Classic Review: Abel’s Island

Today a look back at a long-time, if quiet, favorite.  This isn’t a book that shows up on my favorite lists usually, but it stuck with me more than most…and it’s my go-to when discussing whether deep and complex subjects can be appropriately portrayed in children’s stories!


It’s funny the books that stay with you.  I remember around about third grade (maybe, I don’t remember that part for sure) we had to do a certain number of book reports during the school year, maybe per month.  I don’t remember if I found that challenging, but I doubt it.  🙂  I also don’t remember any of the books I did for this, except one: Abel’s Island by William Steig.  For whatever reason, that one stuck.

Although I don’t think it was until I reread it recently that I made the connection–William Steig!  The one who did a bunch of picture books!  You know, Doctor De Soto and Sylvester and the Magic Pebble (and he also has the happy good fortune of being alphabetically near James Stevenson, my favorite picture book author).  Yet another advantage of revisiting childhood favorites. Continue reading

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Blog Hop: …And We’re Off!

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: When you start reading a novel, do you prefer to be plunged right into the action, or do you prefer a slower, more descriptive introduction to the plot and characters?

Typically I suppose I prefer something in between.  I like a chance to get to know a world and characters before too much action is happening, but I want something happening in the opening chapters.  I don’t want to be plunged directly into the Battle of Helm’s Deep with a lot of people I don’t yet care about, but I also don’t really need to go strolling through the Shire, listening to an extended history of Elvish linguistics for the first three chapters.  So to speak.

Mostly, though, I think this is not unlike my thoughts about multiple narrators—it’s all fine, if done well.  A book can start mid-action and reveal plot and character while a lot is happening, or it can start with less action but still hold interest.  It all depends on what’s right for the story, and how skillful the author is.

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Book Reviews: Good Masters, Sweet Ladies and Crispin

I accidentally paired two Newberys lately, and found myself reading two books about small medieval villages in a row.  Which actually worked out well, as a lot of historical elements paralleled and supported each other.

First I read Good Masters, Sweet Ladies: Voices from a Medieval Village by Laura Amy Schlitz.  An unusual format, this is a collection of monologues (and two dialogues).  Each speaker is a different character from the same village, each speaking about his/her life.

Considering the presentation, I was impressed by how vividly the characters and world came to life.  Originally written for a school pageant (giving each child a good part), all the characters are children.  They’re a wide range of classes and life situations, from the Lord’s son to the beggar boy.  Altogether they depict the society, its rules and hierarchies throughout the village.

I liked best the monologues that built on each other, as when the Lord’s daughter spoke about having a clod of mud thrown at her and her confusion…followed by the monologue of the girl who threw it, and her hard home life, envy of the Lord’s daughter, and ultimate remorse. Continue reading

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Blog Hop: Many-Headed Stories

book-blogger-hop-finalToday’s Book Blogger Hop question is: How do you feel about books with multiple narrators?

Ah, now this feels like the kind of question that might come up at my writing group!  I frequently enjoy (and often write) at least two point of view characters (or narrators).  It’s a common practice to write a novel from the alternating points of view of the two romantic leads (I knew immediately how a triangle would turn out in a romance once, just because of this).  Sometimes that’s been the case in my own books, though not always.  I guess it always has been the case that my two point of view characters are the pair that forms the most significant relationship in the book, romantic or otherwise.

Huh, I actually never thought about that before…

Three narrators is perfectly reasonable too, and maybe four…though the more you add, the more complex it becomes and the harder it gets for the reader to keep track.  That can go badly sometimes in ensemble cast novels, with six, eight, ten narrators.

That higher complexity is definitely something we’d warn about in my writing group, if someone was thinking about how many POV characters to write (the question has come up often).  Two other things: it’s crucial to make it very clear to the reader when a POV is switching.  I generally do chapter breaks, sometimes just a scene break (but a clear one).  It’s equally crucial that different POV characters have different voices.  If they all sound the same, the reader will have a much harder time keeping track (and possibly grow bored besides).

But if those pitfalls are avoided, and if all is written well, then I like multiple POVs just fine.  But I like most storytelling choices, if they’re done well!


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Book Review: Kira-Kira

Continuing the pattern of last year, I’m making a good run through the Newbery winners.  I picked Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata in part because it also serves my diversity challenge, centering on a Japanese-American family living in Georgia in the 1950s.  There was some exploration of that dynamic…but it was also the most unrelentingly depressing Newbery I’ve read yet!

The narrator is Katie Takeshima, but the story really centers around her beloved older sister Lynn.  Lynn is brilliant, loving, a force in the family and full of dreams for her future.  You can already see where this is going, can’t you?  Lynn is one of those too good to live characters, and sure enough—as the book goes on Lynn is vaguely and sporadically ill…then less sporadically…then fatally.

I don’t like stories about children dying.  I’m just going to put that out there, and admit that this makes it harder for me to judge if this was a good story about a child (well, teenager) dying.  I especially hate stories about children dying in slow, lingering ways, which this definitely was.  I love The Bridge to Terabithia, but that’s not a book about death—it’s a book that contains a death.  Kira-Kira is largely focused on Lynn’s slow decline and death, and how Katie handles it. Continue reading

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