Tag Archives: relationships

Journey to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson

Journey to the River SeaJourney to the River Sea – Eva Ibbotson (2001)

I found this book because I was looking for something for my Year 7 classes to read that sat well with their Humanities topic, Source to Sea.  Last term their Humanities topic was Rainforests.  So, being about a girl who moves from London to the Amazon Rainforest of Brazil, this seemed to fit the bill quite well.  Sure, the main character’s a girl, but, oh well, if it turns out to be a bit girlie – the boys will just have to cope with it.  After all, they have read Boy Overboard and Kensuke’s Kingdom so far this year.  Both have boy protagonists.  So it’s time for the girls.

Mind you, the boys are not going to be impressed when they see the cover.  It’s apricot with two butterflies on it.  And it has a gold sticker, which means it’s won an award, which means it’s a ‘good’ book.  How many signs does a boy need?

And the first line’s not going to lug them in, either. ‘It was a good school, one of the best in London.’  Oh dear.  Not exactly, ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’ is it?!  I know they are going to look at me with big eyes, thinking, ‘really, Mrs OW…’  They will howl, ‘It is a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day!  We’re going to move to Timbuktu.’

And I will have to say, ‘Be still, wild things,’ just to mix up the picture book allusions a little, and convince them that even though this book is set (initially) in the Mayfair Academy for Young Ladies, in 1910 London, and even though the main character is a girl who is an orphan, whose best friend is called Hermione, who is about to meet her twin girl cousins Gwendolyn and Beatrice, they will love this book.  Even though she has a Governess.  Called Miss Minton.

I will have to remind them that they thought they were too big to enjoy ‘Eeyore’s Birthday,’ and yet when I read it to them they begged for more.  And when we were talking about The Indian in the Cupboard the other day, they suddenly realised that Omri was just like Eeyore putting the popped balloon into the empty honey jar, when he put his plastic Indian into the cupboard.

They will have to trust me, even though in their hearts they will be wondering why I am using their valuable reading time for this when they could be reading Percy Jackson, or Artemis Fowl, or for those boys who love realistic fiction, a good Des Hunt adventure!  But, like The Little Train That Could, I think I can, I think I can…

And I think I can because this is a wonderful book.  It is a real, not-old-fashioned adventure.  Maia turns out to be gutsy and intelligent, and Miss Minton, her governess does a nice turn in wryness and dryness, with enough sceptical tolerance of those too wealthy for their own good, to make her very likeable indeed.  Thank goodness there are some great boy characters in Clovis King and Finn Taverner, as well.

Essentially, the plot goes something like this (without too many spoilers, I hope).  Maia is at boarding school in London, but her guardian has been looking for family to take care of her, since her parents died in a train crash two years before.  Finally, he locates distant family living in Manaus, in the Brazilian Rainforest.  Maia is the kind of girl who tries to make the best of things, but is very human, too.  When she meets her governess and leaves school with her friends waving goodbye:

‘Doesn’t she look fierce?’ whispered Melanie.

‘Poor you,’ mumbled Hermione.

And indeed the tall, gaunt woman looked more like a rake or a nutcracker than a human being.

The door of the cab opened.  A hand in a black glove, bony and cold as a skeleton, was stretched out to help her in.  Maia took it and, followed by the shrieks of her schoolmates, they set off.

For the first part of the journey Maia kept her eyes on the side of the road.  Now that she was really leaving her friends it was hard to hold back her tears.

She had reached the gulping stage when she heard a loud snapping noise and turned her head.  Miss Minton had opened the metal clasp of her large black handbag and was handing her a clean handkerchief embroidered with the initial ‘A’.

‘Myself,’ said the governess in her deep, gruff voice, ‘I would think how lucky I was.  How fortunate.’

‘To go to the Amazon, you mean?’

‘To have so many friends who were sad to see me go.’

‘Didn’t you have friends who minded you leaving?’

Miss Minton’s lips twitched for a moment.

