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Book Review: The Polar Express by Chris Van Allsburg

Image via Goodreads

Genre: Picture Books, Children’s Fiction

Rating: 5 out of 5

Recommend to Others?: Yes

 

Summary (via Amazon):
. . .

A young boy, lying awake one Christmas Eve, is welcomed aboard a magical trip to the North Pole . . . 

Through dark forests, over tall mountains, and across a desert of ice, the Polar Express makes its way to the city atop the world, where the boy will make his Christmas wish. 

. . .

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My Review:
A quiet, enchanting story that celebrates the spirit of the season. Thanks to the books wide design, the beautiful art truly sweeps across the pages as The Polar Express swiftly carries the children towards the North Pole. I’m happy to see that movie still maintains the qualities of the original while adding more to it.

The appeal of this book is high. I can imagine this book being read at bedtime on Christmas Eve. Because I already knew what to expect from having seen the movie a bunch of times, I was really drawn to the artwork as the narrative softly played in the back of my mind. The Polar Express is a great book to have on your bookshelf.

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Quote of the Day: from “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” by J. K. Rowling

Royalty Free Image via Pixabay | Edited in Pixlr Express web app | Text added in Paint


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Short Story: “Quiet Hours” [Part 4 of 4 ~ END]

“Quiet Hours” by Christina @ The Bookshelf Corner [© 2015]

In Case You Missed It:
Part ONE
Part TWO
Part THREE


A quick note before the last part begins. I just want to say thank you to everyone who has viewed and liked this ol’ story of mine. I’m not the best writer but I hoped you at least had a good reading experience.

Many thanks,

Christina


● PART FOUR ●

To say that he was nervous on his first day of practice would be an understatement. He was a flat-out train wreck about to derail on the inside, though no one would have guessed by his expressionless features that were only slightly crinkled with worry. His Uncle Steven had been allowed to leave work early so he could take him and Mark to practice. Julian had spent the car ride feeling his anxiety clawing at him while Mark chatted away happily. He didn’t want to screw things up but he also wanted to keep his lunch down. He had no desire to see what pizza looked like after being eaten.

Only a few kids were there when they arrived, so Uncle Steven took that time to speak privately to the coach. In the meantime, Mark introduced him to the other players as more and more began to arrive. Julian counted it as less than half a victory as he could only nod politely by way of greeting. A few of them gave him odd looks and one boy asked why he wasn’t saying anything.

“It just takes him a while to get to know people,” Mark said in his defense.

A tilt of the head from a curly haired boy. “Is he any good at soccer?”

Mark nodded enthusiastically. “Sure is! We play all the time.” They didn’t look entirely convinced, but at least no one was calling him names or trying to shove miscellaneous substances down his shorts.

Once everyone had arrived the coach gave a speech to the players and parents about the upcoming season and handed out paper work, schedules, and pack lists for games to the adults. Luckily, Coach Bryan briefly introduced Julian as their new team member seeing as everyone else already knew each other from past seasons. That little moment on center stage was enough to make his palms damp.

After that practice began.  Uncle Steven stayed as promised, which he was grateful for. He needed all the support he could get. Coach Bryan ran them through skill exercises, nothing too serious for the first day. Mark appeared to be a natural as did some of the other boys, which he envied. But Julian’s heart leapt with pride when the coach told him to keep up the good work. As they practiced scoring goals against a goalie he managed to get in most of his shots in the net. It was exhilarating–especially since he hadn’t had to say anything to anyone as they were too focused on completing each drill.

Julian felt amazing after practice ended an hour later as he, Uncle Steven and Mark walked back to the car. He was dirty, smelly, and in a good mood. Practice had gone surprisingly well. His anxiety had stayed at a medium volume and the other kids treated him kindly enough, though he still got a few puzzling looks. Some had gone as far as to tell him that he did a good job, praise he had not expected on the first day. He couldn’t help grinning as they sped down the road towards home after dropping Mark off at his house.

“Well there’s a smile I haven’t seen in a while,” Uncle Steven said. His kind eyes smiled at him in the rear-view mirror.

“Practice was fun,” Julian said simply from the back seat.

His uncle showed perfect white teeth. “That’s good to hear. You looked great out there, kiddo. I’m very proud of you.”

“Thank you. I’m proud of me, too.”

● ● ● ● ●

In the following weeks there was a noticeable change in Julian’s mood. He was happier these days. To his family, he appeared to have found a new place where he could be comfortable speaking. Aunt Laura, Uncle Steven, and Cousin Anthony attended every one of his games thus far. Their love and support elevated his confidence and helped him play his best.

At times, he felt his anxiety assert itself when he had to go to school or some other place with his aunt or uncle. Talking to the boys on his team was hard, too–it was still too new for him–yet Julian got by almost as easily as he conversed with Mark. However, unbeknownst to him, Julian had not only made friends but also acquired more people looking out for him at school because he was still getting picked on from time to time.

