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Books and words, boys and girls. November 7, 2012

Posted by phoenixaeon in books, Children's Literature, Parenting, Reading with Principessa.
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Well. I never, ever imagined I’d be one of those parents who complain about what their kids are reading. After all, they’re reading, right? Okay, yeah, they’re reading and that’s a good thing, but have you ever looked closely at what the schools send home with the kids to read? No? Maybe it’s worth a look.

It’s reading time!

Princi’s school uses the Oxford Reading Tree system. This breaks up the experience of learning to read into various stages aimed at particular years/grades. It’s a good idea, as long as the kids aren’t held back if they show a knack for reading – as Princi was last year. Her teacher knocked her down two stages at the beginning of the year despite Princi reading competently at the higher level at the end of the previous school year. Anyway, that’s not my problem with this system. My problem is that it’s geared more towards ‘reluctant boy readers’. With the books being sold in sets of six, the ratio of girl:boy related titles is a maximum of 2:4, meaning that most books in the series are primed for male readers. Okay, so girls are more likely to read books centred around boys than a boy is likely to read a book centred around girls, but this doesn’t negate the fact that the boy’s books are all about adventure and football, while the few girl titles are set around flirty girlie love stories or kittens or kitchen maids. And another worrying thing is the representation of parents – especially mothers. They are seen as incompetent and useless parents, especially the ones who are portrayed as working mothers. It’s a case of ‘oh, you’re such a bad parent! You’re out at work, the washing machine needs fixing, and you have to leave the older kids to look after the younger kids. Isn’t it lucky you have a boy in your family who has a knack of fixing machinery!’ It’s all ever so slightly dubious.

And then we have a story, a retelling more like, of Sleeping Beauty.  It’s almost adventurous, except it’s another boy’s title. And the first characters you meet are two male ‘fairies’ trying to find a suitable prince to awaken Princess Aurora. It’s a feminist field trip, I tell you! But just like a reluctant boy reader, the main character – the typical messy boy, but with atypical sensitivities due to being the outcast – is also reluctant to kiss the princess. But kiss her he does after an aggressive Fairy Godmother frog marches him to the princess’s castle. So now we have a role reversal, the sensitive boy vs. the selfish and tactless princess. Yes, it’s a Beauty and the Geek moment. By the end of the story, the charms of the boy have subdued and controlled the snippy behaviour of the girl, but that’s not all. To protect her ‘inheritance’, the princess more or less has to sell off the land around her castle to be developed into an amusement park while selflessly sharing her wealth with the boy. Oh, talk about sexual metaphors and harking back to eighteenth century relationship ideologies!

Or maybe the problem I have with Princi’s school reading is just me. Maybe I’m thinking too deeply about this. Maybe I shouldn’t be worried about the books Princi is forced to read as part of her ‘learning’. But to me it feels like girls are getting a little bit of a raw deal, something that has to be rectified at home with books about strong female characters who are adventurous and sensitive to others at the same time, rather than being the secondary character and reader to a system which appears to be geared towards encouraging boys to read.

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Of bogs and truths and gardens. May 9, 2010

Posted by phoenixaeon in Bog Child, Children's Literature, EA300, ECA, End of EA300, OU, TMA06, Uncategorized, What goes on in Princi's head?.
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Eeks! Eighteen days left. 3,000 words written. Coherent argument fumbled. Too much to do, too little time?

On the plus point – got TMA06 back today. Yay! Another good mark above 90%, so chuffed to little mintballs. That means if I can get 85% on the ECA I have managed a first. That would be amazing! I would be chuffing like a chuffing train stuffed with chuffed little mintballs! And yes, that an awful lot of chuffedness! But before then, I have to battle with the rest of the ECA essay. That is really dragging me down. Sigh.

