Category Archives: Reading with 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.

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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.

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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.

A Wonderful Book #Teaser Tuesday 4

My current read is a truly wonderful book, quite aptly named Wonder by RJ Palacio. Here’s a line, or rather two lines, for this week’s Teaser Tuesday, which is hosted by Should Be Reading. Do make time to drop by at the end of week for the review. This one is an exceptional read.

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“There are always going to be jerks in the world, Auggie,” she said, looking at me. “But I really believe, and Daddy really believes, that there are more good people on this earth than bad people, and the good people watch out for each other and take care of each other.” 

 

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If you fancy joining in, here’s how…
• Grab your current read
• Open to a random page
• Share two teaser sentences from somewhere on that page
• BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS!
• Share the title and author so other TT participants can add the book to their TBR lists if they like your teasers!

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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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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