sprite writes
broodings from the burrow

June 28, 2012

day tripper, i’ll follow the sun, and take me out to the ballgame
posted by soe 11:26 pm

I’m still picking salt and sand out of my hair, but Thursday is waning, so I’ll post first and then shower.

Three beautiful things from my past week:

1. Rudi and I took the day off to head to the beach. It was our first time visiting Bethany Beach on a weekday, and the vibe is much more laid back than on the weekend. We picnicked on fresh fish sandwiches, played in the surf, read as we dried off, and played tag with the tide. (It won the first round, but we were victorious in the next two.) The sky was blue, the humidity was low, and if it was in the 90s, the beach is the ideal place to weather that kind of … weather. After we changed out of our suits, we bought ice cream cones and ate them as we walked along the boardwalk before heading back south.

2. The drive home across Delaware and the Eastern Shore is to the west, which meant we were chasing a large glowing orb for the first half of the trip. Because the skies were clear, the color changes associated with the sunset were particularly lovely.

3. I spent Monday night at the ballpark, but at a different one than usual. I headed out to Bowie to catch the Baysox, the Orioles’ AA affiliate, play the Redding Phillies. It’s been a decade since I’ve seen a minor league game, and I had forgotten how enjoyable they are. It was dog night, so my aisle-mates included a white husky with different colored eyes; the passel of children sitting behind me reminded me of the Peanuts gang with their chatter; my seat was in the seventh row, behind home plate; and the Baysox won (three RBIs off two homers). The stadium employees were all pleasant, and the stadium itself features a carousel. Plus, I got to have a tasty stadium dinner of a veggie burger, tasty fries, and pink cotton candy.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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into the stacks: my father’s dragon
posted by soe 2:07 am

My Father’s Dragon, by Ruth Stiles Gannett

From the jacket Powells: “When Elmer Elevator hears about the plight of an overworked and underappreciated baby flying dragon, he stows away on a ship and travels to Wild Island to rescue the dragon.”

My take: Another of the kids’ books from our readalong, this is one I’d never heard of, but which, from page 1, I wanted to have read aloud to me. Since that wasn’t happening, I read it aloud to Jeremiah, who seemed awed and a little concerned that I was whispering to him for a prolonged period of time in the middle of the night. He did not find the story engrossing and, I am sad to say, hopped down before we’d reached the end.

I do not think a child would hop down.

The story focuses on the narrator’s father, Elmer Elevator, who rescues an alley cat, who, in turn, tells Elmer about a blue and yellow striped baby dragon. Held prisoner by the animals of Wild Island, he is forced to ferry them back and forth across a river. The cat assures Elmer that if he were to rescue the dragon, it would be sure to let him fly on its back.

With a backpack full of useful items, like magnifying glasses, rubber bands, and lollipops, Elmer stows away on a ship. When he finally reaches Wild Island, he finds that he will need all his cunning and common sense to outwit the animals who want to eat him and to reach the baby dragon.

Similar in feel to Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories and The Jungle Book, this would make a worthy addition to any library of books to read aloud to children. I’d probably say kindergarten through second grade, because I think any younger and the length and the threat of being devoured might be too much. Plus, in that age range, they’d be able to enjoy the beautifully illustrated map featured on the end papers of the book.

If you’d like to sample this 1949 Newbery Honor book, the complete text is available online through UPenn‘s digital library collection.

Pages: 87

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June 27, 2012

into the stacks: the enchantress
posted by soe 2:05 am

Once upon a Time Reading Challenge VIThe Enchantress, by Michael Scott

From the jacket: “The two that are one must become the one that is all. One to save the world, one to destroy it…. Today the battle for the world will be won or lost. But will the twins of legend stand together? Or will they stand apart — one to save the world and one to destroy it?”

My take: In my review of The Warlock, the penultimate book in the Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel series, last year, I wrote that I was having a hard time figuring out how to review the book without giving away spoilers. That remains true in the final book.

