Books Before the Blog: The Christmas Mystery

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


X

X is for Xmas (forgive me on this one- it was hard to find a book for X!)
Book: the Christmas Mystery by Juden Gaarden
Country: Norway

What is it about:
Joachim buys an advent calendar, and is surprised to find pieces of paper with a story written on them behind each door, rather than candy or toys. The papers tell about Elisabet, a young girl who disappeared 50 years earlier while shopping with her mother. Elisabet had seen a toy lamb come to life and run out of the shops. As she chased it, strange things started happening. She meets angels, and shepherds and other nativity characters, and she she ended up going on a long journey, all the way to Bethlehem and all the way back in time to the birth of Jesus.

The book is set out as a kind of Advent calendar itself- there is one chapter for every day in advent, leading up to Christ’s birth.

When I first read this book:
We read this book as a family when I was a child, reading it how it was meant to be read, one chapter a day in the read up to Christmas.

Why it is important to me:
It was a lovely part of our Christmas tradition that I remember fondly.

Who should read it:
Children and the Childlike in heart, especially if Christian or open to religious content.

I would recommend you read it as intended- a chapter a day in December. I looked up the book on the internet to check the children’s names, as my parents have it at their place still, and noticed that the reviews were fairly varied- some people loved it and some didn’t- generally those who didn’t felt that it was repetitive, and implausible. I think that a lot of the criticism is probably because non-target audience people are reading it in a way that wasn’t intended. If you read it straight through, then yes the structure may be repetitive (every morning he wakes, opens the calendar, reads the story, then hides the paper from his family etc). But when it is part of a Christmas routine, this is not a problem. There are many things in religious celebrations that are repetitive- you sing particular songs, or say particular liturgies in the lead up to Christmas, you light a candle every week in lent etc. It creates a space for contemplation, for remembrance and for anticipation. In the lead up to Christmas, as a child, the daily cry of one of the characters of ‘to Bethlehem, to Bethlehem!’ which apparently annoyed people, was a reminder that Christmas was coming. As to the issue with implausibility and loose ends- I vaguely remember being slightly irritated at one or two things that didn’t quite make sense, but this is a book whose entire premise is based on magic and odd things happening. As a child that magic was fun and interesting.

Books Before the Blog: the Witches

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


W

W is for Witches
Book: The Witches by Roald Dahl

What is it about:
A young boy goes to live with his Grandmother after his parents die. She tells him stories about witches, who look like normal women on the surface, but are really demons, hiding their bald heads, clawed hand and toeless feet with wigs and clothes. For some reason, witches hate children, and spend much of their time trying to kill them.
The boy has a few encounters with women he realises are witches, with the worst being when he accidentally finds himself stuck hidden in the room of the yearly gathering of England’s witches. Will he be able to get out alive? Or human?

When I first read this book:
My first memory was actually of the 1990 movie by the same title. When I was about 6 or 7, there was a really hot day, hot enough that it invoked the Australian opposite of a snow day. In Australia, if a school didn’t feel its airconditioning was good enough at keeping the classrooms cool enough on a day above 40 degrees Centigrade, the school would be closed. Of course this was sometimes decided in the middle of the day when we were already there. If your parents couldn’t come pick us up then, at the school I was at at the time, we went to the library and watched movies. They put on the Witches, which I thought was an odd choice because it was way too scary for me!

Why it is important to me:
Roald Dahl is one of those authors who you don’t have a simple opinion of. I like his imagination and quirkiness, but some of his books can be a bit harsh for me. I liked the BFG, I thought the witches were scary, the twits were nasty but kind of fun, his version of Cinderella was horrible, James and the Giant peach was odd, Boy (about his life) was interestingā€¦ His works all were memorable. I remember being inspired by a story of his, which I can’t remember now if it was in Boy, or in The Roald Dahl Treasury (a huge collection of poems, short stories and excerpts from his books that I loved to peruse as a child), about a huge snake. I made up my own story about a huge snake for a school project.

Who should read it:
Children who don’t frighten easily, or nostalgic adults.

Books Before the Blog: Around the World in 80 days

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


V

V is for Verne
Book: Around the World in 80 days by Jules Verne

What is it about:
Phileas Fogg, and English gentleman, and his Valet Passepartout attempt to circumnavigate the world in 80 days to win a bet. A policeman mistakes him for a criminal and follows him, threatening to delay him too long whenever he catches him. Along the way they get into various escapades in avoiding capture, rescuing a damsel in distress, running out of fuel at sea etc

When I first read this book:
In year 12, we spent a while on Jules Verne in French class. I probably only read sections of it- that we had to translate, but I reckon a page of French counts as a chapter of English right?

