Archive for the ‘Juvenile fiction’ Category

“It was too long,” my friend Jo protested of Inkheart.  “I am just so discouraged by the state of juvenile fiction these days!”  I was only halfway through the book myself, and thought this rather a strong statement.  Although Jo is the Ph.D. I’m not always ready to defer to her literary assessment.  When Dd1 finished and announced she really didn’t like the book, I was beginning to wonder if the book’s content didn’t quite match it’s hype.  I had to admit, I was a little disappointed; but it wasn’t until a discussion with fellow bibliophile, Leah, that I understood why.  

“It was a good idea,” I admitted, “but wasn’t executed very well.”  

“It could be that it was translated from German,” said Leah.

“Oh, yes.  I wondered about that. I mean, why was it written in German.”

“Well, Cornelia Funke is German.”

“Ahhh!” I said.

“You know, I always wondered, if the characters were leaving the books, I mean, when you read from another copy, wouldn’t they still be in the book.”

“Yes!” she exclaimed, pointing.  “This is exactly the kind of problems that I had with it.  And then like, why in the world would the aunt try to go back to her house when she knew that the villains knew where she lived.”

“I know.  That made no sense,” I agreed.

On the other hand, there have been some very good children’s books written lately.  Take Michael Buckley’s The Sisters Grimm series.  They are excellent.  The  storyline is well thought out and executed, full of suspense and a lot of humor.  There are blogs upon blogs of kids talking about them, and wondering, like my daughter, when try-outs will be held for the first movie. Speaking of movies, Inkheart was a bit of a disappointment there as well.  It really had the potential to be a great movie, but flopped from the getgo.  Movies based on books are either done really well, as in the case of The Lord of the Rings series or the first Narnia movie; and I must admit the one based on The City of Ember was excellent.  The directors were probably fans of the novels and did their homework.  Others such as Inkheart or Prince Caspian seemed to be rushed onto the screen therefore the storyline had to be manipulated a bit.

In short, I don’t think that juvenile fiction is in a sorry state at the moment.  I forgot to ask Jo how much of that genre she has read lately.  My daughter recently blogged on 21 Balloons by William Pène du Bois herself (See http://talesfromduncanrd.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/the-twenty-one-balloons/). This interesting work of fiction had the added effect of spurring some of the children in her class to watch a documentary on a volcanic eruption on the island of Krakatoa.  The City of Ember (the first in a series of books by Jeanne DuPrau) is a post-apocalyptic book that is not only a non-threatening social commentary that gets kids to think about actions and their impending consequences; but is also full of mystery and edge of your seat action.

In short, I think I’ll spend a little more time in the J section of the stacks.  I’ve got my eyes on Eragon and Pendragon next, so it should be an exciting summer.


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It was the fight of the century…well, at least the year.  In one corner, weighing in at about 65 lbs., quick, wiry, and cocksure sat the challenger–Dd1.  In the other corner, standing at 5’8″ (weight insignificant), the undisputed, undefeated, champion reader–Mom.  The competitors enter the ring, having just finished City of Ember the first book in Jeanne DuPrau’s Ember series.  Now, there was dispute over who would be the first to read the sequel People of Sparks.  It is kind of nice that Dd1 is old enough that we can enjoy some of the same books.  She is really starting to appreciate classics like Little Women and Anne of Green Gables which were previously beyond her years.  This particular piece of fiction came highly recommended to us by her piano teacher as Juvenile Fiction definitely worthy of the most discriminating reader.  DuPrau’s story of an post-apocalyptic society is both unique and complex in its unfolding.  She doesn’t give anything away at the outset, but allows the reader to discover, along with the characters, the origin and the purpose of their city’s existence.  The story centers around two young people, Lina Mayfleet and Doon Harrow, who along with the rest of the city, are puzzled and disturbed by the town’s shortage of food and the breakdown of the power generator, the only source of light for their dark world.  These young people are given a clue that might help lead them out of Ember, but with the flickering lights, and a force of corrupt politicians against them they are in a race against time to solve the mystery and save their people. 

The sequel firmly in her hands, Dd1 begins reading it as we pull out of the bookstore parking lot.

“You get carsick,”  I reminded her.

“Oh yeah.”  She puts the book down.  Round 1–Me

I quickly grab it and begin reading it on the way home.  I soon remember that I get carsick as well; but I don’t let that stop me.

My husband stops at the grocery store.  Dd1 picks up the book again.

“I need a helper says my husband.”

“I think Dd1 should go with you,” I say.

