The Horsey Phase

IMG_3049

The beginning (cover from 1974)

I wonder if every young girl goes through a horsey phase.  So many of my students (all girls) are horse crazy so it’s possibly not a generational thing. My horsey phase was around the age of 11 and involved every horsey book I could get my hands on.

One I managed to get my hands on (although I’m not sure where from) was A Stable For Jill by Ruby Ferguson. I read it over and over (and over) again.  It’s the story of a simple British girl growing up in the 1950’s whose life is centred around horses and the horsey world. Her mother is a children’s book writer and travels often so Jill tends to have a lot of freedom. As I was only 10, I didn’t really wonder where her parental supervision might be. In A Stable for Jill, Jill’s mother goes on a book tour of the United States and Jill is forced to spend the summer with her aunt and cousin, who are as far from horsey people as it’s possible to get. Jill resigns herself to a miserable summer without her pony, Black Boy, yet it only takes her a few days to make friends with the local vicarage children who are decidedly horsey people and the summer starts to look up.

What I love about Jill is that she’s full of ideas, hard-working and down to earth. The vicarage children are about to lose their horse, Ballerina, so Jill helps them start a riding stable so Ballerina can earn her own keep. As a ten year old I found Jill inspiring. Forty years later I still find her inspiring.

I loved reading about competitions and hunting, about grooming horses and pony treks. I was desperate for more Jill. I wanted to know how she had found Black Boy. The library had three of the other books in the series. Strangely enough they were books 4, 7 and 9. The internet didn’t exist and I had to guess at events in the other books. Until Santa bought me the complete set one wonderful Christmas. I think Santa has connections in England.

I’ve been having fun doing a bit of research about the treasured books from my childhood; and find it interesting how some of them have been “updated”. Jill’s pony, Black Boy was renamed Danny Boy in later editions, and of course all references to cigarette smoking had to be removed.   I’m not a fan of changes to original fiction, as I think a book should be experienced as an author originally intended. Books are a snapshot of their times just as painting music, yet there seems to be this constant worry of offending; but I digress. Definitely a post for anther day.

I immersed myself in all things horses from the ages of 11 to 13. I took lessons, went to summer camp and of course read everything I could get my hands. If only The Pony Book Encyclopedia had been around at the time. I probably would have worked my way through it from top to bottom.

So, am I crazy, or is there generally a horsey phase somewhere in every girl’s childhood.

Ready Player One

ready-player-one-book-cover-389x600So, definitely not a book from my childhood as I read it only five years ago, but Ernest Cline’s fantastic dystopian novel contains so much 80’s nostalgia that I felt it deserved it’s own special post.

I have no idea how I heard of the novel as it is a debut, thus it can’t be that I’d read other works by the author. I also bought it in hardback so I must have really wanted to read it. I finished it and immediately read it again, right after buying copies for my pop culture loving friends and family (those my age especially). What makes the book so wonderful is that you don’t have to get all the allusions to 80’s pop culture to understand the story. In fact, I added the novel as an independent study for my grade 10 students, and they have thoroughly enjoyed it also. For us children of the 80’s, the pop culture references are a delight as you can’t help but get a little thrill each time you recognize one. I remembered vividly the scene from War Games and the swallows from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Joust also features prominently and I couldn’t help but remember flying that friggin’ ostrich around with a joystick.  If you’re interested, the wonderful educational site, Schmoop, catalogues them all for us here.

Cline has created a vivid world and an underdog hero you can’t help but root for. The story is set in 2044 and the world has succumbed to decay and an environmental crisis. A la the Matrix, citizens escape into a more welcoming and idealized world in the OASIS, a virtual reality world created by James Halliday, an eccentric billionaire and 80’s pop culture fan. In his will, Halliday leaves his vast fortune to the first person to discover the Easter Egg he has hidden in the OASIS. Millions set out to find it but as the years go by with no progress, only the most devoted remain determined in their search.

