Anita's Haven

books, thoughts, stories, poetry, interviews, writing

JEAN GILL: QUEEN OF THE WARRIOR BEES, MY REVIEW

DIFFERENT, YET FAMILIAR AND CHALLENGING

It is so difficult to write fantasy for any age group, to create something that’s never been read before and yet something that has the elements a fantasy fan would relish. It is like with music – sometimes it seems as if everything’s been said already, because how many more new combinations of musical notes and rhythms can one create in centuries?

And then somebody makes it and creates something worthwhile, different yet familiar, and challenging to the mind and heart alike. Jean Gill did it with this unusual fantasy. I takes a while to grow on you and, when it takes hold, you appreciate the strong roots it has developed.

The author has managed to create two opposing new worlds, both dancing the thin line between what you’re told and what you feel you should believe, each with its own set of rules, each with its own heroes and villains, both constantly in a strange battle yet  interlaced and dependent on each other. One world is set to rules, ‘perfection’ (fantastic play on words here, because what IS perfection, right?), the other one a natural wilderness. And then a heroine who not only wants to mix the two but feels compelled to from her inner most core.

Mielitta’s inner most core is what will surprise you – her connection to the bees. (Had I read this book in my teenage years, I would have developed a keen interest in biology, trust me!) Usually heroes are provided with supernatural powers – in Mielitta, it is her natural powers that are unbelievable. The author manages to weave Mielitta’s growth and development from a bullied misfit to a natural force so carefully, never giving off to much in advance, so that you sometimes feel just as confused with it and just as full of questions as Mielitta herself. This is very clever, because this is a heroine who is in it for the long run, not just a one-book wonder. Her relationships with other characters are so intriguing, especially her adoptive father (that one impressed and shocked me so much) and her protégé Drianne (who better to take up a protégé than a bullied girl herself, only to discover that her protégé is in fact… no, no spoilers…).

It is difficult to write a review and not give out too many spoilers. So let me just mention that, as always with Jean Gill’s books, the readers will not be left wanting (except for a sequel), will not feel cheated or underestimated, will get a glimpse into different worlds and creatures, will fall in love with some and hate other characters, will feel vindicated when it is needed, will learn a lot about interesting things (the philosophy of archery, the intricate power play in the world of bees, to name just a few), will be kept guessing about some things (I love the what-ifs and maybes you are drawn into), will be treated to exquisite language use, and will thoroughly immerse themselves into the story.

Imagine me loving a fantasy book that had no dragon in it? An amazing achievement by the author, I must say. I would truly recommend this book. It will make you think about how we treat nature – not just the outer world but our inner one as well. Make your time count with clever stories.

THIS BOOK ON AMAZON https://www.amazon.com/Queen-Warrior-Bees-misfit-Natural-ebook/dp/B07PZ212M8

JEAN GILL’s WEBSITE https://jeangill.com/

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SO MUCH HAS HAPPENED AND YET…

Right? So much has happened since I last posted here… So much has happened. With you, with myself, with the world. Not all nice things, especially these last months, and yet – here we all are, still breathing, still creating, still ourselves (some more so than others).

The bad things WILL pass. They will. They always do. They make room for the good things, and then some other bad things, and some other wonderful things… it is life. Sometimes more difficult than other times, but always with a certain purpose. Do we know which purpose? Well, I don’t think I do, but if you do, feel free to share. (We might be better off not knowing though.)

I have chosen to be positive and optimistic. I have decided to battle negativity and pessimism. Why? So many reasons.

First of all, those of you who know me or have followed me a while ago, you know that about a year and a half ago I experienced a health issue which almost killed me, kept me nearly blind for almost a year, caused immense stress to my family and made me rethink and recreate my life. No, I have not changed my entire existence because my entire existence was not wrong to begin with. But I have not survived that to give up now.

Secondly, our kids are watching us and imitating or hating what we do and how we behave. If I want to see them grow up as persistent, proud, creative and kind people, then it is exactly what I must display – persistence, pride, creativity and kindness. No way am I going to be depressed, moping, negative, hysterical or irresponsible. At least never on purpose, as my daughter likes to say:).

