I know, sacrilege! Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie, is so special, it’s practically untouchable, but I’m going to say it anyway: I don’t see why this book is so beloved. I wouldn’t have enjoyed it as a kid, and the only reason I pushed through as an adult was out of obligation.
But what kind of children’s book blogger would I if I were not familiar with the Great Pan himself? (The kind of blogger who had not read Alice until recently….cough, cough.) I’m pretty sure Pan references pop up more often than, say, Little House or Oz ones. Code Name Verity? Check. Peter and the Starcatchers? Check. Finding Neverland, the film and musical? Check.
While I highly recommend two of the three works listed above which reference Peter Pan over the original, here are the highlights from my reading of Peter Pan:
- Famous opening remarks: “All children, except one, grow up.”
- Mrs. Darling “tidies” up her children’s thoughts after they go to bed, like socks in a sock drawer, so the mean thoughts are folded away at the bottom, and the nice ones are on top. An intriguing idea.
- Tinkerbell is “slightly inclined to embonpoint.” Also, being a fairy, she is so small she has room for one feeling only at a time. (This description is made of awesome.)
- The number of Lost Boys on the island varies, “according as they get killed and so on; and when they seem to be growing up, which is against the rules, Peter thins them out.” If that doesn’t scream sinister, I don’t know what does.
- Barrie establishes that children are rotten brats towards their parents on multiple occasions: “Off we skip like the most heartless things in the world, which is what children are, but so attractive; and we have an entirely selfish time; and then when we have need of special attention we nobly return for it, confident that we shall be embraced and not smacked. So great was their faith in a mother’s love that they felt they could afford to be callous for a bit longer.”
- awkward narrator narrates sexist playtime: in Neverland, the boys play pirates and Indians. Wendy plays house with the boys. “Wendy would have a baby, and he was the littlest, and you know what woman are, and the short and the long of it is he was hung up in a basket.”
- awkward narrator narrates racist interactions: After Peter saves Tiger Lily, the “redskins” take to calling Peter “the Great White Father, prostrating themselves before him; and he liked this tremendously, so that it was not really good for him.”
- If Wendy allows her daughter to fly off with Peter so he can fulfill his selfish need for a “mother,” does that make her an enabler?
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I’m not a big fan of dragon books, so I was skeptical when I heard the praise for E.K. Johnston’s The Story of Owen: Dragonslayer of Trondheim, which got a lot of media buzz last month when it was nominated for the Kirkus Prize (it ultimately lost to Aviary Wonders Inc. by Kate Samworth).
Even the premise sounds nonsensical: the story is set in contemporary Canada, but in an alternate version of history where dragons are real. Dragons, it turns out, are addicted to fossil fuels, so they will attack anything that spews carbon: factories, power plants, oil rigs. After the industrial revolution, dragon populations skyrocketed, and cities employed teams of official dragon slayers to combat the problem, leaving rural, less wealthy areas virtually unprotected.
As bizarre as it sounds, the premise works because the dragons don’t feel forced. Johnson manages to make the dragons a believable force in geopolitics. We get glimpses of their role in World War II, the building of the Suez Canal, the First Gulf War, and the power of corporations to influence public policy. You could interpret them as a metaphor, and they do shine a light on all kinds of real-world problems, from environmental decay to celebrity culture and socioeconomic inequality. But leave that to the Common Core curriculum. I had much more fun admiring how Johnston inserted dragons into everyday activities. Think Driver’s Ed is boring? You might miss the boredom if you had to deal with a lesson on what to do if a dragon goes after your car while you’re driving down a lonely road. (more…)
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The 1939 Newbery Award winner, Thimble Summer, by Elizabeth Enright, is bland in a charming and low-stakes kind of way. It’s still a better book than many of its distinguished predecessors.
When we are first introduced to Garnet Linden, age 9, she is waiting for rain. Her parents are farmers, the crops are wilting, and there are bills to pay. I thought this set the scene for a vintage version of Karen Hesse’s gripping Out of the Dust, but alas, no. A missed opportunity. Garnet and her older brother, Jay, go to beat the heat by the creek, which has the tint and temperature of tea. Garnet finds a thimble in the river bank and declares it is magic. That night, the rain comes.
Now that their troubles are in the past, Garnet goes on to have quaint adventures, including:
- getting locked in the town library past hours, which, to her credit, she finds absolutely grand
- hitchhiking to the “big” city while all in a funk because she feels overlooked and under-appreciated by her family (Garnet is the middle child.)
- raising a prize hog and showing him at the fair
- touring all the tame antique rides and attractions at the state fair
To end the book, Garnet concludes that she had such a great summer on account of her lucky thimble. Yay. The End.