‘My sister’s budgerigar, perhaps.  If he had understood what was happening.  Which is extremely doubtful’

And so begins the peculiar friendship of Miss Minton and Maia.   We know they are like minded, because at the end of chapter one, when a porter goes to pick up Miss Minton’s trunk,

‘You’ll need two men for that,’ said the governess.

The porter look offended.  ‘Not me. I’m strong.’

But when he came to lift the trunk, he staggered.

‘Crikey, Ma’am, what have you got in there?’ he asked.

Miss Minton looked at him haughtily and did not answer.  Then she led Maia onto the platform where the train waited to take them to Liverpool and then the RMS Cardinal bound for Brazil.

They were steaming out of the station before Maia asked, ‘Was it books in the trunk?’

‘It was books,’ admitted Miss Minton.

And Maia said, ‘Good.’

The pacing is perfect.  We learn so much from what is not said.  Miss Minton is not your average governess and Maia is not your average Young Lady.

On the boat to Brazil, Maia makes friends with Clovis King, a young actor heartily homesick for London.  On arriving in Brazil she discovers that things are not quite as she had hoped they would be, and while not quite Cinderella, there is enough reference for even young children to see the twins as the ugly sisters.  But Maia is no Cinderella, waiting for a fairy godmother to fix everything for her.

Maia meets a mysterious young boy, when she is exploring the forest near her new home, and a wonderful adventure begins, with as many twists and turns as any good river may be expected to have.   As Books for Keeps says, ‘This is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn, veering between farce and tragedy, and peopled with highly quixotic but believable characters  It revels in the joy and the danger of exploration…Very highly recommended.’

And for someone who enjoys books to reference other literature, this one surely does.  Little Lord Fauntleroy is the play that Clovis is in.  Macbeth is also put on by the acting company on the boat, in another example of the pithy Miss Minton:

‘Mrs Goodley was Lady Macbeth of course and Maia thought she was very stirring, tottering about all over the place and muttering ‘Out damned spot’ with a terrible leer.  So she was rather hurt when Miss Minton, who had been reading, closed her book and got ready to go below.

‘Don’t you like Shakespeare?’ asked Maia.

Miss Minton gave her a look.  ‘I rank Shakespeare second only to God,’ she said. ‘Which is why I am going to my cabin.’

Later, when Maia is at her cousins, the Carters, there is a lovely scene where Mrs Carter, who loathes insects with a passion and a flit gun is chasing around in the early morning:

In the corridor, wearing a dressing gown and a turban to protect her hair, was Mrs Carter.  She had the flit gun in her hand and was carefully squirting every nook and cranny with insect killer.  Then she disappeared into the cloakroom, fetched a broom, and began to thump and bang on the ceiling to get rid of possible spiders.  Next came a bucket of disinfectant and a mop with which she squelched across the tiled floor – and all the time she muttered, ‘Out!’

It is hard not to remember Lady Macbeth, and particularly Mrs Goodley’s interpretation, and of course the foreshadowing of madness to come.

This book was second in running for the Whitbread Children’s Book of the Year (2001) and the Guardian Fiction Award (2001).  As judge Anne Fine says: But we all (the judges Anne Fine, Jacqueline Wilson and Philip Pullman) fell on Eva Ibbotson’s perfectly judged, brilliantly light to read, civilised Journey To The River Sea, in which we are shown how, as one of the characters reminds us, “Children must lead big lives… if it is in them to do so.” Oh, please let her write another book as fine as this, because, in any other year, we would have handed her the prize without a thought.

Read the Guardian article here: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2001/oct/09/guardianchildrensfictionprize2001.awardsandprizes18

This is a book well worth a read by children and by their parents!

