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Sunday Salon: the Children’s Post

February 8, 2009

The Sunday Salon.comIt just so happens that most of the fiction I read this week was YA/children’s. And my niece is in town! :) So we’ll talk about fiction first, and then move to nonfiction (and yes, I know I read a lot this week. But most of the fiction was short. And I’m still sick. So I have to take a semester off school, and I can’t get a job until I get my health back in line. So I have a lot of spare time and often can’t drive.) On an administrative note, I’ve decided to imbed links to each of the mini-reviews, so I can link to them directly on my ‘books read’ page and in my review directory. So that’s why some of the titles look like the have links, but you can’t click on them!

Nation My first children’s read was Nation by Terry Pratchett. Although I’d read a lot of excellent reviews, I somehow managed to still know very little about the plot, but that’s just the way I like it! I immediately fell in love with Mau and Daphne, two adolescents from different cultures who find themselves having to create a life on a tiny island in the Pacific (well, at Pratchett says at the end, it’s actuallya parallel universe that just seems exactly like ours. hehe). And I simply devoured the story; I hope it replaces Lord of the Flies on school reading lists (I loathed that book). Just when I thought the book couldn’t get any better, there was a Jane Austen reference! I’ve pretty much only read Pratchett’s children’s lit (I love the Wee Free Men series), and what he’s so good at doing is creating believable characters that learn important life lessons and examine deeply held beliefs without ever sounding preachy and while telling a page-turning story. It’s a real art, and one that I definitely appreciate. Even as an almost-adult, I think it’s great to find role models who figure out who they are and what believe in and then stand up for that. Powerful, funny, and a definite must-read.

BloomabilityAfter that I turned to Bloomability by Sharon Creech. It drew my attention, because it features a middle-school girl who ends up at a private American school in Switzerland. Since I was a middleschooler in England (though I didn’t go to a fancy school like hers!), it sounded neat. And I did enjoy reading about Switzerland (where the author taught at an American school for many years). But the characters just weren’t fleshed-out enough for my tastes; this is billed as YA lit, but it felt more like elementary school compared to many of the YA books I read. It was a little too much cotton candy for me, and one I wouldn’t recommend to adults (in this case, I’m putting my twenty-two-year-old self in that category!). For kids with wanderlust and low characterisation standards, though, this could be a fun escapist novel.

The SaturdaysNext up was The Saturdaysby Elizabeth Enright. This is 40s children fiction, my first read for the Dewey’s Books Challenge, and I just lapped it up. It tells of the adventures of the four Melendy siblings, who live in New York City and have all sorts of adventures on their Saturdays. It has the typical narrative voice for this period, which some readers might find precious or condescending, but which I happen to love. Also, it’s a bit stereotypical (two girls, two boys, no mother, loving housekeeper, absent-minded but kind father), which might bother some people (not me!). And the scrapes the kids get themselves into are great! And there’s a gentle humour pervading the book that stops it from feeling recycled or trite or anything. I thought it was wonderful fun, and I’m excited to discover it’s the first of a quartet. :) I had originally planned on doing a full-post review, but I think this about sums up everything I’d want to say that wouldn’t give away the plot!

feathersMy final children’s read this week was Jacqueline Woodson’s “Feathers”. Susan recommended her to me, and my library had a lot of her titles, so I picked the one with the prettiest cover and referenced Emily Dickinson’s “Hope is a thing with feathers” (remember how that’s one of my favourite poems?). It turned out to be really short-barely over 100 pages, so I’m classifying it as a novella. It was my first read in honour of Black History Month, and I want to do a group review at the end of the month, so I’ll keep this brief. “Feathers” tells the story of eleven-year-old Frannie, and her experiences at school and at home. It’s not one of those books that has one defining moment, more it’s a gentle examination of that hazy period between childhood and adolescence. I thought Frannie’s voice was pitch-perfect, and I was especially intrigued by the 1970s setting-it made it all the more interesting. And while the book is short, all of the characters felt very real to me; I wish it had been much longer, although it feels complete as it is. I’ll definitely be reading more of Woodson in the future-and a big thanks to Susan for introducing me to her!

