Ehrlich’s talent as a storyteller is evident in the book. She picked and chose powerful details. She then tailored them for young readers with simple...moreEhrlich’s talent as a storyteller is evident in the book. She picked and chose powerful details. She then tailored them for young readers with simple and easily understandable words and sentences. The immediacy is almost shocking. Instead of the tales feeling distanced by archaic language or complex sentence structures as often found in the translated versions of the Bible (or Torah), a young reader can digest these stories quickly and see the pictures clearly (also with the help of the colorful paintings.)
I think that’s why I had such conflicting reactions to this gorgeously illustrated religious text. On the one hand, I really admire Ehrlich’s storytelling and distilling skills. On the other hand, all these immediacies bring to sharp relief the brutal and the morally questionable events and behaviors in these stories. Being a non-believer of any religion myself, it was really hard for me to understand how anyone could “fall for” this inconsistent, arrogant, vengeful, deceptive, conspiring, and power-hungry GOD. Some of the lessons that I got from the book are
Since GOD is so fickle, but so all powerful, you’d better always do as told. One’s relationship with GOD is and should be completely based on Fear. All human inter-actions are based on Jealousy and sometimes bad deeds are richly rewarded. Women are to be neglected and are of no or little importance except in bearing sons for the chosen people. The chosen ones should endeavor in eliminating the non-believers and those who believe in other Gods. So, I am left with a huge question: Why, in the year 2013, we need such a retelling of these brutal and morally antiquated tales to children which do not contain in the text itself explanatory notes or questions that encourage discussions for the family? Especially since this is a trade book and conceivably could be read and shared with people who are not of the Jewish faith. (There are indeed back matters with notes and an introduction but I really would have liked to see a more philosophical approach to these tales than the current shape it is in.)(less)
I waited for a while to read this one. Was somewhat apprehensive. When one becomes friendly and very fond of an author, one sometimes also becomes wor...moreI waited for a while to read this one. Was somewhat apprehensive. When one becomes friendly and very fond of an author, one sometimes also becomes worried. What if… What if the book isn’t as good as you’d hoped? As good as you believe that particular author could have made it? What it…
So, I didn’t read the galley. I did attend an overwhelmingly successful event at Book Court in Brooklyn with Adam entertaining a host of young readers and their parents. And then, finally, after I started seeing my students toting around this third volume and hearing that they really really enjoyed it (one of them read it more than twice in the week of its publication) I braced myself and delved into it!
What a treat! I couldn’t put the book down. Adam not only featured some of MY favorite Grimm tales, he even used one of my favorite STORY TIME staple (Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock!) And not only Adam continues with the intrusive and flippant (but often kind and comforting) storyteller/narrator, he brings this narrator INTO the story (or, rather, brings the protagonists OUT of the story and into current day Brooklyn.) I was worried when I knew that there is a metafiction element of the tale that it would have seemed trite or forced — but Adam did it in a natural and fluid way that really works. The story as a whole seems a bit darker than the first two, but it is to my liking. And as in so many stories for children (and adults) the power of storytelling is celebrated at the end!
Same as in the first two books, there are definitely some very sticky moral dilemmas that the two kids have to face and conquer. I am happy to report that the messages do not get in the way of the enjoyment of the tales. And I suspect that these important “lessons” are being absorbed and are strengthening child readers everywhere as I type!
