News from the editorial team

BookTok

English · 23 May 2022

A few weeks back, I saw something new in my local bookstore. A sticker labeled “The TikTok sensation” graced the covers of various titles. I never associated TikTok with book recommendations but decided I needed to take a look. And so, I promptly fell into a rabbit hole of YouTube “BookTok” compilations.

It makes sense why this is so effective! The creators promoting these books are a lot closer in age to their target audience and seem authentic and relatable. It creates the feeling of a friend telling you “You need to read this book it changed my life!”. The presentation is visually stimulating, each recommendation only being seconds long. However, that begs the question of how much information about the book can really be conveyed in such a short amount of time. Is it about the story, or about the feeling the presentation and cover create? That said, the categorization of books into tropes helps the viewer decide whether a book could be the right fit. There’s no shortage of genres represented on TikTok, from mystery and non-fiction to romance and fantasy. Below, I’ve listed some of the TikTok bestsellers I’ve read recently and loved!

  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: This mystery novel allows the reader to get familiar with the concept of unreliable narrators. It opens up room for discussion surrounding topics like mental health, class systems, and privilege.
  • Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo: Set in a fantasy world reminiscent of Amsterdam, five outsiders set out on a journey to stop the spread of a drug lethal to humans and addictive to Grisha, people with magical abilities. If you enjoy morally grey characters, this fantasy adventure novel has a lot to offer!
  • The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: In the realm of modern retellings of Greek mythology, this one is remarkably fast-paced and captivating. Set in the era of the Trojan war, this novel tells the heartwrenching love story of Achilles and his companion Patroclus. Due to some explicit scenes, this novel is best suited for older readers.

So that leaves the question, are we in a new age of book marketing? What about the New York Times bestseller lists? Or is this just the current version of book bloggers and YouTube recommendations? I think in the world of literature, there’s room for all types of recommendations! Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone and exploring a different source of book suggestions is just what you need. Or perhaps social media can provide literary input to students who otherwise wouldn’t be browsing bookstores on a regular basis.

Where do you find inspiration on what book to read next? The bookshop next door? Current bestseller lists? Social media? Maybe TikTok helped you find your current favorite? Let us know what you’ve been loving lately!

All the best,

Sarah


“Freedom of the press is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
– Walter Cronkite

World Press Freedom Day promotes the belief that freedom of the press and freedom of speech provide a basis for mutual understanding and sustainable peace. “It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended, and closed down, while journalists, editors, and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered.”(unesco.org) And we know, we don’t have to travel to the other side of the earth to experience the oppression of journalism. Only recently, we witnessed what happens with freedom of the press and speech during war. How people were arrested for expressing their opinion and demonstrating on the street. How news agencies were shut down or used for propaganda. And, to be honest, from a completely neutral perspective, this is quite logical when fighting a war. It only makes sense to curtail the very rights democracy is built on: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of movement. Allowing those would hinder a tactical approach because information plays a vital role in the war because the success of the next move depends upon what the enemy knows or doesn’t know. The thing is, just because something is logical under certain circumstances, it isn’t necessarily right, especially when the circumstances themselves are so incredibly condemnable. I’m sure many of you were quite confused as well as to which of the news reports to believe since biased or even false reporting was used for propaganda. And it makes me sad and frustrated and feel helpless that democracy and freedom of speech are the first to die in war.

However, I was pretty surprised last week when I learned that the UK is planning to update its Official Secrets Act in a way that, many journalists would say, restricts the press freedom because it creates a chilling effect for journalists and their sources. Basically, it concerns anyone who discloses or spreads secret information. The Home Office claims that the balance between “serious harm” and freedom of the press needs to be found. “It added that officials and journalists are ‘rarely if ever’ in a position to compare the public interest against the potential damage of publication” (BBC Official Secrets Act). I find this strange because I feel this sounds like the job description of a journalist, this seems to be the reason why the press is also called the fourth estate. I don’t want to dive all too deep into this subject here, also because it goes slightly beyond my field of expertise, but if you’re interested have a listen to the corresponding panel of this year’s Festival of Debate Official Secrecy: How Government Plans Threaten Journalists & Whistleblowers.

Last but not least, a few literature or media suggestions:

Of course, George Orwell’s 1984: here even the freedom of thought is abolished. Need I say more?

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood: It focuses on an enclosed thoroughly regulated system also including illegal and ethically condemnable activities, information is smuggled out and leaked to the press. It might not be the main point of the novel, but still an important aspect.

