Now that I have a grandson that is a toddler I find myself reading parenting books again like this one. I raised my daughter during what the authors cNow that I have a grandson that is a toddler I find myself reading parenting books again like this one. I raised my daughter during what the authors call the “ 1980s self-esteem” craze. I was a “praise junkie” too and didn’t learn until I went into education that the focus needs to be on effort; otherwise, a child’s confidence is undermined. There are quite a few studies in education on reward systems and praise. The authors introduce basic concepts and while the title of the book makes this nonfiction text sound like it contains earth-shattering revelations, I think its just information that is repackaged in a way that is easy-to-read. It is not a dense academic piece and should generate good discussions.
Some of the studies quoted had me wondering as they oversimplify several topics such as cultural differences on raising kids between Chinese and American mothers. Like any well-written persuasive speech, the authors use data to support their claims even when the research seems obscure or a repackaging of different educational programs. So while the topics are interesting, keep in mind the book slants toward whatever bias the authors are trying to prove such as the program “Tools of the Mind” that uses sociodramatic in primary years. It is one of many good programs; however, the authors do not compared it to others good programs. It is compared to some poor practices in public school programs, but is not understood within the education field as a whole.
I did find the beginning of the book more helpful than the end. I also liked the chapter on “color-blindness” and how parents need to talk to children at a young age about diversity and races. The thinking is that this can be done later in life but children do in-group separation at an extremely young age. Race needs to be discussed so that the next generation can learn about tolerance. Recent literature encourages librarians to talk about race and diversity with children at a younger age and more picture books are allowing this with their content. I read "The Grudgekeeper," and it has a young white boy marrying a black girl. It triggered an interesting discussion about race with my grade 2 students, except we talked about mixed Asian marriages.
The chapter on how children lie is something teachers figure out pretty quickly. The 4-5 year-old students always tell me they returned their library books and my first inclination is to doubt them. But I've never really thought about it as lying. I just think of it as their development age and that they don't understand the library concept of returning their books. Maybe some do lie. I don't really know. I wasn't really sure about the phrasing of some things in this book. Can you tell? That's why it is good for discussion.
The writing in the book is easy-to-read. It is not a dense, academic book. It is also six years old and feels a bit dated or maybe it is the word "shock" in the title. It is not really shocking. The focus is more on private than public education and the authors sometimes are insensitive in tone toward public education. I don't think a balanced view of education is presented. The authors are trying to persuade specific points-of-view and the tone can be overly dramatic. It's interesting though and has some thought-provoking ideas. Just don't use it as a sole reference.
Twelve-year-old Alfie hates going to the dentist. His teeth are yellow and brown and he loves sweets. He had an awful experience at the one-and-only dTwelve-year-old Alfie hates going to the dentist. His teeth are yellow and brown and he loves sweets. He had an awful experience at the one-and-only dentist in town, Mr. Erstwhile, and has refused to go since then. Erstwhile croaks and a new dentist, Miss Root, shows up at Alfie's school to promote good dental hygiene. Or so it appears. But something is off... she's an odd tooth, saying that she will not give gory details on Erstwhile's death, but then gives the gory details: Erstwhile was found in his surgery room lying in a pool of blood with a dental probe through his heart.
Irony abounds as Miss Root sniffs out Alfie's rotten mouth-full of teeth in the school auditorium like a bloodhound. He gets pegged for an appointment at her office that he is determined to miss. Alfie describes the creepy dentist as, "The pupils in her eyes shone black. On second look, they were blacker than coal. Blacker than oil. Blacker than night. Blacker than the blackest black. In short, they were black." Like a stand-up comedian, the author has great timing that includes some hits and misses. This book needs a "snort-laugh ALERT." If you like silly books with exaggerated characters, then you'll like this comedy.
Alfie teams up with Gabz when he sees Miss Root acting suspicious. She is younger than him and he calls her his "girl friend" which all they adults interpret as his girlfriend. The two sputter in anger every time this happens and I laughed every time as it got more preposterous. Take Raj, the endearing dork of a newsagent, who says to Alfie: "'Your girlfriend?! Ooh...' cooed Raj. 'No, no!' exclaimed Alfie. 'She isn't my girlfriend. Gabz is just a friend who's a girl.' 'Your friendgirl*?'" The author puts an asterisk with a footnote: "*Made-up word ALERT (any letters of complaint to be addressed to Raj.) Move over spoiler alerts.
