News Flash!

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For all our wonderful and loyal followers, we have a News Flash for you!

The Scriblerians have opened up a new site!

http://www.scriblerians.com   (click on book reviews to subscribe)

We will still post here, but we are hoping you will check out our brand new idea for the literary world. Here is a description of who we are and what we will be providing.

About the Scriblerians

The Scriblerians is a group of nine authors and critique partners who write for student readers. We agree that our target audience is not the students, per se, but their parents, teachers, and librarians. We want to nurture relationships with those adults who make book-purchasing decisions for their student readers by providing an essential service to them.

We want to provide reviews for books, especially those written for the Middle Grade and Young Adult markets, evaluating both content and literary quality.

This will help us recommend engaging, well-written books and offer discussion questions for popular books that may include questionable content for a Christian-worldview reader.

 

Here is an excerpt from of a critique done by Loraine Kemp.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is a bittersweet teen fiction about a boy struggling to come to terms with his mother’s serious illness.

Synopsis:

Connor, a twelve-year-old-boy, is faced with unbelievable stress – a dying mother, a father who has split from the family, a recurrent nightmare, a domineering grandmother, and bullies at school. Then, a monster visits. But this monster, which Connor initially believes is just a dream, insists that Connor “called” him. Between dealing with the above problems, Connor must listen to the monster’s stories that force him to confront his anger, confusion, and frustrations. And at the end of the monster’s three tales, Connor is forced to reciprocate by describing his nightmare – a story of truth, and the root of his depression and anxiety.

 

For the rest of the post including pros, cons, and general impression, hop over to our site http://www.scriblerians.com

Again, to subscribe, click book reviews and plunk away. We would love to see you there!

 

Skellig

Written by David Almond

                                                          skellig

“I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered with dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shined the flashlight on his white face and his black suit.”

Michael has reluctantly moved across town to a new house. His baby sister is very ill and his parents are devastated and distracted, leaving Michael depressed and without his old friends. Exploring the overgrown yard, he ventures into a dilapidated garage. He discovers, under cobwebs and dead insects, a strange creature that resembles a weak old man named Skellig. He is such a pathetic being that Michael starts to take care of him. When Michael meets a neighbour, Mina, and he introduces her to Skellig. They move the winged creature to a safer place and take care of him until he starts to gain strength. Michael wonders if Skellig is part angel. Desperately hoping his sister survives a heart operation, Michael tells the creature about her. During the baby’s operation, Michael is sure she has died, but the baby lives, and the mom describes a vivid dream she had in the hospital of a winged creature visiting the baby before the operation. Skellig disappears but the healthy baby arrives home and the family is whole again.

Pros: The cover attracted me first, but soon the lyrical prose drew me in to the characters and the mystery of what and who Skellig was. Was it human, bird, angel or all of the above? The book is very clearly written from a boy’s perspective and voice, and rings genuine. Michael’s family is going through a lot of tension with the baby’s illness, and the mental anguish they are all going through is palpable. But the theme of the power of love carries through to the very satisfying end.

Cons: Michael and Mina associated with this strange human-like creature and hid this fact from their parents, so parents of younger children would have to remind them to never talk to strangers.

Personal Opinion: This is a very well written book with mystery, good character development and suspense, but more than that, Skellig can appeal to both YA and MG readers on different levels. The adventure of finding a mysterious creature in a scary place would appeal to the younger crowd and the lyrical prose and deeper themes would appeal to the older crowd. Skellig has won two awards and was nominated for five more, so this should give readers an idea of how popular the book has been. And I would agree wholeheartedly with their assessments. I highly recommend this book.

Discussion points for parents and teachers:

MG:

  • There are many friendships. Find and discuss three.
  • Michael was very unhappy in the beginning. How did Skellig help him feel better?

YA:

  • Themes are recurrent in the book, like love and nurturing, connections, death, and spiritualism. Choose two and elaborate.
  • The lyrical prose is different from many books. Describe the difference.

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Ghost Stories

Vintage reads

Everybody loves a well-told tale. Emphasis on well-told.

