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“If I loved you less, I might be able to talk about it more”– Jane Austen, Emma

Valentine’s Day, a day filled with love, appreciation and the celebration of romance. Typically it is associated with gifts of red roses, chocolates and hearts in all colours and shapes. While these traditions are fun and romantic, I love to cycle back to literature on this special day. 

Growing up I was never really fond of having any trace of romance in my books and I would immediately put them down if they did. This only changed when I discovered the works of Jane Austen which would deeply influence my future perception of literature. If I remember correctly I was just interested in reading again when entering year 10 because of my English teacher who helped me improve my English skills at the time and she recommended Pride and Prejudice. At the time it was an extremely scary project to pick up a Jane Austen Classic and understand anything but I am glad that I fought and pushed myself through it and incredibly grateful to my teacher for believing in me. Finishing the novel changed the way I approached literature altogether, it was no longer a task that had to be done but I started to read because I wanted to, because I wanted to dive into those fictional worlds, simply because the love Jane Austen described in that one book deeply enchanted me. 

Pride and Prejudice

The story revolves around the Bennet family consisting of Mr and Mrs Bennet and their daughters Jane and Elizabeth, our protagonist who is also called Lizzie, Mary, Lidia and their youngest Kitty. With the arrival of a new neighbour, the rich young gentleman Mr Bingley, a party is thrown in his honour where the reader first meets him and his best friend Mr Darcy. Darcy’s pride is noticeable from the very first moment which unfortunately causes him to insult Lizzie and strangle their relationship as it and several other events only fuel her prejudice and hate. After a rejected declaration of love from Mr Darcy he writes Lizzie a letter explaining himself which changes her view completely and she eventually accepts his proposal after his second confession. 

Lizzie Bennet is the second oldest of five daughters and her father’s favourite child. She portrays a typical Austen female lead, a witty and smart young woman who is independent and not afraid to speak her mind, who desires to marry for love rather than social status and convenience, which was not the standard of the time. Throughout the whole book, it becomes clear that she portrays the “prejudice” part of the title as she judges people from the beginning based on her perspective, whereas Fitzwilliam Darcy on the other hand portrays pride, which he calls his greatest weakness. This pide changes the way he is perceived throughout the whole novel, not only by the characters, especially Lizzie, but also by the readers.  

The novel’s themes make its love story rather bewitching¹ by showing that marrying for love is possible even in a time where marriage was all about social status, it showed that love could defy everything and that if people were meant to be, they would find their way to each other. 

Talking about the great love story of Pride and Prejudice…

Having difficulties reading Jane Austen’s works, or other works from authors of the time, seems to be what TikTok would call a canon event. However, to still bring it closer to younger generations who might be intimidated or overwhelmed by the book’s length or language, especially as an L2 learner, YouTube offers the perfect solution. In 2012 the first episode of “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries”, a web series in the form of vlogs, aired. The series shows a modern, digital take on the classic from 1813, translating it into modern language and also modern problems. It is an easy way to understand the storyline and the characters before or after reading the novel itself. I watched it during the lockdown in 2020, purely for amusement but I soon realised that even though I had read Pride and Prejudice several times at that point, the YouTube format always opened up new perspectives and discussions about the literary work. 

[link: www.youtube.com/@LizzieBennet]

But do the romance books of our time have the same effect Austen’s work had? This is a question that everyone has to answer for themselves. Personally, I prefer reading her love stories over popular romance books from our time. Many books are rather similar in their plot and love story, whereas Austen created something revolutionary at the time, something new defying the social norm. In my eyes, Romantasy novels come closer to such classics than romance novels because of the complexity that accompanies them. But this is just my take as I read more fantasy novels than romance. 

What do you prefer- Austen’s Classics or contemporary Romance Novels?

What is your favourite love story? What book do you think about or would you recommend when asked for love stories for Valentine’s Day?

Further Recommendations for the romantic feeling:

  • Emma (1815)
  • Emma (dir. Autumn de Wilde, 2020)
  • Persuasion (1817)
  • Persuasion (dir. Cracknell, 2022)
  • Pride and Prejudice (dir. Wright, 2005)
  • Sense and Sensibility  (1811)
  • Sense and Sensibility (dir. Lee, 1996)
  • Mansfield Park (dir. Rozema, 2000)
  • Becoming Jane (dir. Jarrold, 2007)
  • Divine Rivals (2023)
  • Red, White & Royal Blue (2019)
  • A Court of Thorns and Roses (2015)
  • Fake Dates and Mooncakes (2023)

¹ “You have bewitched me body and soul. And I love… I love… I love you.”

