Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Next Great One

For about a decade now, readers and publishers have been searching for "the next Harry Potter." The HP phenomenon turned a single, struggling mother into one of the richest women in the writing world (and an OBE at that) and drew thousands of children and adults worldwide away from television and videogames and back into reading.

I must admit, in the beginning I wasn't sure if she could do it - sustain and develop plot and characters interesting enough to complete the 7 book series, let alone imagine that the series would join the ranks of such Greats before it as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings.

The first three Potter books, to me, contained strong echoes of Roald Dahl's work, which I have always loved. I read them in quick succession as the series was interesting enough to keep me hooked. The fourth book was published as the third went to paperback, and from then on, I knew it would only get better.

JK Rowling succeeded wonderfully in creating not only a set of brilliant characters but an entire new world, one readers willingly embraced, as evidenced by the abundance of fansites dedicated to the series, not to mention record-breaking book sales and movie adaptations.

Even before the last couple of books in the series were published, the hunt was on for the next great one. There have been many contenders but in my book (pun intended), none have quite matched up to the hype accorded to them.

Perhaps the most recent popular series is the four-part sparkly vampire story that appeals mainly to female readers. Apart from the fact that this series too was penned by a young woman who shot from obscurity to worldwide fame, there is almost no comparison between the vampire-human romance and the wizard-Muggle saga.

However a reader might view these up-and-coming potential contenders, the great thing is that more books are being published and read, which is really what matters. While I'd love to read them all, there are too many books and too little time (and money) to do so. Here's are the ones I have had the chance to read and my brief take on them:

- Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness - the first book didn't grab me, so I didn't continue with the series.
- Zizou Corder's Lionboy - a great trilogy, highly recommended for boys and girls aged 8-12
- Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials - this trilogy reminded me of Tolkien's LOTR. The movie adaptation of the first book was not so well-received, but the books are well worth reading, more than once.
- Christopher Paolini's Inheritance series - with an author who was published at age 17, this series garnered a fair bit of media attention. The first book was fantastic, but the second dragged quite a bit, and I have yet to read the third.
- Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl books - I think these are fantastic. Man and magic meet again, but in a very different world than Harry Potter's. Wonderful, wonderful reads, highly recommended to all above age 10.
- Isabelle Allende's Nadia/Alexander trilogy - this 3-book series doesn't have an official name, but the books are Allende's first Young Adult ones and earn a full five stars from me. With her trademark style of magical realism, this author grabs the reader's full attention and presents a very satisfying tale, one I have read again and again.

The Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan has also been well-reviewed, and is next on my Young Adult fantasy book wishlist.
With the state of our groaning bookshelves and the new additions that will surely come as time goes on, I can only hope my son develops the same passion for reading that I have. They say the best way to teach is by experience, and since Little A sees mummy reading whenever she can, perhaps he will follow suit.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cough Cough

Little A is two now. His birthday party was a smashing success, with all the children enjoying themselves thanks to a big bouncy castle. The birthday boy wanted only one thing - to go swimming, so we allowed him to do so while the rest of the guests played pass the parcel.

Later in evening after his party, he started to cough. A real, smoker's-type cough. His first official not-connected-to-a-cold real cough. Two days later, we took him to the doctor. Our pediatrician, who is also a pulmonary specialist, is on holiday for a month, and the doctor who took her place prescribed Combivent in a nebuliser thrice a day for five days and Virlix syrup at bedtime. The diagnosis was bronchitis - viral or allergic.

Desperate to stop the cough and fearful of the possibility of pneumonia, we purchased the meds and borrowed a nebuliser. Little A cooperated at first; he likes biting things so we made him practise with the nebuliser mouthpiece before connecting it to the machine. Cooperation didn't last long though. The compressor's noise annoyed him and he would run away whenever we turned it on. In the end, we kept it running and just wafted the smoke in his general direction. This happened thrice out of what my husband and I decided would be 10 doses instead of the prescribed 15.

Since the cough showed no signs of improvement, I took the sneaky route for the next 3 doses. When Little A fell asleep, I attached the inhalation mask to the nebuliser and that way made sure the medicine got into his system.

Then I read up on Combivent. (Note: according to my sister and best friend, our pediatrician only prescribes saline solution for use with a nebuliser. However, since Little A's cough was pretty bad, I figured the doctor knew what she was doing prescribing a stronger drug.) What I read totally freaked me out.

Combivent is an asthma medicine, most commonly used to treat chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. My son does not, to my knowledge, have asthma or any sort of pulmonary disease. Combivent cannot be used by those with soy and nut allergies and can cause severe allergic reactions, including swelling of the face, nose and throat and anaphylatic shock. Furthermore, the dosage given to my son is recommended only for people over 12 years old, and the drug is not recommended for children below age 12.

More frightening still are the possible side effects: chest pain or heaviness, difficulty breathing, dizziness, nausea or blurred vision, loss of feeling in the left arm and shoulder, increased blood pressure, hypertension and death. My son is two years old. He doesn't even say Mama, how can he tell me if he's having difficulty breathing or can't feel his arm anymore?

We stopped the Combivent doses after reading all this, completing 6 doses in all. One week later, the cough is slowly getting better. We are still keeping close watch over Little A - he never had a fever and his energy level and appetite are the same, so we pray this was just a cough brought on by swimming in cool weather or a virus. When our regular pediatrician comes back, we will take Little A to see her.

Meanwhile, I have learned my lesson. Never give your child any meds without reading up on them first, and seek a second opinion if you feel the need.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Logging the Hours

There was a lovely article in the newspaper yesterday that probably didn't make the deadline for the Father's Day issue. It was written by a single father to two adpoted sons. One of the things he wrote was that when it comes to babies and very young children, quantity time is what matters. I couldn't help but agree.

Babies develop attachments to those who constantly care for them. As toddlers, separation anxiety develops with the fear of being apart from these people. The writer mentioned that when his son fell and hurt himself, he ran howling straight past him into the arms of his nanny, breaking his father's heart. While he longed to spend more time with his kids, he couldn't because he had to put in long hours at a demanding job as the breadwinner of his family (unmarried, he lives with his mother, siblings, nephews and nieces, his adopted sons and a host of nannies and househelp.)

Now that he is out of work, my husband has been spending much more time at home, and with Little A. After 18 months of hardly seeing his father, Little is used to having his dad around the house now, and looks for him when he is gone. I am the caregiver, his father is the playmate. Their favourite activity involves my son holding on to his father's hands, climbing up to his chest, then pushing with his feet so that his body is hanging upside-down. This game, repeated endlessly in the evenings, is the source of much laughter and muscle pains.

Sooner rather than later, my husband or I must find a more permanent means of income. This will no doubt involve one of us (Big A, more likely) spending more time away from home and our son. He is older now, but still very much in his formative years, and will certainly suffer some emotional trauma from this change. We will all have to make adjustments and find new ways of maximizing our time together. Until that day comes though, we will enjoy spending all the time we can in each other's company.