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Archive for the ‘Reading’ Category

Sucking the Magic Out of Neverland

In Book Review, Reading on June 14, 2014 at 1:11 pm

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Tiger Lily

Very rarely a book will completely infuriate me. I can’t even remember what the last title was, but Tiger Lily is 301 pages of “you’ve got to be kidding me.” I cannot recommend this book. I do recommend you use your time more profitably doing anything else.

There will be blatant spoilers in this review.

First, let’s talk about the real Neverland. Neverland is a place of imagination, the desire of any 7-10 year old where adventure reigns. There are pirates, indians, mermaids, lions, tigers, bears, OH MY! There is a pack of wild boys who don’t have to bathe, who climb trees, who live underground in a secret hideaway, and never have to grow up. They are led by a boy who is gay and innocent and heartless, because, according to J.M. Barrie, this is what children are. It is a multilayered story about childhood and the transition to adulthood.

[If you haven’t read the original book, please do. Don’t rely on Disney’s movie version.]

Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson deconstructs Neverland so that all that is recognizable is the names of the characters. Many (too many) authors who write young adult literature seem to think it must contain “teen issues.” Anderson manages to work in dysfunctional families, mean girls, gender issues, alcoholism, serial killing, destruction of culture through a Victorian age missionary, rape/sexual abuse, murder, suicide, death of a loved one, and “the friend zone.” Even with that list, I’m sure I’ve missed something. The author doesn’t really deal with any of these issues. She just struts them across the stage.

Now, is it technically well written. Yes. If you went through and changed all the characters’ names and the name of the island, it would be a very interesting, although mostly depressing, read.

Anderson has sucked all the magic out of Neverland. Her Neverland is an actual island somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean and people come there by way of shipwreck. Captain Hook didn’t really lose his hand in a fight with Peter. He is not pursued by the crocodile who ate his severed hand thereby getting a taste for him. No, he is a mean drunk who lost his hand in a factory accident prior to becoming a pirate. Mr. Smee is a serial killer who had a successful spree in the streets of London before being recruited by Captain Hook and for some unknown reason agrees to be Hook’s flunky. There is no fairy dust and no flying, other than Tinker Bell. Fairies are, apparently, just one more exotic animal on this remote island. Mermaids are also just exotic creatures. They are mean and would like nothing better than to drown you and build their undersea houses with your bones. The tribe to which Tiger Lily belongs is not the tomahawk packing, scalping redskins that Barrie described, but are islanders who build houses (not tepees) and have a truce with the pirates that makes life mostly peaceful.

Peter Pan is described as approximately 16 years old, because the other misconception authors have is that teens only want to read about teens. So, instead of a pre-puberty rambunctious boy, Peter is looking for a girl friend. He has already broken the heart of Maeryn, the mermaid. He is currently in a dysfunctional romance with Tiger Lily and will eventually end up with Wendy, well I presume it is Wendy that he marries in the end although it is not explicitly stated.

Tiger Lily is a free spirit, a tomboy, a bit of an outsider. She faces tradition and expectations.

“What you did was very brave,” said Aunt Sticky Feet, her words clipped, but not unkind, “but men don’t want women who are brave. They want women who make them feel like men.”
“I don’t care about that” said Tiger Lily.
…”Someday you’ll want to be a prisoner to someone other than yourself.” page 39

There are many strong female protagonists in young adult literature these days. Maybe too many. Bella of Twilight is definitely NOT one of them. She is the weakest female character I’ve read in a long while and, I’m afraid, despite all her tomboy ways, Tiger Lily falls in the Bella camp. Tiger Lily defies her tribe and sneaks off to be with Peter Pan, yet she submits to an arranged marriage. Not just an arranged marriage, but a marriage to the village rapist. Her relationship with Peter is dysfunctional and fits Aunt Sticky Feet’s description of being a prisoner of someone else. Peter also fits Aunt Sticky Feet’s description since he is uncomfortable with how strong Tiger Lily is and prefers the feminine wiles (read “manipulations”) of Wendy, who praises him and makes him feel superior.

The first paragraph of chapter one of Tiger Lily:

“Let me tell you something straight off. This is a love story, but not like any you’ve heard. The boy and the girl are far from innocent. Dear lives are lost. And good doesn’t win. In come places, there is something ultimately good about endings. In Neverland, that is not the case.”

Yet, the author wraps this story up with a pretty ribbon in the last chapter, which is really just an epilogue. Peter returns to London with Wendy and fathers a son. Tinker Bell follows many years later to spy on him which is how we come to know his fate. She returns to Neverland to find that Tiger Lily has happily married Pine Sap, her childhood companion. Everything is hunky dory. This book suffers from “happily ever after.” Hey, teens, your real life may be horrible right now, but when you grow up and get married it’ll all be happy, happy, happy.