Not to say that Julian was completely cured of his mutism and social anxiety. At school he continued to freeze up, stiff and cold like a Popsicle. If a teacher called on him or whenever a student he didn’t know very well tried to talk to him he would feel the burn of awkwardness in his cheeks. But at least he was one step closer to getting better.

That was all that mattered.


The End


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Short Story: “Quiet Hours” [Part 3 of 4]

“Quiet Hours” by Christina @ The Bookshelf Corner [© 2015]

In Case You Missed It:
Part ONE
Part TWO

● PART THREE ●

“Mark thinks I should join the soccer team.”

All conversation came to an abrupt halt at Julian’s sudden outburst into the cacophony of clanks and scrapes, munches and moans of food being consumed. He had remained in a contemplative state for the rest of the day (with no further humiliating incidents towards his lack of speech) and had said very little once he got home. Julian finally found the courage halfway through dinner to say something. Their gawks and side glances at each other weren’t helping the situation either. He waited with a painful lump–his heart?–in his throat.

Uncle Steven was the first to speak. “We didn’t think you’d be interested in playing sports,” he said. In other words, they didn’t think he’d like being around people in that kind of setting when he was already having a hard time in school. Julian agreed, but maybe it was time to try something new.

“I could learn to like it…maybe,” Julian replied.

“Well, then I think that’s a great idea, son,” his uncle said joyously. Julian preened a bit at being called son. It made him feel more at home. “Sports are a great way to get out and be active.”

“Plus it’ll get you into shape, gain some muscles,” his cousin Anthony, a high school junior, added with a grin. “I’ve seen you play with your friend Mark. I think you’ve got potential.”

Aunt Laura nodded, adding, “Think of all the friends you could make. It’s a wonderful idea, Julian.”

“What would you like do to?” Uncle Steven asked his nephew.

Julian pursed his lips, mulling over the idea again. It seemed like a good idea, but there were other ramifications to consider. “What if they…make fun of me, like the kids at school? Won’t I have to talk to…people?” The very notion was starting to make playing soccer sound like torture.

“Julian, I’m sure they’ll understand,” said Uncle Steven. “They just have to get to know you and vise versa.”

“Yeah! And if you don’t like it, I’ll help you find something else that interests you, little bro,” Anthony offered. Julian liked it when his cousin referred to him as a brother.

Julian stayed silent for a while.

“Do you need to time think about?” wondered Aunt Laura.

“Um…you guys will come to games…and stuff like that…right?” Julian at last asked. They all nodded. “Okay. I’ll try it then.”

He hoped things will turn out fine.


To Be Continued…


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Short Story: “Quiet Hours” [Part 2 of 4]

“Quiet Hours” by Christina @ The Bookshelf Corner [© 2015]

In Case You Missed It:
Part ONE

● PART TWO ●

Julian stared out the window instead paying attention to Mr. Roster go over last night’s assigned reading. Julian would rather have been somewhere else: perhaps a desert or an island or underneath the covers of his bed. There were too many people in the classroom. Too many people who he worried would sneer at him if he caught their eye. It was always best to appear as small as a speck of sand, to stay unnoticed for as long as possible during school hours. If he didn’t move or make a sound, he’d survive; at least that’s what he told himself daily. There were five minutes left until lunch and so far he’d remain undetected.

“Julian, how would you describe the character development of the protagonist?” Mr. Roster asked unexpectedly.

The horror.

Julian’s face immediately went blank as his heart pounded painfully in his chest. His anxiety was an overwhelmingly monstrous beast ready to swallow him in a single gulp. He seemed to fold in on himself, avoiding eye contact because he knew everyone was staring at the silent freak. He wished his teacher would leave him be, but his aunt and uncle had discussed his condition with Mr. Roster, the principle, the school counselor, and other important adults at school. It was for his own good, frightening as it was.

Everyone was waiting expectantly for him to say something. But he couldn’t. Not today. Just like any other day. Mr. Roster sighed heavily and moved on. That was fine with Julian. Thankfully the bell rang a few minutes later and he escaped swiftly out the door, eager to find Mark.

Mark was already in the cafeteria seated in a corner as far from others as he could get – he did that most of the time for Julian’s sake. Sometimes he wondered how the two were still friends. Mark was tall for his age, smart, outgoing, and everyone liked him–especially the girls. Julian, on the other hand, was plain and short. There was nothing special about lame old Julian, who was an unremarkable piece of nothing with hardly any prospects for the future.

Mark looked up from his sandwich and smiled a greeting when he saw Julian approaching. “Hey, Julian! How’s it going, man?”

