Thursday, 24 March 2011

50 Books Every Child Should Read

According to The Independent, Education Secretary Michael Gove has presented a goal that every 11-year-old should read at least 50 books per year. In the spirit of this optimistic suggestion, they had three children's books writers and two critics compile one list each of ten of the books they thought should figure on this list. Read through it and see how many you know!

Philip Pullman

* Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll. Indispensable. The great classic beginning of English children's literature.
* Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi. What effortless invention looks like.
* Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner. A great political story: democracy in action.
* Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome. As clear and pure as Mozart.
* Black Hearts in Battersea by Joan Aiken. If Ransome was Mozart, Aiken was Rossini. Unforced effervescence.
* The Owl Service by Alan Garner. Showed how children's literature could sound dark and troubling chords.
* The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. Superb wit and vigorous invention.
* Moominsummer Madness by Tove Jansson. Any of the Moomin books would supply the same strange light Nordic magic.
* A Hundred Million Francs by Paul Berna. A particular favourite of mine, as much for Richard Kennedy's delicate illustrations (in the English edition) as for the story.
* The Castafiore Emerald by Hergé. Three generations of this family have loved Tintin. Perfect timing, perfect narrative tact and command, blissfully funny.

Michael Morpurgo

* The Star of Kazan by Eva Ibbotson. The heroine is blessed with such wonderful friends who help her through the twists and turns of this incredible journey.
* A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. The first few pages were so engaging, Marley's ghostly face on the knocker of Scrooge's door still gives me the shivers.
* Just William books by Richmal Crompton. These are a must for every child.
* The Happy Prince by Oscar Wilde. This was the first story, I think, that ever made me cry and it still has the power to make me cry.
* The Elephant's Child From The Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling. The story my mother used to read me most often, because I asked for it again and again. I loved the sheer fun of it, the music and the rhythm of the words. It was subversive too. Still my favourite story.
* Treasure Island by R.L. Stevenson This was the first real book I read for myself. I lived this book as I read it.
* The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway. A classic tale of man versus nature. I wish I'd written this.
* The Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. A book for children from 8 to 80. I love the humanity of this story and how one man's efforts can change the future for so many.
* The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy The story of two children who go to find their father who has been listed missing in the trenches of the First World War.
* The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett. I love this story of a girl's life being changed by nature.

Michael Morpurgo, John Walsh and Michael Rosen

Katy Guest, literary editor for The Independent on Sunday

* Refugee Boy by Benjamin Zephaniah. Story of a young Ethiopian boy, whose parents abandon him in London to save his life.
* Finn Family Moomintroll (and the other Moomin books) by Tove Jansson. A fantasy series for small children that introduces bigger ones to ideas of adventure, dealing with fear, understanding character and tolerating difference.
* Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney. It's rude, it's funny and it will chime with every 11-year-old who's ever started a new school.
* I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. Written for a teenage audience but fun at any age.
* The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein. Be warned, these tales of hobbits, elves and Middle Earth are dangerously addictive.
* The Tygrine Cat (and The Tygrine Cat on the Run) by Inbali Iserles. If your parents keep going on at you to read Tarka the Otter, The Sheep-Pig and other animal fantasies, do – they're great books – also try Iserles' stories about a cat seeking his destiny.
* Carry On, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse. A grown-up book – but not that grown-up.
* When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr. Judith Kerr's semi-autobiographical story of a family fleeing the Nazis in 1933.
* Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett. Elaborate mythological imagery and a background based in real science. If you like this, the Discworld series offers plenty more.
* The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson. The pinnacle of the wonderful Jacqueline Wilson's brilliant and enormous output.

John Walsh, author and Independent columnist

* The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Irresistible puzzle-solving tales of the chilly Victorian master-sleuth and his dim medical sidekick.
* The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. Age-transcending tale, both funny and sad.
* Mistress Masham's Repose by TH White. Magical story of 10-year-old Maria, living in a derelict stately home, shy, lonely and under threat from both her governess and her rascally guardian.
* Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Inexplicably evergreen, trend and taste-defying 1868 classic.
* How to be Topp by Geoffrey Willams and Ronald Searle. Side-splitting satire on skool, oiks, teechers, fules, bulies, swots.
* Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz. First of the action-packed adventures with 14-year-old Alex Rider.
* Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo. "Dulce et Decorum Est" for pre-teens.
* Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer. Lively, amoral, wildly imaginative debut (six more followed) about the money-grabbing master-criminal Artemis, 12. The author called it "Die Hard with fairies".
* The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier. Inspiring wartime story of the Balicki family in Warsaw.
* Animal Farm by George Orwell. Smart 11-year-olds won't need any pre-knowledge of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky and 1917 to appreciate this brilliantly-told fable.

