Sunday, July 15, 2012

Reading: Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

In E.B. White's Charlotte's Web, a small spider who seems to have little effect on the world brings much joy to a pig named Wilbur who doesn't want to be served for Christmas dinner.  This story isn't new to me.  I grew up watching the animated film on VHS.  However, I never read the book.  I knew that reading it now would be a perfect opportunity.
            Charlotte's Web was everything I expected it to be.  I won't go into what it is about because I doubt there is anyone who hasn't heard the story!  It has been said that it is the best children's novel ever.  To start off, I loved the beginning of the story.  Right away my throat began to tighten and tears formed in my eyes as I read about Fern rescuing poor baby Wilbur from being killed for being the runt of his litter!  That is such a powerful way to begin a book!  I also love that Charlotte is a spider because spiders are, to me, gross and disgusting and scary yet Charlotte was more than that.  Charlotte was smart and kind and one of the greatest friends a person (or a pig) could ask for!  Sure she caught her food in a web and drank their blood but she also saved Wilbur's life!  No one is what you expect them to be.  People, and spiders, surprise me everyday!  There was only one thing I didn't like about the novel and that was Fern at the end.  In the beginning she was a girl who was different; she was a girl who talked to animals and lived away from what was expected of her.  Then she became a girl who only wanted to hang out with a guy and she suddenly forgot everything that had mattered to her before.  I wish White would have let Fern make a difference rather than blending in with the crowd at the end.
            Anyway, this was a short review.  I give Charlotte's Web 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Reading: La Luna by Enrico Casarosa

            Being an avid Disney fan, La Luna was something I'd known about for quite some time before I saw it.  I went to see the new Disney/Pixar film, Brave, and the Pixar short La Luna played before the movie started.  It was a pleasant surprise because I had totally forgot that Pixar plays a short film before their movies.  After leaving the theater I concluded that I enjoyed La Luna more than the film I actually came to see, Brave!  Everything about La Luna made me smile.  From the breathtaking animation to the colorful story to the rich film score, this Pixar short was by far the best they have ever created!  I knew that I would have to buy the book that started it all!
            Now, La Luna is in fact a picture book.  It was a very short read which took a weight off of my shoulders.  During this challenge of reading 50 books in a year, I told myself that I wouldn't cheat – meaning I wouldn't read a handful of small children's books that lay in my closet just to reach my goal faster.  I want to challenge myself.  I would only read a picture book that I felt truly deserved to be read and it had to be one that I had never read before.  Enter La Luna!  The story is about a young boy who journeys out to sea at night with his father and grandfather.  They are going to teach him what they do for a living.  Suddenly in the darkness the moon rises into the sky and the boy's father hands him an anchor and extends a ladder toward the sky, telling the boy to climb it.  The boy climbs with the anchor and when he reaches the top he is lifted up and carried until he is sitting on the moon.  There he discovers what makes the moon and his father's job fantastic while also discovering what makes him special. 
            I can start out this review by saying there was NOTHING I didn't like about this book!  I loved it!  Every bit of it was as fantastic as the Pixar short.  The artwork was beautiful and the writing was very clear and to the point yet so much was said without words.  I loved what the boy's family did for a living and I absolutely loved what the author used to make the moon so special.  I'm leaving out so many details but it is because I want everyone to see the story for themselves because it surprised me so much and I don't want to ruin it!  Anyway, I also loved how during the story the father and grandfather keep doing little things to try to get the boy to act more like one of them (for example – the father wears his hat a certain way and the grandfather wears his hat a different way.  When they give the boy his hat they each try to change the way he wears it and in the end, the boy finds his own way to wear his hat) but in the end the boy finds himself and is still apart of his family. 
            It is no surprise that I'm going to give this book 5 out of 5 stars!  It was amazing.  If you have kids, buy it now!  And if you don't, buy it now for your future kids!  And if you don't plan to have kids, buy it now anyway just to appreciate art!

