Wednesday, 26 November 2014

The 21 Balloons by William Pene Du Bois

The 21 Balloons was written and illustrated by William Pene Du Bois and is definitely a classic. It's about the travels of an old professor and is a great example of a book not to judge by its cover, especially in some editions when it can look a bit 'childish.' When I discovered The 21 Balloons on my shelf my immediate reaction was to ask whether it belonged to one of my younger siblings before moving it to the back of my shelf. This was so I could escape reading what I thought was going to be a 'baby-book.' It turned out I was completely wrong. I read this book when I was 12 and thoroughly enjoyed it. However I think its probably best read at 9-12 years old or as a read aloud. I'd definitely advise you to read it sooner rather than later though so that you can fully appreciate the wonderful inventions and adventures that William Pene Du Bois creates for his characters to experience.

The 21 Balloons starts with a comparison of the two types of journey people can take: one that aims to reach a place in the shortest possible amount of time and the other that aims to take in the beauty of travelling with no regard for how long it'll take to get to your destination. William Waterman Sherman is the kind of man who doesn't care about the length of time it takes him, he just wants some peace and quiet, away from other people after being a teacher for many years. The first few chapters of The 21 Balloons are full of descriptions that build up for the rest of the book. It helps me personally to sympathise better with the main character William Waterman Sherman and understand his responses to different situations. Part of the beauty of this book is the wonderful language and ideas William Pene Du Bois uses to describe things. There are many books that begin similarly to The 21 Balloons and have 'intro's' where the author describes the main character and where they live so that when you read the book you can understand them fully. 

My favourite character in The 21 Balloon is probably the Professor, or William Waterman Sherman as he is also called. I love how different he is from everyone else in his home town and how willing he is to try new things. One thing I find particularly interesting about the Professor name is his name. Most of it actually comes from the full name of the author, William Pène Sherman du Bois. The whole book is about William Waterman Sherman's adventures and how he leaves his home in San Francisco in one giant hot-air balloon before being found floating in the North Atlantic surrounded by 20 giant balloons. After several days rest and recovery the Professor relates how he ended up in the North Atlantic with 20, instead of just one, balloon. Hence the title 21 Balloons. Another thing I really like about the Professor is his thoughtful way of doing things. When preparing his hot air balloon he carefully considers what things are necessary and how to make all his belongings lightweight so that the balloon will rise. For example his mattress was a balloon so that when it was day time it would float to the ceiling instead of taking up space on the floor. The only slightly unrealistic item on the Professor's balloon was the bamboo book case full of books. It does add to the Professor's characters however because it shows that he enjoys reading and learning. 

As a brief conclusion The 21 Balloons is an amazing book. Full of all the kind of adventures and inventions children dream of when they are younger. It's one of those great books you can read again and again when you're older and still enjoy. Finally, remember not to judge this book by its cover! Pick it up and you will experience the wonderful adventures of William Waterman Sherman. 

Off The Shelf Radio- The 21 Balloons 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee

I only started this book because I was studying it for my GCSE, but I'm so glad I did. In fact putting it down was always a bigger battle than picking it up. Harper Lee has an incredible talent for weaving multiple levels into her story, not only are we intrigued by the 'actual' activities in which Scout and her  neighbours are caught up, but also the layers of symbolism underneath. Every childhood memory, game or incident has meaning far above what we would at first imagine- part of the reason I have been able to read it so many times without the story fading in significance.

Having 'To Kill a Mockingbird' on the GCSE English Literature syllabus only encourages me to read the rest of the list, and I am so glad, that despite the rest of my class studying 'Of Mice and Men', I choose to do Harper Lee's famous classic. Don't get me wrong, 'Of Mice and Men' is an incredible book as well, but in terms of studying 'To Kill a Mockingbird' is that bit more challenging, and. therefore, more rewarding in the end.

