Category: reading

Enchanted!

Enchanted!

PIXABAY

If you have a child between the ages of 5 and 12 years you’re going to love this. I don’t do product reviews too often, this time, however, I am making an exception because I stumbled upon this absolutely fabulous subscription box for readers – Enchantico. 

Have you heard of it?

I’m really really excited and I’ve been longing to share it here. I’ve often rued the fact that H and N are rather selective, reluctant readers. And yet I’ve refused to give up on them. Ever so slowly I see H getting hooked and N coming around too. They’ve stuck with Captain Underpants, Wimpy Kid and Dork Diaries but I’m not complaining — beggars-choosers and all of that.
Anyway so I picked up Enchantico because of the way it matched books and activities. It sounded just the perfect thing to entice them to widen their reading. Of course I wanted to blog about it the moment I saw it but I held on and went in for a three-month subscription before I spoke about it. Now at the end of three months I can recommend it with complete conviction.
A typical box contains:
– At least two books (sometimes three).
– An activity kit related to one of the books or to an upcoming festival. 
– and the coolest collectibles.
My major reservation was:
‘What if we already have the book?’ To answer that – the books are picked from Indian as well as International publishers and are all new releases . And I can vouch for them – they are fantastic reads. I’ve been having immense fun reading them, even more than the kids, perhaps. I’ll be reviewing them here shortly. 
Some specifics:
The boxes come in four age groups so that the activities and the books are age appropriate 5-6, 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12. I got my three month subscription at Rs 2999/-. There are other options for longer subscriptions too.

Here’s a peek into our latest box:

There are three books along with author cards. Oh I didn’t tell you about the author cards. Each book comes with a small card with bits of trivia – some serious some just fun – about the author.


The activity this week was making a Goody Box. So we got to put together a box as also paints, sponges and decorating material. 
There was also this huge stocking with the suggestion that the children fill it up with goodies and gift it to someone.

And lastly there was a Santa pencil stand and a ‘Booked for Life’ badge.

What I love most…
… are the small touches like this card which we’ve put up on our soft board. Then there are the author cards as well as those badges.

The box seems to be put together by people who truly love books and reading. I am sold on it. The kids find enough reading material to last them through the month and I find my Book Club meetings becoming more colourful.

Do hop across to enchantico.in and take a look.

Happy birthday to The Book Club

Happy birthday to The Book Club

It’s
been some time since I posted news from The Book Club. This week it needs to be written about since we turned ONE! Isn’t that wonderful? I had forgotten about it till facebook memories sent me a reminder. I do love the idea of revisiting memories.

This last weekend the meeting was pretty special what with birthday celebrations as well as Friendship Day on Sunday.

After much sifting through stories on friendship from Harry Potter to Kabuliwala to Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn I settled on a relatively obscure one about a young Irani girl who finds friendship in London even while retaining her uniqueness. With pre-teens staring us in the face that’s an important aspect of friendship – this idea of loving and retaining your difference even while being best friends. 

The Friendship drawing

The funnest part was the ‘friendship drawing activity’. (I modified the idea from a book of the ‘My Weird School’ series. Review coming up soon on my other blog, do watch out). Each of the kids were asked to think up something they’d like to draw – it could be anything. They came up with a flower, a bird, a train, a boat, a scene from the Irani girls life, a robot, a scenery etc. 

I then paired them up making sure the bete noires were put together. You should have heard the protests!! ‘Aunty I can go with ANYONE but her!’ (Oh they can be rude and blunt) ‘Aunty may we PLEASE exchange our partners’. But I stuck to the plan telling them none of them was so intolerable/intolerant that they couldn’t be with each other for 15-20 minutes. And then I asked them to  put together their two ideas and make up one drawing. It was amazing how quickly they settled down and got to work with absolute concentration. Even H and N who are always at loggerheads and who I’d paired together worked like a team.

We ended up with a bird-shaped boat, a robotic flower, a girl playing with a toy train while hiding under the bed during a bombing (That was from the story of the day) and bombs destroying a pretty scenery.
These kids are seriously brilliant.

If you work with kids anywhere this is an exercise I completely recommend. Not just does it teach children to work with people they don’t much like, it also prompts them to align their thoughts and ideas with completely divergent ones and work towards a common goal,towards a common win. Those are skills they’ll need to hone in life. 

I was pretty pleased with myself. The problem is I made it out to be a contest and now I have to pick the best drawing and I’m stumped.

