Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Muddling Through April (& a Junior Fiction Update)

Like the last banquet table to be dismissed for the buffet line, so has my family stumbled upon Spring Break.  I was seriously starting to think it might never come, but oh how we needed it!  I'm sure you all can relate.  Our plans for our time off changed at the last minute due to some rainy days blanketing much of the West Coast - instead of visiting friends in Idaho, we are getting some R&R at my parents' house in Northern California and a last-minute jaunt to Napa for my husband and I (which, unsurprisingly, is still gorgeous even when overcast).  Here's to good food, good wine [and of course some good books] for a day or two!

On the reading front, ten days into April and I've read 3 of the 15 books on my Junior Fiction/Newbery Award Challenges, as well as Watership Down, which was delightful. 

For a book that I've been supposed to read since I was 13 and avoided conscientiously - afraid that it would be the drab, dry twin of Wind in the Willows (which, to be fair, I should probably give another chance) - this book was surprisingly entertaining and refreshing. After taking a little while to understand who everyone was, (I started it on audio, trying to multi-task, and ended up having to start over and make a character chart,) it was not only smooth sailing, it had me hooked: I looked for any opportunity to sit down and find out more about Hazel and Fiver.  It was adventure mixed with life and lore; a well-imagined world.

In the end, I loved this story. It was continually exciting and interesting, and the rabbits were endearing (rather than creepy). The writing was well-paced and well-written - all-around a good experience. I immediately began forcing it upon my 13 year-old son...hopefully it won't take him as long to get to as it did me! (4.5 stars)

While in the process of reading Watership Down, I blew through a book that I actually did read when I was 13ish.  I remember looooving this book.  It understood me like no person could - indeed, Katherine Paterson (author of the much-loved Bridge to Terabithia) understood just how misunderstood I was.

As an adult, I feel like I do a pretty good job remembering what it was like to be young - as far as all the emotional turmoil goes - and yet rereading this book made me feel far removed. Sure, Louise's grandmother is cruel, her twin is either shallow or simply self-absorbed, and her parents were a bit clueless, but why on earth didn't Louise do anything to help herself?  She let jealousy and frustration cloud her life, and it was sad to watch.

I remember feeling a huge relief regarding the ending of this book as a young teen...I saw it as an example of how a life can be turned around. It gave me hope.  What an interesting reread.  If you have a contemplative, quiet, creative young lady in your life I'd recommend this book, but as an adult it wasn't so great. (3 stars)

I actually gave my 13 year-old son the right to choose which book I would start with, and he chose Rascal.  He's read a fair portion of the books on my list, and he's my deep-thinking reader, so I was interested to see what I'd find in his top recommendation.  This was a surprising diversion from the typical fictional fare.  In fact, it is a memoir/autobiography of a year in the author's life when he had the pleasure to be friends with a raccoon.

It's a rather nostalgic and contemplative read, and perfect for readers of any age who long for the days when kids had more freedom to explore nature.  WWI and the Spanish Influenza made it not so much a simpler time, but it did seem to be so through Sterling's eyes.  Surrounded by nature, if not a proper family, he had the opportunity to experience life, complete with joys and sorrows.

One of the things that Andrew (my 13 year-old) loved about this book was that it was all real.  It's a picture of days gone by, and when the author's dad reminisces about falling in love with an Indian girl, you are getting a glimpse of  an even older world dying away.   It's comparatively slow, but it's full of feeling and remembering, tying the ages together. (3.5 stars)

Just today I closed the covers of Princess Academy - a book that caught my eye back when it was published 5 years ago.  Like Cynthia Voigt or Gail Carson Levine, Shannon Hale easily and realistically creates a land such reminiscent of  Cinderella, complete with any young girl's yearning for beauty and love, just as she did in The Goose Girl.

Miri is growing up, and longing more than ever to know that her dad loves her.  But he's a closed book - has been since her mom died after Miri's birth - and the surprise edict forcing her away from her home to train as a possible princess does nothing to answer her confusing emotions.

I can't imagine a boy getting much out of this book, but for a girl who's ever loved The Twelve Dancing Princesses or Sleeping Beauty, who has ever dreamed of the perfection of a fairy-tale ending, there's ever so much to love here.  (4 stars)

On my nightstand I've got others from my Junior Lit challenges: the photobiography about Lincoln, Cosmic (to make me smile), and Mary, Bloody Mary for a trip into history.  Only 12 more to go to complete my 2012 challenge!


  1. At this point in time, I am living vicariously through you and your reading life. I am in a sea of turmoil and I cannot tell you how badly I need to disappear into a good book. Please hold a good thought for me.

  2. I have been wanting some good reads from 3 stars to 4 and I think your blog has interesting book reviews that just holds everyone's attention. I would love to read some books that you recommended :) Thank you.

  3. What a fun post to read! And I'm so glad you enjoyed Watership Down. (I never made it through Wind in the Willows as a child because it seemed insipid--I wonder if I would appreciate it as an adult). For me, the better comp for Watership is more like Lord of the Rings, because despite the smaller scale, it is relatively an epic quest for those rabbits.

    It's funny what we think of books when we re-read them as adults. Sometimes it's impossible to separate the nostalgia from the critical response, but it sounds like you didn't have that issue at all.

  4. Melody, sometimes you have to recommend a book strongly to your kids. :) Once they bite, they swallow it whole.

    Belle, thinking of you.

  5. I'm glad you enjoyed Watership Down! I'm totally planning to read it this spring, I just... haven't really gotten to it yet! But your saying nice things about it definitely encourages me to pick it up :)

  6. Aw, Belle, I'm thinking about you a lot! :) I know how hard it is to not be able to sink into a book when you really need to, but you can do it! (like in Finding Nemo...just keep swimming, just keep swimming...) In a few months you'll be telling me what's what.

    Chloe, I hope you find something to interest you! A good book can take you on such a grand adventure. :) Happy reading!

    Emily, I'm glad I'm not the only one who was unimpressed w/Wind in the Willows! I told my 13yo that you compared Watership Down to LOTR and we struck a deal: he reads Watership and I'll read Fellowship. :) (I read the first 50 pp or so in high school and quit, but he's read and loved the whole series, so I suppose I must give it another shot.) As for Paterson's book, it was really an interesting experience. Most books that I've reread I have loved even more than when I was young, but not so with this one. Funny enough, the same thing just happened (with the same book) to a girl in my book club. Wonder why this one is so different than others?

    Heidi, thank s for the advice! I've already acted on it. :) Sometimes I'm too understanding, but I'm coming to realize the value of a good parental push.

    Laura, it was incredibly enjoyable. It was one of those that I kept wondering why it was so good, but I don't know if I've figured that out precisely. Just a good combination of talented writing and storytelling. I hope you enjoy it!


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