Thursday, February 10, 2011

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld--Google Maps

Bibliography: Westerfeld, S. (2009). Leviathan. New York, NY: Simon Pulse.

Summary: It is the cusp of World War I, and all the European powers are arming up. The Austro-Hungarians and Germans have their Clankers, steam-driven iron machines loaded with guns and ammunition. The British Darwinists employ fabricated animals as their weaponry. Their Leviathan is a whale airship, and the most masterful beast in the British fleet.

Aleksandar Ferdinand, prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is on the run. His own people have turned on him. His title is worthless. All he has is a battle-torn Stormwalker and a loyal crew of men.

Deryn Sharp is a commoner, a girl disguised as a boy in the British Air Service. She’s a brilliant airman. But her secret is in constant danger of being discovered.
With the Great War brewing, Alek’s and Deryn’s paths cross in the most unexpected way...taking them both aboard the Leviathan on a fantastical, around-the-world adventure. One that will change both their lives forever (Simon Pulse).

Tool: Google Maps

Google Maps is one of the best means to visually re-tell a piece of literature. I love books that include maps--it makes for a much richer reading experience when one is visually able to track Taran's search for the oracular pig Hen Wen across the mystical Prydain (Lloyd Alexander's The Book of Three) or to trace triangular trade as African slaves are exchanged for colonial cash crops which are exchanged for manufactured European goods which are then exchanged for slaves (Marc Aronson's Sugar Changed the World: A Story of Spice, Magic, Sugar, Food, and Science).

In this map, I wanted to visualize two things: 1) how Deryn's and Aleksandar's re-imagined 1914 Europe relates to the Europe we recognize today, and 2) how images can be incorporated into and thus enhance the map. Because Leviathan is already illustrated, it seemed best to utilize artist Keith Thompson's original images in order to stay as true to Deryn's and Aleksandar's journey as possible. Google Maps is a bit tricky--users can only stream in images; they cannot upload them. To do this, find your desired image online, open it in a new web page, and copy and paste the address of the new page (it should have nothing but the image on it) into your post on your map. To learn more about creating your own map, this YouTube video is a great introduction: "How to Create a "My Map" in Google Maps.

Using Google Maps to visually engage readers was a project initiated by Jerome Burg as part of the Google Certified Teachers program, which is designed to help educators get the most of innovative technologies. See Google Lit Trips for more information and to explore some pre-existing projects.

Click on the pushpins to view Deryn's and Aleksandar's adventures.

View Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld in a larger map

Review: Leviathan is brilliant. While Scott Westerfeld has already proven his aptitude for science fiction in the critically acclaimed Uglies series, Leviathan shows that he is able to write beyond generic dystopia and artfully blend science and historical fictions into a prime example of steampunk literature. For the uninitiated, steampunk is an offshoot of science fiction in which the characters inhabit a Victorian, steam-powered universe. Westerfeld takes this genre a step further by bringing in genetic engineering, and the science behind his Darwinist “beasties” and their symbiotic relationships is both enthralling and concurrent with Darwin’s theories on the transmutation of species. Westerfeld has clearly done his research.

The Leviathan is more than just a scientific creation, however; it is the setting for a rollicking adventure tale. Both Deryn and Aleksandar are exuberant characters, and the fast-paced plot—-full of large-scale air battles, royalty on the run, and secret missions—-reads just like a penny dreadful, a sensationalized novel of adventure and, often, violence made popular in the late Victorian era. Which, of course, is exactly what Westerfeld intended.

His desire to create a modernized early twentieth-century novel is made concrete by Leviathan’s illustrations. Novels during this time period—-even those written for adults—-were heavily illustrated, and Leviathan includes a black-and-white picture in every chapter. Drawn by Keith Thompson, these images are an amalgamation of Victorian detail and a contemporary, almost manga-esque style, and they are invaluable in helping readers appreciate the machines and beasts of Westerfeld’s re-imagined historical Europe.

If Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson met today over some very highly-caffeinated coffee, Leviathan might be the result. Grades 7+.

1 comment:

  1. I just got my copies of Leviathan and Behemoth and can't wait to share your Google map! I know after my students see this I will have to order more copies of both titles. I just found your blog via The Hub, and look forward to exploring more after it calms down in here--rain and Southern Californian middle schoolers make for a hectic morning in the library.