Finally, the new “Kingdom of Children” that the narrator refers to in the end of this book is an apt metaphor for the realm of imagination, for stories and books, and especially for the Grimm trilogy, where children venture in to “run, to play… to tell their tales and face their fears and let whatever is inside out.”(less)
This is what outstanding, distinguished, and thoroughly enjoyable children’s books should be! And of course, I had the additional pleasure of listenin...moreThis is what outstanding, distinguished, and thoroughly enjoyable children’s books should be! And of course, I had the additional pleasure of listening to Appelt’s narrative voice brought to live by Lyle Lovett: folky, hilarious, tender, with just the right amount of controlled drama. This environmental tall tale set in the swamp land, featuring anthropomorphized critters, caricatured villains, down home, real but also realer than life characters, and mythical beings is perfect for a family and classroom read aloud! One of my favorite 2013 books for sure!(less)
The story of two "nations" occupying the same land where one is now being demanded to remove itself mirrors eerily contemporary conditions in our curr...moreThe story of two "nations" occupying the same land where one is now being demanded to remove itself mirrors eerily contemporary conditions in our current world. I'm delighted that almost all the important characters make their appearances here and their personalities consistent with the show. The artwork is definitely true to the show as well. Of course, the fight scenes are slightly less epic or thrilling presented in still frames and not movements, but fans of the show can probably fill in the sounds and sequences. I know I read it with the actors' voices in my head! Now, onto book 2. (less)
I truly enjoyed Stroud’s narrative tone, characters and world building in this first volume of a new fantasy/horror series. In Lucy we find a fresh, s...moreI truly enjoyed Stroud’s narrative tone, characters and world building in this first volume of a new fantasy/horror series. In Lucy we find a fresh, sharp-minded, slightly paranoid and self-doubting, but in the end completely lovable main character/narrator. Lockwood and George are also interesting and multi-faceted characters who maintain the flavorful exchanges between these young people. The premise also provides a new world for the author and the readers to venture into and explore — The Problem, consisting of ghosts, hauntings, and the solutions of using special child agents trained to deal with them, with all the life-threatening dangers that could befall anyone at any moment. I'm in awe of Stroud's talent.
So why didn’t I absolutely love the book? Probably because I figured too many things out too early so the wait for the reveal seemed a bit long and drawn out? Or perhaps there were just a few repetitive descriptions/scenarios too many? (How many times do the readers need to be told how the first hints of haunting feel or look like?) Do I still want to see what unfolds in book 2? Yes. If the Bartimaeus trilogy is any indicator, the sequels will give us more layers and nuanced interactions. The story will only evolves into something grander and hopefully the ending will be as satisfying — and perhaps unexpected, too?(less)
My reactions to this book are quite mixed that I cannot sort them all out coherently. So, here we go, a list of what I liked and what I had some issue...moreMy reactions to this book are quite mixed that I cannot sort them all out coherently. So, here we go, a list of what I liked and what I had some issues with:
Starting with the positive aspects of the book:
I quite enjoyed the protagonist and her many interesting observations and thoughts. Especially when she was less “normal” and more stubbornly herself the first part of the book. I know that’s kind of the point of the book, that Willow “learned” how to interact with others and became more accepted and more accepting, but she definitely becomes less interesting a character as the story progresses. I appreciated the author’s effort in pulling together a cast of diverse ethnicities, and featuring mix-raced kids and adults. I definitely was curious and interested enough to know how things would pan out for Willow and the others, especially Dell. I liked how at first one couldn’t quite tell the age and gender of Willow. I thought that this is a thematically significant story. I also thought it totally fine for the author to switch POVs — I’d rather this than having the author trying to keep it all in Willow’s head and thus making the book either too claustrophobic or Willow too wise and and unconvincing in her insights. Now, onto the things that troubled me or did not satisfy me as much:
Vietnamese is presented as a language that one has to learn “verbal conjugations” for — when in reality, like many Asian languages, one uses only a few time stamps/phrases to indicate tenses while the original verbs remain the same. I know that the author consulted Vietnamese speaking friends so it is even more curious that this oversight is in the book. (I did read the online galley so don’t know exactly how the finished book handles this aspect exactly.) I cannot wrap my head around how Pattie has SO much money that she could buy the entire building complex from the bank at the end of the book because of Willow and her predicament, and yet would subject her own children to live squalidly in the garage where her teenaged son who obviously is VERY troubled by the fact that their living condition is shameful (and he didn’t even have normal underwear) and was acting out and doing poorly at school. Would an immigrant mother who suffered quite a bit of humiliation in her own youth, and who is presented as competent and caring for others, hide away all her wealth to this extend? This just doesn’t compute for me. There is quite a bit of rule and law breaking through the whole book, by almost every character, that I got slightly paranoid about recommending this to young readers. Dell got by in his job without ever following protocols or performing the minimum requirements. We hope that he has changed toward the end of the story… but that was not quite clear. The whole “using Dell’s address” and faking that they’re all living in that apartment works quite well, but from the get go was a giant and elaborate lie, which became a wonderful truth at the end of the tale… seems too convenient and pat and is that what the author tries to convey? As long as a lie comes from a good place, it will lead to a positive outcome? Even Mai tells lies to the school in order to go to the custody hearing. I am usually not one to worry about such things in children’s books, but for some reason, the accumulation of such behaviors as a way to make the story work got under my skin.(less)
I was pleased that Holly Black decided to maintain the mystery and the suspense over the paranormal scenario of the story all the way to the very very...moreI was pleased that Holly Black decided to maintain the mystery and the suspense over the paranormal scenario of the story all the way to the very very end. To me, that’s the best part of the whole book. Some other aspects, however, did not speak to me that much. I was told the three main characters’ personalities, a bit of their back stories, and about the fact that they had been best friends with such amazing bonds as telling those fantastical stories…. but, as a reader, I never quite “felt” any of these facts. Partly because on their “quest,” most I saw was their bickering and distrust of each other.