Anderson, Jodi Lynn. Tiger Lily. Sydney: Orchard, 2012. Print. 9781408330449

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The Time Traveling Fashionista: On Board the Titanic

In Book Review, Reading on May 28, 2014 at 6:55 pm

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The Time Traveling Fashionista

Vintage clothes and time travel, what’s not to love? Louise is twelve and has a budding love of vintage clothing, which her mother and best friend don’t really understand. She receives a suspicious invitation to an exclusive vintage clothing sale, although she never seems to realize it is suspicious. At the vintage clothing shop she meets the delightfully funny Glenda and Marla. Trying on a powdery pink gown sends her back in time as a passenger on the White Star Line Titanic.

This was a fun read. As you might expect there was much description of clothing. Aside from the magic of time travel, it was believable and an interesting contrast of 1912/2011 cultures.

I have to admit that I prefer print books to e-books. This book was physically enjoyable due to the paper quality and luscious illustrations. The cool, smooth feel of the pages is something an e-reader cannot provide.

Turetsky, Bianca, and Sandra Suy. The Time-traveling Fashionista: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown, 2011. Print. 9780316105422

Recent Reads

In Book Review, Reading on March 21, 2014 at 10:02 am

Here’s what I’ve been reading recently.

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William Shakespeare’s Star Wars

This was an impulse buy. I saw it in the bookstore, read the first page just to make sure it wasn’t ridiculous, and bought it. I enjoyed reading it. It was fun to imagine seeing it on stage. My main complaint is that the author felt compelled to take famous Shakespeare lines and twist them around to be inserted into this. It was jarring to come across these lines and annoying. It was a cheap trick and unnecessary. The worst being Luke’s soliloquy “Alas, poor stormtrooper, I knew ye not…” Really?

(My other complaint is that since this was sanctioned by Lucasfilm, it contained the unnecessary and redundant scene between Jabba the Hut and Han Solo. You know, the one that repeats everything that we learn from Greedo. Thankfully, there are no dinosaurs on a desert planet in this production.)

It is a must read for any Star Wars fan. Probably not for William Shakespeare fans. Just be prepared to grind your teeth occasionally.

Doescher, Ian, and George Lucas. William Shakespeare’s Star Wars: Verily, a New Hope. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk, 2013. Print. 9781594746376

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Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library

As a librarian how could I not get a copy of this and read it? It is quite marvelous. The best part is that, throughout, the characters exemplify critical thinking skills. Something everyone should have, but not everyone acquires. This is an excellent read for all students. I’d give it to mine, but then they would be demanding a library with holograms, rocket boots, a computer game room, and a penthouse suite. And, why not?

Grabenstein, Chris. Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library. New York: Random House, 2013. Print. 9780375870897

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The Turtle Secret

This is a rare book because it is published locally (United Arab Emirates) and the characters are Emirati. Not many books are written in English about local people and local interest. It is a chapter book intended for ages 8-12. The main character is an Emirati girl who gets involved in saving sea turtles from poachers. It is a good read and opens the door for discussions of ecological ethics and wildlife conservation.

Johnson, Julia. The Turtle Secret. Dubai: Motivate, 2014. Print. 9781860633508

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This House is Haunted

I picked this one up on a whim. The title and cover were intriguing and I wanted to read a book for adults for once. I was also hoping that it might be a book I could place in my library collection.

This is a very mild mannered ghost story. It is an easy read and I did enjoy it. But, if you read real horror and expect to be scared, this is not the book for you. I knew that the protagonist would survive because she is telling the story in the past tense. The haunting consists of a few incidents over a six week period with long periods of anticipation in between. Not a fast paced poltergeist roller coaster. It is more about figuring out what happened to result in a string of governesses dying horrible accidental deaths followed by a ghost show down. It is fairly predictable. There is one loose end that wasn’t explained to my satisfaction, so I need to go back and read that part again to see if I can find resolution.

As for giving it to my students, that is a no go. Were it not for the references to child abuse (although vague and discrete) and the theological discussion with the vicar, it might have made it into the collection. [note of explanation: my students are 100% Muslim].

Boyne, John. This House Is Haunted. London: Doubleday, 2013. Print.

Lasting Impact Fiction Books

In Book Review, Reading on December 14, 2013 at 1:28 pm

A friend on Facebook posted a “hey, list the 10 fiction books that have stuck with you” post and tagged me. I can’t just list the titles and authors without explaining why the books are memorable to me. So, here is the list with elaboration.

