Review – Ella Minnow Pea (Mark Dunn)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, formal vocabulary, advanced reading, Year 8+, quirky, stand-alone book.

The front cover (do you get the joke the pictures are telling?)

Okay, before we start, I need to let you know that this book uses a lot of fancy words. Like, a lot. Definitely read this book along with a dictionary!

If you need to expand your vocabulary, this is absolutely the right book for you. Also, if you are a huge English nerd (no judgment, I’m one too!), this will probably be one of the most clever books you have ever read.

Ella Minnow Pea tells the story of Ella, a girl who lives on the (sadly fictional) Nollop Island. On this island, they praise Nevin Nollop, the man who wrote the famous sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” It’s famous because it uses every letter of the alphabet. Go over the sentence and you’ll see!

Since the island’s hero is a person who contributed to the English language, it’s no surprise that every islander is obsessed with English. They’re all incredibly educated writers whose vocabularies are unimaginiably huge! You get to see how great their writing skills are in this book. Ella Minnow Pea is an epistolary novel, meaning that it’s a book made up of letters. (‘Letters’ as in the things you write to others, like emails.)

It gets even more interesting. There’s a statue of Nevin Nollop on the island with his famous sentence displayed with metal letters. One day, the letters start falling off! The island’s government decide that Nevin Nollop is sending them all a message: to stop using whatever letter falls off the statue. Soon, it becomes illegal to write or even speak certain letters, like L or T. As the book continues, Ella’s letter-writing skills become simpler and more mispelled. She can’t use certain letters of the alphabet, so it would be difficult to write properly! Imagine trying to write something without the letter ‘a’ or ‘t’.

So, it goes from this:

“How different the world would be today if not for the sentence which the lexically gifted Mr. Nollop issued forth!” (pg. 5)

To losing a few letters:

“Insane woman name Ella: Retreat is what we want. Go away. Let we alone. Anonymess.” (pg. 158)

To eventually only having “LMNOP” to use, like this:

“No mo Nollop pomp! No mo 4 pop/1 moll Nollop looloo poop! No no no mo plop, plop, plop, plomp!” (pg. 197)

The book itself is good! I found it a bit difficult to be hooked by its first chapter. However, the plot quickly becomes interesting after the first couple of chapters, so don’t give up!

It’s a book that’ll need concentration and careful reading. So, both Louise and Gus heartily recommend Ella Minnow Pea!

Reading Passage 2 – Embroidery ANSWERS

The correct answers are highlighted in yellow!

Answers

  1. Based on the information from the passage, what do we know about sewbeautifulx’s current life?

a) She is a mother of young children who spends her free time embroidering

b) Her mother is teaching her how to embroider on pillowcases, bedding and clothes

c) She sees embroidery as a relaxing and time-consuming hobby

d) She owns a profitable business selling her embroidery under the name ‘sewbeautifulx’

2. Which of these is not listed as a possible embroidering material?

a) Organza

b) Tulle

c) Cotton

d) Felt

3. How did sewbeautifulx’s mother introduce her to embroidery?

a) In a practical way by giving her embroidering classes

b) In an impractical way by embroidering her pillowcases

c) In a practical way by telling her daughter to watch the mother while she is embroidering

d) In a practical way by embroidering things around her home

4. Which statement would best describe sewbeautifulx’s embroidery?

a) Vivacious and colourful

b) Monochrome and detailed

c) Simplistic and vibrant

d) Intricate and understated

5. Complete this sentence: Since the thread is so ________, you can make very _________ embroidery.

a) Thin, simplistic

b) Thin, vibrant

c) Colourful, vibrant

d) Thin, detailed

6. This passage teaches us about general embroidery. Which of these facts are not mentioned?

a) Embroidery is often vibrant and based on nature

b) Many materials can be used while embroidering

c) Embroidering can be a very therapeutic activity

d) Depending on its detail, embroidering can take a long time to complete

7. Write one example of the author using an em-dash.

The only time the author uses an em-dash is in this sentence: “…working with fabric and thread are endless – I use a vast array of materials…”. Remember that you don’t need to state the entire sentence if it’s very long; just use a few words to quote where exactly the em-dash is.

8. What is sewbeautifulx’s opinion on embroidery? Use at least one quote from the passage as evidence.

Generally, the answer should state that she finds embroidery relaxing, creative and/or time-consuming. You only need to talk about one of these but you’re welcome to use more than one if you have extra time. There are different quotes that you can use for this answer, depending on which opinion you choose to focus on.

‘Relaxing’ = “It’s so therapeutic, relaxing and calming.”

‘Creative’ = “I love that putting certain colours together can bring them to life…”

‘Time-consuming’ = “Depending on the level of detail, a piece may take days, weeks or even months!”

The original passage and questions are here!

Have any questions? Feel free to message or comment! I’m always happy to help. 🙂

Reading Passage 2 – Embroidery

Keywords: informal, Year 7-ish, non-fiction, first-person, article, multiple-choice, short answer, 10 qs

Sew beautiful x

(sewbeautifulx and Sophie Kalagas, ‘The stitch up’, frankie magazine, issue 99.)

From a young age, I used to watch my mum embroider little flowers onto pillowcases, bedding and clothes. I was fascinated by the practical ways she incorporated her love of embroidery into our lives, using just a needle and thread. Now I’m a mother of four, and as my children have grown up I’ve found time to pick up sewing as a hobby of my own. It’s so therapeutic, relaxing and calming.

I’m especially into designs that feature vibrant colours, flowers and animals. I love that putting certain colours together can bring them to life and create something brilliant. The possibilities of working with fabric and thread are endless – I use a vast array of materials, from felt, cotton and netting to organza and embroidery thread in a rainbow of colours. You can create anything you want with great detail because the thread is so fine. Depending on the level of detail, a piece may take days, weeks or even months!

Questions

  1. Based on the information from the passage, what do we know about sewbeautifulx’s current life?

a) She is a mother of young children who spends her free time embroidering

b) Her mother is teaching her how to embroider on pillowcases, bedding and clothes

c) She sees embroidery as a relaxing and time-consuming hobby

d) She owns a profitable business selling her embroidery under the name ‘sewbeautifulx’

2. Which of these is not listed as a possible embroidering material?

a) Organza

b) Tulle

c) Cotton

d) Felt

3. How did sewbeautifulx’s mother introduce her to embroidery?

a) In a practical way by giving her embroidering classes

b) In an impractical way by embroidering her pillowcases

c) In a practical way by telling her daughter to watch the mother while she is embroidering

d) In a practical way by embroidering things around her home

4. Which statement would best describe sewbeautifulx’s embroidery?

a) Vivacious and colourful

b) Monochrome and detailed

c) Simplistic and vibrant

d) Intricate and understated

5. Complete this sentence: Since the thread is so ________, you can make very _________ embroidery.

a) Thin, simplistic

b) Thin, vibrant

c) Colourful, vibrant

d) Thin, detailed

6. This passage teaches us about general embroidery. Which of these facts are not mentioned?

a) Embroidery is often vibrant and based on nature

b) Many materials can be used while embroidering

c) Embroidering can be a very therapeutic activity

d) Depending on its detail, embroidering can take a long time to complete

7. Write one example of the author using an em-dash.

_________________________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________________________

8. What is sewbeautifulx’s opinion on embroidery? Use at least one quote from the passage as evidence.

_________________________________________________________________________________

_________________________________________________________________________________

Check your answers here!

Note: this passage is part of an article called ‘The stitch up’ from frankie magazine (issue 99). It is an interview with @sewbeautifulx conducted by Sophie Kalagas. To my knowledge, utilising this passage as a free educational exercise falls under fair use. If not, please let me know. I want to make sure that everything on this website is fair and right.

Review – Murder Most Unladylike (Robin Stevens)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, murder mystery, female protagonist, 1930’s England, diary fiction, detective novel, boarding school, first book in a series.

Wow. Wowie wowie wow. I absolutely loved reading this book!

The front cover

Look, I know that I say that in pretty much every book review, but I mean it: this was one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read all year! The plot was engaging, the characters were interesting…it was all so wonderful!

First, let’s talk about the main character: Hazel Wong. Despite how she speaks about herself sometimes, she is so clever and strong. Thankfully, she becomes able to see just how great she is by the end! This book is a casebook (which is pretty much a diary) written from Hazel’s perspective. We learn a lot about her: how she feels like an outsider at Deepdean School for Girls; how homesick she is for her family in Hong Kong; even how overshadowed she feels around her friend Daisy. (But more on that later!)

Hazel is Chinese which, in 1930’s England, makes a lot of people treat her strangely, even disrespectfully. The book doesn’t shy away from the racism Hazel faces. It handles it with care, presenting the racist characters as undesirable. Hazel speaks of her emotions about this unsavoury behaviour. She often feels saddened, angered, and like an outcast. However, she remains strong and soon, she finds people who like her for who she is!

