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All posts for the month November, 2013

Books My Mother Gave Me: Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White) Review

Published November 25, 2013 by ElisaChristy

My overriding memory of this story is not in fact the book or the film with Dakota Fanning, but the 1973 cartoon musical which we used to own on video. The book itself – although without songs – is a very well written story.

Charlotte's web

The story follows Wilbur the pig as he is first saved from being killed, for being the runt of the litter, by Fern and later saved by Charlotte the spider. 

The title character of Charlotte doesn’t come into the book until about three chapters in, but it is an introduction worth waiting for.

“Fern had named her pet, selecting the most beautiful name she could think of. ‘It’s name is Wilbur,’ she whispered to herself.”

Once Wilbur is grown, he is taken to a farmyard with lots of other animals such as geese, sheep and cows. Each animal has a distinct way of talking. The geese, for instance, repeat words and parts of words when they talk and you can clearly imagine that that is how geese talk. Charlotte, however, uses lots of long words such as “Salutations.”

Charlotte takes it into her own hands to stop the farmers from killing Wilbur come Christmas time. She does this by weaving words into her web such as:

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“They just keep trotting back and forth across the bridge thinking there is something better on the other side.”

After a while Charlotte changes the words to “Radiant” which is from a soap advert in a magazine that the rat bought her back from the dump. All the humans on the farm view the web as some sort of miracle leading a dramatic irony situation as the reader knows it’s just random words from adverts and that she nearly ended up writing “Pre-shrunk” instead.

“‘It seems to me you’re a little off. It seems to me we have no ordinary spider.”

E.B White obviously spent a lot of time researching spiders as there is a lot of scientific names used in the book such as “spinnerets” to help Charlotte spin her web and Charlotte making her egg sac at the end.

The book does seem to end on a bittersweet note as Charlotte does die, but a few of her children live on in the farmyard while the others go and make their homes elsewhere. Which means Wilbur always has a few spider friends living in his farmyard. The writing describing Charlotte’s death is like the rest of the book. Simple but effective. It doesn’t go in for sentimentality and it doesn’t seem as if it is trying to make you cry. This works by making you more sad and more likely to cry (though I didn’t cry.) than if it was over emotional. Charlotte’s death is portrayed as a part of life. Sad but necessary as her children must take her place.

Although obviously a book for children the writing can be enjoyed by anyone.

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Books My Mother Gave Me: Dragonrise (Kathryn Cave) Review

Published November 18, 2013 by ElisaChristy

This book is definitely either a book for younger children or for children to read themselves as the writing is very simple and the story easy to follow.

“When sunlight fades and starlight flies/Look west to Wales/For Dragonrise.”

The story is about a boy called Tom who finds a dragon underneath his bed, at first he befreinds the dragon, but as anyone who has ver read fantasy knows – dragons like to eat maidens, or damsels or girls and this particular dragon wants to eat Tom’s sister, therefore Tom must stop him by finding the dragon alternative food.

As most people are unaware of the existence of dragons and the dragonwatch wish to keep it that way, then dragony things such as breathing immense amounts of fire at nightfall – known as Dragonrise – are strictly forbidden punishable by Being Sent To Wales, which is apparently the worst thing that can happen to a dragon.

“No matter how Tom tried to make the day pass quickly, the clock went on ticking at its normal speed and not a second faster.”

The writing is simple but enjoyable for any age, so is a good book for reading to a child as well as the child reading it themselves. I don’t know whether it is the fact I lived in Wales for three years, but I find the dragon’s hatred of Wales much funnier than I should, I’m sure.

The plot is simple and resolved in a few pages really at the end and without giving away too much of the plot the book definitely uses the Chekov’s gun principle of writing in terms of what Dragonrise is. So to paraphrase the writing method: You should not mention Dragonrise unless you are going to use Dragonrise before the end of the story. The method usually applies to play writing, but I’m sure it applies to books too.

The book is short, but this works in its favour and is quite a nice story to read in one afternoon as I did.

Books My Mother Gave Me: Don’t Knock The Corners Off (Caroline Glyn) Book Review

Published November 11, 2013 by ElisaChristy

Don’t Knock The Corners Off was published in 1963 by the fifteen year old Caroline Glyn. The book is about school, but as Glyn was so young when she read it and probably still in school herself – it does not feel nostalgic in any way as school books can. She is not remembering her school days, merely experiencing them.

Though a lot of the basic aspects of the school system have changed since 1963, this book shows that the people who frequent the school at least seem to have remained pretty much the same.

“For months – years – I had looked forward gleefully to consigning to the flames all those stupid children who could never count their pocket money and never stopped quarreling over their marbles.”