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An E. L. Konigsburg book about an art museum, an irascible old woman, a kid who wants to discover a secret and a mysterious piece of art? You’d be right if your first guess was From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, but Mixed-Up Files has a lesser-known twin, written 39 years later: The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World (no one can beat Konigsburg when it comes to titles).
If I had to reduce Mysterious Edge to one sentence, I’d call it Mixed-Up Files with opera and Nazi art history. The art museum in question is the Sheboygan Art Center in Wisconsin, home to a historical exhibit of Degenerate art–artwork that was banned by the Nazi government and deemed too terrible for public consumption. As the museum curator, Peter Vanderwaal, works feverishly on the exhibit, his godson Amadeo Kaplan is contemplating his own art mystery in Florida, where Amadeo has just moved with his mother. Like the Mixed-Up Files’ Claudia, Amadeo wants to discover something: a fossil, a secret, buried treasure. He gets a good shot at his dream when he joins his classmate William in clearing out the estate of Mrs. Zender, who in her opera-singing days was known as Aida Lily Tull. Mrs. Zender hovers over their work with an imperial air, and her old-fashioned manners grate on Amadeo’s nerves, yet he can’t help but feel she’s testing him somehow. When he discovers a mysterious sketch tucked away on a bookshelf, and Mrs. Zender manipulates him into keeping it away from antique dealers–nearly costing him William’s friendship in the process–Amadeo begins to wonder what he’s gotten himself into. (more…)
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Now that it’s October, the sequels/companion books are starting to roll out. Here are just a few I can’t wait to get my hands on:
The Madman of Piney Woods by Christopher Paul Curtis (published Sept 30)
This one takes place 40 years after Elijah of Buxton! Hope it’s as quirky and funny as its predecessor.
The Whispering Skull by Jonathan Stroud (Sept 16)
Looking forward to more madness from the ghost-hunting, teenage underdogs of Lockwood & Co.
Thursdays with the Crown by Jessica Day George (Oct. 7)
The temperamental, constantly shifting castle in this series is probably Hogwarts’ cousin–and the most interesting character in George’s series. Hoping to get more of the castle’s history in Thursdays.
The Eye of Zoltar by Jasper Fforde (April: UK. Oct: US)
“Quark!” said the Quarkbeast. More physics jokes, please.
Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater (Oct. 21)
Book 2 ended on a cliffhanger, and given that this one is #3 in the quartet, it probably will too.
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For a book about a kidnapped boy, Chickadee, by Louise Erdrich, is surprisingly funny. I first read Chickadee last year, before I’d read the previous books in the series: The Birchbark House, The Game of Silence, The Porcupine Year. And while Chickadee stands well on its own, it’s even better when read in order.
Omakayas, last seen as a teenager in The Porcupine Year, shows up in Chickadee as the mother of 8-year-old twins. That’s a leap in time of at least 15 years, and quite a gutsy move–but Omakayas was instantly recognizable as the calm, resourceful healer-in-training, and Erdrich smooths over the time gap by inserting a scene where the family tells the story of the twins’ birth. Having read the previous books, I enjoyed catching all the references, whether a sweet homage to Old Tallow, or the familiar story of how Omakayas’ brother Quill got his namesake from the porcupine.
Our main character, though, is Chickadee, who’s kidnapped by a couple of dim-witted twin brothers best described as henchmen (muscular, mean, prone to issuing growling threats). As Chickadee gets spirited away into the frozen prairie, the entire extended family follows to track him down. (more…)
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Posted in MG books (ages 8-12), tagged reviews on September 10, 2014 |
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I am a day gardener of tomatoes, kale, and eggplants, so I was curious to find out what The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier, is all about. It seems night gardening is far more perilous.
As Molly and her younger brother, Kip, journey to the Windsor estate deep within the “sourwoods,” we are told “‘they were riding to their deaths.” They don’t have much of a choice in the matter. Their parents were lost at sea (literally), leaving fourteen-year-old Molly to fend for the both of them. Using her powers of observation and knack for telling persuasive stories, she plucks Kip out of the orphanage, finagles a fish-cart for their journey, and secures the promise of employment from a man she’s never met in a place she’s never been.
Too bad, because the Windsor house is isolated, derelict, and dominated by a creepy tree far more sinister than the Whomping Willow. In fact, it’s practically parasitic. The inhabitants of Windsor house appear drawn and pale with sickness, from four-year-old Penny to her mother, the pinched Mistress Windsor. Worst of all, a shadowy man appears on the grounds at night, souring their sleep and leaving brittle leaves and muddy footsteps behind. “This house is no place for you,” Mrs. Windsor warns, when Molly uses her talents to wrangle a servant’s position in exchange for room and board. (more…)
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