Skellig came rather enthusiastically recommended by our MACL chair and so I read it because it seemed interesting and well, because I am on a mission...moreSkellig came rather enthusiastically recommended by our MACL chair and so I read it because it seemed interesting and well, because I am on a mission to immerse myself in all sorts of literature for children. In a genre that is overflowing with teen angels who are more angsty than you would think, Skellig is refreshingly different. This is middle grade rather than YA and not exactly paranormal in the ordinary sense of the word. The titular character is one of the most fascinating characters I have come across in literature – complex layers, ambiguous origins that remain obdurate even at the end, contradictory personality that successfully shows the vulnerability in the character.
For a children’s novel, Skellig is extremely sophisticated in its character construction. It is sensitive to gender issues and tackles themes of actual learning (which can be done anywhere and perhaps with greater richness) and school learning (that occurs in the rarified air of a classroom and is a particular type of learning that does not have the richness of learning that should be present in childhood). The main character is going through tough times – moving, a very sick baby sister and general isolation from things and people he is familiar to and absent parents. His fascination with what looks like a hobo in the garden shed is instantly worrying. Who is this odd character? Does he mean harm? Skellig is presented as an adult in this children’s world and to modern readers, there will be shades of villainy in his presence in the story.
However, Almond succeeds in narrating Skellig as this owl/angel character that defies all stereotypes one may have of his species. The book is almost uncomfortably realistic in its portrayal and yet there is this element of hope that becomes turgid with each revelation. The portion where the owls feed Skellig is one of my favourite sections of the novel. It just adds so much potential to his character.
Michael’s friendships with the girl next door and his school friends are realistically portrayed. I liked how Almond avoided melodrama and pathos but sustained this genuine feeling of grief where the sick baby is concerned. All in all, this was a worthy piece of literature that lingers long after the last page has been turned. It is also a short read so if you have time and are curious about owl/angels, I reckon you should give this a try.(less)
Though Lowry is, I believe, mostly famous for her dystopian series, The Giver, I think readers should also give the middle grade Anastasia Krupnik a r...moreThough Lowry is, I believe, mostly famous for her dystopian series, The Giver, I think readers should also give the middle grade Anastasia Krupnik a read to see the breadth of Lowry’s writing skills. Her ability to weave into existence Anastasia, an irreverent, irrepressible and entirely charming ten year old is impressive. Anastasia is unintentionally witty and, to older readers, extremely funny as she charges full steam through life falling in love, falling out of love and making decisions (bad and good). Her proclamations and reactions to her parents have a ring of realism to them and she’s just incredibly funny. Her observations will have more meaning to older readers who are experienced enough to understand her thoughts and the sly allusions.
Anastasia Krupnik is one of those books that will be enjoyed by both older readers and the younger ones. The younger ones will empathize and take everything at face value while the older ones will be able to recognize, as I said previously, the duality in Anastasia’s actions. For example, Anastasia decides to leave her house when she finds out she is getting a baby brother, she packs her clothes etc and younger kids will be on board the moving out train but older readers will smirk and wait for the realization that she has no other place to go to sink in.
Anyway, the book is short and funny. I recommend it. Read it to yourself or to a sibling!(less)
If somebody had tried to tell me a month ago that one of my favourite books read in 2012 would have a little mouse as its protagonist, I would have la...moreIf somebody had tried to tell me a month ago that one of my favourite books read in 2012 would have a little mouse as its protagonist, I would have laughed. I am not big on anthropomorphic characters. I mean, except cats that appear as characters. Those I love but mice and other talking things? Yeah, no, not my thing at all. However, Despereaux calls to mind something warm, something soft, defenseless. Like one of those pictures of kittens that are so plentiful on tumblr. How do you resist?
Anyway, the story itself is so heartwarming, so unassuming and so guileless that I couldn’t help but be swept away by the heroic quest of one of the least heroic characters I have ever come across in my reading career. Knowing that it is impossible for him and attempting to rescue the princess anyway? That is courage, people. No matter how flashy and beautiful The Invention of Hugo Cabret may have been, I think The Tale of Despereaux wins simply on account of how beautiful the story is. No, no one has been comparing the two, it’s just me.
