L’ Austen Your Eyes- Happy Valentine’s Day!

“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.


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.


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


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


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


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


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


Every year at the end of summer break, I used to set goals for the new school year. I treated it kind of like New Year’s; a fresh start that makes you think you can suddenly be the most productive person in the world. So of course I thought: “If I want to read more, I may as well read a new classic every week!” By now, I’ve realized I need to keep my goals realistic so I can achieve them. Here are some book suggestions that aren’t overwhelming, that can be read in excerpts or are part of a series… for any age group and language level!

  • The Magic Tree House series is perfect for young history and mystery lovers looking to read regularly. The books follow two siblings, Jack and Annie Smith, traveling through space and time in a magic tree house. Their adventures range from watching dinosaurs and meeting Shakespeare to being dropped into the American Civil War. The stories are short and present a wonderful variety of topics for young readers.
  • Teenagers looking for a contemporary novel will enjoy the coming of age story Simon Vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. Simon Spier is a 16-year-old high school junior with an affinity for musical theatre. Lately, he’s been flirting online with a boy he only knows as “Blue”. He isn’t out of the closet; and plans on keeping it that way for the foreseeable future. This choice is taken from him when a classmate starts blackmailing him with emails Simon sent to his crush. How will he navigate this invasion of privacy while staying true to himself?
  • And for those wanting to up their classics-game, give The Hobbit a try! It’s a short and sweet classic; and combines magical story-telling with fascinating creatures. Who wouldn’t want to read tales of outsmarting trolls and running from giant spiders? For those intimidated by a novel-length classic, The Adventures of Tom Bombadil captures the same magical essence wrapped up in beautiful poetry and illustrations.

I wish all of you a wonderful start to a new school year full of reading and learning!

Sarah


International Children’s Day is about cherishing and protecting children all around the world. Though celebrated on different dates throughout the world, the main purpose stays the same. This day aims to advocate for children’s rights; and raise awareness for global issues affecting children, from child labor to war, hunger and lack of education. Having access to a variety of literature is a luxury many children around the world don’t have. Reading can help children’s imaginations flourish, letting them discover whole new worlds outside of their own reality. And although not every child is destined to be a bookworm, anyone can benefit from a magical story or two.

For our future scientists: The Magic School Bus series is the perfect introduction to dozens of topics, ranging from the mechanics of the human body to computers. Kids can feel like they’re along for the ride in a magic school bus that can transform for every occasion, whether it’s shrinking to the size of an ant or shapeshifting into different animals. The occasional fun fact will be sure to surprise adults as well! In a different vein, cooking can be just as much of an exact science as working in a lab. But, even more fun, as you can taste-test your end product! The picture book Fry Bread combines beautiful illustrations with a touching story about the meaning of food in Native American culture – with your very own Fry Bread recipe at the end!

For our art enthusiasts: Beautiful illustrations can make a world of difference in a child’s reading experience. Illustrations can convey emotions, like in Up and Down, Grumpy Monkey or Buford the Little Bighorn. They can bring magical worlds to life, as can be seen in The Gruffalo or The Cat in the Hat. Not to mention all the fun that can be found in an activity book full of illustrations like Where’s Wally!

For those looking for a laugh: Comics can infuse some humor and ease into a potentially daunting task like reading. Calvin & Hobbes tells the story of an unusual 6-year-old boy full of imagination and wit – perfect to be enjoyed with your favorite stuffed animal by your side. Zits Comics bring a more “teenage perspective” to the table, relatable to both children and parents!

Take the day to snuggle up with a snack and revisit your favorite nostalgic children’s books! And, of course we’d love for you to share them with us! Stay safe,

Sarah


On May 17th 1990, the World Health Organization officially removed homosexuality from being classified as a mental disorder. 15 years later, the first International Day Against Homophobia was celebrated on that same date to commemorate said decision. IDAHO aims to raise awareness of the violence, discrimination and hate directed towards the LGBTQ+ community on a daily basis.

