The Magic of Half Magic

20171007ma_5029The magic of Edward Eager’s Half Magic isn’t always the actual magic in the book. Yes, there’s a charm that grants wishes (or, to be more accurate, half-wishes!). What’s really magical about the book, is Eager’s way of putting things. Usually, it’s some little aside. Something quick.

And then there is this delightful passage. It happens when the four children (Jane, Mark, Katherine, and Martha) first meet Mr. Smith, a new grown-up that has entered their lives…

The four children generally divided all grown ups into four classes. There were the ones like Miss Bick and Uncle Edwin and Aunt Grace and Mrs. Hudson whofrankly, and cruel as it might be to say itjust weren’t good with children at all. There was nothing to do about these, the four children felt, except be as polite as possible and hope they would go away soon.

Then there were the ones like Miss Mamie King, whowhen they were with childrenalways seemed to want to pretend they were children, too. This was no doubt kindly meant, but often ended with the four children’s feeling embarrassed for them.

Somewhat better were the opposite ones who went around treating children as though the children were as grown-up as they were themselves. This was flattering, but sometimes a strain to live up to. Many of the four children’s school teachers fell into this class.

Last and best and rarest of all were the ones who seemed to feel that children were children and grown ups were grown ups and that was that, and yet at the same time there wasn’t any reason why they couldn’t get along perfectly well and naturally together, and even occasionally communicate, without changing that fact.

Mr. Smith turned out to one of these.

Half Magic, by Edward Eager (Chapter 6)

This is why I love to read (and re-read) books by Edward Eager! It’s the magic of his words. 🙂

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Fascination with Scary

20140212_billw_0148At this time of year, you’re bound to see a lot of blog posts and articles with such titles as: “What’s the Scariest Read of All Time?” or “Top 10 Horror Movies of the Last Decade” or “Halloween Book Countdown”.

And this isn’t just for the days leading up to October 31st. All year long, even the happiest place on earth (i.e. Disney) celebrates their Haunted Mansion… since 1969. (Disney even makes “scary” seem cute. Like one of Walt Disney’s first animated shorts that featured dancing skeletons.)

It just shows that we have a fascination for “all things scary.”

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of “scary”. And certainly not anything labelled under the horror genre.

I don’t mind the odd scary and/or heart-pounding scene, but I wouldn’t exactly categorize that with “horror”. I like a well-written gothic novel, whether it’s parodied like in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey, or done supremely well in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

So, why do we have this fascination with all things scary?

And this fascination can manifest itself in three ways:

  1. It works as an outlet to ignore something that makes us uncomfortable.
  2. It becomes an obsession (sometimes to the point of excluding all other things).
  3. It can also act as a jumping off point to think things through.

Of these three points, the final one is the probably the healthiest. For me… while I don’t actively seek out horror books or movies, I do not completely banish scary topics/things outright. Because I know scary things exist. It reminds me of this G.K. Chesterton quote: “Fairy tales do not tell children the dragons exist. Children already know that dragons exist. Fairy tales tell children the dragons can be killed.”

Yes, “dragons” do exist in real life. (Maybe not of the Smaug variety, but they do exist.) To explore such “dragons” in books, movies, and other pop culture is, I think, actually a healthy thing.

To become completely obsessed is not so healthy. (As in ALL you ever read/watch/think is horror, blood, murder, anger… yikes.)

But it is a healthy thing to bring things that frighten us out in the open. Popular culture (including books and movies) allows us to get a handle on our own fears, especially about our own mortality… To handle the scariness of Death.

How we treat our “dragons” (including the dragon called Death) is going to affect how we treat Life. This gives an outlet for us to explore “all things scary” in a safe way.

 

 

 

Review: Papa Luther

imagesBook: Papa Luther: A Graphic Novel
Author: Daniel D. Maurer
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: A graphic novel that interweaves Martin Luther’s famous life moments with the daily little, family moments of life with his children.

WHAT’S COOL…

1) This graphic novel takes history and makes it interesting.

2) I like the character arc of Luther’s children, Hans and Magda… the childish bickering that culminates in a more serious way near the end (which I won’t spoil!).

3) It seems that the author used some of Luther’s real quotes… all marked by a little cross. The historian in me thought that was a neat touch. (Yay! History! Quotes!)

