Children’s Book Blog Tour – Savvy, Day 1


    Don’t forget to participate in the poll to determine the winner of the April CSFF Top Blogger Award. Round one ends Wednesday.

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I suspect some of you are curious why I am participating in the Children’s Book Blog Tour hosted by Kidz Book Buzz. No, I’m not a children’s author, but I taught middle school kids for so long, I’m pretty invested in that age. And I have teacher friends still in the business (that’s a phrase I picked up from writing—I never thought of education as “the business” before 😉 ). Not to mention that my writing partner writes for kids—middle grade and YA.

In fact, when I first decided I wanted to write fantasy, I planned to write a story for the just-turning-into-a-teen crowd. For years it was a neglected age group, and the books that were available seemed to pander to the foibles of the target audience, not to their strengths, hopes, or aspirations.

Happily, there are many more books for those kids now. Some still play to the greed and fears and brashness often associated with teens, but some, like this month’s Children’s Book Blog Tour feature, Savvy by Ingrid Law (Dial Books for Young Readers in conjunction with Walden Media), take a serious look at what’s behind those off-putting qualities.

Here are some of the topics Savvy tackles obliquely:

    how a parent’s illness and/or absence affects kids
    how being on the outside of a clique feels
    how family secrets can separate kids from their peers
    how children have noble desires and aspirations
    how negative input can tear down a person’s belief in his ability to do the noble things he dreams of
    how a person can appear to be a lot more cocky and confident on the outside than she is on the inside
    how insisting on personal boundaries can be scary but necessary
    how people express caring in different ways

The point is, Savvy is the kind of book that makes the reader think. Yes, it is also a fun story, a fantasy of sorts, along the lines of Paul Bunyan with Babe, the Blue Ox. But in the midst of entertaining young and old, Ms. Law gives the reader some meat to go with the dessert.

Take some time this week to read what other bloggers participating on the tour have to say about this delightful middle grade book:

Published in: on April 27, 2009 at 11:47 am  Comments (3)  
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Catching Up


I’ve been away on sick leave these past two days, but I hope to make up ground the rest of this week.

First, for those of you who are science fiction fans more than fantasy (or other genres, which I’m told actually do exist 😉 ), the Web-zine RayGun Revival has a new issue out.

For the fantasy fans out there and for those interested in Web design, Wayne Thomas Batson (The Door Within series and The Isle of Swords/Isle of Fire books) announced the pre-sale of the first book of his next series, Curse of the Spider King, Book One of the Berinfell Prophecies Series co-authored with Christopher Hopper.

As for the Web design, our same Mr. Batson is holding a contest for the design of a new blog header at Enter the Door Within. Details available in the blog post.

While we’re on fantasy, I just discovered that MindFlights has been listed by Writers’ Digest as one of the top 100 best markets for writers. You can read details here. Huge congratulations to the people at Double-Edged Publishing.

For those of you who are Tolkien fans, and especially those of you who love art, I just discovered an artist, Justin Gerard, who is working on Hobbit illustrations as a way of preserving his own way of imagining the scenes (as opposed to the way the movie creators will portray them). Interestingly, I have an illustrated copy of The Hobbit, so my imagination has already been “tainted” by someone else’s. Otherwise, I would be in great sympathy for what he’s doing, though I lack the talent to pull such a thing off.

If you love children’s books and if you blog, I highly recommend you check out Sally Apokedak‘s Children’s Book Blog Tour. She’s an award-winning member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI), a Christian, a writer currently working on a young adult fantasy, with a story published this past year in Highlights for Children. I’ve been a participant in four of the five CBBT tours so far, and I’ve been so happy with each one. And by the way, if you stop by the site, the winner of their Top Blogger Award was another Becky, not me, so I’m not trying to send you over to Kidz Book Buzz as a way to toot my own horn. 🙂

Well, undoubtedly there’s more in the “catching up” pile, but this will have to do for today.

Children’s Book Blog Tour, Day 3 – Theme in The Year the Swallows Came Early


To vote for the CSFF Blog Tour’s February Top Blogger, click here.

