CBBT – Wayfarer by R. J. Anderson, Day 3

Wayfarer, the Children’s Book Blog Tour feature for June, is R. J. Anderson‘s second novel. I had the privilege of reviewing the first, Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter back in March, which is why I jumped on the opportunity to participate in this tour.

Despite the fact that my initial reaction to stories about faeries was negative, I found myself wholly engrossed in the world and the characters Anderson created. So that brings me to the review of Wayfarer, the sequel to the book that introduced me to the Oakenwyld and the faeries without magic.

The Story. Fifteen years after the end of Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter Linden, the step-daughter to the main character I grew to love, is ready to take on an adult role in the Oakenwyld. But she faces a dying world. Her queen, the only faery with magic in the Oak, is dying, and along with her, the glimpse that keeps predators from knowing that a colony of faeries lives inside.

Linden receives a portion of the queen’s magic and the assignment to find other faeries who can restore the magic to the dwindling and endangered group.

Meanwhile, a new human moves into the big house—Paul’s young nephew Timothy, the son of missionaries who is experiencing a crisis of faith. In days, feeling confused, betrayed and alone, Timothy strikes out on his own.

Except unbeknown to him, Linden goes along. And so their adventures begin. Both their lives and the ones they love are at risk unless they team up to find help.

Strengths. It’s hard for me to say how much I loved this book. At one point as I was reading, I had to put it down and think about how well crafted it was. I was fully engaged, the plot complications naturally ratcheted the tension higher, and the stakes became greater.

How did she do it, I asked myself. One event naturally grew out of another event, one choice naturally let to a greater problem. And the story bloomed before my eyes.

Danger, intrigue, surprise. These are the hallmarks of a great plot. But this story was more. It also had great characters—believable, troubled, courageous, ultimately sacrificial. They became admirable and I wanted so very much to see them succeed.

And still there was more. Wayfarer addresses some deep issues, perhaps the central most being the need to take a risk on behalf of others rather than to seek a selfishly safe haven for a few like-minded folk (or faeries).

Weakness. A few reviewers said they liked Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter a bit more than Wayfarer. I didn’t feel that way. I loved them equally.

If I had to give a criticism, I’d say this one started a little slow. I was shocked to be in the point of view of a human boy in the first chapter (I blame this on the girlie-girl cover). I also thought he was an unreliable narrator because he found fault with the characters I loved in the first book. So it took me a little while to warm up to Timothy.

The turning point for me was when Linden did the first heroic deed. Because I wanted her to succeed, I also wanted Timothy to succeed, and I was hooked.

Recommendation. I consider this one a must read for fantasy lovers. I give the book my highest recommendation to anyone, young or old, male or female, who loves a good story.

Finally, I’d like to invite you to see what tour participants are talking about (several have some excellent author interviews).

Special thanks to HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, for supplying me with a review copy of Wayfarer.

CBBT – Wayfarer by R. J. Anderson, Day 2

Shortly after the CSFF Blog Tour for R. J. Anderson‘s first novel, Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter, I lent my copy to a friend who writes YA fantasy. She’s even written a faery story though it hasn’t found a publishing home. I knew she’d be interested in reading a story about Knife and the faeries without magic.

When our next writer get-together drew near, I asked for the book back because a couple other people were in line to read it. Lo and behold, my friend had started it, but her target-audience daughter snatched it up and devoured it instead. In fact, my friend reported how on pins and needles said daughter was, waiting for Wayfarer.

Thinking that I’d be through with the Children’s Book Blog Tour (I got my dates wrong), I’d said I would pass along my ARC in exchange for the first book. Oh, woe! I feel like I’ve disappointed this eager reader!

But here’s the point. Too often when I’m doing reviews, I lose sight of the target audience. I formulate my opinion based on my likes and dislikes, my expectations and interests, my writing style preferences. I try not to, but it happens. Then I encounter the raw enthusiasm of a reader in love with a new world she’s discovered, and I realize, as much as I may have liked Wayfarer (and I DID), it pales in comparison to the joy a target-audience reader will experience.

Stories like the ones the talented R. J. Anderson has written spark something in young readers, I think. They stretch the world and make all things seem possible. They create mystery but also throw down the gauntlet of becoming to those moving toward adulthood.