David Walliams pokes fun at evolving social cultures such as the boy who misses out on all the action at school because he texts 24/7. Or the drama teacher that thinks the social worker, Winnie, driving a moped throughout the school is part of an improv act. Or Winnie, the social worker, that eats and drinks like a piston with no sensitivity or respect to others. Then there is some toilet bowl humor with farting (that is in the top five next to "poop" and "butt" for kids at my school) along with some terrific scary parts, the need for false teeth, and "witchestry*". A snortingly* fun at the beach book. Okay. I would not make team Walliams made-up word list.
When kids at school start receiving gross items like bat wings, an old man's toenail, and an eyeball under their pillows from the tooth fairy, Alfie is sure it is connected with Miss Root. He teams up with Alfie, Raj, and Gabz to solve the mystery. The straightforward plot is easy to follow and Miss Root is a one dimensional villain. I did think Walliams walked a fine line with Winnie or maybe it is the illustrator. Come to think of it, Walliams implies she is black but never says so. Anyway, she's black and dresses in a kaleidoscope of outrageously bright clothes with bangles on her hands and a big bum. This stereotype is somewhat redeemed by Winnie's generous actions at the end, but I was uncomfortable with his descriptions and when she loses her clothes on the fence, I thought it was weird. That seemed unnecessary and a miss on the target audience. Walliams is consistent, however, creating adult characters that are extreme and exaggerated from the police officer to the head principal.
The witch is stereotyped and one dimensional. You've seen her before in many stories. I am reading Jack Zipes, "The Irresistible Fairy Tale," and it is a fascinating look at the evolution of storytelling and fairy tales. Zipes traces fairy tales from pagan societies to Roman Catholicism that "demonized pagan tales, rituals, and customs." Stories that used to have fairies and witches had good and bad ones until the church labeled it witchcraft and they became demonized. His book is very dense and I won't go into it but he shows how the witch in modern Europe and contemporary Western culture evolved into the one-dimensional demonized villain, like the one in this story, to support patriarchal traditions. This book's fairy tale ending follows the happily-ever-after trope and while it follows many traditional conventions, it does depart from some traditions when Gabz rescues Alfie after he fails to rescue her. As Zipes explains, fairy tales are not original but based on "human communication of shared experience" and evolve as societies remember and retell them year-after-year. I wonder what the fairy tale will look like hundreds of years from now and what stereotypes and conventions will have changed.
Demon dentist for me is a combination of slapstick, traditional European fairy tale, and "Struwwelpeter." The latter is a collection of moral stories published in 1845, that show the consequences of bad behaviors or manners often in a violent way. One boy sucks his thumbs and a tailor comes and cuts them off with his scissors. The illustration shows blood dripping from the boy's missing thumbs. Harriet plays with matches and burns herself up. She is a pile of ashes in the illustration with only her red shoes left. But while "Struwwelpeter" is serious in tone (although the cats crying in their hankies suggests otherwise), Walliam's book is not. Oh no. Stamp it with, "Guaranteed to snort laugh." Alfie might lose his teeth because he can't brush, but he gets the last laugh. David Walliams creates exaggerated, preposterous characters that are mostly adults and has great comedic timing with jokes. If you like silly books with a simple plot, then give this one a go....more
Twenty-one year old Shane Burcaw's acerbic, raunchy, cussing look at life from a person with a debilitating disease, is written to teenagers with an aTwenty-one year old Shane Burcaw's acerbic, raunchy, cussing look at life from a person with a debilitating disease, is written to teenagers with an authentic voice and good message, but it is flawed by its negative stereotype and insensitivity toward people that suffer from mental challenges. Shane is only affected physically and ironically he perpetuates stereotypes in his comments about those with mental disabilities. Shane is a courageous kid who uses humor to deal with his spinal muscular atrophy, a disease that causes the muscles to waste away. He weighs about sixty pounds and shows how he has slowly lost control of the muscles that help him hold his head up, chew, and talk. He has never walked and relies on others to help him every day, but this doesn't keep him from living a full life. He reveals in his biography how he has made friends and lived as normal a life as possible playing sports, dating, and starting a nonprofit organization. It is obvious he is living a full life.
Shane's family is loving and supportive. They all use humor as a way to deal with Shane's disease and they are very positive. They have taught Shane that life is what you make of it and that being in a wheelchair does not mean you cannot live and dream like everyone else. It does mean that obstacles will be different and normalcy will take on a different meaning. The book describes Shane's painful surgeries and need for help with sleeping, dressing, eating, and moving around. He does not dwell on the fact that he will not live a long life or that he cannot walk.
