Sunday, March 18, 2012

put your thinking caps on.

 So today in the crayon box we  made these awesome brain hemisphere hats .

First they had to find out what each major lobe of the brain is responsible for, then they got to colour in the brain, cut it out and make the hat.  At the end of the week, they'll all be given a blank brain template that they then have to fill in themselves.  (The little guy will be given labels he has to affix in the right spots)

This was so much fun.

This is the little guy's brain hat.

And here's the Little Guy wearing his creation!

The Girl Child and back view of brain hat

side view of Boy Childs hat

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Review: Manhattan Dreaming.

She's been termed the Koori Bradshaw of Chick Lit, but Anita Heiss is all that and so much more. 

I have many issues regarding the labelling of women writers as "Chick Lit" and Women's Literature". (Best left out of a book review, however I want it on the record that I object to the undermining of women writers and their stories by a label that with one hand pretends to celebrate women, whilst with the other it denigrates and devalues women's stories.   And, yes I know I said one should embrace Chick Lit  , it's a work in progress for me. I am getting there, and authors like Anita help me in achieving this. ) 

Manhattan Dreaming is the story of a modern, successful, urban Indigenous woman who breaks all the moulds. 
Initially it's the story of Lauren Lucas and her journey of life, love and career and how all 3 conspire to find her half way around the world doing just that. Living, loving and working at a job the leaves her inspired and fulfilled, with lashings of men on the side. But there's so much more to this than a modern day love story for the modern day woman. 

In these pages there's a deeper dialogue taking place. 
MD touches lightly on incarceration rates for Indigenous peoples (Lauren's brother Nick is in jail through out the story), addiction (very subtlety done. Lauren touches on the topic in a discussion with Wyatt, and the repeated statement that Lauren's only vice is cakes and sweets suggests her acknowledgement of how Indigenous people and their consumption habits involving alcohol and drugs are often viewed in combination with the high rates of addiction that plague Indigenous peoples), touched on lightly is also the concept of how often Indigenous peoples consciously change or moderate their behaviour to accommodate others and to consciously attempt to break down some of the stereotypes, (ie. Lauren's being on time or early for everything in an attempt to break the stereotype of 'Koori time". I giggled out loud at this one as it is something I consistently do for those very reasons). 

Other bigger issues touched on are Identity, I do love how even when describing characters physicality, Heiss doesn't tend to consign skin colouring to her Indigenous characters. (Because the reality is Indigenous Peoples have skin tones as varied as every other racial group) and the identity conversation is continued through brief allusions to questions of who and what is an Indigenous person. 

The notion of addiction is again broached with Lauren's obsession with Adam. Highlighting that addictions come in many forms and even intelligent women can make really dumb choices when our hearts are involved. I love how this part of the story line pushed Lauren's growth, with each new man in her life we see her emotional maturity increasing. None of the romance is gratuitous and I find that really refreshing. 

Cultural appropriation takes centre stage, Ms. Heiss's knowledge of the art world, especially Indigenous artists and their work is well researched and the shout out she gives to Indigenous artists (of all mediums) in her novels is nothing short of fantastic. (Check them out if you can. You won't regret it) I loved the questions she and colleagues touch on in regards to exhibits of Indigenous culture and the colonialist lens they are sometimes viewed from. (Does a bowl belong as an artefact or as an art work? Why are so many exhibits so male orientated? Viewing Indigenous peoples through a Western lens erases women and children from the culture, because Western culture has always had so little regard for women and children. ) 

But the thing I loved most about Manhattan Dreaming is that there are no less than 3 strong Indigenous women to act as voices and role models for Indigenous women. The Tiddahood taking pride of place. (Which all ties into connection to country and kin which is at the heart of Indigenous peoples culture everywhere) Australian Literature has a lack of modern urbanised female Indigenous voices. Anita Heiss fills that void with books full of heart, humour and wit. 

The story is much more light hearted than I paint in my unravelling. But there's a reason these books are so important to me. They talk about the issues that my people face in every day snippets. Casually and conversationally, Heiss doesn't shy away from touching on the political. But she does so in a way that brings the reader in, that doesn't alienate them and in her approach, may make them want to know more and become more involved. 

Heiss creates warm believable characters. Their depth and range is what brings you back to her words. You relate to them, you know people just like them and you want to be a part of their tiddahood. These are characters, that if they were real, you would want to be friends with. 

And I think I may just have a wee bit of a crush on Wyatt.

EDITED TO ADD: Ana Australiana has some great questions on Manhattan Dreaming for reading group discussions  on her blog over here. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

"pretty maids all in a row" in defence of 'Chick Lit'.

