Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Repackaging the Timeless and Imaginative Enid Blyton

The Cherry Tree Farm Story Collection, Enid Blyton
First of all: the cover!  I think this month's new cover presents these tales as hipster vintage instead of dated vintage.  Many of Blyton's stories are being repackaged in this way, and I'm a fan of the change, personally.  I'm also happy to see her trademark sig remains.

Over the past few weeks, I read the first book in this collection (The Children of Cherry Tree Farm) aloud to my three girls at bedtime.  They are big fans of The Magic Faraway Tree series, and eagerly anticipated entering another Blyton world.  Esky speculated, "I know they are on a farm, but I think something magical is going to happen.  There will be a group of children who go on some kind of adventure."  Yup, she's read Blyton before.  The "something magical" in this collection is different from the happenings connected to the Faraway Tree.  These happenings feel as though they just might be possible.  Admittedly, having so many special encounters with wildlife on consecutive visits into the "wilds" surrounding the farm may be a stretch, but each and every one rings with the type of magic that is accessible -- the kind where you have an extraordinary day because something special happened, not because something impossible did.

Some notes on how the text reads to me in 2016, as a mother of willing, attentive listeners:
  • There is some old-fashioned language.  For example, their dinner is our lunch, they ride in pony traps, and many things happen "in a trice."  As a read-aloud, this is not only okay, it's great -- as it gives me an opportunity to explain how these terms were once used.  As a read-alone, it's something to be aware of.  Most readers will decode these historic fragments contextually, some may check in with you if their interpretation is correct, but a few may be put off by it, if they don't have a few unpacked...or perhaps some disclaimer before they begin reading, e.g. "You may find some old-fashioned expressions in there.  'In a trice' is a funny one.  When you get to it, tell me what you think it means."  Initiating this conversation may encourage it to take place over the course of their reading so that you get some commentary from young readers and some opportunity to contribute to their learning.
  • Blyton was a master at writing for children.  She knew just the phrases, mentions, expressions, promises and scenes many children (including mine) would latch onto.  The food they eat, the things the animals do, the characters' anticipation -- all have my girls audibly reacting with interest.  The story keeps them engaged, because Blyton knew which details matter.  This hasn't changed in the years that have passed.  The farm particulars were especially exciting for my three since we recently made a farm visit together; the calf descriptions were more vivid, having recently seen those big brown eyes for ourselves.
  • The pacing is spot-on for them.  Once the conceit is established (city kids staying on a farm who experience the wonders of rural wildlife), reliable episodes produce encounters with different creatures as they have informal lessons about each.  If your kids aren't animal-loving, this may not be for them, but mine ate it up!  They were so excited by the promise the book held each night.  "I wonder what they'll meet tonight!"  They really looked forward to it, and begged for second chapters every night.  (I sometimes obliged, but often I found my voice hoarse.  This was all my fault.  I chose quite a husky voice for one of the children and did quite deep voices for three other male characters and was determined to maintain them for the duration.  Voice work really is work!)  The pacing for me isn't so flash.  If I was reading this to myself, I wouldn't be approaching reading with as much enthusiasm.  It is the reading event that makes the book special.  Although I would have finished it faster, so maybe it wouldn't be a terrible issue...but I'd venture I wouldn't be as excited to meet each new animal.  The episodic formula is steady, with little arc except that of opening city kids' eyes.
  • Seeing the girls so engrossed and how much they are internalising of the nature-channel-type information, I find myself wishing I read more Blyton and less Stine and Keene as a child.  But then...so much of the thrill comes from it being other and an escape, and I grew up on a farm surrounded by animals; my girls think farms are a wondrous utopia.
  • I would also recommend this be read aloud for those under 10 or so, in that there are so many choices made that I think are essential for discussion, not just notation.  The kids sneak off to see a "wild man" who lives in the woods, spend excessive amounts of time with him, and on one occasion one boy stays the night there alone with him in the woods.  At one point the youngest girl is wet and said wild man asks her to take her clothes off and wrap his rug around her.  Um...this is all not okay with me, if translated to my family and an equivalent set of circumstances.  The sneaking off away from the farmhouse alone is not okay.  Yes, yes, we have shorter leashes these days and kids certainly would benefit from some more healthy adventure and exploring in their millenial lives, and these relationships can be innocent...but there are some things (ponds far from the house and "wild men") that require supervision for me.  No exceptions.  This book presents exceptions, and so I think pausing for comment is prudent with my little humes.
  • Esky and Ivy (7 and 5) aren't missing a beat.  Mia (3) listens, but benefits from a review before each new chapter, along with allowing for questions.  But in no way should this stop anyone from reading to their younger ones!  I think they often understand more than they are given credit for.  I did notice that she liked to have me point out and name each character on the cover before we would re-enter the story, because the four different children's names were hard for her to juggle, but they were important to her (as was which was which, in terms of family order).
  • Pet peeve: The youngest of the characters is 7 years old, and she acts more like age 4. 