As someone trying to help others, I am baffled by the instances where Shane separates himself from others with disabilities that affect social or mental skills and perpetuates stereotypes that this type of person is outside of society and "not like him". In a world that has problems with intolerance and persecution of marginalized people, I was offended several times by his stance. And as a person with a nephew who has autism, I find the book insensitive to my nephew's value of being a member of society. He implies that people like this are not worth his time. Shane does not go after any one disease, but instead refers to kids with mental challenges as having tantrums or drooling and being so different from him that he can't fit in with them. In his quest to be considered normal he unintentionally puts down others with disabilities. The result is it keeps the book from reaching its potential even though for the most part I liked his authentic viewpoint and humor.
I liked the book most when Shane stuck with describing the challenges of having his disease. I laughed pretty hard with his description at the doctor's office yelling football commentaries at the top of his lungs to deal with the pain of getting monthly shots. He uses some good figurative language and captures the terror of not being able to breathe. The budding romance at the end loses this writing style and he sounds more like a hormonal boy out of his mind that he has a girlfriend with most of the descriptions being "fucking awesome." I have a bias where I think authors or characters in movies that resort to a pattern of swearing are being lazy. It is easier to swear than come up with a metaphor or simile describing feelings. I suppose you could argue the swearing goes with his character. He does swear excessively throughout the book. Of course, I work with kids every day all day long and swearing is not in my vocabulary.
Shane spends much of the book convincing himself and other people that he is normal even though he is in a wheelchair. He shows how adults can be patronizing and pitying toward people in wheelchairs. The struggles he has with relying on others to help him all the time are poignant and revealing. Even his terror at a college event and wondering if someone was going to break his neck by hitting his chair so hard running to the stage show how fragile his body is. But he also shows great courage in trying things. He has discovered that through his positive dealings with spinal muscular atrophy, he has helped others through his blog and organization deal with their own struggles in life. His life is valuable and he is contributing to society in a terrific way. You go Shane. Just clean up your mouth a little, would ya?
What a complex adult book. Part historical, part mystery, part myth, part science ... None of the plot went as I expected. The multiple points of viewWhat a complex adult book. Part historical, part mystery, part myth, part science ... None of the plot went as I expected. The multiple points of view from main, secondary, and tertiary characters are different too. The teenage protagonist is a Nazi sympathizer and the other protagonist is blind. The "old ladies resistance club" is galvanized by a spunky 76-year-old housekeeper and the woman that runs the orphanage is caring and kind. No stereotypes here. Even the closest stock character, Von Rumpel, is trying to find a cure for himself, albeit a myth. Then the author plays with conventions creating a story that is not linear but zigzags forward and backward through time. And did I mention his prose? It is dense and lyrical. How he gets the whole shebang to work and come together is really a work of art that is worth reading. He takes quite a few risks and overall pulls it off in a book rich in prose, themes, and characters.
Frenchman Claude LeBlanc works at the Museum of Natural history when Paris is invaded by the Germans. He flees with his daughter, Marie-Laure, to Saint-Malo where his uncle lives. Claude has been given one of four famous diamonds for safekeeping. Three of the diamonds are fakes and one real. The diamond is cursed and all that come in contact with it suffer great tragedy, but live forever. Marie-Laure became blind as a six-year-old and is learning to navigate the world without sight. Her father teaches her to read Braille and she adores Jules Verne's, "Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea."
Meanwhile German teen, Werner Pfennig, lives in an orphanage with his sister after his dad died in a coal mine collapse and his mother died in childbirth. He is getting older and knows that his only career option will be to work in the mines. He is brilliant at math, engineering, and mechanics. When the neighbors discover he can fix any radio they bring him, he has steady work until a German shows up that recruits him for Hitler's Youth program. Werner sees a way out of poverty and the mines and takes the offer to be trained at school as a mechanic and soldier, but is uneasy the whole time with incidents that happen. He sees the commander, Bastian, as a fanatic capable of chronic violence and "...every part of him wants to scream: is this not wrong? But here it is right."
When Marie-Laure's dad goes missing on a trip back to the museum, she gets to know her uncle better and the housekeeper. The three get drawn into the French Resistance that was working against the Germans. When Werner's radio skills draw the two together in Saint-Malo, Werner makes choices that are contrary to those he has been making throughout the war. Before he thinks he is controlling his future and doesn't realize his lack of actions is a choice. The twist with model house at the end shows he found strength to do the right thing.
The reader has to work more keeping track of the narrative because it jumps in time. The story is basically about a one week siege in Saint-Malo, France. If the author had written it in a linear form, then most of the story would have been in flashbacks that would have taken the suspense and tension out of most of the plot development. I am not a fan of flashbacks and heavy backstory so I appreciate this experimental approach to narrative. It is risky and might irritate some, but my random brain kind of liked it once I got used to it. It reminded me of the hours I would spend putting puzzles together and I appreciated how cleverly the author put various time frames together to create suspense.
