28 May 2011


Locus Focus: Take Fifty-Four

You might have noticed that I completely missed yesterday's Faerie Tale Theatre Production Smackdown post. I'm very sorry about that, and even sorrier that I can't even promise that it will be here next week. =( Due to a bunch of reasons that I don't want to get into, I've decided "to unplug" for a while.

I would have unplugged even earlier, but . . . I was really looking forward to this last Locus Focus post of May. We opened the month with the mythical high school library in The Breakfast Club; I reminded you all of my love of Horror with a look at the lake from which the Friday the 13th franchise rose to spread its evil; and most recently, I wrote of the golden Austria resurrected and frozen in the celluloid of The Sound of Music. Those cover alma mater, Mother Nature and motherland--and I was going to do Sancta Mater Ecclesia today because that's how I roll--but then I couldn't think of a single Catholic movie to feature. (Not that it really matters, as all the "Places of Prayer" settings I did in April mean my triumphalist quota is looking pretty good.)

Besides, I have to announce a Theme Challenge for June! Remember that next month is when I offer one lucky reader the chance to win a book from the Philippines. Predictably enough, it's also when all my Locus Focus settings get to be taken from Philippine literature. Of course, I don't expect any of yours to be--not if I want you hanging around (LOL!)--but I do want to extend the fun. (For, yes, it will be fun!!!) What do you think of a "Foreign Shores" theme in which you pick a setting in a country where you have never been?

26 May 2011


Character Connection 27

This is the last Thursday of May and therefore the last Character Connection post on notable mothers in children's literature. I started this short series with Beverly Cleary's Mrs. Huggins, whom I've loved ever since she told Henry he could bring home a dog he found on the street. Then I wrote about Mrs. Darling, who turns the sentimental tables on child readers of J.M. Barrie's classic novel. Most recently, I made my case for one of my favourite characters of all time, Meg Murry-O'Keefe, whose choice to be a mother of seven is misunderstood by even the writer who created her.

So whom do I have for you today? Read on and find out . . .

25 May 2011


Meet . . . My Latest Bargains!

In an earlier post, I mentioned getting most of my "teaching materials" from used bookstores. I'm lucky to be able to buy them at bargain prices because I need a lot!

Anyone who is learning a new language, like my tutees Star Shaker and Skid Breaker, needs to devote some time to reading "real world" texts in that language. But it can be a real challenge to find texts that fit the student who has to read them. Remember that the books have to be both easy enough for the student to read on his own, yet challenging enough to get him to stretch himself a little. And then they have to be interesting. Who wants to read a boring book?

Thanks to a combination of superior "browsing skills" (part of every good reader's skill set) and sweet serendipity, I stumbled upon some books that proved to be a beautiful fit for Star Shaker.

24 May 2011



The first time I joined Top Ten Tuesday, it was to share my list of ten Books I Wish I Had Read in Childhood. What I liked about it was that there were so many common books across the lists. That fascinated me so much that I went through every post and made a tally of all the titles in order to come up with everybody's Top Ten. Allow me to share the results with you now . . .

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (23 mentions)
Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery (18 mentions) *
The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (12 mentions) *
The Clue in the Old Clock by Carolyn Keene (12 mentions) *
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (32 mentions) *
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (29 mentions) *
Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder (13 mentions) *
The Phantom Tollbooth by Norman Juster (11 mentions)
Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak (11 mentions)
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle (11 mentions) *

* These books stand for the whole series

The second time I joined this linky party, I wrote about Books That Were in Such Great Condition That I Bought Them without Knowing When I'd Read Them. It wasn't half as much fun that time around because everyone had such different lists. There was no real point of reference--no shared generational experience.

And so I decided I wouldn't participate in the meme again until another universal topic, like the first one, came along . . . which has happened again this week.

Apparently, lying about books--what one has read, what one hasn't read, what one has enjoyed, and what one hasn't enjoyed--is something everyone can relate to. I admit to telling my share of literary fibs in my youth . . . but I have since reformed. =P These days, any problem I have has less to do with being too ashamed to admit the truth than in having no shame at all.

Yes, I read Romance novels--but not the newer ones because I can't bloody stand "strong women" or "kick-ass heroines" or non-virgins in general. (Save it for the hero, you hussy!) No, I haven't read that Big Important Classic you think I've read. Yes, I actually enjoyed Twilight, although I have fun mocking it, too. No, I didn't at all enjoy A Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. And I think Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is actually superior to Jane Austen's original novel on the essential point of Elizabeth Bennet's character development.

See? Honest to a fault these days! =P But I might as well let you in on my shady past . . .

