Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Archive for June, 2007

Bridging the Gap: Raising a Child with Nonverbal Learning Disorder

Posted by nliakos on June 23, 2007

by Rondalyn Varney Whitney (Perigee)

This book served as my introduction into the world of NLD. I found it enlightening and enormously helpful. Whitney writes with candor about her own son Zachary, and as an occupational therapist she writes with special expertise about the sensory integration dysfunction characteristic of people with NLD. She gives excellent advice concerning home and school environments. After borrowing the book from my local library, I decided I had to have it on my own shelf and have ordered it from Mapleleaf Center.

Posted in Learning Disabilities, Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

Posted by nliakos on June 23, 2007

by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon 2007)

I’ve read all the books in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.   I love the characters: Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni (even his wife calls addresses him thus!), Phuti Radiphuti, the two hapless apprentices and Mr. Polopetsi…  The stories are gentle and rambling, but there is always a solution to the problems at the end–or somewhere in the middle.  I love the way Smith romanticizes Botswana while still not shying away from the problems there and everywhere: AIDS, spousal abuse and betrayal, adoption, depression,….  What I particularly enjoy is listening to Lisette Lecat narrate the books in her inimitable way, speaking slowly as if there were all the time in the world, speaking the various accents (Boer, Setswana,…) in a way I could never imagine in my head were I just looking at the words.

I haven’t listened to The Good Husband of Zebra Drive yet–just read it, but I did enjoy it.  It focuses more on Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni than do the other books, in the sense that the reader sees much of the story from his point of view.   Readers know Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni as a quiet, gentle man who behaves with utmost integrity and kindness–one who may be easy to take advantage of.  He is a gifted mechanic, but not as clever as his detective wife.  In this novel, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni decides to try a little detective work on his own.  He is not successful in one way, but in another, he does manage to solve a problem.  Along the way, he discovers just how much he loves Mma Ramotswe.

Another thread in the novel is that of Mma Makutsi, now engaged to Phuti Radiphuti of the Double Comfort Furniture Store.  Mma Makutsi begins to resent Mma Ramotswe and decides to quit her job as Assistant Detective…. but everything works out in the end, of course!

Posted in Fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | 3 Comments »

Harry Potter

Posted by nliakos on June 10, 2007

by J. K. Rowling (Scholastic; various pub. dates); narrated by Jim Dale

In anticipation of the July 21, 2007 release of the seventh and last book in the series, I am re-reading (actually, listening to) the first six books in the series. It is my first opportunity to listen to the Jim Dale recordings in their entirety. He’s really great. Most of the characters are immediately recognizable by their voices and accents. As with many audiobooks, I appreciate the impossibility of skimming through the story too quickly. When I first read these books, I read them very fast, because the stories are so riveting; now, I am taking this opportunity to savor the stories and the language.

Rowling’s style is uncomplicated, and she moves the stories along skillfully. Reading them all together like this makes one realize that they are really all one long story; this is particularly true of books 6 and 7. At the end of book 6, the reader is given a kind of map for the last book. We already know that Harry and his friends may not be returning to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for their final year, and that they will probably spend the year chasing down and destroying the various horcruxes (shards of the evil Voldemort’s soul which he has hidden in various places to ensure his immortality).

I read recently that the Harry Potter books are “just British school stories,” as if that were a bad thing. Indeed, they are a very clever reflection of life in British boarding schools. Never having attended one of these schools, I can still imagine what they are like, based on Rowling’s description of the magical Hogwarts. Her attention to detail is formidable, and the fantastic elements are usually very clever and funny.

For English learners, the Harry Potter books have a lot of advantages and some disadvantages. Those who have already read the books in translation, or seen the movies, will find reading the novels in the original English to be less daunting than starting a novel from scratch without any background information. The frequent reference to what has gone before will give readers a solid grounding in that elusive tense, the past perfect (“At the age of one year old, Harry had somehow survived a curse from the greatest Dark sorcerer of all time…), and Rowling makes constant use of participial phrases (“‘Ignore them,’ he said, accelerating to catch up with Ron….”), which grammar books tend to treat as an after-thought but which are frequently used in English writing.