The Bunker Diary – A Review

The Bunker Diary – A Review

Today I have on my blog a book review by a guest – a young guest. Meet Varun, a student of class IX. He is an avid reader and loves a good game of basket ball. He has the brain of a techie and the heart of a book-lover – some combination, isn’t it? He blogs, though infrequently, at www.asiaticvrun.wordpress.com.
Here’s what he had to say about himself –
Hi I’m Varun. My interests are game development and writing. I aspire to become a game designer-cum-author. I like to – 
  • Read storybooks (and then re-read the awesome parts)
  • Watch good TV shows (and  repeat the cool lines before the mirror or in my sleep)
  • Watch movies with a solid IMDb rating
  • Play basketball (I’m still learning, albeit rather slowly)
  • Make my ideas come to life in form of little video-games or animation (my works are not perfect but I enjoy developing them)
  • Write little stories or even cool sentences in my head (usually I feel too lazy to put it on paper)
  • Kill the bad guys, hurt the bad guys, or beat ’em up (in video-games, for scores…)
  • As for the things I hate – there’s nothing much (except the bad guys…in games)

The review


Title – The Bunker Diary
Author – Kevin Brooks

About the story
The Bunker Diary is a record of the time teenager Linus Weems spends in a reconditioned nuclear bunker held hostage by ‘the man upstairs’. Written in first-person, the book begins with a dazed narration by Linus describing the bunker where he was immured. The writer then attempts to hook the reader with increasingly sinistrous mystery. The readers are told about a stranger who lures Linus into his van, drugs him, and throws him into the bunker. But never reveals his motive.
Soon, Linus is joined by five other people in the bunker. His diary describes their daily activities, escape struggles, and demises. Throughout the plot these characters are subjected to cruel abuse. ‘The man upstairs’, their kidnapper, controls everything in their prison- temperature, electricity, illumination, water, availability of food, and even the perception of time.

Writing Style
Kevin Brooks makes good use of punctuation to emphasize and express.
Since the book is written in first-person he alters his diction to befit Linus’ character. 
His writing style morphs with the characters’ development and shows when they are dazed, distressed, dejected, deranged, drugged, or dying. He also deliberately arranges the text with some extra spacing here and a line break there for subtle expression but his language is raw and forthright.
Here are some excerpts from the book –

“12.15 p.m.
      Nothing moves.
      Time is slow.

 “I thought he was blind. That’s how he got me. I still can’t 
 believe I fell for it. I keep playing it over in my mind, hoping
 I’ll do something different, but it always turns out the same.”

“Jenny dies in my arms. 
     Goes to sleep, doesn’t wake up.
     My tears taste of blood. “

My Thoughts
This book is awash with morbidity. The plot is enveloped in darkness with only traces of light. I was thoroughly disappointed by its unusually dark ending. “What was the point of reading this book?” I asked myself at the last page.
If this book had been a literary work, I might have relented. But this is dark and pointless fiction. It isn’t even poignant or plausible. You might argue that I have a different taste in literature, an affinity with the positive, and that’s true indeed. But I can see the clear line that separates praiseworthy poignancy and psychotic morbidity.
********** 

Note: I asked for a review of The Bunker Diary because it is an award winning book with a teenage protagonist written for ‘young adults’. I thought a young perspective would be good. And then right away I was apprehensive wondering if it would be too morbid. However I needn’t have worried.

Confessions of a book snob

Confessions of a book snob

The mind changers

It really is true that despite years of living with someone, despite spending each waking-sleeping moment with him-her, you don’t really get to know them.

And so it was with me. After years of thinking myself a liberal, only recently I realised I am a book snob.


But first I must present my defence.

I come from a generation when we had few distractions – no TVs, no computers, not even phones to chat away with friends and no friends other than school friends. School was a good 10 kms away which by the standards of those times was pretty much in the ‘jungle’. 

So what did we do in the long summer vacations, Christmas breaks and weekends? We read, my sister and I, and we bonded, perfectly.

The other thing was that we went to a school run by strict Irish nuns who set high reading standards. The books we got were screened, I am sure. We had ‘age appropriate’ cupboards neatly labelled with the class they were suited to. We weren’t allowed comics till after class VI, not even Amar Chitra Kathas. We HAD to choose one book of fiction, one biography and one Hindi book each week. We HAD to have a book mark and a book cover failing which we weren’t allowed a book. All wonderful habits, I might add. Habits I cherish and I’m very proud of. Habits I wish I was better at inculcating in my children.

And so I grew up on Enid Blyton, Louisa Alcott, Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys and then – Georgette Heyers and Victoria Holts.

