Archive for September, 2019

Review of The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black

Monday, September 16th, 2019

The Cruel Prince

by Holly Black

Little, Brown and Company, January 2018. 370 pages.
Starred Review
Review written in January 2018 from a library book.

Wow. Before reading this book, I’d read two children’s books with very clunky writing. Then I picked up The Cruel Prince at the library – the first published 2018 book I’ve read (instead of an advance reader copy) – and I was entranced, enthralled and pulled into the world.

I’m writing this review in 2018, before I’ve talked with anyone else about the book – so these opinions are entirely my own. I’m also not sure how much Newbery consideration I should give to a book so clearly written for young adults. The Newbery criteria say we’re looking at excellence in presentation for a child audience, and I’d say this book isn’t written for a child audience. But on the other hand, it then defines a “child” as someone between the ages of 0 and 14, and there are certainly 14-year-olds who will enjoy this book. Anyway, that’s something I’m going to ask about when our committee meets in February. Once I’ve gotten some more advice, I won’t discuss it in reviews.

Newbery consideration aside, one of the things that makes this book so wonderful to read is how completely Holly Black immerses the reader into the world of faerie. It’s a dark, dangerous, and scary world, but we feel like we understand what it’s like for Jude to live there.

The book opens with a Prologue – in which seven-year-old Jude sees both her parents killed by a tall man who comes to their door.

The man, Madoc, is a faerie. He tells her big sister Vivienne that he is her father. She was stolen from him, and he has come to take her to her true home, in Elfhame beneath the hill. He takes Jude and her twin sister Taryn as well. They are the children of his wife, so he takes responsibility for them. They are brought up in luxury – in Faerie.

Ten years later, Jude reflects:

The servants are overfond of telling me how fortunate I am, a bastard daughter of a faithless wife, a human without a drop of faerie blood, to be treated like a trueborn child of Faerie. They tell Taryn much the same thing.

I know it’s an honor to be raised alongside the Gentry’s own children. A terrifying honor, of which I will never be worthy.

It would be hard to forget it, with all the reminders I am given.

“Yes,” I say instead, because she is trying to be kind. “It’s great.”

Faeries can’t lie, so they tend to concentrate on words and ignore tone, especially if they haven’t lived among humans. Tatterfell gives me an approving nod, her eyes like two wet beads of jet, neither pupil nor iris visible. “Perhaps someone will ask for your hand and you’ll be made a permanent member of the High Court.”

“I want to win my place,” I tell her.

Jude wants to compete in the upcoming tournament and be chosen to be a knight. But the rivals in the tournament, faeries her own age, despise her for being mortal. And Madoc has other plans, forbidding her to become a knight.

But then she gets an offer to be a spy for one of the princes of Elfhame.

The High King has chosen to retire soon, and he has chosen Prince Dain to be his successor. But there are intrigues and plots unfolding around the succession, and Jude gets caught in the middle of it.

That’s the beginning – and my summary doesn’t do the intricacies of the plot justice.

This is the story of a teen girl coming of age and trying to make her way in a world where she is utterly foreign, seen as a different species. There’s lots of danger and lots of on-stage death – but the look at the world of faerie – which Jude is accustomed to – is fascinating and exotic and intriguing. As the story develops, Jude must not only find a place and gain some power, but she also needs to stay alive.

This is the first of a series, and the book ends at a frustrating point – but at a place where readers will be eager to read on as soon as they get the chance.

The romance seems clichéd. I’m sure she’s going to end up with the person she hates most at the start of the book – for no good reason except that they hate each other at the start. But the author succeeds in making him very interesting by the end of the book – so I can at least understand that Jude would be interested as well.

This book has an elaborately portrayed world. It has an intricate plot, with twists and surprises and dangers. The characters are complex. The theme of coming of age – even if you have to kill and lie to gain power – is the part that doesn’t seem suitable for a child audience. But teens are going to love it.

blackholly.com
LBYR.com

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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 book from 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.

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Review of The Heart of a Boy, by Kate T. Parker

Saturday, September 14th, 2019

The Heart of a Boy

Celebrating the Strength and Spirit of Boyhood

by Kate T. Parker

Workman Publishing, 2019. 250 pages.
Starred Review

Oh, I love this book! I was already crazy about Strong Is the New Pretty, the book the author wrote celebrating girls. Now she’s done an equally wonderful job taking photographs of boys. (And the boy on the front cover is the most adorable ever!)

