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.

The BFG

The BFGThe BFG by Roald Dahl

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary (adapted from Goodreads)

Captured by a giant! It’s lucky for Sophie he is the Big Friendly Giant. Had she been carried off in the middle of the night by the Bloodbottler, the Fleshlumpeater, the Bonecruncher, or any of the other giants-rather than the BFG-she would have soon become breakfast. When Sophie hears that they are flush-bunking off in England to swollomp a few nice little chiddlers, she decides she must stop them once and for all. And the BFG is going to help her!

My review

It had been over 20 years since I read this book, but I remembered thinking it was hilarious as a 10 year old. So I decided to pick it up as our first read-aloud in my 3rd grade class. It was a hit! My students loved the way the BFG mixed up his words and they could not get enough of “whizpopping.” The story develops quickly so it kept their interest well, but it also has a great balance of developing details and really painting a picture of the characters, settings, and action. There is a lot of dialogue in the book which makes it especially fun as a read aloud. The text was on the perfect level for a class of 8 and 9 year olds.

Discussion material: The BFG inspired class discussions on metaphors, stereotypes, and geography. As a class we got to practice comprehension strategies inference, predictions, character mapping, sequence of events, and cause and effect.

Age Recommendation: Readers of any age can enjoy the fun, creativity, and humor in The BFG, but I think 2nd-4th graders will be especially enthralled.

Appropriateness: I didn’t find anything offensive or inappropriate; however, if you have a problem reading about passing gas (called whizpopping in the book) you may want to avoid this one. But if you are willing to loosen up and give it a chance, despite the whizpopping involved, you won’t regret it! It’s a clever and humorous adventure.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like the BFG then you should give other Roald Dahl books a try like Matilda, The Twits, and George’s Marvelous Medicine. You will also like Frindle by Andrew Clements, Skinnybones by Barbara Park, Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath, Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins, The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye, The Magician’s Elephant by Katie DiCamillo, The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley, and The Percy Jackson Series by Rick Riordan.

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The Time Key

The Time KeyThe Time Key by Melanie Bateman

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Here it is! My first blog tour post.  It was a fun to be involved and to be able to get to know the author Melanie Bateman a little better.  Be sure to check out my short interview with her here.

Buy The Time Key from Amazon or from Barnes and Noble

Summary

A chance encounter with a stranger leaves Stanley Becker with a device that allows him to travel through time. The opportunity to change his devastating past is too good to turn down.  However, in his quest he finds that there are powers in the world that he previously never knew or believed existed. His mission to make right the past becomes one of rescuing those he loves in the present through saving the future.

My Review 

I really wanted to like this book. And I really did like aspects of it. But overall it wasn’t as fulfilling of a read as I had hoped. It does have an interesting plot and the writer’s voice is refreshing and intelligent. The first chapter was fabulous! I was hooked by the mysterious narrator and the strange events that prevented Stanley Becker from taking his own life. My desire to learn the secrets that were introduced in the first few chapters kept me interested enough to read to the end.

The difficulties for me came in with the flow of the events and with the many and varied characters and fantasy elements involved in the storytelling. This is a time travel book so I was expecting the events would not follow a linear timeline, but the transitions between times and timelines was sometimes hard to follow. I also found the passage of time to be underdeveloped. Stanley is supposedly developing relationships in his “present” with other characters, but there wasn’t enough description of the time spent in those relationships for me to get attached or to really believe that the characters themselves were growing much closer. It was difficult for me to understand and believe the character’s motivations at times because the relationships between them seemed rushed and a little shallow.

I did enjoy Stanley Becker’s character development in the first half from an “intellectual” perspective. As he travels to the past to attempt to make a right a tragedy I found his decisions and reactions interesting. I am fascinated by psychology, how people react to the events in their lives and why they react that way. Stanley makes for an interesting psychological study; I just didn’t have much sentimental attachment to him. Several of the characters were still entertaining and I enjoyed their “voices” even if I didn’t fall in love with them.

What really prevented me from being fully wrapped up in the story was the lack of setup for the rules of the book’s world. I was expecting the time travel/science fiction element in the book, but I was caught a little off guard when a broad spectrum of mythical and mythological elements were introduced as well. Readers learn about “shadows creatures” in the first chapter and I while I hadn’t been expecting them, I was interested to see how they would fit in with the time traveling. However, as the story continued there were more and more creatures of fantasy and mythology, and fantastical powers to go along with them. Add to that the setting in late 1800’s London and a troop of gypsies having a major role in story, and it was all just a little too random and inconsistent for me. I couldn’t really settle in to the feel of the book with so much going on from so many different genre angles.