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This is the final day of the Children’s Book Blog Tour for the wonderful middle grade novel The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. If you’ve read any portion of my last two posts, you know this is a book I love.

The thing is, the more I examined The Year the Swallows Came Early to write these posts, the more I found to love. But time and space crowded from my review some of the book’s notable strengths. For example, I didn’t include any mention of Groovy’s delightful voice, reminiscent of great fiction such as To Kill a Mockingbird. I didn’t mention the beautiful language, so unforced, so natural to the characters, it’s easy to overlook, though it contributes to the mood, the characterization, and to the themes.

In short, I think The Year the Swallows Came Early is a book that deserves attention because it does so much so well. It’s the kind of book would-be writers would do well to study.

In that vein, I want to look at theme. I mentioned in my review that the themes in The Year the Swallows Came Early, woven into the fabric of the story, comprise one of the book’s strengths. Just a quick warning: of necessity, I will be discussing aspects of the story that might be spoilers, so please consider this your SPOILER ALERT.

Earlier I mentioned “themes,” because in reality, this book says much. At the core is forgiveness, but that’s accompanied by not judging on outward appearances and by the importance of trustworthiness. Yet never are these issues delivered in such a way that the reader feels as if the author is talking to him. In fact, rarely is there mention of the key issues. So how did Ms. Fitzmaurice communicate her themes?

One way she did so was by using what I’ll call book-end symbols. Chapter 1 is entitled “Coconut Flakes” and the metaphor at the bottom of the first page explains it:

And that our house was like one of those See’s candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.

While mention of coconut occurs on several other occasions, the most memorable instance is in the last chapter entitled “Caramel”:

Because even though he’d picked that chocolate by pure chance, it just so happened that when I bit into it, I tasted soft easy-going caramel, and no coconut flakes.

So coconut pictures the hard things in life, but by looking at chocolate candies no one can tell if the inside holds coconut or caramel.

The plot reinforces this early image. Daddy, who is taking Groovy to work with him, holding her hand, is arrested. Mama, who seems absorbed with her own needs, shows she’s concerned for Groovy’s life and heart and passion. The minor characters echo the theme. Crazy Mr. Tom is the one who delivers wisdom and who doesn’t look so crazy when he’s cleaned up and off to move into his new trailer. Frankie’s mom, who appeared to have deserted him, comes back to explain what really happened.

Even little things sharpen this point: Mama’s turning to makeovers as a solution to problems, her belief that hot weather was earthquake weather, even chocolate covered strawberries that play such a prominent role in the story.

Another way the themes are woven into the story is through what the characters learn. The importance of forgiveness comes out because of both a negative instance and a positive. The negative is two fold. First Frankie holds a grudge toward his mom, but it eats him up inside, beautifully played out by his popping Tums at times when his mother comes up in the conversation, and beautifully resolved in the end by Groovy’s supposing:

I imagine one day when his mama hugs him, he’ll put his arms around her, too. That these letters she sends are paving the way to family dinners together. That maybe the next time Frankie sees his doctor, the doctor will say, “Frankie, I have good news. You have been miraculously cured of stomachaches.”

Of course Groovy goes through her own dark night of the soul and must come to forgiveness too. The climactic scene is so rich, I wish I could post the whole thing, but here’s part:

Mr. Tom shook his head. “You don’t want what Frankie has. All that anger will turn you to stone … He reached to touch my shoulder and stared into my eyes, then squinted. Not from the sun, which was shining hard off the ocean just then. But from the story he must have seen, and the girl I knew I would become if I chose not to forgive. Because I could see that he knew all about people not showing forgiveness from his wrinkled-sheet face, the way his eyebrows slanted down on the edges, the sadness they whispered.

Again, there is more, more, more, so much more, but I think you get the idea. The themes of this story are integral to it. There would be no story without these themes. They are at the core of the plot, they are what determines how the characters develop. They are reinforced with symbolism and developed through dialogue (one of the things I’ll save to discuss another day). But never does the author turn this back on the reader or spell it out as a universal life lesson. Is it a universal life lesson? The reader must come to his own conclusions.

