I've been searching for books that I can share with my daughters, so I checked this out based on recommendations for best books for young readers. TurI've been searching for books that I can share with my daughters, so I checked this out based on recommendations for best books for young readers. Turns out, it's already one of her favorite books, and she was mystified when it showed up in the library reserves because she knew she hadn't reserved it.
I shouldn't be too surprised. I think she's already read more books than I have. And, I can see why she likes the story. It's got a spunky no-nonsense heroine and a lot of sweet little touches, plus some nice world building. For me though, as an adult reader, parts of it just didn't cut it.
It starts out well enough. For the first few chapters there is rising action as we are introduced to the world of the dragons. But then we leave that world and enter a long flat period where nothing much happens and the story starts to drag, and the heroine - much to the loss of her in story country and to the story itself - becomes more and more detached from that high drama. For me, that cost the story a star.
But what took the story from being one I moderately enjoyed to being one I moderately disliked, was the last quarter of the book when the story that was on hiatus rather suddenly becomes prominent again. And the problem here was that the author wanted to have it both ways. She wanted it both to be a children's story where children talked in childish ways and offered childish solutions, and at the same time she wanted it to be a gritty and intense story of war, death, murder, treachery and destruction. These two things just can't go together.
One thing that strikes a reader reading the older versions of fairy tales is just how terrible the justice is that is dispensed upon the villains. Murderers, thieves, liars, abusers, betrayers and deceivers end up horrifically punished. The wicked step-mother and step-sister who tried to usurp the daughter's inheritance and her future, and who beat her and abused her verbally so that we no longer even remember her real name even in the story, and who wanted to condemn her to a life of unrewarding servitude in her own home, end up at the end of the story having their eyes plucked out by the birds. It's not unusual in such stories to have a murderer or a plotter of murder to find themselves the victim of their own schemes, and forced to eat live coals or placed naked in a barrel of nails and rolled through the streets until dead.
Though they were collected and recorded by the Brother's Grimm, the original fairy tales were written mostly by women who had experienced the reality of being orphans at age 10, placed in the custody of people who didn't love them and who often would verbally, physically or sexually abuse them. They knew the reality of hard labor, and of facing the prospect of forced marriages to a person who would gain legal custody of them as property. So when they told stories about protectors whom they could trust, they didn't molly coddle their intended audience with stories about weak protectors who were more concerned about the rights of abusers than the abused. They told stories of rights restored and justice definitively done. Even Disney, until quite recently at least, got that part of the story right. The story isn't over until the villain is definitively vanquished (and not for example sent home to mother and father with a slap on the wrist after trying for a double premeditated murder by slow horrific and psychological torture).
You can have talk of childish solutions when the problems are the problems facing a child and it be accepted within the frame work of the story, but when we are talking about stopping a genocide and saving the lives of everyone you know, trying to put those half-hearted measures into the mouths of your heroes seems not only vapid, but cowardly. This story isn't a story about minor injustices and the arguments of children, any more than the old fairy tales are stories of minor injustices and arguments by children safely ensconced in a protective environment. That the author is skilled enough of a writer to make the reality of war and death being described seem real on the page, and the sheer desperation of the situation palpable only makes the problem worse. Everyone around the heroine is meeting this desperate life and death struggle as a desperate life and death struggle, and the heroine is still talking in terms of avenging themselves on a school yard bully with the inevitable consequence that people and friends are suffering and dying in horrific ways. And it's clearly not a problem with the courage or the conviction of the character, but rather with the niceties that the author is pretending to in order to make this a 'children's book'.
The author wants to promote the heroine from being the victim in need of rescue, to the role of fairy tale protector. But when you make that promotion, the character acquires with it the responsibilities of the protector, to mete justice, and to truly protect those around her. But the character we end up with, occupies an awkward role halfway between helpless victim and valiant, wise, and just defender and thereby ends up being a lot less likeable and admirable in either role than one would like.
