Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

I recently started reading Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by debut novelist Ransom Riggs.  I stayed away from the book for a long time because, if I'm being honest, it looked too creepy for me (I'm a self-proclaimed wimp!).  The black and white cover depicting an eerie little girl levitating in the middle of a desolate forest struck me as interesting but highly disturbing.  Yet when I discovered that my favorite YA author John Green highly recommended the book, I finally decided to give it whirl.  I mean, if that literary genius enjoyed the book then who was I to ignore it?

So I picked it up a few days ago and am now on page 143.  Although the book has given me a few freakish dreams, I am thrilled I decided to start reading it.  The main character, Jacob, is a teenager whose closest relationship is with his grandfather, Abe.  As a boy, Jacob listened to Abe's stories about growing up in a children's home where all of the kids were...different.  One girl could levitate (the creeper from the cover), one boy was invisible, and another boy had superhuman strength.  All of the children possessed special attributes, but what made them special also made them vulnerable to indescribably evil monsters.  The children's caretaker and protector, Miss Peregrine, was a large hawk "who smoked a pipe" and kept the evil at bay.  

Jacob believed his grandfather's stories wholeheartedly until he started getting teased at school for believing in "fairy stories". From that point on, Jacob doubts his grandfather, believing him to be an exaggerator who made up the stories in order to deal with the great losses of his childhood during the Nazi regime.  But one fateful evening, Jacob's grandfather is killed.  Even worse, he is killed by one of the monsters from the stories...and Jacob bears witness to this event, bringing all of the "made up" tales back to life.  Abraham's dying words perplex Jacob and send him on a journey to the island of the children's home where he searches for answers and Miss Peregrine, the "hawk" who can protect him from the evil that destroyed his beloved grandfather.

One aspect of this book that I love is the atmosphere that is so skillfully created by the author, Ransom Riggs.  He uses a combination of actual found photographs and detailed descriptions of setting in order to create a constant uneasiness in the reader.  As Jacob wanders through the abandoned children's home of his grandfather's past, he stares "frozenly at what looked for all the world like skins hanging from hooks" and "fireplaces throttled with vines that had descended from the roof and begun to spread across the floors like alien tentacles" (p. 84) Details such as these are what kept me from sound sleep over the last few days.  They evoke the feeling of a haunted house, a place that might swallow you up if you stay too long searching for answers that might never be found.

While reading this text I am reminded of a horror movie I once watched called The Woman in Black, starring Daniel Radcliffe a.k.a 'the kid who played Harry Potter'.  This movie has certain elements that are quite similar to that of Ransom Riggs's novel:  the misty bogs of the British Isles, mysterious abandoned homes, children who are at the mercy of evil forces.  Having seen this film, I find it very easy (maybe too easy) to conjure up ghostly images in my mind as I read about the world of Miss Peregrine and her peculiar children...so much so that I am reserving this book for daytime reading only. Told you I was a wimp!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Wishing I Could Do More...

I created this blog because I care about kids.  As an aunt, godmother, teacher, and human being, the safety and happiness of children matter a great deal to me and I've always felt compelled to do my part to help create a safe and accepting world for them.  So I find myself enraged and feeling painfully powerless in response to yesterday's tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  Those feelings are not likely to go away anytime soon but, in the meantime, I need something to grab onto that can help provide me with a small sense of control in the middle of this mess.  I need to help in a way that extends beyond prayer...although I'll also be doing plenty of that in the days, weeks, and months to come.

There are a quite few helping organizations that are directly connected to the community of Newtown and they are asking for our support so that they are able to effectively treat their citizens who are suffering such devastation from yesterday's trauma and loss.  Here is a link I came across for anyone who wants to donate to their cause: How To Help

And for those of you who are struggling with how to talk to children about yesterday's events, here is another helpful link: How To Talk To Kids About The Tragedy In Newtown, Connecticut

Thanks for reading and please share with others.