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Lisa A.


On January 3, 1892, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien was born in Bloemfontein, South Africa. Growing up in poverty and already having to grieve his parents at the young age of 12, his childhood did not seem to be an easy one. Regardless of this series of unfortunate events Tolkien successfully graduated from Oxford University and secured his employment as a Second Lieutenant in the British Army. 

However, it is not just his biography that makes his persona so important but his literary works that are still immensely popular today. 

The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings

  • Lord of the Rings is a book series most people have probably heard about, if not even read it themselves, or watched the movies. Its trailblazer The Hobbit was originally a children’s book published in 1937, however, the story world grew enormously and a high fantasy world emerged. 

Leaf by Niggle

  • This is one of Tolkien’s short stories that is not as well known as the Lord of the Rings franchise. The character Niggle is an artist, however, the part of society he resides in does not appreciate art in any way. Because of this, he only paints for his own pleasure, and he took on the big project of painting a great tree. The work starts with a single leaf and grows around it. Because of his good character, he takes time off his work to help his neighbour, unfortunately, while doing so, he falls ill. Due to this, he is sent on a journey as a gardener to a forest. He discovers that this forest is the one he had painted all along and the tree he sees in real life is the perfected version of his flawed painting. 

Further Recommendations

  • The Silmarillion (1977)
  • Unfinished Tales (1980)
  • Beowulf: The Monsters and the Critics (1936)
  • The Rings of Power (dir. J.A. Bayona, 2022)

Lisa A.


The same procedure as last year, Miss Sophie?” is the first part of a quote from the famous TV Short “Dinner For One” from 1963, originally written by a British author, Laurie Wylie. Today I would like to introduce this work as it is an important part of my New Year’s traditions. Every December 31st of the year I work in the small private theatre next to my family’s home where Dinner for One is performed. 

In the comedy sketch, Miss Sophie celebrates her 90th birthday, inviting her friends Sir Toby, Admiral von Schneider, Mr Pomeroy, and Mr Winterbottom for a special dinner. Unfortunately, Miss Sophie is the last one of their little group which leads her to ask her butler James to impersonate her friends so she can still have their annual birthday dinner. Each course is accompanied by a round of drinks for a toast, which James has to take for every missing guest after every meal. Because of this, he is intoxicated rather quickly and it becomes more and more difficult to properly serve Miss Sophie and her imaginary guests.

The sketch has several running gags such as:

  • The Tiger Rug→ James constantly trips over its head 
  • Sir Toby always has a little bit more in his glass than the others
  • Skål– James has to tap his heels every time and say Skål which is Scandinavian and translates to cheers

Dinner for One has become a tradition for many Germans on December 31. Every year, people decide to watch a black-and-white short movie of only 18 minutes which is screened with an English dialogue. Most of the German regional channels start playing the classic in the early evening hours and one can find at least one channel playing it until midnight. The TV Short holds the Guinness World Record for the most replayed TV program ever and many parodies have been published. 

However, while this is a New Year’s Eve tradition for many Germans, people on the British Isles have their traditions and customs

  • Hogmanay, Scotland
    • The Scottish 3-day festival to celebrate New Year’s Eve is one of the most important holidays. The Scots have many customs for these days, one of them being first-footing which begins when the clock strikes midnight. This refers to the first person crossing the threshold of a Scottish home who brings gifts, traditionally coal. Furthermore, the traditional song Auld Lang Syne is sung together. The title can be translated into ‘since long ago’ or ‘for old times sake’ and its lyrics tell a story of old friends sharing some drinks, reminiscing their old adventures.  
  • Calennig
    • The Welsh word means New Year’s Celebration and comes close to trick or treating on Halloween. The children go from door to door and sing songs in return for money or sweets. 
  • Mari Lwyd
    • This is also a Welsh New Year’s tradition from the folk culture of South Wales. Here, a decorated horse head can be found on a pole and locals carry it around town. It is seen as a sign of good luck and after its departure, it is said to leave good fortune to the house it approached or entered. 

Did you already know these New Year’s traditions? Have you ever practised them yourself? Will you watch Dinner for One this year?

And with Miss Sophie’s words “Same procedure as every year“, I would like to wish you a Happy New Year and to a new year full of hopes, dreams and loads of new literature.

Lisa A.

Greetings from our Dinner for One Team in the Theater an der Angel in Magdeburg. (Private Picture)


Christmas is right around the corner and to get into the right spirit I annually circle back to many Christmas-themed books, poems, movies/ series and songs before the holidays. Today, I would like to share my personal favourites with you. 