Both are books of photography, with large mostly close-up pictures, focusing on faces. Both books break some stereotypes, so in this book you do have many pictures of boys being tender.

The chapters break the photos loosely into categories. Here are the chapter titles: “The Heart Is Vulnerable,” “The Heart Is Joyful,” “The Heart Is Dedicated,” “The Heart Is Playful,” “The Heart Is Creative,” “The Heart Is Resilient,” “The Heart Is Expressive,” “The Heart Is Independent,” “The Heart Is Curious,” and “The Heart Is Kind.”

Each photograph is accompanied by a caption with the boy’s first name and age and a quote from him. Here are a few random examples:

“I want to be president because I am helpful, kind, and nice.”

“I liked losing my front teeth because I could fit Tic Tacs through the hole!”

“Wrestling taught me perseverance in everything I do. That in order to move a wall, I have to push until I can push no longer. Only then, after giving everything I’ve got, will that wall move.”

“Cade is my best friend. We have so much fun together whatever we do. We can just be really silly and do nothing and still have fun.”

“Baseball is a lot of fun. I love the sport because I can play with my friends and teammates. The hardest part is that I can’t run as fast as the other kids because of my knee disability. So I have to try much harder to keep up.”

“I like soccer. I like baseball. I like to dance, too. The best part is tap dancing becase it is fun and it makes me feel good.”

“People say, ‘You look like a girl. Your hair is too long, your hair isn’t normal, your hair doesn’t look like boy hair. Why are you wearing pink leggings? Why do you wear tight clothes? Why do you wear so much jewelry?’ But I like the way I am.”

“When I’m drawing my characters come alive, and it’s as if they are right there speaking directly to me.”

Now you need to see the boys who have said these words – and many more. This is another fabulously affirming book.

katetparker.com
workman.com

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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.

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.

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Review of The Harp of Kings, by Juliet Marillier

Friday, September 13th, 2019

The Harp of Kings

by Juliet Marillier

Ace, 2019. 448 pages.
Starred Review
Review written 9/13/19, from my own copy, preordered from Amazon.com

I love Juliet Marillier’s novels so much! I was delighted when my preorder came in for this one. (A little less delighted when I discovered I’d preordered it twice.) I was even more delighted when I discovered the main characters were the children of Blackthorn and Grim – the main characters of her most recent trilogy, which began with Dreamer’s Pool. There’s a caption on the front: A Warrior Bards Novel, so I fondly hope it’s the start of another trilogy.

As the book begins, Liobhan (There’s a character list with pronunciation guide at the front – she’s LEE-vahn.) and her brother Brocc are training on Swan Island to be warriors. (If the reader has read the Sevenwaters books, they will know about Swan Island – though I didn’t remember any particular characters who were there.) Only a few of the trainees get selected to stay on the island as elite warriors and spies – and Liobhan wants nothing more, as does Dau, who has become her rival.

But then Liobhan and Brocc get selected for a special mission. In a nearby kingdom an important ritual object has gone missing, the Harp of Kings. It is needed if the royal heir, who has just come of age, is to be crowned at midsummer. However, the regent doesn’t want anyone to know it’s missing, which could cause unrest. Liobhan and Brocc are skilled musicians, so they will go to the kingdom as traveling minstrels with a leader from Swan Island, and seek to recover the harp.

Readers of Juliet Marillier’s other novels will not be at all surprised when druids are consulted and the Folk of the Otherworld get involved. There’s a wise woman who lives on the hillside outside the town who is very like Mistress Blackthorn.

The plot is interesting and otherworldly, but what makes these books so wonderful is the way the author pulls you into this ancient world and you believe that magic can happen.

Here’s a short section from Brocc’s perspective after they’ve gone on their mission:

We play for the household on our first night at court. With time so short, Archu thinks it best that we make our presence known straightaway, and what better opportunity than this? Everyone is gathered, from Prince Rodan and the regent down to serving folk, grooms, and a group of children under less than strict supervision. We choose pieces that are tried and trusty, those most popular with our audiences back home. While we sing and play I try to observe, as we’ve been taught, but it’s hard; my mind loses itself in the music. At a certain point, someone in the crowd asks for dancing, and folk move the tables and benches back to make space. So we give them a couple of reels, and then “Artagnan’s Leap,” which allows Liobhan to show off her talents on the whistle. The children love the jig; they try to clap in time, even though it gets quicker and quicker, and they perform their own version of the dance to the accompaniment of much giggling. Except for one, who sits very still, apart from the others, watching us with such concentration that it’s a little unnerving. When I smile in her direction, she turns her gaze away as if caught out in a misdemeanor.

