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1. The Places You Will Go v 2.0

This blog is now up again, hosted by Weebly. Some of the original content has been transferred to the new site, where I shall continue to post my column and reviews (from The Star) as well as my personal observations... Read the rest of this post

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2. So Long and Thanks for All the Fish

The Places You Will Go is taking a break. For now, please follow me on Nevermind, my blog on Tumblr, or join The Places You Will Go, a Facebook group for readers who love children's and YA books.

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3. Reading Room

Reading Room today features books (and people) that help inspire and enlighten you in all areas of your life.

Reading Room, StarTwo

30th March 2007

Inspiring thought

25nunForever and Ever, Amen 

Author: Karol Jackowski

Publisher: Riverhead, 288 pages 

ISBN: 978-159-448-9372 

SISTER Karol Jackowski’s story about her years as a nun-in-training is honest, surprising, interesting and funny. The fact that she was a postulant and novice during a time of great changes in the Catholic church (pre- and post-Vatican 2) makes her experiences even more compelling. Jackowski is refreshingly candid, mischievous and irreverent, and does not shy away from presenting the less than positive aspects of the church. However, her sense of fairness and loyalty shine through and make her a credible and believable witness to a life that is shrouded in mystery and myth. This fascinating book will appeal to Catholics and non-Catholics alike. 


The Greatness Guide: Powerful Secrets for Getting to World Class 

Author: Robin Sharma 

Publisher: Collins, 221 pages 

ISBN: 978-006-124-0195 

ROBIN Sharma, motivational consultant to organisations such as NASA, Microsoft, Nike and FedEx, offers 101 tips on how to move beyond simply existing to really experiencing life. Sharma’s style is casual, friendly and accessible, and his message comes across clearly and believably. Among the lessons taught here are how to turn setbacks into opportunities, how to attract true wealth along with real happiness, how to generate health and energy, and how to balance work and life and have more fun. The Greatness Guide is a useful tool for those who want to climb the career ladder but do not believe in sacrificing their personal life for success in their jobs. 


The Secret

Author: Rhonda Byrne 

Publisher: Atria Books, 199 pages 

ISBN: 978-158-270-1738 

THE Secret explains how to achieve happiness and success in all areas of life, using simple language. Cynics will be tickled pink by the rah-rah style of the language, but, really, one has nothing to lose in putting the principles presented into practice. The concepts of positive visualisation were first explored in a DVD of the same title, produced by author Rhonda Byrne and featuring well-known motivational teachers like Jack Canfield, Bob Proctor, Lisa Nichols and Marie Diamond. The book can be used as a handy reference guide for those already familiar with “the secret” or as an introduction to first-timers who want to familiarise themselves with the fine art of having it all. This is a thoroughly uplifting book and highly recommended for anyone who’s in the doldrums.

Zen Inspiration 

Compiled by Asiapac Editorial, translated by Yang Liping and iIllustrated by Fu Chunjiang 

Publisher: Asiapac Books, 210 pages 

ISBN: 978-981-229-4555 

THIS is an introduction to Zen Buddhism that presents the basics of Zen in a simple, unintimidating and thoroughly comprehensive manner. Large sections of the book comprise comics that very clearly convey the message of Zen. Anecdotes illustrate Zen terms, principles and beliefs, and the text is succinct and straightforward. Zen Inspiration may well be used to reinforce the knowledge of practitioners as well as inspire those new to Zen, to find out more about the practice. 


The Bodhisattva Vows: A Practical Guide to the Sublime Ethics of the Mahayana 

Author: Venerable Dagpo Lama Rinpoche 

Editor: Rosemary Patton 

Publisher: E Publication Sdn Bhd, 161 pages 

ISBN: 978-983-432-4704

TAKING the bodhisattva vows commits Buddhists to a method of personal growth that is prompted by concern for the welfare of others. It is believed that such actions will lead practitioners to enlightenment. This book compiles over 20 years worth of commentaries by the Venerable Dagpo Lama Rinpoche on the bodhisattva vows. The vows are explained clearly and can be easily followed by Buddhists eager to live happier, more meaningful lives.    

Do You Think What You Think You Think?: The Ultimate Philosophical Quiz Book 

Author: Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom 

Publisher: Granta, 187 pages 

ISBN: 9781862079168 

HOW does your brain work? What are your thought processes? Do you contradict yourself? Are you logical? What is your stand on God and religion? Are your believes on ethical issues firm or do you prefer to straddle fences? Do You Think What You Think You Think? presents a dozen quizzes that reveal what you really think about things. Be prepared to be surprised as the true you emerges! Whether you choose to take it all seriously or with a pinch of salt, the quizzes are challenging and fun, although at times a little infuriating. Anyone who likes a good think will love this book. 

