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 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


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


“Literacy is the most basic currency of the knowledge economy”
– Barack Obama

Since probably 1999, when I actually developed the ability to think, question, and understand, I enjoyed books. Not reading them at that time, of course, but having them read to me, and my parents read a lot to me. The huge variety of writing styles and all the different stories definitely had a great part in making me the person I am today. The ability to read provided me with access to knowledge and helped me develop diverse thoughts and opinions, the ability to write helped me to learn how to express them. I cannot imagine the universes, the knowledge, and with it the power of mind that I would have missed out on if I had never learned to read. For me, reading was a matter of course, for most of us it probably was. However, roundabout 14% of the world’s population is illiterate and the pandemic only made it worse. So this year’s ILD is about “narrowing the digital divide”. When all of a sudden the world went online, the effects of insufficient access to the internet, electricity, and digital skills in less economically developed countries became more evident and problematic.

Of course, there are many ways to also support the countries in question, but we also need to raise awareness for illiteracy in the classroom and simultaneously emphasise the importance of reading itself. I noticed that remote schooling and learning lead to a decline of the desire and also of the overall ability to read. So it’s definitely necessary to find ways, maybe also new and more creative ones, to discover and motivate the reader in every student because I refuse to believe that reading is character-based.

Therefore, for teachers, parents, and all people in need of a little guidance for motivating listless children and teenagers I recommend The Bookwhisperer: Awakening the Inner Reader in Every Child by Donalyn Miller. Miller is a 6th-grade teacher and provides a practical yet unconventional guideline for leading children to actually enjoy reading. And if you specifically look for books on literacy, you will find loads of useful suggestions and inspirations to spark the interest in reading in your home or classroom again.

Sarah-Sophia


Fall is here!

English · 16 October 2021

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

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

Take care,

Sarah


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


Every year, the staff of the Department of British Studies at the University of Leipzig arranges a Christmas Reading. This year we will read Oscar Wilde’s “The Canterville Ghost” (1887) – a tale of terror and delight. You are welcome to join our digital Christmas Read on Wednesday, 16 December 2020 from 6–8 pm via Zoom (Zoom: 825 2832 7080 Passcode: 882307).

Happy Christmas and stay safe everybody,

The editors


Autumn Read 2020

English · 9 October 2020

Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first September was crisp and golden as an apple.” – J.K. Rowling

As summer draws to a close and winter slowly approaches, here are some of our suggestions for the golden time of the year – or the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness‘ as Keats called it in his romantic poem “To Autumn” (1819/20).

  • Sarah’s picks: Gusts of wind, thunderstorms and crisp autumn air… the perfect time of year to cuddle up inside with a cup of tea, fuzzy socks and a good book! And although we can’t always hide away from the outside world under a cosy blanket, we can try to bring that atmosphere to the classroom with some autumnal stories! For young readers, Room on the Broom offers a fun story full of rhymes about a witch, a dragon and a flying broomstick to get everyone in the Halloween spirit. For a short story about a relationship that has run its course, take a look at Early Autumn by Langston Hughes. Although the conversation seems to stay in the realm of small talk, the awkward dynamic between the two hints at a complicated past and unresolved feelings. The autumnal setting reflects their relationship. We hope these suggestions help you (pumpkin) spice up your autumn reading list!
  • Sarah-Sophia’s picks: As the veil of darkness falls a little earlier every day, it is time for me to unbox some old scary Gothic stories. Mary Shelley provides us with a quite extraordinary one, a favourite of mine in the time leading up to Halloween: Frankenstein (1818). Combine some ingenuity with an omnium gatherum of body parts. Add some stitches and a little electricity and you won’t need a ghost to haunt you as you have a corporeal monster: Frankenstein’s monster. This multi-layered character will wake sympathy and terror likewise and pull you into its tragic life story of becoming a monster in the process. My suggestion: Read it to someone in the dark with a flashlight under your face. Fancy something more romantic and slightly easier on the mind? Here are some powerful lines of hope and transition by Emily Brontë: Fall, leaves, fall (1846) Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away; Lengthen night and shorten day; Every leaf speaks bliss to me; Fluttering from the autumn tree. I shall smile when wreaths of snow; Blossom where the rose should grow; I shall sing when night’s decay; Ushers in a drearier day.
  • Rico’s picks: All kinds of animals may be preparing for a good winter’s sleep … but you certainly don’t, avid reader, no. You are used to sharpening your senses through the looking glass which is literature. May I suggest Vox, Christina Dalcher’s dystopic novel, for that very purpose? Set in a future version of the USA, which has taken yet another turn for the worse, this story forcefully demonstrates how quickly freedom can be lost if we don’t uphold it in our every day lives. If that isn’t enough to keep you up at night, how about a more classic scare treatment in the form of The Cats of Ulthar? Chills up your spine are guaranteed in this 2-page short story by the great H. P. Lovecraft. Once Halloween has passed, however, we would be wrong in not offering some consolation which, of course, also is literature. Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle is a nicely illustrated story for the young – and young at heart – about a small, hard-working creature stumbled upon by a curious little girl. So do feel encouraged to not freak out about the way things are at the moment. Where is lit, there certainly is hope!
  • Simon’s picks: Cold foggy mornings and warm burning sunsets: In autumn, summer shows the last flair of rebellion against the approaching winter, and thereby creates a colourful, mysterious and melancholic season. Here comes my first suggestion – a classic gothic tale that some of you might know from its film adaptation with Johnny Depp from the year 1999: Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow (1820). The classic short story of the ‘pumpkin-topped headless horseman‘ does not only play around Halloween, but it also features the somewhat awkward schoolmaster Ichabod Crane as a main character, who strongly believes in the supernatural. After a harvest party, Ichabod rides home on his old horse ‘Gunpowder‘ and becomes the victim of a rather mean prank in the middle of the night. My second suggestion is rather suitable for the elementary classroom and the earlier grades, whose colours reminded me of autumn: Ruth Brown’s Greyfriars Bobby (2013). This beautifully illustrated picture book tells a heartwarming story about a faithful, little dog, who became a local hero for the people of Edinburgh.

Also, if you come across a brilliant new story which you think the world should know about, make sure to suggest it, so we can feature it in our next holiday reading list. Enjoy your autumn holidays, especially long walks in the park, but remember: Winter is coming…

The editors