Thursday, 26 May 2011

A bit of philosophy

Jay Writes -
As well as the reading challenge, Luke's been doing some other work with me over the past few weeks. We've been looking at ideas; talking a bit about philosophy, religion, and myths. Luke's making a stop motion animation version of Ragnarok, the Norse end-of-the-world story. Inspired by Derren Brown's show about faith healers, we talked about why someone might believe and what advantages being part of a religion brings - lots of critical thinking for our devout atheist to consider!

Inspired by the Doctor Who episode The Rebel Flesh, we got thinking about what defines a person. I asked Luke to write a bit about his view of this tricky philosophical questions. Here's his piece -

I define a person as anything that can think creatively and can adjust quickly to a situation. While this might not work in many situations, for example people in a coma or people with severe brain damage, it is the best solution that I have.
When humans say, "Look at all the people," or, "What kind of person are you?" they don't know just how big that statement is. But that is what philosophy is all about: asking the big questions.
But going back to what makes a person - I am afraid creativity and adjustment is the best I have to offer. If you have a much better definition please post it on my blog! But for now, what I really think is that "what makes a person?" is an unanswerable question
Luke's reading Sophie's World by Jostein Gaarder a couple of chapters a day, now that he's got interested in philosophy. As he says, sometimes you need to ask the big questions!

Red Cherry Red

This was another poem book; it was written by Jackie Kay. Something I definitely noticed about her writing is that she wrote lots of poems about the sea and animals related to the sea. She did include some others but those are the ones that stuck with me most.
My favourite poem was one called The Angler Fish and I found it interesting because the things written in the poem, once you figured out what they meant, included some really unusual facts about angler fish.
One thing I found rather annoying about the poetry collection was that the poet often used Scottish words that I didn't understand like ach, crofit and oot. Because of this, some of the poems left me rather confused. When I listened to the poetry on CD, she did a little introduction to a bunch of the poems to tell us what inspired her to write them. Some of them I didn't really thing were necessary but some were interesting.
I preferred reading the poems to listening to them, mostly because it was faster and I didn't really enjoy doing this poetry collection. I found it a bit tedious, so I'm going to give it 35 out of 100.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

The Man Who Planted Trees

This book's appearance was rather pretty because it was small and completely made of paper, even the cover. However, in terms of the story, I was left slightly confused. It is told in the first person.

The man who was narrating said that after travelling for 3 days he met a shepherd. After staying with the shepherd for a few days, he discovered that he was a very quiet man who spent his days tending his flock of sheep and planting oak trees. He did this very calmly and did not get frustrated when most of them didn't grow, and he was quite friendly in a very quiet way. The narrator then left to fight in the 1914 war and did not see the shepherd for many years.

Once the war was over, he went back to visit the shepherd. He finds there are only 3 differences that have happened: the man is slightly older, instead of sheep he has beehives and he's started planting other trees like beeches. This time the narrator stays for longer and helps plant trees and collect new seeds. Of course, by now there is a huge forest.

Eventually the old man becomes a lot more tired but still carries on planting trees. The second world war occurs. The narrator goes to help with that, and comes back when the war is over and again goes to visit the shepherd. The forest is even bigger and lots of people are assuming it is a 'natural' forest.
In the end, after a small village has been built in the forest, the old shepherd dies, no one takes up his job but they do live peacefully in the village.

I'm pretty certain that there's supposed to be some moral or a lesson in this story but I simply can't pick it out. Although it was quite a nice story I think it's a bit obscure for kids my age. So I'm giving it a mere 57 out of 100.

Friday, 13 May 2011

Talkin Turkeys

This is my first book of poetry in the challenge.
I think my favourite poem was called Sunny Side Up because it was written upside down. It was funny because it said that when people see you reading upside down they think you're strange "but this poem is out to mislead."
One thing I noticed about Benjamin Zephaniah was that he wrote things how they are pronounced (like 'dat' instead of 'that') which makes it a bit harder to read and so you have to read them out loud. The poems were humorous even though some were about serious things like global warming and habitat loss.
I give Talkin Turkey 75 out of 100

Jay's Note - I read this one too. Zephaniah's warmth, humour and voice shine through these short poems. I think Michael Rosen is the first poet I'd introduce a child to and Benjamin Zephaniah is the second.

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Luke recommends...

