Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Title: The Phantom Tollbooth
Author/Illustrator: Norton Juster/Jules Feiffer
ISBN: 978-0-375-86903-7

In a nutshell
The Phantom Tollbooth is about a boy who was bored with life. 'When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in. On the way he thought about coming home, and coming home he thought about going.' Everything, to 10-year-old Milo was dull and 'a waste of time' as he 'can't see the point in learning to solve useless problems, or subtracting turnips from turnips, or knowing where Ethiopia is or how to spell February,' until one day he noticed something peculiar in his room - an enormous package, the biggest he had ever seen, and on it a bright-blue envelope that said "FOR MILO, WHO HAS PLENTY OF TIME."

It was a purple turnpike tollbooth - the start to Milo's amusing, eye-opening, life-changing adventures. With a destination he picked from the map he was given and the electric automobile from his bedroom, Milo set off to an unknown land, joined by a watchdog named Tock (who has a large ticking clock on his body. Literally a watchdog lol) and a bug named Humbug.

What I liked/enjoyed: 
I really enjoyed the author's knack for words which he displayed in so many ways.

Funny but true facts
Milo was first introduced to Humbug in Market Place in Dictionopolis. Humbug's introduction was this: "We're an old and noble family, honorable to the core. Why, we fought in the crusades with Richard the Lion Heart, crossed the Atlantic with Columbus, blazed trails with the pioneers, and today many members of the family hold prominent government positions throughout the world. History is full of Humbugs." Is that funny or what! :D

Wonder of Words
After arriving in Dictionopolis, Milo and his friends were asked what they wanted for dinner, they said 'a light meal' and out came platters of bright-colored lights that leapt from the plates and bounced around the ceiling! What a sight!

He also caused quite a ruckus at Market Place which caught Short Shrift's attention, who decided to give him a sentence. He asked Milo if he preferred a long or short sentence. Milo picked the obvious. The Short Shrift (who was now in his 'judge' robe, because only a judge can give a sentence) said, "How about 'I am'? That's the shortest sentence I know." LOL

Life lessons
In the Island of Conclusions, Milo wondered out loud how they got here, to which he was told, "You jumped, of course." And that "every time you decide something without having good reason, you jump to Conclusions whether you like it or not." Mind you, that island ain't pretty and getting back to where you came from "is not so easy." How's that for jumping to conclusions!

I like this life lesson the best:
"...but if we'd told you then (the quest of saving Princess Rhyme and Princess Reason), you might not have gone - and as you've discovered, so many things are possible just as long as you don't know they're impossible," for 'impossible' can be derived from the words, I'm Possible.

If life takes a different turn, embrace it! “Things which are equally bad and also equally good. Try to look at the bright side of things.” And it's okay to make mistakes along the way, for mistakes learned are experiences earned.

This is such a great book for the young and young at heart. It is fun, funny and witty. It's great entertainment and life lessons packed into one book.

I'm definitely getting a copy of this book for myself ;D

Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Title/Author:  The Complete Persepolis/Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Pantheon 
Pages: 341
ISBN: 978-0-375-71483-2 

My verdict: 4/5

In a nutshell
Persepolis (Persia in Greek) is about the author's life growing up as a child in Iran in the 1970s. Her memoir started from the time when she was 10, living and surviving a troubling time in her country. The Islamic Revolution took place and all females were required to wear veils, a far cry from what she was used to, being educated at a French non-religious school, which was later divided into schools for boys and girls. Jewelry weren't allowed, women must be covered from head to toe, no Western music and so forth. 

Being the only child of outspoken revolutionaries, strict rules like these don't sit well with Marjane. Her rebellious and outspoken nature always put her in danger. She was then sent to live in Austria, hoping there, she could live freely. As it turned out, living there had its humps and bumps too. She found friends, lost some, met a few mr rights, became a drug dealer, a druggie, a waitress, and at times getting herself tangled in challenging situations, even to the point of losing a place to stay. Almost as though God heard her cry for help, she received a call from her parents asking her if she wanted to return home. She knew she must and wanted to desperately.

Home wasn't all that rosy either after spending all those years abroad. She carried so much guilt in her, in that she did nothing in Austria that could make her parents. She became depressed. She attempted suicide and when it failed she decided to take charge of her life. She confronted her fears by staying true to herself which earned her respect from friends who thought alike. She also found what she thought true love at 21, and got married. But things took a different turn, leading to leave for France at 24.

What I enjoyed
I didn't think I'd enjoy a graphic novel this much. Maybe because Marjane had had an interesting childhood. Yes indeed her book is dark, raw and real, at times violent and vulgar, but it is also funny and entertaining. Sealing these elements while making this a thought-provoking read (it makes one question authority, class structures, rules, racism, gender) is a challenge but Marjane succeeded at it. It's a little like watching a Quentin Tarantino's movie (only much less violent and bloody), which combined humor and violence. 

I like how she used humor in her drawings and in bringing her message across. I'm thinking either because she's a funny person or she wanted to use humor to discuss a serious issue, a technique which I find most standup comedians use a lot. 'Every situation offered an opportunity for laughs...' she mentioned in her book. 

