Showing posts with label middle grade. Show all posts
Showing posts with label middle grade. Show all posts

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Book Review: A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle



Title: A Wrinkle In Time
Author: Madeleine L'Engle
Original Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux
Original Publication Date: January 1962
Source: won from Shannon at Giraffe Days

Plot Summary from Goodreads:

It was a dark and stormy night; Meg Murry, her small brother Charles Wallace, and her mother had come down to the kitchen for a midnight snack when they were upset by the arrival of a most disturbing stranger. 

"Wild nights are my glory," the unearthly stranger told them. "I just got caught in a downdraft and blown off course. Let me be on my way. Speaking of way, by the way, there is such a thing as a tesseract".

Meg's father had been experimenting with this fifth dimension of time travel when he mysteriously disappeared. Now the time has come for Meg, her friend Calvin, and Charles Wallace to rescue him. But can they outwit the forces of evil they will encounter on their heart-stopping journey through space?


My Review:

Remember Banned Book Week not so long ago?  During that celebration, I won a giveaway hosted by Shannon over at Giraffe Days.  She was giving away one banned book of the winner's choice.  I couldn't decide, so I sent Shannon a list of 3 finalists and asked her to surprise me with one.  So you know what she did?  She sent me ALL THREE.  Like a BOSS.  And A Wrinkle In Time was one of them.  (The other two are The Color Purple and Flowers for Algernon...reviews to come!)

In the end, moral of the story?  Shannon is awesome, and so is this book.

I know I'm probably, at the age of 29, the last person in my generation to read this.  Which makes me sad, because I wish I could have experienced A Wrinkle In Time at the age of 10!  Remembering my love for Matilda, The Phantom Tollbooth, and the like, I know this would have made an impression on my little brain.  But instead, I enjoyed it as an adult, and that will have to be enough.  Fantasy is not my preferred genre nowadays, but I think middle-grade fantasy has a lot more to offer, because it's written to an audience that can appreciate it with more innocent eyes.

What did I love about this book the most?  The deeper meanings!  There are so many, and they made it pretty clear why this book is often taught in schools.  Good wins over evil.  You can get help from others, but sometimes you have to do things yourself--even if they're hard.  Freedom requires more choices and effort, but is better than settling for conformity:

"'You mean you're comparing our lives to a sonnet?  A strict form, but freedom within it?'
'Yes,' Mrs. Whatsit said.  'You're given the form, but you have to write the sonnet yourself.  What you say is completely up to you.'"

As a whole, the book is allegorical without feeling overly preachy.

The sci-fi aspects of it were a tad confusing, so I could see that being a little hard for kids to get through.  But the idea of "tessering" (the method of time-travel used in the book) is explained easily enough that the other information (about first, second, third, fourth, and fifth dimensions...phew) doesn't need to be understood well in order to follow the plot.

I was a little surprised at the religious undertones throughout the book, especially because it is taught so widely in schools.  However, I wouldn't say this is a strictly Christian novel.  Yes, there are a few quoted Bible verses, and some of the characters are clearly meant to represent the devil, or angels, or maybe even God, but it's written in a way that I think other religions could easily input their own belief systems within the lessons of the text.  I think it teaches you to have faith and love--but it doesn't tell you that there is one right way to do that.  AWIT has often been banned for being too religious, or (on the flip side) anti-Christian, and I think it's silly to pin the book that way when what's it really teaching kids is to be NICE to each other and BELIEVE in themselves.  I don't think that's very threatening, do you?

One final note, about the characters.  Meg, the main character, is pretty great, but her younger brother Charles Wallace is awesome.  I want to take that kid home and just hug him.  Or maybe name my second-born after him, I don't know.  Either way, he is a very precocious little five-year-old, and his dialogue was so much fun to read.  Definitely going on my list of all-time favorite literary characters.

So, overall, A Wrinkle In Time gets a big thumbs-up from me.  It's truly timeless--nothing in the book let on to the fact that it was written 50 years ago.  It manages to be entertaining, fantastical, and thoughtful at the same time.  I wish Small Fry was old enough to read it now, but you can bet I'll be putting it in his hands in about 9 years or so.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!: Fave Scary Reads

Happy Halloween, readers!  I have had a great time delving into some spooky and thrilling reads this month, in honor of this ever-so-eerie day.

Since college, I haven't focused much on the horror genre (or at least not more than any other genre).  But when I was in middle and high school, that was almost the only thing I read.  Looking back on it, I'm kind of amazed that my middle school Reading and Language Arts teachers never marched me to the school counselor's office.  All I read was Fear Street, and all the stories I wrote involved murder, suicide, and death in general.  'Twas a different era, I suppose.  Thanks for trusting that I wasn't a psycho, teachers!

Nowadays, I still love to pepper my reading with scary books.  Books give me enough of a scare-factor that I feel sufficiently creeped out, but they don't overload me with horrifying special effects and gore the way the movies do.  The beauty of reading is that you can visualize and focus on the plot elements at your own pace, in your own head.  They can still freak me the eff out, but it's easier to walk away if I need a breather.  This is what keeps scary books on my TBR list.

Thus, in honor of the awesomeness that is Halloween, I'm highlighting some of my all-time favorite scary reads, from my dark days as a horror-writing youngster to now.

The Scary Stories books by Alvin Schwartz

I had all three of these books in elementary school, and they are still scaring the pants off me to this day.  The stories themselves are straight-up frightening, but paired with the pictures?  They're like the visual equivalent of The Ring.  GAHHH!  In hindsight, I can't believe these were marketed to fourth graders.  Do kids still read these, or have they been banned because the children of the 80's showed too much mental damage?

