Archive for the ‘Classics’ Category

Review of Kilmeny of the Orchard, by L. M. Montgomery

Friday, July 18th, 2014

kilmeny_of_the_orchard_largeKilmeny of the Orchard

by L. M. Montgomery

Bantam Books, New York, 1989. First published in 1910. 134 pages.

I turned 50 last month. As a way of celebrating, later in the year during the few weeks when all three of us are 50 years old, two childhood friends and I are hoping to visit Prince Edward Island. In preparation for that trip, and as part of my celebration, I thought I’d reread L. M. Montgomery’s books. Update: The trip’s not going to work out after all this year, but we’re going to try to go before we turn 55. And it’s still a good excuse to reread the books!

Kilmeny of the Orchard is actually the first novel Lucy Maud Montgomery wrote, though she didn’t get it published until after her classic Anne of Green Gables was published and was immediately wildly popular. To be honest, as a writer it encouraged me greatly to learn this. If L. M. Montgomery’s first effort was a masterpiece, well, then, who was I to think I could ever write anything?

Let’s just say that after reading Kilmeny of the Orchard, I was not surprised to learn it was the author’s first effort. A lovely first effort, yes, but not a masterpiece like her first published novel.

Kilmeny of the Orchard, like all but one of L. M. Montgomery’s books, takes place on beautiful Prince Edward Island. It’s a romance, simple and sweet. There is lots of flowery description and the young lovers are good and true and the story will make you happy.

Yes, the plot is highly unlikely. L. M. Montgomery used to find surprising stories in the news and then put them in your fiction — not realizing that fiction needs to be less surprising than truth in order to be believed. Worse, there’s a villainous character who is clearly villainous because he’s from “Italian peasant stock.” And our heroine is essentially the most beautiful woman in the world, and innocent and sweet (even though she’s lived away from people except her aunt and uncle and the villain all her life). The hero is handsome and smart and rich, but working as a schoolteacher to help a friend.

However, you still can see the seeds of L. M. Montgomery’s greatness. She may overdo the description in this book, but she has a gift for it. And you can already see the quirky characters appearing whom she is so good at bringing to life.

All the same, this is the book that reassures me that L. M. Montgomery was human, too. She, too, had to work at her craft.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/kilmeny_of_the_orchard.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own copy, purchased years ago.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Charlotte’s Web, by E. B. White

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Charlotte’s Web

by E. B. White
read by the Author

Listening Library, 2002. Written in 1952. Recorded in 1970. 3 compact discs.
Starred Review
1953 Newbery Honor Book
1970 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award

Charlotte’s Web has twice been voted the #1 Children’s Chapter Book of all time by librarians and parents voting in Betsy Bird‘s School Library Journal Top 100 Chapter Books Poll. In fact, it was reading Betsy’s post that I learned that there is an audio with E. B. White reading the book. I immediately checked if our library had that version and happily took it home.

It’s been many years since I’ve read this practically perfect book. My third grade teacher read it to me the first time. Later, I read it to my sons. And my older son watched the Hanna-Barbara animated version over and over again. As I listened to the audiobook, I realized that the many lines I had memorized were the ones that were used in the film. And they did keep many, many of the great lines. (Like the starting and ending lines. Like Charlotte’s salutation.) But I’d forgotten a lot of the side scenes that didn’t make it to the film.

There are so many scenes simply of life in the barn. Swinging on the rope swing. Wilbur escaping his pen right at the beginning. How it felt to have slops poured on top of Wilbur or to roll in the warm manure. The book is truly a paean to life in the barn.

Now at the beginning, I didn’t feel E. B. White measured up to the actors and especially actresses I remembered reciting the lines in my head. But his voice grew on me, and it’s a good, down-to-earth voice for this story. You can hear in his voice his love for the quiet life of the barn. It’s truly a treasure to still be able to listen to him telling his masterpiece of a story.

