[Kiddalee]'s BBC Overflow 4
(back to BBC of Kidda Overflow
; BBC of Kidda
December - May 2007
On hold: That Hideous Strength
by CS Lewis
The Secret Under the Whirlpool
by Elaine Breault Hammond, 158 pages
This is a pretty good book. It's interesting, it's educational, its voice is fluent, it has great character development, it is lifelike, and it reminds us of our heritage. Its one problem: it is marketed to children.
Why is it that every time a book focuses on children, people assume it has to be for children? Indeed, this book is easy enough to read, but it just isn't cool
. Maybe Elaine was writing for children when she wrote this book, but apparently, she doesn't know kids well enough. For one thing, attempting to play tetherball with a basketball should cause the legless boy's hands to fall off, it's so hard. For another, kids know when you're trying to teach them something, and if they haven't given you permission, you shouldn't expect them to appreciate it. Kids want to have fun, not get old.
Although the readers are supposed to be kids, in this case they are old enough kids for a story to need to be somewhat believable. Unfortunately, the magical realism elements of this story are not gracefully woven into it. Maggie and Marc hear voices, and suddenly there's a storm, and they think they're going to drown inside a cave, and allofasudden they're in the 17th century! Then, Marc makes friends with a Mi'kmaq boy for almost a year, but after the deportation (from which our heroes escape), the Mi'kmaq is suddenly a spirit guide who knew exactly what they were doing there all along. Perhaps more investigating and foreshadowing would help smooth things out a little.
This isn't to say that the book is completly horrible. It is quite good, as I have said. The kids are immersed in a well-researched, believable Acadian culture. Hammond doesn't even let today's political correctness conflict with the real circumstances of the agrarian society. If you had a bear sniffing through your bedroom window, then giving up on you and dragging your only source of meat away instead, you would want to kill him, too. Maggie tries taking the politically correct route when she frees the trapped bear, only to pay with cold and hunger that winter. Hammond even defends the supposed complacency of mistreated peasants. Marc endures insults from the doctor taking him back to his Acadian stepfather because he doesn't know of anybody nicer who can deal with the man's foot infection.
As a voice for the real history of Ile St. Jean (PEI), Hammond doesn't neglect the Mi'kmaq of the time. Ironically, Lkimu talks about the old days, back when his people could live off the land. Now, he's a cash trapper. I guess every day has its old days. Lkimu is responsible for befriending Marc, teaching the Acadians how to build a bear trap, teaching Marc of some Mi'kmaq beliefs, and doing a better job of caring for Marc's stepdad than the French doctor ever could. Hammond was able to fit a respectful portrayal of the Mi'qmak into her novel without letting it detract from the story's true focus.
I can see why Ragweed Press - The Island Publisher - accepted this book. It is a powerful teacher of the Canadian, and Acadian, and even native heritage. It is most certainly worth publishing and distributing. I wouldn't be surprised if its volume of readership was spoiled, though. Adults will overlook a kids' book, and kids will go back to British and American literature after reading yet another Canadian novel that is boring (that's kid-speak for too effin' scholarly).
Great novel, poor targeting.
Home from the Vinyl Cafe: A Year of Stories by Stuart McLean, 256 pages
Awesome anthology! It makes me want to get married and make babies and have jobs and a mortgage. Isn't that awful? And this book is about how hard it is to do all those things...
But it is comedy. Usually, the story is driven by Dave's goofiness, clumsiness, or lies. It helps that I can relate to these people. They're Canadian. OMG, Canadians! It makes it so easy to picture the characters and setting in my head.
Sometimes, you gotta read something real. Believe it or not, folks, not all conflicts involve murder or war or racism. Being reminded of that is comforting. I particularly need a book like this. Since my life has already been so stressful, I don't have the urge to make it harder by experiencing media such as CSI or Lord of the Rings.
Has anybody else heard of the Vinyl Cafe? It's a radio show on CBC radio, in which Stuart tells these and many more stories about Dave and Morley's family. He also has awesome musical guests.
Hmmm... Maybe I should make a Recommended Reading for "The Vinyl Cafe Series" or something like that.
From Anna by Jean Little, 201 pages
Another quick read, this time for younger kids. Anna starts her life in Germany at the time when the Nazis are just beginning to take over. She is clumsy and cannot learn to read, and everyone but her father has just settled into believing she is stupid and useless. Her dad knows she is special, and will grow to be something great in her own way, some day.
