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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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.

Fun Family Projects: We’re Going on a Gag Reel!

Well, as with all movies nowadays, with all the extra footage from J’s ‘We’re Going On a Bear Hunt’ school project, we decided to put together a silly little gag reel with all the bloopers, deleted and extended scenes!

SurviveINK – a creative writing holiday camp by Monsters Under The Bed

Now, you may remember that I wrote about the importance of creative writing and J’s experience at a 3-day workshop with Monsters Under the Bed (MUTB) earlier this year.

J enjoyed his experience at the EpicQuestINK workshop so much, that he was absolutely delighted to be invited back to attend another Imagination and Knowledge “INK” creative writing workshop with MUTB during the June School Holidays – the SurviveINK workshop!

The tagline for the SurviveINK camp was “With friends like these, who needs zombies?”, so we were prepared for him to have a zombie-themed writing workshop. J is quite familiar with the concept of zombies, having come across them during our weekly family jaunts into the world of Minecraft.

However we weren’t prepared for the scale of the SurviveINK holiday camp as presented by MUTB! It was a total immersive experience! I was so impressed by the commitment and dedication of the MUTB trainers in putting this together for the kids.

A week prior to the start of the workshop, J received an email warning him of a zombie-virus epidemic and advising him to prepare himself. This was a brilliant way of getting J to think about what items and skills he might need in order to survive without basic comforts and also how people might behave when faced with impending doom.

To get him hyped up even more, we received a link to this video on the eve of the workshop!

WOOHOOOOOO!!! What a way to get the adrenaline pumping! J could hardly get to sleep for the excitement of it all.

The next day, J, Little E and I (as well as Thumper, drowsing in his sling) headed to The Arts House.

They're heeeere....

They’re heeeere….

We were greeted by a dude in SWAT gear and gas mask (“Sgt Leroy”), patrolling the hallway with a huge gun, whilst a nearby radio played a broadcast in the background, warning us that infected persons will be shot on sight. You can tell by the big grin on J’s face that he was ready for a real adventure!

At 10am, the doors burst open with a clang, and out stalked a lanky, long-haired titaness towering over everyone and wearing the most frightening stilettos I had ever seen. This was “Goth Leader” Xiangxiang, who seemed to be in charge of running the SurviveINK workshop this time.

“CHECK THEM ALL FOR BITES!” she shrieked, waving her gun in the air, “AND GET THE CLEAN ONES IN THE SAFEHOUSE!!”

The children immediately crowded around her with a million questions. “What’s going on?” “Can we go in yet?” “I have a plaster, can I still come in?”

“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP”, she yelled, glaring around her, “JUST SHADDUP AND GET IN THE SAFEHOUSE!”

Some of the more mild-tempered children were clearly very intimidated by her brusque manner and hid behind their mums. Not so much J and Little E who were getting more bloodthirsty by the second and asking me if they were going to shoot zombies now or later.

House rules and a creative brainstorm

Safehouse rules and a creative brainstorm

Inside the hall, the children were divided into groups by age, and the various trainers introduced themselves and went through the SafeHouse rules before leading the kids through their first exercise of the day – a creative brainstorm called the ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’. Each child had to come up with as many uses as possible for a bucket of ice should the zombies start to attack the safe house.

J immediately came up with a whole bunch of different ways to deal with zombies using a bucket of ice and he scribbled all of these down on his worksheet, ignoring grammar, punctuation and spelling in his haste to get as many ideas down in a short period of time. I was very surprised that he came up with more than ten ways to dispatch zombies using an ice bucket!

This was the first of several creative challenges given to the kids during the duration of the workshop.

At the end of each challenge, the kids were given points based on the quantity and complexity of their ideas, and they could use these points throughout the workshop to exchange for skill sets and equipment. This helped them to be more focussed when thinking of characters for their stories and what strengths and weaknesses their characters would have. It also ensured that they did not create superhuman characters with infinite resources which would make for less tension and conflict in their stories.

Points for weapons!

Points for weapons and skills!

At the end of the first day, the children were informed that Safehouse had managed to get into contact with the university laboratory which was responsible for ‘Project Icarus’, the source of the zombie virus. The trainers spoke over the speakerphone to the scientist who had barricaded herself in the lab as zombies hammered on her doors. She had developed a potential cure but hadn’t had time to test it yet! We listened in horror as we heard the zombies smash the laboratory doors down and attack the scientist whose conversation was cut off with a bloodcurdling scream. There was a hideous moan, followed by the wet sounds of chewing.