The prose and figurative language Doerr uses remind me a bit of some Romantic writers. He describes nature through his characters with such awe and beauty that I can smell the ocean and feel the wind in a grotto filled with mollusks and crustaceans. His sentences have a lyrical cadence that is like music. The writing can be dense too. When Werner describes radio technology, it is technical enough to remind me of Jules Verne's books. The 187 short one to three-page chapters balance these excessive descriptions so it isn't exhausting. The metaphors on light are so many and varied I could write an entire paper on them. The title reflects the light or darkness that is in nature, humans, man-made machines, blindness, buildings, to name a few. The author shows how the theme of good and evil or light and darkness in humans is complicated and far from black and white.
Werner's actions are good and harmful. Jutta and Frederick are his conscience and he fails both of them with the poor decisions he makes. But he is a character whose actions are not to take action so he isn't offensive or cruel. He just stands by and follows others; whereas, Jutta and Frederick stand up against people doing things that they believe are morally wrong. Werner wants so bad to break out of his poverty and not end up in the mines that he compromises his morals. When his story becomes wrapped up with Marie-Laure's he has found a measure of redemption from past inactions; from breaking Jutta's radio in rebellion to the law, to not standing up for Frederick, for not doing something when the terrified boy on the platform fainted, to murdering people as a soldier.
Werner is a complex character. The reader understands his desperation to get out of the orphanage and not die in the coal mines. When he figures out the location of transmitting radios, readers are rooting for him, but the result of his success is the murder of enemies. When Werner is at Hitler's Youth School the contrast between Nazi propaganda and nature becomes even more evident. The Nazi's tried to use the science of eugenics to control evolution. The thought of humans directing evolution in a controlled manner is in direct contrast to the disorder and messiness of nature. And its racist element is horribly off-kilter with the theme of tolerance.
Marie-Laure is more pure in character. She's brave and finds herself all alone in the war. She needs the strength to face a killer and the world on her own. Von Rumpel is more of a stock villain but even he has another reason to find the stone that has nothing to do with money but to do with his disease. He's a foil to Werner and adds great tension at the end as he hunts down Marie-Laure. Werner's actions are in response to the guilt he feels for not rescuing Frederick when he was being persecuted and abused by others. Marie-Laure needs to know that she can stand on her own even though she is blind. Even though she is blind she represents light in the goodness she shows others. She is an interesting character because the author has to describe her experiences through other senses. Most writers use narratives that rely on visual senses and Marie-Laure relies on touch, taste, and smell to visualize the world.
One of the themes is how war affects idealists. Frederick is sensitive and is not always skilled socially, but he is kind and smart and a dreamer. "He sees things what other people don't." But he comes off as odd and nerdy. Even when things escalate with school bullies, he doesn't leave as Werner suggests. As the cruelty gets worse, Frederick seems to withdraw into his world of birds. When Werner tells him to just leave, Frederick says he has no choice because being at the school helps his dad and mom politically. At the end, when Jutta is looking at Werner's notebook full of questions and pictures of birds for Frederick she thinks, "What the war did to dreamers." Both boys lost their dreams to the war.
The ending is kind of different. It has Marie-Laure as an old woman with her grandchildren. It shows how the war doesn't exist for the next generation like it did for her because they have not had to live through one. The author seems to be making the point that the memory of the war can easily be forgotten and the same mistakes made. But there are still wars today. There is still destruction and groups committing genocide world-wide. By showing Marie-Laure remembering her experiences, the author suggests that through books others can learn and avoid mistakes that lead to intolerance and war.
Here's a nonfiction book that not only shows the scientific method, but describes the pellegra mystery, a disease that killed 100,000 people and affliHere's a nonfiction book that not only shows the scientific method, but describes the pellegra mystery, a disease that killed 100,000 people and afflicted over 3 million in America during the early 1900s. Today, doctors don't see cases of pellegra. The author shows how early researchers and doctors studied the disease and missed details that led others astray in the fight to find a cure. When tests or experiments were conducted, experts analyzed the results by either ignoring evidence that contradicted their theories or not paying close enough attention to the details. Even though the disease doesn't exist today in the United States, it will make readers think of the contradictory information in the media covering worldwide epidemics, such as Ebola, as experts struggle to find cures when faced with diseases.
The first part of the book shows the disease and the different theories that materialized from doctors studying it in certain populations. I did get a bit confused at one part and thought some facts were being restated, but it wasn't until later that I realized the author was showing the Thompson-McFadden Commission came up with the infectious theory and agreed with it. Many of the different hypotheses repeat others, but they were building on evidence and debunking other theories. I just thought it could have been written more clearly.