A young person can grow to be selfish, using others and protecting self, or he can grow to be sacrificial, helping others and giving himself away. Anderson paints the contrasts clearly and even paints the risks of sacrifice accurately. Good choices aren’t necessarily happy choices. They usually cost.

But when a character a reader loves makes the good choice, somehow that reader, especially that young reader, is ennobled. Suddenly, the idea that sacrifice and selflessness can be achieved and will make a difference seems like an idea for today, for now, for the young as much as for the old.

That’s when stories take on power. That’s when they become much more than entertainment, much more than enjoyable.

That’s the kind of book I believe Wayfarer is.

See what others on the CBBT circuit think:

Special thanks to HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, for supplying me with a review copy of Wayfarer.

CBBT – Wayfarer by R. J. Anderson, Day 1

Here’s Post #2 for today, my contribution to the Children’s Book Blog Tour featuring Wayfarer, R. J. Anderson‘s sequel to Faery Rebel: Spell Hunter, (HarperCollins). I already know, any CSFF Blog Tour participants who see this post will be jealous because I’ve had a chance to read Anderson’s second book (which just released this week) because the first one was so popular with those who recently reviewed it.

I’m happy to say, Wayfarer doesn’t suffer a sophomore jinx like so many second books do. The story continues what the first one started and is as exciting and full of suspense, intrigue, twists, and truth as its predecessor.

I’ll admit, the US cover (pictured above, on the right—the other is the UK version) threw me. During the CSFF Blog Tour for Anderson’s debut novel, a number of reviewers commented on the pixy-like image on the cover, reminiscent of Tinkerbell (you can see that cover pictured here). Since that image fit what I thought of in connection to faeries, I wasn’t troubled. But this more adult, prim and proper version pictured on the cover of Wayfarer was a little off-putting.

Then I started reading. After the short prologue I discovered this story was as much a boy’s story as it was a faery’s. And, quite frankly, in the early going, I missed Knife (the main character in the first book).

But all these concerns led to nothing. I soon forgot about the girlie-girl cover and came to care for Timothy as I delved into the fast-paced, fun story that pushes the reader to think more deeply about … a variety of things—home, family, trust, selfishness, sacrifice, kindness, truthfulness, courage. There’s a LOT in this enjoyable story.

Plus, in a crucial place, Knife stepped up to be … Knife, which added to my delight. The character I’d grown to love in the last book wasn’t just a place holder or window dressing, even though Wayfarer wasn’t her story. She played a significant role, and I loved this book more because of it.

But there was lots to love about this story for itself. While I didn’t lose my attachment to Knife (and in fact actually felt more fond of her than ever), I quickly came to care about Linden and Timothy.

Wayfarer is its own story, not a repeat of the earlier book. The characters were unique, the conflict ratcheted higher, and the effects spread wider with more at stake. In other words, this story felt bigger, more complex.

But enough of my introduction.

Take a look at what other Children’s Book Blog Tour participants have to say about Wayfarer:

Special thanks to HarperTeen, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers, for supplying me with a review copy of Wayfarer.

North! Or Be Eaten, a Review – CBBT, Day 3

Andrew Peterson, author of the Wingfeather Saga, is a talented musician as well as an author and illustrator. If I’d interviewed him for the Children’s Book Blog Tour of North! Or Be Eaten, the CBBT August feature, I would have asked if he finds it hard to head in so many varied directions. Of course, they aren’t all varied, since clearly Andrew brings his art to his stories and his writing to his music.

Be that as it may, as suggested in the title of this post, I want to review the second in Andrew’s middle grade fantasy series.

The Story. North! Or Be Eaten picks up the story of the Igby family where On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness left off. With their lives in danger and their town in turmoil, the Igbys are hiding out in Uncle Peet’s Castle. As they make plans and preparations to depart for the Ice Prairies, a place where they believe they will find a resistance force mounting against the Fangs of Dang, they are discovered. And chased.

In the process they find help when they least expected it, betrayal when they had no reason to look for it, and separation that tests them all in ways they could not have anticipated.

