Thursday, December 22, 2011

Handling Reviewer Comments

I posted this on Facebook this morning, but then realized that it might be useful to a broader audience than my family and friends. A short (but sweet) post relaying the best advice I've thus far received about the peer review (publishing) process and how to handle those ego-deflating (and sometimes just plain mean) reviewer comments. 

What to do when you get your reviewer comments back: 

  1. Read through them ONCE - thoroughly but very quickly. 
  2. Promptly close the reviewer document/email and set it aside for at least 2 days. 
  3. Read through the comments a second time (2 days later) w/ a clear head & fury quelled.
  4. Create a list of the issues you can actually attend to (in your own, non-snarky words), a list of things that are beyond your capabilities (e.g. "instead of surveys, you should do interviews"), and a list or note of places where reviewers contradict each other. 
  5. Tackle/check things off the (first) list one at a time. 
  6. Use your lists to write up your report of changes made (& any not made).
  7. When in doubt, don't be afraid to ask the editor for clarification (e.g. what to do about contradictory advice, etc.)
And throughout the whole thing, try to keep reminding yourself that the revisions and criticisms you've received are (deep down ;) meant to help you make your paper even better, and that the reviewers wouldn't have taken the time to craft detailed feedback if they didn't think your contribution was worthwhile. 

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Mobile Apps Get Rated

A pretty key and interesting development has been unfolding over at the ESRB this fall, as reported by Wendy Goldman Getzler for Kidscreen magazine last month. It would seem that despite their early hesitation to delve into mobile games, the videogames ratings board is now extending its system to mobile games as well, through a new partnership with CTIA-The Wireless Association® (an international nonprofit industry organization that represents the wireless communications industry). As  Goldman Getzler describes:
"[The] official CTIA Mobile Application Rating System with ESRB is designed to provide parents with more context on the appropriateness of apps for children.  The system will utilize the well-known age rating icons that ESRB introduced to computer and video games back in 1994. Apps will fall into six categories running from EC for Early Childhood to AO for Adults Only (18 and older)."

While a number of stores have already agreed to voluntarily support the new ratings system (including those run by Microsoft, AT&T and T-mobile), the two biggest players in the app landscape - Apple and Google - are opting to stick with their own systems instead. Leading to Jeff Blagdon's assessment that the ESRB's mew mobile app rating scheme is "toothless" and raises serious questions about "what impact, if any, it will have."

In addition to buy-in woes, the system itself seems a bit lightweight. As Blagdon, writing for The Verge, explains, the ratings themselves will be generated through a "cursory multiple-choice questionnaire about sexual content, language, and the sharing of user-generated content and location information. Once completed, the app is then rated "within seconds" – unlike the much more detailed rating process used for console games." The rating is then supposed to last for the "life of the app," with a small caveat that if the app is later updated in ways that might affect its rating, it *should* then be resubmitted. However, as Goldman Getzler points out, the ESRB has also stated that "it will routinely test the most popular apps and adjust inappropriate ratings when necessary" - which means that it's not intended to be a totally "laissez faire" self-directed system.

While I share in some of Blagdon's reservations, I'm also somewhat impressed that the ESRB is stepping up to the plate here. As I've written elsewhere (e.g. "Obsolescence Pending"), failure to keep up with new platforms and developments has been hugely diminishing the impact and efficacy of the ratings system over the past few years...which, although problematic and flawed (esp. around issues of censorship, access to culture, etc.), remains the only real regulatory framework for games that we have. So - good for the ESRB for making this important move. But also - good for Apple and Google for deciding to take on the enormously challenging task of trying to curate and manage such an enormous and ever-changing corpus of content. I hope something useful and innovative comes out of all this.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Gamercamp Lv3 Starts this Friday!!!!

The big "do not miss" event in town this weekend is Gamercamp Lv3, which runs from Nov. 25-27, features a plethora of awesome games, events and speakers, and showcases the pure awesomeness that is the Toronto indie game scene. Co-founded by Mark Rabo and Jaime Woo, Gamercamp is now in its third year and appears to be hitting one heck of a stride. Here's the description from the official website:
Gamercamp celebrates the artistry, innovation, and power of play. Attendees experience three days of inspiring talks, panels, presentations, gameplay sessions, demos, films, game jamming, and arcades showcasing the depth and talent of the North American games community.
The festival kicks off on Friday, with a keynote by FoldIt lead designer Seth Cooper, a series of MakerU events, and an evening "casual gala" hosted by Electric Playground's Shaun Hatton. Saturday is an eclectic mix of talks, including a morning in-conversation panel that I will have the honour of participating in along with the wonderful Emilie McGinley (Bigpants and TOJam co-founder) and the fantastic Mare Sheppard (Metanet co-founder). Saturday's schedule also includes demos, pwnage breaks, rapid fire talks and fascinating-sounding presentations, a grilled cheese factory, film screenings, game tournaments and a live-action Mario Party style game called "Urban Road Trip". Sunday morning is all about cartoons, gaming and eating sugar (in cereal form), more presentations, game tournaments and film screenings. I think I'm missing a couple of pub outings in and amongst there, but you get the general idea. Mayhem, inspiring talks and designs, and plenty of opportunities to play and meet the people making some of the most interesting and creative games out there right now.

Included on Gamercamp's extremely impressive and exciting roster of speakers are number of my most genius pals and colleagues, including Jason Nolan (Ryerson/EDGE Lab), Emma Westecott (OCADU), David Fono (Atmosphere Industries), Melanie McBride (York-Ryerson/EDGE Lab), Kate Raynes-Goldie (Atmosphere Industries), Nick Pagee (TIFF Nexus), and fellow iSchooler Andy Keenan.

Tickets are still available for most of the events (I think! Some things may have already (or are about to) sold out, but as of Monday afternoon there are still festival and day passes left). The festival is spread across downtown Toronto (starting in the Annex and ending up at George Brown College), is very grassroots and social, and promises to be eight and a half tons of fun. Hope to see some of you there!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Stop the Stop Online Piracy Act

Some really important and troubling things happening right now on the digital culture/content/access front. Via digital law expert Michael Geist:
The U.S. Congress is currently embroiled in a heated debated over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA), proposed legislation that supporters argue is needed combat online infringement, but critics fear would create the "great firewall of the United States." SOPA’s potential impact on the Internet and development of online services is enormous as it cuts across the lifeblood of the Internet and e-commerce in the effort to target websites that are characterized as being "dedicated to the theft of U.S. property." This represents a new standard that many experts believe could capture hundreds of legitimate websites and services.

