Monthly Archives: July 2015

Ms Daisy is Crazy (My Weird School series) – A review

Miss Daisy is Crazy
(My Weird School)
Dan Gutman

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A teacher who doesn’t know how to spell and read, or add and subtract. Weird, isn’t it? Well it should be, since this is the first book of the ‘My Weird School’ series by Dan Gutman.

Miss Daisy takes second grade by surprise when on the first day of school she confesses she doesn’t know how to read or spell. She furher confesses that she doesn’t know any math too. Teacher-student roles get reversed as the children begin to help Ms Daisy learn the basics. Meanwhile, AJ, a second grader who hates school, has a brilliant idea that of buying the school and converting it into a gaming arcade. The principal doesn’t quite agree but does strike a deal – ‘Read one million pages and you get to convert the school into a gaming zone for a day’. As an add-on he agrees to dress up as a gorilla that day!

The school goes into a frenzy of reading and AJ’s dream comes true. But what about Ms Daisy? Can she really not read or is she putting on a show? AJ never does get to know.

Meet the characters

Meet the characters!

My Weird School is a delightful series for reluctant readers. Written in first person by AJ, they offer a quick connect. Which child doesn’t hate school at some point? Or dream of converting it into a gaming arcade? No patronising or moralising here and the kids come away with a vocabulary that’s richer by a word or two. The book is best suited for children starting out on chapter books.

Note: You might also like to try other books in the series Ms Hannah is Bananas or Ms Lilly is Silly.

Note 2: This series is tried and tested successfully on two very reluctant readers.

Linking up with Mommynificent for the Booknificent Link-Up Party

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The boy with special needs

If you’ve read this book by Mark Haddon you’ll know right away why Christopher Boone  appears on my list of favourites for he’s as unusual as they come. He is the  protagonist  of The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-Time, a book I recommend highly if you haven’t read it already.  Read it if for no other reason than the fact that it talks a refreshingly different language.

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15-year-old Christopher is in many ways an exceptional boy. He has a photographic memory and he remembers every prime number unto 7507. He’s a Math champion. He also has an extraordinarily logical brain which makes him a science champion too.

However when it comes to humans and the way they function he is just no good. He has a rudimentary understanding of human emotions other than ‘happy’ and ‘sad’. He doesn’t understand sarcasm, or implied meanings or metaphors.

Mark Haddon

The illustrations in the book are also done by Christopher. Here he shows the two emotions he understands and four others that he does not.

He is labelled a boy with ‘special needs’. But that is a misnomer as he points out, “everyone has special needs. Like Father who has to carry a little packet of artificial sweetening tablets around with him to put in his coffee to stop him getting fat, or Mrs Peters who wears a beige-coloured hearing aid,….” . Irrefutable logic there. What say Mr Spock?

He dreams of being an astronaut even though he knows that’s not possible. But says he, “You could still want something that is very unlikely to happen.” He certainly knows how to dream! His other favourite dream is a world with only people who ‘don’t look at other people’s faces’. Staring makes him uncomfortable as does touching and hugging and loud noises or people talking too much too fast since he takes time to process information. Too many new experiences together – like going to a new place with many people -make him want to press ctrl+alt+del, he says.

Then one day his neighbour’s poodle is killed and Christopher takes it upon himself to play detective and find the killer. He wants to write a murder mystery novel once he’s solved the case. This is the beginning of a strange and eventful journey.

With all his peculiarities, what I love most about Christopher is his clear mindedness and his wonderfully accurate self-analysis. He knows how he’s different from other people as well as what he’s supposed to do or not do, though he doesn’t quite understand why. He even makes out a list of his behavioural problems.

He offers an endearingly refreshing perspective of life. His descriptions of people and situations turn out perfectly accurate yet they are not anything I have read before or thought of either. Sample this..”People say that you always have to tell the truth. But they do not mean this because you are not allowed to tell old people that they are old and you are not allowed to tell people if they smell funny or if a grown up had made a fart…
or this
“..most people are lazy. They never look at everything. They do what is called glancing which is the same word for bumping off something and carrying on in almost the same direction.” He finds it weird that people can see a field full of cows and not know exactly how many there were or not notice (and remember) the exact pattern on each of them! He would remember each one of them.

Despite his ‘disability’ he is an independent boy and can pretty much look out for himself and we watch him grow as the book progresses. The charm of the book (and the character) lies in that it is narrated in first person by Christopher himself. If you have ever wondered what goes on in the mind of a special needs person, what makes him function the way he does, this is your chance to do just that.

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Finally, it’s a lady next Tuesday, a powerful and talented one at that. Take a guess if you can.

Linking up to ABC Wednesday , the fun alphabetical weekly challenge.

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Rick Braithwait – The Perfect Teacher

A group of young adults, girls and boys, from London’s East End (something like an Indian slum) go to a small school – The Greenslade Secondary School. The teachers – most of them women, have grown up from among them. The men the kids see around them – fathers , brothers, uncles and neighbours are scruffy and untidy, dress in shabby ill-fitting clothes, barely bother to brush or bathe and are hardly conscious of basic hygiene let alone the aesthetics of their appearance.