Now, there’s no need to critique this classic. I was surprised to find little quibbles. What happens to Fern when the whole spider plot happens. Isn’t she in on it? But it’s Charlotte’s Web! The book is genius, and it works. And you can listen to it read by E. B. White himself.

listeninglibrary.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/charlottes_web.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on a library audiobook from the Fairfax County Public Library.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I maintain my website and blogs on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Review of Over Sea, Under Stone, by Susan Cooper

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Over Sea, Under Stone

by Susan Cooper

Scholastic, New York. First published in 1965. 243 pages.
Starred Review

I decided to reread Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising cycle after I heard she won the Margaret A. Edwards Award for these books. I almost got this first one read before I went to the Margaret Edwards Luncheon and got to hear her speak. But I still intend to carry out my plan!

I missed these books as a kid, which is a real shame. I’d only read them once before. The first one hasn’t gotten as many awards and recognition as the others, but it has a special place in my heart. Over Sea, Under Stone is more like fantasy novels that have gone before, like the works of E. Nesbit and Edward Eager and C. S. Lewis. You’ve got a group of siblings stumbling into magic on their summer vacation. I think that’s what I like about the book, why it has a special warm fond place in my heart.

Barney and Jane and Simon are spending the summer in their Great-Uncle Merry’s house in the village of Tressiwick, on the coast.

Great-Uncle Merry is the character who ended up inspiring the rest of the series. Here’s how the children think of him, right at the start of the book:

How old he was, nobody knew. “Old as the hills,” Father said, and they felt, deep down, that this was probably right. There was something about Great-Uncle Merry that was like the hills, or the sea, or the sky; something ancient, but without age or end.

Always, wherever he was, unusual things seemed to happen. He would often disappear for a long time, and then suddenly come through the Drews’ front door as if he had never been away, announcing that he had found a lost valley in South America, a Roman fortress in France, or a burned Viking ship buried on the English coast. The newspapers would publish enthusiastic stories of what he had done. But by the time the reporters came knocking at the door, Great-Uncle Merry would be gone, back to the dusty peace of the university where he taught. They would wake up one morning, go to call him for breakfast, and find that he was not there. And then they would hear no more of him until the next time, perhaps months later, that he appeared at the door. It hardly seemed possible that this summer, in the house he had rented for them in Trewissick, they would be with him in one place for four whole weeks.

In that house, the children find a secret room and a treasure map. The treasure map leads to ingenious clues to find the Grail. But the children and Uncle Merry aren’t the only ones hot on the trail.

This book encapsulates my idea of a good, solid fantasy tale for kids. The rest of the books are more creative and more innovative and, yes, scarier. But this one has a soft spot in my heart for being a traditionally good story of ordinary children working together and finding magic.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/over_sea_under_stone.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Source: This review is based on my own personal copy.

Disclaimer: I am a professional librarian, but I write the posts for my website and blogs entirely on my own time. The views expressed are solely my own, and in no way represent the official views of my employer or of any committee or group of which I am part.

Please use the comments if you’ve read the book and want to discuss spoilers!

Top 100 Chapter Books Poll – Again!

Friday, April 13th, 2012

As I said last night, Betsy Bird, who writes School Library Journal’s Fuse #8 blog, is doing another Top 100 Chapter Books Poll. You have two more days to get in your votes! Anyone who loves books, do this soon! You’ll be so glad you did!

I had a terrible time limiting my list of Chapter Books to only ten. In fact, the only way I could do it at all was to take out some of my absolute favorites because part of what I love about them is the romance. Come to think of it, ALL of these choices, I read at one time or another to one or both of my boys (or my husband did). So I can safely say that all of these books are definitely children’s books. Though I can also firmly say that there are adults who will love them, too. And I’m afraid I only read half of them as a child myself.

I definitely still keep wavering with the final choices. In fact, let’s see if I make any last-minute changes as I post this list!

The Books I Believe are the Top Ten Chapter Books of All Time:

1. Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery

I mentioned last night that I would have loved to include Emily of New Moon. But this is right. Anne is classic. Anne is the heroine who started it all. I first read this book in 10th grade, and I found it a breath of fresh air after all the adult books I’d been reading. Then, as I was in high school and college, they slowly came out with more and more of L. M. Montgomery’s books. I also own all the volumes of her journals and everything I could get my hands on of hers. My absolute favorite is The Blue Castle, but it’s actually a book for adults. Anyway, Anne Shirley is a character who comes alive.

