Monday, November 29, 2010

Juli, Stargirl & Alaska - three girls who will move you

Flipped, Stargirl and Looking For Alaska - three books that each feature a remarkable, larger-than-life girl, who stands out from the crowd, and has a life-long impact on those around her.

Flipped by Wendelin van Draanen is about two teens, Bryce & Juli, who have lived next to each other since they were 7.  Juli fell in love with Bryce the moment she saw him.  Bryce on the other hand wishes Juli would just leave him alone.  The story is told in both Juli's and Bryce's voices, in alternating chapters.  This in itself is entertaining - the different take the two of them have on the same situation is quite enlightening.  Over the years, Bryce and Juli both come to realise that sometimes first impressions aren't so reliable.  This is a lovely story, filled with humour, well developed characters and a certain truth about it.

Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli tells the story of Stargirl Caraway, an unconventional girl who finds a deep and rewarding joy in making those around her happy.  When she starts attending Mica High (having previously been home schooled) she quickly becomes popular, mostly as a result of her uniqueness.  However, it doesn't take long before she gets offside with the in-crowd, and she is shunned.  The story is narrated by Leo, who is fascinated by Stargirl, and wants to understand what makes her tick.  Leo finds it increasingly difficult to be associated with Stargirl, especially once he too feels the effects of being shunned by the crowd.  
Stargirl provides an interesting commentary on how humans (and no, not just those of the teenage variety) tend to feel happier if they are part of a groups.  And how unpleasant we can often be to those who we don't consider part of 'our group'.

Looking For Alaska by John Green has found a place in my all-time-fave-books list.  This was a debut novel but what a remarkable piece of writing.  The story is narrated by Miles as he transfers to a new boarding school, where he falls in with a group of teens  lead by the enigmatic Alaska.  The story is told in two parts - Before, and After.  Before focuses on the group and their various pranks and antics; After focuses on how the group deals with a tragedy that befalls them.

The characters are skilfully drawn, and achingly real.  It has humour, and pathos, and love, and lust, and tragedy.  It had me laughing as I read one page, then crying just a few short pages later. I loved it.  I felt quite lost when I finished reading it - I didn't want to leave these characters.

These three books are probably often considered to be "coming of age" books, and to be fair, they are aimed at different age groups (Flipped more for the tweens and younger teens; Looking For Alaska young adult and adult; with Stargirl falling somewhere in between) - and yet, as an adult, I found each of them left a little piece with me that I will keep and continue to reflect on.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Books that change your life

Not long ago I blogged that Marcus Zusak's The Book Thief was what I would consider a life-changing book for me.  That got me thinking - is it the book?  Is it the stage in our lives?  Or is it a combination of the two?

If I had read The Book Thief ten years ago (a difficult feat in itself since it hadn't actually been published, but that obvious flaw in my argument aside) - would it have had the same effect on me as it had when I read it last month?

I remember clearly the first time I read The Hobbit - my brother gave it to me for Christmas when I was about 11.  I spent the rest of Christmas Day curled up in Dad's chair, only coming out briefly for pavlova and Mum's Christmas pud.

We all have songs that we associate with different events in our life (I know that Phil Collins' Groovy Kind of Love, which once made me go all dewy eyed, now has the same effect as sticking my finger down my throat), but do we have books that we remember the same way?

I'd love some feedback on this.  What are some of your life-changing books?  And do you ever get nervous about re-reading a life changing book?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Read. This. Book.

I recently finished reading The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak.  It was one of those ones that had been on my list-of-books-I-must-read (which is so long it is practically a book itself) - but I always ended up choosing something else off the list instead.

But wow - what a book!  It is now officially one of the best books I have ever read.  It is beautifully written, second to none.  It is one of those very few books that could be considered life changing.

I never believed I would have sympathy for Death as a character - but I did.  And as for Liesel - I became so caught up in her life - I couldn't stop thinking about her even when I wasn't reading it (my apologies to my work colleagues for the numerous slip ups over the past week or so).

Beg, borrow, buy, dare I say steal, a copy of this book.  You will not regret it.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Max Ruane
1922 - 2010

So long Dad, and thanks for all the books

My Dad passed away last Sunday.  Over the past week I have spent a lot of time thinking about the things that made Dad special.

He had a kind and gentle nature; a great sense of humour; and eyes that sparkled when he laughed.  And he was a great storyteller.  He could do all the voices - you just had to close your eyes and you were there.  I owe my love of books and reading to the treasured times Dad and I shared, exploring books and stories as I was growing up.

