Day 1231: The Tiger Rising

Last year I gave my ten-year-old niece three books by Kate Di Camillo, and her face lit right up. This year, I got her The Tiger Rises and read it to see what was so great about Di Camillo.

Rob is an unhappy 12-year-old, used to being bullied on the bus and not allowed by his father to mention his dead mother. One day when he is exploring the woods near the motel where he lives, he finds a tiger in a cage.

The next day, he meets Sistine, a new girl in school. Sistine is angry since the breakup of her parents’ marriage. Rob takes her to see the tiger, and she immediately decides they should let it loose.

I am sure there are elements in this novel that would interest children, but it doesn’t have much to offer adults. It provides a shocking but unconvincingly easy solution to the characters’ problems. And really, what kind of a good solution is going to come from a tiger in a cage?

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Day 1175: Anne of Avonlea

Cover for Anne of AvonleaA while back, some bloggers were having an Anne of Green Gables reading challenge. That led me to reread Anne of Green Gables, and I was pleasantly surprised to see how well it held up for adults. Other bloggers went ahead and read the entire series.

I don’t think I read the entire series when I was a girl, but I know I read up through the time when Anne married Gilbert, so I’m guessing I read three or four books back then. When I ran across a copy of Anne of Avonlea, the second book in the series, I decided to give it a try as an adult.

In this book, Anne is sixteen and just about to begin her career as a schoolteacher in Avonlea. Most of her old friends are also teachers at nearby schools. The novel follows her adventures during the next two years as she teaches, makes new friends, and begins to grow up a little. She and Marilla also take on the upbringing of two six-year-old distant cousins of Marilla, Davey and Dora.

I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy this book as much. The dreamy, romantic Anne, with all her comments about fairies and so on isn’t as convincing as an older girl. The novel relies for humor mostly on the comments of Anne’s students and the misbehavior of Davey. I found the first a little cloying, and I couldn’t help comparing the second to a similar situation in A Girl of the Limberlost, which is handled much better. I have to admit to not developing any feelings for any of these children, whereas Anne as a child was very sympathetic.

Finally, there’s not much of a sense of plot to this novel. It is almost as if, in these transitional years, Montgomery didn’t know what to do with Anne. The most dramatic events center around her friend, Miss Lavendar Lewis, but they are predictable. I think this is a book that adolescent or pre-adolescent girls might love, but it holds little attraction for me.

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Day 1157: This Is a Poem That Heals Fish

Cover for This Is a Poem That Heals FishI read about This Is a Poem That Heals Fish on Brain Pickings and had to have it for my great nephew. It was difficult to find a copy (but no longer is).

Lolo at the bicycle shop

The book has a simple story. Arthur’s fish Leon is bored almost to death. When Arthur asks his mother what to do, she says, “Hurry, give him a poem!”

So, Arthur spends the rest of the book trying to find out what a poem is, getting advice from various people and animals in the neighborhood. For example, Lolo at the bicycle shop says “A poem, Arthur, is when you are in love and have the sky in your mouth.” From everyone’s comments, Arthur makes his own poem at the end of the book.

This is a lovely book, with beautiful, modern illustrations and ideas that make you ponder. Although I am giving it to a four-year-old, I think it could be appreciated by any age.

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Day 946: The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Cover for The Story of the Treasure SeekersA while back, I read E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. Although I liked it well enough, I did not find it as delightful as the book I’m reviewing today, The Story of the Treasure Seekers. This first novel of Nesbit’s is about the Bastable children, Alice, Dicky, Dora, Horace Octavius (known as H. O.), and Oswald. The narrator keeps his identity secret, but we can tell fairly soon that it’s Oswald.

The Bastable’s mother died not long ago, and the children are vaguely aware that their father is having financial problems. He has removed them from school, and the house isn’t nicely kept up. So, the children have a council, and they each come up with a plan for finding treasure.

The novel is about what happens as the children try to raise money, their plans ranging from holding up people on the common to dowsing for gold. The novel is very funny, I think even more for adults than for children. Children will enjoy the kid’s adventures, but adults can understand an entire additional layer of information that the children in the book don’t, for example, that the Robber they find in their father’s study is probably not a Robber.

The naivety of the narration lends this novel a charm and humor that a straightforward third-person narrative would not. This is a lovely, funny book.

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Day 929: The Railway Children

Cover for The Railway ChildrenThe Railway Children is a classic British children’s story, written in 1906. At the beginning, Roberta (Bobbie), Peter, and Phyllis live a happy and comfortable life with their parents in a suburb of London. Then one evening two men come to see their father, and they hear angry voices. Their father goes away with the men, and shortly afterward they move with their mother to a cottage in the country.

