Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Books of 2013

 Yikes!  Three weeks since the last post!  Time sort of ran away from me there. The children have been off school since the 4th and before then I had a long list for each day of things to do and places to be and people to see.  You know how it is at this time of year (you must, because everyone says that and it's such a cliche, but as with quite a few cliches it's bang on the mark). Anyway, in lieu of trying to catch you up with all that's been happening (which is a lot) I thought it might be nice to talk about the books that have captured our attention this year.

Books are such a huge part of our lives here.  I am constantly on the lookout for stories that sound inspiring and intriguing, especially for Harriet.  I'm a huge children's literature nerd (as you have probably already guessed) and remember so many favourites from my own childhood that trying to slow down my own desire to introduce those books from my past to Harriet means I find myself a little overwhelmed at stemming the tide of awesomeness that is heading her way.  Luckily Harriet is right up for the challenge of devouring quality books constantly, and luckily we are friendly with the children's book buyer at Better Read than Dead - she knows Harriet and lets me know when something has come in she thinks Harriet will be interested in.  To say we appreciate this level of attention and genuine understanding is an understatement - many of Harriet's favourite books have been the direct result of Amelia's recommendations.

The Garden of Empress Cassia - Gabrielle Wang
Harriet has proclaimed GW as one of her current top five authors.  She has also written The Wishbird which Harriet also loved, but it was a library book so not pictured here.  Her stories appear to be a beautiful blend of thoughtful mythology and psychological insight, which is a perfect combination for Harriet (you may remember her obsession with Greek mythology just before she started kindy).
Harriet -  I liked that the pastels were magic; it was intriguing.

Hitler's Daughter - Jackie French

Another talented Australian author and this title has received many awards, as well as being shortlisted for many others.  Harriet was initially hesitant to read this because it scared her to read about Hitler; however she finally started it one evening after I encouraged her to at least start the first couple of pages and then she was hooked. 
Harriet - It was about a boy and his friend who told a story about Hitler's daughter.  I liked that his friend thought it up and that it might be true.  It was a thought-provoking novel

Wayside School is Falling Down - Louis Sachar

Unusually, Harriet thoroughly enjoyed this nonsensical, ridiculous series.  Mind you, she did also enjoy Andy Griffiths' tomes, so I guess it can't be too surprising.  It is a series of books about a crazy school, full of little puns and silly scenarios, although it felt a little strained by the final book that I read a bit from.
Harriet - This is very funny and funny.  I liked the way that a student carried a computer up thirty stories and the teacher opened it up and threw it out of the window to teach them about gravity.  It made me laugh out loud.  

Wonder - RJ Palacio, There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom - Louis Sachar, A Mango-Shaped Space - Wendy Mass and Out of My Mind - Sharon Draper
I've grouped all of these books together since they all have a common theme; they're written from the point of view (or, as in the case of Wonder, multiple points of view) of an individual in society who is different in some way.  This is undoubtedly Harriet's favourite genre.

Wonder, as has been discussed multiple times previously, has been Harriet's favourite book for about a year now.  It's not in the pile photographed because Harriet just forget to put it out - I think it's still on her bedside stack.  Written from multiple points of view it describes the transition process for August, a severely facially deformed ten year old boy who starts attending regular school after being previously homeschooled.  Poignant, thoughtful and inspiring, it's perfect for teaching young readers about difference, acceptance and pain in a safe, encouraging environment.  The ending is a bit schmaltzy but I still teared up a little when reading it.

The Sachar novel is about a boy with Asperger's who finds it difficult to make friends, until a girl in his school takes a shine to him and he is gradually accepted for his idiosyncrasies. I haven't read this, but I do know that in one scenario his psychologist tries to help him with choosing a gift by telling him that he should choose with his heart.  He then buys a life-sized model of a human heart, which ends up being hugely popular.  That kind of thing.  Cute, well-meaning and thoughtful.  