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden: Since whistleblowing and journalism are closely intertwined, this is a great and valuable book that also gives insights in a process of disclosing secret information.

And believe it or not, Bibi Blocksberg and Benjamin Blümchen: Although they are mainly in German, they serve as a perfect example for explaining press freedom and the role of the press in general to children. It may also be used with older students since it’s unconventional, funny, and very accessible. On a very easy level, it shows the mayor as head of town/government/regime constantly acting selfishly and arbitrarily, more than once upsetting the citizens, and Karla Kolumna the fair and diplomatic reporter keeping him at bay.

Of course, I’m always interested in and open to new suggestions!
Have a wonderful day and care for your freedom of speech by caring for the freedom of speech of others!

Sarah-Sophia


My vanity is surely not in vain,
for I see how I ladies fair affect:
they mark me for my vestments – far from plain,
I am in lynx and leopard print bedeck’d.
They also note my grandiose physique:
a single glance shall speedily apprise
each of the strong and vigorous technique
I must employ whilst I oft exercise.
When entering a room, the heads all turn
to look on me; ’tis what I’ve long observ’d.
My comeliness allows me to adjourn
t’ an inn sans shirt or shoes, yet still be serv’d.
– I’ll wiggle on; ’tis charity to show,
for I am sexy – that, I rightly know.

Sounds like Shakespeare and still seems to be familiar from another context? Maybe you’ll be amused to know that one Eric Didriksen took it upon him to transform some beloved songs from our times into an iambic pentameter delight – an homage to the Bard. Maybe you already recognised the origin of the above sonnet? If not, it’s I’m sexy and I know it by LMFAO and I must say, I quite like this version too!
It’s a fun way to get dive into the sometimes a little dusty topic of Shakespearean sonnets as it definitely shows that there can be a quite modern times turn to it. You may find lots of these pop sonnets online on TUMBLR and for those among us (like myself), there also is a book.

For some extra joy, I also recommend one of the Shakespeare insult generator which you may find online like this one. Scholastic provides a worksheet for combining words from three columns to get one powerful expression of contempt. An yet again, there of course is a printed version to be acquired online or, even better, at your local bookshop. This will definitely make the old playwright look cool again and I like to think that he would take much joy out of being remebered as a sharp and quick-witted guy whose weapon really were his words.

As Shakespeare’s exact birthday is unknown, Shakespeare day is dcelebrated on his death day. Shakespeare was loved in his time already and his popularity only grew, I would say. Today he is still one of the most celebrated and widely read British authors. In general, I don’t think reading Shakespeare’s plays is a very effective way to access the great bard as much of the feelings, wit, and atmosphere simply doesn’t come across. Shakespeare has to be experienced, has to be acted out, and/or watched to get a full grasp of his plays.

Usually, a Shakespeare festival takes place in Mühlheim an der Ruhr once a year with open-air performances of one of his plays delivered by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men. The members are traditionally only male actors which might seem strange at first. A few years ago, I sat in the audience enjoying Romeo and Juliet, and despite even Juliet looking slightly brawny and having a teeny-tiny five o’clock shadow, I cried my eyes out when they parted and in the end died.
For is it not Shakespeare where the most lovely, most sorrowful, ghastly, and witty words are to be found?

Lit4School features some of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets, adaptations, and related literature as they provide superb insights into the Elizabethan era, especially when looking at them in a more analytic and critical way by comparing the plays with the period itself. Apart from the originals, the occasional easy-reading edition is available as well, making Shakespeare more accessible for a younger audience as well, I, Shakespeare and Mr. William Shakespeare’s Plays being two examples.

The cornucopia of Shakespeare literature and media all around the world shows that the playwright has not lost his relevance, and may, as seen above, still inspire most creative and fruitful ideas.

On that note: “Fair thought and happy hours attend you!” (Merchant of Venice)
Cheers to Shakespeare and his spectacular legacy!

Sarah-Sophia


April 22nd: Earth Day

English · 22 April 2022

Happy World Earth Day! This year’s motto is Invest in Our Planet, an appeal to everyone to preserve and protect our environment. To achieve this, action is crucial. But how? Sometimes it’s incredibly difficult to take action when you don’t even know where to start. The official Earth Day website offers informative live streams as well as an overview of the different events offered globally surrounding Earth Day. Take a look!

Of course, there is also an abundance of literature and films that can help spark the discussion about climate change in the EFL classroom, regardless of age and language level!

