January 3rd: Happy Birthday JRR Tolkien!

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.


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.


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


We would like to wish a very happy birthday to Julia Donaldson today! The accomplished author has received more than 30 awards for her heartwarming children’s books and is best known for The Gruffalo (illustrated by Axel Scheffler), featuring a little mouse and its monstrous friend.

She’s taken our hearts by storm with her life-like characters, whose struggles and dreams aren’t so different from our own. Whether it’s the animals in the Ugly Five learning to embrace their imperfections or the small snail in the Snail and the Whale standing up for its friend, we all can learn something from Julia Donaldson’s stories, regardless of age.

Have fun exploring and getting lost in these magical stories.

“I opened a book and in I strode. Now nobody can find me.” – Julia Donaldson

Sarah


September 13th: Roald Dahl

English · 13 September 2022

In honour of Roald Dahl’s birthday, we would like to highlight some of our favourites works of his.

For everyone interested in a spin on classic fairytales, Roald Dahl’s novels and poems are the way to go. His novel The Witches perfectly balances dark humour and a touch of wholesomeness. Most of the poems in Revolting Rhymes and Dirty Beasts are a bit more morbid. However, the dark but often humurous twists to these classic fables and fairytales make them captivating to any audience.

We hope you find his stories as bewitching as we do, and most of all, have fun!

“It’s impossible to make your eyes twinkle if you’re not feeling twinkly yourself.” – Roald Dahl

Sarah


Belonging to America’s dark Romanticists, Hawthorne is well-known for his Scarlet Letter and The House of the Seven Gables but also wrote quite popular short stories. Hawthorne was originally spelled without the w but he added it probably to dissociate himself from the family image because his great-great-grandfather was a judge in the Salem witch trials.
Otherwise, he must have had a quite fulfilling life, happy childhood in Maine, a happy marriage with three children, a political and a great writing career even during his lifetime, Herman Melville looked up to him and he was best friends with US President Franklin Pierce whom he during his college years.

I must admit, I’ve only read his short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” so far but I loved it very much and a collection of short stories as well as The Scarlet Letter are already on my TBR pile. I actually found an edition of The Scarlet Letter in one of these free libraries sometimes installed in old bookcases or shelves or telephone booths. Its cover takes some getting used to because it looks like it unhappily time-traveled here from the nineties but once embraced, it’s actually quite fun to look at the colourful tohubohu.

If you’re uncertain whether this is your genre or style of writing, have a go at one of the short stories, you can find them for free online at americanliterature.com, I think it might be worth it!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Hawthorne old man!

Sarah-Sophia


“If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.”
– George Orwell

Born in 1903 as Eric Arthur Blair in British India, George Orwell remains one of the best-known writers of our times. He was an anti-totalitarian author, journalist, and essayist, and you don’t need to have read any of his works to know about his two most famous works Animal Farm and 1984. These still influence popular culture and are part of many school curricula providing the basis for lively discussions about ethics, morality, social criticism, and possible versions of the future. The terms he coined, such as “Big Brother” or “doublethink” and “thoughtcrime”, are also relevant nowadays and accompany us in our daily life. His writings are considered in many current social and political discourses regarding, for example, freedom of thought, expression and press, and privacy rights.

Orwell is definitely one of my favourite writers and thinkers because he articulated highly controversial topics which were relevant then and still are today. And he did so in a way that makes many feel uncomfortable and forces one to reflect on one’s own mindset. Certainly, one doesn’t need to agree with his writings but they provide an impetus that, I think, is very valuable. I’m a big fan of a social and political differentiated discourse and Orwell’s works are a wonderful food for thought.

So today we not only celebrate his birthday but also the freedom and liberties we enjoy in regard to our thoughts and actions, goods that we cannot value enough and shouldn’t take for granted.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, George!

Sarah-Sophia


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


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?


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


“One believes things because one has been conditioned to believe them.” – Aldous Huxley

A month ago, I wrote about George Orwell and his works, praising his writings for being uncomfortable and making us reflect on society‘s past, present, and future. And I thought, talking about another equally famous author of the same genre might be obsolete. However, I came to the conclusion that, especially, Orwell’s 1984 (1949) and Huxley’s Brave New World (1932) kind of complement each other in addressing a similar topic while being so different. It’s also nice to know that Huxley was Orwell‘s French teacher at Eton and actually wrote a letter to his former student regarding 1984 praising and also criticising the novel.

Huxley believed his version of government rule to be longer-lasting and more efficient as it doesn’t use fear and violence to make people obedient but conditioning and happy drugs causing citizens to love their state. Moreover, unorthodox thinkers are not broken in Brave New World but given the choice of either becoming rulers themselves or leaving society suggesting relative freedom.

In his letter to Orwell Huxley writes: “I believe that the world’s rulers will discover that infant conditioning and narco-hypnosis are more efficient, as instruments of government, than clubs and prisons, and that the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience. […]The change will be brought about as a result of a felt need for increased efficiency.”

Comparing and contrasting both novels and simultaneously looking at the present was highly interesting for me. Both draw on people’s fears of being controlled by the government and worst-case scenarios can be good means to discuss and reflect about our contemporary and future society in the EFL classroom.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALDOUS!

Sarah-Sophia


“Sometimes you read a book so special that you want to carry it around with you for months after you’ve finished just to stay near it.” – Markus Zusak, The Book Thief

Today, we celebrate the birthday and literary heritage of award-winning author Marcus Zusak. After growing up in Sidney, Zusak studied English, History and Education at the University of New South Wales before he became an author. His greatest success The Book Thief (2005), which foregrounds the hope-giving power of reading during the darkest days of history, was translated into more than 40 languages and adapted as a film  (2013). Zusak’s writing is influenced by his parent’s biography, who experienced loss, destruction, hope and coming-of-age in Austria and Germany during WWII. Before his great success as an author, failure, humiliation and struggle have been parts of Zusak’s life. In his motivating TED Talk “The Failure” he reminds us to stay positive, motivated and to fail better when failing again. Today, Zusak lives in Sydney, working as an author and occasionally at a high school teaching English.