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4. Reading Pictures

Man_reading_at_table Warren Dennis
Man Reading at Table

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5. Illustrated Monday: The Little House Series

Garthwi I was having a hard time deciding which book to feature on this week's Illustrated Monday until I read a column, in The Horn Book Magazine, about reissues.

Apparently, new versions of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House books do not contain Garth Williams's drawings. Neither does his art appear on the covers. Instead, photographs are used.

Also, it seems that you have to pay US$2 more if you want the versions in which Williams' illustrations appear. However, you don't get the original  black-and-white pictures: they've all been colourised, which some may prefer. I don't!

A five-in-one book called A Little House Collection (below, left) has also been released. It comprises the first five Little House books (Little House in the Big Woods, Little House On the Prairie, On the Banks of Plum Creek, By the Shores of Silver Lake and The Long Winter). I have no idea why they didn't include Little Town on the Prairie and  These Happy Golden Years.

Says the columnist Terri Schmitz, "At 618 pages, with a whopping  forty-dollar price tag, A Little House Collection is almost impossible to handle, and in order to accommodate all of the text every page is divided into two columns, Littletowncollectionwith the art squeezed in willy-nilly. It's a shameful and unnecessary way to treat Mrs Wilder, whose books have given so much pleasure to so many children over the years. Her books deserve better than being reduced into a doorstop." Hear hear!

Anyway, after all that, this week's featured illustrations are by Garth Williams and from the Little House books.

Bigwoods1I went to the HarperCollins website to have a look at those new Little House books. Well, what do you think? I say, "TACKY!"

The following illustrations are from the Puffin editions of Laura Ingalls Wilder's Little House series, illustrated by Garth Williams (click on the thumbnails for bigger versions of the pictures):

Garthwiii from Dance at Granpa's, pg 88 in Little House in the Big Woods

Garthwv from The House on the Prairie, pg 50 in Little House on the Prairie

Garthwvi from Runaway, pg 55 in On the Banks of Plum Creek

Garthwvii from Merry Christmas, pg 144 in By the Shores of Silver Lake

Garthwviii from Three Days' Blizzard, pg 81 in The Long Winter (that's Almanzo Wilder frying pancakes. Laura marries him in These Happy Golden Years)

Garthwix from Working in Town, pg 26 in Little Town on the Prairie

Garthwx from First Day of School, pg 20 in These Happy Golden Years

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6. Books I Want on My Shelf

In Star Mag's Reads Monthly pullout, I'll be highlighting the books I want on my shelf for that month.

Kinokuniya Bookstores is offering a 25% discount on these books.

Tots to Teens, Reads Monthly, Star Mag

25th March 2007

Make room on the shelf



By Susan Patron

Illustrated by Matt Phelan

Publisher: Atheneum/ Richard Jackson Books, 144 pages

(ISBN: 978-141-690-1945)


WHEN Lucky’s mother is killed in a freak accident, the little girl’s errant father asks his ex-wife, Birgitte, to help out. She obliges, coming all the way from France to care for the child. 

But two years later, Lucky is worried that her guardian might be tiring of life in Hard Pan (population 43), California. Any day now, Birgitte will leave Lucky in an orphanage and take off back to Europe. 

That’s what the 10-year-old thinks anyway, and being practical-minded as well as a little (and understandably) afraid, she packs a survival kit and eavesdrops on 12-step-programme meetings in the hope of learning how to harness a “higher power” that will see her out of her predicament. 

Lucky is daring, curious and determined, a rather unusual heroine whose best friends are boys and favourite subject, science. 

The other characters are equally engaging, surprising, even odd, but thoroughly believable. And the Mojave Desert setting is gorgeously, vividly described by Patron, while Matt Phelan’s line drawings give delightful shape to the text. 

This quirky, thought-provoking story won the 2007 Newberry Medal.



By Trenton Lee Stewart; illustrated by Carson Ellis

Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers, 485 pages

(ISBN: 978-031-605-7776)


REYNIE, Kate, Sticky and Constance pass a test for “gifted children looking for special opportunities” and are recruited by the ebullient and erudite Mr Benedict to work against Mr Curtain, a master criminal who is using children to help him conquer the world. 

This novel stirs the imagination from the first page and I couldn’t find out fast enough how the four children would handle things. 