4) The end made me cry. In a good way. (Even though, I kinda knew it was coming. Or at least guessed it was coming.)

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) A few of the “definitions” given of theological terms (eg: heresy) seem to be a weird modern definition and not something a 16th century guy like Luther would have said.

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I thought this was a nice simplified treatment of the great historical events of the Protestant Reformation. And I thought the book remained true to history without being bogged down in all the theological nitty-gritty. Having the children be the centerpiece of the story was a good move for a graphic novel aimed at kids!

Note: This year marks the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation being celebrated this year on October 31st. This book offers a beautiful and condensed overview of these historical events.

Jane Austen is MAD

20171019ma_5060
Yes, Jane Austen is MAD. And I can prove it 🙂

I am currently reading a biography… Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. And in the book, she includes this little story concerning Austen and her book Susan (which would later become Northanger Abbey.)

She had sold Susan in 1803. Or rather, her father (ever her literary champion) had sold it on her behalf. For £10. However, by 1809, the book had still not been published!

Now, Austen was residing in rented apartments in Southampton. Her father was dead. She and her mother and sister were struggling just to make ends meet. And to top it all, her book was in some sort of purgatory. It’s no wonder she was frustrated…

Why was her book not being published?!

imagesWell, she decided to do something about it. So, she wrote a letter. Here’s how Worsley puts it in her book:

There is a briskness, indeed an urgency, in the letter that she [Jane Austen] now wrote to Crosby and Co., the publishers who had purchased Susan. ‘Gentlemen’, she writes… ‘this work of which I avow myself the Authoress.’ She wants to know why it has never been brought into print and whether the manuscript has been lost ‘by some carelessness’, in which case she offers to supply another copy…

She wrote care of the Post Office in Southampton, under the pseudonym of Mrs Ashton Dennis. This enabled her, devilishly, brilliantly, to sign off her letter with those initials. The last line reads ‘I am Gentlemen &c &c MAD’.

If I were those Gentlemen, I would have published the novel then and there! Just for this letter alone. In fact, I might have printed the letter with the novel.

POSTSCRIPT: Sadly, Jane Austen never did get to see “Susan” in print. She did manage to buy back the manuscript from the publisher in 1816 (who had no idea they were sitting on a book by the author of Pride and Prejudice!) She had revised the book to what would become Northanger Abbey. But her health was failing and she died in 1817. Her “first book” Northanger Abbey was only published, along with her last book Persuasion, after her death.

Review: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre

9780062074676_zoomBook: The Lost Kingdom of Bamarre
Author: Gail Carson Levine
Rating: 4 Stars

Basic plot: Perry is adopted as a baby by Lady Mother and Lord Tove. What Perry doesn’t know yet is that she’s Bamarre, not Lakti (like her parents). When the fairy, Halina, shows up (and fairies only show up to Bamarre), her whole life changes. No longer is she the pampered daughter, but now she’s a daughter on the run…

WHAT’S COOL…

1) Perry is a beautiful mixture of likeable and believable. She’s been raised to feel superior to the Bamarre, and this flaw in her comes out again and again. Even when she is learning to become one of them. Even with this unlikeable trait, I felt drawn to her.

2) Gail Carson Levine is the Queen of the Re-imagined Fairy Tale. With some of her books, it’s obvious right away which story she riffing. Think: Ella Enchanted. With other books, it creeps up on you and you slowly realize which fairy tale she’s conjuring up. Think: A Tale of Two Castles. This book is akin to the latter. [*SPOILER] There are hints on the first page (with the reference to the hair and the fact that the father was caught in the garden), so it soon becomes clear that this is a Rapunzel story. And I LOVE Rapunzel stories. When Willem is climbing the tower and we see (with Perry) that Lady Mother is in the tower now… we know this can’t end well! [END SPOILER]

3) I like how other little fairy tale elements are brought into the story… like the table-cloth and the seven-league boots.

4) The twist on the Father (Lord Tove) and Lady Mother left me guessing throughout the book. The revelations are wonderfully done and our loyalties morph as Perry’s do.