There are more than 30 vignettes that describe the suffering and horrible death of the victims. Many became suicidal or ended in insane asylums because the disease made them go mad. I felt bludgeoned by these one-paragraphs on pellegrin cases at the start. I can see many liking these individual accounts because it adds a personal touch, but it was too repetitive for me. I started to skip some because they sounded alike. It isn't until Goldberger enters the foray of finding a cure that I was able to start reading them again. The later vignettes begin to reflect the changes in doctors treatments and possible cures to the disease.
Goldberger realized that the pellegra mystery was intertwined with the South's economic and social system that became prevalent after the Civil War. The South relied on cotton that displaced farm crops. The result was that people were not getting balanced diets and most of the sufferers of pellegra lived in the South. Unfortunately, media was used in a way to not only tell people the cause of pellegra, but to put down Southerners as well for their diets and crop system. This resulted in people and doctors and politicians not listening to the facts and more people dying even after a cure was found.
This frustrated Goldberger so much that he performed some extreme and gross experiments to prove that pellegra was based on diet and not a contagious disease. Goldberger, along with his wife and other doctors conducted an experiment where they made a pill using the feces of infected patients. Can you imagine? Here dear, eat your breakfast and don't forget to take your poop pill. Even when they didn't get sick, they couldn't convince the skeptics. Some of the photos might disturb readers for they show adults and children covered in puffy, scaly skin that sometimes turns black from pellegra.
The first case of pellegra was reported in 1902 and a cure was discovered in the late 1930s; however, it wasn't until the 1940s that it disappeared when the government ordered a wartime program to address the issue. I won't tell you the cure that was found because part of the fun reading this book is how the author reveals clues that lead to the ultimate answer. The well-done notes at the back are for further reading and the layout of the book uses red inserts that give facts about pellegra and primary sources. The end has a question and answer that filled in the blanks for me. The timeline is helpful as well.
This deficiency disease does not exist today but it does in other malnourished countries. We take our rich way of life for granted and this glimpse into a past with poor immigrants is not so long ago. I know that when I go back to see my husband's grandma who is 100 years old, I'm going to ask her about this disease and find out what she has to say. ...more
Told from the viewpoint of 10-year-old, Celeste Marconi, this tale is set in Chile during the 1970s and based on the true story of the assassination oTold from the viewpoint of 10-year-old, Celeste Marconi, this tale is set in Chile during the 1970s and based on the true story of the assassination of a Socialist president and rise of a dictator. Celeste's parents are doctors with a clinic that serves poor people in Valparaiso. When a coup occurs, soldiers take over the city and her school. People start to disappear including teachers, artists, and anyone that supported the previous president. As fear descends over the city like the constant fog from the harbor, Celeste's parents go into hiding. Celeste lives in her home with her grandma and nana. When the soldiers at school hit her friends and neighbors start to go missing, she is sent to live with an aunt in Maine where she starts a new life.
When the dictator loses power after two long years, Celeste goes back to her country to find that much has changed from the hardships and persecution. She is determined to find her parents while the adults in her life caution her against asking questions. Fear is still dominant and enemies can still rise like stay-cat shadows. Covering the span of three years, Celeste changes from a girl with an idyllic childhood to one that cherishes freedoms that come from education and reading. Beautifully written, the character is a bit too perfect for me and the plot could have been tightened. At 450 pages the suffers in spots.
The imagery is gorgeous with the clouds symbolizing Celeste's wandering the globe or daydreaming. Ominous clouds foreshadow the persecution and oppression. Pelicans throughout symbolize freedom and the lighthouse shows how all people are alike no matter where they live in the world. Celeste is told to shine like a lighthouse as a beacon in the midst of evil. The beginning captures the beauty of Valparaiso with its unique smells, tastes, sounds, and steep harbor views. The neighborhood is noisy and jostling with earthquakes and people.
Celeste is a bit too perfect in my book. She always reacts the right way. Even when she is angry, it turns to understanding almost immediately. When characters don't have flaws of any sort, it feels like an adult is speaking and using the character to teach a lesson. There is a fine line between didactic characters and authentic characters and Celeste seemed like a voice-piece for tolerance. It is a good message, don't get me wrong, but without flaws I find this type of character less three-dimensional.
