Wendy Archibald

Archive for the ‘Children’s’ Category

The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall

In Children's, Jeanne Birdsall, Reviews on July 17, 2011 at 2:16 pm

I picked up my copy of The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy (by Jeanne Birdsall) used, at Goodwill or a garage sale. It’s been sitting on my shelf for almost two years, waiting until the perfect moment to be read.

This weekend brought the perfect moment.

I was in the mountains with my extended family for a family reunion. We gathered at my grandparents’ cabin and renewed our bonds with each other by splitting into groups and re-making Johnny Lingo. In our downtime, we went boating and rode the jet skis. I enjoy going on the boat and jet skis occasionally, but it’s not my favorite thing. I was content to let everyone else have a turn and only headed out when one of my kids begged me to take them on a ride.

Instead, I would relax on the deck and visit with aunts, uncles, cousins, and/or their children. Or else I would read.

Thus arose the perfect moment to read about Rosalind, Skye, Jane, and Batty Penderwick. I loved them from the first page. Ms. Birdsall’s writing reminds me very much of Elizabeth Enright (Thimble Summer, Gone Away Lake) and Maud Hart Lovelace (The Betsy-Tacy books) and yet is still fresh and modern.

Even better, she has two other Penderwick books already written! I can’t wait to discover them.

This is definitely going on the ‘read-aloud’ list.

 

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Heartbeat by Sharon Creech

In Children's, Reviews on February 8, 2010 at 5:53 pm

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This book, just like that last one I reviewed, resonated with me.

Unlike the last book, though, the cast of characters is simple and it only took me an hour (or so) to read.

Sharon Creech has another book out, Love That Dog, that I also love and that’s written in a similar style to this one.

 Heartbeat is almost a long poem. The way Ms. Creech used the rhythm of the narrative poem, along with the words, truly made the book seem to have a heartbeat. I didn’t notice it while I was reading it, though, as much as afterwards. When I thought about the book, I seemed to think about it in a foot-pounding, heart-beating rhythm.

It’s hard to explain, and I think if I tried I wouldn’t get it right anyway, but she told such a perfect story in such few words, tying together running, art, family, friendship, aging, birthing, and eating an apple into a beautiful circle.

Just thinking about it makes me want to draw a picture (because I don’t run).

Summerland by Michael Chabon

In Children's, Fantasy, Reviews on February 8, 2010 at 5:42 pm

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I realize I’ve been neglecting this blog. What can I say? Stuff happens, and I’ve had a lot of ‘stuff’ that has happened to me throughout the past ten months that hasn’t been all that pleasant and didn’t exactly fit into my life plan. Which, interestingly enough, is one of the reasons I ended up liking this book so much.

Don’t get me wrong: this book is weird. It isn’t my normal fare, and I didn’t understand a lot of it. (There’s some part of my brain that shuts down after 12 different kinds of magical creatures are introduced. I can’t help it. So the shmucks put into the story after that get quickly dropped into ‘supporting cast’ and I hope for the best.) However, I think one of the great tests of a book is how it resonates. This book completely resonated with me.

Ethan Feld is our hero, a 10- or 11- or 12-year-old boy who lives alone with his father on an island off of Washington state. His mother died a year previously, so they moved from Colorado to a property where his dad had the space to perfect the mini-zeppelins he had invented. Anyway, the book goes on (and on and on–it’s pretty long) where Ethan–who is not really very good at baseball–is the champion needed to save this world along with the three others that are connected to it. In the end, it comes down to (you guessed it!) a baseball game.

There’s a lot more to it than that, of course, but the part I liked the most is near the end. Ethan can’t find any of his friends and he seems surrounded by evil henchmen (although I guess they would actually be called ‘henchwolves’ and other things like that, since they weren’t men) and he is completely exhausted. In his hands, he holds the last thing that keeps the four worlds from collapsing, a baseball bat carved from The Tree. He tries not to fall asleep, but he’s just so very tired.

It’s this moment when Coyote (the bad guy) sends in his weapon: the ghost of Ethan’s mother. She’s crying, and she comes to Ethan, and this is what happens:

“Her sobbing ceased, then, though its ghost or echo shook her frail body from time to time. He could feel the bones through her skin, just as he had when she lay dying in the hospital in Colorado Springs, those hollow angel bones of hers. The sweetness of that bitter memory, of her embrace, of holding her again and hearing her voice, filled his heart so full that all the old healed places in it were broken all over again. And in that moment he felt–for the first time that optomistic and cheerful boy allowed for himself to feel–how badly made life was, how flawed. No matter how richly furnished you made it, with all the noise and variety of Something, Nothing always found a way in, seeped through the cracks and patches.”