As we travel through the second half of October, and grotesque stories assail us on television, in theaters, and in bookstores, I will be the curmudgeon who says, “Most of what is thrown at us is garbage.” Hollywood goes for the gross-out and the gore, rarely setting up the audience for the whys and the hows of the horror to come. The best horror doesn’t need a drop of blood and leaves the listener pondering the mystery after the story has come to a close.

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Washington Irving’s Legend of Sleepy Hollow is one such story. Don’t you dare run out for the Disney video! If there’s a film that can a hold flickering candle to the literary triumph, I’m not aware of it. Irving, known as the Father of the American Short Story, wrote this ghostly tale early in his career and published it as part of an anthology entitled, The Sketch Book.

Imagine his audience. The story was made to be read aloud in front of the hearth. No televisions, radios, or video games provided entertainment. The family hungered for words as the reader spun a tale allowing them to sense every detail in their minds. They could hear the footstep that caused a dry leaf to crackle. They could smell ash from the campfire in the deep woods. They could see the rosy blush on the maiden’s cheek and taste a just-picked apple.

Our generation could learn from the folks of two hundred years ago. I invite you to read The Legend of Sleepy Hollow on a family night—it might take three or four family nights—but there are great cliffhangers where you can stop each evening. Keep a dictionary handy. I have an extensive vocabulary, but the early nineteenth century Dutch farmers in the Hudson River Valley outclass me. And be prepared for discussions on race. Irving writes with a matter-of-fact view of the culture of his time. African Americans were slaves or servants, rarely landowners, and even in the northern states, anyone of color was not considered equal to the white man. Please don’t judge the writer for authentically reflecting the times he lived in.

Once I read the story out loud, how I wished I had grown up in a snug farm house with no electricity! Irving provides beautiful descriptions of that part of New York in autumn, and his ironic asides brought chuckles and some outright laughter.

credit to nomiz25.deviantart.com

credit to nomiz25.deviantart.com

Several pages prepare you for the action of the Headless Horseman: Ichabod Crane’s personality and eccentricities, his thoughts and habits, the setting of farms and forests, and the rural culture. The author hints at the macabre, the ghost stories that originated and grew from Sleepy Hollow. If you like to dwell on the subtleties of horror, Irving gets you good and scared about the possibilities. Then, he arrives at the crux of the story: a woman. One always needs conflict in a good plot, right? And even centuries ago, unrequited love was not a new literary device.

Irving’s ghost story ends in perfection. Who really was the headless horseman? Brom Bones? After all, he married the woman in question. Or did the specter really exist? Not even Ichabod Crane could be sure. Only the headless horseman himself knows the answer.

 

 

There’s Another World Out There

Vintage reads

Women’s rights. Poverty. Art. Non-western culture. Microfinance.

All the above topics can be found in a book written for girls ages eight to ten. “Sounds ambitious,” you might comment. Yes, and Mitali Perkins meets those ambitions with great success. I can’t call it a “Vintage Read.” It’s only going on ten years old, but I thought I’d let the teacher in me come out for today’s topic. Mitali Perkins

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Rickshaw Girl is set in Bangladesh in modern times. Naima is around ten years old, the daughter of a rickshaw driver. She is forced to leave school since her parents can’t pay fees for more than one child. Now, it’s her younger sister’s turn. Naima has tremendous artistic talent, but what good is that? As a female, she never expects to get a job much less be able to use her talent.

From that premise, Naima gets herself into a few scrapes as she bungles her efforts to contribute to family finances. From facing down the prejudice of boys her own age to learning about the possibilities of borrowing from a “bank” for women who want to start a business, Perkins teaches these concepts with a vocabulary that young readers can understand. Central to Naima’s story is her talent for creating alpanas, beautiful geometrical and floral designs painted in rich colors.

Alpana design. Photo by Sanjay K Ram (2007) on Flickr

Alpana design. Photo by Sanjay K Ram (2007) on Flickr

Rickshaw Girl may be better introduced through assigned reading in schools or homeschools.  My granddaughter, who devours all books on fantasy and princesses, didn’t show much interest when I showed her the cover of Rickshaw Girl.

