Saturday, July 30, 2011

Chicken Soup for The Little Reader’s Soul.

The boy and I have been playing host to the flu lately so life has been all about medicines and hot soups and very little about reading and blogging. Although my own reading is temporarily put on hold, I’ve been reading to the Little Guy a lot lately in an attempt to keep his spirits up.  Luckily, it’s working. I’ve done a post before on our favourite books, but we’ve bought and read a LOT of books since then, so here’s the latest top picks.

We All Went on Safari by Laurie Krebs with illustrations by Julia Cairns

This one is a little gem. It’s a counting book set in Tanzania where a group of Masai children go on a day long safari and spot many different animals.  So Arusha spots one leopard while Mwambe counts 4 lions. Each number is also stated in Swahili.  The book contains a colourful map of Tanzania, some info about the Masai people, facts about the animals mentioned in the book and also the meaning of the names of the children in the story. But all this doesn’t make the book feel like a textbook, far from it. My son enjoys repeating the Swahili numbers with me. The real draw (excuse the pun) are the exquisite illustrations that make Africa come alive for you on these pages.

Robert the Rose Horse by Joan Heilbroner illustrated by P.D.Eastman

Robert is an amiable and industrious horse with a most unfortunate allergy to roses. His sneezes are so stormy that everyone and everything around him gets blown away or knocked down. It all turns out ok when his sneeze saves the day. This is a funny and engaging story that isn’t really trying to teach you anything, Also, as someone who is allergic to almost everything, I can totally relate to poor Robert.               

The Pig in a Wig by Alan MacDonald illustrated by Paul Hess

The Pig in a Wig is the story of Peggoty the Pig who thinks she’s beautiful until she overhears some lambs calling her ugly, fat and bald. All the other animals on the farm also seem to think that you have to have hair to look good. In desperation, she makes herself a wig, which only makes everyone laugh at her. Poor Peggoty is quite heartbroken, until something happens and she learns that pigs are perfect just the way they are. A non-preachy way to teach the kiddies that everyone has their own special kind of beauty.

Thump Bump Tiny the Dancing Hippo by Janet Craig with illustrations by Diane Paterson
Tiny, the not-so-tiny hippo loves to dance. His family loves him and really wants to encourage his passion. Unfortunately, a hippo dancing around the house can really make everything go Thump Bump. So Papa, Mama and Sally make him his very own stage where he can dance to his heart’s content. This is a really simple story with very simple words and a merry little rhythm to it. Plus, what’s cuter than a hippo in a leotard?

Elmer on Stilts by David Mckee

Elmer the patchwork elephant comes up with a plan to mislead the elephant hunters. But it’s not going to be easy for a whole herd of elephants to walk on stilts. Good thing Elmer is so ingenious. My son loves everything that has anything to do with elephants, so this one was a pretty clear winner. I must say I find the sight of all those elephants on stilts pretty funny myself. Tee Hee! I’m easily amused.

I’d love to know your favorite books for toddlers? Do share.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Follow Friday

Follow Friday is a weekly meme hosted by and weeks question is:

Q. Name 3 authors that you would love to sit down and spend an hour or a meal with just talking about either their books or get advice on writing from? 

  1. Virginia Woolf: Everything about her fascinates me. 
  2. P.G.Wodehouse: I imagine an hour spent with Plum would be very entertaining, not to mention amusing.
  3. Somerset Maugham : I'm in the process of re-discovering his works and I have a million things I'd love to ask him.
I can probably list another 300 authors I'd like to meet but I'm going to stop now and let you add to this. So, which authors would you like to spend an evening with?

As always, have a very happy weekend ya'll!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Bronte Story by Margaret Lane

     When Elizabeth Gaskell wrote her famous book The Life of Charlotte Brontë, she had to tread very carefully because a lot of the people who played a part in the story were still living and their feelings and reputations had to be protected. Mrs Gaskell, apart from being Charlotte Bronte’s biographer was also her friend and champion so the biography is hardly an unbiased account. This is what Margaret Lane tries to  correct and improve upon with her retelling of Charlotte Bronte’s biography The Bronte Story.

      I must say the title misled me. I assumed the book was about all the Brontes, particularly Emily, Anne and Charlotte. We are given a brief sketch of each Bronte but the attention paid to them is cursory. The spotlight stays firmly on Charlotte. Mrs Gaskell herself is an important character in this story. As Margaret Lane says in the introduction, “This book is offered as a sort of footnote to Mrs Gaskell, bringing the reader back at every point to her incomparable text, and at the same time putting him in possession of everything that has come to light in the century since she wrote.”