Let me say this: The battle to save mankind is being fought on two fronts. The first is in modern-day San Francisco, where alchemyst Nicholas Flamel and his wife, the enchantress Perenelle, are fighting side-by-side with Billy the Kid, Black Hawk, and Machiavelli to prevent mythic beasts from reaching land and devouring the city’s residents. Swordsman Niten and Prometheus are fighting more bad guys on the Golden Gate Bridge. They all are badly outnumbered and losing energy quickly.

The second is in Danu Talis, the famed Atlantis, ten thousand years ago. Josh and Sophie, the golden and silver twins, tumbled back through a leygate with Virginia Dare and John Dee to an eventful moment on the mythical island — the moment when history dictates the island nation is supposed to undergo a revolution that brings a close to the golden age of the Elders and allows mankind to rise to the fore. Will the twins get help or hindrance in their quest from the surprising presence of so many familiar faces? Will they rise to fulfill their destiny? Will humanity win out?

I also wrote in my last review that I was surprised Scott was opting to end the series in six books as it felt like they had a lot of ground to cover still and a lot of open storylines to wrap up. That feeling also did not change as I was reading this novel.

As with the whole series, viewpoints shift from chapter to chapter, bouncing between the two settings in an ever increasingly tense ping pong game. The stakes are high, and there are a lot of characters we are invested in, offering us no relief until turning the final page (if then) in terms of settling everyone’s fate. Unfortunately, it occasionally felt like the pressure of answering all the questions meant that the answers were a little thin and might not hold up to closer scrutiny.

As with all the novels, there are a couple of surprise twists, and Scott’s easy-going writing style does speed you along through a lot of action. If it was not the great ending I had hoped for from a truly enjoyable series of books, it was still a good and mostly satisfying one. If you enjoy compelling YA fantasy series, I recommend you head out and pick up the first book in the series, The Alchemyst.

Pages: 517

This book fills the mythology category of the Once upon a Time VI reading challenge.

This review also concludes my participation in the challenge. I did not get around to watching A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but I did read and enjoy four books in the genres of mythology, fairy tale, folklore, and general fantasy between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. I shall count that as a successful accomplishment of Quest the Second.

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June 26, 2012

into the stacks: sideways stories from wayside school
posted by soe 12:33 am

Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar

From the jacket: “Maybe you should go to Wayside School. You’ll meet Bebe, the fastest draw in art class; John, who only reads upside down; and Sammy, the new kid — he’s a real rat. Come on! Hurry up! If you’re late for class, Mrs. Gorf will turn you into an app… Oops. Sorry about that.”

My take: An amusing collection of short anecdotes about the eclectic children in the class on the top floor of a school accidentally built vertically, rather than horizontally. Not one person who enters this classroom is normal. Not from their first teacher, Mrs. Gorf, who turns “unruly” children into apples, to her replacement, Mrs. Jewls, who does deals with problem kids in a more creative way (although she will send them home on the half-day bus if they persist in being disciplinary problems). And not from John, who can only read when the writing is wrong-side up, to Kathy, who doesn’t like anyone.

Written by Louis Sachar, the author of Holes, the Sideways Stories are definitely aimed at a younger audience than his award-winning novel. Each section — one per person — is roughly three pages long, and each one points out that the school occupants are just as skewed as the building. I was surprised that the book dates back to 1978, because it feels modern in both style and content, so I don’t think kids would think twice about reading this.

I imagine third- and fourth-grade boys who feel the teacher has it out for them might find this book particularly enjoyable. Perhaps it’s something for those kids who aren’t quite ready for the Wimpy Kid books.

I will add that while I thought the book was cute and enjoyable for what it was, it’s the first of the books I’ve read off the top 100 children’s books list from the School Library Journal that I might have omitted.

Pages: 124

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June 24, 2012

into the stacks: love that dog
posted by soe 11:02 pm

Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech

From the jacket: “This is the story of Jack/who finds his voice/with the help of/paper/pencil/teacher/and/dog.”

My take: In this spare, but evocative book we get a year’s worth of Jack’s weekly poetry assignments from his elementary school teacher, Miss Stretchberry. He starts out short, objecting to the assignment, claiming that a) as a boy, he doesn’t write poetry, and b) he has nothing to say. But by the end of September, he’s responding to the poems being read aloud and answering questions raised by his teacher about his previous work. By the end of October, he’s letting her post his poems on their class bulletin board, but only if she promises not to put his name on them.

