Christmas Special: The Snowman ~ Raymond Briggs

As this week is Christmas week, I will be doing something special on the days I post.  Today we will begin with one of my favourites and, what better way to start, than with a few words from the Author himself:

“I remember that winter because it had brought the heaviest snows I had ever seen. Snow had fallen steadily all night long and in the morning I woke in a room filled with light and silence, the whole world seemed to be held in a dream-like stillness. It was a magical day… and it was on that day I made the Snowman.” – Raymond Briggs

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Review: The Children’s Train: Escape on the Kindertransport ~ Jana Zinser

Children's trainISBN ~ 978-1939371850
Publisher ~BQB Publishing
No. Of Pages ~368 pages
Links ~ Netgalley, Amazon, Barnes & Noble

The Jewish children of Germany are frightened, and their parents are too. Hitler’s men have just broken their store windows, stolen and destroyed their belongings, and arrested many Jewish fathers and brothers. When England arranges to take the children out of Germany by train, the Kindertransport is organized. The train filled with Jewish children escaping the Nazis chugs over the border into Holland, where they are ferried across the English Channel to England and to freedom. But for Peter, the shy violin player, his sister Becca, and his friends Stephen and Hans, life in England holds challenges as well. Peter’s friend Eva, who did not get a seat on the Kindertransport, is left to the evil plans of Hitler. Peter, working his musician’s hands raw at a farm in Coventry, wonders if they should have stayed and fought back instead of escaping. That night the Coventry farm is bombed. The Nazis have reached England. Peter has nothing left. He decides it’s time to stand and fight Hitler. Peter returns to Germany to join the Jewish underground resistance, search for the mother and sister he left behind in Berlin, and rescue his childhood friend Eva.

5 Thumbs-Up I actually downloaded this novel for free from Netgalley, with the usual caveat I would provide an honest review, as if I write anything else, as it fit into my studies and was looking for a different fictional viewpoint for a paper I was writing.  Little did I know that once I started reading this I would find it very hard to put down.

There really aren’t any words I could write here that could make anyone read this book, particularly given the subject, but it surely is a book that needs to be read to ensure something as horrific and tragic as this never happens again. The Author writes mainly from the viewpoint of the children involved in the journey of the Kindertransport, but also takes time to bring to life on the page the awful decisions their parents had to make in letting them go.  As always with history, hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at the time in which the novel is set many of these adults still did not believe their lives could possibly be in jeopardy, never mind the lives of their children.

Although there are few places in the book where the Author reminds us that this is truly a work of fiction, the novel is very informative and engrossing and I would highly recommend this book as reading for teenagers to help them understand another aspect of the Holocaust.  I am always indecisive when it comes to the issue of whether to read another novel on this subject, but I am glad I read this and will be looking out for more from this Author in the future.

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Are you Listening?

Headphones-on-Books1

I had an interesting conversation the other day; a young man in the library asked me if I had read a certain book that he held out to me, I replied that I hadn’t but I’d read the print copy.  As you’ve probably guessed by now the young man was showing me an audiobook.  So is ‘listening’ to an audiobook just as good as holding a print copy in your hands?

I suppose the answer to that question must come from your own personal definition of reading. If reading is understanding the content of the story or the theme, then audiobooks certainly succeed.  Understanding the message, thinking critically about the content, using imagination, and making connections are at the heart of what it means to be a reader and why kids learn to love books whether they read them alone, are read to or listen to them.  Audiobooks also play a large role in bringing reading to the visually impaired and help them enter that other world all readers know and love, and I for one would never say a visually impaired reader was not a true reader just because they listened to audiobooks.

Which brings me to the crux of the matter why is there even room for the “Which is better: listening to an audiobook or reading a print book” debate. It’s inane, banal and pointless, and as long as books are being absorbed in one form or another surely it is a plus for all concerned.  The debate is based on the premise that, as a reader you can’t do both and that you have to fall onto one side of the debate or the other, pretty much like the eBook debate (but we all know my feelings on that subject).

When it comes to listening to audiobooks or reading books, it’s not actually an issue of personal preference for me. It’s not even a matter of choice rather a matter of common sense and deciding if I want to get home in one piece. I cannot choose to read a book while I’m driving; the choice here is whether to listen to an audiobook or the radio; if it’s the audiobook careful choice has to be made as to content, I want something interesting but not too engaging that I lose focus on driving.  There are many circumstances in my everyday life (and probably yours too) where by using common sense my choices are a) listen or not, and b) listen to what? There is no option to read with my eyes.