5) Levine is also amazing in her world building. One of the best I’ve seen. I actually believe in her worlds. I love that she doesn’t always explain things to the reader, but just says them, as if we should already know… Like the history of the Bamarre and the Lakti. She doesn’t dumb things down and tell us: “Well, I’ve created this world where it’s like this.” Instead, she treats it like it’s real and that we already know this, and then, lo and behold, we do get to understand the whole situation. (She also does this well in A Tale of Two Castles.)

6) I like the fairy, Halina. I won’t say more.

WHAT’S NOT COOL…

1) The cover of the book kind of weirds me out. I don’t know why. There are elements in it that I like. I like the blue overtones. I like the hair flying. Maybe it’s the weird glowing blue on her boots???

2) I was expecting an explanation of why Lady Mother gives the seven-league boots to Perry. I thought that maybe a deep secret is that Lady Mother is (secretly) Bamarre? But alas, this is one of those details that isn’t explained, and ends up giving us lots of questions. Like why did the mother hide the boots from the father? And why give them to Perry in the first place? Did I miss something???

FINAL THOUGHTS

My rating is 4 Stars (out of 5) – I love Fairy Tales and Gail Carson Levine definitely delivers with this book! As I said before, she’s the Queen. Maybe the Fairy Queen? Long live the Fairy Queen!

Illustrations that Make the Book – Part 2

Read Part 1 here.

It’s not only old books that have great illustrations. I’ve come up with a list of contemporary books (with authors who are still living and writing!) that have illustrations that make the reading experience just that much more enjoyable.


How to Train Your Dragon

Hiccup_Horrendous_Haddock_the_ThirdThis series has wonderful illustrations that are done by the author herself. And when you read a Cressida Cowell book, you start expecting Cressida Cowell illustrations. (Her newest series have very similar illustrations.)

I have never seen illustrations quite like these before and yet they fit the stories beautifully. They’re as whimsical and delightful as her writing.

How could you not fall in love a Hiccup Horrendous Haddock the Third who looks like this? He’s so puny, like he doesn’t really belong in those Viking threads. And yet, that’s what makes him so appealing!


The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom

HeroGuide2This series by Christopher Healy is another series that contains wonderful illustrations by the author. Yes, I love fairy tales and fractured fairy tales. Actually, come to think of it, fairy tales in general almost cry out for pictures. Here, Healy’s illustrations beautifully add that extra je-ne-sais-quoi to the books.

I really like how, in this one illustration, we get to see each of the four Princes Charming. And each Prince’s character is perfectly captured… Prince Liam out in front with Prince Duncan focused on some peripheral detail that doesn’t matter; Prince Gustav ready for the giant behind them with poor Prince Frederic ready to surrender.


The Series of Unfortunate Events

e086af00825e794488bbcd535c22e53d.jpgI love the illustrations to this series by Lemony Snicket. I feel that they (the illustrations by Brett Helquist) are really a big bonus when you read the books. They manage to maintain the flavour of the books.

Just as Lemony Snicket loves to give asides in the books, Helquist adds his own little illustrated asides…

Like the sword, pointing straight down at the children in the illustration to the right. Or, even better, the “Beware of Leeches” sign (The leeches will play quite an important part in this unfortunate story.)


Okay, so that’s my list of contemporary reads that I feel go hand-in-glove with their illustrations.

Got any to add to this list?

Illustrations that Make the Book – Part 1

Not every book needs illustrations. Let me make that clear.

And yet, there are those books in which the illustrations seem to go hand-in-hand with the written page… So much so that we come to find it hard to think of the book without these illustrations.

When I was coming up with this blog post idea, I noticed that most of the books on my list are OLDER books. Back in the day, it seems like a lot of books came with illustrations. However, there are a few contemporary books that made my list. (You’ll find those books in Part 2.)

The list of books below are all books written by authors no longer living…


The Chronicles of Narnia

44d68d9efe02b0989776792662a92c6aWritten by C.S. Lewis and illustrated by Pauline Baynes. Her pen and ink drawings are still used in the editions published today. Why? Because they are beautiful and amazing and capture the magic that is Narnia. I can’t tell you how much I love these drawings.

Like this iconic moment in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe… Lucy has just entered Narnia for the first time and is walking with Mr. Tumnus and his umbrella. Such a wonderful scene! (And, on a side note, it’s the image that Lewis himself saw in his mind’s eye that inspired him to write the book in the first place!)


