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A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini January 30, 2010

Posted by KJ theBookGirl in review.
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A Thousand Splendid Suns paperback by Khaled Hosseini

A Thousand Splendid Suns is a book you will never forget, for it’s beautiful characters, intricate plot, and heart wrenching tale lives on long after the last page is turned, made all the more tragically striking with the truth and honesty in the setting, history and ideas portrayed.

“Mariam is only fifteen when she is sent to Kabul to marry Rasheed. Nearly two decades later, a friendship grows between Mariam and a local teenager, Laila, as strong as the ties between mother and daughter.  When the Taliban take over, life becomes a desperate struggle against starvation, brutality and fear. Yet love can move people to act in unexpected ways, and lead them to overcome the most daunting obstacles with startling heroism.”

The plot follows two tales, each unwrapping the events creating the coming of age of a young girl, forced for one reason or another, to assign her life to misery, pain, loss and cruelty.

Mariam, unloved and resented, discovers betrayal and guilt, and, as a strong minded character who can endure if nothing else must live with what she feels are the consequences.

Laila, a partially cherished yet partially overlooked daughter, grows up with Tariq – a friend and boy next door, he is everything to her. Yet, with disaster and horror, Laila too must put together a life destroyed by surroundings, religion and power.

These tales are told within Afghanistan, following years of communism and Taliban rule, the chronological modern history of the country, and  the implications for the working class people who must live between rockets and bullets, and obey the strict laws from Shari’ a to communist.

The story is beautiful, although extremely tragic, and it will wrench at your heart for Hosseini’s talent swells in this novel, making you truly feel for the characters, and understand their lives.

Sensational.

KJ
theBookGirl

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The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory January 11, 2010

Posted by KJ theBookGirl in review.
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The Other Boleyn Girl follows the story of Mary Boleyn as she faces the trials of life in Henry VIII’s court. Falling in love with the King, and having to resign this to your deadliest rival, at the order of family definitely gives a good plot, but further twists and turns with the demands of the court and of others promising you that to fly away with your dreams can be done…well, only Philippa Gregory is capable of such a masterpiece of a novel.

Watch my video blog below to see my thoughts on the outstanding novel:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy December 29, 2009

Posted by KJ theBookGirl in review.
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The Road by Cormac McCarthy

McCarthy’s The Road is brilliant. Simply brilliant. The plot follows a man and his son as they travel along a road south after what seems to be an apocalyptic event. It ventures to question the fundamental survival instincts of human nature, wondering how far we would go to keep ours and our own alive.

The style of this novel is truly original. With no punctuation other than the trusty full stop, and no elaborate descriptions or unnecessary words, the story is kept to basics, conveying a true raw power of the message and plot of this story.

McCarthy is surely one of the greatest writers of our time, for the strength and force of his tale are beyond most literature of our century.

The story unfolds as the man and his son discover awful things that other humans have done; see scarring sights that no one should have to see. Their journey, of hardship, of poverty, of hunger; shows the relationship between a man and a boy who have absolutely nothing but one another.

This shows the pure reliance each have on the other, the dependence for encouragement when there is no hope, the dependence for love when there is nothing else.

McCarthy explores how lives could change in such a cataclysmic event that no one can be trusted to be a “good guy”…but also how a leap of faith to that trust could be worth it if only it was tried. The risks are numerous and so the man and his son must struggle to survive alone in this powerful, man eat man world where nature has taken it’s revenge.

The emotional journey the characters go on shows the hardship of a hopeless eternity, and the contrast between the young and the old, the trusting and the suspicious, the want to help and the action of help.

McCarthy’s only downfall is, perhaps, the length of the novel. It is not particularly long or short for a novel, but it seems the events can get a little repetitive in that nothing changes. Perhaps this is the point – the characters have nothing and never will have anything, with every day for eternity a struggle to survive. But sometimes it seems that a different or speedier occurrence would be welcome.

