Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Frankenstein at 200 – Review of Making the Monster, The Science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein by Katheryn Harkup

When we posted our Frankenstein inspired Story Sack features a few weeks ago we promised you a full review of Katheryn Harkup’s ‘Making the Monster, The Science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein’, and so here it is!

So firstly, this book does exactly what it says on the cover, and a more bedsides. Making the Monster is a non- fiction adult’s book that explores the sciences that Victor would have used to fashion his creation and history both social and Mary Shelley’s that went into the shaping of the book. Despite being an adult book, the book is accessible (for me a dyslexic who reads predominately children’s books, and who has not studied any science since the mid 1990’s, I both read and understood it without difficulty) so is definitely pitched at a level that older YA readers will be able to read and understand.

Making The Monster looks at the science that was known at the time and how Victor would have applied it to both construct and crucially to bring it to life. With this aim, Katheryn explores the history of science from the ancient times through alchemy to the life and times of Mary (and of course Victor), The Enlightenment. The Enlightenment being at time where great leaps in the understanding and the application of science, medicine and electricity took place, and when science was an everyday entertainment and subject of interest and conversation to the greater public. 

In addition to looking at the ‘nut’s and bolts’ of how the monster could have been made, Katheryn explores the science obsessed society in which Mary was surrounded, and the fascinating, eccentric, brilliant and often morally dubious real life figures that Katheryn poses as the influence of some of the books pivotal characters. The likes of John Hunter the famous surgeon, anatomist and dentist who pioneered may medical advances (many still used today) whose multi-faceted personality has said to have inspire, not only Frankenstein, but Jackal and Hyde, Doctor Doolittle, and Moby Dick.

But it is not just the science that makes the story of Making the Monster so fascinating, but the history, not only of science, and society at a whole, but of Mary herself and her unique, radical, and often uncontroversial upbringing. Kathryn begins the book, by exploring the lives of both Mary’s parents, Mary Wollstonecraft – writer, translator and pro-feminist and William Godwin a writer known for his radical views. Mary’s childhood, was one in which she was exposed to and immersed in the company of many of the great thinkers of the time, as many of her father friends would visit their home, which also doubled as a publishing house for her father and step-mother’s publishing business and bookshop meaning young Mary also had access to a wealth of texts. 

Making the Monster as part of our YA Frankenstein Story Sack

In the early chapters, Katheryn looks at how this unique upbringing helped shape Mary, and nurture her intelligence and creativity, it also looks at many of the family and her future husband’s (Percy Shelley) friends and acquaintances and how they also played strong parts in influencing the novel. Through reading these chapters of Mary own life experiences, Katheryn also explores the auto-biographical elements of Frankenstein, inspired by dreams of the reanimation of her recently deceased child, and of the aspects of both Percy’s personality and life that heavily influenced the character of victor.

Making the Monster, The Science behind Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, is a fascinating read, which would appeal to adults and YA readers who are interested in sciences, social histories or literature, as it brings a beautifully penned and accessible in-depth look at all the aspects that had to culminate for Mary to write the book. It is definitely worth investing the time to read this fascinating book.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Frankenstein at 200 – The Monster Re-Envisioned for 2018 –A Review of Shell by Paula Rawsthorne

Continuing our bicentenary celebrations of all things Frankenstein, we bring you a review of Paula Rawsthorne’s YA Frankenstein inspired YA Shell.

Published in early January this year, Shell hit bookshops almost 200 years to the day that Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein first editions appeared in print. Frankenstein is an obvious inspiration for Rawsthorne’s Shell, and indeed appears in the book in a literary equivalent of a TV or Movie camo.

Shell, follows the death and life of terminally ill teenager Lucy. The first chapter reads like a ‘sick-lit’ showing Lucy in hospital trying to prepare her optimistic, best friend Mak for the inevitable, until Lucy’s death at the end of the chapter. At this point Sick-Lit is definitely put to bed as Lucy’s body is buried, and Lucy regains consciousness.