Commodore HornblowerI also read/finished three grown-up novels this week: Commodore Hornblower by C.S. Forester, Gabriela, Cinnamon and Cloves by Jorge Amado, and Tipping the Velvetby Sarah Waters. I’ll be reviewing the latter two separately, since they’re challenge reads (Latin American and 1% Well Read receptively), so for now I’ll just talk about Commodore Hornblower. As we’ve already established, I love this series, and I have a huge crush on Horatio Hornblower. :D I’m reading it in published order, so this was the fourth book for me, and it definitely stood up to the rest of them (although my favourite is still Flying Colors). In this one, Hornblower goes to the Baltic with orders to help defeat Napoleon (and convince the Russian tsar Alexander which side he should take). Of course, with my Russian background, I squealed when I found out where he was going, and the scenes at Peterhoff (a palace on the outskirts of St. Petersburg) were especially memorable for me since I’ve been there! I also love the way Forester really brought the Russian court and its state banquets to life. Since Hornblower is now a commodore, he has more ships at his command, so his brilliant leadership was even more fun to watch. Lady Barbara puts in a couple of wonderful, though lamentably brief, appearances. All in all, everything I could desire!

Oxford ProjectFinally, I read three non-fiction books. I finally finished China: a Fragile Superpowerby Susan Shirk, and I raced through Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy and The Oxford Projectby Peter Feldstein and Stephen Bloom. Once again, I’m only going to talk about the latter here, since the other two are challenge reads and get their own posts. The Oxford Project is incredible, like a wonderful picture book for adults (see how I worked the theme back in?). Photographer Peter Feldstein photographed almost every resident of his small town of Oxford, Iowa (pop. 676) in 1984 and then did it again in 2006. While I loved comparing the photos, the best part of the book were the stories. Writer Stephen Bloom interviewed many of the subjects, and most pages include a brief story of their lives, in their own words. There’s something indescribably compelling about the stories of other people, and this book gives you a peep into the lives of all sorts of characters. There’s quite a bit of tragedy in Oxford (lots of car accidents), but there’s love and strength and togetherness too. I intended to just flip through this book, but I read it cover to cover and couldn’t put it down. Also, I was in the same room as my mom and couldn’t help constantly reading out parts of the stories to her. One small caveat: Oxford is not at all diverse ethnically speaking, so pretty much all of the people profiled are white. That being said, they run the gambit from hippies (who name their children Unity and Cayenne) to super-Catholic Italian Americans, to farmers and hunters. Oh, and this book is beautifully put together: the pictures are all in black-and-white in a great format; it weights five pounds (!), so it’s obviously a labour of love.

I’m in the middle of Belfast Diaryby John Conroy, another World Citizen nonfiction read, and realy enjoying it! And that’s all, folks. :)

Notable Passages
Nation by Terry Pratchett
It was a game. He loved it when she assembled her facts and pinned him down with a cast-iron argument. He believed in rational thinking and scientific inquiry, which was why he never on an argument with his mother, who believed in people doing what she told them, and believed it with a rock-hard certainty that dismissed all opposition.

They made her do it. That was probably a good thing, Daphne admitted. She’d wanted to do it but hadn’t dared do it, but they’d made her do it, although really they’d made her make herself do it, and now that she’d done it, she was glad. Glad, glad, glad. Her grandmother would not have approved, but that was all right because: a) she wouldn’t find out; b) what Daphne had done was entirely sensible in the circumstances; and c) her grandmother really wouldn’t find out.
She had removed her dress and all but one of her petticoats. She was only three garments away from being totally naked! Well, four if you included the grass skirt.

…she was getting really good at making beer. Everyone said so. It was just some kind of a knack, Cahle had said, or at least had partly said and partly gestured, and that being able to make beer so well meant she would be able to get a very fine husband. Her getting married still seemed to be a big topic of discussion in the Place. It was like being in a Jane Austen novel, but one with far less clothing.