Later, I spent years at the news desk meticulously changing ‘color’ to ‘colour’, correcting language, following the ‘right’ way and getting more and more set in that right way, more sure than ever that I KNEW what was best when it came to reading.

I lost touch with kids’ books till I had kids of my own some two decades later. What a rude shock that was. Wimpy Kid, I am not a Loser, Geronimo Stilton and Lord my God!! Captain Underpants! Peppered with pictures and illustrations, arrows and diagrams, doodles and drawings with coloured text jumping at you from unexpected places, with font that changed like a shape shifter – an unwarranted assault on my senses! What were these? Half-comic-half-book-half scribbled notes? Mongrelised reads, all.

I saw Midsummer Night’s Dream as a comic and my heart broke a bit. When I spotted a Captain Underpants in my son’s hands I freaked. The spellings were blasphemous. How could I allow it?

I looked down upon them all. I pushed forward my favourites. Noddy, Faraway Tree, Wishing Chair, Amelia Jane. As if in retaliation, the children rejected the lot. Each of them. I was heartbroken and I gave up on my kids as non-readers.

And then, very recently, I stumbled upon this article that said to ‘Everyone Loves Reading – Just Find the Right Book’ written by Tanushree Singh. And I was forced to re-evaluate my attitude.

I wasn’t all wrong. However things have changed. 

Books are now not competing with other books. They are competing with television, the iPad, the PS-3 and the lure of friends at the door. They have to squeeze themselves between dance class and karate class, hold their own with Othello and Topple, fight off the Barbies and the Power rangers.

It cannot be easy.

What they need, desperately, are friends, friends not book racists, not heartless, judgmental critics. Friends, among parents, teachers and all sensible adults. Friends who would understand why they have had to change avatars, why they have to dress themselves up as graphic novels and comics. 


Besides, wasn’t Enid Blyton banned in schools in her time? Isn’t Roald Dahl irreverent and gory and yes, rude, in bits? Who’s to judge the good and the bad? By all means ban the obscene, ban the bad language, ban the overtly violent but stop there. Rather than choosing just the best, reject just the worst. Let more of them make the cut.

God knows our kids need them way more than they need our kids.

The Book Thief – A Book Review

The Book Thief – A Book Review

The Book Thief
By Markus Zusak

The Book Thief, set in a small German town  during the 2nd World War, tells the story of a young girl Leisel Meminger. It opens with her being taken to a foster home along with her brother. On the way her brother dies and has to be buried. That’s where Leisel steals her first book – A Gravedigger’s Handbook. She preserves it as the last link to her family even though she cannot read.

With the help of her gentle foster father, Hans, she learns to read falling in love with the written word. The book talks of her journey as she grows into an aggressive yet sensitive, football playing, boy bashing, book loving girl.

As the war progresses Hans gives shelter to a Jew Max, and Leisel strikes up a wonderful relationship with him. Max strengthens her friendship with the written word.

During the bombings Leisel passes time and comforts the townsfolk by reading in the underground shelter. She spends time writing in her own basement and that is what saves her life.

As a rule I dislike ‘sad’ books with no happily ever after. This one turns out to be an exception. If I had to describe The Book Thief in one word I’d call it ‘unusual’. It took me the first few pages to realise the story is a first person account by ‘Death’. It is Death who labels Leisel the book thief while turning out to be a book thief himself.

The other thing that I liked about the book was the non-Jew perspective of the War. I’ve read many books on the 2nd World War (there’s something fascinating about a single small man taking on the world) but most have been from a Jewish perspective. That many non-Jew Germans hated and dreaded the war as much, that they hated Hitler with the same intensity, made for a refreshing read.

Lastly, I loved the way the book is written. At the start of each chapter Death gives a summary, spilling all the suspense, telling you how the chapter will unfold. Which author has the courage to do that? To play his own spoilsport? This one does. And Death makes for a wonderful narrator – witty and garrulous and with a bit of a heart too.

The Book Thief certainly doesn’t have a ‘happily ever after’. How can it when Death is the tale spinner? However barely anywhere does it come across as a sad-depressing-heavy story. Maybe it is because of the strain of humour runs through the book or that it has a lively protagonist in Leisel – I cannot say. But it certainly doesn’t pull you down. 

All I’ll say is – Give it a read.

PS: It’s a free online read.

Linking to Write Tribe’s super initiative ‘7 days of rediscovering your blogging grove’ where we blog seven days in a row according to a format. The idea is inspired by Darren Rowse. Today, on Day 3, we had to ‘Write a Review’.

For more reviews hop across to the Write Tribe blog.