Category Archives: Childrens Literature

Book 22 – Anne of the Island

“Anne of the Island” by Lucy Maud Montgomery (1915)

Narrated by Susan O’Malley

This is the third book in the Anne of Green Gables series. Each book has been as lovely to listen to as the last. There really is something beautifully simple and innocent about the Anne books. This one sees Anne finally head off to Redmond College to complete her BA. Despite everything seeming to have pointed towards a romantic union between Anne and Gilbert Blythe, when he proposes in their second year, Anne turns him down flat, telling him she can never love him. She then spends two years being courted by Roy Gardiner, the tall, dark and handsome stranger who rescued her in a rain shower. This seems to be destiny in Anne’s eyes, as it is the dream beginning to the romance she’s been waiting for.

I had a terrible moment early on when I mentioned to a stranger in passing conversation that I was listening to this book. She said, “oh, you must be sad about Gilbert, then” which sent me into a steep decline as I was still, at that stage, assuming a lovely romance. A quick text to my Anne-expert, Laura, clarified that the stranger was making reference to the recent passing of the actor who played Gilbert in the movies. Seriously… movies??? I don’t need to have read all the books to know that the books are better.

I’m pretty sure I’m one of the only people I know who hadn’t previously read the Anne books. But if you happen to be as odd as me, sort yourself out. The Anne of Green Gables books are beautiful.

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Book 21 – Winnie the Pooh (again)

‘Piglet Meets a Heffalump and other stories’ a dramatization of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ and ‘Tigger Comes to the Forest and other stories’ a dramatization of ‘The House at Pooh Corner’ by A A Milne (1997)

Narrated by:

Stephen Fry as Pooh

Jane Horrocks as Piglet

Geoffrey Palmer as Eeyore

Judi Dench as Kanga

Finty Williams as Roo

Robert Daws as Rabbit

Michael Williams as Owl

Steven Webb as Christopher Robin

I previously blogged about ‘Winnie the Pooh’ when I listened to an audio book late last year. These dramatisations are from CDs lent to me by Dion. There isn’t much to say. Stephen Fry? Judi Dench? Jane Horrocks? The CDs were, of course, magnificent.

But Dion’s readings will always be better.

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Book 17 – Alice in Wonderland

“Alice in Wonderland” by Lewis Carroll (1865)

Audio book narrated by Alan Bennett

As a result of my foray into the wonderful world of audio books, my lovely uncle Dion rummaged through his CDs and lent me several that he thought I would enjoy. How right he was. Sadly, “Alice in Wonderland” didn’t go for nearly long enough, so I actually listened to it twice, to make sure it was as delightful as I had first suspected.

In case you don’t know the plot (can that even be possible?), Alice is busy living a normal life, lying on the lawn with her head in her sister’s lap, when she decides to chase a rabbit down a hole and embark on a series of adventures with some of the most weird and wonderful characters anyone has ever encountered! She soon discovers that nothing is ordinary in Wonderland – least of the all the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, the Cheshire Cat, the Duchess or the Mock Turtle.

Yet again, actually listening to a classic has shown me that a lot of the things we think belong in these beautiful texts are actually add-ons or embellishments from Disney et al and not a part of the original story at all.

I am now trying to think of ways to incorporate this text into one of my units of work at school. The language is so effective and the story is so cleverly told that I think it could be a lot of fun to teach it and maybe, at least in my current educational context, introduce it to a whole new generation of readers.

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Book 9 – House of Secrets

“House of Secrets” by Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini (2013)

Yes, that’s right, Chris Columbus… the guy who wrote the screenplays for “Gremlins” and “The Goonies”, not to mention directing a couple of the Harry Potter movies. Like I was ever NOT going to read this book! Mind you, I had to find out it existed first. And the way I did that was by developing and delivering an extension reading unit to my top year 7 class last year. The unit was all about reading outside your comfort zone. Each student had to bring their favourite book and write about it and its genre, explaining why they loved the genre. Then, I paired everyone in the class up with a person who had brought a book from a (preferably significantly) different genre. The students then had to read their swap books and complete two tasks. The first task was a discussion in front of the class. First, the student who had brought the book had to explain why they brought it. Then, the new reader had to offer a review of the book and explain why they did or didn’t like it. Then they had to discuss their similar or differing responses. After that, each student had to make a promotional book trailer for the book they had read, even if they didn’t like it.

Two excellent things happened as a consequence of this unit. The first thing was that every student did an amazing job of every aspect of the unit. The second thing was that I got a new list of ‘must read’ books to add to my already loooooooong list. This book, “The House of Secrets” sounded especially appealing. As an added bonus, the student who brought the book in happily let me take it home over the holidays to read… but it took me a bit longer than that to get it finished. As I’ve already mentioned in previous posts, I seem to be reading very slowly this year.

So, you’re probably wondering what the book is about. It is a story of 3 normal kids, living in San Francisco. Their names are Cordelia, Brendan, and Eleanor Walker and they are not very impressed when their parents buy Kristoff House, an especially creepy and strange house. They are even more concerned when a mysterious woman appears and demolishes it. She claims to be the “Wind Witch” and the daughter of the original owner of the house, Denver Kristoff. As if that isn’t bad enough, within the first couple of chapters, the Walker parents are apparently dead and the kids appear to have become characters in a novel written by Kristoff himself. Soon after, they are joined by one of the characters in the novel, Will, who is a member of the National Flying Corp from WWI. Things get even more confusing when they realise they are not stuck in one, but three novels! The Wind Witch promises to release their not actually dead parents if they retrieve a lost book and return it to her. And that’s where the real adventures begin…

I can totally see why kids love this book. And, of course, it’s a series, with a third book due to be published soon I think. It was a rollicking adventure with good characterisation and a fast-paced plot that kept you reading ‘just one more chapter’, but I don’t think I’ll bother with book 2. Great for the 8-12 age group.

