Category Archives: Kids

What’s the deal with Walliams, Allen and the like?

Some of my favourite childhood buddies lived up among the dense branches of a tree that went Wisha Wisha Wisha. Silky, Moonface, the Saucepanman and Dame Washalot. Eager to have the kids befriend them too I picked up this book at the Landmark store.

Blyton copy

Once I brought it home, however, I realised it wasn’t an Enid Blyton at all. It was written by Elise Allen.

I felt cheated.

I have to add here that I looked up Elise Allen and she’s done some pretty good work – she’s the lady behind shows like the Dinosaur Train and Sid the Science Kid (Strongly recommend the Dinosaur Train if you have a dino-loving kid) and many more works that the children have enjoyed. So why should she do an Enid Blyton take off and why oh why should the book be packaged like an original?

Then again I stumbled upon David Walliams. Not only are the covers of his books replicas of Roald Dahl’s, he also has the same illustrator, Quentin Blake. He is a self-confessed Dahl fan and his writing style is quite the same too. He has the same mean-adult-pitted-against-the-child formula and has perfected Dahl’s craziness to a tee.

david-walliams-books

 

I have to admit I actually liked The Boy in the Dress (it beautifully challenged stereotypes and I recommend it for all 10-year-olds, specially boyish boys) but a lot of the others, Demon Dentist and Mr Stink for instance, are just too much like Dahl, minus his finesse, or so I thought. It might just be my bias speaking of course because each time I see his books my head screams ‘IMPERSONATOR’. The kids love him, though – the proof is in the fact that his books have made him into a gazillionire.

Sample this quote from one of his interviews:

“I had absolutely no hesitation in stealing this idea for my new children’s novel, Mr Stink, when introducing my characters. Nor was that the only thing I stole. I also stole Quentin Blake to illustrate my writing.”

He was nominated for the Dahl Funny Book Award and is hailed as the new Roald Dahl but the thing is why do we need a new one?

Then I chanced upon my niece reading a young adult fiction series by Kiera Cass – The Selection Series. Never one to be able to resist a book I picked it up only to find it was Hunger Games with a twist. A repressed majority, a strict caste system (like the districts in Hunger Games) and a bunch of girls drawn from the varied sections coming together at the King’s palace to vie for the Prince.

kiera

She loved it, though. She had the entire series on her bookshelf. And I’m not sure she’d like Hunger Games as much because this one pandered to her every adolescent girly instinct. Which just doesn’t seem fair to me. Not that it matters, since I am not exactly their target market.

I’d love to know your thoughts. Am I the only one stewing in annoyance? Is this set to be a trend that’s going to be loved and accepted just like remixed music or remade films?

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Wonder – A Review

Wonder by RJ Palacio

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Let me begin with a warning – this is going to be a rather long post (by my standards).The book more than deserves it. This one came highly recommended. It has won several awards too and I’d planned to read it with the kids. One chapter down the line I decided I couldn’t possibly read just a few pages a day and ended up finishing it on my own.

Meanwhile, our nightly read aloud sessions continued and we managed to complete it only recently.

Here’s the story

Wonder tells the tale of a ten-year-old boy August Pullman (Auggie) born with extreme facial abnormalities. He has been homeschooled till grade four due to the various surgeries that he has to go through. In grade five his parents decide to send him to a private school, Beecher Prep. Auggie considers himself a normal kid but his physical appearance sets him apart. He desperately wants to blend in but that cannot happen. He knows, dreads and hates the constant stares, the looks of revulsion, or worse, those of pity.

The book talks about his experiences in the school, his attempts to fit in and find friendship.

Now for the review

Wonder is not only a fantastic story, it is told ever so beautifully as well. The story unravels through multiple point of views. This makes it very interesting because it shows us glimpses of Auggie through the eyes of various characters and how they learn to love and accept him over time. The book is broken up into short two-three page chapters which makes it perfect if you’re taking turns reading it with your tween. Almost every bit of it is a veritable quotable quote, full of simple wisdom.

Auggie’s character is wonderfully etched – smart, funny, sweet and kind. He is well aware of the way he looks and even finds it in his heart to joke about it, to the unexpected delight of his new friends. In the end what stands out is his courage and kindness.  Palacio’s ten-year-old voice is very believable.