Many of us grew up reading and falling in love with our favorite characters that we related to. Sadly, not everyone has the privilege of finding representation in literature so easily. Having those characters that just “get” you is incredibly important for people of all ages to feel seen and represented. Here is a selection of LGBTQ+ books we feature on our platform:

  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin: A classic that tackles themes of gender roles, sexual identity and self-hatred… David is an American living in Paris trying to find himself. When he meets a young bartender called Giovanni, his attraction is instant. He is consumed by his feelings, yet unwilling to accept that they are for another man.
  • Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender: Felix has never been in love. He worries that being a black transgender young man could make him a target. This fear is confirmed when he receives transphobic messages by a classmate. The novel navigates themes like bullying, gender identity and feelings of insecurity, all important to discuss in the classroom.
  • Neither by Airlie Anderson: This illustrated book spreads a message of positivity and embracing diversity, no matter your age. In a world of blue bunnies and yellow birds, a green little creature called “Neither” struggles to fit in. Suitable for young readers, this story can help start a conversation about the importance of inclusion and the beauty of diversity.

To find more LGBTQ+ books, take a look at award lists! The Stonewall Book Awards as well as the Lambda Literary Awards have made it their mission to celebrate the very best of LGBTQ+ literature. Do you already have a favorite book featuring LGBTQ+ characters? We’d love for you to share it with us! Today is the perfect day to spread love and acceptance to those around you, just don’t forget to leave some for yourself!

Sarah


A picture is worth a thousand words… But does that also ring true in the EFL classroom? Whether it be a funny comic strip in the daily paper or a thought-provoking graphic novel, they all represent authentic parts of modern media that can help fuel that spark of interest in students.

Comic strips gained massive popularity in the early 20th century, adding a bit of humor to everyone’s daily newspaper. A century later, comic strips continue to occupy a permanent spot in most newspapers, with themes ranging from light humor and puns to political commentary. A prime example of this success can be found in Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Waterson, a comic strip series featured in over 2400 newspapers from 1985 to 1995. The story of 6-year-old Calvin and his stuffed tiger Hobbes enchanted readers left and right. But of course, fans of comic strips couldn’t be expected to hoard newspaper cutouts to reread their favorite parts, right? And so, the 1930s marked the start of ‘the Golden Age of the Comic Book’. Marvel Comics flooded the market with superheroes we still know and love today, shaping the comics industry as we know it. Comic books can also be collections of periodical comic strips, as is the case with Zits by Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman. 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, along with a healthy dose of Mom, Dad, you’re embarrassing me! 

Following the raging success of comic books, the 1970s made way for a new sub-genre of comics: the graphic novel. Also described as a “visual novel”, the graphic novel doesn’t have a clear definition per se. In general, this genre includes a standalone story accompanied by or consisting completely of illustrations. Young readers can find a lot of joy and beauty in graphic novels. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by Charlie Mackesy offers beautiful illustrations along with a heartwarming story about an unusual friendship. Though not quite as wholesome, Diary of a Wimpy Kid tells the story of a preteen’s desperate yet humorous attempts to become “popular” at his school. A wonderful example of a graphic novel with no need for words at all is The Arrival, a multifaceted story about migration, multicultural societies, and hope.

What are your favorite comics? Take the day to bask in the nostalgia, have a laugh and share them with us!

Sarah


When we read, our minds grow wings; when we write, our fingers sing.” – Margarita Engle

There’s nothing better to escape reality than a good book, for adults and children alike. Books let us lose ourselves in worlds different from our own and are vital for children’s imaginations. This year’s motto for International Children’s Book Day is “The Music of Words”. So, in honour of today, here are some of my favourite picks for young readers! The Magic Tree House series by Mary Pope Osborne transports its readers into a world full of history and magic, putting a spin on some of history’s major events. If you’re looking for something more “science-y”, The Magic School Bus is the one for you! This series unravels the magic of the human body and the world around us, magical anthropomorphic school bus and all! But just as books let us learn about ourselves, they can also bridge the gap between us and cultures unfamiliar to us. Fry Bread by Kevin Noble Maillard gives insight into Native American culture and the meaning traditional food can hold, complete with a recipe and heartwarming illustrations. The eco-critical picture books Clean Up!, The Boy Who Grew a Forest and Greta and The Giants remind us that no one is too small to make a differernce. Books can teach a multitude of things, but at times the most important part is the reading experience itself. The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse features beautiful illustrations along with a story all about friendship that will make you fall in love with reading all over again. But watch out, or you’ll turn out like The Incredible Book Eating Boy! 