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Filed under Children 8+, Five stars, humour, Prize winners, Read Aloud

The ACB with Honora Lee – Kate De Goldi and Gregory O’Brien

The ACB with Honora Lee

A while ago now, I was driving home when I noticed an elderly man leaning against a sign post, not too far from my house.  He looked a little confused, and so I went to see what was going on.  It turned out that he had gone for a walk, he wasn’t quite sure when and he wasn’t quite sure where to.  He knew his wife would be missing him, but for the life of him he couldn’t remember his address.  I took him in, gave him a cup of tea and searched the phone book.  There was no phone number listed under his name so I ended up having to ring the police.  They found that he had gone missing from a local rest home.  His wife had died the year before.  The police asked if I would mind having him there until someone from the rest home came to pick him up.  We had a delightful conversation, especially when he saw my husband’s collection of very old matchbox cars.  He told me about how he used to race motorbikes on the same beach as Burt Munro, of the World’s Fastest Indian, in Invercargill.  He told me about how as kids, they would go and watch him but he was a ‘grumpy old buggar’ so they never really got to talk to him.  Eventually, someone from the rest home arrived.  The gentleman graciously thanked me for his ‘cuppa’, and left as though he was about to step into a limousine, until the care worker started to growl at him for escaping – telling him what a naughty boy he was, and he wasn’t to do it again.  I could have cried, as what had been a beautiful smile turned into confusion, concern and then sadness.  Heart breaking.  My son asked why she bothered growling…it seemed obvious to us that he wasn’t going to remember.  Why couldn’t he have just had a lovely afternoon out?  My son later asked if I thought he really had been on the beach with Burt Monro?  Who knows…

The ACB with Honora Lee is a beautifully told tale of Perry, a somewhat unconventional 9 year old girl, with an ‘eccentric sense of rhythm’ according to her Music and Movement tutor.  She attends the Ernle Clark School because, ‘her parents said that was the best place for someone like her.’

What was someone like her like? Perry often wondered.  But she said, ‘Why? Why? Why? Why is it the best school?’

‘Because,’ said her mother. ‘Be…Cos…’ She was driving the car, she couldn’t think at the same time. She had to wait for the lights to turn red. ‘Because it asks a lot of you.’

Actually, at school, it was Perry who asked a lot, though some of the teachers wished she would not.  The Special Assistance teacher, Mrs Sonne, said it would be much better for everyone if Perry tried to listen.

Perry’s mother also believes that children should be kept busy, so there are daily after school activities, except for Friday’s with Nina and Claude – Nina is her nanny and Claude is Nina’s two year old son, ‘Claude followed Perry all around the house.  He liked everything Perry did but he especially enjoyed her making violent hunting noises on the clarinet or playing Black Magic on the piano.  Black Magic was Perry’s best piece.  She had composed it herself. ‘On Saturdays, Perry and her father visit Honora Lee, ‘So far, all Perry knew about Gran was her name – Honora Lee – and her age – seventy six years old – and that she didn’t have a husband or much memory any more, which is why she lived at Santa Lucia and could never get Perry’s father’s name right.’

Only, suddenly Perry’s Thursday after school activity becomes unavailable when the tutor puts her back out and needs time to think about her options.  Despite Perry’s mother’s best intentions, no other Thursday afternoon activities are available.  Perry suggests she should visit Honora Lee. And so she does, with lovely baking from Nina each week (What is it with baking and the NZ Post Children’s Book Awards this year?? She even took Ginger Crunch – my favourite.  I’m beginning to wonder if there is an ironic wink being given to the Edmonds Cookbook being the only NZ book on the Whitcoulls Top 50 list…hmmm…)

On her walk to Santa Lucia each week she notices dead and dying bumble bees.  They are a mystery, and she begins to collect them.  Gran doesn’t ever recognise Perry, of course.  But Perry never lets that get her down.  She looks for the bits in Gran that make sense, and meets her halfway.

‘Gran stopped whistling for a moment and squinted at Perry.

“What is your name?”

“Perry,” said Perry, Very Patiently. “P is for Perry.  And don’t say it’s a boy’s name.”

Gran began whistling again.  It wasn’t really a tune.  It was more like a breathy birdcall.

“You have a most eccentric sense of melody,” said Perry.

That was when Gran had laughed, a sudden rat-a-tat, like gunshots on the tv.’

Gran used to be a teacher, and she loves teaching and organising.  So Perry begins to make an ABC book, using the people and ideas from Santa Lucia.

out of order

On the way home Perry told Nina and Claude about the first day of ABC.

‘It’s not really ABC,’ she said. ‘It’s ADV, so far.  Gran does it out of order.’

