Holes (Louis Sachar) – Did I dig this book?

So this year, Holes, the winner of the 1999 Newbery Medal is our selected reader for Grade 7. Here’s my review for you to chew on.

Stanley Yelnats did not steal those shoes, I repeat, they fell from the sky. He never needed to dig holes in the ironically named dry wasteland that is Camp Green Lake. This was all the fault of his” no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great-grandfather.”

Stanley Yelnats has an interesting family history, from the pig-stealing Elya Yelnats to Stanley Yelnats (the II) who got robbed by the famed outlaw Kissin’ Kate Barlow. His story wraps up the tale of bad luck following his family for generations. He is an intriguing protagonist with a different body type and a mindset worth thinking about.

First off, the very real bullying problem. Stanley is overweight, and would be the first to admit it. For this he gets bullied by a puny short kid, however, his teachers don not believe him, revealing a common stereotype: larger kids are aggressive and bullies. Tiny kids can’t be bullies. Derrick (a kid who, on the day Stanley ‘stole’ the shoes, had dunked his notebooks in the toilet) is short and miniature in size , contrary to what most children believe a bully looked like.
And, since we’re on the topic of bullying, another thing the book portrays is bullying well beyond what I thought was its reach. I saw it rear up its ugly head in various circumstances, like an adult bullying another adult, or an adult bullying a child. This is shown during the scenes where the head of the camp, the Warden, repeatedly directs physical threats in both counselors’ (Mr. Pendanski and Mr. Sir) direction and when the counselor for Stanley’s cabin, Mr. Pendanski, never misses a chance to point out the low intelligence of the mute-by-choice, Hector Zeroni or Mr. Sir (the supervisor) throwing an insult at Stanley’s masculinity.

Secondly, can we just take a moment to appreciate Hector Zeroni’s mental strength? A kid whose life until then had just been stealing, ended up being orphaned and homeless and after finding a group of people who could be potential friends, gets shut out from them and is nicknamed “Zero” (quote-unquote, ‘because there’s nothing in his head’) by his cabin mates, and it is religiously used by the campers as well as the counselors. Despite this, he’s in a very good state, both physically and mentally and is the nicest to Stanley, digging his hole when he decides to cover for the group, even though Zero doesn’t share any of the guilt. And even after running away with no water, he still survives and is alive after a little over a day, when Stanley finds him. Have to learn that power of positive outlook from him“When you spend your whole life living in a hole, the only way you can go is up.”

A little problem I had with the story were the plotholes, which were probably intentional due to the corresponding title.  To top it, the author adds the element of slight mystery ..very interesting, letting the reader interpret the story their own way. I found it made reading a bit harder, made me think more. I cant say I loved the style. However, this is my personal opinion and you’ll have to read it yourself to understand.

The best written thing about this story is the friendship that blossoms between the great-great grandson of Elya Yelnats and the great-great-great grandson of Madame Zeroni. A healthy relationship built on the simple basis of teaching the other to read, grows into a strong bond that eventually leads to Hector’s release from the camp along with Stanley and a role model for the kind of friendships we should inculcate today (though not under the same circumstances), in our daily life.

Friendships should be shown openly and are not flimsy sheets to cower under when you get into trouble. This is shown when ‘Magnet’ steals a bag of sunflower seeds and all the boys (besides Zero) are enjoying the change in regime, when all of a sudden someone tosses the bag to Stanley and it open above his hole and spills into it. Their supervisor, whom the seeds actually belonged to, comes over to check on them and Stanley takes the blame with the rest of them voicing their fake betrayal. After coming back, the rest of the boys still don’t appreciate him for covering for them, saying he should have caught it in the first place, while Zero, who doesn’t even have anything to do with the seeds in the first place, has finished digging his hole for him. Later on, the other boys are slightly hostile to him, despite vocalizing their friendship multiple times.

This particular incident and the whole book makes you think about the qualities of friends we have. Are they compassionate? Reliable? Honest? Would they stand up for you? I’d choose a friend like Hector Zeroni any day. What about you?

Another theme is the good old “Whatever goes around, comes around” A rather intricate version plays out repeatedly in the plot of Holes. The family curse , the plight of the town of Green Lake, and Stanley’s readiness to risk his life .. many things come a complete circle. The past keep turning up, to shape and influence the present. Indeed makes you truly ruminate on the long term consequences of your actions…reminded me of the “karma theory” mom talks about often. 

All in all a very different and intriguing book! clearly  a great choice by my school.

 

PS: do leave a line to tell me what you thought about my review

Spark Creativity and Vocabulary with Picture Prompts – EBook Review -An Adventure awaits..

