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Science Fiction and Fantasy Books That Should Be Taught in School

I thought this would be a fun post to share now that the 2017-2018 school year has either begun or will begin soon for many schools in North America.

As you might have already guessed, English was my favourite subject from the time my mom began the homeschool version of preschool for me until I graduated from college.

My classmates and I read countless short stories, novellas, and novels during those years, but I barely remember ever being assigned a science fiction or fantasy book until I entered college.

This is a real shame. The sci-fi and fantasy genres are full of stories that can be used to as a jumping off point to explore logic, history, math, geography, ethics, and so much more. I wish my classmates and I had been exposed to these genres as an official part of our curriculums from the beginning.

There are five books in each section of this post for the different age ranges: elementary school, middle school, and high school.

Elementary School

Fantasy sure seems like it has a stronger influence on elementary-aged students. I wonder if it’s because of the lure of traditional fairy tales to young children? At any rate, most of my recommendations for this age groups will sit firmly in the fantasy camp.

 

Gwinna by Barbara Helen Berger

I know I’ve blogged about this book before, but I simply must mention it again. This is the most beautiful modern fairy tale that I’ve ever read. It would be a wonderful place to introduce all kinds of classroom discussions about adoption, the dangers of breaking a promise, and what the students think happened to Gwinna after the end of the final chapter.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis

One of the things that first drew me into this story were its descriptions of what life was like for children in England during World War II. There are many things that have changed since then, but basic human nature will always remain the same. It would be very interesting to see how today’s children would react to the idea of being sent away from home for their own safety during a war.

Of course, some students will already have personal experience with that kind of huge life change! Immigration, the separation of families, and the sad consequences of war are still every bit as relevant today as they were in the 1940s.

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Rabbit

I have a vague memory of one of my elementary school teachers assigning this book to us when I was in the fourth or fifth grade. The thought of living forever had never crossed my mind until I learned about Winnie’s life, but I loved watching her mull over her choices once she discovered that the family she’d recently met had a surefire method to remain young and healthy until the end of time.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling

This series covered so many timeless issues: child abuse; discrimination; grief; what happens when family secrets are finally aired. What surprised me the most about all of the Harry Potter books was how much fun the characters had even when they were dealing with serious topics that many kids face in real life.

 

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl

I mean, who wouldn’t want to read a book about a factory filled with candy and other sweets?

On a more serious note, I liked the way the main character responded to the difficulties he faced in life. He was such a brave kid even when the odds were stacked against him and he couldn’t imagine how he’d get out of his latest predicament.

Middle School

Middle school is a tough age. Tweens and young teenagers are often suspicious of admitting they like stories they think were written for kids, but they’re also not quite ready for more mature material. These books – or portions of them –  would be perfect for this age group.

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

It takes courage to face an angry dragon, and that was only one of the many dangers Bilbo was exposed to during his first big adventure. If I were going to teach this book, I’d round off our readings with a discussion of what happens to people after other huge changes like going to war or being diagnosed with a serious disease. Bilbo’s response to what happened to him mirrored both of these real-life experiences in all kinds of interesting ways.

This is also the perfect introduction to the the Lord of the Rings universe for students who like Bilbo and want to find out what happened to him after he returned home.

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

This book was about a developmentally disabled man who was given an experimental medical treatment that quickly began to raise his IQ. Suddenly becoming much more intelligent than you were before isn’t necessarily an easy experience, but the main character’s diary about what that process was like made me think about everything from how disabilities are defined to what happens when someone is given the chance to change their life in all kinds of unpredictable ways.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

Imagine a society without war, hunger, prejudice, or pain. In fact, all but one of the people in that society couldn’t even begin to tell you what any of those experiences were like.

This was by far my favorite book when I was in middle school. I thought the society the main character lived in was a paradise at first. Figuring out its dark side made me ask myself all kinds of questions about the meaning of life and how much freedom I’d be willing to sacrifice to permanently remove suffering in the world for just about everyone.

Animal Farm by George Orwell

One of the biggest reasons why I believe this should be read by middle school students is because it distills complicated arguments about freedom, politics, communism, and propaganda into a simple allegory about a farm full of animals who decide to revolt against their owner.

The twist ending is my second largest reason for recommending it to this age group. It was as funny as it was thought-provoking.

The Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

The silly sections will make middle schoolers laugh, but they’ll also learn a few things about getting along with others and not assuming that you’re the centre of the universe. The sometimes-convoluted storyline would also be a good place to talk abut everything from unreliable narrators to how two people can remember the same event completely differently based on how their minds store memories and what small pieces of that day they’ve forgotten.

High School

My high school English classes assigned us a lot of John Steinbeck and Shakespeare readings. I think these books would make a perfect addition to that kind of curriculum.