Music:

Many Christmas songs are played throughout December, among them radio classics such as Merry Christmas Everyone by Shakin’ Stevens (1984), All I Want For Christmas Is You by Mariah Carey (1994), and Last Christmas by WHAM! (1984). 

While I do enjoy these songs a lot, I tend to go back to more classical songs from my childhood in a choir with songs such as the German classics Maria Durch Ein Dornwald Ging or O Tannenbaum, du trägst ein grünes Kleid or the song O Holy Night which was based on a French poem. Two songs I always listen to on repeat are Eta Notsch Swjataja (arr. Füting, 2015) and Shchedryk.

Shchedryk might sound unfamiliar, but I am sure that everyone has at least heard of it once. The Ukrainian New Year’s song arranged by Mykola Leontovych in 1916 was originally used in a pre-Christmas spring in Ukraine when the swallows returned after the long winter. By singing these songs, people blessed each other with a good year of harvest. So why do I label it as a Christmas song? In 1922, the Ukrainian song was altered. Peter J. Wilhousky arranged a new English version that is well-known as Carol of the Bells, a popular Christmas song that attracted even more attention with its use in the movie Home Alone (Chris Columbus, 1991). Many people do not know or question the origin of the famous English version, which I believe to be a shame as the story behind the original ritual song and its lyrics are rather interesting. 

Books, Short Stories and Poems:

My last recommendation is not considered one of the classics for Christmas. However, I thought it to be rather interesting. “Journey of the Magi is a poem by the modernist writer T.S. Eliot. It retells the story of the birth of Christ by focusing on one of the magi’s perspectives. As I just mentioned, it is important to note that its author was an influential writer of modernist literature, so typical themes such as alienation and anxiety in an ever-changing world can be found. I think this poem shows another side of Christmas stories that might not be as popular as it can sometimes be hard to understand the meaning behind the words and verses, however, I still think it would be interesting to approach this poem as a literary challenge. 

Movies/ Series:

  • The Family Stone (dir. Thomas Bezucha, 2005)
  • Love Actually (dir. Richard Curtis, 2003)
  • The Grinch (dir. Ron Howard, 2000)
  • Santa Clause (dir. John Pasquin, 1995)
  • Dash & Lily (Joe Tracz, 2020)
  • Three Wishes for Cinderella (dir. Václav Vorlíček, 1973)

Here are some Christmas traditions and activities that I have enjoyed over the years.

  • Feuerzangenbowle (dir. Helmut Weiss, 1944): Every year, a couple of days before Christmas, my whole family gets together to watch the German movie while having the actual drink. While this is an activity catering to the family’s adults, the children can enjoy their hot apple juice from authentic cups as well. Even though their drinks cannot be prepared the same way, they are always fascinated by the Feuerzangenbowle, prepared with a sugar cone on fire on top of the mug. This became a rather important tradition in my hometown as many families, neighbourhood clubs and even our university started to organize Feuerzangenbowle nights in the days before Christmas.
  • Silly Christmas Pictures: Ugly Christmas Sweaters, DIY Christmas-themed headbands, recreating Christmas movie scenes as pictures
  • Mince Pie Movie Marathons: During my time in England, I was introduced to many traditions from the UK. One that stuck with me was our Mince Pie Fridays. It is not an official tradition but a thing my family enjoyed a lot, it was a great way to introduce Christmas into a stressful week. Every Friday, after work and school, we would meet at home, prepare British Mince Pies and watch Christmas movies together. It was a great way to combine bonding time, relaxation and Christmas. 
  • Christmas Crackers: They are an English must-have for Christmas, children can enjoy the little gifts inside.

Merry Christmas!

Lisa A.


Nothing is impossible to a determined woman,” said Louisa May Alcott, a famous American author and feminist. This quote shows how Alcott challenged the gender roles of her time and was determined to change the narrative of women through literature. 

Today, exactly 191 years ago, the female writer was born and in honour of her special day, I would like to talk about women in the 1860s with a special outlook on one of her most famous novels, Little Women

Alcott was an early American feminist and did not try to hide her opposition to the image and expectations of women at the time. Before taking a closer look at her novel, I would like to lead with some historical context. The society of America’s middle class was generally organised in two spheres- the public sphere for men and the private sphere for women. For women, this life in a private sphere meant that they primarily stayed at home, did chores and looked after the children, they were expected to lead an authority-guided domestic life away from the active public sphere. This division of gender roles also stressed the importance of women getting married and having children to look after, this was considered to be their main focus. Furthermore, there are other constrictions just like the lack of voting rights or not being able to own land. If women desired to work, they were only allowed to do so in the domestic sector such as jobs such as housekeeping, cooking, sewing or as midwives. 

