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Thursday, August 31, 2017

My Students Meet Morris Gleitzman! At the MWF...

On Monday I took nineteen students to the Melbourne Writers' Festival, where they were going to hear Morris Gleitzman speak about his Once series. It would have been twenty, but young Kim, who is a huge fan of the series, suddenly had to go with her family to Vietnam. She had been so looking forward to it. There wasn't time to invite another student to go in her place. I ended up buying her a copy of the newest novel in the series - Maybe - and getting him to sign it for her.

We had been planning this since July. My original plan had been to take them to Reading Matters, but it sold out before we could get the numbers, so we went to the Festival instead.

The kids were wonderful. All of them who were going to be late rang me to let me know. One poor girl ended up having to walk all the way to the station because she didn't have a myki card. I gave her one of my spares, which I'd topped up, because there is always at least one student who either forgets to buy a card or to top up the one they have with money. That time there were three - and I had bought extra cards just in case.

And who should we meet on the train station platform but Natasha, one of my former book clubbers, now studying to be a teacher! Natasha ended up chatting to Taylor, a hugely book-loving student, so I left them to it, after a brief chat with Natasha.

Morris Gleitzman was a very good speaker, talking about his series in general and specifically about the new book, which I hadn't realised was out already. Kim will love this, I thought. one of my students, who hadn't read any of the books, admitted that "it was a bit boring" when I asked him how he had enjoyed the talk. But next day he told me that he had found Once in his literacy class's book box, started reading and was loving it. So in the end, he did get something out of it.

I had intended to text my friend George Ivanoff, who was going to be there, but there wasn't time. I stood near the book-signing queue and took photos for the school magazine. Morris was quite happy to have kids pose with him.

Not all the kids had money for a book and I ended up buying about three books for them, because I couldn't bear for them to miss out.  It was worth it to see those joyful looks as I handed them their copy. And then I thought, what the heck, I'll get a print copy for me, and I was the last to have a book signed that morning.

We went to lunch at the Melbourne Central food court and along the way to the court, I pointed out the Little Library. People donate books to it and you're supposed to take one and either return it or bring one. I will certainly be putting in some books soonish, but I doubt my students will. They pounced on the books with cries of joy - one of them even walked off happily with a Rick Riordan novel, one of the Magnus Chase ones rather than Percy Jackson.

They all returned to our meeting place on time and we returned to our station, where I dismissed them. 

It was a good day!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

A Visit From The Local Member

Earlier this year, we had a phone call from the office of the local Member of State Parliament, Marsha Thomson,  asking if we were doing the Premier's Reading Challenge.

As it happens, we were. This is the first time I've ever done it and I must say, I regret not having done it before. It's not like Reader's Cup, which is a lot of work and requires a lot of support from the staff. And it doesn't cost anything, just a bit of the librarian's time to set it up, encourage kids to get into it and make sure to verify completed books. The kids get a certificate from the Education Department afterwards. Not a huge prize, but if they're reading anyway, why not? And if not, well, it might get them started, encourage them to challenge themselves. We don't have that many this year, but enough for now. 

Here's how it works: between two set dates, the kids are required to read a minimum of fifteen books. Of those, at least ten must be from the Reading Challenge list, but that's okay - there are plenty to choose from. In fact, two of my books, Wolfborn and Your Cat Could Be A Spy, are on the list. How good is that, eh? I was hoping that there would be more kids finishing the challenge, so far only two and a couple more are just about there, but haven't marked their books online as finished. If I had it to do again, I would make sure everyone chose their own passwords right at the start, so they didn't have  to have troubles logging in. And I'd urge the staff to get it going as part of our literacy program.

Anyway, on to the local member! 

Apparently she was a great enthusiast of the Challenge and of reading and was planning to visit schools doing the Challenge to get kids interested. Would we like a visit? Well, I thought, a writer would be nicer than a politician, but a writer costs money I don't have and it could do no harm to have someone promote the Challenge. So I discussed it with my Principal, who agreed it would be a good thing, and we said yes. 

The lady came this week, on Tuesday. We panicked a little when the whole school had assembled in the library and nobody had arrived yet. I was just hunting for a Challenge book when she arrived with one of her staff members.

And I must admit, she did very well. She began with talking about reading in general, about her own reading and the book club they have in Parliament House. The kids were intrigued by the idea of having a book club in Parliament and what the politicians do up there. She was impressed to learn that there were boys in my book club, and also asked who was doing the Challenge. I did suggest that perhaps not everybody knew what the Challenge was, so she explained to the kids that it started in Victoria in Premier Steve Bracks' time and told them what it involved.

Question time came and there were quite a few hands up to ask questions. One book she mentioned was To Kill A Mockingbird, which I lent to one of my book clubbers next day. She said she was not a great fan of fantasy and that she was never going to read Harry Potter! She pretty much only reads adult books and likes biographies best.

