Into My Bookshelf: Knight’s Tale

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

Today, we are still on my short shelf, and we’re continuing in the series of children’s books on magic by the wonderful author, Edward Eager.

A note on order here: I’ve shelved and will thus write about this series in order of publication, which puts Knight’s Tale second, published in 1956. I’ve lost the original sleeve the series came in that wrote the order they were meant to be put into the sleeve in, so I don’t remember what order I read them as a child. This is possibly the third one to be read.

I’ll explain more on that note in the next post.

This story, however, is the story of progeny of the original children from Half-Magic. Martha’s children, Roger and Ann, are visiting their Aunt Katherine and her children, Eliza and Jack. As can be the case with cousins who don’t see too much of each other, they have very different personalities and get off to a bit of a rocky start at first.

Magic fixes that, naturally.

As I said before of the series, the rules are totally different. This is more reminiscent of Toy Story, where everything comes alive at night. The children build a city of toy figurines and old boxes, and with a little mythology help from the novel Ivanhoe and a dash of magic, they find themselves inside the city, interacting with the figurines, learning the rules of chivalry and discovering that familiar fantasy dilemma: How to explain to creatures of a different era or place why you’ve suddenly appeared on their turf with strange clothes that are actually your pajamas.

So, as with the other Eager book, Knight’s Tale uses imagination, creativity, and the rules of magic to spice up a less-than-agreeable family holiday. It also bonds the cousins together in a way that only such magical experiences can do, and they find that they have a thing or two in common after all.

By the way, it’s not on my bookshelf, but if you haven’t read Ivanhoe, you really should. It’s a spectacular story and this book is twice as enjoyable after having read it. I know, because as soon as I read Knight’s Tale at the age of nine, I checked Ivanhoe out at the library and devoured it.

Cheers,

C

Into my Bookshelf: Half-Magic

Welcome back to my bookshelf! We’re continuing on with my short shelf, and we’ve reached a series, which will take up the next seven posts.

My being a very imaginative child, the very small amount of actual children’s literature I read as a child consisted almost exclusively of books I read for school and fantasy books. I’m probably not unique in this, but it did feed an utter fascination with the fantastic that has followed me ever since.

My mother, bless her, bought me a box set of books she had read were excellent for children who read the sort of things I read, and I’m going to highly recommend every single one of them in the next seven posts because they were such a delightful part of my reading experience as a child.

Edward Eager was a writer active in the 50’s and 60’s, and is best known for the series of stories about children encountering the fantastic. The first of these, Half-Magic, was published in 1954, for example.

There are clever twists and rules in each book, every magical encounter a bit different from the rest. It’s like Narnia in some ways. For example, there are seven books with varying experiences of different children. Some of the children come back, some overlap, some are related to each other, but there are always four children: usually two boys, two girls.

In this first book we have Katherine, Martha, Jane, and Mark (note, only one boy in this set), who are experiencing perhaps the worst thing a set of four children can experience: a boring summer. Things get a bit lively when they discover a magical coin.

The catch? It only grants half of your wish. You wish to be on a desert island, you end up in the desert. At one point, unknowingly, their mother uses the coin and wishes she were home, and ends up – to her shock and confusion – halfway home.

Because you never know which half of your wish is going to be granted, there’s no proper way to be sure of what you’re getting, but that’s an important part of the fun! The best thing about this story is that it sets the stage for the further tales and lets you know that in Edward Eager’s world, magic may have rules, but you won’t always know how to wrangle with them. Magic can’t be harnessed, but that doesn’t mean you can’t go along for the ride!

Cheers,

C

Into my Bookshelf: The Wanderer

Hello, everybody!

Welcome back to my bookshelf. We’re continuing on with the short shelf today, and I confess that the next two on the shelf I’ve yet to finish, so you’ll be getting my thoughts on Heat Wave by Richard Castle (yup, from the television series) and The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer when I’ve finished them.

So the next book on my shelf is The Wanderer by Sharon Creech. Another children’s book, appropriate for the older years of elementary school, this book is another one I haven’t read in a very long time, but it’s exceptionally well-worn. This was one of those required-reading things I did at that age, either in fourth or fifth grade. I can’t remember if I read it on my own, or if it was one that the teacher read out loud, but I remember that I loved it so much my mother got me my own copy.