You won’t want to miss what the others on the tour have to say about The Year the Swallows Came Early:

Children’s Book Blog Tour – The Year the Swallows came Early, a Review


Those interested in voting for the CSFF Blog Tour’s February Top Blogger, can find the necessary information here.

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As part of the Children’s Book Blog Tour, I am happy to feature The Year the Swallows Came Early, by Kathryn Fitzmaurice. This is a middle grade novel with a girl protagonist, a coming of age story—quite frankly, not a book I would usually be drawn to. But if you read my post yesterday, you already know the main character quickly drew me in.

The Story. If you visit here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction and have read some of my other reviews, you know I hate to give a story away. Part of the fun of reading, as I see it, is discovering What Will Happen Next. Summaries, by definition, encapsulate the story, but for those of us who don’t want to know how it turns out before we start on page one, summaries can kill our interest before we start. Not everyone feels the same way. Some people (horror! – 😮 ) even read the last page first! If by some (sorry) chance – 😉 – you fall into this category, I refer you to some of the other blogs on the tour that did a good job of summarizing the story: Dolce Bellezza’s Day 1 post or Cafe of Dreams’ Day 2 post. Here’s my shorter version.

Groovy Robinson’s world turns upside down the day her father is arrested, in no small part because her mother won’t answer her questions. At least not at first. When she does explain, she creates more questions than she answers, and eventually Groovy wonders who she can believe, who she can trust. At a point of despair, she discovers that all is not as it seems and people are both more and less than what they appear to be. In the end, she must decide if she can forgive … or not.

Strengths. Certainly characterization has to rank high on the list of good things to like in this book. Not just Groovy, either. Although Groovy’s father spends nearly the entire book in jail, I come away feeling like I know him so well. Groovy’s mother takes center stage more and also comes into clear focus as a believable character—one with her own problems and quirks and needs, but also as one who loves her daughter very, very much.

Best friend Frankie is also beautifully drawn, especially because his story mirrors what Groovy experiences. (I’ve seen this done, or should I say, overdone, in an obvious, distracting way, but Ms. Fitzmaurice avoids stumbling here. In fact, Groovy having identified Frankie’s problem earlier makes her own situation and decisions much more poignant).

Then there are the minor characters like Pastor Ken, Marisol, Felix, Luis, and Mr. Tom who add much more than background color. They are integal to Groovy’s development. And they are each believably drawn.

As much as I liked the characters, I give equal praise to the story. I kept reading because there was tension, and conflict. I had questions I wanted to discover answers for. I cared about Groovy and wanted to know how things turned out for her. Ms. Fitzmaurice did a masterful job telling a masterful story.

This book is also a great example of weaving themes into the story. Without whipping out an explanatory speech, Ms. Fizmaurice showed Groovy’s changes, her mother’s changes, her father’s changes, and ultimately Frankie’s changes, all reinforcing themes of love and trust and forgiveness and mercy and not judging from outward appearances.

I even have some favorite lines. Here’s one:

And here’s what I thought: I wished I’d never found what was in that box because feeling mad at Daddy was a million times worse than feeling sad.

Little truth statements like that, observed as from a child’s perspective, are powerful.

Weaknesses. I’ve got one tiny thing here. I wouldn’t normally mention it, but I don’t have anything else, and I believe in giving a balanced review. Early in the story, afternoon fog rolls in. It’s mentioned on page 43 and again on 48, 56, 58, 60, 61, 63, 72, and 90. Then that same night, with no warning, Groovy and her mom are walking home and look up at the stars. Groovy says all she could see was the Little Dipper though she knew her mom could name all the stars. My first thought was, what happened to the fog? Maybe a wind came up, but we aren’t told so. It’s a small thing, but it jerked me out of the story for one brief moment.

Addendum. Well, now I have to backtrack on the weakness. A closer reading shows that I shouldn’t have been surprised by the stars being out: “… she raised her fists high toward the lone stars peering through the leftover fog in the dark sky.”