  • WALL-E by Andrew Stanton: This animated film follows the life of a small robot called WALL-E. He spends his days collecting garbage on a deserted Earth, made uninhabitable by human behavior. Both a tale of romance and climate change, the film tackles many issues related to over-consumption in modern society.
  • What Happened When We All Stopped by Avi Ofer, Jane Goodall, Tom Rivett-Carnac: This ecocritical, animated short film shares an empowering message: “No time for sorrow, we are building tomorrow.” Following a young girl, the story explores how mankind rediscovers nature during the lockdown of the COVID-19 pandemic, which, hopefully, leads us to a brighter, cleaner, and greener future.
  • The Snail and the Whale by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler: A rhyming, eco-critical story about the relativity of prejudices and stereotypes, the importance of friendship and environmental protection: “This is a tale of a tiny snail and a great big, grey-blue humpback whale…”
  • Here We Are: Notes for Living on Planet Earth by Oliver Jeffers: This beautifully illustrated book presents Earth as something precious that needs to be protected by all generations. The story shows both the beauty of the world as well as its problems while staying optimistic: “Though we have come a long way, we haven’t quite worked everything out, so there is plenty left for you to do.”

We would love to hear your suggestions for literature about climate change!

Sarah


February 24th: Russia starts military invasion in Ukraine, the Russo-Ukrainian conflict escalates. Most of us are shocked by the war events and especially the possibility of a nuclear attack is terribly frightening. Newspapers all over the world are bursting with horrifying headlines. Social media is swamped with guides on how to recognise propaganda and fake news, with tips for donating money, with explanatory videos and charts about politics and strategies, with info about demonstrations near your location and with so much more. And I think this war is difficult to grasp for us as especially younger generations have never experienced military conflicts, never really had to fight, or even think about fighting for their freedom, it’s just something taken for granted. War always happened somewhere but in order to really feel any of the effects, it was simply too far away. Now there is an ongoing war in close proximity. Think about it, from Berlin to Munich it’s approximately 600 kilometres as well as from Berlin to Warsaw. From Warsaw to the Ukrainian border it’s only a relatively small distance of 250 kilometres. Or putting it into yet another proportion, take Iraque, a relevant battle zone of the recent past: Almost 4000 kilometres lie between Berlin and the border of Iraque, nearly 6000 between Berlin and Afghanistan. That’s how close Ukraine, how close this war is.


On top, the economy is affected in such a way that everyone really notices that something’s afoot. How many German citizens thought about petrol for their cars, about their heating system, about the power supply, about what would happen if shortages of these things would arise at some point. Did you know, to name an important example, that about 55% of the German gas supply comes from Russia? Petrol prices are astronomically high and almost unaffordable and now I think three times about whether I really need the car for a trip. I also tried turning off the heating completely in my flat as an experiment, after all, I thought, winter’s kind of over now. And I tell you, it’s not impossible but it’s really nasty. You are cold, not too cold but unpleasantly cold, always and everywhere with the exception of the comfort of a bed at night. For me, the worst thing when working was getting stiff fingers and having difficulties getting them back to working temperature. I thought about what to do in my spare time without using any electricity, also not so easy (I ended up writing a letter which was very nice indeed).


Last here but certainly not least in general: how many Russian or Ukrainian friends, or acquaintances, or friends and family of friends do you have? I count four with whom I speak on a regular basis. One of them picked up a friend with her two twelve-year-old children from Ukraine a few days ago. They don’t speak English or German and couldn’t take much with them. And I try imagining how that must feel for a twelve-year-old.


Now, I know this post may be slightly dramatic and my point of view on this is not the one and only. However, I still wanted to share some experiences I collected over the last few weeks regarding this current and highly relevant topic.

Of course, a few literature suggestions should also not be missing here. In general, I recommend Cold War texts and media as it also deals with the fear of nuclear weapons and of war itself. It also concerns the same parties and is connected to the events of the current conflict.