The story follows Sophie on a trip across the ocean, in a diary format. It’s a beautifully written piece that also follows her emotional journey where she discovers things about herself and her family. You learn a lot about ships as well, because it includes a satisfying amount of technical information about all sorts of things, including how fiberglass works. I loved that as a child.

It’s a delightful tale that actually teaches kids a lot about a lifestyle I can almost guarantee none of them have lived. So if you’re looking for a book to share, it’s a wonderful option.

Cheers,

C

Into my Bookshelf: The Pinballs

Welcome back to my bookshelf! Next up is The Pinballs, by Betsy Byars.

Like the other entries so far from my short shelf, this is a book I haven’t read in a very long time. It’s a children’s book, but not for especially young children. I don’t recall when I read it, but when I was probably too young. I would say middle school age off the top of my head.

The story is about three foster children who are bounced around from place to place, hence “The Pinballs” – a name they adopted for themselves. It’s well-written, relatively short, and definitely a tearjerker if you’ve got a tender spot for children who’ve been stepped on or run over.

Because one of the boys was literally run over by his father, just backed up the car right over him and broke his legs. I would say “oops”, but that’s probably in poor taste.

I inherited the book from my eldest sister, who liked to give me her emotionally scarring books when she finished them, usually before I was old enough to really be reading such things. You’ll hear more about that later in my bookshelf and you’ll see what I mean.

In the end, though, the book is uplifting, obviously, as it is meant for children. So if you like a book about the underprivileged beating the odds that’s a quick and interesting read, this is a good one.

Cheers,

C

Into My Bookshelf: Jane Eyre

Welcome back to my bookshelf!

Today, we’re continuing on along my short shelf, looking today at Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte.

My first experience with this novel was in seventh grade, when I read it as one of my required reading books. I was going through classics at the time, and I read it along with other female-authored classics of similar size (notably other Bronte sister novels and some Jane Austen). From my initial impressions, I recall preferring it vastly to all of Austen and a little bit to Wuthering Heights. It was melancholy without being (thirteen-year-old me felt) overdramatic.

My second read happened sometime in high school, although the details are fuzzy. By this point I’d ready a gross amount of Dickens, Vanity Fair, and several quite thick Russian classics, and Jane Eyre no longer cut the mustard for me, I’m afraid. It went into the stack of books like Frankenstein and The Old Man and the Sea that I never wanted to see again in my life. If someone had asked me at the time to discuss my violent assessment in intelligent terms with things like sentences and adjectives, I don’t think I could have done it. I had a very visceral reaction to my reread that leads me to believe now that it was something I was experiencing in my life that must have subconsciously mixed with the novel in a very negative way.

Because now, while I don’t think I will ever love it, I’ve kept it on my bookshelf in spite of my previously violent reactions to it. Frankenstein wasn’t so lucky. It was one of the few non-children’s books that I opted to give away when I was cleaning. Something about Jane Eyre, however, reached out and appealed to the 22-year-old me. Perhaps it’s the melancholy nature, the darkness that finds communion with my inner Mistress of Dark Emotion. Perhaps it’s my inner Victorian. I really can’t put my finger on it exactly, but it’s staying on my short shelf for now, and when I go to pack up and move in a couple year’s time, we’ll see if it’s still so lucky.

I’ll confess that this one is due for a reread, and when I go through rereading things it will most likely be on the list. But here’s a few thoughts from those around me on the novel, and my reactions to them.

First of all, my brother had to read it in his 9th grade English class, and the particular exercise was to annotate the book as he read. So he left sticky notes all through the copy (or maybe he wrote in the margins, I haven’t actually looked, but my other brother still has all his sticky notes in the copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude I loaned him for AP English) and had to turn in his thoughts to the teacher. I will say that he didn’t especially enjoy the novel, and found it too long and vastly depressing. Not so much that he refused to watch Pride and Prejudice with me, but enough that his teacher actually said she couldn’t finish reading his comments because they were too disturbing. Whatever it was he wrote, he wasn’t referred to the counselor, but I’m sure it was witty, entertaining, and vaguely bizarre. I’d like to get my hands on those comments one day.