The kids, from the cocky but kind Kate to the nervous wreck of a walking dictionary Sticky, are interesting in different ways, but I found Mr Benedict’s assistants even more fascinating, especially Number 2, who resembles a pencil and suffers from insomnia and constant hunger! 

Reynie and his new friends are plunged deep into danger and adventure as they attempt to discover Mr Curtain’s secrets and foil his evil plans, and you will find yourself as involved as you attempt to solve the clues and puzzles set out before the foursome. 

This is a fat book but the exciting plot twists make it a breezy read. I hope Stewart will write a sequel.



By Diana Wynne Jones

Publisher: Puffin Books, 192 pages

(ISBN: 978-014-240-7189)


JUST outside of Earth’s atmosphere lies another world, a fairytale mythosphere in which magical creatures lurk. This is what Hayley, an orphan, discovers when she is sent from her grandparents’ home in London to live with relatives in Ireland. 

Hayley’s cousins introduce her to “the game”, in which the players must fulfil certain tasks in the mythosphere. 

One day, she meets her parents, trapped in this other world, banished because their love did not meet with the approval of the family patriach, Uncle Jolyon. 

When Jolyon, sadistic and power-mad, finds out about “the game”, he goes on the rampage, determined to destroy Hayley and her loved ones. 

Diana Wynne Jones is always original and even her use of classical mythology as the basis of her plot is inventive. This is definitely another bright star in the DWJ universe.


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7. 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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8. Junior Reading Room

Five YA novels and a picture book are what's featured this week on Junior Reading Room. Cut out the coupon to enjoy a 20% discount at Kinokuniya Books.

Fragile Jade

The Nature of Jade
Author: Deb Caletti
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing, 304 pages

UNLIKE the substance she’s named after, Jade isn’t “stronger than steel”. The 18-year-old suffers from panic attacks and, in an attempt to calm herself, she volunteers at the zoo and is assigned to work with the elephants.   

Jade has another reason for wanting the job: Sebastian, the cute boy whom she had been “spying on” via the zoo’s webcam. As fate would have it, Jade and Sebastian meet and fall in love. However, he has a secret that threatens to destroy Jade’s hopes and dreams. Will she be strong enough to face the truth?   

Author: Dana Reinhardt
Publisher: Wendy Lamb Books, 240 pages

MARIAH, Anna, and Emma tell their parents that they’re going to the movies but instead, visit a boy from school. When the adults turn up at the cinema, it looks like the girls are going to get busted and so they continue lying to avoid punishment.   

They tell their parents that they were attacked by a stranger on their way to the movies, but what the friends don’t count on is for their fib to completely overtake their lives. Their parents make a police report, everyone at school labels them “heroes” and a man is actually arrested for the imagined crime.   

Each passing day leaves the girls feeling bad about their lie, but will their guilty conscience be enough to persuade them to come clean?   


Un Lun Dun
Author: China Mieville
Publisher: Del Rey Books, 448 pages

DEEBA and Zanna discover a wheel that, when turned, makes London disappear! The pair then find themselves in UnLondon, an alternate world where the debris of the London they know end up!   

UnLondon is threatened by Smog, a poisonous cloud, which the girls try to destroy with the help of a talking magic book, and the most remarkable group of UnLondoners!   

This is an exciting and imaginative tome packed with surprises that will keep its readers in a state of constant delight, wonder and suspense.   


Author: Patricia Elliott
Publisher: Little, Brown Young Readers, 400 pages

THOSE who enjoyed Patricia Elliott’s haunting novel, Murkmere, will welcome Ambergate as an equally dark and even more disturbing read. It is not strictly a sequel, although it is set in the same world, since here, the focus is no longer on Aggie, the village girl who is employed as companion to the young mistress of the manor.   

Instead, Scuff, Murkmere Hall’s lonely and ill-used kitchen maid, is at the centre of this story. An orphan, Scuff has a dark secret that she fears would, if revealed, cost her her life.   

On hearing that she is being pursued by soldiers, she flees Murkmere, but for just how long and how far will she be able to avoid capture and the truth?   


Treasure Fleet: China Discovers the World
Author: Ann Bowler
Ilustrator: Lak-khee Tay-Audouard
Publisher: Tuttle Publishing, 32 pages

THE Admiral Zheng He and his voyages around the world are the focus of this picture book. Much is made of the explorer Christopher Columbus, but 85 years before he discovered America, Admiral Zheng sailed the oceans in huge ships (longer than a football field). Starting in 1405, more than 300 of these vessels made their way from China, across the South China Sea to the Indian Ocean and the coast of Africa. These voyages of discovery did much for China’s trade and established the country and its emperor as powers to be reckoned with.   