Strengths. As you might guess, one of the big positives in this story, from my point of view, is how unpredictable the story becomes. Just about the time I think I know the direction it will take, a new twist develops.

I also really connected with the characters, especially Janner. He understands his role now, and he takes decisive, though not always wise, action. I want to see him succeed. I worry for him when I think he’s making a wrong move. I want to smack him when I think he’s being a show-off. But throughout, I’m in his corner.

The setting continues to be a huge draw for fantasy fans. The world Andrew Peterson has developed is dense. It has a history and tradition, politics and poets. There are notable landmarks that influence and affect the story. The world becomes nearly as important as the characters.

Ultimately, I think Andrew hit a home run in presenting Christian themes. I doubt very much if anyone not looking for them will say, Oh, that book has Christian themes. Rather than noticing, readers, I believe, will be impacted by the truths inherent in the story. Andrew wove those truths with a masterful hand. They are at the core of What Happens, yet they do not call attention to themselves.

(I’m trying to be circumspect so as not to give spoilers. This is one of those books that, first time through, will be more fun if you don’t know what’s coming next.)

Weaknesses. While the story started with lots of action, I felt some seemed a little unnecessary. The Igbys spend time preparing for their trip north, only to leave much of their supplies behind, for example. The Gargan Rockroach seemed like a hideous monster thrown in for the sake of having a hideous monster.

Of course, the target audience readers will undoubtedly find such to add to the excitement, but since everything after the bridge seems to fit so tightly together, these earlier chapters feel less significant.

One more. There were some motivation and plausibility problems in those early chapters, too, I thought. For example, Oskar’s ability to find the family to warn them seemed a little unbelievable, given his wounded condition.

Recommendation. When I like a book as much as I do North! Or Be Eaten, it would be easy to leave out weaknesses, but my guess is, fewer people would believe the positives I have to say. I can only hope none of the weaknesses I pointed out would dissuade anyone from reading this series. It would be a shame because I think this is one of those keepers, the kind you buy in box sets some day and reread every few years. Wonderful books. Must read if you love literature.

For those interested in a “second opinion,” see what others on the tour are saying:
The 160 Acre Woods, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Book Buzz, KidzBookBuzz.com, My Own Little Corner of the World, My utopia, Novel Teen, Olive Tree, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

Read the First One – CBBT, North! Or Be Eaten, Day 2

On this Fantasy Friday, it’s a pleasure to continue discussing Andrew Peterson‘s North! Or Be Eaten, second in the Wingfeather Saga.

Second! Ah, apparently this has rub-producing potential for those who have not read the initial book in the series, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness.

So the easy answer, in my opinion, is to read the first one, first. Here are some fundamental reasons:

  • In book one readers become acquainted with, and eventually attached to, the main characters.
  • The first book introduces the fantasy world, with its history and current political situation, its new and different celebrations, and its creatures.
  • The first book establishes the lines: who is good, who is a betrayer, who do you cheer for, who do you fear.
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness begins building the parameters of the magical. What can the water from the First Well do? Who has power to transform for evil?
  • The first in the series introduces, or at least hints at, the ultimate mission the main characters must undertake.
  • The first book sets the tone: light and fun, intermingled with danger and darkness.
  • Book one of the Wingfeather Saga is an entertaining story, but is really only part 1 of the greater … uh, saga. 😉
  • I’m stressing book one so much because some of the reviews of those participating in the Children’s Book Blog Tour indicated North! Or Be Eaten may have been more enjoyable if the reader came in knowing what all took place in book one. How horrible, I thought, if a reader was put off of this outstanding series simply because they had not read the initial offering.

    So don’t do it!

    Here’s what you’d miss: humor, clever art, entertainment, thought-provoking adventure, artful prose.

    The humor is woven throughout the story. I remember having occasion to smile even during the build up to the climax.

    Drawings. I’ll let this one speak for the others:

    Peets Castle by Andrew Peterson

    Peet's Castle by Andrew Peterson

    Entertainment. This story has something for everyone: adventure, mystery, suspense, romance (?), all a part of an unpredictable story with twists and surprises all the way to the end.

    Thought-provoking. I found myself thinking of the story in the middle of the night and contemplating its truths at odd moments through the day. Nothing is heavy handed, but there is Much to think about.