Conclusion: This book is a great addition to our family library collection; in terms of reception and aesthetics.
RRP $24.99 for this eye-catching paperback, in book stores now.

Review copy received from Hachette.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Charlie and Lola do Simple Sums

One Thing, Lauren Child
Charlie and Lola books and shows are hit and miss with me.  When they hit the mark, I genuinely laugh out loud!  When they miss, I close them after flicking through a few pages.  These are quite extremely truly completely different responses (*wink*).  The key to one's success with me, is whether or not it's poor role modelling.  Lola is a delightful character.  Charlie is a champion!  But sometimes their stories devolve into the mode of what I call "Tantrums Books" (albeit with less pastiche and more spunk than the average tantrum book).  I don't buy Tantrum Books.  I don't keep them when I'm given them.  It's not that I deny tantrums happen, I just don't think they're worth reading books about.  I do like when a book illustrates how a great character can overcome something, but it's hard to get the balance on the overcoming right.  Too often the shared challenge trumps as validation.  Lola's rebellions are admittedly more charming than the average tantrum, but they're still on my undesirables list.  A book 95% dedicated to cleverly explaining why a child will not consume tomatoes? ...with a small fraction of "lesson learned" tacked on after all the funny bits?  Not something I need in our family library -- I don't need any sort of script supplied to toddlers I'm encouraging to be adventurous at mealtime.  Similarly I won't collect books supplying reasons to not go to bed or why teeth must not fall out.  There are more great Charlie and Lola books than those I pass on.  And of those I've read, this has been one of my absolute favourites!  It is SO funny and true to their characters AND it is accessibly educational.  I LOVE it.  All three of my girls found it funny (currently 3, 5 and 7 years of age) and I laughed out loud more than once.  Winner.

Released as a hardback last year, available this October as a very-affordable-why-wouldn't-you paperback.  If your kids are fans, you can safely wishlist this one as one of Child's best.

Review copy received from Hachette.

Friday, September 9, 2016


Hop Along boo, Time for Bed, Mandy Sutcliffe
We were given another Belle & Boo book as a gift, in part because the illustrations are just so. darn. beautiful.  Hop Along Boo takes the detail and devour-ability to new heights.  Released in hardback in December of last year (worth purchasing, if you're asking), and now in very affordable paperback this month.  Looking over Esky's head...
My girls LOVE this book.  What I like most is that for a Goodnight Book it is less about the everyday routines of bedtime (covered sweetly enough in Goodnight Kiss...and many other non-Belle-&-Boo books), and more the magical imaginings of children all around the world that slow down or evolve into dreams as they give in to slumber. 

The rhymes are solid and there is refreshing vocabulary.

I can't get or say enough of the illustrations! I feel like we could point and together conjure an imagined story for any character on any given page.  There is power in that!  This tops the other Sutcliffe books I've read, and they weren't to be sniffed at.  Scrummy.

Review copy received from Hachette.

Space Cowgirls

Revenger, Alastair Reynolds
This book has great blurbage.  It's very accurate and doesn't promise to read-alike things it shares little with (Quarantine, *cough cough*).  Here's one of the publicity paragraphs:
Revenger is a science fiction adventure story set in the rubble of our solar system in the dark, distant future – a tale of space pirates, buried treasure and phantom weapons, of unspeakable hazards and single-minded heroism … and of vengeance …

This is perfect.  It's honest.  It also doesn't focus on a sensationalised side-story in an attempt to trick you into reading the book only to find there is another larger story you weren't prepared for; this sells the crux of the book.  And the crux is good.

