Archive of ‘Book Review’ category

Book Review: Whitechapel Real Time by The History Press

This review was completed for INF533- Literature in Digital Environments.

Whitechapel real time (@WChapelRealTime) is a historical retelling of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ mystery.  The story, published by The History Press, is delivered via micro-blogging in a Twitter feed and supported by additional content on the publisher’s website and Facebook page.  This project was written in 2013 between the 24th of August and the 11th of November to mark the 125 year anniversary of the first ‘Jack the Ripper’ murder.  The History Press state that all content for the story was thoroughly researched in order to accurately portray Victorian society during 1888 (2013a, para.1).  It can be identified that this story is a digitally originated literary text and due to elaborations in the form of factual information, non-fiction artefacts and links, this text can be categorised as an interactive story (Unsworth, 2006, p.3).  The success of Whitechapel real time is its ability to engage readers through literary devices, interactive opportunities and thoughtful design.

Whitechapel real time is a complex narrative that contains a number of literary elements including a fast-paced plot, character development and an evocative setting.  The content of Whitechapel real time is the result of work by historians, some calling themselves ‘Ripperologists’, who researched primary and secondary sources to produce a historically focused story (Dangerfield, 2013, para.26).  The plot follows events that unfolded over four months in 1888 and is delivered via first-person tweets.  Characters are identifiable by hashtagged names at the start of tweets.  By retelling these events from the perspectives of local people at the time, such as reporters, dock workers and policemen, the feed develops characterisation, allowing the reader to feel empathy for those touched by the crimes.  These tweets are interspersed with photographs and artefacts from Victorian London (as seen in the examples below) that create setting and build atmosphere as the plot progresses.  The use of these artefacts and visuals demonstrate synergy between the digital features and literary elements of the story (Walsh, 013, p.189), and is a strength of the publication.


Whitechapel real time is not the first instance of The History Press experimenting with Twitter to publish a story.  They had previously received praise for the Titanic real time project that was published in 2012 and amassed over 111, 000 followers (Brown, 2013, para.14).  Kasman Valenza and Stephens state that such experimentation with new forms of reading is a trend among authors who aim to appeal to young readers that have grown up surrounded by digital media (2012, p.2).  These platforms promise to engage users by offering them opportunities for interaction and feedback.  Such interaction is evident in Whitechapel real time when the reader is offered the opportunity to follow links to further historical information about the events and people identified in the story.  There is evidence that readers of Whitechapel real time retweeted, replied to tweets and quoted tweets and as such were engaged in the interactive structures offered. Thus, the Twitter steam grants the reader of Whitechapel real time choice and control over the text and provides a space for discourse between the author and reader (Skains, 2010, p.98).

WCRT interaction

Using a micro-blogging environment to tell a story has design implications for the reader.  One such design effect of using Twitter to read a story is the impact of fragmented delivery.  On this point, opinion is divided about the ability of Twitter literature to capture the reader through a narrative that is revealed gradually.  Franklin states that tweeting a story line by line doesn’t work because “attempting to follow a live narrative on Twitter makes readers hyperaware of the down time between tweets (2014, para.10).  Yet, Fitzgerald states that reading a story live on twitter builds suspense because the reader has no control over when they can read them (2013, para.6). Furthermore, Davis argues that the compulsory short, sharp nature of micro-blogging results in works that are “oddly poetic on both a visual and conceptual level” (2008, p.14).  A good design decision of The History Press was to deliver the story of Whitechapel real time via one Twitter handle.  If the story had been delivered via multiple handles or hashtags, readers would have experienced difficulty in assembling the pieces later (Franklin, 2014, para.9).  Interestingly, because of the nature of social media, the experience of reading this book live was only possible during the ten weeks of publication.  Within this reading, the reader was reliant on waiting for new tweets to move ahead in the plot.  Subsequent readings of the story do not necessitate down time between tweets but do require the reader to scroll backwards to the beginning of the Twitter feed and work their way through the tweets. Consequently, the design of a Twitter feed narrative such as Whitechapel real time has different impacts for different readers.

Conclusively, Whitechapel real time is an example of an interactive story published on a Twitter feed.  This story combines literary elements, interactive structures and design features to engage readers in history, in particular the events of 1888 during which the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders took place in Victorian London.


Brown, E. (2013, August 22). ‘Whitechapel Real Time’ Twitter project marks 125 years of multiple murders [Web log post]. Retrieved August 29, 2015, from

Dangerfield, A. (2013, August 23). Twitter real-time explores Jack the Ripper murders. BBC News. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

Davis, O. (2008). Twittered texts. Meanjin, 67(4), 14. Retrieved August 29, 2015, from;dn=078749604341308;res=IELAPA

Fitzgerald, A. (Director). (2013, July). Adventures in Twitter fiction [Video file]. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

Franklin, R. (2014). Character development: It’s been touted as a revolutionary platform for expression, but does Twitter literature really have a future? Foreign Policy, November-December, 104. Retrieved August 29, 2015, from

The History Press. (2013a). White Chapel Real Time. Retrieved August 15, 2015, from

The History Press. (2013b). The History Press Publisher [Facebook Page]. Retrieved from

Kasman Valenza, J., & Stephens, W. (2012). Reading Remixed. Educational Leadership, 69(6), 75-78. Retrieved August 29, 2015, from

Kasman Valenza, J., & Stephens, W. (2012). Reading Remixed. Educational Leadership, 69(6), 75-78. Retrieved August 29, 2015, from

Skains, R. L. (2010). The shifting author-reader dynamic. Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, 16(1), 96-111. doi:10.1177/1354856509347713

Unsworth, L. (2006). E-literature for children: Enhancing digital literacy learning. Oxford, UK: Routledge.