Why it is important to me:
We covered a few Jules Verne books that year. I seem to remember watching the Jacki Chan version of Around the World in 80 days, and I won a copy of an old version of Journey to the Centre of the World in a group project competition we entered. It is a good fun story, which was nice in a year where I found something not to like about most of the projects we had to do (that French class brought out my disgruntled teenager side for some reason- I was otherwise a model pupil).

Who should read it:
People who live classics, and adventure stories

Books Before the Blog: Unseen Academicals

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


U

U is for Unseen
Book: Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett

What is it about:
The 37th discworld novel, Unseen Academicals follows Mustrum Ridicully, at the Unseen University for Wizards, as he sets up the University football team. In usual Terry Pratchett style, the book is full of quirky characters, tongue in cheek jokes, and imaginative takes on one of the worlds favourite past times.

When I first read this book:
Probably not long after it came out in 2009

Why it is important to me:
I had to get a Terry Pratchett book in here somehow. Odd, creative, lateral thinking- his books fit right in with our family! šŸ˜› And I think we all read them all. I loved that every year or so, another book would come out- sometimes with old favourite characters, sometimes with new ones. But regardless, I always knew I would enjoy it.

Who should read it:
Fantasy lovers and people with a quirky sense of humour

Books Before the Blog: Lord of the Rings

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


T

T is for Tolkein
Book: Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkein

What is it about:
Frodo is a hobbit, who inherits a ring that makes you invisible. Gandalf the wizard recognises it as The Ring- an immensely powerful ring the Dark Lord Sauron forged to rule over all the other powerful rings and leaders that existed. Defeated during a battle that caused the ring to eventually end up in the hobbits hands, after a few changes of owner along the way, Sauron is amassing power again and wants the ring back. It is decided the only way to avoid Sauron taking over entirely is to destroy the ring. This of course can only be done where it was forged, at the heart of Sauron’s lands. An epic journey and fight against evil ensues.

When I first read this book:
I was around 9 or 10 years old.

Why it is important to me:
I remember finding the first ending (what happens to Frodo) sad. When I felt sufficiently recovered, I read the extra bit about Aragon and Arwen’s life (and deaths) which was also sad. I think I was depressed for about 3 days after finishing it. It is the first time I can remember a book affecting me as much, although in later years I noticed that while I loved reading fantasy novels, I often felt unhappy afterwards. I realised that there is always such purpose in the books- the main characters always have something important they are trying to do or stop or reach. Real life in comparison can seem pointless and bland. In late teenage years I decided to moderate my reading- I don’t allow myself to read so many books that I no longer enjoy real life. With movies a useful technique is to watch two movies in a row- one that may be emotional or depressing first, then a happy romantic comedy or feel good documentary afterwards. With books the best technique I have found is just spacing things out.

Who should read it:
Fantasy lovers

Books Before the Blog: Stargirl

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


S

S is for Star & Spinelli
Book: Star Girl by Jerry Spinelli

What is it about:
Star girl is the moniker taken on by Susan Caraway, the new girl at school. She is unlike anything they have ever seen before. In a school where everyone is concerned about fitting in and keeping up appearances, Star Girl is different and proud of it. She wears bright dress up clothes, brings flowers for her desk, she plays a ukulele and sings happy birthday to strangers, she cheers for both teams at sporting eventsā€¦ At first people are a bit stunned and unsure about her. Then when she joins the cheer leading squad they pick up on her infectious energy and accept her, and perhaps also themselves- they start to also act in fun, ‘out there’, creative ways. But the tide turns again when she is blamed for the other team winning when she is considered too supportive of them, and she is ostracized. Throughout this journey, we also follow the narrators feelings towards Stagirl. Leo is a quiet boy who collects unusual and funny ties. He is intrigued and drawn to Stargirl’s non conformity energy and giving spirit. He is with her romantically, and tries to be more like her himself, but struggles with the judgement of his peers.

When I first read this book:
About 5 years ago.

Why it is important to me:
Stargirl is such joyous character. She is empathetic, giving, creative, energetic. She does things because she thinks they are worthwhile, and will make either herself or others happy, rather than because it is the ‘done thing’. This book advocates for being yourself and affecting others in a positive way, and condemns forced uniformity and judgemental mindsets.

Who should read it:
It would be best for preteens/teens, but I enjoyed reading it as an adult also.