Winnie the Pooh

92ffd90047cc7581e73a3707645700bc.jpgThere aren’t illustrations that have become as iconic as A.A. Milne’s masterpiece: Winnie the Pooh. Even the great Walt Disney couldn’t overshadow E.H. Shepard’s illustrations, they are that good! (While I don’t mind the Disney version of the Pooh characters, I’d pick Shepard’s illustrations over Disney’s in a heartbeat!)

I think Shepherd was able to capture the childlike wonder of the Hundred Acre Wood and its inhabitants. Pooh and Piglet are charming in the illustration to the left, as is Christopher Robin.

And it makes me want to find a bridge to play a game of Pooh Sticks…


The Little House books

2014_0708_webimages_53_littlehouseLaura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books show that sometimes books have to wait a bit to find their perfect match in illustrations. While the first edition had other illustrations (by Helen Sewell), the later editions (starting from 1953) were given the Garth Williams touch. These simple pencil, charcoal, and ink drawings have since become inseparable from Wilder’s work. Probably what helps make them so amazing is that, before he sat down and drew, Garth Williams traveled to the real-life locations to get a feel for the prairie scenery world of Laura Ingalls.

I love how Mary and Laura are gazing in awe as Pa plays his fiddle. Pa’s fiddle is such an integral part to the books 🙂


The Betsy-Tacy books

Meeting Miss SparrowThis series by Maud Hart Lovelace, in many ways, can be split into two series. The “younger” books and the “older” books. And interestingly enough, the illustrations follow this divide.

The first four books, beginning with Betsy-Tacy until Betsy-Tacy Go Downtown, have illustrations by Lois Lenski. Beautiful, whimsical, and perfect for capturing the magic of childhood!

Betsy at her writing deskHowever, once Betsy and her friends enter Deep Valley High, Vera Neville takes over the illustrations. And guess what? Hers are perfect, too! I’m not sure if Lenski could have done the high school books. And I’m not sure is Neville could have handled the younger girls. Whoever made the ultimate decision about this, bravo!

Two illustrations are necessary for this series. The first shows young Betsy in the library (I couldn’t resist!). And the second is an older Betsy sitting at her “writing desk” (her uncle’s trunk).


Swallows and Amazons

00048975-300x403These books are written by Arthur Ransome. And he illustrated them too “with the help of Miss Nancy Blackett” (one of the characters in the books!) These drawing are unique to the books. They’re fun and have that child-like abandon of the untrained child-artist… Alluring in their own way.

The illustration I chose for this book is entitled “Despatches”. It’s the answer from the four young Walkers have been waiting for… their father’s permission that they may indeed go camp out on Wild Cat Island. Let the adventures begin!


So, these are just five of my favourite illustrated books. I’m sure there are other books that fall into the same category… Books, that when I think of them, these illustrations come to mind.

Got any that you’d like to add?

Quick Pick Reviews #1

Here are my Quick Pick books from the past few weeks or so…

Quick Pick books are always recommendations. (If I don’t recommend the book, it’s not a Quick Pick!)

hqdefaultBook: Speechless
Author: Jennifer Mook-Sang

Basic Plot: An avid video-gamer, Jelly really wants to win his very own video game unit… And all he has to do is write the award-winning speech. But he’s got some tough competition from a classmate who doesn’t care about video games, but wants to win by any means possible.

My Thoughts: Jelly was a fun and likeable character. I like how he gets involved in the food bank and this becomes key to the speech-part of the plot (later on in the book). At times I thought Victoria a little over-the-top in her meanness, but the quick scene at the end with her parents was telling. A fun book about that dreaded time in school… giving speeches! (But, as an adult, I am forever grateful that I was forced to give those speeches. Because learning to speak in front of an audience is actually a life skill I use.) Bonus: I LOVE the cover of this book!


pagesbetweenusBook: The Pages Between Us
Authors: Lindsey Leavitt & Robin Mellom

Basic Plot: When two best friends find out that they don’t have any classes together, they decide to share a notebook to communicate with one another. However, their friendship is tested when suddenly when different priorities crop up.