The plot is in three parts beginning in Valparaiso, then Maine, then back to Valparaiso. The bridging of two cultures was interesting but I was not quite as enthralled with the last part. That was when the character does these inspiring things, but Celeste becomes too perfect and people conveniently show up to help her or she gets an idea from a magic stone. Plus the reader knows she's looking for a parent and that she will find him or her because up to this point everything is going her way. Except there were two instances where people disappeared and she couldn't find them. Like I said, it is just the last third that doesn't come together for me.
But then again, there was a nice twist in the third part. What seemed predictable (winning a writing contest) turns into something more. Good writers do that. They go one step further so that what seems predictable is not. The grandma's character is nicely woven as a supporting character. She survived the Holocaust and plays a part in helping Celeste understand persecution and survival. She is a tough shell and has a few surprises up her sleeve. Don't be fooled by her naps. She's very much alive and active.
Most of this story is beautiful and like I said I had a bit of a problem with the end. Unfortunately, that is the part that is the most fresh in my mind so I am being a little more negative than I probably would, if let's say, the middle was the part I didn't like. There are some good messages and many that apply to kids that are outsiders or marginalized for whatever reasons in school. Celeste is teased when she first goes to school in Maine because she doesn't speak English. Later she becomes friends with the kids and says they don't get home cooking because they grow up on frozen foods. I laughed at that generalization.
At school, Celeste is good at math and comments on numbers being easy because English isn't necessary to understand them. This is true with ESL students. Oftentimes they are good at math while their brains try to sort through learning a different language. Also, Celeste is fluent in German and Spanish. It is usually easier for a kid to learn a third language quickly so it is plausible that she got that good in English in a couple of years. It has also been established that she is a keeper-of-words, lugging a notebook around because she loves to write.
She describes missing her home country and family as a "constant ache" and living with one foot in Valparaiso and the other in Maine. I feel like I have three feet. One in Taiwan where I work, one in Minnesota where my parents are, and one in Washington where my grandson lives. Then there is Celeste's aunt that has decided to live in a different country. She has a home there and does not look like she will ever go back to Valparaiso. As Celeste says, "You belong everywhere and nowhere at all." This is a great book for stepping into a different culture and tasting its foods, riding its steep cable cars, smelling its flowers, and meeting its people....more
Alison DeCamp's skewed humor reminds me of the oddball Ole and Lena jokes I heard growing up, you betcha. Eleven-year-old Stan Slater is like dumb OleAlison DeCamp's skewed humor reminds me of the oddball Ole and Lena jokes I heard growing up, you betcha. Eleven-year-old Stan Slater is like dumb Ole and the women, Geri and Granny in particular, are like Lena who tends to be the smart one. Ole and Lena make language mistakes all the time and Stan does too. He's either thinking out loud and scrambling to cover inappropriate comments, an overactive imagination, or doing something dumb. This is more sophisticated than Ole and Lena jokes - part of the fun with those two is using a silly accent and broken English. Here, Stan is trying to come to terms with a dad he thought was dead, but actually abandoned him and his mom right after his birth. He writes imaginary letters to himself from his dad and collects advertisements and images of the time with irreverent captions in a scrapbook adding a comedic depth and flavor of what it was like during 1895.
Stan is like one big, overdramatic exclamation point. He's weird. He's funny. He's annoying. He's sexist. He's outwitted, protected, and bullied by the women in his life. And despite these shortcomings he manages to be endearing. Stan's mother along with his cranky Granny, go to work at a logging camp because they are short on cash. Geri, Stan's cousin, picks on him because he is so easy to scare. She wants to be a doctor and convinces him at several points he has yellow fever, quinsy, or a made-up disease. He falls for it every time. She also plays pranks on him or talks him into doing something stupid. He's an easy target for her and when Stan tries to get her back it backfires. They are the roadrunner and coyote with Stan continually falling off the cliff.
Stan's mom is one of the only woman at camp and has three suitors vying for her affections. She gets a bit frustrated when people keep telling her how to raise Stan. Eventually, she stands up to the well-intentioned advice people dole out ranging from her mother to the lumberjacks. She originally married Stan's dad on the advice of her mom, the evil Granny as Stan likes to call her. He gives her an Evil Rating that drops every time she does something nice for him.
Stan is an unreliable narrator that likes to use the phrase, "I am a whiz at... (fill in the blank). I don't mind saying." He's not a whiz at anything. He's a whiz at getting into trouble and reminds me of a whirligig beetle gyrating in the water. He pees outside the door of the cabin because he doesn't want to go to the outhouse in the cold weather. He decides a lumberjack is his dad because he has blue eyes, whistles, and has a nose like him. He's convinced another lumberjack is a murderer and calls him "Stinky Peter" even though he has been nothing but kind to Stan. He takes comments literally and misunderstands or pretends to misunderstand most of them. When his grandma says it is so cold that the "squirrels wear knickers" he can't believe how unladylike she's being.
