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“The Nature of Diaspora”

by Holly Johnson

holocaust-victims-182744_640The month of May in many locations heralds the return of spring and the renewed energy of insects, birds, and animals. They forage throughout their landscapes, spreading and scattering seeds, nuts, and pollen as they travel. With their movement, they create a natural diaspora that spreads life to new locations that may be appreciated or rejected, depending on how that new life is perceived by the environment in which it starts to grow. Similar to this natural diaspora and subsequent outcomes in the new environment, human diaspora also interjects lives and situations that are either appreciated or resented within the new environment with treatment similar in replication to that which is found in the natural world. Yet, all too often, human diaspora is not “natural” but rather forced as part of horrific circumstances generated by other human beings who do not recognize the humanity of those they have displaced, mistreated, or killed. Continue reading

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MashUps: Beauty in Genre Blending

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati

I recently read that “the mashup is the New Black” (Corbett, 2012). Nice way of explaining the beauty of combining genres to create new and exciting stories that allow young people (and the rest of us) to engage in fantasy and atmospheric realism, to follow vampires through high school, and to revisit the classics with a zombie twist. Steampunk, paranormal romances, the genetic thriller, and the historical supernatural are new ways of seeing the world, transacting with literature, and engaging ourselves in a good read. Continue reading

Adolescents, Adolescent Novels, and Authors Writing the Edges

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

“If you are not living on the edge,
you are taking up too much room.”

–Jayne Howard

As I explained at the beginning of the month, I wanted to explore and share my thoughts about a number of books that 1) have characters on the edge of something 2) have their readers on the edge of something, or 3) have brought to the fore topics that reside on the edge of something.  The books I shared are excellent pieces of work that have the potential to shift the discourse with adolescents, but this may only be done if we recognize that—in reality—most of us are on the edge of something, and if we aren’t, well, maybe we should be. Actually, that’s probably the best thing about working and reading with adolescents.  They are venturing out and testing the edges and we can be there with them! But we often need some tools to facilitate young adults’ learning, and the books I have highlighted can be a great start. But if there is hesitation about some of the books I have already mentioned in the last three weeks, perhaps we start with the books that show just how many of us are on the edge. Continue reading

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Adolescents & Adolescent Novels on the Edge: Survival

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Book cover for Once

Perhaps catastrophe is the natural human environment,
and even though we spend a good deal of energy trying to get away from it,
we are programmed for survival amid catastrophe.

–Germaine Greer

So, sometimes when we are standing on the edge of the next place, the next situation, the next move in our lives, we find ourselves pondering the concept of survival–survival of our ideologies and beliefs, our current relationships, or our lives as we know them. What might seem foreign to some readers is that many adolescents in the world are on the edge of survival in any or all of these ways. Continue reading

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Adolescents, Adolescent Novels, and Authors Writing the Edges: Choices

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Book Cover for Crossing the Tracks“I loved everyone who said yes to the world and
tried to make it better instead of worse,
because so much of the world was ugly—
and just about all the ugly parts were due to humans.”

–Cat, from Shine (p. 290)

In the last few months I have read a number of books that would fall under the category of “social issues realism,” and so often that sub-genre is about the ugly parts of the world. What is so timely about these texts for adolescents is their ability to present young adults, who may just be emerging into the world with their own opinions about the reality they encounter on the news, at the dinner table, or in all the other spoken but not examined arenas of their lives. In essence, many young people have few opportunities to test their theories, hypotheses, and values. Adolescents are on the edge of discovery about the world, its politics, and both the world’s and their own potential. They have so many thoughts, so many questions, and so many opportunities to make a difference, yet they don’t know how much that difference can mean. Continue reading

Adolescents, Adolescent Novels, and Authors Writing the Edges

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

A penny for my thoughts, oh no, I’ll sell them for a dollar They’re worth so much more after I’m a goner And maybe then you’ll hear the words I been singin’ Funny when you’re dead how people start listenin’

Kimberly Perry, The Band Perry

I don’t feel I am in a dark place, but writing about adolescents and novels “on the edge,” well, you have to wonder. Continue reading

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Geography & International Literature, Part II

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

It is place, permanent position in both the social and topographical sense that gives us our identity.

~ J.B. Jackson

Addressing geography and international literature, I want to explore issues of identity with readers. In last week’s blog, I pondered teaching geography through international literature. This week, I am interested in how young readers reflect upon their own geographical identity and resultant affinities for particular places or locations.

Certainly, geography plays a role in our identities and colors our perceptions as readers and writers when the books come from our home culture, but how does that work when the literature is produced outside our geographical selves? How we might read a text from a geographical/cultural location that is outside the book’s cultural backdrop? I am not thinking about outsider/insider perspectives here, but rather, a geographical sensibility that is part cultural but also part physical location or physical affinity.
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Geography & International Literature, Part I

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

If some peoples pretend that history or geography gives them the right to subjugate other races, nations, or peoples, there can be no peace.

~ Ludwig von Mises

hotblack_20070818_Mumbai_077Because I like to travel, as I mentioned in my last post, geography has become of real interest to me. How can we engage international literature without thinking about geography?

I grew into my fascination with geography, but I believe I have always liked maps and movement. Thinking about Kathy Short’s post about the often dated illustrations of picture books set in present day, I find it important to educate young people about geography, and the present reality of a particular location. Frequently the best of places blend past and present, but young people need to know that the world is connected on a myriad of levels and that progress is a world event. So, what happens “at home” is connected to the world and what happens “a world away” may have an impact on the immediate neighborhood. We could think of it as the butterfly effect in more political or economic terms; an event that may not be noticed by young people in one location, but is prevalent in another place and could influence the former. A case in point is how young people in the U.S. may not be aware of child labor issues in other countries, but wear articles of clothing manufactured by children in sweatshops.
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“Travel” and International Literature

By Holly Johnson, University of Cincinnati, Cincinnati, OH

Like most people, when I read I have images playing my head, almost like a movie. I am traveling! But to get that movie and to take that journey, I need some prior knowledge about the setting of the story along with other details that bring the text to life. If I have a sense of the setting I don’t attend to the description as much as when I need to build the picture in my head from scratch. If I have been to a place, it serves as a handy backdrop to the piece of literature I am reading. When I haven’t been there, I need help. Of course, most of us do not have the extensive travel experience we would need (or like) to feel comfortable reading in this way. But travel is handy. It was also my passion when I was younger, and so I find that my experience of different places I have been are useful for my reading of international literature—on two accounts.

ThisisRomeFirst, I like reading about where I have been. The reading is enriched when I can picture it. I pull the images from my memory to help envision the world to which the author has led me. Secondly, the reading enriches my experience of the places I have traveled. It’s also great to find books to read about a place—whether fiction or informational—when planning to travel in it. Some fun texts for cities across the globe are the Miroslav Sasek series such as This is London and This is Rome. These books were written in the 1960s and 1970s, but have “this is today” excerpts that help students see how cities change over time.
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