The City of Darkness by Ben Bova c1976 – This is the book that started it all. I read it when I was in jr high school and it got me hooked on reading. I had struggled to learn to read in elementary school to the point of having to have a one on one tutor for a while. My family didn’t sit down with me daily and read to me, so it was a struggle when I got to school. (If you have small children, please buy a butt load of picture books and read to your child EVERY DAY. It will pay off.) So, Ben Bova’s juvenile novel about a sterile civilization achieved by sealing off the undesirables under domes in the large cities hit a cord with me and I became a rabid reader (although always a slow reader) from that point on.

The Dueling Machine by Ben Bova c1969 – Another Bova book makes the list. Once I find a good author I tend to read more of their books. I would have said I read a lot of Ben Bova, but I just looked at his bibliography and he is way too prolific for me to keep up. I connected with this book because the character who saves the day is an awkward geek. Not the typical hero. (Also, Bova was writing about virtual reality long before the Star Trek holodeck came into being.)

The Crystal Singer by Anne Mccaffery c1982 – Mccaffery is another author I’ve read many times. The Restoree would have made this list except that I re-read it at the age of 30 and realized how sexist it was. But, when I was in the midst of puberty, it hit a cord with me. The Crystal Singer is much more feminist and I’ve recently read in again in the audio book version. It holds up. It is the first of a trilogy. The main character discovers that her music career won’t be what she expected and she chooses to enter a dangerous and permanent career of cutting crystal which requires perfect pitch. It may be a bit of a stretch, but as I am job hunting and considering returning to the States or continuing to live abroad, I see how this book correlates. I’m not done with the adventure, yet.

Mind Song by Joan Cox c1979 – By now you might be noticing a tendency toward science fiction. It’s true. This one is very strange. The reality in the beginning of the book is not the reality in the end of the book. The author orchestrated a complete turn around. I lost my original copy somewhere along the way, so hunted through used book stores until I found another copy.

The Ship Who Sang by Anne Mccaffery c1985 – There are several “Ship Who” books and this was the first one I read and the best, in my opinion. The premise is that children who will be born mortally deformed are encased in a life support container and installed in machinery, like rocket ships and serve as the controlling device, so to speak. They are paired with human partners – brain and brawn. I’ve always been a sucker for unrequited or tragic love and this is the ultimate star crossed lovers story.

The Princess Bride by William Goldman c1973 – You are probably familiar with this title, but if you have only seen the movie version, you are missing out. READ THE BOOK! The movie doesn’t include the Zoo of Death or Fezik’s origin story or any of the satire.

Enemy Mine by Barry Longyear c? – This was originally a novella in a science fiction magazine. That is how I encountered it. It was wonderful and poignant. The movie version slaughtered the story. The author reworked and extensively expanded the story in The Enemy Papers, a massive tome that I managed to conquer despite the heavy war theme throughout. I’m a pacifist, so it was a struggle, but worth it. I recommend the novella and novel, but, by all means, skip the movie.

Killing Children by ? Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact magazine Nov 1978 – I’m cheating a bit with this one, because it was a novella in a science fiction magazine not a stand alone book. It was, however, a powerful story that amazed me. Unfortunately, I no longer have my copy of this magazine and Google Books won’t give me a peek at the contents page, so I don’t know the author’s name. The story is about a man who has been locked up for strangling his girlfriend to death and details his weird journey back to sanity explaining why he did it. It took on a lot of taboos and stretched my brain.

The French Lieutenant’s Woman by John Fowles c1969 – Not just to prove that I have read more than science fiction, but because this is a story that sticks in my mind. When a college classmate saw me reading this book he made a remark about her being a prostitute. This guy had seen the movie and that was the conclusion he had drawn. In reading the book, my conclusion is that the male main character is actually the “prostitute,” although prostitute isn’t the right term since it was not a money transaction. The woman knew exactly what she was doing and why. She wanted a child without losing her freedom. The man is the one who throws away the things he values for his desire to have this woman.

Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce c1999-2002 – This is a juvenile fantasy series with a strong female character. I remarked to my husband that the first book made me cry. He asked what it was about and I said it was about a girl who was a Bible major in college where girls weren’t really allowed to be Bible majors. He completely understood. The real plot line is about a girl who has entered training to be a knight in a society where this is not fully accepted. A previous girl went through knight training disguised as a boy and has become famous as a heroic lady knight. Kel, the heroine of this series is the first to go through training without disguise and she faces bullying and prejudice.

Much Ado About What?