    There are a few chapters to Charlotte Bronte’s life which were intentionally suppressed by Mrs Gaskell. The most controversial of these being Charlotte’s unrequited love for Constantin Heger, a married man and her teacher. Margaret Lane tells the whole story, quoting from Charlotte’s own letter to Heger. The letters are pretty tragic and lovelorn and I can see why Mrs Gaskell did not want their contents to be public. Lane also touches on Charlotte’s relationship with her husband which was placid at best. The stormy passion of Jane Eyre seems even more intense in contrast to the lukewarm love life of its author. Where did she dredge up all that intensity when she had never experienced it herself? A triumph of imagination over reality.
     I wish the author had focused on telling the Bronte story as she saw it, in her own voice. The book seems to have two and sometimes three narrative threads which can get confusing. There are letters from Charlotte, the writings of Mrs Gaskell and Lane’s own surmises all making a bit of a hodgepodge. In fact Lane quotes Mrs Gaskell’s book so extensively that almost half of it seems to be reproduced here. The Bronte Story is not an easy book to read. The writing seems unnecessarily complex and in some parts it is so dry that it reads more like a research paper.
     Overall I don’t think the book does justice to its subject. The story really comes alive only when it is directly quoting Charlotte Bronte. Her letters are the most interesting and touching part of this book.  I loved the letter she writes to her friend after the death of Anne, the last of her siblings. In it she talks of her writing as her solace, “The faculty of imagination lifted me when I was sinking, three months ago; its active exercise has kept my head above water since; its results cheer me now.”  All those of us who have sought refuge in books can relate to this.

       It wouldn’t take much skill or effort to tell a fascinating story of the Bronte sisters. Their lives were filled with so much tragedy and creativity, the book would practically write itself. Unfortunately Margaret Lane gives us facts and opinions but entirely leaves out the soul. I would only recommend this to die-hard fans of Charlotte Bronte. If you haven’t already Elizabeth Gaskell’s The Life of Charlotte Bronte, read that instead.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Miss Marple’s Final Cases by Agatha Christie.

      The short story Tuesday Night Club introduced the world to Miss Jane Marple in1926. An elderly spinster, prim and fragile looking, Miss Marple was supposedly Agatha Christie’s favourite creation.  The last novel featuring Miss Marple is Sleeping Murder which was published after Christie’s death. Miss Marple’s Final Cases is a collection of nine short stories, seven of which feature Miss Marple.  The name of this book is a bit misleading, firstly because these cases actually occur somewhere in the middle of Marple’s detective career and secondly because two of the short stories in the book do not feature Miss Marple at all.

      I’m a staunch fan of Miss Marple and all things Christie, but I must confess that the stories in this collection are not my favourites. Not that they’re bad, but some of them do seem a little rushed. In fact, I find this to be the case with all Marple short stories that I’ve read so far. There is something about the character that seems to warrant the more leisurely pace of a novel. Having said that, I did quite like Greenshaw’s Folly and The Case of The Caretaker. The later is faintly reminiscent of Endless Night, Christie’s suspense novel that did not feature any of her detectives.

        As I mentioned, there are two stories in this collection that don’t feature Miss Marple. In fact, they are not detective/crime stories at all. I suppose they could be called supernatural stories. Robert Barnard, a crime writer and critic, said”... Christie did not have the stylistic resources to bring off [the supernatural stories] successfully." I disagree. Granted the outcome of the stories were somewhat predictable but Christie does create tension and foreboding in her own unique style.

       If you’ve never read a Miss Marple before, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this book. It really doesn’t introduce the lady detective and her methods well enough. If however, you are a Miss Marple/Agatha Christie fan like me, definitely read Final Cases. It’s not Christie’s best work, but it’s still pretty darn good.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Follow Friday

This weeks question is:
Lets step away from the besties... what is the worst book that you've read and actually finished?

Hmmmn... I normally don't bother finishing books that I don't enjoy. Life is too short to read through bad books, right? However, Talk to the Hand  by Lynne Truss(review) is a book I read through and was really disappointed with. I wouldn't call it the worst book I've ever read, but it did seem pretty pointless and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Nine Stories by J.D.Salinger

     I read Catcher in The Rye (nice review of it here) when I was a nineteen year old, full of angst and acne. I was almost convinced that this story was written especially for me. I loved it deeply and kept going back to it for months. Considering all of this, it’s surprising to me that I hadn’t read any of Salinger’s other works. Until now that is.

    Nine Stories, as the title suggests is a compilation of nine short stories by Salinger. The short story is apparently his medium of choice, Catcher in the Rye being the only complete novel he wrote. I can see why, Salinger’s succinct prose and less-is-more style is ideally suited to the short story. He uses back stories sparingly and never analyses his characters (he leaves that to you).

     Many of the stories in this book feature members of the fictional Glass family.  The Glass family is a bunch of troubled and gifted people created by Salinger who appear in most of his short stories and novella’s. If you’ve read Franny and Zooey or Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters and Seymour: An Introduction you would be familiar with them but it doesn’t matter really. In fact, the Glass name only ever crops up in A Perfect Day for Bananafish, it’s the back story that Salinger doesn’t bore you with. You can read more about it here.

    The stories explore isolation, growing pains, spirituality and death.  Death especially is almost a literary device here, appearing in the first and last story, differently but with the same smack-you-in-the-face abruptness.  De Daumier Smith’s Blue Period is Salinger at his humorous best.  The best known story in this book is For Esme- with Love and Squalor.  My favourite however is Down at the Dinghy. It’s a powerful and intimate story and I think it really is an excellent example of Salinger’s narrative skill and the symbolisms he weaves into the most mundane scenes.

     What I loved most about this book is that it doesn’t overindulge the reader. It leaves you to take from it what you will without crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s for you.  Filled with equal parts hope and despair, Nine Stories is a book that you can re-read and you can read it differently each time.