The book is packed with beautiful illustrations and interesting facts although some may find the layout a little too “busy”, with the text packed too tight on each page.   


The Opposite of Music
Author: Janet Ruth Young
Publisher: Atheneum Books, 352 pages

BILLY’S father goes from being simply a little distant to becoming a person whom Billy can no longer recognise. He stops listening to music, and eating and sleeping. He is depressed and withdrawn and refuses to be treated.   

It’s up to Billy and the rest of the family to help him, but, after a time, the strain of caring for Dad starts to become too much for everyone. Who will care for the carers?   

This painfully-honest novel explores the often-overlooked problems faced by those who devote their lives to caring for sick friends or relatives.

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9. 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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10. Reading Pictures

406pxkuniyoshi_utagawa_woman_readin Kuniyoshi Utagawa 1798-1861
Woman Reading

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11. 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!

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12. Illustrated Monday: The Gardens of Dorr

Evajohannarubin Inspired by my Pictures in Books post, I have decided that, from now on, Monday shall be Illustrated Monday.

Every Monday I will feature illustrations from my favourite illustrated children's and YA books (and, occasionally, adult fiction too).

Today's book is ...

The Gardens of Dorr by Paul Biegel
Illustrated by Eva-Johanna Rubin
Publisher: J. M. dent & Sons Limited, 241 pages
ISBN: 0-460-05888-6

Click on the thumbnails to see larger versions of the illustrations:

Evajohannarubin4 The Lost City

Evajohannarubin1 The Blind Magician

Evajohannarubin2 The Wild Dance

Evajohannarubin3 The Dark Room

Evajohannarubin5 The End

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13. Pictures in Books

Here are some of my favourite illustrated children's books. It would take too much space and time to list them all, but I will keep adding to the list.

1. Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Illustrated by Ruth Jervis who, coincidentally, was Streatfeild's sister. When she was hired, Streatfeild's publisher had no idea of her connection to the author.

2. The Candlemas Mystery by Ruth M. Arthur
Illustrated by Margery Gill

3. Dido and Pa by Joan Aiken
Illustrated by Pat Marriott

4. Another Lucky Dip by Ruth Ainswroth
Illustrated by Shirley Hughes

5. Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome
Illustrated by Arthur Ransome

6. The Gardens of Dorr by Paul Biegel
Illustrated by Eva-Johanna Rubin

7. Uncle Cleans Up by J. P. Martin
Illustrated by Quentin Blake

8. Minnow on the Say by Philppa Pearce
Illustrated by Edward Ardizzone

9. The Edge of the Cloud by K. M. Peyton
Illustrated by Victor G. Ambrus

10. The Glass Slipper by Eleanor Farjeon
Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard

11. The Adventures of Chunky by Leila Berg
Illustrated by George Downs

12. Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Illustrated by Garth Williams

13. The Little Book Room by Eleanor Farjeon
Illustrated by Edward Ardizone

14. The Glassblower's Children by Maria Gripe
Illustrated by Harald Gripe

Haraldgripe An illustration from The Glassblower's Children.

18 March 2007, Star Mag

Illuminating illustrations

I’M happy to see some really nicely illustrated, newly published children’s books in the stores. I don’t mean picture books, which, obviously, have to be illustrated, but storybooks, what the Americans call chapter books.

Once upon a time, most storybooks were illustrated. If you’re in your 30s or 40s (and older) you may remember wonderful books published by Puffin (always edited by Kay Webb) with black and white drawings. 

Probably the most famous illustrated children’s storybooks are Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass and A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner

When I spoke to writer/illustrator John Burningham a few years ago, he said that the main reason storybooks are no longer illustrated is because it adds to the cost of production (in terms of printing and having to pay the illustrator).

He also thought that, somewhere along the line, publishers decided that children, having made the transition from picture books with minimal text to full-length books, no longer needed their stories illustrated.

Shirley Hughes, an award-winning illustrator who has worked on both picture books and storybooks, says, in her autobiography, A Life Drawing, “It is sad that the black and white illustrations once so common in books for older children are now often cut out and the jump from full-colour picture books to an unventilated page of solid text is such an abrupt one.

“We are depriving the child reader of the intense pleasure of opening books, even penalising them for having mastered the magic skill of reading”.

Is there anyone who doesn’t love looking at beautiful pictures? I think even adults would welcome illustrations in the books they read. A picture is sometimes what is needed to unlock the magic of a book, pique the reader’s interest, prod his imagination into action, as it were.