The book charts Antonia Bird’s entire time at school, from when she first goes to primary school – aged ten as she’s been home schooled before that – all the way through to her going to art school in Paris. A lot of the more minute aspects of school are mentioned such as giving out fake love notes, and then making fun of people who believe they were genuine, or having best friends who you’re not entirely sure you actually like, but can’t seem to get any other friends so you just accept that you are their best friend. In school, of course, there are also teachers who hate you for apparently no reason, and blame everything on you, As shown by the character Miss Lovely in the book.

“Then we had the nativity play. King, acting Mary, looked suitably saintly, and I saw a satisfied look come over Sir’s face. Then she forgot to look frightened when Tatley appeared, and just looked mildly amused.”

The book was written in 1963 and there is one moment, where with the arrival of an Indian girl at school, the others take to bullying her and calling her racist names, but Antonia – the narrator – stands up for her when it is revealed she can’t get changed for P.E. as it’s against her religion. Antonia tells the class – who are trying to make her change – that there is nothing different about the girl, she just believes in a different religion than the rest of them and they should respect that.

The subject is dropped, and the class does seem to accept it, but as the copy I own is a first edition it would be interesting to see whether this part is dropped or edited in later copies. Though I’m not entirely sure it needs to be as the main character is not racsist towards the girl and sticks up for her, so Antonia Bird at least remains a good role model today.

“‘I suppose you’ve just been taking your eleven-plus. What did you think of it?’ He punched me in the face.”

The central plot of the novel is Antonia trying to get through her school days and remain her, that is not have her corners knocked off and be just a product of school, but to remain a weird imaginative person all her life. Most of this plot happens between the lines rather than being forced on you, which also means you can draw your own conclusions from the book at the end. Each time I read it – this is the third time I’ve read it since I was eight – I seem to draw different conclusions, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing as it means it’s like a whole new book each time.

“The red brick walls were tiled up and all round the room were these draped figures: Justice, Duty, Charity, Honesty. I didn’t see Mercy.”

One of the reasons I may have identified with Antonia so much when I first read the book, is how bad she is at maths. She is good at almost every other subject, but cannot for the life of her do maths. Each school she goes to, teachers refuse to believe she can be so bad at maths when she is good at every other subject, and instead call her lazy and say she’s not trying in the subject, when of course she is. The teacher’s seem to be angry at her for not being bad at everything, rather than only being bad at one thing.

So it was possible to be top without being dull.”

This is the first time I have read the book without actually being at school myself, and if the book can do anything, it can stop you being nostalgic about your school days as instead you remember all the work you had to do and how there wasn’t even much let-up in playtime as there were constantly places you couldn’t go or weren’t allowed. The book is a good chronicle of school life, and shows you how little has really changed in the day to day aspects of school anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

Books My Mother Gave Me: The Chewing Gum Rescue and Other Stories (Margaret Mahy) Short Story Review

Published November 4, 2013 by ElisaChristy

This book remains to this day, one of my designated insomnia books. If I can’t sleep, a few stories from this book are just the thing to relax me enough that I can sleep. Not that it’s a boring book, in fact I’ve read it so many times I can even read the ripped page where half of the words are missing. 

The book is a collection of stories, so some are more entertaining than others. The Chewing Gum Rescue – the first story in the book – tells of children called Florence, Flora, Fenella, Felicity and Francesca (A lot of the names in the stories use alliteration) and how their passion for a certain extra sticky chewing gum helps them capture goat thieves who are trying to steal their father’s goats.

“A Canoe is just not the same sort of thing as a tree-house.”

The Giant’s Bath tells of a family who buy a house which used to belong to a giant and as a result they end up being swept down the plug hole of the giant’s bath and end up almost slaying but then saving a dragon in the process.

Adventure seems to be a key theme in a lot of the stories –The Boy Who Made Things Up, about a boy who is so good at making things up, others can see his imaginings too, and the Travelling Boy and The Stay at Home Bird about a boy who wants to travel, but whose aunt won’t let him, so he gets replaced by a bird and is finally free to make all the journeys he wants.

” [Sam] saw at once that the pet shop man was full of journeys too, but that his journeys had all been taken. He wore them openly on his face, which was line like a map with the tracery of a thousand explorations.”

Some of the stories are more readable than others, I remember being bored by the story of The World’s Highest Tray Cloth, while the writing is good and even the premise – a girl climbs the tallest tree in town and wants to mark her achievement. It never seemed to have as much drama or adventure as some of the others, but reading it again, it does make you nostalgic for childhood when all you needed to do to be happy was climb a tree.

“One of those small shops that seem to have been there for ever.”

The stories in the book work well whether they are being read to you or by yourself. They are safe stories where nothing particularly bad happens and everything works out well in the end, which is probably why it works so well as an insomnia book for me.