The supporting characters are delightful too. Each of them – Auggie’s sister Via, their parents, Via’s friend Miranda, her boyfriend, Justin  – all of them have a back-story which makes them real and relatable. That is perhaps why the book has spawned a number of ‘Companion Novels’ and turned almost into a series. (Auggie and Me, Pluto, Shingaling, 365 Days of Wonder)
Via was my absolute favourite. I would love to read a spin-off from her perspective. What would it be like to live with a brother who takes up almost all of your parents’ time,  energy and attention? – that would be interesting.
I loved the parents too. They taught me some valuable lessons through the book.

I wondered whether I (and the kids) would relate to an American school setting. Interestingly we weren’t distracted by it at all. Not for one moment did our focus shift from the core idea of the book – the challenges of a ten-year old kid, which are quite the same the world over. The children identified with Auggie, with his struggle to fit in, with the peer pressure, how cliques are formed to include some and exclude the others. Palacio got the middle-school friendship dynamic bang on. She talks about how cruel the kids can be and how very kind as well.

I was apprehensive that it would turn out to be a sad heavy read given the subject but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Of course it has those heart-breaking moments when you wish you could reach out and hug Auggie and Via and their parents, and to tell them that all would be well. But then there are also happy, fun moments when your heart swells and you cannot but smile. That’s the magic of Wonder – it makes you cry and laugh by turns. And in the end leaves you with a full heart, raising a cheer to Auggie and his warm circle of family and friends.

The Julian Chapter: The edition I read came with an additional Julian’s Chapter – the story told from the point of view of the lead antagonist. I do believe, strongly that children aren’t born cruel or mean and that their parents often are part of the reason they become that way. Yet to me that chapter seemed like Palacio was making excuses for Julian’s behaviour – his bullying and his meanness – in a forced attempt to justify him. I have to admit though that it worked for the kids. It helped them see where his bad-behaviour came from. And in the end it served to make them less judgemental even about the not-so-nice kids, so I cannot really complain.

Another flip side – if I have to find one – is that the book might seem simplistic, the characters too good, too sensible. But sometimes you need to read a feel-good book simply because it leaves you with a happy feeling. Even more importantly, you need to get your tween to read this one.

Last thought: Put aside all cynicism and pick up this ever so fabulous read.

Books, movies and I

Is there anything more satisfying than bullying a bully? For that pleasure alone, if I had to choose a film character to play, I would pick Matilda Wormwood from Matilda.

matilda

You know her, right? From Roald Dahl’s novel, if not from the film of the same name?

I fell in love with the idea of this little girl standing up to the biggest bully of them all – Thrunchbull, the evil headmistress who would grab girls by their pigtails and fling them away or pick boys up by their curly mops and drop them down without batting an eyelid.

Oh she was brave. However, that is just one of the reasons why I would like to be her. Matilda was a prodigy. She was a self-taught reader and found her way to the library when she was just four. I love her love for books. At four she was reading Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Hemingway, Kipling and Austen. That image of a tiny girl sitting with a book almost as large as herself, a glass of hot chocolate by her side, lost in the pleasure of reading is just  adorable.

I could do with some of her telekinetic powers too. The wonderfully exaggerated, over the top, typically Roald Dahl film where good, well and truly, trounces evil would be a dream to be in.

The other choice (which would actually have been my first choice if I hadn’t already spoken to death about it) is Kathleen Kelly from You’ve Got Mail – the sweet, self-deprecating Storybook lady. I love her. I love everything about her. Her passion for books and reading, her cosy little Shop Around the Corner, her story-telling sessions, her personal connect with kids… just everything. I love that she finds it difficult to be nasty, even to people she quite dislikes. That’s a lot like me. Yeah I’d definitely want to play Kathleen Kelly.

kathleen

That she bumps into a handsome, funny, rich, book-shop owner would only be a cherry on a  cake that was perfect already.

Rather coincidentally, the book she’s reading out to the kids during the story-telling session in the film, is by Roald Dahl.

Which film character would you like to play?

If you want to check out some more fun posts hop on across to Jaibala’s blog. She picked Hermione and Katniss, by the way, two of my other favourites.