For those caught by the definition, the law envisions requiring Internet providers to block access to the sites, search engines to remove links from search results, payment intermediaries such as credit card companies and Paypal to cut off financial support, and Internet advertising companies to cease placing advertisements.
While those of us outside of the US tend to think of ourselves as not (or less) effected by American legislation, Geist warns us to think again. The jurisdictional implications of SOPA are wide-reaching and imperialistic. As Geist explains:
While these measures have unsurprisingly raised concern among Internet companies and civil society groups (letters of concern from Internet companies, members of the US Congress,international civil liberties groups, and law professors), my weekly technology law column (Toronto Star version, homepage version) argues the jurisdictional implications demand far more attention. The U.S. approach is breathtakingly broad, effectively treating millions of websites and IP addresses as "domestic" for U.S. law purposes.
There's a hearing today, apparently, but requests for action are still circulating, so there is perhaps still time (albeit fleeting) to take action on this. The fabulous Avaaz has organized a "Save the Internet" campaign that includes an online petition. If you're an educator, you might want to add your name and support to the Concerned Educators Letter to Congress. For more information, you might want to check out the Electronic Frontier Foundation's growing reservoir of info and resources, which includes an easy online form for sending your objection to SOPA to your member of congress (US only).

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Live Blogging @ iWDMS Part 4 - Day 2

Some rough notes on the final panel of the final day of iWDMS (with usual disclaimer for typos, etc.).

OMDC: Play
Panelists: Claudette Critchley, COO, Big Blue Bubble
Valerie Fox, Director, Ryerson Digital Media Zone
Ana Serrano, Founding Director, Digital Media Lab, CFC
Diane Williamson, President, Digital Wizards Inc.
Moderator: Kim Gibson, Program Consultant, Industry Development Group,  OMDC

This panel is basically an overview of some of the projects & organizations the OMDC is involved in - sort of a platform for promoting the organization and raising awareness of the types of things it funds, supports, etc. Linkages to industry, academia, media archives, think tanks, etc. Useful if you're thinking about getting involved with them or applying for one of their funding opportunities.

Claudette Critchley: Big Blue Bubble - est.2004 - closing in on 100th game developed, mostly mobile: cell phones, NDS and now iOS. E.g. Dark Incursion -3D game; Burn the Rope; Home Sweet Home - casual game series on multiple platforms. Some of the largest game companies in Ontario are in London (other than Ubisoft in Toronto). Conference coming up in November - half of which will focus on development. Minors in videogame development, lots of talent in Ontario to feed the industry.

Valerie Fox: Digital Media Zone (DMZ) @ Ryerson, est. 2010 - aimed at helping young innovators (students - current or former, and other) grow new business/markets (?) and create jobs. Undergrads, grad students and alumni (also entrepreneurs and people from other universities and colleges) with amazing ideas - DMZ helps to turn these ideas into young companies - giving spaces, support, etc. From 6 or 7 to 34 companies (note: only 6 out of 34 founded by women). the idea is that they can begin there and then grow up and out (leave the DMZ once they've become big enough to make it on their own).  Free space (and resources) in exchange for commitment to be open with ideas, findings - goal of the Zone is to foster collaboration and "cross-pollination" of ideas and expertise. Idea has to have a plan, prototype, commercial or social value. [Note: check out "Shape Collages"]

Ana Serrano: CFC Media Lab - currently located at MARS. est.1997. Was with Don Tapscott's think tank, brought in by Norman Jewison etc. to create an "electronic cottage" at the CFC originally focused on enabling technologies for film. Became a proactive initiative aimed at seeding talent (e.g. storytellers and other Canadian creatives)  who could work towards creating/anticipating/understanding/shaping (etc.) new ways of storytelling in/through interactive media & other tech. 200 alumni who have started their own companies (e.g. Stitch Media). Shifting their focus now that these activities are being taken up by other orgs (such as DMZ) - for instance toward curriculum development and collaborative university programs (e.g partnership with OCAD), as well as collaborating to produce company accelerators (re: commercialization of interactive products). Current expertise in building prototypes. What they're missing (or Canada is more generally) is getting those products marketable, globally. Focus on sustainable, viable business plans, etc. Take the risks the private industry can't bear. Some examples of their products: First user-generated content storytelling project - the Great Canadian Story Engine. Locative cloud music service. Game that uses brain waves to move the story along. The future is now.

Diane Williamson: University of Waterloo-Stratford, particularly REAP (research entrepreneurship acceleration program) - new program, external to course of study, paid research position drawing students from across disciplines. focused on interactive digital displays. Working with GestureTek [yay!], and others. Work with tech to find new uses, new market, and collaborate on new research [so...using students for R&D???].

Of possible interest re: industry/academia partnerships:
OMDC's Entertainment and Creative Cluster Fund
Research Grants

In all of these initiatives, female representation is above average but not great. 25% at Big Blue Bubble; 30% at DMZ (mostly producing content - only 6/34 companies started by women, only 10% involved in tech work); 30% at CFC - women are not starting their own companies out of there either; Waterloo research program - 50/50.

Live Blogging the iWDMS - Part 3 - Day 2

As before - filled with typos, spelling mistake and maybe even the occasional mis-attribution. This is live blogging - it's messy!

LUNCH & LEARN - WIFT-T Industry Study Presentation

Panel Discussion between:
Susan Annis, Executive Director, Cultural Human Resources Council
Lynda Brown-Ganzert, Vice-President, Nordicity
Shelley Simmons, Director, Chocolate Liberation Front
Madeline Ziniak, National Vice-President, Rogers OMNI Television

Susan Ross, Partner, ISM Access; Chair of the WIFT-T Industry Study

Susan Ross: Representation in media industries lagging behind the rest of the workforce. Haven't seen great gains since previous studies - and in broadcasting, even a decline in women's participation.

Madeline: Unfortunately sees it as a trend - not on the radar - feminism is no longer an accepted word. Sea change in broadcasting generally, which she sees as not as sensitive to the importance of having women on board, in executive positions. 20 years ago, management would make an effort to have better representation (of women, other excluded groups) on short lists for positions - no longer the case.

Susan Annis: Advocacy groups are being silenced - not participating, not being funded, etc. It seems so obvious that we need that kind of balance for our cultural products to reflect the entire country, it's not rocket science. No need to get lost in the rhetoric of feminism, could potentially just be a numbers game (me: hmmmmm).

Linda: The idea of equality falling off the agenda found throughout. Several years ago, there was funding and support and curriculum to get girls into math, computer science, etc. Not so much anymore. If tech skills aren't being fostered at home, or elementary school, may not get it anywhere (or in time).

Susan (moderator) - technical side?
Shelley: From the interactive side - sees more women in technical roles, making casual games - but certainly not still dominant. Thinks there's a real potential for women to make games for women - don't see this as much.

Susan (moderator) - dismayed by the stats showing low take up rate (17%) on business training among women in film and tv sectors. how critical is business training.

Susan Annis: business skills aren't often why people go into the film and television industries - they want to direct, produce, write, etc. but business skills are really key - important to know them, know how that aspect of the industry works. WIFT has been taking a real lead here - holding workshops, etc. on production accounting, etc. These are key areas the industry has identified as important - a real need here - Susan says not limited to women.

