Friday, July 9, 2010

5 x 5

So I am modifying the traditional format of five loves/hates for this week's topic. The books I've selected are either not the best well known by a (fairly) famous author or are ones that I don't think get noticed.

5 Children's literature gems

1. Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl. This book is not nearly as well known or as popular as books like BFG or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory which is a shame. I read this book for my children's literature class, and it was the first thing to make me laugh after September 11th. It will forever hold a special place in my heart because of that. If you are a fan of Robin Hood stories you will appreciate Danny and his father's attitude and the crafty way they thumb their noses at the system. And as always, full of laughs and slightly twisted incidents. Classic Dahl in other words.

2. Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright. This happens to be a Newbery Honor book and so comes marked with a highly visible and well known endorsement, but I still think it is under read. Actually, I think all of Enright's books are, but that is another post.* This story, and its sequel, revolve around the adventures that Portia Blake has with her cousin Julian when she and her brother Forest come to stay with Julian's family for the summer. Together they discover what once used to be a lake (and is now a swamp) and an elderly brother and sister who still live in the old lake houses. I loved this book as a child, and will still re-read it if I need something extra comforting.

3. In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Lord. This book has an odd sounding title that on the face of things doesn't make sense. Or at least, it didn't make sense to me as a child. This is one of those books that I read as an adult and kicked myself for not reading it as a child. It is a fantastic and engaging story of a young Chinese immigrant making her place in American society through the use of that quintessentially American past time baseball. It is funny and touching and I loved it.

4. Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner. I started this book one night thinking I would read a few chapters and go to bed. I read the entire thing instead. It has everything a book should have: engaging, memorable and believable characters, a tightly woven and plausible plot, witty dialogue, elements of danger and suspense, and a satisfying outcome. I recently suggested this book to one of my co-workers for her granddaughter. She absolutely loved it (the granddaughter), taking it on errands with her that afternoon because she didn't want to stop reading it. And once she was done she firmly informed her grandmother to thank me for suggesting it. Hurrah! It is such a great book.

5. One Hundredth Thing About Caroline by Lois Lowry. Lowry is probably best known as the author of the Anastasia Krupnik series and, more recently, as the author of the Giver and its sequels. This particular book, which also has two companion novels Switcharound and Your Move J.P., focus on the title character of Caroline, a young girl with a love of science and dinosaurs and an overly active imagination. Here's the plot synopsis from Wikipedia (there isn't one on amazon because the book appears to be out of print). "Caroline Tate discovers a note written to the mysterious man living in the apartment above her, telling him to "Get rid of the kids". Caroline jumps to the conclusion that she and her brother are going to be murdered, and she's even more horrified when her single mother starts to date the man." The book is a real joy to read, and if you can find it, I highly recommend it.

5 Adult literature gems

1. Cat Who Had 14 Tales by Lilian Jackson Braun. I used to love her Cat Who series, but it has gone on for far too long and the quality has really gone down hill. However, the early books in the series are great and so is this short story collection. They are very different in style from her Cat Who series, and this is an excellent choice for the beach or a long plane trip because of the length of the pieces.

2. Dog's Life by Peter Mayle. A light, humorous read by Peter Mayle. I think every dog owner imagines a voice for their dog, but rarely is it as well executed as it is here. Great beach reading, or a mid-winter pick me up. My sister also loved it and we don't always see eye to eye on books. This book really is hysterically funny. I think I may just have to re-read it.

3. In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson. Bill Bryson turns his attentions to Australia in this work (in case you couldn't guess by the cover which features a kangaroo). Highly informative, accurate, funny, and as always there is a large element of environmentalism. Bryson also has a knack for pointing out the alarming and dangerous parts of an area, and Australia is jam packed with deadly things for him to point out. Really well done and it taught me a lot about a country and continent that I knew very little about.

4. Little Heathens by Mildred Kalish. So many books about the Great Depression deal with the politics that swirled around it, and/or focus on the worst of what happened, so it was nice to read a first person account from someone whose life was hard, yet still happy and secure. I gave this book a glowing recommendation to both of my parents who grew up in the forties. I'm amazed at the body of knowledge that Kalish accumulated during her childhood and felt at times extremely inadequate in my resourcefulness and abilities. I cannot imagine what it was like to bake a cake on a wood stove, and thankfully, I will never have to attempt it. This book will make you admire the work ethic, resourcefulness and determination of that generation, as well as feel very relieved that, as a rule, the average person does not have to work as hard as they did on a daily basis. Great book.

5. Sunshine by Robin McKinley. I thought this was a great new take on the vampire mythology, updating it without stripping it of the sinister aspects. However, I felt as if I was missing some major piece of information, almost as if this was a sequel to another book. But it isn't. I do hope that she writes a sequel to this one though. Robin McKinley is primarily known for well written YA and children's fantasy, but this book isn't for intended for young children. I highly recommend it.

*Years ago I went into a Barnes & Noble looking for a copy of the third book in Enright's Melendy quartet series to give to my niece. (I owned the other three books and she had borrowed the first two and loved them). They did not have it or the fourth book, although they did have the first two books. I asked about ordering it and when the teenage girl helping me looked it up she said that it was out of print. I was aghast and said as much, which prompted the response of "kids today don't like to read books like that." OH REALLY? Who's laughing now that the whole set was reissued in hardback?

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