Some of the books

Michael Rosen

* Skellig by David Almond. Brings magical realism to working-class North-east England.
* Red Cherry Red by Jackie Kay. A book of poems that reaches deep into our hidden thoughts but also talks in a joyous voice exploring the everyday.
* Talkin Turkeys by Benjamin Zephaniah. A book of poems that demands to be read aloud, performed and thought about.
* Greek myths by Geraldine McCaughrean. Superheroes battle with demons, gods intervene in our pleasures and fears – a bit like the spectres in our minds going through daily life, really – beautifully retold here.
* People Might Hear You by Robin Klein. A profound, suspenseful story about sects, freedom and the rights of all young people – especially girls.
* Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. A book that dared to go where no one thought you could with young audiences because it raises tough stuff to do with race.
* Einstein's Underpants and How They Saved the World by Anthony McGowan. A crazy adventure set amongst the kids you don't want to know but who this book makes you really, really care about.
* After the First Death by Robert Cormier. Cormier is never afraid of handling how the personal meets the political all within the framework of a thriller.
* The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. A book that allows difference to be part of the plot and not a point in itself.
* Beano Annual. A cornucopia of nutty, bad, silly ideas, tricks, situations and plots.

I got 22.
Source: The Independent Web Pages

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Happy/Sad Cookie

This little snippet from Sesame Street is one which brings back fond memories. When I was younger I used to watch Ernie and Bert and find them really amusing. A few weeks back I came across the film below. Since then, I have used it to cheer people up and I have even used it to bring a disorganised mass of students back into constructive dialogue. Enjoy!

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Some Interesting Online Reference Sites

There are lots of interesting reference sites on the web, freely available for use. These are just a few of them.

Brewter's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable
Although the hardcover version is updated and thus more extensive, it is also more expensive. The online version is based on the 1898 original but still of great use. Did you for instance know that:

  • Most phrases involving Dutch mean the opposite of what is indicated. Thus, a Dutch concert is noise, Dutch courage is not really courage and a Dutch auction is an auction where bidders decrease their bids towards the minimum price.
  • To whistle down the wind is to defame someone.
  • To nurse an omnibus is to send a bus from a rivalling before and after another bus in order to pick up its passengers.
Myth Encyclopedia While the Larousse Encyclopedia of Mythology is probably the best printed encyclopedia of myths and gods, this online Myth Encyclopedia does a pretty decent job on the digital arena.

The Phrase Finder
Wondering where you have got "once more unto the breach" from or who first said "at one fell swoop"? The Phrase Finder is a good place to look up phrases, idioms, sayings and expressions.

Urban Dictionary
Although it is a bit silly, the Urban Dictionary is useful for looking up slang. And funny wordplay of course. What, for instance, is Deja Moo? The feeling that you've heard this bull before...

and while on the subject of words...

The Online Etymology Dictionary
Etymology means the study of the true sense of words. It comes from Greek etymon which means "true sense" and logos which, of course, means "word". The word entered English via Old French. This, I found with a quick search in the Online Etymology Dictionary.

Sources as given

    Friday, 11 March 2011

    Wanda Sykes Puts It Clearly

    This is an ingenious way of explaining things from Wanda Sykes, who is both. Enjoy!

    Thursday, 10 March 2011

    To Rise Above the Beasts - Josh

    Josh (Robert Thompson) is quite good at the Arnold and Steven Segal impressions. His Robert DeNiro is also quite good, especially here, but his Morgan Freeman is the sign of proper talent. Freeman's pleasant narrator voice is really something worth having.


    For more Morgan from this nice fellow, click here.

    Wednesday, 9 March 2011

    Paul Hogan's Peter Pan

    “All children grow up except one”. Paul Hogan’s 2003 film Peter Pan re-envisages J.M. Barrie’s classic play about a boy who do not want to grow up and retrieves the story from the Disney universe. In the first film in several years retelling the story Hogan updates its visual representation not only using all the tools modern animation can provide, but also maintaining a darker atmosphere than that presented in the previous, Disney version. This combines to make Peter Pan one of the most enjoyable and refreshing films in a year dominated by Disney films like Finding Nemo and Pirates of the Caribbean.