Louisa May Alcott’s children’s and coming-of-age novel introduces the March sisters who grew up in poverty while still maintaining the image of a well-off and upper-class mannered family, as they have lost their fortune. The four sisters Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy are raised in a quiet town by their mother, while their father is away serving in the Civil War. The book follows them on their journey from being children to becoming women of society, where they are confronted with societal norms that are put onto women at that time, each sister experiencing this differently. 

Alcott herself was not interested in a sole marriage plot and rather had her characters find themselves and show a development of independence, whether it is the independence of choice just like Mag who decides that she wants to get married, or Jo who has the ambition to write and publish her written works. Did you know that these aspects and the general story of Little Women were loosely inspired by Alcott’s own life by integrating her own and her family’s childhood memories? The most obvious connection is the character Jo. Just like Jo, Louisa May grew up as a tomboy with a passion for writing and a dream of publishing. These ambitions and wishes did not correlate with the expectations of women of her upbringing at that time, however, she did not let it discourage her and attempted to defy society’s rules to reach her goals. This shows her strong-willed character full of determination for a future where women could live as freely as they like and not be reduced to marriage and childbearing. 

Lastly, I would like to give you a list of my favourite works when it comes to feminist literature.

  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • The Women Men Don’t See by James Tiptree Jr.
  • The Maiden by Kate Foster
  • The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
  • Pandora’s Jar by Natalie Haynes
  • The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Lisa A.


“The World always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before” is a popular quote from the British writer Neil Gaiman and I believe that every time Gaiman contributes to the literary world, exactly that happens. While his name might not immediately sound familiar, most people have read, watched or heard of at least one of his works. 

Today, in honour of his birthday, I would like to talk about one of his older works recently attracting a large audience. Neil Gaiman is well-known for his graphic novels as he introduced a completely new way of looking at comics, he worked with a new subgenre- the dark fantasy/ horror comics. However, he does not only publish comics but also very well-written fantasy novels such as Good Omens. The novel has already been published in 1990, his early years of being credited as an author, and is a collaboration with Terry Pratchett. In 2019 and 2023 Amazon released two seasons of a series under the same name. The story follows the Demon Crowley and the Angel Aziraphale who attempt to prevent the end of the world- the Armageddon. The chain of events leading to the end of the world is introduced in a satanic order of nuns where the son of Satan is supposed to be switched at birth to a mortal human family. Due to some unfortunate events, the switch does not happen as planned and the set plan for Armageddon 11 years later is challenged. 

Generally, Good Omens is a satirical fantasy and comedy novel about religious themes such as the biblical Apocalypse, portraying the Antichrist as one of the main characters and introducing the Four Horsemen from the Book of Revelation in the New Testament. In its religious takes, the novel also looks at the theme of Good and Evil. The most obvious images here are Crowley, as the symbol of evil, and Aziraphale, as the symbol of good. But throughout the story many lines between good and evil get rather blurry- Crowley also has good characteristics and does good deeds, while Aziraphale is not as pure as an Angel is expected to be, both show that no one can be either good or evil, there are always choices that determine a direction but elements of the respective side will always be present. 

Unfortunately, only season 1 of the show follows the original novel’s storyline and plot, so if you have been a big fan of season 2 you will not be able to read about its events in the book. Nevertheless, I would recommend reading Gaiman and Pratchett’s book as it is a humorous and enthralling read and, if you are familiar with the show, it is also rather interesting to see how the book came to life in the Amazon adaptation.

Further Book Recommendations:

  • American Gods (Novel)
  • The Sandman (Comic Book Series)
  • Coraline (Novella)
  • The Graveyard Book (Graphic Novel)

Movie/Series Recommendations:

  • Good Omens (BBC and Amazon Studios, 2019)
  • Coraline (dir. Henry Selick, 2009)
  • Sandman (Netflix Series, 2022)
  • Stardust (dir. Matthew Vaughn, 2007)
  • American Gods (dir. Bryan Fuller and Michael Green, Amazon 2017-21)

Fun Facts:

  • Did you know that the TV series Lucifer has loosely adopted the character of the Devil portrayed in Gaiman’s comic book series The Sandman?
  • In 2006 an album with a collection of songs by various artists was released. Each song was inspired by Neil Gaiman and his literary works. The album is called “Where’s Neil When You Need Him?”

