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March 24, 2021
March 4, 2021
February 26, 2021
January 15, 2021
Diverse Book Recommendations by Grade 9 Students
December 16, 2020
A Review of Punching The Air by Yusef Salaam and Ibi Zoboi
November 18, 2020
September 25, 2020
Here and Queer: LGBTQ+ Literature throughout history
March 24, 2021
By: Audrey Villeneuve, grade 9
In 2021, authors can freely depict queer identities on paper, but this wasn’t always the case. This literature was shunned by society for thousands of years. Yet rainbow authors have forever been breaking the shackles of homophobia and censorship through intimate poems, novels with very queer undertones, and mythology that celebrates the LGBTQ community.
This history, our history, has been silenced for centuries. With the mainstream establishment of christianity, same-sex attraction was depicted as a moral and religious sin. Homosexual acts were punishable with prison sentences and death penalties. Homophobia remained a constant presence up until the late 20th century where many communities broke free from the mold and took the world with them.
The first known queer representation in literature was discovered in Ancient Greece and Rome. The iconic bisexual greek poet Sappho of Lesbos is widely known for her poems depicting female sexuality. The term “Lesbian” is a derivation of her last name. Many of her poems were burned during the rule of Archbishop Gregory of Nazianzus in the fourth century and by Pope Gregory VII during the 11th because of the christian church’s views towards portrayals of lesbianism. Multiple stories in Greek and Roman mythology feature same-sex relationships as well as intersex figures.
Shakespeare’s works during the renaissance have been interpreted by some scholars and students as showcasing LGB intimacy. Eighteenth-century literature such as The Diaries of Anne Lister and the poetry of Katherine Philips playfully encouraged a small amount of physical intimacy between women, which was socially accepted at the time before marriage. These texts reveal a little-known aspect of English society in the 1700s, as open displays of lesbian love often faced death penalties.
The Nineteenth-century was a great period of indirect, subversive LGBTQ literature. Authors such as Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, and Oscar Wilde released texts that quietly featured queer characters. Wilde’s only novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray, has the subtext of a relationship between Basil and Dorian. He was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison for ‘indecency’ after the discovery he had committed homosexual acts.
“Resolv'd to sing no songs to-day but those of manly attachment, Projecting them along that substantial life,
Bequeathing hence types of athletic love,
Afternoon this delicious Ninth-month in my forty-first year,
I proceed for all who are or have been young men,
To tell the secret of my nights and days,
To celebrate the need of comrades.” An excerpt of Walt Whitman's poem “In Paths Untrodden”, which is one of many inside his book Leaves of grass that suggest a romantic interest in men. Walt Whitman self-published and self-financed the release of Leaves of Grass on July fourth, 1855 as it deterred publishers for its homosexual themes and sensual metaphors.
Authors such as Allen Ginsberg, E.M. Forster and James Baldwin broke through social barriers and introduced LGBTQ+ plots into the mainstream during the late 1900s. However, many of these novels were forced to feature unhappy endings, tragedy, or an undertone of shame to be published. This introduced LGBT characters to the world in a negative light. The queer YA industry began in 1969 with stories laced with homophobia and fear, but since the 1990s many books have progressed towards celebrating the diversity of queer identities.
In the 21st century, rainbow literature has made a breakthrough. Alan Hollingsworth, Rainbow Rowell, Glennan Doyle, and Mason Deaver are examples of authors who have published books for teenagers and adults that showcase queer people as the main character in the story. However, there is still work to be done. In 2016, mainstream publishers only published 79 LGBTQ+ young adult novels in the US, yet over 1000 YA novels in total were released! Writers continue to only state their characters are queer after the books or series have been published, in an attempt to make their novels seem more inclusive (looking at you, J.K. Rowling). LGBTQ+ Novels often center around a white cisgender person’s coming out journey. This erases many other queer experiences, not all revolving around people’s identities. There are so many stories left to be told. And the world can’t wait to tell them.
Portrait of Sappho, an ancient greek bisexual poet.
INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR KAREN MCBRIDE
By Miriam Felman
Throughout my life, books have always been how I learned about the world, allowing me to connect with people whose experiences are different from mine. Both reading and writing fiction has also played a crucial role in validating my own experiences. Representation is profoundly important.