Our hero, Wade, is an 18 year old orphan when we meet him, and he has devoted his entire life to searching for the Easter Egg, just have many others including a well-organized and well-funded conglomerate which is determined to find it before anyone else. When Wade is the first player to find the copper key (after beating the game of Joust), he becomes a target as all set out to beat him to the end.

As leery as I am about film adaptations especially of a novel I love, I can’t think of a more perfect person to take on the film version than Steven Spielberg, himself an 80’s geek. Cline is also the screenwriter so I’m feeling pretty good about this one, despite a niggling feeling it will be CGI and action heavy. Those lucky enough to attend the panel at Comic Con this past week were given a first look at the film which premiers March 30th. This will be one I see opening weekend.

Happy Anniversary Harry

harryYes I know I’m a bit late.  I was completely convinced that the 20th anniversary of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was July 17th. As a devoted Potter fan, I knew I had to commemorate the anniversary in some way so I sat down to write only to realize that June 26th was the anniversary date. Totally missed it! I think July 17th was the release of Deathly Hallows; definitely a memorable occasion for me, so I see where that came from but still annoyed at myself for missing it. Twenty years! I can’t believe it’s been twenty years. Where did that go? Anyway, better late than never I guess.

Every Harry Potter fan has their “I remember when” story I’m sure. You know, “I remember how/why/when I discovered the series”? And sorry, but I don’t count the films. I’m a purist. The films are a whole other world and a whole different set of stories. Really, the film Prisoner of Azkaban completely glosses over the Marauders, which is definitely what made that book so great. What I find sad now is that it’s not easy for Harry Potter newbies to discover the books without being influenced by the merchandising juggernaut that is Warner Brothers.

While I would like to say that I picked up Philosopher’s Stone in 1997 and waited in anticipation for the next installment, it wasn’t until 2000 that I actually discovered Harry and the magical world. Still it was before the first movie came out, so I had my own visions of the characters and Hogwarts rather than those Warner Brothers created for us.

gobletIt was my boss who introduced me to the series, however unintentionally. He sent me in search of the Goblet of Fire for his son who was demanding to read it. My boss, never one to deny his son, set me on the hunt for the sold out book, which had only been released a week ago. Keep in mind now, that this was the infancy of the internet and a time when “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” carried some credence. I hadn’t heard of the boy wizard at that point, but a bit of research piqued my curiosity as I was having a devil of a time finding a copy. Once I tracked it to an independent bookseller in Toronto, I found myself reserving two copies and hoofing it down there to pick them up. Of course I also had to get the first three books as I couldn’t read the fourth one first. So, successful in my search, I presented boss’ son with his copy of Goblet of Fire and said “we can read it together”. Ha, fat chance. I was finished all four books inside of five days. He was still only half way through Goblet. Yep, I was hooked.

I believe the true success of the Harry Potter series is a result of a combination of things. Yes, it’s a great story which I thoroughly enjoy (over and over and over again) but it also benefited from the “right place right time” phenomenon. The internet was in its infancy. Smart phones and iPads did not exist; even the iPod hadn’t been released yet. There were no social media sites and people were just discovering a whole new world of others with the same interest. The fandom was born and grew on a young internet. People could come together for the first time (anonymously for the most part) and immerse themselves in a whole new world. People from all over the world could talk about the books and play in the magical world while they waited for Order of the Phoenix to be released (three years it took!!). Somewhere in there the films came out but they were a blip in the already rabid book fandom.

The Harry Potter phenomenon as it’s been called won’t happen again as our world has changed far too much in the past 17 years. Everything so frantic and fragmented now as we are bombarded daily by tweets here and notifications there. Really it’s a talent just to keep up!

I still amazes me that it’s been ten years since the release of Deathly Hallows. Ten years. I miss Harry, and I miss the anticipation of the next installment in his story. We know how it all turns out now. His story is over and ten years later it’s still hard to accept that we have said goodbye to these characters.