This book does stand alone and come to a satisfying finish – but I still hope that more books will come soon. I want to read more about these people and this world.

julietmarillier.com
prh.com

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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.

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Review of Rabbit & Bear: The Pest in the Nest, by Julian Gough & Jim Field

Tuesday, September 10th, 2019

Rabbit & Bear
The Pest in the Nest

story by Julian Gough
illustrations by Jim Field

Silver Dolphin Press, 2018. First published in Great Britain in 2017. 102 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 30, 2019, from a library book

This second book about Rabbit and Bear finds continued humor in Rabbit’s grumpiness – and even has some practical lessons about finding peace.

The situation Rabbit finds himself in might make anyone grumpy – there’s a woodpecker building a nest in a tree nearby, making a huge racket.

After Rabbit tells Bear that Woodpecker is driving him crazy, and then that Tortoise is driving him crazy, too, they have this exchange:

Bear thought about this. “So noisy, happy things drive you crazy?”

“Yes!” replied Rabbit.

“And quiet, sad things drive you crazy?”

“Yes! Yes!” said Rabbit.

“Bear thought about this some more. “But … the only thing those things have in common,” she said, scratching her head, “… is you.”

Rabbit gave Bear a Look. “So?”

“Well,” said Bear, “I think the creature that is driving you crazy isn’t Woodpecker. And it isn’t Tortoise. It’s …”

Hmmm. Bear didn’t want to say it. Rabbit had a FIERCE temper.

“It’s YOU, isn’t it Bear?” said Rabbit, and raised his right foot to kick Bear.

“Er, no,” said Bear. “It’s you.

But Bear thinks of a way to help Rabbit see the situation differently, and they end up making a new friend while they’re at it.

This book is the length of a beginning chapter book without actually having chapters. But young readers will enjoy being able to read it themselves, with plenty of pictures and lots of humor to speed them on their way. And they may pick up a little wisdom and ideas of things to do when they’re feeling grumpy.

I’m looking forward to more adventures with Rabbit and Bear.

silverdolphinbooks.com

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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.

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.

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Review of The Alpine Path, by L. M. Montgomery

Monday, September 9th, 2019

The Alpine Path

The Story of My Career

by L. M. Montgomery

Fitzhenry & Whiteside Limited, 1990. First published in 1917.

I’m visiting Prince Edward Island in a few weeks (Yay!), and as part of my preparation, I’m rereading L. M. Montgomery’s books in the order they were published, so this short book about how she got started writing was up next.

In the Preface, the purpose of the book is explained:

In 1917 the editor of Everywoman’s World, a magazine published in Toronto from 1911 until the 1920s, asked L. M. Montgomery to write the story of her career. What she produced was published in six instalments, June through November, under the title she chose, The Alpine Path. It came from a verse that had been her inspiration during the long years when success as a writer seemed remote and only dogged determination kept her on

The Alpine path, so hard, so steep,
That leads to heights sublime.

Now, I’ve read L. M. Montgomery’s Selected Journals and am currently reading her Complete Journals — so this little book doesn’t really contain any new information for me. Instead of focusing on just her writing career, Maud Montgomery writes a lot about her childhood. Though that part very much reflects how she came up with a child as imaginative as Anne and a child so in love with the natural beauty of Prince Edward Island – this is simply who she herself was.

She also finished up The Alpine Path by copying her journal entries from her honeymoon in Scotland. It’s not very pertinent to how she became a writer, and it feels like padding to make this long enough to be a book. Visiting Scotland is very interesting, yes, but doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the story of her career. This time through the book I enjoyed that section much more, since I got to visit Scotland in 2003 and have been to some of the same places.

Since I am now reading her books chronologically, I did notice in particular how much of this story of how she got started as a writer she later used in her book Emily Climbs, as her heroine Emily of New Moon works and struggles to become an author – just as Maud Montgomery did herself. In fact, some of these scenes are pulled exactly and used for Emily, emphasizing how autobiographical a character she is.