In conclusion, this excellent novel of McCarthy’s seems destined to be an eternal classic of our time. It is a must read for it’s messages and ideas are so deep, that even if not fully understood, they should be attempted and savoured, for it is full of lessons for humankind to learn.

KJ
theBookGirl

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks December 28, 2009

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The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

The Notebook is a highly emotional novel written by Nicholas Sparks. It follows the story of two old lovers; Allie and Noah, as they find one another again.

“North Carolina, October 1946. Noah Calhoun has recently returned from war: he tries to forget the horrors he has seen and experienced by restoring an old plantation home. But though his days are spent working, his nights too often give way to dreams of his past.

Fourteen years ago, Noah fell in love with a girl, and he is still haunted by her memory but convinced he will never find her again. But when the past slips into the present, Noah realises his ghosts are never far away.”

Allie is a beautifully written character, a fierce and strong protagonist who, although recently engaged to a high flying lawyer, cannot forget her old love, Noah, who she met for a brief but perfect summer at the age of fifteen. As her first love, he was special, but more than that, we quickly realise that the two of them were meant for each other.

Noah, too, has never forgotten Allie, and although he achieved great things for a man of his social class in southern America, it is the simple beauty of life and nature that makes him work. As a character he is breathtaking; he is wise, and realises what it really important. Yet mostly his undying, pure love for Allie, which is strong in every breath he takes, every word he speaks, makes the reader feel such empathy for him that he is destined to be an unforgotten classic of this decade.

This novel has an excellent plot, it really touches upon current emotional issues, and allows the reader to feel the full weight of implications they cause, in particular the deterioration of life, which is brilliantly contrasted with the tale of the lively, feisty youngsters. Every reader will relate to the way in which what was once so fresh and powerful will age, and change, but still can hold a power beyond human understanding. Sparks has captured this beautifully, in a genre which usually avoids such complex and deep issues.

The only criticism I assign to the writing is the way the characters are too perfect – of course, this makes the contrast between young and old much more powerful, but the characters have no real flaws. They have the indisputable love that is comparable to Heathcliffe and Cathy; but they have none of the flaws which make such an epic love possible.

It may also be suggested that, although the plot of the story is near perfect, and the characters are beautiful, the style is too simplified to show such a deep love. Perhaps this is because the love is a simple thing, but often the expression of it seems a little tame or repetitive “Her fell in love with her…he fell in love with her…he loved her”. However, this may just be demonstrating the extent of the love and the full, unelaborated power of it.

Perhaps one of the best ways Sparks expresses the love of the characters is through the incessant poetry running through Noah’s mind. He quotes and inserts in a way that not only flows with the novel but enhances and immortalises it, causing the reader to yearn for more and feel the deep emotions of Allie and Noah.

The novel is a brilliant read, and perfect for any emotion. It is a beautiful story and excellently written, despite its minor flaws, with quotes which could prove to be lines to live by. If you have not read this bestselling novel, you simply have not lived.

KJ
theBookGirl

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audery Niffenegger September 20, 2009

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The Time Traveler's Wife by Audery Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audery Niffenegger

The Time Traveler’s Wife is a very intense, beautiful story of two people – Clare and Henry – who fall in love and live in love, despite Henry’s very peculiar condition.

Henry can time travel. He can’t control it, he can’t stop it, and he can’t take anything with him. Including clothes.

“This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty six, and were married when Clare was twenty two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable”

The plot follows Clare as she grows up with rare and mysterious visits from adult Henry. They form a loving but appropriate relationship as he offers an escape and friendship throughout their childhood. Of course, as she grows older, she feels more for him and a stronger relationship forms. Then she meets him at a time which is his natural time. From here the story begins for the reader, and for Henry. We are then invited along the journey as Clare and Henry’s relationship develops, is tried and is tested, with many dramas and questions along the way.

The plot follows Henry as he meets beautiful Clare and finds that she already knows all about him. More about him than he knows himself – she knows the future him. It then follows his relationship with her, in the same way it follows hers with him.