I even thought about this after posting the review, how the fog had mirrored Groovy’s confusion and lack of understanding why her dad had been arrested, then after her mother tells the story they come out to a starry sky. If I hadn’t missed the “leftover fog” line, I would have thought the use of fog quite mood enhancing. The weakness was mine, not the story’s.

Recommendation. Needless to say, I think The Year the Swallows Came Early is an outstanding book. It is a must read for women, for girls, for middle grade children. I highly recommend it to dads.

Take time to see what others on the tour are saying:

Buzzing Kids’ Books – The Year the Swallows Came Early


Announcements. I have an unusual number of these, so please bear with me. There is actual content below.

First, I participated in an email discussion about Christian speculative fiction, initiated by Mike Duran. He has posted the first part today at Novel Journey. (Warning: the discussion has taken a turn on a statement I made about what CBA’s target audience—women. Evidently my remark was controversial. Well, I hadn’t intended it to be so, but I’m pretty sure the comment I left, is! 😮 )

Second, I posted a review of an upcoming Marcher Lord Press release, By Darkness Hid at Speculative Faith which I hope you’ll take time to read.

And lastly, you’re invited to vote for the CSFF Blog Tour’s February Top Blogger.

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The Children’s Book Blog Tour, of which I am a member, is featuring Kathryn Fitzmaurice‘s debut novel, The Year the Swallows Came Early.

Tomorrow I’ll give a full review of the book, but today I want to think a little bit about what makes a character draw readers in, perhaps even become memorable.

Eleanor Robinson, AKA Groovy, is just such a character. I found she drew me into the story on the first page:

We lived in a perfect stucco house, just off the sparkly Pacific, with a lime tree in the backyard and pink and yellow roses gone wild around a picket fence. But that wasn’t enough to keep my daddy from going to jail the year I turned eleven. I told my best friend, Frankie, that it was hard to tell what something was like on the inside just by looking at the outside. And that our house was like one of those See’s candies with beautiful swirled chocolate on the outside, but sometimes hiding coconut flakes on the inside, all gritty and hard, like undercooked white rice.

So here’s what I learned about Groovy, even before I knew her name. She considered her house perfect. Her father went to jail. She has a best friend who evidently is a boy. She thinks about things more deeply than you’d expect an eleven year old to think and even came to a wise, truthful conclusion. And she doesn’t like coconut.

Only that last part is a negative, as far as I am concerned. That her father went to jail makes me feel sad for her, and curious about why. That she has a boy best friend makes me think she’s not a spoiled-princess type. And that she’s likable enough to have a best friend. The coconut thing, I think she’s just wrong, but I’m willing to let that slide because I know there’s a whole set of people out there who don’t like coconut.

A little further into the story, I learn that Groovy had a special relationship with her father and that her mother loves her. I learn that those two facts seem to be in conflict and maybe in doubt. That she suddenly feels like she doesn’t know one of her parents as she always thought makes her even more sympathetic.

I also learn that she has One Great Desire and a particular talent. Before too long, she comes to realize that others have a similar passion to hers and this changes the way she perceives those of like mind. OK, I’m trying intentionally to be circumspect because I don’t want to give away too much of the story. The point is, Groovy doesn’t have a closed mind.

Eventually she shows that she is also kind, that she appreciates others for their kindness. In other words, she’s aware of others at the character level.

Is she perfect? Not at all. She makes some independent decisions that lead her into a real tailspin, and while it looks for a time as if she might get stuck, she makes another change that is probably the best of all, one that just might make her a memorable character.

I invite you to see what others on the Children’s Book Blog Tour have to say about The Year the Swallows Came Early:

Children’s Book Blog Tour – Something Wicked, 3


Last reminder: for those of you wishing to vote for the October CSFF Top Blogger Award, you can find the poll HERE.

I’ve had a lot of fun discussing Alan Gratz‘s young adult novel Something Wicked for the Children’s Book Blog Tour, but as yet I haven’t reviewed the book, so that’s where we’re headed today.