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment. In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers (pp. 181-194). Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

@WChapelRealTime. (2013, August 24 – November 11). WhiteChapelRealTime [Twitter feed]. Retrieved from

Book Review: Hilda Bewildered by Lynley Stace

This review was completed for INF533- Literature in Digital Environments,

Hilda bewildered by Lynley Stace is described by iTunes as an “illustrated short story for deep thinking adolescent readers” (2015). This story is set in an imaginary, modern European country where Princess Hilda is about to deliver a speech as part of her coming-of-age responsibilities. At the same time, another socially invisible, pick-pocketing Hilda, is roaming the crowd. The author/illustrator, Lynley Stace tells us that “each of these two Hildas is basically the same – only their life circumstance is different” (2015b, p.1). Beyond the central themes of identity and social class, this story is also a commentary on the media, advertising, the construction of beauty, celebrity and crime. The Hilda bewildered app requires iOS 5.1.1 or later, is compatible with iPad and utilises multiple functions such as intuitive navigation, hand-coded interactivity, painterly style artwork, an original soundtrack and hyperlinks. This can be classified as an interactive storybook due to the audio, visual and touch features, used to enhance the reader’s experience (Lamb, 2011, p.14). Hilda bewildered is a complex narrative that requires the reader to interpret events, characters and themes through written text, images and the exploration of digital features.

Hilda bewildered is a digitally originated text of high literary value and this is achieved through a combination of a well-developed plot, authentic characters, rich language and complex themes. The plot of Hilda bewildered is full of complexity and open to multiple interpretations. According to Stace, it can be interpreted literally as a story about two separate Hildas. Alternatively, it may be read as two fantasies in which either the princess or the pick-pocket version is the other’s fantasy (2015b, p.1). Each Hilda is a complex character with whom young adult readers will readily identify. Just like the Hildas, many teens will recognise feeling ‘bewildered’ by loneliness, the magnitude of growing responsibilities, and conflicts between their inner reality and public self. The setting of the story also adds complexity to this narrative. Even though the story is suggestive of a fairy tale, the setting has been modernised by Stace in order to address contemporary issues such as “concerns about privacy, social welfare and homelessness, urban invisibility and technology induced narcism” (2015b, p.2). Symbolism and metaphor are additional devices employed by Stace to convey meaning. The colour green, for example, is mentioned in the first line of the story. This is a deliberate ploy to clue the reader into the symbolism of this colour, which is repeated with differing meaning throughout the story. Thus, through the narrative alone, the reader of Hilda Bewildered is engaged in a rich literary experience. This experience is further enhanced by the integration of digital features.

The multimodal features used throughout Hilda bewildered are an example of synergy existing between the technical and literary elements in a digital story. According to Unsworth’s categories, this book app, which can only be accessed online and is designed to be read on a touch screen, can be defined as a linear e-narrative (as cited in Walsh, 2013, p.182).  A number of the digital features employed in this book app reward exploration by taking the viewer beyond static image and text (Koss, 2013, p.26).  Examples of these features (as seen below) include rub-to-reveal pages that offer a second image below the first layer and dialogue and graphics that are unveiled via persistent tapping (Grabarek, 2015, para.3). Because they require direct interaction with the screen, these features are integral to the story and enhance the experience of the reader (Lamb, 2011, p.17). Furthermore, animations, shimmers and flashes of light, music and sound effects are used throughout Hilda bewildered to enhance the atmosphere and mood of the story.  One such example is the use of music with a panicky, vaudevillian tempo during Princess Hilda’s coming-of-age party to represent her tension and nervousness (Stace, 2015b, p.9).  James and de Kock argue that when features such as a sound experience are used in eBooks, they can take a reader to a deeper level of immersion into the story world and the “readerly imagination in such a case is enhanced rather than made less” (2013, p.114).  Overall, it can be concluded that the digital content presented in Hilda bewildered assist the author to communicate meaning and as such add value to the narrative.

HBSS1 2015-08-30 at 8.48.43 pmHBSS22015-08-30 at 8.51.35 pm
Within the secondary school setting, Hilda bewildered could be used for a number of curriculum foci in English.  In particular, this text could be investigated in the literature strand of the Australian Curriculum for years seven to ten, to compare and appraise the ways the author has used language and literary techniques and devices to influence readers (Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority, 2015).  Furthermore, Keck and Phillips argue that in a visually-oriented world, the skills to be able to interpret and analyse visual information is an increasing necessity (2001, p.29).  The complexity of visual language in Hilda bewildered would provide an opportunity for teachers to introduce visual literacy in the classroom.

Listen to music composed by Chris Hurn for Hilda Bewildered

[soundcloud url=”″ params=”color=ff5500″ width=”100%” height=’60’ iframe=”true” /]

Hilda bewildered by Lynley Stace is an example of an interactive storybook in which the multimodal content and narrative combine to produce quality literature.  The integration of visuals, audio and touch features assist the author to communicate meaning and the story presented in this book app would be incomplete without them.  It is only through touch that a number of plot elements are revealed and as such, it is not possible for this story to be experienced without interaction.  The complexities of this digitally enhanced narrative qualify it as a useful resource for teaching literature and visual literacy and it is highly recommended for the middle school years.


Australian Curriculum and Reporting Authority. (2015). Australian Curriculum. Retrieved January 28, 2015, from

Grabarek, D. (2015, May 14). Hilda bewildered: Touch and go. Retrieved August 26, 2015, from

ITunes. (2015, February 17). ITunes preview: Hilda bewildered. Retrieved August 25, 2015, from

James, R., & De Kock, L. (2013). The digital David and the Gutenberg Goliath: The rise of the ‘Enhanced’ e-book. English Academy Review: South African Journal of English Studies, (May 13), 107-123. doi:10.1080/10131752.2013.783394

Koss, M. D. (2014). Digital children’s book apps: Bringing children’s literature to life in new and exciting ways. Reading Today, (December 2013/January 2014), 26-27. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from file:///Users/stowh/Downloads/Digital_children_s_book_apps__.PDF.

Lamb, A. (2011). Reading redefined for a transmedia universe. Learning and leading with technology, 39(3), 12-17. Retrieved July 25, 2015, from login.aspx?direct=true&db=ehh&AN=67371172&site=ehost-live

Keck, K. & Phillips, D. (2001). Visions of literacy. In Le Marca (Editor), Books up front: Investigating the value of reading (pp. 29-38). Victoria: School LIbrary Association of Victoria.

