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1. Maybe They'll Use the Cliff Notes Versions

Linked in Read Roger: The poshest bookclub in LA?

200poshbook0 "I know we're supposed to be discussing Emma, but I thought we'd try something a bit more me instead."

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2. Gene Wins!

Americanborn_2 The winner of the 2007 Michael L. Printz Award (which honours excellence in Young Adult fiction) is Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel American Born Chinese.

From the ALA website:

Yang draws from American pop culture and ancient Chinese mythology in his groundbreaking work. Expertly told in words and pictures, Yang’s story in three parts follows a Chinese American teenager’s struggle to define himself against racial stereotypes. “American Born Chinese” is the first graphic novel to be recognized by the Michael L. Printz Committee.

Yang, who began drawing comics in the fifth grade, is a high school teacher in the San Francisco Bay area. The annual award for literary excellence is administered by the Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), a division of ALA, and is sponsored by Booklist magazine. The award, first given in 2000, is named for the late Michael L. Printz, a Topeka, Kans., school librarian known for discovering and promoting quality books for young adults.

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3. KidzRead!: Witch Week

Witchweek The plan is to discuss Diana Wynne Jones's Witch Week this Sunday, 25th March, at about 430pm at MPH Bangsar Village II.

If you're a DWJ fan or even if you're not, do come along for a chat/gossip about this and other books.

It would be fab if you read Witch Week first, but it's not imperative you do.

At 4pm (same place), I'll be reading Oliver Jeffers's Lost and Found. All kids (of all ages) are most welcome to attend this session. See you there, I hope!
Lostandfound

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4. Don't Tell the Children!

LuckyChildren's book titles you'll never see: There are some hilarious ones here, here and here.

And then there's the spoof in The New Yorker, obviously written in response to the recent controvery over the word "scrotum" in Newberry Medal-winner The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron.

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5. Happy Birthday, Mr Cat!

I attended MPH Kidz Club's party for The Cat in the Hat's 50th birthday this afternoon.

Img_0973Put on the hat and you turn into some sort of psycho, I swear ...









Ishanthecat I-Shan gets into the spirit of the Cat ... or maybe it's the Grinch ...

Sm_pg18cathat Tots to Teens, Star Mag

11 March 2007

Fete that hat cat!

THE Cat in the Hat turns 50 this year. And I’ll be 40 in April. But I didn’t grow up with this book or anything else by Dr Seuss. My first encounter with the author was when I read The Sneetches and Other Stories to my eldest, Elesh. 

I admit I was quite surprised. I didn’t quite know what to make of Dr Seuss’ odd-looking, eccentric characters. Elesh loved them, though.

He would squeal with delight and horror whenever his dad read him the story called What Was I Scared Of? It’s a tale, in verse, of “a pair of pale green pants with nobody inside them”. The narrator (one of Dr Seuss’s strange creatures of indeterminate species) keeps encountering the pants and is terrified of them. The first time he sees them they’re just standing there, motionless. And then they move! Elesh used to shriek whenever we came to this bit. It’s still my favourite story by Dr Seuss.

His books are a joy to read aloud because of the meter he uses. You don’t think of it because you’re busy being distracted by his crazy characters and nonsense words, but Dr Seuss usually wrote in anapestic tetrameter. 

I don’t want to get technical here but the point is, Dr Seuss had rhythm! When you read a poem and you don’t stumble and it doesn’t sound clumsy, you know the author has rhythm!

Children (especially very little ones) love it when the story is written in verse with even, regular beats so that the words sort of gallop off your tongue and theirs. 

Rhythm helps the words stick in their heads too, just as rhymes do. You know, like, 30 days has September, April, June, and November – now you’ll never forget which months have 30 days!

What I didn’t know about Dr Seuss and The Cat in the Hat until recently is that the story is written using just 236 unique words.

Also, of the 236 words, just one has three syllables, 14 have two and 221 are monosyllabic! As I like to tell my students: keep it simple. Simple works!

The Cat in the Hat was written in response to a Life magazine article criticising the boring primers used in schools. In it, the writer, John Hersey challenged Dr Seuss to write a story “first graders wouldn’t be able to put down”.