In Musing, Reading on June 18, 2012 at 6:40 pm

Much ado was made about Christopher Hitchens’s book recommendations to an eight year old girl, Mason Crumpacker. (click here and here for more) Unfortunately, none of the books are appropriate for an eight year old, no matter how precocious she is.

Here are my recommendations for eight year olds who want to be free thinkers.

1. Make sure you read the originals of children’s classics like Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie, The Adventures of Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-glass by Lewis Carroll, The Wizard of OZ by Frank L. Baum, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming. Do not watch the movies and think that you know what these books are about or mean. Do not read adapted or Disney-fied versions. READ THE ORIGINALS.

2. Read a variety of genres. Read fantasy, folklore, historical fiction, science fiction, chic lit, biography, etc. With regards to food, my mother told me I didn’t have to eat something if I didn’t like it, but I did have to try it. Try it all. Read what sparks your imagination and makes you think.

3. Excellent authors I can recommend by name, in no particular order: Tamora Pierce, Derek Landy, Jane Yolen, C.S. Lewis, Madeleine L’Engle, and Dav Pilkey.

4. Avoid series books that use a standard plot formula – like Goosebumps or The Babysitters Club. There is no intellectual stimulation in reading the same pattern over and over again. [I’ve changed my opinion about this. Series at this level with 20+ volumes have a purpose for the child who is learning to read. Once they catch the “bug” they need to read voraciously and having a favorite series can fill that need.]

5. Read books for adults as they become interesting to you. If it is a struggle to read and understand, then maybe the time isn’t right, yet.

6. Read books that have been “banned” or at least complained about. If a book makes people uncomfortable, it is probably because it challenges their comfortable worldview. Stretch your worldview. Open your eyes to possibilities.

7. Specific titles I recommend in no particular order:A Series of Unfortunate Events v.1-9 (do not bother with v.10-13 they are poor quality and I suspect written by a different Lemony Snicket than the first 9), Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce, The Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, and Wonder by R. J. Palacio.

Ninja Gorilla

In Reading on March 15, 2012 at 5:52 pm

My adventures with reluctant readers continue. I followed The Elephant Man with reading A Stranger at Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston (retold by Diane Mowat). This story was at a disadvantage, because it is not a true story. The boys don’t have much interest in fiction. I thought it might work, however, because it had a gorilla, violence, and guns. There were mixed results. Two of the six classes were so unwilling to be quiet and listen to the story that I gave up. They will never know how it ended. The other four classes managed to listen to the whole story.

[spoiler alert] The story climaxes when Hanno, the gorilla, saves the life of the boy Ping by stopping a stampeding cow by snapping it’s neck. There was a wonderfully action packed illustration of this. One boy was greatly impressed by this and coined the phrase “ninja gorilla.” The real pay off was discussing the story with the last class. When asked what they liked about the story, they talked about how the gorilla paid the boy back for his kindess by saving his life. They also expressed that the story was about being kind to animals. I was so pleased. I had just hoped for listening quietly and liking the story, not expecting them to draw conclusions and get messages. Score!

AND they asked what was next. We are coming to the end of the term and have a break. Next, term – Spartacus. Blood, guts, freedom, and brotherhood. I’m looking forward to it.

Boston, Lucy M. A Stranger at Green Knowe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Print. ISBN 978-0-19-479073-4.

Reluctant Readers Breakthrough

In Librarianship, Reading on March 2, 2012 at 10:36 am

I work with the epitome of reluctant readers – a boys high school in an Arab country. Boys tend to be less interested in reading than girls. Add to that, an oral tradition culture and the challenge gets bigger. They don’t grow up with books in the home. They don’t encounter books until school and then books tend to be source of labor and boredom. So, when they come to me at age 13, it is difficult to open the door to the wonder of reading. Did I mention that they are learning English as a second language? The boys don’t have much interest in fiction. They prefer true stories. So, culture, language level, interests all add up to one librarian scratching her head trying to come up with a solution.

One to the most heavily used books in the library is the Guinness Book of World Records. It is opened almost everyday and boys gather in a group to page through and look at the oddities. As I was cataloging The Elephant Man graded reader, a lightbulb went on. The result was a two session read aloud that got their attention.

I started by telling them that it was a true story. “Yes, miss.” But, after hearing the first chapter, they found it hard to believe. Even the photographs from Wikipedia didn’t convince them. By the end of the first reading they were hooked. They wanted to know why Joseph Merrick was disfigured. Why did he die so young? With one class I forgot to write down what page we ended on. I needn’t have worried about where to start. They came in asking if we were going to read more of the story. When I said “yes” a student called out “chapter 6!”

When I finished reading the story to the last class, they begged for more stories “like this one.” Now, my challenge is to find another book. It’s a good challenge to have.

