Sunday, April 10, 2011

Review: The Looking Glass Wars by Frank Beddor

Originally published in 2006, The Looking Glass Wars details what really happened in Wonderland, purporting that Lewis Carroll's version of events was as false as Carroll's name. (His real name was Charles Dodgson.)

The book opens on the seventh birthday of Alyss Heart, daughter of the queen and king of Wonderland. After the murder of her parents, by her aunt Redd, Alyss escapes to Earth but is separated from the royal bodyguard, Hatter Madigan. Alyss is eventually adopted by the Liddell family and grows to adulthood, eventually becoming convinced that her life in Wonderland was all a dream, causing her to lose the power of her own imagination. Madigan spends thirteen years scouring the world for Alyss, and it is only when he comes across a copy of Alice in Wonderland on a bookshelf that he is able to track her down in order to return her to Wonderland so she can reclaim the throne.

Blending historical fact with literary homage, Beddor creates a fast-paced story in a world where imagination is everything, and the ability to believe can make the difference quite literally between life or death.

The Looking Glass Wars is the first book in a trilogy of the same name. However, what makes this particular world and story unique is that Beddor has expanded both the world and the story into a variety of realms. There is a Hatter M graphic novel series that details Hatter Madigan's adventures in our world while he searches for Alyss, and the website features games related to the books, art, and more, including a cd of music inspired by the books and a link to the Facebook page which features an exclusive web comic. Through these varied media, Beddor has taken storytelling to a new and interesting level.

From Dial Books (a division of Penguin Books) and available from your local, independent bookseller. (Shop local and shop makes a difference!)

Friday, April 1, 2011

Mind Mapping Mark Twain

I recently had my first experience with Mind Mapping in my classroom; my son mentioned that he was doing it in his IB English class, so after looking into it, I decided to give it a try to see how my students did with it and whether or not they found it useful.

As a whole, the students and I were both pleased with the results. Various sources indicated that mind mapping is extremely effective with visual/spatial learners, a learning style that many of my students have as a strength, which is one of the reasons I opted to try it out in my classroom. After explaining the process to them and modeling my own, I turned them loose to try it out. As the lesson proceeded, I found myself re-creating my mind map since the one I had created as my exemplar was done with Free Mind.

Some thoughts on the tech version of mind mapping: as mentioned, my first example was created using the Free Mind software program, which I found semi-intuitive, yet rather limiting in many ways; I also tried using the Mind 42 website, but again, found it to be too limiting. There were a few links I wanted to make between "pods" on my map, but neither Free Mind nor Mind 42 would allow me to do so. I did like having the option of pasting in actual pictures and links, but since I had planned on having my students create their mind maps using markers/colored pencils and paper (the "bells and whistles" of the software programs would have proven too distracting for them first time out), the shortcomings of the tech version became readily apparent.

I'm also glad I opted out of the tech version simply because it did prove to be fairly distracting trying to figure out how it worked and what it all did while trying to finish my project. I knew if it was that bad for me, it'd be a lot tougher for my students to stay focused on the task at hand, so the high tech version was abandoned before the lesson was implemented.

Step two of the process involved turning the mind map into a more traditional, linear "outline" of sorts simply because it helped my brain move from a more amorphous thinking environment to one that I could recognize as being able to fit into a more recognizable, linearly formatted way of thought that would find itself transferred into an essay.

After that it was easy to move the students into the rough drafts of their essays. Based on the feedback I received from the students, this strategy was a huge success for them. I'm glad I implemented it, and I know I'll be using it again.