Event Recommendation:

On November 20, 2023, Neil Gaiman will appear in the British Library for the event “Why We Need Fantasy: Neil Gaiman in Conversation”. The event will also be live streamed and the recordings are available online for a week. The event and the online stream are not free and require tickets, pricing from £3.25-16. If you are interested in this event you will find further information through the link below. 

https://www.neilgaiman.com/where/details.php?id=351

Lisa A.


The days are getting shorter, the sky darker and the weather colder- the long and sunny summer is over and the season of autumn begins. When I think about autumn, I think about pumpkins, cosy sweaters, scarecrows, long walks through landscapes full of paths of orange and yellow leaves and most importantly, curling up with a cup of tea and my favourite books,  TV shows or movies. The spooky season, which begins on October 1st, leads up to a day full of spooky fun, scary movies and maybe even trick-or-treating, but personally, a major event, that has been very dear to me since childhood, is choosing different books and poems to read during this time, literature that represents the atmosphere of Halloween, texts that are scary or just have themes that are a bit darker than my usual reads.

One of the works I annually circle back to is Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”. Poe is a classic example of Gothic Literature, a genre that portrays a rather haunted and dark aesthetic- a perfect read for this season.  The Raven portrays two main presences, the unnamed narrator who is alone, distracting himself from the grief of losing his lover, and the supernatural element of a talking raven that suddenly taps on the window in the middle of the night. From the beginning, the narrator shows hope that Lenore, his lost love, has finally returned to him or that the afterlife will eventually grant them to see each other again. However, the raven’s presence immediately takes these hopes away by simply saying “Nevermore”, which is also the only word it uses throughout the poem. As a result of this loss of love, the hopelessness that comes with this grief haunts him and he drives himself into madness. While it might not seem like a poem fit for the sentiment of Halloween, Poe creates a haunting and even frightening atmosphere by writing about the grief of losing loved ones and never really overcoming this, never being able to let go and living a life full of uncertainty and pain that, in the worst case, can lead to madness. 

But Poe’s poem is already over 100 years old so it might not be an immediate choice of poetry for many people. But what if it can be connected to a more contemporary work, one that attracts a younger audience in the form of film? Last November the Netflix Series Wednesday debuted and it was obvious that it quickly became a fan-favourite. The basic summary is that Wednesday Adams is sent to a boarding school called ‘Nevermore Academy’, learns to use her slowly developing psychic abilities and discovers shocking secrets along the way. One thing that sounds familiar here, next to the well-known Addams family, is “Nevermore Academy”, a name that correlates to the raven’s message in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. Yet, it is not only the school’s name that draws a connection to Poe and his literary work, as the whole series references him quite a lot- it has become a returning theme, a theme connected to admiration.

Did you know that the Netflix series Wednesday has such close ties with Edgar Allan Poe? Did you draw the connection between The Raven and the Nevermore Academy? Can you find any other references throughout the season? (Clue: There are 8 major ones!)

Further Recommendation:

Wednesday is not the only show that makes use of the famous gothic writer, as “The Fall of the House of Usher”, a popular drama miniseries from 2023, is based on one of Poe’s short stories of the same name. 

Next to that, the movie The Pale Blue Eye makes use of his actual person and follows Detective Landor on his investigation of a series of murders with the help of a cadet at West Point who turns out to be Edgar Allan Poe.

Lisa A.


Summer Reads 2023

English · 3 July 2023

I have very specific expectations of my summer reads. Only recently did I realize this when I had to explain to someone why I couldn’t possible take a hardcover fantasy novel set in winter on vacation. It’s not that I have anything against fantasy novels, hardcovers, or winter (well, that one a bit). But, summer reads just have a special place in my heart and therefore need to fulfill certain criteria. This started as a child, when I would try to cram as many books into my carry-on as possible, fully taking into account that these books would not survive the trip unscathed. That being said, here are my summer read suggestions that fulfill the following criteria for the perfect summer read!

  • The one thing I need my summer reads to be is “not brick-like”: If the book is the smallest format of paperback available and less than 400 pages, I’ll be a happy camper (sometimes literally)! This way, I can take multiple books along no matter what my luggage situation is. “Classic literature” is perfect for this as these works are usually shorter in length. A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare doesn’t only fit in terms of length and format but also theme, which brings me to my second criterion.
  • What constitutes as a “summery theme” is, of course, different for everyone. Personally, I regularly find myself gravitating towards the same three genres: mystery, mythology, and romance. The novels One of Us Is Lying by Karen M. McManus or We Were Liars by E. Lockhart both offer a short-form introduction to crime and mystery for young readers looking to get into the genre, with the latter even being set at a lake house in summer! Romance novels like Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Saéz are wonderful for readers looking for something light and cheerful. A fairly specific genre I really enjoy in summer time is fantasy novels that are loosely based off of Greek mythology! The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan is a great example of a novel suited for younger readers interested in this subject. More advanced readers may enjoy texts like the lyrically beautiful Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller or Ariadne by Jennifer Saint!