The Saturdaysby Elizabeth Enright
All the Melendys knew what they were going to be when they grew up. Some of them were going to follow several professions. Mona, of course, had decided to be an actress. She could (and did) recite yards of poetry and Shakespeare at the drop of a hat. Randy was going to paint pictures and be a dancer. Rush was going to be the best pianist in the world, and a great engineer as well: the kind that builds suspension bridges, and dams, and railroads. Oliver was going to be an engineer too, but he was going to be the kind that drives trains. It was nice to have it all settled.

Of course Father said yes. But he had certain conditions which they already knew by heart. They were the same ones he had imposed when they started going to school by themselves.
“Don’t get run over,” he said. “That’s the first and most important rule. …”

“In less than five minutes I had arrived at the carnival! It was even better than I had hoped: full of crowds and bright lights and noise. The carousel with its whirling painted horses and its music was like nothing I had ever seen before. I rodeon it twice and when I screamed with excitement nobody paid any attention because they were all doing the same thing. After that I bought a ride on a camel. That took some courage, as I had never seen a camel before and did not know that they possessed such sarcastic faces. Have you ever ridden one?”

Commodore Hornblower by C.S. Forester
“What is it you plan for me, sir?” he asked; he would not even wait for Louis to make the first move.
“The Baltic,” said Louis.
So that was it. The two words terminated a morning of wild speculation, tore up a wide cobweb of possibilities. It might have been anywhere in the world; Java or Jamaica, Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope, the Indian Ocean or the Mediterranean, anywhere within the twenty-five-thousand-mile circuit of the world where the British flag flew. And it was going to be the Baltic; Hornblower tried to sort out in his mind what he knew about the Baltic. He had not sailed in northern waters since he was a junior lieutenant.

They grinned back at him; it was with a curious pang that Hornblower realised that his subordinates were already fond of him. He thought, guiltily, that if they only knew all the truth about him they might not like him so much.

It was another enormous room, lit by what seemed to be hundreds of cut-glass chandeliers dangling from the roof, and all down the length of it ran a vast table-miles long, it seemed, to Hornblower’s disordered imagination-covered with gold plate and crystal and embanked with flowers. The table was shaped like a T with a very small crosspiece, and the royal party had already taken their seats at the head; behind every chair all the way down stood a white-wigged footman.

31 Comments leave one →
  1. February 8, 2009 2:32 am

    Oh, I need a cup of coffee and downtown. Your Sunday Salon is very inviting.

    I’m leaving shortly and won’t have access regularly so I’m posting this here. You’re poetry post is link at my Little Lov’n Monday.

    Enjoy the rest of your weekend.

  2. February 8, 2009 2:47 am

    The Oxford Project sounds wonderful, Eva!

  3. February 8, 2009 4:47 am

    What a fantastic reading week. I have two Terry Pratchett books waiting to be read in my pile. I have never read any of his and the two I have are about Discworld. I have heard such great reviews about his stories but up until now I have never been drawn to them. I am going to start with Wintersmith. Have you read it?

  4. February 8, 2009 5:32 am

    I’m sorry to hear that you’re so sick. At least you’re taking advantage of your time by reading so much. I know I’m all about the kids’ books when I’m not feeling too well.

    I read Nation myself awhile ago. I remember enjoying it, although I can’t access my review right now, so I’m glad you did too!

  5. February 8, 2009 7:55 am

    Love your salon post!

    It is almost so edible!

    Early Salon moments

  6. February 8, 2009 8:01 am

    Oh Eva! I’m so sorry that you still aren’t feeling better, so “not better” that you have to put off school! I certainly hope that things can be sorted out so you can be back to feeling like yourself again soon.

    I have never read Terry Prachett, but I’ve heard so much. Your hope that Nationreplaces “Lord of the Flies” (which I still have not read) encourages me to read it sooner! I have also not read Feathers, but it’s a Newbery Honor book and I hoped to read it this year.

    The Oxford Project sounds quite interesting as well. So many interesting books! Thanks as always for sharing your thoughts.

  7. February 8, 2009 8:28 am

    You had a great week in books! The Saturdays looks so good.

