through introductions was great – but I feel like media is set up for media consumers to be able to do that. Very infrequently will the tone of any material change so quickly that a movie you initially interpret to be a romantic comedy will turn out to be a horror movie. We are trained as media consumers to pick up on things like character introductions, and retain that information because it will most likely be significant at some point, and the more practise we have the easier it is. One example from of this from the chapter, is the introduction of a clown during the first few minutes of the movie Air Bud. The children were easily able to discern that at some point the clown would become significant to the storyline. The fact that the children studied were able to pick up on these literature and thematic cues, demonstrates how these kinds of tropes become second nature to us as media consumers.

I would be interested to know how many of the children whose responses being studied were previously familiar with the materials that they were shown. Mackey does acknowledge that she would attempt to find out the first impression on a material and if the participant would pick up the material again, but how trustworthy are recollections of past impressions? I can think of numerous books that I have read where the introduction was not captivating, but after I had forced myself to read through the end, I ended up liking the material. After the first 50 pages of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo for instance, I was ready to put the book down. But I was urged to keep reading by others who had read the books, and I was told that after page 200 the story becomes much more interesting – which was true. My impression of the introduction ultimately became secondary to my feeling of the material as a whole. As I am presumably a more seasoned reader than the children being interviewed, and my ability to separate my feelings about a materials introduction becomes skewed by my feelings of the material overall, then I do not believe children would be anymore successful in separating the two.

The chapter reinforced for me that everyone has their own preferences and reasons for their preferences that don’t necessarily change no matter what kind of media you are consuming.

Orca Soundings

Lockdown Lockdown
Diane Tullson
Victoria, B.C.: Orca Book Publishers, 2008.
103 pages

The Orca Soundings titles are great novels for reluctant readers, or readers who maturity level is higher than their reading ability. In Lockdown by Diane Tullson, Adam a Grade 10 student is stuck in the middle of school shooting, only to find out the shooter is a friend of his.

The story itself while dealing with a difficult topic is very simplistic. The entire narrative occurs in a non-descript high school, over the span of a single day. Adam’s first person narrative is very clear and straightforward. Only a few secondary characters are introduced and their roles are very distinctive so that they do not get confused easily. During conversations or descriptions, the person or object being spoken about is consistently reinforced so that the reader does not become confused about the subject.

Even though the title deals with a fairly difficult and violent topic, there is very little description of violence. Similarly, the psychological aspect of what lead the shooter to the kind of violent act he committed, is in no way discussed. All of the actions are described in a one forward motion, with only a little bit of allusion or discussion of previous events.

Keeping the storyline fairly simplistic is beneficial for struggling readers. But, once a reader is past the stage of needing simplistic storylines, characters and settings, these books may be found as somewhat frustrating in the way that everything is spelt out with very little need for interpretation.

The Monkeyface Chronicles

The monkeyface chronicles

The Monkeyface Chronicles  Richard Scarsbrook
Saskatchewan: Thistledown Press, 2010.
304 pages

Welcome to Fairville Public School where all Phillip Skyler knows is bullying and injustice. From start to finish Phillip’s character is so clearly and carefully portrayed that the reader instantly feels a strong kinship and bond that makes you want to help him fight off his bullies, namely the Principals twin sons Graham and Grant Brush, send his family to therapy, tell his twin brother to smarten up, and generally protect Phillip from his life.

Phillip, a grade 8 with “Van der Woode Syndrome” is not so cleverly called “Monkeyface” because of the physical manifestations of his syndrome. But Phillip is anything but the unintelligent, anti-social, lesser twin to his brother Michael that others perceive him to be. He is smart, witty and self-deprecating, with an extremely high level of personal strength, given the torment he continually has to face.

Set in small town Ontario, Richard Scarsbrook crafted a complex and disturbingly realistic view of what it’s like to be different in a community where different is a bad thing. From an extremist church, to a single-minded vice-Principal hockey coach, blind to bullying Principal and materialistic ‘Little Color Girls’, with just as materialistic parents, Phillip just can never seem to catch a break. His struggles at school, with friends and with his family represent the ups and downs of real life, even if Phillips situation is more extreme than the average teenager.

Nothing is ever perfect, wrong-doers do not necessarily receive fair punishment, working hard does not necessarily yield the results you want and people may not change and they may never treat you well, because life is not fair or just. Phillip and his family have to learn these lessons the hard way and he has to work extraordinarily hard to even attempt to find his own place in the world.

Throughout the novel the reader gets to see Phillip at many different stages including a thirteen-year-old, from eighteen to early twenties, and as an undefined aged adult. We see him rise above bullying, make great friends, figure out where he fits within his town and his family and we see him experience huge struggle and accomplishment. No matter what Phillip is experiencing, he is a deeply compelling and interesting character, whose voice is almost addictive, in that once you enter Phillips world and you begin to hear his story, you never want the novel to end. An extraordinarily compelling and interesting read.


For general strategies and information about Booktalking the chapter from Connecting Young Adults and Libraries was a great resource. It was really interesting to learn some of the reasons and strategies behind Booktalking, especially for teens as an outreach opportunity in schools.

I will definitely be utilizing the information in the How Do You Write a Booktalk section, especially the notes from the What Goes in the Middle of a Booktalk section for help creating and writing the booktalk.

I was discouraged about how much of the information was for live booktalks, versus something prerecorded like our booktalk will be. Utilizing techniques like audience participation, or making changes to the presentation of the booktalk based on the live audience reactions, is not really going to be possible given the fact that we are prerecording. Almost all of the What Are the Elements of Booktalking Success points cannot really be applied to our booktalk because of the prerecorded element.

The one good thing about prerecording, is that some of the suggestions about ‘hooks’ during a booktalk will be easier to pull off, like sound effects and props, because we will have the opportunity to edit. We will also have a chance to watch our own work, and potentially screen the booktalk for friends and family to get secondary opinions about what worked and what didn’t, before actually screening the booktalk in class. Prescreening could be a lot like performing the booktalk for other library employees, or at multiple booktalk events, giving us the opportunity to find out what works, and what didn’t, while we still have an opportunity to edit accoardingly.

Many points from the chapter will be great for starting to work on the booktalk, and for the production of the booktalk. The one general suggestion from the chapter that I feel my booktalk will benefit from is to always prepare more than you actually need. In our circumstance preparing more and creating a longer booktalk will give us the opportunity to edit our videos once we visually see what is working and what is not working.

I did a little bit of searching for recorded booktalks and I thought the kid in this video did a really great job of grabbing your attention right off the bat – plus he’s booktalking The Absolute True Diary of a Part-time Indian by Sherman Alexie which we will be reading later on this term.

Check out his video.