Book Review – 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child By Naomi Steiner and Susan L. Hayes

Title: 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child
Authors: 
Naomi Steiner and Susan L. Hayes
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 2009

A developmental-behavioural paediatrician, Naomi Steiner is herself multilingual and raising her children in a multilingual family. Between her professional qualifications and her life experience, she is superbly positioned to provide an in-depth program for all parents to raise bilingual children.

While there is some excellent scientific data in the book, which provides fascinating insights into language acquisition and child development, as a guide the book falls oddly flat. I kept expecting something slightly more detailed than the advice to set goals and provide children with language exposure. The book continually heads towards detailed information before veering off at the last moment.

Much of my frustration with the book came from its underlying assumptions. The text is only aimed at parents in the USA, and an inordinate amount of space is dedicated to validating and justifying a bilingual lifestyle. There is even a section debunking the myth that bilingualism will destroy the American way of life.

Ouch.

For those readers who are outside the USA, and potentially not living in an English speaking country at all, the assumption that parents are secretly threatened by the prospect of a bilingual family is frustrating. A lot of the content implies parents are often one step away from giving up and that English will become the only language. If you are a monolingual English parent ready to give up in a foreign country, don’t expect much support in this book.

The advice given is so basic that at times it reads like an extended article padded beyond recognisability. Some points are reiterated so often that the authors call attention to the reiteration. A significant proportion of the book could be reclassified as project management rather than parenting. The remaining content is simply common sense.

I would have found this book more useful if it had detail about developmental stages. There was brief discussion about the capacities of toddlers to learn, but little beyond this. How is the process different between a newborn, a 5 year old and a 15 year old? What can parents do to support each age group? After a certain age, the book almost advocates handing language acquisition over to the school system, but goes on at length to criticise the formal educational opportunities.

The primary method of instruction recommended is One Parent, One Language. With this method, the parent who is skilled in the second language will speak to the child exclusively in that language. This might be exciting for families where both parents speak a second language, but as the unskilled parent I am left feeling discouraged about my ability to contribute.

There is value in this book for anyone who wants to raise a bilingual child, but has given it absolutely no thought before. Monolingual parents who wish to raise bilingual children might also find something useful here. If you already have skills with a second language, or have thought about how you would learn one, there is probably little this book can contribute to your understanding. Due to the incredibly basic level of the book, I am giving it 2 out of 5 pages.

Book Review – Crossroads of Twilight By Robert Jordan

Title: Crossroads of Twilight
Author: 
Robert Jordan
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 2003

If you’re still reading the Wheel of Time by book 10 in the series, then you deserve a commendation medal for perseverance. Or you’re a masochist. Perhaps, like me, you’re just a fool who is willing to throw perfectly good hours at a painful project, hoping desperately that it will pay off in the end.

Without wanting to go too deeply into spoiler land – a remarkably hard thing at this point in the series – something significant actually happened at the end of book 9. I was elated, and considerably relieved, that the series finally seemed to be going somewhere again. Then along came book 10. My elation and relief promptly left in disgust.

My copy of the book is the large, trade paperback size. The prologue begins on page 15. It is page 540 before the main character appears. For a novel that ‘only’ has 680 pages, I consider this impressive.

Obviously, there is a lot that happens in 500+ pages. There was, um… Well, let’s see. Perrin bought some grain. Ooh, grain! There were also beans. Thrilling. I’m sure 20 pages were dedicated to descriptions of the gilding and carvings on various pieces of furniture. We probably lost another 15 pages to pouring tea into Sea Folk porcelain. There were the obligatory pages describing the dress worn by each woman, and far too many observations about breast sizes that we have already observed in previous books. Setting the scene is important, but the limits are stretched beyond reason.

The main thrust of this novel was making sure nearly every character we have ever been introduced to got their chance to react to the main event at the end of book 9. Any character who was at risk of doing something about it was glossed over; why would readers want an action scene instead of a laborious conversation between characters?

