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Stuck: Oliver Jeffers

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My biggest disappointment was the presentation of the words. The half cursive, messy, curvy writing made it extremely difficult for kids to recognize words. It broke my heart to see the disappointment, confusion and downturned faces when the children asked what a particular word said and realized—oh, I know that word. Very discouraging at times! Activity: To help students understand this trait, you could organize a ‘Kite Retrieval' activity where students brainstorm and write down all the possible ways Floyd could have retrieved his kite from the tree. Creativity: The imaginative solutions Floyd comes up with to dislodge his kite demonstrate his creativity. Cultivating this trait helps students approach problems from different angles and think outside conventional norms.

What makes William’s Wife such a success is Trevelyan’s ingenious pacing. The reader isn’t spared anything. Day by day, month by month, we follow Jane’s decline. There is little that is dramatic or surprising – instead, she sets up her premise and follows it steadily to its natural climax. The blurb calls it ‘the most normal horror story ever written’, and while blurbs that call their book the ‘most’ anything are to be distrusted, it’s not an inaccurate description. It isn’t scary, in the usual sense of scary. But it is haunting. It is a horror story in the sense that it is horribly believable – perhaps the sort of miserable world behind any number of closed doors. Interestingly, it really reminded me of an ostensibly very different Recovered Books novel – Gentleman Overboard by Herbert Clyde Lewis. Both take an awful situation and play it out slowly, painstakingly to its end. Very little happens, apart from everything, save maybe the episode in which Carla’s ex, Maya (Eleanor Fanyinka), gives her and Dan a spliff and they go shoplifting in “the magic forest”. It’s their term for the independent, massively expensive deli nearby (she goes in to hold jars of costly preserves to her face and croon and frankly, I have never felt so seen).Look at the use of shadows in the illustrations. Can you draw some objects and their shadows? Could you draw the same scene at different times of the day? How would the shadows change? Aaron writes his play and it is put on by a small theatre group – and, twist, it becomes a big success. Aaron at first finds this amusing – but Martha points out that his reputation as a writer is now settled. He can’t become a new novelist without this reputation. One thing leads to another, and they decide to move together to a kibbutz in Israel – a sort of communal living compound. They are able to move there under the then-rule that any Jewish person around the world could move to Israel (I believe it’s a bit more stringent now). First, of course, is Lucas. He is a slightly dull but dependable young man who is unbelieving and angry that Bell has left him in the most casual way possible. Despite the anger, he wants her to come home and quietly forget the whole thing. This all makes him sound like the staid villain of the piece, but Lucas really has out sympathy. He and Bell have had a fairly happy marriage so far, from his perspective at least, and he is ready to forgive and forget her curious blip. But he has a job and can’t look after baby Toby – and so he gets shepherded off initially to a lady in another flat (who is indignant) and next to Lucas’s mother.

The story is written in the third person. Can you rewrite it in the first person, from Floyd’s point of view? Reading for club years is always enjoyable for seeing how times have changed and what’s stayed the same. Most of the 1962 choices I’ve seen mentioned (including my other two reads for this week) couldn’t be written in the same way today. But A Cat in the Window could. Cats are happily unchangeable – and the way a felinophile would write about cats hasn’t changed at all either.Novels about cats are very hit-and-miss in my experience, often being too fey or leaning into a kind of kooky magical realism that isn’t my cup of tea. But non-fiction about cats, like Tangye’s, are almost always wonderful in my experience. Because they are written by people who love and know cats – who appreciate their character, their dignity, their independence. And who form loving friendships with cats, knowing that the cat isn’t slavishly desperate to please them but, rather, any affection is earned.

Lady Midhurst is disbelieving – until she quizzes Terry, who is unrepentant. Terry is a flighty ‘free love’ sort of woman, seemingly conjured from the worst anxieties of late-Victorian male columnists. She doesn’t really see the problem, and it’s hard to know exactly what the reader is meant to make of her. Is she meant to be refreshingly amoral? If so, she comes across instead as extremely selfish and rather stupid. I don’t think she’s the most successful character in The Jasmine Farm. She has social cache and money, and is very fond of her daughter (bizarrely called Terence, or Terry) and seemingly satisfied with where she has now ended up. Some people are envious are her, and she seems divinely unaware of it. Certainly she isn’t desperate for a man, as so many single women are in novels of the period, and could perhaps have survived into her dotage without anything upsetting happening.

We've had this one for awhile, but tonight I read it with the wee maggots again and realized I had never recommended it to others. Fairly late in the book, Humphreys shares the short obituary she wrote for her brother, Martin – saying she never chose words more carefully. And it is evident from the writing in Nocturne that choosing words carefully is at the core of her being. I’m quoting the obituary first because it really tells you who Martin was, and what happened to him:

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