Stace, L. (2015a). Hilda bewildered (1.1) [App]. Slap Happy Larry. Retrieved from

Stace, L. (2015b). Author/illustrator notes for Hilda Bewildered. Retrieved August 21, 2015, from

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment. In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers (pp. 181-194). Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

Book Review – Maggot Moon (multi-touch edition) by Sally Gardner

This review was completed for INF533- Literature in Digital Environments.

Maggot Moon (multi-touch edition) by Sally Gardner is a dystopian tale that tells the story of Standish Treadwell.  Standish, together with his grandfather, survive under a ruthless, totalitarian regime called the ‘Motherland’.  This brutal and corrupt government his diminished Standish’s freedom and livelihood and is responsible for the disappearance of his parents.  The multi-touch edition of this novel, published by Hot Key Books, contains interactive content including video, images, extracts from the audio book, animated page sequences, political talking points, quizzes and writing prompts.  The addition of multimodal content in the narrative moves this book into the classification of transmedia storytelling (Lamb, 2011, p.15).  This review compares the multimedia edition of Maggot Moon with its printed version and asserts that the digital features result in an altered reading experience, a modified characterisation of the protagonist, and embellishments in the theme of the story.

Since its publication in 2012, Sally Gardner’s young adult novel, Maggot Moon, has received much acclaim and won two prestigious literary awards:  the Carnegie Medal and The Costa ‘Children’s Book of the Year’ award. These awards indicate the story has been judged to contain well-written content of outstanding literary quality.   When the winner of the Carnegie Medal was announced in 2013, the chair of the judging panel, Karen Robinson labelled Maggot Moon as “gripping, moving and exquisitely written, it offers a powerful portrayal of a genuinely frightening dystopia and the unlikely hero that dares stand up to it. It is an outstanding book in every sense” (The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards, 2013, para.5).   Although both the paper book and the digital edition were published in the same year, reviews of the digital edition are not easy to find.  One critique found was by Kirkus Review who stated that the multi-touch edition was full of,  “digital distractions—many of them tangential, at best” (2013, para.1).   Known for being “reliably cantankerous” (Rich, 2009, para.15), Kirkus Review was also critical of the paper edition of Maggot Moon when it was published, saying that it was “a book with a message but no resonance” (2012, para.3). Overall, the literary qualities of Maggot Moon, in both the print and digital editions, can be seen as one of its strengths.

Essentially, the plot of the multi-touch edition of Maggot Moon is no different to that of the printed book, however the multimodal features offered alter the reading experience. As the reader engages in the story of the digital version, they are offered embellishments and interactive content that go beyond the words and images on the static page (Koss, 2014, p.26).  The interactivity of the content is limited to touch, in which the reader can expand a thumbnail of an image or document to a larger version, press play on a video or audio piece and choose from multiple answers in quizzes.  This interactive content is presented in the margins, a design feature that allows reading the text without disruption.  When held in portrait position, the page is a ‘clean version’ of the text with thumbnail images of the accompanying content, while the landscape view provides a larger snapshot of the multimodal content.

landscape portrait 2015-08-25 at 8.15.54 pm

[Access to interactive content is presented in the margins. Images: Gardner, 2012b, p.1]

The reader is told that the purpose of these embellishments is “to mess with your mind  …. [so that you do not accept] what you are told” (Gardner, 2012, p.i) [refer to image below].  This, however, might be seen as a paradox because although the reader can choose to engage or not in these multimodal additions, they are not given an option to choose between differing tenets and are only offered those provided by the author.

warning mess with your mind

[A warning that the content of this book will “mess with your mind”. Image: Gardner, 2012b, p.i]

Sally Gardner has been praised for the “startling clarity” (Moon, 2013, para.7) of her characterisation of Standish Treadwell, the protagonist of Maggot Moon.  It is clear from page three of the novel that Standish struggles with academic learning when he tells us that he, “can’t read, can’t write”, and, “isn’t bright” (Gardner, 2013a). In fact, Standish is dyslexic but this is never once explicitly labelled in the narrative of Maggot Moon and Gardner asserts that, through this character, she wanted to give the reader an insight into the way a dyslexic person thinks.  This, she says, is a gift rather than a disability and is just another way of looking at the world (Hot Key Books, 2012, para.3).  In fact, when reading the printed version of Maggot Moon, unless the reader is familiar with some of the idiosyncrasies of dyslexia, they might never know that this is what plagues Standish leaving them free to imagine his peculiar thoughts and speech, not as a deficit but instead, as a unique quality of his diversity (Hodgkins, 2013, p.33).  The multimedia edition, however, contains no such ambiguity.  This is due to multiple videos of Gardner describing how her own dyslexia is represented in the characterisation of Standish and several animations of how a dyslexic person experiences text on page.  Thus, in the digital edition of Maggot Moon, there is no option but to know Standish as a person labelled with dyslexia.  This didactic element of the digital version is incompatible with Standish’s characterisation evidenced when his friend Hector tells him that, “the best thing we have is our imagination and you have that in bucket loads” (Gardner, 2012a, p.142).  Consequently, the integration of multimodal content affects the reader’s experience of character by diminishing the complexity of Standish’s personality.

When assessing the value of the digital content presented in the mutli-touch edition of Maggot Moon, one might arrive at conflicting conclusions.  On the one hand, some of the digital affordances offered include the opportunity for the reader to express their own opinion by responding to ideas in writing, and to explore ideas in more depth by connecting to information via hyperlinks.  Conversely, some of the digital offerings compromise the themes they intend to develop.  An example of such compromise occurs when the author expands upon political allegories by offering the reader real world examples of hoaxes, interrogation techniques and twentieth century genocide.  The examples presented are prescriptive and over-simplified, and contradict the theme of challenging propaganda and the strategy of presenting facts selectively or lying by omission to further a government’s agenda.

Screen Shot 2015-08-25 at 8.37.47 pm

[Examples of multimodal content that contradict the themes presented in the novel.