'To Kill a Mockingbird' has amazing historical significance within the plot itself as well as in Harper Lee's own experiences before and after she published her book. She uses the experiences of three young children, narrated by Scout, the youngest, to bring to light the racism and injustice that was going on in America and around the world at the time. Scout's development from innocence and curiosity to the firm assurance that all men are created equal by God is incredible and heart warming,

One thing that I would say is, don't spend the whole first half of the book waiting for the climax. Enjoy the stories' growth and the development of the characters and setting. It is in the beginning that you find the most symbolism, and this is where most of the story's eventual climax is explained. This story isn't a fast paced novel that will keep you on the edge of your seat, but it is the amazing story of a town's prejudices fought against, sometimes unintentionally, by a nine year old girl.

The truth is that sometimes it takes a child's unwavering belief to make adults understand.

NB. If you are studying this book for GCSE don't make the mistake of just reading the study notes- they might get you through the exam but they won't give the essence of what this story is about.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes- the name we all associate with 221 Baker Street, blockbuster films and, more recently, the BBC series staring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. If we're honest I don't think any of us think of the books by Arthur Conyan Doyle first, if you do I give you a round of applause.

I am a great fan of all things Sherlocky, as most of my friends and family would probably tell you. Not so much that I am constantly talking about Sherlock Holmes, but enough that, when in London, I convinced my friends to walk up to 221 Baker Street. Let me tell you now, it is a very very long street. Something I probably should have realized from the address. Needless to say my friends were not very impressed, some even wanted to turn around when we got to 21 Baker Street and realized we had a couple hundred more houses to go. I was determined however and we eventually arrived at our destination, to find, much to my disappointment, that it really wasn't that impressive - I have no idea what I'd been expecting - I did get a photo though and pretended, mainly for the benefit of my friends, to be very excited.

There are nine books in the Sherlock Holmes series, they are as follows;

A study in Scarlet
The sign of four
The adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
The Hound of Baskervilles
The Return of Sherlock Holmes
The Valley of Fear
His Last Bow
The Case Book of Sherlock Holmes

The first Sherlock Holmes adventure I read was The Speckled Band, and that is when my love for the Sherlock stories began. Of course I'd heard about Sherlock Holmes before but I had never really wanted to read it or had any particular interest in it. Then, after watching The Study in Pink on TV I decided to start reading 'The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,' Even though it wasn't the first in the series I found that it didn't matter because the mysteries were almost completely stand alone and not in chronological order.

I can't say much about the book series as a whole as I have only read one book and only a half of it at that, but the one thing that caught me about Arthur Conan Doyle's style is how cleverly he manages to confuse the readers and disable us from making conclusions before Sherlock presents his, extremely logical and apparently 'obvious' observations. Most mysteries present the reader with clues unknown to the characters in the book, with Sherlock Holmes its different, he knows everything whilst the reader is still in the dark waiting his explanation. This role is shared by John Watson and it is his train of thought we follow and not Sherlock's. This technique might differ in other books but as I haven't yet read them I cannot say. 

As a closing note let me strongly encourage you to read the Sherlock Holmes series for yourself, don't rely on the magic of television to accurately portray the genius behind Arthur Conyan Doyle's famous characters. 

The Youngest Girl in The Fifth by Angela Brazil

If you like Malory Towers, Chalet School or any of those sorts of books then you'll like this. Full of pranks, punishments and grades, this shows both Gwen's home and school life, which is something that neither Malory Towers or Chalet School dwells on.

I remember one of the first times I was talking to someone who had been to boarding school. Of course, having read Malory Towers, Chalet School and The Youngest Girl in The Fifth, I thought I knew all about it. Midnight feasts, picnics, swimming by the sea, lessons outdoors, head girls and of course plenty of real-life mysteries just outside the door. But in reality, boarding school is no where near as 'perfect' as in the novels. I must admit I have had no personal experience but from what I have heard midnight feasts certainly don't take place as regularly as one might think.

Despite the slight differences between truth and fiction, I cannot help but enjoy these novels about growing up. The Youngest Girl in The Fifth particularly focuses on themes and issues that can be relevant in 'normal' life. For example, Gwen struggles with feeling left out because she is pushed into the year above. This means that her friends from the year below become jealous and stop speaking to her, and no one in the year above wants to befriend her either because they feel she is too stuck up. This leaves Gwen feeling isolated and alone, especially since her only friend seems to be her worst enemy.