  8. Caro permalink
    February 8, 2009 8:42 am

    Oh, The Saturdays! As a child, I LOVED that book and read it many times! Thanks for the quick trip down memory lane!

  9. February 8, 2009 8:56 am

    I recently read Bloomability, and I thought it left much to be desired. I was a huge fan of Sharon Creech in 5th and 6th grade, but I never got around to reading Bloomability then.

    I hated Lord of the Flies too! I did horrible on all the tests and projects on that book in 10th grade and the teacher asked me during class, “Sarah, you don’t really like this book very much, do you?”

  10. February 8, 2009 9:21 am

    Dear Eva,

    I’m delighted to learn that you’re reading my book, Belfast Diary, and look forward to your review.

    With best regards,
    John Conroy

  11. February 8, 2009 10:04 am

    I can’t wait to read Nation! I think it’s coming up after I finish some obligatory review books. The Saturdays sounds like a lot of fun, too.

  12. February 8, 2009 10:07 am

    I’m very interested in the book about the changes in people over the years, but I haven’t been able to find a copy of it yet.

  13. February 8, 2009 10:41 am

    Wow, that’s a lot of books – and a lot of good ones, at that! I’m particularly interested in NATION; I’ve read tons of rave reviews over the past couple of months. I don’t think I’ve come across a single person who disliked it.

  14. February 8, 2009 11:43 am

    Sounds like you had a great week of reading. I hate Lord of the Flies when I was in high school and it turned me off enough that I’m not willing to give it another try. I’ll definitely be giving Nation a try in the future. I’m interested in hearing more about China: A Fragile Superpower and will be looking forward to your review.

  15. February 8, 2009 11:46 am

    Ahhh! The Saturdays, one of my favorites since…forever. So glad to hear you “lapped it up.” And you’ve reminded me that since reading Good Omens, I’d planned to read Pratchett. This sounds like a great place to start.

  16. Peter Feldstein permalink
    February 8, 2009 12:52 pm

    Oxford, IOWA

  17. February 8, 2009 1:56 pm

    Eva, Sorry to hear you are so sick. I’ve been waiting for months to get the Oxford Project from my library. I can’t wait. There is a web site connect with the project here:

    I also want to read Nation. I’ve read some of Pratchett’s Discworld books and enjoyed them.

  18. February 8, 2009 2:49 pm

    Eva, I’m sorry to hear that you’re not feeling too well and will have to take time off from school because of it! Is it your fibro? I really hope you get well soon. At least you can see the silver lining, which is more time to read! ;)

  19. February 8, 2009 3:05 pm

    I’m so sorry to hear that are sick and have to take time off from school!

    When I was young I read “The Four-Story Mistake” and “And Then There Were Five” by Elizabeth Enright many, many times. They are also about the Melendy family and I loved them. I didn’t even know that “The Saturdays” existed until a few months ago, though! I will have to read it sometime.

  20. February 9, 2009 3:52 am

    Susan, thanks! :)

    Claire, it really is. :)

    Vivienne, I have read Wintersmith; it’s the third in the Wee Free Men and Tiffany Aching series. I think it’d make more sense if you read it in order (plus my very favourite of the three is the first one, The Wee Free Men), but it’s still a good read!

    Meghan, thanks. :) And yay for more Nation fans!

    Gautami, thank you. :D

    Rebecca, thanks for the wishes; I’ve been going to the doctor’s, so hopefully we’ll figure it out soon. Feathers is a really quick read and really powerful; I think you’ll like it a lot. And Nation is greaT!

    Bermuda Onion, it’s adorable. :)

    Caro, I wish I’d read it when I was achild!

    Sarah, glad I’m not the only one let down by Bloomability. And Lord of the Flies…ugh…that’s all I have to say about that.

    John Conroy, thanks for stopping by! I enjoyed your book, so the review will be positive. ;)

    Andi, you should definitely read it soon!

    Debbie, I was lucky that my library carried it; it’s expensive on Amazon!

    Memory, I can’t imagine what anyone would dislike about Nation. It’s really that good. :)

    Samantha, the China book was informative but I had to sludge through it.