The Story. If you read yesterday’s post here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, you already know this is a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Mr. Gratz has a tongue-in-cheek way of writing some of the time. The names of his two villains, for example, are Mac and his girlfriend Beth. A little obvious? Well, I didn’t get it until I saw the names together on one of the other tour participate’s posts. 😮

If you aren’t familiar with the storyline, there’s a good summary over at Wikipedia. Macbeth has more murder and mayhem than Something Wicked, but then it was targeting adults.

Strengths. Mr. Gratz is a skilled writer (he’s also either very thoughtful or quite a savvy promoter because he put a handwritten note addressed to me personally inside the ARC I received for the tour. I have to tell you, that didn’t hurt my thoughts about the book as I turned to chapter one.) I guess my main measuring stick for determining this has two sides. One is based on how I feel about the characters, and the other is connected to whether or not I think about the story when I am not reading it.

I’ll take those in reverse order. Something Wicked moved quickly and it isn’t a big book, so while I was reading it, there weren’t many away-from-the-book moments (except the ones when I was asleep or working), but I was surprised to find myself mulling over aspects of the story during the off hours. This is a mystery, for one thing, and I do love to contemplate the whodunit question. Yes, I was fairly certain I knew, but I couldn’t help wondering if Mr. Gratz would put his own twist on the old story.

As for the characters, they were so well portrayed, so believable, so real-to-life, it’s a little hard to think they aren’t walking around somewhere, finishing up high school while Mr. Gratz works on the next book in the series. 😉

I’m a believer in Donald Maass’s larger-than-life character elements that create engaging characters. In Horatio, Mr. Gratz has concocted one of the best examples of such a character. Here is a young man with decided strenths. He is witty, observant, and able to make intelligent deductions. In addition he ends up having to face an inner conflict he didn’t expect. Along the way, he shows amazing self-awareness, but still stumbles into some heartbreaking pits. Lastly, he has a snarky humorous streak that he unleashes from time to time, especially against bullies and other powerful people. To the kind, he is kind. To the weak he is helpful and compassionate and loyal.

Yes, Horatio is a strong character. Clearly, he makes the story.

Weaknesses. Well, the plot was essentially Shakespeare’s, and the character was brilliant. So were there weaknesses? I think of two, yes. One was the overt sexual material. As Mr. Gratz said in one interview, the sex wasn’t graphic (i. e. “on camera”). And it did serve the story as I pointed out on Monday. But there was some flashing and some grabbing and some bedding (without wedding) that I tend to think let’s teens conclude “everyone’s doing it.” As an adult, I wasn’t disturbed except when Horatio was happy when his friend began making obscene comments because he was back to normal. I don’t like teens thinking obscenity is normal. It’s common, but not normal. One of the mistakes our society makes is in thinking the two are the same.

A second weakness, in my opinion, was in not elaborating on the central greed theme. Maybe because of the economic woes of the past few months, I’d like to see greed exposed a bit more. Here was a story set up to do that, and I think it came across a little soft. This was one guy’s problem, and he went a bit nuts, partly because his girlfriend pushed him and his dad drove him to it. Hmmm, I wish there had been more.

Recommendation. This book is not for everyone. Readers who would rather not see the seamier parts of apparently upright society will probably not like this book. Mystery lovers who mostly like to figure out things along with the protagonist may be disappointed. But readers who love strong characters and who want to think about big issues like fate and parent/child relationships and greed and friendship—well, there’s lots in this book to like.

And of course, take time to read what others are saying on the Children’s Book Blog Tour:
the 160acrewoods, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maggie Reads, Never Jam Today, Reading is My Superpower, Meagan.

Published in: on October 29, 2008 at 6:27 pm  Comments (2)  
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Children’s Book Blog Tour – Something Wicked, 2


Another reminder: for those of you wishing to vote for the October CSFF Top Blogger Award, you can find the poll HERE.

Yesterday I left off the discussion of Alan Gratz’s young adult novel Something Wicked (Dial Books) with the suggestion that something besides the sexual innuendo and acting out, something else besides the murders (yes, there is more than one) needs attention when making a determination whether or not to recommend and/or read this latest Horatio Wilkes mystery.