The other interesting aspect of this book is that Gwen doesn't board at school, instead returning home at the end of every school day. This adds another dimension to the story as we get to see Gwen's interaction with her family and friends outside, as well as inside, school. We get to see how Gwen is encouraged to persevere no matter how hard things may seem, and how her family are always there for her to turn to in times of difficulty.

Angela Brazil manages to create a unique book that, although similar to Malory Towers and Chalet school still manages to hold its own and adds a different colour to the classic school story genre. Even though I wouldn't read this book again or necessarily advise reading it, I would say that if you enjoy this type of book it is well worth reading.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Michael Morpurgo

My favourite Michael Morpurgo books are Private Peaceful, War Horse and Waiting for Anya. He manages to make you feel the pain and hardship of the world wars in a vivid and real way bringing you close to the heart of each of the characters. Morpurgo's other books aren't as gripping and I would defiantly advise that if you could only read one of his books it would be War Horse, Private Peaceful or Waiting For Anya.

Toro! Toro!

Toro! Toro! is set in Spain during the civil war and is the story of a young boy and his family. His father breeds bulls for the bull rink and his Uncle is a famous Bull fighter but what Michael doesn't know is that the bulls don't always survive.

This book is sad but I think that in the end so many members of his family die abruptly and without the reader having any attachment to them that it isn't very emotional. I think this is partly because I was too old for it and also because Michael Morpurgo's other books are so engaging and emotional.

The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips
This was a very interesting story about a girl in one of the world wars. It's not Private Peaceful or War Horse but it is gripping and the fact it is about a little girl and a cat makes it very different from anything else Morpurgo has written.

This story shows the way people at home in England were effected in a very dramatic and effective way, this little girl is not affected by real bombs and guns but instead by the bombs the soldiers used to practice. She is confronted with her own small war.

King of the Cloud Forests
This was the first fantasy/fact book that I had read by Michael Morpurgo and to be honest it isn't that good. The plot line is interesting but the emotions and resolution aren't captivating and unlike his other books

Michael lives with his father and uncle Sung in China peacefully enough until the outbreak of war. Japanese bombers constantly threaten them and there are others who hate missionaries and only need a little push before they become violent as well.

King of the Cloud Forests is a good relaxing read but there are plenty of better Michael Morpurgo books worth reading.

Why the Wales Came
Michael Morpurgo's books are generally to do with war or animals, sometimes he incorporates the two. My favourite Michael Morpurgo book has to be either War Horse or Private Peaceful both of which are very emotional and made me burst into tears. Why the Wales Came is another book that involves both war and animals but neither of them are involved directly.

Samson is haunted, no one knows by what or who, but it is. No one's tested it, no one needs too, they all know they have to stay away. They also keep as far away from the Birdman as possible, he isn't normal, they think he made the curse. That's why when Gracie and David go to play with their boats on his part of the island they can't tell anyone.

This book is a great break from anything more challenging you might be reading, for example Arabian Nights or The Wouldbegoods.

The Hawk that Dare Not Hunt By Day by Scott O'Dell

Far from being anything to do with Hawks this book tells the tale of William Tyndale and how the first English bible made it's way into England. Following young Tom Barton and his uncle Jack this book describes the dangers and trials not only of getting the bible into the country but also of how the ordinary folks were treated by their seniors. The bible was purposely in Latin so that everyday people could be fooled into believing things that weren't actually in the bible. Tyndale's work gave everyone the opportunity to read God's word for themselves and changed the way England worked.

Scott O'Dell manages to twist fact with fiction to create a story that is both informative and interesting. The fictional characters he adds to the story are so well blended that it is hard to tell which are true and which false. My favourite thing about this story is that it brings this period of history alive in a way history books don't.