Images:  Gardner, 2010b, pp.41, 110, 145, 222]

Conclusively, Maggot Moon multi-touch edition is an example of transmedia storytelling in which multimodal elements have been added to a story written for the page rather than one created in a digital form.  Walsh insists that quality digital literature needs an, “aesthetic synergy between the technical features, the artistic creation of the text and the ideas within it” (2013, p.187).  According to this criteria, the multimodal features in the digital edition of Maggot Moon take the reader beyond words on a static page with mixed success because they alter the development of character and absorbing ideas that are presented in the printed form of the story.


Buckley-Archer, L. (2012, December 29). Maggot moon by Sally Gardner – review. The Guardian. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from

The CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenaway Children’s Book Awards. (2013, June 19). ‘Unteachable’ author enters children’s book awards hall of fame: Sally Gardner wins the CILIP Carnegie Medal with Maggot Moon. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from

Gardner, S. (2012a). Maggot moon. London: Hot Key Books.

Gardner, S. (2012b). Maggot moon (Multi-touch edition) [2.1]  Retrieved from

Hodgkins, S. (2013). Dyslexia Discourse: E-book accessibility and the resistance of literacy norms in Maggot Moon. Write4Children, IV(II), 28-36. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from

Hot Key Books. (2012). Maggot moon: Dyslexia. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from

Kirkus Reivew. (2012, December 1). Maggot moon. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from

Kirkus Review. (2013, October 2). Maggot moon. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from

Koss, M. D. (2014). Digital children’s book apps: Bringing children’s literature to life in new and exciting ways. Reading Today, (December 2013/January 2014), 26-27. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from file:///Users/stowh/Downloads/Digital_children_s_book_apps__.PDF.

Moon, B. (2013, December 22). Maggot moon, a literary David [Web log post]. Retrieved August 18, 2015, from

Ramey, S. W. (2015). Hinduism. In World Book Advanced. Retrieved from

Rich, M. (2009, December 11). End of Kirkus Reviews brings anguish and relief. The New York Times. Retrieved August 16, 2015, from

Walsh, M. (2013). Literature in a digital environment. In L. McDonald (Ed.), A literature companion for teachers (pp. 181-194). Primary English Teaching Association Australia (PETAA).

YA Fiction – It’s a wonderful thing!

Holiday reads 2015-01-12 at 9.25.36 am

If you thought kids’ and teens’ reading was going downhill due to time spent on screens and devices – then, think again. Two articles recently publish are testament to the increase in popularity of books for these audiences. On December 16 (2014), literary editor, Jonathon Sturgeon, stated that book trade sales “were buoyed by a substantial increase in sales of Young Adult and Children’s books, up 22.4 percent” during the past year.  On Sunday, November 11 (2015), the Sunday Mail published an article in it’s “U” lift out that also discussed the worldwide sales increase of children’s and young adult books. Australia alone, it said, recorded a $1.1 million sales increase in this section of the publishing market.

This is great news for me on many levels – as a parent of teenagers, as a Teacher-Librarian who is promoting books and reading every day of her working life and as an avid reader of YA fiction. It is also great news for our local independent bookstores, Riverbend Books and Avid Reader who do such great work in sourcing and promoting the best books and authors for this age group.

Over the Christmas break, I took the opportunity to delve into some new YA books and revisit an old favourite. For those interested in YA, my reviews of these are below and many other reviews can be found on my Goodreads page.

Falling into PlaceFalling into Place by Amy Zhang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Written by teen author, Amy Zhang, this story starts with the attempted suicide of ‘it’ girl, Liz Emersen who deliberately drives her mercedes off the road into a tree. Clearly depressed, Liz is unhappy but not a victim. She herself is a mean girl and a bully and having realised the terrible things she has done, decides the solution is to end her life. The novel then covers fragments from before, during and after the attempted suicide.

This story shows incredible insight into the lives of teenagers who can be unlikeable, decent, vulnerable and flawed all at once. Even though they may not have experienced the extremes of teenage behaviours portrayed in this novel, many high school students would be able to identify with the characters, events, emotions and certainly the issues dealt with in this book.

Amy Zhang has produced a story that is really well written and thought provoking, which makes the reader aware that our actions contain consequences for others and ourselves. I echo the sentiment of other reviewers that it is amazing to think she wrote this while being at high school. Both the standard of writing and the final success of being published, should be inspirational to the many aspiring writers I teach. An excellent debut novel.

Withering-By-SeaWithering-By-Sea by Judith Rossell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At the beginning of this book, Stella Montgomery is witness to a murder and her life is placed in danger as those responsible seek to capture both her and the object she has vowed to hide and protect. This is a most wonderful Victorian mystery and adventure that involves villains, trickery, magic, theatre, courageous children and many plot twists.

In the same vein as books such as The Series of Unfortunate Events, Harry Potter, and The Billionaire’s Curse, this book contains kids being orphaned among emotionally absent adults. These kids have to become the heroes in their own lives to solve mysteries of the past and present and to survive the dark scenarios afoot.

Not only is this book very well written, but it also contains a scattering of great illustrations reflecting the author, Judith Rossell’s abilities as an illustrator as well as writer. In particular, the illustration of the “elegant, spindly legs” of the peer, the “seething” Aunts, and the Hotel Majestic with its “towers and turrets and curlicues and columns and chimneys and balconies and lots of curly metal sprouting here and there” very much add to atmosphere created throughout the pages of the book.

A great read, highly recommended for Middle School readers.

The Impossible Knife of MemoryThe Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book tells the story of Hayley Kincain who has led anything but an ordinary childhood. At the point where the novel begins, Hayley is entering her senior years in high school. Prior to this she has been travelling the roads with her father in his truck, living an unconventional life while her Dad tries to escape the memories and post traumatic stress that haunt him as a returned soldier.

In her return to a ‘normal life’, Hayley makes friends with Gracie and then meets Finn. Both have the potential to be good for her if Hayley would let them in. Hayley is, however, afraid of this – if others see what is really going on with her Dad, his mental health, inability to keep a job, use of drugs to anaesthetise his pain, his neglect of Hayley’s needs and his violent episodes, then her new, ‘normal life’ might be threatened.