Whenever I see a copy of Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories I can hear Dad's voice rumbling "...on the banks of the great, grey-green, greasy Limpopo River; all set about with fever trees."  Some of his other favourites were Mistress Masham's Repose, Gulliver's Travels, and The House at Pooh Corner.

He would regularly recite passages from his favourite stories and poems - with Robert Louis Stevenson's A Child's Garden of Verses;  T S Elliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats and Hilaire Belloc's Cautionary Tales for Children being his favourites to share with me.

He was a man for whom words held a special power.  In his flight log book was a neatly typed copy of the poem High Flight by John Gillespie Magee.  A book which held a special place in his heart was The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.  He carried a small copy of the Rubaiyat in his flying jacket, on every mission he flew for 75 (NZ) Sqn during WW2.  That book was one of his most treasured possessions.

My only regret is that my two children have never really been able to meet the man I knew as my Dad.  You see, Dad suffered from vascular dementia (which has basically the same degenerative effect on the brain and memory as Alzheimer's) and his memory was already failing him before my son was born 11 years ago.  They missed out on those amazing storytelling sessions, and getting to know him as the wonderful, kind-hearted gentleman he was.

I'm sure that by now Dad has found himself a comfy chair, an endless supply of good books, some good bread and cheese, a gin and tonic close at hand, and no doubt a couple of cats to keep him company.

So long Dad.  Ake ake kia kaha.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Review: How To Clean A Hippopotamus by Steve Jenkins & Robin Page

How To Clean A Hippopotamus is a children's non fiction book looking at symbiotic relationships in the animal kingdom.

What a great book!  The information is presented in an entertaining and easily accessible manner, and the amazingly detailed paper collage illustrations are a delight in themselves.

This is a book which would be read again and again, not just as a valuable resource, but for the sheer delight in looking at the fantastic illustrations and reading the animals' stories.

I haven't read any other books by this husband and wife author/illustrator team - but I am certainly on the look out for more now.  Brilliant.

Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Review: Trigger by Susan Vaught

What would drive a young man who seems to have everything - top sportsman, popularity, girls, great grades, a bright future - to kill himself?  Jersey Hatch's parents don't know, his best mate doesn't know, and Jersey himself doesn't know.  But he is determined to find out.  You see - Jersey's suicide attempt failed.  And now, after a year of rehabilitation, scarred, blind in one eye, with a limp, a non-responsive left hand and permanent brain damage...Jersey is deemed ready to go home.  To carry on with his life.

Jersey can't remember anything about the year before he shot himself in the head.  And everything he thinks, tends to come straight out of his mouth, so he blurts out random words like wench, frog farts, sock - this makes most social situations awkward, to say the least.

As Jersey searches for the answer to his burning question, he learns to cope with life in the real world again, and he begins to understand the fallout his actions had on his friends and family.

Susan Vaught weaves a powerful and moving story, tackling a difficult subject with skill and humour.  It will stay with you long after you finish it.

My thanks to Amanda who kept telling me "you must read Trigger, it's really really good"  Thanks Amanda, you were right!

Trigger was also published under the alternate title Blowout

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Review: Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Shiver is basically an overcome-the-odds-love story about a girl and a boy, except that the boy is sometimes a wolf. It is funny, and sad, and romantic, but far from soppy.  The narration switches between Grace and Sam, maintaining a nice balance between the two main characters. Both characters grow and develop throughout the story, and the ending leaves you wanting to know more.  The story seems to have a really earthy feel to it - there is a strong emphasis on the seasons, and many of the descriptions are drawn in sounds and smells as well as images.  You'll be yearning for the great outdoors while reading it!

I love this cover - and I love that
the blue has been carried
through to the color of the text - nice.

One of the best things about this story is that Grace is a strong female character with a backbone, not willing to be run rough-shod over by a bunch of werewolves.

The only thing I found that didn't quite gel was that Grace states she had never really been interested in boys until Sam, but she proves herself to be an accomplished flirt.  Maybe that just serves to illustrate that they really are soul mates, and totally at ease and in love, but to me it just didn't sit quite right.

Shiver is the first of a trilogy.  The second book Linger has just been released, and debuted at number 1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I also thoroughly enjoyed reading Maggie Stiefvater's blog - check it out - she is a woman of many talents.  Need another example?  Here is her book trailer for Linger, not only did she create the stop motion herself, she composed the music too.