In the last few years, Nepean High School has been making an effort to include diverse voices into our English courses. There is still a long way to go, but like some other Ottawa schools, as of last school year, grade 11 English courses focus on First Nations, Métis, and Inuit voices.
I believe fiction to be a valuable tool for education, since when you follow a main character through a story, you truly get to know them. Unlike a chart of statistics or definitions, you get a chance to look into someone’s life and really see them. The pain and struggles they may face, but also their joy, which Karen McBride, author of Crow Winter, believes is especially important when it comes to Indigenous stories.
Crow Winter is the Algonquin Anishinaabe author’s debut novel, and I recently had the pleasure of reading it, and interviewing Karen McBride herself.
Q: Parts of Crow Winter’s narrator, Hazel,’s background appear to align with your own. In what ways are you and Hazel similar, and how are you different? Likewise, how do Hazel’s family members compare to your own?
A: I gave a lot of my grief to Hazel. Her story of healing is one that reflects mine in a way – only I haven’t been able to have conversations with crows…yet.
Our families are definitely different. I have two sisters and she has one bothersome brother. Nora is a bit like my mom, but in the end, they’re very different. I think our families share the strong bonds and deep connections you see in the book. I’ve grown up around so many strong women, so the fact that the story is one that shows the importance of supporting each other is my way of honouring those resilient role models.
Q: Grief is one of the central theme topics in Crow Winter. What role has writing played in your own journey with grief?
A: It was the whole reason I wrote this story. After losing my dad, I had no real outlet for my grief. I went to therapy which helped a whole lot, but there was still part of that grieving process I knew I needed to get out. I did a lot of reading after my dad passed and seeing what I was feeling – my pain – written down in someone else’s words was incredibly healing for me. So, Crow Winter is my offering to (hopefully) do the same for someone else.
Q: What role has writing played in exploring your identity as an Algonquin Anishinaabe woman?
A: I think it’s played a huge role in my understanding and accepting my Indigeneity. So much of what Canadian Literature deems to be worthy Indigenous stories are stories rooted in severe pain, trauma, and Canada’s genocidal legacy. While those stories are desperately important, I find them to be only one small part of who we, as Indigenous people, are. In a way, I write (or try to) in opposition of that. I write stories with magic and mystery and characters who struggle because they are human and not because they’re disenfranchised. Indigenous people, like all people, deserve stories that show the beauty and power and joy of being ourselves. We are so much more than our traumas.
Q: Seeing yourself represented in art, and other forms of media is so important in feeling comfortable with one’s identity. In giving us that integral sense of belonging. Where, besides your own writing, have you seen yourself represented in a validating way? How difficult is it to find this representation?
A: It used to be near impossible to see myself in other works of art. And while it’s getting better now, there is still a long way to go. I’m hopeful that I’ll get to see the day when Indigenous artists are household names. People like Alicia Elliott, Cherie Dimaline, Joshua Whitehead, Billy-Ray Belcourt, jaye simpson, Lindsay Nixon, Arielle Twist, Kaniehtiio Horn, Tanya Tagaq, Eden Robinson, Anna Lambe, and Michelle Latimer are creating powerful amazing things that are defining Indigenous Excellence. If any of those names are new to you, I urge you to find and devour their work.
Q: At Nepean High School, our grade eleven English classes now focus on Indigenous literature. How important do you think it is for students to read a variety of texts from different voices?
A: Reading, listening to, and watching an experience that is different from your own is one of the most important things you can do. It helps to build understanding and empathy. There’s so much beautiful work out there just waiting for you to discover it. Explore different writers from all kinds of genres as often as you can.
Q: Crow Winter weaves magical Anishnaabe beliefs into its otherwise realistic contemporary setting, with the Trickster, Nanabush, being a key character. How did you go about characterizing your own interpretation of this immortal figure? Furthermore, while portraying his personality through the body of a crow? How much liberty did you take in making the Nanabush in Crow Winter your own, and how much of his character was directly from stories you’ve heard?
A: When I was working on the story that would become Crow Winter with my mentor, Susan Swan, we had chatted about creating and cementing Nanabush’s place in the novel. At that time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted him to be real, so I had no idea how to go about writing him. Susan suggested I just dive in and give him his own chapter, his own narrative. So, I did just that. The first chapter we get in his voice – chapter 8 – is pretty much exactly the same as it was when I first explored the character. He flew into the story and essentially wrote himself. Tricksters tend to do that.