Mrs. K

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Drive-Through Review: Blue is for Nightmares


 Who: Stacey (16 year old witch/psychic), Drea (Stacey's self-involved but harmless enough roommate and best friend)

What: Stacey is having nightmares and premonitions about the possible murder of her roommate Drea.  She's had dreams like this before and, not having acted on them, a little girl's life was lost.  Guilt-ridden, Stacey doesn't want to make the same mistake again.  With the help of her friends and the magic handed down to her by her grandmother, Stacey does all she can to change the outcome of her visions.  Will she be able to save her best friend's life, or is Drea's fate sealed?

Where: Hillcrest Boarding School

When: This story takes place in the present day during the fall semester of Stacey's junior year.

Why you should read it:  I thought this book was a lot of fun and actually pretty scary.  In fact, I had to stop reading it at bedtime because, against all rational thought, I became convinced that a crazy stalker was watching me through my window.  Blue is for Nightmares brought me back to the days of tight-rolled jeans, Keds, and M.C. Hammer when I would read Christopher Pike books by the dozen (Ahem...I'm talking about the early 90's, kiddos).

Stacey is an interesting protagonist.  She's a normal girl with normal-girl issues such as insecurity, a wicked crush, and a shaky relationship with her mother.  At the same time, she possesses the extraordinary ability to see the future, cast spells, and conduct emergency seances.  Stacey is smart, likeable, and brave and readers will root for her from beginning to end.

Blue is for Nightmares is the first in a series of five books, the last of which is a graphic novel (and I happen to think graphic novels are super cool).  If you want to learn more about the author or the series, click here.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Guest post by Derek the Ghost (Hey! I'm a poet and I didn't even know it.)

 I'm very excited to present this guest post by Derek the Ghost, author of the hilarious Scary School series.  His POV: 1.) Yes, reading does make you smarter.  2.) Let's help our kids become happy and successful readers by placing books in their hands that they'll love. 

Read on and then run out to buy the first book in the Scary School series before the next one comes out in June.  Your kids will love you for it!

The Importance of Middle-Grade Fiction
Why Reading My Book Series Scary School is Guaranteed to Turn Your Kid into a Well-adjusted, Ivy League-bound, World-beater Dynamo

By Derek the Ghost

Let’s start off with this question. Why is reading important for children? Wait. I have better question. Why is absorbing a story in the form of text considered a superior means of story-absorption as opposed to pictures and sound through a television or movie screen?

Back in the olden days before TV and movies, reading was the numero uno form of self-entertainment. However, like TV of today, using books to take in fictional stories was considered a highly frivolous activity. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only form of reading not considered frivolous was reading the bible.

So why did the cultural paradigm shift? Television and movies became the dominant form of story dispersion, and suddenly books became the underdog. When books became the underdog, they went from frivolous to intellectually elitist practically overnight. You could argue the same thing happened with theater.

So, are you actually smarter because you read, or is it just our culture’s perception of reading that merely makes you appear smarter?

 Here’s the answer. You’re actually smarter.

 It goes without saying that reading requires a basic education. But more importantly, it requires that the brain function in a heightened state of stimulation called Alpha Mode. During Alpha Mode there’s an innumerable amount of split-second decisions taking place. The brain is constantly deciphering letters and interpreting their meaning while at the same time forming imagery to correlate with each phrase. It requires a lot of sub-conscious brain energy and millions of electrical reactions.

 Because reading requires so much brain energy, the brain becomes tired quickly and wants to switch to Beta Mode. Beta Mode is when you are spacing out, vegging out, or just hanging out. You are essentially on autopilot, just taking things in, but not actively participating. When you are driving a car, you are usually in Alpha Mode. But when you suddenly look up and realize you’ve driven ten miles past your freeway exit, that’s right… you switched over to Beta Mode, buster.

 The good news is that reading is like running. When you first start running you can only run a short distance before getting tired. Reading is the same way. The more you read, the more “brain exercise” you’re getting, and staying in Alpha Mode for longer stretches without getting tired becomes much easier. This effect bleeds over into all facets of life. You’ll be able to study longer and more effectively, retain more information, and work more thoroughly and patiently for extended hours. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs did this better than anyone.

 Now let me ask you this: Why were kids who had never read anything longer than a 150-page Goosebumps book so eager to read a 750-page Harry Potter book? And why were they able to do it so effortlessly, when reading just one chapter of a schoolbook feels like a Herculean labor?