A standard piece of wisdom for the writing community is “show, don’t tell”. This relates to the tendency to say “Elayne felt angry” rather than demonstrating Elayne’s anger. This piece of advice has been enthusiastically ignored in this book, replaced with “show and tell”. It’s an utter bonus for readers who are tuning out of the story, because you can skim the three paragraphs that describe the emotional reaction and skip straight to the summarising statements. Perhaps future copies of the book could highlight these sentences to save readers time and effort.

In the interests of being fair to the book, I do have to concede that something significant happens in it. Of course, to be fair to people considering reading it, I feel obliged to point out that the significant event takes place over the last 3 pages. The significance of it might be lost in the vague storytelling that supports the chapter, especially for readers who skimmed over an incredibly dull passage several chapters earlier. But don’t worry if you miss the point – it is explained in detail in book 11.

Following the decline of the series to this point, I give this book 1 out of 5 pages. It is too large and sprawling to include a clear story arc, and I consider a cohesive plot to be essential to any novel. Especially painful is the knowledge that other books in the series are substantially better, and that the problems here are not the result of an inexperienced author.

Book Review – The Shadow Rising By Robert Jordan

Title: The Shadow Rising
Author: 
Robert Jordan
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 1992

The Shadow Rising is the fourth instalment from the Wheel of Time, and it marks an important structural change in the series. Until this point, every book has included a clear story arc. Book 2, The Great Hunt, focused on the Horn of Valere. Book 3, The Dragon Reborn, focused on revealing the Dragon Reborn. The Shadow Rising takes a turn in which it introduces the cliff hanger. Even the title steps away from the previous convention, moving away from a specific detail of the world to a generalisation.

Unlike the first book of the series, there are now too many characters to dedicate sufficient space to all of them. The increasing number means that significant world events are now happening away from the central trio, and the narration follows these external twists and turns. This changes the feel of the story, because in many ways it is no longer about the main characters. Where the first book was tight and controlled, this book sprawls into a full and rich universe. If you love expansive storytelling, you’ll be much more excited than with earlier books. If you love tight narratives, this book marks the beginning of the end.

Despite the narrative shifts, the underlying story remains relatively cohesive. Most diversions away from the central narrative stem from chronological necessity, and lay the foundations for later books. This is not such a problem now that the series has been completed, but for slow readers there is a chance that significant events could be forgotten before their ramifications are reached.

The most infuriating detail with this novel was the artwork. Each chapter began with the symbol of the character who influenced the narrative in a particular way. Combining chapter titles with chapter artwork effectively destroyed any chance at surprise that the author created. Instead of relaxing into the story and waiting for it to unfold, I found myself growing impatient that I had worked out what was happening several chapters before the narrative gave the necessary clues.

While the first stirrings of narrative problems for the whole series are beginning to emerge in this book, it is still an enjoyable read. Therefore, I give it 3 of 5 pages.

Book Review – The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan

Title: The Eye of the World
Author: 
Robert Jordan
Format: 
Paperback
Written & 
Published: 1990

The Eye of the World is the first book of the Wheel of Time. It begins the epic story of three young men from an isolated village, all of whom are potentially destined for greatness. In the tradition of epic fantasy, the story begins with terrifying monsters and heroic guides who have come seeking just these boys. There is a dramatic escape and subsequent journey through exotic places as they try to find a place of safety where they can understand their destinies.

A lot of time-honoured fantasy traditions are upheld in the story, carefully adapted to this particular world. Dwarves and elves are absent, replaced with fearsome Trollocs and wise Ogier. The one young hero has been replaced with three, and their companions are plucky young women instead of plucky young men. A wise old crone figure is central to guiding the heroes, but while she might be old she could hardly be described as a crone.

Against a simplified backdrop of good vs. evil, the character relations are complex. Many of the motivations begin clearly enough, but emotional reactions shift the dynamics of the group. While some stories will include characters whose disagreements are born from differing opinions on what should be done, this book is filled with characters who take an active interest in hating each other. Animosity leads to an occasionally childish level of spite, and there is little hesitation in pointing out to others how stupid they are.