Lucy is awake, alive, in pain, and confused, but soon discovers that her wealthy desperate parents have gone to extreme lengths to cheat death. With the assistance of Dr Radnor and his revolutionary, unsanctified, unregulated research, her brain and eyes have been transplanted into another body. The procedure is revolutionary and top secrets, so Lucy’s extra life is a poison chalice as she struggles to accept her new life and the donor’s faces that stares back at her from the mirror.

Lucy’s struggles with her place in the natural world and her questions about who she is are compounded when she returns home under the premise of troubled teen Renee who has been befriended by and staying with her parents. All the people she loves cannot know who she actually is and treat her with suspicion and hostility. Her Gran, best friend Mak and even her horse and beloved dog are terrified of her.

Lucy’s life seems destined to be one of solitude and deceit until she embraces her new Shell and begins to forge friendships with people that would have never given her a second glance in her own body. The harmony of her new life is on a knife edge when a movie of her is posted online and goes viral, igniting the interest of a boy from the other side of the world who is desperately seeking someone dear him. Someone with the same face, who has disappeared.

When Lucy uncovers the dark and deadly secrets about her resurrection, she becomes trapped in an intricate web of lies and deception. With no one to turn to, she is totally at the mercy of her parents and the obsessive Dr Radnor. Can she alone defeat the madness? Or dare she hope for help?

Shell is a page turning thriller, which has identity and friendship at its core. Emotional, exciting and engaging, it explores the notion of self – what makes us who we are, and acceptance as it follows the strained relationship of Mak and Renee to its conclusion.

With Shell Rawsthorne has created a Frankenstein for the twenty first century, carefully preserving the key themes but keeping it appealing for a YA audience. I know from experience that you can have a monster in a YA novel, as long as it’s sexy. Werewolf – Sexy = Good. Dog Headed Human – grotesque = bad. Patchwork corpse monster - grotesque = bad. New body which is a beautiful upgraded from the original – sexy = good. So Rawsthorne’s choice of an appealing Shell for Lucy to take on her adventure was definitely a good one! 

As in the original Shell has looked at current science procedures and how they may advance in the near future. After all in 2018 people having organ transplants is not science fiction, it is science, so the stretch to brain transplant seems feasible, much like Mary’s monster must have seem possible, two centuries ago at the time of scientific, surgical and electrical revolution.

Many of Mary’s themes of acceptance, sense of self and isolation is highlighted as Lucy questions her being, and is shunned by people. It isn’t as extreme as the Monsters experience but again, it is perfectly pitched for its target audience, after all what teenager isn’t concerned with the notion of being unaccepted and ostracised by their peers?

As for the Scientist, the iconic Victor Frankenstein, in Shell Dr Radnor is a charismatic, talented, obsessive genius. He is on the surface a Victor for the twenty first century however he differs from Mary original. Victor Frankenstein is indeed vain, obsessive and misguided, but he is hounded by the turmoil of his moral campus, spending the whole book endeavouring to rectify his actions, but ever tormented by the knowledge that there is no moral right answer, that he cannot save the Monster, humanity and his family. In short Victor is emphatic and as a reader you feel sorry for him as much as you do for his creation. Radnor by comparison has a moral compass that is decisively stuck on amoral. He is dark, manipulative villain with no redeeming qualities. But if like in Shelley’s original the scientist a metaphor for something else – government, ruling classes or even multinational companies - the profiteering and vain Radnor has indeed hit’s the nail on the head.

With Shell Paula Rawsthorne has brought Frankenstein up to date for a modern audience whilst being sympathetic to the source material, whilst also referencing other–re-envisioning’s with shades of Masamune Shirow's ‘Ghost in a Shell’ and Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse. Shell is a brilliant read as a standalone book, but also a great text to use as an introduction to the original or to be read alongside Shelley’s original. I believe it would also go well as an addition to a YA Frankenstein Story Sack.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at 200 – Story Sacks

Continuing our series of posts celebrating the bicentenary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, we present some ideas on constructing story sacks based around the book.

