Sunday, 22 July 2012

Gibblewort the Goblin by Victor Kelleher

My mother-in-law happened upon Gibblewort in one of those fab cut-price book shops where they have random books for £2 that would have cost around £40 from an, understandably now defunct, Mini IQ party.  Both kids have had many books that they loved from that shop, and a fair few of their friends have received books from there as birthday presents.

Gibblewort the Goblin is published by Random House Australia, and is often quite Australian in its dialect.  It follows the adventures of Gibblewort, an Irish goblin, who has various adventures, and is randomly insulted by many strangers, from what I have seen.

They are, without doubt, the longest books C has ever read on his own, which gives him a sense of satisfaction.  Some of the language is challenging, but the print is very large, and there are plenty of pictures to break up the text. Most importantly, C finds it hilarious and reads it willingly.  A great choice for a child beginning to read alone.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

The Right Instrument for Your Child by Douglas Boyd and Atarah Ben-Tovim

Lest you think that I've gone all Aquila magazine on you, you should be aware that C is currently in bed reading The Book of Bunny Suicides by Andy Riley, after I foolishly said "pick something from that shelf to read in bed if you're bored of all your books" - forgetting that "that shelf" was not exclusively filled with children's books.  We have agreed to him reading it, since he is not the kind of child to be upset by bunny deaths.  In fact, he seems to be finding it all pretty hilarious.  A is reading Great Lies to tell Small Kids by the same author, which is cheering her up after a rather fraught couple of days.  I would heartily recommend both books for anyone wanting a laugh, but I am unconvinced that they constitute perfect bedtime reading for the average primary school-aged child.  I am hoping A doesn't go to school tomorrow and inform her friends that "dead people are just being lazy " or that "it is bad luck not to name every ant that you see ... for your whole life".

Anyway, on to the book in question. A currently plays the piano (which she loves and regularly plays for fun as well as practice sessions) and the clarinet (which is much less loved).   I am looking to buy a new flute so that I can re-learn how to play, and so I was vaguely searching the superweb for the experiences of other adults in returning to music lessons.  Someone mentioned The Right Instrument for Your Child on a forum, and it sounded really interesting, so I downloaded it through the powers of said superweb to my kindle and read it yesterday evening (it is not a heavy tome).  It was very interesting, and certainly provided food for thought, but I was unconvinced by its basic premise.  Mainly, that an adult knows exactly what the personality of their child is like.  According to the method set out in the book for instrument choice, the clarinet should be absolutely perfect for A.  Apparently gregarious children are not natural piano players.  It would be hard to meet a more gregarious child than A, and yet she adores her piano, and seems to value the time spent at it. I think it's dangerous to assume that you can easily tell how introverted or extroverted your child really is, since you are not the one spending time in their head.

Anyway, it was quite an interesting read, and I now understand why I was terrible at the piano and violin (apparently you need good mental arithmetic skills) and a natural at the flute (must be a little dreamy and unhinged).  According to the system in the book a cornet would be a natural choice for C.  But of course, he wants to play the guitar, which requires "excellent manual dexterity".  Ah well.  There's always an exception to every rule...

Sunday, 8 July 2012

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket

I was remarking today about how I have spent a fair bit of time defending Jacqueline Wilson in the past year or so.  I completely share the concerns of some that some of the issues she writes about are a little edgy, and I am not always thrilled about the uncomfortable questions that some of the books inspire A to ask.  However, last year, A didn't read for pleasure at all.  Now, thanks to JW opening up the possibility that books can actually be interesting, she reads quite a lot.  This has had a marked impact on her reading skills, ability to read around subjects and general level of interest in the world around her.

However, I have been looking around for something else for A to read, so that she is not subjected to relentless troubled family situations and friendship dilemmas.  And I stumbled upon A Series of Unfortunate Events. This was a bit of a shot out of left-field, as I was not sure if A would find them a bit scary.  However, she loves them, and is currently reading Book the Third.  There are thirteen in total, which should keep her going whilst I try to rustle up another entertaining set of books which aren't written by Ms Wilson. 

Ironically, Lemony Snicket (as he is known) tells the tale of the most troubled family you could possibly imagine.  The Baudelaire children are desperately unfortunate (hence the name), and have an evil uncle who seeks to kill them in all sorts of horrible ways.  However, they are clearly fantasy, and make a refreshing change from the pre-teen kitchen-sink drama which was A's sole reading diet for a fair while.  JW, much as I love her, reminds me very much of Mike Leigh for kids, only with less films, and slightly more misery.  Lemony Snicket is more of the old school.  Also there is plenty of ridiculously challenging vocabulary in there, for the educator in me.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys

I accidentally referred to this as "that brilliant Carnegie short-listed book Fifty Shades of Grey" earlier today.  I was answered by an absolutely appalled look, that the Carnegie shortlist should have sank so low as to include a clumsily written deeply misogynist soft-porn abomination.  It doesn't, of course.  However, the names are confusingly similar.

Admittedly, Between Shades of Gray is less famous than its similarly named counterpart.  But unlike Fifty Shades of Grey, it is subtle, heart-breaking, and the characters are painfully realistically created, and the reader can't help but care very deeply about their precarious fate.

I was discussing this book with a fellow bibliophile earlier, and we both agreed that this book taught us something about a place and time in history about which we knew little.  I should have known rather a lot about it, since I studied Stalin's Russia in A-Level History, and the book follows the fortunes of some Lithuanian inmates in one of the dictator's infamous Gulags.  However, A-Level History was dry, dull and monotonous.  Lists of statistics about the imprisoned and dead are never as moving as personal tales.  This book gave a harrowing glimpse at a part of our shared world history which shames us all. The character of Kreschev is particularly interesting, as he makes us question our own position - what would we have done in his circumstances?  Is there any real way in which we can judge the perceived crimes of ordinary people in times of war?

This book ends with hope, but is deeply upsetting in parts.  Although it is not particularly difficult to read, I would not recommend it for very young readers.  However, for secondary school age children who have read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and would like to read more, this would be an excellent next step.  A great read for adults too, and unlike Fifty Shades you can read it on public transport without embarrassment.

The Official Countdown to the London 2012 Games by Simon Hart

Olympic fever is still raging strongly here.  I have jumped merrily on the bandwagon by scouring the libraries and cut-price book shops for reading material.  I bought two copies of the above named tome, so that they can answer the quiz questions in their own book.  This was a little indulgent, but they were in The Book People, so only cost as much as one would have done in the shop.  And less than a third of the price of a cuddly Wenlock (we won't go there)...

C can be a little old before his time.  He looked up from his book the other day, pencil poised to match the weights to the boxing category and said "I use this book mainly for fun, but there's also plenty of information!"  I looked at his little earnest face and just had to give him a great big squeeze.  Which moved his pencil, resulting in a delay in answering crucial questions about various Olympic events.  But sometimes a Mummy just has to hug.