In the beginning of the novel, it was hard for me to understand what exactly the feed was responsible for and who was in charge of it. I also didn’t quite understand why Violet so adamantly wanted to fight the feed. I was soon taken aback by how intense the feed controlled the lives of the people in the environment. On page 247, Violet learns she is turned down for assistance in feed repair/replacement. Specifically, ” unfortunately, FeedTech and other investors reviewed your purchasing history, and we don’t feel that you would be a reliable investment at this time. No one could get what we call a ‘handle’ on your shopping habits..” This made me think about how much of our lives at this moment are really controlled by technology and the media. It seems that children are continuously exposed to commercials about the newest technology, whether for learning like LeapFrog, or for pleasure like the ipad and ipods, etc. I also thought about the video we watched in the beginning of the semester, “It’s a book,” and considered how much we are drifting away from the traditional, simplistic, and nostalgia-filled pleasures of books and into a contemporary, complex, and convenient world of technology. The book also had a satirical undertone to it, which was evident by the final paragraph on pg. 290 discussing how Americans nowadays are only concerned with consuming products and not necessarily how they affect people. It seems as if M.T. Anderson is trying to signal a wake-up call to society about our choices and ideologies surrounding commercial enterprises and capitalism.
While reading Feed, I immediately thought of the extended mind hypothesis of embodied cognition in my cognitive science class. This theory asserts that certain parts of a persons external environment can become an extension of the internal processes that make up cognition. For example, say you have a dementia patient that frequently forgets how to get home from the grocery store. However, the patient had adopted a mechanism for remembering my writing down the directions in the notebook. The patient carries the notebook everywhere and consults it when necessary. If the patient does not have the notebook, the patient cannot get to and from the grocery store successfully. The extended mind hypothesis of embodied cognition would describe the notebook as an extension of the patient’s internal memory processes of cognition, almost like an external memory hard drive. Similar to Titus and his friends in Feed, the feed is an external mechanism (not biologically constructed) that becomes part of their cognition and functioning in everyday life. To a significant degree, Titus and his friends become reliant on the feed, similar to the example of the dementia patient and the notebook.
Though this novel is mostly read on an emerging out-of-date medium (books), much of the content involves sophisticated technology in an imaginary, futuristic world. Today, many children are also reliant on technology and other sources for daily functioning. Has anyone stopped to think how dependent they are on their iphone or other smart phone to the extent that they would accept it as part of their cognitive system? Titus’ use of the feed to look up words and facts that we are usually responsible for memorizing and learning shows that the feed may soon evolve to be THE cognitive system for those people. Though Feed was an interesting book, I did not particularly enjoy the ambiguous language. However, looking back, I now have a better sense of how my mother felt when I tried to communicate with her as a teenager.
This semester, I volunteered to read to children at St. Andrew’s. On all three occasions, I chose to read to the children in grades 3-5. When I first got to St. Andrew’s I was immediately drawn to the diverse personalities of the children and their hunger for attention. For our hour in the reading room, we would always begin by reading aloud together and then we would break up and do individual reading. In the reading room is where I met Amiyah and Jalen.
Amiyah clung to me immediately. It was clear that she loved the novelty of having a visitor and wanted to spend her time in the reading room with me. She admitted that she wasn’t a good reader and insisted that I do the majority of it. Though she had a hard time pronouncing words, Amiyah paid close attention and answered correctly every time I tested her to make sure she was following along. Amiyah was reading at a 2nd grade level as a 4th grader. Her strength, she repeatedly reminded me, is math and not reading. Despite falling slightly behind on reading, Amiyah maintains a love for stories and being read to. On several occasions, I would encourage her to read to me. Though it would only be a page or two, she started to get comfortable and eventually would ask me if she could have a turn. The feeling of having such a positive impact on her is something I can’t explain. I was overjoyed every time she asked me if she could read. This example truly shows that reading is more to children than just words and stories on a page. It is about the experience associated with the reading that makes it special, whether with a parent, a favorite teacher, or siblings. These experiences lay the foundation and the future path that children will take with reading on their own, which could be positive or negative. I hope that Amiyah will continue to enjoy reading without me being there every week and will improve her skills as a result.
Jalen is one of the brightest little boys that I have ever met. He is also in Amiyah’s class and is hands down the top student. My experience with Jalen was somewhat different from my experience with Amiyah. Jalen is aware that he is bright and becomes bored very easily with dull stories. He likes to read on his own and was always the first to answer any tricky questions about what’s going on in the story and was very good at predicting what would happen next. His ability to decipher the meaning of vocabulary he didn’t know from context was also above average. When reading with Jalen, he was very comfortable with taking control and letting me know when he was tired of reading and when he was ready to read again. He told me he enjoyed being read to because he was able to “think about what’s going on instead of having to pay attention to the words.” His description of this experience seems to be passive, yet enjoyable. When relating this to my own experiences of being read to, this seems to be an accurate statement. I remember my mother reading to me before bed and when I was sick to help me relax. Being read to is something that dissipates as we grow out of childhood. It’s something that I placed a high value on as a child.
My experience at St. Andrew’s has been both rewarding and disappointing. Though reading with Amiyah and Jalen reminded me of my own childhood and discovery of books, it was disappointing to see that some of the children would rather watch a movie or play a video game. It seems that technology has taken over the joy of books that I knew as a kid. Although I share a lot of similar experiences with reading as a child that I observed with Amiyah and Jalen, it seems that old-fashioned books are becoming less and less of a pleasurable medium for entertainment for children nowadays.