Beowulf

I first read this in college, but I wish I had discovered it years earlier. The dark themes and occasional scenes of violence are best suited for more mature readers who are willing to push forward to the conclusion.

I also believe that everyone who speaks English should be familiar with the first poem we know of that was written in Old English. There is so much about the beginnings of our language that we simply don’t know. Holding onto what we do know is important.

1984 by George Orwell

Should the government be trusted? Is everything that’s shared on the news actually true? How do you know when you’re being lied to?

These have been dangerous questions to ask in many different cultures and eras. Knowing when you’re being deceived is nearly as important as knowing how to react when it happens. I think every high school student should graduate with at least a little practice at weighing what they’re told carefully.

 

 

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

Climate change has already begun to affect our world. How people live in a generation or two will probably be quite different from how the average westerner lives today.

Ms. Butler had such a creative take on what our future could be like. I wish she had lived long enough to finish this series, but I relish what she was able to write. High school students could learn a lot from her thoughts on prejudice and what happens when an entire society falls apart.

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

This is a classic piece of science fiction about time travel and the ethical dilemmas that result from knowing what will happen in the future but not being sure how to warn everyone about what is coming. Not every conflict in life has or should have a black-and-white solution.

Hominids by Robert J. Sawyer

Most high school students are probably aware that there used to be other human-like species living on Earth, but I doubt most of them have wondered how our planet would be different if early humans had died out and another species had become dominant instead.

This tale asked a lot of hard questions about intelligence, environmentalism, and what it would mean to be human if we discovered that we weren’t the only intelligent hominids wandering around after all.

What science fiction and fantasy books do you wish would be taught in schools?

The Handmaid’s Tale: Jezebels

This post includes spoilers for “Jezebels” (Season 1, Episode 8) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. 

This week’s episode was another unusual one. The plot returned to focusing on Offred, but Moira was definitely competing with her for this viewer’s attention.

For anyone who needs a refresher, Moira (pictured on the left) was June/Offred’s best friend before the Sons of Gilead rose to power. Both women were found to still be fertile, captured, and forced to become Handmaids. While June sort of accepted her fate, Moira fought against it at every turn no matter how badly she was treated as a result of her rebellion.

I didn’t talk about this scene in Faithful, but Moira and June attempted to escape the Red Centre. June was captured early on in their escape, while Moira’s fate was never verified.

These characters did meet up again in the book at a brothel where Moira was sent to work after she was captured again. While I’ve been avoiding spoilers for this show, I had a feeling that we’d see Jezebels at some point and find out for sure what happened to Moira. In order to talk about that, though, I have to first talk about why Offred ended up visiting Jezebels in the first place. It’s not a place that wives or Handmaids are allowed to go.

One of the things I like about this show the most is how it has handled The Commander. There was a time in the beginning of the series when I was a little concerned that they were going to paint him as a good guy who was either misunderstood or had been swept into this new society without having any input into it.

He wasn’t a good guy, and no one pushed him into anything. This week’s episode only gave us more reasons why this was true, starting with the Commander’s creepy urge to pretend like Offred was willingly having sex with him. The scenes where he sexually abused her were hard to watch, but they were completely necessary in order to understand how this character thinks. Women aren’t people to him. They’re possessions. So if the Commander wanted to shave his Handmaid’s legs, obtain illegal makeup and clothes for her, and then smuggle her into a brothel for a night, that’s exactly what he was going to do.

The sexist and disgusting way the Commander treated women has never been more clear to me than it was this week, especially when it showed the death of the previous Offred. Some of the other discussions I’ve read about this episode have wondered if her suicide was at least partially the result of the same abuse the Commander is now dumping on our Offred. I don’t know whether or not I agree with this theory, but there were at least three small hints pointing in this direction: our Offred’s dress was at least a size too big for her; the makeup wasn’t quite the right shade for someone with her skin colour; Nick gave the Commander a hard stare when the previous Offred’s body was being taken out of the house.

The only redeeming part of the strange excursion that took up most of the screen time was that Offred and Moira finally got a chance to have a quiet discussion about what happened the night they tried to run away. Sadly, we didn’t get many details about what happened to Moira after she was captured. All we know for sure is that her spirit has been broken and that her only other choices was to go work in the Colonies until she succumbed to radiation poisoning. She was not the same extroverted, confident person she used to be. She was quiet, sad, and resigned to being hopeless. The only sparks of life I saw in her were when she noticed Offred and when Offred later told her that Luke was still alive.

They were small sparks, though, and I could see how they would be easily extinguished. With only two episodes left in this season, I’m not expecting to see Moira again. I’m hoping we’ll revisit this character next year. Maybe she’ll get to have an entire episode dedicated to her point of view the same way Luke did last week? I don’t know if this is too much to ask from the writers, but I’d sure love to know more about what’s happened to her and if or how she’ll escape. It was wonderful to see Moira again, but I also felt like we didn’t get enough details about what her life’s been like.

