the curious case of the capitals

No doubt you have felt frustrated or mystified about particular spelling or grammatical rules in your mother tongue. Spelling, grammar and pronunciation rules are so absorbed in our daily use of language that the basic why’s are no longer conscious or questioned, unless you are a six-year-old new entrant skilled at firing curly, uncensored questions at the teacher about those why’s.

When you learn a second, third or fourth language, the idiosyncrasies of the new language generate a healthy number of why’s because you’re comparing the rules of the new language with what you know.

My grievance

I’ve always had a gripe about the use of Capital Letters in English titles, long before typing capitals was regarded as screaming in emails or text/sms. (Someone surely has written about the why’s of email or text etiquette.)

The Capitalisation of Titles Rule is as follows (quoted from the website of the University of Sussex):

In the title or name of a book, a play, a poem, a film, a magazine, a newspaper or a piece of music, a capital letter is used for the first word and for every significant word (that is, a little word like theofand or in is not capitalized unless it is the first word):

I was terrified by The Silence of the Lambs.

The Round Tower was written by Catherine Cookson.

Bach’s most famous organ piece is the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

I don’t usually like Cher, but I do enjoy The Shoop Shoop Song.

Important note: The policy just described is the one most widely used in the English-speaking world. There is, however, a second policy, preferred by many people. In this second policy, we capitalize only the first word of a title and any words which intrinsically require capitals for independent reasons. Using the second policy, my examples would look like this:

I was terrified by The silence of the lambs.

The round tower was written by Catherine Cookson.

Bach’s most famous organ piece is the Toccata and fugue in D minor.

I don’t usually like Cher, but I do enjoy The shoop shoop song.

You may use whichever policy you prefer, so long as you are consistent about it.

Did you notice that the why remains elusive? Perhaps it is a characteristic of spelling rules: they just are. This particular capitalisation rule is not a thing in the Dutch language.

It so annoys me; why need words, beyond the first word, be capitalised in a title? It strikes me as unnecessary, harsh and pompous. Some examples:

From a local real estate flyer:

Time for Your First Home!

From the Kawerau Library (my place of work!) website:

New Titles at the Library.

From a Google search about capitalisation rules:

Capitalization Rules – A Quick Guide

Capitalize My Title

8 Capitalization Rules for English Grammar

And I am not forgetting the APA referencing guidelines, guidelines I need to adhere to when writing academic papers or  when editing journal articles for Systeemtheoretisch Bulletin. In Dutch however, even in APA style, only the first word of the title of a book, article or other source is capitalised. I’m quite happy about that.

When The Capitals Have Arrived my frustration gauge shoots up ever so slightly. Quite the motivator for NOT using capital letters in the titles of my blogs.

What is your grumble about language rules?

secret santa

Unless it is a free for all kind of Christmas gathering and silly, funny or outright weird Secret Santa gifts are expected, finding the perfect Secret Santa gift takes up copious space in my mind if I know who the recipient is. Matching the recipient with a present unfolds in a personal competition with myself.

I too love being surprised by clever Secret Santa’s. The secret gift shines with extra glitter when it is handmade, home baked or thoughtfully selected with you, the recipient, in mind. That’s exactly what happened to me a little while ago.

At the Christmas breakfast with my library colleagues, my Secret Santa had wrapped a cute tiny gingerbread house tin containing a Lego challenge (my kind of toy) with the following note: “Dear Veerle, Secret Santa’s elves failed in their Xmas delivery so IOU 1 present. Luckily, Santa found this for you to enjoy today…” I thoroughly enjoyed building several colourful birds with only 32 Lego bricks.

Some time later Secret Santa reveals herself when she pops in the library and hands me a present, apologetic about the delay. But do I mind receiving gifts after their due date? Absolutely not!

Secret Santa’s Christmas card reveals a stunning folding-out paper cut of the Notre Dame in Paris (and in Vietnam I learnt). A fantastic start to being surprised I’d say. Then comes the rectangle present, its weight a bit of a mystery. Definitely not a book or socks. As I carefully remove the wrapping paper, a whitish box with a lovely swirly design appears. A jigsaw puzzle! How did Santa know I have been looking for a different kind of puzzle for a while?

I comment on the difficulty of the puzzle: so many white to piece together… Eagerly I open the box and see inside some card on top of a purple bag containing the puzzle pieces. At first glance I notice that these pieces don’t look white at all. In fact their colours do not fit the picture on the box.

The final clue is the folded card on top of the pieces. My jaw drops when I open it fully – a most stunning, detailed picture of some of my favourite things: books, a library, a reading chair, a waterlily pond.

Has your Secret Santa, like mine, given you such a thoughtful gift?  

P.S. Interested in finding out why I am so fond of waterlilies – thanks to Belgian Queen Fabiola’s stories for children she wrote in 1961? Drop me a comment.

ambassadors for reading

I am reposting this message:

After a tough 2020, Children’s Laureates from around the world have united with a special message about the power of books and reading. 

The International Children’s Laureates believe every child has the right to be a reader. Across the globe, we have continued to write and draw stories that inspire children. Reading is a journey everyone can embark on because books have no borders. 

We are ready to #ReadAroundTheWorld in 2021. Join us!

wordless picture books

Images are powerful, so powerful that people take them for truth, disregarding context or critical approach. But there are powerful images of a different kind.

After spending a day in the company of literature enthusiasts (teachers, librarians, researchers) who had fascinating and thought provoking things to say (with words!) about nothing but wordless picture books, I need to share their magic.

Wordless picture books have settled firmly in my universe of interests. Perhaps it started when I studied Children’s Literature and discovered my fondness for the picture book. The better ones offer a wonderful story and illustrations that enhance the story, by for instance alluding to an underlying story, adding quirky details or deepening the reading experience altogether. Pictures that open, deepen and layer a story = art.