For example, when Zach worried about the two girls’ talking about him behind his back, his thoughts are whether they talked about he smelled bad or that he’s stupid. I would hope, that after being close friends with each other for years, there might have been some darker, deeper secrets or concerns that made Zach squirm.
There are also just so many details that do not advance the plot or our understanding of the characters. A list of 27 flavors of donuts that do not carry overt or hidden meanings baffled me.
I was also puzzled by each character’s ability to succinctly explain why have been acting in such a way toward their friends, sounding like what a therapist might present, after listening to 12/13 year olds relating the events and their feelings. Alice revealed that the reason why she couldn’t believe in Eleanor’s ghost was that “There can’t be a ghost, a real ghost. Because if there is, then some random dead girl wants to haunt Poppy, but my own dead parents can’t be bothered to come back and haunt me.” And Poppy’s confession, “I thought that we could do this thing, and when it was over we’d have something that no one else had — an experience that would keep us together.” Even Zach’s father confessed, “But I’ve been thinking that protecting somebody by hurting them before someone else gets the chance isn’t the kind of protecting that anyone wants.”
Don’t get me wrong — I believe in the validity of all of these statements and those are at the heart of this story — that we act certain ways because there are some additional, underlying emotional reasons which are seldom on the surface for others to interpret quickly or easily. I just have a bit of trouble with how all of these ideas are delivered as “statements” by these characters. I wish that readers had chances to perhaps sort some of these out by ourselves. For example, perhaps in one of the shouting matches, Alice could have said something like, “There are NO GHOSTS! If there are, WHY WOULDN’T MY PARENTS TALK O ME???!!!” (haha.. much exaggerated)
I also was not creeped out enough by the book — and I wish I had been — the cover gave me so much hope!(less)
I usually approach books written by celebrities with a bit of trepidation. More often than not, I don’t even bother reading them — just waiting for ot...moreI usually approach books written by celebrities with a bit of trepidation. More often than not, I don’t even bother reading them — just waiting for others’ reactions. But for some reason, I got a positive vibe from the galley. Perhaps because its multi-ethnicity cast portrayed and neatly presented on the cover? My gut feelings proved to be not that wrong. Much like what Spencer enjoyed reading as a child (Nancy Drew and Encyclopedia Brown,) the story is just complex enough to keep the readers’ interest without too many confusing layers and the solutions are somewhat on the easy and happy side — which are thoroughly appropriate for its intended middle grade readership: both entertaining and comforting.
Do I sense that Spencer tried too hard to “balance” the cast with the inclusion of a hearing-impaired Hispanic kid, a black kid, and a Chinese house-keeper/friend? Yup. I sense that. But I’m ok with it because she actually created solid characters whose identities and friendships ring true and whose ethnicities are not the focal point or the plot driving elements. For the most part, the ethnical references are cringe-free. (Except for when Mei-Ling says, “Ni Hao” for a quick morning greeting to those she knows well… instead of the more appropriate “Zao” – for early/morning.) I will have no problem recommending this book to my students and hopefully they will enjoy this mystery with its positive message of community building.(less)