On the negative side, learners of American English will learn a lot of British expressions such as skiving off class, rounding on someone, bloke, snog…) and all learners will need to develop a vocabulary of Harry Potterisms (muggles, horcrux, quidditch, thestral, apparate and disapparate…) which will do them little good in the real world. They may have difficulty making sense of Hagrid the gamekeeper’s speech (where final consonants disappear, to is ter and you is yeh) without guidance.

Nevertheless, much useful vocabulary is presented and used over and over, so that readers who persevere will expand their vocabulary naturally and effortlessly. There is, of course, much use of dialogue, which can be helpful in improving production and comprehension of natural speech.

The main attraction of the series, however, remains the page-turning appeal of the stories. Readers who dislike fantasy in general will probably not like this series either, and it would be a mistake to expect them to; but for those readers/learners with an appreciation for the whimsical and magical, Harry Potter is hard to beat.

Addendum, after reading the last book (twice):  I thought the finale was awesome.  Like The da Vinci Code, it started fast and hardly slowed down.  V. and I read it to each other, which slowed me down somewhat (5 days instead of 2), but that is good, because left to my own devices I would have read it too fast and missed too much.  As it was, when I re-read (on audio) I noticed much that I had missed the first time through.  The complexity of the interwoven plot always amazes me.  How could J.K. keep it all straight in her mind for 10 years and 4,000 pages?

After the 6th book, we were all on  tenterhooks about whether Dumbledore was really dead or not.  In the 7th, J.K. showed us how he could be dead but still present in the novel and in the lives of Harry and the others.  Somehow, the fact that he had died ceased to matter so much.

Like one reviewer I read, I also noticed strong similarities to The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  This novel of witches and sorcerers ended up with an obvious Christian allegory–what a surprise!  In fact, there were many surprises.  Rowling kept us all guessing until the last page.  What a talent!

Posted in Children's and Young Adult, Fiction, Recommended for ESL or EFL Learners | Leave a Comment »

Ghost Girl

Posted by nliakos on June 10, 2007

The True Story of a Child in Peril and the Teacher Who Saved Her

by Torey L. Hayden (Little, Brown & Co. 1991)

Torey Hayden is an educational psychologist and special educator.  Ghost Girl chronicles an experience she had when she left a job as research coordinator and therapist at a midwestern clinic to take a position as special education teacher of a tiny class in a small town elementary school.  The “ghost girl” of the title, Jadie, was an elective mute–a person who refuses to speak despite being able to.  As it happened, elective mutism was a particular interest of Hayden’s, and she quickly succeeded in getting Jadie to speak to her, but the real issue addressed in the book was how to interpret what Jadie said.  As time passed, Hayden began to suspect serious, possibly ritual, abuse of Jadie and her two sisters.  However, she could not bring charges without proof, and she needed Jadie to come forward and accuse her abusers.  It was very difficult to get Jadie to cooperate because she was so terrified.  Hayden describes her doubts along the way; a reader may feel impatient and wonder why she was not more pro-active in the case, but that is because we already know that the abuse occurred, whereas for Hayden, at the time, the issue was whether it was actually occurring or whether Jadie was simply a deeply disturbed child who had seen inappropriate TV shows and applied them to herself.  Eventually, Jadie agreed to tell her story to others in order to protect her baby sister, and Jadie and her sisters were removed from their parents’ home and put in foster care.  If Hayden can be believed, Jadie eventually put the abuse behind her and developed into a normal, successful young college student.  The abuse described was so horrific that I find this difficult to believe; but I guess it is true that some people are just survivors.

Many of the issues raised by the investigation were never resolved.  Was a cult using the children for Satanic rituals? Were they being abused on camera for the child pornography market?  Was Jadie’s dead friend a real child who was murdered, or a part of Jadie’s own personality?  Were the girls being abused by their own parents?  Who else was in on the abuse?  It is frustrating that these questions were never satisfactorily answered.

This is an unsettling read.  No one wants to think about the sexual abuse of innocent children.   On the other hand, we know it does happen.  This book shows how a caring adult can help, albeit not as fast as we would like.

Posted in Non-fiction | Leave a Comment »