I have just under 1,000 words left to find for it. That shouldn’t be too hard. No, it’s more the constructing it into a decent argument. I am having the crisis of confidence thing with this once again. I’m worried I’m not using enough references. Worried I’m writing too much about the plot of the story. Worried I’m not getting enough depth into the points I’m making. Generally, I’m just worried. It’s making me feel ill. Gah! You know, I hate exams, absolutely despise them, but right now I’d gladly throw my hand for it to all be over in three hours. That way I wouldn’t have the time to question my knowledge, to second guess myself. It’d just have to be done and that’d be it. But no, I have eighteen more days to sit and stew. Bugger and butt nuggets! So tomorrow it’s on with Bog Child. On with The Other Side of Truth. On with Tom’s Midnight Garden. And it’s on with working out the history and traditions that tie them all together, hopefully with some pertinent quotes and decent themes. I know I will have something to submit in seventeen days time (don’t want to push it to the limit in case of server overload on the electronic submission site), but if it’ll be any good is anyone’s guess. I’ll have to wait until August to find out. Argh!

And besides, according to Princi:

Botheration! There is difficulty in the crossing between Cape Horn and the Antarctic.

So there.

(That about sums up my state of mind!)

Words and pictures. April 9, 2010

Posted by phoenixaeon in Bog Child, books, Charles Vess, Children's Literature, EA300, ECA, Essay written, Instructions, Neil Gaiman, OU, TMA06.
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Well, this has made me even more excited for the release of ‘Instructions’ by Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess. I can’t wait, I tells ya!

__________________________________________________________________________

And for a second squee, I have finished the dastardly essay. Woohoo! I am going to leave it over the weekend, maybe even the whole of next week, before going back for a final read through and tidy up, then it’s gone and outta here! All I have to do before the course finishes is write a 4,000 word essay on how Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd fits into the history and tradition of children’s literature. So, I have decided on the critical essays that I need to read through again to write the essay I think I should be writing, and I shall put this plan into action next week. Still, it’s a ‘Yikes’ moment knowing that the course is nearly done. I’ve really enjoyed (so far) the challenge it presented and I really want it to carry on. Once the degree is done (another three years. Bah!) then I feel an MA in Children’s Lit might be worth pursuing. And I never, ever thought I’d say that!

Customers also bought… March 20, 2010

Posted by phoenixaeon in Bakhtin, books, Children's Literature, EA300, Mortal Engines, OU, TMA06.
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Currently, I am reading critical essays on Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. It has been interesting to dissect the Orwellian model of dystopia in relation to children’s literature and to see how Reeve sidesteps this to enable hope within the narrative, but the mention of Bakhtin had me running back to my copy of Introducing Bakhtin to discover more about carnivalesque and the grotesque body. HEADWRECK! It’s going to take at least a day to unravel the secrets held within the chapter and I already have too much to read (I would like to re-read Mortal Engines and The Other Side of Truth before I get to writing TMA06). I would love to find a ‘Bakhtin in plain English’ book/website/whatever, so I had a quick look on Amazon to see if there happened to be such a book.

I clicked on one reader. Hoping that there would be a review (no such luck) my eyes skipped down the page but were quickly dragged back to the ‘customers who bought this item also bought’ section. This is what I found:

It’s good to know that I’m on the right track… I have The Graveyard Book! But as for plain English and Bakhtin, I’m not sure they belong in the same sentence together. I shall just have to muddle on!

(OK, so I have just had a quick squizz at the wikipedia pages linked above. I shall use them as a jump off point to begin some notes on the subject.)

And out come the wolves. March 13, 2010

Posted by phoenixaeon in Bog Child, books, Children's Literature, EA300, ECA, End of EA300, Imagery, OU, TMA06.
2 comments

I am still toying with the lost opportunities of various interesting (or what I think would have been interesting) points for the last essay in my head. Argh! If only I’d have left it a couple of days before I submitted it. But then, I had already meandered into the discretionary 10% over the word limit allowance, and I didn’t really want to stray too far from the allowance. So I suppose it could have been a blessing in disguise. Still, I managed not to include the different fonts used to differentiate between dialogue and narration (bum!) or expanding the point of the sleeper cell of wolves (or was that the humans, after all, Lucy is seen in bed/attempting sleep at various points of the story) becoming anthropomorphic and becoming a ‘human parody’. Ho hum!