As things spiral out of control in Hayley’s life, it becomes impossible to put this book down so worried are you for both Hayley and her father. A good read.

CrackedCracked by Clare Strahan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A story that encapsulates what is like to be fifteen. In this coming of age novel, we meet Clover. She is talented, passionate and at risk of ‘cracking’.

The plot of this novel follows Clover as she pushes everyone and everything, including herself, to the limit. She is passionate about the environment and decides to raise awareness about the loss of a local wildlife corridor through graffiti. In order to get her message across, she needs the help of her friend Keek and she draws him into her escapades. However, what some people deem art, others deem vandalism and she soon she and Keek are facing the consequences of being on the wrong side of the law. She also experiments with truancy, parties, smoking, drinking, and drugs and finds herself in trouble on a number of levels.

Throughout the story, Clover is also working out people – who are those she can trust, who are true and loyal friends, how do families function and what relationships are important? As a reader, you worry about her when she is hanging out with the cool girls, when she is flirting with one of the footy-boys who is after more than kissing and when she lies to her loyal and loving mother.

This book is a really good read, full of genuine characters and a protagonist who I could really identify with. I highly recommend it to students in Year 9 & 10.

An Old Favourite
A Monster CallsA Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is one of my favourite books of all time. It is the story of Connor O’Malley who has been having terrible nightmares ever since his mother started treatment for cancer. Then something extraordinary happens, a monster in the form of a gigantic, walking, talking yew tree starts to visit him regularly just after midnight and it wants something from him – it wants Connor to face the most dangerous thing of all – the truth.

This novel is multi-layered and explores a number of themes such as family relations, bullying and anger but at it’s heart it is about the inner thoughts of a boy who is facing the most frightening thing many of us can imagine. It is a very good treatment of the subject and not sentimental in the least. It is raw and honest and will stay with you for a long time after you close the last page.

The language in the book is simple and beautiful. The tree tells Connor it has three stories for him and then Connor must tell him a fourth and it will be the truth. The original story was conceived by Siobhan Dowd who herself passed away from cancer and it was completed by Patrick Ness, a superb storyteller, who tells us in the Author’s Note that his one criteria was “to write a book Siobhan would have liked”.

I have now read this book four times and each time; I love it more every time I read it. Here are some of the powerful quotes from the book:

“You know that your truth, the one that you hide, Connor O’Malley, is the thing you are most afraid of.” (p.46)

“Sometimes people need to lie to themselves most of all.” (p.72)

“There is not always a good guy. Nor is there always a bad one. Most people are somewhere in between.” (p.74)

“Many things that are true feel like a cheat. Kingdoms get the princes they deserve, farmers’ daughters die for no reason, and sometimes witches merit saving. Quite often, actually. You’d be surprised.” (p.74)

“Stories are important, the monster said. They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth.” (p.151)

“You do not write your life with words, the monster said. You write it with actions. What you think is not important. It is only important what you do.” (p.202)

“Of course you are afraid, the monster said, pushing him slowly forward. And yet you will still do it.” (p.212)

View all my reviews


Purdon, F. (2015, January 11). Youth on the same page. Sunday Mail [U on Sunday Lift Out], pp. 8-9.
Sturgeon, J. (2014, December 16). Are you an adult who reads YA novels? Congratulations, you saved publishing in 2014 [Web log post]. Retrieved January 12, 2015, from

Are apps destroying our future artists?



Every child is an artist, the problem is staying an artist when you grow up  PabloPicasso

A sizeable portion of the app ecology is devoted to supporting artistic production.  Among other creative pursuits, there are many apps available for image creation and editing, video production, music composition and creative writing. These apps make creating simpler and cheaper than in the past and social media makes it easier for the creator to find an audience.  In chapter 6 of The App Generation, Gardner and Davis (2013) investigates the impact of apps on creativity and imagination by asking the question “what’s gained and what’s lost by using apps (and other digital media) for the purpose of artistic expression”? (p. 120)

To answer this question, imagination and creativity needs to be measured and this is a difficult thing to do.  Gardner and Davis provide evidence from three studies that have attempted to measure trends in creativity over a period of approximately twenty years.

The Torrance Test of creative Thinking (TTCT)

The most widely used creativity test is the Torrance Test of Creative Thinking and empirical evidence suggest that high scores on the test successfully predict subsequent creative careers and accomplishments (p. 127) In a study of Torrance scores of 300 000 Americans over 20 years (1990 – 2010) the research documents a pronounced decline in scores across all areas of the figural test – elaboration, fluency, originality, creative strengths & resistance to premature closure. (p. 127) Overall, the declines were steepest in more recent years, from 1998 – 2008 (p. 128)

Affect in Play Scale

A second study found a more optimistic view of changes in youth creativity.  This research, covering fourteen studies from 1985 – 2008 used the Affect in Play Scale to measure the pretend play of children.  This research found that imagination and comfort both increased significantly over the period of the study suggesting that young children have become more imaginative in their pretend play and have come to derive greater enjoyment from play. (p. 129)

Investigations of Gardner and Davis:

A.  Analysis of short stories and visual art

The author’s own study analysed short stories and visual art pieces produced by middle and high school students between 1990 and 2011.  the conclusion they reached was a growing sophistication in the art produced by young artists over the twenty-year period however, creative writing over the same period became more conventional.  (p. 132)

B.  Findings from interviews with a focus group of teachers and camp directors

The focus group reported that youth today are more comfortable engaging with with existing ideas and re-creating known works than coming up with their own ideas and inventing new material.(p. 138 – 144) However, focus group participants were conversely impressed by new media technologies and their ability to lower the bar for entry into creative pursuits, the increased sophistication of what youth can create in these apps, and the wider variety of creative opportunities now open to young people. (p. 149)

There emerges in Gardner and Davis’ writing a recurring theme of fear of failure and aversion to risk among the youth of today.  Just as this was found in young people’s formation of identity and ability to develop relationships, it was also found to be true of their creative pursuits.  (p. 144)

