Willy Wonka, mind maps, magic and mayhem


REVIEWS BY JAMIE KHOO

THE new year is just around the corner, an apt time to expand your mind and take it places. The books reviewed this week will stretch your mind by helping you improve your learning skills and study more efficiently, and also by taking your imagination and magic fancies to new heights. 

Return to the classics of Roald Dahl, Disney and Will Eisner’s Spirit comics, and leap ahead with innovative techniques of learning in the 21st century, and exciting, new avenues of writing about magic.  

These books will really tickle your mind and stretch its limits. Also ideal as Christmas presents for those of you still rushing around shopping.  

All reviewed books are offered at a 25% discount at Kinokuniya for Star readers, so start reading and get ahead of the new year.  

 

THE ROALD DAHL TREASURY 

By Roald Dahl  

Publisher: Puffin  

Price: RM72 

 

IN an introduction to this book, Tom Maschler, Roald Dahl’s publisher, wrote: “What distinguished Roald most of all is that he was ? a magician. Perhaps Roald became a writer so that he could cast his spells by telling ? stories.” Quite simply, Roald Dahl is the magic genius whose stories must be indulged in by children and readers of all ages.  

The first of its kind, The Roald Dahl Treasury is a collection of books, extracts of writing, fiction, non-fiction, prose and poetry – a real treasure box of writing and imagination.  

All of Dahl’s most fantastic and well-loved writings are found here, accompanied by brightly coloured, vibrant, funny illustrations by Quentin Blake and other artists. Between the 444 pages of sparkle and wit, his most famous stories, inventions and rhymes are given a splendid revival; and the wonderful, animated, uncanny characters of his boundless imagination – Willy Wonka, the BFG, Matilda, the Witches, the Twits and the Oompa-Loompas – are all there in their full and revived glory.  

Also, extracts of non-fictional writing taken from his biographical books Boy and Going Solo, as well as letters, memoirs and previously unpublished poetry and letters. Dahl has never been more alive in a book as he is here, for this treasury gives us both the fictional writing of the author as well as autobiographical and personal insights from the man himself.  

The Roald Dahl Treasury is a marvellous introduction to his works for children who have not yet read any of his books (indeed, it is unthinkable that any child should grow up without Dahl magic) and the most wonderful keepsake for fans of Roald Dahl.  

There is plenty of talk of magic on this page, in other reviews, but nothing ever quite compares to Dahl. This is the sort of real colour, vibrant magic and creativity that should make the world go round. Make this the one book you buy this Christmas for it is the ticket to the cosiest, most special sort of warmth and laughter.  

 

JUNK 

By Melvin Burgess 

Publisher: Penguin 

Price: RM25.50 

 

WE have all fallen in love and felt that giddy spin of adolescent infatuation but it doesn’t normally spin us out of control. Junk is a love story of two young people, Tar and Gemma with the dangerously added twist of drugs thrown into the cocktail of growing up.  

The young couple run away from their families to Bristol, and get drawn into a hedonistic upheaval of drugs and cheap love affairs. It is all love, sex, and rock ’n’ roll until they meet the frightening effects of drug usage and addiction.  

Told honestly and brutally, Junk gives a convincing portrayal of the British working class and the issues that young adults struggle to come to terms with, such abusive parents, feelings of displacement, and the need to fly away.  

In Junk, Burgess deals realistically, even sympathetically, with the nitty-gritty of drug culture. It isn’t just all sleaze and underhanded dealings, but a truthful, empathetic way of telling the story of young heroin addicts, as they live the experiences. 

Written through the eyes of several different characters, this award-winning book presents us with a kaleidoscope of voices that contribute to a realistic, rounded depiction of the punk and drug culture of the 1980s.  

Burgess doesn’t advocate drugs, nor give any unrealistic, convenient solutions, but rather challenges the belief that all drug addicts are bad. Instead, he shows us that there is a story behind every drug user who has to be understood and helped.  

We are given the ups, the downs, and the true-to-life experiences of what happens when young people to go astray. Brilliantly written and expressed, Junk speaks acutely of the thoughts and frustrations of teenagers, drawing the reader into a reality that is usually ignored and kept silent.  

 

THE THIEF LORD 

By Cornelia Funke 

Publisher: Scholastic 

Price: RM28.08 

 

ALAS, we have become complacent with magic. Nothing surprises us anymore. Cornelia Funke, however, has resuscitated the true meaning and power of magic and imagination in The Thief Lord, an enchanting and fantastic mixture of Oliver Twist, The Pied Piper and the magical, hidden secrets of Venice. 

The story follows the adventures of two young children, Prosper and Bo, who have run away from an evil aunt to Venice. Finding themselves orphaned and having to fend for themselves, they soon join up with a boy named Scipio, also known as the Thief Lord. Together they tumble and rollick mischievously around the streets and steal their way through survival, à la Oliver Twist, the Artful Dodger and Faggin.  

Here though, there really is a “twist” – the Thief Lord is hiding a dark secret which Prosper and Bo will find out only too late. When they do, they are thrown into a roaring fantastical journey that will change their lives forever.  