Now I, of course, understand that these suggestions only suit my idea of “summer reads”. How do you choose which books make the cut for your summer vacation? Share them with us!

Sarah


“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 everyone to be so infatuated with this cat? He is very impolite, 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 people celebrate him for it. And maybe this is the reason: He is selfish and doesn’t care about it. He is like an old friend who makes us feel a little bit better by showing us that it’s alright not to perform perfectly all the time and that being selfish sometimes helps to protect ourselves. And let’s be honest: When we are on our own, don’t we secretly celebrate Garfield’s behaviour? Don’t we sometimes identify ourselves with him? I think we do indeed. 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 very light-hearted and easy to get for everyone – thus, it can motivate to access more challenging tasks. So, teachers, it’s 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


You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me.

-C.S. Lewis

Tea, being the second most consumed drink after water, has been enjoyed and cherished by many around the world for centuries. The undeniable sense of comfort and warmth that comes from a steaming cup of tea is, in a way, universal. However, there aren’t many countries that have given their hearts to tea quite as much as Great Britain. Did you know that, on average, Brits drink 2-3 cups of tea a day? So, it’s no wonder that the beverage has a history of being linked to a sense of “Englishness”. Even in literature, tea is featured and mentioned quite regularly! In The Importance of Being Earnest, having tea (perhaps with some cucumber sandwiches) is portrayed as the gentleman’s way of socializing. And while tea can be viewed as that which is “socially acceptable and proper”; it can therefore also be used to contrast that which is not. In Alice in Wonderland, the tea party can be viewed as a mocking display of societal norms, a parallel to a society in which an act as simple as drinking tea could be linked to an absurd amount of social expectations and rules. So, whether you like your tea paired with an appropriate amount of English biscuits or a colorful Mad Hatter outfit, take today to celebrate one of the world’s most iconic beverages! Happy Tea Day!

Sarah


Easter Reads 2023

English · 9 April 2023

Why did the Easter egg hide? Because he was a little chicken…

Happy Easter everyone! Spring is here and so is painting eggs and bunny-themed everything! And while it is wonderful to spend quality time with your loved ones on holidays, sometimes some alone time with a good book can be just as relaxing! So why not stay in the holiday spirit with some Easter-themed reads? Here are some of my favorites:

  • Watership Down by Richard Adams: What better way to celebrate Easter than with some literature about rabbits? This anthropomorphic novel tells a tale of social unrest, community and hope, all kick-started by man-made environmental destruction. Fiver, a young rabbit with a sixth sense, is part of the Sandleford warren. He starts having disturbing visions of his home’s destruction and, along with his older brother Hazel, tries, to no avail, to convince the chief rabbit to evacuate. The siblings take off together with 9 other members, starting a journey of adventure and struggle.
  • Winnie the Pooh by A.A. Milne: More stories featuring rabbits (well, one rabbit)! This nostalgic coming-of-age story is about everything from friendship, abilities and weaknesses to childhood and imagination. Winnie-the-Pooh is a honey-loving teddy bear who lives in the forest. There, he experiences all kinds of adventures together with his friends: A piglet, an owl, a rabbit, a donkey, a kangaroo and a boy named Christopher Robin.
  • The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis: If you’re looking for something less “on the nose”, give this classic a try! In this fantasy novel set during 1940s wartime, four children are relocated to a large house in the English countryside. When the youngest, Lucy, is transported to Narnia through an old wardrobe, she discovers a new and captivating world. But no world is perfect, and the siblings are soon thrown into an adventure where they must save this beautiful place they have only just discovered. As for the connection to Easter, you will notice quite a bit of religious symbolism and parallels to the biblical concept of resurrection in this novel!

I hope you have a wonderful time celebrating Easter or simply enjoying some much-needed relaxation! Let us know if you have any specific Easter book recommendations we should take a look at!