I was also reminded that Maud Montgomery did her apprenticeship writing short stories. Here she writes about how her first efforts were spurned. But she persisted and started getting published by magazines that paid her in copies. And she persisted still more until she actually got paid, and eventually made quite a sum with her pen, even before she published a book. So Anne of Green Gables didn’t come from nothing.

This book does remind me that L. M. Montgomery is in her element writing about characters in a small town and incidents and interactions that happen with them. She knows the foibles and quirks of human nature and can draw people to great effect with her pen.

It’s also interesting that her career had just begun when she wrote The Alpine Path. She had published the first three Anne books, Kilmeny of the Orchard, the two Story Girl books, a book of short stories, and a book of poems. She would go on to publish fifteen more books in her lifetime. So it’s no wonder that this book talks more about how she got her start than on what it was like to continue to build a career as an author. I do recommend reading her journals to find out more about that!

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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.

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.

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Review of Baby Monkey, Private Eye, by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

Saturday, September 7th, 2019

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

story by Brian Selznick and David Serlin
pictures by Brian Selznick

Scholastic Press, 2018. 192 pages.
Starred Review
Review written March 5, 2018, from a library book.
2018 Sonderbooks Stand-out #2 in Picture Books – Silly Fun

Baby Monkey, Private Eye is the sort of book I hand to co-workers and insist that they read immediately. As The Invention of Hugo Cabret was something new in a children’s novel by telling much of the story with pictures, so Baby Monkey, Private Eye is something new in a book for beginning readers — by telling much of the story with pictures.

Now, I’m writing this before I’ve talked with anyone on the Newbery committee about the book, so this is only my opinion. So much of the brilliance of this book depends on the pictures, I doubt that it’s really a Newbery prospect. (Who knows, maybe I will be convinced later.) In fact, the pictures and text work so beautifully together, I’m already hoping this book will be next year’s Geisel Award winner – for books for beginning readers. That award can consider illustrations and text and how they work together to help kids read. [*Note added later*: I learned that alas, the Geisel Award has a page limit — so exactly what makes this book most distinguished — a long book beginning readers can read themselves — is the thing that makes it ineligible.]

If you wrote out the text of this book, I think it would be about the same as many other books for beginning readers. But Baby Monkey, Private Eye takes up far more pages with the same amount of text – spacing out the words, and providing more pictures.

Here’s the first chapter, coming after we’ve already met Baby Monkey, who is a baby and a monkey who has a job.

First, we see Baby Monkey sitting on the couch in his office, reading Famous Jewel Crimes. An opera singer bursts in.

Baby Monkey! Someone has stolen my jewels!

Baby Monkey can help!

Baby Monkey looks for clues.

Baby Monkey writes notes.

Baby Monkey eats a snack. [Mmm.]

Baby Monkey puts on his pants. [9 pages of pictures.]

Now Baby Monkey is ready!

[Aha!] Baby Monkey solves the case!

Zebra!

Hooray for Baby Monkey!

Every sentence above has its own 2-page spread, and some have extra pages of pictures in between.

This wouldn’t be extra-special if this relatively short chapter were just printed on a few pages. But it actually takes up 35 pages. And that’s where it’s brilliant.

See what I mean about the text not necessarily being distinguished all by itself? But when you put this with the pictures, including many things to find on repeated readings – the result is utter brilliance. Come on, this is one you’re going to have to check out and see for yourself!

By the way, this same format repeats in chapters two and three, so then we appreciate how it changes in chapters four and five when we are reminded that Baby Monkey is actually a baby.

Why has no one done this before? Why do people always stick to the standard beginning-reader format?

Well, no one else is Brian Selznick, illustrator extraordinaire, who routinely breaks out of standard formats.

The end result is that young beginning readers will get to read a big fat book! Oh, the sense of accomplishment when they finish reading all five chapters!

In even more fun, the authors have put an Index and Bibliography at the back. The Index has entries like “Carrots, baby (see also Snacks).” The Bibliography includes all the books Baby Monkey has been reading, and additional invented titles such as Predators Who Eat Pizza.

Baby Monkey is something very special. You don’t even have to have a beginning reader in the house to enjoy this book. But if you do, go out and buy a copy today!

scholastic.com

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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.

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.