However, just as we don’t feed our children entire meals of rich desserts, we should add more than one genre to their reading diet. I insisted that my children eat their meat and vegetables, and when I next see my granddaughter, we’re going to read this book together. Who knows? Rickshaw Girl may spark Hannah’s interest in other cultures, leading her to missions work or philanthropic projects for those in need.

Microfinance Women photo credit to athiqahnuralami.wordpress.com

Microfinance Women photo credit to athiqahnuralami.wordpress.com

When I was a child, I didn’t like books written in diary form. Still don’t, as a general rule, but if someone hadn’t forced me to read a journal written during World War II by some girl in Holland, I might never have discovered my passion for Holocaust history.

A free copy of Rickshaw Girl to the first person who tells me the identity of that girl in Holland.

How Could I Have Forgotten the Forgotten Door?

Vintage reads

What if people were always kind, not selfish? What if they were generous, never greedy? What if animals could sense the goodness in those people? Having no fear, they would approach the humans and enjoy their company. Even better, what if the animals and the people could communicate by signaling and receiving each other’s thoughts? All these what-ifs are the basis of the children’s science fiction novel, The Forgotten Door.

Forgotten Door

Written by Alexander Key and published in 1965, the United States and the Soviet Union stood nose to nose in the Cold War while every other nation held its collective breath waiting to see if we teetered into a full-fledged World War III. Man’s inhumanity to man had become all too obvious after two global wars in less than thirty years. Key uses this as background undergirding the immediate setting.

The Forgotten Door. I remember the title. I’m sure I read it at a young age, so it must have been shortly after its debut. Pieces of memory flash excitement; this was a good book. And my only other association with the familiar title was a sense of wistfulness…if only…

So I reread all 140 pages of it last week. How could I have forgotten The Forgotten Door? A boy who is stargazing in his world takes a step back, falls through a hidden door long forgotten by his people, and lands in our world.

starry night-sky-1469156_640Suffering from bruises and a concussion, Jon finds himself on a mountainside on Earth. A doe and her fawn lead him to a nearby road. He doesn’t understand the ugly attitudes in most of the humans he meets. His intelligence is light years above ours. He hears people’s thoughts and can communicate with animals. With help from one kind family and a ferocious dog, he tries to figure out how to get home. Except, as events progress, the family will need his help in order to survive. The story is filled with what-ifs, conflicts, and a happy ending—everything any fiction reader would desire.

Perhaps best known for Escape to Witch Mountain, Alexander Key (1904-1979) touches the core of the human heart. Most of Key’s books follow a similar format: the world may be evil, but there are good people who will help those in need. The grandson of a Methodist minister, Alexander Key apparently did not have a Christian faith. Others who write about him believe he was part of the Freethinker movement, a philosophy based on human reason and kindness. Yet he hints at a world created by intelligent design.

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Since I’m a devout Christian, why would I recommend a book written by a freethinker? Because of Romans 1:20. All humans recognize good and evil. God put that knowledge in them whether they acknowledge Him or not. The Forgotten Door and Key’s other books show the triumph of good over evil, which is enough of a start for me to share an excellent story with my grandchildren.

Now, I’m on the hunt for the rest of Key’s children’s novels still in print. Are any one of them your favorites?

Madeline: A Wholesome Choice in a Kid Lit Diet

 

 

Madeline

“In an old house in Paris that was covered with vines lived twelve little girls in two straight lines.”

So begins the story of Madeline, and so begins every book in the series.

Madeline lives in a convent most likely in the 1930’s. Her teacher and governess is a nun, Miss Clavel. When I was a child, I thought it was terrible that little girls had to live away from their parents. I assumed Miss Clavel was mean like Snow White’s stepmother. After all, the girls were forced to walk in two straight lines. Because Madeline was the smallest girl, I expected the others to bully her like Cinderella’s stepsisters. Obviously, I’d been reading too many fairytales! Imagine my surprise when I found out that Miss Clavel cried when Madeline had to have an emergency appendectomy, and the other eleven girls begged to visit her in the hospital!

My favorite of the six original books is Madeline and the Bad Hat. Not only is Madeline her spunky, red-headed self, she shows tremendous wisdom in differentiating right and wrong behavior. She will have nothing to do with the boy who is mean. However, once he shows he has changed his ways, she is quick to forgive and happy to be his friend. What a great choice to read aloud over and over again so kindness sinks into our children’s hearts.