2. Momo, by Michael Ende

I know this one won’t make the list, but I can’t let it go unrecognized. This was the first book I ordered from Book-of-the-Month Club, and it was so good, I blame it for all the other books I ended up ordering. When I moved to Germany, my first purchase was a copy of this book in the original language (German). Momo is a little girl with a gift for listening. So when gray men come and steal people’s time by convincing them to save it, Momo is the only one who can see them, because she really listens to them. This book is mythic in scope.

3. Winnie-the-Pooh, by A. A. Milne

I tell the whole story of how much I love this book in my review. Let’s just say that I remember my mother reading it to me. Then I remember reading it to my little brothers and sisters. Then, in college, I learned that one of the most fun things to do was read with a group of friends, where different people read the different voices. And finally, I got to read it to my sons, or together with my sons. Oh, and I’ve read it in German!

One of the funny things is that it reads on different levels. I remember as a child just taking the things said as perfectly reasonable and matter-of-fact that now I think are hilarious. This book is a work of genius.

I also have to mention that I brainwashed both my sons into loving these characters so that the very first characters they pretended to be were ones from Winnie-the-Pooh. In fact, my son learned early to write his own name — “P-O-O-H.” (When he called me in the night with the call, “Pi–iglet!”, I thought he’d gone too far.)

Now, to be honest, The House at Pooh Corner is a little better, since it includes Tigger. However, last time I voted for The World of Pooh in order to include both and my vote was totally wasted. I’m sure everyone who reads the list will be thinking of ALL the Pooh stories.

4. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C. S. Lewis

I remember at my vast old age in 7th grade sadly concluding that I was too old for the Narnia books now. (I had already read them many times.) Then I took them up again in college and found new riches. I know I will never “outgrow” them again. Of course, it does help that I’m a Christian, and love the insights about God found in Lewis’s writings. But the magic of the stories works fully, even without that. (And I appreciate that part much more as an adult than I did as a kid.)

As I said in my review, no kid who reads this book will ever look at a closet door the same way again.

5. The Hobbit, by J. R. R. Tolkien

I remember reading this book on the way to school and having to stop right when Bilbo was in the tunnel leading to the dragon’s lair. That was excruciating!

6. The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner

When we were reading to both our kids together, my older son said we had to read this book next. I was skeptical, but by the time I finished, I was a complete fan. And it grows on me with each rereading — because I notice more clever things each time. The second book, The Queen of Attolia would be near the top of my YA list.

7. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, by J. K. Rowling

Oh, our family got hours and hours and hours of enjoyment out of these books. We read all of the first five out loud as a family, with no reading ahead. (Or as little reading ahead as we could stand.) We read books #3 and #4 on family vacations, and ended up putting off a visit to Neuschwanstein Castle because we just had to finish Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

8. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeleine L’Engle

This book isn’t perfect, but how it endures. I didn’t read this until I was in college. When I did, I was so grateful to the person who told me about it.

9. Pippi Longstocking, by Astrid Lindgren

This book has such childlike exuberance. Pippi is someone we’d talk about as if we knew her. (“And she sleeps with her feet on the pillow!”) This is a child-sized tall tale.

10. Half Magic, by Edward Eager

My favorite of his is Seven Day Magic, but Half Magic is more well-known, the first one I read, and a classic concept.

Oh, so do I really have to leave out so many? I wanted to include Little Britches, by Ralph Moody, Dealing with Dragons, by Patricia C. Wrede, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by L. Frank Baum, and Black Beauty, by Anna Sewall. I hope other people include them! And the ones I decided were YA, but that I love, love, love are The Blue Sword, by Robin McKinley, The Goose Girl, by Shannon Hale, and The Witch of Blackbird Pond, by Elizabeth George Speare.

