Archive for the Category »Booky Thinks «

Reading Rules

Oh, I have already been slack with the photo a day. I have posted some individual pics that didn’t inspire much commentary straight to facebook, so I will link them all back in at the end of the month.

So here we are at Day 16: what you’re reading. Ah – now that’s right up my alley, except this photo actually shows two things that I didn’t think I would ever do.

First – e-books. I’m a bit of a bookophile. Given the choice between a new edition and an old battered paperback I will usually choose the latter. I love the smell of books and the feel of them in my hand. I’m not precious about dogeared corners or stained pages. To me, it all adds to the whole reading experience. So I swore black and blue a few years back that I wasn’t going to go down the e-book path. I’m usually not such a luddite, I swear. Yet one day there I was reading a review of a book and it made me want to pick it up rightnowthisminute.  And I pressed a few buttons and there it was, like black magic. And now I am completely under their spell. Entranced by the e-books.

Second – I never ever watch a movie or TV series that is based on a novel without first reading said novel. For Game of Thrones however I will make an exception. Tony and I started watching the series after several friends recommended it to us. I swear not an episode goes by without both of us letting out an astounded bellow. Watching it forewarned would just not be the same, but I am enjoying reading along after each episode. Tempting as it is to turn the page and find out more about what is happening in Westeros, I have not yet succumbed. Anyone who knows how quickly I churn through books will understand how strong I am being.

How do you take your books? Paper, electronic or film? 



Bedtime Stories

397px-William-Adolphe_Bouguereau_(1825-1905)_-_The_Difficult_Lesson_(1884)When my daughter was a wee one she hated going to sleep. We had a great bedtime routine, and she always went off to bed happily, but just couldn’t make that step from awake to lying quietly to asleep.  We always had a story in the routine, but I found that picture books just kept her sitting up and awake and turning pages. For a while I would read a couple of picture books and then sing to her until she started nodding. They had to be long songs too. No cute little lullabies, or she would just end up demanding “MORE!” We’re talking Stairway to Heaven and American Pie here. To my surprise she has turned out quite musical. I would have thought only someone completely tone deaf could tolerate my singing for any length of time. As an aside – my son, who is really not into music at all, would cover my mouth when I tried to warble to him. I think “Don’t sing Mummy!” may have been his first complete sentence.

Finally after about a year of dubious renditions of rock ballads, I decided enough was enough, and hit upon the idea of reading some novels aloud to my daughter. We started with some Blyton, but they were a little too interesting and not conducive to sleep.  I delved further back into the classics and we read Little Women together, quickly followed by Anne of Green Gables. The beauty of the older stories is that they have a lot of descriptive passages. What better way to nod off than by listening to the Anne-girl waxing lyrical about the countryside around Avonlea.

It was also a lovely way to share books that I thought may not appeal to her by the time she was old enough to read them by herself. Together we read Black Beauty, The Secret Garden, Peter Pan and even R.M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island. As she got older, we continued with modern tales like Harry Potter and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events. Now she is twelve, we are enjoying teen fiction with themes we can discuss together.  We recently finished The Hunger Games and have started Tomorrow When the War Began, and have come full circle – once again she is sitting up excited, wanting to hear “just a little bit more”.

For parents who want to kindle a love of reading in their children beyond the picture book age, I suggest taking some time to read novels together.  There’s a real sense of intimacy when sharing a story. Even on the nights when I just want to send them off to bed while I curl up with a glass of wine, to look up and see their eyes mirroring my own tears as I read a poignant scene, or smiling with delight at a hero’s moment of glory makes it all worth it.

Which of your favourite books are you looking forward to sharing with your kids? Which have you shared already?

We Need to Talk About Reading

WNTTAKevinI lost my reading mojo recently. It has happened before. Generally life gets busy and my brain can only focus enough to take in smaller or lighter reading – websites, articles, blogs. Sometimes even 140 character tweets can seem a little too long-winded or brain taxing. Then I simply got out of the habit of reading. I’ve never been one for a set “read a chapter before bed” reading regime. I tend to immerse myself in a book for hours on end when possible,  grabbing brief snippets whenever I can in between daily chores.

These school holidays just gone, I got my brain back into gear.  Weekends were mostly taken up with the endless painting and I kept the weekdays deliberately empty to be able to do things with the kids. Of course now the kids are both in double figures, “doing things” involves throwing food in the general direction of the room or yard where they are holed up with their friends all day, so I had plenty of opportunities to read.

And read I did. As if school holidays aren’t alarming enough, with the constant pantry stocking and food tossing, I had to choose two of what are probably some of the most unsettling books I have read – We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver, and Room by Emma Donoghue (which I will write about another time).  I’m no stranger to reading about the darker sides of humanity. For a while there I couldn’t get enough of Thomas Harris and other writers of tales of serial killing and murder. Neither of these books compares directly with these particular types of stories though, being more about the emotional and psychological effects of human darkness on families, on children and the world.

