Monthly Archives: July 2013

Double Review of books set in Venice: The Silent Gondoliers and The Thief Lord

by S. Morgenstern
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

The astute among you will recognize the author as the same one who wrote The Princess Bride. (Incidentally, if you loved the movie and have never read the book, please do. You will not be disappointed!) A library patron raved about this book as one of her absolute favorites and informed me that if I liked The Princess Bride, I had to read this. So, I gave it a go. The story is solid enough but I felt too short for the intended age (my library keeps it in our adult fiction section; I’d give it to a middle schooler), weighing in at a mere 110 pages, and the premise didn’t really interest me that much – the famous singing gondoliers of Venice suddenly fall silent and the big mystery of why is unraveled by the incomparable S. Morganstern! …Eh, I’ll pass. I do now really want to visit Venice, though. But this is a far cry from the masterpiece of The Princess Bride. Comparing them is useless – even, dare I say… inconceivable!

 

by Cornelia Funke
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

My library’s book club for 4th and 5th graders read this regularly, so it was a pleasure to talk with a colleague about it who knows it intimately. She said it felt like two stories, one which was the set-up, the story of how these 6 kids came together and live on the “streets” of Venice and how they support themselves. The second story is the story of the merry-go-round and the Conte’s quest to have it restored with all its magical powers. I don’t want to give too much away, but they are both delightful stories and have a great resolution. However, I will say that there are two adults in the story, and it seemed for a while as though the author were going to make them fall in love and get married. This didn’t happen, which was strangely satisfying to me. This would make a good book club read as there are layers to the story and the characters are quite complex. The overall theme is of the impatience of wanting to grow up and be on one’s own, versus missing out on having a proper childhood.

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon

by Grace Lin
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

This is a sweet tale filled with lessons and stories. It reminded me strongly of Three Stories of My Father’s Dragon in the once-upon-a-timeyness of Minli’s adventure. I loved how the characters changed over the course of the story, and how the ending tied it all together: Minli thinks she is going to find the Old Man of the Moon to ask him to change her family’s fortune, but discovers that her actions along the way, and the actions of her family, have made the changes. It’s a story about one of the fundamental truths of life: that the importance is in how you make the journey, not what happens once you get to the end.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang: Book & Movie

by Ian Fleming (yeah, that Ian Fleming)
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

This movie is so different from the book. I gasped when I saw this children’s movie was two and a half hours as I didn’t believe the original story could fill it. Turns out it deviated so far from the story that it’s easy to see how it filled the time – and of course all the song-and-dance numbers helped extend the length too. In the book, the children and their (happily married) parents go on adventures in their magical new car, who does a lot of the work herself, to be perfectly honest. They end up being chased by thieves and the kids get kidnapped and foil the thieves’ attempt to rob a candy shop, and Chitty and their parents come at the end to whisk them away. In the movie, the single father and the candy-maker’s daughter chase each other around and the children hope they’ll get married. The grand adventure is a story told by the father and takes place in Bulgaria with strong bad-guys-are-Nazis overtones (the baroness hates children so they have to hide in the cellar and the soldiers come to take them away). The book was written in 1964 but takes place in the early 1900s, and the movie was made in 1968. The Nazi stuff likely will go over kids’ heads, though – overall, it’s a cute story and the songs are definitely catchy. Even the romance between Mr. Potts and Truly is extremely chaste, if a bit annoyingly hetero-normative and with old-fashioned gender roles, but that’s with modern eyes.

Double Novel-In-Verse Review: Love That Dog and Hate That Cat

    

by Sharon Creech
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I’d been meaning to read these for a while, being a big Sharon Creech fan. In fact, I went looking for Love That Dog when I had to review novels in verse last year for class, but it was checked out. We just did a big novels-in-verse display for April (poetry month) so Love That Dog was sitting right in front of my desk, staring at me until I picked it up. I read it on my lunch break and got all teary-eyed, had trouble swallowing, the whole nine yards. I also went straight for the sequel, Hate That Cat, which was just as moving. It shows how moving poetry can be both to read and write, as the narrator explores self-expression through poetry and really grows as a person.

Freedom Maze

by Delia Sherman
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

It took me a while to get into this one because it felt so much like a first novel, even though the acknowledgements stated that she’d worked on it for nearly 20 years. This is the story of a girl who, while visiting her mother’s family’s former plantation in Louisiana, is transported back in time to the plantation’s glory days near the start of the Civil War, where she is mistaken for a slave. Sophie forms friendships with the slaves which influences her experiences when she gets back to her own 1960s world. In the end, it was a solid story and came together at the end with only a few holes that needled at me. That said, the characters were realistic and memorable and Sophie’s development in particular is believable. There is one little part where a white slaveowner tries to rape one of the slaves which makes me think this book would be better for older readers, but it’s glossed over enough that probably a younger reader wouldn’t really register what happened.