Stan wants to be a tough man, but he is the opposite - he's afraid of werewolf stories, wears flowered aprons, scrubs pots, even wears his Granny's sock when his goes missing. When the sock shows up he still wears his granny sock. He wants to find his dad so desperately that he makes up letters written by him by his dad. They have Stan's dad humorously commenting on the women in his life and having adventures around the world as an explorer, outlaw, or cowboy in the Wild West.
Stan reflects the sexist attitudes of the times. He calls Granny "woman" and asks "...where is my chow," then clears his throat and spits. He thinks this is how a man acts. Granny gives him a towel to clean up his spit. He doesn't think girls can be doctors, but when he needs stitches he trusts Geri over a man and he is obsessed with being a manly man. He draws whiskers on his face in hopes of being a man. He sticks his tongue on cold metal horse-head hitching posts. At the height of being a ridiculous "chowderhead," he reveals something introspective and he goes from annoying to endearing. Like letting Geri stitch him up. Or saying he is only being manly so he can understand his father and why he abandoned them. The end shows that he understands being a man means being responsible.
The author plays with writing conventions in an original way that strengthens Stan's unreliable character. Stan struggles with this "thinking-in-your-head business" and never quite gets it right. There are no quotations to signal when Stan is thinking out loud or when he is thinking in his head. A character will answer and that is the clue to the reader that Stan said it out loud. It reinforces the author's point that Stan is an unreliable narrator that because of his inexperience in the world, cannot be believed when he makes observations or statements.
This book reminds me of "Timmy Failure," but instead of graphics drawn by the author there are vintage photos with funny captions reflecting Stan's state of mind. The photos are from his scrapbook, but they give a taste of what the 1800's was like with their goofy advertisements. When Stan muses about men and their beards (and how they all look alike) there is a photo of how to trim your beard a bazillion different ways. When Stan tips the outhouse on an unsuspecting adult there is an advertisement for a toilet mask. Not only is this funny, but it adds greatly to the historical setting in a visual way that I have never seen before in a children's book.
Great slang words, similes, and metaphors bounce throughout the narration. Geri is described as "Her eyebrows squeeze together so tightly it looks like two hairy caterpillars are having a conversation on her forehead." Or "...her voice, as cold as the frost I like to scrape off the windows with my fingernail." Don't be "bamboozled" by the "catwampus" humor because it is not all "balderdash" or "poppycock" but shows hope that a goofy boy can grow up into a decent human being. Stan is a whiz at being dorky. I don't mind saying....more
Neverfell mysteriously shows up at the age of five in the tunnels of the Cheesemaker, Grandible. She lives under a mountain in a place called, "CavernNeverfell mysteriously shows up at the age of five in the tunnels of the Cheesemaker, Grandible. She lives under a mountain in a place called, "Caverna," where people are born with the inability to make faces. They are taught how to show their emotions by learning to make faces, while Neverfell never has control over her face; hers ripples with expressions like wind on water.
Grandible does not want Neverfell to grow up. He wants to keep her cloistered because he enjoys her companionship, intelligence, and lolloping ways. He hasn't prepared her for the outside world and when she meets it she is naive and manipulated. He has her wear a mask and she thinks it is to hide her ugliness, but it is to hide her face. When a rabbit escapes their home, Neverfell's face is exposed to the autocratic world of Caverna and she gets swept up in a court of intrigues full of assassins and usurpers.
This coming-of-age story shows Neverfell not only discovering the world and making her place in it, it shows the parent, Grandible, that won't let go of a child and push him or her toward independence. Because she wasn't prepared she is ill-prepared for the world of courtiers. Grandible is melancholy after she is gone and clearly loves and misses her: "There was no red-haired sprite to scamper along beside him now, her babble as bothersome as an itch." Her character arc goes from the naive, manipulated child that trusts everyone to a young woman that makes decisions to try and control her own destiny.
The world building in Caverna is set up as an autocracy with an authoritarian system in place. People with money can afford to buy "faces"; that is, they are tutored on more than one expression. Drudges are the group of people at the bottom of the economic rung that have the unpleasant or servant jobs that keep the city cogs running smoothly so everyone has water, food, and sanitation; they are the marginalized people that suffer exploitation and injustices. History shows how oppressors try to silence the downtrodden by not letting them read, vote, go to school, etc. In Caverna, this is taken further for Drudges can't even express anger on their faces. They have only one facial look and it reflects obedience and happiness even when they are seething inside. When Neverfell discovers this underworld she becomes disillusioned with Caverna and the Grand Steward thinks it mars her face.