I urge you to read this for yourself and if you have a child in your life, read it out loud to them. Watch the wonder in their eyes as they follow the adventures of one poor mouse who is condemned at birth and who even loses his tail. Watch them react to the horrible rats, especially the irascible villain of the piece who walks around with a spoon as a hat. This is a beautiful book, a classic really, and should find a home on your shelf in all its illustrated glory. Strongly recommended.(less)
I'm reading this for Contemporary Children's Lit and according to my Prof, this is "simply divine and unlike anything you have ever read." It sounds e...moreI'm reading this for Contemporary Children's Lit and according to my Prof, this is "simply divine and unlike anything you have ever read." It sounds exquisitely painful.
For a novel its length, A Ghost’s Child is surprisingly heavy where the themes are concerned. The book deals with self-discovery in a multitude of ways. Before the story of Maddy and Feather even begins, Maddy sets off on a journey of self-discovery with her father. Maddy and her father travel around the world together, seeing wondrous things, places and people. Maddy discovers facets of herself in everything she sees.
Another moment for self-discovery is when Maddy realizes she has a question to ask Feather so sets off on a sea journey helming her own boat to find Feather and ask him that question. When she finally finds him on his island and asks the question she wanted to ask, she makes another realization about her own self: she is not prepared to be stagnant in a world that is always moving. Her ability to pick up the pieces of her life and live without Feather shows her discovery that she is more than a broken heart and that she can still live no matter how much she has been hurt.
Another theme in this book is loss. Not loss caused by death but loss cause by intentionally letting go of a person, a dream or an idea and finding the strength to continue life without these things. Maddy loses her adventurous fun-loving father to the rigors of daily life when they return from their journey around the world. She chooses to let go of Feather twice because she has realized that she cannot accept his philosophies and adopt them for her own. She has to let go of her house in the woods and the dreams with which she built it.
Death is another prevalent theme. Maddy loses her parents and her grief is present throughout the narrative but it is an accepting pain unlike the loss of her baby due to miscarriage which causes Maddy a whole different kind of anguish. However, as much as death is a theme, so is life and living. The book is , if you’ll pardon the floweriness, a celebration of life and living. Maddy makes a choice when she leaves Feather on his never-changing island. She chooses to live and she does so, wholly and fully. She lives to the old age at which we find her and relates the story of her life, the good, the bad and the painful. And that is what makes the book beautiful.
If I had to attach a literary term for the style the book is written in, I’d say the author makes use of magical realism. Wikipedia defines the term as an aesthetic style or genre of fiction in which magical elements blend with the real world. Maddy has a nargun for a friend (consult handout for information about it) whom she consults on everything from her parents to her love life. Maddy also goes on a crazy journey on a boat and converses with sea animals and birds. She is also part of the audience watching an organized fight between a kraken and a leviathan. She talks to a wind called Zephyrus who helps her get to Feather’s island. Most magical of all, perhaps, is the young boy who sits in Maddy’s very ordinary living room and listens to her story.
The prose itself is incredibly detailed but deceptively simple in its diction. There is careful attention given to colours and the way things are described so they become easier to visualize. This novel is definitely a cross-over novel that will appeal to both adults and children. However, I do believe that this one book that librarians will need to recommend to get kids to pick up. I can see it being very popular if its read out to kids because as I said, the writing is simple but exquisite and the plot is also full of adventure. However the fact remains that the protagonist at the time we meet her is an old woman. There is an instance in the novel when the boy tells Maddy, as though he is delivering very bad news, “your house smells like old people.” Most kids like reading books with protagonists they can relate to.
There is a duality to this novel that I appreciated. An adult reading the novel will have a different take on it than a child. For example, the author never explicitly states that Maddy miscarries or the baby dies. The baby is always called the fay. And it’s abstract enough in the way it is mentioned that a child would probably not realize the fay is a baby but an adult would.
The book feels Australian in its regard for the sea. We are somehow always in or around the sea whether at a beach or on a boat or on an island. There is also the mention of tea and biscuits which is what we call cookies on that side of the world.
In conclusion, the book is beautiful. It’s eerie, poignant and lingering. Please read it.(less)