The plot challenges the reader to imagine our very ordinary world in an extraordinary way. We must consider the feelings and predicaments of being, or, even more peculiarly, marrying a time traveller.

This puts the strength of the characters to the test, as the book would only work with the deepest characters that can be formed – a two dimensional character would be simply too flat for this complex plot to work. But, indeed, Niffenegger can more than pull this off, and has conjured a masterpiece of a book, which I am certain you will lose yourself in, wanting nothing more than to sit and read, simply content as long as you can find out what happens next.

With the very perceptive display of characters, original twist on time travel, and a brilliantly realistic basis, this novel is purely excellent, a brilliant read.

It demands the reader’s attention, interrogating the reader with questions…what would they do? What is moral in these situations? How would they cope with this double edged knife of time travel?

KJ
theBookGirl

The Trial Scene in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee August 24, 2009

Posted by KJ theBookGirl in To Kill a Mockingbird.
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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

The trial scene is the first climax of the novel, and this means it has much depth and meaning. This article is going to look at analysing this scene, but it’s going to be broken down into various sections.

Main Events

  • Mr Heck Tate gives his account of what happened
  • He describes the injuries
  • Bob Ewell gives his account of what happened
  • Ewell agrees with the description of the injuries Tate gave
  • Atticus asks Ewell if he can read and write, showing Ewell is ambidextrous.
  • Scout says “I thought Jem was counting his chickens” showing she is wiser in this case
  • Mayella Ewell gives his account of what happened
  • Atticus asks Mayella questions about herself, building up a picture of her neglect. He shows that Mayella doesn’t understand what love means, and it is implied Ewell has beaten her before.
  • Tom Robinson gives his account
  • Link Deas, Robinson’s employer, interrupts to back up Robinson
  • Atticus makes a final speech in Robinson’s defence

Characters’ Positions in Trial

Mr Heck Tate
Tate is neutral – he doesn’t say whether he thinks Robinson  is guilt or not, but simply tells what happened from his point of view. However, his language is very racist, and he easily believed Mayella’s word over Robinson’s. He also didn’t call for a doctor despite Mayella being so injured as he just was considering the evidence. It didn’t occur to him that Mayella may be in need of medical attention, or that a doctor would be called on to witness.

Tate’s account is that Bob Ewell ran to him and told him that Mayella was raped by Robinson, so he got in his car and went to the Ewell’s house, where he found Mayella lying on the floor. He helped her up and asked who had hurt her, and she claimed it was Tom Robinson. At this point Tate went to Robinson’s house and brought him back and arrested him. He didn’t call a doctor.

Bob Ewell
Ewell is clearly very against Robinson, but also seems against the world as a whole. Ewell is informal, bordering on obscene despite the Judge’s request, such as his description that “Mayella was screaming like a stuck hog”. He also says, very forcibly, “I seen that n***** yonder ruttin’ on my Mayella!” his language showing a disrespect for the court and taking credit away from his accusation. Ewell also didn’t bother to get a doctor, again showing a lack of care for the well being of his daughter.

Ewell’s account is that he was returning from chopping wood when he heard Mayella screaming. He dropped the wood and ran to Mayella but crashed into the fence and got caught in it. He then untangled himselfand went to the window to find Robinson raping Mayella. The room had clear evidence of a fight from the disruption to the furniture. Ewell ran into the house, but Robinson left. At this point Ewell went to Mayella rather than chasing Robinson. He then went for Tate.

Mayella Ewell
Mayella claims Robinson is guilty at first, but is reduced to tears after cross examination. Mayella is very scared of everything in the court, especially Atticus, which amuses Mr Gilmer. Jem believes Mayella is trying to make Judge Taylor feel sorry for her when she begins to cry, but Scout thinks she is just stupid.

Mayella is described as having a “stealthy” and “cat like” confidence making her seem sneaky and untrustworthy.