I am helping Betsy compile the results, but I am sure if I changed some answers, I’d get found out, and she would withdraw the privilege. So I will be good. Sigh.

The results will be better the more people send in their lists! So get moving on that! And I do really enjoy your comments. What would be on your list?

Darkness and Oz

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

There’s been another recent kerfuffle, albeit a relatively minor one, about darkness in children’s books.

What set it off was Maria Tatar’s Opinion piece in the New York Times, “No More Adventures in Wonderland.” A notable paragraph includes: “But the savagery we offer children today is more unforgiving than it once was, and the shadows are rarely banished by comic relief. Instead of stories about children who will not grow up, we have stories about children who struggle to survive.” In another section, she says, “Children today get an unprecedented dose of adult reality in their books, sometimes without the redemptive beauty, cathartic humor and healing magic of an earlier time.” Mind you, then she brings up an example that was definitely written for young adults, not children.

Her final paragraph mourns what she calls a lost tradition: “Still, it is hard not to mourn the decline of the literary tradition invented by Carroll and Barrie, for they also bridged generational divides. No other writers more fully entered the imaginative worlds of children — where danger is balanced by enchantment — and reproduced their magic on the page. In today’s stories, those safety zones are rapidly vanishing as adult anxieties edge out childhood fantasy.”

I’ve read some thoughtful responses to that piece from Monica Edinger, Nina Lindsay, and Betsy Bird, along with some insightful comments from their readers. I don’t think I have a lot to add to the discussion.

But I did read something this week that made me laugh, when juxtaposed in my mind with Maria Tatar’s article. Believe it or not, it’s the Introduction to L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

I was rereading this fabulous book for a meeting of the DCKidLit Book Club.

Bearing in mind Ms. Tatar’s article and that L. Frank Baum wrote this in 1900, see if you can see why this Introduction made me laugh:

Folk lore, legends, myths and fairy tales have followed childhood through the ages, for every healthy youngster has a wholesome and instinctive love for stories fantastic, marvelous and manifestly unreal. The winged fairies of Grimm and Andersen have brought more happiness to childish hearts than all other human creations.

Yet the old-time fairy tale, having served for generations, may now be classed as “historical” in the children’s library; for the time has come for a series of newer “wonder tales” in which the stereotyped genie, dwarf and fairy are eliminated, together with all the horrible and blood-curdling incident devised by their authors to point a fearsome moral to each tale. Modern education includes morality; therefore the modern child seeks only entertainment in its wonder-tales and gladly dispenses with all disagreeable incident.

Having this thought in mind, the story of “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz” was written solely to pleasure children of today. It aspires to being a modernized fairy tale, in which the wonderment and joy are retained and the heart-aches and nightmares are left out.

— L. Frank Baum
Chicago, April, 1900

It’s funny in several ways. First, he was complaining that existing children’s literature is too dark. But also, he was saying the opposite of what people say today: That it’s “modern” to have sweetness and light in children’s books.

So perhaps critics have a point. But I’m thinking there were two camps then and there are two camps now. One camp thinks that childhood should be G-rated, and you should try to keep unpleasant things from the little dears. (I guess you can already tell which camp I’m in.) The other camp thinks that kids can handle unpleasant things, in reasonable context and as they grow.

To be honest, I love the Oz books, but they do have a sentimental, grandfatherly tone. This makes their best audience tend to be younger children, who don’t mind being talked down to. Mind you, they’re wonderful adventures. But the reader must not mind that the heroine is called a “little girl,” as in this passage: “Dorothy was an innocent, harmless little girl, who had been carried by a cyclone many miles from home; and she had never killed anything in all her life.”

I’ve been thinking about it, and Oz is a perfect family read-aloud for young children, as well as an ideal choice for early readers. The reading level is a little higher than the interest level, because as kids get older they are less taken by the grandfatherly sentimental tone. (Though if you once hook kids on the Oz stories, I’m convinced they’ll continue to gobble them up, and will take longer to outgrow them.)

