Olivia, by Ian Falconer
Since I don't have much experience with them (or remember very many from when I was little), I'm playing picture-book catchup in anticipation of my daughter being old enough for them. I'm mostly pulling ideas from the 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Die book, but I'm going off on my own, or choosing other books by the same authors, on occasion.
Zen Shorts by Jon Muth
This lovely book has three children encountering a panda in their backyard. Each goes to visit him, and he tells them a story adapted from an ancient zen story that speaks to their particular needs at the time. The art is soft and inviting, and the stories each have good morals, even though they stem from a religious tradition not my own.
Are We There Yet? by Allison Lester
A family with three kids (our narrator is the middle one, named Grace) takes a three-month camping trip around Australia, seeing all the different types of places the country has to offer, and staying with friends all around, or camping by the beach or in the forest. I'm not big on camping, but this sounds like a wonderful thing to do in general. The book is a bit wordy, but very interesting. I'd love to see other books like this about traveling around different countries.
Llama Llama Red Pajama by Anna Dewdney
Karina hasn't had issues going to sleep since she was a tiny baby, so I'm not sure how much this will resonate with her as she gets older, but it's a pretty adorable story about a pretty adorable baby llama who's afraid of being alone before going to sleep. The cadence is very pleasing to read aloud, and the expressions on the llama baby's face are priceless.
George, the Dragon, and the Princess by Christopher Wormell
This is not, as you might expect, the story of Saint George and the Dragon. Nope, George here is a little mouse, timid and clumsy. But when a dragon roars onto the scene, George bravely runs against him, and thankfully, the dragon is afraid of mice! Told with sparing words (one line per page) and gorgeous painterly images, this is one I'll probably introduce to Karina relatively soon.
The Adventures of the Dish and the Spoon by Mini Grey
I was really looking forward to this one - a story about the adventures of the dish and spoon after they ran away, involving show business and bank robbery? Sign me up! I did like the story, but it was a bit busy, I thought. It was a bit of a challenge to keep up with the story and stay engaged because each page just had a bit too much happening on it.
Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Book? by Lauren Child
This one intrigued me immediately, because I love stories where people go into books. I did enjoy the story on this one, with the little boy going into his fairy tale book and realizing that the stories are all messed up because he's mistreated the book - drawing mustaches on princesses, cutting people out, pasting pages in upside down, etc. But the art style is really manic and even though I liked the idea of making it look like paper cut-outs (as per the theme of the book), it just wasn't pleasant for me to look at, verging on ugly at times.
Lately I'm going back and reading a bunch of middle-school staples, both because that's the unfortunate state of my attention span and because there are a lot of them I missed and I have to prepare for when my daughter is ready to read them...in like eight years. Gotta get a head start!
So yeah, I never read Matilda growing up - in fact, it might be the first Dahl book I've ever actually read. On this project I'm a bit understandably of two minds, since I'm thinking not only of my own enjoyment but whether I want my daughter to read when she's older, and I've got to say I was torn for a good chunk of the beginning. I mean, as someone who's always loved reading, though I've gotten away from it in recent years, I was absolutely smitten with Matilda's precociousness. I could actually read at age four myself, though I didn't teach myself and I wasn't reading Dickens (and I'm certainly not taking THAT as a goal for my own daughter), but the idea of a child reading so voraciously really inspired me (and shamed me) to get back into reading even more and find the joy in some of those classics that I put off because I associated them so much with required reading (is there any more harmful concept in education than "required reading"? I'm not sure).
On the other hand, I simply don't find practical jokes very funny, so a lot of Matilda's pranks on her parents really rubbed me the wrong way, and even though her parents were definitely a bad lot, her actions were a tad too mean-spirited for me, and aren't the kind of thing I would ever want my daughter to emulate or admire. Thankfully the second half of the book left these behind, and was pretty great - the over the top cruelty of the schoolmistress went a long way to putting the book firmly in the realm of fantasy to the point where Matilda's tricks were easier to take.
Some creative ideas for how to organize your bookshelves. I've gone both alphabetical and chronological at times. A big part of me wants to go by size or color for the aesthetics, but fears I wouldn't be able to find anything.
I've seen a few reviews (online and from friends as well) that Divergent has lackluster worldbuilding, with not enough back story to explain why the world is the way it is. Now, I'm a total sucker for worldbuilding, so that had me worried, but I was intrigued enough by the concept that I plowed into it anyway.
