Free Books and Such

If you’ve thought The Year the Swallows Came Early by Kathryn Fitzmaurice sounds like the perfect book for your daughter or niece or granddaughter or for a prize for the Sunday school class you teach or for the classroom of your teacher friend, I have good news. You can win a free copy. A number of bloggers in the recent Children’s Book Blog Tour are holding drawings and the links are available at Kidz Book Buzz.

And if you’ve followed the tour, you might consider voting for the Best Blogger of the tour (see the poll in the left sidebar).

Speaking of polls, today is the last day for you to vote for the CSFF February Top Blogger Award because it’s scheduled to close Saturday at 8:00 AM (Pacific time? I’m not sure, so to be safe, don’t wait). The one exception would be another tie as we had last month.

starfireBack to free books, by participating in Stuart Vaughn Stockton’s contest introducing his upcoming release, Starfire, you’ll be eligible to win a set of Brandilyn Collins books, a copy of Stuart’s book, a copy of By Darkness Hid by Jill Williamson (see my review at Speculative Faith), and more.

By the way, Volume 3, Issue 2 of Latest In Spec is now available. If you would rather not wait or would rather receive a copy sent to you via email, subscribe by leaving a comment here or at the LIS site.

Back to contests. I’m thinking we’re overdue for another version of The Fantasy Challenge. I’ll need to contact a few authors and see what prizes might be offered. The challenge is going to center on you telling others about the 2008 or 2009 Christian fantasies you think are worthy of some buzz, so let me know what books you’d like to have on the list.

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.

– – –

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 – 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

Children’s Book Blog Tour – The Diamond of Darkhold

October 10 (or is it October 8?) the movie The City of Ember, based on Jeanne DuPrau‘s bestselling book by the same name, will release in theaters. You may wonder what this movie has to do with a book tour for The Diamond of Darkhold. As it happens, this young adult science fantasy is the last in the Book of Ember series kicked off by The City of Ember.

Here’s the relevant part for those of you who might dismiss the thought of reading the last book of a series when you haven’t read the other three: there is an excellent, and brief, section in The Diamond of Darkhold that gives enough background to make this story work on its own. Nevertheless, a little information about that first book seems in order.

Here’s a short synopsis of The City of Ember from author Jeanne DuPrau’s site:

Lights shine in the city of Ember—but at the city limits the light ends, and darkness takes over. Out there in the Unknown Regions, the darkness goes on forever in all directions. Ember—so its people believe—is the only light in the dark world.

And now the lights of the city are beginning to fail.

Is there a way to save the people of Ember? No one knows. But Lina Mayfleet has found a puzzling document, and Doon Harrow has made discoveries down in the Pipeworks. With these clues, they start their search.

In addition, if you’re interested, the official movie site has a video trailer, games, information on the actors, and more.

If you’re a fan of the imaginative, this is a series you will enjoy, even if you happen to read the last book first. Let me mention for those of my regular blog readers, this is not a book put out by a Christian publishing house, nor is it purported to be written from a Christian worldview. However, I’d be surprised if any Christian parent would find The Diamond of Darkhold objectionable. I’ll have my personal reaction to the book later in the tour.

Before I turn you loose to read what others are saying on the tour hosted by Kidz Book Buzz, I want to mention that I have an Advanced Reader’s Copy I requested for a contest prize, so you’ll want to stay tuned as to how you can win that collector’s edition.

And now, the other sites to tour:
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

Kidz Book Buzz – Jimmy Stars, Day 3

Are kids’ books just for kids?

Hardly. Yet many adults distain reading children’s literature. I can only speculate as to the reasons. Perhaps because of the child protagonist, perhaps because of the coming of age nature of so many of the stories. Perhaps the plots seem too simple or too straightforward.

Yet great children’s books are among the classics. Parents who read to their children often discover these great stories first, then spread the wealth to their friends. Teachers, too, and librarians mine the gold in these great books.

For those resistant to children’s literature on principle, it might be helpful to point out some of the strengths of the best kids’ books.

First, the really good kids’ book have universal themes, something that is certainly true about Mary Ann Rodman’s Jimmy’s Stars, the debut feature of Children’s Book Blog Tour, set up by Kidz Book Buzz. Death, promise keeping, war, sacrificial suffering—these themes in Jimmy’s Stars are timeless and timely. They are important for adults to think about as much as for middle graders.

Second, the really good kids’ books have really good characters, including the adults of the story. Since all adults were once kids, there ought to be elements of the kid characters that remind an adult reader of what they once thought or what their own growing up process entailed. They can also view the interaction of the young characters with the adults through the eyes of the children—always informative.

The adult characters in Jimmy’s Stars are the perfect example of well-written adult characters in a children’s book. Including hero Jimmy, they were written in such a believable way—shown as the child point-of-view character saw them, but with enough action to let the adult reader realize the child was an unreliable narrator. What Ellie saw was not the whole story about these adults. Toots wasn’t just boisterous and aggressive. Jimmy wasn’t just attentive to Ellie. Miss Granberry wasn’t out of touch with her students.

In addition, well-written adult characters make choices that impacted the children. This in itself is a reason for adults to read children’s literature. It is never a bad thing to be reminded that children are people, that they listen and learn from adults, even when adults are just being themselves and not trying to make an impression.

Which leads to the next point. Even adults who have already come of age can learn, grow, and change. In fact, I tend to think learning is a hallmark of life.

Two quotes from Jimmy’s Stars: “P.S. Don’t forget to let the joy out.”
There are worse things than dying, Jimmy had said. Like not really living while you are alive.

There’s something to think about, something to learn from. Was Jimmy right to think that living is letting the joy out? Or might living be letting the learning in?

Take some time to see what others are saying about Jimmy’s Stars.