Peopled with weird and wonderful characters, The Thief Lord is filled with classic story allusions that become distorted and stretched into an animated tapestry of unpredictable narratives. Like the maze of canals that zigzag across Venice, the story itself is led down the many dark and mysterious alleyways of Funke’s complex, creative imagination.  

Funke reminds us that magic has not had its last say yet. In The Thief Lord she pulls our expectations of the fantastic apart and throws them headfirst into the unexpected but fascinating realms of magic story-telling.  

 

DISNEY’S PRINCESS TREASURY 

Publisher: Disney Press 

Price: RM69.90 

 

BRING the happily-ever-afters into your home with this special collection of Disney’s princesses. Adapted from the movies, these stories are written and illustrated as they appear on screen, giving children the chance to relive the magic as often as they want.  

This Princess Treasury features the stories of Snow White, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Beauty and the Beast, with full and vibrant colour illustrations on each page.  

Other all-time favourite Disney characters also find their way into these pages – the seven dwarfs, the three fairies who look after Sleeping Beauty, Flounder the puffer fish, Aladdin’s big, jolly genie, Cinderella’s fairy godmother ... and, of course, the villains! Ursula the ugly octopus and wicked stepmothers can be found throughout the stories, making them all the more exciting as we read about how good always triumphs over evil. 

The writing is not particularly imaginative nor creative, for the stories are serialised directly from the movie versions. However, adapted stories like these are an ideal way of encouraging young children to read as they allow them to live out the stories in their own imaginations while fully enjoying illustrations of their favourite cinema moments.  

For younger children, this book is great read-aloud storytelling at bedtime. Each story is divided conveniently into chapters, which could be read separately over several bedtimes, or all at once in one evening for the more indefatigable, bouncy three-year-olds (and enthusiastic parents) out there.  

And for the rest of us “grown-up children”, this treasury is still wonderful for the magic memories it will awaken in all of us who were once little girls with dreams of being a princess.  

LAURA’S SECRET 

By Klaus Baumgart (translated by Judy Waite) 

Publisher: Little Tiger Press 

Price: RM53.50 

 

“SOMETIMES, if you believe in something and you wish hard enough, you can help make it happen,” Laura tells her little brother. Laura’s Secret is an optimistic story of hope, belief and, most of all, the power of magic that all young, pre-school children should grow up with.  

It is a simple story about a kite that Laura and her little brother, Tommy, have made. Although it breaks the first time they fly it, the special little star that Laura speaks to secretly every night steps through her window at night and sprinkles magic around the room to make it a extra special, magic kite.  

Laura’s Secret will delight very young children who are just learning to read as the writing is simple and the text short, while each page is filled with the warm colours of homely illustrations. At over RM50, it does seem a bit pricey for a child’s book, but this could be the very book that a child might treasure for the rest of his life. (I’ve got my baby books stored away very preciously and they still make me smile!)  

Magic stars don’t float into our rooms every night, but Laura’s Secret does inspire the important magic qualities of hope and belief. This is the essence of magic that we all believed in (or still do!) before it was time to grow up. Indeed, even grown-ups should read books like this once in a while, if only to smoothen our rough cynical edges.  

For Laura fans, be sure to look out for the other books, Laura’s Star and Laura’s Christmas Star

 

THE SPIRIT: WILL EISNER’S SPIRIT ARCHIVES, VOL. 1 

By Will Eisner 

Publisher: DC Comics        

Price: RM190.50 

 

WHEN Will Eisner’s comic The Spirit first came out in American newspapers, the response was sensational. His 16-page inserts, as commissioned by the Register & Tribune Syndicate, came to stand in as the real spirit of American values in the 1940s and 1950s. In this first complete collection of The Spirit, Eisner’s legendary comic has been restored, recoloured and presented in a series of volumes that capture of all his artistic work.  

Instead of the usual daily comic strips found in newspapers, Eisner brought to the American public the beginnings of the “comic magazine” (or “graphic novel” as it is more commonly known now).  

With the creation of the crime-fighter, Denny Colt (later known as The Spirit), Eisner was able to develop not just a character but also a whole fictional society that had found its parallels with that of 1940s America.  

While comics are generally not what you might read for improving your reading skills, The Spirit is valuable for its insights and social commentary on modern America just before and after World War II. If nothing else, it is a precious collection of comics that formed an integral part of American and European culture (for it found great success there too) for over 60 years.  

In addition to the comics, this first volume of the series (with comics dated between June and December 1940) also features an introduction by Will Eisner on how The Spirit came to be, and an in-depth historical analysis of the comics by historian R.C. Harvey.  

The entire Spirit Archives is made up of 13 volumes, and at RM190 each it could blow quite a large hole in any pocket, but owning a colourful slice of cultural history like this is incomparable and priceless. Praised internationally as the ultimate in a tradition and history of comic genius, this vintage compilation is a must-have in any comic enthusiast’s collection. 