When I received this book , quite by chance,  I was indeed surprised and delighted. As someone who delights in creative writing  and spinning a yarn, this book is a gold mine!!

The book is  a collection of  40 colourful, varied and detailed images in different styles by a group of  super talented artists. The logic is simple.. Flip through the book, pick any picture as a starting point  and there you have it.. a surefire way to get children’s creative juices  flowing and imagination running wild.

The book begins with a valuable guide by Santhini Govindan sharing a myriad of ways to use the book from being a great conversation starter for a toddler, to a story building group activity to asking leading questions in a creative writing class, like pulling the child’s attention to the environment or the emotions of the characters, poetry possibilities to even as a drawing tool!

Oh.. what a treasure waits for you ahead! The quality of this collection of pictures is simply outstanding! Let me go through some of our experiences with these.

Alankrita Jain’s  intriguing illustrations ,  Toon girl on a potted plant reminded a five year old of a Thumbelina-esque adventure and had me thinking up  a shrinking potion.  Lost in the market lead to one mystery adventure with an Indian mystic who had made the village temple disappear!

Ameya Narvankar ‘s Indie takes flight held promises of a full series of travel diaries of a mystery cat. My seven year old brother is  contemplating whether this cat should meet Geronimo in one of his adventures!

Ashok Rajagopalan ‘s illustrations, one of our favourites since  “Gajapati Kulapati” presented  us  with a great range of themes from a The squirrel’s camera  to The baby’s puddle and a Spaceship above the sea

Nancy Raj ‘s creations  The girl and the tambourine and  The monkey and the flute seller had us marvelling at the colourful art and coming up with different stories funny situations and interesting songs while  Brown cat prowls had us scratching our heads to come up with a feline problem

Partha Sengupta‘s  The empty box  gave me a chance to tell the story of Pandora’s box to my brother (warning him not to open my boxes…but I digress), a fairy hiding the corner or a mystery note asking her to follow the treasure map! The Ghost in the turret explores the possibilities of a fun entry into the horror or just a silly prank !

Shruti Kabo‘  Fossil opened up the the journey to the dear world of the dinosaurs while the Book Reading Monster reminded my brother of Dr Seuss’s Horton hears a Hoo as he created a small world that lived on the monster that he was unaware of at first!…

Soniya Bhase’s intriguing The pink and green family  and  Grandpa and his green forest started some more serious thought provoking talks on teen trouble that resonated with me and environmental concerns

Zainab Tambawalla ‘s vivid Grandma and the tiger was one of the illustrations that caught our attention right away. Who can stay away from  the tale of a Grandma who seemed so energetic and vibrant, almost dancing that too with a tiger!

As you can see, the possibilities are endless, just sitting down even while you are waiting in an airport or travelling in car, this book had a potential to transport you in a new storyland! In today’s age where people are often looking for ready to use boxes and helper words sets and a fixed set of questions , I really love that the author has simply done a splendid job of presenting a collection of mind blowing images and then left a white space for the creativity to bloom.

The only little thing the doodler in me would have loved is the illustrator’s name at the bottom of each image.

Thank You Shyamala Shanmugasundaram for this innovative and superbly illustrated treat!

You can buy this book  here on Amazon

Unbroken – Putting together the pieces!

Shoutout to The Duckbill Blog, for commenting on my Summer Reading List and suggesting Unbroken, a book that rendered me speechless and touched my heart and soul. Three cheers for Nandita Nambi!

The author has done an amazing job of portraying a teenager’s mental drama and angst.(like Dumbledore says.. “Just because it is happening in your mind doesn’t mean it is not real” ).

..and without romance. So First YAY!!! for  YA novel without romance. Yes, there are a whole bunch of heart-wrenching romance and even action stories with touching romances, I’ve read quite a few. The Fault in Our Stars (Hazel and Augustus), The House of Hades (both Percabeth and Percico), The Lost Oracle (Solangelo), and of course, The Cursed Child (Scorbus, duh.) (Parents, you don’t need to look this up if you don’t already know. It’s a teenage thing.).  But I was really glad the novel steered cleared of diluting this experience with an ill fitting romantic interest.

The characters are well-crafted, completely realistic and relatable. The book is  not much about the events, but the whirlwind of emotions that wrap around you.  And our protagonist, Akriti, is the centre of it all. She’s rude, mean, aggressive, sarcastic and doesn’t care about  her studies or other people’s feelings. Then she has a ridiculously perfect younger brother, and her parents fight. She sketches (dark of course) and listens to music, shutting out the rest of the world. Just another petulant teen stuck in her daily troubles? …but wait.