Magic comes in the form of magical cheeses and wines. The cheeses can be like dynamite and their volatility is dangerous. Wine is used to make people forget or as a poison meant to kill. Neverfell has no memory of her time living above ground with a family. She has a form of amnesia and can only remember bits and pieces of the world she came from before she was five when she was found by Grandible floating in a tub of cheese curds. Part of the plot's mystery is her uncovering her past. Other Caverna magic is in light-emitting, human-eating plants that give off oxygen and help keep the air fresh underground. Magic can be good or evil and depends on how it is used by a person. The lunatic Cartographers are mapmakers that study Caverna. If a person listens to a Cartographer too long he or she will go crazy. Hardinge has a djinn for an imagination and does not disappoint as she lets it go full tilt.
The Grand Steward runs the autocracy and his character is like a mixed potion of Alice in Wonderland's Red Queen and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The Grand Steward never sleeps and rests the left or right-side of his brain, literally, every 12 hours. When his right eye is open, the right-side of his brain is logical and clear with his left eye closed and sleeping. Likewise when his left eye is open, the left-side of his brain makes impulsive and unpredictable decisions while his right side sleeps. The two have been at odds with each other for decades and he maintains a constant state of wakefulness to be aware of assassination attempts. The Grand Steward has lost his curiosity of the world and has reigned for five hundred years. When Neverfell becomes his food taster she shows him the world through the eyes of youth where possibilities are infinite and new experiences are like steam rising from a hot spring. He describes his joy when noticing Neverfell's genuine admiration of him and long-forgotten feelings stirred by her smile.
People under the mountain get out of clock or lose track of their night and days suffering from insomnia. "She was out of clock, maybe further out of clock than she had ever been before. She could feel her mind pulling loose like knitting, the neat stitches of her artificial days unraveling to become one mangled thread." They are out of clock with their feelings as well as the relationships the Cavernians have with each other. This is best seen in the budding friendship between the twelve-year-olds, Zouelle and Neverfell. Zouelle only knows how to manipulate and be ruled by fear from adults. She learns how to feel through Neverfell, but more importantly how to trust and be honest. Even though she is offered power, she rejects it because she wants to live in truth, not lies, and have relationships based on love and trust.
The theme of truth and lies has been in every Hardinge book I've read and this one is no different. Caverna is a land of lies and no trust. Neverfell cannot lie and represents truth. Lies corrupt and cause unhappiness. After seeing the Drudges situation, Neverfell needs a facesmith to smooth out her disillusionment or the Grand Steward will kill her. People cannot express how they really feel, but Neverfell can only express what she feels; this makes her a weapon for power in the wrong hands. The Drudges cannot show their outrage at their inhuman treatment. The courtiers cannot show their disagreement with the Grand Steward or they will be killed. Like any autocracy, those that oppose the dictator are killed. Neverfell cannot fake anything. She has to be genuinely convinced that someone will improve the injustices Drudges face every day. The entire society is based on hypocrisy. I didn't think this came together quite as clearly as it could have, but it is implied and readers can make their own conclusions. The lying causes many deaths and gives the tale a dark undercurrent, "...tense calm tipped over into blood and chaos."
Neverfell changes from being manipulated by others to one who takes control of her life leading others. She is more interesting than the hero who has powers handed to him or her without a struggle and then saves the world. Hardinge's characters are flawed and more authentic as a result. They beat seemingly impossible odds like in the hero formula, except they make mistakes, use their brains, have courage, and take risks.
Hardinge uses descriptive titles for characters to make them come alive with verve. The Kleptomancer is a thief who disappears like the best of wizards. Neverfell, a girl that always falls into trouble, lives in a world like Neverland. Childersin uses children. Madam Appeline, sounds like Madeline pronounced the French way, Mad-Leen (and yes, she is a bit mad). Grandible, the cheesemaker, makes the grandest, most edible cheeses that are dangerous and can explode. Facesmiths are like blacksmiths except they teach others to make faces. Caverna is like a character rather than a city described with stalactites as teeth.
This narrative is a simmering pot of similes and metaphors. "Zouelle had forgotten how tiring it was listening to a Neverfell at full pace, like being bludgeoned with exclamation marks." "She lay there with her eyes closed as if sleep were a shy creature that might venture out if she played dead. But every time it seemed to be drawing closer, some loud thought would crash and blunder through the undergrowth, putting it to flight." That is a good description of me trying to sleep during the mad month of May. You teachers know exactly what I'm talking about. Take flight with Hardinge's imagination and get bludgeoned by her figurative language. It's worth it....more