Sunday, November 20, 2011

Karina's New Favorite Series: The Sisters Grimm by Michael Buckley; illustrations by Peter Ferguson

Our library has a section devoted to Middle Reader book series, and one day about a month ago, Karina spied The Sisters Grimm series on the shelf and brought one (it was Book 4) to show me. She was so excited. "Don't you think this has a spooky cover, Mom? It reminds me of the Wizard of Oz. Is this one I can read?"
I was a little nervous, because I didn't know what these books contained. And with her still being so young, (she turns seven in December) I don't want her reading things she isn't ready to handle. I also know Karina. She has, up until now, been largely a book snacker (meaning she rarely reads a whole chapter book straight through.) And although lately I have noticed her getting more into reading whole books, I doubted that she'd stick with this book.

On the other hand, they sounded right up her alley. (Combining fairy tales with sleuthing? Genius!) So I gave the go-ahead. She started with Book 4, Once Upon a Crime, because she liked the deliciously spooky cover.

She started reading it on the way home. After about 20 minutes of silence, she said, "Mom, I'm not sure I got the right one."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well, I think I've started in the middle of the story. Things are happening and I don't know why. I don't think these books are separate like Nancy Drew, I think the story continues in each book. I think I need to start with Book 1." So we went back to get Book 1, The Fairy-Tale Detectives. And last week we got Book 2.  And yes, indeed she reads them avidly. And comes to share funny bits and scary bits, and I have only the vaguest notion what they're about.

She got Olivia hooked on them too.

The library only has Books 1-7. The other night I was looking at Hastings (a book store in our area that also sells used copies, which is now going out of business) and found Book 8. There was much jumping up and down and squeals when I came home with the loot. I was the hero of the hour.

And then they discovered the audio books at the library. More jumping up and down and giddiness. And I hear them upstairs, blasting (okay, I'm getting old) the audio books and chortling at the antics of the characters, and squealing when something bad starts happening. And again with the pausing and running down, both of them laughing and trying to outdo each other in relating the current happenings. And still I have no idea what's going on. (The audios are very ably narrated L.J. Ganser.)

Here's the little I know about the books:
  • Read them in order!
  • The main characters appear to be sisters Sabrina and Daphne, and their mischievous friend Puck, who comes to live with them, and both helps them and makes their lives fun and miserable, as only brothers can.
  • Something has happened to their parents and they live with their granny, whom they only just met.
  • There are loads of fairy-tale characters.
  • They have awesome covers and internal illustrations.
  • I'm going to have to read them myself.

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (Book 1)
The Unusual Suspects (Book 2)
The Problem Child (Book 3)
Once Upon A Crime (Book 4)
Magic and Other Misdemeanors (Book 5)
Tales From the Hood (Book 6)
The Everafter War (Book 7)
The Inside Story (Book 8)

There may be more coming??? Not sure.

Author Michael Buckley's website
Illustrator Peter Ferguson's website

Monday, November 14, 2011

Book Review: Chime by Franny Billingsley

Briony lives with her mentally challenged twin sister and her detached clergyman father in the small town of Swampsea. Her world is full of dichotomies. Progression, in the form of trains, automobiles, and gas lights, stands in sharp contrast to the ancient supernatural beings -the Old Ones and their ilk- that inhabit the Swamp and still hold sway over the villagers. Briony has always been able to see and talk to the Old Ones and she thinks this means she is a witch, a secret that only she and Stepmother knew, since witchcraft is a hanging offense in her village. Not only that, but sometimes her passions and jealousies wreak havoc on those she loves best.

As the book opens, it is several months after her beloved Stepmother's death. Briony believes -because it is what Stepmother helped her to understand- that she is responsible for the many bad things that have happened in her family, including her sister's mental condition and her stepmother's injury and subsequent death. The dreams Briony once had of education and a life of her own are buried under the guilt and self-loathing she feels, as she cares for the sister she feels responsible for. To a certain extent, Briony has withdrawn mentally from the world around her, in order to protect her family from her wickedness. When Eldric -the son of the engineer sent to oversee the draining of the Swamp (in order to advance the railway line)- comes to stay at their house, he befriends her and accepts her for who she is, without any pressure. Little by little Briony's frozen mind begins to accept his friendship.

When the Old Ones' anger erupts at the draining of the Swamp, Briony must strike a deal with the Old Ones to save her sister from becoming their next victim. But saving her sister is going to mean revealing her own wickedness.

Told in first person, past tense, Billingsley's writing style reflects Briony's mind. It is self-deprecating, at turns humorous or serious, jumpy, a bit muddled (because Briony knows things that we, the reader, aren't privy to yet) and a bit like actually being inside her head, listening to her stream-of-consciousness thought. Sometimes this got a little frustrating and sometimes I had to go back and re-read the passage because I thought I'd missed something. Still, the story moves along at a good clip, and I really didn't want to put it down. I found it interesting and compelling. I wasn't surprised by the reveal; I don't think you're meant to be, because you pick up little clues all along, but I was completely invested in the story and anxious to see how she would come into her own truth. (Am I sounding really vague? I'm trying not to give too much away.)
There is a somewhat dark, oppressive tone to the story, not only because of Briony's guilt, but because of the Swamp inhabitants, who are not very nice. And yet there are lighter moments in the interplay between Briony and Eldric, and there is the seed of hope, that surely Briony will not be left to wallow in her misery forever, surely she is not as wicked as she thinks she is.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

De-cluttering My Books Is Surprisingly Painful

I don't, generally, form sentimental attachments to "stuff." Growing up in the nomadic way I did, you'd think it would be the opposite. But no. "Stuff" doesn't mean much to me. I have only a few physical items from my growing up years: letters from my family, some of my better artwork, five expired passports, a piece of Kolonyama pottery from Lesotho, and a leather jewelry box from Ougadougou that got stained by a green marker in one of our moves. I have kept only a shoe-boxed size container of the girls' baby stuff I can't part with.

I'm a ruthless purger. If I don't love it, and/or it's not performing a function, out it goes.

But not when it comes to books. I have a hard time letting go of books, except for those I didn't care for. I have a theory about that. Books were the one constant -besides my family- of my nomadic life.  They were the steady friends that never failed me, bringing comfort and pleasure.

But my shelves will only hold so many books. So it's time to purge...I guess. Either that, or buy more bookshelves, which Todd's not thrilled about. I'm not either, since it means I'll have to put them together.
Theoretically, I don't believe I need to keep every book I buy. And just because we homeschool doesn't mean we need a house full of books...does it? See, here's the problem: that sounds like a great idea to me: a house full of books. Bookshelves as functional decoration.

I've been working on book purging for over a month, but I'm killing my effectiveness with my waffling.

Do you have regular book purges? Any ideas on how to get over my dread of missing a book after I get rid of it?