Monday, June 30, 2008

The Other British Bear

I've already mentioned the love that I have for a certain bear who goes by the name of Winnie-the-Pooh, but there is another bear from the British isles who has captured my heart as well. On Christmas Eve of 1956, English author Michael Bond was walking by a store near London's Paddington Station when he saw a lone teddy bear sitting on one of the shelves. Feeling sorry for the little toy, Bond bought the bear as a present for his wife. That gift soon inspired him to write a story about a little bear named Paddington and in ten days he had his very first book. A Bear Called Paddington was published in October of 1958 and it soon became a classic with children all over the world.

We first meet Paddington at the same place that Mr. & Mrs. Brown do; sitting on his suitcase in Paddington Station with a tag around his neck that reads "Please look after this bear. Thank you." You see, he just arrived as a stowaway from "Darkest Peru" where he had lived all of his life with Aunt Lucy, his only living relative. When Aunt Lucy goes to live in the Home for Retired Bears in Lima, she decides to send her nephew to England. So, armed with his bush hat and a suitcase full of marmalade sandwiches (his favorite treat), this little Peruvian bear hides himself in the lifeboat of a large ship and somehow finds his way to the big city of London. When Mr. & Mrs. Brown meet him, they instantly feel sorry for him and decide to ask him to come and live with them and their two children, Jonathan and Judy. So they take him home to 32 Windsor Gardens, Notting Hill, London where many adventures await him and everyone he meets.

My mom first introduced my sisters and I to these books (there are 13 of them so far) when I was a young teenager and it wasn't long before I fell in love with them. I have found Paddington to be a more modern and less whimsical type story than Winnie-the-Pooh. Whereas Pooh's world exists entirely in a secluded wood, Paddington's adventures happen all over England, making Paddington himself a much more "British" bear than Pooh (he lives in London, takes trips to the seaside, watches Blue Peter, eats TONS of marmalade and wears Wellington boots). This has perhaps made it somewhat harder for the stories to translate into other cultures, and he is still most popular in his native England where he has had his own TV show, his own line of merchandise, his own official website, and even a statue of himself in Paddinton Station. Still, Paddington has managed to collect millions of fans from all over the world including the US, Japan and South Africa.

I thoroughly enjoy reading about all of the crazy adventures this polite little bear manages to get himself into, and like most great children's literature, they are pleasant reading for people of all ages. So grab your Wellingtons, open up the marmalade, brush up on your "hard stare" and start having some adventures with Paddington Bear. You'll be glad that you did.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Beauty of the Written Word

Check out this cool application that creates "beautiful word clouds" from a collection of words. I created this one using the last chapter of one of my favorite stories. Can you guess what it is?

Click here to see if you are right!

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Brits Have Spoken

Our friends across the pond may hate our politics and our manners, but they love our literature. The British newspaper the Telegraph is reporting the results of online retailer's recent poll on the greatest novel ever written. After polling over 2000 readers, the results showed that Britain's favorite novel is none other than Harper Lee's classic story To Kill a Mockingbird. I find it kind of funny that a story set in the American south beat out classic British works like The Lord of the Rings, Great Expectations and Pride and Prejudice (which their cousins down-under chose as their favorite). Most of the choices came as no surprise, but the appearance of Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code in 5th place came as somewhat of a shock. Here is the complete list:


1. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee

2. Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien

3. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe - C.S Lewis

4. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen

5. The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

6. Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte

7. Animal Farm - George Orwell

8. Great Expectations - Charles Dickens

9. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - JK Rowling

10. Lord of the Flies - William Golding

11. The Time Travellers Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

12. Catch 22 - Joseph Heller

13. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest - Ken Kasey

14. Gone With the Wind - Margaret Mitchell

15. The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold

16. War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy

17. Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden

18. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night -time - Mark Haddon

19. The Great Gatsby - F. Scott Fitzgerald

20. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini

21. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

22. Sons and Lovers - DH Lawrence

23. Anna Kareninia - Leo Tolstoy

24. Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert

25. Emma - Jane Austen

26. Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks

27. The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger

28. My Sister's Keeper - Jodi Picoult

29. A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

30. A Passage to India - E.M Forster

31. Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier

32. Captain Corelli's Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres

33. Atonement - Ian McEwan

34. Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie

35. In Search of Lost Time - Marcel Proust

36. Middlemarch - George Eliot

37. White Teeth - Zadie Smith

38. To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

39. It - Stephen King

40. Little Women - Louisa M. Alcott

41. Vanity Fair - William Thackeray

42. David Copperfield - Charles Dickens

43. The Horse Whisperer - Nicholas Evans

44. Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe

45. Moby Dick - Herman Melville

46. Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift

47. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley

48. Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

49. Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome

50. The Island - Victoria Hislop

So if you were to make a list of your favorite books, what would you put on it? Was there anything on this list that surprised you? Go ahead and satisfy my curiosity!!

Monday, June 16, 2008

All the World's A Stage...

Last Friday evening, I had the opportunity to see a local production of Shakespeare's classic play The Taming of the Shrew. It was wonderful to be able to relax in the newly renovated amphitheatre, with a cool breeze blowing over the lake carrying the scent of wine, cheese and bug spray. This is the third year that I and some of my family have attended these annual productions, and all of them have been really enjoyable. Even my dad, whose idea of great entertainment consists mainly of watching The Three Stooges, has enjoyed them (though he would never openly admit it). Though reading Shakespeare's works is all well and good, nothing can compare with seeing it performed. His vivid characters and witty dialogues come alive and help you to see why his works have been so popular for centuries. If you have never seen a Shakespeare played performed, I would greatly encourage you to do so. Many states and cities have annual Shakespeare festivals and productions. If you have seen productions of Shakespeare's works, which ones were your favorites (mine was Loves Labours Lost)? Which ones would you like to see but haven't? Have you ever been disappointed in a Shakespeare play? Sound off on the Bard of Avon!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Bilbo's Favourite Bath Song

Sing hey! for the bath at close of day
that washes the weary mud away!
A loon is he that will not sing:
O! Water Hot is a noble thing!

O! Sweet is the sound of falling rain,
and the brook that leaps from hill to plain;
but better than rain or rippling streams
is Water Hot that smokes and steams.

O! Water cold we may pour at need
down a thirsty throat and be glad indeed;
but better is Beer, if drink we lack,
and Water Hot poured down the back.

O! Water is fair that leaps on high
in a fountain white beneath the sky;
but never did fountain sound so sweet
as splashing Hot Water with my feet!

-From "The Fellowship of the Ring"