After the Nazis replace Anna's school principal, her dad decides to escape with the family to Canada, while they still can. Of course, the kids have to get health examinations before starting school. It's Anna's turn, and lo and behold... from her family to her school, nobody for her nine years of life suspected that the whole reason why she couldn't benefit from their teachings was that she had bad eyesight (WTF?)!
She is fitted for glasses and placed in a special class for children with all sorts of eye problems. Some have very poor eyesight, and some are dyslexic. All have had to deal with people thinking they're useless, just because they don't fit the mold. Anna has had teachers criticize her and children bully her all her life. When she meets a teacher who considers her individuality, and who encourages her to improve, she is at first suspicious. After weeks of positive teaching and new friendships, though, she begins to open up.
The last people she opens up to are her family, because they are the ones who have treated her useless for the longest of all. Besides, they don't all realize how much her new class is helping her.
Because she is a kid, and kids are incredibly adaptable, she eventually proves herself even to them. It's a good thing she didn't have to wait until high school to start getting decent influences.
I can relate very well to Anna. There is something about being the youngest child in a family. People think we young'uns have an advantage, what with Mom not pushing us as much as the rest, but what many of us actually get is some degree of learned helplessness. Not to mention that we are treated like we don't matter. Mom may not punish her youngest as harshly, but she also listens least to the child with the smallest vocabulary and shortest attention span, and somehow her adjustment to one child's growth is fed more by the birth of another than by the one child's actual age. You get talked about while you're still in the room like you're an animal who can't speak for yourself, or even understand.
I have also had to deal with all sorts of bad teachers. Despite being the mature adults in the room, these fools can't even handle a unique child as well as the other children can. Instead of attempting to see why on Earth their teaching methods aren't working on this child, they assume that the child - the responsible, grown up child - must be the culprit.
Anna's German teacher was wise to have given up on her (though even she doled out hurtful comments), rather than attempt to discipline Anna into trying harder. It may seem odd to the teachers of this world, but if something they're doing hasn't worked for four months, maybe they ought to consider trying something different. Since a kid trusts teachers a lot, long periods of unsuccessful discipline actually teach the kid that they must be just bad and hopeless. It's a Looking-Glass Self thing.
A teacher is also, actually, the most popular kid in the class. If teacher doesn't like someone, the kids don't want to like them. If it's over a period of months, kids learn that this person is probably going to be untouchable forever. Which leads to more Looking-Glass influence and more viscious cycles.
So children who are laid back, intelligent and meticulous are made into animals because they are not serious, organised and hurried. Never mind teaching someone to do things right. Let's disrespect them until they figure it out for themselves.
Gingerbread by Rachel Cohn, 172 pages
A quick, easy read of about 3-4 hours for me. Cyd Charisse (yes, she's named after the movie star) is very angry at her parents, and I don't blame her one bit. Who knows what she did last school year, and why they decided to send her off to boarding school. The fact is, they can't expect to know her any more. Teenagers' brains are mutating every second, and this one has been gone for nearly eight months. But they still think that after a year of leaving her on her own, they know how much she misbehaves, how late she stays out, and which boys are well suited for her. Guess what, peoples: if your baby is gone, then you should quit pretending she isn't!
So now Cyd has too many trust issues this summer to tell her parents that the boyfriend they liked was a frigging jerk who refused to use proper birth control one time and didn't even pick her up from the abortion clinic, and she had to phone her biological father to pay for the operation, because who knows how mad Mom would be if she found out. Yet, she stayed with him for popularity's sake, and the whole reason why her parents are so concerned is because she got expelled when the headmaster found them stoned.
Now that she is out of there, she has a much better head on her shoulders, some friends who aren't shallow, and a loving boyfriend. If she had told them what they had allowed by sending her to boarding school, maybe they would see that she really is getting nicer, but maybe they would just be more overprotective, so...
So I'm rambling.
Let's talk about authorial voice. This story is told in the first person. Though it isn't a journal entry, it sounds like Cyd is telling it very shortly after the fact, for she still sounds like a teenager, and some of her colloquialisms take a couple of seconds to get the hang of. This gives a strong sense of the story happening here and now.