Will this change me? Will this change other people? Will this change the world? Who knows! In my humble opinion, good people will remain good people, kindness will remain kindness, bigotry, sadly, will remain bigotry. For any of it to change, it requires a willingness to communicate, and this willingness may not have anything to do with crisis. It is a shift in consciousness. It is a decision. It is a choice. This is why I said I have chosen to be optimistic.

This moment in history will one day (soon, I hope) be exactly that – a moment in history.

Life has to go on. Let’s choose to make it a beautiful one!

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Questions help us think

Yesterday, I was asked by an experienced university professor about something I wrote in my book, The Question Mark Method. About the difference between learning and studying, and how to approach it in teaching.

The lady professor, a wonderful and esteemed colleague, stated she had never thought about it like that. At first she thought I was merely talking about little learners, but when I explained I teach all age groups and levels, she was puzzled. ‘Yes, I see. But it must be difficult teaching like that every time… it drains your energy to be so motivating and to try so hard every time…’

After a while, we agreed it was, but then again – we agreed it was not. Just lecturing and testing is NOT teaching. Teaching them (how) to (want to) learn IS.

This is a tiny book packing a lot of wisdom – for #teachers in all phases of their career – #nonfiction #tips by this here teacher trainer with 25 years of teaching #experience! Change the way you #think about yourself, your learners, your teaching and your #trainees! Simplify your work to let the #heart conquer over paperwork!

The Question Mark Method can be used by learners and educators. If I could tell you one crucial thing about it to instigate your interest, this is it – IT WORKS! It really does. It really, truly simplifies things!


*paperback Lulu.com https://bit.ly/2E27ltx
*e-pub Lulu.com https://bit.ly/2qzmYFs
*Apple Books https://apple.co/2LFY7aB
*Lehmanns Media https://bit.ly/2DZRwDB
*Amazon https://amzn.to/2RzJVUd
*Kobo Rakuten https://bit.ly/38oyvJ2
*Barnes&Noble https://bit.ly/359QJvF

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NICI’ S CHRISTMAS TALE by Jean Gill – my review

SOMEONE TO ADMIRE, INDEED

And I am not talking about Nici the dog, the main character in this short story. Although I may as well, all things considered. I am talking about the author, Jean Gill. As a long-time fan of Jean Gill’s writing, I can honestly say this lady is one of the few people who leave me speechless and grateful to be able to witness their genius at work. She respects her characters and readers, and does her absolute best every time, without being arrogant or smug about it. This story is yet another proof of it. It is written just as it should be, wholesome, decent, discrete and revealing at the same time, offering you the life of a character in all its humbleness and relevance. I am not going to retell the contents to you, just offer my views on its creation.

The way this story is written is such a clever way of fitting a prequel into a spin-off sequel, to use the words so often used for various series of stories, be they movies or books. It can be read as a stand-alone, but, in my opinion, its richness will best be appreciated by fans of The Troubadours series (this reader included), as it tells parts of the original stories from the point of view of the main heroine’s loyal canine companion Nici, a character and protagonist of all the 4 books in the series in his own right. It will be like watching a familiar movie filmed with a different camera, from a different angle, and discovering things you hadn’t noticed before.

Reading Nici’s tale, at first, my mind must have felt like that of a dog’s, when it sniffs trails and traces around, looking for nothing special yet waiting eagerly to hit that special spot and then follow it through. And it did, of course. As Nici tells his story to his puppies, and you read about him hearing a girl sing, the entire thing just leaps into its rightful place and you blaze through the text with your heart warm and that feeling of peace in your chest. The tone is evocative of The Troubadours, the details and events well-paced, and overall – it is a wonderful haven for fans of the Troubadours series… As you reach the end, and I mean the very final line, it is just perfection. Full-circle for me, as the last line of the story links to the first book by Jean Gill I had read and fell in love with.