    Artful prose. Again, I’ll let the work speak for itself. Here’s one passage toward the end:

    Though the sky was unbearably blue and free of a single wisp of cloud, the peak of the Witch’s Nose [a mountain so named because of its appearance in the distance] pinned a swath of ghostly mist to the heavens.

    I’ll give a full review tomorrow. To see what others are saying about the book, check out these blogs:

    The 160 Acre Woods, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Book Buzz, KidzBookBuzz.com, My Own Little Corner of the World, My utopia, Novel Teen, Olive Tree, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

    And for those of you looking for the CSFF Blog Tour August poll for Top Tour Blogger, I’ll post that next week.

    A Second Tour – North! Or Be Eaten

    OK, if the title itself doesn’t grab you, then I think you need a dose of wanderlust injected into your system. Either that, or a closer look at the cover of Andrew Peterson‘s middle grade novel (which reads the way the Harry Potter books do—something there for all ages and stages) North! Or Be Eaten. This month’s Children’s Book Blog Tour feature, the second in the Wingfeather Saga, is a fantasy you won’t want to miss, whether or not imaginative stories are the kind you most prefer.

    Generally, when it comes to fantasy, I cringe when I hear or read an endorsement for a new book or series that makes such claims as “the next C. S. Lewis.” I mean, if there was a next C. S. Lewis, then we’d have a next Narnia, and to date I’ve not seen another world painted with such richness and enticement.

    Because of that strong opinion, I don’t think I’ve ever been tempted to do that kind of hyperbolic comparison in any of my endorsements or reviews. Until now.

    And even now, I will resist. Andrew Peterson is not the next C. S. Lewis. He is the very current Andrew Peterson, with the definite potential to become a classic author with a unique series that children and adults will read over and over again.

    That’s a bold statement, so it might be helpful to think about what makes a classic a classic.

    First, the story needs to be timeless. Not that the setting is timeless. Clearly, the Narnia books are set in England, either during or prior to World War II. But the story needs to work long after the period of time for which it was written.

    In addition, a classic needs to be universal; that is, it needs to address needs, longings, relationships that do not change from one generation to another or from one place or people to another.

    Thirdly, a classic must be much loved. This is the kind of book a person wants to reread, and then to read aloud to his or her children. These are the books aunts and grandparents give for Christmas.

    The Wingfeather Saga, which started with On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness has these elements, though I suppose the “much loved” aspect has to become wide-spread. I hope it does, because these books are worthy of much attention.

    More tomorrow, and I love this book so much, I’m even planning to post on Saturday. Meanwhile, as Andrew said in the title of one of his blog posts, Purchase! Or Be Eaten. 😀

    I haven’t read what the other participants on this tour are saying, but I’m eager to go to their blogs and see if they liked the book as much as I did.

    I encourage you to stop by their sites as well. Leave a comment, even, then next week vote in the best blogger poll:

    The 160 Acre Woods, A Christian Worldview of Fiction, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Book Buzz, KidzBookBuzz.com, My Own Little Corner of the World, My utopia, Novel Teen, Olive Tree, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

    A Review – Eyes Like Stars

    The Children’s Book Blog Tour, hosted by Kidz Book Buzz, is featuring Lisa Mantchev‘s first novel, the young adult fantasy Eyes Like Stars. I have to say, some reviews are harder than others, and this one falls into that category.

    I supposed the difficulty is compounded by the fact that this book received some wonderful pre-release hype. Reviews were positive, even glowing. And it’s a fantasy! What’s not to like? 😉

    But I’m getting ahead of myself.

    The Story. A young foundling girl—mischievous, vivacious, and head-strong Beatrice Shakespeare Smith—grows up in a magical theater with four fairies and a pirate as her best friends. The pirate is actually one of the Players, none of which can leave the theater.

    After one particularly destructive prank, Bertie is summoned to the Theater Director’s office. The plan is for him to ask her to leave the theater. But this is the only home she’s known, so she begs for an opportunity to prove she can contribute something essential to the theater.

    Bertie comes up with the idea to be the Director (not Theater Director or Stage Director … apparently, the play director) and to re-stage Hamlet in such a way that will pack out the theater. The Theater Director gives her four days and stipulates that she must not only pack out the theater but receive a standing ovation as well.

