Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A whimsical look at writing + Animaland***

What can I say? Sandra Bell-Lundy says it so well! (Appeared on Sep 19th 2008)

If you are an animal lover, you would know about the site for ASPCA (American Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals). But have you also explored their site for children - Animaland? This features much the same material as their teaching program for elementary kids in the USA. To start with, the animation on the top had my then 18 month old wanting it "again! again!", so I had to keep reloading the page to make it run :)

Starting from left to right, there is the news section which features latest animal related news in a form that children can understand and relate to, followed by instructions for pet care, and an 'Ask Azula' section which has animal related questions posted by children. All useful if you have, or are planning to get a pet. The next section is for children who care so much about animals as to consider an animal related career - definitely information that you would not get compiled together elsewhere. Perhaps not as detailed as you might wish, but it is a beginning.

The next section, Animal ABC has just one animal posted for each letter, with a bit of information about it. Expanding on this to make it more of a resource would be a good idea. As it is, it has novelty value, but fades away once the child is familiar with this information.

Real issues next has short articles about issues that don't fit in anywhere else, like what to do when a pet dies, or when missing. In the next section, there are a few really short cartoons about pet advice - basically just one sentence long. Good for one go only, since their value lies in the information provided, not entertainment.

Activities has sheets for downloading for offline activities like making cat toys or guinea pig bookmarks - I haven't tried these yet. There are also quiz like sheets about animals which are meant to pique your curiosity and encourage you to look for answers online or otherwise. Henri's book club teaches how to run a neighbourhood book club and has a few suggestions about animal books as well.

There are two games, the first of which pops up in a new medium sized window. It has no animations, just informational pop ups when you click on an item potentially dangerous to pets. Little children would not play this alone - you'd have to be at hand to explain and discuss each issue.

The other game is on a full page, and has a dog which runs around the house, mucking it up and asking for food and water, and walks. In addition, it keeps ingesting toilet cleaner or chocolate (if you let it) and falling sick. Quite a fun game to let children know just how much of a responsibility a dog can be. Do remember that kids, with typical perversity, may just like to make the dog sick frequently just to get mamma to exclaim and hurry over to the computer so they can get a laugh! Every little while the game will pause and ask if you are ready to go to the local pet shelter and get a pet :)

Animaland is a good site in that it conveys well its mission and meaning, and so is recommended. If you are looking for more educational material - lesson plans etc, go to their sister site: ASPCA.education.org
The url for Animaland - http://www.aspca.org/site/PageServer?pagename=kids_home

P.S. I love it when authors - or artists - let us have a glimpse of what it might be like for them in the throes of the creative process. Might be is the operative word. We don't know that Sandra Bell-Lundy was truly overwhelmed by the extra work load her blog provided :D But we see that it might be so, and for a moment, see the person behind the name and the label. The label of a role that we fix on each and every person around us. Cartoonist. Painter. Doctor. Sweeper. Writer. Director....

And, in a similar vein, I love the character of Mrs. Ariadne Oliver in Agatha Christie novels, when she is talking about the process of writing books -
"... oh, Mrs. Oliver, it must be marvellous to write."


"Oh, because it must. It must be wonderful just to sit down and write off a whole book."

"It doesn't happen exactly like that. One actually has to think, you know. And thinking is always a bore. And you have to plan things. And then one gets stuck every now and then and you feel you'll never get out of the mess - but you do! Writing's not particularly enjoyable.It's hard work like everything else."

"It doesn't seem like work."

"Not to you, because you don't have to do it! It feels very like work to me. Some days I can only keep going by repeating over and over to myself the amount of money Imight get for my next serial rights. That spurs you on, you know. So does your bank book when you see how much overdrawn you are."

"I never imagined you actually typed your books yourself, I thought you'd have a secretary."

"I did have a secretary and I used to try and dictate to her but she ws so competent that it used to depress me. I felt she knew so much more about English and grammar and full stops than I did, that it gave me a kind of inferiority complex. Then I tried having a thoroughly incompetent secretary but of course that didn't answer very well either."

"It must be so wonderful to be able to think of things."

"I can always think of things," said Mrs. Oliver, happily. "What is so tiring is writing them down. I always think I've finished and then when I count up I find I've only written thirty thousand words instead of sixty thousand and so then I have to throw in another murder and get the heroine kidnapped again. It's all very boring."...
Excerpted from her novel Cards on the table. I have removed the extra sentences of course, to get only the dialogue. But it is fun to imagine Dame Christie sitting on a dull day, cursing her writer's block and using it, in wry humour, as part of her story another day... But of course, it is all 'might have been'. For all I know, she had a dozen competent secretaries :)

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