An ersatz essay

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

It's no secret that I love to read - anything - and that one of my priorities as a parent has been to pass that love of (or at least a healthy appreciation for) the written word on to my daughter. Which has meant snuggling in for many glorious hours between the covers of some of our favourite books.

In the beginning, I got to choose what those literary adventures would be. Or so I thought. As is the case with all small children, Lisa developed her own tastes early on, and repetition and familiarity often won the day over expanding her horizons. Alas, Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop many times took precedence over more traditional classics I may have preferred. And as a new reader, she opted to spend many more hours with "series" books, following the antics of Junie B. Jones - over and over - rather than discovering my girlhood favourites, like Black Beauty or Heidi.

So, at the ripe old age of nine, she is pretty set in her ways. Harry Potter last year replaced Junie B., and she has read her way through all six books. Some of them twice.

Once she was done with J.K. Rowling's saga of the boy magician, I hoped we would get back to those classics. The Chronicles of Narnia, perhaps, or the unopened E.B. White box set sitting on the book shelf, just waiting for a set of young eyes.

But no. Lisa's latest literary odyssey - despite my initial reluctance - was to be Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. To say the least, I at first wasn't thrilled, expecting a set of formula stories hyped up by the Hollywood screen version starring Jim Carrey.

Imagine my surprise when, from the Bad Beginning, I was hooked. At an age where it's time to learn to question what you read, and to use literature as a starting point for discussion, this quirky series turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

For starters, the author clearly loves language and relishes unlocking its mysteries for his young followers. And he manages to do this through active participation.

For example, he has a habit of dropping the thread of the story to deliver impromptu asides on the definitions of words and literary techniques - some correct, some not so much. In The Ersatz Elevator (Book the Sixth), just to pick one at random, the writer tells us that "'Ersatz' is a word that describes a situation in which one thing is pretending to be another, the way the secret passageway the Beaudelaires were looking at had been pretending to be an elevator." Then he goes on to repeat the word ad nauseum to describe any number of items.

Narrating in the first person, the author also alerts his audience to "red herrings" - what they are and their function in mystery stories.

Now, I'm not ready to trumpet Lemony Snicket as a literary genius, but any children's writer who can introduce fairly complex and sophisticated ideas in an entertaining way and foster discussion of those ideas among the under-10 set has a particular talent.

I was certainly older than nine before I knew the definition of ersatz and could use it confidently in a sentence.

Still on the subject of reading, I'm excited about a couple of events slated for next week. In honour of Family Literacy Day, the Rotary Club of Waterdown has organized a story-writing contest, with the winning entry to be featured in the Review.

Also, I've accepted the honour of reading aloud at the Flamborough YMCA on Friday, January 27. I'm not sure what the story will be, but it doesn't really matter.

Thanks to my daughter, I've learned not to judge a book by its cover.

An ersatz essay

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

It's no secret that I love to read - anything - and that one of my priorities as a parent has been to pass that love of (or at least a healthy appreciation for) the written word on to my daughter. Which has meant snuggling in for many glorious hours between the covers of some of our favourite books.

In the beginning, I got to choose what those literary adventures would be. Or so I thought. As is the case with all small children, Lisa developed her own tastes early on, and repetition and familiarity often won the day over expanding her horizons. Alas, Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop many times took precedence over more traditional classics I may have preferred. And as a new reader, she opted to spend many more hours with "series" books, following the antics of Junie B. Jones - over and over - rather than discovering my girlhood favourites, like Black Beauty or Heidi.

So, at the ripe old age of nine, she is pretty set in her ways. Harry Potter last year replaced Junie B., and she has read her way through all six books. Some of them twice.

Once she was done with J.K. Rowling's saga of the boy magician, I hoped we would get back to those classics. The Chronicles of Narnia, perhaps, or the unopened E.B. White box set sitting on the book shelf, just waiting for a set of young eyes.

But no. Lisa's latest literary odyssey - despite my initial reluctance - was to be Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. To say the least, I at first wasn't thrilled, expecting a set of formula stories hyped up by the Hollywood screen version starring Jim Carrey.

Imagine my surprise when, from the Bad Beginning, I was hooked. At an age where it's time to learn to question what you read, and to use literature as a starting point for discussion, this quirky series turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

For starters, the author clearly loves language and relishes unlocking its mysteries for his young followers. And he manages to do this through active participation.