Can you blame her? She’s paralysed from the waist down.  But  at no point does the author try to make her likable , rise above her pain heroically or arouse our sympathy. (Quite unlike Wonder where you are rooting for Augustus).

The story is from her POV and her anger, frustration and disgust seethes through her pain. As I read, finding her behaviour largely unacceptable yet I could see myself there.. wanting to be strong rather than wallow in sympathy, angry rather than accept her pain, be scary rather than get hurt.

What I loved ?  While talking about disability in an honest and unpatronizing way itself is no mean feat, here are a few other aspects I loved:

  1. Sibling Rivalry – Don’t you hate it when your sibling can do stuff that you can’t? Whether it’s effortlessness completing a jigsaw puzzle that took you hours or churning out amazing projects done in the last minute, for which you take weeks, living in the shadow of your sibling is something a kid never wants to face. Forget the accomplishments, how do you deal with it when they are just a better human being than you are?
    Yet beneath the permanent tiff and I -wish- you- weren’t- born, there is an inexplicable deep love and  those tender moments between brother and sister ..reminded me grudgingly of a few of my own.
  2. Fights between Parents/ elders –  The pain and the torture  of having the very people who are supposed to be raising you, fighting  and blaming  each other… for your mistakes? Really, while  I saw her shut them out sometimes, label them and even exploit them, I pondered about similar arguments and what I may have thought of them  inadvertently.
  3. Seeing a Shrink – Again a rather rarely written about topic,  a child who sees a psychiatrist when she is not crazy or has not had a nervous or emotional breakdown yet...simply because sometimes  the expertise helps and sometimes having a neutral person makes it much each to talk. ..or listen.
  4. Smoking – Though this wasn’t an objective, there was a slight undertone on the importance of not smoking. The protagonist’s friend, Karthik, tries smoking and she’s repulsed by it and snatches the pack away from him. Smoking is not cool.. take one look at the images of its aftereffects (mom thrust some seriously gory images of lung cancer at me and pretty sensible statistics) and you’ll be scarred for life. Why would you choose to breathe in extra pollution anyway?

sauxmlzlsm-1493530375I also loved the Cover art, all fragile , handle with care symbols, a wheelchair and  a stamp declaring UNBROKEN.  (not sure if the leg symbol with a cross and a temp sign were chosen on purpose..but it is beginning to give me an idea for my door sign!) 

So there it is, a book that I loved and a  recommended #must-read for teens that go through life sulking, mad at life, complaining and screaming about its unfairness, hurt when often just a change of attitude is all that is required..to start sketching rainbows and unicorns again. (ok ..that was a bit too much :))

 

 

 

 

 

Summer Reading Bucket List – From this Pre-Teen to Yours!

 

Summer vacations have finally started, so I’m super pumped up and ready to read! (And avoid studying Hindi.)

Ah, summer break. A time for leisure, recreation, and taking ‘er easy. Unless you’re me. (If you get this reference, I will love you for life!)

The life of a voracious reader has never been easy. The constant search for good books, the trouble of keeping up your grades at the same time, and of course, floating various extracurricular activities like guitar, swimming, taekwondo, breakdance and music as well.

But that’s why you need a little help, and hence my  list so you don’t miss the very best ones..as per me anyway!

So here’s my list of books to read for the summer, if you haven’t read them already.

  1. The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins – I’ve already written a detailed review for this series here but I still felt the need to feature it here, since it still has me writing fanfiction. After the destruction of North America, Panem is created. With 12 districts that are penniless, and a Capitol that kills their citizens for their pure amusement and to establish their superiority, a rebellion is bound to happen. With a captivating plot, a dystopian setting and unrequited romance, it has it all. I’m pretty sure it’ll have you eating out of its palm…er, pages?
  2. Wonder by R J Palacio – Another book with a detailed review, this book is a wonderful read for children and their parents alike, teaching them to be a little more kinder than necessary. August ‘Auggie’ Pullman, a smart and talented kid, talks and acts normal…until you see his face. A story so well written, you can almost see it happening. And the sad part, that’s actually true…it doesn’t matter whether its a rare facial disorder or just simply being overweight, kids are getting bullied, and this is one such story that will tug at your heartstrings.
  3. Like Smoke by Paro Anand –  With a detailed review here, all I need to say is the story takes credit for its relatability to the struggles of teen and pre-teen life. This book is very useful if you have a hard time squeezing in reading into your schedule. With short story that can be read anytime, anywhere, you can get books back into your system…and this one will have you coming back for more.
  4. Chained by Lynne Kelly – I read this book in fourth grade and I was a complete wreck. After ten-year-old Hastin’s family borrows money to pay for his sister’s hospital bill, he leaves his village in northern India to take a job as an elephant keeper and work off the debt, meeting his new best friend.  The pure, moving, and undeniable tale of friendship with the elephant and Hastin’s compassion, a wondrous power to love and strength beyond his years is sure to linger in your mind. This is a book that will impact your life and change your viewpoint on most things.
  5. Talking Of Muskaan by Himanjali Sankar – A book to chew on. At first, I didn’t really know whether I should add this book to the list, since it revolves around a controversial plot. The story of an attempted suicide and the events that lead up to it, written by the three people closest to her – her ex-best friend (Aaliya), the stereotypical rich kid who plays golf and polo and is hugely affronted when Muskaan declines to go out with him (Prateek), her current friend, whose family struggles to make ends meet, and is single-minded in his pursuit of academic excellence (Subhojoy). This strong and soulful book points out the some poignant problems of adolescent life, and how picking at a small difference can change someone’s life, and almost destroy it.