As the year progresses, Jack’s comfort with expressing himself with his poetry grows, as does his willingness to allow others know he’s writing it. Miss Stretchberry forces him to dig deep and face fears and leave his comfort zone — and, in the process, gives him the tools to share universal truths.

Creech is a talented writer, because all we get are poems from Jack’s perspective. We aren’t getting his teacher’s comments or his classmates’ reactions. We’re just getting Jack — with comments to his teacher in poetic form or responses to the poetry read that week in class or with thoughts on his life. And yet, within that strict, constrained form, Jack (and Creech) manages to say so much and touch us so deeply. (Thinking about it that way reminds me of the sonnet scene between Meg and Mrs Whatsit in A Wrinkle in Time.)

This was another of the remaining books I had left to read from the 2010 list of top 100 children’s books from the School Library Journal.

Pages: 86 (plus ten or so pages of the published poetry Miss Stretchberry uses in class)

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June 23, 2012

into the stacks: spindle’s end
posted by soe 2:55 am

Once upon a Time Reading Challenge VISpindle’s End, by Robin McKinley

From the jacket: “All the creatures of the forest and field and riverbank knew the infant was special. She was the princess, spirited away from the evil fairy Pernicia on her name-day. But the curse was cast: Some unknown time in the future Rosie would prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and fall into a poisoned sleep from which no one could rouse her.”

My take: In this feminist retelling of the Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, author Robin McKinley takes the power away from the prince and puts it squarely in the hands of the cursed princess.

Rosie can remember no other life before coming to live with Aunt and Katriona, two fairies living in a remote corner of the kingdom. Aunt, she has been told, came and fetched her when her parents died suddenly just a week after Katriona returned home from an ill-fated naming ceremony of the year-old princess. She has lived with the two of them ever since, running in the forest, hanging out with the local iron monger, and conversing with the local animals — a rare gift, even among families with fairies in it as strong as her aunt and cousin.

What they have not told her is that she is not their kin, but the nation’s princess in hiding. Katriona, in fact, ran off with her in the minutes after a dark fairy capped off a list of useless fairy godparent gifts (following the trend of long eyelashes and extraordinary embroidery skill) with a death threat. Aided by the animals of the land, who assist her in finding milk, Katriona drags the baby across the kingdom, taking three months to lug Rosie home to her aunt.

Believing their princess to be in a secure location with her mother and aided by a bit of glamourizing magic, the townfolk have no reason to doubt Rosie is who the fairies say she is (although a few nastily suggest Katriona might be the girl’s mother, rather than her cousin). And neither does Rosie, who grows up independent, self-confident, and capable, generally unfettered by the gifts her godparents gave her so many years before.

That is until the final year before the princess and Rosie turn 21, the age by which Pernicia swears she will be killed. With the kingdom seemingly under attack by negative magic and its people desperate for the heir to the throne to appear, Rosie’s past is about to knock on her door and throw her life into disarray. And that’s provided she isn’t murdered by a magical curse first.

Spindle’s End is one of those stories where you’re glad to have read it nearly as soon as it begins. The core elements of the original story remain intact — princess, fairies, evil, spindle, ignorance, sleep, briars, a “prince” and his “kiss” to awaken the main character, and buckets of true love — but it is made real by a three-generation cast of kick-ass women, several pretty awesome guys, and communicative animals, as well as a quest to keep things lively.

If you have read any of McKinley’s other works, I highly suggest this one as their equal. If you have read and enjoyed other feminist retellings, such as Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon or The Firebrand, I think this is far less convoluted a retelling and gets its pro-girl message across without throwing out the contributions of men to society and the story. If you have a daughter or a granddaughter or a friend or a self in need of reminding just how capable and wonderful they can be solely by being who they are, then sit them down with a copy of this book right now. They’ll thank you for it.

Pages: 422

This book fills the fairy tale category of the Once upon a Time VI reading challenge.

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