A Tenner
Books I Simply Let People Assume I Knew Better Than I Did

23 May 2011


Tutor Tales, Volume 31

The alphabet is to any kind of English lesson (Language Arts, Literature, ESL/EFL, etc.) as tropes are to a drinking game. Add some music and you just sweeten the pairing further.

Words by Maurice Sendak, Lyrics by Carole King

I used this song to introduce Alphabet Lists to Star Shaker and Skid Breaker. These are, as you must have already guessed, lists with twenty-six entries that correspond to the letters of the alphabet, whether it's as a song about playful alligators or a Cinematic Alphabet.

We opened this unit with a worksheet that looked a little like this:

22 May 2011


Behold the Badges: Ethical Animals

Click on the first link to see more of Lucia's work. All her badges are very cute--but more importantly, they all capture the attitude of the blog or meme they were created for.

When I asked Lucia to make the "Ethical Animals" badge for me, I told her I wanted three things:

a) animals that were reading
b) at least one mouse
c) no "cartoon" animals, please

A few days later, she sent me a selection of designs--a mix of "real" and "cartoon" animals, not all of which were mice--saying that she thought I might like to look the latter over, anyway. And sure enough, despite the fact that the animal readers are both cartoony and obviously lacking a mouse, they turned out to be exactly what I wanted for my feature. (And who knows? They could be reading about a mouse.)

21 May 2011


Locus Focus: Take Fifty-Three

There are a myriad of minor themes within the greater "maternal" theme that graces Shredded Cheddar all the month of May: alma mater (Did that!), Mother Nature (Did that without knowing!), Motherland (Doing it now!), and so on . . .

(I know what I want to do for next week, but so far, finding the right movie for it has been tough. We'll see what happens, aye?)

20 May 2011


Faerie Tale Theatre Production Smackdown, Round 3A
(Revisit Round 1 and Round 2)

There's something about the Final Four of a smackdown that makes everything so much more dramatic. I always look forward to this point because it's the last time I have any say in the results, and I can never predict what the four contenders will be.

And given my new passion for "wildcards," neither can I predict whether the Top Two will be from this Final Four. Scroll down when I'm done with my part of the post, and you'll get to vote again!

Round 3A
The Faerie Four

19 May 2011


Character Connection 26

Last week, I brought up the poignant truth that no matter how close we are to our parents, there are some things about them that we'll never know. And these things aren't always the minor moments in their lives, but often include the real game changers.

The mother I feature today did many amazing things when she was a young girl--and one really awesome thing when she was pregnant with her first child--but none of her children, not even that first one, may ever hear of them.

(This is going to be a long post . . .)

18 May 2011


A Dozen Poems, with Room for More!
(This is now also an entry in the Poem in Your Post Blog Hop--a way to meet other bloggers who love poetry)

Thanks again to Lindsay for being our host for this month! =)

She describes her poem as "more than just a valiant failure"--which reminds me a little of Hilaire Belloc's estimation of the first Crusade as "nothing but an epic" . . . and a lot of my own May poem. =P

I hope she and I aren't setting the trend for everyone else . . .

17 May 2011


Reading Diary: Matilda by Roald Dahl

Mrs. Phelps looked along the [library] shelves, taking her time. She didn't quite know what to bring out. How, she asked herself, does one choose a famous grown-up book for a four-year-old girl?

Her first thought was to pick a young teenager's romance of the kind that is written for fifteen-year-old schoolgirls, but for some reason she found herself instinctively walking past that particular shelf.

"Try this," she said at last. "It's very famous and very good. If it's too long for you, just let me know and I'll find something shorter and a bit easier."

Great Expectations," Matilda read, "by Charles Dickens. I'd love to try it."

Matilda is one of those delightful books about other books--or rather, books about reading. The brilliant title character loves books and she is our heroine; her disgusting parents don't see the need for books, and they are our first villains. And it is when her father actually rips up a library book that Matilda takes the utterly unconventional step of punishing him. (I've never made my peace with that, if you must know.)

And what to make of the fact that the book comes with a reading list: those books picked out for Matilda by Mrs. Phelps, the kind, wise and discreet town librarian? I've always been a bit thrown by the reading list.

16 May 2011


Bargain Book Bonanza in My Mailbox

There is something about the "In My Mailbox" meme that makes a stodgy literalist out of me. Although I have new books all the time, I only join this linky party when those new books also come in the mail.

You'd think the fact that I don't have a mailbox would have snapped me out of it a long time ago. (I really don't. Along with the other residents of my building, I get my letters and parcels straight from the receptionist, who sorts them for us when the mail comes in.) But no . . .

