Wednesday, February 29, 2012

'The Great Gatsby' 12: Tom and Daisy and Myrtle's death

No 12 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby. Here, Nick Carraway sneaks up to the Buchanans' house and observes Tom and Daisy, immediately after Myrtle Wilson's death.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Junior Cert essay: John Boyne and Eva Ibbotson

In her Junior Certificate book report, Eliza Hancock compared John Boyne's The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and Eva Ibbotson's Journey to the River Sea.

She writes:-

"They are two powerfully told books, that are similar in that they are both told through the eyes of an innocent child pointing out the flaws in the adult world, and highlighting the simplicity of childhood. A similar theme throughout each book is the sense of friendship and loyalty shown by both Bruno and Maia to their friends - Shmuel in Bruno’s case and Finn and Clovis in Maia’s. I found both these books incredibly gripping, especially The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, and in both cases I found the books nearly impossible to put down."

Read Eliza's full essay here.

Monday, February 27, 2012

'The Great Gatsby' 11: Myrtle Wilson's death

No 11 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby. This looks at Myrtle Wilson's tragic and gruesome death.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

'Open City' by Teju Cole

W.G. Sebald's death in a car crash in 2001 was a great loss to literature; he was in rich form, and we could have expected several really fine books in the years to come. We could hardly, however, expected that a literary descendant would have appeared in 2011 in the form of a part-Nigerian 'professional historian of Netherlandish art' writing about the perambulations of a part-Nigerian psychiatric doctor as he is wandering around the island of Manhattan.

But Sebald is the influence that Teju Cole's first novel Open City inevitably evokes. It's not that Cole doesn't have his own voice (through his narrator Julius) or that his book isn't an achieved work of art in its own right. It's just that some elements are inescapably 'Sebaldian': the melchancholy shimmer of its beautiful prose, the apparently freewheeling associations in the mind of the narrator, the fascination with loss and the layerings of personal, cultural and architectural history. 'Novel' also seems a crude label, as it does for The Rings of Saturn and Austerlitz. And the narrator himself is a tricky figure - in Sebald, often slipping behind veils of irony, in Open City an altogether more ambiguous character than his highly-educated surface at first suggests.

Open City has a broad canvas, despite its relatively modest length: ranging across New York, it also extends to Brussels and Nigeria, and - especially - it reaches down into histories of many kinds. Those histories may be cultural (the suppression of 9/11, the African Burial Ground near Wall Street, Ellis Island) or personal (Julius's forgotten childhood German, boarding school in Nigeria, the after-effects of a recently failed relationship). It is also terrific on the great city itself, evoking its neighbourhoods and changing atmospheres memorably.

As with Sebald, there is little overt plot here, but there is a story all right, and its climax is close to the end of the book when Julius has a shocking conversation with a childhood friend, not long after he is beaten up by teenage muggers. 

Darker realities are never far from the urbane surface of the narrative. In the final chapter, Julius attends a performance of Mahler's Das Leid von der Erde at the Carnegie Hall given by the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle. At this, the zenith of Western culture, Julius is hyperconscious of his colour in the 'all-white space'. His awareness of and knowledge about the piece is far beyond 95% of such an audience. When the concert is over, he leaves the Hall via an emergency exit. The door slams shut and he is marooned on a flimsy fire escape in 'a situation of unimprovable comedy' - except that suddenly, and only just in time, he realises he is in mortal danger, and might have plunged into nothingness.  This is just one in a series of brilliant scenes, some of them mere flashes, or 'small fates' as he calls his Lagos tweets.

Julius is both superbly observant and disastrously blind, capable of great tenderness (such as in his concern for an elderly gay Japanese professor near the end of his life) but also of moral and emotional cowardice.  He is a compelling narrator and this is a really fine book.

'The Great Gatsby' 10: Tom's triumph over Gatsby

No 10 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby. This is the moment when it becomes clear that Daisy has chosen Tom over Gatsby.

Friday, February 24, 2012

'The Great Gatsby' 9: Gatsby's despair about Daisy

No 9 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby. Here, Gatsby despairs of getting back the Daisy he knew in the past...

ShowMe for CESI

A quick demonstration for the CESI teachmeet in Portlaoise tonight of the ShowMe app for the iPad, which we're currently using for a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby.  It can be used for all subjects and at all levels, but we can particularly recommend it as an annotating tool for text in English teaching.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

'The Great Gatsby' 8: Tom and Daisy at Gatsby's party

No 8 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby. Here, Tom and Daisy turn up at Gatsby's house for one of his parties.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

'Unhooking the Moon' and 'Journey to the River Sea'

In her (excellent) Junior Certificate book report, Nicola Dalrymple has compared Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes and Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson.