If this debate had been brought up back in the heyday of dramatised books on the radio, and at the advent of the wonderful A Book at Bedtime show that BBC Radio 4 has featured on weeknights since 1949, it would not have even been given notice, or credence.  It was the norm to read your print book, listen to your radio dramatisations and then the Book at Bedtime before retiring for the night.  I’ve even had classroom discussions about a particular book on the BBC with my English Literature teacher, who had set it as homework knowing certain members of the class would be more likely to ‘read’ the book this way, rather than having to hold it in their hands.

So stop the debate or argument, whatever you want to dress it up as. Please. For it really is neither of these things. And if you insist on still travelling down this misguided path, find a visually impaired person; ask your obtuse question of them, then come away from that conversation being thankful you have an extra sense with which you can receive information.

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Wednesday Poem: Fireflies in the Garden ~ Robert Frost

fireflies

Fireflies in the Garden

Here come real stars to fill the upper skies,
And here on earth come emulating flies,
That though they never equal stars in size,
(And they were never really stars at heart)
Achieve at times a very star-like start.
Only, of course, they can’t sustain the part.

Robert Frost

Robert Frost, “Fireflies in the Garden” from The Poetry of Robert Frost, edited by Edward Connery Lathem. Copyright 1928, 1969 by Henry Holt and Company, Inc., renewed © 1956 by Robert Frost. Reprinted with the permission of Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
Source: The Random House Book of Poetry for Children (1983)

Review: Inkheart (Inkworld #1) ~ Cornelia Funke, Anthea Bell (Translator)

InkheartISBN ~ 9780439531641
Publisher ~The Chicken House
No. Of Pages ~534 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Scholastic,

Twelve-year-old Meggie learns that her father, who repairs and binds books for a living, can “read” fictional characters to life when one of those characters abducts them and tries to force him into service.

Characters from books literally leap off the page in this engrossing fantasy. Meggie has had her father to herself since her mother went away when she was young. Mo taught her to read when she was five, and the two share a mutual love of books. He can “read” characters out of books. When she was three, he read aloud from a book called Inkheart and released characters into the real world. At the same time, Meggie’s mother disappeared into the story. This “story within a story” will delight not just fantasy fans, but all readers who like an exciting plot with larger-than-life characters.

5 Thumbs-UpThis book is the first of the Inkworld Trilogy, with the others in the series being Inkspell and Inkdeath.  I first was introduced to the world of Inkheart through the movie of the same name, and from watching this numerous times and also mentioning how I would love to read the book my Husband surprised me with the Trilogy.  I have to admit that I was a little apprehensive about starting Inkheart, as for the movie to be so good I felt that maybe the book was truly terrible; thankfully I was wrong.  There has also been a lot of debate as to whether this Trilogy is suitable reading for the age group it is aimed at (8-12 years), but as parents are the ones who know their children it is not for me to pass comment in this area.

Surprisingly, for a book aimed at this age group, the Author has managed to create characters that are rich and full of life, so much so it almost feels as they may just come off the page and enter the real world alongside the reader.  It would have been easy for the Author to just make her characters cookie cutter images and move on with the story, but they endow them with all the personality traits, flaws and weaknesses that go into making us all so uniquely human.  Through the book the reader learns about love and loss, hatred and deceit and, although it can become a little dark at times, there is nothing that would make anyone think that these characters could not possibly exist outside the written word; I think that was the beauty of the book for me.  The Author has written a storyline that revolves around characters coming out of the book, and carries this theme into them whether they are major leads or just passing through on their way to another story.  The Author skilfully manages to keep any secrets the characters may have well hidden, making them not easy for the reader to guess until they are revealed at exactly the right moment, and in exactly the right way; a skill that many other Authors of this genre would do well to learn,

The world in which the book takes place is also very real, there are no made up locations in this book; the reader can visualise a place in Europe where all the scenery described is there.  With the colourful houses, I was transported to parts of Italy and Southern France which also included the mountains which seem to be always looming in the background in this region.  I could smell the ocean and feel the change in the wind when a storm was approaching.

This is a book lovers book, whether they like the fantasy genre or not, whether books in this age group are their thing or not.  This is a book that understands those among us that love to smell books, don’t break the spines and would be devastated if anything happened to our collections.  This is a book that says ‘hey it’s OK to be this way.  I understand and you’re not alone’.  This is an easy novel to read, and pulled me in totally from about the 4th or 5th page not letting go until I closed the back cover on it two days later.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who loves to read, loves books and is open to the infinite possibilities that losing themselves in a book can bring.  I already have the remaining two books in the Trilogy lined up to read, but am trying to resist as I don’t want to rush through this world without having the time to absorb everything; who knows if I’m lucky I may even be ‘read’ into it.

