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Tuesday, December 06, 2016

Holes By Louis Sachar...Rereading Just Because...

So, I was thinking about something else, as you do, when the novel Holes crept into my mind. I used to teach it to Year 8, before the decision was made to do Literature Circles at Year 7 and 8. Then I gathered a few copies as a potential Literature Circles text. It's a novel often studied at primary school, but really needs good readers to study it and understand it properly. We also had kids who requested it the year after it went off the booklist, so I checked it out to them. 

I simply love that story about a boy who is sent to a punishment camp for a crime he didn't commit, where the boys are required to dig holes in the desert, because the Warden is looking for something that is connected with the history of the place, which used to be a thriving town by a lake, instead of a desert. There's a wonderfully fantastical element  to it, as there tends to be in Louis Sachar's YA fiction.

It was also a good film, a classic in its own right. The young Shia LeBeouf played the role of the hero, Stanley Yelnats. In the novel, Stanley was overweight and took off weight during the story, but that was a bit hard to arrange in a film that is made out of order. They decided to go for a "young Tom Hanks" type instead. 

The delightful Eartha Kitt played the gypsy Madame Zeroni, who placed the curse on the Yelnats family in the first place, because their ancestor had failed to carry out his agreement with her.

 Stanley's gently nutty inventor dad was played by Henry Winkler, whom the older among us remember as "the Fonze" from Happy Days

The onion man from 19th century Green Lake was played by Dule Hill, who may be familiar to you as President Jed Bartlett's aide, Charlie(West Wing)and in one scene you see him selling an onion tonic to a townsman who was played by Louis Sachar himself. 

Sigourney Weaver, who has played many a heroine in her time, was the evil Warden, the villain of the film.

It's just such a wonderful novel that I had to read it again. So I downloaded it from iBooks and you know what? I'm finding myself slipping comfortably back into it. It will be a definite case of comfort reading. 

Not to mention a bad case of inability to defer gratification! Ah, well, them's the breaks. 

Anyone else have this problem with ebooks? 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Now Reading... The Golden Apples Of The Sun by Ray Bradbury

Can there be anyone who has read Ray Bradbury and doesn't love his stories? They are beautiful and poetic and speak to your soul all at once - and they're entertaining too! I remember reading Something Wicked This Way Comes in one sitting, and being swept into the world of the story, hearing the sounds of that night circus coming into town, feeling the fear of the characters...

The other day, we were talking about short stories at an English faculty meeting. The decision has been made to scrap Year 10's Romeo And Juliet unit yet again, and replace it with short stories. Easier to teach, more time to get through it. So yet again the kids miss out on Shakespeare and most of them will never have the chance again, and will go through life knowing - or believing, anyway - only that some girl called Juliet is asking where a boy called Romeo is, and that will be their only perception of the man who added so many words to the language and whose plays inspired so many of our modern stories and culture... And they were only doing the films anyway, not reading it. Oh, well. 

Anyway, there was some discussion of what the stories might be - still going on. And one of the suggested stories is the famous "Sound Of Thunder" - the one in which some man steps on a butterfly in prehistoric times during a carefully planned dinosaur hunting safari(they only kill dinosaurs that were about to get killed anyway)and completely changes the future. So as I sat around the table I opened my iPad at iBooks and bought The Golden Apples Of The Sun, the Bradbury anthology in which the story resides.  

And what a treasury of classic stories it is! I spotted a couple of his Family stories in there - the Family are a sort of extended Addams Family - and such classics as "The Fog Horn". His stories range from the regional America of his childhood to spaceships of the future, all wonderful stuff! 

And don't forget, he was friends with another amazing Ray, Ray Harryhausen, the wizard of movie special effects.

I was reading the anthology in bed this morning and had to share!

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Just Finished Reading...Rivers Of London by Ben Aaronovitch

I bought this recently, after having heard the author talk about it on the ABC. Apparently, it's been around for some years, but hey, I'd never heard of it. Who would have thought someone I knew best from Dr Who would be writing urban fantasy? Though I can see the Doctor getting involved, with Peter Grant as a companion...

Peter Grant is a young policeman who has just finished his initial period of service and is about to be slotted into a section of the London Metropolitan Police. To his disgust, he has been put into the administration section, where he will be a glorified data entry clerk so that real coppers can get on with their business while someone else does the paperwork. 

Then he is spotted by the mysterious Inspector Nightingale, talking to a ghost, something most policemen can't do, and becomes a part of the smallest section of the London police force, one that includes only two people, himself and Inspector Nightingale. As an Apprentice wizard he learns spells, Latin, Greek and other wizardly things, and helps to solve a mystery that involves people's faces falling off after they have committed acts of violence. Supernatural forces are at play... and so are river gods and goddesses, most of the latter being stunning African women...