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Review of The Stars We Steal, by Alexa Donne

Friday, September 6th, 2019

The Stars We Steal

by Alexa Donne

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, February 2020. 389 pages.
Review written July 12, 2019, from an advance reader copy picked up at ALA Annual Conference

The Stars We Steal is a science fiction retelling of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Because I love Persuasion so much, and because I love Diana Peterfreund’s science fiction retelling of it, For Darkness Shows the Stars, and because I loved Alexa Donne’s science fiction retelling of Jane Eyre, Brightly Burning, I picked this one up eagerly after I got the advance reader copy at ALA Annual Conference.

I’m afraid I was a little disappointed. It’s still a fun romance, with an interesting science fiction setting, but it’s not a terribly faithful retelling and doesn’t have the poignancy of the original.

Right off the bat, the difference in the age of the heroines made me less sympathetic. Anne Elliot in Persuasion, was nineteen years old when she was in love with Frederick Wentworth and was persuaded to reject him. The story takes place seven years later. She is twenty-six years old and has no prospects for marriage. In The Stars We Steal, Princess Leo Kolburg is nineteen years old. She was briefly engaged to Elliot Wentworth when she was sixteen, but her father and aunt opposed the engagement. I probably shouldn’t be less sympathetic to younger love, but Leo seems to have much more chance for finding someone new than Anne Elliot did.

Anyway, that aside, Leo is a princess living in a society centered in space – humans have taken to space while waiting for earth to warm up from a human-induced ice age. She’s a princess, and lives with her father and sister – but they are running out of money, so Leo has rented out their ship while they stay with their aunt on the Scandinavian and participate in the big once-every-five-years match event where all the eligible young royals and nobility get together to find matches.

Now, Leo needs to find a match with money to save her family’s ship. But she would rather get the money with her water filtration invention. Meanwhile, Elliot is now wealthy, captaining a ship of his own, and ready to find a match. He doesn’t seem to mind Leo becoming fully aware of what she lost.

I want to mention, without giving anything away, that this book has the first mention I’ve seen in a YA novel of an asexual character. It’s a nice answer to a marriage of convenience.

The plot itself is somewhat convoluted. I didn’t really believe some of the interactions and motivations.

However, that said, I did thoroughly enjoy reading this book. It may not be my new favorite, but it was a whole lot of fun, and I hope Alexa Donne has more retellings in store for readers in the future, with more insight into this future society in the stars where the glittering wealthy try to forget about those who are struggling for space and food and teens figure out their response to that.

alexadonne.com
hmhbooks.com

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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.

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Review of Best Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Wednesday, September 4th, 2019

Best Friends

by Shannon Hale
Artwork by LeUyen Pham
Color by Hilary Sycamore

First Second, 2019. 250 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 3, 2019, from a library book

Best Friends is a follow-up to Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s wonderful graphic memoir, Real Friends, but you definitely can appreciate Best Friends even if you haven’t read the first book.

Best Friends covers one year of Shannon’s life – the year in sixth grade. I give Shannon credit for telling her story – because who would really want to relive sixth grade?

Shannon and LeUyen beautifully portray the questions that come into a kid’s mind as they try to figure out the “rules” of friendship and how they change as you get older. Shannon starts out the year best friends with the leader of “The Group,” which puts her in a good position. But can she stay there? And do her friends really like her for who she is? And what about boys?

Here’s a bit portrayed like a board game:

Sixth-grade friendships were like a game…
only as soon as I’d figure out the rules…
…they’d change again.

Games have losers. I was worried that losing this game meant I’d lose my best friend.

I especially like the way Shannon’s obsessive thoughts and problems with anxiety are portrayed as black clouds hanging over her and around her full of awful accusations (such as “Everyone thinks you’re stupid.”) and scary questions (such as “Is your mom dead?”). At the back of the book, Shannon has a note about anxiety and OCD. Here’s part of that note:

Anxiety is a totally normal feeling, and like all feelings, it’s important. It becomes an anxiety disorder when our worries get out of control day after day after day, when the worries don’t always make sense, when they keep us from doing things we want or need to do, and they make us feel awful. For most people who have an anxiety disorder, “just ignore it” doesn’t work.

