Monday, August 22, 2016

My Sister Lives... & A Patch of Blue

My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, Annabel Pitcher

I have an increasingly long list of books that people have recommended.  Every now and then I find one at the library and pick it up for the bargain price of 50c.   I had thought it was a book for adults, and so was surprised when I noticed my son reading another book by the same author.   Turns out I was wrong – Pitcher writes books for children and youth.

Narrated by Jamie, a 10-year old in the UK, his family was completely turned upside down five years ago.   Slowly revealing the events, Pitcher has drawn a realistic picture of a family whose life has been marred by tragedy - a terrorist attack in which Jamie’s sister died.   Dad is unable to move on and is stuck in a pattern of drinking and hating all Muslims for he holds them all responsible; Mum has chosen to move on and away from them all; so Jamie is forced to move to the countryside with his Dad and other sister (age 15).  There is a desperation to this story, the simplicity with which it is told through the eyes of a 10-year-old is somehow more devastating than through the eyes of an adult.   What Jamie struggles with is that he has no real memory of his sister.   In a house that is clouded with grief and that revolves around Rose (who ashes are on the mantelpiece), he is unable to participate in it.    

Jamie has spent his childhood being bullied, and his new school turns out to be no different.  Except that here he finds a friend, Sunya, a girl who wears a headscarf and who is as much an outsider as he is.   A friendship develops, yet all the while he knows his dad would hate it.   None of my children have yet read this one, Mr 13 is not currently interested and I think Miss 11 could wait a bit longer.

For me this book had echoes of A Patch of Blue by Elizabeth Kata, which I read for high school English.  A poor white 18 year old-girl, Selina, is the child of a prostitute, abused by her family, surrounded by prejudice, and was blinded at age five by an acid attack. She threads beads to earn money. On the very odd occasion she gets out of the house, she meets a friendly, polite man Gordon, and they strike up a close friendship. Gordon comes to realise the despair and degradation of Selina’s life. Selina finds herself with a friend for the first time. Gordon wants to help Selina, and she needs him to rescue her from her mother’s plans to include her in prostitution. Yet something is not quite right, which is slowly revealed, and as the setting could be the 1950s/60s in America, we see that racial tension might have something to do with it.

In re-reading it recently, I am reminded (with some relief), that children and teens do not fully understand what they read. I don’t remember any of the depths of despair that this story had. Even if I theoretically realised the awful life that Selina had, I did not comprehend it.   As my children get older I am reminded of more books and movies I read and enjoyed at their age, but never really grasped.   That's is usually a good thing!  Understanding comes with age and experience.  

Monday, August 15, 2016

Some more family movies

We quite enjoy a family movie night with Husband’s homemade pizza.  Some we have enjoyed in recent months:

Apollo 13

A blast from the past with this Tom Hanks classic.  It’s a long one at well over two hours, with a solid story accounting the real problems aboard the Apollo 13 lunar expedition in 1970.  Our kids (aged 8.5-13) were engrossed and could mostly follow what was going on, what the issues were and how serious it was.   It was never too scary, and while there is a little bit of minor swearing, there is nothing else about this that is concerning for a family night.  A great movie with real challenges and emotion, and the added bonus of it being true.   I enjoyed seeing it again too!

Finding Nemo
Again, a return to the classic in preparation for seeing Finding Dory.  [That was seen with extended family, so no review from me yet, although the summary I gleaned was: the girls (aged 11 & 8) loved it, adults thought it wasn't as good as the original].   Everyone has probably seen this wonderful story of a little fish getting taken by a diver and put in a tank in Sydney, and his dad coming all the way from the Barrier Reef in search of him.   It always had scary bits in it (especially the shark scenes) and other scenes with real suspense, but the lovely characters and friendships forged are delightful, and there is humour to appeal to all ages.   It’s a great story about family, eventually letting go, and also reminding kids that parents are always ‘for you’.

Herbie Fully Loaded

This cute adventure starring Lindsay Lohan has Herbie the VW bug with a mind of his own and a way to show it.   Assigned to the scrapheap, Herbie is rescued by Maggie (Lohan) as a present from her dad.  To Maggie’s astonishment, Herbie proves to be very adept as racing, controlling the car himself.   Coming from a long-line of race-car drivers, she secretly enters him to race in a major event.  My girls (ages 8 & 11) thought this was great fun, they loved watching the car take control of things (no voice, just movement and action with personified headlights as eyes, noises, etc)

Enjoying that one so much meant it was time to revisit Cars.


Cars is another of the Disney Pixar classics.  Produced at a time when animation had really hit its stride, it’s fun to watch a world entirely inhabited by personified cars and trucks (indeed all transport).   Lightning McQueen is the new race car in the Piston Cup; a brash, insensitive, rookie who thinks he can win without support.  A three way draw in the final finds him racing to California against the others to woo sponsors before the final showdown race.  He gets lost on the way and ends up in the small town of Radiator Springs, along Route 66, a town that has died with the building of the interstate.   Meeting the motley crew of cars who long for their town to find its way again, McQueen is forced to re-examine both his priorities and his decisions to do things alone.   This is a fun movie with great messages about friendship and competition, as well as a frank acknowledgement that while change will always happen, some people get left behind.   I love the scenes with stadiums packed with cheering cars on the sidelines and racing cars on the track, and the soundtrack is good too, with the bonus of a track from one of my favourite musicians of all time, James Taylor.