01 Charger, A Childhood of Dreams, A Mom Speaks, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, By the Book Reviews, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Looking Glass Reviews, Maggie Reads, Maw Books, Small World Reads, The Friendly Book Nook

Kidz Book Buzz – Jimmy Stars, Day 2

Mary Ann RodmanAs part of the Children’s Book Blog Tour set up by Kidz Book Buzz, I want to continue discussing Mary Ann Rodman‘s fine middle grade historical novel, Jimmy Stars. Yesterday in my recommendation, I had this to say about Jimmy Stars:

This book brings up some important issues, ones that adults will do well to discuss with their children, and this book gives the perfect forum for such a discussion.

Interestingly, in her comment to that post Sally mentioned the topic of war. Another reviewer mentioned how timely this book was, referring to the suffering war causes. Even the endorsement blurb from Library Journal says “This psychological, child-oriented war perspective could provide significance in today’s military dilemma.”

I was a little startled. Yes, the story takes place during World War II, and attitudes about war may be drawn, but I didn’t see the story tackling that subject. (Note: the rest of this post contains spoilers.) Rather, I thought the story took on two other important issues: the promises adults make to children and don’t keep, and death.

First the promises issue. I thought Rodman did a masterful job portraying a child’s perspective. Clearly, the protagonist, sixth grader Ellie, took some things as promises that were intended to offer her hope and consolation. Instead, the empty words brought an extra dose of bitterness.

Towards the end, I didn’t think Rodman would bring resolution to this theme, but she did, masterfully. In a letter, Jimmy explains to Ellie why he made the promises. Her coming to understand this is a major part of her coming of age. From Jimmy’s letter:

I know I promised that nothing would happen to me. I shouldn’t have done that. Some promises are not ours to make. Sometimes you go ahead and make them anyway and hope for the best. You don’t want the people you love to worry. I’m sorry, [Ellie].

The other issue is death. Rodman actually walks Ellie through the various stages of grief: denial, anger, resignation, determination to keep the memory of the loved one alive. Again, these points were a natural part of the story, not in anyway forced.

However, it is here I think parents should also be reading this book in order to discuss the subject of death with their middle grader.

Ellie came to a point of hope because she learned how many other people loved Jimmy, because she determined to keep his memory alive in her heart, and ultimately because she came to embrace the creed he lived by: finding the joy. In his letter, he told her that there are worse things than dying, like not really living while you are alive.

These are all fine points. A number of other reviewers even commented on the book ending in hope, and it did that. But from a Christian worldview, it is an incomplete hope, a temporary hope.

Am I suggesting the end should have been different? Not at all. I do think, however, parents should use the occasion of reading this book to discuss eternal hope with their children as well.

And now, I’ll let you see what others on the tour are saying. I know several have interviews with Ms. Rodman, so you won’t want to miss them.

01 Charger, A Childhood of Dreams, A Mom Speaks, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, By the Book Reviews, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Looking Glass Reviews, Maggie Reads, Maw Books, Small World Reads, The Friendly Book Nook

Kidz Book Buzz – Jimmy’s Stars

Jimmy's Stars coverI’m not a children’s writer, but because I worked with kids for so long—as an English teacher, no less—I care a lot about the books that are out there for middle graders and young adults. Happily, there’s a new blog tour, hosted by Kidz Book Buzz that features books for that age group.

The inaugural tour starts today. The Children’s Book Blog Tour is highlighting Mary Ann Rodman’s middle grade historical, a coming of age story entitled Jimmy’s Stars.

The Story. Jimmy’s Stars takes place in the US during World War II. The protagonist is a sixth grade girl named Ellie whose only brother is drafted late in the war. She is his favorite, it would appear, and her life is definitely entwined with his. Consequently, his leaving to join the war effort as a medic upsets her world.

Strengths. Rodman creates vivid, believable, interesting characters. Oddly enough she does this with “ordinary” people. Her characters are average people in small-town America. They go to school, pick out Christmas trees, can tomatoes, and come together as a community when tragedy hits anyone in the neighborhood. This is not a romanticized view. Instead, Rodman makes the ordinary aspects of these characters’ lives seem interesting and at times monumental.

Weaknesses. I’m not a big fan of coming of age stories. In some ways this one feels predictable. However, for a middle grader who hasn’t read a host of other coming of age stories, I think this will ring true. Ellie learns some valuable, though painful truths that will resonate with people in the target age group.

Observations. It would be natural for visitors here at A Christian Worldview of Fiction to assume that I am only reviewing books that are Christian fiction. That’s not the case. I talk a lot about Christian fiction and about Christianity, but in the end, I want to look at all fiction, informed by the Christian worldview.

All that to say, Jimmy’s Stars is set in a time period and in a location that made Christianity the accepted and expected religion. Consequently, there are numerous references to things like going to church and praying. But when it comes to the big issues, the central themes (which I’ll look at in my posts the next couple days), there isn’t a uniquely Christian approach. Which is fine, but necessary for visitors here to know before I give my recommendation.

Recommendation. I highly recommend Jimmy’s Stars for middle grade readers, and their parents. This book brings up some important issues, ones that adults will do well to discuss with their children and this book gives the perfect forum for such a discussion. Jimmy’s Stars is entertaining, too, and that’s the best kind of book to give a middle grader.

Take a few moments to check out what other bloggers on the tour are saying:

01 Charger, A Childhood of Dreams, A Mom Speaks, All About Children’s Books, Becky’s Book Reviews, Book Review Maniac, By the Book Reviews, Dolce Bellezza, Fireside Musings, Homeschool Buzz, Looking Glass Reviews, Maggie Reads, Maw Books, Small World Reads, The Friendly Book Nook

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