Her body language was perfect for this episode. I simply would have liked a little more storytelling to go along with it.Let’s keep our fingers crossed for next week! We still have two more episodes to go in season one, so anything can happen.

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

Introducing Offred’s World

Gender Treachery

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

Faithful

A Woman’s Place

The Other Side

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The Handmaid’s Tale: Faithful

This post includes spoilers for “Faithful” (Season 1, Episode 5) of The Handmaid’s Tale. As usual, the link on the left has full summaries of all of the episodes that have aired so far. This post is my reaction to what happened. 

I was happy to see the pacing pick up this week after the slower storytelling we saw in Nolite Te Bastardes Carbundorum. Offred was finally back to her usual routine after her long punishment.

This episode has been my favourite one so far. None of the storylines have ever felt discordant, but they were woven together especially beautifully this week.

I particularly enjoyed seeing Offred run into Ofglen at the grocery store. Ofglen – who is now known as Ofsteven thanks to her reassignment to a new home-  wasn’t a character I was expecting to see again so soon after her clitoridectomy, so it was pleasantly surprising to have her suddenly show up again.

We knew there was some kind of underground resistance to the society that Gilead created, but this week we got to learn its name: Mayday. Now that Ofsteven is considered too risky for them to use to pass around information anymore, I’m guessing that Ofglen will take her place if she can figure out who else is part of Mayday and how to get an invitation to it. No, I haven’t been reading spoilers for future episodes. I avoid them as much as is humanly possible. This is pure conjecture on my part.

Speaking of Ofsteven, her character development was excellent. She was so quiet, stiff, and subdued in her first few scenes that I never would have guessed the violent turn she’d take later on in the storyline. After she stole the car of one of the men guarding the market and ran over another guard, I remarked to my spouse that I thought this was a suicide attempt instead of an escape. There was nowhere for her to go due to the tight quarters of the market, and she didn’t seem calculating enough to get away even if there had been a convenient side street for her to drive down.

I liked the contrast between Ofsteven and the new Ofglen. (I will call her Ofglen2 to make this less confusing). I never would have guessed that any Handmaid would be content in her position, much less be desperate to hold onto it. Ofglen2’s story about being a prostitute who had to scrounge up a few dollars to afford fast food after turning a trick was brutal. Was it true, though? At first I honestly wondered if she was an Eye who had concocted this story as part of a plan to gain intel on Offred. Offred has already been questioned and tortured, though, so at this point I’m going to assume that Ofglen2 is telling the truth until or unless new facts emerge.

The Ceremony was as brutal as ever this week. I genuinely don’t understand how Commander Waterford can perform sexually with a Handmaid who doesn’t consent and a wife who looks traumatized every time it happens. These aren’t scenes I ever want to watch again, but the acting in them is brilliant.

While I already knew that Offred’s husband was married to someone else when they first began dating, seeing them together in flashback scenes gave me mixed feelings. She is a character I’ve grown to love, but watching Luke cheat on his spouse with her made my stomach turn. They were so flippant and unapologetic about it. They also had a lot of chemistry. If that act hadn’t been a violation of Nick’s vows, I would have been cheering for them.

I’m hoping that this will be explored in more depth either in this season or in a future season. Will we get to meet Luke’s first wife, Annie, and maybe even find out what happened to her? I sure hope so.

My thoughts about Serena Joy remain as complicated as ever. She is stuck in what seems to be a pretty joyless marriage,  she hasn’t been able to get pregnant (although I’m pretty sure that the Commander is the infertile one at this point, not her), and she seems incredibly bored and frustrated with her life.

And yet she treats the other women in her household so coldly. Based on how she’s spoken down to and treated Offred in the past, I get the impression that she’d turn on anyone in an instant if it benefited her. There is no real sense of camaraderie among any of the women in the house unless you count Serena Joy arranging for Offred to sleep with Nick, the family driver, in an attempt to make a baby. Even this act was selfish, though, and would never have been allowed if Serena couldn’t gain something priceless from it.

The sex scenes between Offred and Nick were my last surprise of the week. I winced during the first one because Serena Joy decided to stay in the room while it happened. I suppose she did it to protect them from anyone who might have come to talk to Nick while he was inseminating her, but it made the whole thing almost as awkward and creepy as the Ceremony itself.

Then there was their late night tryst. After 5 episodes of Offred being raped, it was bizarre to see her having consensual sex. I also thought this scene was a nice complement to the first time she slept with Luke. Both of those experiences would have gotten her in deep trouble if anyone had discovered them, and yet both of them gave her a lot of pleasure.

