Winter reading

Home these last few days and weather is bitter outside. Decided to sit inside and read some books I have had on my bookshelves for a while now.

The first is by an Australian YA author, Tristan Bancks. I often read his blog posts and pass on many of his tips and advice to my students.
The FallThe Fall by Tristan Bancks

This is a nicely plotted crime thriller for middle-years readers, with shades of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Sam Garner, staying at his Dad’s 5th floor apartment whilst recovering from leg surgery, is hampered in his movements because he is on crutches. He has not left the flat since arriving almost a week before. In the middle of the night he is awoken by an argument in the apartment above. Hobbling to the window to hear better, he is further shaken when a body falls past the window onto the ground below. He goes to find his crime-reported dad only to find he is alone. Going back to the window he sees another man below bending over the body. Was it the killer and did he spot Sam? Although very frightened he goes to investigate a little further only to find the body has disappeared.
Sam begins to wonder if what he saw was real until someone breaks in to his Dad’s apartment.
The reader is drawn into the story and is pulled along with Sam as he tries to make sense of what he has seen and what he suspects might be happening. Sam is a realistic character. He has anger issues he has been dealing with and idolises his father, who until now has been absent from his life, and wants to follow in his fathers crime-reporting footstep. He’s no superhero on the surface, instead is scared most of the time but what he endures proves that he has strengths he didn’t know he had. All the characters, including his mum and dad, are believable and you can sympathise with all of them.
Tristan Bancks has created strong characters, recognisable settings and a suspenseful plot that should keep the readers totally engaged to the end.

The second is a biography written as a graphic novel about a long-time favourite Agatha Christie.
Agatha: The Real Life of Agatha ChristieAgatha: The Real Life of Agatha Christie by Anne Martinetti

This was fun read. A long-time fan, I read all her books when I was a teenager and occasionally go back to them for some light entertainment and relaxation. It is written as graphic novel which offers a very insightful glimpse into Agatha Christie’s life, ranging from her childhood to her death and covers her mysterious disappearance to Harrogate. It was also an interesting device – using imaginary conversations she had with her most famous characters, Poirot, Miss Marple and Tommy and Tuppence Beresford.
Last year I read The Mystery of the Blue Train, and visited her home Greenway in Devon as well. This slim biography is another nice acknowledgement of the amazing writer and woman known as Agatha Christie.

Visual storytelling – 2 examples

I really like the fact that we have so many wonderful visually rich stories, in the form of the picture books and graphic novels/comics, available to us nowadays. Our students have always liked reading them (eg. the Asterix and Tintin stories in the past were some of the most read items in our library) but now they cover some many genres and types of stories.

Today there are also more links between cinema and literature and the power of using the “right”visuals to tell stories has become very important. The visuals can be so powerful and their information does not depend on understanding any written language but a much more universal world of visual clues.

For instance, recently Coraline, which originally began as a book then became a graphic novel and finally has a life as an animated film. With the author being Neil Gaiman, it is not surprising that this is a rather creepy tale. The story is about a young girl who is trying to get her work obsessed parents attention, has struck a chord with our students and adults. The film has been doing well and has led a number of our students back to the library to find the books. It is yet another example of the links that have been forged between books and films. There was a post on our WFC library blog going into more detail.

Our students love discussing the merits of the film vs the book. The latest Harry Potter film has been quite controversial, with many having strong opinions on the merits of both. There has been a lot of discussion about the ability of a film to adequately tell a complex/involved story from a book.

Listening to our students, I don’t think anything will replace the experience of reading the “good” or compelling novel, but movies can enhance experiences. Comparisons between graphic novels and films are tailor-made to start discussions about books and films. Both are visual mediums but are also very different.

Over the weekend I found out about yet another story that has been told visually. This time it is a true story, from the point of view of a young Israeli soldier. The story illustrating the horrors of the Israeli-Lebanon war, became an animated film that won awards in 2008 and was extremely well received in many countries. I had not heard of the film and searched for something about it on YouTube. The official site tries to explain how the  animators used illustrations to create the unique atmosphere, created with a rather dream-like (nightmare) quality at times.  It took 4 years to complete.

Waltz with Bashir - coverI watched a trailer of it after I found and read the graphic novel that was published after the film. Ari Folman, a screen writer and director, wrote his own story in Waltz with Bashir. He also directed the film and he, along with David Polonsky, created the graphic novel entitled Waltz with Bashir: A Lebanon war story.

The story in the book is complex and compelling. The images and the text combine to help the reader to glimpse the horror that is war, the banalities, the strangeness of the situations the soldiers experience and the way that they deal with it after they have left the battlefields. I feel I must now go out and find the film. We have been studying All quiet on the Western Front this year and Waltz with Bashir  could certainly be used as an extension piece.

Whilst I was searching for more information about the movie and it’s director, I came across the following YouTube Video. It is a great panel discussion about the power of visual storytelling and one of the 3 panelists was our own Shaun Tan. This is a long video but there is so much interesting discussion about their approaches to creating their stories. It is also very interesting to hear about their inspiration especially the illustrators and artists that inspire them.

Useful Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Useful Links (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Herge Museum – now open


For all those myriad of Tintin fans there is now a Hergé Museum. The Museum has now been officially opened in the small town of Louvain-la-Neuve (not far from Brussels), Belgium. The museum is dedicated to the work of Hergé (Georges Prosper Remi), who created the Tintin comic-books.

In the unlikely event that you have not read any of the books, Tintin evolved from the brush of Belgian artist Georges Prosper Remi. The hero, Tintin, is a young Belgian reporter. He is aided in his adventures by his faithful little dog Milou (which means Snowy in English). The first adventure story was published in 1929. In the sixites it was made into a television comic series and this was my introduction to the Tintin stories and characters.


The museum houses examples of the art of Tintin’s creator Georges Remi, who died in 1983. What makes it unique as a museum is that it was designed by Christian de Portzamparc, who based his design based on the art Herge. The interior has a simplistic style, one of the hallmarks of Hergé’s cartoons. The goal of the museum is to spread awareness about Hergé’s art and its influence, a campaign which began with the Hergé foundation in 1986.

 I have been working in libraries for many years and the Tintin stories that I read when I was a child are still enjoyed by young people today. The stories have been translated into many languages, including Chinese, and have always been in print.

HergeMuseum4The Museum website has a gallery  that shows  some great photos of the different aspects of the building, which would be interesting to anyone studying architecture.   You can also look at some of the plans and watch how the building was gradually constructed.

I can add another “must visit” place on the itinerary of my next overseas visit.