By far the most interesting character in this book is William Tyndale, he is willing to sacrifice his life for his work, nothing is more important to him than giving the bible to all people. Translating the bible into English changed England dramatically and the King and important people within the church new this and that is why they didn't want Tyndale's work to continue. Continually on the run from his persecutors William Tyndale's life was always endangered but he still persevered.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas by John Boyne

The truths behind this book are tragic, the meaning horrific, the story line gripping. Throughout the whole book you know what is going to happen, you wait for it, expecting it but still dreading the conclusion, it isn't a surprise but it is terrible.

Bruno is extremely easy to sympathise with because of his childish character but I also tended to get annoyed with him because he was so unaware of what was going on. Even when he meets Shmuel and sees the horrible way he is treated and how he lives Bruno still doesn't realise what is going on and neither does Shmuel. The innocence and complete unawareness of the two children is what creates the tension and emotions of the book and the injustice of war the concentration camp is shown through their confusion and mistakes.

When I read this I was gripped by how real John Boyne makes his book. Every moment of betrayal and cruelty is brought home by the innocence of the two children and their misunderstanding. The ultimate trust they have in each other is amazing and John Boyne captures Bruno's unwavering trust in his father, a man so horrible and yet of whom he is proud. This book is well worth reading and I sincerely recommend the film when you finish.

The film follows the book almost perfectly, nothing is changed, because nothing needs to be, John Boyne's book is so complete that to change anything new would be to loose some of the innocence or the emotion that he has managed to create. The film does add to the readers understanding and show you clues to what is coming but more or less it is exactly the same as the book.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

The Road To Camlann by Rosemary Sutcliff

This is the third in the Rosemary Sutcliff Series about King Arthur and the knights of the round table but it doesn't matter what order you read them in. I haven't read any of the other Rosemary Sutcliff books in this series but I still really enjoyed this book because I already knew a lot about Arthur and because the story is more or less stand alone.

The Quest for the Holy Grail is over and their are only a few of Arthur's best knights left. These are the days when darkness begins creeping in and Arthurs long forgotten sin is finally remembered. Arthurs destruction always makes me cry, he is such a kind warm hearted man and yet he suffers the worst things anyone could imagine. His wife, son and best friends are divided against him and things that seemed long forgotten are brought to light. The worst betrayal is that of Lancelot, he is my favourite of Arthurs knights but although he tries to withstand it he is Arthurs ultimate downfall- the weakness, the only way to penetrate the round table from outside and bring about the end of Camelot.

If you enjoy stories about King Arthur another really good book to read is The Once and Future King by T. H. White which begins when Arthur is a young boy and ends at the destruction of the round table. There are many different books about King Arthur all with slightly different variations but my favourites are the ones by Rosemary Sutcliff and the ones by T. H. White.

I won't say any more, you must read them for yourself and find out. All I will say is that I really enjoy stories about King Arthur and his knights and Rosemary Sutcliff writes about them particularly well.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Emily of New Moon by L.M.Montgomery

I really enjoyed Emily of New Moon because I can empathise with her ambitions, hopes and dreams, I felt in her the same kindred spirit and desire to succeed that is in my all time favourite Anne Shirley. L. M. Montgomery creates people and places that will stay with you whatever age you are and if you're like me she will make you cry buckets so make sure you keep some tissues nearby!

Emily is a passionate head strong dreamer with a stroke of Murray pride. I find her very easy to sympathise with because she is by no means perfect, in fact she is headstrong at times as well as being occasionally unforgiving. There are four of them in the gang Perry, Isle, Teddy and Emily, all of them have big dreams. Perry dreams of being a member of parliament, Ilse wants to be a public speaker, Teddy wants to paint and Emily wants to write. The only problem is Perry is a farm help, Teddy's mother doesn't want him to paint, Ilse's father doesn't love her and Emily is forbidden to write, so they each have to go the long route up the 'alpine path.'

I would strongly advise reading Emily of New Moon as well as Anne of Green Gables even though it is very similar because it is aimed at slightly older children. Emily is really easy to empathise with throughout the book as she struggles to fulfil her potential.  Her character is realistic and as someone who's currently fighting their way through the maze of full time education as well as juggling a million and one extra curriculum activities I can find myself stuck with the same kind of problems Emily gets stuck in, the most common, doubting myself. 

