An Absolute Wonder of a Book
I know a Good Story / December 29, 2016

Have you ever felt like a bunch of independent things were coming together to take you in a single direction?  I have. Weird, isn’t it?   Sometime this last fall, Amazon and the New York Times started mentioning “Wonder” as one of the middle-grade books of the moment.  “Something special,” they said. Its blue-and-white cover was prominently displayed on the shelves of my local bookstore. Now, these entities know a fair amount about books but I don’t like being told what to read and bookstores always say they have something special when they want to grab more of my money. Then my sister (the teacher) insisted I had to read Wonder because of its narrative style   By the time literary agents Jaida Temperly and Danielle Barthel cited Wonder as one of the stories middle-grade writers and readers should know, I was ready to surrender.  I can resist a fair amount of hype but this felt more like directives from a superior force, pushing me toward the future.  And they were right.  Wonder is not just a book kids love reading right now, it’s one they will love to read for years. It’s a book many parents will love.  It’s an absolute wonder…

Are you good at solving Puzzles?
I know a Good Story / December 27, 2016

Reynard “Rennie” Muldoon is. He’s one of those kids who does the crossword in ink, solves algebra problems in his head and tends to have few friends his own age.  Well, the other kids think he’s strange. And he’s an orphan, to boot.  So it’s good that he has a talent for Puzzles.  A talent that could change his life. Rennie Muldoon is the central character in The Mysterious Benedict Society, one of those stories, like Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate events or James and the Giant Peach, that belong in the “Plucky Orphan” genre.  Once again, kind and decent children are thrown onto the dubious mercies of the world with tasks that would defeat most adults.  Once again there’s a picturesque, almost Dickensian quality to the narrative.   The plus in this book (besides its marvellous story) is what makes Rennie Muldoon important.   The tale is chock-full of puzzles. Rennie answers an ad for “Gifted Children looking for Special Opportunities” and is subjected to a series of tests that range from the usual time and speed math problems I never figured out to staged exams of his character and resourcefulness.  By including the problems, the reader gets the fun…

Mr. K and the A, B, Cs of reading
What I know about Stories / December 22, 2016

My Friend, Mandy My friend Mandy reads lots of books.  Well, most of my friends like to read but Mandy reads more than most.  And she worries about accidentally embarrassing someone who reads less than she does when she admits how much she reads. She has a good heart that way. But having audited more than my share of competitions about “who reads the most”, I’ve learned to shy away from those conversations. Like Mandy, I think a person’s literacy level can’t be determined by the number of books they’ve read, but I also think that level is based on more than pages and the reading difficulty are involved.  For that, I still turn to Mr K’s A-B-Cs of reading. Mr K was one of my high-school English teachers and one of the more popular instructors in school. Funny, intelligent and a bit daring, he escorted herds of reluctant adolescents through the thickets of 20th Century American Literature and he gave very reasonable tests.  As a matter of fact, the students in his classes got to choose which of his tests they’d take. It was a pretty simple concept.  For every assigned book, Mr K had three essay options, designated “A”, “B” and “C”…

Winter Country
One of My Stories / December 20, 2016

Like all our other seasons, Winter came a bit early this year. Just between you and me, the South doesn’t handle Winter all that well. This is the sun-belt, where central air and sunglasses are more than accessories. Our winters often hold off until January and some years they don’t show up at all. Instead of a frozen wasteland, we get a dormant rainy outdoors explored only by aficionados of the hunt.  The rest of us curl up with a book and a drink until it’s time to replant the garden. But not this year.  This year we’re going to get winter and it’s going to be downright cold. A sure sign of winter – smoke coming from the fireplace The South becomes a different place in winter; more like the spot they wrote about decades ago. Although most Southerners are not tied to the land like they were in previous centuries, weather becomes an important factor to us during these three months of the year.  Our houses are not heated the way New England homes are and bitter cold can sometimes seep indoors.  Bereft of their gardens, our houses seem to pull in on themselves these days, like a freezing man huddles inside…

Something Nasty in the Nursery: Gothic Children’s Fiction
What I know about Stories / December 16, 2016

The books we loved and cherished as kids say a lot about us as adults.  Any grown woman who remembers Ramona Quimby or Katie John fondly probably has an independent streak.  The boys who grew up reading Robert A. Heinlein’s Science Fiction for kids grew up to be men with an interest in science.  But what do you say to the kids who fell for The Graveyard Book, Lemony Snicket’s series and The Mysterious Benedict Society?  Welcome to the World of Gothic Literature, kiddies; your crypt is right this way? I hope not because Gothic doesn’t always equate to horror or an obsession with death.  What it promises is a spooky atmosphere where anything could happen.  The decrepit old cottage may turn out to be as wholesome as milk, the confining hills may be nothing but hills, but at first glance, every setting borders on the extreme.  The castle isn’t a castle, but a ruin, the land isn’t boggy and cold, it’s a moor where you might get stuck and sink to your doom.  Doom is a big concept in Gothic Lit. as is the idea of all things extreme.  The heroes are usually resourceful and brave, their adventures are perilous and…

%d bloggers like this: