Book Series that we love (Chapter books): My Blade Quest

We’ve recently been introduced to yet another homegrown Singaporean author, Don Bosco, and his Super Cool chapter book series – My Blade Quest!

These adventure books are definitely good for readers who need to gain confidence in moving away from picture books, and are looking to slowly expand their vocabulary. Each chapter is only 3-4 pages long, and will not appear intimidating even though the illustrations are few and far between. This makes them perfect for primary schoolers who are not yet confident readers, but don’t want to be caught reading ‘kiddy books’ during the silent reading time in class!

The stories are funny and exciting, with a smattering of pop culture elements to capture the attention of our technology and media savvy kids. The main characters Jay and Shu, heirs to the Blade Quest card game empire, are intrepid and intelligent…and I really like the fact that they have a loving sibling relationship!

don-bosco-my-blade-quest-book-series

A quick read before bedtime

I introduced this series to 9 year old J, and he was glad to have something fun to read to unwind during the hectic end-of-year exam period. The series has 9 year old J’s stamp of approval and he has since re-read the books several times.

J says – If you are looking for an in-between mystery and adventure book series that is more challenging than Geronimo Stilton and less silly than Captain Underpants, then these books are good for you. I enjoy imagining Jay and Shu going all over the world to find treasures and meet new friends. And I wish I had a Blade Quest Card Game!

Little E is just beginning to start reading chapter books, so I’ll be reading My Blade Quest with her during school holidays and hopefully this will help her to read more independently!

Bonus For Owls Well Readers: If you are looking for a great gift idea for a special little person in your life, the fine folk over at Armour Publishing have kindly offered an exclusive discount code for all Owls Well Readers! Hooray!  Just enter the code OWLS17 at checkout to enjoy 20% off any purchase of My Blade Quest Series (Books 1 – 4). (Discount code is valid from 17 Nov to 8 Dec 2017).

Buyer’s note: I received a set of My Blade Quest books from Armour Publishing for this review. If you would like to get the books for a little adventurer in your life, you can find My Blade Quest and other books by local authors here. Don’t forget to use the discount code!

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Queen of Clean Konmari Challenge: The Book Reviews

Okay, so following the success of the Happy Family Plan, one of my cousins bought me Konmari’s books, “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising“and “Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up“, as gifts for Christmas.

Now, I actually put these books on my Christmas wish list because I had come across Marie Kondo‘s home organisation technique whilst completing the Happy Family Plan. I mean, if you google ‘decluttering’ or ‘tidying’, you will eventually come across her books sooner or later.

My idea of tidying was to put all the mess out of sight as quickly as possible, which is only a short term measure of keeping things neat and organised.  Soon, the cupboards and drawers were beginning to spill over all over the house again. In fact, when I was completing my Happy Family Plan, I realised halfway through that I was becoming fatigued and overwhelmed. This was because I was trying to do everything all at once and it wasn’t working for me.

For example, I really wanted to reorganise my cupboards, so I started out reorganising the Craft Cupboard, and soon this expanded to ‘reorganisation of the Games Cupboard’ which led to the ‘reorganisation of the Mementos Cupboard and Household Tools Cupboard’.  I ended up with a bunch of half-organised, half-full cupboards, and a bunch of half-organised, overflowing cupboards. At one point, I found myself spending a whole hour just emptying and repacking the same things into different cupboards like a crazy person.

Eventually, I decided to call a stop to the reorganisation of the cupboards and just move on with the rest of the Happy Family Plan.

I wanted to read Marie Kondo’s books because she claims to have a ‘ONCE AND FOR ALL TIME’ plan. You complete her method ONCE AND FOR ALL TIME and never return to your previous state of disorganisation and mess. And because I am an inherently lazy person, I like the idea of doing things only once.

So, I have read both of her books, and I have come to the conclusion that:

  1. Yes, they are very useful because they set down a very clear and logical framework that you can follow.
  2. Yes, if you really want to follow her plan, buy both books.
  3. The Konmari method works especially well if you are the sort of person who tends to procrastinate, if you are constantly looking for good storage solutions and if you feel guilt about your messy house but you are not a tidy person by nature.

And now, my thoughts on each book:

Thoughts on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising

Okay, the biggest criticism that this book has is that it uses some flower child hippie descriptive language. I mean, there is literally a whole paragraph in the book dedicated to examining the inner feelings of socks and the horror and abuse that is balling your socks up in the drawer.