  • 1984: Orwell’s famous dystopian novel not only explores surveillance but also a totalitarian state severely punishing anyone opposing or criticising the system.
  • You and the Atom Bomb: An Essay also written by Orwell and published in the Tribune in 1945 concerning the relatively new nuclear weapon. Very insightful and a quite accurate description of our present and the current situation.
  • Everything Sad is Untrue: A coming of age novel by Daniel Nayerie focussing on a middle school refugee boy whom no one believes his stories. Maybe relevant for a peek beyond the black and white.
  • When the Wind Blows: Another graphic novel by Raymond Briggs not to be given to younger audiences. It explores the effects of an atomic bomb explosion taking an elderly couple as an example.
  • What if We Nuke a City? : ‘In a Nutshell’ is a German-English youtube channel that focusses on scientific explanations of a great variety of topics. This specific video looks at the direct aftermath of an atomic bomb explosion. Admittedly kind of devastating but still worth watching.
  • The Arrival: This graphic novel does not need a single written word to tell its story about migrating from one country to another. It depicts the story of a man traveling to a strange country to find a new home for his family, encountering loneliness, strange food, and frightening creatures on the way. It might give people insight into just how lonely a new country can be.

Eventually, it’s important to talk about the current situation with its multiple aspects and also, maybe even especially, about one’s individual fears.

Stay Safe!

Sarah-Sophia


A word after a word after a word is power.” – Margaret Atwood

March 8th marks International Women’s Day, which became an International Day of the United Nations in 1977. Every year, this occasion reminds us to celebrate women’s achievements but also to take action for equal rights and opportunities in challenging stereotypes and bias, forging a gender-equal world. Visualising the data reveals the unequal representation of women in today’s society. Only 53 among the 900 individuals that have been awarded the Noble Prize are women. Only 24,9% of the world’s parliamentarians and only 6,6 % of the global CEO’s are women. Compared to men, women earn 23% less and are thus at a greater risk for social stratification. 

This years motto #GenerationEquality #ChooseToChallenge led me to count the number of entries by female authors on our platform. The truth is, we do feature a great variety of women’s writers and illustrators on Lit4School English – to be correct 109 in total. Equality, however, is not reached yet, when we compare this number to 191 entries by male authors. Our commitment to the future is to focus on a more balanced representation, to reach gender equality on Lit4School. 

If you have a suggestion for a female author, which is not featured on our platform yet and should be taught in school, please, suggest an entry.

Simon


March 2nd: Dr. Seuss

English · 2 March 2022

I am what I am! That’s a great thing to be!
If I say so myself, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!
” – Dr. Seuss

Today, we celebrate the birthday of the talented political cartoonist, children’s author, illustrator, poet and filmmaker Theodor Seuss Geisel. Probably everyone knows the Grinch, a wonderful Christmas tale in rhymes we featured in our last years’ Christmas Read. But Dr. Seuss also wrote and illustrated many other children’s books like The Cat in the HatThe Lorax, and Horton hears a Who! which are cute, funny at times, and heart-warming but convey a deeper message. He even wrote Beginner Books which are easy to read, use less than 250 different words, and feature beautiful illustrations.

Do you wonder how his pseudonym came into existence? Here is a fun fact from his wild years at university: While studying at Dartmouth College, he wrote for the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern as an undergraduate but was caught drinking Gin. As this, of course, was forbidden during prohibition, Theodor Geisel was banned from the journal and, thus, took on the pseudonym Dr. Seuss so he could continue writing for the journal.

Dr. Seuss is probably one of the most beloved illustrators and authors of children’s books, who invented many iconic figures which are still loved and adapted for movies, musicals, series, books, and many more. Recently, however, six books have been stopped being published because of their inherent racist stereotypes. The publisher Dr. Seuss Enterprises outlined in a statement, that “[these] books portray people in ways that are hurtful and wrong.” The ‘cancel culture’ controversy has raised the question which literature deserves to be preserved and which works should be reevaluated and probably canceled from the ‘classic canon’ for young readers. Also, the conflict of making ‘the right’ choice remains a current issue for us, the editors of Lit4School – even though we use selection criteria for our entries.

Sarah-Sophia & Simon


Or should I say, Lanoitan Drawkcab Yad ?

Suggested activities to try on Backward Day include eating breakfast for dinner and dinner for breakfast, adding coffee to your milk (something I weirdly do already) and starting a book on the last page: Something I’m sure Lewis Caroll would approve of! His classic novel Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland combines language and logic into a world of magical realism and ‘literary nonsense’. This book makes me think of all the things that are completely ridiculous but capture my attention as a reader, like the concept of an ‘Unbirthday Party‘… Stories that help me think outside the box. It is exactly why I think Backward Day can be a fun way to escape your routine, as ridiculous as it sounds to do something the other way around, “just because”.

This post actually describes how reading backwards can improve children’s reading skills, using Dr. Suess’ books as an example! Reading the sentences backwards removes the factor of predicting what the next word will be, letting the reader focus solely on the words instead of the content, which is an intriguing idea!