That concept is that the society is divided into five factions based basically on personality - the brave and bold are Dauntless, the honest are Candor, the peaceful are Amity, the scholarly are Erudite, and the selfless are Abnegation. Every child chooses at the age of 16 whether they want to stay with the faction they were born into, or change into a new one, based on aptitude tests that supposedly show which one they naturally fall into. Our heroine Beatrice, born into Abnegation but uncomfortable there, turns out to be equally suited for multiple factions, making her Divergent, which is dangerous to the status quo. She keeps quite about her divergence and joins Dauntless; much of the book is taken up with the brutal training she and other initiates must go through to become full Dauntless members. Of course, things must come to a head, and it turns out that there's an insidious conspiracy by one faction to take control of the others and Tris is the one to stop it.
I actually didn't mind the worldbuilding that much. Sure, it doesn't go into the backstory a lot of how this society came to the conclusion that splitting up by personality type would be the best way to maintain peace and order, or what led to that kind of radical reordering of society, but we're coming at this from Tris's point of view, and unless it happened quite recently, she's unlikely as a teenager to have questioned very strongly how her society got to be the way it is. Not all of us are that interested in history, and she strikes me as someone much more interested in the present and future than the past. The book has an in media res quality that I actually kind of liked, and I believed the world as set out, even if it didn't have a lot of backstory.
I did have two niggles, though I ultimately enjoyed the book quite a bit as a quick, entertaining read. The first is that I found the budding relationship between Tris and Four agonizingly immature. I know they're only sixteen, and this is a YA book (I haven't read a lot of YA books, so perhaps this is just part and parcel of it), but every few pages, it's like Tris is noticing Four in a potentially romantic way for the first time. Again. And then they have a little moment, like brushing hands, where it's obvious they're attracted to each other, and then a chapter later, something similar happens, and it's like it's the first time again. It gets pretty ridiculous.
My other niggle is story-related, and thus pretty spoilery. The whole plot to take control is a bit too on the nose. I mean, the reason the faction idea is interesting is because on the surface, it does seem like a good idea - put people together who think similarly and you can get a lot done in that particular area, because you're always using people's skills to their best possible potential and in a way they inherently understand. On the other hand, encouraging people to think ONLY one way and crushing anyone who might be Divergent is clearly a way to enforce conformity and reduce critical thinking. That's pretty well stated in the book, that divergence is dangerous because it can't be controlled. But then the actual climax is far more mundane, with actual technologically-based mind control. No. The point of this is that if you develop a population with no critical thinking skills, you don't HAVE to use actual mind control - they're already predisposed to act according to the program laid out. That would've been a much more interesting way to go, I think, to explore the extent to which the faction system ON ITS OWN sets up a population ripe for exploitation by leaders who have the power to do it.
In short, the book is an entertaining read with a great premise, but it suffers from emotional immaturity and a desire to have a big climactic action set-piece rather than actually exploring the philosophical ramifications of that premise. That said, I'm pretty game to read the next in the series.
Grant Snider is the enterprising creator of Incidental Comics and also does posters. This one seemed especially appropriate for BookLikes.
Click on the picture to see more of Grant's works:
I shouldn't be surprised at how much this book goes for shock value when it started out with children gunning down their parents, but this issue almost upped the ante. I mean, in a way, there aren't many places more extreme to go than killing your parents, but...that's the premise, right? So you pretty much know that's going to happen going in. The fact that it doesn't stop there, but that Lucas continues to prove himself more and more cruel (and more and more ready to turn on his followers when they doubt him) really hammers it in that this book isn't going to pull any punches. And it's all the better for it. The final panel is quite a gut-punch.
I don't quit reading books very often, at least not intentionally. I'm sure I have dozens of books that I just kind of fell off from reading, got distracted by other things, and even yet intend to finish someday. I rarely say "nope, I'm done with this" in any explicit way. But I'm done with Perdido Street Station.
It's not that it's too slow, or boring, or erudite. I actually think it's excellent, the part I've read (about a fifth of the book, 100+ pages out of the 700 my ebook has). Mieville is a gifted world-builder and has thought up some of the most original creatures and societies I've ever read. I'm actually quite fascinated by the two main plots I've come across so far - Isaac and Yagharek, Lin and her patron - and yet, I'm letting it go, at least for now.
You see, Mieville does TOO good a job building his world, and what a dark, disturbing, icky, and repulsive world it is. He takes great delight, it seems, in making this world a place you want to stay far, far away from, and in fact, I can barely read two or three pages in a row sometimes before I find the world too oppressive to continue. I'm more sensitive to ickiness, I think, since becoming pregnant with my daughter (now 6 months old), and I can't live in that world for very long these days.
Perhaps some day I will return. I would like to know whether Isaac succeeds in helping Yagharek fly. I would like to find out more about Lin's mysterious patron. I want to know the secrets of Perdido Street Station. But my constitution won't stand for it right now, and so I move on to something more palatable.