Well, the first thing to remember is that this book is written primarily for a Japanese audience, and that culturally, all objects in Japan are described as having a spiritual nature. So in order to reach the heart of her audience, Konmari very cleverly appeals to the Japanese innate appreciation of objects as well as for all things cute and cuddly, in order to achieve to change in psychological mindset.

If you strip away all of that, what you are left with is a very concise and logical method of managing the task of curating and organising personal possessions as well as household items. Marie Kondo explains the development process behind her method, and understanding the theory does help you focus on tackling the problem of household mess in a positive and manageable way. Additionally, I think that following her advice on how to store or display items (or fold clothes) will actually help you to prolong the lifespan of your treasured possessions. She also has some very useful advice on what to do with items that have outlived their usefulness, things that you are holding onto out of guilt or some other emotional reason, or that you are keeping in store for a rainy day.

Conclusion: This book is very useful if you do not like tidying, and you need some help getting started.

Thoughts on Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up

I think that this book is only helpful if you have already started to tidy your house via the Konmari method, or if you have read the first book and you have more questions.

This book is written as a companion to the first one. It already assumes that you have read Marie Kondo’s book, and so it proceeds to explain everything in much more detail. It covers her entire method in a very thorough and detailed manner – with pictures, descriptions and very practical, helpful tips to help you along if you start feeling discouraged.

However, if you don’t understand the theory behind the Konmari method or if you have an obsessive personality, this book will hinder more than it helps as the amount of information it contains will be too overwhelming.

Conclusion: This book is immensely helpful as a quick reference guide for people who are already committed to the Konmari method.

So, Meimei, now I have completed reviewing the Konmari books as per the Queen of Clean challenge. Haha!

Preparing Kids for Change: Top 10 Books and Movies about Moving and Travel

During my growing up years, my dad went abroad for post-graduate studies and our whole family would follow him to support his education.

Although this meant that my sister and I had the awesome opportunity to travel, live and study in a different country, we also had to learn to adapt to a new environment and culture.

When my parents told me that we were going to move far away from my friends and extended family for a whole year, I went through a whole string of emotions. I was sad about leaving my friends and schoolmates behind, as well as my precious dog, but I was also very excited about embarking on a whole new adventure with my family.

I think my parents were quite relieved that both my sister and I chose to see this Big Move as a start of a new chapter in our lives, and I think that is partly due to the fact that we grew up on a steady diet of books and movies that encouraged exploration.

I’ve put together a list of books and movies that I think will really help kids who are preparing for a big change – from the littlest ones starting school to the big ones going off to college. So here’s

Owls Well’s Top 10 Books and Movies about Moving and Travel


1. Augustine by Melanie Watt (Recommended for Preschoolers)

Little Augustine the penguin moves with her family from the South Pole to the North Pole, and it isn’t easy saying goodbye to her grandparents, friends and her old room. Being a shy penguin, adjusting to her new school and making new friends is a challenge, but with the help of her colouring pencils, Augustine finds that she can still be herself even if her surroundings are different.

This is a very good book which definitely covers both the physical and emotional journey involved in moving to a new place. I also love the beautiful pictures in this book, most of which are inspired by famous paintings and artists – also a very good way to introduce kids to art!

2. Richard Scarry’s Busy, Busy World (Recommended for Preschoolers)

This was one of my favourite books when I was growing up, and it has a load of ridiculously funny stories taking place around the world. I loved seeing the various animal characters dressed up in traditional ethnic costumes and learn about great landmarks from the Eiffel Tower in Paris, the Spanish Steps in Rome to the Blarney Stone in Ireland.

I remember being so excited to see the Eiffel Tower for the first time, just because of the story about Pierre the Parisian Policeman chasing a robber all across the Paris and through a French restaurant, blowing his police whistle, “Breeeeet!”

3. Oh, The Places You’ll Go! by Dr Seuss (Recommended for Emerging Readers)

In this book, a little boy heads out and explores the world, encountering many new things – some of which are sad or scary or boring – but in general, the book takes a very positive view of being brave enough to step out of one’s comfort zone and embrace the adventure that is life and growing up.

It’s opener out there, in the wide open air

– Dr Seuss

4. Laura Ingalls Wilder “Little House” Series (Recommended for Confident Readers)

This is a wonderful series of chapter books for encouraging young readers, especially little girls who will love reading about Laura and her sisters as they grow up, moving from their Little House in the Big Woods to the Prairie and beyond.

