Friday, December 19, 2008

"Ella Enchanted" by Gail Carson Levine

In another story about magic gone mischievously wrong, strong-willed Ella of Frell wrestles with the blessing a foolish fairy bestowed on her at birth: the gift of obedience. Ella is compelled to do whatever she is told, whether it is eating an entire banquet herself, or serving herself up as an ogre's supper! Her mother shields her from the worst of the curse throughout her childhood, but when Ella's mother takes ill and dies, Ella is left to fend for herself.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

"The Enchanted Castle" by E. Nesbit

"The Enchanted Castle" by E. Nesbit was a book ahead of its time, combining all the quaint, whimsical charm of Victorian children's literature with laugh-out-loud shenanigans and magical hijinx. It was a predecessor to modern literature's "magical realism", where fantastical scenarios unfold in our everyday world.

Four children find a magical ring that grants wishes, but it's dangerous in the wrong hands-especially theirs! What happens when one of them needs to hide from their aunt, when the baby of the group wishes he was older, when they think the puppets in their impromtu play, the soon-to-be-infamous Ugly-Wuglies, should look a tad more realistic? Sheer silliness, made all the more hysterical by the proper Victorian setting and stuffy, affected speech patterns. "The Enchanted Castle" is a riot, a delightful change of pace for fans of children's fantasy. Read it out loud to your elementary or middle school children-if you can get through it! You will be laughing until your sides ache.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

"The Tower of Geburah" by John White

How often have you read the last book in a favorite series and wanted to shout "more, more!"? "The Archives of Anthropos" was born when Christian author John White's children begged him to write them a story "just like Narnia", and pestered him until he complied. "The Tower of Geburah" is the third book in the series, but the first one he wrote, and the best.

"The Archives of Anthropos" has not received the attention it deserves, perhaps because it was released into the literary wasteland that stretched between Lloyd Alexander's "Chronicles of Prydain" and the Rowling renaissance. But the books are too good to be left languishing in the desert. "The Archives of Anthropos" would be the perfect Christmas gift for fans of Lewis and Tolkien, and anyone who is walking around long-faced about the Harry Potter movie release being pushed back to summer.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

"The Last Unicorn" by Peter S. Beagle

You've checked the video out of the library, but have you ever read the book? I'll let "The Last Unicorn" speak for itself.

-"We are not always as we seem, and hardly ever what we dream."

-"Great heroes need great sorrows and burdens, or half their greatness goes unnoticed."

-"The prince is very brave, to love a unicorn. A cat can appreciate valiant absurdity."

A beautiful book about the the brilliant frailty of humanity, and what happens when mortal and immortal collide. My copy has fallen apart and been patched together with packaging tape. Yours will, too.

-"He thought, or said, or sang, 'I did not know that I was so empty, to be so full.'"

"Esperanza Rising" by Pam Munoz Ryan

Esperanza leads a charmed life on her family's vineyard in Mexico, until her father is killed by bandits, and her greedy uncles move in to take everything that was his--including her mother's hand in marriage. Rather than submit to their schemes, Esperanza and her mother flee to California with their loyal friends and servants, Alfonso and Hortensia, and their son, (Esperanza's secret crush!) Miguel.

But times are hard in America, and freedom requires a lot of hard work, doing things the daughter of a wealthy vineyard owner would never have stooped to do in Mexico. Esperanza is forced to deal with her own elitist beliefs as she comes face to face with racism, worker exploitation, and the best and worst of depression-era America. Optimistic and thought-provoking, this is a great read for middle school plus girls, and anyone who wants to learn more about the Great Depression and the immigrant experience.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

"The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing II" by M.T. Anderson

It's here!!!

I haven't read it yet, but I can assure you I will rectify that travesty as soon as possible!

"The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing" by M.T. Anderson

So what if I told you there was a book that read like great literature, provided a wide breadth of knowledge about the Revolutionary War era, tackled tough issues from scientific ethics to interracial relationships to vaccination to nationalism head-on, and that your teenage son would LOVE it?

Uh huh. There's a reason it's been sweeping the literary awards circuit.

Octavian is a young black man born into Bostonian privilege, the unwitting specimen in a scientific experiment meant to determine whether men of African descent can learn as well as those of European. He is treated like a prince and given every advantage, until the scientists and philosophers conducting the experiment are forced to accept funding from outside investors--wealthy plantation owners, with an interest in ensuring Octavian's failure. When life becomes unbearable he runs away and joins the revolutionary cause, but will the Sons of Freedom treat him any better than the men who call themselves his owners?

"Astonishing" is right. Beautiful and shattering, "The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing" is an American epic unparallelled since "Gone With the Wind"--with a better hero. A must-read.