Do the business skills open up doors? Madeline says not as much as they'd like to see - so another gap between skills training and application (opportunities for application).

Linda: recommends "just in time" training - quick and short that can respond to immediate needs, in lead up to a specific opportunity, etc.

Shelley: refers back to the summit's recurring theme of taking risks - and points out that there's a need for dispelling the myth around risks - revealing the repercussions, which often aren't all that bad.

Susan (moderator): Need to address the glass ceiling - we've shattered a layer, there's one more layer to go (executive level). not seeing movement amongst women. other than ruminating and training, what's left to do?

Madeline: mentions tokenism as a trend. Women work harder in attaining the positions, volunteering, trying hard to break through and get a network going. What do we have to do? Doesn't want affirmative action, but wants corps. and orgs. to take out the excuses for not looking at women for positions. sees a lot of old boys network that no one is talking about - people getting hired without going through the regular interview process. need to dispel certain cultural misunderstandings (e.g. perceptions about women and aggression - not being aggressive enough, or too aggressive, etc.).

Linda: Almost need to leap frog into issue of women on boards. On a board, women are empowered and have responsibility - can take action at this level to ensure that women *are* being considered for jobs, that hiring processes are fair and transparent, that diversity is on the agenda, etc.  [me: good stuff]

Madeline: reiterates the need to be more vocal - take a stand. trend away from that - just don't see or hear it anymore. needs to be reinvigorated.

[Me:...Gotta say, Madeline's comments are refreshing and overall quite awesome. the continued emphasis on women getting more training, more of the "right" kind of training, is sort of frustrating. Are women really the problem? I want to hear more about challenging the old boys' network...which I'm not sure an extra accreditation or accounting knowledge can really stand a chance against.]

Susan - moderator: Work life balance comes up again - a tired phrase, but nonetheless important finding of the study. Is there a level you can reach in an organization where you can have more freedom to have a "life"? In creative industries - with production schedules - is there a happy way to have both life and a career?

Linda: Time shifting, supportive co-workers. Work-life balance is a fallacy - there are moments/glimpses of it, but constant changes and shifts involved. Need to change the pitch - accommodate more life in the way work is structures, how employees are chosen and managed (and retained), results in a better workforce, better business, reputation, etc.

Shelley: Also need to encourage that men take parental leave - be more open to men taking this time as well - normalize the idea that this isn't (and shouldn't be) just something that applies to women. Clearly applies to men as well. [me: yes!!!!!]

Susan - moderator: Future - what's next - what would you like to see?

Susan Annis: Won't see a return to the 80s. All need to work together. Can't wait to see what will happen in 5 years, thinks men and women are understanding more and more that "we're in this together".  [me: btw: this here is a response that many of my undergrad students used to have when faced with current stats about inequity in employment/pay rates, etc. they'd say the study was outdated - even if the stats were only a year old - and that things were changing, and that men and women didn't feel that way anymore, so the statistical evidence was temporary, etc. Just sayin'! This is a pretty common reaction. Part of the problem?]

Madeline: this should be a signal - a pressure point - for organizations to take this and address it - to better reflect and prioritize diversity. need to take a leadership role in equity employment, etc. Ties this into business/economics - better for the market, which shouldn't be used as an excuse to not take risks, entrench in status quo, etc.

Shelley: would like to see this conversation back on the radar. comparative studies to show that there have been plateaus and lack of change.

Linda: wants canada to be global leaders in some sort of agreed upon standards for equitable employment.


Monday, October 24, 2011

Live Blogging iWDMS Part 2

Making Media that Matters Panel
Moderated by Andra Sheffer, ED, Bell Broadcast and New Media Fund

Jill Golick, Screenwriter/Digital Creator, Story2.OH
Years ago, TV producers told her that boys won't watch stuff with girls in it, but that girls would watch programs with boys (*can't remember the source, this is from one of the foundational books on kids' tv from the 60s or 70s)*. Today, they're still telling her the same thing. The continued belief in this gender segregation ignores how smart and insightful kids really are. Her work tries to represent kids that are more like real kids - mentioned Ruby Sky PI.

Katerina Cizek, Filmmaker in Residence, National Film Board of Canada
Documentary linking new media/social media, participatory media and film - currently working on one that focuses on high-rise living. Made one a couple of years ago for tracking the global handy cam phenomenon (*think Burma V.J.*). Describes Out My Window - the lives that people create out of the cracks in the grey concrete of the high rise. Doing action research through documentary filmmaking - peer researchers, getting people who live in suburban high rises to record their own experience. Many of their findings defied expectations - e.g. broadband penetration, which is supposed to be linked to income, was very high (80%??). Cizek argues that the most important question: What are people doing with these digital tools - in the peripheries and hidden places of our cities. Wants to better understand the city at its edges - the ways in which digital tech reconfigure, etc. (e.g. always on Skype with family members from country of origin, etc.).

Kirsty Hunter, Managing Director, The Project Factory UK
Presents the documentary film How to Start a Revolution her team was involved with on Gene Sharp - who wrote a highly influential guide to overthrowing dictatorships, links back to what's going on today. Tracking the patterns and "guide book" that revolutions around the world (Egypt, Syria, etc.) are basing their actions upon (e.g. english signs, non-violence). Online tracking has found increased traffic to Gene Sharp's works immediately preceding big massive social movements. Her group has launched a site, and are working on an app. Running a campaign alongside a television broadcast exposing the UK property scandal - media aimed not just at informing, but at instigating public action and law reform. She says her company is interested in "Ideas that hopefully affect change".

Jill Golick: Getting girls into tech, working with her daughter (?). Created a series that examined things you could do with your computer - set your Facebook settings, etc. Independent Production Fund call for web series - Golick pitched an online girl detective series (hadn't been one in awhile - live action for kids - maybe Harriet the Spy?)...which became Ruby Sky P.I.  Trailer takes on the whole email from a Nigerian prince requesting money transfer assistance scam. Wanted the kids to look like real kids (not TV kids) - light makeup, if they didn't brush their hair that morning - don't fix it, mix of purchased wardrobe and own clothes (actors'). Another episode focused on banning plastic water bottles - on the website included a real petition which was sent to parliament, etc. - also sell reusable (metal) water bottles.

Sheffer asks where is Canada lagging behind when it comes to new technology?
Cizek: mentions the mobile device issue - people from other countries are used to really cheap mobiles, and come to Canada it's a shock + barrier.
Golick: also ties in to making shorter programs (to watch on mobile devices).
Hunter: doesn't know - hasn't been here enough. But mentions Twit_Knit as a cool thing someone is doing in the UK, converging crafting and social media in innovative way.