#TadkaTuesday

Go Read a Book

Read a book

As I pack a gift for your friend’s birthday I hear you groan, “A book, again?” I hear it, though you think you’re being discreet, trying to spare my feelings. And yes, it’s going to be a book every time.

When you come to me and say. ‘I’m bored,’ I know you have your eye on the iPad. But all I say is, ‘Go read a book’.

When I start a book club I know you come for your friends (and for the cupcakes!) but I go ahead anyway. I invite your friends, I get the cup cakes and I pick out stories – of thrill and adventure, of children like you. And as we craft and play and eat and talk I quietly squeeze in Gaiman and Rowling.

I do it because I once made a promise.

Years ago, when I was a child like you, I had a somewhat drab existence. Until one day I fell in love – deeply irrevocably. This love of mine swept away the dreariness. It opened up a canvas wide and colourful and so very cheerful. It made me new friends – toys that could talk and little pixies, a Polish boy and a German girl, a mighty magician and a young ballerina – I shared their stories – their joys, their sorrows.

I had fallen in love with the written word.

Then one day, wonder of wonders, I found I could create a world of my own, my own colours and my own friends. And that filled me with such great joy. I was a creator, a little like God!

I had learnt to make up my own stories.

That is when I made that promise: that I’d never stop trying to share my love, that I’d help it touch each life it could, I’d help it help each one get wings and I’d help it make many little gods.

That’s a promise I’ll always keep and so I’ll try to get you to read.

I’ll push and I’ll wheedle, I’ll tempt and I’ll tease. And it’s not going to stop till you open a book, till you begin to read.

It’s the  very last day of the # BarAThon Challenge from 1st to 7th August 2016.
The prompt for today is ‘Promise’.
I am with Team #CrimsonRush

BAR-A-THON

 

 

The Reader

Beat About The Book - fictionThe reader

Craft class was in progress. Forty girls sat on either side of a long table bent diligently over their embroidery frames. At the head of the table sat Ms Mathew, The Dragon. That’s what the students called her, for she breathed fire at the littlest opportunity.

Did I say 40? Well, I meant 39, for the 40th girl was not quite there. Sara sat right at the end of the table, with her head bent like the others, except she had no embroidery frame. On her lap rested an Enid Blyton and she was far far away in a land where a gorgeous tale was beginning to unfold.

DEAR BESSIE, FANNY, JO AND DICK,
We know that you don’t want any more adventures just yet, but you might like to know that there is a most exciting land at the top of the Faraway Tree just now.  It is the Land of Do-As-You-Please, even nicer than the Land of Take-What-You-Want. We are going there tonight.  If you want to come, come just before midnight and you can go with us.  We will wait for you till then.
Love from SILKY AND MOON-FACE

Midnight! This sounded dangerous… and exciting.

Oh go go go! urged Sara as she read on, her eyes shining brighter than those of the kids in the story. ‘The Land of Do-As-You-Please!! Wow! I’d eat honey pops and read all day‘, thought she turning over the page.

Of course the children decided to go – down the garden, through the lane, into the Enchanted Wood. Their torches shone in the moonless night. The forest was silent. Ominously so. Wisha wisha wisha whispered the mysterious trees.

An owl squealed and something ran across their feet.

The kids jumped and so did Sara, upsetting her neighbour, who pricked her finger, dropped her needlework and squealed louder that any owl ever could.

Tiny drops of blood were beginning to blot her young neighbour’s lemon yellow runner and before Sara could apologise she bawled, “OUCH Miss.. Sara pushed me and I hurt my hand, it’s bleeeeeding.”

O get on with it drama queen!‘ thought Sara, the apology dying on her lips, ‘It’s just a tiny prick for goodness sake!

She did try to look contrite but The Dragon was already bearing down upon them. Sara glanced at the book in her hand. Too late she realised she had no embroidery frame. Her heart sank right into her shoes. She would be caught red-handed.

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I need to put in a few apologies: One to Enid Blyton for taking liberties with her writing. And two to Bernhard Schlink, for borrowing the title of his book although there is nothing similar between the two tales except perhaps, a love for the written word.