Several people commented to us that they'd really like some suggestions of books to read. Here are Luke's recommendations:

  • Stoneheart trilogy by Charlie Fletcher
  • Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer
  • Skulduggery Pleasant series by Derek Landy
  • Wolf Brother series by Michelle Paver
  • The River/Valley/Castle/Circus/Island/Mountain/Ship of Adventure books by Enid Blyton
  • Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney
  • How to Train your Dragon series by Cressida Cowell
  • Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan
  • Kane Chronicles by Rick Riordan
  • Time Riders by Alex Scarrow
  • H.I.V.E. series by Mark Walden
  • C.H.E.R.U.B. series by Robert Muchamore
  • Heroes of Olympus by Rick Riordan
  • Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert O'Brien
  • The Carpet People by Terry Pratchett
  • Only You Can Save Mankind and its sequels Johnny and the Bomb & Johnny and the Dead by Terry Pratchett

Some of the books, like How To Train Your Dragon, have been favourites since Year 3 but still make us laugh. Michael Morpurgo's Kaspar, Prince of Cats was good too. Eoin Colfer's books for younger readers like The Legend of... Spud Murphy/Captain Crow's Teeth/The Worst Boy In The World were also very good. Horrid Henry is obviously fun when you are starting out. And Pippi Longstocking is not just for girls, it's fun for everybody.

Artemis Fowl

Artemis Fowl is the best book I've read in my challenge so far. It is also one of my favourite books and I would recommend it to anybody who likes magic, tech and villains. This book has a perfect mix of fantasy, high tech machines and the modern world.
The plot of the book is that 12 year old boy genius Artemis Fowl II has, through vigorous research, discovered the existence of 'The People' - fairies. He pursues the fairy bible to learn about their rules and weaknesses so that he can kidnap a fairy and take its gold.
The fairy he kidnaps is Holly the elf who is also a leprechaun (but that's just a job). She is on very thin ice with her Commander, Julius Root, because she is the first female LEP officer. But when she is kidnapped, he attacks Fowl Manor with the help of Foaly the centaur (a tech geek) to get Holly released.
This is a book full of action, adventure, and just possibly the world's best book for 11 and 12 year olds, so I am giving it 95 out of 100.

Jay's note - Luke's read all of this series and was so pleased to revisit them. I think he first got into them in Y5 and was just as enthusiastic then.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Thanks aplenty

Jay Writes -
People are lovely, aren't they?
When Luke and I embarked on this project in March, I'd assumed we'd get most of the books from the library. This has not quite worked out as well as we'd hoped, although Luke's school library are having a look for him. Primarily the books have come from our bookshelves, my increasingly expensive Amazon habit, and the kindness of friends online.
I'd like to thanks some of the lovely people looking books out for us -
  • Mark Tranter loaned us The Owl Service and A Christmas Carol
  • Sarah, a very kind woman on ReaditSwapit (a great system, btw) is sending us When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit
  • Immi Howson (who introduced me to Dianna Wynne Jones, for which I shall be forever grateful) is loaning us Mitress Masham's Repose.
  • Little Women and The Secret Garden are coming to us from Nic, whom I met online
  • Meg has offered us Swallows and Amazons - again from someone I've never met face to face
  • Luke's grandparents Colin and Marion have offered to get him a couple of books from the list too
Take a bow, lovely people!

The Old Man and the Sea

Firstly I'd like to say GAH! This book is the worst book I have read not only in my challenge but in my life.
The story is about a fisherman who caught on his rod a super giant fish that nobody has ever seen before. The fish tugs him a long way (because it's a very strong and giant fish) and the man in his head complains, he wishes that he could get sleep, that the fish would slow down, that a boy he knows in the village was with him. The fisherman is constantly saying "The fish is my honourable brother and so I must kill him."
The man says he must kill his brothers and to be honest anything alive that isn't human is his brother. This, I think, is an excellent example of fratricide and how it can affect your life. At one point in the book he says "We are lucky the stars are not our brothers because then we would have to kill them."
I give it 2 out of 100. Why it is a classic is beyond me.

Jay's note - I'm impressed Luke managed to persevere with this one and wonder what about this style of writing made Michael Morpurgo include it in the list. Here's a sample:

"...his hands had the deep-creased scars from handling heavy fish on the cords. But none of these scars were fresh. They were as old as erosions in a fishless desert."

We've not seen many fish-laden deserts ourselves, but maybe we don't get out enough.
Flippancy aside, it was a very Literary-with-a-capital-L novella and it was all a bit much even for a bibliophile like Luke. Heavens only knows what the average Y7 student would make of it.
After 2 negative reviews Luke's heading to more familiar territory for his next review.

Monday, 9 May 2011

The Silver Sword

I read this book in Year 6 and didn't like it at all.
This book was about a group of kids from Warsaw in the Second World War trying to get reunited with their mother and father. They are two sisters, a brother who goes missing for part of the story, and a kid they happen to meet called Jan, who also met their father and got the Silver Sword from him. They make a huge journey through Germany, where a dog comes in it for a bit, there's a chimpanzee who turns up and smokes cigarettes, and a chicken destined for the pot.
In the end they get lucky and everyone lives happily ever after.