Reading: Narnia - The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

            The Last Battle is the seventh and final novel in the Chronicles of Narnia series written by C.S. Lewis.  Let's first start off with a personal note before I go into the review of this book.  I have grown up with the Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe but it wasn't until the Disney movie came out that I realized that I'd never actually read the story.  I only heard of it and knew vaguely what it was about.  A store called 5-Below had all seven books after the movie came out and since they were only five dollars each, I bought all seven Narnia books as fast as I could.  Needless to say, I didn't read them as fast as I bought them.  I read the first book in 2006 and now have finally finished the series six years later! Wow!
            The Last Battle is set up just like the other Narnia books (evil befalls Narnia, children from earth arrive to defend Narnia, etc).  It begins with evil invading Narnia when an ape dresses up an innocent donkey to look like Aslan the lion.  He tells Narnians that Aslan has returned and he gives them orders as if he is Aslan's messenger.  The problem is that the orders he is giving are far from any Aslan would ever give.  The donkey lives in a dark hut and people are not allowed to see him, for if they do they will see that he is disguised.  News of Aslan spreads about Narnia and reaches the King.  The King of Narnia, Tirian (the last monarch and the seventh king in descendant of Rilian [from theSilver Chair], son of Prince Caspian X) and his friend Jewel, a unicorn, go to see what madness is brewing outside their castle.  Neither one of them fully believes Aslan has returned and they know something fishy is occurring.  The two of them are then captured by Calormenes (an Empire south of Narnia).  In Tirian's desperate time of need, Eustace and Jill show up and the three of them, along with the help of a few others, prepare for battle.
            Let's start off with the positives about this book first.  One thing I have and always will love about these books is the theological themes that are presented.  Narnia is a huge metaphor of our own world and there is no denying the similarities between the corruption in Narnia's government and our government in America today.  Getting back to theology though…Aslan is God, and just like God he doesn't always show himself in the time of want/need but rather points us in the right direction by signs and teaches us to trust him with faith alone and not be convinced otherwise.  Throughout all seven novels the reader constantly encounters children and Narnians putting their faith in Aslan and never letting go of it.  These books serve as a huge metaphor that can teach kids how faith works and what it means to be a Christian when most others around you are not.  Another thing I liked about this book was the ending.  (SPOILER) When the Pevensie children returned to Narnia and they realized that Narnia was their heaven it just seemed like all the puzzle pieces fit.  It all led up to death.  Susan wasn't there because she stopped believing in Narnia which hints at she lost faith entirely.  I like that C.S. Lewis included this but it makes me sad that Susan would loose her faith.
            Now for the negative aspects of the book.  I found it to be rather boring.  The ending was great and I guess it could be called epic but there wasn't much of a battle.  There were a few close calls and some scary moments but for the most part until the end when (spoiler) Aslan returns, I wasn't too enthused.  Though I can definitely say that C.S. Lewis had me hating the ape that made the donkey pretend to be Aslan.  I just wanted him dead right when I started reading.  I can't say I'm surprised that I was bored because it has happened while reading some of the other Narnia novels.  It feels wrong to insult them and call them boring because I think these books are fantastic but there are just so many boring bits!
            The Last Battle was a great conclusion to the Narnia series.  Although it was boring at times, I loved the Christian metaphors and found the book to be inspiring.  I give The Last Battle 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Wasted Wednesdays! --> Folklore in African Literature Seminar Reaction

Welcome to my first Wasted Wednesday post!  If you are new to Wasted Wednesday's...well, so am I.  :)  Welcome!!

I took two courses that lasted five weeks this summer and I knew towards the end of them that I wanted to write about both courses on this blog because I really did learn a lot and had a bit of fun while learning.  One of the courses I took was Folklore in African Literature which is a seminar course and was the only seminar being held at my school during the first summer session (I never do the second summer session - I need a break!).  Looking back to when I scheduled my summer courses, I remember I didn't want to take this seminar but rather the one being held in the second summer session, and now I can't even remember what the other seminar was!  However, despite my preconceptions I found it to be a course with much enjoyment.  It was the first seminar course I have taken during my college years and I have to take two more before I graduate.  As an English major, seminars require very heavy workloads that include lots of reading and writing and they are best taken during the summer so I'm afraid I got an easy look at what seminars are like.