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Review: Ultimate Star Wars ~ Ryder Windham, Adam Bray, Patricia Barr and Daniel Wallace

star warsISBN ~ 978-1465436016
Publisher ~ DK
No. Of Pages ~320 Pages
Links ~ Amazon, Dorling Kindersley, Barnes and Noble

Become an expert on the Star Wars galaxy!

Ultimate Star Wars® is an in-depth visual feast exploring the characters and storylines from the Star Wars galaxy. This is a beautifully illustrated guide that is structured chronologically and packed full of information about key characters and storylines from the Star Wars movie saga, The Clone Wars, and Rebels™Ultimate Star Wars will get new and old fans caught up and knowledgeable on all things Star Wars.

© & TM 2015 LUCASFILM LTD.

Let me start by explaining the reason behind my four thumbs review, I’m not a huge Star Wars fan.  Don’t get me wrong I enjoy the movies, but I’m not a fangirl in the same sense or to the extremes others out there are.  Having said this, this art book really hit the spot with me, and went a long way to explaining some of the storylines and characters in the movies.

Dorling Kindersley have done their usual excellent work when publishing this book and, with the frenzy that is building with the release of Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens in December of this year, they are sure to have a money-maker on their hands.

This book is sure to appeal to fans of any levels, and maybe capture the interest of those new to this Universe.  The book itself is divided into topics that cover things from characters to locations, and these are interspersed with ‘key event’ facts  and each includes a timeline  and a behind the scenes article.  Covering all six of the Star Wars films, it also touches on the animated TV series of Clone Wars and Rebels.

To say this book has detail would be an understatement, and do it a total injustice.  As I said earlier I am not a huge fan, but I found the character pages fascinating; each has a biography which includes some important events of which they were a part and other little pieces of information on their weapons etc.  The major characters, such as the R2-D2 unit are given a double page spread, as can be seen in the image below, while lesser character may, in some cases only get a portion of the page they are still included and this is part of what makes this a comprehensive guide to the Star Wars Universe.

r2 unit

Apart from the myriad of information that the reader will find within this books pages, they are also given a visual treat in the form of crisp images that are full of detail, from the most important of characters right down to the obscure.  I have to admit that my favourite part of this book, along with the foreword by Anthony Daniels, were the character and location sections, as after reading it I now feel I might just be able to hold my own in a conversation with a die-hard fan.

I would highly recommend this to all lovers of Star Wars and those, who like myself, enjoy the movies but feel their knowledge is lacking.

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Review: What Do You Do with an Idea? ~ Kobi Yamada, Mae Besom (Illustrator)

IdeaISBN ~ 978-1938298073
Publisher ~Compendium Inc
No. Of Pages ~ 36 pages
Links ~ Amazon, Barnes & Noble

This is the story of one brilliant idea and the child who helps to bring it into the world. As the child’s confidence grows, so does the idea itself. And then, one day, something amazing happens. This is a story for anyone, at any age, who’s ever had an idea that seemed a little too big, too odd, too difficult. It’s a story to inspire you to welcome that idea, to give it some space to grow, and to see what happens next. Because your idea isn’t going anywhere. In fact, it’s just getting started.

4 Thumbs-UpEveryone at some time in their life has been told that an idea they’ve had is going nowhere and to let it go, only to see it realised by someone else further down the road.   This children’s book, aimed at the 4-8 year old age group, takes that and runs with it in a way that a reader of any age can grasp and take onboard.

As we all know though ideas do not go on to become great things on their own, and this book offers a way for parents to talk to their children about how they can nurture and grow their ideas, just like the boy in the book.  This book opens the door for what could be a great discussion between those involved with it, the parent and child or just two like-minded adult readers, and what is there not to like about a conversation that has been set into motion by a book.  .  My reason for the 4 thumbs review is that I just wanted more; I wanted to see what the idea grew into and how it really does take just one person to start making a change.

The Authors idea to give life to an idea was genius and the use of an egg as the idea even more so.  Combine this with simple but beautiful prose and delicate illustrations and you have a perfect example of what you can do with an idea.  It has been a while since I read and reviewed a children’s book, and I am so glad that I picked this one up to read.  This is a book that is all about creativity, giving to wings to soar and caring for it in a world where no one else seems to care.  Another part of the book I really like was the way in which the only colour in the book, at the beginning, was the egg.  As the idea was cared for and grew, this colour started radiating to other parts of the world, until it finally exploded at the end, so even if the words may be difficult for some children to understand, the way in which they were translated in the illustrations would help immensely.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has ever had an idea and has been told it’s just a ‘dream’.

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