I knew I wanted him to be a crow because they remind me of my dad. It was an easy choice to have Nanabush take on that form. Getting his crow behaviour right (or at least believable) was all a matter of just hanging out outside and watching crows. Ultimately, the Nanabush I created is a bit darker than the one I knew from stories growing up. He’s older, grumpier, and much more cynical. So, despite his corvid shape, he’s very much exploring and understanding what it means to be human.
[View the full interview at this link: ]
BOOK RECOMMENDATION: THE SONG OF ACHILLES BY MADELEINE MILLER
January 15, 2021
By Madeleine Bhamjee
The Song of Achilles by Madeleine Miller, is a gorgeous and heartfelt retelling of an ancient Greek classic, the Iliad which tells the story of the Trojan War. When I chose to delve into this novel, I didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t even bother to read a summary of the novel since I wanted to be surprised by Miller’s skillful storytelling. In case you didn’t know, Miller also wrote Circe, an acclaimed novel written from the perspective of Circe, the Greek goddess of magic. Since I had already read Circe back in March, I figured I’d give The Song of Achilles a chance. I wasn’t disappointed to say the least. This novel was poetic, romantic and heartbreaking and from the first chapter I was hooked, I seriously could not put this book down! The novel is written from the perspective of Patroclus, a young exiled prince who harbours intense feelings of love for Achilles, an insanely powerful, yet sensitive hero destined to fight in the Trojan War. Throughout the novel, their love for one another matures and strengthens into something unbreakable despite all the challenges they face along the way. For those who are as interested in history as I am, the novel does not stray away much from the Iliad, it instead builds on its characters more and provides the reader with more insight into their personal lives and mentalities. Lastly what I found fascinating about this novel was that it did not shy away from the homosexual relationship between Patroclus and Achilles as their relationship was always written to be homosexual (as seen in many pieces of ancient Greek literature) yet many modern storytellers chose to omit this from their own version of the story for various reasons which essentially eradicates the beauty of Achille’s story. I deeply admire Miller for incorporating it into her novel and keeping their story alive.
I would highly recommend this novel to anyone looking for new things to read over the winter!
Diverse Book Recommendations by Grade 9 Students
December 16, 2020
By Various Grade 9 Students (names provided in reviews)
*Below is the first page of the article, click link to read all*
Title: Black Boy White School by Brian F. Walker
This book talks about many important things that are very relevant in today’s world. It gave me insight into a world I have never seen before and showed me that I am very fortunate to have the things that I have. In this book Anthony Jones, the main character goes from east Cleveland to Belton Academy, a school with the uber-rich due to his financial situation he gets financial aid so that he can attend the school. - Xander Colquhoun
Anthony Jones or “Ant” for short has never been outside his rough East Cleveland neighborhood, until when he’s given a scholarship to Belton Academy, an elite prep school in Maine. But at Belton things are far from perfect. Everyone calls him “Tony,” assumes he’s from Brooklyn, expects him to play basketball, and yet acts shocked when he fights back. As Anthony tries to adapt to a world that will never fully accept him, he’s in for a rude awakening, home is becoming a place where he no longer belongs. - Matthew Legault
I think this book really showed me that there is more to the world than you think. This book shines light on how much we have and how little people have, and how hard done they are.
- Matthew Legault
Title: Laughing At My Nightmare by Shane Burcaw
Laughing At My Nightmare is a wonderful book and goes over the life and struggles in someone's life who suffers from Muscular dystrophy. - Andrew Devoe
The book Laughing at My Nightmare tells the unique story of a young thoughtful boy named Shane diagnosed with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, whose life takes an interesting path. Shane was diagnosed with SMA at birth, and although it can be difficult at times, Shane has learned to live with the unfathomable disease and everything that comes with it. In the story Shane shares all of his experiences and adventures, he shares the sad times and the happy times. Despite his diagnosis, Shane shares a positive and enthusiastic outlook on life, always ready for the next adventure. - William Haslett
A REVIEW OF PUNCHING THE AIR BY YUSEF SALAAM AND IBI ZOBOI
November 18, 2020
By Knightwatch Editors
Punching The Air is a novel by Ibi Zoboi, a young-adult fiction author, and Yusef Salaam, one of the Central Park Five (also known as the Exonerated 5), a group of five teenagers of colour wrongfully accused of the rape and assault of a white woman in Central Park in 1989.
