Thursday, 26 July 2012

Room 13

This is the third book the group have read, which could be styled as 'gothic horror', and they were keen to debate its merits against the others we have read. Some discussion about whether a vampire story and 'Hush, Hush' do in fact belong to the same genre took place, and I'm resolving it here by using the term 'gothic'.

This book is not a contemporary 'gothic' novel. First published in 1989, the 'present day' setting of the novel is by now dated, and as a result the children struggled because the characters to them appeared naive and unreal. This became a major barrier to enjoyment for them all. Issues like the absence of swearing in their speech were highlighted. The 'bad boys' in the school party seemed ridiculously innocent compared with those our kids have experienced. 

In terms of plot they found it a bit predictable, and the methods employed to kill the inevitable vampire, absurd. 

In the end it was agreed that the book offered a light read, that was good enough. 

On the other hand I found the book quite charming, depicting school life as I remembered it....but then, I have always been naive.

The Family from One End Street

This is a children's classic. Favourite apparently of my mum when she was a girl. The response of the children in book club to the book was mixed, though the parents all liked it. My own youngster wouldn't stick with it. He found the format a challenge. The book isn't structured as a novel is. Each chapter is a short story about one of the children from the Ruggles family. This works very well for bed time reading, but my youngest was looking for a longer, more involved narrative, apparently. I'm pleased to say other children loved it.

It's interesting to note that the book was shunned by several publishers before it finally made it to press in 1937. It was considered 'innovative' and 'groundbreaking' for its portrayal of a working class family.

It would have been interesting to talk with the group about differences between children growing up then compared to now. But since it was the last book club of the term, we had a 1930's style children's party instead. Call it living history!

So, we played party games with strange names like 'puss in the corner', ate food supplied by the families, including rock cakes and ginger beer, and I played a gramophone recording of 'The Lion and Albert', and some dance music of the era, on my actual gramophone. All in all it was rather jolly. The noise and mayhem looked very much like a party scene from a 'Just William' book. 

I realised as I stood back from the merriment, that this bookclub is now almost all boys aged around 9....comparisons with Just William seem very fitting.

Friday, 13 July 2012

Holes by Louis Sachar

I generally have no involvement in the selection of titles for bookclub. This is deliberate; I don't want the responsibility for an unpopular book. But this was an exception. We borrowed 'Holes' from the library for my kids to read; and I couldn't put it down. Since they wouldn't even pick it up, I knew it would have to come home again via bookclub.

I think this is a genuinely brilliant book. It unfolds with a number of different and unusual stories, whose threads gradually come together in a very extraordinary way. I was pleased that the group all agreed on it's merits, and rated it very highly.

In addition to an unusual narrative structure, great characters, sense of place, sense of heat, this book also allows you to think about serious issues, without the issues being what the book is about. I couldn't ask for more from a teen read really.

Here's what one of my enthusiastic readers thinks:

Holes is an excellent story with everything you would expect and more happening with each turn of a page. Set part modern day and part in the past (sorry I can’t remember exactly when) the story is about a kid who finds an athlete’s trainers drop from the sky. From then on his life goes from bad to worse. He gets arrested and thrown into a camp were kids must dig holes in the ground to teach them discipline. At least that’s what the staff tell them. The kids have got to discover the secret before it’s too late and they have to go home.

Friday, 6 July 2012

Mr Gum and the Cherry Tree

This book had a mixed reception from the group, as often happens with humorous books. Some of us agreed that this is ideally a read-aloud book; we found the language and humour so playful that it worked best with voices, adding to the silliness. 

Realising that this book is one of a series, all set in the fictional (thank goodness) location of Lamonic Bibber, I thought it might be interesting to map the location, using any knowledge children had of the other books. So, beginning with  brainstorm of places from this book, we then began to draw and cut out our landmarks, and to debate where to place them on our 3d map.

It was great to see how the group ran with this idea. Some wanted to illustrate events from the book, like the appearance of the real Runtus, others wanted to get the geography right. I loved watching the way this took on a life of it's own, and allowed everyone to participate in their own way.