    But as Bertie commences her career as Director, more than she could imagine begins to go wrong.

    Strengths. Ms. Mantchev is a talented writer. There are some beautiful lines of prose. The story is inventive. The magical theater can do amazing and unexpected things. The protagonist is a strong character. I don’t think I’ve ever met one like Bertie before. The fairies are fun and funny (though I do get the three guys mixed up with each other). The story is unpredictable. About the time I thought I knew where Ms. Mantchev was taking us, she shifted lanes and headed in a different direction.

    Weaknesses. While I love the unpredictable, this story kept me so off balance it was hard to enjoy. I felt like readers who love Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland or Through the Looking-Glass might also enjoy Eyes Like Stars, but that’s not me.

    Since I hadn’t read anything about the book, I was left to figure out the set up on my own. Where are we? Who are these people? Why can’t the Players leave the theater? By the end, I knew the answers to these questions, but I feel like I lost time. I could not live in this fictive world because I could not imagine what was not suggested.

    In addition, I wasn’t sympathetic to the characters. I thought Bertie’s idea to re-constitute Hamlet was a weak idea at best, so it was hard to cheer her on to success. I thought she treated one character in particular in a shabby way, and in fact I didn’t agree with a lot of her decisions. She was a difficult character to like.

    Recommendation. So here is a unique, unpredictable story, written with commendable prose … and I didn’t like it very much. In case you’re wondering, there is no attempt at presenting anything comparable to a Christian worldview. Pretty much the protagonist has her own moralistic outlook. She definitely changes and grows, but in the end, I didn’t particularly care.

    But here’s the big deal as far as I’m concerned. I wonder how many young adults who are the targeted readers will connect with this story. This is no Harry Potter, with a rich, textured setting and well-defined characters. Bertie is smart and sassy, so maybe, if readers can get beyond the early confusion (e. g. she’s in her dressing room but on stage, with real fairies but they are flying suspended on wires) they’ll like the book well enough. For me, it didn’t live up to the pre-release hype.

    Remember, mine is just one opinion. See what others touring Eyes Like Stars have to say:

    The 160 Acre Woods, A Patchwork of Books, Abby the Librarian, All About Children’s Books, And Another Book Read, Becky’s Book Reviews, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, The Friendly Book Nook, Homeschool Book Buzz, Homespun Light, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Never Jam Today, Reading is My Superpower, Through a Child’s Eyes

    The Dragon of Trelian – A Review

    Business. Today is the last day to vote in the May CSFF Top Tour Blogger Award run-off poll.

    – – –
    This week the Children’s Book Blog Tour is featuring The Dragon of Trelian (Candlewick Press), a middle grade fantasy by Michelle Knudsen.

    The Story. The young mage’s apprentice, Calen, becomes friends with Princess Meglynne and together they uncover a plot to assassinate Meg’s soon-to-be-married sister, and thus to thwart the planned-for peace her union intends to usher in.

    With the help of the dragon Meg is now linked to and Calen’s own surprisingly strong magic, they face a greater evil than they imagined. But will anyone else believe them? Can they discover tangible proof in time to warn the king of the threat to his daughter and his realm?

    Strengths. I love fantasy, and this is the kind I find most enjoyable. It’s a clear good-versus-evil struggle, with a traitor and a surreptitious plot, a secret and unsuspecting power, an “underdog” and an impossible task. The stakes are high, and as the story unfolds they become even higher.

    The characters are sympathetic, even likable. They seem appropriately motivated and realistic. I understand their decisions and cheer for them to succeed.

    The story was easy to read and as I got into the heart of it, the pages flew by.

    Weaknesses. Even good stories have them. While nothing I’ll mention here spoiled the story, I do think these things keep The Dragon of Trelian from being great. First, I thought Calen and Meg did not have distinct voices—and they should have. Yes, they were soul mates, if you will, but he was a boy, a mage’s apprentice, who didn’t know anything about his family. She was a girl, a princess, from a loving family. These facts alone should have given them distinctive voices.

    Second, I thought many of the plot points were predictable. I didn’t find them boring because I could see them coming, however, and a younger reader who hasn’t been exposed to a number of fantasies may not even catch on ahead of time.