Enter Daisy Wells, Hazel’s best friend. She’s as clever as Hazel yet far more impulsive. Where Hazel is careful and nervous, Daisy is headstrong and confident. Honestly, I didn’t like Daisy that much at the beginning. I thought she was a bit spoiled. Also, she is occasionally mean to Hazel without realising it. By the end of the book, though, Hazel helps her grow into a better person and vice versa. This is not only a book about murder; it’s also a book about friendship.

Oh, by the way, this is a murder mystery book. Sorry, I got a bit carried away talking about the characters! Anyway, Hazel and Daisy form a Secret Detective Agency. They’re the only members and they’re both enthusiastic detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Dr John Watson. When a teacher is murdered in their boarding school, the detectives search for clues and try to solve the case. I will not tell you too much, but let’s just say that there are MANY twists and turns in the plot!

As for the writing style, there are quite a few lovely words to learn. Since the story takes place in the 1930’s, Hazel uses slang terms from that time. The definitions of each word can be picked up from context. For extra help, Daisy has written a glossary at the very end of the book! Some of my favourites are ‘bunbreak’, ‘shrimps’ and ‘view-halloo’!

All in all, it’s an excellent book! And good news: it’s the first in a series, so there are many more to read! I’ve already bought the second and third books and I honestly can’t wait to read them. Because of its engaging mystery and historical setting, mystery-loving Millie and historian Dmitri recommend Murder Most Unladylike.

Review – Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney)

Listen to this narration while you read!

Keywords: diary fiction, comedy, light-reading, male protagonist, illustrations, middle school setting, slice of life, series, first book.

The first book’s cover.

Since this is one of the most popular kid’s books EVER, I’m sure you’ve heard of this. If you haven’t, it’s pretty simple: the book is the diary of Greg Heffley, a middle-schooler with a wacky family and a wackier life.

Before we go on, I need to say that I read through these books voraciously as a child (and I still do!). Because of that, I might be juuuust a bit biased. I have fond memories of this book, so it will be difficult of me to think of any flaws. It seems perfect to me!

Greg is a fun protagonist. As you read his diary, you realise that he’s a bit of a snob! He has a lot to learn about life. For example, he cares deeply about becoming popular at school but goes about it in a very…um, interesting way. He grows as a person, though! From acting selfishly to doing something great for his best friend (won’t tell you what!), Greg is a main character that feels like a real person. That’s very important, especially for fictional characters!

There are also hilarious illustrations throughout the book. Here’s an example:

This is such a mood.

This is a funny, light-hearted diary with plenty of pictures. Both Jenny and Alfie recommend this!

Review – Candyfloss (Jacqueline Wilson)

Play this narration while you read!

Keywords: fiction, light reading, slice of life, female protagonist, friendship, family, comedy, growing up, illustrations, stand-alone book, recommended by a friend.

Maple 🙂

This book was recommended to me by one of my closest friends: Maple! When I asked her for books that she loved as a child, Candyfloss was the first one she suggested. She said she loved it for its interesting story and cute illustrations. I agree! This might be a bit of a long review. (There are just so many things to talk about!)

The first thing you’ll probably notice about this book is the extremely pretty front cover. I mean, look at it! How often do you come across a book cover of this quality? In fact, it’s so pretty, it deserves to be in the centre of the page:

Now that we’ve basked in the glow of the front cover, let’s talk about the story itself!

Candyfloss tells the tale of Flora Barnes, a 12-year-old girl who likes to be called ‘Floss’. Her family is a bit all over the place; Floss’s mother has remarried to a flashy guy and has had a son with him (‘Tiger’). They live fairly comfortably. On the other hand, Floss’s father owns a struggling cafe with a specialty in chips and chip butties. (Chip butties are basically chip sandwiches!) Floss is able to spend every weekend with her father but has to live with her mother and her new husband for the rest of each week. Floss highly prefers to be with her father, as he gives her all the love and attention that her mother doesn’t seem to provide.

So, when Floss’s mother and new family move to Sydney, Australia for six months, Floss has to make a decision: should she move with her mother or stay with her father?

While all of this is happening, Floss also needs to deal with her so-called ‘best friend’ Rhiannon. I don’t want to spoil too much, but let’s just say that Rhiannon is, um, not a good friend. You’ll see what I mean.

Poor Floss! The entire book is such a rollercoaster for her. So many things change in her life that you cannot stop reading! Every chapter is engaging and filled with life. The dialogue and behaviour of every character is realistic. (That’s surprisingly uncommon in books!)

The illustrations for the first chapter!

One of the best things about this book is the illustrations. Before every chapter there’s a page of drawings. Each drawing represents something that will happen in the chapter. It’s fun to look through each illustration and try to guess what’s going to happen next!