 

MIND MAPS FOR KIDS: The Shortcut to Success at School 

By Tony Buzan 

Publisher: Thorsons 

Price: RM69.90 

 

STUDYING is usually quite a bore; no one likes sitting around memorising long lists of notes. But help is on the way for kids of all ages, studying at any level, for any subject at school. It’s time to have some fun! 

In Mind Maps for Kids, Tony Buzan teaches children how to maximise their studying time by using mind maps – a new system of planning and note-taking that will cut homework time by half and make learning much more fun and efficient. 

Accompanied by illustrations, Mind Maps uses plenty of brightly coloured examples and workbook style exercises to help children in a way that is engaging and fun. It is written in a simple yet informative and detailed manner, making it easy for children to pick up the techniques and advice.  

There are also practical tips on how to apply this new technique to specific subjects like Mathematics, History and Geography, and languages, as well as “fun stuff” like planning a party or a holiday, or sorting out your bedroom.  

Mind Maps is a great book that will encourage children to put effort into their work and really enjoy themselves in the process. And by getting your homework done faster, there’ll be plenty more time for the Playstation and TV! Useful, too, for older students or adults who want a quick, efficient way of working through exam revision, planning large projects and essays, or sorting out stacks of work in the in-tray.  

 

HOW TO TAKE THE GRRRR 

OUT OF ANGER 

By Elizabeth Verdick & Marjorie Lisovskis 

Publisher: Free Spirit Publishing 

Price: RM40 

I WROTE a review on a book about how to be happy last fortnight and mentioned in passing that you would have to be in rather dire straits to need something to tell you how to smile. This time, I’m going to tell you how to stop being angry, something which is probably infinitely more useful, for nobody likes grumpy, temper-throwing kids growing up to be grumpy, snarling adults with throbbing veins. 

Once you get past the patronising tones of this book (which in itself could actually really annoy someone, thus defeating the whole purpose), it does offer some handy tips on how to cool down your temper, and deal with anger problems.  

It begins with an explanation on what it means to be angry, helping children understand exactly what they are dealing with and what they have to work out. Followed with examples that readers might relate to, it then looks realistically at how children ordinarily cope with anger, and how they might alter their ways of thinking and reacting.  

It is written in a direct and simple style, and addresses different aspects of anger management in a clear, concise way that children can easily understand. Illustrations make it more approachable, and adds light-hearted humour to an otherwise rather serious topic.  

There are also sections for parents and teachers with advice on how to identify that a child needs help with his/her anger, and how to help develop their anger-management skills. A list of further resources for both children and adults is also useful in pointing the reader towards other sources of information and advice.  

 

ACCELERATED LEARNING FOR THE 21ST CENTURY: The Six Step Plan to Unlock Your Master-Mind 

By Colin Rose and Malcolm J. Nicholl 

Publisher: Dell Publishing 

Price: RM 59.90 

THE 21st century is looking bleak, what with computers and technology taking over the human workforce. It is now essential that you learn faster, remember more and think creatively. This innovative new six-step M.A.S.T.E.R. programme introduces a way of identifying your individual learning style, unlocking hidden talents and improving your ability to absorb, retain and use new information.  

This book, which follows Rose’s earlier publication, Accelerated Learning, specifically addresses ways of learning that would help readers to get ahead amidst the changes and fluctuations of the 21st century.  

Based on research by psychologists and scientists, it takes us far into our own minds and tells of how it can be trained to the best of its abilities. By giving in-depth explanations about the ways in which our memory and mind work, the book gives practical advice on how to put learning skills to better, more efficient use.  

With these new techniques, Rose and Nicholl demonstrate how you can improve your memory, analyse information quicker, solve problems, improve test scores, and learn foreign languages with ease.  

The authors also show that the skills acquired by this new system can be applied to any area of study or work (at school, university, the workplace), or any subject (maths, businesses, medicine, languages). It is useful, too, for parents or teachers who are looking to help their children and students learn faster and more effectively.  

Get ready for this revolutionary way of teaching – it is time to unlock your mind and unleash the power of learning!  

 

GREAT SUPER SPECIAL GOTHAM COMICS: Batman/The Avengers 

By Sharad Devarajan & Suresh Seetharaman (Batman) / Kurt Bustek & George Perez (Avengers)  

Publisher: Gotham Entertainment Group 

Price: RM20 (Batman) /  

RM22 (Avengers) 

 

THESE super special Gotham comics about Batman and the Avengers mark a return to classic comics, for the spate of Hollywood superhero movies (Batman, Spiderman, The Avengers), has probably made us long forget the original comic strips and the value of their artwork.  

Generally, comics are not recommended for readers looking to improve their English or reading skills, as the language is usually unimaginative and composed largely of ridiculous exclamations – kzak!!! strak!!! and vzzzt is hardly the vocabulary you'd want to learn. Also, not much can be said of the story lines. After all, how many different ways can you tell the story of good versus evil? Events are unoriginal, outcomes are predictable, and the characters are not much more than what comic characters usually are – two dimensional . 

Comic fans will enjoy these for the artwork and their value as collector’s items. 

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