Sunday 26 September 2010

Four Lovely Blogs

Recently I have been given the 'One Lovely Blog' award by Jo's Book Journey and Lisa.  As part of accepting the award, I get to choose some of the blogs I am reading to pass the award on to.  Here are some blogs I think are lovely:

Baja Greenawalts Cozy Book Nook: I love the design and style of this blog.  I like that the reviews are a little eclectic and don't follow the same format every single time.  All the books mentioned are interesting in some way.

Borough of Books: I know the author of this blog from livejournal, but what I love about her book blog is how straightforward and honest the reviews are.  I've also found out about lots of books outside the genres I don't usually read from this blog, which has been interesting.

Man of La Book: I love the variety of books that this blogger reads - I never know which genre is coming next.  A good mix of well-known and not so well-known books.

Paper Adventures: This blogger won me over with her post about banned books.  In the reviews there's a good balance between summary and opinion.

All of these blogs are worth reading, if you aren't following them already, you should do so straight away!

Saturday 25 September 2010

My Favourite Picture Books

I work as a primary school teacher and my favourite time of any day is story time.  I love to read, and all children love good stories.  Over the past few years, whilst training and teaching, I have acquired a box full of my favourite books, which have captured the attention of all the children I have read them to.

 Miki by Stephen Mackey.

This book is just beautiful.  It's about a girl, Miki, who wants to find a star for a tree and goes on a magical underwater adventure in Antarctica.  The language is just as descriptive and lovely as the pictures.  I've found that all children tend to love stories set in wild and exotic places.  This one has the right balance between being sweet and being too soppy.

The Whisperer by Nick Butterworth.

This picture book is part Romeo & Juliet, part gang warfare, but all told through cats.  The black cats and ginger cats are separate gangs that hate each other, and must figure out what to do when a black cat and a ginger cat fall in love.  Told simply without being patronising, it's a story that leads to a really good discussion.  Gangs are very common where I teach, and all the children have strong views on them.

Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers

This book is just adorable.  A boy wakes up one day to find a penguin waiting for him.  Thinking he is lost, the boy goes to great lengths to help in back to Antarctica.  But on his way home alone, he realises that perhaps the penguin was just lonely...

Michael Rosen's Sad Book by Michael Rosen

I'm a great believer that children know more than we let on, and that we shouldn't patronise them.  Michael Rosen wrote this book after the death of his son, and it is one of the most touching books I have ever read.  All children respond to it and I've had some really positive things come out of sharing this book.

Hansel & Gretel by Anthony Browne

I love Anthony Browne books.  The pictures in them are amazing, there are always hidden parts and clues, and the books deal with big issues while still being picture books.  In this retelling of the fairy tale, the parents kick out Hansel and Gretel because they simply don't care about them and would rather spend their money on cigarettes.  It's a lovely story of friendship.

Click, Clack Moo by Doreen Cronin

This book is simply hilarious.  The cows get fed up with their working conditions and decide to send a ransom note to the farmer.  This leads to a lot of other animals wanting in on the act too....

Little Mouse's Big Book of Fears by Emily Gravett

Everyone is scared of something, although not everyone wants to admit it.  I love this story about the mouse who is scared of everything.  Children love the pull out parts and old fashioned style, and it leads to lots of great discussion about fears and why we have them.

Wednesday 22 September 2010

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

I'll admit it: Dan Brown is my brain candy.  Especially lately, whenever I feel in need of something easy and page-turner-y to read, I turn to Dan Brown.  I don't think it's high quality literature, but it's formulaic and therefore comforting to me!

Synopsis: Robert Langdon (he of Angels and Demons & The Da Vinci Code) is asked to Washington to deliver a lecture by his long-term mentor.  However, when he arrives he makes a gruesome discovery and ends up investigating the secrets of the Masons.

Score: 3 out of 5

I found this book a bit disappointing.  It was easy to read, and I was always expecting it to be formulaic and silly, but some of the later sections really seemed to be pushing the boundaries of credibility.  Without giving too much away - am I really supposed to believe that such a thing as breathable liquid exists?

Part of the problem is that the Masons are just not as glamourous as the Holy Grail or the Illuminati trying to wipe out the Vatican.  Their 'secrets' were not as exciting and there didn't seem to be as much action to keep the pace going smoothly.  There were large sections where not much happened.  The final revelations seemed to me to be an anti-climax after all of the build up through the book.

I also noticed that there was a lack of well developed secondary characters.  The bad guy, although a good bad guy, was a simplistic, pure evil type character and there was no one with any moral ambiguities to balance it out, as in the previous books.  There was also of course the appearance of a perfect female sidekick.

Looking back on this review so far, I have been quite harsh.  Despite all of the above, I still enjoyed the whole reading experience and the book definitely held my attention well.  I just think it wasn't as good as previous offerings from the author.

Saturday 18 September 2010

'Les Liaisons Dangereuses' by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

Les Liaisons Dangereuses by Pierre Choderlos de Laclos

I'm one of those people that enjoys reading books that were 'controversial' in their own time, and I've been meaning to read this one for a while.  The film Cruel Intentions is based on it, and Marie Antoinette is rumored to have had a secret bound copy.

Synopsis: Two members of the French aristocracy, the Vicomte de Valmont and the Marquis de Meurtil engage in a number of plots, among them the seduction/corruption of an innocent teenage girl in love and ruining the career of an aristocrat.  Told through letters written between the various characters.

Score: 3.5 out of 5.

This book took me a long time to read - it was one to savour slowly rather than rush through.  The letters were often long and full of flowery language (declarations of love etc), but this was part a satire of the French aristocracy before the revolution and part of the appeal of the book.