The best best thing is the relatability. I have read many books meant for children and teenagers. One of the most annoying habits of these books is that sometimes, the characters don’t act realistically! They’re either too nice or too evil with no complexity. What I love love love about Floss is that everything she does makes sense. She doesn’t always like what’s happening around her, yet she acts as kindly as possible. She shows the most kindness to her father. She knows exactly how sad he is and how much he fears failure. Because of this, she pretends to like everything he does even if it doesn’t go quite so well. Here’s an example:

“Oh, there’s your swing. How…lovely.” Rhiannon said.

“I know it’s not lovely,” I whispered. “But Dad’s fixed it all up for me especially.”

“Sure. OK. I understand,” said Rhiannon. She raised her voice so that Dad could hear in the kitchen. “Oh, Floss, your swing looks great hanging on the apple tree.”

Do you see what I mean? It’s genuinely relatable!

Candyfloss!

One last thing: Candyfloss teaches you a lot of British words. Of course, they speak English in England, but they have some slang words that we don’t have in Australia. For example, I didn’t know what ‘Candyfloss’ meant until I read the book. Apparently, it’s the British word for fairy floss! I suppose ‘candyfloss’ makes a bit more sense, but I still prefer ‘fairy floss’ 🙂

Because of its easy-to-read writing style and relatability, Jun and Jenny recommend this book!

Review – Artemis Fowl (Eoin Colfer)

Read the review along with this narration!

Keywords: Action, fantasy(ish), explosions, male protagonist, female protagonist, crime, magic, villainy, anti-hero, strategy, 8-book series, first book.

The first book’s cover.

Ah, Artemis Fowl. He’s technically a villain, but you can’t help but admire him. After all, he’s clever, quick-witted, and he has a large vocabulary! What’s not to love?

Well, he did kidnap a fairy to collect a ransom, so…let’s just say that he’s a complicated protagonist!

This book is the first of an 8-book series about Artemis Fowl II and his somewhat evil adventures in the world of magic. What’s so interesting is that the main character is a villain. You don’t see that very often in books, especially middle-school books. This kind of character is called an ‘anti-hero‘. It can seem a bit strange at first to root for a villain, but as soon as you know that this character shouldn’t be a role model, it can be very enjoyable! We all have a villain inside of us, after all.

Holly Short (AKA the best fairy captain EVER)

This book is about Artemis’s plan to kidnap a fairy and collect the ransom. The magic world lives underground, hiding from humans. Nobody knows about them; nobody but Artemis. Armed with a secret magic book, he’s able to exploit the fairy rules for his own gain. The fairy he kidnaps, though, is much stronger than he expects. Holly Short, the first female captain in the magic police force, does everything she can to fight back. What follows is an epic battle between fairies and Artemis Fowl which takes place at Fowl’s mansion in Ireland. There are explosions, trolls, and farting dwarves – everything an amazing battle needs!

This book is a thinker. It’s the type that will need concentration, as the strategies of Fowl and the fairies can be quite intricate. There’s backstabbing and double-bluffing galore! If you’re into strategic thinking and outsmarting people, this is definitely the book for you!

As this is a fantasy/action book with plenty of thought-provoking scenes, both fantasy-loving Felipe and big thinker Louise recommend Artemis Fowl.

Reading Passage 1 – The Great Wave ANSWERS

The correct answers are highlighted in yellow!

Can you guess why this is my favourite version of the Great Wave? 🙂

Answers

  1. Which statement would best describe 17th century Japan?

a) Fascinated by European matters

b) Ravaged by giant waves called tsunamis

c) Home to many Rangaku scholars

d) Closed to the rest of the world

2. _______ and ________ were two aspects of the Great Wave that Japan would have found incredibly different from their usual art style.

a) The variety of colours, the depth

b) The use of perspective, different shades of blue

c) The use of watercolours, the depth

d) The depiction of a wave, different shades of blue

3. As used in the first paragraph, what would be the best synonym for preponderant?

a) worthy of pondering

b) something to think about before describing it

c) important and noteworthy

d) complex and thought-provoking

4. From what we are told in this passage, what would best describe the shogunate?

a) Magnanimous and accepting of other cultures

b) Liberal-minded and strict

c) Despotic and puissant

d) Authoritative and avuncular

5. What would the paragraph after this passage be about?

a) Examples of Japanese art pieces that correspond to the European art style

b) A description of European architecture, particularly in London and Paris

c) Japan’s history of tsunamis and other natural disasters

d) A more detailed description of Rangaku scholars

6. What do scholars of ‘Dutch Studies’ learn about?

a) The history of Denmark

b) Research from Europe

c) Art and science from Holland

d) Dutch languages and how they relate to art

7. What best describes Shogun Yoshimune’s opinion on foreign concepts?

a) Wildly passionate about every aspect of European culture

b) Xenophobic and narrow-minded

c) Nebulous. He didn’t really find it important

d) Enthusiastic about particular parts of European culture

8. Where would you find this passage?

a) In a general book about art

b) In a book specifically about Hokusai’s art and the Japanese art culture of his time