So just before we begin, I’ll start with as quick refresher of what is included in a story sack..

  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel)
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

So, we at SOTB have prepared some story sack for different ages younger readers, MG and YA, so we shall commence with younger readers.

Frankenstein Story Sack for Younger Readers

To start with we have an age appropriate version of the book the Usborne Young Readers version, and for non-fiction, we recommend this soon to be published much anticipated title, the non-fiction picture book Fanatically Great Woman who Made History by Kate Pankhurst which has a section about Mary Shelley. For toys we have swiped up reduced Halloween goods, with a soft toy Monster, clockwork monster and bouncing rubber balls eyes, plus a mask for role play. We’ve also slipped some edible brains.

Frankenstein Story Sack for Middle Grade Readers

For the Middle Grade readers, we have stuck with much of the same elements but swapping out the non-fiction for The Phoenix Comic Book: Corpse Talk Series One by Adam Murphy, who have a comic book strip on Shelley. We’ve also added a copy of one of our favourite MG Frankenstein inspired novels, Mo O’Hara’s My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish.

Frankenstein Story Sack for Young Adult Reader

So, YA readers are more advanced and mature, so for their story sack, we head with a copy of Mary Shelley’s original text of Frankenstein. For Nonfiction we have two options, a study guide which are readily available in your local bookshop, on line or frequently in charity shops, which gives you a greater understanding of the text if read in combination. 

The alternative non-fiction title is Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup, to be published by Bloomsbury in February. This book promised to explore the science and feasibly of Shelley's creation, which should be interesting and be interesting to any teenagers interested in STEM disciplines. Keep an eye on the blog for upcoming review post of Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup.

For the games entertainment element we thought that YA readers may enjoy watching a movie adaptation, so would recommend for younger Teen’s the DVD of the Universal 1931, James Whale directed Frankenstein with the classic Boris Karloff Monster. For more mature reader of 15 plus we would suggest the DVD of the most true adaptation, the 1994 Mary Shelley's Frankenstein with Kenneth Branagh at the helm and multitasking by taking on the role of Victor with Robert De Niro as the Monster.

Pop back to see our upcoming reviews of Making the Monster: The Science Behind Mary Shelley's Frankenstein by Kathryn Harkup and Shell by Paula Rawsthorne!

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at 200 – A Look at its cultural Impact & Legacy

Just like The Monster with its in-human size and elongated shadow, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein/ The Modern Prometheus, has had a massive impact on culture which has spanned the past two centuries.

To start Frankenstein is deemed by many to have been the first ever science fiction novel, with notable author Brian Aldiss stating that Frankenstein is "the first seminal work to which the label SF can be logically attached." This is partly due to Shelley’s book being the first to have a protagonist actively and intentionally choosing to peruse science. This is in my mind is a crowning achievement, as Science Fiction is most commonly associated to me a male dominated genre, the fact that the book that birthed the genre was written by a woman, and a teenager at that it astonishing.

Of course like all great writers there are people who will contest Mary Shelley’s authenticity, with many people over the years alleging that the teenage Mary was too immature to have written the manuscript and that her then lover and future husband Percy Shelley actually wrote it but due to being essentially blacklisted by publisher had her submit on his behalf. Having said this, if Percy was going to have someone publish it surely he’s have picked a male pen-name not have Mary publish it anonymously? It is the anonymous author of the 1818 edition which has sparked the debate on the penmanship, but then the time woman writers, generally could not publish under their own name, as with the Bronte Sisters. When it comes to maturity, it is worth remembering that Mary had a far from ordinary up bringing, surrounded by some of the greatest thinkers of the time who visited the family home to see her father journalist William Godwin. Although her mother died shortly after she was born Mary was fascinated and influenced by her writings, her mother being the philosopher, educator, and writer Mary Wollstonecraft who published some of the first ever feminist texts.