A Mango-Shaped Space is similarly written from the point of view of a child who sees their self as an outsider to the mainstream.  The protagonist here is synaesthetic (which, coincidentally, Harriet's violin teacher was interviewed about on Conversations) and has always assumed that others saw the world the way that she does.  She has to go through a few 'assessments' in order to find out the name for what she has (including being accused of having 'middle child syndrome' and looking for attention along the way), as well as meeting others with the same state of mind. 

Out of My Mind is Harriet's new Wonder.  She loves this book, about a girl with cerebral palsy who is highly intelligent but has been treated as though she had the intellect of an infant, until she is given a  specialised computer, through which she can communicate to others. Harriet has already read it twice and has now passed it on to me (I swapped her for The Diary of Anne Frank), so I can't give too much of a detailed description just yet.

We have given a combination of these books out as presents to a few of Harriet's special friends and they are always well-received.  I highly recommend all of them for children aged 7-12yrs.  Wonder in particular is full of Star Wars references and would be appealing to boys (who may otherwise not be as interested) as well.

Harriet - These books made me think about what it would be like to be another person; the main characters see the world differently from other people.  It makes me think about different people's points of view.

Shine was a stab in the dark - I purchased it after wanting to read something from Nosy Crow.  Harriet had started the Hen House Theatre from there but only got about three quarters of the way through.  I was hoping this might be slightly more interesting since it's a story about a mother who's a kleptomaniac and her daughter gets shipped off to her estranged family's house on an island.  It's an easy read and well-pitched for middle primary readers whilst still dealing with 'older' topics.   

Harriet - This book makes me realise what it would be like without Mama, and about family relationships.  This book is very interesting.

Calvin and Hobbes (not pictured) - Bill Watterson
This was being read at the time of the photo, so it only appears in Ted's pile below.  Calvin is the irrepresible, incorrigible child we all desire/dread to have in our own family.  Watterson is a genius.  There is really not much more to be said.

Harriet - This is funny.  I like how Calvin likes disgusting stuff and is very cute with his stuffed tiger Hobbes.

Asking Ted to comment on his favourite books is a little akin to asking a hurricane to stop blowing for just ten minutes while you put the outdoor furniture away.  So let is just be said that this pile of classics is childhood in a box.  If you have children you should have ALL of these lying around your house somewhere. 

A quick mention specifically on the Usborne Puzzle Adventure books.  They are fantastic - Ted has recently graduated from the younger series into these more challenging stories.  I'm sure that his level of visual 'detective work' has been honed to a fine point based on his ongoing love affair with these books.  The earlier series is well worth checking out if your children are in preschool.  We have slowly acquired the whole range (bar about one or two maybe) through op-shopping diligence.  Well worth the effort and these are definitely keepers for the grandchildren.

In brief, my own books of interest have included The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, The Book Thief by Marcus Zusack (yes I know, late to the party), The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman, The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (but not the other two in the series), The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (yes, very late to the party there, embarssingly so) and Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner.  I'm sure I've forgotten a few.

Books I didn't enjoy are many and include - Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser, Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany, Big Brother by Lionel Shriver and (oh god I can barely bring myself to write it down) Foal's Bread by Gillian Mears (caveat: this was a book club book and I literally did not read past the fourth page.  I nearly gagged on my own response to the writing and found myself recoiling in horror at the thought of having to read one more page, let alone the whole thing).

I've read many more but I really need to start keeping a better record of what I've read.  Trying to recall the library of 2013 in one sitting is pushing my memory a little too far.

James refused to share any of his books of choice.  Bah, humbug!


discoknitter said...

Thank you! Squish is just emerging as a proper reader, I'll have to get Wonder for him, sounds perfect.

Anonymous said...

dear mama,
Thank you for writing almost the whole blog post about me. Please write one of these blog posts every year. Eg. books of 2014, books of 2015 ect.


P.S It was the yardkeeper who had to carry the box up/not a student.