The book is broken into sections, using headings that can seem quite random, but always make beautiful sense by the end of the section.  Also, scattered throughout are Gregory O’Brien’s gorgeous illustrations that are quirky enough to seem just exactly right, with letters and words roaming the page seemingly at will, and dead and dying bumble bees randomly littering the pages.

The ACB is a quick read, but it could stand many readings.  I’m not sure whether it is a children’s book, though.  Although I am sure that there are children who would love the gently paced story of Perry collecting her ACB.  However, this is a story about identity and relationships.  I think it is a book I would give to adults.

Read this article from The New Zealand Herald, where Kate De Goldi talks about her inspiration for The ACB with Honora Lee.

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Filed under Children 8+, Five stars, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer

The Queen and the Nobody Boy – Barbara Else

The Queen and the Nobody Boy

This is the second book in the Tales of Fontania, with The Travelling Restaurant: Jasper’s Voyage in Three Parts, being the first.  The Queen and the Nobody Boy continues with the irreverent humour of The Travelling Restaurant, and expands our knowledge of Fontania into Um’Binnia, an underground city threatening war against Fontania.  The greedy and awful Emporer Prowdd’on, is trying to capture the Golden Dragon-Eagle, who is necessary to the passing on of magic to young Queen Sibilla, 12 years old and not quite magical yet.

This story is Hodie’s story.  Hodie is the ‘nobody boy’ who has no parents and is an unpaid odd-job boy at the palace.  He becomes disgruntled with life at the palace, not surprisingly, and makes the decision to move on:

‘Hodie’s eyes turned watery.  He was utterly sick of the Grand Palace and all its gossip. “Oo, babies not sleeping safe? We need stronger magic.” “Oo, Fontania needs a royal family that pays more attention to its magical abilities.” “Oo, what can the king be doing in his workshop? I hope it’s magical experiments.”

Magic! he scoffed to himself.  How could magic exist in a world where a boy’s father was here one day but gone the next without a word? How could it exist in a world where a boy didn’t know a thing about his mother? Well, he’d learned to live without parents, and he didn’t need the Grand Palace either – especially if the palace didn’t need him.  It was high time he left here.  He would go south.’

Only, as he is leaving, he hears footsteps behind him. ‘Hodie didn’t want company and strode faster.  The boy caught up, puffing. “Boy!” said the boy. “I knew I’d catch you!” Hodie’s mouth dropped open.  It was the Queen.”

Sibilla is fed-up with everybody watching and waiting for her magic to appear, and has decided she will leave with Hodie, whether he likes it or not.  Along with Murgott, the pirate chef from the Travelling Restaurant, who has become Corporal Murgott in this book, Hodie and Sibilla travel to Um’Binnia, overcoming danger along the way, and discovering new strengths.  Sibilla is also forced to consider a few home truths about how her subjects view royalty.

‘Sibilla kept both hands on her cap. “How would democ-ra-what improve the Emporer?”

Hodie put his hands over his eyes.  Any moment she would give herself away.  They’d all be in trouble.

“Democracy,” muttered the ogre, “is even better than having lazy King and little girl Queen.”

Murgott drew in a sharp breath and glanced at Sibilla.  The ogre continued. “Democracy is when people spend time arguing about what is best, not just say Hoorah for Emporer to his face and heaven-save-us-all-especially-ogres behind his back.”‘

The story is told with a very present authorial voice – almost a ‘story telling’, with authorial asides such as,

‘Hodie also heard that the King and Queen’s mother, Lady Helen, actually said the Royal Swear Word. (It’s in very tiny letters at the end of the book.  Nobody must see you look at it.)’

For my own part, I wonder if the tongue-in-cheek humour throughout detracts from the wonderful fantasy and fantastical inventions and settings in the book.  The reason that fantasy worlds can work is because they become utterly believable, in a suspend-disbelief kind of way.  The author’s presence in the story reminds you that she is making it all up, and the irreverent tone undermines her world a little.  This is different to the asides, for example, of Bartimaeus in the Jonathon Stroud series, where the teller of the story is a character from the story, and therefore his irreverence is entirely convincing.  But, this is just a pondering…

This book is great fun, and appropriate for children from about 8 years and up.  While it is not necessary to have read ‘The Travelling Restaurant’ to enjoy this story, it does help you to understand the characters of Jasper, Sibilla and Murgott a little more.