Vicary, Tim. The Elephant Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print. ISBN 9780194789042

Young Adult vs. Adult Books

In Reading on October 15, 2011 at 12:16 pm

I’ve just read:

Why Teens Should Read Adult Fiction by Brian McGreevy (and the comments).

and Why the Best Kids Books are Written in Blood by Alexie Sherman

The age old “age appropriateness” discussion regarding what adolescents should read is a paradox. We want to believe that reading/books can be a force for good, but we don’t want to think that reading/books can be a force for bad. We want to have free choice when it comes to our own reading, but we think that other people’s reading should be carefully controlled. Who knows what they may do!

Big assumptions are made. “Young adults want to read about characters their own age.” “Young adults want to read about the kinds of things they are experiencing in their own lives.” “Reading is good, watching TV and playing video games is bad.” “Every parent wants their child to be a reader.”

None of these assumptions were true in my own life. As a young adult, I read mainly adult fiction – science fiction, fantasy, and historical fiction. I didn’t feel like I could only relate to a character if he/she was my age. I didn’t read the YA novels of the 70’s and 80’s, whatever they were. I can’t even tell you which authors were popular back then. I did not want to read about “teen issues.” I had no interest in reading about social awkwardness, bullying, puberty, or whatever. I wanted to travel to other planets, other times, or other countries. Watching TV, I did a lot of that (although I lived in a pre-video game time) and in so doing watched many wonderful old black and white movies gaining a respect for the artform. Cary Grant, Gary Cooper, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Audie Murphy, Howard Keel, Yul Brenner, Bette Davis, Sandra Dee, Barbara Stanwyck, Deborah Kerr, and many more enriched my appreciation of life and art. As an adult, I’ve played a few video games and – guess what? – there is a great deal of critical thinking involved. As for every parent wanting their child to be a reader, my mother actually told me that I read too much. I think that, for me, becoming a librarian is actually an act of parental defiance.

There needs to be a balance between controlling access to books and self-censorship. As a school librarian in a conservative community, I know that there are books I cannot, in good conscience, put on the shelves. (Please note that I do not live and work in America, so the rights to freedom of speech, the press, etc., do not necessarily apply here. Also, those who use my library are of a single cultural group and expect their culture to be respected.) However, it is not possible for a lone librarian to read every book in the collection from beginning to end and decide whether it is appropriate for every potential reader. Therefore, we have to do what we can and leave the rest to self-censorship of the reader. I remember books I put down without finishing because I could not relate to the main characters actions/morality. It wasn’t that the descriptions were too graphic for me, but that I could not care about someone who would do that act and therefore did not want to waste my time continuing to read that particular book. I cut my losses and moved onto something better.

However, not all teens self-censor. Some are drawn to the scandalous or titillating. The key is in having a moral foundation already in place before hitting puberty. The responsibility for that lies with parents, not teachers or librarians. Some parents are too laissez faire and children form their own version of morality or pick it up outside the family. Some parents are too intentional in their moral instruction and drive their children toward the titillation factor. I think that most fall in the middle, giving their children a clear framework of what is right and what is wrong without being too restrictive. I hope.

I remember being uncomfortable when my fourth grade teacher read Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead to the class. There is a controversial scene where Julie who has been married to an older boy (who is somewhat mentally challenged) and he tries to force himself on her. She foils the attempt by hitting him on the head and running away. As a 9 year old, it bothered me, not because I understood anything about sex or rape, but because Julie was 12 years old and he was older. I considered her to be a child and him to be an adult and I believed that adults should take care of children, not harm them. Am I scarred for life for having had that book read to me? No. Did I relate to Julie and understand why she might run off into the frozen tundra wilderness and try to survive on her own? Absolutely, the adults in her life were not taking care of her. Did it plant a seed of self-reliance in the back of my head? Quite possibly.

Every reader is unique. We cannot know what the reaction of any reader to any particular book might be. Even the reader might not know what their reaction is. I can only articulate my reaction to Julie of the Wolves because I have mulled it over as an adult. At the age of nine, I could not have told you why I didn’t like that part of the book. If one reader is uncomfortable with a particular book, does that mean no one should read it? Of course not.

But, the censorship debate will continue. Parents will continue to be up in arms when they see what little Johnny has brought home from the library. They will continue to bar their children from reading Harry Potter because it contains magic. They will continue to complain that Roald Dahl books are too dark for their tender child. There will also be parents who strategically place books where their children will discover them and choose to read the books of their own accord without being told. Or, as in my case, the parents will be blissfully ignorant of the content of the books being read and leave the child to explore the world of other places, people, and planets in peace.