She writes:-

There were many differences in them but there were also many similarities. Doing  this book report really made me think about the books in greater detail then I  had before and recognize some of the effective skills the authors used and hopefully I will be able to take them into account when I’m writing. I would really recommend Unhooking the Moon to all readers especially to teenagers. For Journey to the River Sea I would recommend it to readers of all ages, really, children, adolescents and adults. I have simply enjoyed the entertainment I had out of both books and I will read books by the same authors again. I think Unhooking the Moon was a thriller, a true page turner and Journey to the River was an original fantasy that took me out of the St Columba’s library, out of the school, but somewhere completely unique and magical.  

Read the full essay here.

'The Great Gatsby' 7: Gatsby & Daisy meet again

No 7 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby. This moment is from Chapter 5, when Nick is present at the scene when Daisy visits Gatsby's house.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

'The Great Gatsby' 6: Nick's first meeting with Gatsby

No 6 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby: this one looks at the moment when Nick Carraway meets Jay Gatsby for the first time (audio and video):-

Monday, February 20, 2012

Location of the 'Valley of Ashes'

Levi Asher has an interesting piece of literary detective work here on Literary Kicks. Using an online historical mashup map which shows New York City in 1924, he tracked down what he believes to be the location of the 'Valley of Ashes' in The Great Gatsby. Click here for our own ShowMe analysis of Nick Carraway's description of this desolate location.

Asher writes:

After spending many hours studying the map and carefully determining the exact coordinates represented in Fitzgerald's novel, I walked by the exact spots described in the passages above. I saw a small auto repair shop. I saw a couple of rundown coffee and fried-egg breakfast/lunch cafes, where the people who work in the nearby factory take their breaks. The main factory makes signs -- large mounted billboards, specialty plastic displays. It looked like this business had been there a long time, and I now believe (though I have not yet verified this, and am not sure exactly how to do so), that if F. Scott Fitzgerald had ever seen an actual sign for an eye doctor at this spot, it might not have been because the eye doctor was located nearby. Rather, the sign-maker might have been constructing the sign, or may have been displaying it to advertise his work.

'The Great Gatsby' 5: Gatsby's parties

No 5 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby: this one is taken from the start of Chapter 3, and describes the extraordinary extravagance of the parties at Gatsby's mansion:

Saturday, February 18, 2012

'The Great Gatsby' 4: Myrtle Wilson's apartment

No 4 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby: here, Nick Carraway's comments on the drinking session in New York at Myrtle Wilson's apartment (audio and video):

Friday, February 17, 2012

Visual Writing Prompts

For English teachers: here is a list (it will be updated every now and then) of fine photographs and images which could be used fruitfully for writing prompts. Any more ideas? Do put them in the Comments section, or tweet them to @sccenglish.

(Above, 'Entertainers on the Aran Islands' from Imagebank, copyright Maxwell Photograph)
  1. The Writing Prompts Tumblr blog by Luke Neff is an excellent source of ideas for writing, with lots of striking visual material, and well-designed text.  
  2. Amazing, entertaining and often beautiful black and white photographs, collated by Matt Stopera. 
  3. World Press Photo: press photos are often dynamic, interesting, and really good prompts. This is the best site of all (warning: some such photos can also be disturbing - check them out first).
  4. Following which: every world press photo of the year from 1955 to 2011 (see 3).
  5. Some of history's most famous photographs, in both original black and white, and colour.
  6. The Guardian site is particularly strong in terms of photographs. If you have an iPad, download the superb free Eyewitness app, and project the images onto the board.
  7. Library of Congress photographs of the Great Depression. Memorable if often depressing images.
  8. The National Geographic photo of the day. The standard here is of course very high. Here's the Best of 2011.
  9. The Wikimedia list of images of public domain images on the Web.
  10. The Photoprompts tumblr.

'The Great Gatsby' 3: The Valley of Ashes

No 3 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby: this one looks at Nick Carraway's description of the 'Valley of Ashes' at the start of Chapter 2.

Click here for an interesting article on the possible real location of the Valley.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

'The Great Gatsby' 2: the Buchanan mansion

No 2 in a series of close analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby: here, Nick visits for the first time the mansion of his cousin Daisy and her husband Tom Buchanan (audio commentary).

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

'The Great Gatsby 1': Gatsby's mansion

The first of a series of analyses of key moments in The Great Gatsby, being studied as part of our Leaving Certificate comparative course. This one examines Nick Carraway's first description of Jay Gatsby's mansion (audio commentary).