So, whether as an exercise or just for fun, try doing at least one thing backwards today! Maybe I’ll pour my milk into my coffee for once…

Stay safe and happy!

Sarah

“You’re entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret: All the best people are.”

– Lewis Caroll, Alice in Wonderland


“Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
– Edward Snowden

How often do you use Google per day? What do you upload on Instagram, Whatsapp, Facebook, Twitter, and the like? Do you use any voice assistants? How many jokes and sarcastic comments do you exchange with your friends that could be misunderstood taken out of context? What about pictures of any kind of precarious situations?

I recently started reading some of Margaret Atwood’s works. Although I was interested in dystopian literature and the surveillance aspect before, her books got me thinking even more about privacy as a human right, but even more so as a privilege. The Handmaid’s Tale has gained popularity since the series was launched which also experienced hype. However, it is quite different from the book and I feel the surveillance part isn’t dealt with as nicely as in the book. Atwood started writing the novel during a visit to West Berlin in 1984 through which she experienced the GDR system which definitely shows in the book. And even though mass surveillance media wasn’t a real thing back then, the effect of a lack of privacy on a human being is terrifying as it is equated with a lack or loss of control over one’s life. The Heart Goes Last is another novel worth reading regarding this delicate topic. Who could imagine right now, in our soft cozy living circumstances, giving up privacy in order to gain safety? Giving up privacy because it’s the most convenient thing to do? This is basically what happens in The Heart Goes Last and the change of human behaviour is interesting yet shocking. How would you change if you knew, you were monitored in some way or another all the time? Would you speak about everything as freely as you do now?

Don’t get me wrong, some of the above-mentioned I’m guilty of, too. I am, however, always a little surprised by the vast number of people using the “I have nothing to hide”-argument. I find that hard to believe, to be honest. Or would you give away private information to random people, people you just met, friends, family? Don’t you carefully pick the personal information you’re giving to someone depending on who you’re dealing with? Because I know, I don’t need to have any secrets in order to want privacy. Anyways, it’s not my place to lecture anyone here right now but if you are interested in seven reasons why “I have nothing to hide” might not be a valid point, have a read through the article on the amnesty website. Forbes also published a piece about why it is so incredibly important and how to care about online privacy. What’s probably most important is to reflect on one’s own actions and start rethinking. It’s not necessary to change everything and get super paranoid, just be aware! For I think it’s often not so much that you don’t care but that diving into this abysmal rabbit hole is hugely inconvenient and, let’s be honest, freaking creepy. Nevertheless, I promise, it’s a step worth taking!

Sarah-Sophia


I don’t know how you feel about this but for me, the worst time of the year is not when days are getting shorter but when they’re just starting to get longer again. When the joy of Christmas time is fading again. When New Year resolutions begin to feel like more of a burden than a motivation. When the sky is a kind of mushy gray and temperatures are too high for snow you, however, still need to wear fat winter clothing limiting your ability to move. Work seems harder, it takes effort to concentrate, and gazing out of the window is tangibly dissatisfying.

Now, I must admit I have a hard time convincing myself that reading a book after a more or less frustrating day will lighten my mood. I’d rather lie around all day and watch some edifying but trashy movie or series for the 100th time and wallow in disgruntlement. Disgruntle…a great word, almost onomatopoetic, perfectly fitting the situation. Nevertheless, sinking into discontent is not an option, hence some ideas, some advice for fighting the winter blues.

  1. Getting up early
    The sun might not do it, but I do! Being independent from daylight gives me a feeling of power. Also, I noticed that I get the more unpleasant tasks of the day done more properly and have some spare time for procrastinating with a cup of tea or coffee in-between working sessions.
  2. Sports aka any kind of exercise
    Going hand in hand with my early bird action, I also started going jogging for half an hour every morning. It gets the circulation rolling and afterwards I get to enjoy the graet feeling that I accomplished something already. Took a while getting used to forcing myself out of bed, totally worth it though!
  3. Books I found pleasing
    Since we’re at Lit4School here, some literary recommendations mustn’t be missing.
    I adore famous Paddington bear’s numerous little adventures. Admitting it being more of a children’s book, it nevertheless makes me smile involuntarily.
    Bob: No Ordninary Cat also made me quite happy. James Bowen’s adorable story of how a stray cat gave him the strength to turn his life upside down and inspired him to write this book is amazing.
    Holes was a fascinating novel as well. Not only did Louis Sacher create, what I think is a brilliant omniscent narrator. But he also invented unique characters making up a perfectly round and heartwarming story.
    I’m quite aware of the subjectiveness of this little list and often I am also guilty of being a fair-weather-reader, at least in Winter. When I asked around what books and other media made people happy, many different ideas came up. All time classics Harry Potter, the Percy Jackson series, and The Hunger Games were on the list for nostalgic reasons which I think makes a valid point. And I was told, I shouldn’t leave out all the Disney movies, always useful for a delightful movie night.
  4. Fairylights
    Just because everything is better with fairylights, they chase away the greyness from outside.

