Sunday, May 15, 2011

Kit's Wilderness by David Almond--Prezi

Bibliography: Almond, D. (1999). Kit’s wilderness. New York, NY: Delacorte Press.

Summary: The Watson family moves to Stoneygate, an old coal-mining town, to care for Kit’s recently widowed grandfather. When Kit meets John Askew, another boy whose family has both worked and died in the mines, Askew invites Kit to join him in a game called Death. As Kit’s grandfather tells him stories of the mine’s past and the history of the Watson family, Askew takes Kit into the mines, where the boys look for the childhood ghosts of their long-gone ancestors (Delacorte Press).

Tool: Prezi

Prezi has become one of the "it" tools in education and is a highlight at seminars and workshops due to its innovative format. With its ability to create dramatic pan, rotation, and zoom effects and its nonlinear sequencing, Prezi is the antidote for people who are bored with the traditional PowerPoint presentation. In fact, under the "Learn" tab, Prezi has even provided instructions on how to "Prezify your PowerPoint or Keynote slides." This unique presentation tool is a great way for educators to visually demonstrate the "teaching/learning/thinking outside the box" concept since Prezi itself literally defies the box, presenting ideas in more of a cloud-like, story-map format.

Because it bills itself as the "zooming presentation editor," I wanted to create something to showcase the zoom feature, and what better way to do this than to mimic zooming into the blackness of a mine shaft? Its nonlinear format, however, does make Prezi a bit tricky to get the hang of on first use. I had trouble manipulating its features with the touchpad on my MacBook Pro and had to move to a desktop because I felt the mouse gave me better control. (Actually, I created this Prezi on four different computers--such is the magic of Web 2.0 and Internet storage). My biggest tip for using Prezi is, when using the zoom feature, create your presentation first, keeping images/text/YouTube videos at a size at which you can see them, and add the zoom effects when you are finished. I literally lost several images when I started this presentation--I zoomed them in so they would give the effect of appearance/disappearance, but when I zoomed out, I never found them again. Until you're finished editing, keep your images large enough so that you can see them.

Overall, Prezi is an effective visual storytelling tool and a great way to introduce students (and teachers) to Web 2.0 tools and new ways of presenting/discussing ideas. For more examples of Prezis, please see my "About" page.

Review: Kit’s Wilderness has a much greater scope than its approximately 200 pages would lead one to believe. Although the publisher’s summary explains that the thirteen-year-old Kit moves to a decaying coal-mining town in the English countryside and that he finds it haunted by so-called “ghosts of the past,” this brief attempt at explanation does not begin to cover the true depth of Almond’s Printz award-winning novel. Like the coal upon which Stoneygate grew out of, Almond creates a narrative out of multiple layers that, over time, are fused together into one story spanning generations, all the way back to the Ice Age.

Coal works both as an extended metaphor and as a foundation for the magic that saturates Kit’s world. Almond’s application of magical realism to a contemporary British boy is interesting, as the style is often associated with post-colonial literature (with “post-colonial” typically referring to the British Empire), with the magical element being used by the writer to create his or her own reality rather than submit to an oppressive “actual reality.” It is not a difficult stretch, however, to see that a young adult reality might often be oppressive: Kit is uprooted from his home and moved to a dying town in order to take care of his dying grandfather; his best friend has disappeared, trying to escape an abusive father; and Stoneygate is not very accepting of those who stray into the darker places of the world. Kit uses writing as a form of genesis, creating ghosts that bleed into his reality to form a new one.

The ghosts are real, but Kit’s Wilderness is not a ghost story. Rather, it is an examination of how a story can bind us together through our human experiences and help us find a way out of the darkness. As Karin Snelson recommends in her review, "Ages 11 and much, much older."

The audiobook, read by Charles Keating, is also highly recommended.

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