Saturday, July 31, 2010

A sure fire way to banish your bad mood

Anyone who has ever watched young children playing battle games with their toys will laugh out loud at the hilarious toy battle scenes in Shark vs Train (written by Chris Barton, illustrated by Tom Lichtenheld).

Each page reveals a different contest - from roasting marshmallows (which Train wins easily) to trick-or-treating (Shark's clown costume is very effective at pulling in the treats: "the clown is very hungry") to playing video games (where Train comments that it "sure would help if we had thumbs").

The illustrations are vibrant, full of action, and the facial expressions are hilarious.

I'd suggest this book for 4-8 year olds, but don't let that restrict you - both my children (aged 10 & 8) thoroughly loved reading it aloud using all sorts of crazy voices as the battles got more intense (between Shark & Train that is!).

Big Rabbit's Bad Mood  (written by Ramona Badescu, illustrated by Delphine Durand) is another great book, with hilariously quirky illustrations.

Big Rabbit has a bad mood with attitude, and it won't leave him alone.  Everything Big Rabbit tries to do is ruined by the "big, bad, hairy mood that stuck to him like glue".  Children will easily relate to this persistently annoying bad mood that lies about on the sofa, eats chips and leaves its boogers on the carpet!  Eventually Big Rabbit takes charge and shows his bad mood the door.

This is a sure fire hit with 3-6 year olds, and anyone else who has ever had a bad mood with attitude.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Ladies, look at me

The Old Spice ads have been going viral on YouTube over the last couple of weeks, and with good reason - they are awesome!  Just in case you have missed them (where have you been??), here is a sample:

Now check out Old Spice Man's tribute to libraries:

And finally here is a version from Brigham Young University

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

A chilling tale

I've been doing a bit of reading lately - shock, horror, I know!  Over the last few months I seem to have been attached at the fingers to my PC, and consequently have done very little reading of actual paper books.  But a long weekend away, coupled with no internet access (I was actually quite concerned that I would go into withdrawal mode) gave me the kickstart I needed to start whittling down the tower of books I have on my bedside table.

First up was Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid's Tale.  

Atwood creates a terrifying and yet totally believable dystopian world – where the population growth rate has fallen well into the negatives and the ability to conceive and deliver a healthy child has become a rare commodity.  Women have become objects, and have been divided into various classes: wives; handmaids; marthas; econowives; and unwomen.  The handmaids are proven fertile women and, during their reproductive years, they are valued commodities.

The book takes the form of a retrospective journal, as Offred, a handmaid, looks back on the events of her life and reminisces about her life ‘before’.  I am ashamed to admit that it took me a good two thirds of the book to realise that each handmaid’s assigned name actually stems from the household they have been placed with – so the narrator Offred, is of Fred’s household.

The situations that Offred and other women in this society find themselves in are truly terrifying.  But it is the notes that form the final chapter that are the most chilling.  Without giving too much away, Offred’s journal is discovered, and forms the basis of a series of lectures by experts on the now/then defunct society.  As I read these ‘lectures’ – I was reminded of how much we need to be aware of humanity’s past  – and how important it is for us to learn from our mistakes.

This is an important, thought provoking book - read it.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Books to movies

There have been some very successful movie adaptations of children's and young adults' books recently - Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief and How To Train Your Dragon are just two that spring to mind.

There have also been some disappointing flops - Inkheart and The Tale of Despereaux - are both wonderfully crafted, rich stories, and both just failed to fire on the big screen.

Others books due to make the transition to film include Tomorrow When The War Began (check out the trailer here), Beezus & Ramona, Legends of the Guardians (based on the first three books of Kathyn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole series) and of course Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

 The Graveyard Book, Judy Moody, Breaking Dawn, Mr Popper's Penguins, and the one I am most looking forward to, Michael Morpurgo's The War Horse are all slated for production inside the next 12-18 months.

 Some books just seem 
perfect for the big screen. Charlie Fletcher's Stoneheart series is a stand out example for me; probably due in part to the fact that Fletcher is an accomplished screen writer already.

Others would be James Patterson's Maximum Ride series. And Robert Muchamore's Cherub series.