Then one day, in walks a teacher and I quote, “his clothes are well-cut, pressed and neat, clean shoes, shaved, teeth sparkling, tie and handkerchief matching as if he’s stepped out of a ruddy bandbox. He’s big and broad and handsome“. Chances are he will be laughed right out of the school as a complete misfit. But this one sticks.

Rick Braithwait, my character for today is from ER Braithwaite’s, part autobiographical book To Sir With Love. An engineer and an ex RAF aircrew, he joins the school because he cannot find any other employment largely due to him being black. He is faced with a group of completely unmotivated, semi literate pupils interested in everything but studying. Their attitudes range from indifference and defiance to hostility. He struggles through prejudices, his own as well as his students’, and years of deeply ingrained attitudes and habits. His firm belief in his students’ capabilities and their innate goodness sees them rise above themselves. He wins over not just their respect, love and trust but also that of their families. It’s one of the warmest feel-good books I’ve read. If you’re a teacher or a parent here’s an ideal you might like to adopt.

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It’s hard to enumerate why I love this character. He is sensitive and intelligent and smart. He embodies all that is honest and wholesome. He wins over the reader completely so that you celebrate his victories and feel his pain when his students fail him which they do many times over.

I love him for the trust he places in his students. I love the way he extends himself to things way beyond academics. He teaches the students to dress, to talk and to appreciate basic human values. He introduces them to Shakespeare. He takes them on trips to the museum and the opera. Sceptics predict chaos but the children do him proud. He sets high standards for himself and expects the same from his students.

And he’s passionate. His  impassioned outbursts at the students are possibly my favourite parts of the book. Heck, I could have fallen in love with him as did the students.

Yes, yes I hear you – he seems too good to be true. The character is, say critics, too simplistic and a bit vain, his victories too easy. But for one moment banish that cynic in you and you’ll love him just as I do.

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Don’t forget to drop by next week for yet another fascinating character. It’s a boy this time – a teenager – a very very different teen who’s out on an investigative trail. And do share your favourites. It’s no fun if I do all the talking :-).

Linking up to ABC Wednesday , the fun alphabetical weekly challenge.

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Five reasons I love Atticus Finch

This comes much much later than I planned but here it is – my own personal weekly A to Z series. This year in April I signed up for the A to Z Challenge with the topic ‘Fascinating characters from books we love’. However I bowed out for fear of not doing justice to the characters under the pressure of daily posting.

Starting today I hope I can bring out a well-loved character each week. Endearing, annoying, good or evil the one thing they’ll have in common will be their ability to enthrall and entertain. They’re the ones that outlived the books.

I begin with the letter A and I couldn’t have found a better person to kick it off with than my favourite man Atticus Finch – the gentleman, the lawyer, the father from ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’. It couldn’t have been better timed either since Harper Lee’s sequel ‘Go Set a Watchman’ went on sale yesterday, 20 years after her first and only book. To read reactions to her new release you can go here. Harper Lee modeled Atticus Finch on her own father and went on to face plenty of flak for that. I blogged about it earlier at my  other blog.

Here are five reasons why I love Atticus Finch

1. He’s the best go-to dad
He’s the kind of father you could ask almost anything and get a satisfactory answer. He doesn’t patronise or pamper. He imparts simple everyday values in the most uncomplicated manner. Look at how he explains empathy to his children. “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view … until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” Isn’t that brilliant?

2. He is a man with a conscience
.. an active one that he considers very important. Says he, “The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.” He goes ahead and takes up the case of a black man at the risk of being ostracised and in the face of threats to his children’s lives for as he says, “Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.”

atticus finch

Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch in the film adaptation of the novel

3. He’s brave
Bravery in everyday life is a very underrated concept and that’s what Atticus had. He doesn’t wear his courage like a badge. Scout, his ten-year old daughter, comes to feel the same when later in the book she says. “It was times like these when I thought my father, who hated guns and had never been to any wars, was the bravest man who ever lived.

4. He’s modest beyond reason
He is always falling short on his kids’ admiration scale yet he never defends himself. Scout feels his inadequacies most strongly. ‘He  cannot tackle a football, doesn’t drive a dump truck and was practically blind in one eye’. She’s desperate to find a redeeming factor in her dad. Then one day he picks up a gun, albeit reluctantly, and in a single shot takes down a mad dog, to her complete awe and delight. Miss Maudie, their neighbour, explains, “..Because he was a crack shot he realised God had given him an advantage over most living things….. he decided he wouldn’t shoot till he had to,..”. Hello! Who does that?

5. He is a perfect gentleman
…a gentleman in a true blue, old-fashioned understated way. He’s not beyond taking his son to task for falling short on his ‘gentlemanly’ traits no matter how trying the situation.

I’ve been reading with a tiny pang of apprehension, that in Lee’s new book Atticus turns racist.. You can read the article here. I am trying to keep my faith. I just hope Lee does him justice. I’d hate to see him fall. Need to get to that book fast.

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Do share your favourite characters with me. And don’t forget to come back next week. Meanwhile take a guess about the gentleman in my next post. Yes, he’s a man again and he’s a teacher. Go guess.

Joining in the ABC Wednesday fun. The meme is in its 17th round. Today’s letter is of course A.

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