Yes, twenty years have passed since the boy wizard began to take the world by storm and J.K. Rowling went from welfare mum to a woman richer than the queen. An incredible story for both of them.

Happy Anniversary. You’ve both definitely made your mark in history.

I Love a Book That Keeps Me Up All Night

skinWell, I was hoping to finish The Arc Trilogy by Jesse Daro before writing about it, but I’m still only half way through part 3, and I wanted to get something out before I left on holiday, so here we are.

The Trilogy was recommended to me on Good Reads, and after failing to find it on Kobo, I headed over to Amazon where I had success. Not ideal, as it meant I had to read on the iPad but small sacrifices. Now, a heads up before you go any further; it’s a young adult series, so if that’s not your thing, no need to read any further. Personally I enjoy reading young adult as the stories are usually fast-paced, plus I love to know what my students are reading and I love to find books to recommend to them.

So, Book 1 of the trilogy (Skins) sucked me in immediately probably because it opened with “The bullet struck Naomi from behind, spraying blood onto the chipped blue-and-white tiles above the kitchen sink, thickest at the center and spackling upward in a thinning arc, like a Jackson Pollock painting”. Nothing like starting with a bang (sorry…). The story continues as it begins, and I was up far to late. But hey, it’s summer break so who cares.

The story is an easy read without being juvenile, and the world-building is vivid. The main character, Seth is well-developed and proves to be an entertaining narrator. He also happens to be a Werekin, a warrior descendant of an alien race who can transform at will into a jaguar. I know, I know stop rolling your eyes. Warriors, alien races, fighting animals, all over done yes, yes. Somehow, I wasn’t thinking that as I read it. Probably because of Seth. He’s such a genuine character. Actually, he reminded me of Syd in Alex London’s Proxy (go, read, right now). Independent, quick-witted, observant and completely sympathetic.

On the run his whole life, Seth has just lost the closest thing he has to a mother (the above-mentioned Naomi of the splattering brain), whose dying words send him to his natural mother. Once there, Seth realizes he’s out of options and has no choice but to stay with “mom” and her new family. Meanwhile it’s getting more and more difficult to keep his secret as he starts high school, meets the boy next door and realizes no one is to be trusted. Add in an I-want-to-take-over-the-world despot and a growing resistance and you’ll find yourself wondering what can possibly happen next.

Each character is fully developed and we are never told what they are like, we are shown (a basic but often over-looked necessity of a good story). I quickly grew to care about them and never found myself skipping or skimming as has been a practice of mine lately (due to some of the drivel I’ve been subjecting myself to).

Eventhough I didn’t devour Parts 2 (Blood) and 3 (Bone) as quickly as I did Part 1, they are equally as entertaining, and I’m quite anxious to see how everything turns out. Everyone better survive!!

Update

I really hate that I haven’t been using my site.  It’s actually been over a year!  And it’s not like I haven’t been reading or had things to write about.  Sigh, life just gets away from you but there really are no excuses.  I have plans for what I what to write about so now I just need to get on a roll and make it a routine.

skinSo what is everyone reading?  I am currently in the middle of a great series called The Arc Trilogy by Jessie Daro.  It’s been a long time since i’ve had a book I couldn’t put down.  Part one was devoured in a day.  It’s young adult so may not be to everyone’s taste but it’s a unique an compelling story.

I’ve also starting to realize (being as old school as I am, I’m a little slow on the uptake) how many books are self-published or only published digitally now.  It appears to be a lot easier to get your book out there and into the hands of the masses.  Not necessarily a good thing judging by some of the stuff I’ve found out there, but I’ve also discovered some great reads which probably would never have seen the light of day.  Good Reads has proven to be a great help in this area.  It’s also made me think of digging my old novel out and finishing it off.  Would be great to see people reading it.