What I love about Nici’s Christmas Tale, as well as all of Jean Gill’s writing, is the way you can relate to the characters and events, regardless of the time or species in the book – she has that amazing, effortless ability of sneaking in lines about life and its timeless issues that just stop you and make you think, not just about the story, but about life and your own choices. I will try to explain, without giving away any spoilers. At one point, Nici tells his children about a herd tragedy, and you can feel his survivor’s guilt in the words, just as you would a human’s. It might even help you understand somebody in your surroundings.

We can all learn a lot from Nici, and from Jean Gill, too. About how to respect all life, how to cherish friends, family and kindness, and how to learn from our mistakes and appreciate our own growth.

I will leave you all with just one quote this time, with the author’s permission, but this one speaks to me the most.

‘Such a small thing to cling to, hope.’

(On a more personal note…

This story arrived to me last Christmas and it would have been a delightful read even then, were it not for the fact that I was unable to see then, due to a health mishap. As many of Jean Gill’s reader fans, I am delighted with her newsletter every time it hits my inbox (one of the few I actually do read and even answer sometimes), and this tale was the author’s gift to readers. See? Delightful surprises sometimes lurk in newsletters, where you least expect them;). I am happy to have been able to read it now. So well-fitted to the entire timeline.)

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A CALLING, NOT A JOB

(Written on the 12th July, 2019, back when I couldn’t see)

It often surprises me when people think I am younger than I am, or when I am in the company of people my age and I feel younger than they are. Not physically, mind you – the face reveals everything. No matter how much we may try to hide it. But younger in spirit.

And then a day quite like this one takes place – the results of high-level English exams arrive, for children I’d worked with  since their kindergarten age, and who are now 18 or so. And in all that excitement and enthusiasm, I suddenly realise that those children will not be attending lessons again, that those children are not even children any more, and what’s best and most important, I know how much they’ve grown up, and how much still lays before them. And they are so well-directed or life and simply wonderful.

For some people it may seem strange for anybody to get attached to other people’s children like this, children you’d only seen maybe once or twice per week, but this connection is extraordinary and magical, filled with emotions, severe turbulence, changes and progress. And it lasts. And this is where I reach my key point – how this relates to my feeling of youth.

When there are such amazing young people growing up around you, you feel proud that life has given you a chance to be at least partly their guide, their teacher. And now that they are setting out on their journey of adulthood, it gives you a feeling of hope that the world will be a better place, that there will still be good, caring, kind and smart people around. Because you know that they are. And this hope makes you young at heart.

(There is lots more written on this paper, but it is empty and only shows traces of me moving my pen – the pen had run out of ink, but I could not see that then. Never mind. All is well now.)

#teaching #education #love #joy #work #cvrcak

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REASONS TO WRITE

We all have our reasons for doing something. Some cook, some sing, some draw, some build… I write, among other things. Every now and then I wonder what it is about writing that makes me love it so. Here are a few, more or less serious, ideas.

1.      I talk way too much. In order not to allienate everybody around me, it is sometimes better to keep my mouth shut and write. My thoughts need clarification even for myself, so writing and editing literally make sense.

2.      Sometimes I cannot even believe my own ideas until I see them on paper.

3.      I need the practice – without writing, my handwriting and typing skills would be horrific.

4.      For some weird reason, I think my ideas matter, so I like to keep them documented. I need evidence even for myself.

5.      It’s my trip to another universe. After all, even Marvel realizes that there is such a thing as a multiverse around us.

6.      Writing is cheaper than therapy, plus, I wonder if a human therapist could stand all my ‘ideas’.

7.      If I don’t write it down, I will not remember it the following day.

8.      The voices in my head want, no, they demand proof of their existence.

9.      Writing makes me a better person, because even I notice how complicated I sometimes get.

10.   It makes me happy.

Got anything to add?