Here is what Mrs. White’s grade 9 English class had to say about the book, and its importance.
The story follows Amal Shahid, a Black sixteen year old, in present day United States. Amal gets into a playground fight, which ends in a tragic accident, and is wrongfully accused of a crime, which lands him in prison. Members of law enforcement blame and sentence Amal, even though they have little to no evidence that Amal is guilty. The story is certainly a reference to what Yusef Salaam and the rest of the Central Park Five experienced in 1989.
This book explores the topics of racism, poverty, legal injustice, the US prison system, and coded language. Out of all the boys in the playground, Amal is the one taken in - while the White boys walk free. Racial profiling and prejudice are apparent in this novel, leading to important discussions in the classroom. Students also learned that in the United States, private, corporate prisons make more money when they have more inmates, so prisons and law enforcement work side by side to get more people convicted and sentenced. Another important topic, expressed by Jennifer, is the coded language put on display in the book. For example, the White teenagers in the park are referred to as “boys”, giving them a pure and innocent sentiment, whereas Amal, a Black teenager, is called “man” or “young man”, which makes him seem more capable and accountable in the eyes of law enforcement. This language shows the adultification of Black children and teenagers, which we see often in the real world.
Jennifer explained that the book is told using poetry, and different ways of speech, which they had never seen in a book before. “Every page is a bit different,” she said. Punching The Air also includes illustrations, and unique, artistic line spacing, which Jennifer appreciated. She said it helped her to, “See everything going on in my head”.
When asked to go into detail about a character, a student described how the main character, Amal, is an artist, as demonstrated through the way the story is written in poetry. Amal uses his art to stay resilient, and to express himself, in a situation where he was extremely limited in doing so. The student said Amal uses his art as “a key strength”.
Diana spoke about the character of Umi, Amal’s grandmother, who she described as a very kind and wise woman, always telling Amal to be kind.
When asked how this book made her feel, Diana said Punching The Air “pleases my ears, but hurts my heart”, as it is well written, but also very emotional. She was disturbed to learn how unjust the American criminal “justice” system is, and how, in the case of the Exonerated 5, nobody had real answers, and they imprisoned five teenagers to get more money for corporate prisons.
A student said that the book was a challenging read, emotionally. “The situation is quite heartbreaking. It’s been messing with my emotions for weeks.” Although difficult, they believe it is extremely important that students learn about these stories in school, as they had never learned about anything close to the topic of racist criminal injustice in school before. “It is so important that we [learn about] alternate perspectives [...], all different stories, and sides of these stories.”
Diana said the book was very insightful, showing readers how some people live and are treated differently than others. It allows the reader to “build a stronger relationship with another person”.
The students absolutely recommended this book, and voted, in a Google Meet poll, for Ms. MacKechnie to buy it for the library. We encourage people to read it, and to do research on the stories of the Exonerated 5, to learn more about the topics addressed in the book, and in this review.
I WISH YOU ALL THE BEST BOOK REVIEW
September 25, 2020
By Lucy Rolleston, Grade 10
An inspirational novel about hope, perseverance and self acceptance. I Wish You All the Best by Mason Deaver isn’t an easy read but certainly worth it.
After being kicked out by their parents for coming out as non-binary, Ben De Backer has no other choice but to move schools and move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, whom they haven’t seen or spoken with in ten years. Ben then meets the energetic, always smiling chatterbox and future friend, Nathan. From struggling to fit in and constantly being misgendered, the emotional and eye-opening novel follows Ben’s journey through love, family, friendship and identity.
I Wish You All the Best is by far, one of my favourite books. It has a great message and It was amazing to see Ben evolve throughout the story and accept who they are. You get to see Ben explore their gender identity and face their fears.
I highly recommend this book to the students (and teachers) of Nepean. It gives you a chance to see what many non-binary people experience on a daily basis. It is an incredible learning opportunity for allies, and relatable for many LGBTQ+ students.