Nominated for the Junior Fiction Section of this year’s NZ Post Children’s book awards.

Links to Teacher Resources and an interview with Barbara Else, the author.

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Filed under Children 8+, Four stars, humour, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer

Reach – Hugh Brown

Reach

Firstly, I would like to say that there is not ‘a way that teenagers talk to each other’, as some reviewers have commented.  I have heard a few that actually sound quite literate – so, for me, the teenage conversation was fine.  (Perhaps I could read it as a translation of what they actually said!) The thing I found most surreal about this book was that there was not a cellphone, facebook page or electronic device involved.  Technologically speaking, this book was set in the 70’s. Evocatively.  And I liked that.

Will is a Year 12 boy who lives with his grandparents since his mother left to join a commune 5 years ago.  His father, Bill, (and yes that can get a bit confusing) parents a bit like a hawk – Will says, ‘Dad’s like that – circles around in the hills by himself most of the time, then every now and then he lands nearby, stares at you, silent and fierce, then he’s up and gone again.’  Will sees himself as a nerdy bookworm, and this is further verified when Woody (a rugby player of course) starts to bully Will at school.  At about the same time, Will meets Conway, a new girl at school, and the daughter of a Guidance Counsellor that he has a bit of an unfortunate conversation with when she queries his lateness to school each day.  In typical teenage fashion he decides to play with her a little, because he can, without further thought to how the mother of a girl he likes might interpret what he says.  Also, Will’s mother is now back in the country, and Will, having idealised her to bits, wants to visit her, feeling that she would understand him better than anyone, and help to put things right.  (We all know how that’s going to turn out, right?)  Conway appears to show interest in Will, and then backs off (mysteriously to Will, but obvious to the reader), Will learns martial arts and then one day Woody turns up…and – you get the picture.

This book is not about the plot.  It’s about the telling of the story. It celebrates language and plays with it all the time. Perky, Will’s best friend, speaks like a thesaurus, ‘A miniscule sun, a tiny luteous orb’ is how he describes a ball of earwax plucked from his ear.  When he flicks the wax, it lands on the board between red and wheelbarrow – William Carlos Williams.  Perky is quirky – no doubt about that, but as he says himself, it’s a pose – a defence mechanism, ‘Don’t worry, the dean’s very nice.  We’re great friends, though of course she is somewhat concerned about my extreme attention-seeking behaviour.  But hell, people who live in glasshouses shouldn’t shoot skeet.’

Young Will is inclined to a bit of verbal virtuosity himself, for example, when milking Hex, the cow (an hilarious scene), sounding almost Shakespearean, ‘set your foot, a hex on you, set your foot, poxy cow,’ he crooned.  In maths, a parabola turns into a poem

Why
equals rain, squared
plus sun? Cloud mountains
roil and mound.
Why equals
rai…

This book is such an interesting mix of ideas that every time I think about it, something else comes to mind.  Of course it brings to mind Atwood’s ‘The Blind Assassin’, having a novel within a novel, but also, ‘A Handmaid’s Tale’, with the dystopian, repressive society represented in Will’s journal.  Narcissus, from Greek mythology who turns into a daffodil, staring into the beautiful reflection of himself in the pond, is the tongue-in-cheek way Brown shows Will’s self-absorbed mother.  In a more ‘boy’ way, though, how can we not think of the Marvel comics – Clark Kent being brought up in the country, on a farm, with his ‘grandparents’.  It’s interesting that it is Conway, a girl, who is obsessed with the graphic novels – most books would have the boys reading the graphic novels and the girls being the book worms. But then Conway is an artist.  At times, Conway is drawn as a character from a graphic novel – when she mimics the finch-like behaviour of her mother, ‘she pursed her lips, put her head on one side and made her eyes round and glassy’ makes her sound more like a Manga than a person, or a finch!