Anyway. ‘Tis done. Cannot bring it back. It has gone to the cyber-woodsman for slaying and insertion of stones to weigh down its insatiable word-wobbling belly. Which leads me on to the next thing…

Bog Child by Siobhan Dowd

It is coming increasing close to the end of the course now – and a well received three month break (which may see me purchase an XBox360 and FFXIII, meaning interactive immersion into a story that I will endeavour not to analyse!), so I have been thinking a lot about the final ECA. Yes, I know I still have TMA06 to get through first, but I need to start planning the ECA so I feel confident writing to the extended word count. I mean, 4,000 words is a heck of a jump from 2,000, and as I have not found any critical essays on Bog Child – I am more or less sure that I will tackle this option – I am having to work through ideas and find other essays in addition to vague quotes and comments from essays in the course readers that may help the cause. So today, while having a nosy around and reading a few reviews, I found this review. Now, while it is a bog (no pun intended) standard review, it was the ending that caught my attention:

As a side note, it is curious that the cover of the US edition features the same picture of a shirtless boy in a field as the UK edition, but that on the US version, the boy’s torso has been covered over in orange highlighter.  It’s hard to understand what could be the reason for this change which looks very like censorship.

I’m not sure I agree with the censorship issue, but it does have me intrigued. Why orange? I could understand the symbolic use if it represented the Orange Lodge, but if any religion was represented, it was Catholic. There was the ferrying of contraband contraception, but even that would not suggest the use of orange (would it?). So, I am putting it out there for any suggestions. What do you think the publishers were trying to imply by using orange, if anything? (And I feel there must be some sort of symbolic representation as the cover itself is fairly symbolic of religion and personal sacrifice.)

Decoding picture books. February 23, 2010

Posted by phoenixaeon in Bloody books, Charlie and Lola, Children's Literature, Dave McKean, EA300, I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Neil Gaiman, OU, reading, The Savage, The Wolves In The Walls, TMA05, Wolves.
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Phew! Who knew reading picture books could be such hard work and so taxing on the poor gray matter? I didn’t, that’s for sure.

I am now gearing up to write TMA05. This essay is an analysis of a couple of pages from a picture book. Now, while this may seem simple enough, it has so far been nothing short of a befuddlement.

Problem number one: What picture book to use? The two set books for this block are Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit and Anthony Browne’s Voices in the Park. OK, so I’ve become slightly addicted to Browne’s books since starting this course, his use of intertextuality is fabulous, but as the book was a set book I felt too much will have been covered by the course materials. Ditto Peter Rabbit – besides, I’m not a fan of Potter. I don’t quite know why, but I don’t like her style. There’s no questioning that she was a clever writer, illustrator and designer of children’s books, they just don’t appeal to me. So a new choice had to be made so I am able explore my understanding of the subject. I have narrowed my choices down to:

  1. The Wolves in the Walls

    The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean. I have been desperate to fit some Gaiman into the course somehow, and this seems the logical point. I also love McKean’s illustrations, so this appears to be a double whammy. But I am now struggling with the decisions regarding which pages to use!

