The Great Good Thing

The Great Good Thing (The Sylvie Cycle, #1)The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Summary (from Goodreads):

Sylvie has been a twelve-year-old princess for more than eighty years, ever since the book she lives in was first printed. She’s the heroine, and her story is exciting — but that’s the trouble. Her story is always exciting in the same way. Sylvie longs to get away and explore the world outside the confines of her book.

When she breaks the cardinal rule of all storybook characters and looks up at the Reader, Sylvie begins a journey that not even she could have anticipated. And what she accomplishes goes beyond any great good thing she could have imagined…

My Review

Great family read aloud! I read this for the first time several years ago and remembered liking it. I could remember the very basics of the plot and characters, so when I spotted the book again while perusing our bookshelves I wanted to read it again to remember the details. I had been looking for something to read aloud with my kids that would be of interest to a wide span of ages, but also have substance, and possibly be something they may not pick up on their own. From what I could remember The Great Good Thing seemed like it would fit the bill nicely.

It was fun trying to explain to my kids what it was about when they asked. “Well…it’s about characters in a book.” The looks on their faces showed clearly the response, “Duh. That’s what all books are about.” “No really, it’s about characters in a book, in the book. And what they are doing when someone is not reading their book.” The light of understanding began to glimmer.

My description didn’t thrill them, but they were willing to let me read aloud the first chapter and then if they really hated it we’d choose something else. Let’s just say we read 3 chapters that first night. As my 11 and 13 year old daughters were heading off to bed after we finished reading I asked them what they thought. Their silence and little smirks told me all I needed to know. They were intrigued, but they couldn’t possibly admit to their mother that maybe I had been right about this book choice.

So we continued reading, and not one of us, from my 6 year old son to my 13 year old daughter, wanted to miss read aloud each night. It’s an easy read, but not boringly simple in plot, character development, or language. It’s such a satisfying fantasy to imagine favorite book characters as truly living in their own book world and being our friends to help us through good times and bad.

Age Recommendation: The Great Good Thing brings to mind fairy tales which we know and love at any age. For our family it was perfect for 6 years old and up.  If this were being read in a classroom setting or as an independent read I would suggest it for 3rd grade and older.

Appropriateness: Clean as can be. Nothing to worry about in this one. The Great Good Thing provides great classroom and/or book club discussion in relation to how aging and change is a necessary part of life, how creativity can help us deal with difficult circumstances, and what makes a person or an action “great” and/or “good.”

Other Book Recommendations: If you liked The Great Good Thing you might also like Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Frogkisser by Garth Nix, Goblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville, The House with Chicken Legs by Sophie Anderson, The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamilla, My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand and Brodi Ashton, and The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

My Lady Jane

My Lady Jane (The Lady Janies, #1)My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Edward (long live the king) is the King of England. He’s also dying, which is inconvenient, as he’s only sixteen and he’d much rather be planning for his first kiss…

Jane (reads too many books) is Edward’s cousin, and far more interested in books than romance. Unfortunately for Jane, Edward has arranged to marry her off to secure the line of succession before he dies. And there’s something a little odd about her intended…

Gifford (call him G) is a horse. That is, he’s an Eðian (eth-y-un, for the uninitiated). Every day at dawn he becomes a noble chestnut steed—but then he wakes at dusk with a mouthful of hay. It’s all very undignified.

The plot thickens as Edward, Jane, and G are drawn into a dangerous conspiracy and the fate of the kingdom is at stake.

My Review

I was completely surprised by how “good” of a read this one was. I was expecting humor and silliness, but I wasn’t expecting to actually be caught up in a well structured, well told, exciting, and enthralling story. It reminded me of “The Princess Bride” with lovable characters, romance, good guys and bad guys and some in between, swashbuckling excitement, all while not taking itself too seriously and using cliche and one-liners to perfection.

I am impressed with the authors’ skills in balancing all of the aspects of good story and writing with laugh out loud silliness. The jokes are weaved into this alternate reality of historical events with both subtlety and transparent nonsense, and it works both ways. Yet the humor doesn’t become higher priority than the story-telling, so it’s satisfying entertainment. I was cheering for love and justice to win in the end and intrigued by how it would be done.