  • There's plenty happening.  The initial set-up, time until plot action and pacing thereafter are all good.  There isn't a lot of waiting around, there's great action.  
  • The only problem is: I don't care a great deal about the characters.  I wish I could find another way to say it, but I just don't buy into the female voice of the protag.  This has happened before -- when I've read female protag's written by male authors.  I guess gender matters for me here.  Or maybe I've just encountered a few male authors who've failed to convince me of the authenticity of their voice, but apparently I do believe there is something unique to a teenage girl's voice that I didn't find in Reynolds' writing.  I didn't like Fura.  Even at the end, I wasn't a big fan.  I kept reading because I liked the world and the action.  There are a lot of things she does and says I cannot understand and cannot reconcile with any female heroine I have ever known or read.  It isn't until Part 2 (there are four parts) that I gained a little respect for her.  She became more interesting.  She was still fairly unlikable and unconvincing.  When she and her sister are first in peril, I didn't care about them yet.  I think this was a mistake.  With all of that sad, it was lovely to have so many strong female characters!
  • The book generally also started to really pick up at Part 2.  It's where the comparisons to Firefly are justified.  Those are good comparisons to have.  This is about a third of the way in, so Revenger doesn't have the solid immediate hook of some other YA novels.  But there's enough laid out in the start to suggest good things are coming.
  • Having recently read Briggs, it was hard to read Reynolds' dialogue.  I didn't like it.  I groaned more than once thinking, "Weak line."  The neologisms were also juvenile.  They reminded me of R.S. Lewis' in Stitching Snow, which also peeved me.
  • The descriptive writing can be very good.
  • The hard sci fi is delicious.   The world is great.  In addition to reminding me of Firefly, I found some moments reminding me of (beloved) Cinder and Blade Runner.  Not character strengths however, plot points.  If only Fura was more like Cinder!  The ship descriptions, crew roles, wider economy and long history are all golden.
  • There is zero romance.  I think that's part of why I read this so slow.  A YA book without romance (or even a passing observation about attraction) seems really odd to me; teenage characters that don't ever think about that?  Not even a little?  Okay...  It doesn't need to be a driving force in the narrative, but I would have thought a teenage character would at least have a thought about someone (even if he/she pushed the thought aside) at some point.  None of the teenagers do. 
  • It's clean in respect to language and sensuality, but there is blood and violence (and some disturbing imagery).
  • I didn't dig the speciality fonts.  
Yes, I think you'll love this one, Dad.   Fans of coming-of-age quests in space (who think it's no loss that there's no romance), look no further!  This is a fun world-build.

Review copy received from Hachette.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

Want to know what a younger reader thinks of this new script-book from J.K.?   Special guest Olive of Little Librarian is here to share her thoughts on Harry Potter #8...
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, J.K. Rowling
Summary: Harry Potter (now married to Ginny Weasley) is sending his son Albus Potter to Hogwarts for his first year at the wizarding school. Albus expresses concerns to his father that he will be sorted into the Slytherin house, famous for outputting more Dark witches and wizards than any other house. On the train, Albus befriends Draco Malfoy’s son, Scorpius, despite Rose Granger-Weasley’s warnings of rumours surrounding him. When Albus gets sorted into Slytherin, they become fast friends, and the story begins…
It was amazing to be back in the Harry Potter world. I mean, once you go through the books more than two times, you start wanting some new story. So it was refreshing to be back in that world, but with some new stories. It was magical to be there, and I hope that I can give it a fair review despite the fact that I was just happy to be back.

Another thing that I liked about it was that it reminded my of Doctor Who in all the best ways. Time travel, alternate realities (although none referred to as such). If you know me, you also know that I am also a massive Doctor Who fan. Combining one of my favourite book series with some of the best elements of my favourite TV show is like a dream come true.

Read the rest of Little Librarian's review here.
Related Posts with Thumbnails