My favorite characters are definitely the dad and grandma. When she was young, they encouraged her curious nature, they allowed her to be in the company of adults and 'participate' in their discussions, giving her a deeper and wider perspective of what's going on in their country. I love Marjane too. She's not afraid to be herself and to stand up for her rights. Her rebellious nature gave her a voice, and drew birds of the same feather to her when she was studying overseas.

This is my very first graphic novel and I enjoyed it. It's educational (to me at least) as it is entertaining. Reading it made me realize once again the importance of knowledge and education. Living in ignorance can make one vulnerable to being manipulated by those in power. 

I do wonder though, if the book will have the same effect if it were written without the graphics...

Book Bite
It's a banned in Chicago Public Schools. I still don't get why they banned this book because it contains "graphic language and images." This reason is so laughable. Kids these days can access 'graphic language and images' anywhere on the Internet. This book is such a great source for teachers to encourage discussion; kids can be taught critical thinking, making sound judgments and most importantly, be in the know. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Snow Flower and The Secret Fan by Lisa See

Yep! I am back after a lengthy hiatus! Haha! So here's my first 2014 review :)

My verdict: 4/5

In a nutshell:
This story revolves around the lives of two friends, Lily and Snow Flower, brought together by a matchmaker with a selfish intention. Their friendship, a very unique one in fact, is called Lao tong (same olds), was bound by a contract, which then bloomed into love. Their matchmaker believed that they're perfect for each other because all their BaZi (8 characters) matched. Thus begun a friendship strengthened by messages written in paper fans, in a secret language called nu shu, a unique writing that Chinese women created to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men. 

What I enjoyed:
Lisa See had all the elements of a good read in this book. Its main characters were true to themselves, materials were well researched and its plot was a page-turner. I didn't have a favorite character but Lily, the narrator, stood out to me. She was a believer in upholding rules and traditions, and she saw the world in black and white, while Snow Flower was the total opposite. This was a blessing and a curse in their friendship, because it brought them together and almost tore them apart.

The plot thickened when Lily realized how much Snow Flower had been hiding from her all these years. How much can she really trust Snow Flower? Did this Lao tong relationship mean anything to her at all? Or had she been blinded by love? One would not be able to feel all of Lily's emotions - the frustration, confusion and devastation had the character not been developed so brilliantly. I wonder if the tone of the story would be different if it were written from Snow Flower's point of view too.

Lisa See's meticulous research can be seen throughout the entire story. I've learned a lot and I'm deeply fascinated about this foot-binding tradition that existed thousands of years ago. Imagine, the worth of a woman then, was literally bound to her feet! Her toes were crushed and bent towards the heel to achieve a perfect size (7 centimeters) and a beautiful lotus shape, bringing the meaning of 'no pain no gain' to a whole new level. Gosh! Just the mere thought of it makes me cringe! 

Life for a married woman was about fulfilling their duties as a daughter, wife, daughter-in-law in the upstairs chamber where women spent their time together doing their daily chores and/learning new skills like writing nu shu. Nu shu allowed them to share secrets and created a very special and intimate bond between the women. This goes to show communication has always been and will always be the core of survival. No man is an island. We need one another. 

I've never heard of the lao-tong relationship until I read Snow Flower. This relationship started from the moment women's feet were bound till death do them part. Because their lives were confined in the walls of their natal home, the lao tong relationship gave the women an outlet to be themselves, share secrets and a life beyond their upstairs chamber. It's different from a sworn sisterhood which was made out of several girls and ceased at marriage. A lao tong is between two women and it lasts a lifetime. Not every woman is privileged to have a lao tong. I don't have a lao tong, but I have a lao gong, and we're bound by our love for each other and God :)

I absolutely enjoyed reading every page. Thank you for being such a great companion, Snow Flower and The Secret Fan. Till we meet again.

Latest update:
I attended an event called 'An Evening with Lisa See' organized by our local library, and it was fantastic! Lisa See is such a great speaker as she is an author! She is funny, witty and spontaneous. Her vast knowledge on foot binding and nu shu increased my fascination of the two cultures. I can't wait to read her other books!

Thanks again for coming Lisa See!

Friday, March 1, 2013

Freddie and the Fairy Post-Reading activities

I've reviewed this book before about 2 years ago. Click here for it. This time round, I'm adding an activity to complete the entire reading/literacy session which I did with a new group of children age 4 - 6 years old.

Read-aloud: Identify the rhyming words with the children, while going back and forth to help them remember what Freddie wished for and what Bessie Belle conjured up for him instead. It is also to get them into the flow of rhyming.

Activity: Create your own post-reading activity. I just did a simple one by asking them again what Freddie wished for; why the fairy kept getting it wrong; what were the 3 rules for Freddie - is it important for us to do that too? and so forth.

Art & literacy: Think of something you'd like to wish for when you see Bessie Belle and what she might conjure up if you didn't say it properly. Draw.

Some interesting ones my kids came up with:
1) School - Tool
2) Baby shark - Mark on his face
3) Toy - toys 
4) Hat - bat

They had fun doing it because they thought it was pretty hilarious when they came up with the 'wrong' wishes :) Hope you'll have fun with this too!


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