In general, despite the fact that the Ingalls family appears to be constantly on the move and always facing new challenges, the fact remains that the concept of ‘home’ for Laura is not a physical place, but an emotional one. This is a good series for teaching kids to understand that as long as a family sticks together, they can make a home anywhere and weather any changes that life throws their way.

Everything from the little house was in the wagon except the beds and tables and chairs. They did not need to take these, because Pa could always make new ones.

– Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie

5. Terry Pratchett’s Bromeliad Trilogy: Truckers, Diggers, Wings (Recommended for Confident Readers)

In this hilarious book series, a group of tiny 4 inch high Nomes who have lived for generations in a departmental store find out that their home is soon to be demolished. They embark on an epic journey to find a new home, bringing with them The Thing – a  mysterious black cube which has been the Nome tribe’s totem for as long as anyone can remember.

I remember that the main struggle that the Departmental Store Nomes had was meeting other Nomes who were from different cultures and challenging long established beliefs. The way the Nomes had to deal with drastic changes in their societal structure and family values is beautifully handled by Terry Pratchett, who writes about these issues with humour and sensitivity. A very good series to help kids keep an open mind about change!

The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.

― Terry Pratchett

6. J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” Series (Recommended for Confident Readers)

Although I have many issues with the Harry Potter series (I still think Harry Potter is rather a jerk. The underdog Neville Longbottom is my favourite guy in this series), the fact remains that this book series is often about having the gumption to seek out adventure.

Harry Potter’s life only really begins because he’s brave enough to leave behind everything that he knows and understands about the world – exchanging a life that is safe and predictable for one that is unstable, painful, and even dangerous. However, because of his willingness to embrace change, he finds faithful new friends, a new family and a welcoming home. Definitely a good one for a kid who needs encouragement to be brave and bold!

Things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end, if not always in the way we expect

– J.K. Rowling

7. My Neighbor Totoro (1988) (Recommended for Preschoolers and above)

This is a very sweet film focussing on two sisters who have moved to a new home with their father in order to be closer to the hospital where their mother is recuperating from a chronic illness. In their new home, they make friends with all of their neighbours, including the woodland spirits from a nearby camphor tree.

I love the way the family is depicted in this film, and the sibling relationship between the sisters is well scripted. I also like the positive attitude that the two little girls have towards moving to the countryside and exploring their new surroundings.

8. Kiki’s Delivery Service (1989) (Recommended for Preschoolers and above)

13 year old Kiki has to complete her training as a witch by spending at least a year away from home, so she flies off on her broom with her black cat Jiji in search of a town in need of her services. She moves into the port city of Koriko and has to find a way to fit in whilst earning a living – it’s not always easy but Kiki makes it work.

What I find particularly good about this film is Kiki’s vulnerability and self-doubt which is so common to many children, especially when faced with what seems to be an insurmountable challenge. Kiki is able to learn more about herself, become more independent and take control of her own life without sacrificing her open-hearted personality or sweetness, and without anger or rebelliousness.

9. The Karate Kid (1984) (Recommended for Tweens and above)

Daniel LaRusso, a spunky teen, moves from his New Jersey home to California, and he has a very hard time fitting in until he befriends a kooky old man who teaches him the ancient art of car detailing Karate.

I mean, who doesn’t love this film? Stick with the 1984 version though.

*Mummy warning: Some swear words, juicy insults and kids beating each other up.*

Wax on, right hand. Wax off, left hand. Wax on, wax off. Breathe in through nose, out the mouth. Wax on, wax off. Don’t forget to breathe, very important.

– Mr Miyagi

10. Legally Blonde (2001) (Recommended for Teens and above)

Sorority girl Elle Woods moves from California where she holds a degree in fashion merchandising to begin her postgraduate studies in Harvard Law School, in order to win back her ex-boyfriend. This very silly comedy deals mostly with a girl who appears to be out of her depth in a new environment, but manages to defy all expectations (including the expectations she had for herself).

I particularly like the way the heroine stays true to herself whilst also discovering talents that she never knew existed until she made the decision to leave her comfort zone.

*Mummy warning: Some swear words, sexual jokes and gay stereotyping.*

I’d pick the dangerous one, ’cause I’m not afraid of a challenge.