Mervyn Peake’s Gormeghast trilogy features a few black and white line drawings (by the author) that are, to say the least, intriguing. And one of the reasons I loved Reader’s Digest Condensed Books was because they were illustrated. I would pore over the pictures when I was little. The stories didn’t interest me until much, much later.

When people complain about wanting to be left alone with their own ideas of what characters and scenes are like, my response is, “So you’re saying you have a limited imagination?” This usually leads to an argument, sometimes rather heated.

Some say the presence of illustrations interfere with the pictures that pop into their heads when they read a book. They are annoyed when the artist’s portrayal of a character doesn’t match the author’s description. Actually, I understand how they feel as that is my response to movie adaptations of novels.

But somehow, to me, a static drawing, no matter how lively in feel, never intrudes on one’s imagination in quite the same way as a walking, talking actor does (ie, Gwyneth Paltrow in Emma and Possession). Illustrations simply capture moments and interpret emotions. I like to think of them as reflections of the author’s words. They do not consume and assume his ideas like bad acting or a miscast actor can.

The next time you’re in a second-hand bookshop, look out for children’s storybooks published in the 1970s and earlier. Browse through them so you can choose the ones with illustrations. And look out for illustrators like Pat Marriott, Shirley Hughes, Peggy Fortnum, Margery Gill, Garth Williams and Edward Ardizzone.

If you’re shopping for new books, check out The Mysterious Benedict Society (by Trenton Lee Stewart, ISBN: 978-031-605-7776), The Invention of Hugo Cabret (by Brian Selznick, ISBN: 978-043-981-3785), The Valley of Secrets (by Charmian Hussey, ISBN: 978-068-987-8626) and The Seven Wonders of Sassafras Springs (by Betty G. Birney, ISBN: 978-141-693-4899).

They are just some of the beautifully and imaginatively illustrated children’s books that are now available. Perhaps publishers are beginning to realise that most people are never too old or serious for pictures. 

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14. It's Still a Mystery to Me

YTSL's latest post in her Webs of Significance blog is about favourite crime fiction writers.

Like her, my first brush with mystery writing was through Enid Blyton's kiddie detectives, Famous Five et al.

Unlike YTSL, I still read these books. Five Go on a Hike Together and The River of Adventure (Philip, Dinah, Jack, Luch ann and Kiki the parrot) are favourite re-reads.

My five favourite crime fiction writers, since you ask (???), are, in no particular order:

1. Josephine Tey: Inspector Alan Grant appears in a number of her novels. My favourites which feature him are The Daughter of Time and The Franchise Affair (although he isn't the "star" here).

2. Dorothy L. Sayers: Lord Peter Wimsey ... I'm not sure what to make of him, but I adore Harriet Vane, the woman he saves from the gallows and marries, much to the horror of his sister-in-law the Duchess of Denver. Wimsey has a rockin full name though: Peter Death Bredon! Death? Death!!!

3. Agatha Christie ... but only her Poirots. I detest Miss Marple.

4. Elizabeth George. Or at least, most of her Inspector Lynley series. I don't like the last two books: With No One As Witness and What Came Before He Shot Her. I hope she writes at least one more book and gives Barbara Havers a happy ending. She deserves it!

5. G. K. Chesterton for his Father Brown books.

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15. Reading Room

The Reading Room column in StarTwo (every Friday) now features discounts, courtesy of Kinokuniya bookstore in KLCC.

To take advantage of the 20% discount you have to buy the paper and cut out the coupon at the bottom of the column. Each offer lasts two weeks or while stocks last and each coupon is valid for just one copy of each book. Only original coupons are accepted, ie no photocopies.

(Junior Reading Room, which features children's and YA books, is out on the second and fourth Fridays of each month.)

Reading Room

16 March 2007, StarTwo

The suffering of peasants


Will the Boat Sink the Water?
Authors: Chen Guidi and Wu Chuntao
Translator: Zhu Hong
Publisher: PublicAffairs, 256 pages

THIS prize-winning piece of investigative journalism sold more than 250,000 copies before it was banned. Its authors suffered much abuse and harassment for writing truthfully about the life of China’s peasants, but the book went on to sell in the millions on the black market. While cities like Shanghai and Beijing enjoy a booming economy, the provinces have remained poverty-stricken, largely unchanged since the 15th century. This book, translated into English for the first time, focuses on Anhui, one of China’s poorest provinces. The authors spent three years there, speaking to the peasants, and the result is a vivid portrait of China’s underclass, giving a voice to 900 million who suffer under the tyranny of their country’s petty dictators.