“Good idea” he says.  Round 2–Me

Once we get home however, I am all out of excuses.  Dd1 reminds me that I originally bought the book for her.  Knockout–Dd1

Oh well, she finished it in three days, so my turn came swiftly enough.

If you’re going to read this book, I would recommend you doing it before the release of the movie in October.  For scenes that will whet your appetite for the book as well as the movie, follow the link below to the official ember website.  Hurry, before the lights go out!


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“Cinder” Ella

I’ll admit it.  I am an American Idol fan.  From the beginning stage of watching the rise and fall of people’s hopes for stardom to the transformation of really good singers with enormous potential into verifiable superstars, the show has me hooked.  I always like to compare my critiques with the other judges, knowing full well that they are infinitely more qualified to pass judgement on the wannabe’s than I am.  One of my favorite quotes is from judge Randy Jackson.  When a singer is covering a song, he’ll often say, “Dude, you did your thang.  You came out here and made it your own.”  If you’re going to be a recording artist, someone fresh, imaginative, and innovative, you must make the song “yours”.  If you sing “Love Me Tender” and sound just like Elvis Presley, it’s not fresh and new.  If you sing “Downtown” like Petulah Clark (God forbid), you are not being yourself.  We can carry this analogy into the realm of writing.  If you write a story about Snow White and it’s no different than the Disney version, everyone but your three-year old daughter will throw it out the window.  I love fairy tales; but I especially love when there is a surprising new take on an old favorite.  Take Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, for instance.  When I sat down to listen to this audio recording with my daughters, I had no idea I would be revisiting an old favorite.  Levine’s story of a young girl who is cursed with the gift of obedience, was fresh and new.  We had seen the movie with Anne Hathaway; but this was completely different.  In fact, except for the obedience, and a few ugly stepsisters, it was nothing like the book.  It wasn’t another frivolous love story either.  Oh, there is destiny alright, a quest, a magical book, fairies, ogres, everything that makes a good fairy tale; but there was much more.  Levine gives us, out of her imagination, the subtext of Cinderella.  Did you ever wonder why Cinderella obeys her stepmother and ugly stepsisters.  I mean, do you think she is really so meek and mild that she would willingly become a doormat to those spinsters.  No, we’re given a reason, a really good exciting, frustrating reason; and on top of that you don’t even know until the last two chapters that you already know the ending.  Levine is Tolkienesque in her character development.  Every creature from Gnomes, Ogres, Giants, to People has its own language, unique power, and motivation.  Like Middle Earth, the Land of Frell and Ayortha become alive under Levine’s mastery; however, the similarity stops there because Ella Enchanted is as much light-hearted and whimsical as it is creative and masterful.  This book was a relief after seeing the movie, which although funny and charming was also full of highschool humor and political rhetoric.  I felt good about my daughters listening/reading it, even though the heroine spends most of the book trying not to obey.  By the way, where did that fairy god-mother get to anyway?  I could use a good chai latte right now. 

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It was a beautiful 72 degree December day, and no, I don’t live in Florida, whilst driving down the road with my children I commented on the unusual yet welcome weather. 

Dd1 agreed.  “Yes,” she said, “it is sooooo Barbara Robinson.”  

“Barbara Robinson” I said incredulously.  “What are you talking about?”

She smiled and chuckled, “You knooooooooow, the one who wrote The Best Christmas Pageant Ever.”

Well, I thought it was rather amusing and thought I might like to use this catchy phrase in conversation.  Although I’m never at a loss for words, one can never have too many ready quips, so it became my pet phrase for the day–mostly among my daughters.  “This decoration is quite the Barbara Robinson” or “I just love this curry!  It is so Barbara Robinson.”  Laughing, I used it on my DF Claire (you remember, my personal assistant), and she had never heard of the book.

 “What?” I said aghast (note the self-righteous book snob in me coming out).  “You mean to tell me, your children have never read TBCPE?”

“Well, no” she said “Whu, wha, ho…should I have?”  or something to this affect, at least this is what I heard.  Anyway, I filled her in on what a great and hilarious book it is in much the same way I will do for you now. 