– Elle Woods

Book Series that we love (Chapter books): Extraordinary Losers

Over here at Owls Well, we have a soft spot for homegrown Singaporean authors and I am so glad to tell you all about the Extraordinary Losers chapter book series by Jessica Alejandro! These are good entry-level chapter books for encouraging reluctant readers who are looking to graduate from Early Reader books but need some pictures to break up the wall of words.

This book series follows the adventures of four primary school kids, Darryl De, Janice, Mundi and Clandestino, each of whom are considered class misfits for various shallow physical reasons (e.g. too ugly, too messy, too fat, too Indian etc). However, they also have incredible hidden talents that are overlooked by their peers who often underestimate their abilities. Fuelled by courage and junk food, the four kids find themselves banding together to solve mysteries within their school and find their self-worth, whilst dealing with the problems of class bullies, cyber-predators and of course, the all-encompassing villain of Primary School life, the dreaded PSLE!

I really appreciate the straightforward way that the book deals with bullying and being unique, encouraging the reader to look for the extraordinary gifts that lie within themselves instead of striving for conformity.

Right now, there are four books in the series (you can check out the titles in the picture above), and they are pretty engaging to read. The book also features funny illustrations by artist Cherryn Yap, as well as the occasional hand-scrawled cheeky poem by the book’s main POV character, Darryl De.

I have been told that the book series has gotten so popular that our local kid’s channel, Okto, is now looking to cast actors and actresses for an ExLosers TV series!

Open auditions are this Sunday 3rd July 2016 from 11am -6pm (registration closes at 4pm), so if you’ve got a budding thespian on your hands (or if you know one), do bring them along to the Suntec Convention Centre Level 3 Concourse.

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A extraspecial surprise for Owls Well Readers: The fine folk over at Bubbly Books have kindly agreed to sponsor a giveaway of the full set of Extraordinary Losers books by Jessica Alejandro to ONE lucky Owls Well reader! Thanks Bubbly Books!

To take part in this giveaway please complete the following:

  1. Leave me a comment below telling me about an extraordinary talent that you have (or your child has) that is often overlooked or underappreciated or how you personally dealt with bullying in school – don’t forget to include your email address! (If you would like to send me the email address privately, leave a comment for the other answers, then email me at 4owlswell [at] gmail [dot] com)
  2. For extra entries, share this post on any social media platform and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to anyone with a Singapore mailing address and closes on 15 July 2016. Winners will be picked via Random.org.)

Buyer’s note: I received a set of the Extraordinary Losers books from Bubbly Books for this review. If you’d like to get the books for an extraordinary kid in your like, you can find Extraordinary Losers and other books by local authors here.

For more news and information about the Extraordinary Losers books, check out their Facebook page here.

The Owls Well ‘Ch-ch-ch-changes’ 2015 Family Reading List

With the March school holidays coming up, the advent of Baby #3 as well as new schools for both J and Little E, we are all adjusting to many life changing events in the Owls Well family! What better way to prepare ourselves for the future than to delve into the world of books?

With this in mind, let me share with you our current Ch-ch-ch-changes 2015 reading list for all the family!

Preschoolers Reading List for Little E who is looking forward to being promoted

This is a really great book for little girls who are soon to be promoted in family status to ‘Big Sister’!

Not only does ‘You’re a Big Sister’ by Bedford and Poole sport beautiful illustrations featuring multiracial children as well as mixed-race families (especially relevant in our situation), but also very sweetly deals with the fears that any child might have when there is a new baby coming around and points out how being the older sibling is special and wonderful.

Little E really enjoys this book so much, that I have seen her looking through the pictures by herself and talking to herself about all the things that Big Sisters can do to help care for a little baby!

I especially appreciate the fact that the book doesn’t paint a false rosy picture of a new baby in the family, but also briefly touches on the negative aspects of having a sibling – such as coping with noise, mess and busy parents. However, the book is quick to reassure the Big-Sister-To-Be that also things will different in the family, it will be a positive change overall.

(For those of you with little boys in the family, there is You’re a Big Brother by the same authors!)

Early Readers Book List for J who is realising that his family is not perfect

This hilarious, beautifully illustrated chapter book is actually the fifth in a series of books featuring Alvin Ho, a very anxious 8 year old, and his day-to-day adventures.

In ‘Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night‘, Alvin realises to his utmost horror, that his mum is expecting yet another baby which might be another girl like his sometimes bothersome little sister…and worse yet, he is experiencing signs of sympathetic pregnancy (or to put it in his words ‘simply pathetic’ pregnancy)! Alvin is eventually is confronted with the birth of his new sibling – and his reaction to the baby is pure gold.