Women have an important place in this fantasy world, and the backstory leads to some interesting gender dynamics. Men are still blamed for a disaster that occurred millennia earlier, and women still work hard to ensure it can never happen again. This sense of moral superiority forms a sharp contrast with the might is right attitude of the economic and political landscape and, as a result, values beyond mere brawn play a role in power relations.

The plot of this story is tight, but enough attention is given to detail to make the world seem fully imagined and realised. In some instances this can go too far, particularly where incidental characters are concerned, but it is otherwise an easy read. I give this book 4 out of 5 pages.

Book Review – How To Write A Movie In 21 Days by Viki King

Title: How To Write A Movie In 21 Days
Author: Viki King
Format: Paperback
Written & Published: 1988

This book has a fairly accurate title, and aims to get you through the writing process of a feature length movie script in 21 days. As opposed to some other popular fast writing programs, such as No Plot? No Problem! with National Novel Writing Month, these 21 days also include three rounds of revision to complete a polished script, not just to produce a first draft that needs further work. The book is broken into three main sections: preparation, writing, and problem solving.

The preparation section has many exercises that are designed to help bring the initial outline of the movie into focus. No timeline is attached, but I was able to complete all of the exercises in a single day. King believes that all stories stem from particular life issues that we encounter at certain predictable times. I found this reiteration to be distracting, because I am violently opposed to anyone telling me what should be important in my life. While the point was made to draw deeply from within, the assumed predictability was irritating.

Writing for the 21 days of this book is at a fast but achievable pace. One of the best aspects of the first draft is that King sets time limits on how long a given assignment can take. No writing day includes more than 30 pages initially, and there is a strict 3 hour time limit to getting it finished. King recommends breaking down the writing sessions to 8 minute sections, and getting a single scene or page done at a time. The idea behind this approach is that you should have enough time to get it finished without having enough time to procrastinate or panic. As the drafts progress, larger sections of the work are revised per day.

Day 21 was the only day I struggled with. This is the day where you find two people – who you are not allowed to live with – to go over the script and give you feedback. Unless I misunderstood entirely, you sit with them while they read it so that you can ask each other questions while they progress. I don’t know about your friends, but this represents a major hurdle with most of mine.

In the final section of the book are brief chapters about common problems writers encounter. These chapters have the feel of wisdom gained from being there and having made the same mistakes countless times. Practical, pragmatic approaches are prevalent, and there is a refreshing lack of judgement. This book does not come from the Cup-Of-Concrete school of philosophy, instead taking a gentler and empowering approach.

While the method outlined in the book is effective, the constant references to typewriters jarred me as I read it. The 21 days even includes time for you to retype the script, and maximum permitted delays to hire a professional typist are clearly defined. One of the problem solving chapters even suggests ways to barter with bored secretaries to type things for you. I can recall only a single mention of using a computer in the book, and it seems to have been included as an addition to the sentence rather than a recommendation.

Despite being aimed at beginner script writers, I question how many novices would be able to produce a polished script within the program. However, if you are only using this book as a way to get yourself through the trauma of a first and second draft, it provides a solid framework for writing something that can be developed further. Intermediate and experienced writers would probably have a solid script by the end of the timeframe. I rate this book 4 out of 5 pages.

Book Review – Time Enough For Love by Robert Heinlein

Title: Time Enough For Love
Author: Robert Heinlein
Format: Paperback
Written: 1973
Published: 1975

Time Enough For Love is a chunky science fiction novel about a man who has lived for more than 2000 years. It is set in a futuristic universe, and details his life and accumulated wisdom from the centuries. A variety of storytelling techniques are used, and the common theme of the various passages is an exploration of what it means to love another.

This book came highly recommended to me, which is the only reason I slogged it out. I kept waiting for it to get to the point. Any point. It is a frame narrative, playing with ideas of the Arabian Nights. Unlike the stories of Scheherazade, this one is lacking in thrilling cliff hangers that keep the pages turning.