  2. The SavageThe Savage by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean. Yep, more McKean. What can I say? I love his illustrations! But this is a good story, dealing with the subject of death and loss. It made me cry! The illustrations show the wildness of the savage, which in turn explain the feelings of the main character, Blue. There  are plenty of areas of analysis – graphically, textually, and semantically. A strong contender. Oh, and if you haven’t read it, then I recommend it.
  3. WolvesWolves by Emily Gravett. I discovered this book after reading a critical essay. I had a look around, found some of the illustrations, loved it! The idea of a rabbit borrowing a book about wolves from the library and the wolves then stalking the rabbit was too good to pass up. It’s on order and I can’t wait to read it, it looks so interesting and funny, and there appears to be a lot there that would be worth analysing.
  4. I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child. There had to be some Charlie and Lola in the list. They’re Princi’s favourite and best! And c’mon, there is so much in there to get your teeth into! There is one image in this that always sticks in my head. When Charlie is giving the alternative description of mashed potato, the shape of the text fits the image, if you know what I mean? He describes it as ‘cloud fluff from the top of Mount Fuji,’ and the words are shaped into the roof of a Japanese building. Just fab!

Problem number two: Understanding a whole new set of terminology. Again. This time the codes of picture books. I didn’t even know there was a code! More fool, me. I am working my way through an excerpt of an article by William Moebius called ‘Introduction to Picturebook Codes.‘ (Not all of it is included here, but you get the gist.) For me, it’s interesting reading even if I’m having a hard time retaining all the info. But another read through should sort me out. Then it’s applying this new knowledge to the pages I choose to analyse. Looking forward to it! All that’s left to do then is attack the post-modernist angle, which means another crash course. I think I may end up with concussion from all of the crashing I am doing!

So that is my current predicament. I think I am probably more or less settled upon Gaiman/McKean unless it twists my brain too much and becomes too wolfish for me. One thing is for certain, though. I am looking forward to writing this essay. And that’s not something you hear me say very often!

This week I will mostly be doing… February 16, 2010

Posted by phoenixaeon in Biathlon, Bog Child, books, Children's Literature, EA300, Illustrations, Olympics, OU, reading, Ski jumping, TMA05.
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With Princi off school this week there is no time for any real study. So I have decided to get some reading done – which means a little of catching up AND getting ahead. Catching up in the sense of reading Mildred D. Taylor’s Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, the book I missed during the last block (I missed Peter Pan in the block before, and I probably won’t get around to going back to read it, so didn’t want to miss something else), and reading Siobhan Dowd’s Bog Child in preparation for the ECA.

Well, I finished Bog Child last night. It’s a fabulous book. Set against the backdrop of the 1981 hunger strikes, the main protagonist – Fergus – finds the body of a child whilst digging for peat with his Uncle. This discovery leads to strange dreams and first love, while battling against the reality of Northern Ireland during the Troubles. The story draws you in from the start, the opposition of politics vs religion glaring apparent throughout the novel. The shadowing of the contemporary Troubles against a Pagan tribe from 2000 years ago provides a sense of – in the terms of BSG – all of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.

To say I enjoyed the story would be an understatement. I’m looking forward to a second, and possibly a third, read through closer to the date of the ECA. For now, though, I’ll just let the story percolate in my brain.

That leaves me with Roll of Thunder to read over the next few days, and maybe one or two of the critical essays during the evening when Princi is sleeping. I can definitely see some contrasts and comparisons that could be made between the two books, which means I am already formulating arguments. Woohoo! I’ve just got to make sure I don’t get too far ahead of myself, as I have two more essays to do before the ECA.

Oh, which reminds me. The next essay is on illustrated children’s books. While having a little trawl on the net last night, I found this: illustrated envelopes. How cool would it be to receive a letter with an envelope like these? I want one!

Envelope illustrated by Axel Scheffler.

__________________________________________________________________________

As well as all the reading, there is also the lure of the Winter Olympics over the next couple of weeks. I’m already staying up way past my bedtime so I can watch (some of) the ice skating. I’m glad that the biathlon and ski jumping is on earlier in the day – or evening as is the case. The first biathlons have provided some of the best, and most shock, results. I wonder if the two pursuits on today will also prove as uncallable in terms of predicting the winner? I’m just upset that I missed the snowboarder cross last night, it sounds as if it was extremely exciting!

Anyhoos, time to get back to the reading while Princi is distracted.


