Tuesday, July 17, 2007


Ender's Game

by Orson Scott Card.

I am not a science fiction reader, but I do make occasional forays into unfamiliar genres of children's and teens' fiction in order to broaden my horizons and better my Readers' Advisory skills from time to time. I often start with the big names, the classics, the always-on-the-list items, figuring there has to be a reason people keep talking about them. And so it was that I picked up this classic starting point for teen Sci-Fi.

The story begins as young Ender, just six years old, is plucked from school and sent to Battle School to learn among the big boys. It seems many hopes ride on this tiny genius being their next great fleet commander, a gem of rare tactical brilliance, and hopes of destroying the "Buggers" and avoiding future wars lay with him. He is pushed hard, odds stacked against him and circumstances manipulated in any way possible to make him work harder. Years before any one else in history, he was pushed up to a position of command within the school, in charge of his own army of soldiers - green ones, at that, whom he was to mold. All old rules about resting time and battle practices were thrown out in the interest of pushing him and his crew to the breaking, forging them by fire. Not long after, he is again moved up, some five years earlier than normal, to Command School, where he is pushed further and harder than before, now being trained and opposed by the only surviving hero from the earlier wars.

Throughout, we see the master manipulators discussing their concerns, their needs and fears about Ender and about the upcoming invasion, which make this whole thing both more and less humane. Ender is no normal kid, to be sure, even at six he is light years ahead of most average ten- or twelve-year-olds, a genius who had been annealed to pain by his cruel older brother. This and the twist at the end, as well as Ender's occasional lapses into frustration and his fear about his own nature give this an incredibly deep humanity, rather than being a mere adventure tale. He had to be, as they explain to him when all is said and done, someone empathetic enough to understand the enemy and thus defeat him, but survivalist enough to make the tough decisions about us or them. He is indeed, just that person. For this extra depth and dimension, I really, really liked it.

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Saturday, July 14, 2007


The Lightning Thief

part I, Percy Jackson and the Olympians
by Rick Riordan

I loooved this book. I literally just brought it back this morning, then talked to a kid about it and handed it to him to read because I thought somebody had to read this, and he liked another action-y book I just read and enjoyed.

This one starts with the Harry Potter-ish hallmark of a boy having a few weird things happen and discovering he is not normal, but the direction it takes is a little different. Instead of being about witches and wizards, Percy's journey is into the realms of the Greek gods. Turns out he has a god for a father. And monsters are after him. And, well, if that weren't enough? He's become a pawn in a nasty brewing war between some of the most powerful Olympians, and he must go on a quest to put things right.

Along the way, he and two friends slay monsters, follow plot twists, clear Percy's name in the human world, get his mother back, and uncover the truth behind the evil plot.

It's quite the ride, with nonstop action and lots of modern updates on ancient monsters, providing some great moments to relish if you are famliar enough with your classics to see them coming.

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Friday, July 13, 2007


Endymion Spring

oh, Matthew Skelton. Did you write this for me? I mean, really. It's Harry Potterish in that it's all enchanted things reaching through time and involving a young boy, and such. But the boy is an average kid, not brilliant like his sister, or anything. And he is chosen. By a book.

Yup, this one's all about print history and power possessed by books and about libraries in Oxford. yummy.

My only real quibbles? Well, I have two. One is that there is not a lot of explanation about the Last Book until the very end, when it is revealed that while it could be used for evil (though we don't know what kind) by a baddie, it seems to be okay reading for someone pure of heart, not motivated by ambition. What will he do with all that knowledge, though, and how do we know it will be okay and not corrupt him anyhow, and now people know he has it, so won't things go on? yeah, my other quibble is that there are so many loose ends, yet it doesn't seem that it's intended to have sequels.

Overall, though? Good stuff.

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Wednesday, July 04, 2007



by William Steig

I just posted over at Pick of the Litter (at MBT, that is) about William Steig. And in getting that post ready, I read my first of his fiction books. (And this is, pretty much, a more in-depth version of the short annotation there.)

Let me start by saying I adore William Steig. His picture books are perfection, filled with his cartoon-y artwork, his wonderful storytelling, the kind of mild magic that makes for lovely fairy tales, characters of strong character, evocative decriptions of the natural world, and a vocabulary of the kind of depth that makes me smile for its appropriateness (if that is, indeed, a word from a real vocabulary) and for the slightly comic effect to which he uses it. So I had high hopes mixed with some trepidation when I opened Dominic.

I need not have worried. Steig retains his position in my heart as a master storyteller. He has claimed to be highly influenced by Pinocchio, and indeed, it shows here, for the story has the same sort of picaresque feel, moving from episode to episode. Some are the geneses (is that how you pluralize genesis?) of friendships, some are about the repeated battles with the Doomsday Gang, but all show him to be a pretty good guy, if a little young and a little self-interested. What really stands out for me again is his revelling in the world around him, taking in all the sights and smells (well, he is a dog) that nature has to offer, as well as the abundant and rich vocabulary employed throughout. What a wonderful treasure to share with a child old enough to enjoy a read-aloud without too many pictures. It is quite gentle enough for that, for the occasional fight scenes are glossed over nicely, and end with the bad guys fleeing, though parents who don't want to even approach that might wait a while longer and lean on Winnie-the-Pooh and Paddington and their cozier brethren in the meantime.

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