My Thoughts: I loved the dynamic duo of this book… Olivia and Piper are both likeable girls and their devotion to each other is beautiful. I like how they navigate through the different school clubs! From LARPing to Lego Club and Chess Club. It’s fun to go back and forth between their separate viewpoints. (Although, at times I did find it a tiny bit confusing about which girl I was reading at any given point. Since, I’m assuming each author took a particular character as “her” character, it’s not like I can blame this on the author not being able to distinguish between two voices. I’m not sure what would have fixed this.) The lead up to the big “breakup” between the friends worked well, I thought. As did the resolution.


deadpossumsBook: Dead Possums Are Fair Game
Authors: Taryn Souders

Basic Plot: Ella is a control freak. That is going to give her some serious problems when her Aunt Willa comes to stay with her family and share her bedroom. On top of this, Ella has to deal with a MATH FAIR, and she hates math!

My Thoughts: This one certainly has a fun, clever title! I liked Ella, although I don’t quite understand her anxiety (losing control?) over sharing her room with her aunt. As a photographer/aunt myself, I understand Aunt Willa! (I find it interesting that she doesn’t do digital photography in this day and age.) I think Ella, like so many, don’t like math just because nobody is “supposed to like math” except maybe nerds. Ella, with help from the math fair and Aunt Willa, comes to realize that math isn’t all that bad!

Old Enough to Read Fairy Tales

20170623ma_1916When I go to the library, I am immediately drawn to the children’s section. Why? Because I love books written for kids.

Not so much picture books. Not those early chapter books. No, give me books written for the Middle Grade reader. What used to be called Children’s Literature. (And by extension, I’ll also include many Young Adult books in this category.)

But the thing is, I’m not a kid anymore. In fact, I haven’t been a kid for quite awhile.

When I was a teen, I quickly grew out of these books. There was a time (probably when I was in high school, but maybe even earlier??) when I didn’t want to read such books anymore. Or if I did want to re-read the occasional book from my childhood (Anne of Green Gables?), I certainly wouldn’t admit it in public. Yep! I was “too old” for kids’ books.

And this reminds me of the dedication C.S. Lewis included in his book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

“My Dear Lucy,
I wrote this story for you, but when I began it I had not realized that girls grow quicker than books. As a result you are already too old for fairy tales, and by the time it is printed and bound you will be older still. But some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again. You can then take it down from some upper shelf, dust it, and tell me what you think of it. I shall probably be too deaf to hear, and too old to understand a word you say but I shall still be
your affectionate Godfather,
C. S. Lewis”

Now I’ve reached the age when I am “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”

Recently, I was trying to figure out exactly when this happened. I’m thinking it started to come about while I was in university. Of course, I took all the literature courses I could get my hands on. I studied plenty of Shakespeare and Dickens, Austen and Edgeworth, Trollope and Harding, just to name a few.

And then, in my fourth year, I signed up for a course on Children’s Literature. This course included some of my childhood favourites, but it also introduced me to children’s books I had never read before. I read books by authors I didn’t even know existed!

And reading these kids’ books for the first time, I found that I actually enjoyed them. I mean, I really enjoyed reading these stories! These stories meant for kids.

But that’s was the just the start of a realization that a good children’s book has special magic in it. A special ingredient. Basically, it needs to be enjoyable on different levels. The book has to be of interest to the child, naturally. But it also will contain truth and humour and characterizations that will pique the interest of the adult.

That’s the secret ingredient.

Slowly, but surely, I began to re-read more of my old favourites, realizing that many of these books were as good as when I first read them as a kid. (Although, I will admit that other books didn’t stand this test of time. Or they didn’t contain that extra, secret ingredient.)

About ten years after taking that university course, it hit me that I actually preferred children’s books to reading most adult books. Maybe it is the fairy-tale element found in many children’s books. Not that the stories have to be fairy tales. Children’s books are so hopeful. Yes, the characters in these stories have struggles, but the point of the story is to overcome those struggles and take us to the happy ending. (I do like a happy ending. While I don’t need an ending to be saccharine, I also don’t want to read a book that ends in a depressingly sad way.)

I still have my old childhood favourites, but I also have my favourite “new” authors. Whether they are long-dead authors I’ve discovered only recently, or authors living and writing for today’s market.

It makes me sad to hear people dismiss children’s books because they’re written “for kids”. Young people especially do this, but so do many adults.

I comfort myself with this thought: One day, hopefully, these people will come upon their own realization that they are now “old enough to start reading fairy tales again.”