We are halfway done with season 1 of this show now. I am so grateful that there is a second season in the works. As much as I like what they’ve done with it so far, I get the impression that there are going to be many loose strings remaining after the season finale.

Previous posts in this series:

5 Things I Want from The Handmaid’s Tale

Introducing Offred’s World

Gender Treachery

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundorum

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An End and a Beginning

This is the final post of On the Other Hand. The last six years have been wonderful, but it’s time for me to move on to a new website and a different approach to blogging.

Effective today, I will be blogging at lydiaschoch.com. There’s a post there explaining why I made the move and what you can expect to see from me next.

I hope to see all of you over there!

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Guest Post: Why Your Next Move Should Be to Orange County

Why Your Next Move Should Be to Orange County

Orange County, CA is best known for its many tourist attractions. It is home to Disneyland, Downtown Disney, Huntington Beach, and Laguna Beach. Some would consider it a surfing mecca while others come to see the cities themselves.

Whale watching, sunbathing, hiking, shopping, and events are all awaiting every tourist that enters Orange County. However, OC might just be your next home if you’re an active, social person with a love of events, mild climates, and beautiful natural scenery. Here are a few reasons you should make your next move Orange County.

The Local Culture is Diverse and Vibrant

Orange County is home to a wonderfully diverse community of people. The internationality of the area is celebrated by its many festivals and events, the largest of which being Orange County International Street Fair, the Tet Festival, and the Irvine Global Festival. While both the Irvine Global Festival and the International Street Fair celebrate all of the cultures found in Orange County, the Tet Festival is the largest Vietnamese Lunar New Year Festival in the U.S. and is well worth a visit.

The Climate is Perfect 

The mild climate of Orange County offers plenty of sunshine without the excess heat of other sunny queen-mary-2-171869_1280locations. These lovely temperatures allow year-round dwellers to enjoy outdoor activities all year long, including sunbathing, swimming, surfing, boating, and hiking.

Of course, this also means beaches. Orange County falls on a coastline with 45 miles of beach along its edge. Living this close to the ocean would give you an excuse to spend day after day soaking up the sun, catching some waves, exploring tidal pools, and even building bonfires in the shoreline coves.

Natural Beauty Combined with City Life

While Orange County may be full of cities, city amenities, and city populations, there is also a component of natural beauty for the nature lovers. A Californian version of the Grand Canyon called Red Rock Canyon, can be found just down a leisurely trail while the county’s highest peak, Santiago Peak, is always available for the more rugged climbers. State parks and wildlife reserves are plentiful, featuring the native plants of both the shoreline and forested areas.

Meanwhile, in the cities, you continue to enjoy things like aquariums, museums, events, and even tourist attractions such as Disneyland. Things such as First Thursday Art Walk in Laguna Beach or the Elvis Festival can be on the agenda for one day with a full day of hiking the next.

Moving to Orange County may seem a little preposterous at first with its famed tourist population. But Orange County is a bright, colorful place to live that permits the city dwellers their activities and comforts while simultaneously satiating the needs of the avid outdoors-lover. Between state parks, wildlife reserves, hiking trails, festivals, museums, and the famed Disneyland, even a quick vacation to Orange County may end with you never wanting to leave. So take the leap. Move to the bustling Orange County and experience life in a way you may have never thought possible.

Image via Pixabay by larsen9236

Vee Cecil is a wellness coach, personal trainer, and bootcamp instructor. Vee is passionate about studying and sharing her findings in wellness through mynewwell.com

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Why the World Needs More Science Fiction

1. It gives you a hopeful vision of the future. As I’ve mentioned on Twitter, my spouse and I have been slowly watching Star Trek: The Original Series over the past few months. One of the things I appreciate the most about this show is its unbridled optimism. The characters live in a time and place… Read More

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Suggestion Saturday: November 19, 2016

Here is this week’s list of paintings, confessions, advice for setting boundaries, and other tidbits from my favourite corners of the web. It’s extra large this week because I couldn’t bear to cut anything out. Everything was important, so I hope you enjoy all of the bonus links. Confessions of a Dirty Shoe Dancer via maryanne_pope.… Read More

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Canada’s New National Bird: The Grey Jay?

Lately I’ve been scouring the web for distracting and silly news stories. One of the nicest ones I’ve come across so far was the semi-official announcement of Canada’s national bird. The link above shares facts about grey jays as well as discusses why they were selected for this honour. It also talks about the other species of… Read More

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Karma

Karma – Brandyn Burnette from Minhal Baig on Vimeo. This short film includes a brief scene from something horrifying that happened in the U.S. recently. I don’t normally like to give spoilers for the stuff I share here, but I think this warning is vague enough to brush away if you don’t mind violent scenes while also specific… Read More

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