While many people will disagree with me I really disliked this book because I found it far too religious and that the children believed the Power of God would only help them if they had the Silver Sword. I found this idea preposterous, especially as the Silver Sword isn't even an enchanted item, it's just a letter opener.
I give this book 9 out of 100.

Jay's note - wow, Luke really hated that one! I can't blame him, I found it sanctimonious and the most dated of the books so far, although it isn't the oldest. Sorry the review contains a spoiler of sorts, but it's a rubbish book anyway. We'll try harder next time

The Castafiore Emerald

This is the first Tintin book I've ever read. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I loved the sense of adventure and mystery and really liked Captain Haddock, who is Tintin's friend. I thought this book was interesting because while it was still a cartoon it managed to tell a great story and had a great sense of humour.
The two funniest characters, I thought, were the Thomson Twins because they kept on making mistakes while saying "It could happen to anybody," and still saying they were right. Their personalities were amusing.
The general story was that Lady Castafiore, a famous opera singer, was coming to stay at the Captain and Tintin's house. Lady Castafiore assumed everything was about her, whenever anybody talked about a problem she'd caused she waved it off as if they should feel honoured just to speak to her; she was not very good at seeing other's points of view. She was very protective of her jewels. The most expensive and valuable of these was the eponymous emerald. She was paranoid, constantly thinking her jewels were stolen when actually she'd just misplaced them. Eventually the emerald is actually stolen. At first everyone but Tintin believes it's the gypsies who've been living in the area who are responsible. But Tintin is determined to prove the gypsies' innocence. He investigates and finds out many things about the people in the house and eventually finds the culprit.
While I did like this book there are certainly things I would change. For example, I'd appreciate a quick back story on each character because it took me a while to understand why someone as young as Tintin had travelled all around the world having adventures and was now living with the Captain in a big posh house with his own butler. Because of this frustration I'm giving it 67 out of 100.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Einstein's Underpants and How They Saved The World

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I thought it was funny, witty, and I loved the characters.
Here is the plot:
The main character, Alexander, has a his crazy grandfather who warns him that aliens are about to take over the world and kill them all. He says that Alexander must assemble an alliance of superheroes to fight the aliens.
Alex runs trials for superheroes at his school. However all he gets are a boy who can throw cards; a boy who runs at people like a Viking, using his tortoise as a weapon; a boy who can burp or fart on demand creating any smell he likes; a secretary and a girl who has the power to be extremely annoying. They go on to fight the aliens, Alexander armed with the amazing maths powers of Einstein's underpants which he wears on his head.
I think this is an absolutely brilliant book for people aged 9 years and over. It has lots of comedy and is very witty. A well deserved 80 out of 100!

Friday, 6 May 2011

Noughts and Crosses

This is the largest book I've read so far in my challenge. The book is about racism and how people reacted during segregation.
The main characters are Sephy and Callum and their families. The books reverses the way racism is usually seen in our society. The Crosses, black people like Sephy, have much more power than the Noughts, whites like Callum.
I really liked how the characters' personalities were described in the book. My favourite character was Callum's older brother Jude. Obviously he was a Nought as well and hated the Crosses because they made sure the Noughts were powerless and were given the worst stuff. He called the Crosses 'Daggers' and joined the Liberation Militia, a Nought terrorist group that targets Crosses and their buildings. He was written really well, a really angry character who wants all Crosses to die and is constantly fighting with his brother Callum and sister Lynette.
At the start Callum is against Jude's beliefs and thinks Noughts and Crosses should be equal. He and Sephy are best friends. Over the course of the book, as they grow up, Callum grows to love Sephy. A good third of the book is about Callum and Sephy's struggle to be together without angering those around them because "a Nought and a Cross don't mix."
Very interesting read, and at some points rather moving. I felt I could really experience some of their feelings at times.
I'm giving Noughts and crosses 85 out of 100

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

A Hundred Million Francs

This book was incredibly similar to Emil and the Detectives because the plot structure was the same. A boy had something stolen, he and a group of kids did detective work to find out why it was stolen, eventually fought a bunch of baddies and got their thing back. The differences were that it was a much smaller group of kids, it was a toy stolen rather than money and they weren't rewarded at the end of it.

The story is set in a small village in rural France. It's about a gang of friends who play together every day. The character I most remember is the Dog Girl, because at the end of the book when they are fighting the villains she defeats them by calling all the dogs in the town with her special whistle. She and her pack of dogs take the thieves to the police.

The hundred million francs of the title refers to the amount of money the baddies had taken from a Paris bank.
I found this book had some extremely interesting and at times rather funny parts so I have decided to give it 75 out of 100