E is for Empathy – and for Escape

Retreating into a book is one of my favourite pastimes.

Dear 8B,

Reading has always been my refuge from the real world. Books whisk me away from the present into a distant past, a mysterious future or an author’s imaginary universe.  Oddly enough, although novels provide a mode of escape from reality, they also force me to experience the pain and suffering of others. The greatest writers are utterly convincing: the worlds and the people within their books are just as intense and believable as the world I actually inhabit.

In fact, sometimes I indulge in little “if only” plays in my head. If only I were as clever as Hermione… If only Dumbledore hadn’t died… If only our school had a “Room of Requirement”…

Even Shakespeare has this effect on me. When Macbeth walks towards the sleeping Duncan, dagger in hand, I cry out inwardly: “Don’t do it! You can still stop! Let him live!” You know that a character has become important to you when you plead with another to spare him or her and in the process save his own soul.

Books can carry you away to another place or time, like a teleporter that actually works.

Have you ever had experiences like that, moments in which a book takes over your consciousness and becomes almost more real than your own existence? If so, write a comment in which you describe the novel and your reaction to it or simply recommend the author and book to your classmates.

Mrs McQueen is an everyday angel and a book fiend.

Mrs McQueen loves books, which is just as well, because as our librarian, she is their custodian, their advertising agent and our ongoing reading consultant. Here are some of her recommendations for wide reading, as well as some of the books chosen by the class.

Kind regards,

Ms Green

This short list is from the display in the library titled “Walk a mile in my shoes” – books chosen to promote reader empathy:

  • Does my head look big in this? by Randa Abdel-Fattah | Book details
  • When Michael met Mina by Randa Abdel-Fattah | Book details
  • f2m: The Boy Within by Hazel Edwards – A young person transitioning from female to male is the focus of this story. | More information – or read the first 12 pages here
  • Nona & Me by Clare Atkins This is a story about an Aboriginal girl and her closest friend. | Book details
  • Kokoda Track: 101 Days – Peter Macinnis This story is about bravery in Australia’s history. | Book details provided by the State Library “Inside a Dog” site
  • Ana’s Story: A Journey of Hope by Jenna Bush A young girl grows up with HIV and all the prejudice and suffering that brings. | Book details from UNICEF
  • Veiled Courage: Inside the Afghan Women’s Resistance by Cheryl Benard In this story, women defy the Taliban. | Review at GoodReads
  • Ethel and Ernest: A True Story by Raymond Briggs This is a beautifully illustrated graphic novel about an “ordinary couple” who live through World War 2 and the period of the Cold War. They have an extraordinarily talented son and it is he who decides to tell and illustrate his parents’ life story. This novel has also been adapted as a short film. You can see the trailer below: 

Other Recommendations from Mrs McQueen

Classy Choices by Class Members

  • Hunger by Michael Grant – Anre
  • The Siren by Kiera Cass – Rose
  • Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl – Pia
  • Assassin’s Creed by Christie Golden – Eden
  • Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K.Rowling – Claire
  • The Flywheel by Erin Gough – Kim
  • Doctor Who: Death Riders (Justin Richards) and Heart of Stone (Trevor Baxendale) – Barrie

Essential Links

P is for Precision

Dear 8B,

Some words are vague, broad and general. We use them when we speak, because they are easy to pluck from our memories and cast out into everyday conversation. After all, when you are speaking, speed is essential. Your listeners would prefer not to wait while you consult your inner thesaurus.

Here are some words that fit into this category: awesome, wonderful, amazing, terrific, fantastic, great. All of these words are useful fillers during brief interactions with acquaintances or hasty conversations about the weekend.

When you are writing, however, you should aim to choose your wording more carefully. This doesn’t mean that everything you write must be poetic, flowery or elaborate. Nevertheless, at least some of your sentences should captivate your readers, penetrate their consciousness, pierce their indifference or touch their souls.

My friend, Mrs McQueen, once told me that every quilt she makes must have a colour that “pops” – a colour that is eye-catching, distinctive or especially vivid. Any piece of writing should likewise include some precise, original and striking words. Some of your words should also “pop”!

When you are writing your “J is for Journey” piece, therefore, try to include some words that you have agonised over, not just settled on at the last minute for want of something better. For instance, if you are describing a person who has influenced you or to whom you are deeply grateful, such as your mother or your father, avoid vague statements like this:

My mother is a great person. I like her a lot.

Write something instead that brings the individual qualities of your mother to life. Refer, for instance, to her actions, to her warmth, humour, kindness and unending toil on your behalf. Write something more like this:

My mother has always taught me the love of living things. Whenever she encounters a lonely child, a sick animal or even a wilting plant, she does her utmost to care for each one. While she is kind-hearted and gentle, she is also spirited and fiercely protective. As the central figure in my life story, she seems to know intuitively how to help me when I’m low, how to guide me when I’m lost and how to counsel me when I confide in her.

That was my mother.

Kind regards,

Ms Green

Essential Task

Choose your most memorable slide or page so far, the one with the most powerful, effective or moving words, and show it to me. Then add it as a comment to this post.

Essential Links

F is for Figurative

Dear 8B,

Words have multiple meanings. Sometimes a word that has a concrete meaning can  be employed in certain contexts in a symbolic or figurative way.

A black night – A black mood – A black heart

For instance, if you write the sentence, “It was a black night”, the word “black” is fairly concrete and limited, assuming that you are describing a dark night with not much moonlight. In the sentence, “She was in a black mood”, however, the word “black” suggests “low” or “pessimistic“. When you place this seemingly simple adjective into the phrase, “He has a black heart”, its meaning mutates once more; in this context it signifies “wicked” or “callous“.

By describing Carl as “a bloated pincushion on sturdy legs”, Moloney emphasises the boy’s vulnerability and sensitivity to the hurtful remarks of others.

In the novel that we are reading, A Bridge to Wiseman’s Cove, James Moloney often employs words in a figurative way in order to convey the intense emotions and experiences of his characters. Appreciating his use of imagery will help you to identify and explore the themes and to understand the characters in his novel.

The pictures below show symbols that are frequently used in figurative ways. For instance, we might say that we are offering “the hand of friendship”, that our motives were as “pure as the driven snow” or that a friend has a “fiery temper”. Can you think of a figurative usage for one of these objects or symbols? 

A sword, an island, a chess set, a candle, a pen, a suitcase, an anchor, a lightbulb, a book, snow, a hand, barbed wire – all physical objects with a potentially figurative meaning…

Write a comment in which you explain a possible symbolic meaning for one of these objects OR describe yourself by using a metaphor. James Moloney’s writing includes many moving and sometimes amusing examples that will aid you in employing figurative language yourselves.

Kind regards,

Ms Green

Essential Links