Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Lack of Reading Culture

Did anybody read the front page of the Borneo Bulletin on Monday? If so, you may have noticed this:

Wow. That was a very bold statement by the Director of Social Services in the country.

Things are changing, though. Aren't they girls? The next generation - you - are going to be different. Our school is filled with booklovers. Sure, some of the girls are only now discovering the enjoyment that a book can bring, but our school's reading culture is growing very rapidly.

Each yeargroup seems to get stronger. Yes, the form six girls who have just left the school were good readers, but the form fives and the year nines are amazing. The upper secondary girls can't wait to get into the SRR. Books are being passed from one girl to another within classes. Some girls are reading a book a day.
I've said it before and I'll say it again - there are more pages being read at our school than at any other school in the country. And we will see it in school results very, very soon. Mark my words, within the next few years our girls will surpass even Maktab Sains in English O Level results.

Keep on reading girls! It is fun to read and it will make a world of difference for your success in the future!

And when you get older and become a mother, please promise me you will read to your children. Perhaps ten years from now the Borneo Bulletin headline will read something like this:


Wednesday, 17 February 2010

The Girl With a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier

Who is this girl?

Is she smiling?

Where did she get that fancy earring?

Why is she surrounded by black?

Why is her body turned away?

Is she keeping a secret from us?

What is she waiting for?

What is she thinking?

Last week the literature students and I took some time off our usual lit study (Anita Desai's short stories to be exact) and we had a look at this Vermeer painting.

I was amazed with what the girls were able to come up with. They thought of a number of explanations for the questions above and they had a lot of interesting ideas regarding the expression on the girl's face.

From what I can gather, it seems this painting is a bit of a mystery. Nobody really knows who the girl is or what her story is. In fact, I found that when I looked at Vermeer's other paintings that this one is quite unique. It was highly unusual for him to paint only the head and shoulders in a portrait and this is his only painting with a black background (I think).

I asked my students to imagine if they were to write a novel about this girl's life. What would they write? Who would she be? What would be their explanation for the woman's unusual expression, her clothes, and her possession of a very valuable pearl.

Actually, it has already been done. Tracy Chevalier explored the painting with her book The Girl With A Pearl Earring.

Like the painting on its front cover, Chevalier's novel is a beautiful work of art. She captures the personality and language of a poor tradesman's daughter who has no choice but to take work as a maid for the wealthy family of a master painter. Chevalier's girl, Griet, is wonderfully sweet and innocent, but she also sees things with a cleverness and insight that often startles those around her. As a reader, it is great fun to experience the story through her eyes.

My favourite parts of the book involve the descriptions of the paintings and Griet's reactions to them. I liked that Chevalier gave her narrator an artistic sensibility so she could really "see" the paintings. Griet has an innate understanding of composition and is able, in her simple language, to explain the paintings to us. She even guesses at missing pieces before the painter himself can discover them. I also enjoyed the fact that Chevalier incorporated a number of other Vermeer paintings into the story and so a quick search on the Internet will provide you with a visual representation of elements in the story.

Of course the story culminates in the painting of the narrator. It builds and creates for us an explanation of the painting. You and I may have imagined a different story for the painting, but Chevalier's is a good one too.

For students who are interested in reading something a bit mature and are ready to make the leap from teen novels to something with a bit of substance, this would be a good book. The language is that of a "simple" maid so it isn't too difficult to read. At the same time, it is the type of book that would be classified as "literature" and therefore worthy of study and likely to bring you to a greater understanding of the world if you take your time with it and give it a bit of consideration.

I'd like to discuss this book at length, but I think it is probably best to leave it to the reader to enjoy. I should warn you, though. This book has some mature content. Chevalier handles it well, as good writers do, but you should be aware that this is a book that is perhaps more suitable for older readers.

To hear an interview with Chevalier about the book you can find it HERE.

5/5 Stars

Monday, 15 February 2010

You Should Visit Steph Su Reads

The girls are always asking me, "What's next?" They want to know what the hot new books are going to be. It's hard to imagine that Twilight only caught on here late in 2008 - three years after it had been published and debuted on the New York Times Best Seller List. That still shocks me.

Anyway, how do you figure out which books are going to be hot? I usually point students in the direction of the teens' top ten list and you can find it HERE. If a book has been nominated for the list or it has won a place on the list, then it is a good bet that you will enjoy reading it. However, there is a lot of lag time between when a book is published and then nominated and then wins a place on the list.

To really figure out what is hot and new, you need to read the blogs of reviewers who are on the cutting edge. You want reviews from bloggers who are reading books before they even get published (ARC's or Advance Reading Copies).

I'd like to recommend you add Steph Su Reads to your weekly Internet surfing. Steph is a 20-year-old literature major, writer, and teen book reviewer from the United States. She is an award winning blogger who writes some of the best book reviews for teen fiction out there. Her writing is clever and fun to read. I also think she has good taste in books. I also enjoy her "coverlust" entries where she talks about interesting and beautiful book covers.

Last year Steph sent us some great new books for the Reading Room including the beautiful new hardcovers The Knife of Never Letting Go, If I Stay, and Fairest. She has also taken time to comment on my blog under "The Study Series" entry (which she highly recommended reading by the way). Even more reasons to be a fan I'd say!

As well, Steph is celebrating her one year "blogoversary" and in doing so she is offering up a bunch of prizes - including books that haven't even been published yet like the new Meg Cabot book which doesn't come out until April! Cool, right? To enter the contest you just need to go HERE.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Our Most Popular Books

For those of you who are looking for a good book to read, you may want to have a look around to see what the other girls are reading. If they are enjoying one, maybe you will enjoy it too!

Here is a list of some of the most popular books in the SRR. This list is just based on my own observations of those that always seem to be out and the ones that are always being requested. If you see one, grab it. It won't last long.

Just a reminder that you must only borrow books for two weeks. Some of these popular ones have disappeared for months while disinterested readers kept them in their bags and didn't finish them.

1. Poison Study (the Form 5's have passed this around)
2. The Hunger Games (amazing book by Collins)
3. PS I love You (and any other Cecilia Ahern book)
4. The Princess Diaries (and any other Meg Cabot book)
5. Shopaholic (and any other Kinsella book)
6. The Notebook (as well as Sparks' A Walk to Remember)
7. House of Night Series (these books are very popular)
8. Just Listen (and any other Sarah Dessen book)
9. Diary of a Wimpy Kid (this is so funny!)
10. The Lovely Bones (often requested, coming soon)
11. Before I Die (Jenny Downham makes you cry)
12. Elsewhere (Zevin's book is also a tear jerker)
13. Twilight (of course, though most girls have read it by now)
14. Goosebumps (funny, interesting, quick book snack)
15. Chicken Soup (great real life stories - more coming soon)
16. Uglies (this Westerfeld series is making the rounds)
17. Inkheart (and any other Funke book)
18. My Sister's Keeper (another popular one)
19. If I have a Wicked Stepmother, Where is My Prince? (everyone likes it)
20. Memoirs of a Teenage Amnesiac (picking up steam)
21. 13 Little Blue Envelopes (always out)

There are a lot of books that take time to catch on. For example, Graceling is the type of book that could become popular quickly. City of Bones and Vampire Acedemy could also become more popular as more and more readers pick them up. As well, last year some books were circulated in certain classes so I didn't see them for months and months - these too could be on our list of popular books.

Is there another book I should add to this list? Have you and your friends enjoyed the same book? Let me know.