Mayella’s account is that she was on the front porch, doing nothing, when Robinson came along and she asked him to chop up a chiffarobe into kindling, because Bob Ewell asked her to do it, but she wasn’t strong enough (even this account shows neglect and bad parenting). She then went to get him a nickel to pay for the work, but when her back was turned he threw himself on her. He got her “round the neck, cussin’ me and sayin’ dirt – I fought ‘n’ hollered, but he had me round the neck. He hit me agin and agin-”

She screamed and fought back but she couldn’t remember much more, apart from her father coming in just before she fainted. She then remembered being helped up by Tate.

Tom Robinson
Robinson obviously knows he’s innocent, but he hides nothing from the court and tells them all relevant information. He knows he is a dead man walking but doesn’t let that intimidate him as he gives his evidence, and as he trusts Atticus.

Robinsons account is that Mayella has often asked him to do odd jobs for her, and he does this free of charge because he feels sorry for her. This causes the white society to be shocked and discriminate against him, because they feel it is impertinent for a black person to pity a white person. He went into her house, on the night in question, when she asked him to chop up a chiffarobe. He did as she asked, but she grabbed his legs when he was standing on a chair. This shocked him and caused the chair to fall over. She then tried to hug him and kissed him.

“She says she never kissed a grown man before…She says what her papa do to her don’t count. She says: “Kiss me back, n*****.””

He ran from the room, and then saw Bob Ewell in the window, who shouted,

“You god-damn whore, I’ll kill ya.”

He then just ran away, and he admits he was scared.

Evidence of Robinson’s Innocence

– Robinson cannot use his left hand, so wouldn’t be able to injure Mayella dominantly on her right side, but that is where she is injured.

– His account had alibis and corresponds with his general character

– Mayella had bribed her siblings to go away as she was expecting Robinson, and she was lonely. She wanted love.

– Mayella admits she was kissed and implies more, by her father, in Robinson’s account

– Link Deas, his employer, backs him up

Evidence of Bob Ewell’s Guilt

– Bob Ewell is ambidextrous, and he was the only person present with a strong enough use of a left hand to inflict the injuries Mayella suffered, or to strangle so strongly with both hands.

– Mayella can’t fully admit it was Robinson, and hesitates and hides information, implying Bob Ewell has beaten her.

The Black Community in To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee August 24, 2009

Posted by KJ theBookGirl in To Kill a Mockingbird.
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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

The black community are a major part of the novel, although only on the surface a small part of Scout’s world.

We are primarily introduced to the black community through Cal, who is a servant as most of the black community within the white society are in To Kill a Mockingbird. This sets up an image of servitude and inferiority, which Atticus fights hard against, in order for Jem and Scout to see that no matter what skin colour, all humans are equal. Of course, Atticus is successful in this, even if he does have to teach Scout why certain phrases are offensive – she doesn’t realise they are due to the general discrimination the white society has against the black society without a second thought.

The other major character we wee which represents the black community is Tom Robinson. He is a clearly innocent family man, accused of the rape of a “white trash” girl, and thus found guilty.

From the novel almost every member of the black community is admirable in their personalities and innocent in their nature, and this generalisation makes the crimes against the black community all the worse.

Chapter 12 gives the reader the widest view of the black community as it is based their church. This is where the reader realises just how badly the community is treated. The church is used as a location for gambling by white men, which is clearly disrespectful. Only four of the congregation can read. Lula is very offensive to the children, as a defence of the way the black people are treated by white.

These are all examples of how the black community is affected by the white community.

The black community as a whole is a very close congregation, as it has to be to survive the harsh treatment by the white community. The church means that the people are protected – for example the way Zeebo, the minister, forces the people to give donations to Tom Robinson’s wife in order to allow her to survive whilst Tom is in jail.

The community is also very religious, the church being the only one with a steeple in Maycomb. All the members of the community dress smartly and attend church and this thickens the support group.

Together they can silently fight the discrimination with each other’s support and the understanding of people like Atticus.

As a whole the black community are a mockingbird within the story – they are innocent and law abiding, helping the white community, yet the white community “shoot” them by treating them so badly.