Anyway, here is what came in the mail for me last week:

14 May 2011


Locus Focus: Take Fifty-Two

Leave it to my marvelous meme to combine my two month of May themes of motherhood and the movies. Last week, I featured a film set entirely in a modern high school, the divorced single mother of almae matres. (See Locus Focus: Take Fifty-One.) Today, I give you a setting from a genre not immediately associated with mothers--although they are a major trope--and a franchise that only got off the ground because of a mother--although she has since been overshadowed by her more famous devoted son.

13 May 2011


Smackdown Intermission

Until Blogger restores my Character Connection 25 to me, I won't be blogging anything long and complicated. [UPDATE: The link works again, but you'll find a new post rewritten by me rather than the original post restored by Blogger.]

But that doesn't mean everyone else can't have a bit of fun with another face-off . . .

Jack and the Beanstalk vs. Puss in Boots

In both stories, a small hero who inspires more doubt than confidence goes head to head with a much larger opponent. Here we have the famous Jack who kills a giant . . . and the celebrated cat who outwits an ogre. In these tales, brains always win over brawn!

Vote in the combox, as usual! =)

12 May 2011


Character Connection 25

Let me begin by admitting that it was probably a good thing I lost this post last "Friday the 13th." =P It wasn't one of my best.

My problem while writing it was that I knew what I thought of the mother I had decided to feature . . . and if I might say so, they were wonderful thoughts . . . but I didn't like the way they were turning out as I wrote them. That's why I'm actually grateful for this second chance to get it right. The following character analysis might still be far from perfect, but at least it manages to be better.

10 May 2011


Two-Meme Tuesday

If there is one thing that baffles me about the book blogosphere, it would be the fixation on "hot" new releases and "hot" new authors. Most of the writers I read are dead and most of the books I'm really curious about have been around for decades. Even then, it takes me years of seeing them around before I actually get to them. So imagine how long it would take your average "newborn" book. =P

What I love about the Bargain Book Bonanza meme is that we're encouraged to share "old" bargains as well as "new" ones. And that's only appropriate when you remember that most books that are available at a bargain are "old"!

For this week's BBB, I present my small collection of "old" books by a certain dead author . . .

09 May 2011


Twelve Things about Scream 4

12. I was very nervous going into the cinema. A friend of mine likes to argue that there is no way the fourth movie in any franchise is going to be good. The first movie is always the best, he says; the second can live up to it, and on rare occasions be even better; the third won't be able to do either; and the fourth will simply suck.

And now that I have seen Scream 4, I want to ring him up and say that he has officially been pwned! For this is one of the best, most intelligent Horror movies I have ever seen. Thank you, Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

11. It might be a bad idea to start the Twelve Things with the most important Thing, but my decision to do so anyway shows you how inspired I was by this movie's superlative opening sequence. It doesn't quite top the classic "purity" of its counterpart from the first film; but it is head and shoulders above that of the third and went where the second never dared to step. The suspense coefficient was off the charts, but even then, I didn't see the real genius of it until I was trying to explain it to someone else, and found myself saying:

07 May 2011


Locus Focus: Take Fifty-One!

Welcome to our "May at the Movies" Challenge Day!

Although I created Locus Focus to give me a weekly excuse to write about places in literature, I've twice indulged myself even further with "Movie Editions". During October, the month of Scary Settings, I took on Hollywood from Scream 3, loving the satirical question of whether the place which has given the world most of its Horror movies might actually be the most horrifying place of all. A few months later, when I featured "Worlds of the Future" all throughout January, I closed the month with Old Detroit from Robo-cop--moved by the sight of our own Detroit as a different sort of dystopian landscape.

But those two "Movie Editions" were also "Special Editions": they suited my mood at the time I was thinking up a new post . . . but I still could have gone with books. This month, however, I get extra special on you and make it so that I can't go with books. =P

06 May 2011


Faerie Tale Theatre Production Smackdown, Round 2
(Revisit Round 1)

Let's begin with the results of the last round, which I know you've all been waiting for . . .

Rapunzel vs. Rumpelstiltskin --> WINNER: Rapunzel

Cinderella vs. Sleeping Beauty --> WINNER: Sleeping Beauty

The Princess and the Pea vs. Thumbelina --> WINNER: The Princess and the Pea

Little Red Riding Hood vs. The Tale of the Frog Prince --> WINNER: The Tale of the Frog Prince

Hansel and Gretel vs. The Snow Queen --> WINNER: The Snow Queen

The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out about the Shivers vs. The Princess Who Had Never Laughed --> WINNER: The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out about the Shivers

The Pied Piper of Hamelin vs. Rip Van Winkle --> WINNER: The Pied Piper of Hamelin

Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp vs. The Nightingale --> WINNER: Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp

Thanks again for your votes! I really love it when Shredded Cheddar gets interactive. That's why although I'm taking control of Round 2 away from you, I include one of those mini face-offs at the end of this post for anyone who still wants to vote for a great faerie tale production. =)

Round 2
The Aladdin Eight

Aladdin and His Wonderful Lamp vs. The Boy Who Left Home to Find Out about the Shivers

Let's open Round 2 with two brave boys, who remind us that faerie tales aren't as princess-centric as they often seem! One of them finds a genie who grants wishes and the other finds out what it means to be afraid. And if you don't mind my getting a tad spoilerish, let me share my amusement that a beautiful princess is one's greatest wish and the other's greatest fear.