Does anyone really heed the old adage "Never judge a book by it's cover?"  

A quick saunter around any bookstore will tell you no, definitely not. Book covers are yet one more way we further tailor our literary genre. Sometimes consciously, sometimes sub consciously, but none the less, these days a books' cover will tell you more than just the blurb on the back. 

Fiction can be categorised according to the type of story an author chooses to tell. And the main genres, (and most genres have sub genres) are easily identifiable by a cursory glance of the cover design. 

 The most polarising genre of all would have to be "Chick Lit" or "Women's Literature". All those pretty pastel covers littered with cupcakes, handbags, and shoes. 
I went through a phase of avoiding chick lit like the plague. There's a stigma attached to it that screams "Chick Lit: Faux Fiction, what you read when you don't really feel like reading."  which buys into the whole societal perception that women's stories and women's voices are frivolous and materialistic at best and well, who really wants to read about shoes and relationship woes and shoes, and why can't I ever find a man who'll help me with the dishes, and am I running out of time to have a baby and did I mention shoes? The kicker is, if people bothered to actually read the books they might find there is far more than meets the eye. That what looks like a romp in an urban world of navigating men, cupcakes, handbags and shoes, there are real stories being told and real issues being swept under the cover of a pastel coating. To which I say, fuck that.  

It's the publishing world's way of putting Baby in a corner and NOBODY SHOULD EVER PUT BABY IN A CORNER!   And we continue to allow the infantilisation of women's literature by the pastelisation and shopping whimsy covers we apply to their books.  

But where I once had trouble embracing and even tolerating the need to label certain books as women's literature, I now feel the exact opposite. We need this categorisation, we need a niche of our own so someone can stand up say, Guess what, Women's stories matter. Women's voices matter.  
That women are under represented in literary awards and reviews is common knowledge and yet for all that, the one area in which women ARE highly visible, we shun. We women, belittle our own. We need to defend these voices. We need to stand up and shout our stories are just like mens stories. In a perfect world, we wouldn't have to. But until we can write that world into existence, then it is a necessity to carve our own niche and defend it against those that would seek to destroy it. 

James Patterson's novels are as much about relationships as Cathy Kelly's are. Murakami is as much about relationships as Picoult. MiĆ©ville is as much about relationships as Valente. There isn't a fiction novel yet written that isn't about relationships, irrespective of the gender of the author or the genre for which they write. This notion that chick lit is somehow all about shopping, sex, shoes and ticking biological clocks and nothing else needs to stop. It is about those things, but it's also about so much more. 

We reinvent our world through fiction. With fiction we are free to ask big questions and posit all manner of consequences and answers. We are free to postulate on societal issues and  societal cancers and offer different visions for different outcomes.  Fiction gives us a platform through which to examine the world we live and the world we'd like to live in. We all live in the same world. Male, female, and what ever other variation of gender you subscribe to. Our stories help us make sense of our world, it's what fiction does.  And male authors are doing this just as much as women are. Whether it's a murder mystery, a steam punk novel, an anime adventure or a blood curdling horror, the commonality of all fiction is that they need relationships to propel the plot. Whether that relationship is a romantic connection to another character, a familial connection or even a connection created between narrator and reader, a relationship is required and all authors use them to move the story along. 

And if it popularised literature  isn't your cup of tea, don't judge someone else for reading it. Fiction can be about pure escapism as much as it can be about enrichment and diversity. People are not one dimensional, neither are most (well written) stories.  Escaping into a life so very different to your own can be cathartic on many levels. Getting to finally read a story you can relate because it seeks to make sense of a world you recognise as similar to the one you inhabit, is also just as cathartic.  When it comes to reading, life is too short to focus on reading books you think you should be reading in favour of books you want to read.  It's like being judged for your taste in music, if some douche wants to judge you by the cover of the book you're reading, they're probably already judging you based on a lot of other superficial cues too.  So go ahead and read that bodice heaver, erotic fiction, fantasy, suspense, YA, poetry book you want to.  

It's okay to dislike a book, or an author. I'm not saying you have to love all books and all women writer's. Sometimes you gotta dig to the bottom of the pile to find that one voice that speaks to your soul. But if you write off an entire genre based on some ridiculous notion that genre x isn't a real valid genre, you might just miss out on hearing that one special voice. 

So remember, before you sneer at the women's literature section (or any other section) at your local book store or library, just think about what you're really sneering at.  Is it possible, that by buying into the trivialisation of women's voices and stories, that in doing so, you trivialise and belittle your own?