(written in April 2019, back when I couldn’t see)

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THISTLE

Short story (part one)

Written by Anita Kovačević ; July 2015

INTRODUCTION

Well, hello, everybody! I am Miss Daisy. Truth be told, I have not been anybody’s Miss Daisy for years, because even we preschool teachers have to retire eventually, but – once a teacher, always a teacher. If that is what you are at heart. There are so many children in my heart that I could be their teacher, Miss Daisy, for several lives to come, if I happened to return in human form.

But this is not a story about me. This is the story about one of those countless great little beings in my heart, one of the most special ones, one who teaches you such humility towards life’s miracles that the first time he calls you ‘teacher’, it feels as if you’ve won the life achievement award.

But I am rushing this a bit. Let us take it slowly and safely, the way my special little friend liked to do everything.

THE FIRST MEETING

I first met Peter when I as preparing to be a kindergarten teacher. I was filled with the hope of changing the world, my head brimming with the wisdom I’d borrowed from other people’s books, convinced that all the parents I would be working with would be cordial, caring people confident in my abilities, and all the children like clay, their behaviour and intelligence easy to mould and direct with only a bit of creativity and a lot of love.

All I needed to do was prove myself to my mentor and the review board, but a few demonstration activities were a piece of cake for me. After all, I did pass all my other exams on time, because I didn’t need to work while I was studying, and I had read more books than we were obliged to. I had always wanted to be exactly that – a kindergarten teacher, although my father kept explaining to me there was no money in that profession! Passing the review board exam, with a few hints of an inspiring topic, was supposed to be a walk in the park for me!

Let me explain it all to you in layman’s term, because the most difficult things are best explained simply, and I am now able to do that. Back then, I was under so much pressure to use top-notch professional words, which mean absolutely nothing to children. The topic of my activity that day was food, with the aim of motivating children to think about grouping connected words. Blissfully easy! The group of four-year-olds I was supposed to work with had been under a chickenpox invasion, so, instead of the average 25 kids, I only had to do the activity with about 12 children.

My mentor assumed her corner position in the room and placed her open notebook in her lap, ready to make notes, as professionally serious as a royal scribe writing down legislative acts. Behind me there was a small mountain of my teaching materials, and in front of me, seated on the carpet, the children, admiring the glow in my inspired eyes. Even though, from today’s perspective, I believe they were admiring my gigantic strawberry-shaped hairpin; but back then, my ego needed their spark.

Everybody sat on the carpet, impatient and eager. Well, almost everybody. In the corner edge of the carpet, one boy was sitting alone, appearing to be somewhat bigger than the others. He was assembling building blocks in silence, slowly swaying to and fro, as if following the rhythm of some inaudible music.

‘What about you, honey? Won’t you be joining us?’

I invited him – my question was negatively phrased due to lack of experience, but I displayed a wide, warm smile. I was already half-way over to him, to bring him closer to us, when a tiny hand pulled on to my uniform.

‘Oh, Miss, it’s only Peter. He is always… so…’

‘Yes, yes, Peter is always acting out on the side…’

The noise of learned disapproval made me arch my eyebrows into a warning, because I hated both exclusion and acting out, but my mentor just coughed gently and gave me a wave to let it go.

‘Peter is… special, dear. Just let him be.’

So I let him be, with reluctance. I didn’t mind the child, but I couldn’t see why he should miss out on all the glorious activities I had prepared for that day, during many sleepless nights, all of them so perfectly well-timed and organised according to all the expert books on the topic? Why wouldn’t he sigh in wonder when he saw my refrigerator-shaped box, or decide with us what to put where? And why wouldn’t he too sing the carefully selected song or make appropriate art with us?

‘But, OK,’ I told myself. ‘Today we will simply pass this exam activity. We will not go about changing the world immediately!’

Peter was still swaying in his own little world, half turned away from us, and I began guiding the others into my own world.

The miraculous fridge-box was a huge success with those tiny minds and held their attention for a full quarter of an hour. I was secretly gloating, imagining the praise about my work written by my mentor in her notebook. The children reacted beautifully, with all their unpredictably predictable subquestions and ‘bloopers’. The activity went faster than I’d expected, so my mind kept browsing through its backup lesson plan ideas to efficiently continue the activity.