Friday, February 10, 2012

How (not) to Read Poetry

We're off on half-term now, until Monday 20th February. Meanwhile, here's some advice on reading poetry.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

TY Extended Essay: Seamus Deane, Jennifer Johnston, Khaled Hosseini

Jennifer Kim in her TY Extended Essay last term took on three fine books which have all been at one time or another on our comparative Leaving Certificate course, Reading in the Dark by Seamus Deane, How Many Miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston and The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

Her reflection on the experience: 

This essay has taught me many things. First, never to rush writing. It just gets worse and worse. Second, new words that I didn’t know before. Third, it gave me a feeling of accomplishment at the end. Honestly, it also gave me fast typing skills as well. Furthermore, it made me look deeper into the books. It helped me look inside the story and understand it fully. And I think that’s the reason why it made me easier to write about each books. Last, from these books about childhood, I learnt that childhood affects so much in our lives.

Although it may be a story, fictional and sometimes true, I completely agree with the authors who tried to express how childhood affects someone's life. Childhood may sound like a tiny bit of your life, and sometimes you don’t even remember it, but it affects so much in your life that you wouldn’t even notice it. People’s personalities, minds aren’t the same. In my opinion, it comes out from the surroundings you lived in, and the people you grew up with. The extended essay was a great opportunity for me and whenever I think about it in the future, I’ll be proud of myself.

Quite right: here is the complete essay.

'Ophelia Among the Flowers'

Here's the latest poem from the Images in Poetry module in Transition Year. Click here for more. This time, Harry Fitzgibbon has written a short poem prompted by Odilon Redon's 'Ophelia Among the Flowers':-

The red rose full with blood,
The blue flower of the butterfly,
The lady lying down asleep.
Dead or alive
In the water of her own dream.
The sky is full of yellow gold-lined cloud.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

TY Extended Essay on Racism

For her Transition Year Extended Essay, Siobhán Brady chose the theme of racism in America in the twentieth century, and comments:-

I chose this theme because it deals with very important modern history and still existing discriminatory issues. I find this theme very interesting as it shows how the issue of slavery of the coloured people had grown from absolute barbarianism to this, still horrific, yet more subtle form of slavery. It also shows how different people deal with the same problem.
The three books which I have chosen are The Help by Kathryn Stockett, Yankee Girl by Mary-Ann Rodman and The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk-Kidd. The Help is about the struggle of the coloured maids in one of the most racist parts of Southern America, Jackson, Mississippi. It is written from the perspective of two coloured maids (Minnie and Aibileen) and a young white aspiring author, Skeeter. The book deals with racial discrimination in a way which I have never really seen before, it deals with black and white people working together. As The Help is written from the perspectives of both coloured and white characters, it is interesting to see the same situations through three different people’s eyes. 

Read the full essay here.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Dickens Wordles

Charles Dickens was born on February 7th 1812. To celebrate, here are seven word-clouds formed from the entire texts of his most famous fiction. In each case, the Wordle represents the 250 most-used words in the text. The most significant names of course stand out.

Click on each Wordle for a closer view.

1. Great Expectations: is Joe Gargery the most important person in Pip's life?

2. Bleak House: 'little', 'young' and 'guardian' stand out.

3. A Christmas Carol: no doubting the most significant character here...

4. David Copperfield: 'Mr' becomes particularly important, as is becoming a 'Mr'.

 5. Hard Times: More of 'Mrs' here (Sparsit, Gradgrind), and notice 'know'...

6. Oliver Twist: 'gentlemen' and 'time' deserve some discussion.

7. A Tale of Two Cities: a French influence, of course.

Petrarchan Sonnet for Palestine

One of the modules in our Transition Year course is run by Ms Smith, Images in Poetry: it has produced many fine poems in the past, prompted by different paintings and photographs. Here is the first one from this year's course, written by Helene Peters and prompted by Banksy's 'Palestine':-

Waves are breaking under the pure blue sky
in this perfect paradise of a land.
The beach is wide, the palms grow high.
There are children with a shovel in their hand.
The only noise the crushing of the blue.
Far away a singing bird.
This feeling of peace and freedom is so true.
No humans, no fights, nothing to be heard.

Reality, however, is grey on grey.
Fences surrounding the place.
A gunshot. You can hear a scream.
The peace and freedom fade away.
There's just the battle of religion and race.
This lonely island - just a wishing dream.

TY Extended Essay: Golden, Donnelly, Yen Mah

For her Transition Year essay, Lilian Glennon wrote on Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden, A Gathering Light by Jennifer Donnelly, and Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah. 

Lilian writes:-

For the past nine weeks I have studied  three fairly different books  and have chosen the theme of relationships. Every book has relationships and everyone has relationships, but not everyone has suffered as much as some of the characters in  the three books that I have read. I consider people very lucky to not have gone through the ordeals that they went through, to not have experienced as much pain and loneliness some of them felt. When I read them I honestly tried to understand it but none of us can actually know what it's like unless we have.