    Peter Pan Poster

    As in the original play the Darling children, Michael, John and most significantly Wendy flies with Peter Pan from their nursery window to Neverland, leaving their parents, the dog Nana and their Aunt Millicent behind to despair. Neverland, an island populated by Indians, pirates, fairies, mermaids and crocodiles, turns out to be every child’s dream. On the island, the Darling children are constantly amazed by all its wonders and have many adventures most of which arise in dealing with Peter Pan’s nemesis, Captain Hook. 

    The film has all the original characters, and then some. Peter Pan, played by Jeremy Sumpter and the pirate captain Hook, excellently portrayed by Jason Isaacs are still at odds just like Peter’s fairy companion Tinker Bell, played by Ludivine Sagnier and just referred to as Tink, is consumed by jealousy towards the debuting Rachel Hurd-Wood’s Wendy. The crocodile, which was somewhat scary in the original play and a source of comedy in the Disney film, has become a 25 metre animated monster, a nightmarish dinosaur always looming below the surface. The feared Hook’s fear of this grim force of nature would render the audience almost sympathetic to him, had it not been for Smee’ contribution of disarming comic relief. In addition, whereas the original Mr. and Mrs. Darling were somewhat ludicrous in their fussy maturity this has been transferred to the newly introduced Aunt Millicent whose wish for Wendy to become a woman must be the primary motivation for her and her siblings to join Peter on his trip back to Neverland.

    A subtle difference

    The introduction of Aunt Millicent and the magnification of the crocodile is, however, not the only aspects of the characters Hogan has changed. Whereas the sinister side of Hook was toned down by the Disney version, it has been reinstated with a vengeance here. A cruelly malevolent, though suave, nature, a sickly complexion, an array of vicious looking hooks and a callous attitude towards murder makes Hogan’s Hook a far cry from the comical Disney version as he kills off crew members left and right in his hunt for Peter Pan. The brilliance of Jason Isaacs’ portrayal is, of course further bolstered by his portrayal of the harmless and whimsical Mr. Darling who traditionally has been played or voiced by the same actor.

    Jason Isaacs as Mr. Darling and Captain Hook

    In addition, Hogan introduces a sexual tension between Peter and Wendy. Previous versions have shown no more than a faint suggestion of romance, whereas Hogan makes this a central element to the plot. Sumpter, dressed in a revealing attire appropriate for a character named Pan, and Hurd-Wood as 14- and 13-year-olds brilliantly portray the conflicting and yet enthralling feelings of young teen. After all, who would have thought that a kiss could be that important?

    The sexual tension and the cruelty of Hook works together with a stylistic modernising of the story to make it available to an older and more modern audience. The animation of flying, of crocodiles and islands, of fairies and weather maintains makes the film visually appealing while still maintaining the aura of fantasy. The appeal of the Peter Pan story has always been the opportunity to lose oneself in role play and make-believe and this, in combination with more grown-up elements such as the above mentioned sex and violence, should cater for the interests of an audience between child- and adulthood.

    The score, made by James Newton Howard, is also updated and very much in a fitting genre. Its upbeat tracks resemble the music from young adult films of the 90’s. In addition, the influence of the score of the two years older Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone is apparent. The music serves to enter the film into a new generation of fantasy, adventure and animated films, which is further emphasised in the tracks borrowed from other films to accompany the trailer. While meant to resemble the film’s future score, the tracks from Muppet Treasure Island (1996) and Chicken Run(2000) further underlines Hogan’s intention to appeal to a specific audience.

    There is, however, two elements that somewhat lessens my enjoyment of this film. First of all, the twelve minute intro, consisting of some familiar but several new plot elements, establishes Wendy’s significance but delays Peter Pan’s entrance. Impatient cinema goers like myself would find this tedious and unnecessary. Hogan’s target audience is not watching the film for drawn out descriptions of Mr. Darling’s social awkwardness or Aunt Millicent’s folly. They want to see flying, swordplay, crocodiles and romance. Similarly, the Tink character is given too many comical aspects. In a film where several characters are given added traits and consequence, Tink is just not central enough to merit the role she is given in the film. Originally intended to be fully digitally animated, she here becomes a mere nuisance and a diversion from more compelling characters.

    The success of Hogan’s Peter Pan resides much in its vivid characters and modern use of camera and animation. The type casting of Jason Isaacs (from the Harry Potter movies) and  the always comical Richard Briers as Smee helps modernise and enter the story into a new generation of films. Although the film did not achieve the credit it was due on release, following blockbusters like Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, the story of the playful child in opposition to boring, foolish or evil adults has been given new and compelling garbs which make it a film well worth watching. 