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Book 3 – Anne of Avonlea

“Anne of Avonlea” by Lucy Maud Montgomery

They say slow and steady wins the race but all I can say is I’m glad I’m not in a book reading race this year. Hard to believe I’ve only finished 3 books so far. Normally, January is a very prolific month for me. But there are just so many other fun things to do with my days!

“Anne of Avonlea” is the second book in the Anne series, following on from “Anne of Green Gables”. It was written in 1909 and covers the period when Anne is 16-18 years old. Just like “Anne of Green Gables”, “Anne of Avonlea” is a gentle and joyful book that tells the story of Anne’s two years as school teacher in Avonlea and, along with Marilla, carer to twins, Davey and Dora.

It is Davey who provided a laugh-out-loud moment for me, while listening and walking in the bush a couple of weeks ago. He asked Anne if there was going to be all sorts of different jams in heaven or just the one kind every day. Anne, of course, was quite perplexed. Where did he get this idea from? He explained that Marilla had told him so, in the catechism the week before. Anne was adamant, he must have misunderstood. No, he explained, it was quite clear. Marilla told him – “God makes preserves and keeps us.” What ensued was a long lesson on the importance of commas. It still makes me giggle, whenever I think about it.

So, if you like the thought of reading books where characters say things like, “if you could see a kiss, I think it would look like a violet” then this is the series for you. Mind you, I’m probably the only person I know who hasn’t already read these books!

I’m off now, to download book 3, “Anne of the Island”, in which Anne heads off to college, along with Gilbert, who she has finally realised she quite likes… Happy reading.

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Book 37 – Peter Pan (audio book)

“Peter Pan” by J M Barrie (1911)

People I have mentioned this to have been uniformly surprised to hear that I had never read “Peter Pan”. It seemed an obscure book to me so I did not expect so many people I know to have read it. But I suspect it might be one of those classics that people feel sure they have read, even if they haven’t really. They’ve seen the Disney film, and Little Golden Books, and merchandise of a huge variety, and they feel sure they must have read the book itself at some point in their childhood. But a little prompting or cross-questioning mostly resulted in these astonished people not really being familiar with the actual story in the actual book at all… I found this very interesting.

I put “Peter Pan” on my ‘to read’ list a couple of years ago, when Bob Carr (former NSW Premier) appeared on the ABC’s The Book Club. He had asked the panel to read it and their discussion was very interesting. He said, himself, that reading the book again as an adult had been quite a surprise to him, it was so different in reality to the way he had remembered it from his boyhood.

Peter Pan is a boy who will never grow old, or up, depending on your perspective. He visits children in their sleep, and when he comes upon Wendy Darling and she is awake and helps him re-attach his shadow, he decides to take her (and her two brothers, Michael and John) back with him to Neverland to be ‘mother’ to the Lost Boys. In Neverland they all have loads of jolly adventures, including defeating Captain Hook and the pirates, but in the end, Wendy and the boys want to go home, forsaking Peter for the inevitable ‘growing up’.

I did enjoy listening to this book, but I had a sad sense of melancholy throughout as it seemed obvious to me that Peter and the Lost Boys must have all really been dead children. The behaviour of the Darling parents, when we eventually revisited them, seemed to support this idea that really this was some sort of comforter for the parents of dead children.

I don’t know that this is right at all. It doesn’t fit with the (mostly) quite happy ending. But it affected my reading quite significantly. The narration, too, had an affect on me. The narrator (who used ‘we’ to suggest a group of story tellers – or to deflect personal responsibility) seemed quite put out, at times, to be burdened with the bother of telling the story. And he/she was so consistently rude, about everybody! Apparently, as a reader (listener) I wasn’t supposed to really care for any of the characters, definitely least of all, Peter.

A peculiar read to say the least, but one I’m glad to have ticked off my list.

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Book 36 – Winnie-the-Pooh (audio book)

“Winnie-the-Pooh” by A. A. Milne (1926)

When I blogged a couple of weeks ago about the great fun of listening to a childhood favourite, “Wind in the Willows”, I asked for recommendations. My dear Mummy suggested another childhood favourite, “Winnie-the-Pooh” and so here I am, having spent the last 2 days listening to it being read to me on my daily drive. Just like “Wind in the Willows” this is a book that my uncle Dion read to us as children… and into adulthood… and that I read to my own children, courtesy of a copy given to us by Dion and Micki (yes, they do give the very best gifts). Once again, the audio book narrator did a satisfactory, but inferior, job of reading when compared to Dion.

This book has an episodic narrative structure, which means that there isn’t one plot that goes on, chronologically, throughout the whole book. Rather, each chapter is like a short story that can be read separately from any of the others. But it is more fun to read them one after the other, and imagine it as the highlights of the perfect childhood full of adventures. Pooh, a small brown bear of very little brain, is undoubtedly the star of the book, but it is really a story about Christopher Robin, a small boy, and his favourite toys.

The thing that really stood out for me was how many expressions that are a part of my family’s every day conversation have come from this book. Every family has their own little language, with mispronounced words and phrases that wouldn’t really make sense to anyone outside the family. I just don’t think I’d really realised that about 85% of ours come straight from “Winnie-the-Pooh”!!!

Do I think you should read this book? No, I think you should explain how on Earth you haven’t already… long since. And then I think you should read this book.

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