Sometimes anxiety gave me feelings of dread – warnings that something bad was going to happen. At times I believed worrying was a power that kept me and the people I loved safe. But that wasn’t true. Talking with people who understand anxiety has helped me to untangle all my feelings. It’s taken me time to develop skills that help me manage anxiety. You can find more information at adaa.org (Anxiety and Depression Association of America).

But my favorite part of Best Friends were the scenes from a book Shannon Hale was writing in sixth grade. (She shows two pages of the manuscript at the back.) I like the way you can see Shannon was dealing with her real-life challenges by having a fantasy princess deal with similar challenges – and overcome them.

I love the way real-life Shannon was reminded by the fantasy book she was writing that the important thing is to be true to her essence.

It’s probably just as well this book didn’t come out last year when I was on the Newbery committee – I love all Shannon’s books so much, I’d feel like I was biased fighting for it to win. This is an example where it’s too bad the Newbery committee isn’t allowed to take the illustrations into account unless they detract – because these illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to the story. But the story itself has a whole lot of depth as Shannon portrays that universal experience of growing up to where you’re not quite a child any longer, and everything begins to change.

(Disclaimer: I have no idea what this year’s committee will decide and I have no idea how I would feel about this book next to the other contenders this year or how the book will look to the committee. But one thing I’m sure about – my Newbery radar is still active enough that I would definitely note this as a book to Suggest for all the committee members to read.)

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I’m confident it’s going to be deservedly popular. It reminded me I’m glad I never have to go through sixth grade again, but for kids who are still facing it, this book will encourage them that they’re not alone.

squeetus.com
leuyenpham.com
firstsecondbooks.com

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Find this review on Sonderbooks at: www.sonderbooks.com/Childrens_Nonfiction/best_friends.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 book from 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.

What did you think of this book?

Review of Cinderella Liberator, by Rebecca Solnit

Tuesday, September 3rd, 2019

Cinderella Liberator

by Rebecca Solnit
with illustrations by Arthur Rackham

Haymarket Books, 2019. 32 pages.
Starred Review
Review written May 10, 2019, from a library book

Oh, this is a marvelous retelling of Cinderella! Modifications have been made, with the result being a thing of delight even to the young feminist heart. No, Cinderella doesn’t marry the prince, but the prince gets a happy ending, as do the stepsisters. Everyone in the story gets to become their best selves.

She chose silhouettes done by Arthur Rackham in 1919 for the illustrations, which are exquisite and add to the fairy tale feeling – which is there all the way, even though the details are tuned to more modern sensibilities.

This is a story I’d love to read to an attentive audience. In fact, I will probably choose portions to read aloud when I’m doing booktalks in the local elementary schools. I’m going to quote here a few of the many passages that delighted me.

The beginning of Chapter 2, “Dresses and Horses”:

And then one day came the news that the king’s son, Prince Nevermind, was holding a great ball, which is what they called dance parties in those days. The stepmother made sure that Pearlita and Paloma were invited, and they spent days trying on clothes and ordering dressmakers to make them new dresses out of satin and velvet and glitter and planning how to put up their hair and stick it full of jewels and ornaments and artificial flowers.

Cinderella came upstairs to bring them some ginger cookies and saw all the piles of jewels and all the mirrors and all the fabric and all the fuss. Pearlita was doing her best to pile her hair as high as hair could go. She said that, surely, having the tallest hair in the world would make you the most beautiful woman, and being the most beautiful would make you the happiest.

Paloma was sewing extra bows onto her dress, because she thought that, surely, having the fanciest dress in the world would make you the most beautiful woman in the world, and being the most beautiful would make you the happiest. They weren’t very happy, because they were worried that someone might have higher hair or more bows than they did. Which, probably, someone did. Usually someone does.

But there isn’t actually a most beautiful person in the world, because there are so many kinds of beauty. Some people love roundness and softness, and other people love sharp edges and strong muscles. Some people like thick hair like a lion’s mane, and other people like thin hair that pours down like an inky waterfall, and some people love someone so much they forget what they look like. Some people think the night sky full of stars at midnight is the most beautiful thing imaginable, some people think it’s a forest in snow, and some people . . . Well, there are a lot of people with a lot of ideas about beauty. And love. When you love someone a lot, they just look like love.

This section comes after the ball:

The blue fairy godmother opened the door, and asked her if she’d had a good time, and she said Yes, and No, and It was very interesting to see all the fancy clothes and the fancy plates with fancy cakes and the fancy mirrors and the fancy lights. And then she said, It was even more interesting to see lizards become footwomen and mice become horses. The fairy godmother replied that true magic is to help each thing become its best and most free self, and then she asked the horses if they wanted to be horses.