Like J. K. Rowling, L. Frank Baum had an incredible imagination, and threw all kinds of bizarre countries, characters, and adventures into his books. As far as creating new, American wonder-tales, he certainly succeeded.

But how funny that he was trying to save the world from dark children’s literature of “heart-aches and nightmares”!

Actually, if everyone who finds children’s literature too dark would take his approach, I would have no complaints at all: Go out there and write something wonderful without the darkness. L. Frank Baum decided to write light-hearted wonder-tales, and did a magnificent job.

And whether or not you think L. Frank Baum was right that the tales before his time were too dark, you’ve got to admire his response. He didn’t just complain. He did something about it, and created the kind of tales he wanted to see. If today’s critics would only do the same.

And the Rest…

Monday, January 25th, 2010

At the start of 2010, I had 43 books I’d read in 2009 that I wanted to review. I’ve been madly writing reviews, without posting them to my main site, waiting until I’ve caught up. I have eight books left from 2009. They were all very good, and worth mentioning, but in the interests of time, I’m only going to mention them with a short blurb in this post, and not give them a full page on my main site.

Once I finish them, I have another stack of seven books that I finished reading already in 2010. After I have caught up on writing those reviews, I hope to post all of the new reviews to www.sonderbooks.com. So here goes!

Children’s Fiction

These first three books I read as part of my class on the Newbery Medal. They are all historical novels, set in medieval times, and all well-written though just a tad old-fashioned. As Newbery Medal winners, you will be able to find more information about them than these reviews.

The Trumpeter of Krakow
by Eric P. Kelly

Scholastic, 1990. First published in 1928. 242 pages.
1929 Newbery Medal Winner.

Here’s a tale of intrigue and danger set in old Krakow. There are some strange sections about alchemy, and you can tell if someone is bad or good based on how they look, but despite its old-fashioned feel, this book still is very interesting. It’s almost more for teens, because the language is at a high reading level, and the main character is almost grown up, but he is still treated like a child, so the book has the feel of a children’s book.

Fifteen-year-old Joseph Charnetski and his family are fleeing to Krakow. As they almost reach the city gates, someone shows interest in an especially large pumpkin, which his father is not willing to sell.

They use an assumed name and find a hiding place in the city, near an old scholar and his daughter. Joseph’s father takes a job as the city trumpeter. The trumpeter is also the watchman, tasked to raise the alarm if there is a fire in the city. They never play the last three notes of the trumpet call in honor of an old trumpeter who gave his life keeping the call going during an invasion.

Joseph learns the call as well as his father, and as danger approaches, he finds a clever way to raise the alarm.

Buy from Amazon.com

Adam of the Road
by Elizabeth Janet Gray

Scholastic. First published in 1942. 320 pages.
1943 Newbery Medal Winner.

Adam of the Road is the story of a minstrel’s son in medieval England. The book starts out at school, with Adam waiting for his father to pick him up after some time apart, to go to London and back on the road. Adam has gained a beloved dog, Nick, who can do tricks and help with their act.

Along the way, a sinister rival minstrel steals Nick. As Adam’s chasing after him, he loses track of his father. He ends up wandering across England on his own, trying to find his father and his dog, and having various adventures along the way.

This is a good story that has stood the test of time. Adam is awfully young to be on his own, but people are kind to him, and he cleverly makes his way, never in real danger. A light-hearted and enjoyable adventure tale for kids interested in medieval times.

Buy from Amazon.com

The Door in the Wall
by Marguerite de Angeli

Yearling Newbery (Bantam Doubleday Dell), 1990. First published in 1949. 121 pages.
1950 Newbery Medal Winner.

The Door in the Wall is another story of a boy on his own in medieval times. Robin’s father went off to the wars, expecting his son to go train to be a knight. His mother went to be the Queen’s lady-in-waiting, expecting John-the-Fletcher to come soon to take him to Sir Peter de Lindsay, to train as a knight.

But Robin gets sick, and when John-the-Fletcher comes, he is not able to go along. For a month he is bedridden, unable to move his legs. He is lame and will never be a knight now.