Books Before the Blog: Rowan of Rin

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


R

R is for Rowan
Book: Rowan of Rin by Emily Rodda

What is it about:
Rowan is a young, frail boy in the isolated little town of Rin. The villagers value strength and courage and view Rowan, who likes the peace of looking after their domestic cow like beasts, as a disappointment. One day the stream dries up. A party of the 6 biggest and bravest are to go up the mountain to ascertain the cause. The local Witch’s prophesy demands that Rowan goes as well. No one can understand why, but in the end it is his own unique characteristics that lead to the success of the mystery.

It is the first in a series of books about Rowan’s adventures, which grow in scope- they discover more of the towns history, the other inhabitants of the land and creatures that impact on their survival.

When I first read this book:
In late primary school.

Why it is important to me:
I remember in around about year 6, our teacher would sometimes let us have the radio on while we worked. There was one song, “wasn’t me” by Shaggy, that was very catchy and got stuck in my head. (perhaps not the most appropriate song, but what can you do- most of the songs aren’t) One day as I walked up the driveway to my friend S’ house I noticed a plant that I thought looked like it would belong in Rowan’s town. I happened to have that song going round in my head at that time, and to this day, I still think of the song and book when I see the plant, and vice versa!

Who should read it:
Children (mid-late primary school)
People who like fantasy and adventure books

Books Before the Blog: Quiet

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


Q

Q is for Quiet
Book: Quiet by Susan Cain

What is it about:
One third to one half of the population are introverts; people who need time and space to do their best working and thinking, who like people but find they need to spend time alone to recharge, the listeners rather than the talkersā€¦ Susan Cain argues in this book that when we shifted from small town, agriculturally dominated societies to big city living, society started to value charisma and extroversion more. How else do you find a job, your friends and your place in a new big city? But that that has been at the expense of valuing the good things about introversion. Introverts are just as creative, may in fact be better leaders despite (or perhaps because of) not liking to be the center of attention, and often attribute their advanced skill in an area to the times they spent exploring an interest alone. Susan advocates for a world where both introverts and extroverts are accepted and allowed to work and play in the ways that work best for them.

When I first read this book:
~ 2 years ago

Why it is important to me:
I think I tend towards the introversion end of the spectrum (and it is a spectrum- no one is 100% one or the other). It helped me understand myself, and be able to explain my needs to friends at times. I think there really is this view in society that introversion= being antisocial, which is completely false.

Who should read it:
Introverts
And extroverts, to understand their friends!

Books Before the Blog: Possum Magic

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


P

P is for Possum
Book: Possum Magic- Meme Fox

What is it about:
Grandpa Poss makes Hush, a child possum, invisible to protect her from snakes and other predators. Hush has fun playing in ways she wouldn’t otherwise be able to, but starts to long to be visible- to be able to know what she looks like. In order to make her visible, Grandma Poss and Hush travel around Australia eating a wide variety of Australian foods to find the right ones which will reverse the magic.

When I first read this book:
Age 5 or 6

Why it is important to me:
I was quite young, but I remember we had some kind of Possum magic themes day at school. Did the author come and read to us? Sid we go see a performance?-I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I am pretty sure that we ate lamingtons! We were given some stickers with the characters on them, which I loved- the watercolour illustrations are soft and with lovely purples and blues as a theme. I had one of the stickers stuck on the inside of my sock drawer for years!

Who should read it:
Young children
People who like picture books

Books Before the Blog: Seasons of the Heart

It’s time for the ‘A-Z challenge’- a post every day in April (except Sundays) working up through the alphabet. This year I will be writing about books that I read before I started this blog, that were important to me in some way. The vast majority are ones I still have on my bookshelf today, despite a move in house and sometimes many years since I first read it.


O

O is for Oke
Book: Seasons of the Heart by Janet Oke

What is it about:
12 year old Josh lives on a farm with his Grandpa, Great Uncle (Uncle Charlie) and Aunty Lou, who is was born a long time after his parents had been and was 18. Lou has become a number of things to him- his only maternal figure, a friend, kind of a sisterā€¦ One day he overhears his Grandpa and Uncle Charlie talking about finding a husband for Lou. He doesn’t want things to change, but finds he can’t stop it. He learns to see there are good things about the change, and to trust in God, family and himself.

When I first read this book:
In mid primary school.

Why it is important to me:
It is a lovely, gentle book, set in rural America in the days just before the invention of the car. There are four books in the series, which then follow Josh as he graduates, decides what to do with his life, has a love interest that doesn’t work out, finds a wife, and takes the farm into the future with new technologies.
We had the first book at home, and I asked for the others for Christmas. That day when I opened my present to find the final three books, all crisp and uniform in a row, with pretty purple and green covers- there is nothing quite like it. I am not sure, but I wonder if that might have been my first complete series.

Who should read it:
Probably best for young christians