So, hope to make my presence more of a common occurrence in the next few months.  The world of books really is a wonderful world to play in!

 

For the Love of the Bard

For the Love of the Bardshake

I have had a love affair with Shakespeare as long as I can remember, but every time I hear someone say they hate Shakespeare or they don’t understand Shakespeare or why do we need to study Shakespeare, I wonder how I ended up so different. Even some English teachers I know avoid Shakespeare (to my mind a travesty but there ya go). I can’t think of anything better than a week in Stratford and I’ve lost count of the number of Shakespeare plays I’ve seen live. I roamed the streets of Stratford England in awe and saw Judi Dench in The Merry Wives of Windsor. I revel in his words and delight in his intricate plots.

Now I don’t come from a family of Shakespeare lovers. My parents didn’t read sonnets to me in the womb and there were certainly no performances to attend in tmy small Northern Ontario city. So where did my passion come from? Well I trace It all back to a single book; Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease. The story is set in Elizabethan England and is the tale of 15-year-old Peter who escapes prosecution for a minor offence and heads to London where he eventually ends up as Shakespeare’s apprentice. There is murder and intrigue and a plot to assassinate the queen and I was riveted from start to finish.

It was the set novel in my grade 9 English class and we spent a long time with it, tracing the historical elements, labeling maps and learning about Shakespeare’s plays.

I don’t remember how many times I read it but I went over and over my favourite scenes and answered every study question in the back. It was a fascinating study of the times and the political and social climate, not to mention how theatres operated.

elizabeth_11  I then sought everything I could find about Shakespeare, theatre, Elizabethan England and the Tudors. Strangely enough I didn’t study Shakespeare in high school until my final year and I wonder if that might not have cemented my love of the Bard. Honestly I don’t think I could have been turned off, but I can’t help wondering if a bad first experience with Shakespeare is where all the haters come from. Students who are presented with the Bard too early, before they can appreciate the genius of the language and the bawdiness of the comedy. Or a teacher who is indifferent to Shakespeare but forced to teach it, resulting in everyone being unhappy.

I was lucky. I had two very passionate English teachers in high school that I credit with nurturing my newfound love, leading me to eventually study and teach dramatic literature.cue new cover

There is no doubt that the impact of a single book can be very powerful in its influence on a child. Saying that Cue for Treason is the reason I am where I am today is pretty simplistic, but it certainly started me down the path. I feel an overwhelming desire to read it again but I’m a little afraid that as an adult reader I won’t feel the same magic.

Will let you know how it goes…

Update

eighth day

Well, eventhough my plan to post weekly hasn’t worked out, I am writing.  I was hoping to have something up this weekend, but I’m not quite happy with either of the pieces I’m working on.

So, I’ll have something up soon.  In the meantime, I’m reading this amazing series and my students are devouring it.  A little bit of King Arthur and a little bit of parallel times.  An easy read yet a very innovative story.  The Eighth Day by Dianne Salerni.

 

The Great Girl Detective

nancy drewThere was a secret place under the basement stairs at my aunt’s house. In this “secret” place were boxes and boxes of books, all sizes and colours.  Huddled under those stairs, I got lost in the adventures of Joe and Frank, Freddy and Flossie, Nan and Bert, Trixie Belden and, my very favourite, Nancy Drew. Nancy was a teenager who had great friends, a fantastic car, unlimited funds and Ned. Each book immersed me in her world of adventure and with Nancy I began my love affair with mystery books. I loved trying to figure out “who done it”.