Some monks take Robin under their wing. They help him learn to swim, to strengthen his arms, and eventually to walk with a crutch. They take him on a journey to meet his father, and they have adventures along the way. By the end of the book, only Robin is able to get a message out and save an entire castle.

This book is shorter than the others. It’s a fairly simple story, but interesting with the medieval setting and inspiring as Robin overcomes his handicap, and learns that his life still has significance.

Buy from Amazon.com

Teens

Growing Wings
by Laurel Winter

Firebird (Penguin Putnam), 2000. 195 pages.

All her life, Linnet’s mother has touched Linnet’s shoulder blades before she tucks Linnet into bed. One day, when she’s eleven, Linnet learns why. She’s itching horribly, and she has strange bumps on her shoulders.

Linnet’s mother assures her she doesn’t have cancer. She is growing wings. Linnet’s mother also grew wings when she was Linnet’s age, but her mother cut them off. Linnet’s mother is determined not to do that to Linnet, but she doesn’t know what to do to hide them.

Linnet finds a community of others with wings, living in a house in the wilderness. Some adults who are “cutwings” are in charge. So far, none of the teens with wings have been able to fly. They are trying to learn, but also to stay hidden.

This is an intriguing story, with plenty of conflict in the community of winged children. Linnet explores her heritage and wonders what she can make of her life. Will she have to spend her whole life in hiding?

Buy from Amazon.com

Fiction

Miss Zukas and the Island Murders
by Jo Dereske

Avon Books (HarperCollins), 1995. 258 pages.

This is the second mystery about Miss Zukas, librarian extraordinaire. In this book, Miss Zukas and her exotic friend Ruth arrange a twenty-year reunion on an island in Puget Sound for their high school class from Michigan.

While they’re preparing, she gets threatening letters that refer to the long-ago death of one of their classmates. Once they’re on the island, naturally a storm strikes, isolating them, and a murder occurs. Can they solve the murder and keep from getting killed themselves?

This is a fun mystery. Miss Zukas’s librarian nature didn’t come up as much in this book as in the first one, and I felt that she leapt to conclusions without a lot of reasons. But she’s an entertaining character to read about. Gotta love a librarian detective!

Buy from Amazon.com

Nonfiction

Gratitude
A Way of Life

by Louise L. Hay and Friends
compiled and edited by Jill Kramer

Hay House, 1996. 312 pages.

This book is full of essays about gratitude, written by many notable people. How can you possibly go wrong? I went for quite awhile, reading one essay per day. It’s a nice way to put your day on track.

Buy from Amazon.com

The Bait of Satan
Living Free from the Deadly Trap of Offense

by John Bevere

Charisma House, 2004. First published in 1994. 255 pages.

In this book, John Bevere teaches that Satan’s biggest trap is taking offense. What’s more, you feel justified and in the right!

“Pride causes you to view yourself as a victim. Your attitude becomes, ‘I was mistreated and misjudged; therefore, I am justified in my behavior.’ Because you believe you are innocent and falsely accused, you hold back forgiveness. Though your true heart condition is hidden from you, it is not hidden from God. Just because you were mistreated, you do not have permission to hold on to an offense. Two wrongs do not make a right!”

This book looks at many different ways the devil deceives us into taking offense, and encourages you in many different ways to overcome and find forgiveness. A valuable, helpful book.

Buy from Amazon.com

Write Is a Verb
Sit Down. Start Writing. No Excuses.

by Bill O’Hanlon

Writer’s Digest Books, 2007. 212 pages. DVD included.

This is a book about getting it together and actually writing. I read it after I had already made and was keeping a resolution to write at least fifteen minutes per day, every day, so this book only reinforced what I had already determined to do.

If you want to write, and are having trouble motivating yourself, this book has some great ways to think through your motivation and ideas for marketing yourself. Think of this as a great pep talk, complete with a DVD so you can see and hear an additional pep talk.

