Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Book Scavenging.

I realized last night, after working on blog entries for school, that my nonfiction 'tween reading is sorely lacking. So I hit Dude's bookshelves, asking him to pull any historical fiction and history-related books he had for me. He's recently become very interested in World War II, after a strong unit on the topic this past school year, and he handed me I Am David by Anne Holm, insisting that I read this before anything else. He also insisted that I find a copy of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne.

I also want to read some nonfiction from periods other than WWII, so I took to one of my fellow SLIS students' blogs, The Fourth Musketeer, who never disappoints (she reviews nonfiction and historical fiction for children and teens). So now, I've got Bootleg by Karen Blumenthal, Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey (yes, it's historical fiction, but like Margo, I'm a bit obsessed with Antoinette), Titanic, Book One: Unsinkable by Gordon Korman, the too-much-fun-titled Big Wig: A Little History of Hair by Kathleen Krull, and I'll Pass for Your Comrade: Women Soldiers in the Civil War by Anita Silvey.

I can already feel my library card heating up.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Book Review: The Guardians of Ga'Hoole Book One: The Capture by Kathryn Lasky (Scholastic, 2003)

Recommended for ages 9-12

Newbery Award winning author Kathryn Lasky's Guardians of Ga'Hoole series has been hugely popular since the publication of the first book in the series, The Capture. In 2010, Warner Brothers released a movie based on the first three books in the series and its companion website offers quizzes, games and book facts. A Guardians of Ga'Hoole wiki offers exhaustive information about characters and storylines. Scholastic's Guardian's website offers additional content, including printables and information about owls (the main characters in the series), as well as a discussion guide and biography on Lasky. The series has taken on a life of its own in many ways, similar to such literary touchstones as Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings.

The book begins with Soren, a young barn owl born into a loving family in the forest of Tyto. He has a cruel older brother, Kludd, a sweet younger sister, Eglantine, and a beloved snake nursemaid, Mrs. Plithiver. One day, Soren falls out of his nest and is kidnapped, taken to the St. Aegolius Academy for Orphaned Owls, where he meets Gylfie, a small Elf Owlet.

St. Aggie's, as the Academy is referred to, is a thinly veiled deprogramming center/work camp for owls where they are subjected to sleep deprivation and corporal punishment in order to break them down and create a blank slate upon which the St. Aggie's owls can build and create an army for owl domination. By sticking together and focusing on their families, each other, and the mythical stories of the Ga'Hoole, the guardians of owlkind, Soren and Gylfie defy the odds and retain their individuality. They ultimately escape St. Aggie's with some help on the inside and head out in search of the Great Ga'Hoole Tree, where they hope to find help to save the owls from the St. Aggie's army. They meet two other escapees, Digger and Twilight, who join them in their search.

I found myself having trouble enjoying The Capture. I vacillated between being taken aback at the brutality of a book written for a relatively young audience and just not connecting with the story. The book is graphic in its depiction of the punishment heaped on the younger owls and Lasky does not shy away from writing about murder and cruelty. The terror of losing one's own identity, coupled with cold-blooded murder, make for a potentially terrifying read to some readers on the younger half of the age range, and I'd recommend parents reading the book with their children to address any fears that may come up. The book speaks to the fear of being taken, the terror of not knowing how to get back to one's family, and the sense of hopelessness that can overpower someone in that situation.

Other times, I was frustrated with the use of owl jargon - the owls have their own phrases and terms, and it appeared haphazard in its usage - and bored with some of the more plodding scenes at St. Aggie's. I wanted more from the book than it was ready to give me - perhaps reading further into the series will help me connect at a later point.

Kathryn Lasky has written over 100 books for children and has a great website that offers video messages for her fans, a section detailing her awards and information about her upcoming books. Naturally, there is a section devoted to the Guardians series, and she even features fan art dedicated to the series. I really liked that Lasky, who exhaustively researches both her fiction and nonfiction writing, shares her research and links for books she's working on.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Book Review: Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George (Bloomsbury, 2008)

Recommended for ages 10-14

I am not a princess type of girl (Princess Leia notwithstanding). I'm just not a fan of the saccharine and goo that goes with princess books. Having said that, I noticed that my book list was overwhelmingly boy-focused, having two boys of my own, and I really needed a few girly-type books to spice it up.

I am so glad I picked this book up. No, Creel, the main character, is not a princess. Yes, she is the independent, smart, rags-to-riches character we've often come to expect from our fantasy heroines. But it doesn't feel tired, and there is a humor to her that I truly appreciated.

Orphans Creel and her brother live with their poor aunt and uncle, who have enough children of their own. Creel's aunt decides to leave Creel to the local dragon, in the hope that either a rich noble or prince will save her and marry her - and share the wealth with the rest of the family, or that the dragon will eat her, giving the family one less mouth to feed. Luckily for Creel, Theoradus the Dragon doesn't want to eat anyone; he just wants to be left alone to enjoy his hoard of shoes (each dragon has his or her own preferred hoard).

Creel strikes out for the king's city, Feravel, to find her fortune as a seamstress, taking a pair of slippers given to her by Theoradus. She befriends two more dragons, Shardas and Feniul, along the way. When she arrives at the king's city, she finds work as a seamstress where her embroidery designs gain her notice - as do her shoes. The awful princess Amalia, engaged as a peacekeeping move to crown prince Milun, tries to force Creel to surrender the slippers and ultimately takes Larkin, a seamstress who works with Creel, as her servant in exchange for getting the slippers.

Amalia's desire for the shoes has nothing to do with being fashionable, and her engagement to prince Milun is a sham - her father's kingdom wants to take over the kingdom of Feravel, and the slippers give her the power to control the dragons. Creel must join forces with the king's younger son, Luka, to find a way to break through to the dragons and bring peace to the land.

I enjoyed this book because it was unexpected. The heroine was intelligent, self-sufficient, and funny - a wry sense of humor comes through in many of the characters without feeling forced or contrived. The story is carefully built up without becoming a bore, and Ms. George tightly weaves the various characters, plots, and subplots together to keep her readers on their toes. Just when I thought I had reached the climax of the book, I realized there was more - and I liked it. It is a feel good book that makes you work to get there; intelligently written and does not take its young audience for granted.

Dragon Slippers is the first book in Jessica Day George's Dragon trilogy. I think I may visit with Creel, Prince Luka, and Shardas the dragon again in the future and pick up Dragon Flight and Dragon Spear. Ms. Day George has written other fairy tales with smart heroines, including Princess of the Midnight Ball, which just won the Children' Literature Association of Utah's 2011 Beehive Award and its sequel, Princess of Glass. She keeps in touch with her fans through her blog and her website, which links to more information about the author, her books, and social media. She is also featured on the Mormon Arts wiki.