    Emily, Good Omens was the first Pratchett I ever read! One of my oldest friends is a big Discworld fan, and I’m (obviously) a big Gaiman fan, so we argued over who had written which parts. hehe

    Peter, thanks for the correction; I knew it was Iowa, so I have no clue why I typed Indiana. Fixed it!

    Gavin, thanks for the link and the good health wishes!

    Heather, it is the fibro-thanks for the good thoughts. :) And I definitely have lots of time to read!

    Sarah, thanks! I want to read the others about the Melendy family as well. :)

  21. tuulenhaiven permalink
    February 9, 2009 7:51 am

    Glad you liked Nation. Thanks for the reviews – I definitellywant to check out The Saturdays and the book about Oxford. :)

  22. February 9, 2009 10:45 am

    Of course, you surely know that I love all of your posts, but there is just something so wonderful, something I can’t quite figure out how to put into words, about your Sunday Salon posts. I just love them, and I’m always so sad when I get to the end!

    When you didn’t head back to school sometime in the past few weeks, I was afraid you had to take a semester off due to your fibro, but I didn’t want to pry. I am soooo very, very sorry, Eva! It breaks my heart that you’ve been feeling so badly lately!!! And I can’t even begin to imagine how frustrating it must be for you to have to take this semester off. (((HUGS))) With that sweet, indomitable spirit of yours, I’m sure you’ll make the most of this break from school. It will be so great getting more wonderful “Eva” posts than we would have if you were swamped with school again, but believe me this isn’t the way I’d hoped to get them.

  23. alirambles permalink
    February 9, 2009 12:25 pm

    Eva, I’m so sorry you’re having to take a break from school–how frustrating that must be for you.

    The Saturdays was one of my very favorite books as a kid. I think I read everything by Elizabeth Enright in my school library.

    And, by the way, you for sure qualify as an adult in my book!

  24. February 9, 2009 1:11 pm

    The Oxford Project sounds fascinating. Thanks for sharing.

  25. February 9, 2009 1:37 pm

    First of all, I second what Debi said…I had been wondering about you lately, and I’m so sorry to hear this :( I’ll be sending good thoughts your way.

    Secondly, I’m so glad you loved Nation too :D I thought you would. I actually have seen a few negative reviews of it…a review I read somewhere said it was “heavy-handed” and “too hostile” towards religion. The second thing in particular really puzzled me. (The first too, in a way, but I can see how finding something “heavy-handed” or not can be a matter of perspective.)

  26. Jenny permalink
    February 10, 2009 12:30 pm

    The Saturdays (and the rest of the Melendy books) were some of my very favorites as a child, and I still re-read them from time to time. I think Jeanne Birdsall’s recent books about the Penderwicks have a similar feel, but updated. So much fun!

  27. February 11, 2009 1:42 am

    Tuulenhaiven, thanks for stopping by! :)

    Debi, thanks so much for saying you like my Sunday Salon posts! I always worry they’re way too long and only of interest to me. ;) And thank you for all of the kind words re: fibro. I think taking the semester off will end up being a good thing in the long run…I just hope I can conquer the fibro in the meantime.

    Ali, thanks for the good wishes! I seriously wish I had discovered Enright when I was a kid…but I’m still enjoying her!

    Kat, thanks for stopping by!

    Nymeth, thank you for the good thoughts. :D That’s interesting re: the review…I guess if I completely switch perspectives I can see theie critique, since the priest is a grey character and Mau decides the gods don’t exist…but it seems like a very superficial reading of the book.

    Jenny, I’ll have to check out Birdsall-thanks for the rec!

  28. February 11, 2009 3:16 pm

    Hi, I like how you describe The Saturday’s as ‘wonderful fun’. Good enough for me. :)

  29. March 11, 2009 6:30 am

    Hi Eva

    I haven’t been able to post reguarly because of our computer shortage at home. SO I just read this now, while I was looking for a book review you did. I’m so sorry you are so ill! You were so looking forward to being at school! It’s not the proximity to the water that’s making it worse, is it? I hope you do get better soon. Hugs, Susan


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