Just  for a moment take everyone in your life and imagine them not being there and  imagine being born into a family that never wanted you and being treated harshly for everything you did or being sold off to a geisha house by your father at the tender age of nine, or to have your mother die and be expected to raise your younger sisters as a teenage girl with no help from your sometimes alcoholic father.

Read the full essay here.

Monday, February 06, 2012

'The Great Gatsby' on Wordle

Above, another in our series of Wordles on literary works. This time, the entire text of The Great Gatsby, which our Leaving Cert candidates are currently studying as part of their comparative course. Click on it for a closer view.

You can see the 250 most common words - dominated by the three names that Nick Carraway uses most.  Then there are other interesting recurring words, such as 'sport', 'eyes', 'room', 'door', 'house' and 'moment' - plenty for interesting discussion.

Wordle is at

'How I Live Now' & 'What I Was' by Meg Rosoff

For her book report last term, Junior Certificate pupil Ali Boyd Crotty wrote on two novels by Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now and What I Was.  She comments:-

Altogether, I really enjoyed both books. I had never read anything by Rosoff before I read these two books but I already can’t wait to read more by her. How I Live Now isn’t the most uplifting, happy story, but it drew me in and made me laugh and also almost cry. What I Was is a very slow starting book, but soon it made me never want it to end. I would recommend both of these books to anyone my age, and older, I really enjoyed reading them.

Read the full comparison here.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Poetry Prizes 2012

The Senior and Junior Poetry Prizes for this year have been launched. The Senior Prize (trophy in memory of Peter Dix, pictured) has as its themes Journeys, Memory, and/or Beginnings, and the Junior theme is Time. 

Full details are posted in school now, and entries go to Mr Canning (senior) and Ms Smith (junior) in due course. As always, the winners and many of the best entries will be posted on this blog early next term.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Extended Essay: 'The Penance Room', 'Room' & 'The L-Shaped Room'

Sadhbh Sheeran was awarded a Commendation, a special recognition, for her outstanding Transition Year Extended Essay this year.  Unusually, her chosen three books share a word in their titles...

She writes:

The characters in my chosen novels, The Penance Room by Carol Coffey, The L-Shaped Room by Lynne Reid Banks and Room by Emma Donoghue, range in age from just eight years old right up to their early twenties. All of them however have one thing in common; they are all growing up and learning about life and its hardships. I chose this theme as growing up is something I can relate to. Although I, compared to the characters in these novels, have not had to deal with the difficulties they have experienced. I admire the main characters greatly as they are not only struggling with the normal pressures of growing up but all have to struggle for their mere existence and they all long to be ‘conventional’. Their determination and their rejection of defeat are awe inspiring.

Read the full essay by Sadhbh here.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

'Brave New World' and '1984'

Our second Junior Certificate book report this year is by Rowland Fitzgerald Barron, and like Mark Russell's yesterday, presents two books linked by theme: in this case, Rowland examines George Orwell's 1984 and Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, two famous dystopian novels. 

Rowland writes:

I thought 1984 was a very good read. From the very beginning I was sucked in as it immediately describes what kind of day it is and vividly yet briefly shows how the protagonist tries to escape the cold. I found it gripping because of the amount of detail put into every scene, for example instead of saying 'Winston walked into the room,' the author would say 'Stepping into the room, he noticed the rich smell of coffee and the shabby furniture'. Also, it is written in a very personal manner so you feel as if you are sharing the protagonist's feelings. However, there were some parts I did not enjoy reading and felt tempted to put down the book and never read it again, such as a thirty-page lecture in which we are told the history of Oceania and the warring states. As much as it pains me to say it however I do feel this was necessary in order to understand the current political situation and the way things were heading. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a new, fresh style of writing as it is a change to most of the books around nowadays.

I found
Brave New World was written well and the author was very descriptive as well. However, I did feel that the plot was rather weak; the whole book didn't really seem to have much of a story and felt more as if it was just following someone's life. Also, I thought the beginning was quite boring and didn't make a good impression as it had nothing to do with the already weak story and instead was focusing on a scientist giving a tour to a bunch of students. However, I do feel this was needed (just like the boring part that was in 1984) as it explains what the current situation is and how the human race is being treated.

Overall I preferred
1984 as it had a stronger story and more likeable characters.

Read the full essay here.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

'The Wave' and 'The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas'

In his recent book report, Junior Cert pupil Mark Russell compared two books connected by Nazism - Morton Rhue's The Wave, and John Boyne's The Boy in Striped Pyjamas. In his excellent thorough analysis, he analysed each book's background, characters and structure, and commented:

"After I read The Wave I stopped thinking about the book quite quickly, whereas thoughts from The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas kept going through my head. The Boy In the Striped Pyjamas kept me thinking."

Find out why, by reading Mark's full essay here