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Secret Henhouse Theatre by Helen Peters

All they need is a theatre, they have a play, actors everything, but a theatre and that is what they need to enter, then they find the henhouse. Hannah and Lottie are best friends, Hannah helps Lottie with her spelling and Lottie helps Hannah with maths everything seems perfect until... A strange man in a black suite keeps turning up at Hannah's farm, her poem doesn't win and then just as she thinks things can't possibly get any worse their rent blows up, literally. Hannah decides its time for her to take the stage.

Helen Peters creates realistic characters that the readers can empathise with and connect with throughout the book. I felt especially connected to Hannah because I'm very similar to her, I like story writing and acting but I'm awful at maths. The best thing about this book is that it is so realistic and that different characters can relate and appeal to readers in an inspirational way. I have only read this once but I would defiantly read it again.

There is nothing more that I can say about this book without spoiling it for you but it is worth reading. Helen Peters has a beautiful style of writing that makes you feel part of the story, experiencing all of Hannah's troubles and joys.

Little Lord Fauntelroy by Frances Hodgson

Little Lord Fauntleroy is a classic and is well worth reading. At first it might seem a bit 'old fashioned' or maybe even 'dull' but it does get a lot better and it is worth persevering for the ending.

An American boy wakes up one morning and finds out he's an English earl. This comes as a shock because he spends every morning talking to a grocery shop owner who hates earls and England. His grandfather, who hates all American's, finally sends for him to come to England when both of his older sons die leaving Cedric the rightful heir. At first the old earl tries to spoil Little Lord Fauntleroy but he soon discovers that it isn't possible. Not only is Little Lord Fauntleroy the only person to have ever loved the earl but the earl finds himself loving the little boy back. Slowly his heart begins to warm up and all the little things he does for everyone at Cedric's request become things he enjoys and
things he thinks of himself.

When I read this book I was struck at Little Lord Fauntleroy's innocence and love. He was spoilt and petted but that didn't ruin him, he still remembered his mother and the other people around him. He never seems to be cross, or tried, or want his own way, even when his mother is taken away from him and he is forced to live with his grumpy grandfather he doesn't notice but instead looks up to the old man as a father.

One thing that irritated me about this book is that Cedric is so extraordinarily good. He is a perfect child, never getting cross or throwing tantrums, loving everyone he meets. The same sort of character is portrayed in many of the old classics although perhaps not as dramatically. For example Pollyanna, even though she does get into trouble occasionally it's never really her fault, she is usually trying to help someone else. This character can be annoying because 7 year olds aren't usually going to turn down a whole nursery full of toys and give to the poor instead etc.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Little Men by Louisa M. Alcott

Little Men is the third book in a series by Louisa M. Alcott about the March Family. It would
spoil it if I told too much about Little Men so instead I will start with Little Women. Little
Women is a classic and you should ignore anyone who tells you not to read it. You might find the
beginning a little bit dull but stick at it because it really does get better! My mum read me
little Women as a read aloud and we both really enjoyed it. Louisa M. Alcott really manages to
bring the reader into the family, so that you feel you are one of the March family.

There is a film called Little Women that goes through the first two books mainly focusing on the
second book and the love life of the March girls. So if you would like to watch the film and are
also planning to read the book read the book first so that the film doesn't spoil everything.
Because once you have watched the film you won't be able to make up how the characters look or
act any more you will imagine them the way that the film director imagined them.

Good-Bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton

This is one of those rare times when I must say that the film far outgoes the book, in fact Good-bye Mr. Chips is one of those exceedingly frustrating books that takes only an hour or so to read but when you've finished it you still don't know much about the characters. James Hilton gives only the most important facts of Mr Chips life so that you get a broad overlook but it is so to the point that there is no real emotion. This differs greatly from the film, which dwells more on his teaching days and the loses Mr Chips faces enhancing the emotional value.

I don't want to put you completely off the book, it is worth reading, however, I didn't enjoy it very much and found it a struggle to get through, possibly this was because I had watched the film first and consequently was expecting the same level of emotions.