    Finally, I don’t see any clear themes, other than do what’s right. Meg and Calen want to stop the assassination, want to make it possible for peace to replace the feud-like battle raging between two kingdoms. I’m not sure how either character grew. Meg did as a result of her connection to the dragon, but that was more a fusing of her personality with his power, so the only change was her giving in and finally letting the dragon in.

    Recommendation. The Dragon of Trelian is a fine middle grade fantasy. For Christians looking for magic-free fantasy, this is not their book. There’s a Tarot Card reading (under another name), and the connection between Meg and the dragon reminds me of spirit channeling. And of course Calen is studying to be a mage. If a reader can look at these elements as make-believe, then the story is fun and enjoyable, but not powerful and purposeful.

    If a reader is looking for a little escape fantasy, then this is a the kind of book for that purpose.

    Take some time to see what other bloggers on the tour think about The Dragon of Trelian:

    Published in: on June 2, 2009 at 11:58 am  Comments (6)  
    Tags: , , ,

    Children’s Book Blog Tour – Crocodaddy

    This is my first ever review of a picture book, but it seems fitting on the heels of yesterday’s review of Help, I Can’t Read. After all, reading starts with being read to. That statement, by the way, is not opinion. Studies bear it out.

    Perhaps the biggest proponent of reading aloud to children is Jim Trelease, author of The Read-aloud Handbook. Working as a journalist back in the 70s, he observed a connection between reading aloud and higher reading scores. Curious to discover if the observation had a factual basis, he did some research, uncovering much data in educational journals—none particularly accessible to teachers or parents. He determined to change that.

    Because of his work, most educators agree that the number one, best thing a parent can do to help a child become a reader is to read to him or her, early and often.

    And what does any of this have to do with this week’s Children’s Book Blog Tour selection, Crocodaddy by Kim Norman and illustrated by David Walker? The fact is, picture books are first and foremost read-aloud books, and Crocodaddy is a good one.

    It has intrigue, danger, fun, and ultimately a spot-on message (albeit, not “Christian” per se), for the adults reading as much as for the children listening—all delivered by wonderful lyrical writing.

    Message? Well, yeah, books are supposed to say something and this one does, in a most subtle, enticing way (and reinforced beautifully by the fabulous art work).

    Lyrical writing? Yep, that too. Here’s the first page:

      Down in the pond by a mossy rock,
      something slithers past the dock.
      Minnows dart with startled jerks—
      this is where the Crocodaddy lurks!

    Delightful writing: strong verbs, an easy rhythm and excellent rhyme, all enhancing the story about a little boy hunting for Crocodaddy. This is the kind of book children will ask for again and again.

    And yes, the repetition, while hard on some impatient adults ( 😉 ), is just what children need. From Education World:

    Repeated reading not only helps children learn to read but also has an impact on school success. Lifelong enjoyment of reading is directly related to daily reading. Children see the pictures and print up close, ask questions, and make comments.
    – from “Reading Aloud — Is It Worth It?” by Wesley Sharpe, Ed.D.

    So for those of you who are young parents, grandparents of preschoolers, aunts or uncles of little ones, or you know someone who is, I highly recommend Crocodaddy. It’s the kind of book children need to be exposed to early and often, the kind of book that will be one cog in the reading wheel for the youngest generation.

    Check out what others on the tour are saying. You’ll find reviews, book give-aways, and author interviews among other worthwhile content.

    A Mom Speaks, A Patchwork of Books, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Booking Mama,Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Elizabeth O. Dulemba, Fireside Musings, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maw Books Blog, Never Jam Today, Olive Tree, Our Big Earth, Reading is My Superpower, SMS Book Reviews, The 160 Acrewoods, Through a Child’s Eyes

    Children’s Book Blog Tour – Savvy, a Review

    Yesterday I promised a full review of Savvy, the current Children’s Book Blog Tour feature by award-winning novelist Ingrid Law. A proper review, I’ve discovered, is best if it starts with presentation, since that’s often the way book buyers come to a product.