Sarah


April Fool’s Day

English · 1 April 2023

Although there is no known singular origin of April Fool’s Day, some of the best pranks have taken place on this holiday! In 1997, a group of comic-strip artists decided to poke fun at their readers by drawing each other’s comic-strips for the day! This Comic Strip Switcheroo led to a lot of confused readers and convoluted plotlines that are still being analyzed today! But, even without swapped characters and layers of intertextuality, comic-strips are a great way to add some humor to the reading experience! Here are some of my favorites:

  • Not Sparking Joy: A Zits Treasury by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgmann: Making its debut in 1997, Zits comics narrate the everyday life of 15-year-old Jeremy; a teenager living in Ohio. But suburban life and high school come with their own set of problems. Whether it be about the embarrassment that parents are to teens or the other way around, there’s something for everyone in this giggle-inducing comic series!
  • Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson: Calvin may seem like a normal 6-year-old living in suburban America with his family and stuffed tiger “Hobbes”. To Calvin though, Hobbes is very much alive and his best friend and companion. Named after two philosophers, the pair is regularly immersed in deep conversations, often humorously lacking in the childlike expressions you would expect. But, just like any child, Calvin has plenty to say about his caricature-like parents, friends and distaste for homework.

Happy April Fool’s Day!

Sarah


I’ve only recently started enjoying romance novels. And while I’ve quickly come to appreciate the lovable characters and feel-good endings, I’ve realized not everyone is a fan. Romance novels often get a lot of flak for being “shallow” or not being good for anything but escapism. However, I want to argue that romance novels can greatly benefit young students and are a worthy addition to the EFL classroom.

Of course, reading for fun in and of itself makes a book worth reading. If reading wasn’t fun, teenagers would probably be the first to ditch the activity (as many have done and will continue to do). So I think one shouldn’t underestimate the value enjoyable characters and fun plots can bring to the reading experience! But, of course romance novels bring much more to the table than “fun”. They can address a myriad of important topics surrounding sexuality and emotional well-being. Discussing books like Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Alberta or Last Night at the Telegraph Club by Malinda could help facilitate classroom conversations about sexual identity. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green could be a gateway to talking about emotions that often accompany love, like grief and heartbreak. I think the insight these novels give into interpersonal relationships and in what way the characters navigate their emotions and difficult situations should not be ignored, but instead discussed openly with students.

Furthermore, romance novels are rarely one-dimensional or limited to one genre. They open up the reader’s world to a variety of different themes and settings. As such, I am convinced that there is a perfect romance novel out there for every student! While lovers of dystopias could enjoy Delirium by Lauren Oliver or The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, others might like to go the more classic route and jump into the vast sea of classics. These novels can give insight into different historical contexts and act as a base layer with which to explore the literary periods. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde or Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austin may act as examples of Victorian literature, whereas Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin paints a modernist picture of 1950s Paris.

I hereby rest my case in defense of romance novels! Do you have any favorite romance novels you think students would enjoy? We’d love for you to share your suggestions with us!

Sarah


“Because when I look at you, I can feel it. And I look at you and I’m home.”

– Dory, Finding Nemo

In light of the world’s annual celebration of love, I hope these recommendations can ignite the romantic spark needed to get in the Valentine’s Day spirit!

  • For everyone in need of a heartwarming coming-of-age tale: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáez tells a beautiful and realistic love story full of emotions, even if that sometimes includes doubt. When Ari and Dante meet at the local pool, they appear to have virtually nothing in common. Dante is a mystery to Ari with his love for poetry and eloquent expressions. But as the pair spends the summer together, they grow closer and closer. 
  • For all the cinephiles: WALL-E follows the life of an adorable robot. He spends his days collecting garbage on a deserted Earth, made uninhabitable by human behavior. When he is visited by a probe, EVE, he falls madly in love with her and follows her across the galaxy back to her spaceship. If crossing galaxies for someone isn’t love, what is?
  • For the musical fans: West Side Story by Steven Spielberg tells the story of territorial and personal conflict between two gangs in 1957 Manhattan’s West Side. Prior to a planned ‘rumble’ between the Jets and Puerto Rican Sharks, Tony and Maria meet at a local dance. They immediately fall in love, and thus starts a modern version of Romeo and Juliet accompanied by beautiful music.
  • For the poetry lovers: Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day by William Shakespeare may be one of the most-read romantic poems of all time. The speaker of the poem states that while a summer’s day fades away, the beauty of the addressee will not, as it is preserved in the lines of the sonnet.

And for those not in search of romance but still wanting to stay on theme, take a look at Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay! This historical mystery novel follows a group of girls at an Australian girls’ boarding school. When the group suddenly disappears while out on a Valentine’s Day picnic, the local community grapples with trying to make sense of these mysterious happenings. Lindsay’s work is widely considered one of Australia’s greatest novels and is definitely worth a read!

May your Valentine’s Day be filled with laughter and joy, shared with those who make you feel at home no matter where you are.

Sarah


Christmas Read 2022

English · 25 December 2022

Christmas doesn’t come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more.