Good-Bye, Mr Chips is about an old retired teacher who spends much of his time recalling previous events throughout his life in front of the fire. Although the story is continually jumping from past to present showing snippets of his life as a teacher at Brookfield Grammar School and his time in retirement James Hilton manages to display clearly whether it is a memory or Mr Chips in the present. The story is based around World War I with many teachers and students falling on the battle field, whilst, the main character himself remains at the school out living many of his students. The main emotion in this book is when Mr Chips reads out the list of those who died on the battlefield many of whom he remembers personally whilst other younger students and masters have no clue.

James Hilton leaves a lot of room for imagination in his book. He gives the main structure and outline of his story but leaves room for you to fill the gaps with your own imagination. I particularly noticed this when Mr Chips talks about 'his boys' and reads the lists of those who went to war. James Hilton doesn't describe each of the boys and what they did instead he lets us do that bit, all we know is that they are Mr Chips' boys and he remembers every single one of them!

 Looking back at the book now I am glad that I read it but whilst reading it, it can seem a bit dull. All I can say is persevere- it is worth it and I defiantly advise to watch it afterwards because it gives you a better sense of what the book is all about and fills in the gaps of Mr Chips life.

Tennis Shoes by Noel Streatfield

If you read the title and think of shoes, STOP! This book is nothing to do with shoes! You can take it for granted that everyone in this book will be wearing shoes at some point or other but a whole book describing people wearing shoes would be quite boring. No! This book is about tennis! So maybe a better title would be Tennis Racket but this is a good example of not judging a book by its title/ cover.

When I read this book I did not find it as exciting as Noel Streatfields other books, perhaps because tennis is not my thing or maybe because this story isn't as captivating as Noel Streatfields other books but that doesn't mean that it isn't worth reading. The things that happen to Susan, John, David and Nicky are funny, emotional and inspiring, all of which are needed for a believable book.

Susan works hard, John swims, David sings and Nicky doesn't seem to do anything but all of them can play tennis. It all started with a tennis house, not an actual house, a piggybank shaped like a house which they called the tennis house. The money saved up in the tennis house was used for everything the children needed to do with tennis, rackets, tournaments, lessons, etc. and everyone was meant to donate a certain amount per week, even David.

After just recently having got back from Wimbledon I  have a slightly different view of this book and understand why it ends as it does. Competition is hard and to win players need to have a talent, a passion and a will to work hard all three need to go together to be a champion, of course good players can be made from just two or even one of these attributes but to really succeed you need all three. For me tennis was first made exciting when I went to watch it live in Wimbledon, the excitment of the crowds, the fact that the players were only meters away from you and even the silence and the sound of the ball as it moved across the court was exhilarating.

Friday, 10 January 2014

Malory Towers by Enid Blyton

Enid Blyton books are easy to understand and have nice simple vocabulary so if you find reading difficult then these are great to get you started. There are a lot of other books similar to Malory towers for example: Chalet School by Elinor M. Brent- Dyer and St. Claire's also by Enid Blyton. All of these novels are easy reads and are great to read in between reading harder books.  Another reason these are so good to have around is because they can be read in any order which means you don't have to wait until you have all of them to read them, you could pick them up in a charity shop or the library.

Out of all of these Chalet School is probably my favourite because a lot more happens. Unlike any of the other schools the Chalet School is a boarding school up on a mountain and instead of other 'normal' subjects they do things like skiing, ice skating and long walks in the snow. Of course all the schools have their accidents, quarrels and pranks but I think overall Chalet school is the more interesting story.

Enid Blyton has written a lot of mystery, fantasy and action books but she is just as good at writing about a nice settled school. Malory towers has its thieves, bullies and invalideds but this doesn't stop the girls from having fun. Jokes are extremely popular and Alicia, the clown, is always playing new pranks. Midnight feasts occur regularly and a midnight swim seems a good idea, until it ends in complete disaster. St Claire's is very  similar to Malory towers so I don't think I need to say much about it except, watch out for the twins!