Ironically, this fantasy “spoof” of the Tudor time period inspired me to research and learn more about the actual events that inspired the book, so I now have a much greater understanding of the English monarchy from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I. I love the series “Victoria” on PBS so I even took my study a little further to see how the chain of the monarchy led to her reign as well.

This is a one of a kind young adult fiction and a thoroughly enjoyable one too.

Age Recommendation: Some understanding of history will add to the enjoyment of the genius and humor of this book so I would recommend it to 15 and older.

Appropriateness: The subject of “consummating marriage” comes up a bit, and  there are some other references to kissing and sex. Some of it may be bordering on crude for some readers, but in the spirit of the book I found it all hilarious, endearing, or relatable and accurate.  There is kissing and characters are often found naked due to the condition of sporadically changing into animals, but none of the description is sensationalized or gratuitous.

Other Book Recommendations: If My Lady Jane interests you then I think you would also enjoy The Princess Bride by William Goldman, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Goblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville, Frogkisser by Garth Nix, The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman,  Holes by Louis Sachar,  My Super Sweet Sixteenth Century by Rachel Harris, The Kiss of a Stranger by Sarah M. Eden, and The Book with No Pictures by B.J. Novak.

 

Goblins in the Castle

Goblins in the CastleGoblins in the Castle by Bruce Coville

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Toad-in-a-Cage Castle was filled with secrets–secrets such as the hidden passages that led to every room, the long stairway that wound down to the dungeon, and the weird creature named Igor who lived there. William’s own past was mystery to even him, but it was the mysterious night noises that bothered William the most–the strange moans that drifted through the halls of the castle where he was raised.

He wanted to know what caused them.

Then one night they called his name….

My Review

My 4th grade teacher read this book to our class and I remember getting completely caught up in the story and the characters. It was one of the first books I read (or had read to me) that really had me on the edge of my seat.

So when it got to the point in the school year when I knew there would only be time to read one more book to my 3rd grade class I wanted it to be this one. I hadn’t read the book since hearing it for the first time at 10 years old, and I didn’t remember much of the details or the plot really; but with such fond memories of it I was confident none of us would be disappointed.

It turned out to be even better than I expected. It was the perfect read-aloud to end the year with. At the end of every chapter I would hear students either aloud or under the breath pleading, “Don’t stop! Please keep reading!” They (and me) couldn’t wait to unravel the mysteries of Toad-in-a-Cage castle. Bruce Coville has a real knack for humor but he also nailed the action and suspense-building in this one. It’s a quick and easy read, but not dumbed-down. It presents a well-rounded story arc with a variety of colorful characters which makes it so fun to actually read aloud.

There isn’t a lot of depth to the plot or character development that could lead to real analytical discussions, but this one is perfect for practicing the skill in the language arts curriculum of making and revising predictions. Lots of cliffhangers to provide text evidence with which to formulate predictions. You could also explore text structures throughout the book such as Problem and Solution, and Cause and Effect.

We finished the book on the 2nd to the last day of school, so we didn’t have time to do much else with it, but it would lend itself well to book reports and other projects like drawing or modeling what students imagine the goblins or their kingdom to look like. Students could write poetry or descriptive writing to articulate what they think it would have been like to be trapped in the tower like the goblins were.

But it’s important not to overanalyze or overthink this one. It really is just meant to entertain and excite, and it does a fabulous job of it.

Age Recommendation: It was perfect for 3rd graders and I loved it as a 4th grader. I think 5th and 6th graders would enjoy it too, so I’d say the ideal age would be 8-12. Girls and boys alike loved it in my class.

Appropriateness: If you are offended by a fart joke or practical jokes you might want to stay away from this one, but in my opinion it’s all humorous and harmless fun. Nothing offensive here.

Other book recommendations: If you like Goblins in the Castle you might also enjoy the Deltora Quest series by Emily Rodda, Septimus Heap series by Angie Sage, Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Fudge series by Judy Blume, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Frindle by Andrew Clements, Fablehaven series by Brandon Mull, Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, and The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer.

Classroom Use: Perfect read-aloud. Use it to practice making and revising predictions, identifying and mapping story elements, discussing problem and solution and cause and effect.