 Because they loved it. Reading Harry Potter was as enjoyable to most kids (if not more so) than playing video games or watching cartoons. The pleasure of reading those books caused kids’ brains to squirt dopamine into their system, making them feel euphoric and self-confident. There’s something books provide that all their other forms of entertainment cannot – a deep, almost familial bond with the characters. Only books can create that on such a profound level. Remember Kathy Bates in Misery? That’s the dark side of it, but I don’t think anyone went bat-#$#@ crazy when Friends was cancelled.

 The great thing about Harry Potter was the after-shock it created in the middle-grade and YA book market. Kids were addicted to the book. The pleasure they got from the suspense, humor, mystery, and triumph had shot buckets of dopamine into their systems and no other form of entertainment could match that natural high. So, the middle-grade and YA book market exploded with kids seeking their next fix. When the Harry Potter fans grew up, they were naturally attracted to edgier, more adult fare that reflected their changing selves, and the YA market skyrocketed, heralded by Twilight and now The Hunger Games.

 Which brings me to my book series, Scary School. With these books, I had only one goal. I was not trying to write to the best middle-grade series ever. I wasn’t trying to win any Newbery medals for literature.  All I wanted to do with the Scary School series was make kids laugh. That’s it.

 With my background in comedy writing, I felt that I could maybe write the funniest (not the best) middle-grade book ever. Go big or go home, right? I wanted to have at least three laugh-out-loud moments on every page. Did I succeed? You’ll have to tell me, but the most often used words in the reviews of the book have been “hilarious” and “laugh-out-loud funny.” So far so good.

 What will happen when your kids read Scary School will be something very magical. It may very well be the first chapter book your kid reads as well as the first chapter of a life of profound and meaningful achievement. It may also be something a reluctant reader gives a shot because it actually looks fun with that zombie skateboarding kid on the cover. Maybe the only reason your kid gets it is because I’m signing copies at the local bookstore, so you think it would be neat for your kid to have a signed book. Let’s play out that scenario:

 I sign the inside jacket of Scary School Book One and write him or her a special message with a funny drawing. Your kid is much more excited to receive it than you thought he/she would be.
 That night, you hear laughter from across the house late at night. Your kid is supposed to be asleep but is staying up in bed reading Scary School. You figure that’s okay, so you let him/her keep reading, and you keep hearing laughter until midnight. The laughter is forging an imprint on your kid’s brain that reading=fun.

 After finishing Scary School, you child will seek out more books to try and recreate that boisterous experience.

 In the process, the child will continuing growing up, always reading and seeking that next great story. While other kids are watching TV and living their lives in Beta Mode, your child’s brain will be in Alpha Mode 1,000% more often. The heightened brain stimulation for long hours will increase your child’s cognitive functioning far past his/her peers. Not only that, your child will be armed with amazing moral and practical lessons learned throughout the Scary School book series that helps him/her adjust to new situations, treat people with respect and kindness, and fuel him/her with a yearning to make the world a better place.

 This leads your child into doing community service, building the next great invention, and becoming class president.

 Harvard and Yale both offer your child full scholarships, but he/she chooses to cash in on his new invention money and attends Oxford because Scary School taught him/her the value of seeking adventure and meeting different kinds of people from all over the world.

 You don’t miss him/her as you otherwise might have because in the future there’s holographic communication where it seems like you’re actually sitting and talking in the same room together.

 After graduation, your child comes back home where he/she is probably a DA, a famous architect, a prodigious scientist, or CEO of that hot new startup. He/She comes over for dinner one night and puts a knapsack down on the sofa. It falls over, and amongst the futuristic gadgets, you notice an old, dusty copy of Scary School – that book your child read in one all-nighter back in middle school. That book purchased on a whim because the author happened to be signing at the store. You open it up, and read what is says where I signed the inside of the jacket:

Dear (your kid’s name), Have Fun at Scary School! – Derek the Ghost


For more info on the Scary School series, fun and games, and even tour the school and meet the students and faculty, please visit www.ScarySchool.comScary School #2 – Monsters on the March will be released June 26, 2012 online and in bookstores everywhere.