In attempting to discover what is both lost and gained by using apps for creative expression, the work or a number of scholars was outlined throughout the chapter.  Some key ideas from these works include:

The limiting nature of apps because they are packaged sources of creativity and while many celebrate the remix culture, others bemoan the lack of invention in this media.  The adversaries of apps, outline the obstacles digital media present to creativity because of the limited range of actions and experiences open to users due to programing and software restrictions (p. 141)

Another concern among scholars concerns the disruptive nature of digital media. This they claim may also have implications for limiting deep reflection that is essential to stimulating imagination and creativity.  Added to this is the predilection of digital youth for multi-tasking which reduces ones opportunity for deeper & abstract thinking (p. 146)

A final concern raised was the highly scheduled extra-curricular activities common among affluent youth.  The worry is that the regimented quality of resume building extra curricular activities leaves little room for these young people to exercise their imaginations and scholars have found that participation in highly structured activities undermines creativity (p. 148)

In answer to their question about what is gained and what is lost by using apps for creative purposes, Gardner and Davis conclude firstly, that for app users, the avenues to artistic expression may be many but they’re often tightly bound – the code determines the creation (p. 152).  Secondly, “digital media may have a freeing effect on those young people who already have a disposition to experiment, to imagine, while having a freezing impact on that proportion of youth who would rather follow the line of least resistance.” (p. 153)

On the educational scene in Australia we are constantly hearing about the importance of creativity for this generation of learners.  Statements like “art is the fourth R”, “creativity is an essential literacy” and “the importance of visual literacy in a digital world” are often made at conferences, on blogs and in professional literature.  If what we are hearing about artistic endeavours and creativity being critical skills for people to succeed in the digital era is correct and if we think about this in connection with the possible decline in creative abilities found in The App Generation then this should be a key concern for educationalists. While our educational institutions seem to be headed on a path of performance accountability, we may be failing our students by not investing enough in building imaginative capacity and creativity.


Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Groebi, Munch Scream Alienation Watercolor Felt Tip Pens, Public Domain

The quality of relationships in an app world


Chapter four of The App Generation questions if deeply rooted, long-term relationships have been affected by the unprecedented connectivity facilitated by new media technologies?  The importance placed on forming strong relationships in the teenage years comes from the research of Eric Ericson who established that the central task of young adulthood is the formation of deep, long-term relationships with others and in the absence of these, feelings of isolation and disconnection supervene.  (p. 97)  The authors question whether the immediate and constant accessibility to people via mobile devices and social media has positive or negative outcomes for youth.  I have listed the outcomes they present on both sides of the argument in the table below:

Positives Negatives
  • helps friends & family keep in touch when separated by geography (p. 93);
  • provides opportunities for young people with similar interests to find & interact with one another (p.93);
  • disclosure of personal feelings to others is made easier for some youth – not in the same physical space – look into a screen instead of eye contact (p. 96);
  • families have never been more connected – can contact each other throughout the day(p. 107);
  • one body of research suggests that many youth benefit from social media because the use online communication not as a substitute for in-person relationships but to augment them (p. 107).


  • connections are more often with those who reinforce one’s worldview (p. 93)
  • public documentation of relationships via social media (p. 95)
  • from 1985 – 2004 – the number of discussion partners reported by Americans (indication of a strong tie relationship) has shrunk from 2.94 to 2.08 – nearly one person (p. 98)
  • the number of people reporting they talked to no one rose from 10% to 25% (p. 98)
  • decline in trust – 1972 46% agreed with the statement that “most people can be trusted” – 2008 – 33% (p. 99)
  • evidence in student artwork of increasing isolation – isolation or solitude imagery in early 1990s = 15% – late 2000s = 25% (p. 99)
  • sense of superficiality and inauthentic communication reported by some youth (p.103)
  • communicating through a screen removes the need to take emotional risks and the vulnerability required to form deep relationships is missing (p. 103)
  • focus group reported many youth use text to break plans, even at the last minute and even to break up relationships
  • disruptive nature of notifications constantly appearing on phones & devices pulls youth away from the real moment and in-person conversations (p. 105)
  • some families spend more time on their gadgets than with each other (p. 107)
  • 71% of 14-24 year olds report they are more likely to be use racist and sexist language online than in person (p.111)
  • research suggests a link between consumption of online pornography and “hook-up” culture among high school and college students = relationships based on casual sex rather than romance (p. 114)
  • filter bubble – search engines and social media use algorithms to return results based on the user – therefore, we are encountering only like-minded people & ideas – reduces our exposure to different perspectives and ability to empathise (p. 118)


Conclusion:  Apps are shortcuts and they provide shortcuts in relationships among young people – interacting in quicker, easier and less risky (p. 118)  “If used in moderation and to augment rather than replace face-to-face contact, such conveniences can certainly enable meaningful relations and, at their best, strengthen and deepen personal bonds” (p118)


CONCLUSION:  Convenience comes at a cost and features of mediated communication may underpin the increasing isolation, declining empathy and diminished risk taking identified by a range of scholars and the focus group interviewed for this study. (p. 119)




This list suggests that there is uneven divide in the outcomes for youth and the negative column of the table is longer and more detailed than the outcomes listed on the positive side of the table.  The negative column also draws evidence from more statistics and research studies than the outcomes presented on the positive side of the argument.  One might question if the body of evidence considered by the authors is more focused on negative outcomes than positive or is the body of evidence objective and reflects the reality?  Trusting the credentials, research methodology and considered scholarship of both authors, we can reasonably accept the conclusions drawn by Gardner and Davis (2013) which are that “the quality of our relationships in the app era depends on whether we use our apps to bypass the discomforts of relating to others or as sometimes risky entry points to the forging of sustained, meaningful interactions.” (p. 93) And “only those young people able to resist the Narcissus trap and the Circean lure of the apps-of-the-moment are likely to form meaningful identity to forge intimate relationships with others.” (p. 119)


Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Portrait Of Group Of College Friends. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.