A lot of things stood out to me while taking this course and I always wrote down my thoughts in a notebook so I could remember them when I came to write this blog.  Unfortunately I won't be able to write down full discussions in this blog so everything is going to feel rushed, just to warn you.  We read a lot of books (and I admit, I only read one of the six) and many folktales (I am proud to say I read them all!).  Class met Monday through Thursday from 10:45 to 12:45.  Two hours sitting in a classroom with the cold air blowing on you and your stomach growling isn't always pleasant but you get used to it and like most things we middle class Americans experience, things could be a lot worse.  Our grade was calculated by a five page paper, two presentations, and attendance.  I wasn't too thrilled about the presentations but found they weren't all too bad (mostly because we were allowed to sit down during them which was such a relief), while the paper was a rushed mess that turned out a lot better than expected. There were 14-15 of us in the class and mostly everyone participated and got along.  We all helped each of out when help was needed and our class discussions were always really interesting (although sometimes boring).

Enough about the class environment though.  Let's get to the actual course material.  So I have a few things I wanted to talk about.  Let's first talk about the author I did my first presentation on.  Our first presentations were biography presentations in which we talked about an author of one of the books we were going to read or about the history of one of the books we were going to read.  The author I did my presentation on was a woman named Amma Darko.  The book we read of hers is titled Faceless (still reading).  I didn't get to finish reading Faceless during the course however so far I have really enjoyed it.  The book revolves around a girl named Fofo who lives on the streets in the capital of Ghana, Accra.  It talks about how street children aren't recognized as people but animals and they aren't given a second thought because people don't want to deal with them - hence they are faceless.  This theme is really powerful to me and seems to be prevalent in Darko's other works.  I can't wait to read her other books and I highly recommend you to read her works!

My second presentation was about conflict resolutions in African folktales and literature.  This was another fun topic to explore because it was very personal and left the presentation to be more discussion based rather than me talking for a whole 15 minutes!  One of the themes I loved was forgiveness which is seen in an epic we read called the Mwindo Epic.  In the Mwindo Epic, the title character Mwindo is sought out by his father to be killed.  His father tries to kill him many times until finally Mwindo escapes and goes on a journey (as most epic heroes do).  Mwindo ends up reuniting with his father but instead of killing his father, he forgives him.  His father tried to kill him and yet Mwindo forgives him!  This theme of forgiveness shows that forgiveness is a trait that lives within a true hero.  Most people assume that a character who has evil living inside them must be killed by the hero but this is not the case. 

Another book we read is a more popular title, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe.  I had heard of the book before but had never thought much about it.  I didn't even know what it was about.  To my surprise, I found the story to be rather enjoyable.  It had a powerful message and the characters were so real and alive.  The book definitely deserves all the praise it gets.

My favorite part of the course though was reading the African folktales.  Our class discussed all the aspects of a folktale as well as what folktales usually teach us.  We compared the folktales to Western folktales and saw that while many of the lessons are similar, the stories have their own originality that ties to the culture they came from.  One interesting topic we discussed went along with a folktale about a hare.  In the story there is a drought and so the animals decide to all cut off bits of their ear to sell in the market for hoes and shovels to dig a hole and get water that lays below the earth.  The hare refuses to cut off part of his ears yet still drinks the water the animals find and even takes a bath in it, making it all muddy.  The animals make him run away.  The message of the story was that all people must help contribute to society and work together somehow.  This brought up the question - why?  Why do people have to be apart of society?  I, and most of my classmates, agreed that the hare didn't even try to contribute.  It is understandable that he didn't want to cut his ears but he could have helped in other ways but instead he did nothing.  My professor still argued with us though.  He kept asking, but why?  Why must the hare help?  Why do people need to be apart of society?  I can't go much more into the discussion than that but I will leave the question to you.  I personally still believe people need to contribute to society in some way only for the sake of the world.  It is important to remain conscious that our actions affect others, not just ourselves. Society is a bit messed up so at the same time, I can understand why someone wouldn't want to be apart of it but if you don't want to be apart of it, don't be apart of it.  If you are apart of it in secret then you are still apart of society...if that makes sense.

I pictured this blog to appear very scholarly but now that I have read it over it seems very random and poorly written.  But hey, it is a personal reaction to the course.  Anyway, the point of it all is that I thought I'd learn nothing and I actually learned a lot (or rather, became more knowledgeable in the subject of African folklore) and had fun!  Happy Wasted Wednesday everyone!