– Dr. Suess, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Sometimes getting into the Christmas spirit can be difficult. Christmas decorations galore, a dazzling tree, and perfect fluffy snowflakes falling from the sky certainly make it easier! But, for me, Christmas is a state of mind more so than something controlled by outside factors. So, in hopes of sparking some Christmas joy, here are my top literature picks for the holiday season!

  • A classic for all ages: How the Grinch Stole Christmas! is a rhyming tale about the meaning of Christmas and commerce. The sheer thought of the nearing festivities so enrages the green monster everyone knows as simply the Grinch that he plans to steal the whole celebration in the middle of the night.
  • A humourous twist on the Christmas song we all know: The Twelve Days of Christmas (Correspondence) tells the story of the 12 days of Christmas with a twist. Accompanied by humourous illustrations, this collection of letters narrates the arrival of extravagant gifts from the recipient’s point of view, Emily. She enjoys the lavish gifts of admiration at first, but as they become increasingly strange her gratitude lessens.
  • A cautionary tale to remind you not to be a “Scrooge”: A Christmas Carol is a classic Victorian Christmas tale about Ebenezer Scrooge, an elderly, bitter gentleman who despises the festive season and everything other people love about it. One Christmas Eve three ghosts visit him. With the intention to change his perspective, they show Mr. Scrooge the Christmas Eves of the past, the present, and the future – and thereby reveal the consequences of his behavior.
  • And lastly, a Christmas carol book for the whole family: The Real Mother Goose Book of Christmas Carols is an illustrated book of Christmas carols with a wide variety of songs suitable for all age groups. Ranging from Jingle Bells to We Three Kings, there’s something for everyone!

I wish you all a very merry Christmas!

Sarah


In honor of Native American Heritage Month, numerous American institutions use this time of year to shine a light on the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans. Literature and media too can raise awareness for the unique challenges that Native Americans have historically faced and are to this day still experiencing. If you haven’t yet, take a look at the following suggestions!

  • Fry Bread: This story about the staple food of many Native American families can be enjoyed by all ages! ‘Fry Bread’ isn’t just food, it combines Native American culture and history. Additional information about Native American culture and historical context is provided on the last pages as well as a recipe for ‘Fry Bread’.
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A humourous coming-of-age graphic novel about love, friendship, teenage troubles, and intercultural contact. Junior is a 14-year-old Native-American teenager who grows up in the Spokane Indian Reservation in the State of Washington. Being bullied because of his special needs, he decides to visit an all-white public high school off the reservation, where he first struggles, but finally makes new friends and even gains popularity among other students.
  • The First Illegal Immigrants: The cartoon “The First Illegal Immigrants” by Andy Singer, published in 2013, critically investigates the occupation of America, the forced displacement of native Americans, and the exaggerated border controls of the US homeland security. It can serve as a starting point for a classroom discussion or a project week on Native American cultures, US border politics, and migration.
  • Smoke Signals: Based on a short story, this award-winning comedy tells the story of an unusual friendship. This film allows insight into life on reservations and the unique challenges Native American teenagers face.

Do you have further literature or film suggestions that have helped you learn about and appreciate Native American culture? Let us know!

Sarah


We would like to write a few words dedicated to Shel Silverstein in honour of his birthday today! Winner of numerous awards, including two Grammy’s and a Golden Globe Award, he has captured our hearts with his words. Funnily enough, the authour also known as “Uncle Shelby” didn’t plan on writing children’s poetry – but he sure is quite good at it. His matter-of-a-fact, conversational way of writing combined with his humourous illustrations are witty and thought-provoking. His collection, A Light in the Attic, features many short and sweet poems such as What If, Smart and How Many, How Much.

My personal favourite:

“HAPPY ENDING?

There are no happy endings.

Endings are the saddest part,

So just give me a happy middle

And a very happy start.”

Shel Silverstein

Luckily with the amount of poems in his collections, there is no end in sight, so enjoy!

Sarah


Each year the International Day of Peace, which was established by the UN in 1981, reminds us to seek solidarity, non-violence and cooperations across borders.

The vision for peace and devastating reality of war are reflected in some of our recently published works: The historical novel Once, the poem “The Waste Land” and the film Schindler’s List provide us with perspectives of war, trauma and destruction but also offer hope – such as John Lennon’s song “Imagine” (1971) that invites us to reflect upon the vision for peace, freedom and equality:

“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.” – John Lennon

We do hope that you found some inspiration in these examples. Also, if you have a text in mind that is suitable for teaching peace in the EFL classroom, make sure to suggest it.

Simon