GROSS.

One of the trainers, who was playing the role of Lab Assistant, broke down in tears as the children looked on in concern. We were told to go and find a safe place to rest and reconvene in the morning.

Well, how’s that for a cliffhanger ending to the first day at the SurviveINK workshop?

J could not wait to return to find out what would happen next, and spent the afternoon discussing with Little E various methods of faking one’s death for a speakerphone conversation.

The next morning, when we arrived at the Arts House, we were congratulated by the gun and pistol wielding MUTB trainers for reaching the ‘Project Icarus Lab’. The MUTB trainers had smeared dirt on their faces and were bespattered with what looked like blood. Dishevelled and panting from exhaustion, they told all the wide-eyed children that they had cleared the whole area of all the zombies overnight but had realised their zombie-detection alarm was still going off. Was it malfunctioning?

The children were each assigned a face mask and latex gloves, and told to enter the Project Icarus lab to look for clues to the location of the zombie cure. They went into the room in batches according to their assigned groups.

When it was finally J’s turn, we entered the room to find that it had been transformed into the Project Icarus laboratory, with glass beakers, petri dishes and even a toy microscope! Chairs and tables were overturned and there were signs of a scuffle. Impressive!

Investigating the lab for clues

Investigating the lab for clues

After searching around the room, J and his group mates found a bloodstained note as well as several bottles of suspicious looking liquids in various colours.

In their groups, they spent some time figuring out the code and decoding the note in order to find out which bottle contained the potential zombie cure. In the meantime, the kids began drafting their first ideas for their zombie-themed story.

J’s idea was to bake the antiviral medication into pies and launch them at the zombies who will inadvertently consume the medicine after receiving a pie-to-the-face. “Then they will be cured!” said J in triumph.

Decoding a puzzle!

Decoding a puzzle!

During the core of the day, the trainers revealed to us that the experimental drug only had a 50% chance of working to cure an infected person and inoculate a non-infected person. If it didn’t work it would either speed up the zombification process, else turn a non-infected person into zombie straightaway.

Xiangxiang pointed out that the zombie-detection alarm was still going off so somebody in the room was infected with the zombie virus. At this, all the children in the room started getting very excited, each pointing at the various trainers, yelling at the top of their lungs and accusing them of being zombies.

“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP!”, hollered Xiangxiang, for what seemed to be the millionth time that day, “SHADDUP I NEED TO THINK!”

At this point, J turned to me and whispered, “Do you know who the zombie-in-hiding is? I think it is that shouty lady. Because she’s so angry and zombies are always angry.”

At the end of the second day of the workshop, Xiangxiang accused the Lab Assistant (who had been coughing and shuffling her feet and generally acting suspicious all day long) of being infected, forcing her to drink the experimental drug. Unfortunately, she turned into a zombie and had to be dispatched!

“WHOA!” gasped the room in unison.

Sgt Leroy, falling to his knees, pointed out that that zombie-detection alarm was still going off. So not only did the experimental cure turn out to be a complete dud, but Xiangxiang had wrongly accused the innocent Lab Assistant!

Ooooh, the plot thickens!

“SHADDUPSHADDUPSHADDUP ALL OF YOU GET OUT, JUST GET OUT AND LEAVE ME ALONE! I didn’t mean to kill her!” wailed Xiangxiang in despair, refusing to break character as all of us shuffled past her to leave the room.

Talk about Dramatic Endings!

Oopsie!

Sorry no cure! (literally)

The last day of the workshop was much less exciting at the start. The children were encouraged to improve and fine tune their stories,  writing out a complete final story draft under the tutelage of the trainers. The group leaders and trainers went from child to child, encouraging them and helping to iron out kinks in their plot lines whilst correcting their drafts for grammar and punctuation.

Each child was given a booklet for which to use to illustrate and copy out their completed story. This took up most of the time of the last day.

Finally, all the worksheets and booklets were collected by the trainers (so that the work could be organised neatly), and it was time for all of us to leave the room for a short break which the kids welcomed. The excuse given was that Sgt Leroy was working with another of the MUTB trainers to find a new cure, one which actually works!