Since then I have signed up another Reading Challenge student. There were other requests, but nobody turned up at lunchtime to do it, so I can only assume it was a case of "it seemed like a good idea at the time, but lunchtime is when I go out and kick a footy around."

Marsha had another school to visit, so we said farewell to her and she had her photo taken with some of the students. I gave her some of my bookmarks, of Wolfborn and Crime Time, telling her she could give it to the kids at her next school or keep it to distribute at her Parliament book club.

It went for just the right length of time; another few minutes and kids would have been fidgeting, but as it was, they enjoyed it.

Thank you, Marsha!

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Latest Brother Cadfael Re-Read: The Pilgrim Of Hate by Ellis Peters

Yet again I'm re-reading some of Ellis Peters' classic whodunnits. This one came off my shelves, but some of them are at Mum's place, including one I recently re-read, An Excellent Mystery

They are all set in twelfth century Shrewsbury, a sort of mediaeval Midsomer, where corpses turn up regularly and it's up to herbalist monk Brother Cadfael to use his forensic skills to find out how they died and who killed them. He does this with the help of his friend Hugh Beringar, the Sheriff of Shropshire. Has anyone noticed the trope of the amateur sleuth and his or her buddy the cop? Because really, that's what Hugh is. He may be in charge of the shire, which he holds and defends for King Stephen during the war between Stephen and Empress Maud, but in the end, he is also the local law enforcement officer, a kind of police chief, so it fits, really, doesn't it? Hugh is in this one.

Despite what I said about a mediaeval Midsomer, this author sometimes does something a little different. In one novel, there wasn't actually a murder at all, just a mystery, with a missing character everyone thinks must have been murdered. In The Pilgrim Of Hate, the murder took place offstage, before the story even begins. The victim was a knight of Empress Maud who was killed on the street in Winchester while defending a follower of King Stephen from attackers. Nobody knows who the killer was; he vanished into the dark streets. But Brother Cadfael works it out anyway, or this wouldn't be a mystery. 

Meanwhile, in Shrewsbury, the monks are preparing for a huge festival, the annual celebration of the arrival of the Welsh Saint Winifred, whose coffin was brought there four years ago from Wales during A Morbid Taste For Bones(but not her body, because Brother Cadfaeł did a switch to keep her in her home soil with the villagers who loved her). Pilgrims are flocking there for the party, some in hopes of miracles. Among them are a widow, her crippled nephew Rhun and his sister Melangell, and two young men who are on their way on foot to Wales. There is a mystery here(of course!) about the two men. As usual there is a sweet young couple whose love might not prosper. And Brother Cadfael's son, Olivier De Bretagne, whom we first met in The Virgin In The Ice turns up on a mission. And there's a miracle - actually, two, as far as Cadfael is concerned, the second being his chance to see his son again. 

I love this series! I love its gentleness and its worldbuilding. It brings mediaeval England to life, not to mention a small-town community. The Shrewsbury of the novels is real - I once found I could follow the old streets just by having read the author's descriptions. 

But in the end, people are people and learn from their mistakes - or don't...

If you haven't yet read any of these wonderful books, you've been missing out - go read! 

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Just Finished Reading... The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Attwood

For some reason I thought I had read this before. Well, some of it was familiar, but I suspect I never finished it then. This time I did. Mainly, I decided to read it now because I have been unable to watch the TV series at this stage, even though it's available online at the SBS station web site. I think my OS and browser are out of date and I can't update either till I delete a lot more stuff on my computer. I will wait for the DVD.

My copy is an ebook, a new edition with an intro by the author. The intro alone is a fascinating read. For example, she says she made the decision that her story would have nothing in it that hasn't happened at one time or another in our world. She has simply put it all together in one dystopia. It was written back in the 1980s, before the Internet was more than a bit of an experiment, and even then it was possible to simply switch off credit cards. Imagine how easy it would be today. Even in Australia we are being asked to give up freedoms, give authorities extended rights, all in the name of security. The novel is scary exactly because it is so easy to believe!

The novel starts when the nameless heroine(we only ever know her as "Offred", i.e "Of Fred", her master's name) is already living as a walking womb in the Republic of Gilead. The author tells us in her introduction that it's Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the place where bodies are hung like the heads on London Bridge is the wall of Harvard University. As the novel goes on, we gradually learn in flashback about her earlier life with her husband and child and how one day she is a working woman with an income and the next day her credit/debit card is cancelled and her boss has to sack all his female employees.

Interestingly, the Wife whose baby she is supposed to bear is a woman who used to be a member of a choir on a TV televangelist program when "Offred" was a child. The woman was one of those who declared in public that women should be staying home, in the kitchen, and no doubt regrets it now.

The "history conference " documents at the end were interesting, throwing hints of what might have happened. You needed that, because there was a very abrupt ending to the main story.

I thought there was rather too much flashback and my goodness, didn't those characters smoke! 

Still, an interesting story, one which is unfortunately all too believable, and hopefully I will be able to get hold of the DVD at some stage, and see how much difference there is.