Christopher Pike teen novels

When I hit middle school, Christopher Pike and RL Stine were my homeboys.  I would read any Fear Street you threw at me.  But in terms of the scare factor, Pike always won out.  Stine's books were always a little campy and predictable, but Christopher Pike went straight for the gritty, gory, sex- and drug-infested teenage horror story.  Again, probably a bit much for my 11-year-old self.  But these books still stick with me as awesome reads.  Chain Letter was one of my faves.

Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child

I have no idea why I took this book out of the library in middle school.  Apparently I wandered into the adult section and ended up with this at random.  I read it three times, and every time I didn't sleep for days.  If you've seen the movie (with Julianne Moore), it's kind of cheesy.  But the book was no joke.  Now remember--I was in middle school.  It might not be so scary to me now.  But back then, the crazy Amazonian beast roaming the halls of the Natural History Museum was a nightmare.  I still think about it every time I visit the AMNH in New York.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi

What's scarier than nonfiction horror?  This is the story of Charles Manson and the Manson murders, in full and disgusting detail.  I read this in high school (came strongly recommended by my MOM...and I wonder why I was drawn to horror novels).  If you like true crime, this is the ultimate.

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

As an adult, Stephen King is my horror master.  I've read a ton of his stuff, but Pet Sematary might be tops on the list for me in terms of fright.  A family moves into a new house, and discovers an ancient burial ground in the woods behind it.  It contains powers that are beyond the imagination--and of course, those powers are abused accordingly.  Burial ground + dead pets + little kids = totally twisted.

What were your scary favorites throughout the years?

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Book Review: Coraline by Neil Gaiman


Title: Coraline
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: August 4, 2002
Source: received from Cass in the All Hallow's Read book swap!

Plot Summary from Goodreads:


Coraline's often wondered what's behind the locked door in the drawing room. It reveals only a brick wall when she finally opens it, but when she tries again later, a passageway mysteriously appears. Coraline is surprised to find a flat decorated exactly like her own, but strangely different. And when she finds her "other" parents in this alternate world, they are much more interesting despite their creepy black button eyes. When they make it clear, however, that they want to make her theirs forever, Coraline begins a nightmarish game to rescue her real parents and three children imprisoned in a mirror. With only a bored-through stone and an aloof cat to help, Coraline confronts this harrowing task of escaping these monstrous creatures.


My Review:

When I was filling out my preferences for the All Hallow's Read swap (courtesy of My Friend Amy's blog), I had a hard time summing up what type of book I preferred.  I love Stephen King, but I've read a ton of it.  Some crime thrillers are great for me, but others fall terribly flat.  I've read 1 Neil Gaiman novel, want to try more, but not sure what.

Well, turns out that lucky me was paired with Cass from Bonjour, Cass!, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a copy of Coraline in my mailbox.  New-to-me Gaiman, but a middle-grade novella--very different from my previously-read (and loved) Neverwhere.  Plus, I haven't seen the movie, so the plot was entirely unknown to me.  I was intrigued!

Coraline is a short read, but it instantly transported me back to fifth grade, when I adored Roald Dahl's Matilda (and probably re-read it 10 times that year alone).  If you've read both books, you might think that's an odd comparison, but I actually see many similarities.  Two young, brave heroines, using their fantastical worlds to their advantage to outsmart the wily adults that rival them.  No wonder my long-repressed fifth-grade-self was awakened!  I think Matilda and Coraline would get along quite well, in fact.  And have many stories to share.  (Plus, they're both Brits, so hometown advantage.)

However, the obvious difference between these two books is the scare factor.  While Matilda does have its moments (that Miss Trunchbull was a bear), Coraline is written with the Gaiman creepiness that I easily recognized from the adult-focused Neverwhere--and actually, there were several plot points that seemed to mirror things I read in the adult novel.  For example, the corridor between Coraline's flat and "other mother's" flat reminded me very much of the Night's Bridge in Neverwhere.  And the constant appearance of rats = Neverwhere's Rat Speakers.

Gaiman does not set out to ruin our children's psyches though.  In Coraline, there is less full-on fright, and more of an underlying sense of creepiness.  An uneasy atmosphere, created through the disconcerting imagery he provides.  The black button eyes?  The long-nailed white hands?  The quiet-but-always-watching rats?  None of these things are downright terrifying on their own (okay, maybe the eyes.  That was creepy), but taken all together, they provide just enough discomfort to make your spine tingle.

A bit more about Coraline herself.  What a precocious and amusing character!  Some of her interactions with her parents made me laugh quite a bit:
"'I didn't think you played with your dolls anymore,' said Mrs. Jones.
'I don't,' admitted Coraline.  'They're protective coloration.'
'Well, be back in time for lunch,' said her mother." (p 153)

And much like the hero-children I mentioned in Stephen King novels, her young innocence and wisdom are what lead her to triumph over her more senior foes.  (Page 20: "Coraline wondered why so few of the adults she had met made any sense.  She sometimes wondered who they thought they were talking to."  Parents just don't understand, y'all.)

I've nearly gone on here as long as the novella itself.  Can you tell I enjoyed it?  This was truly a book that transported me, mentally, back to my elementary- and middle-school reading years.  It is perfectly creepy enough for Halloween, and the eerie feel of Gaiman's other work shines through.  But Coraline's personality adds a lightness that makes this perfect for younger readers. 

(They might still have nightmares about the black button eyes though.  I'm not making any guarantees there.  Yick.)

Check out some other reviews of Coraline:
On A Book Bender
Reading Lark
The Cheap Reader
On The Wings of Books

What recent reads remind you of your childhood favorites?
 
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