Controversy aside, Frankenstein has had a huge cultural impact, it was have spawned the Sci-Fi Genre, but it is most associated with Horror. This is strangely appropriate, as the story was written as a result of a challenge set my Lord Bryon (yes that one) to the party staying at Villa Diodati on Lake Geneva to all write a horror story.

Since its publication Frankenstein has continued to be one of the cornerstones of horror, the famed Boris Karloff green faced high browed monster from the Universal Dark Universe of the 1930 is synonymous with Frankenstein today, and its influence has reverberated through the twentieth century and into the twenty first. The association with horror was further cemented with Hammer Horror films of the mid-20th Century, and many other adaptions, to varying quality, Kenneth Branagh good, the Daniel Radcliffe fronted Victor Frankenstein from 2015 not so good. And now the Universal Dark Universe reboot (if it ever gets off the ground) with Javier Bardem due to take on the role of The Monster.

One thing is clear Frankenstein translates well to the screen, with many directors inspired by the tale of man and monster, but none so much as Tim Burton, who has reimagined the tales on many occasions. Starting with, Frankenweenie, about a boy who brings his deceased pet dog back to life, which the director has made not once but twice! First as a live action black and white short in 1984, then as a full length animated feature in 2012. Then his character Sally from Nightmare before Christmas graphic novel and animated film, is also a Frankenstein type creation. Burton's 1990 movie Edward scissor hands about a boy created by a scientist who died leaving him with scissors for hands is also a homage to Shelley's tale.

The influences stack up, from Herman in the Munster’s, to Frank in Hotel Transylvania, Guy Bass’s Stitch Head to one of SOTB favourites Frankie in My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish by Mo O’Hara, and the very newly published Shell by Paula Rawsthorne. The Stage is no stranger to Frankenstein either with the Philliph Pullman's script or the highly praised National Theatre's Danny Boyle directed play starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller. To more modern takes utilising more modern sciences, like Ghost in a Shell and Blade Runner.

No matter what controversy and debate may continue over Mary’s penmanship, her book has had a huge impact and is still being used as a source of inspiration today. This year to mark the bicentenary of its publication, a movie about Mary herself and her writing Frankenstein will hit cinemas in the summer, fronted in the titular role by Elle Fanning called simply; Mary Shelley!

Monday, 22 January 2018

Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein at 200 3D Review

Frankenstein and his monster both turn 200 this month, and by way of celebration we at SOBS running a week Frankenstein posts. Over the week we’ll be posting reviews –an adult review and one by a teen. Plus running an article on the cultural legacy of Shelley’s creation and how it has manged to evolve and say relevant through the last two centuries. We’ll finish up with some Frankenstein inspires story sacks, for younger children and young adults. So first up, let’s start with the reviews.

Image result for frankenstein bookFrankenstein Review by Bea aged 13

Captain Robert Walton was trying to reach the North Pole, when he met Victor Frankenstein: The Creator.

Frankenstein, ill from the terrible cold, has been welcomed upon Walton’s ship where he reveals his past and the story of ‘The Monster.’ Frankenstein shows his private world of creating the creature and shows how his mistakes had led to him to be sick with worry, for how had he let his masterpiece escape? After endless search and disastrous help, he reveals word of his brother, William, who had been murdered!

More crimes committed towards his family, forced him to face his creation, but The Monster reveals that there is more to him than meets the eye. Is everything Victor hears true? Or is this even the Monsters real story, and why does he end up in the North Pole almost dead?

Frankenstein is a fantastic book full of creative twists and turns written by the young author Mary Shelley. Brilliant old English, that starts off tough but pushes you into the story and will never let you out. I couldn’t put it down and thought it was one of the best books I have ever read!

Frankenstein Review Adult

Reading a classic for the first time is always a peculiar thing, which I approach with a certain amount of trepidation, I am always concerned whether it will meet my expectations, after all it is a classic - a story I know. One I was weaned on by numerous adaptations, reimagining’s or the transportation of key characters into other worlds, literary or on screen.