What are your favourite books or movies for brightening your day?

I hope you can take something with you from this post if only the knowledge that you are not alone. Have a great day and a big smile!

Sarah-Sophia


January 25th each year is a time to celebrate all things Scottish – it’s the birthday of one of Scotland’s national poets Robert Burns, or short: Burns Night. Yes, you certainly should try to wrap your tongue around one of Burns’ poems – the Address to a Haggis would be a good one so start with. For a start, it beautifully demonstrates the richness of Burns’ language. It also reminds us that there is a wonderful tradition you can join in, the so-called Burns supper: Scottish food and drink (whisky, that is, if you are of legal drinking age) to be enjoyed with friends and family, albeit following certain steps. So be sure to hold your own Burns supper with this simple guide – even if this year your crowd may be connected online instead of gathering at the same table.

If you are looking teaching resources concerning Robert Burns, the article “How to teach… Robert Burns” published on January 20, 2017, in The Guardian might be useful. Stay safe everyone, and celebrate the arts!

Rico


Thirty white horses on a red hill, first they champ, then they stamp, then they stand still.

‘Teeth! teeth! my preciousss; but we has only six!’

Can you guess who answered that riddle? The fact that a character like Gollum can be recognized by two words alone speaks volumes on the talent behind Tolkien’s writing. His magical storytelling has shaped the fantasy genre of today, with readers all around the world falling in love with his novels. In honour of Tolkien’s birthday, I’d like to revisit some of my favourites!

The Hobbit transports you to the magical world of Middle-earth, filled with magical creatures, some more pleasant than others… and a rather unadventurous hobbit. Bilbo Baggins never wanted an adventure, he was very content staying at home. But when a company of dwarves drags him on a journey of battling goblins and trolls he discovers a side of him he’s never seen before.

Written in verse, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil is a collection of illustrated stories ranging from poems about magical elves to hungry trolls. The stories are a joy to read and are ideal for a short coffee-break.

Bonus The Hobbit riddles at the bottom at the page!

Sarah

A box without hinges, key, or lid. Yet golden treasure inside is hid.

What has roots as nobody sees, Is taller than trees, Up, up it goes, And yet never grows?


I’m sure most of us are experiencing yet another stressful Christmas time, for the older you are the more you have to think about, organise, and remember. And what’s more, you don’t even get to keep the mysterious magic of Christmas with believing in Santa Claus, the Christkind, or another Christmas entity. No, at some point it’s just *poof* and it’s gone. The holiday itself doesn’t change so much, most of you and your families have their traditions I assume. Maybe you like to go to church and savor the festive service, maybe you have lovely afternoon tea or coffee time with your loved ones. In my family, we like to dress up, we even sing under the tree, and Christmas Eve in general usually has the same procedure every year which I indeed take pleasure in. Most problematic and unnerving is probably the gift-giving. I’m in my mid-twenties and there still is a hidden expectation that I awaken my creativity and actually make something by hand. And let’s be honest: you’re studying or working, do you really set your top priorities on gift-making?

Now, I don’t want to rant, I really do love Christmas time! I particularly adore all the fairy lights and candles, the colours and comfy blankets, all the warm homes radiating their cozy vibes. I admit, it certainly is kind of stressful but that’s a reason to take a step back, have a hot beverage and take an hour just to take care of yourself. So long story short, here are some warm literature and media suggestions for these special decelerating hours or of course for bringing some Christmas vibes into your classroom:

A Christmas Carol: An all-time classic and one of my favourites! I think it captures the spirit of Christmas brilliantly and conveys positive values that we should pay more attention to. It’s also not that long and it’s ideal for reading it to someone.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (Correspondence): This collection of letters tells the story of the 12 days of Christmas from the recipient’s point of view. What starts out as a grand romantic gesture quickly becomes increasingly strange. Receiving two doves is lovely, but can the same be said for eight maids milking cows in your front yard? This book could be the perfect lighthearted story to read for those who love this classic Christmas carol!