Check out our previous post for some books that are ideal for story-telling and reading aloud in the classroom!

What are some of your favourite nostalgic children’s books? Let us know!

Sarah


Just for Fun!

English · 16 March 2021

A book doesn’t always have to have academic value to be worth reading. I’ve compiled some of my favourite novels, movies and shows to read or watch outside of the classroom – just for fun!

Novels:

  • In case you loved The Hunger Games, you should take a look at the recently published prequel! A Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes tells the story of soon to be villain Coriolanus Snow and his rise to power.
  • If you enjoy morally grey characters, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo has a lot to offer. This novel tells the same story from multiple perspectives. 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.
  • Moving from fantasy to science fiction, The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey is the first novel in a trilogy all about aliens, conspiracies and survival. Each wave comes in a different form of attack, from power outages and tsunamis to lethal viruses. The story follows 16-year-old Cassie’s fight for survival after a devastating loss.
  • The award-winning Flavia de Luce Mystery Series by Alan Bradley has captured the attention of teens and adults worldwide. The novels follow 11-year-old Flavia, a budding chemist, who finds herself solving one murder mystery after another. For an introduction to the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the way to go.

Movies:

  • Mean Girls is seen as one of the most iconic comedies about “the high school experience”. The film covers everything from cliques and popularity to manipulation and self-image. 16-year-old Cady has never attended a public school. So when she enters high school, she feels like fresh meat being thrown to the wolves. Although she finds friends quickly, she gets wrapped up in the Mean Girls clique. Before she knows it, Cady finds herself in the middle of a convoluted plan to take down the queen bee, Regina George. And as much as she hates Regina George, Cady’s actions seem more and more in line with what a mean girl would do.
  • Mrs Doubtfire is an example of a comedy that hasn’t aged and is still relevant today. The film shows the life of a family following a hard divorce, after which the mother, Miranda, is granted sole custody. Unable to cope with the absence of his children, the father, Daniel, decides to pose as a nanny to be close to them. And so “Mrs. Doubtfire” is born.
  • The award-winning film The Devil Wears Prada features multiple famous actors and is definitely not just for fashion lovers. Andy is an aspiring journalist who hasn’t found the right job yet. Although she has no interest in fashion, she applies at “Runway Fashion Magazine” and intrigues chief editor Miranda Priestley enough to land the job as a junior assistant. Miranda’s ridiculous demands and expectations start to destroy Andy’s social life, but spark her ambition and, unexpectedly, her love for fashion.

TV Shows:

  • The 100 is a post-apocalyptic science fiction show with a straightforward concept. Following earth’s destruction via atomic bombs, humans fled to space to wait for the radiation levels to be survivable. The rules on board the Ark are tough, any adult who breaks them is sentenced to death and “floated” into space. But when their space ship starts running out of oxygen, the leaders send 100 teen delinquents to the ground as a last resort before mass population reduction. They thought the teenagers’ main struggle would be surviving radiation, but no one could foresee what (or who) was in store for them. The show features 7 seasons, specializing in morally grey characters and impossible situations. When does someone stop being the good guy? How far can one go before they are no longer worthy of redemption?
  • Staying in the realm of science fiction TV shows, Westworld also provokes analyzing and pondering. Set around 40 years into the future, amusement parks are all the rage. However, these aren’t ordinary amusement parks. Robots have been perfected to the point of being indistinguishable from humans, which makes them the perfect attraction. They don’t feel pain, and you can do whatever you want to them without being judged. This shouldn’t be a problem as they’re just machines, right? Or are they? The show explores the idea of where consciousness begins.
  • It should be noted that both shows mentioned are ages 16 and up, mainly due to violence and gore.

Also, we do feature the new category “Beyond the Classroom”, which is meant for an advanced audience of English literature, movies, audiobooks, plays etc. The new cluster features literature and media that do not fit the topicalities of the curricula or that, due to their length and complexity, do not match the teaching environment of the EFL classroom. Exploring this section will provide you with several classic and contemporary suggestions beyond the classroom for your reading, viewing or listening list. 

I hope you have a wonderful week and enjoy checking out some of my suggestions! Do you have any favourite novels that you read “just for fun”? Let us know!

Sarah