Julian shrugged, taking a seat on the opposite side of the table. His most recent bout of embarrassment felt like thousand-pound weights on his shoulders, hunching his tiny form.

His friend frowned. “Are you okay? Was someone mean to you again? I still can’t believe those jerks tried to make you into a cake. Idiots.”

Julian didn’t respond as he opened his lunch.

“Come on, Jule, I’m your friend. You can tell it to me slowly.”

He looked up to find Mark leaning forward and staring intensely at him. It was a little unnerving to be honest and it took a moment or two for Julian to arrange his thoughts into sentences. It came out in a low voice. “Mr. Roster called on me in class.” Mark nodded knowingly. “I…got scared…again.”

“Well I’m sure you’ll do better next time, buddy. You won’t give up on me now, will ya?”

Julian smiled just a little and Mark grinned back at him.

“Okay, so I think I have a great idea to help you, you know, hasten the talking process.”

He raised an eyebrow as he bit into his peanut butter and jelly sandwich, wary.

“You know how I play soccer in the fall in the recreational program the town has? Well I was thinking that you could join, too. You’d meet new people and we’d get to be on the same team together!” Mark was practically bouncing in his seat, while Julian held a half-panicked look.

“I don’t think…that would be a good idea, Mark.”

“Why not? We play all the time at my house. There’re no try outs. That’s one less worry!” Mark was about to explode from barely concealed excitement. “The guys who usually play on the team are really cool and Coach Bryan is awesome. And since the season hasn’t started yet, there shouldn’t be much of a problem with you joining. I think you’d have a lot of fun and it’d boost your confidence.” He paused. “So, what do you think?”

Julian hesitated. “I don’t know…”

The other boy held up his hands, backing down some so as not to put a lot of pressure on his best friend since kindergarten. “Okay, okay. At least think it through for a day or two. Talk to your aunt and uncle about it. The season doesn’t start for another two weeks; there’s still time. No rush, alright? This isn’t some boring test. There are no right or wrong answers here.”

They smiled at each other. Julian was still unsure, but since Mark had never led him astray before he’d consider it. He’d talk to Aunt Laura and Uncle Steven to see what they thought of it all.


To Be Continued…


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Short Story: “Quiet Hours” by Christina @ The Bookshelf Corner [Part 1 of 4]

“Quiet Hours” by Christina @ The Bookshelf Corner [Part 1 of 4] [© 2015]

I decided to post a short story I had written a few years ago, broken into four parts that will be posted this week. I don’t remember what inspired this piece but it’s one of my favorites that I’ve written.

I hope you enjoy!

 

● PART ONE ●

He tried his best to stealthily creep his way back into the house, fervently hoping that he wouldn’t attract attention. His Aunt Laura was already home he saw from her car in the driveway. He’d prefer that she didn’t see him in his currently sorry state. The once clean yellow shirt was now damp and sticky with mud, powdered with splotches of flour. Egg yolk in his hair turned it into a goopy mess that every now and then he had to swipe from his eyes. He looked like the most disgusting sweet treat ever created.

No. Aunt Laura didn’t need to see how pathetic he looked right now.

Again.

One glance over of him and she’d know that he was once more made the subject of a random experiment by the other boys at school. When stuff like this happened he always tried to make sure that no one at home saw him when he returned from school–at least during the first hour so he could wallow in private misery. He’d learned that was for the best.

He cracked the white front door open as soundlessly as he could, cringing every time the door screeched and groaned. The stairs were a straight shot from the door. He only had to cross a couple feet of no-man’s land to get to freedom. Gazing around for a moment he listened for any signs that his aunt. She was nowhere nearby that he could tell, so he made a dash for the stairs. But in his haste and fear of being caught his footsteps made more noise than he would have liked. Of course his luck was brought to a crashing halt when, halfway to his room, his aunt stepped out of his cousin’s bedroom right before him.

Aunt Laura steadied him before he could land on his butt. She stared at him silently before letting loose a discontented sigh. “Another rough day, Julian?” she asked, ignoring the mud and flour that now covered her dress.

All Julian could do was nod, fighting hard not to show just how bad a day it had been. A less than successful attempt for sure considering state of his shirt and hair. Not to mention he’d never been good at expressing his feelings. It frustrated his ten-year-old self to feel his body seizing up a little in front of Aunt Laura. He hoped she wouldn’t notice that either.

“Would you like to talk about it?” she continued.

A squeak escaped his mouth before he could stifle it. A dense cloud of trepidation fogged his mind. Desperately, he searched for something to say to atone for the involuntary noise, but all that came out was “Umm…uhhh” and his cheeks burst into flames. How embarrassing.