Maybe this is a new form of fantasy writing – set in the here and now – but in a parallel universe where we still drive Valiants and Vdubs, listen to Elvis and have grandmothers who bake endless delectable delights – some of which I haven’t tasted for years.  Reading this nearly made me run for my other great Kiwi classic – the Edmonds Cookbook – to bake an Albert cake – whatever that is…and some ginger crunch (not mentioned in this book, but the best thing my mum used to bake on Saturday mornings, while Dad and my older brother were mowing the lawns.)  And this book does evoke that time.

Is it too removed from reality – I’m not sure.  After all, as this book points out in so many different ways, what is reality?  Is it what we experience, is it what people experience of us, is it the reality we build to protect ourselves, is it the reality that dawns on us piece by piece as we put the bits of the puzzle together.  This book is perhaps a meditation on life, ‘the point of meditation isn’t to get to a place where you have no thoughts, but where you aren’t involved in them.  Where you’re separate, able to observe them, or not, at your leisure.’

This book has been shortlisted for the Young Adult Section of this year’s New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards, and also won the inaugural Tessa Duder  Award for Young Adult Fiction.

I’m off to offer it as a possibility to my RR, without telling him any of this, of course.  I’m pretty sure he’ll just enjoy the story.

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Filed under Children 12+, Five stars, humour, New Zealand Post Children's Book Awards, New Zealand Writer, Prize winners

Holes – Louis Sachar

Holes

‘If you take a bad boy and make him dig a hole every day in the hot sun, it will turn him into a good boy.
That was what some people thought.’

Stanley Yelnats is not a bad boy, but thanks to his no-good-dirty-rotten-pig-stealing-great-great grandfather, he does have some pretty bad luck.

‘Stanley Yelnats was given a choice.  The judge said, “You may go to jail, or you may go to Camp Green Lake.”
Stanley was from a poor family.  He had never been to camp before.’

But, as he discovers when he gets to Camp Green Lake, there is no lake at Camp Green Lake…

This novel has been described as ‘groundbreaking’ – I can only hope that was a deliberate pun.  What I like about this novel is its down to earth (I know, I know), spare language, which generally leaves a lot more unsaid hanging in the air, than it says. It’s eloquent in its brevity.  For example, this is the description of Stanley’s first meal and shower at Camp Green Lake:

‘Stanley took a shower – if you could call it that, ate dinner – if you could call it that, and went to bed – if you could call his smelly and scratchy cot a bed.’

It doesn’t take many pages before kids are asking, ‘What’s up with the three thing?’  Oh!  You’re asking me about literary devices, now?  Well, if you insist!

In that sense, it’s a perfect boy novel – there’s not a lot of deep talk going on.  But it’s deep, for sure.

Four stories are woven together.  The stories of Elya, Stanley’s great-great-grandfather; Kissin’ Kate Barlow and Sam the onion man; and the Zeronis are peppered throughout Stanley’s story, at seemingly random points, with little clues thrown in to gradually make the reader aware of how they connect, and some pretty powerful imagery is thrown in, to boot.

Stanley finds himself in with a bunch of youths that may well have been the kind to bully him in his previous life.  They all have nicknames like Armpit, ZigZag, X-ray and Zero – although Stanley’s not entirely sure that Zero is a nickname.  The boys each have to dig a hole a day, and if they find anything interesting they have to give it to the warden.  Stanley starts out finding the digging hard, and getting along with the boys harder.  There are all sorts of codes he needs to figure out.

Stanley’s pathway to lifting his great-great-grandfather’s curse is both complex and simple, and stunningly wrought.  The first part of the novel leaves readers feeling a little confused, on the edge of understanding what’s going on, but not quite getting it.  The second part cleverly litters little clues and the bringing together of the clues is made immensely satisfying for the reader because there is a purpose to everything in the first half – even the bits that seemed irrelevant.  So satisfying!

Everytime I read this book, I find something else to love about it.  This needs to be on everyone’s reading list, and you need to read it more than once.