Be aware, in order to discuss this subject, spoilers are necessary. If you know the story of Macbeth, you already have an idea about the plot, so the spoilers are already loose anyway.

The final cautionary item I wish to mention is the part the supernatural plays in the story. Yes, “supernatural.” I know some who have read the book may be scratching their heads wondering what I’m talking about.

Here’s the point. In Something Wicked , just as in Macbeth, the inciting incident is an encounter with a spiritist. In Shakespeare’s original, it was actually three spiritists—three witches who chanted

Double, double, toile and trouble
Fire burn, and cauldron bubble

as a chorus to their prophecies about Macbeth and his friend.

Just so, Horatio, Mac, and their sidekicks visit a palm reader who makes predictions that set in motion the events of the story.

Interestingly, Horatio considers the palm reader to be a complete fraud and refuses to pay good money to hear her “flimflam.” And later in the story, he pays the woman to recite a script he writes. Yet both times, she adds predictions free of charge, and as it turns out, each one of hers comes true.

So the question is, Was author Alan Gratz making a statement about the supernatural? The more accurate question would be, Was Shakespeare making a statement about the supernatural, for it appears to me, Mr. Gratz was faithfully following the story outline of the great English playwright.

As I see it, the answer is yes, there is a clear, though subtle, statement about the supernatural. The basic assertion seems to be that supernatural influence, whether foreknowledge, understanding, or actual power over events, is real.

At first that may not be apparent because protagonist Horatio Wilkes is a disbeliever and remains so to the end, though others recognize how Madam Hecate’s words about Mac and Banks came true. What no one in the story comments about is how her freebie, unsolicited words about Horatio were true, not once but twice. How her words about Beth were true as well. And most sadly, how her words about Megan were true.

In other words, it’s hard to chalk up Mac’s reaction to what Madam Hecate said as the sole reason her words came true. In Shakespeare the same dual effect of the witches’ predictions is present. One prediction came true, and Macbeth reacted, which seemed to bring about the other predictions—as if the prophecies were self-fulfilling to a degree.

Madam Hecate may have had more of the prophetic touch even than the Shakespearean witches.

My point with this discussion is simple. Here’s where discernment should come into play. Should a book be taboo because it introduces an element of the supernatural? I certainly don’t think so. But I also don’t think that element should be ignored. My guess is, if Madame Hecate had been called a witch, the supernatural would not have been ignored. But since our hero considers her a flimflam artist, it’s easy to slide by what she actually did in the story.

That would be a mistake. Identifying the supernatural element, examining it, weighing it against Truth is what a discerning reader should do.

Stop by the other blogs on the tour:
the 160acrewoods, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maggie Reads, Never Jam Today, Reading is My Superpower.

Published in: on October 28, 2008 at 7:37 pm  Comments (7)  
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Children’s Book Blog Tour – Something Wicked


Just a reminder. For those of you wishing to vote for the October CSFF Top Blogger Award, you can find the poll HERE.

Another reminder. I will from time to time be participating in the Children’s Book Blog Tour which features books published by both general market and Evangelical Christian Publishers Association (ECPA) houses. This month the CBBT is focusing on Alan Gratz’s young adult novel Something Wicked (Dial Books).

I’m not quite sure where to start. A word of caution is in order, I suppose. This book has material—sexual innuendo, primarily—that pushes the edge. And it’s a murder mystery.

Am I saying not to read this book? If you think that, you haven’t been hanging out at A Christian Worldview of Fiction long enough to know that one of my beliefs when it comes to books is that readers all should be discerning, not reactive. In short, I have no wish to tell you what to think. At the same time, I don’t want anything I say to be misconstrued as approval of teens having sexual trysts while off on family outings.

In the case of Something Wicked, Mr. Gratz and his publishers make no secret that the story is connected to Shakespeare’s Macbeth. From the back cover:
“Horatio Wilkes is back in the Macbethian companion to Something Rotten.”

Then in a Gratz quote, also on the back cover:

“The challenge was figuring out how I was going to insert Horatio—a character from Hamlet—into the story of Macbeth.”