Picture books, poems and Princi. October 21, 2009

Posted by phoenixaeon in books, EA300, Instructions, Neil Gaiman, OU, The Principessa Files.
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So I’ve just pre-ordered ‘Instructions‘ by Gaiman and Vess. Oh, how I am looking forward to getting this book. But, I shall have to wait until next June. Such a long wait. And such a pity. If it had been released in February then I would have been able to use it for the picture book essay on the kidlit course. As it is, it’s just hard luck. Ho hum. But still – eximacited!

It’s getting very stressful here. There’s still loads to do with moving things out of the back room, sorting the little bedroom out, and general decluttering, yet no matter what we do it feels like more stuff magically appears. There is just TOO MUCH STUFF! It’s even come to the point where I’ve had to start thinning down the book collection to make room, so Skidaddles dropped a big bag of books off at a charity shop the other day. *Sob* My beautiful books! But I suppose it’s better that way, I doubt I’d ever read the books I gave away again. After all, there are plenty of other unread books that need my attention.

Speaking of attention… Gaz came around last night, so that meant a climbing frame for Princi. Not an actual climbing frame, but tall, lanky Gaz! At one point she jumped on Gaz’s shoulders, grabbed under his chin, and started to lean backwards (good job Gaz happened to be sitting down). Gaz asked Princi, “Are you looking for attention?” To which Princi replied, “No, just trouble!” Little terror!

(Oh no. The postie has just delivered a box of choccies. I will have to remember to cancel that membership to the choccie club – although I thought I already had. Now I’ll have Princi begging for chocolate all day.)

Well, I should go and do some Jolly Phonics and learning to write with Princi. I may call radio silence Twitter and blog wise over the next week while I fight my way through the end of the LRRH essay and its further rewrites. I think I need to give myself some away from the internet time before it makes me feel paranoid.

The Other Mother. October 14, 2009

Posted by phoenixaeon in books, Coraline, Films, Neil Gaiman.
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Last night, Princi and I snuggled under the duvet to watch the Coraline DVD on our tiny portable DVD player. That is Princi’s favourite way of watching DVDs, she is forever waking up before me, diving under my duvet and asking to watch Doctor Who. Anyway, she was all excited, bouncing on the bed exclaiming ‘Ooh, I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I can’t wait,’ in a squealy high pitched voice. Chuffed at her excitement (she’s never been so excited to watch a film before, not even when we’ve gone to the cinema), I asked if she wanted to watch the 3D version. No. She didn’t like the glasses. 2D version it is, then. I started the film, Princi rested her head on a cuddly Triceratops and she watched, completely enthralled. I have never known her to stay so quiet or still while she’s watching a film!

The Other Mother appeared on screen. I thought that would frighten her. Nope. Then the Other Mother started getting nasty. Nope, still not frightened. I asked her ,’Would you like an Other Mother?’ To which she replied with a big, squeezy hug, ‘No. I just want you, Mummy. You’re my real Mother, and Grandand is my real Grandand. I don’t ever want you to go away.’ I had to smile at that. Then the Other Mother turned into a horrible spider-type thing. Still Princi was not scared. It was only when the horrible spidery hand started chasing Coraline right at the end of the film that she was frightened. She grabbed me in a Princi bearhug and hid her head under my arm. I told her she should carry on watching because it would all be okay. She peeked out and watched the scary bits and was very relieved when Wybie helped Coraline defeat the spider hand. Then she clapped and smiled at the happy outcome of the film. She even wanted to watch it again before she went to school this morning.

I am so glad we sat down to watch it together and that I didn’t just do a Coraline’s parents thing and leave her to watch it on her own. We had lovely huggles throughout the film, some ‘wow’ moments and some giggle moments, but most of all I was glad that she was not afraid to tell me when she was scared. I’m looking forward to watching Coraline with Princi again.