However when reading the original I released that despite having encountered Frankenstein and his monster before in many guises, none of them capture the essences of Mary Shelley’s original text – like a Xerox copy that has been copied again and again, they fade losing details and potency.

Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus is still fresh, relevant engaging and beautiful. To start with though a tip: persevere through part one – initially it seems unrelated and hard going, but stick with it for you will be rewarded! The first part of the book comprises of four letters written by explorer R Walton to his beloved sister as he attempts to be the first man to battle the elements to reach the North Pole. These letters at first reading seem out of place and unrelated to the main plot as through his letter you are exposed to the interworking’s of a deeply flawed man’s mind, who’s singularly obsessed with no concern for the fate of anyone around him as he leads them towards a very cold painful demise. But when you get to letter four the story comes to life and pace changes with the first glimpse of the monster and the staving, battered Victor Frankenstein is pulled from the icy waters. From here on out we get the story we expect as Frankenstein recounts his tale as warning to Walton about his ambitions and vanity.

Victor from his deathbed tells of his obsession with science, alchemy, mortality and his crowning achievement and biggest regret creating the monster, which comes surprising early in the book, much earlier than I expected having ‘known the story already from films!’ But I was also presented by other surprise the complex feelings experienced by Frankenstein leading him to shun his creation, resulting in a deathly dance between monster and creator. I had always assumed that Victor himself was always only guilty for creating the monster not moulding him too.
Shelley explores the intimacy of the relationship between father and neglected son. With the damaged son’s violence escalating as he desperately seeks for his father attention and love. This can also be read as a parable of religion. But what is so fascinating about reading Shelley’s original text is it’s commentary on society. These messages are frequently lost in translation when the story is adapted and made to fit nicely in a genre pigeon hole. The mirroring of the not too distant history (at the time on writing) of the French Revolution; in the book Frankenstein being France, Walton Great Briton and the Monster is the starving masses ignored by ruling classes that eventually respond in kind.

The science in Frankenstein are equally as fascinating especially if you think at the time it was cutting edge; electricity was still in its infancy, and the same year as the book was published the first attempted blood transition took place in London. Shelley was writing about new frontiers but she was commenting on the oldest of human concerns, cheating mortality with Frankenstein’s obsession with modern sciences, ancient alchemist, to control death in a godly image. This human concern is one that is eternal, just look at two of last year Sci-Fi blockbusters, Ghost in A Shell and Blade Runner 2049 which are both essentially Frankenstein for the 21st century, proving Shelley’s story has an enduring relevance.

Another surprise that the books presented was Shelley’s beautiful penmanship, for example when Victor travels throughout the story, the geography and landscaped are all exquisitely visualised, reading more like a travel diary in the likes of Victorian Explorer Mary Kingsley.

All in all, Frankenstein has superseded all my expectations; it is a beautifully crafted, multi-faceted masterpiece that broke moulds and arguably birthed an entire genre – science fiction. It is definitely worth reading for advance mature middle grade readers, young adults and beyond. 

Thank you for stopping by and reading, please come back for more Frankenstein post during the week.

Monday, 18 December 2017

The Ninjabread Man by Katrina Charman & Fabiano Fiorin – Story Sack

It’s time for a Christmassy Story Sack, and what could be more festive than gingerbread? So we at SPOB present our Ninjabread Man story sack based on the book by Katrina Charman and illustrated by Fabiano Fiorin.

The Ninjabread Man is an educational title by Hopscotch Twisty Tales, as it as exciting and exquisitely illustrated as any picture book published purely for pleasure, with the addition of a fantastic and funny twist. I chose it, because of its humour, exciting storyline, and because my sister a foundation class teacher is often asking for entertaining, good quality contemporary stories based on The Gingerbread Man to use in class, and this fit’s that criteria beautifully.

The story funs along the same lines as the original, but with a feistier protagonist complete with kung-fu skill baked almost to perfection that kicks and fights his way past many hungry animals in a bid for freedom. However, the crafty fox tries to outwit him by the river, but the confident cookie decides to leap across the water but is saved from a water end, by a surprising spry old ninja baker!