What are some titles that you have read that you would love to see at the movies?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

My new toy

Have just been playing around with Zoho Notebook - and I like it!
It is a similar sort of application to Evernote, but on the face of it, it appears to be a bit more user friendly and intuitive than Evernote.  Here is a video showing some of the things you can do.
Any negatives?  Well, the extension for Chrome doesn't work in Google pages, so you can't clip a Google page directly into your notebook from a web page.   You can still put the web page in by adding the URL, it just takes a little bit  longer, and means you are switching from the web page you are viewing, to your notebook.  The extension does work for other websites however, and works well, giving you the options of saving the URL, highlighted text, or a screenshot.
A small drawback is that you don't seem to be able to tweet directly to it, the way you can with Evernote. But that may be just a matter of time.
That is all I have found so far, but I feel the need to explore further.  Uh oh - new toys!

Wandering as lonely as a cloud....

While I do use quite a few applications in the cloud - such as Delicious, LibraryThing, Evernote, Twitter, Picasa Web, Google Reader - I have remained tied to my desktop computer's hard drive when it comes to letters, spreadsheets and reports.  Why?  Not sure - probably haven't felt the need to access such things away from either my home computer or my work one.  Maybe it was a good excuse - "oh, (insert appropriate profanity here) I can't keep working on that assignment now, I don't have access to the file.  Never mind, I'll spend that time checking out what has come in on Google Reader - much more interesting!'  
I also usually have a pen drive with me - so anything I have been working on that I know I need to work on at another computer, has been saved to that.  Having said that, there have been a few times when I have unexpectantly needed to access documents I have been working on elsewhere - only to have to resort to writing myself a note, so I don't forget!  I then promptly forgot where I put the note.  Somewhere safe no doubt.
Time for a change - I have signed up to Zoho. I chose Zoho over Google Docs, mainly due to the excellent reviews I had read.  It was interesting to note that along with the many comments about how good it was, many were wondering how long it will be before Google buys Zoho out!
I have to say, that from what I have seen so far - it's good!  I seem to be able to do all the things I would be able to do using Word and Excel (the programs I use most often).  Zoho Writer (the only one I have used so far) is clearly laid out, and I like the tabbed format (very similar to Word 2007).  I can share documents with others.  And I really do like that I can tag documents.
And, I can post straight to my blog (hopefully - assuming this has post has worked!).  No excuses now!  Yep, I think I am a convert - I have seen the light!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

It's not a widget, but it is much more interesting....

In my current module of CCL Learn I am meant to do a blog post about widgets.  Hmmm, that sounds like a fun read - not!

While I am waiting for inspiration to strike, have a look at this....Anne Frank - The Secret Annex

This is a virtual tour of the secret annex Anne Frank and her family lived in for two years.  Not only does it provide a virtual tour of the tiny spaces they shared, the site has some excellent resources for further study.

Oh, by the way, I put in a couple of widgets - one to follow me on Twitter, and one to bookmark this blog on Delicious - now wasn't the Anne Frank site much more interesting than that?!

Friday, June 4, 2010

Virtual tour of the Sistene Chapel

This is just amazing - a 360 degree virtual tour of the Sistene Chapel.  Take a look, you won't regret it.

There are no words or links, just rotate your view using your mouse.

Thanks to the Bright Ideas blog for this link. 

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Twitter and libraries

Check out this article from the SCIS website on the use of Twitter by libraries Twitter for libraries (and librarians) .

Wellington City Libraries makes good use of Twitter to connect with its customers, while the National Library of New Zealand regularly tweets photos from the library's digital collection.

What are your thoughts on libraries that tweet?  How have they put it to good use for their customers?


Twitter - mention this word and people either roll their eyes in a reaction normally only reserved for a new Justin Bieber song; or they wax lyrical about how great Twitter is and how they didn't know how they made it through each day before Twitter was hatched.  I fall into the second group (despite my daughter's very best efforts to convert me to a Bieber fan - THAT I will easily resist til the day I die).

I have two Twitter accounts - one as thebookwitch and one as, well, something else ( I like to keep my work interests and my fantasy world quite separate!).  As thebookwitch I follow all sorts of interesting people and organisations.  But I'm just a novice - check out some of the people I follow for some good suggestions.  So far today there have been tweets on what libraries will look like in 2015, today in NZ history, Wellington City Libraries' top 10 mystery books, and a test for identifying phishing scams.