Sheffer asks about media/tech convergence
Golick: Arab Spring - protests, etc. Showing films in different areas - say that documentaries don't work, but fiction (??).
Hunter: use of BBM in the London protests.
Cizek: Technology is just one piece of a larger social puzzle.  To a later question also mentions the tension between open source/participatory design and traditional models as a key consideration (in thinking about how tech will develop, role it will play, etc.). Also links this to later comment about the need to get more people into programming, design of technology, as key part of open source convo.
Golick agrees that keeping open source alive is crucial.

Sheffer - who is developing the new tech we're seeing (besides Steve Jobs).
Golick: explosion akin to the music scene of the 60s. Many different people, but people who want to color outside the lines
Cizek: many different industries, from military to various other. Emphasizes user appropriations (and re-appropriations) for new, humane uses - media industry has a role to play here.
Hunter: need to look outside regular toolkits. They've been experimenting with using chat bots inside games as characters - who adapt their responses to you. Taking bits of tech and adding them to your arsenal.

Live Blogging @iWDMS

Here goes my second attempt at live blogging from a conference - proceed with caution (many typos, clumsy paraphrasing and unfinished sentences ahead).

iWDMS Panel: Beyond Primetime: The Battle of Push vs. Pull

Norm Bolen - Chairman, Canadian Media Production Association (CMPA). Lots of money in traditional media, clear regulation on what they need to invest in CanCon - ensures that a % of revenue will be spent on canadian content.Ad market for tv has bounced back very well. CTV transaction, Canwest - pumped money into the broadcast system. Big bulge of money being invested in canadian content - US financing on prime time drama (Flashpoint, Rookie Blue) - right now. Really good for Canadian producers...but why haven't we seen an explosion in digital content to reflect this? Says that Canada is more risk averse - less capital/investment available - Canadian Media Fund (CMF) is really key in the financing of a large proportion of canadian content...existing financial model hasn't really worked, wasn't much incentive for producers (limited return on investment, limited rights, etc.). New "terms of trade" deal - formal, measurable, enforceable and now a requirement for broadcast license. Key element re: digital content - in all deals now being negotiated there's a revenue sharing agreement on digital rights/conversion content - 50/50 break down. This is going to change things significantly - from push to pull, young creators not interested in traditional media, etc.

Thinks we are reaching the day when it will be almost impossible to even imagine regulating digital content on the internet. Harder and harder to differentiate the pieces - not sure regulation will be the solution to the CanCon dilemma. As a country we need to find a way to contribute more online - we don't have a Canadian platform for digital content - is this an area that we need to look at, develop.

Samantha McWilliams, Legal Counsel, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC): Netflix - reached 800K subscriptions in its first year in Canada - estimates it will reach 1million at the end of Q3.

Rita Cugini, Commissioner, Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC)
Pay-per-view has a very long history - the climate/technologies are changing, but there is a history (or background) there to consider. The CRTC will be holding industry consultations over the next 3 weeks on the opportunities, challenges, threats presented by over-the-top services (such as Netflix) - and try to devise some solutions. Are these services "exempt" - should they be regulated? enforce CanCon requirements? require them to contribute a % of revenues to Canadian productions? These are some of the questions they will be considering over the next little while. In the meantime, Canada has become the poster child for over-the-top services (other countries are waiting to see what we'll do).

Q from audience: UltraViolet - online rights locker (US based) that also deals with distribution on all different platforms. Consortia incl. 64 major players in the US and Canada - launching imminently. btw: Netflix is part of the consortium.

Christina Jennings, CEO, Chairman, Executive Producer, Shaftesbury Films
Doesn't think that Canadians are risk averse. But traditional broadcasters are falling (have fallen) behind. Canada has a lot of money right now (for media production) and everyone knows it. The risk she sees has more to do with US investment coming in and taking over - Canadians should take advantage of these opportunities. We need to watch what's going on with the over-the-top services and what the CRTC decides to do here, need to watch the digital space. Canadian experimental fund - breaking ground that no one else is doing, and she links this back to the foundations of Canadian media (that media, broadcasting and Canadian content have always been considered important). Talked earlier about creating a digital game for a television series watched primarily by older audiences - the game failed, and she points to this as an example of a mistake to learn from. Need to match the digital content/app to the audience's needs, likes, etc. Not try to force things, or just latch onto the latest trend. New app for tween girls on a making-of-the-band-style drama/comedy series Totally Amp'd - series made from the app up...might launch on iTunes, then get picked up by broadcasters for their websites (webisodes), and then the question becomes will it move to traditional media. Interesting! Using online to create an audience - alternative to "using a brand" (e.g. adaptations of a known character or book series, etc.).

Norm Bolen: Significant amounts of money being raised by consumers and fans of content through micro-financing, crowd sourcing (Kickstarter etc.). Younger people especially, engaging in this not to make money but to support content they care about. Rejection of traditional media, production standards, etc. Digital content creation is going to come out of these newer models, these types of producers and consumers.

Christina Jennings: It's all changing, but points out that amazing things being made online (movies for $1 million) aren't necessarily making money for the creators involved. Need to break open, cross barriers with the traditional broadcasters (they have all the money after all) - who will ultimately be the ones to push us forward. (I think she means into a sustainable industry model). Also points to the need for curation of all this user-generated and independently produced content - a role she feels can be filled by traditional broadcasters, producers, etc. To start to curate, highlight, select (sort of what broadcasters have been doing all along) - not just showcase tie-ins to their current (traditionally modelled) programs, but original digital content that fits into their overarching "brand" or vision (e.g. CTV, YTV, etc.).

Bolen: Youtube has channels that already serve this function = new curation models, that he thinks will become increasingly important. Some of these will become dominant, successful models (a la Huffington Post for news). Points to comedy as a key area where this is taking place.

Cugini: Regulator - what should the role be (earlier asked if there even should be a role)? These are questions CRTC is asking itself. Don't have funds - can only require that funds flow in certain ways (e.g. CanCon funding), but even then, there are so many questions and uncertainties involved right now. Thinks that linear, traditional broadcasting is probably not going away in our lifetime - but asks 'what are broadcasters doing to embrace and compliment the digital'? Are they being as innovative as online broadcasters? From this it sounds like the biggest concern here is ensuring -- or at least supporting as much as possible -- industry success.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

This Week: Arthur Slade talks "From Hobbits to HTML" at Lillian H. Smith

"Hobbit Hole" ©2009-2011 ~Legacy0 on devianArt

I've posted this already on the Children's Cultural Texts & Artifacts blog, but wanted to be sure that word got out to a broader audience, as this event promises to be a really compelling one. Arthur Slade, Saskatoon YA author and Governor General Award winner, will be speaking at the Lillian H. Smith branch (TPL) this Thursday (Oct. 20, 8pm), on the future of YA/children's publishing and his own - pretty innovative - move to ebooks. Here's an excerpt from the TPL announcement:

The 24th annual Helen E. Stubbs Memorial Lecture
Arthur Slade: "From Hobbits to HTML" 
Art Slade is one of Canada's most versatile authors, whose award-winning work ranges from realistic historical fiction about the Great War through steampunk, graphic novels and fantasy adventures. As a young reader, Art was influenced by the works of J.R.R. Tolkien and Ray Bradbury. Now an established author, he explores becoming his own publisher through ebooks. Is this the future of children's writers?
There's also Facebook page for the event. As for finding out more about the author, he's all over the interwebs: there's an official Arthur Slade's website, sites for the various different books/series, and Slade's livejournal blog Writing for Young AdultsAnd if you haven't had a chance to read any of Slade's work yet, the books themselves are available in every format imaginable (including iBook, Kindle, etc.), are magnificently affordable, and you can even find free sample chapters online. I just downloaded the first of his Northern Frights series, Draugr, which has the creepiest first line ever ("Grandpa was going to murder us"), a perfect fit for these dark and stormy October nights.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Upcoming Event: Centre for Media & Culture in Education (CMCE) Panel on "Youth, Media and Education"

The following is a cut-and-paste reproduction of the original ad/announcement, sent out by email last week. Sorry for the last minute notice - this should be a really interesting discussion, so hope some of you can make it:
The Centre for Media and Culture in Education
The Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, The University of Toronto
A panel presentation and discussion on:
Youth, Media and Education
Friday September 30th, 2011
4 to 6 pm, Room 11-164
Panelists:  Bronwen Low, Sara Grimes, and Kry Verall
Discussant:  Megan Boler
Bronwen Low explores the implications and challenges of popular youth culture for curriculum theory, literacy studies, and pedagogy. This includes examining spoken word culture (including rap music and slam poetry) for insight into the evolution of youth language and literacy practices as well as identities. Current research includes community-media projects and pedagogies, translanguaging and the multilingual Montreal hip-hop scene, and the pedagogical implications of the lifestories of Montrealers who have survived genocide and other human rights violations. In relation to the latter, she is developing curriculum for use in Quebec schools. She has recently published (2011) Slam school:  Learning through conflict in the hip-hop and spoken word classroom. Stanford University Press, and, with Michael Hoechsmann, (2008) Reading youth writing: “New” literacy, cultural studies, and education. NY: Peter Lang.
Dr. Sara M. Grimes is an Assistant Professor with the Faculty of Information, University of Toronto, where she teaches and researches in the areas of children's digital culture, digital games, and critical theories of technology. Her published work includes explorations of children's virtual worlds and online games (Media International Australia), discussions of intellectual property (New Media & Society) and fair dealing rights within digital game contexts, as well as examinations of thepolicy and ethical dimensions of online advertising and transmedia marketing strategies targeting children (International Journal of Communication Law & PolicyCanadian Journal of Communication). She has presented her work at a number of national and international conferences, and has participated in various workshops and consultations examining issues and implications relating to children's digital culture. Sara's current research explores child-generated content in digital games (such asLittleBigPlanet), the role and function of transmedia intertextuality within children’s play and cultural participation, and emerging issues around children’s creativity and cultural rights. She blogs about this work and related items of interest atGamine Expedition (
Krys Verrall is a cultural scholar in children’s and youth studies, visual culture, art and education. My research employs feminist, anti-racist, post-structuralist and postcolonial theory to explore the complex politics of race, gender, and age in nation building, citizenship practices and globalization. The main thrust of may work explores the ways that marginal populations engage with the mechanisms of representation and enfranchisement. As an experienced educator, I am committed to art and equity infused approaches to education. Both my research and teaching aims to build conversations and collaborations between between communities within and without the university, and across disciplines. My scholarly record includes an upcoming publication with Krabbesholm Books, Denmark, referred publications, and an extensive list of scholarly presentations. I currently teach in the Children’s Studies Program, at York University, Toronto Canada.
Megan Boler received her Ph.D. from the History of Consciousness, University of California Santa Cruz. Presently Associate Chair of the Department of Theory and Policy Studies, and Coordinator of the History and Philosophy of Education program, at the Ontario Institute of Studies inEducation at the University of Toronto (UT), and served as Director of Women’s Studies at Virginia Tech in 2002-03. She is Associate Faculty of the Center for the Study of United States and the Knowledge Media Design Institute also at UT. Megan Boler speaks internationally on social justice in political and cultural contexts, pedagogy of discomfort; race, class, and gender in education and media, explored through cultural, feminist and communication studies. She is currently completing a three-year funded research project, “Rethinking Media, Citizenship and Democracy: Digital Dissent after 9/11,” through interviews and surveys examines the motivations of producers of “digital dissent”--practices of digital media to counter mainstream media.  Her web-based productions include a study guide to accompany the documentary The Corporation (dirs. Achbar and Abbott 2003), and the multimedia website Critical Media Literacy in Times of War. She teaches philosophy, cultural studies, feminist theory, media studies, social equity courses in Teacher Education program, and media studies at the Knowledge Media Design Institute at University of Toronto.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

iWDMS: Early Bird Registration Deadline THIS Friday!!!

©2011 Women in Film & Television - Toronto
For those of you with an interest in gender and media, digital media, and opening up opportunities in digital media production to more women and girls, please be sure to check out the upcoming International Women in Digital Media Summit (iWDMS), which will be held October 23-25 (2011) in lovely Stanford Ontario. Organized by Women in Film & Television – Toronto, this three-day conference aims to provide networking opportunities and knowledge sharing, panels and presentations by a variety of national and international digital media experts. Here's an excerpt from the summit website:

Why Women? From gaming, to social media, to cross-platform and transmedia storytelling, the digital media landscape is evolving to include the female demographic in key roles as consumers, producers and decision-makers. Featuring more than 50 high profile presenters, the iWDMS will explore the expanding roles and impact of women within digital media businesses. 

The roster of speakers is really amazing - including an opening keynote by Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post), and an "in conversation" dinner with Ubisoft's Jade Raymond and Carolyn Lawrence (CEO at Women of Influence). I'm participating on a panel on New Media Literacies: The Role of Women in Creating Balances and Futures on day 2 of the conference with Ilona Dougherty (Co-founder and Executive Director of Apathy is Boring) and Kaliya Hamlin (Coproducer of the Internet Identity Workshop)...both of whom run such incredibly cool projects that I can't wait to hear more about. The event is starting to get some coverage from the media (e.g. in Techvibes), and promises to be a very unique and exciting event all around (with the added bonus of a bunch of extracurriculars, including an outing to a performance of Camelot and a pub night). 

