Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

After having read several of the Artemis Fowl books, and The Wish List, I decided to dig deeper into Eoin Colfer’s works. That’s where I came across Airman, a standalone novel, published in 2008.

Story overview:
In the 19th century (1890s), a ten year old boy named Conor Broekhart is a resident of the Saltee islands (a real place off the Irish coast). A close friend of the young princess, Conor finds himself saving her from a burning building.

Having been knighted and regarded as a hero, Conor trains under a Frenchman named Victor Vigny. For the next four years he learns how to become a brilliant scientist and a great swordsmen.

Unfortunately for Conor, he draws the attention of Marshall Bonvilain. A man who kills the king and frames Conor’s mentor, Victor for the crime—after having killed him too. Bonvilain ships Conor off to the prison island of Little Saltee, while deceiving Conor’s parents into thinking that he was killed protecting the king, and Conor into falsely believing that his parents disowned him because they thought he was involved with the king’s death. Conor spends the next three years living with a new identity and seeking a way to free himself of his terrible fate.

My thoughts:
I thought that the narrator voice was a little heavy in the beginning, but after awhile the story picked up and grabbed my attention. By the end I was anxiously anticipating the outcome. Good read. With a title like Airman, I figured I was going to read a story about a flying boy. Well, there is some of that, but the book closer resembles The Count of Monte Cristo. Prison stories of misunderstanding and identity swamping just never get old.

Things to consider:
Overall, this tale contained no inappropriate content. There’s a few scenes of violence, but nothing that doesn’t fit into the mold of this type of story. No sexual situations or harsh use of language. I recommend for pre-teen and older. Both girls and boys, though, perhaps, slightly more toward boys.

Opportunities for discussion:
Misunderstandings plague the best of us, as it did to Conor. His family believed him to be dead, and he believe that his family didn’t care about him. There are people out there like Bonvilain who are deceptive, but there are also misleading thoughts in our own minds, which can be just as bad. It’s easy to doubt the love of family, but sometimes that has more to do with failing to understand their true feelings. Tell your children that, before they think someone is trying to hurt them (such as a brother or sister), have them take a moment to communicate and try to understand where that person is coming from. In doing so there just might be a change of heart for both parties.

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In the world of fantasy comes another series targeted towards youth. First published in 2002, the Pendragon Series totaled ten books; the last one published March of last year (2009).

Story overview:

14-year-old Bobby Pendragon is one of those boys who is skilled in sports, outgoing, and known well among his peers. His life is what some would call a boy’s dream. Not only is he the top star of his school’s basketball team, but he recently received a kiss from the beautiful Courtney Chetwynde.

Mark Dimond on the other hand is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s nerdy and gets picked on, but remains one of Bobby’s best and closest friends. A friendship that gets put to the test when one day, Bobby disappears. Not only did Bobby miss the basketball semi-finals, but his entire family vanished. Including his house and family pet.

Mark receives a mysterious ring which teleports a journal, written by Bobby, from an entirely different world. It entails Bobby’s adventure into this world with his uncle, Press. Bobby tells Mark that he has to help his uncle escape the clutched of a traveler named Saint Dane, who captured the man and sentenced him to die. In the process Bobby learns that he too is a traveler and with the help of some unlikely allies, the boy seeks to save both his uncle and the territory which is threatened with war.

My thoughts
:

There is a good balance of humor, action, and originality. I particularly liked the modern and realistic way the main character thinks; nothing seemed forced or out of place. The way the author bounced back and forth with POV (First person and Third person) was interesting too. I recommend reading this one if you get a chance.

Things to consider:

There are no sexual situations or cursing. There is some action violence with a few gory descriptions, but nothing overly offensive. There was a comment about David killing Goliath as being, “just a story,” but keep in mind that is coming from the head of the main character; which is just how he thinks. There is also mention of something called Halla (sounds like a play on the name Allah), which is supposedly the power behind all life. Not sure where the author intends to go with this, but keep in mind, I only read the first book in the series of ten. I would suggest this for teens; both boys and girls.

Opportunities for discussion:

One of the themes here is that power corrupts even the purest of hearts. The village of oppressed minors showed what happens when the balance of power shifts from one direction to another. This is true to life. Humans of all social standings have the same potential of abuse towards their fellow man; the difference is often lack of opportunity, not the presence of goodness. When given the choice, men take advantage of their position without thought of those who are affected by it. Remind your children that they need to always remember where they came from, and never take advantage of others, regardless of opportunity to do so.

The Thief LordI decided to give this one a try because it was written by an author I have come to like. At first, I assumed it would be just another Fantasy story along the lines of Inkheart and Igraine The Brave, but I was surprised to find how few fantasy elements it had. In fact, it wasn’t until further along in the book that I discovered the fantastical properties. It is nice to see writers who are able to pull off more than one format.