For me the best part of the book was the characterisation.  It's quite a challenge to write letters from at least six different characters, each of whom has different relationships with everyone else, whilst at the same time making them all seem real and well developed.  This was done very effectively by the author; all of the characters had a distinct 'voice'.  The contrast between the letters written by the Marquis de Meurtil was particularly good: in one letter she could be polite and considerate, in another, scheming and manipulative, all whilst retaining the sense that it was definitely her writing the letters.

The book also felt surprisingly modern in it's take on emotions and relationships, which is perhaps why it was so controversial when it was published.  Today, it's hard to imagine anyone taking offense to it.  It's greatest crime at the time was being too honest about not everyone being a nice person, and worse, that women could be just as manipulative and 'evil' as men.

Overall, it was an enjoyable read, although it occasionally felt like an effort.  Definitely something more easy going coming up next.

Sunday 12 September 2010

School Libraries

Great news!  I've been offered the chance to 'take over' my school's library for the forseeable future, and I'm really excited to do so.  We don't have a school librarian, although the library is up and running with the facilities in use to check out books onto individual student library cards.  One of the teaching assistants helps with the running/sorting of the library and is available at the beginning of every lunchtime for children who want to check out books.

I teach in a primary school, which is for children aged 4 - 11, and my class are all currently seven years old.  Each class has an allocated half hour slot in the library each week, which is used for taking out new books and also for storytime. The library is small, but it is inviting with comforting chairs etc.

I'm hoping to be able to set up some kind of book group/after school reading club, but wondered if any of you book-loving people had any other ideas to inspire children to love reading?  I teach in a socially disadvantaged area and most families don't prioritise reading at home, so anything I can do at school with the library to help children enjoy reading would be fantastic.  All ideas welcome :)

Sunday 5 September 2010

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

I borrowed this book from my local library - I've started my new term teaching and I wanted something relatively light that would keep my attention and take my mind off my new class.  Something to lose myself in.  I love Tudor history and historical fiction in general, and whilst I have read 'The Other Queen' by the same author (and enjoyed it), I never gor around to reading this one.

Score: 4.5 out of 5.

Synopsis: Mary and Anne Boleyn have a sisterly rivalry that increases when Mary becomes the mistress of Henry VIII at the age of fourteen.  Anne's ambition takes over as she becomes determined to do whatever it takes to marry the king and give birth to a son.  As more and more time passes, Mary becomes sickened at the ambition of her family and is determined to not simply do as they say anymore.

Review: This book was actually more substantial than I was expecting.  I found the characters to be well rounded, and all of the main characters had some good character development throughout the course of the novel.  The novel covered a large span of time, but it didn't feel rushed or unbelieveable, as the characters matured as the book progressed.

What I liked most about the book was that the author left everything Anne had done very ambiguous, you could make your mind up as to how far she had gone in order to get what she wanted.  There were no moral judgements either, and you could sympathise very much with Anne near the end of the book, even though she was horrible and quite unlikeable.  There was no black and white, it was all shades of grey.  I liked how the author managed to pull off writing from the perspective of Mary, but also giving us a deeper insight into Mary than she herself had - she wasn't as good as she thought she was.

Some of the minor characters were less well written - Mary's second husband was too perfect and understanding, with very modern viewpoints, and Uncle Howard only had one personality trait - evil.  However, the pace and plot made up for this, and it was one of those books where time just flew as I was reading it.  Recommeded.

Friday 3 September 2010

Life on Air by David Attenborough

Life on Air: Memoirs of a Broadcaster by David Attenborough

I grew up with David Attenborough's natural history shows - in my family every time there was a new one it was a big event where we would all gather in front of the TV to watch.  I loved animals as a child, and David Attenborough was a big part of the reason for that.  So I was excited to read his autobiography.

Score: 3/5

Synopsis: Memoirs of David Attenborough, who worked at the BBC for many years to produce/direct/present natural history television shows.

I enjoyed this book and it was very well written, making it hard to put down.  Quite simply, lots of interesting things have happened to him.  It was interesting to read about making friends with baby orangutans, meeting tribal people and handling horrible insects.  The book had a good structure, with chapters about his journeys/adventures alternated with chapters about broadcasting (David was once controller of BBC2).

It was also interesting to track the changing views towards animals and conservation/zoos.  When he was making his first shows in the 1950s, it was common that the aim was simply to capture as many animals as possible and bring them back to the studio without worrying too much about their well-being or the environment they were taking them from.   But as the book progressed, David became more and more interested in conservation and captivity.

As I was expecting, it wasn't really a personal biography.  Don't expect details about his love life or blazing arguments.  Normally that irritates me a little bit in a biography, but he had so many interesting things to write about that I didn't really notice until I had finished the book.

Wednesday 1 September 2010


Today I made a trip to the library, which luckily for me is right next door to my flat.  It got me thinking about libraries, how they work and what they should be used for.

When I was growing up, my parents didn't have a lot of money.  I loved to read, but the only books I ever actually owned were either received as Christmas/birthday presents or from a great second hand book stall in the local market that sold children's books for 20p (pocket money price).  So every Saturday, my Mum, sister & I would walk to the local library and get out the maximum 8 books each - and I always looked forward to it.  Now it's one of the happy memories of my childhood.

But when I was in the library today, it struck me how different libraries have become.  Granted, my library is very small and also functions as a community centre but I think there have been general changes.  There were people tapping on computers and chatting in groups, and even though the computer area is screened off, it was still noisier than it would have been back when I was 5 or 6.  The children's book area had toys as well as books.  There didn't seem to be many comfortable places to actually sit and read in the library - there was only a hard wooden desk and that was taken up by a group of people running a book club.  There's a local council phone which someone was using to find out about council tax.

Some of these changes are good, no doubt, and some are bad.  What do you all think?  I would also be interested to hear about libraries where you live, and if they're different to mine (UK).