Author: Ayaan Hirsi Ali
Publisher: Free Press, 368 pages


IN this memoir, Ayaan Hirsi Ali describes her life as a Muslim woman who survived a civil war, female circumcision, beatings and many other challenges before her escape to the Netherlands where she began her fight for Islamic reform. Reviled by militant Muslims for her rebellious and outspoken nature, Ayaan is also celebrated as a survivor. However, she has been criticised for confusing tribal practices with Islamic law, and making sweeping and unfair statements about Muslims.


Nabeel’s Song
Author: Jo Tatchell
Publisher: Sceptre, 384 pages

THIS is the story of a family separated because of Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime. Nabeel Yasin was Iraq’s most famous young poet when, in 1979, he left Iraq with his wife and son. Up until then, Nabeel had suffered beatings by Saddam’s secret police. He had also been declared an “enemy of the state” and would have been executed had he not fled to Europe. Nabeel left his beloved mother and siblings and this book recalls the life of the family before they were torn apart, from pre-Saddam days up to the dark time of the dictator’s bloody reign. It is an absorbing and touching saga of a family affected by war and injustice, but who remain unshaken in their love for each other and their homeland.


For a House Made of Stone
Authors: Gina French and Andrew Crofts
Publisher: Vision Paperbacks, 296 pages

GINA’s desire to support her family and build them a stone house takes her far and wide, from Manila’s seedy red-light district to sophisticated New York City bars. She finally falls in love with a British man and marries him. The couple has a son, but Gina’s dreams of happily-ever-after crumble when her husband proves to be abusive. His violence drives her to the brink of madness and Gina stabs him to death. Faced with a murder charge in a foreign country, she has to call on every ounce of emotional, spiritual and physical strength to see her through. This is Gina’s story of hope and survival, and the triumph of love and hope over despair and betrayal.


Running with Scissors
Author: Augusten Burroughs
Publisher: Picador, 331 pages

TOUTED as non-fiction, this book is a disturbing, yet bizarrely entertaining account of author Augusten Burroughs’ childhood. 

With both his emotionally-unavailable father and manic-depressive mother unwilling to care for him, 11-year-old Burroughs was shipped off to be raised by the anarchic Finch family. 

And so begins his unconventional existence under the wing of unorthodox psychiatrist Dr Finch, who is also Burroughs’ mother’s doctor.

The content of this book, which describes everything from bizarre parenting skills (or the lack thereof) to paedophilic and homosexual relationships, is not for the conservative or faint-hearted. The film adaptation of Running with Scissors stars Annette Bening.


Song at Twilight
Author: Chan King Nui
Publisher: Chan King Nui, 119 pages

IN her fourth book, 88-year-old Chan, a graduate of Singapore’s Raffles College, turns the focus on herself. (Her first book, From Poor Migrant to Millionaire, a biography of her father Chan Wing (1873-1947), was released in 1998.)

In Song at Twilight, Chan reminisces on her happy childhood in Hong Kong and Siam before she was brought home to the “Big House” (the present Istana Negara) in Kuala Lumpur. World War II interrupted her education pursuit, and her family was forced to seek refuge in India. 

Chan’s later years were spent teaching and learning, and travelling. After her retirement, she pursued various new interests, among them painting, embroidery and the making of crafts. 

The book is filled with black-and-white photographs of the author in her youth, the places she visited and the people she met. It is the personal account of one feisty lady as well as a reflection of life in a bygone era.

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16. Reading Pictures

Starting today, I'll be posting a reading picture every Friday. I collect them and what I've noticed is there are many, many more paintings, sketches, cartoons, photographs etc of women and girls reading than there are of men and boys doing the same.

Is this because females tend to do more reading? Perhaps artists find it easier to get women to pose with a book. Male models perhaps prefer posing with dead animals. (If I googled "hunting" the results would probably show more pictures of men than women with guns! I'm JOKING!!)

Anyway, today's Reading Picture ...

Benn_girl_reading_1937_30x24 Ben Benn
Girl Reading, 1937

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17. If You Can't Say Something Nice ...

Someone once told me that, when writing a book review, if I didn't have anything nice to say, not to say anything at all. She was, in particular, referring to reviews of books by local writers.

I have always had problems with the belief that reviewers should "go easy" on local writers. Writing a bad review, offering criticism, even of the constructive variety, is not supposed to be supportive.