I believe there is also a movie version of this story, but I have not seen it, so keep that in mind when reading this review; the two may be quite different.

Story overview:

After the death of their mother, 12-year-old Prosper and 5-year-old Bo run away to Italy; the place their mother had told them was magical. Shortly after they arrive, it becomes clear to them that there is little magical about it. They meet a group of street kids who survive by stealing from tourists, overseen by  a 13-year-old boy who goes by the name of The Thief Lord.

Prosper and Bo’s aunt hire a private detective named Victor Getz to track down the two boys. At first, you might think that she misses them, but ultimately her plan is to put Prosper in an orphanage and keep Bo like a little toy puppy. This is the reason they ran away in the first place. Unbeknownst to their aunt, Victor turns out to be a nice man who helps the children in more ways than one.

When an old man gives The Thief Lord a special job, things begin to change. The task is to find the missing wing to a supposed magical Merry-Go-Round. The legend is that anyone who rides it can become either younger or older. When things go wrong, Bo finds himself captured by his aunt, The Thief Lord’s true identity becomes known (getting him ostracized by everyone), and the money they receive from the job turns out to be fake. Yet Prosper and The Thief Lord team up to complete the task so that they can ride the Merry-Go-Round and become adults who are in charge of their own lives. Their only hope is that the legend is true.

My thoughts:

I liked this one. I didn’t love it, but it was pretty good. The story definitely got more exciting about three-quarters of the way though. The characters were believable, the landscape and settings well described, and the situations fun to watch unfold (that is, in my mind’s eye). I would recommend it both to those who liked Cornelia Funke’s other books, and those who have never read anything by her before; the story stands strong on its own.

Things to consider:

Barnes & Noble lists this for ages 9 to 12. I agree with that, however I would expand the age group to include teens and adults. There are no sexual situations, coarse language, or extreme violence. Overall, a pretty clean tale.

Opportunities for discussion:

As the title indicates, theft is one of the central topics. As the reader, we are shown why the children stole: mainly to survive. However, most children are not under these extreme circumstances and should never have a reason to steal. Ask your children if they ever stole anything. If they are honest, they will probably say they did. Then ask them how it made them feel. Wait and listen. From there talk to them about using their desire to acquire things in a positive way rather than a negative one: such as doing chores around the house, waiting for Christmas, or mowing the neighbor’s lawn. You can also talk to them about contentment and the fruitless endeavors of obsessing over ‘things.’ It is important to instill these ideals into children no matter what age they are; it will greatly aid them in their adult life.

A Series of Unfortunate Events - B1I have heard mixed reviews about the movie version of this story with Jim Carrey. Having not seen it I cannot share any opinions on the film myself. Instead, I decided to read the tale in its original form.
 
The author goes under the name of Lemony Snicket, who supposedly possesses documents about the Baudelaire orphans, using these papers he decided to write their story. This is a nice touch, as it provides a story within a story. However, this is only part of the tale; as the author’s real name is actually Daniel Handler.
 
Snicket/Handler states that, if you are looking for a happy story with a happy ending, don’t read this book. A comment that makes one want to read it all the more. But he is right; this is not a happy tale. Still, there’s a certain amount of charm, and there is a somewhat satisfying ending. Just enough to make the reader want to check out the next book.
 
Story overview:

Violet (fourteen-year-old girl,) Klaus (twelve-year-old boy), and Sunny (infant-girl,) are playing on a beach one day when a man walks up and tells them that their parents just died in a house fire.
 
To add to their good news, they are forced to live with a man named Count Olaf, who is a distant relative (and happens to be an actor.) It becomes obvious that Olaf only wants the children in order to find a way to get at their parent’s fortune. He treats them very poorly, giving them unrealistic chores, terrible sleeping arrangements, and even goes so far as to strike Klaus in the face. Making them call him father, Olaf himself refers to the children as orphans.
 
One day Olaf shows an odd act of kindness, and talks the Baudelaire orphans into taking part of a play called “The Marvelous Marriage.” Klaus finds out that Olaf’s plan is to use a real judge, give guardian consent, and have Violet say “I do.” The play is intended to be a real wedding, which would give Olaf access to the fortune that Violet is too young to access herself. Appalled, both children do what they can to prevent the tragedy while taking care to not let Olaf kill Sunny, who he had taken hostage.
 
My thoughts:

I liked the occasional explanation of words, as they are often provided with a twist. Such as, “… money is an incentive – the word ‘incentive’ here means ‘an offered reward to persuade you to do something you don’t want to do.'” The writing is easy to read, the book not very long, and the personality of the characters is enjoyable to follow.
 