The Real Mother Goose Book of Christmas Carols: You want to include some music and singing in your lessons? This is a perfect medium to implement with a great variety of Christmas carols.

Miracle on 34th Street: This is a magical movie about believing in Christmas and Santa Claus. Despite being quite old, I think it is a great movie for the whole family.

Dash & Lily: Maybe some of you know the Netflix series from last year which was lovely. The books about the couple, the misanthropic Dash and the enthusiastic always happy Lily, are in my opinion definitely worth reading. It’s easy to read and still provides a wide vocabulary range. I liked how the contradicting views of the two are described and combined.

I could and also want to go on and on and on with my list but I want to keep this at a length that isn’t so overwhelming. In the end, we read or watch whatever makes us feel good, and statistically the consumption of wholesome movies and literature goes through the ceiling during Christmas time. If you need some more inspiration for classroom media, have a look at our collection and feel free to recommend your own Christmas favourites!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Sarah-Sophia


November 26th: Black Friday

English · 26 November 2021

Every year, I notice how many newsletters I’m subscribed to when Black Friday promotion codes start rolling into my inbox. Companies promote their “once in a lifetime deals” that seem to happen, well… definitely more than once. Black Friday marks the start of the Christmas shopping season and is used by many to get a head start on gift shopping, while also saving some money. And although it’s wonderful to get a great deal on an item you were going to buy anyway, it’s incredibly easy to get lost in a shopping frenzy. So, if you want to read up on consumerism and its effect on us and our environment, take a look at these titles!

Black Friday by Nana Kwame Adjei-Brenyah: This collection of twelve dystopian short stories exposes institutionalised racism, social injustice and the devastating effects of consumerism on contemporary and near-future society. And ironically, it’s named after the very day known for promoting excessive consumerist behavior.

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk: This novel is both a psychological thriller and an essential critique of contemporary capitalist society on consumerism, perfection, masculinity and rebellion. Fight Club’s narrator lives a regular life, working for an insurance company and collecting Ikea furniture in his free time. When one day his apartment mysteriously blows up, he moves in with a man named Tyler Durden, a charismatic stranger he just recently met. Together they start an underground bare-knuckle fighting club which quickly develops into an anti-capitalist terrorist organisation that attacks the global financial system. The book has since been adapted into a wildly successful film that is definitely worth a watch.

The True Cost by Andrew Morgan: This documentary explores the world of fast fashion, consumerism and the many questions it raises. How much do clothing pieces actually cost to make and what is behind that number? What is the psychology behind overconsumption along with the ethical and environmental implications that follow?

On this note, happy (and hopefully stress-free) shopping! Have you discovered any thought-provoking texts or films recently? We’d love for you to share them with us!

Sarah


Not enough appreciated and celebrated in my opinion, at least in Germany, is this special day. Here, unfortunately, you’re already bludgeoned with Christmas stuff in September, but there’s little room for Halloween or simply autumn decorations. But, even though we might not be the most halloweeny nation, we still want to suggest some texts and movies for a long eerie autumn night. Some may be useful in the English classroom, some are just for fun.

  • Edgar Allan Poe: To be honest, I’m not sure which of the 32 short stories to choose, they are all perfect for this time of the year. Apart from The Masque of the Red Death which I’m certain, many of you know, I find The Black Cat and Berenice to be absolutely horrifying and disturbing, just the right amount of horror and terror. And the length of the stories is an absolute bonus feature as they make for a great scary Halloween reading session with flashlight in the dark and everything. Poe’s stories are in the public domain and you may find them here for example: poestories.com
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne: Just like good old Edgar, Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote many short stories, however, much less gruesome than his fellow dark Romanticism writer. Howthorne’s stories live more from mysticism and a certain intangibility. Rappaccini’s Daughter is one of my favourites because it shows that the monsters are not always the bad guys. The Wedding-Knell is also a delightfully bizarre story that combines marriage and death. These stories are also in the public domain, e.g.: americanliterature.com
  • Romantic Halloween/Autumn Novel: Not a big fan of all the Halloween hype and scary stories? Maybe you’d rather enjoy snuggling up with a steaming cup of pumpkin spiced latte and some cheesy romantic novel. The Cottage on Pumpkin and Vine is about the annual Halloween party in a cosy little B&B and filled with romance paired with halloween traditions. It’s simply an uplifting belletristic story.
  • Rocky Horror Picture Show: Certainly doesn’t meet everyone’s taste but this hilarious cult film simply cannot be missing from the Halloween list. This quirky Frankenstein parody with its world-famous vocal interludes combined comedy, tragedy and transsexuality as far back as 1973. The film was released in 1975, something to keep in mind while watching.
  • Movies for children: We certainly don’t want to traumatise the younger audience but still get across a little spookiness. There are, of course, the lovely stop motion Tim Burton movies like Frankenweenie and Nightmare before Christmas which treat children carefully including the right amount of scariness and cuteness and thus introducing the genre quite gently. Hotel Transylvania is another, albeit definitely more amusing, Halloween children’s film. It is definitely suitable for an easy introduction to the scary film genre and even comes with a light moral lesson. And of course last but not least, Boo to You Too! Winnie the Pooh tells the story of Pooh’s Halloween and how Piglet overcame his fear.