The early-bird registration deadline is this coming Friday (Sept. 23), but regular registration will remain open for a few more weeks. Hope to see some of you there!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Call for Proposals: Children's Material Cultures @ York

Just a quick heads up on an upcoming CFP and event organized by the Association for Research in Cultures of Young People (ARCYP), which will be held at York University next month. In the interests of disseminating this info far and wide as quickly as possible (the deadline is THIS WEEK), here is a cut-and-paste of the original CFP:

ARCYP / Children’s Studies Program Symposium 2011
York University - Friday October 21, 2011 – 1:00 – 4:30 p.m.

On Friday October 21, 2011, from 1:00 to 4:30 p.m., the Association for Research in Cultures of Young People (ARCYP) and the Children’s Studies Program at York University will co-present a symposium on new research in Children’s Material Cultures. The symposium is free and open to all faculty and students in the Children’s Studies Program as well as to other interested people from York and beyond. Presenters will include ARCYP Executive members and York Children’s Studies Program faculty and students. The symposium will consist of two panels/roundtables and open discussion on new and emerging research on children’s material cultures, and will include time for refreshments and socializing and meeting with the presenters.

ARCYP Executive Members, ARCYP Members, and interested York Children’s Studies Faculty or students are invited to send a TITLE and ONE BRIEF PARAGRAPH describing their proposed 15-20-minute presentation to the symposium coordinator in an e-mail message to no later than Friday September 23 so that the event can be publicized appropriately.

For the purposes of this symposium, children’s material culture is understood to refer to those things that are central to the way meaningfulness and relationality are constituted, negotiated, and made anew within the diverse and globalized contexts of young people’s contemporary lives. This includes the practices through which children’s things - including toys, games, literatures and technologies – are used and consumed, and the way such things (and their associated practices) are situated in relation to particular contexts and to questions of political economy, gender, race and sexuality. While children and youth in the global North and South continue to be the site of an immense set of challenges, pressures, and risks – that have to do with the environment, war, health, politics, the economy, and the role of new technologies – that shape young people’s mobility, opportunity, and sense of the future, this symposium seeks new research that examines how and in what ways children’s things are implicated in and, in some instances, an antidote to the above risks. This includes work that addresses the amplified role of consumerism as a constituent feature of the children’s material cultures and work that examines how this culture operates in the spaces and places children call home.

Topics for the symposium may include but are not limited to the following:
• research from various methodological traditions – including phenomenology, cultural studies, and ethnography – that addresses children’s use of games, toys, and technologies as a feature of play, work, or education
• research that examines the changing nature of consumerism and consumer practices in children’s material culture
• research that examines the role of things (toys, games, and technologies) in relation to children’s socialization

More generally, we are interested in:
• materialist-feminist criticism and analyses of children’s literature and culture
• materialist analyses of post-colonial children’s literature and culture
• the political economy of children’s literature and culture"

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Back to School: 2011-2012

©2008-2011 *MAFIA11
The end of summer/start of fall is always a really crazy time for us university types. Summer projects (and courses) need to be wrapped up, new courses launched, new students welcomed, pre-existing students/contacts/research partners reconnected with, committees to work on and meetings to attend, emails and websites to write...not to mention all the fun stuff going on in Toronto this time of year (ahem, TIFF). I've fallen behind on just about everything - this blog, my writing, my research, my sleep - but am nonetheless feeling very much caught up in the giddy excitement that's permeating the campus right now. I love this time of year - the new school year and the change of seasons both inspire this great, tangible sense of hope and possibility, of newness. This is one of the most amazing dimensions of having never really "left" school - that September is still very much a marked, noticeable transition point, a new year we get to celebrate before everyone else, a partial reset button.

We had our first week of classes this week, and I just wrapped up the second first lecture of the two courses I'm teaching this term. Both are courses I've taught before, and both are filled with the familiar faces of students from my previous courses, which is really just too unbelievably fun. I think that this is going to be a stellar semester in both courses, and look forward to getting to know these new groups, their interests, projects, etc. I'm still in the process of updated the course blogs, but if you check them out sometime over the next little while, you can see what we're up to this semester:

Children's Cultural Texts & Artifacts:

Research Methods:

And to any new students who have just recently stumbled upon this blog: welcome!!!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Coming Soon! Gamercamp Jr

©2011 Gamercamp
For anyone who is or knows a kid between the ages of 9 and 13 with an interest in games and game design, you should definitely check out this new, very cool resource (and upcoming event) put together by the awesomely fantastic guys behind Gamercamp. Gamercamp Jr. is a website, a set of downloadable activity kits, as well as an upcoming in-person meet up, all aimed at introducing kids to game design concepts and language. The whole thing springs from Mark Rabo and Jaime Woo's (Gamercamp founders) vision and ongoing efforts to support the local production of more diverse, independent game ideas, designs, distribution, etc. I couldn't be more thrilled (and proud) to see them extending their mandate to often overlooked in discussions of advancing diversity within cultural production, and yet so unbelievably imaginative and awesome at inventing games and other play opportunities.  

You can check out (and download) the Game Making Kits here.

And here's the (cut+pasted from the official site) info for the Gamercamp Jr Meetup:

On September 10th, 2011, we’re having a local meetup for Gamercamp Jr. at the George Brown School of Design in Toronto where children and their parents/guardians will participate in hands-on activities, hear from professional gamemakers, and create their own games. The event is free and open to children from the ages of 9 – 13 and their parents. (We anticipate adapting future events to a wider age-range!)Grab your ticket starting August 6th, 2011.
PLEASE NOTE: We will not be able to admit children without adult supervision.
Can't wait to see what amazing things emerge out of this initiative. Huge kudos to Mark and Jaime for organizing this and for providing such a uniquely ethical, considered, awesome voice for inclusive game design in all its forms.

Friday, August 19, 2011

CFP Alert: iConference 2012

In case you missed it the first time, we're hosting the next iConference and it's going to be a blast. Submissions are due Sept.12 - hope to see lots of children's lit/media, digital media, copyright/remix culture, tech, design and games people there :)

Here's the (cute and paste) original CFP:

Now Accepting Submissions: iConference 2012
Toronto, Canada
February 7-10, 2012

Greetings to everyone!

We are now accepting submissions for iConference 2012, our seventh annual gathering of scholars, researchers, and professionals who share an interest in the critical information issues of contemporary society.

The iConference will include peer-reviewed papers, posters, alternative events, and workshops—all intended to push the boundaries of information studies, explore core concepts and ideas, and create new technological and conceptual configurations. Our four-day event takes place in downtown Toronto, February 7-10, 2012. The conference theme is: Culture * Design * Society.

Authors and organizers can now submit papers, poster abstracts, alternative events proposals, and workshop proposals using our secure submissions website: All submitting authors must provide basic information and agree to copyright parameters as a condition of acceptance and publication. Papers and poster abstracts will be published in the ACM Digital Library.

In addition, a Doctoral Student Colloquium is being organized, with funding from the National Science Foundation. Applications for the colloquium are now being accepted. Learn more at A Junior Faculty & Postdoc Colloquium is also in the works.