05 May 2011

Character Connection 24

Jen is observing Holocaust Remembrance Week at her blog, but this month I'm all about mothers and am blogging accordingly.

The following character is the first who came to mind when I decided to make Mothers the theme for May. There were a few minutes in the draft stage when I thought about starting with a more "high profile" mother character . . . but in the end, I decided to follow my completely subjective heart. Behold one of my all-time favourite mothers in children's literature . . .

04 May 2011


May the Fourth Be with Your Prompts!
(Get it???)

W & P1200378 

Would you believe I almost forgot about this month's game? =P

And now some of you are wondering, "What game?" In that case, I invite you to check out the Word & Question page to find our more about it and encourage you to submit prompts for May so you can have a piece of the fun. =)

03 May 2011


Reading Diary: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

"You all remember," said the Controller in his strong, deep voice, "you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford's: History is bunk. History," he repeated slowly, "is bunk."

He waved his hand; and it was as though, with one invisible feathered whisk, he had brushed away a little dust, and the dust was Harappa, was Ur of the Chaldees; some spider-webs, and they were Thebes and Babylon and Cnossson and Mycenae. Whisk, whisk--and where was Odysseus, where was Job, where were Jupiter and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk--and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle Kingdom--all were gone. Whisk--the place where Italy had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, whisk, King Lear and the Thoughts of Pascal. Whisk, Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, Symphony; whisk . . .
Can you imagine living in a world where youth is worshipped, sex is free, the family is obsolete, individuality is anti-social, art is a corporate product, consumption is the national pastime, and yes, history is bunk?

Aldous Huxley didn't have to imagine it: he visited it. The brave new World State of his most famous novel is greatly based on what he saw of American society during his visit to the United States in 1926.

And this is the point where I snip what could be a review of Brave New World in the bud. You can get reviews lots of places online (even, on occasion, this blog); but now I'm feeling like writing a proper Reading Diary entry.

02 May 2011


Twelve Things about My Stepmother Is an Alien

12. When you have a movie with a title like My Stepmother is an Alien, you reasonably assume that it's a slightly wacky comedy for the whole family--or at least Dad, Mom and the teenage kids. It certainly seems to have the right mix of elements: aliens for the kids, screwball romance for Mom, Kim Basinger eye-candy for Dad, and even a sweet-looking dog on the poster.

I wonder how many upset parents walked their offspring out of the cinema when they learned the truth about what this movie actually is.

11. You see, the filmmakers weren't really interested in producing a family-friendly popcorn flick or even a RomCom with some (slightly stultifying) SF elements. Their actual ambition was to make a sneaky contribution to the world of puerile adult entertainment.

And if you don't believe me, the first minute or two of Basinger's screen time ought to convince you. Through a series of close-ups, we watch her slowly slide a stocking up her silky leg, sexily toss her mane of long blonde hair, and purse the lips she has just painted a bright, matte red. She is objectified to the hilt: some perv's puerile adult's alien fantasy.

(Wow. Suddenly those Ancient Astronaut Theorists aren't so bad after all. LOL!)

10. Having said all that--which made me really sad because this movie has some beautifully cheesy moments--I think it's worth celebrating the very best thing about it . . .

01 May 2011


Life as a Reading Challenge, Chapter 6

It's a good thing that I still have eight months of 2011 left, because out of the twenty-nine books I challenged myself to read this year, I still have twenty-five to go. Twenty-five books in eight months seems doable--although a rate of four books in four months doesn't really inspire confidence, does it? =P

Lisa of Her Book Self has a knack for finding and spotlighting great quotes about reading; I especially loved the one which led to last Friday's thoughtful reflection:

The worst way to read, he said, is with the thought that you do not have enough time. The only way to read is in the knowledge that there is an infinite amount of time stretching ahead, and that if one wishes to taste only a few sentences per day one is free to do so.

It perfectly encapsulates what I love most about leisure reading, and gives a gentle but firm rebuke to that other exercise of challenge reading. While leisure and challenge are not mutually exclusive, I like to bump into my books by accident rather than pick them up on purpose--and I'm tired of making myself feel guilty about the books I'm not reading when the books I am reading are so fantastic.

It's about time, too, as I have a whole detour planned for my May reading . . .