When we returned, Sgt Leroy had built himself a barricade and was pacing around inside of it like a caged lion. It turned out that he’d discovered some hidden CCTV footage of Leader Xiangxiang revealing herself to have been bitten in the leg by a zombie, and conspiring with one of the other MUTB trainers to frame the Lab Assistant. So Sgt Leroy completely lost his marbles, destroying the zombie cure and executing everyone in the room one by one, to Dramatic Music!!

monsters-under-the-bed-writing-workshop

Everybody’s dead, Dave.

As the music stopped, all the MUTB trainers who had been playing dead on the ground got up for a curtain call, and we clapped and cheered for all of their hard work!

J was very excited to receive his mini book from his group leader, who posed with him for a photo. When I asked him how he found the workshop, he replied without hesitation, “IT WAS FUN! Much more fun than the EpicQuestINK!”

J with his group leader looking fierce

J with his group leader looking fierce

Thank you to Monsters Under the Bed for this super-exciting experience with SurviveINK! We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and we are looking forward to attending more creative writing workshops with MUTB!

Monsters Under the Bed are running more INK workshops during the September, November and December holidays this year, so if you’re interested, definitely sign up as spaces get snapped up really fast!

Spell CraftINK

Date: 7 – 9 September 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

The HowlINK

Date: 23 – 25 November 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

INK to the Void

Date: 14 – 16 December 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

Monsters Under the Bed have also recently opened their first brick-and-mortar branch! You can now find their creative writing school at:

MUTB@Frankel
492 Changi Road, Singapore 419900

 

Fun Family Projects: Behind the scenes of We’re Going On a Bear Hunt

You may have seen our video from last week, ‘We’re Going On A Bear Hunt’ that was part of J’s kindergarten project! It was J’s first time having to be in charge of making the video and he learned so much about each stage of movie-making from story to film.

We also put together a ‘Behind the Scenes’ video so that J could share the whole creative process with his classmates and teachers.

Enjoy!

Fun Family Projects: We’re Going On A Bear Hunt (A Movie!)

Last year, J’s mid-year school project was all about ‘Showtime’ and he had the idea to make a mini-movie based on one of our favourite children’s books – We’re Going On a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.

This was an awesome project that the whole family got involved in, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves making it.

Happy watching!

P.S. If you’re wondering where we are in the video – it was all filmed on location during our holiday in Pembrokeshire, Wales.

 

 

EpicQuestINK – a creative writing workshop by Monsters Under The Bed

When I was 11 years old, I was invited to take part in a programme which offered college-level summer courses for children in a variety of disciplines. At the time, being a math nerd, I really wanted to take a course in calculus, but my father persuaded me to take on a creative writing programme instead, reasoning that it was a subject rarely taught in formal education, at least at the pre-tertiary level. I have never regretted following his advice as that three week programme was one of the most enlightening experiences of my life.

In my opinion, creative writing is a highly underrated field of study. Creative writing not only improves literacy by strengthening grammar and vocabulary whilst encouraging a love of literature, but also encourages the writer to exercise his or her imagination and examine a narrative from different perspectives. This means learning to think critically, learning to plan carefully, learning to communicate effectively and learning to empathise with other people, all of which are skills that will be useful to any child or adult.

And…it’s fun to make up stories.

This is why, when Monsters Under The Bed invited J to attend their EpicQuestINK creative writing camp at The Arts House over the March school holidays, I was really happy and excited for him to have this wonderful opportunity!

J at EpicQuestINK over the March School Holidays

J at EpicQuestINK over the March School Holidays

Monsters Under The Bed is a writing school founded and taught by professional, published writers. During the year, they run both regular weekly in-house classes in both creative writing and expository writing for students (and adults) as well as holiday creative writing camps for 7-12 year olds known as INK (Imagination & Knowledge) workshops.

The INK workshops all have different themes which are not repeated in order to ensure a unique experience each time, and the trainers use a combination of roleplaying, group discussions and writing exercises to get the kids involved and passionate about their own stories.

The theme of EpicQuestINK was based around Greek myths and legends, a subject that J is familiar with, and the focus of the workshop was aimed at teaching the kids how to utilise the concept of the monomyth, or “Hero’s Journey”, in order to formulate a complete and comprehensive narrative. Through the age-old stories of heroes like Heracles, Theseus and Perseus and their battles with fantastical creatures like gorgons and minotaurs, the kids would be inspired to formulate their own protagonists and antagonists as well.

Sounds complex, right?