I couldn't get enough of this book. The characters were a delight - I can imagine Peter Grant played by a young Craig Charles - and the storyline over-the-top delicious. There are things I can't tell you because of spoilers, but read it, especially if you enjoy Neil Gaiman. It has the style of a Gaiman urban fantasy and the charm.
Oh, and if you want to know how the Thames river goddess is an African woman, you'll just have to read it and find out.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Student Poet ... Another happy dance!

Today, young Dylan told me that he had won the secondary section of the Kororoit Creek poetry competion. It's a local thing, connected with the area where I work and he goes to school. I don't recall who gave me the competition posters, but I put it up on the library door and hoped someone might enter.

And it was this Year 7 boy. I don't teach him(yet. Maybe next year?) but he's a regular lunchtime library patron. A bit of a nerd, but he doesn't borrow much, because he reads books from home. He's been reading the Obernewtyn series by Isobelle Carmody, and after five books, he's ready for a break. Perhaps I can recruit him for Book Club next year.

Tomorrow he is having his photo taken, possibly for the local paper.

Anyway, it isn't the first time one of our kids has won a writing competition. One boy won a place in a writing workshop with Anthony Horowitz, his hero. The poor boy froze, however, as people do in the presence of their heroes.

Then there was Kayla, who won the Year 9 section of the annual Write Across Victoria competition. I went to see her pick up her prize at the Wheeler Centre, in th last day of school before the summer holidays. I remember that night, when it was pouring and I was thankful for the Principal's gift of a taxi voucher. I took lots of photos, as did her proud father!

Hopefully, we'll have another joyous experience of this kind next year! 

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

An Evening Of Classics...Prince Valiant

I have a confession to make: I have had this DVD for ages and only just got around to watching it. The last time I saw it was on late-night TV. 

It has quite a cast: Robert Wagner(best known for some later TV shows), Janet Leigh(who had a tendency to play golden-haired medieval heroines), Debra Paget(who went on to play Hebrew maiden Lilia in The Ten Commandments a couple of years later and got to play a Native American girl in Broken Arrow), with Sterling Hayden as Sir Gawain and a smoothly evil James Mason, who played a lot more villains than good guys. The music is by Franz Waxman and very familiar - I'm sure I've heard it recently. 

I can't resist having a giggle, though. The story is set during the reign of an elderly King Arthur, but the castles are Norman and the women's costumes are more Hollywood glamour than mediaeval. Most of the actors are American, and, Viking or Briton, the characters speak American English, something that was common in films made at this time. James Mason spoke with his own accent, of course, but he was the villain. Villains in those days did tend to be British.

The tournament was fifteenth century, but the knights jousted without much armour and Val, knocked off his horse, staggered to his feet, not much hurt. Actually, not hurt at all. 

And those Vikings! The evil ones go mostly bare-chested, the good ones(Valiant's people) cover up a bit more, but both varieties wear those horned helmets we used to believe Viking warriors wore before later discoveries were made. 

I'm watching a late scene now. Val is fighting the evil Sir Brack with his father's singing sword, and, by gum, the sword is singing a Franz Waxman tune! 

One more thing: the name of the fictional Norse kingdom from which Val comes is Skandia. I wouldn't be surprised to find this is where John Flanagan got his own Skandia, the Norse equivalent in the world of The Ranger's Apprentice. 

Why not? Flanagan's England equivalent has the name of a town in New South Wales! 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

On Tears Of Joy!

Oh, joy! On my way into work(still on the train)I have received an email from the literacy co-ordinater, Janis. "This will make you smile. Great!"

And it did. It was the results from my literacy students' on-demand tests. All of them have improved, one of them vastly. Mind you, the girl who had not been attending many classes could have done even better if she had, but never mind. She has improved by a couple of year levels.

My real pleasure is the boy who supposedly went backwards last time. He's gone up four reading levels. I thought so. He's been reading a proper novel. Not a thick one, but a novel, not the high-interest-low-reading-level books we use.

I'm shedding tears of joy.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

On Blogger And Comments

Hi, would-be commenters!

Google in its wisdom has rejigged Blogger's layout. I can no longer open my dashboard, scroll down from my list of blogs(I have two of my own and another one I set up for the purpose of using a no-longer-available free ebook service to ebook my students' posts. But it gets hits, so I've left it up.) and read the blogs I follow. It's all separate now, no more dashboard at all.

I don't know how it's affected comments, because they used to be there on the dashboard next to the blog concerned. You have to click into the "comments" link now. I did do a fiddle yesterday, changing my readers thing from "Google accounts" to "Registered users" in case people without a Google profile had been trying to comment, but that may have nothing to do with the fact that one regular commenter has not turned up this weekend. Or it may, so for now I've put it back to "Google accounts".