My excellent friend, fellow writer, and aspiring young-adult author Meg happens to be a big fan of Jane Austen, and consequently knows much of its offshoots. While she says she’s never read Jane Eyre, she happens to have learned that the novel was born out of a question Charlotte Bronte asked herself: What would happen if Jane Fairfax (from Jane Austen’s Emma) had become a governess rather than marrying? Thus was the beginning of a great classic.

So for those of you who have heard or said that fan fiction can’t be great literature, there’s that proved wrong. One of the greatest classics, taught frequently to high school students, began its life as a fan fiction. Proof that the question “what if” can do just about anything in the right hands.

Cheers,

C

Into my Bookshelf: Tuck Everlasting

Hello, all!

My life has been a whirlwind lately. I might have my first actual grown-up (if part-time) job, and I’ve got another part-time sort of freelance job that’s an extension of work I’ve been doing for the place I interned in college. And my teaching classes are starting. And my room is clean. And all kinds of exciting grown-up things like that.

But as a product of getting my room clean, my books are all organized! So I know where they all are, except the ones I’m loaning to family members, and those I can only speculate on (and a Pablo Neruda book I’ve loaned to a friend that I might have to poke her about).

Staring at my copious collection of books (not all of which I can see from my desk because it’s overflowing under my desk, onto my chest of drawers, and into my closet) got me to thinking, I haven’t read all of these, actually. Some I’ve started. Some were gifts that got sidelined and never returned to. But I’ve got a plan to remedy that, and I’ve also decided to SHARE MY BOOKSHELF WITH YOU ALL.

Meaning, going through my shelves (and pseudo-shelves) and sharing the ones I’ve read, adding posts about the ones I haven’t as I finish them. And I’m starting on my shelf of tiny books, which is a collection of all the book small enough to fit on my top shelf. I confess, I never finished The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, so that’s on my reading list and I’m starting with Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting!

I read this in elementary school and haven’t reread it since, so if I make a list of books to reread, this will probably be on it. But we read it in class my third grade year, and I absolutely loved it. This was also about the time the film came out, with Alexis Bledel, so I have a copy with her face on the cover.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story, it’s about a girl named Winifred who meets a family that never ages called the Tucks. They live in the woods and get their water from a special spring that has frozen them in the ages when they first drank it. She befriends their sons and grows very close with them, and the story goes from there. Naturally, Winifred falls in love with one of the sons, but don’t think this is just a creepy Twilight-esque relationship. It is tender, child-appropriate, and completely non-abusive!

Most importantly to my memory is a toad who hops in and out of the story. If you can follow the toad, you’ll find yourself amused and maybe even catching on early with certain things.

I confess, I don’t have a lot to say about this story except that if you’re looking for something a grade-schooler can read, this is a really good bet, and the film was really great as well.

I’m hoping to put up another post next week, this one on Jane Eyre, so if that’s a book you’re interested in, stay tuned!

Cheers,

C

My Mind Won’t Shut Off

This is a problem I think many creative people share, but I find it hard to shut my mind off. To the point where I have to meditate to sleep at all many nights.

As a result, I’ve found that one of my most productive times of day is actually the middle of the night. This is why I have effectively shifted my waking hours from noon to four AM.

One of the results of this inability to turn off my mind is that I am constantly coming up with projects, which is part of why my list of works in progress grows faster than I can finish anything. For example, I have been working through Star Trek: TOS for personal and interpersonal reasons. I was having a very hard time connecting with the characters, almost an impossible time enjoying the show, despite the fact that I’d thoroughly enjoyed later Star Trek series.

Once I began to emotionally bond with the character of Spock, I was able to identify my issues with the series, and once I dreamed up ways to fix them, I suddenly found myself plotting out a fan fiction, making a massive family tree and spanning the story across three series and over a hundred years of canon.

Now I’ve written two chapters, outlined a third, and have begun the outline for the fourth. This is what happens when I watch television and have pens and paper in my room, I suppose.

I can’t be the only one staying up to all hours of the night plotting stories and cataloguing names. What do y’all do when you’re up late at night, unable to turn off your minds?

Cheers,

C