I disagree. On the contrary, offering constructive criticism seems to me like a way of showing whole-hearted support.

If a reviewer writes, "I hated this book, just because ... well, I don't know. It's just terrible, just godawful, but I can't really say why", that would be unfair and uncalled for.

On the other hand, I don't see anything wrong with a reviewer offering an opinion like ... "The author has created some very interesting characters, but I wish he had spent more time developing them and less time describing the colour of the sky. His descriptive passages take up a large chunk of the book and can be distracting, as they are so long-winded they sometimes cause the reader lose the point or even the plot. It is a joy, however, to read the more action-oriented scenes. Here, the author really shines. He also writes engaging and believable dialogue." 

Reviewers (and everyone, really) are entitled opinions and if they are balanced, which the above example is, I think they are entirely valid in a review.

A local writer recently got his knickers in a twist when a reviewer commented on spelling and grammatical errors in his book. Such mistakes are more a reflection of poor editing than bad writing so authors should not take it personally when they are pointed out. Just remember to get a more thorough editor next time.

Local writers should welcome constructive criticism with open arms. Local publishers don't offer much advice: The editors seldom comment on style or ask for rewrites. They are so overworked that correcting grammar and spelling is often as much as they can manage.

And for writers who self-publish, their work often goes straight from the word-processor to the printers.

Therefore, in Malaysia, reviewers may be doing the sort of things editors or even literary agents do elsewhere. These people tell the author if their book works, what's good about it and what could be improved on. Ideally, this would happen before the book is printed, published and arranged on the bookshelves. But, really, it's not a bad thing to have happen to one's books, at any point.

It was this post by Roger Sutton that made me write mine. I especially like his conclusion ... 
clipped from www.hbook.com

The author-reviewer relationship is unavoidably adversarial: one is judging the other. To have it otherwise means we should just all go work in publicity.

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18. Buy, Buy, Buy!

I found this online and could definitely relate, as will anyone who collects children's books that are mostly out-of-print ...

The Collector’s Nightmare
(Tune: This Old Man)

What to choose? Can’t pick one!
Now my nightmares just begun!
There are Blyton, Oxenham,Needham and Jane Shaw,
Fairlie Bruce and many more.

Can’t afford to buy two,
Children’s Press will have to do!
‘Cause there’s Compton,
Buckeridge, Streatfield and the rest,
Have to settle for second best.

On the shelf I’ve found three,
Which one is the one for me?
I’ve found Bunter, Ballet Shoes,
Biggles and beyond,
Bobbsey Twins and Michael Bond.

Catalogues? I’ve had four,
Can’t stop sending off for more.
They’ve got Ransome, pony books,
Forest and Brazil,
Courtney, Johns and Lorna Hill.

Tolkein, Famous Five,
Won’t come out of this alive!
All my shelves are full, but I cannot
seem to stop,
I keep buying out the shop!

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19. Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Pride_and_prejudice "You bewitch me body and soul," says Mr Darcy, chest heaving.

That was the final straw.

No, I did not like the 2005 film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, starring Keira Knightley.

The Bennetts were portrayed as a working class family. In fact, they were landed gentry, "poor" only in relation to the Bingleys and the Darcys. Mrs Bennett's anxiety over her daughter's future is to do with the fact that their father's property must be inherited by a male relative. It's a common problem of the time. Othewise, the family lives comfortably and hold a respected position in society.

Elizabeth Bennett would never traipse around her father's estate barefoot! Or kis Mr Darcy's hand, no matter how much she's bewitched his body!

People of the time were strictly bound by rules of propriety. A respectable man would never have entered a respectable woman's bed chamber. And so, Charles Bingley would never have enter Jane's bedroom, as he does when she is ill at Netherfield.

I dread to think how Hollywood will portray Austen herself. Anne Hathaway plays the author in Becoming Jane (out in August)

Over in the UK, ITV will screen new adaptations of Persuasion, Mansfield Park (starring Billie Piper!) and Northanger Abbey. The station will also be re-running their 1996 production of Emma, starring Kate Beckinsale, who, in my opinion, is much more believable than Gwyneth Paltrow was in this role. (Samantha Morton is also a better Harriett than Toni Collett. Harriet is supposed to be beeeutifool, for crying out loud! But I guess Paltrow''s contract stated that she could be the only cute one in the film.)

British television has, so far, done a tolerable job of adapting Austen novels, although, in the 1983 miniseries of Mansfield Park, Sylvestra Le Touzel played Fanny Price like she had learning difficulties.