Julian soon found himself enclosed in his aunt’s warm embrace, her vanilla-honey mixed perfume permeating the air around them. He relaxed just a bit but kept himself at arm’s length to avoid leaving a bigger mess on her magenta dress. Aunt Laura laughed. “Don’t mind the dress, sweetie. I’m more concerned about you.” His blood began to pump faster in his veins. He wanted to tell her how humiliated he felt when the boys in his grade ganged up on him, thinking it would be funny to make a cake out of him. He wanted to tell her how excruciatingly difficult it was trying to tell them to stop but failing to produced words. He wanted to yell and rage, kick and scream about how frustrating it was that he couldn’t stand up for himself, how the other kids made a habit of teasing him because he couldn’t speak. So he struggled to say something, anything, to his aunt because he knew if he did it would make her happy; it would make him feel a tad better at the very least. “Would you like help getting cleaned up?” Aunt Laura asked, patient as ever.

“Yes, please,” Julian finally managed to whisper.

Aunt Laura’s smile grew. “Very well. And afterwards I can make you a snack if you’re hungry.”

He gave a tiny smile in response but it quickly went away as he said, “Aunt Laura? Are you sure I can’t…stay home from school?”

She sighed wistfully. “Things won’t get better if you hide, Julian.”

“But they’re not getting better even if I do go,” he said gloomily as they made their way to the bathroom. “I can’t…I can’t…”

“I know,” she said, fetching a towel from a cabinet.

Julian slumped himself onto the downed toil seat lid. “It’s hard.”

Another sigh. “This isn’t going to go away over night, love. It’ll take time and practice to get over this fear of yours–”

“But I only have one friend at school! That makes me a loser, right?” Aunt Laura began to wash his face instead of answering. He couldn’t blame her. It wasn’t her fault. According to Dr. Morrist, his therapist who he saw biweekly, Julian has selective mutism and social anxiety. In short, he was completely fine–for the most part–with speaking at home, but at school or other social gatherings, his voice would shut down and his body seized in panic. Julian hated being this way. He hated that at age eleven he couldn’t talk to people as straightforwardly as everyone else could. And because of that his classmates would make fun of him from time to time, sometimes trying to force him to speak. Not many people understood how terrifying speaking made him feel. Life sucked. The only people he spoke to were his Aunt Laura and Uncle Steven, his older cousin Anthony, and his only friend at school Mark, who didn’t judge or taunt him for his quiet. Julian wished often things would change. He wished he had more friends like Anthony and did well in school like Mark. He wished there wasn’t so much anxiety suffocating him every day.

He simply wished that he could speak.


To Be Continued…


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I Test My Harry Potter Knowledge (Having Only Seen The Movies)

As the title suggests, I’ve only seen all of the Harry Potter movies. I tried reading book 1 way back when but the book was daunting and big and I wasn’t much of a fan of books as I am now. I don’t know if I’ll ever read the books, but it’s likely at some point in the future. I thought it would be fun to take a few Harry Potter quizzes – ranging from easy to hard – to see how much I knew. The results are not surprising but I had fun regardless.

Royalty Free Image via Pixabay

Quiz Title: The Basic Harry Potter Quiz

https://www.allthetests.com/quiz25/quiz/1216992873/The-Basic-Harry-Potter-Quiz

Score: 6 out of 10

This quiz was fairly easy but of course not so great a score. I don’t know the order of the books so a couple questions I kind of guessed.

 

Quiz Title: This 15-Question Quiz Separates Casual Harry Potter Fans From The Hardcore Fans

https://www.buzzfeed.com/caseyrackham/can-you-correctly-answer-these-easy-medium-and-hard-harry

Score: 4 out of 15

This one was really hard. I didn’t know most of it (clearly). One question I would have only known if I’d read the books but I surprisingly got that one right. This had a Christmas theme.

 

Quiz Title: The Harry Potter (Difficulty: Medium to Hard) quiz

https://www.goodreads.com/quizzes/24109-harry-potter-difficulty-medium-to-hard

Score: 3 out of 14

This was really hard. My knowledge of the Harry Potter universe was laughable. I don’t remember any of these things from the movie.

 

Quiz Title: Can you name the Harry Potter books?

https://www.sporcle.com/games/g/potterbooks

Score: 7 out of 7 | 2 minute time limit

The only one I was sure I would get 100% on…which is why I picked it (ahaha).

 

Quiz Title: Can you tell your Harry Potter characters (H) from your Supreme Court Justices (S), or will you fight the law and see the law win?

https://www.sporcle.com/games/christopherjulia/harry-potter-character-or-supreme-court-justice

Score: 10 out of 16 | 1 minute time limit

This sounded like a fun quiz so I decided to try it out. I can name on one hand Supreme Court Justices so there was a good challenge to it. I felt some pressure because you only had a minute to do the quiz and I really wanted to make a good guess at it.

 

Conclusion: I. Know. Nothing. I should probably read the books. They will always tell you more than the movies.