Or to put this more succinctly, children's book be damned, Creel should have without hesitation slit that bitch's throat before anyone else got killed. ...more
I was in 5th grade. Twee and silly, even if you are a kid. Like so many animal stories, I think this one is ruined if you actually have any experienceI was in 5th grade. Twee and silly, even if you are a kid. Like so many animal stories, I think this one is ruined if you actually have any experience with the animals in question. In real life, rabbits are annoying pests that taste good fried or stuffed with orange sausage dressing. If you don't cull the population, they'll breed and eat themselves to starvation. Their ecological role is to be eaten. It's essentially their purpose in life to provide a big strong link in the food chain. Something is supposed to eat them if you don't - generally speaking foxes, bobcats, various raptors, and the occasional weasel. Any time you read about someone praising how wonderful it would be for rabbits to eat your garden, you know they live in the city somewhere and never see an animal.
Regarding the author's intended commentary on sharing with the poor, it didn't really come off to a 5th grader - who read this as being commentary on ecology by someone with no understanding of it and wouldn't have connected this to the Marshall Plan even in context - and looking back as an adult, find his characterization of the needy to be condescending patronizing crap. My understanding is that modern printings are edited to be more politically correct because condescending and patronizing was apparently his thing.
It's absurd considering how well written this book is, that it's author is not better known.
The best work of original children's fantasy since HarryIt's absurd considering how well written this book is, that it's author is not better known.
The best work of original children's fantasy since Harry Potter. This book is the sort of weird almost surreal but engrossing story China Miéville always wants to but inevitably fails to write, and she manages to do with no intention to shock and no reliance on archaic words. The plot structure is impeccable. Nothing exists in the story but what serves to further the story, and despite the high imagination on display the writing remains as tight as a drum and never indulges itself in flights of fantasy without purpose. Writers of fantasy, take note: this is how you write a story. Whatever age you are aiming at, however serious or leisurely your purpose, write more stories like this.
It's a bit hard to be critical of this story, and on pure enjoyment I can't find much in the way of flaws. It starts off just a little bit slow, but once it gets rolling it stays in motion and gathers speed and new power on practically every page. I wavered on whether to give it the 5th star, and settled on four only because the story seemed to lack high ambition and be content to be just a rollicking good tale. Maybe I missed it in all the fun, but just a touch of the didactic might have given this story a more complex palette. It's evident that the author is of the greatest intellect, imagination, and craftsmanship as a writer, so just a little more often being able to see into that mind would have been fun. I'm going with the 4 stars on a first rating, but before you take that as a slight against this book, check out my 2.9ish average rating for a book which is probably among the lowest on Goodreads. I don't give out even 4 stars profligately. My four is most people's five, and do not doubt that I was seriously impressed by this novel just because its missing its 5th star.
The reason I wavered still is that so many stories with so much more ambition are written by authors that seem to despise that one most essential ambition of being a good storyteller. I'll take a tightly written tale filled with fun and wonder over a novel of the highest intellectual ambition, but not the slightest sense of having a plot and no element of craftsmanship larger than an apt metaphor, a pretty sentence or a snarky self-aware paragraph. If I had my way, I'd award Pulitzer and Noble prizes for literature to authors like Hardinge showing this skill of craftsmanship over self-important deliberately obscurant prose every single time. It takes more skill to write a book like this than any number rambling of 2000 page post-modernist tomes that exist mainly to show off or shock, or for readers to impress on other readers just how serious they are as readers for having clamored through such glutinous prose. Frances Hardinge deserves better accolades than she is receiving.
This is a lightweight homage peice to Rudyard Kipling with a dose of H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Outsider' thrown into it. It has most of what you'd expectThis is a lightweight homage peice to Rudyard Kipling with a dose of H.P. Lovecraft's 'The Outsider' thrown into it. It has most of what you'd expect from a Gaiman work, including the deep research and extraordinary attention to detail. I enjoyed it, but it owed just a little too much to it's literary forebearers to be one of my favorites and I found myself more wanting to go back and read Kipling again than eager to get to the end of book. Other than being derivative, I suspect that part of the problem is that however Goth you are or pose as, it is very hard to love a Graveyard as passionately and deeply as Kipling loved India....more
My wife and I have been reading these books from my wife's childhood to our daughters. They don't have a nostalgia factor for me, so I find them fairlMy wife and I have been reading these books from my wife's childhood to our daughters. They don't have a nostalgia factor for me, so I find them fairly annoying. This is the best of the bunch I've read so far because it departs the most from the annoying pattern of the rest of the books.