    Update: The entire film can be found here (choose the following parts to the right).
    Another update: This is my article on the relationship between the film and the original play.

    Sources: 1, 2, 3 or as given

    Monday, 7 March 2011

    James Earl Jones Counting to Ten and Then Some

    This is James Earl Jones, the voice of Darth Vader, counting to ten on Sesame Street. I personally love the 4 and the 8.

    Now, watch this in fullscreen mode and see if you do not feel a tad uneasy.

    Friday, 4 March 2011

    Chess, Audiobooks and Reading Speed

    I am a slow reader. Since I always have loved literature I realised this at an early stage but it was not until I read about learning strategies that I understood why this was the case. I am an auditive learner, which means I learn through my ears. I can easily remember things people have said, tunes, lines from films etc. The limitations of my reading speed turned out to stem from my use of subvocalised reading, i.e. I read aloud in my head. By transforming the words into sound impressions they became comprehensible for me.

    This resulted in a low reading speed. Although I would register, remember and process everything I read, I was vulnerable to distractions and therefore needed to increase my reading speed. I divided this into two goals.
    1. At the comprehension level, I had to learn to comprehend sound impressions faster.
    2. At the registration level, I had to recieve the words faster.
    The first goal could be achieved quite passively. By pitching up the speed of audiobooks and blocking out all other sensuous impressions I gradually increased my comprehension speed. The positive results I achieved using this method are the reason I keep using it to further improve in this area.

    Audiobooks come in many forms

    The second goal I approached in a somewhat unconventional manner. Based on a theory presented at the NKUL conference of 2010, I wanted to see if reading speed could be more of a mechanical phenomenon than one based in comprehension. If so, strengthening the muscles around the eyes, allowing them to move more quickly, would increase reading speed just like strengthening the muscles of an athlete would improve his efficiency.
    Muscles around the eye.
    Notice how they are able to move the oculus diagonally as well as up-down, left-right
    Initially, I tried moving a pen ahead along each line of text but I soon found that I would automatically adapt the speed of the pen to that of the eyes. Abandoning this method, I changed tactics and started playing chess on the computer. I had previously seen great educational potential in games; first person shooters often improve the ability to make quick decisions while strategy games improves organisational and administrative skills. Chess is scientifically proven to be beneficial in all kinds of ways (see this collection of articles) and although its positive effect on reading speed has been noted by amongst others Drs. Albert Frank (1973) and Stuart Marguiles (1991), no clear link to mechanical eye movements was proven.

    Initial layout of a chess game

    Once I started playing the computer, I noticed how the potential trajectories of the pieces, especially the rook, bishop and queen, would have my eyes moving in way that would train the relevant muscles. Additionally, the original layout with the players at opposite ends would facilitate the same response, given the necessity of constantly assessing and reassessing your and your opponent's changing positions.

    Trajectories of the rook, the bishop and the queen

    After number of games, I noticed how my reading speed had increased. As these two methods seemed to give the desired effect, I still use it to improve further. The methods of course also have the added boon of being fun and entertaining as well as being beneficial in many other fields than just reading speed. This, of course make them efficient tools for education as well and I hope to be able to test them extensively at a later opportunity.
    Sources as given

    Wednesday, 2 March 2011

    Why Most English Teachers Retire Young

    The following are a number of analogies, metaphors and similes found in high school student's exam papers. Although I suspect them to be somewhat tweaked, I am delighted to see the existence of a bit of wit in the great unwashed.

    For those unfamiliar with the terminology, an analogy is a comparison based on a similarity between otherwise dissimilar things or concepts while a metaphor is a comparison made without the use of a grammatical conjunction like as, like or as if. A simile is a comparison made with the use of such words.

    1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its two sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
    2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free. 
    3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience,like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it. 
    4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E.coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
    5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
    6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
    7. He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.
    8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM.
    9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn't.
    10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
    11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m.instead of 7:30.
    12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
    13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
    14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
    15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan's teeth.
    16. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck,either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
    17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.
    18. Even in his last years, Grandpappy had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
    19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
    20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
    21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
    22. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.
    23. The ballerina raised gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant. 
    24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
    25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.
    26. Her eyes were like limpid pools, only they had forgotten to put in any pH cleanser.
    27. She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.
    28. It hurt the way your tongue hurts after you accidentally staple it to the wall. 
    Sources: 1, 2 Thanks to MHH