pine hillI wanted to be just like Carolyn Keene when I grew up.  Yes, I thought she was a real person.  You see, when I was young, you couldn’t just Google a name and find out all about them. And there was no reason for me to believe she wasn’t a real person. I was an adult before I found she was just a name for a stable of authors who wrote from a publisher’s outline. I was a bit let down I have to say. It seems it wasn’t an unheard of phenomena either. Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys) and Laura Lee Hope (Bobbsey Twins) where also pseudonyms, crushing my hopes of every meeting them some day. I wonder if there are any more I should know about. Does James Patterson really write a book a month (she said sarcastically)?
I decided to see what else I didn’t know about Nancy (which is quite easy now we have Google) and was interested to learn that she has quite a transformation over the years).  It appears the original 1930’s Nancy was quite a tomboy with a sassy mouth. (I need to see if I can get my hands on some of those originals). The Nancy I knew (1950’s Nancy) was more respectful of male authority and went to church as often as she could.  That was the post-war Pollyanna image of women that the media was using to promote home and family.

drew18a I had all of these 1960’s/60’s Nancy Drews; the real ones with the list of books on the back. Until recently, I didn’t realize that most of them came from that original collection I had discovered under my aunt’s basement stairs. Even more importantly I didn’t realize this treasure
trove under the stairs belonged to my cousin before my aunt found them a new home (with me).  I continued to add to that original collection and each time a new one came out I bought it and read it within a day. My favourite was Phantom of Pine Hill and I’m a little ashamed to say it was because it was the one that featured Nancy’s “romance” with Ned.

I stopped reading Nancy in my teens although do remember trying one or two of the Nancy Drew Files. I don’t remember much about them but I do find it interesting to look at the difference in these covers and those of the original series. On the original books, Nancy was presented with a magnifying glass, or a clue or in some kind of setting. On the new series it was with a boy. I guess the mystery wasn’t enough in the 80’s. There needed to be more romance.

old clocknancy drew files

My last post was a result of my brother’s rhapsody about The Great Brain, and dedicated to him. This post is dedicated to my cousin, whose pain at losing her Nancy Drew collection to me was matched only by my own when my mother gave them all to a garage sale. My cousin has always been my kindred spirit, loving books and writing as I do (she also shares my feelings about cooking and cleaning but I digress). I have to wonder how much of an impact Nancy had on her.  After all she did grow up to write her own mysteries!  Head over to Amazon to get her novel A Bother of Bodies.  Murder never was so much fun!

Resources and Links           

http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/bai/lapin.htm

http://series-books.blogspot.ca/2010/05/nancy-drew-first-pc-that-isnt.html

Kismaric, Carole; Marvin Heiferman (2007). The Mysterious Case of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. Fireside. ISBN 1-4165-4945-5. (via Wikipedia)

 

 

The Great Brain Strikes Again

great brainI’m embracing the irony this week. In response to my post about my new blog, my brother declared “to add interest, it should be mostly about your brother”. I chuckled, we all chuckled, yet here I am, writing about my brother.

I honestly believe that children become lovers of reading after modeling what they see around them. If reading is important to the adults in their lives then it becomes important in their own lives. It’s one thing to read to your children, encourage them to read, buy them books and search out appropriate material for them, but the most powerful encouragement is modeling. Readers produce readers.

My parents read constantly. My great aunt and uncle (the grandparent figures in my life) read constantly. My cousins read constantly. My aunt would take me to the library to get books and she would go home with as many books as I did. She’s 90 years old now and up until they closed her local library, she was going every week.

“Funny” my four-year-old self mused, “this must be how one spends one’s days” (Yes, I know. Fancy talk for a four-year-old but go with it).   Everyone around me was reading all the time. I learned that reading happened every day and for good stretches of time but up until this past week I didn’t realize my brother learned this behaviour also. Now I knew about the Noddy books and I knew he was devouring books in his late teens but I had no idea that the in-between years were also book years. My brother, the sports nut and social butterfly of the family was also a child reader. For many kids a conflict of interest but for my brother it was just something we did, just like it was something my parents did, and my aunt and uncle did, and my cousins did.

great brain coverMy first post prompted some wonderful responses as people commented with their own childhood book loves. I’ve added many to my list and am looking forward to exploring some of them soon. My brother piped in with his particular “awesome” book in the form of “it had these great black and white illustrations every few pages”. It seems he used to copy them and that’s how he learned to draw well. I was intrigued and asked for details. I got “set in Utah; 1800’s; three brothers told from the POV of the middle brother”. I headed over to Google Books and voila. Up popped The Great Brain.