One of the first rules of the INK workshops is that the trainers do not try to revise or over-simplify the subject matter just for young children. They feel that by doing so, they would be lowering both reading and intellectual standards. Instead, they work alongside the kids, guiding them towards understanding the topics, thereby helping to stimulate and open up their young minds.

In fact, preparation for the holiday course began long before the first day of the course. Imagine my surprise when J received an email about one week before the start of the course, addressed to “Titans and young Mubster Agents” and inviting him to “ascend Mount Olympus” with his “modern stylus and wax tablets”. Needless to say, he was immediately intrigued and asked me if he had to bring special shoes for climbing!

The email was accompanied by this video:

as well as four pages of very beautifully written preparatory reading material (to be read together with a parent, of course) consisting an overview of the Hero’s Journey as well as some questions to get J thinking deeply about his own personal experiences and how to apply this personal knowledge into his stories. By the time the first day of the workshop rolled around, J was already brimming with excitement and ready to learn!

At the start of the first day, the children were shown a Percy Jackson video clip. The chief trainer then proceeded to give a brief college-level lecture on Greek Epic Poetry complete with powerpoint slides and quotations from Homer’s Odyssey.

To my utter surprise, the main speaker was not only able to engage a large group of primary school children who were completely mesmerised by him, but he also held the attention of 4 year old Little E who was sitting in the back with me (parents are allowed and encouraged to sit in to observe the workshop at the back).

After the lecture, the class then split into small groups by age and writing ability. The trainers who managed each small group began to lead the children into avid discourse on the topic and it was clear that they were very quickly able to encourage the children to share their thoughts and ideas. By the end of the day’s session, I noticed that even the most shy child in J’s group was actively involved and freely participating in discussion. What sorcery is this?!

In fact, after the class that day, J was able to tell me all about the different stages of the hero’s journey from “the call to adventure” to “receiving a boon” to “completing trials”, as well as examples of each that he had personally dreamed up during the small group discussion. He could barely wait to return to the workshop the next day!

On the second day of the course, the kids were encouraged to come dressed as a hero or villain as Monsters Under The Bed often incorporates a little bit of roleplaying and dramatisation into their workshops, which is not only fun for everyone but also helps when considering character development in creative writing.

As you can see from the picture below, J is dressed as The Dreadful Pirate Dread, whose scarred face is the scourge of the icy seas, especially after he successfully burgled Captain America and now carries the iconic shield as a trophy. (Little E is wearing her ladybird bug hat – she just wanted to show solidarity for her big brother.)

The 2nd and 3rd day of EpicQuestINK

J participating in the group discussion and dressing up on the 2nd of EpicQuestINK

When J returned home at the end of the last day of the course, he had completed a three page short story (involving the first day at school, a fire-breathing school principal and a tiny Pegasus that you can keep in a backpack) on which his trainer had written some useful comments and tips for further improvement. He was so excited about his work, that once he got home, he insisted on revising the story one more time in order to take into consideration the advice given by his trainer. He even woke up extra early in the morning and when I got up at 6am, I found him labouriously copying his final version of the short story into a blank book.

Since then, J has even started writing another short story entirely of his own accord during his free time, using the methods taught during the EpicQuestINK Workshop. I was surprised when he sat down and wrote out character sketches, a plot outline and then afterwards, drafted out a complete story, all of his own accord. Not bad for a 7 year old kid, I think!

By the way, Monsters Under the Bed has already released their line up of INK workshops for the rest of the year:

SurviveINK

Date: 3 – 5 June 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

Spell CraftINK

Date: 7 – 9 September 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

The HowlINK

Date: 23 – 25 November 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

INK to the Void

Date: 14 – 16 December 2015
Time: 10am – 1pm
Venue: The Arts House

You can register for the workshops online or contact Monsters Under The Bed at +65 6100 4363 or via email to riza@mutb.com.sg. Also, do check out their Facebook page for more information on their previous INK workshops as well as their blog which is chock-a-block full of great writing tips!

As you can tell from J’s response to the workshop as well as the comment he wrote on the EpicQuestINK poster (which you can see at the top of this post), he thoroughly enjoyed himself and has since been asking me if he will be able to attend another INK workshop in the future!

Big, BIG thanks you to Monsters Under the Bed for inviting J to EpicQuestINK – J thanks you for the EPIC experience and hopes he will be able to be back for SurviveINK in June 2015 for more inspirational creative writing fun!

P.S. Check out these reviews by Life’s Tiny Miracles and Tan Family Chronicles on previous INK workshops!