And then the carpet became ‘spiky’. That was the word murmured by a tiny future interior designer who was wearing a dress that day so she couldn’t be bothered to keep sitting on the carpet any longer. In case you didn’t know this, ‘spikiness’ is a highly contagious disease with children of a younger age. The consequences of this disease are fidgeting, loss of concentration and the frequent need for bathroom use. The more persistently I tried to keep implementing my lesson plan, the more the children demonstrated their discontent. They kept searching for the culprit for the spikiness with more and more noise and unrest, whereas, Peter kept humming something louder and louder in his little corner.

‘He’s mumbling again,’ thundered a rugged boy with messy hair towards Peter, pointing his finger at the boy he considered the obvious culprit for everything, and the muttering of his followers vibrated through the room.

‘Peter always mumbles when we don’t listen to our teacher,’ a curly-haired blonde girl scolded the ringleader, in a half-whisper but very eloquently, a dark look flashing below her eyebrows.

Within seconds, the room was divided into two currents which threatened to destroy my methodical approach. Peter covered his ears with his little hands and kept humming louder. I panicked, and my mind got hooked on to one of the points in my lesson plan which I considered the safest anchor at that point.

‘Come now, everything is all right,’ I said as if I honestly believed it. ‘We shall do some drawing next!’

The children quietened down for a while, sitting down into their labelled chairs, and I felt proud to notice a nod from my mentor about the change of activity. Or maybe she had merely recognised my rookie mistake of switching to art too fast? I had justified the change in the lesson plan to myself, like a proper teacher, but I was well aware of the fact that I was skipping several activities which should have taken place before art. When nobody was looking, I allowed myself to bite my lip, and then quickly checked if all the children were properly seated. Everybody was waiting for the following activity in peace. Well, everyone but Peter. But at least he had stopped mumbling and humming.

I distributed drawing papers to all the children, even to Peter. I placed his paper on the floor, right next to him.

‘You can join us when you wish,’ I said, simply to say something, but when I returned to my desk, I noticed that he had picked up his paper.

The introduction into my art activity began – carefully concocted, a bit overly ambitious for four-year-olds, but I was driven by dreams, so I tried to coax them into another prepared activity, while they were pinned in their chairs. By the time we had used my posters to sort out fruit from vegetables, main courses from condiments, breakfast from lunch and supper, boiled food from raw, even the chairs had become quite ‘spiky’. Children can smell a fraud, and they never forgive you for being dull! An empty piece of paper with no crayons in your hand can feel pretty uncomfortable! It only took a couple of minutes before I was trying, in vain again, to be louder than the kids, whether the impatient little artists or the non-artistic types. Logically, what followed was another session of Peter’s humming.

Despair and fear made me simplify the art task, all with the excuse of adapting to children. Oh, what a naive action – making it easy for the children only to make it easy for myself, and only to achieve a bit fat zero! I let them draw their favourite food. I distributed coloured pencils to everybody, even Peter, and asked each child to tell me what they would draw. They all bragged loudly about their future food masterpieces, except for Peter who kept totally quiet. However, he took his coloured pencils, lay down on the carpet and placed the paper in front of him. I had planned to devote 15 minutes to my chosen song, having prepared a detailed choreography to it for the sake of their physical activity; I was now blasting the song as a mere audio background, trying not to make eye contact with my mentor. The only ones carefully listening to the song were the kids who would sit in the first row in first grade, right close to the teacher. The others were telling their stories, colouring, doodling, some on their papers and some on the desks. I was trying to gulp down a cocktail made from my ego, pride, education and inexperience, slightly spiced up with the bitter flavour of frustration. The calmest person in the entire situation was Peter. He had leaned over his paper with his entire torso, and kept drawing with fervour.