Have another must read favourite ? Do share in the comments

 

 

 

Smurfs: The Lost Village – A Lost cause

Our summer vacation had just started and we all agreed that a movie would be a great start. Scrolling through the list of kid-friendly movies, the Smurfs movie was the only one available, and my younger brother seemed very enthusiastic to see it, hence we decided to give it a shot.

Sitting in the theatre, (after fighting with my brother, spilling two tubs of popcorn on myself and getting reprimanded for my lack of responsibility), I realised that this movie was fully animated, and the style had changed as well.

Inspite of initial dislike, I had enjoyed both the first and the second one. (SHHH)

Here is my mind ramblings while watching the movie:

  1. Where’s Patrick, Grace, Blue and Victor? I miss Patrick denying everything and  Grandpa Victor being there to correct him.
  2. Um…why is there a rivalry between Hefty and Brainy? Do we have to do stereotype wars now?
  3. Oh, yay ! Clumsy’s not-so-clumsy anymore. Turns out, he can ride  fire breathing dragonflies really well! 
  4. What is the deal with the female smurfs? Hello, I ordered a backstory with extra drama. Still waiting?
  5. Major plot holes here. Why is it called the forbidden forest? Was there some history between Papa Smurf and Smurf Willow? (I half expected that, though. I was more shocked when it didn’t happen.)
  6. Oooookay. AND MOST IMPORTANT What happened to Gargamel? Where is Hank Azaria?   I missed his wondrous evil..

    But do not despair, the movies was not all bad. After every storm, there is a rainbow, AKA positive commentary:
  1. The animation style is much better than the older one, and suits the targeted audience more. Reminded me of the beautiful forest in Avataar
  2. Who doesn’t love cute little glow-in-the-dark bunnies?
  3. The female smurfs are amazing at everything and completely outwit the male smurfs. I like how they are warrior types and not cutie, blondie and dancey!
  4. Gargamel’s going to become GAGA-mel running after 201 smurfs. (Gaga=Crazy)
  5. Clumsy finally found something he’s good at.

I think the movie was aimed at a younger audience, since there wasn’t enough plot for people above eight

I found the second Smurfs movie particularly interesting with Smurfette exploring her bad side, the choices that shape her and Papa Smurfs’s wise words as always. But this one felt like a sparkly gorgeously wrapped present with a half hearted gift bought in a hurry ..

Overall, this movie was okay. Sure, take your little kid and go, but in my opinion it’s a movie you can wait for to appear on TV. Smurfs 2, despites it’s uncreative title, held learning opportunities for both adults and children as well and was much better.

Recommendations? Kids  below 8 only. (okay ten may be)

Oh, and before you go to watch it, adults, remember to take a book.

Jobless, Clueless, Reckless (Revathi Suresh) – The Tale of a Barbie Murderer

Jobless, Clueless, Reckless. The story of Kavya, who acts like your average teenager –  angsty, miserable, lovestruck, whiny, and wanting nothing more than  to “scratch her life out and start over.” Since this is a story, our protagonist simply must be different from everyone else, and so Kavya will endures emotionally distant parents and a precocious brother, and can’t seem to make any friends. It doesn’t help that she is homeschooled, dresses in black and a reputation as a murderer of Barbies and, most probably, little kids as well. Oh, and her brother likes pink and cross-stitch, and wants to advertise the fact to the whole world, and her address is 708, Kansas, Grand Canyon, Bangalore, India.