Buy from Amazon.com

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Review of The Witch of Blackbird Pond

Monday, January 18th, 2010

The Witch of Blackbird Pond

by Elizabeth George Speare

Laurel-Leaf Books, 1993. First published in 1958. 224 pages.
Winner of the 1959 Newbery Medal.
Starred Review.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

When I took a class on the Newbery Medal, some of my classmates got to talking about The Witch of Blackbird Pond, and I found I simply couldn’t resist rereading it, even though for the class I was reading winners that I’d never read before.

Kit grew up in the West Indies, on her grandfather’s plantation. She wore fashionable clothes in bright colors, went swimming in the warm water, and took slaves for granted.

Her grandfather dies, leaving debts that an old widower will help her clear up, if she marries him. So Kit flees to the Massachusetts colony, to her mother’s sister, who married a Puritan long ago.

To say that Kit doesn’t fit in among the Puritans is an understatement. She tries to help in her aunt’s household, but it takes her time to get used to the tasks. She finds a friend in Hannah, an old woman living out by Blackbird Pond, a Quaker who’s rumored to be a witch, but whom Kit finds to be loving and kind.

There’s all kinds of drama in this story. It’s a testament to its power that most of us in the Newbery class were most enthusiastic about the romance, but one participant, who had read the book when she was younger, in elementary school, hadn’t even noticed the romance. She loved the book because of the drama of Kit trying to fit in and being accused of witchcraft.

The book takes place shortly before the American Revolution, so you also have good historical background. Of course, that’s more conflict for Kit, since she and her grandfather were Royalists, but the Massachusetts colony is talking about rebellion.

This is truly a wonderful book worth reading over and over again. It stands the test of time and spans almost all age levels.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Teens/witch_of_blackbird_pond.html

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate, and will earn a small percentage if you order a book on Amazon after clicking through from my site.

Review of Winnie-the-Pooh audiobook, read by Peter Dennis

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

winnie_the_pooh_audio.jpg

Winnie-the-Pooh

written by A. A. Milne

performed by Peter Dennis

Book published in 1926.  Blackstone Audiobooks, 2004.  3 hours on 3 cassettes.

Starred review.

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2010: Wonderful Rereads

I’ve already reviewed Winnie-the-Pooh at length and said how special it is to me: http://www.sonderbooks.com/ChildrensFiction/winniethepooh.html .

Although part of the specialness is that I fell in love with my husband while reading Winnie-the-Pooh together, I find that the book is still just as special even though my husband has now left me.  Winnie-the-Pooh has been part of my life much longer than he has.

I have checked out several cassettes from the library that I want to listen to before we end up getting rid of all our cassettes, and Winnie-the-Pooh is one.  (Though the same version is now available on CD.)  It was the perfect book to listen to while my son and I were making lots of trips back and forth while toting our possessions for a move across town.

Few things are as much fun as reading Winnie-the-Pooh aloud, especially with a group of enthusiastic readers.  However, when you are driving, you can’t read yourself, and this performance by Peter Dennis is the next best thing.  He is so exceptionally good at doing the voices of the characters, it’s a bit intimidating.  (Though I will not let that stop me.)

I was appalled to learn that my teenage son doesn’t remember most of the stories.  Surely I had read them to him enough times?  He learned to write his name P-O-O-H, for goodness’ sake! 

Anyway, we thoroughly enjoyed listening to and laughing over them in the middle of the serious business of moving.  We will definitely have to do some Pooh readalouds together just as soon as we find the box where my copy is hiding.

You can’t ask for a better family listening experience than this version of Winnie-the-Pooh.  And I don’t care if your family is all adults or includes toddlers.  Those who are only familiar with the Disney versions may not realize the wonderful subtle humor and charm of the original books.  It’s hard to imagine anyone of any age not enjoying these stories.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Fiction/winnie_the_pooh_audio.html

Review of Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

Saturday, February 28th, 2009

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Watchmen

by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons

DC Comics, 1986. 

Winner of the Hugo Award.

Starred review.

I finally read Watchmen this week, since I definitely have to take my teenage son to see the movie the day it comes out.  Watchmen is acclaimed by many as the greatest graphic novel of all time, and I can see why.  This book has layers upon layers upon layers of meaning.  You definitely only scratch the surface of all that’s going on the first time you read it.