Here things are a bit more primitive. They only have one servant, a housekeeper, and a pump in the yard for water. They have to help their mother more, and Peter can’t go to school. Their mother can’t play with them, because she is busy writing stories for money. They are poor and have to be careful how much coal they use and what they eat.

Near their house is the railway, and they find lots to entertain themselves watching the trains and getting to know the men at the station. They wave to an old gentleman on the morning train every day, and they have adventures related to the railway.

I can see why children would love this story. Although the children’s adventures are all realistic, they would be exciting reading for children. There is also the mystery about their father. Character development is not a strong suit of the novel, but the children and their mother are sympathetic and the children behave like actual children.

Perhaps the novel does not have as much to offer adults, especially those who didn’t read and love the book as children. Still, it’s easy to see why the book is still popular.

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Day 924: Ballet Shoes

Cover for Ballet ShoesNoel Streatfeild was a writer of popular children’s books in the 1930’s. Her first novel, Ballet Shoes, was so popular that the U.S. publishers renamed several of her subsequent books to include the word “shoes,” even though they were not series books.

Ballet Shoes is about three girls, all adopted by Great Uncle Matthew, called Gum. Gum is a fossil hunter, but when his house becomes too full of fossils, his great-niece Sylvia’s nanny makes him give them away to a museum. Gum goes off on another fossil-hunting trip but brings back a baby instead, the unidentified survivor of a shipwreck. Over the course of five years, he brings back two more. These are Pauline, Petrova, and Posy, and he gives them the last name of Fossil.

Gum goes off on another trip, leaving Sylvia and the cook and nanny in charge. Sylvia does her best to bring up the girls, although she is only ten years older than Pauline. But Gum doesn’t return, and the money begins to run out. Sylvia is forced to remove the girls from school and try to teach them herself. Finally, she must take in boarders.

Sylvia is lucky in her boarders, because soon they are all involved in the girls’ education. Two retired university professors undertake to teach the girls at no cost, and Theo, who teaches ballet, gets them enrollment in the Children’s Academy of Dancing and Stage Training, which prepares children for a career in the arts.

At 11, Pauline shows promise as an actress, and none of them have any doubt that Posy will be a famous ballerina. Only Petrova does not feel any particular aptitude, except for her interests in motors and flying, and she is most happy on Sundays, when boarder Mr. Simpson lets her work in his garage.

The rest of the novel follows the girls’ careers as they struggle to make enough money to support themselves and study dancing and theatre.

Ballet Shoes is not a classic because of its writing style or literary attainment, at least in my opinion. The writing is workmanlike, and the narrative arc lacks the highs and lows of other classics. Instead, it is a classic because of Streatfeild’s knowledge of the arts and the details about classes and stage productions. I think this novel would be fascinating for any child interested in the arts, especially ballet. And the plot about the four orphans trying to make it in a difficult world should appeal to most other imaginative children.

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Day 907: Victorian Fairy Tales

Cover for Victorian Fairy TalesApparently, in Victorian times there was a fashion for fairy tales. Not only did some writers, especially of children’s books, concentrate on them, but many writers of other types of works wrote them as well. Although Victorian Fairy Tales is published as a scholarly work with notes and essays, the tales are well worth reading by anyone, and many of them are by well-known writers.

My favorite tale was “The Rose and the Ring,” by William Makepeace Thackeray. It is about a couple of usurping kings and the confusion that results when an enchanted ring and a rose that each make the wearer irresistible to the opposite sex are traded around among the characters. The story is very funny, with different types of humor to appeal to both adults and children, as well as silly names and repetition, which children love. The pictures by Thackeray from the original are wonderful.

“Prince Prigio” by Andrew Lang is another funny tale, about a prince who is so smart that he annoys everyone. Another outstanding tale is by E. Nesbit, “Melisande,” about a princess who is cursed by a wicked fairy to be bald. Her father gives her a wish, and as happens in fairy tales, she doesn’t wish wisely.

Other favorite stories are “The Queen Who Flew” by Ford Madox Ford and “The Reluctant Dragon” by Kenneth Grahame. “The Reluctant Dragon” and “The Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde are the only stories in the volume I have read before, although I vaguely remember there being a copy of “The Little Lame Prince” by Dinah Mulock Craik around our house.

There is much to enjoy in this book, both for children and adults. I thought a couple of the stories were a bit ethereal and symbolic to be enjoyed much by children (or by me), but most of them were fun to read.

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