Thursday, November 24, 2011

Little Blog on the Prairie by Cathleen Davitt Bell--Jog the Web

Bibliography: Bell, C. D. (2010). Little blog on the prairie. New York, NY: Bloomsbury.

Summary: Genevieve Welsh has a nice, normal, regular summer planned. That is, until her mom signs up the family for Camp Frontier, a theme vacation that promises its guests the “thrill” of living like 1890s pioneers. Even though they’re forced to surrender all their modern possessions, Gen manages to secretly keep in touch with her friends back home, regaling them with all the horrible day-to-day details of life on this “Little Hell on the Prairie.”

In truth, frontier living isn’t all bad. There’s a cute guy named Caleb who lives in the next clearing. And who knew Gen would prove to be so good at churning butter? Besides, by the time Gen’s friends turn her stories into the most popular blog on the Internet, Gen’s got more important things to worry about—like finding a way to keep her family from failing the frontier competition and trying to keep the resident “Nellie Olson” from stealing Caleb... (Bloomsbury).

Tool: Jog the Web

Using Jog the Web, I get to examine two Web 2.0 tools: 1) Jog the Web itself and 2) the blogging platform. Jog the Web creates "slide shows" out of websites, which users can comment on much like adding a caption to pictures on Facebook or Flickr. This tool could result in some very cool student projects. For example, in a unit on current events and the media, a student might showcase different news, BBC News,, The Huffington Post, The Onion, etc.--exploring the pros and cons of each site and what each site considers newsworthy. I love that the final product, the jog, is not static: your slide show changes along with the web sites, so every day--indeed, every few minutes in the case of some sites--your jog is different, which is excellent if you are using Jog the Web in a project similar to the one just described.

In my jog, I wanted to compare various blogging platforms, evaluating their various features and determining why users might choose to blog on one site over another. Blogs are the titans of Web 2.0 self-publishing, and on a blog about Web 2.0 tools, I am excited to finally be able to feature them. I am even more excited that I can do so using another tool--yet another example of the "non-linear, non-subjective...wibbly-wobbly" world of Web 2.0 (to quote Doctor Who). We never find out which blog Genevieve's friends use to propel her to Internet superstardom, but here are a few they may have checked out:

Genevieve's Guide to Blogging Platforms (on the Prairie)

Unfortunately, jogs are unable to be embedded, so you will have to click the above link in order to fully interact with mine. Here is a screen shot of the first page of my jog in order to provide a general idea of the final format of Jog the Web:

Review: Instead of writing this post last night, I had an impromptu YouTube video dance party with my sisters, visiting from out of town. At the end of the night, due to the cold front sweeping through Texas, all three of us—-and the cat—-huddled in my bed under the quilt, trying to keep warm and keeping each other awake with sudden outbursts of Led Zeppelin songs. (I’m a starving student—-no, I’m not turning on the heat in October!) Gen, the protagonist of Little Blog on the Prairie, and her brother Gavin will do the same thing while sharing a trundle bed in a log cabin. And while they didn’t sing “The Immigrant Song” in 1890, the shared experience and the bond between siblings remains the same in 2011.

Gen, however, isn’t living in 1890 either—she lives in the present. Like the Laura Ingalls Wilder book from which Bell’s novel cheekily gets its name, Little Blog on the Prairie is a neat blend of both historical information and realistic fiction. In the case of Little House on the Prairie (1935), Wilder relayed an autobiographical account of historical events in the form of fiction, but with Little Blog on the Prairie, Bell has created something more complex. Gen is a contemporary teenager who has been relocated to frontier family history camp and relays her own autobiographical account of history via blog (and a smuggled cell phone). Both Wilder and Gen introduce their readers to the trials (and, with time, rewards) of homesteading, and both women become famous because of their experiences and their writing. Blogging, however, is a bit different than publication in 1935, and Gen’s fame grows beyond her control.

One obvious theme of this book is that young adults need to be aware of what they put online. Gen’s blogging has consequences, and how she deals with those consequences represents Little Blog on the Prairie’s subtler themes of growing up, learning how to make mature decisions, and re-connecting with and appreciating one’s family. Of course, Gen’s immediate concerns are learning how to use the outhouse without peeing all over her floor-length dress, milking the cow without getting kicked, and trying not to make a fool of herself in front of Camp Frontier’s resident cute boy. Who knew that pioneer life could be so hard and yet surprisingly fulfilling for a city girl from 2010? Grades 5-8.