Mentoring Yr9s in literature

I volunteered/agreed to help out with the enhancement programme at school for Yr9 students; they get to choose a book, and then have to do a presentation on the themes/messages to the other students in the programme. Each kid gets paried with a mentor to help them think through the issues. I took on four, because I had already read two of the books; this has gone down to three, because the girl who chose Wuthering Heights has gone on holiadys early… for which I am grateful, since it’s a while since I read it and I don’t really feel like reading it again (hate every single character, although I quite like the book itself).

I read Saint of Dragons, by Jason Hightman, yesterday. It was in the 4-9 year old section at Borders, which I don’t really get – it’s a good 300-odd pages, and in some parts a bit dark; it certainly wouldn’t be read by even a standard 9 year old by themselves, I would have thought. Anyway. It wasn’t too bad; interesting ideas – about a boy who turns out to be the descendant of St George, who has to join his father in hunting dragons down. I was a bit disappointed, though, because the ideas weren’t completely carried through with, and some of the writing was pretty simplistic. I think I’ll try and get the boy to think about the issue of heroism – who is a hero? What makes someone not a hero? – because that is pretty big throughout the book… and could have been more so, had Hightman explored it more.

Before that one, I read The Sea, by John Banville. Winner of the Booker Prize this year, making it only the second winner I have ever read (the first was Life of Pi, which I did enjoy). It is not the sort of book I would have chosen to read, and it will be interesting to see what my mentoree thought of it. I quite liked it, in an odd sort of way… the style sometimes got a bit annoying, always going back and forth in time – the present stuff written in the present tense, which is pretty unusual, but generally intriguing. It’s about a man whose wife has recently died revisiting the site of childhood holidays, reliving the traumas and joys, in an effort to get away from his grief. I did like it, I think.

The other book is The Chrysalids, by John Wyndham, which is the other book that I had previously read. I love Wyndham; I think he embodies speculative fiction, as opposed to science fiction, exceptionally well. His ideas are so cool, and he writes in such an unembellished way; I think this is very much a product of the pre-blockbuster time, pre-Star Wars basically. He wasn’t writing for film. HG Wells, Ursula Le Guin, Andre Norton – I think they’re in the same category. I really like all of them, their sparse detail; I have described Wells and Le Guin in particular as drawing pencil sketches, as opposed to the full-on oils of, say, Simon Green or Julian May or, dare I say it, Robert Jordan. It’s interesting: I read Le Guin and some Norton early on in my scifi reading – Wyndham too, actually – so I enjoy it. One friend in particular, who has really only read more recent scifi/fantasy, really couldn’t get into Le Guin. Anyway – The Chrysalids – excellent book. Deviations… the cleverest part, I think, is how he lists the things people see as deviations, and includes things that we, the readers, know are not deviations. Sigh. I must re-read Day of the Triffids.

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