The book was, of course, a huge success. It was used to supplement school reading programmes, as were many of the author’s subsequent books. 

Today, it’s as popular as ever and is the inspiration for Project 236, an American literacy initiative organised by Dr Seuss Enterprises, Random House and First Book, an organisation that provides children from low income families with new books.

Getting into the spirit of things is MPH Kidz Club, which is organising a 50th birthday party for the Cat at MPH 1Utama (Petaling Jaya, Selangor) this afternoon at 2pm. The plan is for some members of the club to read aloud an excerpt of The Cat in the Hat at 2.36pm! 

I’m going to be there and will encourage every adult present (as well as anyone reading this column) to buy a copy of the book or any Dr Seuss book (or any children’s book for that matter) and donate it to a children’s charity of his choice. 

Maybe you can help start a library at your local orphanage or the children’s ward at your local hospital. Or you could volunteer to read to the children at these places.

What I love best about The Cat in the Hat (and all Dr Seuss stories) is their irreverence and exuberance. Even the odd characters with their strange quirks are a challenge to think out of the box and open your imagination to things new and different. 

Will the Cat still be swaggering down the book aisles in 50 years’ time? I think he will. As long as children (of all ages) are eager to take the sort of exciting journey that can only be experienced within the pages of a good book, they’ll find that the Cat makes an excellent travelling companion. 

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6. Judging a Book by Its Cover, Part III

Check out this website. Covers is  "dedicated to the appreciation of book cover design."

It has cool book covers as well as articles and interviews. Love it!

Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 by Phil Baines is also an excellent read for anyone interetsted in the history of book cover design.

Penguincover

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7. Scary Stuff

Img_0928 I interviewed Tunku Halim (left) on Friday and felt like a worm when he said that hardly anyone had reviewed his Children's History of Malaya.

(I interviewed him when that book was first published.)

I squeaked: "I mentioned you in my column."

OK, so it was a very, very brief mention ....

No excuses, so let's just look forward to his new book, 44 Cemetery Road, a compilation of his supernatural shorts.

For what it's worth, I still read CHM to my kids and have recommended it to a couple of home-schooling centres (where it is now used). The book makes history interesting for children. History is, of course, interesting anyway, but most textbooks have an uncanny knack of turning bloody battles, scandals and betrayals, turbulent lives, cruel dictators and courageous people into chunks of boring, lifeless facts. Quite a gift, that!

To get your kids interested in Malayan history, get them CHM.

And check out Tunku Halim's blog Write Lah! Writing for Malaysians.

44 Cemetery Road
is due out in April.

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8. KidzRead!

Yet another long-overdue post (sorry, but my PC's been ill for the past month or so. It's OK now ... thank goodness). This one's about my new reading group for children.

Well, actually, it's MPH's new reading group for chikdren. It's called KidzRead and is held on the last Sunday of every month, at Bangsar Village 2.

MPH was nice enough to ask me to facilitate the group and we had our first session a couple of Sundays ago. The featured book was The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo.

Here's a pic of me, with the two mums and their little girls who attended!

Img_0919_1 (From left) Kaylin and Sally; Sarah and Animah; me.

From this month on, we're having a picture book-reading session (from 4pm) before the discussion, which should begin at about half-past 4.

Sally and Animah, the two mums who attended the first session, mentioned that they love reading children's and YA books and asked if they could they join in the discussions. Well, of course!

Anyone who wants to read the featured books and join in the discussion may. There's no age limit.

Here are the picture books I'll be reading from this month to July, as well as the books for discussion:

March
Picture Book: Lost & Found by Oliver Jeffers

KidzRead!: Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones

April
Picture Book: Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak

KidzRead!: Tom's Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce
 
May
Picture Book: Dear Greenpeace written and illus by Simon James
 
KidzRead!: Famer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder
 
June
Picture Book: Half a World Away by Libby Gleeson, illus Freya Blackwood

KidzRead!: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken

July
Picture Book: Where is the Green Sheep? by Mem Fox, illus Judy Horacek
 
KidzRead!: A String in the Harp by Nancy Bond
 
 

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9. Scenes from a Book-Launch

This post is long overdue. My picture books were launched on 18th February (as mentioned in my post Talking About Books) and here are some pictures from the event.