Don't look for a distinct, intense climax in this book. The conflict here is resolved slowly, inside Cyd's head, as she has a chance to learn about her heritage and identity, and comes to grips with her mistakes. Sorry, no flash in the pan, here, just a solid sense of wisdom. And no, the lessons aren't so obvious as to be annoying.
One thing about the characters and their interactions is that they are realistic and believable. I could picture everyone and everything quite vividly. It's definately worth a read for that.
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney, 28 pages
Miss Rumphius, the Lupine Lady, lived in an American sea town at the turn of the century. When she grew up, she travelled to many far away places. When she grew old, she lived again by the sea. But the third, and most important thing she did, was make the world more beautiful. It was hard, since the world was already a pretty nice place, but she figured it out.
This narrative voice draws the reader in, and the illustrations are vivid and lively. It helps that Miss Rumphius is the narrator's great aunt, and also that her intriguing nickname, the Lupine Lady, is established early.
Catching the reader's attention is a step to inspiring them. Alice Rumphius is a doer. When she is still a child, she helps her grandfather at work. He also doesn't discourage her from doing any good thing she wants. It is he who advises her to beautify the world.
The story ends with the Lupine Lady passing on the same advice to the children who come to visit her, completing her life cycle.
I agree that this book is worth an award, particularly the American Book Award, because it is very apple pie, albeit sea salty, in its illustrations. Miss Rumphius also goes ahead and pursues her happiness, and does this without relying on or stepping on the toes of others.
See also RR.Miss Rumphius
Perelandra by CS Lewis, 256 pages
I'll give him this: Peralandra is a beautiful planet. But after 200 pages of philosophical discussions with dumb animals, a new Eve, a demon, two archangels, a new Adam, and occasionally, God, I got tired and confused! Still, this trilogy, particularly Perelandra, is essential to anybody wanting to know CS Lewis better. My narrow view of his beliefs will be forever changed.
*slaps self for shirking*
Once I finally finish my current reads ([dmeredith]'s novel plus crit, and CS Lewis's Cosmic Trilogy), I can finally get back to The BFG and put it in Recommended Reading. I might review Lewis's trilogy, too.
Week of Aug 6 or so:
Clayton went away to his parents' house for a couple of days (starting July 24). Before he left, he asked me to recommend 1 book out of my whole shelf to read. I picked...
The BFG by Roald Dahl
And because he may finish that quickly,
Oddly Enough by Bruce Coville
Because I love them very, very much, and they are very, very memorable, and they are very, very interesting and very, very well written. Well, I guess that means I do have some favourite books, after all.
Mom and Dad came up for my birthday (July 15), bringing my bookcase, many garbage bags full of books, and all the Super Nintendo games we own. During the process of shelving them, I realized that I didn't have enough room for them all. Julie has added her huge collection of Brian Jaques and Terry Brooks books. So now I'm definately reading to toss. Luckily, the commitments I've already made, and must fulfil first, aren't very difficult.
Garfield's Haunted House and Other Spooky Tales, by Mark Acey and Jim Kraft, ill. Mike Fentz, original characters by Jim Davis, 32 pages
No. They're not spooky. They're boring.
Right. Well, I picked this off my bookshelf, thinking, "What am I keeping this one for?" Of course, I know that I bought it only to fill my Garfield collection. However, since somebody has either stolen or put away most of my collection, the discouragement has left me open to getting rid of bad additions.
These illustrations are pretty, but the stories are unoriginal, and bear the feel of watching a cartoon episode. The stories: A Gripping Tale, Psycho Pizza, The Abominable Snowman, and Is There a Specter in the House?
Summer Skin by Elizabeth Knipe (http://www.dreamdilation.com/digpo.html - Flash plugin required)
This is the first digital poem I've ever read. It's even the first haptic poem I've ever read. What is it? Interactive. Some of the words of a stanza are clickable, and the stanza that comes next depends on what words you clicked on. Thus, this style literally gives a different set of words each time you read it. As if different readers didn't already get unique meanings out of identical poems! Naturally, I didn't read all the stanzas, especially since there is a final one.
Out of the Silent Planet by CS Lewis, 182 pages
This book really is a lot better than I'm saying.
Failed for now (not in any particular order):
Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, 188 pages
Le Petit Prince en français par Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 95 pages