Just as Ethan is about to give in and hand the bat over to his mother, it catches on an injured part of his hand. The pain wakes him up enough to realize that it isn’t really his mother, simply La Llorona posing as her. Ethan yanks the bat back and she goes away, and then this:

“The grief of his mother’s death was returned to him, then; it resumed its right and familiar place: a part of life, a part of the story of Ethan Feld, a part of the world that was, after all, a world of stories, tragic and delightful, and, on the whole, very much the better for it. The memory of Dr. Victoria Jean Kummerman Feld was Something, unalterably Something, a hodag’s egg that no amount of Nothing could ever hope to touch or dissolve.”

The writing is completely mesmerizing, and I think the resonance comes because that beautiful writing and that complicated story have, at the core, truth. There were so many truths for me, at this time of my life. The truth that life is full of tragic and delightful parts; the truth that even when you feel inadequate you still need to give it the best you’ve got; the truth of good friends; the truth that painful experiences become a part of our own personal stories and that without them the story isn’t the same; and the truth that sometimes pain gives us the power to do what we need to do.

Read this book. See if it resonates with you.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians by Rick Riordan

In Children's, Fantasy, Reviews on March 4, 2009 at 11:42 pm

This is actually a four book series, with the fifth coming out in May, I think. A couple of book club friends recommended them to me, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Perseus Jackson seems to be a magnet for trouble. Between dyslexia and ADHD, school has never been his thing, and he tends to be kicked out of whatever school he’s attending before a year is through. When he turns twelve, the most strange thing of all happens: while on a field trip, one of his teachers turns into a harpy and tries to kill him. Percy is saved by another teacher who throws him a ballpoint pen.

Okay, I realize this sounds confusing. But trust me. Riordan is a great writer and I had no trouble at all suspending my disbelief. Loosely based on various myths and gods, Percy soon discovers his father is Posiedon. From there, he has to battle various mythological monsters–who turn out not to be myths.

One note: there is some mild profanity in book three.

Recommended for ages 8 and up.

 

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson

In Children's, Fantasy, Reviews on February 3, 2009 at 3:20 pm

Alcatraz Smedry has a problem. Well, he has lots of problems, actually, but his biggest one seems to be breaking everything he touches. He’s been that way his entire life, bouncing from one foster home to another, “cared for” by his slightly snide case worker, Ms. Fletcher. On his thirteenth birthday, Alcatraz receives a gift in the mail from his parents.

Wait a minute. If Alcatraz has parents, why is he living in a foster home?

That question and many others are answered  in this wonderful “fantasy” book by Brandon Sanderson. From breaking things to arriving late to tripping on nothing at all, many talents are used to thwart the evil librarians in their quest to take over the world and subdue the Free Kingdoms.

And not only that: Alcatraz finds his family.

Well, parts of it, anyway.

Publishers Weekly said this book is “like Lemony Snicket and superhero comics rolled into one . . .” A very winning combination indeed.

Highly recommended (along with its sequel, Alcatraz and the Scrivener’s Bones) for ages eight and up.

Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George

In Children's, Fantasy, Reviews, YA on January 23, 2009 at 10:20 pm

Let me start out by saying how I excited I was to discover this new author last year. Not only because she writes great books (because she totally does) but because I know her! I feel a teensy bit famous or something. Forget seven degrees from Kevin Bacon–I’m ONE degree from Jessica Day George! She and I played in orchestra together, had the same speech class, and graduated from high school together. We were friendly aquaintances although I was always jealous (in a nice, small way) of her incredibly gorgeous red hair. I wonder: if I had incredibly gorgeous red hair would it make me write great books?

Answer: nope. That part only comes from being talented and working hard, which scientists have shown has no direct correlation to hair color. But I will continue being just a little bit jealous (nicely) and enjoy her magical writing.

Princess of the Midnight Ball is a retelling of the fairy tale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses.” Our hero, Galen, comes home from the war–except it isn’t really home, as his entire immediate family perished some way or another in the conflict. He makes his way to the capital city to find the family of his mother’s sister, whom he has never met. This aunt and uncle allow Galen to stay with them, and Galen begins working with his uncle in the palace gardens.

There are differences between the fairy tale I’m familiar with and this retelling, but the story is strongly told. I loved Galen right from the start. I mean, who doesn’t love a man that knits? (My brother knits, and trust me–it’s much manlier than you think.) Jessica also did a great job of giving the princesses–all 12 of them, and all with flower names–distinctive characteristics. Of course, in the end Galen marries Rose, but it wasn’t all just magic that saved the day–besides wool and herbs, Galen uses his brain (!) and the help of the princesses to defeat the King Under Stone and his 12 creepy sons.

Jessica has written three other great books–Dragon Slippers, Dragon Flight, and Sun and Moon, Ice and Snow. They are all beautifully written, wonderful fantasy reads. Great job, Jessica!

I recommend this book for ages 8 and up.