Using a client such as TweetDeck or Seesmic is invaluable - it's effectively the same as getting your RSS feeds to your homepage, rather than having to go to each website.  From TweetDeck I can see both of my twitter accounts; any lists I use; I can search; I can tweet from one account, or from the other, or from both; and I can post to Facebook too if I so choose.  And I am just scratching the surface.

To date, I am guilty of being a Twitter lurker, and have done very little tweeting of my own - must rectify that, soon.  In the meantime, who do you follow on Twitter?

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Mixing it in the wiki

Have just finished the wiki section of CCL Learn, and should be feeling totally comfortable with contributing to wikis now.....ummm...not so much. I think it is a case of performance anxiety - what if I do something wrong, what if everyone laughs, why would anyone be interested in what I have to say (although as my friends will tell you, that has never stopped me before).

I guess it is just a case of taking that first step, grabbing the bull by the horns, crossing that bridge, getting out there and mixing those metaphors.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The SLANZA wiki

The School Library Association of New Zealand Aotearoa (SLANZA) has a very handy wiki. It contains all sorts of reading lists along with recommended search engines and tools.


It has a whole raft of lists for different genres, themes and reading levels, and covers both primary and secondary schools.

So, the next time you get a secondary school student asking for a recommendation for a book that meets the Wide Reading criteria for, say prejudice against women, then try checking out this wiki for suggestions.

However, you still need to get them to confirm their choice with English teacher - as some schools have different requirements from others.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Do try this at home

OK, so I'm meant to be doing a post on Flickr, or mashups, or something useful I have learnt over the last few days, but I got a wee bit waylaid.........and I found this.

Matthew Reinhart is a paper engineer, and is one half of the team which produces the amazing Encyclopedia Prehistorica series, and the more recent Encyclopedia Mythologica books. You know, those incredibly complex pop-up books that you look through in bookshops with your jaw resting on the top of your shoes, and wonder to yourself (and often those around you) "how do they create these amazing pop ups?" Ok, so, maybe it's just me that does that.

You can check out his website here Matthew and here Matthew talks about his latest book Gods and Heroes.

But this is the one that caught my attention. In it he gives a quick, on the fly demonstration on how to make your very own pop-up dragon. Watch it - and tell me you don't smile at the face at the end of it!

Nastia Liukin, Olympic All Around Champion 2008

My daughter has this picture of Nastia Liukin on her wall - along with the words "Whether you think you can, or think you can't, you are right"

Competitive gymnastics is hard, hard work - but the physcial and mental skills she is developing, along with her ability to set goals and go after them are invaluable.

And she is growing such great friendships with the rest of her squad, as they share the tough days and the good.

I'm a very proud Mum of my hard working, beautiful daughter.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

RSS feeds and podcasts

A disclaimer....any typos in this post are the result of trying to type over the large, warm, furry body of one of our cats. Monty has decided that my desk is THE place to be this evening - and he has planted himself between me and the keyboard. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it.

I have been using RSS feeds from my favourite websites and blogs for a while now - and I'm a fan! I used to have a slew of favourited websites which I would regularly wade through - now I just sit back and they all come to me. If only I could train my children that well.

I have my feeds sorted into subject folders (namely Book Reviews, Libraries, Social Media & Personal), so that when I go to my home page I can choose which ones I want to look through.

I hadn't searched specifically for RSS feeds or blogs before, so I found it interesting comparing the results between Bloglines, Technorati &

Bloglines was a fail - firstly a broken link, then when I got to the homepage I couldn't go any further without registering - sorry, I like to try before I buy.

Syndic8 came up with some interesting blogs, but Technorati was the winner on the day. I liked that I could see at a glance what the blogs looked like (yes, I admit it, I'm shallow, I'm influenced by the pretty) and the fact that quite a few of the blogs that came up in my search were ones I already follow. And there were some new ones that looked really interesting, so they have been added to my ever-burgeoning feed list.

I'm not so familiar with podcasts - although I have used them in the past. I think I prefer to read rather than be read to (hmmm, perhaps I have control issues?). Or perhaps it's more a time thing - I can quickly skim-read a blog post or article and determine if it is of interest. Listening to a podcast requires more of a commitment. Oh dear - does that imply I also have commitment issues?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

And here it is - my very first blog post!

A very talented friend of mine gave me some very good advice the other day....I had just spent half an hour telling her how nervous I was about presenting part of a Storytime session. Her reply was that if I felt that I couldn't do it, then just pretend to be someone who can...easy!

It seemed like pretty good advice to here I am - pretending to be a blogger :-)