The iConference series is sponsored by the iSchools, a growing association of more than 30 Schools, Faculties and Colleges in North America, Europe and Asia—however, affiliation with the iSchools is not a prerequisite, and we encourage everyone to participate. Presenting sponsors of iConference 2012 include NSF and Microsoft Research.

* Conference home:
* Submissions site:
* Last Year’s Proceedings:

Submission types:
* Papers:  We’re looking for original research, six to eight pages; papers will be refereed in a blind process, and accepted papers will be published in the ACM Digital Library.
  Submission deadline: Monday September 12, 2011
  Notification: Early November
  Final version due: Monday December 5, 2011

* Posters: We’re interested in posters presenting new work, preliminary results and designs, or educational projects. Poster abstracts will undergo a blind review, and accepted posters will have their abstracts published in the ACM Digital Library.
  Submission deadline: Monday September 26, 2011
  Notification: Mid November
  Final version due: Monday December 5, 2011

* Workshops: These can be half- or full-day and can focus on any area within information.
  Submission deadline: Monday September 19, 2011
  Notification: Early October
  Final version due:  Monday October 31, 2011 

* Alternative Events: These can include panels, fishbowls, performances, storytelling, roundtable discussions, wildcard sessions, demos/exhibitions, and more. All should be highly participatory, informal, engaging and pluralistic.
  Submission deadline: Monday September 19, 2011
  Notification: Mid November
  Final version due: Monday December 5, 2011

* Doctoral Colloquium: This year’s colloquium will be organized around the theme of “inquiry.” Applicants will submit a 1,000 word abstract addressing the question, “What is the nature of inquiry in the information field, what makes it similar to or different from other areas of research, and what challenges have you met in your own research in this regard?” Visit our website for details:
  Application deadline: Friday September 30, 2011
  Notification: Late November


Conference Chair
* Jens-Erik Mai, University of Toronto

Papers Chair
* Jonathan Furner, University of California, Los Angeles

Posters Chair
* Paul Marty, Florida State University

Alternative Events Chair
* Philippa Levy, University of Sheffield

Workshops Chair
* Kelly Lyons, University of Toronto

Doctoral Colloquium Co-Chairs
* Hamid Ekbia, Indiana University
* Howard Rosenbaum, Indiana University

Keynote Speakers Chair
* Brian Cantwell Smith, University of Toronto

Publication Chair
* Yuri Takhteyev, University of Toronto

Social Media Chair
* Rhonda McEwen, University of Toronto

Program Committee

* Mark Ackerman, University of Michigan
* Alessandro Acquisti, Carnegie Mellon University
* Jack Andersen, Royal School of Library and Information Science
* Nick Belkin, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey
* Jean-François Blanchette, University of California, Los Angeles
* Johan Bollen, Indiana University
* Geoff Bowker, University of Pittsburgh
* Amy Bruckman, Georgia Institute of Technology
* Donald Case, University of Kentucky
* Chen Chuanfu, Wuhan University
* Paul Clough, University of Sheffield
* Kevin Crowston, Syracuse University
* Ron Day, Indiana University
* Melanie Feinberg, University of Texas, Austin
* Robert Glushko, University of California Berkeley
* Sean Goggins, Drexel University
* Sara Grimes, University of Toronto
* David Hendry, University of Washington
* Steven Jackson, Cornell University
* Jim Jansen, The Pennsylvania State University
* Michelle Kazmer, Florida State University
* Anita Komlodi, UMBC
* Christopher (Cal) Lee, University of North Carolina
* Bonnie Mak, University of Illinois
* William Moen, University of North Texas
* Bonnie Nardi, University of California, Irvine
* Heather L. O'Brien, University of British Columbia
* Ee-Peng Lim, Singapore Management University
* Vivien Petras, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
* Kalpana Shankar, University College Dublin
* Elizabeth Shepherd, University College London
* Bo Xie, University of Maryland

Learn more at

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Save Our Libraries

©2011 Our Public Library TO, campaign logo

I know that many of you (particularly those of you in Toronto and other parts of Canada) have been following the recent, very troubling, threat of funding cuts to our city's public library system...along with numerous other community services, arts and enormously important public fora and services. Many of you are already participating in campaigns to save the Toronto Public Library (TPL) against the proposed cuts and closures, while many more are bemoaning the parallels between the discussions this summer in Toronto and what's been happening in other cities and countries around the world over the past few years. I've posted about the Our Public Library campaign on twitter and Google+ a few times already, but want to republish my thanks and gratitude to everyone who's been taking action and speaking out against the possible privatization (or more simply destruction) of the Toronto public libraries and other community services. 

For those of us with an interest (professional or personal) in children's literature, media and culture, a threat to public libraries--and to children's services specifically (as is the case here)--is a particularly crucial issue to rally around. Children are major users of public libraries (in some cases, making up over 40% of patrons); there are all sorts of important correlations between library access/use and learning (and achievement); not to mention all the links between rights/wellbeing and access to information, culture, literature, ICTs, knowledge, community programming, and everything else the library currently provides.

For those of you who haven't been following this story, here's a very brief rundown, which I hope will also serve as a (renewed) call to action and support. In July, consultants hired by Mayor Ford and City Council to come up with recommendations for spending reductions proposed sweeping cuts to the Toronto Public Library, which would include branch closures, reduced hours, and cuts to children’s services. Here's the summary from the Our Public Library "Threat" page:
Mayor Rob Ford, launched a review of all city services as a prelude to a massive Toronto budget-slashing plan. The TPL is a target of this Core Services Review, a process with the goal of privatizing or shutting down municipal services. 
Following the lead of several American cities, we are likely to see our City Council privatize some or all of the TPL’s operations, unless we act to change this outcome.
How could a private company make a profit running a free service that is funded by taxpayers? The mandate of the private operator would be to reduce the level of public funding that now supports our libraries. At the same time, they need to make a profit. There is an inevitable conflict here which signals bad news for all library users, from children to seniors.  First, local branches of the Toronto Public Library would almost certainly be closed. Library users would see higher user fees, fewer books and less access to the information and other vital services our public libraries offer for little or no cost as hours of operation are limited. The cuts to library staff that have been going on for years will be accelerated. 
Three quarters of Toronto residents oppose closing local library branches as a way of cutting costs and seven-in-ten oppose library privatization.
Or, if you'd prefer a video summary, here's the one that's been making the rounds:

The announcement and the Our  Public Libraries TO campaign led to a petition, which you can sign here, as well as a very strong pro-library presence at last week's marathon city council meeting (22+ hours, 169 concerned citizen speakers), which you can read more about here, and a now infamous battle between the Fords and the fabulous Margaret Atwood. During all this, City Councillor (and the mayor's brother) Doug Ford has said some pretty inflammatory things, which helped enormously in raising public interest and awareness (including the much cited, "“we’re going to be outsourcing everything that is not nailed down” and the famously erroneous "I’ve got more libraries in my area than I have Tim Hortons").