This book was so funny in places, that I couldn’t help laughing out loud whilst reading it – and J could not wait to get his mitts on it when I was done. J brought this book to school for early morning ‘silent reading’ before the start of class, and he loved it so much that he re-read twice! I found this book very good for reading aloud as well – Little E thought it was hilarious.

I was really touched by how the book dealt with the anxieties of older siblings who have already had some experience with younger children in the family, and I noticed that after J completed the book, he seemed much more positive about the advent of Baby #3, choosing to remember the positive aspects of when Little E was an infant.

I will definitely be checking out the rest of the books of the Alvin Ho series!

J is also reading The Parent Agency by David Baddiel, which is quite a light-hearted wish-fulfullment story about a dissatisfied boy named Barry who is given the opportunity to choose his own parents (and by extension, pick a whole new family).

Fortunately, he already has a list of detailing the failings of his parents – apart from naming him ‘Barry’, they are also (1) Boring and (2) Always Too Tired – so he is well-equipped to choose a new and improved family (or is he?). Barry is not prepared for the consequences of his choices, and eventually learns to appreciate what he has.

The book is a simple, fun read but it does rely rather heavily on humorous pop-culture references which not all children may be familiar with. Additionally, the characters are super-wacky and the crazy situations that Barry finds himself in are exaggerated and over the top, so if you prefer more sophisticated humour, then I would look elsewhere.

However, I do like the subtle wordplay which is a great introduction to the world of puns…but be prepared to do some explaining to your early reader!

 Grownup Booklist for Debs G who wants to be more involved

With J starting Primary School for the first time, and Little E starting Nursery, I decided that it was time I took a good look at learning and memory, to see how I can help the kids in their educational journey.

How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey is a really engaging read which examines decades-worth of education research into how our brains process and retain information, starting from birth and throughout our lives. Surprisingly, much of what I thought would be helpful to learning (such as providing a stable, distraction-free environment for example) is not necessarily the most effective way to help the brain in memorisation!

Benedict Carey does a great job of organising all the various studies together and presenting it in a very practical way, with good techniques and tips that will help parents, teachers and students who want to know how to study or learn more effectively. He also touches on various aspects of learning – not just rote memorisation or concept comprehension, but also the development physical prowess and complex skills with many of the learning techniques applying across the board.

I definitely recommend this book to anyone who might be interesting in a greater understanding on how to exploit the quirks and eccentricities of the brain and make learning more efficient, productive – and fun!

Young Adult Booklist for the Barn Owl whose world is changing too fast

(There’s nothing like a little bit of young adult dystopian fiction to put life in perspective!)

The three novels pictured above are not particularly challenging reads, but they are certainly highly entertaining and a great way to unwind after a hard day at the office.

‘The Maze Runner’ by James Dashner is about a teenaged boy named Thomas, who wakes up in The Glade, the centre of an ever-changing labyrinth populated by a society of teenage boys. He, like the other boys, remembers nothing except his own name. The boys have been trying for years to escape the maze which is patrolled by deadly creatures, with no success. When the first girl is introduced to the group, the conditions of the maze change drastically and they are forced to find a way out. The plot is intriguing with plenty of fast-paced action, and although the end of the book leaves a more than a few questions unanswered, the main story arc is well-concluded.

‘The Kill Order’ is the prequel to ‘The Maze Runner’ but it works perfectly well as a standalone novel and describes the world-changing events which eventually led to the creation of the Maze. This book was really such a fun read – basically, it is every single apocalyptic novel all rolled into one! WOOHOO!!!! Anything bad that could possibly happen to destroy the world and ruin organised society takes place in this book (apart from the arrival of Lovecraftian terrors from the deep – no mythical beasties here, we are a terribly realistic portrayal of possible catastrophic events), so it is a wild roller coaster ride which I thoroughly enjoyed!

If you are looking for something a little more thought-provoking, then the Newberry Medal-winning novel, ‘The Giver’ by Lois Lowry, is what you might be looking for. The novel centres around 12 year old Jonas who lives in a peaceful community where pain and suffering no longer exists. When he begins his training as the Receiver of all memory, he slowly sees the truth behind his seemingly utopian society which is devoid of colour, emotion and choice. Definitely a very powerful novel, which is worth a read (despite its enigmatic conclusion).