It’s Day 4 of the #BarAThon Challenge from 1st to 7th August 2016.
The prompt for today is ‘Caught Red Handed’.

I am with Team #CrimsonRush

BAR-A-THON

Yertle the Turtle

Do you know Yertle the Turtle? That self-centred turtle who made his throne out of his fellowmen.. err fellow turtles?

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If you don’t, well here’s his story:

Yertle was the king of turtles, king of all he could see. One day he decided that from his seat on a stone he couldn’t see too much hence his kingdom was too small. So he ordered nine turtles to stack up one on top of the other. He would sit on them and look further and so make his kingdom grow.

Of course he wouldn’t be satisfied with that and so more turtles were ordered to stack up to raise him higher and higher. Finally, the turtle right at the bottom of the pile , poor little Mac, complained of the load. But Yertle didn’t care. He saw the moon and ranted at it because it was higher then him. Then tired Mac gave one little burp and the turtles all come crashing down along with King Yertle.

The author

If you haven’t guessed already by the quirky name, that poem-story is done by the famous Theodor Geisel. What? Don’t know him? You may know him as Dr Seuss (who, for the record, wasn’t a doctor at all!).

Our man Yertle

So what do you think of Yertle the Turtle? A nasty piece of work, he was, wasn’t he? Seuss confessed he was a take on Hitler.

He didn’t care for anyone or anything save for expanding his kingdom. So drunk is he with his power, so focussed on what he wanted that he lost all rationality. he couldn’t even perceive a threat to his power.

And he was a fascist. He wouldn’t stand even a tiny bit of dissent, just like Hitler. Mac wasn’t even allowed a small tiny sigh. After all he was just a ‘part of his throne’. When he dares to complain here’s what he is told

“SILENCE!” the King of the Turtles barked back.
“I’m king, and you’re only a turtle named Mack.”

Yertle is absolutely full of himself. Sample this:

I’m Yertle the Turtle! Oh, marvelous me!
For I am the ruler of all that I see!”
And all through the morning, he sat up there high
Saying over and over, “A great king am I!”

You can listen to the full poem here .

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday for the letter Y.

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Making a Case for the Grinch

All the maudlin love that’s been on this blog for the past two weeks would have made this week’s character wrinkle his much wrinkled and very green nose in disgust. He would probably have dunked a big bucket of gunk on Elizabeth and Darcy for good measure.

Ladies and gentlemen! Presenting ….. The Grinch from How The Grinch Stole Christmas.

The Grinch

The Grinch

If you have missed this gem of a story by the irrepressible Dr Seuss, here’s what happened :

The Grinch lives in a cave high above the land of Who-Ville. Friendless and alone he watches the people, hating them with intense dislike. Each year as they come together to celebrate Christmas hand in hand, singing the Christmas song, his dislike grows to bitter loathing. Finally he can take it no more and sets out to ‘steal Christmas’. He disguises himself like Santa Clause and goes house to house picking up Christmas trees, stockings, presents and even the feast. Smug in his victory he retires to his cave. And then he hears it – the singing. The people of Who-Ville are singing. Even without the gifts and the lights, the trees and the food they are singing. What’s worse, they sound just as happy, just as cheerful.

That’s when The Grinch has his epiphany.

The Grinch quote

Down he comes to the people of Who-Ville, with the gifts and goodies to celebrate the true spirit of Christmas.

Isn’t that the best feel-good story of all time? No one can tell it quite like Dr Seuss. No one can create a villain quite like him.

And yet can you blame The Grinch?
Even when he was mean and bad I had the tiniest soft spot for him. Imagine living on your own, in a cave, not a friend in the world and having to watch everyone else creating a hoo-haa about a festival you don’t even like. Enough to turn anyone grumpy. Despite his evil bluster and the bit about hating-the-noise he had to have felt envious. What’s more he puts up with it for fifty-three years before he sets out to steal Christmas. That’s something.

The film just makes it more believable with that sad back-story. What would you expect of a child who has been bullied and then ostracized? Who has been laughed at by all the other kids? Yeah, a Grinch he shall become.

Now listen to the Grinch song. Dr Seuss could really say it!

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Linking up to ABC Wednesday where we’re doing posts on the letter ‘G’. Do drop by and check out other Great posts.

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