Full of Fear: Narcissistic Teens and Helicopter Parents


This chapter is titled Personal Identity in the Age of the App and asks the question “just how are youth’s identities shaped and expressed in the age of the app?” (p. 60) The researchers used literature on the topic as well as extensive interviews and conversations with veteran educators and therapists to reach their conclusions.  The author’s present a central argument that “new media technologies can open up new opportunities for self-expression.  But yoking one’s identity too closely to certain characteristics of these technologies – and lacking the time, opportunity, or inclination to explore life and lives offline – may result in an impoverished sense of self.” (p. 91) Three key concerns raised in this research about the impact of online activity on the identities of young people are youth’s emphasis on external appearances and individualism and their reduced ability to take risks.

1. Emphasis on external appearances: the packaged self

With the emergence of mobile devices and social media, participation in online environments has increased exponentially in developed countries.  For youth, this means that an online identity is now mainstream and not just the domain of the “computer geeks”.  It also means that one’s followers online are likely to be friends and family known to you in the offline world.  Because of this, young people are identifiable and there is no such thing as being anonymous.  Evidence suggests young people are very aware of this lack of anonymity and are consequently carefully crafting polished online presentations of their lives. This desire was identified as particularly high among affluent teens.  (Gardner and Davis, 2013)

The polished package is motivated out of a desire to maximise one’s value among peers and increasingly to achieve academic and career success and it is achieved through the use of apps and privacy settings. Young people will broadcast fun times and achievements but are reluctant to communicate their shortcomings.  Research by Gradner and Davis found that the youth they interviewed, sought to present “glammed-up versions of themselves” and as such “online omissions were common” (2013, p. 63). This polished package is enabled through the use of apps.  For example, a digital photo can be taken numerous times & can then be edited before it is posted so that the best look is on show.  Evidence also showed that young people know and care about their privacy online and that privacy settings were one of the tools they used to maintain a polished presentation.   Sometimes, youth reported actually wanting more privacy from people they know than from strangers and so there is an interesting paradox that they may think privacy controls hide their behaviour from adults. The focus group interviewed for this study identified the emphasis on external appearances among today’s youth as being much higher than it was among pre-digital youth.(Gardner and Davis, 2013, p. 82)

2. Increase in individualism

A second concern raised about the personal identities of the App generation is that these youth are much more self-focused and narcissistic than the youth of previous decades.  Gardner and Davis identify that this occurs within a broader societal trend “toward individualism and away from a more community-minded, institutional orientation.” (2013, p. 67) but also present much evidence that technology has played a part in this shift.  Four examples of this shift towards individualism are listed below:

  • “Psychologists often use a test called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory (NPI) to measure levels of narcissism, or an inflated sense of self. …. 19% of college students taking the test in the early 1980s scored above 21 (considered a high score).  By the mid-to late 2000s, fully 30% of students scored over 21.” (p.69)
  • Selfies are example of growing narcissistic behaviour among youth & “likes” are examples of validating that behaviour. (P.75)
  • “Facebook and other social network sites emphasize self-presentation by organizing their sites around users’ individual profiles.  The standard elements of a profile on Facebook – friend list, profile picture, inventories of personal tastes and activities – are used to package the self for public consumption“ (p. 71)
  • Telling statistic – 30-40% of normal conversation is people talking about themselves but 80% of social media posts are self-focused. (p. 76)

When interrogating these findings, the authors raised a couple of questions to think about.  One of these questions is that of the arrow of causation (p. 76) – does social media make people more narcissistic or are narcissistic people attracted to social media? They also wondered if youth’s online activity was just about narcissistic validation and promoting of themselves or about maintaining & nurturing social ties?

3. Reduced ability to take risks

The third concern Gardner and Davis (2013) raise about digital youth is there seems to be a reduced capacity to take reasonable risks.  This may be seen in connection with the growing trend toward individualism, if  “one speaks about narcissism not to indicate people who love themselves, but a personality so fragile that it needs constant support” (p. 76).  There are a number of behaviours among youth that point to this need for constant reinforcement, validation and aversion to risk.  Some of the examples provided include text messaging which takes away the discomfort of face-to-face conversations, information apps that take away the risk of getting the wrong answer & location apps that take away the risk of getting lost. (p. 83) It is suggested that one of the reasons for this increased fragility may be because failure “once might have been witnessed by a few peers and then forgotten but today might become part of one’s permanent digital footprint” (p. 77)

Modern parenting is identified as another contributing factor to youth’s reduced ability to take risks and develop autonomy.  It is suggested that the heightened fear of failure among teens is fuelled by helicopter parents (ever hovering with a watchful eye) who are so concerned for their children’s happiness that they don’t ask enough of their children and micromanage them so that mistakes and disappointments are avoided.  In the interviews of teachers and therapists conducted by Gardner and Davis for their research, it was observed that “today’s parents demonstrate a passionate desire to shield their children from experiencing any sort of unhappiness or hardship  …..  this emphasis on happiness seems to leave young people unable to cope with the emotional complexity of life.” (2013, p. 80)  The helicopter parent mentality is enabled by apps and technology and contact between parents and their children now takes place on a scale that was not possible in the pre-digital era.  One example of this provided by the authors is the research by Hofer and Moore (2010) which revealed that American college students were in contact with their parents an average of 13.4 times per week. (p. 84) This high level of contact does seem to indicate that youth have a weakened ability to make their own choices and are constantly seeking reassurance and confirmation.



Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Medical Helicopter. [Photograph]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.


How to define a digital generation


In order to critique the hypothesis by Gardner and Davis that today’s youth can be characterised as “The App Generation”, two key concepts need to be explored.  These concepts are the definition of a generation and the effect of media and technologies on societies.

How do we define a generation?