Kind rgeards and stay safe,

Simon


“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.” ― William Butler Yeats

Yeats was an incredibly versatile writer, producing poetry, prose, essays, and plays, and was the first Irishman to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature: “for his always inspired poetry, which in a highly artistic form gives expression to the spirit of a whole nation.” He was also co-founder and director of the Abbey Theatre, which would later become Ireland’s national theatre. Yeats was very interested in occultism, spiritualism, myths and legends of Ireland in particular. These served as inspiration for his works, as did English writers such as Shelley, Spenser, Blake, and Wilde, and his great, although unrequited, love Maud Gonne. Maud Gonne was a well-known Irish nationalist, suffragette, actress and model for Cathleen ni Houlihan – the protagonist in the play by the same name written by Yeats and Lady Gregory. As the play explores Irish nationalism and patriotism, Gonne fittingly played the role of Cathleen. However, Yeats never really stood behind the nationalistic ideals and even actively questioned his own play in one of his poems: “Did that play of mine send out | Certain men the English shot?” (Man and the Echo) Unlike many modernist poets, who wrote in free verse, Yeats kept to the more traditional style. His poem Down by the Salley Gardens (inspired by a song he heard an old woman sing) now belongs to Irish folk music and it is definitely worth listening to it.

So let’s lift our glasses and drink to this brilliant writer. HAPPY BIRTHDAY W.B.!

Sarah-Sophia


Ending a novel is almost like putting a child to sleep – it can’t be done abruptly.” – Colm Tóibín

Colm Tóibín is one of the great contemporary Irish writers and explores Irish society and topic clusters, such as loss, living abroad and identity construction. He lives openly gay and dedicates his writings to minorities in different cultures, capturing diverse voices and discourses. As a journalist and essayist, Tóibín also published critical studies on historical and contemporary subjects. His meticulous and journalistic style of writing does not involve storytelling techniques but features deep and detailed investigations of cultural complexities and phenomena. Before writing this blog post, I didn’t know much about his life and writings except for his novel Brooklyn and its movie adaptation, which follows a young woman from Ireland to New York, full of hope to find her American Dream. So, I was surprised by how incredibly diverse his writings are. Apart from the novels, his non-fictional works are definitely worth looking into. Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóva, for example, provides the reader with a collection of essays exploring various writers’ lives and the obstacles they had to face because of their sexuality. I do hope that my blog post gives an impulse to read some Tóibín in your EFL classrooms to encourage discussions and paradigm shifts. 

Today, Colm Tóibín clebrates his 66th birthday: CHEERS and HAPPY BIRTHDAY, Colm!

Sarah-Sophia


“When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?”
– Arthur Conan Doyle, The Sign of Four

Sir Ignatius Arthur Conan Doyle was an outstanding and very successful author, physician and gentleman. Born in 1859 from wealthy family background, he studied medicine and was the assistant of the surgeon and lecturer Joseph Bell. Indeed, he is best known for the Sherlock Holmes stories. Doyle was also well acquainted with Harry Houdini. However, they went separate ways when Doyles’s belief in the supernatural grew too dominant (he saw Houdini as a magician with actual powers). As a great sportsman, Doyle got involved in playing football, cricket, and golf quite skillfully. In fact, he was the first British man to complete a day trip in Alpine skiing, an achievement that made the polar explorer name a Glacier in Antarctica after him. Arthur was married twice as his first wife Louise died in 1906, but his next wedding was barely a year after the death. I think, all in all, this can be seen as a satisfying life. Sherlock Holmes certainly is one of the best-known and most celebrated fictional characters and inspiration for numerous adaptations. As Doyle had difficulties finding a publisher for his Study in Scarlet, he published the first Sherlock Holmes story in a magazine, which sold out after just a few weeks. Holmes and his deductive methods are based on Joseph Bell, who was a pioneer in the field. Fun fact: Robert Louis Stevenson, who was a friend of Bell, even recognised the surgeon: “My compliments on your very ingenious and very interesting adventures of Sherlock Holmes. … can this be my old friend Joe Bell?” Doyle let his protagonist die at the Reichenbachfälle because he wanted to dedicate his time to other literary projects but Doyle used him for The Hound of Baskerville, which is set before Holmes’ demise. And eventually, he brought him back for good, solving cases in a collection of short stories. By the way, the character of Dr Watson is most probably based on Doyle himself.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, ARTHUR!!

Sarah-Sophia


April 28th: Harper Lee

English · 28 April 2021

“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view… until you climb into his skin and walk around in it” – Atticus Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird

Winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this novelist has long been recognized for her incredible contribution to the discussion around racial inequality. In honor of Harper Lee’s birthday, I’d like to highlight her famous novel To Kill a Mockingbird which we feature on this platform! Her first and only publication until 2015, To Kill a Mockingbird won a Pulitzer Prize and continues to captivate its readers with its insight and warmth. Set in the American South, the story is told from the perspective of six-year-old girl ‘Scout’. When Tim Robinson, an African American resident, is falsely accused of raping a white woman, Scout’s father Atticus agrees to defend Mr Robison in court – but the community turns against him and his client. Most definitely still relevant 60 years post-publication, this thought-provoking novel is a must-read for teachers and students alike!

Sarah