This means the people who respect the black community, earn much respect in return, such as Atticus, who the black community stand for in gratitude for defending Tom and honour for being such a great man.

KJ
theBookGirl

The Character of Atticus in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee August 24, 2009

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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

Atticus Finch is arguably the single most important character in To Kill a Mockingbird, as he is the epitome of what the entire novel teaches.

Background

The reader knows that Atticus Finch grew up on Finch’s Landing with his family, but broke away from tradition and expectations to bcome a lawyer. Once he was successful in this he used his now more wealthy income to fund his brother – Jack Finch – in his quest to become a doctor.

Atticus then settled down with his wife and had two children – Jem and Scout – but his wife died just two years after Scout was born.

Atticus had hired Calpurnia and she now became the mother figure for the children and the voice of female reason keeping Atticus right when he needed a second opinion or help with the children. In many ways she played the role of a wife, although, of course, never in intimacy.

Atticus childhood shows that he had a strong moral character and determination in order to break the mould and become something that would make a difference rather than just staying on at Finch’s Landing as was expected. His compassion for Jack also shows the genuine generosity of Atticus’s nature, giving an early indication of a disposition of consideration and empathy.

Role

Atticus’ role throughout the novel is to show the ultimate accomplishment. Atticus is the ideal moral man, having a very high moral belief system. Atticus has achieved in his career, his relationships, and his happiness, and this makes him a role model to the children and the reader.

Atticus’ main role is as teacher. It his job as a father to bring Jem and Scout up to be admirable, respectable young adults, and he does this thoroughly, making certain they understand that money and power is worthless unless they can respect themselves.

Atticus teaches them the main lessons they need for life, in particular to stand in another persons shoes.

His success, at the end of the novel, can be shown by the quote “I thought Jem and I would get grown but there wasn’t much else for us to learn, except possibly algebra.” Said by Scout and showing that once Atticus had succeeded in teaching them major moral lessons, Scout acknowledged that actual knowledge which can be learnt from school, such as maths, is important but not in the same sense as understanding that discrimination is inexcusable is important.

Atticus is the conscience of the novel – he is the voice of reason that makes Scout and Jem stop and think, and he is the one they fear if they know they have been immoral.

Personality

Atticus’ personality is fairly complex, as he has to deal with a lot of pressure from other people. Atticus is always very solid in his decisions and does not doubt he has done the right thing even if others do. However, this does mean he often has to live with society disapproving and disrespecting him, making his life hard. Atticus is not afraid of taking the hard option, and he does so in a gentlemanly manner.

Atticus also cares greatly for his children, wanting only to do what is right for them, and to bring them up so they become young people who he can be proud of for being true to themselves and true to others.

Atticus can be critisized of holding his moral decisions as his highest priority – he puts defending Tom Robinson over the welfare of his children – but he is always aware of this and suffers greatly for doing the “right” thing.

Atticus’ noble conscious can be summarised when he explains why he decides tp defend Tom Robinson: “For a number of reasons,” said Atticus. “The main one is, if I didn’t I couldn’t hold my head up in town, I couldn’t represent this county in the legislature, I couldn’t even tell you or Jem not to do something again…simply because we were licked a hundred years before we started is not a reason for us not to try and win”

This shows that Atticus has determination, hope, and self respect, enviable by anyone, in his quest to be a person he can live with.

Influence

Atticus’ influence on the other characters is very heavy. Notably, he makes the jury think about their verdict for a full hour in representing Tom Robinson fairly. He also affects Jem and Scout’s lives, simply by teaching the right from wrong. Atticus is a very influential member of society, not from wealth or power but from hard-earned respect.

The society view Atticus as the most moral man, and the best chance Tom Robinson will have. He is well regarded as an honest, decent man, and the society, no matter how prejudiced and ignorant, deeply respect that,

Atticus is a perfect gentleman, gaining respect from the ladies of Maycomb. He is a talented and intelligent man, earning respect from the men of Maycomb. He is fair and equal, therefore receiving respect from the black community. He is thoughtful and clever and this makes him respected by the poorer members of the white community such as the Cunninghams.