Gardner and Davis examine a number of the different definitions of a generation. They look at the biological generation, defined by child birth; the calendric generation, defined by decades; the political, cultural or social generation defined by ‘big events’; and the technological generation, marked by newly emerging technologies.  They believe that  “in evoking the epithet the App Generation, [they] seek to go beyond the technology, and beyond the media of communication, into the psychology of the users.  … [and] aim to capture the cognitive, social, emotional, and even ethical dimensions of what it is like to be a young person today. (2013, p. 54)

A number of other writers have also labelled generations according to technological changes.  A very prominent example of this is Marc Prensky who said that “today’s students think and process information fundamentally differently from their predecessors” and as such could be called a generation of “digital natives” (2001).  This view is supported by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser in their book titled Born Digital where they claim that the digital generation can be distinguished because they study, work, write and interact with each other in very different ways to previous generations (2008, p. 2).  When making such statement about generations, Gardner and Davis warn,  “almost any generalizations about youth are likely to invite – and deserve – modifications as well as counter examples” (2013, p. 48).  In her article titled The digital melting pot:  Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide, Sharon Stoerger, wary of such generalisations, says that “what is often overlooked is the simplicity of these labels and their inability to address the complexity of the students who enter the physical and the digital classroom” (2009).

How have media and technologies affected the behaviours and consciousness of people throughout history?

“As [Marshall] McLuhan saw it, each medium …. alters the relation of the individual to the surrounding world” (Gardner and Davis, 2013, p. 22).

New technologies and media have significantly affected societies throughout history.  The invention of writing brought about fundamental change in human thought and expression, opening the way for developments in law, literature, science and philosophy.  The invention of the printing press was another technology that changed the world through its contribution to weakening religious authoritarianism and laying the groundwork for mass communication and education.

The digital technologies of the twentieth century have similarly been attributed with affecting significant global change. These include the mass media of the newspaper and publishing empires, radio and television networks and movie studios that influenced political and social thinking on a scale and speed previously unimagined.  The era of mass media was followed by the Digital Age of powerful personal computers, cable television and 24 hour news coverage, mobile phones and the World Wide Web.  This first wave of digital media was quickly followed by a second wave that heralded the introduction and widespread use of social media, hand-held devices and Web 2.0 & 3.0.  This new era changed the participation of the population from being consumers of content-delivery systems to participants and creators in a highly dynamic media environment.

Gardner and Davis examine such contributions of media and technology to behaviours and consciousness throughout history and believe that in contrast to other definitions, a generation can be thought of “in terms of the dominant media and the habits of mind, behavior, presentation of self, and relation to others that they foster – as well as those that they minimise or even expunge”. (2013, p. 53)



Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Palfrey, J. G., & Gasser, U. (2008). Born digital: Understanding the first generation of digital natives. New York: Basic Books.

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1. On the Horizon, 9(5), 1-6. doi: 10.1108/10748120110424816

Stoerger, S. (2009, July 6). The digital melting pot: Bridging the digital native-immigrant divide | Stoerger | First Monday. First Monday. Retrieved April 10, 2014, from

Two Generations. [Photography]. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest.




The App Generation: Chapter 2


This chapter outlines the two sides of the debate about how apps are impacting human experience and behaviours.

The enthusiasts of the digital world believe that through technology we are enabled to participate, master skills and knowledge, create within various media and to inform ourselves and make judicious decisions. This is a world of options.

On the other side of the debate it is claimed that new technologies encourage superficial thinking and limit reading and reflection. They believe that digital media narrows our horizons because it encourages/dictates that we interact with like-minded individuals. In this view, the world is one dependent on the restriction of each currently popular app. This is a world dictated by the technologies of the time.

The authors state that their data speaks to these debates and leads to the conclusion that “the emergence of an “app” culture allows individuals readily to enact superficial aspects of identity, intimacy and imagination. Whether we can go on to fulfil our full potential in these spheres, to take advantage of apps (“enabling”) without being programmed by them (“dependent”), remains a formidable challenge.” (Gardner & Davies, 2013 p 34)


Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Two Timeline Display Panel Number Digit Ad, Geralt, CC0

Book Review: Taking the first step

Book Review Step 1:  The Beginning

book cover app generation

The book from the list of choices available for review and criticism that gained my attention is The app Generation:  How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy and imagination in a digital world by Howard Gardner and Katie Davis.  Theories of how the events and technologies shape the people of a particular time and place are fascinating and I am looking forward to the ideas put forward in this account, hoping that it does not simply present a new stereotype of today’s young people.  This will be very interesting to compare and contrast to the generational labels of earlier writers such as Prensky. The authors point out that whilst there is a vast amount of talk on the topic of digital media and it’s affects on today’s youth, the data to support this talk is significantly lacking.  The fact that the findings presented by Gardner and Davis are based on five years of work by their research team at Harvard certainly give authority to their characterisation of young people.  The methods used by the Harvard team were observations, systematic interviews, focus groups and comparative studies of artistic productions of young people over a twenty-year period.

The preface starts with two questions: How are “the new digital media … affecting the ethical compass of young users”? and in which ways have “young people’s thought processes, personalities, imaginations, and behaviours [been] affected and perhaps radically transformed by their involvement with these media”? (Gardner & Davies, 2013)

The introduction outlines a conversation between the authors, Howard Gardner and Katie Davis, and with Katie’s 16 year old sister, Molly. In the course of the conversation, three key topics emerge and the authors maintain that “courtesy of digital technologies, Identity, Intimacy, and Imagination have each been reconfigured significantly in recent decades”. (Howard & Gardner, 2013, p2)

The authors characterisation of the App Generation is that young people have come to think of the world as a string of ordered apps and whatever human beings may want should be provided by apps.

According to the authors, apps can have two outcomes for people.  There are those that encourage us to pursue new possibilities and these are app-enabling and by contrast, there are those that “restrict or determine our procedures, choices, and goals” (p. 10) and cause people to become app-dependent.

The authors provide two contexts for readers to understand the young people of today.  The first of these contexts is a technological one and this discussion invites us to distinguish among tools, machines, and the information-rich media of the past century and to consider how digital media may represent a quantum leap in power and influence (p.12).  The second context provided by Gardner and Davis is generational and how young people of a certain time period act, how their elders define them and how events of their time have shaped the spaces they’ve grown up in (p.13).


Gardner, H., & Davis, K. (2013). The app generation: How today’s youth navigate identity, intimacy, and imagination in a digital world. New Haven: Yale University Press.