A Surprise for Owls Well Readers: MPH Bookstores Singapore is very kindly sponsoring set of the following titles: Allergic to Babies, Burglars, and Other Bumps in the Night by Lenore Look , How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why It Happens by Benedict Carey and ‘The Maze Runner’ by James Dashner to ONE lucky Owls Well Reader! That should keep one family occupied for the whole March school holidays!

To take part in this giveaway, just complete the following:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page.

2. Like and Share this Facebook post (set to public) and tag a friend.

2. Leave a comment below telling me about a book on your current reading list and why you think everyone should read it. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at 4owlswell@gmail.com

(This giveaway is open to people with a Singapore mailing address and ends on 12 March 2015. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 3 required steps!)

P.S. Special thanks to MPH Bookstores Singapore for being awesome and acquiescing to my request for review copies of all the books listed here!

Update: This giveaway is now closed and the winner has been contacted via email. Thanks for playing!

The Owls Well Summer 2014 Family Reading List (and giveaway!)

One of the big things that we share as a family is a love of reading. There is nothing that the Barn Owl and I like to do more than browse the bookstores and libraries and disappear into the pages of a good book. We also like to have a stack of unread books in the house that we can slowly delve into over the course of a season.

So…let me share with you our current Summer Reading book list for all the family!

Little E’s Preschoolers Reading List

This is an extended version of the classic ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ song, starring the enigmatic Pete the Cat. Little E has an affinity for black (or navy) cats and is absolutely fascinated by the adventures of the golden-eyed Pete, drawn by electrical engineer-turned-artist, James Dean. I like nursery rhyme-based books like this for preschoolers as the simple rhymes help them to memorise the text, which in turn helps them to recognise sight words.

And yes, I do like the author’s name.

There’s also this brilliant video which perfectly complements the book, which is great to sing along to:

J’s Early Readers Book List

Artsy-Fartsy and Bogus, by

Artsy-Fartsy and Bogus, by Karla Oceanak

Artsy-Fartsy and Bogus, the first two books of the Aldo Zelnick Comic Novel series by Karla Oceanak, which follow ten-year-old Aldo as he records his endearing, everyday adventures in sketchbooks given to him by his grandmother Goosy, filling each one with hilarious illustrations, stories and fancypants vocabulary words.

These books are simple, fun and great for encouraging reluctant readers like 6 year old J, who still tends to balk at text-heavy chapter books. They would be a great launching point for independent readers who might want to explore the wonderful world of art-journalling or storywriting. I especially enjoy the way that the books try to expand a reader’s vocabulary – Artsy-Fartsy is All About Awesome ‘A’ words, whilst Bogus is Brimming with Brilliant ‘B’ words, and the back of each book sports a glossary that is both witty and easy to understand.

More about Aldo Zelnick books here.

Find out how to make an Aldo Zelnick-inspired journal cover here:

The Barn Owl’s Independent Readers Book List

The Barn Owl Says: These are books suitable for tween and teen readers who are looking for books containing subject matter that is both thought-provoking and challenging without being explicit. The language in these books is clean, there are no sexual scenes or gratuitous/horrifying descriptions of Gross.

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson is a sci-fi fantasy novel set in a post-apocalyptic world where absolute power corrupts absolutely – although in this case, it is superpowers doing all the corrupting, turning super ‘Epics’ into super tyrants. The setting and the characters are thoughtfully and complexly constructed, drawing the reader completely into this world where entire cities can be turned into steel and shrouded in darkness. The main character, 18 year old David Charleston, is endearingly awkward as he works his way into the anti-Epic rebel group of Reckoners and then takes us on an action-packed ride filled with secret missions, motorcycle chases, awesome feats of heroism and EXPLOSIONS, on his way to revenge himself on the Epic Steelheart, self-proclaimed ruler of Newcago! Definitely a book for anyone who loves a good superhero franchise.

Here’s the Book Trailer: 

Read excerpts from Steelheart here.

For those of you who prefer something less fantastical and much more down-to-earth, try Wonder by R.J. PalacioAt its heart, this book revolves around Auggie Pullman, a 5th grader who is entering mainstream education for the first time. His particular problem is that he is born with severe craniofacial deformities which complicate his life in more ways than one. The book is written in short chapters told from various first-person perspectives which expands the story beyond Auggie’s viewpoint and demonstrating that Auggie’s first year in school is not only a challenge to him but to the whole community. I particularly appreciated the way that the book sensitively handles chronic illness in children, especially the impact of a chronically ill child on their siblings. A really great book for launching discussions on the impact of kindness.