Hmmm… The Great Brain.  I had never heard of this series. Where was I? Was it after my time? Maybe it was considered a “boy book” in the days when those distinctions mattered. A little research and I found many pages devoted to the series and shrines to the artwork.

mercer mayer                                  great brain1

According to what I’ve read, the 7-book series is set in Utah in the early 1900’s and is loosely based on the childhood of author, John Fitzgerald.  The Great Brain is John’s older brother, Tom, who appears to model himself after Twain’s Tom Sawyer being both mischievous and ingenious.  The search to get my hands on copies of the books however was less than fruitful.  Some of the books are out of print and none of my local bookstores stock it.  So, Ebay to the rescue and I have the first book on order.  I’m looking forward to reading the books that captured the imagination of my sports nut brother.

Stay tuned for further thoughts after the read.

Webberley’s and the Ladybird Impact

Choosing a book or books for my first post was quite a challenge. I have a long list of books for future posts, but the first one needed to be special. I decided to go back to the very beginning of IMG_2804my love affair with reading; when I was still living in a village in England.  My mother used to take me to Webberley’s in Stoke each week and over the past 40 years I have continued to spend an afternoon there every time I am in England.  I was really looking forward to returning with my mother this summer so you can imagine my disappointment to find it had closed in January.  My heart aches as another beautiful bookstore caves to the pressure of the digital age and as I  realize I will never spend an afternoon there again.  So in pursuit of catharsis, I decided a look at the books I bought there as a young child would be a fitting tribute to the role Webberley’s played in launching my reading life and a perfect first post.

I was only two or three when my mother used to take me there so I don’t remember going to the store itself, but I do remember the large number of Ladybird books I managed to acquire. I was allowed to choose one each week, and I took the process very seriously. I learned how to read with my Ladybird books and understood phonics and sounding out words well before I started school in Canada.

IMG_2809

These three nursery rhyme books are the ones I remember the most clearly and coincidentally are the ones with the most wear and tear. I can still remember every one of the nursery rhymes in them, which is a testament to how many times I read them with my parents. I’m sure they can remember every word too.

IMG_2810

 

After the nursery rhymes, it’s the Well Loved Tales series that is most near and dear to my heart. From what I’ve read Well Loved Tales is still Ladybird’s most popular series and sought after by collectors, myself included. The Magic Porridge Pot is one that really stands out  for me as it’s not a story you commonly find. These tales are so much a part of me that I forget every child was not raised on them and am constantly amazed when my students say they have never heard of the Wolf and the Seven Little Kids or the Three Billy Goats Gruff.

IMG_2807

Ladybird has several other series covering just about every subject imaginable. I have a smattering of these books and remember some better than others. For some reason I have a strong memory of Levers and Pulleys but I don’t have it in my current collection. I am also desperate to find Shopping With Mother, which I remember very vividly but also don’t have. Apparently it’s quite rare and difficult to find now.

I’m sure every kid who grew up in Britain (or with British parents) in the 60’s and 70’s remembers these books. And it appears Ladybird remembers us too! As I perused details for this post I discovered that Ladybird published a line for Grown Ups recently. I’m on a mission to get my hands on them (particularly the two below) so if anyone can help let me know.

For me Ladybird Books are where my reading began and they hold a very special place in my heart. If you remember them, please share which ones stand out for you!

webberley'sAnd Webberley’s.  Webberley’s was my very first bookstore, and will always be my very first bookstore.  Those of you who are booklovers can relate I’m sure, and have felt your own loss as your favourites have closed.  I know I will have to go and stand outside its closed door before I accept that it really is gone.

Until next week…