c) In an article about European architecture

d) In a personal essay about a person’s experience with Japanese art

Have any questions? Feel free to message or comment! I’m always happy to help. 🙂

Reading Passage 1 – The Great Wave

Keywords: advanced reading, formal, Year 8-9, non-fiction, multiple-choice, 8 qs

Complex words are in bold. If you don’t understand them, search them and write them down!

(Timothy Clark, pg. 23, Hokusai’s Great Wave. British Museum Press, 2011.)

Hokusai’s ‘Great Wave Off Kanagawa’

Two aspects of the Great Wave are particularly striking and would have seemed novel at the time: the dramatic sense of depth in the middle of the picture; and the preponderant use of shades of blue. Both of these aspects were revolutionary in their day; even tinged with a certain ideological danger. For both the deep space and the strong blue signalled ‘Europe’ – or at least ‘outside Japan’. Foreign travel had been forbidden to Japanese since the late 1630s and all interactions with the outside world were closely policed by the Shogunate, the ruling military government, and generally confined to the periphery of the state. Trade with Holland and China were carefully regulated through the single port of Nagasaki in the far west. Under this authoritarian samurai regime, any undue interest in foreign matters was regarded with suspicion.

In 1720, however, the personal interest in foreign science and technology of Shogun Yoshimune led him to intervene to have lifted a ban in imported Chinese translations of European books, provided they did not deal in any way with Christianity (strictly outlawed in Japan, once again, since the late 1630’s). Thereafter, the eighteenth century witnessed a steadily growing interest among Japanese scholars in European matters, culminating in a movement known as ‘Dutch studies’ (Rangaku) – Holland being the only European nation with which Japan traded directly.

Among the European books and prints imported into Japan there must have been some that featured perspective systems of architectural lines converging dramatically towards a distant horizon line – maybe the kind of cityscape in London, Paris and Amsterdam that were hugely popular in those cities at the time. In Europe, such prints were often enjoyed in viewing devices that enhanced the sensation of deep space yet further.

Questions

  1. Which statement would best describe 17th century Japan?

a) Fascinated by European matters

b) Ravaged by giant waves called tsunamis

c) Home to many Rangaku scholars

d) Closed to the rest of the world

2. _______ and ________ were two aspects of the Great Wave that Japan would have found incredibly different from their usual art style.

a) The variety of colours, the depth

b) The use of perspective, different shades of blue

c) The use of watercolours, the depth

d) The depiction of a wave, different shades of blue

3. As used in the first paragraph, what would be the best synonym for preponderant?

a) worthy of pondering

b) something to think about before describing it

c) important and noteworthy

d) complex and thought-provoking

4. From what we are told in this passage, what would best describe the shogunate?

a) Magnanimous and accepting of other cultures

b) Liberal-minded and strict

c) Despotic and puissant

d) Authoritative and avuncular

5. What would the paragraph after this passage be about?

a) Examples of Japanese art pieces that correspond to the European art style

b) A description of European architecture, particularly in London and Paris

c) Japan’s history of tsunamis and other natural disasters

d) A more detailed description of Rangaku scholars

6. What do scholars of ‘Dutch Studies’ learn about?

a) The history of Denmark

b) Research from Europe

c) Art and science from Holland

d) Dutch languages and how they relate to art

7. What best describes Shogun Yoshimune’s opinion on foreign concepts?

a) Wildly passionate about every aspect of European culture

b) Xenophobic and narrow-minded

c) Nebulous. He didn’t really find it important

d) Enthusiastic about particular parts of European culture

8. Where would you find this passage?

a) In a general book about art

b) In a book specifically about Hokusai’s art and the Japanese art culture of his time

c) In an article about European architecture

d) In a personal essay about a person’s experience with Japanese art

Check your answers here!

Note: the multiple-choice questions are of my own creation. The passage, however, was written by Timothy Clark and can be found on page 23 of this book. To my knowledge, utilising this passage as a free educational exercise falls under fair use. If not, please let me know. I want to make sure that everything on this website is fair and right.