I tried not to think negatively about the outcome of my exam and I looked at the clock. There was no way I could prolongue the drawing any longer as tiny artists are people with instant and explosive inspiration, so their art activity itself only lasted for a brief period.  Panic was drowning me in the kaleidoscope of my lesson plan, in which beginning and end had blended into a mush. The children started bringing me finished art assignments for appraisal, and I collected them with a weak grin.

‘So what will you do now? What’s next? How will you slam dunk this exam, genius?’ My own ego mocked me.

Help came out of the blue, with an accompaniment of somewhat loud mumbling which reached me from the backdrop of this tiny bunch of outstretched hands and artwork.

‘Oh, Pete, stop it!’

‘Miss, Pete’s pushing me!’

‘Stop mumbling, Pete! Move!’

But Peter would not be swayed. He reached me and placed his artwork on top of the pile. He looked at me. Straight into me. The children went quiet waiting for my reaction, and Peter withdrew into the back of the room, into his own world on the edge of the carpet.

There was not one drawing on Peter’s paper. There were 12 of them. Peter had drawn every single meal his friends had loudly announced as their favourite. The drawings were beautiful, in clear colours and shapes and completely recognizable. The only thing that confused me were dots next to each drawing – he added something like a littly black cloud next to some, and sun next to the others. And then it hit me! It didn’t take me long – after all, I was a model student, even if the teacher this time was a boy, a very special little boy.

‘And now we are all going to sit in a circle to see the most impportant thing,’ I announced with a victorious feeling.

My eyes, open wide and enthusiastic, gathered the little artists on the carpet in the blink of an eye. I lifted their artworrk and asked.

‘Let me hear it now – which of your favourite meals are heathy food, and which not so much?’

The little wisemen were full of advice copied from the adults they knew. IN the end, we assembled all their drawings in two collages – healthy and not-so-healthy food. We even sang our song. It contained a lyric about healthy and unhealthy food. It was their favourite lyric to sing out. Even Peter.

I passed my exam, with the help of my little knight who appeared just when things had gotten ‘spiky’. My mentor told me it was the very last activity that saved the day. Of course it did – it was so special.

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Wip? Perhaps…

‘Just like that,’ she thought, a cynical grin painting her face a particularly vicious shade of mouldy green. ‘My old life is deceased.’

 

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Listen to yourself

During the past year I was literally in this situation too often – listening to my own voice in the darkness*.

It is funny what you may hear in such times. I was lucky – I got to also listen to the voices of those I love, respect, admire. And I learned one very important thing – you can always choose not to listen to those who wish you harm, the negative voices of negative people who put others down to emphasize their own (questionable) value.

I must remember that for the following days as I return to daily routine and normal life in a few weeks. Not everyone deserves my attention. Not everyone should be in my life. And those who should, they deserve all my love and attention.

#friendship #family #postaneurysm
*(Before my eye surgery, I was almost blind as a consequence of a burst brain aneurysm.)

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Children’s books – news!

Just beacuse I was unable to see this past year, does not mean I was dilly-dallying. Here is something new/old!

These are special funbook editions of my already existent stories, Winky’s Colours, Mimi Finds Her Magic, The Good Pirate and Spikes for Hank. They were prepared by me, the author, but I am also a storytelling teacher and creative parent. Apart from the original stories (full but in black&white), these funbooks are also filled with photocopiable worksheets, riddles, colouring pages, songs, games and more. They can be used by parents, educators or children themselves. Each story contains a positive message about growing up, our environment, accepting our differences, friendship and family. Have fun! Read with a kid!
#reading #learning #teaching #childrensbooks #kidlit

http://www.lulu.com/…/mimi-…/paperback/product-24297998.html

 

Can you be a good man and a pirate? Anything is possible for love!

It’s easier to let others do stuff for you, but nothing tastes quite as good as when you find it yourself…

There may be something about yourself you don’t like, but everything we are adds to our strengths – we just have to learn to accept ourselves as we are…

Sometimes we all need some more colour in our lives. But nothing ever comes by itself – seek it!
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