The Herdmans are a group of unruly, impossible, and otherwise “worldly” kids who “infiltrate” the previously, totally respectable, neighborhood church Christmas pageant.  If you think I’m exaggerating on how bad the Herdmans really are, then just know this, they burn down houses, workshops, and steal doughnuts!”  Dd1 wants me to add that they have a three-legged, huge, matted haired cat that the mailman is so afraid of, he won’t deliver mail to their house.  So, this is not your run-of-the-mill crying for candy in the grocery store brats.  Anyway, enter snobby, self-righteous pageant directors and parents who are more concerned about the reputation of their program than reaching people with its message.  Which brings us to the crux of the book, the message has been, is, and will always be more powerful than the people that do or do not carry it, so the Herdmans wind up having a better understanding of it than the people who have been listening to it and communicating it year after year.  But just so you won’t think this book is all about throwing out convention and celebrating youth left to themselves, the Herdmans don’t just “get” the message, they “geeeeeeet” the message.  They change, for the better.  So, get the book for your children or just for yourself if you’ve never read it, and prepare to laugh out loud enjoying the wonderful antics of the Herdmans and what is indeed The Best Christmas Pageant Ever

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My girls love the American Girl book series.  If you don’t have young girls, or have never heard of these books, they are historical novels written about young girls from different backgrounds, living through different time periods in American history.  The authors (which are varied) do a great job of describing the different environments, socio-economic situations, political climates, dress, customs, jobs, transportation, and hobbies of the particular era.  Some of the time periods and people included are a Pre-colonial Northwestern Indian tribe, Colonial Virginians on the verge of the Revolutionary War, a Victorian New England family in the age of progress, and a family trying to survive the Great Depression.  Both my DD’s ages 8 and 5 love these books.  Now recently, my five year old (DD2) picked up the Addy books at a second hand bookstore, and asked me to read them to her.  Now, since I had no one to warn me that these books may be too difficult a subject to broach with a five-year old, I read them to her.  Meet Addy is the story of an African American slave and her family who escape from a plantation in South Carolina to freedom in Philadelphia.  The book includes what you would expect one from this time period to have:  overseers and beatings, humiliations and insults endured by the slaves, planning and escape, the underground railroad and the terror of midnight travel.  After freedom is obtained, you read about segregation and unfair wages, prejudice and hate, and the struggle to survive in a mostly white America.  I do not try to hide these things from my children.  I want them to know about people’s hearts and this horrible time in our nations history, just as I want them to know about the holocaust.  Although, I am not explicit when I describe the atrocities, I tell them bluntly how people were horribly persecuted or even murdered because of their ethnic or religious backgrounds.  I tell them, because it happens to children their own age.  I tell them, because I want them to be thankful and never take their freedom for granted; but mainly I tell them, because I want them to be compassionate towards others and pray for and seek to help those who are persecuted.  It is interesting that after reading this, DD2 asked for an Addie doll.  She just fell in love with this little girl and her story, and couldn’t wait to hear what happened next.  Well, I got her the doll, and one day, after brushing the thick as wool, black hair, my blonde haired blue-eyed girl smiled sweetly and said, “Mommy, except for our hair, don’t we look just alike?”  “Like twins” I said.  It never occurs to either of my children that there is any difference between races except for maybe slight skin color variations.  I don’t want them to be what some would call “color blind”, rather I want them to love and appreciate all the different colors and characteristics that make up Adam’s race much as they would appreciate and love a rainbow.  This is the way it should be. 

Ken Ham with Answers in Genesis wrote a great book called One Blood in which he explains biblically that there is really only one race–the human race.  It is actually evolutionary ideology that tells us that different races evolved.  In chapter 3, Mr. Ham actually shows us how racism and prejudice grew exponentially after world-wide acceptance of Darwin’s theories.  “Darwinian evolution was (and still is) inherently a racist philosophy, teaching that different groups or ‘races’ of people evolved at different times and rates, so some groups are more like their ape-like ancestors than others. The Australian Aborigines, for instance, were considered to be the missing links between an ape-like ancestor and the rest of mankind. This resulted in terrible prejudices and injustices towards the Australian Aborigines. A leading evolutionary spokesperson, Stephen Jay Gould, stated that ‘Biological arguments for racism may have been common before 1850, but they increased by orders of magnitude following the acceptance of evolutionary theory.’”  

Contrast this with what the bible teaches about race:

The Bible does not even use the word ‘race’ in reference to people, but does describe all human beings as being of ‘one blood’ (Acts 17:26). This, of course, emphasizes that we are all related, for all humans are descendants of the first man Adam (1 Cor. 15:45).”

Mr. Ham also references evidence from genetics that show that the so-called “racial characteristics” that we find so different account for only about a .012 % difference genetically between any two people on the face of the earth.  I find the book interesting because it shows how even our terminology regarding race “evolved” along with our incorrect notions about origins.  Well, I’ll say no more about that for now, but I highly recommend this book.  For more information on Darwinian evolution and racism, simply go to www.answersingenesis.com and search for “Darwin and race”.  You will find a myriad of articles relating his teachings with Nazism, eugenics, etc. 

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