The plot of almost all the Dorrie books I've read thus far is in brief, "Some obviously villainous character begins doing mischief in Witchville or to the Witchville witches right in front of Dorrie. Dorrie repeatedly tries to get the grownups to pay attention to her, but they are too busy with their own petty problems to pay attention to what is really important, so Dorrie is left to her own resources to save the day by herself - which she manages mainly because the villain is even more stupid than the average groupup." Really, 'The Big Witch' has to be one of the worst models of parenthood in children's literature. I realize that she's supposed to be a witch, but I don't think that description was meant quite as nastily as it comes off in the stories.
'Dorrie and the Witch Doctor' mercifully departs from this really well worn formula. It begins with Dorrie promising herself to be extra good today, but Dorrie's best intentions are soon put to the test by the arrival of a truly nasty family pest that makes 'The Big Witch' seem a true model of patience, gentleness, and sensitivity. Dorrie heroicly tries to keep to her promise, but the physical trial proves too much for her, and its left to a befuddled but wise old Witch Doctor - the single best character in any of the stories - to try to put things right for the whole family. The story has a touch of humor lacking in the rest of the stories, a character with an actual name, and more importantly characters we actually can care about, including, quite surprisingly, Dorrie herself....more
There are any number of books about manners aimed at young children. At one time, that was about all children were encouraged to read. Some of them arThere are any number of books about manners aimed at young children. At one time, that was about all children were encouraged to read. Some of them are pretty good - for example Richard Scarry's famous work. Many times though they are as wretched as only something didactic and condescending can be.
But how many teach you what to say when you've crashed your plane through the roof of the duchess’s house, or been bitten by a dinosaur, or bumped into a crocodile?
Just one - this marvelous little manual by Sesyle Joslin and illustrated by the incomparable Maurice Sendak. Charming and whimsical, this book of manners is sure to delight with its mixture of propriety with untamable imagination.
My girls, I'm proud to say were able to recite or correctly guess nearly everything you should say in such situations on the first try, except I'd forgotten to tell them the proper thing to say to an orchestra of bears when it tries to eat you. But, now that that's been covered, I think we are ready for anything.
I'm not usually sensitive to this sort of thing, but I'm dropping a star because for all its whimsy it ends up with games that are a little too conventional in their gender roles for me. Since I'm not generally sensitive to this sort of thing (and often sensitive to its opposite), I suspect people who are will be too much distracted by questions like, "Why doesn't the girl slay the dragon?" However, I can avow that my wife absolutely loved the book, perhaps more than I did, so don't let this slight misgiving keep you or your children away from this joyful little book. ...more
I read scores of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books and similar 'text based adventure' series during the craze in elementary school and junior high.
ThiI read scores of 'Choose Your Own Adventure' books and similar 'text based adventure' series during the craze in elementary school and junior high.
This one, which casts you as a resistance fighter conducting an alpine raid against the Nazis, was always one of my favorites.
IMO, A good 'Choose Your Own Adventure' book has the following qualities - lots of oppurtunities to make choices, a large number of possible endings, a few surprising twists that add readability, and some sort of internal logic that lets you correctly guess at least most of the time which path leads to the most satisfying rewards. 'Sabotage' succeeds on all counts....more
The illustrations in this book are just wonderful and it's worth it just for that.
The story itself is so very simple that it practically tells itself.The illustrations in this book are just wonderful and it's worth it just for that.
The story itself is so very simple that it practically tells itself. It concerns an imaginative boy barely missing meetings with a disappointed young prince and his increasingly large entourage. In fact, the story is so simple and predictable, that I could probably recite it from memory even though its been more than a year since I read it. But there is a certain power in that, especially for children of a simple age who will love the repitition precisely for its predictablity.
As I said, the illustrations are incredible, and the incongruity of the gayly dressed royal entourage looking like a pack of living playing cards, ascending and descending the stairs of the dark, drab and confined tenement apartment I think will charm and amuse readers of all ages. Apparantly the New Times choose this as a notable children's book of the year at one point, but its sadly obscure now....more