I kept reading though, curious to see if the connections between all of these various elements could be explained, but the explanations and connections just never fully formed for me. Each element was presented quickly and suddenly without much description of how and why the element exists, how it relates to all of the other mythical people and things, and by what rules it and its powers are bound.

While science fiction and fantasy, by definition, will include elements that are fictional, fantastic, and outside the realm of reality, the elements have to be presented in such a way that readers would find them possible and reasonable within the world created in the book. As a reader I need to be given reasonable explanation and description of the world and the rules that govern it so that I can suspend my disbelief in the magical and mystical for a little while and get wrapped up in fantasy. I never could get wrapped up because there was not enough information provided for me to see how all of these varied elements could and did coexist. I felt little suspense particularly through the second half of the book because there were very few rules explained for how all of these great powers functioned. It felt more like I was just sitting back and watching random worlds collide, and the events that followed were aimless. With no rules and connections to help guide my expectations or predictions for the characters or events, it was difficult to care about the outcome.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad read; I just wasn’t invested in it. I think it’s a decent work for a first time author. Her voice is so fun to read, and I hope she writes more! The pieces that were missing for me in The Time Key are all things that a little deeper and broader editing process could help flesh out. There are so many other aspects of good literature that aren’t easily learned or improved upon, and fortunately, Melanie Bateman has natural talent for those. So, I will look forward to reading whatever she has coming up next!

Age Recommendation: I would suggest this one for 18 or older simply because I think a more mature reader will appreciate the themes and characters better.  But it’s not a difficult read so mature readers of 14 and older would likely still enjoy it. ‘

Appropriateness: There is an attempt at suicide and drinking in the book.  There was nothing offensive in the book to me, but I mention these two aspects because there may be some readers that will be sensitive to them. There is no profanity, and while there is action and excitement there are no graphic descriptions.

Other Book Recommendations: If you liked this book or if it sounds interesting to you than I suggest you also try Eruption by Adrienne Quintana, Enchantment by Orson Scott Card, The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo, Fablehaven Series and Beyonders series both by Brandon Mull, Mistborn by Brandon Sanderson, The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, Running with the Demon by Terry Brooks, Gossamer by Lois Lowry,  A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle, and Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt.

Follow along with the blog tour and find out what others have been saying about The Time Key: 

“The Time Key” blog tour schedule:
June 16: Community Bookstop
June 17: Jodi Woody
June 18: Making Life a Bliss Complete
June 19: Kaylee Baldwin
June 20: Rockin’ Book Reviews
June 21: 2 Kids and Tired Books
June 22: Choco Meiske | Literature Approved | Fire and Ice
June 23: Bookworm Lisa
June 24: The Reader’s Salon
June 25: Bookworm Nation
June 26: Wishful Endings
June 27: Connie’s Bookmark
June 28: Once Upon a Time
June 29: Storyweaver
June 30: The Unabridged Girl
July 1: Mel’s Shelves
July 2: Blooming with Books
July 3: The Book Addict | Inklings and Notions
July 4: Novel-ties
July 5: Singing Librarian Books
July 6: Reading Lark
July 7: Paranormal & Romantic Suspense Reviews 

 

The Magician’s Elephant

The Magician's ElephantThe Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: When a fortuneteller’s tent appears in the market square of the city of Baltese, orphan Peter Augustus Duchene knows the questions that he needs to ask: Does his sister still live? And if so, how can he find her? The fortuneteller’s mysterious answer (an elephant! An elephant will lead him there!) sets off a chain of events so remarkable, so impossible, that you will hardly dare to believe it’s true. Here is a dreamlike and captivating tale. In this timeless fable, the author evokes largest of themes — hope and belonging, desire and compassion — with the lightness of a magician’s touch.

My Review:

What a pleasant visit I had in the city of Baltese. I met a bright assortment of characters, each looking for the place they were meant to be and the people they were meant to be with, and who were all connected by the magical appearance of an elephant. I read other books by Kate DiCamillo (The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn Dixie) years ago and I remember enjoying both of them which is why I wanted to give this one a try. The Magician’s Elephant lives up to the same clever wit, delightful characters, and pleasing prose as DiCamillo’s other books.

This book was a pretty quick, easy, and cute read, totally fitting it’s children’s literature classification, but it has a deeper message about hope, faith, human connection, and achieving the impossible. It read a little like a fable to me and reminded me of the Canterbury Tales, not that I have actually read Chaucer’s work in its entirety, but I do remember what I learned and read of it in a Humanities class. Just as Chaucer assembled a variety of pilgrims to tell their stories, DiCamillo introduces readers to several of the residents of Baltese: the Magician, the Lady, the Soldier, the Policeman, the Orphan, the Nun, the Countess, the Beggar, the Dog, the Servant, the Boy, and of course the Elephant. The chapters alternate between these characters’ points of view and we learn about their strengths and weaknesses, hopes and dreams, and the elements that stand in their way of achieving them. I admire how the author reveals so much about the characters and their stories in so few words. Their unique and endearing quirks make them memorable and entertaining.