As for my opinion on film versus book – I’m more a fan of the book than the film. I can see why the introduction of Wybie was necessary (no other children in the book, apart from the ghost children) – and it also seemed to show how the attitudes of the parents, particularly the mother (what a snarky bitch!), had rubbed off on Coraline. She was very terse with Wybie and wouldn’t listen to him just as her mother was with her. It was also interesting that the only time she would really listen to Wybie was when he couldn’t speak. I would have prefered that the rats stay rats and were not disguised as jerboas, although cute it took away from the distinction of mice=good, rats=bad in the book. Although the relationship with her parents seemed more rounded in the film, the book seemed more sinister – esepecially with the rhymes of the mice and rats, and the change in location from basement to garden for the escape from the Other Father felt less scary.

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the film. It seemed like Little Red Riding Hood (as everything does at the moment!), Alice in Wonderland and Tom’s Midnight Garden all rolled into one. But when all is said and done, give me the book over the film any day. Probably because I’ve read or listened to it so many times before having the chance to see the film that my imaginings of the story are much stronger than the imagery – albeit fantastic and imaginitive – provided by the film.

Of books and poems. July 2, 2009

Posted by phoenixaeon in books, EA300, Poetry, tennis, Wimbledon, writing.
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Hmm. Swallows and Amazons. Still struggling. I really can’t find my way into the story. It feels acutely inaccessible to me and this is resulting in the story (so far) boring me to tears. I can only read a few pages at a time before my brain starts filtering it out as white noise. Not good. This revelation had me choosing to start another of the set books for EA300 (registration complete. Really need to start making headway with the reading now); Mortal Engines by Philip Reeve. What a difference! I was instantly pulled in to this story. I had read some posts on the course forum about how people had struggled with imagining the ‘moveable cities’, but no real problem here, with the description of mechanical London conjuring the image of a metallic, motorised version of Minas Tirith. So, with a story I can get my teeth into, I am looking forward to reading today.

Poems. I found a niche of productivitiy last night, scribbling down two new first drafts – although one will be for Princi’s book – and an almost decent draft of Gambling on inheritance. I’ve worked on that latter again this morning, and had my bro look it over. He seemed to like it, but are family members ever likely to give a real, unbiased opinion? I’m not sure they do, as they are probably worried about hurting feelings. But as long as it’s constructive criticism, then I’m not going to be phased by it. In fact, I’d welcome it. I’m glad I have folks whom I can send stuff to and receive this support from. I don’t think I’d be confident enough to send poems out without their input, as sometimes they see things that I have overlooked, or they offer suggestions that help in strenthening poem. Even the negative criticism is helpful, it makes me aware that the poem isn’t working on some level. So, be on the lookout, I’ll be sending you this new poem to look over!

On other writing endeavours, I have finally had the kick up the bum that I needed to motivate me to finish the final draft of Rosie. Trying to find ways to keep my attention away from the stifling heat of last night, I started thumbing through Writers’ Forum. Don’t know why I started from the back, but I did. I read through the competition poems. I skimmed some of the articles, only to be disgusted when reading an article by a kid lit publisher when she said a book about kids being chosen to go to an island to be involved it a televised survival game – to the death – was a fantastically original story; not so, it seemed a serious rip-off of the Japanese novel/film Battle Royale to me. And then, at the very front of the magazine, I found a tiny little call for submissions for paranormal stories from Rebel Books. That was when my mind was made up to get Rosie fixed. I think it would work well here. So tonight the laptop will be joining me in bed.

Looking forward to the tennis tomorrow, with Andy Murray facing off against Andy Roddick. Should be a good fight, that. I am hoping that Tommy Haas gives Roger Federer a good match in the other semi-final, though I am (no so) secretively keeping my fingers crossed for Haas to win. I’d love to see that! As for the women’s semi-finals today, I would love to see Dinara Safina and Elena Dementieva win, but I think it’s a given that the Williams sisters will take the wins, making the final a replay of last year’s final. Sorry to say, but yawn! They’re great tennis players, but as with Roger Federer, it’s getting a bit boring now. Still, you never know.