This book has won a huge number of prizes.  For more information, go to: http://www.louissachar.com/HolesBook.htm

PS – the film version is one of the best book to film adaptations I have ever seen:  http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/holes/

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Filed under Children 10+, Children 12+, Classics, humour, Uncategorized, YA 14+

Half Brother – Kenneth Oppel

Last year I bought a book called ‘The Discursive Mind’, which argued that the difference between humans and animals is, essentially, the ability to communicate. In parts, it talked about the experiments done with sign language and chimps in the 70’s, and the difference between speech and communication.  While it was a fantastic book, and challenged me to really think, ‘Half Brother’ asked me to do the same kind of thinking, without the need for ‘expert language’, wrapped in a story that progressively asks harder and harder questions.

Half Brother
Half Brother worried me for a start.  I felt the title was …well… twee.  I worried that it would be yet another story about the special love between a boy and his pet, that ended happily ever after.  I really worried that the parents were too two dimensional, and stereotypical.  I worried that we would get so caught up in the adolescent relationship thing that it would become a boy meets girl, boy learns to be in the right group, kind of story.  I worried that Mom would never complete her PhD.  I worried that Peter would lead Ben astray.  I worried so much, I couldn’t put  the book down.  Most of all I kept worrying for Zan.  It seemed to become less and less likely that there could be any kind of solution for Zan that was believable, ethical, hopeful or humane.

Ben is an only child. He is 13 years old.  His father is a researcher, in behavioural science, in the 1970s.  Which, of course, should ring some alarm bells.  Mom is also a researcher, but has put aside her study for now, or at least is trying to work it around family and all.  One day, Ben’s parents bring home Zan, an eight day old chimpanzee.
And I have to say, that despite all my maternal worrying for everyone and everything in the book, it grew up, and walked and talked and learned and ended in the most satisfying way it could; a finely tuned orchestration of events that didn’t excuse wrong decisions, but did pay some kind of recompense, imperfectly, as it is in real life.

I highly recommend this book.  It has so much to it that it deserves more than one read.  And it deserves a bit of background reading to learn about the behavioural scientists it talks about, animal experimentation, and chimpanzees.  Also, gender equality! 😉

 

For some information on the kind of research Ben’s father was undertaking, go here: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2011/nov/24/can-chimps-converse-exchange/?pagination=false

To learn more about Kenneth Oppel, the writer, go here:  http://www.kennethoppel.ca/pages/biography.shtml

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Filed under Children 12+, humour

Bluefish – Pat Schmatz

bluefish

I don’t know quite what I was expecting when I started this book, but it certainly wasn’t this book.  The edition that I have has a blue cover with a blue fish on it, and of course it made me think of ‘One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish’.  And that is important, but not for a while, unless you get it early on.

Travis has had to move, with his grandfather, to a smaller house and a new school.  He has new teachers to get used to and new peers.  He is also missing his dog, Rosco.

On his first day at the new school a shoe lands next to him, while he is trying to open his locker.  As he tries to work out what has happened, he notices a kid walking past, with only one shoe on. ‘A head bobbed down the hall toward him, dipping with a one shoe walk.  The guy was small, and Travis figured him for a seventh grader, maybe even sixth.  He had deep brown skin and hair cropped too short to kink, and he carried a nice new over-the-shoulder book bag.  He was very tucked in and tidy except for his shoeless left foot.  His right foot wore a new white Nike.’  Travis ‘bumps’ the shoe into the kids hand and gets on with his day.  Staying in the background.

Until he meets Velveeta, ‘My public calls me Velveeta’, a girl in his reading class, Room 134, and then the self-proclaimed ‘subversive’ Mr McQueen (Considering Velveeta’s passion for film, I’m guessing the name McQueen is an allusion).  Mr McQueen reaches Travis in a way that other teachers haven’t, ‘a short, round balding guy with glasses came out of his office at the front of the room, spotted Travis and walked over.’

What I love about this book is its richness and its natural reference to so many books and so many films.  One after the other, little jewels are spilt throughout.  Velveeta and Travis take their turns in telling their stories and you care equally about each.

I highly recommend this book!

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Filed under Children 10+, humour, Uncategorized