Pp1_1 My favourite adaptation of Pride and Prejudice is the 1980 BBC miniseries, starring Elizabeth Garvie as Lizzie and David Rintoul as Darcy.

I daresay Joe Wright's Pride and Prejudice will not be the last adaptation. I'm also pretty sure that it won't be the worst.

At very least, the fact that Austen's novels continue to be turned into movies (good and bad) means that she continues to be loved and read. Germaine Greer's article in the Guardian Unlimited talks about the secret to the novelist's staying power.

I should have curled up with Persuasion rather than sit through Knightley's performance as Lizzie. In Mr Hurst's words, it was a "damed silly way to spend an evening".

PS Apparently, Pride and Prejudice (the movie) ends differently for American audiences. In their version Mr Darcy kisses Lizzie repeatedly while murmuring "Mrs Darcy, Mrs Darcy, Mrs Darcy." I'm so glad my DVD does not end with this scene!

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20. And Then What Happened?

Vernongodlittle In The Daily Mail yesterday, "According to a survey, Britons spend an average of £4,000 on books during their lifetime, but fail to finish almost half of them."

The novel that topped the poll of book the British buy but don't read/finish is DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little. (Check out John Crace's hilarious synopses of some of the books, in  The Guardian Unlimited's The Digested Read.)

Have a look at the full lists (fiction and non-fiction) and see if they match yours.

My list includes Marcel Proust's Remembrance of Things Past and Diana Wynne Jones's Dalemark Quartet.

I don't think I'll ever read Proust's seven-volume novel. (Actually, I'm on the verge of selling the four volumes I own. I am suddenly unsure if I should though. )

I recently started Cart and Cwidder (the first Dalemark book), again (probably the sixth time in as many years), and would have continued had I not been distracted by Terry Pratchett and Death.

One of my reading resolutions for 2007 is to read it. And The Wizard of Earthsea.

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21. Picture Books, Pride and Prejudice and The Gift of Rain

I spent a pleasant morning at Kinokuniya Bookstore. Well, it's always a good place to be, as any book-lover living in the Klang Valley will agree.

Atticwall Drooled over several books and thought about buying them, but ended up with just one: Behind the Attic Wall (Avon Camelot Books, 315 pages) by Sylvia Cassedy.  The cover is really shockingly  unattractive, don't you think? Kino's children's and YA books buyer, Kit said to me: "American books have the ugliest covers."

Kit120307 Here's she is, in rock star/reclusive movie star mode: "Don't take my picture. I vant to be alone!"

I was at Kino to meet Sophia Ahmad, a journalist from the Bernama News Agency. Amir and I were supposed to be interviewed about our picture books. Our appointment was for 11, but Sophia didn't turn up til after one: a last minute assignment sent her to Shah Alam and she couldn't reach me on my mobile. No matter: more time to browse.

SconesxpressWhile waiting for Sophia, I had a scone and a cafe au lait. Any excuse!

Eric Forbes (our editor at MPH Publishing) was mooching about and joined us for a chat (unfortunately, I was too busy stuffing my face with the scone to snap his pic).

Giftofrain Eric was on his way to an appointment with one of his writers and stopped at Kino to buy Tan Tuan Eng's The Gift of Rain (Myrmidon Books, 448 pages). I don't particularly want to read a book set during the Japanese occupation, but I will read this one because I have heard many good things about Tan's writing. I am, however, looking forward to the first Malaysian  novel about modern-day Malaysia and Malaysians.


Sophiabernama120307Anyway,  Sophia eventually turned up and we had a nice chat about children's books. She has a three-year-old girl so Amir and I suggested she get her our books: Hey, it's for a good cause!

I'm on leave for one week, starting today, and I hope to get a lot of writing done (reviews, projects, email, blog). I also hope to watch at least one DVD a night. Tonight's film will be Pride and Prejudice ... the version starring Keira Knightley. I admit that I'm watching it just so I can bitch about it later. But who knows ....

Normal_pride5 Matthew Macfadyen as Mr Darcy and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth Bennett in Joe Wright's film adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. (Austen must have cut this scene from her final draft!)

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22. 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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23. 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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24. One Day You're a Planet, the Next ...

In Roger Sutton's blog:

Pluto was a planet.
But now it doesn't pass.
Pluto was a planet.
They say it's lacking mass.
Pluto was a planet.
Pluto was admired.
Pluto was a planet.
Til one day it got fired.

From Comets, Stars, the Moon, and Mars: Space Poems and Paintings by Douglas Florian, to be published by Harcourt in April.

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25. 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.


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