Madeline’s creator, Ludwig Bemelmans (1896-1963), emigrated to the United States from Austria in 1914. My Austrian grandfather, only two years older than Bemelmans, also arrived in this country shortly before World War I began. Perhaps, that is one more reason I have an affinity for the author. Both men lived in Brooklyn; both traveled internationally. I wouldn’t be surprised if they knew each other! Unfortunately, I can’t ask them. My grandfather died in 1963 as well.

Madeline and the Cats of Rome

After Bemelmans’ death, one would assume the Madeline books were done. Enter John Bemelmans Marciano, the author’s grandson. Marciano is an artist and author in his own right. By studying his grandfather’s notes, John wrote five more Madeline tales, eventually adding his own personality to the later books, but Madeline remains the same feisty, mischievous but good child she always was.

In 2014, Marciano put down his pen and declared there would be no further Madeline stories in the foreseeable future. In the same year, he collaborated with the New York Historical Society in preparing an exhibition for the 75th anniversary of the first Madeline book. The curator of the Society, Jane Curley, stated, “We live in a throwaway society, but Madeline endures.”

I agree. Like an overabundant buffet table, our literary world is filled with addictive stories that lure us into the ultra-rich desserts of exotic fantasy worlds (and I love rich desserts!).  Readers toss away perfectly ripe apples of the last century’s bestsellers. We still need the healthy meat and potato meals of solid, simple fiction. What other healthy staples in established literature would you recommend?

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A Baseball Mom and the Mudville Nine

 

My initiation into the world of sports began thirty-three years ago when my oldest son ventured into the world of t-ball. As each brother reached the grand old age of four, he joined the ranks of youth baseball teams. I have no better memories than those balmy evenings in June bruising my behind on bleachers and cheering my little boys to victory.

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With spring’s arrival, we leapt into all things baseball. Visiting the baseball card shop. Practices. Washing uniforms. Games. Washing uniforms. Concessions. I even sold an article to a magazine extolling the agony and the ecstasy of a six-inning Little League game!

We instituted baseball traditions at home. The season opened with our favorite videos. Major League, Major League 2, The Sandlot, and my husband rediscovered his childhood favorite, It Happens Every Spring. Other baseball movies rotated in and out, but those four were the staples of our viewing diet. To gain relief from hotdogs and nacho dinners fresh from the concession stand, I could be counted on to bring the boys’ favorites of tuna macaroni salad or ham and cheese sub sandwiches to their games. By the time, the youngest was in high school, those subs had won the distinction of a home run meal for the team between doubleheaders.

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Years passed. The oldest boy dropped baseball to create a successful high school sports career in swimming. The next son earned a college baseball scholarship but declined the money once he realized baseball practice and travel to games plus premed courses and biology labs equaled not enough time to succeed in either endeavor.

With one child left in baseball, I cherished every inning. He did not disappoint. We were able to attend games through all of his college years. Even better, he coaches his own high school team now. My husband will travel out of state to visit him later this month to attend their tournament. I’m jealous.

My boys will tell you that I never truly learned baseball lingo (“It’s not a hit, Mom. He only made contact with the ball.”). I don’t mind the teasing. Even though the words rarely come out of my mouth correctly, I’ve learned a lot more about baseball and life raising my sons than the years my parents dragged me to my brothers’ games.

PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod, don’t let him strike out. PleaseGodpleaseGodpleaseGod, help him to pitch over the plate. Not every one of those prayers was answered with a yes from the Almighty. Through God’s grace, this mom and her kids learned how to handle the success of RBIs and sacrifice bunts, as well as how to endure the humiliation of fielding errors and hitting the batter.

casey at the bat

All of this to say: my favorite sports-oriented poem is “Casey at the Bat.”  As literature, I enjoy the rhythms of the poem. As a baseball aficionado, I appreciate the details of the game. As a Christian, I love the spiritual lesson. If you’ve read it, you know the moral of the story.  If you haven’t, read it! Then comment and let me know what the life lesson is.