Here’s the Book Trailer: 

Great discussion questions regarding Wonder and some interesting background stuff here.

Debs G’s Grownup Book List

Debs G says: These books contain mature themes and subject matter so they are only suitable for a young adult or grownup audience. I definitely think that parents of precocious readers probably ought to thumb through these books first as there are plenty of possible topics for Deep Discussion!

The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld has to be the best book that I have read this year. The nameless and omniscient narrator who is on death row, preserves his sanity by turning his surroundings into a magical wonderland where golden horses with molten manes of flame run deep beneath the earth and horrifying flibber-gibbets writhe in the heat of the newly dead. Through him, we learn the stories of the inmates, the Warden, the Fallen Priest and the Lady, a death-row investigator. Rene Denfeld, the book’s author and herself an investigator for death penalty cases, reveals the cruel reality of the prison community as well as the lives of those waiting for capital punishment in crushingly beautiful prose that breaks your heart yet gives you hope at the same time.

If you only have time to read one book this year, this is the one you are looking for (*waves hand*).

Watch Rene Denfeld talking about her book: 

More about the author here.

One thing that I can definitely read more about is MORE ABOUT PERANAKAN CULTURE. It pleases me to no end that a book written by a local girl and based on our rich Southeast Asian heritage actually made it to Oprah’s Book-of-the-week! The world needs to know more about sarong kebayas and kerosang and chendol!

The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo is a charmingly written account about the beautiful Li Lan’s unfortunate betrothal to a dead man (a tradition which is believed to pacify a restless spirit). The book starts off as a historical account with detailed descriptions of colonial Malacca and the various aspects of nyonya food and dress, then takes a psychedelic turn into a fantastical netherworld with demons and dragons.

It’s a wild ride.

Watch Yangsze Choo talking about her book: 

More about the author here. 

Bonus: Debs G’s Tired Brain Refresher

Sometimes, after a long day, all a RAWKmum really wants is a something to relax the mind and the best thing for a tired brain is a book that is just pure, unadulterated entertainment and full of good, clean jollification. Operation Mom by Reenita Malhotra Hora is one such book – an absolutely ridiculous farce involving the antics of two Indian teenagers, Ila and Deepali, as they try to find the perfect date for Ila’s mom, whilst dealing with the normal teenage girls angst ridden troubles of ‘which-boy-likes-me’ and ‘do-I-look-fat-in-this-punjabi-suit’. It’s great fun to read, and you don’t have to think very hard.

Watch the Book trailer: 

More about the author here.

A Special for Owls Well Readers: MPH Bookstores Singapore is generously sponsoring a massive book giveaway to FOUR lucky Owls Well Readers! Winners will get to select their choice of TWO books from the above Owls Well Summer 2014 Book List! Woohoohoo! Thank you MPH Bookstores!

To take part in this fantabulous giveaway just complete the following:

1. Be a fan of the Owls Well Facebook Page

2. Leave a comment below and tell me all about your Favourite Book Of All Time (of all time!!!) and why you think everyone should read it. Don’t forget to leave your Facebook name and your email address so that I can contact you if you win – or if you’re really shy, you can email your details to me separately at 4owlswell@gmail.com

3. (Optional) To double your chances of winning, share or reblog this giveaway on any form of social media that you fancy and leave a comment below with the link!

(This giveaway is open to people with a Singapore mailing address and ends on 8 August 2014. Winners will be picked via Random.org – just make sure you complete the 2 required steps!)

P.S. If you want to see all the book trailers and author interviews in one neat package, check out the Owls Well 2014 Summer Reading Playlist here.

(Update: This giveaway is close and the winners have been contacted via email. Thanks for playing and read more books!)

Maxilla by Lianne Ong: A Book Review (and links to giveaways!)

When I was around eight years old, my mom brought home a leaf in a jam jar which was covered in butterfly eggs. At the time, we were reading Gerald Durrell’s ‘My Family and Other Animals’ together, and I think she was hoping to cultivate two mini-naturalists in the house.

Unfortunately, she overlooked our zeal for feeding the tiny caterpillars that emerged from the eggs. According to Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar’, caterpillars thrive on a diet of fresh fruits and the occasional piece of chocolate cake. With that in mind, Becky and I collected a variety of leaves and stuffed them gleefully into the jam jar, watching with joy as the ravenous little caterpillars began munching away at the leaves.