And if that wasn’t enough, the epigraph makes the case:

“By the pricking of my thumbs,
Something wicked this way comes.”
-Macbeth, Act 4, Scene iv

Why do I make this point? Essentially to say that few parents have any objection to their youth reading Shakespeare, though often his stories contained bawdy language, sexual insinuations, and some plain debauchery. Are these acceptable because Shakespeare’s works are considered classics? Because his work is artistry (much the way paintings of nudes are not considered pornographic. And how much spam will that sentence earn me? 😮 )

In Something Wicked, much of the sexual language and acting out, especially in the opening of the book, serve the story. The characters take on their Macbethian roles through those scenes. But since the story, essentially a retelling of Shakespeare’s original, takes place in a modern setting, suddenly red flags go up.

Red flags should go up, but not at the story. The problem isn’t with Something Wicked but with a society that has created the climate in which this story takes place. In that regard, this novel actually throws some light on that society. But just a little.

But beyond the sexual innuendos and acting out, beyond the murder, and even the societal woes that created the compost heap in which the story germinated, there is something else to consider that might be the biggest red flag of all. Something … well, wicked.

Discussion for next time.

Check out what other bloggers are saying about this book:
the 160acrewoods, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, Cafe of Dreams, Dolce Bellezza, Hyperbole, KidzBookBuzz.com, Looking Glass Reviews, Maggie Reads, Never Jam Today, Reading is My Superpower.

Children’s Book Blog Tour – The Diamond of Darkhold, Day 3


Contest reminder. See details in yesterday’s post to learn how you may become eligible to win an ARC of The Diamond of Darkhold. The drawing will be held Thursday.

I mentioned yesterday that I wanted to discuss adults in The Diamond of Darkhold, Jeanne DuPrau’s latest book, fourth in the City of Ember series which the Children’s Book Blog Tour is featuring. Again I need to mention that, of necessity, there will be some spoilers, though I’ll keep them to a minimum as much as possible.

This series is actually a dystopian science fiction, though I’ve referred to it as a fantasy or a science fantasy. The differences are sometimes blurred, but fantasy generally relies on some kind of power apart from the natural and science fiction relies on seeing the world as it could become because of science. Both are “fantasies” in the sense that they portray the world or a world which does not now, nor did it ever, exist.

All that as background for the background of this post. 😉

Here’s where the spoilers come in. The city of Ember is an underground city established two hundred years before the events related in the first book of the series. Sometime around the middle of the twenty-first century, the world suffered a cataclysmic event. Those who foresaw what was about to take place built Ember as a place of refuge for the human race. In addition, they considered what the people would need when they emerged from their underground city, for emerge, they would, since their resources would run out after two hundred years.

As near as I can tell, not having read The City of Ember, the generation living when the city failed has no recollection of life above ground. In fact, they don’t seem to be aware they are living underground. They know how their city works and that it is failing, but why and what to do about it doesn’t seem to have been passed down to them.

Flash forward eight months to the time when The Diamond of Darkhold takes place. It is apparent that even those people living above ground are now ignorant of what the world once was. They don’t know what certain technology was for, have wrong-headed or complete ignorance of the history of the world, and have lost many of the skills, such as reading, which would allow them to learn.

But the thing is, the adults that lived through the catastrophe would have known all these things, yet they did not pass them on to their children. Or if they did, the importance of what they were teaching somehow became shaded, so the second generation Emberites didn’t consider it important enough to pass on to their children. Then, those third gen people had little knowledge, if any, to pass on to their kids—the people running Ember when it failed.

Fiction, you say. Just a made up story. Really? A similar failure to pass on vital information is recorded in the Bible:

All that generation also were gathered to their fathers, and there arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord, nor yet the work which He had done for Israel.

This, despite God’s clear instruction:

These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Not to mention, they had “stones of remembrance,” set up for the specific purpose of eliciting this question from their children: Dad, what are those stones? and thus opening up a discussion about what God did for Israel.