Five of the horses said, in horse language, which fairy godmothers speak and most of us do not, that they loved running through the night and being afraid of nothing and bigger than almost everyone. The sixth horse said she’d had a lot of fun but she had mice children at home and wanted to get back to them. The fairy godmother nodded in understanding, and suddenly the sixth horse shrank, and lost its mane, and its shaggy tail became a pink tail with a fine fuzz like velvet. And there she was: a tiny gray mouse with pink feet, running back to her tinier pink children in the nest in the wall to tell them all about the enchantment that had made her a horse for a night.

And then the lizards said, in the quiet language of lizards, that nothing was better than being a lizard, being able to run up walls and to lie in the sun on warm days and to snap up flies in the garden and never worry about anything except owls and crows, and though they loved wearing silver satin, and going to parties, and they had been happy to help Cinderella, and they would tell all their lizard friends about it, they would rather be lizards again. And suddenly they were, running off toward the garden on their little lizard legs, trailing long lizard tails, the moon making the scales on their lean lizard bodies shine like silver.

If I copy out anything further in the story, I might give away too many crucial changes at the end, but I hope this gives you the idea. There’s an Afterword at the back that describes the author’s thoughts about the tale.

Here’s a retelling of Cinderella for our current times, and it is utterly delightful in every way.

haymarketbooks.org

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Review of The Annotated Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery, edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones

Monday, September 2nd, 2019

The Annotated
Anne of Green Gables

by L. M. Montgomery
edited by Wendy E. Barry, Margaret Anne Doody, and Mary E. Doody Jones

Oxford University Press, 1997. 496 pages.
Starred Review
Review written September 2, 2019, from my own copy.

This book is an obvious purchase for any L. M. Montgomery superfan like me. I ordered my own copy as soon as I learned of the book’s existence several years ago (though not as long ago as when it was first published in 1997). (Okay, it looks like now it’s out of print and expensive on Amazon. It’s worth looking for a used or library copy!)

I did not, however, get the book read very quickly. The content is marvelous and full of interesting tidbits, but the format is oversized. It’s a heavy book, not suitable for curling up with in bed, and not fitting easily into the books I pile up near my dining room table and read bits of daily. So I was making very slow progress.

However, this year I’m heading to Prince Edward Island with two dear friends – and that was enough for me to get motivated and finish reading this book. It’s also the perfect book to read for background on L. M. Montgomery and the book that made her famous.

The full text of Anne of Green Gables is included in this volume, but there’s a plethora of materials to go with it.

Yes, there are annotations with the notes written in the wide margins on the sides of the pages. We get insights on the books Anne refers to and notes on the sources of quotations used. We get definitions of words like “bush” (uncleared natural woodland) and “wincey.” (I once tried to use “wincey” in Scrabble because of Anne of Green Gables, but it wasn’t in a current dictionary.) We get explanations of household chores at the time like boiling the dishcloth before washing machines existed.

There are also an abundance of illustrations. Many are from early editions of Anne of Green Gables, but there are also photographs from L. M. Montgomery’s journals and other illustrations and photos from the time period.

The material at the front and back is particularly fascinating and helpful. There’s a Chronology of L. M. Montgomery’s life. I used it to update my list of her books in publication order, which I’d gotten from the internet and had a few small errors. There’s a short biography of Lucy Maud Montgomery and notes about her writing of Anne. There are even Textual Notes detailing when the manuscript differs from the first published edition or the English edition, which had some changes.

The Appendices have a wealth of material. And this is the part of the volume that I finished up recently – so they were perfect reading just before my upcoming trip. They include “The Geography of Anne of Green Gables,” and much information about the times – orphan care, education, gardening, home life, and the “concerts” where music and elocution were demonstrated. They also list the complete text of many songs, literary works, and recitation pieces that are mentioned. And at the end are book reviews that came out when Anne was first published.

This book is for the adult Anne aficionado. I, for one, found many surprises – things I’d glossed over, thinking I knew what they meant – but now I have a more complete picture. This was so much fun to read – especially in anticipation of visiting the Green Gables Museum in a few weeks!

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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 book from 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.

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