Carnatic music-singer-slash-Party-queen Indu’s two lives, a friend who ‘disappeared’, and of course, dreamy greek god Kiran, are thrown together in a classic bad-boy-meets-emo tale of drama, love and mystery.

Cast:
Kavya – The fake emo with a secret
Indu – The salwar-kameez wearing wild partier, who also shoplifts
Lara – The backstabber with all the gossip
Dhrittiman – Cross-stitch kid who also loves pink
Abhi – Dumbalina

And of course,
Kiran – The non-Zac Efron, who’s also not a gentleman

Okay, I’ve overdone the mockery, but still, this book was disappointing to read. I expected this book to be more than just a cliche. I never knew what happened to Kavya’s mom, why her Kavya’s dad left, what was up with Dhrittiman (Kavya’s younger brother), and how come Niya and Lara pretended they were her friends?

While the book isn’t all that bad, the humour is just masterfully done. But saddens me to think that many who read this book have considered this an accurate representation of the lives that many teens lead.  I think I might be finding this a little distasteful because I prefer adventure/romance stories, and not just teenage romance. I found the extensive use of foul language for no reason unreasonable, pointless, and just plain annoying.

The tone I felt it was Kavya’s rant, and would have been better to read if it had a bit more emotion and confession, since she’s pouring her feelings out into a diary. I like the idea and flow of the events, and wished there was more story around each one.

And I would have liked to see Kavya tie up  or atleast face the many other areas of her life that we are introduced to …not just her love life.

For me , this book is something to read once  but if you like chick-flicks, this will be your soulmate!

 

 

 

Like Smoke (Paro Anand) – Relatable Teenage Life Stories

Like Smoke by Paro Anand was a book I got my hands on only because it was recommended by a friend. Again. Though I wouldn’t have thought of reading this book initially, I’m glad I did. The stories were deep and thoughtful, and brought out a sense of gratitude in me that I wouldn’t have discovered myself.

Each and every one of these stories is a gateway into a divergent world of another unique teen’s mind, thoughts and emotions. It allows you to tap into an unusual perspective, different, yet extremely similar to our own mindset. Each teenager, having to deal with a bucketful of emotional wreckage every day, can put it down, can describe it, capturing every inch of that feeling and forcing it on you. These emotions are relatable for most teenagers, and probably for some adults too. It’s like walking through a garden, except that all the fruits and flowers are memories, and each fragrance or stench is an emotion.

Even though every single story has rooted itself inside me, none has gone as deep as They Called Her ‘Fats’, the story of a javelin-throwing prodigy, Fatima Whitbread. Fatima is unemotional and isn’t socially inclined, and is constantly found in rumours around her multiple child-care centres. They called her a ‘witch’ and said that she performed ‘ancient pagan rituals’ in the middle of the night, but despite all that, her sheer will to run, to throw, set her free. It is an encouraging and touching story, and it tells us to, no matter what, follow your dreams. This story wouldn’t have been an initial choice of mine, being sports-themed and all, but I have to grudgingly admit that I do take away from this story. Chasing after your aspiration is an important thing in life, and if we didn’t pursue them, then we’d all be failures.

Another thing about the book that I really appreciated, was the effort to bring in themes that children today should know. There were stories about terrorism, riots and domestic violence. I find this important as thing like these are actually happening in this world, right now. We’re trapped in our personal safe bubble by our parents -even though they only want to protect us- and we hardly know what’s going on outside it. I’m saying this through first-hand experience…I had to find out some day.

Stories such as ‘Those Yellow Flowers of August’, ‘Wild Child’, ‘Milk’, ‘See you Shortly’ ‘Jason Jamison and I’ or even ‘City Boy’, which will make you feel like sobbing, wanting to break something or crying out in rage because of the unfairness of this world and what it does to people. There are other stories too, like ‘Susu’, which will make you burst out in laughter, in contrary to all the emotional and heart-wrenching tales.

Each one of these tales will touch you in some way or another. Each teen in this book is someone you have seen, or maybe even been. They are not all of one event, of one time frame, or even of one emotion, they just do one thing similar – they feel, and they want to help others do the same.

The book feels raw at first glance, and probably might feel like a rant to older readers. But people younger beg to differ. The book is something you just pick up and read when a wave of emotion threatens to drown you, so you can relate to something or want to lighten up. The only recommendation I have for this book is teenagers, and those who are adolescent at heart or overly-emotional, like me.

I have nothing more to say but to pick up a copy of your own, and no matter how long it sits on your bookshelf, it will call you, and then you will pick it up sometime. I guarantee.