So there you have it—parents not passing on vital information to their children in fiction and parents not passing on vital information in history. The question then is, are we doing our part today to pass on vital information to the next generation? And what exactly is “vital”? Would the stuff we talk about most fall into that category?

Just something to think about.

Take a look at what others discussing The Diamond of Darkhold are saying on the tour hosted by Kidz Book Buzz:

01 Charger, the 160acrewoods, A Childhood of Dreams, All About Children’s Books, And Another Book Read, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, Cafe of Dreams, Comox Valley Kids, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole, Looking Glass Reviews, Never Jam Today

Published in: on October 1, 2008 at 11:14 am  Comments Off on Children’s Book Blog Tour – The Diamond of Darkhold, Day 3  
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Children’s Book Blog Tour –The Diamond of Darkhold, Day 2


Today I want to review The Diamond of Darkhold by Jeanne DuPrau (Random House). Then at the end I’ll tell you how you can become eligible to win an advance reader’s copy of the book.

The Story. I can’t tell you too much here because I don’t want to spoil this book or The City of Ember, the book or movie, since a number of you might be planning to either read the series from book 1 or go to a theater near you when the movie comes out in a little over a week. Suffice it to say, the two main characters—a boy named Doon and a girl named Lina—go on a dangerous adventure primarily because their town is in need of help. Circumstances are desperate and becoming more so every day. Doon believes he’s come up with a solution and turns to his good friend Lina to help him accomplish what he has in mind. Lina decides to go along, mostly because of Doon.

I’ll interject here, I thought the motives of these two characters were very believable, and why they did what they did made me like them from the start. My only concern was Doon leaving his father who had just experienced an accident which meant he could not do everything he needed to do. I wish Doon had been concerned about his dad but still determined to do what he thought would bring good to his dad and the whole town. Instead, he seemed to forget about his dad’s limitations.

To be honest, so did I soon after the adventure started. And a good adventure it was. Lots of believable conflict, tension, suspense. The story moved right along—thankfully not at a break-neck pace, but certainly at a pace that kept my interest the whole way.

Strengths. Well, I’ve already touched on these. The characters are delightful. The world is believable. TINY SPOILER ALERT Because this is a dystopian fantasy, the world above ground is primitive since most of it was destroyed some two hundred years earlier. Not completely, however, so the characters discover animals and things outdoor. They find bits and pieces from the olden days and try to guess at their uses. I thought Ms. DuPrau’s treatment of these discoveries was brilliant. At times she even had her characters postulate several possible uses of some piece of ancient technology and none of their ideas was right. Of course, we readers know what the characters do not. Somehow that touch made this world seem so true to life. END ALERT

One last thing. I really liked the fact that these characters were altruistic. How wonderful to read a story about young people who are more concerned about bettering the lives of their neighbors than of accomplishing some selfish goal that just happens to end up doing good.

The book also made me think about the adults of this world, but I’ll save that for tomorrow.

Weaknesses. Honestly, the deal about Doon and his dad is the only thing that pulled me from the story, and that for such a short time. OK, one more thing. When the main conflict begins, I wanted Lina to make a different decision than the one she made. It was clear she was doing what she thought was right and what Doon thought was right, but I wanted her to do something else—the something Doon ends up doing. That too was only a momentary reaction. I was very soon cheering Lina on in her chosen path.

Recommendation. I highly recommend The Diamond of Darkhold to anyone looking for good literature for youth. Is it Christian? Not in the sense that the Christian worldview is something that consciously motivates the characters. However, the themes of this novel—dealing with honesty, self-sacrifice, courage, helping others—are consistent with a moral outlook on life.

And now, the contest. If you would like to be eligible for an ARC of The Diamond of Darkhold, visit Jeanne DuPrau’s site or any number of other tour participants and find the titles of books two and three in the City of Ember series. Email both to me at rluellam at yahoo dot com.

And now, the others touring with Kidz Book Buzz:

01 Charger, the 160acrewoods, A Childhood of Dreams, All About Children’s Books, And Another Book Read, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, Cafe of Dreams, Comox Valley Kids, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Hyperbole, Looking Glass Reviews, Never Jam Today

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