The novel Becoming Naomi León is very different from the novels that we have encountered so far in this class, aside from Bud, Not Buddy. Both of these novels depict real life circumstances of children in an atypical family household. For Bud, this was being without a mother, not knowing his father, and drifting in and out of foster care. As a result, this lead to the adoption of a variety of rules that many children at his age may not necessarily be aware of. In Becoming Naomi León, Naomi is a very shy young girl, with a disabled little brother, both of whom are raised by their great grandmother. In both of these novels, the mother is absent from their lives for a period of time and they long to find their father.
Throughout this novel, Naomi encounters many changes that lead her to live up to her name. Though quiet and soft-spoken at the beginning of the novel, Naomi soon finds her voice when her mother threatens to take her from her grandmother. The adoption of Naomi’s sense of self and identity formation is facilitated through her trip to Mexico where she learns about her heritage and a side of her that has been absent up until this point in her life- her father. The line from the novel, “Alone, beneath the jacaranda, I stared at the three legged dog and the lion girl in my lap,” (p. 223) is symbolic of Naomi’s journey. The three legged dog could perhaps represent her brother who is disabled, yet a companion to Naomi throughout the entire novel, while the lion girl represents Naomi. Though a young and very much still a child, the association of Naomi with a lion not only captures her family heritage, but most importantly, her strength and perseverant spirit that emerges by the end of the novel.
The previously mentioned symbolism is particularly relevant to the conversation Naomi has with her father with regard to the identity of her carvings on page 220. Specifically, he consoles her when she mistakenly carves off a leg of the soap dog by telling her that the identity of the carving will reveal itself when she is done. Naomi connects this at the end of the novel to people as well (p. 245). In the end, Naomi revealed herself for what she really was after a series of “carvings” involving struggles with her mother, the discovery of her heritage in Mexico, and the fostering of her talent at the festival. Naomi was no longer a shy and soft-spoke young girl, but rather became a strong young mexican girl with the heart of a lion and a better understanding of who she is.
Structurally, each of the chapters incorporates the name of an animal that symbolically represents her character in that chapter. It also seems that the chapters represent Naomi’s artistic choice in carving animal figures. This enables us to focus on Naomi’s personal journey to self-discovery, though her journey is very much an intimate struggle within her family. The use of spanish words, followed by English translations, enables readers to learn with Naomi, while showing the transition into her culture, which soon becomes a central part of her identity.
Neil Gaiman depicts the main character, Coraline, in a way that many children can relate to. In this book, Coraline’s curiosity is driven by her boredom, which then drives her to this fantasy world. This can be related back to Where the Wild Things Are, where Max goes on an adventure into a land of creatures like himself, and also to Alice and Wonderland, where Alice drifts off into a world of fantasy and challenges. However, the main character in this book is depicted differently than most other children’s novels with a female main character. Though Hunt’s assertion that literature should be thought of as “girls literature and boys literature,” the book, Coraline, does not fully follow the guidelines of socializing young girls. Coraline must show bravery, which she reminds herself of numerous times throughout the book (p. 61). She also sets out on an adventure to save her parents and faces a lot of adversity, which is traditionally characteristic of novels involving a boy’s adventure, such as Peter Pan. Charlotte’s Web, a children’s novel full of gendered messages teaching little girls about femininity, depicts the main character, Fern, as nurturing and maternal, unlike Coraline who loves to explore.
Gender is a very consistent theme in this novel. Coraline’s father is too busy working to play with her and the obsession her other mother has with making her a permanent addition to the family, by entertaining her, loving her, and caring for her represents traditional paternal and maternal characteristics. Though there are consistent instances depicting traditional gender roles, Coraline’s behavior and intent on being brave conflicts with these messages in a way that may make fantasy seem like a world where one can cross these gender lines if they wish.
Although Charlotte’s Web focuses on the relationship between Wilbur and Charlotte throughout the majority of the text, the passage that struck me as most interesting was, “as they passed the Ferris wheel, Fern gazed up at it and wished she were in the topmost car with Henry Fussy at her side” (p.154). This passage reflects the development of Fern from a little girl to the beginning stages of womanhood, where she is less concerned with childhood things, like her pet pig, and more interested in boys. Coupled with the recurring theme of motherhood, it seems like the author intended for this book to teach young girls not only about gender, but also about the naturalness of growing up. Motherhood first occurs with Fern saving and nurturing Wilbur as a baby pig and then with Charlotte teaching him the meaning of words and things about the world. Most importantly, Charlotte sacrifices her own life through exhausting efforts to save Wilbur’s life. Charlotte, the key symbol of motherhood in this novel, also finds meaning in her life by producing and securing the safety her own children even at her demise- a hallmark of motherhood. This correlates with the text from Peter Pan with the line, “the nest must have fallen into the water, but would a mother desert her eggs? No” (p. 116). Thus, the idea behind motherhood conveyed in Charlotte’s Web is also found in many other children’s novels, teaching young girls that as mothers, they are expected to devote themselves to their children and make sacrifices when necessary. However, unlike in Peter Pan, Fern abandons her “baby,” Wilbur as she begins to grow up. Although this isn’t clear in the text, it seems possible that Fern, in her transition to womanhood, is trading childhood “play” of motherhood for future prospects of a genuine experience.
Charlotte’s Web was my favorite book growing up as a child because I could easily relate to Fern. I have always had a soft side for animals and spent more time outside exploring nature, similar to Fern at her uncle’s farm, than playing with girls my age. I would always have my dog at my side and pretend it was my baby. I took care of it from the day I got it as a puppy. Like Fern, I started growing up and became involved in more things like sports, while simultaneously developing typical preteen interests like boys and movies, etc. However, this was the first time I’ve read this book since I was a young girl and it never occurred to me how prevalent motherhood and gender were. I also never paid much attention to Fern once Wilbur met Charlotte. It’s very interesting to me how subtle, yet noticeable Fern’s transition is now that I’m older. Despite the number of times I read this book, it wasn’t so obvious to me as a kid.