For example, he has a habit of dropping the thread of the story to deliver impromptu asides on the definitions of words and literary techniques - some correct, some not so much. In The Ersatz Elevator (Book the Sixth), just to pick one at random, the writer tells us that "'Ersatz' is a word that describes a situation in which one thing is pretending to be another, the way the secret passageway the Beaudelaires were looking at had been pretending to be an elevator." Then he goes on to repeat the word ad nauseum to describe any number of items.

Narrating in the first person, the author also alerts his audience to "red herrings" - what they are and their function in mystery stories.

Now, I'm not ready to trumpet Lemony Snicket as a literary genius, but any children's writer who can introduce fairly complex and sophisticated ideas in an entertaining way and foster discussion of those ideas among the under-10 set has a particular talent.

I was certainly older than nine before I knew the definition of ersatz and could use it confidently in a sentence.

Still on the subject of reading, I'm excited about a couple of events slated for next week. In honour of Family Literacy Day, the Rotary Club of Waterdown has organized a story-writing contest, with the winning entry to be featured in the Review.

Also, I've accepted the honour of reading aloud at the Flamborough YMCA on Friday, January 27. I'm not sure what the story will be, but it doesn't really matter.

Thanks to my daughter, I've learned not to judge a book by its cover.

An ersatz essay

News Nov 22, 2006 Flamborough Review

It's no secret that I love to read - anything - and that one of my priorities as a parent has been to pass that love of (or at least a healthy appreciation for) the written word on to my daughter. Which has meant snuggling in for many glorious hours between the covers of some of our favourite books.

In the beginning, I got to choose what those literary adventures would be. Or so I thought. As is the case with all small children, Lisa developed her own tastes early on, and repetition and familiarity often won the day over expanding her horizons. Alas, Dr. Seuss's Hop on Pop many times took precedence over more traditional classics I may have preferred. And as a new reader, she opted to spend many more hours with "series" books, following the antics of Junie B. Jones - over and over - rather than discovering my girlhood favourites, like Black Beauty or Heidi.

So, at the ripe old age of nine, she is pretty set in her ways. Harry Potter last year replaced Junie B., and she has read her way through all six books. Some of them twice.

Once she was done with J.K. Rowling's saga of the boy magician, I hoped we would get back to those classics. The Chronicles of Narnia, perhaps, or the unopened E.B. White box set sitting on the book shelf, just waiting for a set of young eyes.

But no. Lisa's latest literary odyssey - despite my initial reluctance - was to be Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. To say the least, I at first wasn't thrilled, expecting a set of formula stories hyped up by the Hollywood screen version starring Jim Carrey.

Imagine my surprise when, from the Bad Beginning, I was hooked. At an age where it's time to learn to question what you read, and to use literature as a starting point for discussion, this quirky series turned out to be just what the doctor ordered.

For starters, the author clearly loves language and relishes unlocking its mysteries for his young followers. And he manages to do this through active participation.

For example, he has a habit of dropping the thread of the story to deliver impromptu asides on the definitions of words and literary techniques - some correct, some not so much. In The Ersatz Elevator (Book the Sixth), just to pick one at random, the writer tells us that "'Ersatz' is a word that describes a situation in which one thing is pretending to be another, the way the secret passageway the Beaudelaires were looking at had been pretending to be an elevator." Then he goes on to repeat the word ad nauseum to describe any number of items.

Narrating in the first person, the author also alerts his audience to "red herrings" - what they are and their function in mystery stories.

Now, I'm not ready to trumpet Lemony Snicket as a literary genius, but any children's writer who can introduce fairly complex and sophisticated ideas in an entertaining way and foster discussion of those ideas among the under-10 set has a particular talent.

I was certainly older than nine before I knew the definition of ersatz and could use it confidently in a sentence.

Still on the subject of reading, I'm excited about a couple of events slated for next week. In honour of Family Literacy Day, the Rotary Club of Waterdown has organized a story-writing contest, with the winning entry to be featured in the Review.

Also, I've accepted the honour of reading aloud at the Flamborough YMCA on Friday, January 27. I'm not sure what the story will be, but it doesn't really matter.

Thanks to my daughter, I've learned not to judge a book by its cover.