Of course, the next day, all the poor little caterpillars were dead, poisoned by our toxic love!

Our mother, who until she saw our tearful little faces had no idea what we had done, told us that butterflies laid their eggs only on plants which bear leaves that are suitable for their caterpillars to eat.

Which brings me to the subject of today’s book review (courtesy of MPH Bookstore, who was kind enough to send me a copy to review): Maxilla by local author Lianne Ong.

maxilla-childrens-book

Because if you can be Batman, you should always be Batman.

Maxilla,  is a story based on the true life experiences of Lianne and her son, Reuben, when they were living in the US. In this book, Reuben finds a green caterpillar at school and names it Maxilla (which, by the way, is the scientific term for the mouthparts of an arthropod – such an appropriate name for a very hungry caterpillar!). He takes Maxilla home, only to realise that he is unable to adequately care for the creature.

Reuben learns during the course of the story that love sometimes means relinquishing the things that are held most dear. This theme of sacrificial friendship is one that is also covered in other children’s storybooks like Laura’s Star by Klaus Baumgart and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers, which are two of our favourites.

The book is beautifully illustrated by Lim Shing Ee, a Singaporean artist based in Japan and each page is covered with sweet sketches in colour pencil which adds to the innocent, childlike tone of the book. The pictures, coupled together with the handwritten font, make the whole book resemble a field journal or nature diary. It even has a few pages at the end of the book describing the life cycle of butterflies.

Reading together and enjoying the pictures

It’s nice to see asian children depicted so beautifully in these illustrations.

Unfortunately, the book does not include advice on how to observe or care for caterpillars in captivity but emphasises the maxim that children should leave wild creatures alone. This is something that I personally do not agree with, as I believe that a child’s curiosity about the natural world should be nurtured, albeit under parental guidance. A good book that promotes such responsible scientific study is Growing Frogs by Vivian French, where the development of frogs from spawn gathered from a local pond is keenly observed and recorded by a young girl under her mother’s supervision.

Why is the 'x' in Maxilla so  dark? Is it a sign?

Why is the ‘x’ in Maxilla so dark? Is it a sign?

Additionally, I found that the handwritten font, although interesting and unique, seemed rather cramped and uneven. In certain places, the letters even seemed to run into each other which made it difficult for my son, an emergent reader, to decipher the words. An example of this is the word ‘Internet’ (see in the picture on the left) where the ‘e’ and ‘r’ are so close together that it looks like an ‘a’ at first glance.

The uneven lettering is also very distracting to the eye and can make a page of words appear jumbled and confused with some letters seeming to be emphasised more than others. You can see this most obviously in the ‘x’ in the name ‘Maxilla’ which is darker than the rest of the word, so that it looks like ‘Maxilla’.

For this reason, I would recommend this book as a ‘read aloud’ storybook, and is not suitable for dyslexic children or emergent readers.

However, I still think the book is definitely worth a read! The book did help J and Little E want to know more about butterflies and find out more how they grow and transform from caterpillars. It is most certainly a good book for introducing children to the natural world and showing them how they can learn more about the little creatures that they may meet in the park by doing their own research and by talking to experts.

Here is a brilliant web series about butterflies from Smarter Every Day which really easy to understand and fun to watch. J and Little E learned so much about butterflies and their life cycle.

I am also seriously considering taking the kids to Oh’ Farms to explore the Butterfly Lodge and they could even bring home one of the Oh’ Farms butterfly kits which come with instructions on how to care for caterpillars and nurture them to adulthood! Or we could even try and make our own butterfly kit at home.

Debs G rates Maxilla: One nice green leaf and no chocolate cake!

Maxilla retails at SGD$10.60 and is available worldwide at MPHonline.com, as well as at all major bookstores in Singapore (Kinokuniya, Times Bookstores and MPH Bookstores).

You can also nab a copy of Maxilla for yourself by taking part in this giveaway at Little Blue Bottle (closing date 6 March 2014)! (I’ll be adding more links to Maxilla giveaways next week, so do pop by for a peek!)

Update: More giveaways below –

 

If you would like to meet Lianne and have her autograph your own copy of Maxilla (and maybe catch a glimpse of little Reuben too), you can catch her at:

MPH Bookstores Parkway Parade at 1pm -2 pm on 15 March 2014 (Sat)

or

Woodlands Regional Library at 12noon – 1pm on 21 March 2014 (Fri)