Set in an alternate 1985, the story begins with the death of costumed hero The Comedian.  Rorschach, another masked hero, thinks there may be a plot against masked vigilantes.  Someone with great power must be behind it, because who else could have thrown The Comedian out a window?

My son is rereading the book in the Absolute Watchmen edition.  The pages and pictures are larger, so it’s easier to see the many important details all lurking in the pages before you even notice them.  As I was writing this, my son noticed another one — that Rorschach didn’t have the distinctive speech bubbles until he really “became” Rorschach.  (I hadn’t noticed that he even had distinctive speech bubbles.)  There are thousands of details planted like that.  This is a graphic novel where you would still notice new details on the twentieth reading that fit perfectly and provide clues to what’s really going on.

This book is a mystery, a social commentary, a science fiction adventure, an alternate history, and so much more.  Mind you, it is a dark story, with lots of sex and violence.  If you wouldn’t be comfortable watching an R rated movie, then you won’t want to read this book.

At first, I thought I just enjoyed it as a work of art.  There’s no question that the book is superbly executed, thought-provoking, and interesting.  However, on reflection, now that I’ve finished it, I find I really did care about the characters.  They grew on me.  I did like them, and they seem like real people, with real concerns and complexities.  For example, I found myself annoyed right along with Laurie when Jon starts talking about what’s going to happen in a few minutes.  Each character is distinctive, with their own hang-ups and desires, and the authors portray that skillfully, and make you care.

Definitely worth the hype.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie.  And I’m sure I’ll come back to the book some day, and try to pick up a few hundred more details that I missed the first time.

Buy from Amazon.com

Review of Audiobook Thank You, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse

Monday, May 12th, 2008

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Thank You, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse, performed by Alexander Spencer

Recorded Books, 1984.  Originially published in 1934.  6 compact discs, 6 hours.

I’ve decided that the ultimate audiobook for a long drive is anything by P. G. Wodehouse, read by someone like Alexander Spencer, with an exquisite English accent.  When you’re laughing out loud, you can’t possibly fall asleep at the wheel.

I think of P. G. Wodehouse as the Seinfeld of 1930’s England.  The rich young gentlemen get into elaborately entangled comic situations, which all come together for a big laugh in the end.

In Thank You, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster actually accepts Jeeves’ resignation.  Bertie is dedicating himself to playing the banjolele, and Jeeves cannot tolerate it.  However, they both end up in Chuffnall Regis, where Bertie’s old school friend, Chuffy (Lord Chuffnall), is falling in love with Pauline Stoker, a millionaire’s daughter who was once engaged to Bertie.

In the mess that results, involving captivity on a yacht, sleeping in sheds, a chase with a chopper, a cottage on fire, black-faced minstrels, and the temptations of kippered herring, only Jeeves has the brain capable of sorting things out and orchestrating a happy ending for everyone.

While I was in the middle of listening to this book, I found myself thinking about heliotrope pajamas.  You see, Bertie finds Pauline Stoker in his bed, wearing his heliotrope pajamas, and finds her quite fetching.  Doesn’t the phrase “heliotrope pajamas” have a ring to it?  (All the more so when you’ve been listening to it rather than merely reading it.  I found myself saying the phrase over to myself.)

I mused, “I wonder what color exactly are heliotrope pajamas?”  Well, my son heard me, and looked up heliotrope on Wikipedia.   ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heliotrope_%28color%29 )  He showed me exactly the shade.  (I pretty much had it right, for the record!)  But he looked at the references to “Heliotrope in popular culture” and was surprised to find exactly the scene I had mentioned:  “In Thank You, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster returns home to find Pauline Stoker in his heliotrope pajamas after swimming ashore from her father’s yacht.”

So you see, not only can you get lots of laughs, you can also learn the full story of the legendary heliotrope pajamas of Bertie Wooster.

Buy from Amazon.com

Find this review on the main site at:

www.sonderbooks.com/Fiction/thank_you_jeeves.html