I’m sure our little list includes something for everyone. If you feel otherwise feel free to suggest your Halloween favourites!

Trick or Treat!

Sarah-Sophia


Fall is here!

English · 16 October 2021

With more and more rainy days trickling into our lives, it’s time to accept that summer has inevitably come to an end. Now that fall break has arrived, take the time to enjoy some cozy autumnal literature with us! These picks are short and sweet, the perfect choice to accompany a steaming cup of coffee or tea! If you’re looking for an intriguing short story, take a look at Early Autumn by Langston Hughes: This short story shows that what appears to be small talk on the surface can be packed with emotions, love, and bitterness alike. Set in autumn, the falling leaves and cold weather reflect a complicated romantic relationship. A classic piece of poetry to get in the mood for autumn is, unsurprisingly, To Autumn by John Keats: Written in three stanzas, this romantic poem reflects on three different aspects of autumn: the power of nature, the consolation of beauty, and mortality and transformation.

Do you have any favourite autumn literature? Share your picks with us!

Take care,

Sarah


September 28th: Helen Mort

English · 28 September 2021

I’m a mum to a toddler, a step parent, a trail runner, climber and all round outdoor enthusiast. I love the Peak District and get out whenever I can. I grew up in Chesterfield. I love dogs, books, dancing and real ale.” – Helen Mort

Our congratulations to Helen Mort – award-winning poet, novelist and senior lecturer for creative writing at the Manchester Metropolitan University. We feature some of her poetry taken from her collection No Map Could Show Them (2016) that navigates proximity and distance, past and present, edges and extremes – such as: “Lil’s Answer” – a poem on gender prejudices and discrimination, “What Will Happen” – lines on new roles and old norms of society, “Oxygen” – on mountaineering and the elixir of life or “Ink” – reflecting upon the process of injury and healing after a tattoo session.

Happy Birthday Helen!

Simon


“I am hungry. Therefore I am.” – Garfield

For over forty years, the Monday-hating but lasagna-loving, not over-weighted but under-tall cat brings joy to everyone worldwide.

On 19th June 1978, the first comic strip about the iconic egocentric cat and his somewhat dorky owner Jon Arbuckle was published. Since then, Garfield was everywhere: his adventures were published in more than 2500 newspapers, 100 countries and 40 languages all over the world.

Why seems to be everyone infatuated with this cat? He is very unpolite, fat, lazy and always puts himself first – but he is also a cat with a warm and loveable personality. He is a real antihero who unites within himself almost all of the bad characteristics a human could have – and the people celebrate him for doing so. And maybe this is the reason: He is selfish and does not care about it. He is like an old friend who makes us feel a little bit better by showing that it is alright not performing all the time perfectly and that being selfish sometimes helps to protect ourselves. And to be honest: When we are on our own, don’t we celebrate Garfield’s behaviour in silence? Don’t we sometimes identify ourselves with him? Yes, indeed we do. And when being in a good mood, we might reflect on our behaviour and find that life is not bad at all and we should not take ourselves too seriously.

This red tabby cat is a fixed component of pop culture and an excellent resource in the EFL classroom: The drawings are lovely and easy to catch. The vocabulary is quite easy to understand, and above all, students will find points of connection to their own lives very quickly. Moreover, Garfield’s philosophy is easy to get for everyone and very light-hearted – thus, it can motivate to access more challenging tasks. So, teachers, it is up to you because (to let Garfield speak in his own wise words): “If you are patient…and wait long enough…Nothing will happen!”

Melanie