The Theme of Education in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee August 24, 2009

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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

The education system in Maycomb is very contradictory and almost backwards in some cases, and this makes a significant point in the ideas of the novel.

The fact that the very institution preparing the next generation for the future is flawed and teaches narrow mindedness (in the case of Scout being reprimanded for learning outside the school), only can forebode the next generation being just as prejudice and discriminative as the current one.

The theme of education runs throughout the novel, although not always based in the school. It initially shows Scout realising that school is not what she was looking forward to, as the teacher is patronising and sensitive, where as the children are intelligent and used to a harsher environment. Miss Caroline doesn’t understand the ways of the small town, and the small town doesn’t understand the ways of Miss Caroline, leading to a breakdown in communication and general progress and therefore preventing proper education taking place.

This is shown when Miss Caroline is reduced to tears by Bob Ewell’s son being rude, and frightened by a “Cootie”. It is also shown when she doesn’t realise why Walter Cunningham doesn’t want to borrow money, and punishes Scout when she tries to explain nicely. This basic lack of comprehension on each side makes the education system dubious at the very least.

The school is changing its system from when Jem was the age of Scout, and this does show that things are moving forward, but it also seems pointless as Jem is just as well educated as Scout – it seems it is more to do with your background and therefore family and upbringing, than the school. This is also shown by how everyone is generalised – the Ewells are thought of as stupid because they only go to school on the first day, and that’s how it’s always been.

The main education throughout the novel is in the form of lessons learnt from Atticus, and these lessons are the moral life lessons preparing the children for adult life when issues such as racism, discrimination and cruelty are part of a daily routine. This education prepares Jem and Scout to be good people; wise as well as intelligent, and this is what matters when they have the power of knowledge.

The theme of education also comes from Aunt Al teaching Scout to be a lady, Cal teaching the children to behave properly, and Miss Maudie explaining what the children are afraid to ask others.

KJ
theBookGirl

Lessons Learnt Throughout To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee August 24, 2009

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To Kill a Mockingbird

To Kill a Mockingbird

The lessons learnt throughout To Kill a Mockingbird are both many in number and deep in complexity, but they can be listed in summary. There are also two types of lessons learnt – what Scout and therefore the reader learns about Maycomb, and what Scout learns about how to live. This second option includes the real lessons learnt throughout the novel:

1)      Respect others
For example, Atticus always addresses Mayella as ma’am, despite the trouble she has put Tom Robinson in. Atticus believes that everyone should be shown courtesy and respect, and that is a basic human right.

2)      Be Open Minded
For example, Atticus wants Jem and Scout to stand in others shoes in order to prevent them from just thinking from the point of view of well-off, white children of good connections. It is also shown by how because the Radleys are different – they have their front door shut! – they are shunned from society, whereas Boo is just misunderstood.

3)      Protect the Innocent
This is Atticus’ entire job – as a lawyer it his duty to protect the innocent, and in this novel he has to defend Tom Robinson. This is one of the main points of why it is a “sin to kill a Mockingbird”. Atticus believes it’s important not to judge people, or treat them according to prejudices, and, over and above that, it is important to help those people discriminated against. This is what Scout learns about Boo, and why Heck Tate doesn’t arrest Boo at the end of the novel.

4)      Equality
Quite simply, everyone is equal as a human being, and that is why Cal can have authority over the children despite the racism issue.

5)      Moral Stances
This is a lesson Scout and Jem find very hard – that sometimes that taking the moral high ground means that you will be goaded and discriminated against, but that you still should “hold your head up high and be a gentleman”. This is shown when Jem rises to the bait of Mrs Dubose and consequently has to spend a month reading to her. The children learnt that there are always consequences for actions. They also learn that these consequences would be avoided if they realise the right thing to do in the first place.

KJ
theBookGirl