The Muppets

This was a treat waiting to be unwrapped.  The kids were hesitant, I promised them we would only watch half an hour and then judge it.  Of course 30 minutes in, no-one was asking for it to stop!  If you watched The Muppets yourself as a child, all the favourite characters are here filling the same roles.  I laughed out loud regularly, both to previous Muppet things and new cultural references.   As usual, mixing real actors with Muppets provide lots of visual gags and general humour.  In summary, the Muppet studios are to be knocked down so that oil can be drilled underneath.  They have to raise $10m in a telethon to save the studios, but have times moved on?  Do people really care about the Muppets anymore?   Do people still enjoy their clean-cut style of humour?  With lots of all singing and dancing numbers (the highlight being Life is a Happy Song) with both muppets and actors (including Jason Segel and Amy Adams), this is great fun.  Afterwards we had a look at some old Muppet clips online and had a great time laughing at those as well.


This lovely Disney animation is getting older now (2008) but keeps its charm with the lovely story of Bolt, the superdog.  That is, he thinks he is a superdog.  Bolt has spent his life on the set of a television series as the companion to his human Penny.   On screen, this duo regularly save the world and since Bolt has never known any other life, he believes all his superpowers are real, something the producers have fostered to make his ‘acting’ more believable.   As such, his protective love for Penny is absolute, and one day when he believes she is kidnapped, he will stop at nothing to save her.   Ending up on the other side of the country, he meets a sassy cat, Mittens, who he believes holds the answer to finding Penny.  The majority of the movie is the story of the two of them slowly forging a friendship, as they travel back across America and are joined by Rhino (a hamster and Bolt’s biggest fan).  It’s a lovely story about friendship and the loyalty of animals, with great humour and a catchy soundtrack along the way.   The final scene is a little scary for little ones when Penny is in very clear danger, but as to be expected, Bolt come to the rescue.   This is a fun choice for a movie night, and it will probably endear children of most ages (including ours aged 7-11)

Saturday, August 13, 2016


When we get together with couples about to become parents, we talk about many things.   These include prioritising their relationship with God, prioritising their marriage, trusting themselves as new parents, managing their relationships with their own parents, and thinking about their new roles as ‘Mum’ and ‘Dad’. 

One specific thing we talk about is the risk of always looking forward to the next stage, rather than finding the positives in the stage you are in.   Those “I wish they could talk”, “I wish they were at school”, “I wish we could skip the tantrums” thoughts.  All very understandable and thoughts many of us will have had at some time or another. 

One of the suggestions to bring this home is to watch the movie Click.   If you find yourself often wishing this too would pass, have a look at it.   It’s a pretty good example of what would happen if you really could skip ahead.   Michael Newman (Adam Sandler) is struggling to balance all that life holds with a young family, and a busy job.  One night, a kind stranger offers him a ‘universal remote’ to help him control his life.   To his amazement, and excitement, the remote actually controls time.   He can skip arguments, mute his wife’s complaining and fast forward to when a project is completed without actually doing the work.    In time, however, it becomes clear that the remote ‘learns’, so the things he skips become skipped regularly – times of intimacy, resolution of problems, years of work.  In time, the things that Michael misses become more and more extreme and in the end, decades pass with him essentially functioning on autopilot.  It is clear that he has become trapped by his own choices. 

At one level, it’s a pretty depressing film, and it has all the usual crassness of most Sandler offerings so you certainly won’t agree with or even like parts of it, but it certainly makes you question your life’s priorities.   It’s worth watching and then thinking about where your life tends to function on auto pilot and anything you might like to think about changing.

Monday, August 8, 2016


Airman, Eoin Colfer
This single novel by the same author of the Artemis Fowl series has delivered another good read.   I have not reviewed Artemis Fowl to date on this blog, but simply said – they are good books for children (aged about 10 and older).   Airman is of similar quality, although rather than fantasy this is set in the 19th century on the Saltee islands off the Irish coast in a fictional kingdom.   Conor Broekhart grows up friend of the princess and mentored by the palace tutor, all the time dreaming and planning machines with the capability of flight.   Yet, his fortunes quickly change when he is set up and imprisoned for treason.   As he realises his only hope of escape is in the air, his long term planning looks upwards.   This is a great story of character and the choices people make.  He is only a teenager, yet Conor faces adult choices – does he run for freedom, save others, clear his name or just make money?  An action packed, fast paced book recommended for those about age 12 and up.

If you like any of Colfer’s books, it’s worth reviewing his website to find more – he has written a lot, and for various ages.