Things to consider:

This book is good for younger children, probably six and older, and for both girls and boys. There are no sexual references, or foul language to speak of, and violence is at a minimum, but the situations may be a little disturbing to some children. Such as Klaus being hit in the face and Sunny being hung out the window in a bird cage. All these things are used to show us how evil the count is.

Opportunities for discussion:

One of the lessons here is that life isn’t always what we want it to be, but we should try and make the best of our situation regardless. Another lesson is that it is an evil act to do ill to others for your own sake, and if someone is being treated unfairly we should do what we can to help them. Finally, one of the themes here is how adults tend to not listen very well to the concerns that children face. If only the adults in this story would have listened, the fate of the Baudelaire orphans could have been avoided. It’s nice to see lessons for parents too, even if they are within a children’s tale.

The Cat That Made Nothing Something AgainWriter’s Journey gave a nice review of “The Cat That Made Nothing Something Again” and is doing a giveaway. Make a comment at http://www.lynnettebonner.com/blog/?p=208 to win a free 1st edition, signed copy.

From the Web site:

“If you are looking for a fun chapter book for your 7-9 year old to read, this should be on the list! All you have to do is comment at the end of this post [not at Books For Youth, but on the site mentioned above], to have your name entered. The drawing will be held on Friday the 3rd of April. So jump right in! This is a cute, fun story!”

MomoAs mentioned in my post on The Neverending Story, Michael Ende has become one of my all time favorite authors, and I’ve found that this story, Momo, is often unheard of, which is a shame.

I have two copies in my collection, one hardcover and one soft cover. Though it is currently out of print, I’ve often seen it at libraries (that’s where I bought one of my copies) and used online book stores. Let me just say that it’s more than worth the money.

Like The Neverending Story, there was a movie adaption of Momo. However, unlike The Neverending Story, it is not in English (there’s an audio book too, but that is also not in English). Thankfully I was able to obtain a full version of the movie that had subtitles created by a fan–otherwise I’d have been lost. Even though the quality of the production isn’t bad, I just didn’t get the same feeling from the movie that I did from the book. For one thing the character of Momo was all wrong; they used some popular, cutesy looking girl who’s hair and personality were totally different. Still, it was interesting to see Ende, who played a small part, and they did a great job with the other characters, particularly the Men in Grey (or, The Grey Gentlemen).

Story overview:

A little girl, age unknown, lives in an abandoned amphitheatre just outside an unnamed Italian city. The neighborhood learns about her and, rather than send her off to be dealt with by the law–or the orphanage she escaped from–they all end up doing their part to take care of her. She, on the other hand, ends up doing more for the town than they do for her. You see, there’s something very special about Momo. She has the remarkable ability to listen to people, really listen, in a way that offers the utmost therapeutic relief. In addition, she has a wonderful imagination and comes up with all sorts of creative and fun games for the neighborhood children to play. When not playing, she often spends time with two of her closest friends: Beppo, a street-cleaner, and Guido, a poetic tour guide.

One day a man in grey shows up and convinces a store owner that he can save money by storing time in a savings bank. The logic seems sound, and many people buy into the scheme. Eventually the town becomes full of these “Gray Men” and the people find that they no longer have time for one another. Not only that, but they become miserable. Momo works her magic to bring the people back, but the Men in Grey see her as a threat and so they seek for a way to shut her up.

Momo avoids capture, with the help of a turtle, Cassiopeia (who can see several minutes into the future). After several close encounters with the Men in Grey, Cassiopeia leads Momo to the home of a Time Professor named Secundus Minutus Hora. But it’s only a matter of time before the Men in Grey find a way to break through Hora’s defenses, and Momo finds herself traveling to the future only to discover that the Men in Grey now rule her town and have darkened the hearts of everyone she loves. It’s all up to one little girl to find a way to destroy the Men in Grey and give back the lost time to all her friends.

My thoughts:

I absolutely love this story, and have read it at least three times. Each time I get a great reminder of the need to focus on the important things in life. The translation is good and the characters are beyond brilliant. You cannot go away from this book without feeling a strong sense of the importance of life.

Things to consider:

Good for both girls and boys, this book is probably best read at around the age of eight (as Ende said, children ages 8-80). There is nothing questionable about it that I can see. The only thing is that some elements might be a little too scary for younger children.

Opportunities for discussion:

The biggest theme here is time, and how important it is to use your time for the simple and amiable things in life. Very, Very relevant to our society today, and this story can help to show us (and your kids) the need to stop and think about what we/they are doing with our time. In addition it shows the power of stories, importance of friendship, childhood, and the power of compassion.