Final decisions about the cuts have been postponed until September 19th, so keeping the campaign alive will be tough but key. A number of councillors have already sided against cuts to the TPL, but a lot can happen in six weeks. So be sure to spread the word often and loudly. And remember that this is just one of many fronts upon which this battle is being fought these days.


  • Our Public Library TO campaign website
  • Phil Bradley's Save our Library posters - from the recent UK campaign
  • Follow Margaret Atwood's Twitter
  • Follow (and add to) the #savetpl twitter topic
  • Use the library - visit your local branch, take out lots of books. If you don't have one already, sign up for a TPL library card asap
  • Let me (and everyone) know about things, events, actions you're taking to fight the proposed cuts (to the TPL, arts funding and/or any other essential community service), and I'll be sure to repost it across my networks!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Summer Reading List

With beach/cottage season well underway, questions about good summer reads and recommendations have been coming up with alarming frequency. Everyone has their own ways and resources for answering these questions, of course, and I'm no exception. Out of a series of twitter and blog posts (many of them on YA librarian sites), coincidences and other people's recommendations, I've compiled the following list of "must reads" for the summer (and beyond). And I figured I'd might as well share them here, just in case something catches one of your eyes as it did mine. First a disclaimer - these are books I'm going to read, but haven't read yet, so can't vouch for their quality, availability, etc. This is just a list of the books that are currently on my nightstand or Kindle inbox, books that have caught my eye for one reason or another, which I may or may not review or even mention again after summer's end. (that said - if you read or have read one of these and want to chat about it - let me know!!!).

So clearly, any book with this awesome of a title is going to pique some immediate interest. After reading the description, the glowing endorsements from a wide range of notable sources - from Neil Gaiman to Cory Doctorow, and watching the adorable neo-gothic promo video, I'm putting this one at the very top of the summer reading list. The book used to be available free online, and a huge chunk of it still is on the author's website, but really this is an example of using the web to launch something wonderful, and I'm definitely keen on supporting that by tracking down a print copy. The story itself sounds lovely, and from the reviews it also sounds like Valente does some pretty cool (even critical) twists with standard fairy tale tropes in order to create something fresh and original. The basic premise (at least from what I can glean from the the back cover...I'm sure it's more complex) is: A girl named September gets whisked away to Fairyland where she meets amazing creatures (including a "book loving Wyvern" - gotta love that) and is enrolled in a series of adventures and quests. Here's a short promo video about the book put out by the publisher:

The Boneshaker
by Kate Milford 
(illustrations by Andrea Offermann)
Another book that features a heroine who makes things (squee!), I discovered The Boneshaker at the Columbia University book store. I admit that I was first intrigued by the cover - the shock of red hair, the  girl in coveralls, the gears and steampunk-esque objects. The story is set in small town Missouri in the 1910s, and the mix of history, magic, and gorgeous illustrations are all very promising. The School Library Journal describes the heroine, Natalie Minks as a 13-year-old who "likes machines—the way they make sense, the way all the gears and cogs fit together to make something happen." Her life is disrupted by the arrival of a mysterious (and perhaps magical...or even demonic) snake-oil salesman, who sounds a little like Leland Gaunt from Stephen King's Needful Things. The book was also reviewed on a few blogs I like, including Great Imaginations and Book Aunt.

by Cherie Priest
So, after I picked up that copy of The Boneshaker, I looked it up online to find out more about it and the author. And in so doing, I found out that there's a better known book (a SciFi channel essential book in fact) by the same name (Boneshaker) by Cherie Priest that fits more squarely within the steampunk genre, is part of a series, and has a massive following online. After reading through the author's website dedicated to the "alternate-history world setting" described in the books (The Clockwork Century), it turns out that I'm going to have to read this one too! It sounds fantastic - in the (alternate) late 1880s, a mom sets out in an airship to rescue her son, last seen headed toward a destroyed Civil War era Seattle (destroyed by her mad-inventor-late-husband). Also, there are zombies. How have I not heard of this book until now, I wonder?

Happily Ever After
by various (including some of my fave) authors
The Amazon description for this book is simply: "a star-studded book of fairy tales, featuring an introduction by Bill Willingham (Fables) and stories by Gregory Maguire, Susanna Clarke, Karen Joy Fowler, Charles de Lint, Holly Black, Garth Nix, Kelly Link, Peter Straub, Neil Gaiman, ..." Enough said :)

by Trenton Lee Stewart 
(illustrated by Carson Ellis)
This is an oldie, but by all accounts a very goodie. My cousin Zack recommended that I add this series to my list, because it's really about time I read them for myself. I've written about these books before, impressed by some of the fan activity that emerged around them, but agree that I really should experience them firsthand. The Mysterious Benedict Society is a group of "gifted children looking for special opportunities," who embark on adventures, solve mysteries and use their minds and cooperation to defeat a motley crew of villains (and young villains in training). Thanks for the suggestion Zack!

Peter and Max
by Bill Willingham
(Illustrations by Steve Leialoha)
From author Bill Willingham, a novel based on the world and characters from his award-winning Fables comics/graphic novel series (which also happens to be my current absolute favourite comic series). I'm about halfway through this one and it's every bit as gripping as Willingham's amazing comic series...he doesn't just have a great knack for transforming fairy tales characters and themes into something utterly new, playful, dark and epic, but his descriptions are rich, his character development extremely strong, his plot devices unexpected, strong and compelling. The story here follows characters who don't regularly appear in the comic series - Little Bo Peep, Peter Piper and his evil brother Max. If you haven't read the comics yet, this book would serve as a great introduction to Willingham's style - even though you'll be missing half of the experience (the half told through Buckingham's illustrations...though I should add that Leialoha's illustrations here are lovely).

by Michael Chabon
I have no excuse in the world for not having read this yet - award winning, much acclaimed, and written by someone I totally admire and often cite in my work, I clearly should have read this years ago. I'm almost done and every bit as impressed as I thought I'd be. The story follows the exploits of two young Jewish cousins, boys/men who create a wildly successful comic book (well, series of comics) around a superhero called the Escapist leading up to and during WWII, while grappling with deep and very difficult feelings about what's happening in Europe, while also trying to save their family members left behind in Prague. The book is a blend of magic and myth and very real issues, oscillating between the stories the two boys (later men) dream up for their superhero, their own superhero-origin-like backstories, and an alternate history of WWII-era New York. 

And, because my list of academic books to read is constantly acquiring too many new titles to ever get through, it would be great to knock a couple off before classes begin in September. Two that I'd especially like to get to sometime over the next couple months:

and David Gauntlett's Making is Connecting