Some of the incidents that are detailed in the book would be interesting as standalone stories. The chapters about Lazarus’s relationship with Dora are genuinely moving, and I am certain this is because it is one of the few times when the frame is distant enough that you are not reminded of it every two pages.

I was constantly irritated by the protagonist’s name. He changed it whenever he took on a new persona to hide his longevity, which was fine, but use of the chosen name was so inconsistent that I occasionally became lost about which person did what. The frame narrative would also impose on the individual narratives with alternative explanations and names as footnotes, which just confused things even more.

Because the theme of the book was love, the benefit of having such an old protagonist was severely curtailed. Two millennia is a long time to do a lot of amazing things. At one point the narrator was a slave, but we are only told this to justify why he intervened in a particular situation. Being pressed into slavery and escaping it would have been much more interesting than the story we did get about how he bought a young couple and then sold them a restaurant.

One of the best aspects of the book, due to its love theme, was the exploration of alternative family models. Many types of family were only alluded to in passing reference, but it was refreshing that our current cultural idea of the best family being the nuclear one was not supported in this text.

Aside from the occasional humorous passage, and Dora’s final scene, nothing in this book managed to stir more than a casual intellectual curiosity. I have no sense that my life has been enriched by reading it. I feel so little emotional resonance that I can’t be bothered hating it. If you have read this book, and understand why it was so highly recommended, please throw in your two cents in the comments below. Until someone convinces me otherwise, I am rating this book 1 out of 5 pages.

Book Review – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Title: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?
Author: Philip K. Dick
Format: Paperback
Written: 1968
Published: 1972

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a science fiction novel set in the future world of 1992. Colonisation of our solar system has been accomplished, which is fortunate due to the devastation that war has brought to Earth. Part of the colonisation effort involves providing a free android to every colonist who migrates away from the dying mother planet. Unfortunately, the androids in question are not always happy with the arrangement. Our protagonist, Rick Decard, is a bounty hunter charged with tracking down escaped androids and killing them.

This book improves dramatically if you ignore the proposed timeline, which was ambitious given the 25 year window between when the book was written and when it was set. Technology has reached impressive heights. Space colonisation is successful, machines regulate mood according to the programming of the user, android technology has progressed to the point where it is almost impossible to tell the difference between man and machine, and hovercrafts are the main form of transport.

The writing style is easy to settle into, and does not get in the way of the story. We are immediately introduced to the personality of the main characters, the values of the world, and the general premise without any info dumps. It is an excellent grounding for the story, which makes it easy to race through the pages.

Both sides of the conflict are well represented as the novel explores concepts of humanity and empathy. We are able to meet characters before we know whether they are human or android, which gives us the ability to make our own judgements first. In many ways the sequence of this novel is representative of the world. This episode is significant in the protagonist’s experience due to the size and complexity, but the underlying power balance remains the same.

While the quality of being just another few days in an incredible life lends a peculiar type of suspense that works well for the novel, it deprives the ending of a resolution to a subplot. I won’t go into many details, because spoilers are unnecessary, but I will agree with the advertising on my novel that the book ends “in a jolting climax that leaves the reader very thoughtful indeed”. I have been thoughtful for days, coming up with dozens of ways that I would have fixed my biggest gripe with the ending.

I had hoped that the unresolved thread was intended to be addressed in a sequel. Unfortunately, the only subsequent work on this world appears to be a result of its adaptation into the movie Blade Runner. The sequels were authorised but written by someone else many years later. I don’t believe in novels written decades later after a movie has been released count for this purpose.

My copy of this book is 183 pages long. I give the first 169 of those pages 5 out of 5. If you haven’t guessed by now, the conclusion to this novel was unfortunate in my opinion. Therefore, I give this book an overall rating of 3 out of 5 pages.

Yes, I averaged the numbers; the ending irritated me that much.

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