Their are some bleak aspects to the plot, but the charming writing portrays an underlying humor and hopefulness in the events. The pages aren’t necessarily action-packed, but desire to reveal the mystery of how all of these individuals will overcome their misfortunes, and how they are all connected made it a page-turner for me. It may not appeal to all readers, but the strong characterization, uplifting themes, and the smart writing left me with happy ponderings and that feeling of contentment that comes from enjoying warm moments with old and new friends.

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Age Recommendation: The actual words are easy and the book is not long, but the themes have some depth to them, so while 3rd graders and some 2nd graders could likely read the book easily enough I think your average 4th grader would comprehend the message more easily.

AppropriatenessNothing to worry about here unless you have a particularly sensitive young reader who might have a hard time with the hardships of orphans and animals.

Other Book Recommendations: If you like this book you should read The Tale of Despereaux also by Kate DiCamillo, The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket, The BFG and pretty much all other books by Roald Dahl.

Topics and Questions for Discussion: This section may contain spoilers so if you haven’t read the book and don’t want anything to be given away stop here.

1. Leo Matienne, the Policeman is described in chapter 3 this way, “Leo Matienne had the soul of a poet and because of this he liked very much to consider questions that had no answers. He liked to ask ‘What if?’ and ‘Why not?’ and ‘Could it possibly be?’ ” Why are these questions “poetic?” Why do they have no answers? How does asking these questions make Leo different from some of the other characters?

My thoughts: Leo’s questions allowed him to consider the impossible and to think through ways to achieve it. It gave him a more hopeful attitude, a new perspective and he was later in the book able to inspire the same thoughts in others.  That is what poetry can do as well which makes him a poet.

2. In chapter 3 Leo Matienne stands at the top of a hill and watches the lamplighters do their work on the street below. This reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Little Prince and the lamplighter that the Little Prince visits. The Little Prince says he thinks the lamplighter is the least absurd of the grownups because his occupation is useful and beautiful. Would Leo agree with the Little Prince? What about his character supports your answer?

My Thoughts: Leo would agree with the Little Prince. He stops at the top of the hill to view the lamplighters at work because it is beautiful which is indicated by the fact that watching the lights spring to life inspire his poetic thoughts about the elephant. In the dark of the city the lamplights must have been a relief just as the Little Prince found comfort in sunsets.

3. Baltese is covered in clouds and darkness and cold, but the real problem with the weather is that it won’t snow. How does the weather relate to the feeling of the characters and the events in the book? How does weather and light or dark affect you?

My  Thoughts: The dark oppressive clouds are full of the potential for snow but it doesn’t come just as the people of the city are full of hope and dreams for their future but unable to fulfill them. The exciting newness of the elephant spark an ember of hope that their dreams may be possible, and as soon as the main characters begin to fulfill their potential the clouds release their oppression and the snow falls. I love how snow changes a world, makes it softer, new, quiet, bright with whiteness, and clean. The snow-covered Baltese held the same hope and possibilities for the people.

4. Sister Marie has no doubt that “all God’s creatures have names.” What is the significance of names in the book? Every major character has one, even the dogs. What is the significance of names in life?

My Thoughts: Names give identity and individuality. They separate us and depending on our behavior can be known for good or bad in the world. They can also indicate our background or ancestry. The character’s names certainly made me think of them from different countries or gave me an indication of their status in society. Knowing a name indicates a connecting with someone or something. Even the elephant’s name was important to her though she couldn’t communicate it. She wanted to be back home where people would be able to call her by name. Once Hans Ickman remembers his dog’s name he is truly able to connect with the feelings from his boyhood and get on board with the seemingly impossible task of sending the elephant back in order to achieve healing for the city.

5. Why is Madame LaVaughn’s presence necessary for the Magician to undo the magic? What does he need from her? What does she need from him? Why do they say the same things to each other each day she visits the prison? Have you ever felt the power of forgiveness either by forgiving yourself or others?

My thoughts: They each want to be seen and recognized. They want validation of their problems and of their worth. They were each asking for something of the other in their repeated conversations, but they weren’t clear and were so focused on what they wanted that they couldn’t see what the other needed. The Magician forgiveness and Madame LaVaughn needed an apology and regret. When the Magician finally let go of the idea that his magic would be his legacy, when he finally forgave himself and communicated his sorrow  Madame LaVaughn could finally see that she mattered to someone and was able to forgive him. they both had a weight lifted.  The Magician could finally perform the magic needed to send the elephant back and Madame LaVaughn could see good in other people again despite her injury.