I came into We Need To Talk About Kevin with rave reviews in my ears ( along the lines of “You need to read We Need To Talk About Kevin because we need to talk about We Need to Talk About Kevin”). Hype can ruin a book or a movie for me, but in this case I think the book lived up to my expectations – nearly. Incredibly well-written, Shriver’s story about a school shooting is narrated by the young murderer’s mother through a series of letters to her absent husband. This first person narrative gives the reader an incredible insight into how complex the relationship can be between a parent and a child, particularly when the child is as disturbed as Kevin, and the novel raises many questions on the nature-vs-nurture debate.  Shriver never takes the easy option of clarifying precisely why Kevin becomes a mass murderer of his classmates, instead leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions, the most unsettling of which is that there quite simply is no answer.

I admit, I was disappointed that a revealing moment of the story was flagged enough in the introduction to this particular edition that I could predict in advance what could possibly have been a shocking twist. This did let the story down a little for me. Hardly the fault of the author though, and the book still stands as one of the best I have read in quite a while.

What books have you read lately? Has there been a book that everyone said you “had to” read? Did that change your perception of the book  at all?

The Mysterious Case of the Avid Childhood Reader

Last week I had a couple of those random twitter experiences that get your mind working. First Susan at Reading Upside Down outed me as the intrepid children’s book sleuth when Rebecca Newman (@_boobook_ ) was hunting for a book she had read as a child. (You can read about how we did here at her blog. )  I do possess mad googling skillz, and was one of those kids who read every book in the library, so this was a labour of love. Susan knew about my fondness for such pursuits when I helped her sister rediscover the Green Knowe series. Like Rebecca, she could only recall certain aspects of the book – a boy called Tolly, ghosts of children and an old mansion. Her description rang a bell, and we were both excited to find the books and reread them.

Then I had a lovely chat with several folks about the Australian childrens’ books Bottersnikes and Gumbles. It was fun to see how many of us Australians (of a certain age) recalled such details about a series that never reached the dizzying heights of renown as Snugglepot & Cuddlepie or Blinky Bill. They obviously made an impact on us in our young reading years.

So here are a few more books from my childhood that I recall with incredible fondness, yet aren’t often listed in the classics that we ensure we set aside for our own children.

hitlerpinkrabbitWhen Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit – Judith Kerr

I think I read this as my brother was reading it in his class a year ahead. The story of a young Jewish girl (the author herself) who fled Nazi Germany with her family, it was my first real introduction to the Holocaust and the history of World War 2. Before then Hitler was just a name of a bad guy that sometimes got thrown my way at school because my family came from Germany.  Since that first reading at around ten years of age, I have sought out many books on the subject, both fiction and non-fiction. My own daughter has just finished Morris Gleitzman’s beautiful Once and Then, which like When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit is told from the perspective of a child.

thecayThe Cay – Theodore Taylor

I remember the feel and the cover of this book (not the one pictured) quite strongly for some reason. The edition I read seemed quite new – although at the time (around 1982) it was already over twelve years since it’s publication. It’s possible that it just wasn’t one of those books that kids are drawn to, but it has stayed with me, although I haven’t read it since. I remember the cat and the eventual friendship between Phillip and Timothy, and how they looked after eachother when stranded on the Cay.

island_blue_dolphinsIsland of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell

I must have been going through a “stranded on an island” phase, because I’m sure I read this around the same time as I read The Cay. Actually, now that I think about it, we may have been doing a theme of that kind in our library lessons that year, and I was always the good girl who read every book! Animals always featured strongly in the books that I loved, and I remember crying as I read about Rontu the dog (wolf?) in this story.

phantomtollboothThe Phantom Tollbooth - Norton Juster

Now here’s a great story, that people just look at me strangely when I tell them about it. I have no idea why it isn’t better known because it is so much fun to read.  My brother and I had a copy, which I first read at a very young age, when I was probably too young to understand all the clever puns and wordplays. I read it recently with my ten-year-old son, and he delighted in the story of Milo, who travels through the Phantom Tollbooth to the magical lands of Dictionopolis and Digitopolis to rescue the princesses Rhyme and Reason.

bush maidA Little Bush Maid – Mary Grant Bruce

If one side of my heritage led me to reading holocaust and world war two fiction, the other side has given me a deep and abiding love for stories set in the Australian bush. Although idyllised and very much a product of their time with regards to the representation of aboriginal and chinese Australians (and I understand they have since been edited to change this), the Billabong series of books were captivating stories for a young city girl who thought living on horseback and camping out under the stars was a wonderful life indeed. It was also fun to read classic books with a female protagonist that were still ‘ripping yarns’ and full of adventure.

Do any of these books ring a bell with you? What other less-commonly-known children’s books do you recall from your own childhood? Or do you have a book mystery you’d like me to try and solve?