    Clearly Savvy‘s cover is flamboyant and attracts attention. What this image can’t show you, however, is that this picture is on the jacket of a hardback, a purple-covered hardback. More flamboyance. 😉 The pages are rough cut, the thick paper a cream, the font a little different than usual but not hard to read. In other words, everything about the look of this book works. It is attractive even as it prepares readers for the different kind of story they will find between the covers.

    The Story. Savvy is Mibs Beaumont’s coming-of-age story. What makes this book a cut above other stories that fall into the coming-of-age category is Ms. Law’s use of the fantastic. Upon turning thirteen, members of the Beaumont family acquire their own personal “savvy” or power. Mibs’ brothers, for instance, can brew up a storm or create electricity. If these powers aren’t controlled, however, they put everyone nearby at serious risk. Consequently, the Beaumonts live somewhat reclusive lives.

    Days before Mibs turns thirteen, her father is in an automobile accident. He’s hospitalized in another town and her mother hurries to his side. Mibs and her siblings are left in the care of the pastor and his wife. When Mibs’ special birthday finally arrives, the well-meaning Miss Rosemary decides to throw her a party.

    During the chaotic activity, Mibs hears mysterious voices. As she searches for some quiet, she realizes that what she wants most is to go to her parents. She even believes she knows what her savvy is and that she will be able to help her father. Outside she sees a bus, the name of the town where her father lies in a hospital bed painted on the side. She hops on board with no other thought than to reach her parents. However, she doesn’t go alone. Her brothers join her, as do the pastor’s teenager son and daughter.

    And so, the adventure begins.

    Strengths. Ms. Law has crafted a timeless story, and she’s done it using the vehicle of the tall tale, reminiscent of the American era of storytelling (with the likes of Pecos Bill and Johnny Appleseed) that relied upon exaggeration as the main device. Here’s one of the best samples:

    The top of the picnic table was covered in Grandma’s clear glass jars, each one with its own white label and metal lid. She’d given us kids the job of labeling the jars as she filled them. But it wasn’t peaches, tomatoes, or pickles that our grandma canned, it was radio waves. Grandma only ever picked the best ones—her favorite songs or stories or speeches, all broadcast by the local stations—but still, our basement was crowded with high shelves of dusty jars filled with years and years of radio programs. How Grandma Dollop put radio waves into those jars and got them to stay there was a mystery to me; she just had a way of reaching out and plucking them from the air like she was catching fireflies.

    On Monday I mentioned some of the serious subjects Savvy touches on. That this book filled with whimsy and humor could also deal with topics of import makes it special.

    Ms. Law also has given her first person narrator, Mibs, a strong voice. She is easy to identify with because her emotions are real, though not always likable.

    Weaknesses. That brings me to the debit side of the ledger. As I mentioned in yesterday’s post, I found Mibs, a work in progress, not easy to like at the beginning of the book. I wanted to like her. After all, her father was in the hospital. But she seemed to overreact when snooty girls called her a seemingly harmless name. She seemed haughty in her glee about leaving school behind. She seemed unnecessarily resistant to Miss Rosemary and to Will when they treated her with kindness. It all makes sense as the picture of the reclusive family comes together, but my initial reaction was that Mibs was a tough little girl to like.

    A second problem that also rectified itself was the middle of the book. When Mibs makes the decision to go to her father, there is a long stretch of bus riding. Important things happen, but there was a point where I started worrying that the rest of the story would take place aboard that bus. It doesn’t, and I was thankful for the way the action picked up. I would liked to have seen … not sure what, conflict? forward action? I think I would like to have seen Mibs do something rather than be taken somewhere. The story gains momentum as soon as she becomes the initiator again.

    Recommendation. Savvy deserves the attention it has received. It’s the Boston Globe-Horn Book Honor Award winner and a Newbery Honor winner. As others on the blog tour have noted, Savvy is a wonderful read-aloud. I highly recommend this book for middle grade readers, parents, and teachers of middle grade students.

    Speaking of other on the blog tour, Maw’s Book Blog is giving away a copy of Savvy and so is Dolce Bellezza. Through a Child’s Eyes gives you a list of other books you might like if you also like Savvy. Here’s the complete list of participants:

    Published in: on April 29, 2009 at 1:00 pm  Comments (12)  
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