If you're reading this, I'd appreciate a comment on this post, so I can see if I'm doing something wrong, or if I just haven't had comments. For now, Google profiles only, then I'll try "Registered users" again.


Okay, since writing the above I have broadened my comments option again. You can now comment from a different account, just not anonymously. 

Slush Grumbles...From My Newest Slushpile

I dropped out of the ASIM cohort about a year ago, but I'm still reading slush. I've been very strict on what I send through to the next round. Even a story I think is almost publishable doesn't go through. Almost publishable still isn't publishable. And the rules have become stricter since my time. The score, I am told, has to be around 3, which doesn't make sense to me, since the very best stories we've had in the past received a score of 4. It means all three readers have to give it 1, something I rarely do - very rarely. If you're going to give it a 2, which is a very good score, you might as well reject it outright and let the author find another market without waiting. But I give most of my passes 2 anyway, in hopes that what I was told was not the case or it has changed again.

But this isn't often an issue for me. Most of the slush I receive has been unpublishable, no ifs, no buts. And this morning I received a story that was not only unpublishable in general, it was not even speculative fiction. I had to read all 7208 words to discover this. I wish teachers of creative writing would explain more often to their students that they need to check their markets, instead of simply throwing their seeds to the wind and hoping that one of the markets on the long list given them will buy their magnum opus. I have the sinking feeling that the teachers actually advise them to submit widely, and let the market decide. Hey, I do this voluntarily. I don't even get a free copy! This is my precious time and I resent getting someone's creative writing exercise.

I also wish that more authors would do their research. I remember a story whose author thought a tsunami was a big wind, perhaps a synonym for "hurricane".

This one had not researched a certain type of animal and got it completely wrong. It wasn't even something obscure, but something pretty well known, which I bet turns up in trivia quizzes.

Look, people can get physics wrong in space stories, but physics is complicated - and one story I had in my issue of ASIM did get a bit of physics wrong; he knew about it, but hoped we wouldn't notice, because he liked it as it was. I made him rewrite, though only a bit, just enough to get it right.

But a basic bit of natural history that could be looked up on line? Come on, now!

And then there was the story that looked as if it was plucked from the middle of a novel and probably was. I had no idea what it was about. Four thousand words later I had finished the story and still didn't know what I'd read. I hated to say no to a local author, but it was just not readable, let alone publishable. The only story I let through  today was American. I thought it just might be publishable, a nice bit of humour to slip between the deadly serious pieces bound to turn up.

It was the first story I have not rejected in about the last twenty-five I have been sent. And no, I'm not over-picky, I just don't want to make the next reader have to read rubbish and then the author gets it thrown back anyway. Better for everyone to have it rejected right away. 

I'm still dreaming, every time I open a file, that this will be next year's Ditmar or Hugo winner. Really!

November 26: On This Day!

1476: A battle is won by Vlad the Impaler, better known to us as the real Dracula, making him ruler of Wallachia for the third time. 

1789: Thanksgiving becomes a national holiday in the U.S., under George Washington. Apparently, before that there was just a harvest festival at the time.

1922: Howard Carter and his sponsor Lord Carnarvon enter the tomb of King Tut. Imagine, Tutankhamon wasn't even a major Pharaoh and his tomb was crammed with amazing riches. Of course, if he'd been buried in a pyramid, the tomb would have been robbed and cleared out long ago. In any case, it inspired a lot of terrible horror movies and fiction. By the way, some years ago at my school, we had a student whose great grandfather had been with Howard Carter at that tomb, a chemist, I think. He said the family had been trying to get back a photo of great grandad and Carter from the museum in Cairo. Meanwhile, he kept hunting through our books and on line for any possible photos of his ancestor - and found one, at last, in a children's book about the discovery. 

This day has some author birthdays I simply have to celebrate, and here they are: 

1909: Eugene Ionesco, author of some truly over-the-top absurdist  plays. Two of the best-known were Rhinoceros, in which everyone in town is turning into a rhinocerosI believe that was a comment on Nazism - and The Bald Soprano(I had to read that in high school French as La Cantatrice Chauve.

1919: Frederik Pohl. Famous science fiction writer. If you've never heard of him, you just aren't a fan! He lived well into the days of the Internet and I believe he did a fanzine, which made him eligible for the best fan writer category of the Hugos. 

1922: The wonderful cartoonist  Charles Schulz, without whose genius we would never have had Peanuts, no Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, Schroeder or Snoopy! And the world would be a much poorer place. 

And, for the kids, on this day in 1972 was born James Dashner, author of the Maze Runner series and The Eye Of Minds(forget which series that is, but it was a nice bit of fiction about being in a virtual reality world). Teenagers just love it all. Boys and girls alike borrow his books from my library.