Signingposter Signing the poster to "officially" launch the books.

FakingitFaking it: Amir and I pretending to read our books (because we were asked to, by the press photographers). And, yes, we felt really stupid doing it!

Withpaferic2(From left) Eric Forbes, our editor at MPH Publishing; Amir and me; Raj, from the Paediatric AIDS Fund (my royalties are going to this organisation).

Signingwithamir_1 Amir and me, signing copies of our four books!

BernamainterviewTrying to sound intelligent during our interview with Bernama News Agency.

WithafanA picture with one of the kind souls who bought our books. Unfortunately, I can't recall her name. If anyone reading this recognises her, please enlighten me!

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10. Gnook at This

Check out this website: Gnooks

Type in an author's name to discover other writers, literature maps, join in discussions, search for books etc.

It's really funny that the map for Elizabeth David comprises just three names: her's, JeffreySteingarten and Hunter S. Thompson. HUNTER S. THOMPSON???!!!

However, these maps are created based on readers' tastes, not the similarity of one author to another.

The site says: "The closer two writers are, the more likely someone will like both of them."

Well, interestingly enough I typed in Tove Jansson (the author of the Moomin books and definitely a big favourite of mine) and Aidan Chambers, floating very close by, is next on my "Must Read" list. 

However, although Kenneth Grahame and C. S Lewis are also hovering nearby, so are Gail Tsukiyama and Liza Dalby who write, as far as I can tell, romances set in Japan, which are not my cup of green tea at all.

Well, as I said, it's about individual tastes and that's how Hunter S. Thompson came to beon the same map as Elizabeth David!

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11. Talking About Books

Tots to Teens, Star Mag

18th Feb 2007

Launch100207iii I HAD the thrill, last Saturday, of attending the launch of my picture books. Now, before I go on, let me just say that I’ve been ribbed endlessly by friends and family about my “shameless self-promotion”. What can I say? Who else is going to blow my trumpet, right?

Anyway, back to the launch. It was fun. It was also nerve wrecking. I imagined no one turning up: How embarrassing! And then I imagined throngs of people: How even more embarrassing!

About 10 people showed in the end. Most of them were friends and family, and there was a girl who said she read this column, and a little boy who just smiled and took lots and lots of pictures….

esAnyway, thanks to my publisher, distributor and the bookstore for organising the launch. It’s cool to see more events being organised by MPH Bookstores. Today I went for the “press tour” of the latest store at Bangsar Village II in Kuala Lumpur.

Two interesting groups are being launched at this store this month. One is the Breakfast Club for Litbloggers, where bloggers who write about books can network; and Kidz Read! a reading group for children.

The Breakfast Club will meet on the first Saturday of every month from 11am to 1pm. Author Ooi Yang-May (The Flame Tree, Mindgame) will attend the first session on Feb 24.

Kidz Read! will be held on the last Sunday of each month. Each meeting will focus on two to four books, linked in some way, for example by theme, author or subject.

The books that will discussed at the first meeting on Feb 25 are Kate DiCamillo’s The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane; The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams; The Mouse and His Child by Russell Hoban; and Frances Hodgson-Burnett’s The Racketty-Packetty House.

At each session, children will explore themes and discuss questions and issues raised in the featured books. They will also be encouraged to talk about how they feel about the books, why they like or dislike them; and to even recommend similar books to each other.

By the way, I’m the facilitator for this group and I decided that there should be more than one book for each session so that children at different reading levels can join the discussion.

So, you don’t have to read every single book on the list ... unless you want to, of course! If there’s a book you (or your child) would like discussed at Kidz Read! do write and tell me about it.

I’d also love to hear from readers about books that they love. A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail, from 17-year-old Justine Lee, raving about Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Justine says it’s “a beautiful story ... in a depressing kinda way ... full of wit and sarcasm”.

“I think this book will appeal to a lot of people, especially young adults,” she says. “I hope you can highlight the book in your column.”

Done!

Happy reading and Happy Chinese New Year!

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