Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Fire Thief Trilogy by Terry Deary

British writer Deary is well know for his irreverent take on history in his Horrible Histories books - "history with all the "nasty" bits left in". He doesn't think much of the formal education system, "I wouldn't have schools at all," says the Sunderland author. "Nowadays people assume schools are essential, but they're finished; they cannot cope with the demands of the modern world, but they spend £50 billion a year failing." He describes his writing for page and stage as "educainment". "Whether it's writing books or theatre shows, that sums up what I've been doing, because first you have to engage people and a good way to educate them is to entertain them," he reasons.
Deary's approach to "educainment" is popular with the kids. He has sold over 20 million copies worldwide and completes a book, on average, every six weeks. He has even turned several of his Horrible Histories in to plays and is working on a TV series for the BBC.
I did enjoy the first in his trilogy The Fire Thief but I had to get past the irritating footnotes and addresses to the reader at the beginning of each chapter. Deary's cynicism starts to drag you down after a while too, but luckily it is a fast paced story with believable elements of danger and surprise as well as a good dose of humor. The story is based on the Greek myths centering around Prometheus, half god/half Titan, who has been chained to a rock for 200 years as punishment for giving fire to the human race. Each day he is devoured by a ferocious raptor,the Fury, and left for dead only to come alive again the next morning. Aided by his friend Hercules, Prometheus escapes his bonds but is immediately caught by Zeus. Zeus offers him a chance at salvation if he can find a human hero. So Prometheus' quest begins.
A faster and less dense read than the Lightning Thief I think this series would be good for reluctant readers who need to be plunged immediately in to the action of the plot. I believe it may have been the one book one of my reluctant readers actually read the whole way through last year.

Titles in the series: The Fire Thief, Flight of the Fire Thief, and The Fire Thief Fights Back

If you like the humorous style of Deary, you may want to check out Terry Pratchett's books.

Friday, July 25, 2008

A Prolificness of Podcasts

I just discovered two new podcasts about children's books from NCTE that everybody else probably already knew about. If you are neophyte like me, check these out!!!
Chatting About Books (for younger readers) and Text Messages (for pre-teen and teen readers).
Of course, there is also the fabulous Just One More Book podcast.

Poetry Friday

Roundup is at A Year of Reading.

On returning from a six-week absence to my garden, I was greeted with the wild jungles of Borneo (my husband being completely useless anywhere past the back steps). So I have spent many a happy hour amongst the weeds - most of them taller and more stubborn than I -hacking away. I am fascinated by all the little creatures that live in my yard and will quite happily waste half an hour or so just watching one doing its thing. I try not to kill them unless they are eating something to death.

I don't think that I have ever consciously read any Roethke. Something about the name made me feel I wouldn't understand him. However, this poem is alive and squirming. Every word is a picture. I am a Roethke fan from now on.
Elvers are young transparent eels in post larval stage -FYI

The Minimal
by Theodore Roethke

I study the lives on a leaf: the little
Sleepers, numb nudgers in cold dimensions,
Beetles in caves, newts, stone-deaf fishes,
Lice tethered to long limp subterranean weeds,
Squirmers in bogs,
And bacterial creepers
Wriggling through wounds
Like elvers in ponds,
Their wan mouths kissing the warm sutures,
Cleaning and caressing,
Creeping and healing.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Poetry Friday

The new Poet Laureate was announced yesterday and ignoramus that I am I had, of course, never heard of her. Thank goodness for What I have read so far I like very much- short and punchy. This poem speaks to me as I recently had to exercise patience and it wasn't so easy and was, indeed, wider than I had envisioned. Patience is something people have a hard time with. My nine-year-old has none and I am trying hard to teacher her the joys of delayed satisfaction. Needless to say, I have little patience for this process!!!


by Kay Ryan
Patience is
wider than one
once envisioned,
with ribbons
of rivers
and distant
ranges and
tasks undertaken
and finished
with modest
relish by
natives in their
native dress.
Who would
have guessed
it possible
that waiting
is sustainable—
a place with
its own harvests.
Or that in
time's fullness
the diamonds
of patience
couldn't be
from the genuine
in brilliance
or hardness.
Round up is at Reading and Ruminating

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Non-Fiction Monday

Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations
by Georgina Howell

I could not put this book down once I got past the first few opening chapters. This woman was born at a time in England when women of her class were schooled to be wives, mothers and hostesses. Gertrude ended up unmarried, fiercely independent and a major player in middle-eastern politics during and after World War One. She helped give birth to the independent Arab nations of Iraq and Saudi Arabia after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire's control despite the British government's unwillingness to fulfill this promise. She spoke fluent Arabic and knew the political and social alliances of all the tribes in the area after having travelled extensively, often at great risk to her life.
This is also the story of a flesh and blood woman who is brought to her knees by a passion for a man she cannot marry and with whom she cannot give herself physically. Instead, she sets off on a desert voyage through what is now mostly modern-day Iraq that had meant the demise of most (male) travellers before her. This dangerous voyage is her homage to the man she cannot have. It is a defiant act of stubbornness and a breathtaking read!
This book is also a must read at this time as it explains the intricacies and complexities of tribal and religious alliances in the Middle East as well as the role of the West in the making of nations with which we now find ourselves inextricably connected.
This, obviously, is not a children's book, but I think her tale could be of interest to students and the accounts of her run-ins with Bedouin tribes could be read out loud. It certainly is an inspiring book for girls!
There is a complete online database of her photographs, letters, and diary entries at The Gertrude Bell Project.

Rating Children's Books

The question about limiting access or somehow flagging books in our classrooms that may not be appropriate for certain children often comes up in discussions between teachers and bloggers. Here is an article from the British newspaper The Guardian about the proposal to rate children's books by age appropriateness. This has already begun to happen in the UK but there is much opposition from children's authors.,,2290537,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=10

Friday, July 4, 2008

Poetry Friday

I'm back with an original inspired by my recent travels in South Carolina. I have missed Poetry Friday tremendously.

Spanish Moss
by Nicola Turner

There is no meaning
in the coming
and the going
of waves on the shore, they are automatic
But, the tern dives
with such precision
And the pelicans perform
breathtaking summeraults
My thoughts are weighed down by you
like lace curtains, or Spanish moss on live oaks
Beautiful in their mourning veils
filtering the sunlight

Round up is at