So before we start talk about building a story sack around this all-kicking adventure, let have a reminder of the elements that make up a good story sack…

  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book.
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children).
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book.
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack.

So, Good quality fiction book – check!

Non-fiction book, that relates to the story - This could go two ways, you could opt for a book about ninjas/kung-fu, or as this is a (slight dubiously) festive themed Story Sack, I’ve chosen to go with a book about gingerbread. The book in question is Ginger Bread Wonderland by Mima Sinclair, which gives an introduction with a history about gingerbread followed by 30 instructions of gingerbread bakes and projects, all accompanied by delightful and festive photographs.

Toys – and soft toys are a must for this age range, so I’ve included a Gingerbread soft toy, of which there are plenty to be found at this time of year, and a fox hand puppet. With this pair children can roll play for hours, replaying the ending of the story.

A Game or Activity  - well, I think I’ve gone a little overboard with this element but it was so much fun, I couldn’t help it! So there is a lovely Orchard Games, Run, Run, As Fast as you Can, board game, which is available from any well stocked toyshop. Plus some gingerbread foam character to decorate, available cheaply in many shops during the approach to Christmas. Lastly, there’s got to be some baking!

 So I’ve found three NINJABREAD cookie cutters, which can be used in conjunction with recipes from Ginger Bread Wonderland as an activity. Or can be used with Plastercine/Play Dough. I have included a recipe sheet of modelling and Play Doughs recipes that I’ve tried and tested and adapted to make it look and taste like gingerbread. Alternatively I’ve include a large pack or orange Plastercine for instant use.

– lastly, I’ve made a make-your-own Ninjabread Man worksheet which can be used to colour and cut to make a Ninjabread man whose legs move so fast he looks like he’s actually doing kung-fu! Or course you can let you imagination go wild, maybe the gingerbread man is dancing, maybe a ballerina –bread person!

So here we are one, festive, action-packed and tasty story sack bursting with fun!

Friday, 15 December 2017

Best of 2017 - Tiny Dinosaurs – Joel Stewart – Review & Story Sack

One of this year best picture books is the fabulous Tiny Dinosaurs by Joel Stewart, which has both dinosaurs and a dog (I do like a book with a dog especially a dachshund!) and in addition to being entertaining with lovely illustrations, it also has lovely message about dealing with change. 

The book is told by Rex. The dog about him and his best friend Daisy who are dinosaur mad. They pair are inseparable and play and read and dress up as dinosaurs all day. But status quo is interrupted by the arrival of some tiny dinosaurs which Daisy is obsessed by.

Felling left out and lonely, Rex leaves home, but everywhere he goes he’s reminded about what he’s lost. Being Best of Friends, Daisy soon comes looking for Rex, and he realises he was not shunned by apprehensive about change, and recollects ever other occasion he’s felt the same way, and reassures himself that it always turns out fine.

Tiny Dinosaur is a lovely gentle story with charming illustrations which reassures children that change is scary but that change is mostly good, given time and the right support – friends, making it truly one of the Best of 2017!

So here is a bit of a bonus – a story sack based on Tiny Dinosaurs…

Quick recap on what a story sack contains…

  • A good quality fiction book, (picture book or novel) 
  • A non-fiction book related to the story and themes in the chosen picture book. 
  • Toys, (ideally a soft toy for younger children). 
  • A game or activity also related to the theme of the chosen fiction book. 
  • Optional worksheet based on the story and themes off the story sack. 


So the fiction book is sorted, so I’ve paired it with the lovely and vibrant ‘I Love Dinosaurs’ which is factual and fun.

Toys & Activity

Obviously soft toys are key, so we have a plush Daisy and Rex, plus some really tiny dinosaurs from Schleich, which comes with their own dinosaur terrain jig-saw puzzle, which doubles as the activity.


For the worksheet I’ve made a simple colour –cut and stick make your own Rex-dinosaur like in the book.