When you open a wordless picture book, the pace of reading slows. Every re-reading is a discovery of more and new meanings, details come into focus, humour is suddenly obvious. My collection of wordless picture books I was rather proud of turned out to be rather pathetic (in numbers) against the thirty or so books the first presenter whisked us through. And so many more followed on that day. Why not showcasing a few of my treasured wordless picture books!

Slightly biased, I start with Belgian illustrator Leo Timmers who is pretty adept at the genre. His latest, Monkey on the Run/Aap op straat (isn’t the Dutch title snappier than the English one?), was ‘translated’ by Gecko Press in New Zealand. They specialise in discovering, then negotiating and finally translating and publishing quality children’s books originally published in other languages. When possible, I request my Flemish book buyers (aka family) to purchase the original (even when it is wordless) and send it across the world. It is worth the exorbitant cost of freight.

Konijnentango by author Daan Remmerts de Vries and illustrators Ingrid and Dieter Schubert is a very clever picture book with a surprising twist at each end of the book.

Stephen Michael King illustrated Leaf. A story about growth. His drawings ooze tenderness and warmth. I love his work.

Time to re-read Clown/Het clowntje by Quentin Blake. I have forgotten the story.  

the box of books 2

For its lengthy travel, from Europe to New Zealand, this box (of books and other treats as you learnt in the previous blog) was in fine condition. This is not always the case. Occasionally, custom officers leave a note to say they’ve had a sneak peak, in the worst case scenario to inform you that a prohibited item (like seeds some thoughtful friends sent in the early years) has been removed or will be destroyed unless you produce official permission for import.

Occasionally, the content looks worse for wear: damaged, wet, broken. It’s anyone’s guess what happened on that journey of 20,000 kms by land and air. Books stained by water damage are not a pretty sight. Trying to peel apart sticky pages can render parts of the print unreadable. So tragic! Fortunately, everything looked in perfect condition. Most importantly, this applied to the chocolate and Lotus speculaas too.

Slowly, because I want to feel the delight of each discovery, I unpack the box and finally reach the books. Two heavy weights, delivered as requested: Judas by Astrid Holleeder and Nachtouders (Night Parents) by Saskia de Coster.

And here is … a third book! One my moeke chose for me. On the black and white cover a freckled, serious looking face of a young teenage girl, her pony tail snaking around her neck and resting on her left shoulder. Not a joyful picture, reminiscent of pictures of children caught in the insanity and starkness of a world at war. But I don’t think Let op mijn woorden written by Griet Op de Beeck is a war story. Without having read the story yet, I can only offer a temporary literal translation: Take notice of my words (i.e. of what I say).

What an incredibly fitting book title my mother picked for her eldest daughter who loves literature and language.

An unexpected book and a title that pierces my wordy heart equals a thoughtful, precious gift from my mother. The bestest surprise. How incredibly fitting for this blog.

the box of books

The knock on the door surprised us. We’d been watching the evening news obviously oblivious to the world on the other side of the windows. The dogs must have greeted the neighbour with anticipation for a cuddle or a pat because she parked the car, collected the parcel form the back seat and walked to the front door without them coughing a barky noise.

The neighbour balances the parcel on the dining table. Earlier, her husband had spotted where it came from, the land of amazing chocolate and delicious beer (can you guess?). He voices to his wife his wish for us (and perhaps secretly for himself) that the box contains at least some chocolate. Eying up the size of the parcel, he concludes that finding bottled beers is unlikely.

We chat for a while about our winter hibernation activities, our craving for the summer’s social gatherings and what the coming week has in store. But can I stop thinking about the parcel’s content? No! I am dying to open it, to rip the cardboard apart (I’d never do that, I am so boringly behaved) and feel the weight of the books, ogle the covers, smell the ink, smile at the titles before giving proper attention to the sweet Belgian (aha!) treats sprinkled between the words.

a special picture book

But this box harbours more and has been anticipated for many months. While in full lockdown in New Zealand (beginning 25 March 2020) and international freight virtually non-existent, I ordered a personalised picture book from MeMeMe Press for a little boy, Edison, and his two mamas. The story and the pictures make me chuckle and move me – they are the perfect reflection of Edison’s family’s make-up, I just love it. I can’t wait to hear what my lovely friend Mennie, his grandmother, has to say once she sees this. We share this passion about writing, books and everything that goes with it. She’ll appreciate this unique gift.

And Edison’s book came about because I read just about everything, from labels on cans to book reviews, from journal articles to comic strips, from emails to one-liners. Because while I am reading, my mind is always keeping others in mind.  

And while lifting books out of the box of presents carefully selected and packed by my mum (moeke I call her in Flemish) and trying hard not to succumb to the bar of delicious white chocolate, I spot something unexpected yet exciting. What do you think it was? And what memorable surprise sent to you by mail would you like to share?


blogging is for the brave

For the agonising, the numerous editing and the never ending doubt about this curious world of blogging, I feel that I am onto something here. Because blogging = sharing stories. And it takes more than a smidgen of bravery and willpower to just GO and DO IT. I am doing it.

I can now declare that the wait for me is over, finally, and the scribbled-down topics in my special blog journal (imagine this: it’s made of paper and needs a pen or pencil to write in, OMG) are bursting to be set free in words, perhaps illustrated with images at times.

I read all my eyes can take in. Here you can read my blogging efforts plus re-posting, quoting and linking to what piques my interest in the world of language and stories. And that is A LOT. It even includes stationary. I’m a paper&pen lover. A language aficionado. A book obsessive. A reading freak. A writing star spreading a soft, wordly glow over you.