Archive for November, 2008

Multiple Morpurgos

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Only the one Michael Morpurgo, but five more books by him! (They’re short, and came boxed together, so there are still some more I haven’t read…) Every single one of these (although not necessarily all of the books of his I’ve read) has its climax with an animal or group of animals having a life-changing impact upon a child. In all but the first, this is a named and known invidual animal with whom the child or young person has an ongoing caring relationship. Still, they are distinct books, about quite different places, times and people.

301. Why the Whales Came by Michael Morpurgo

I have read another book Morpurgo wrote about the Scilly Isles, which I believe was inspired by the research he did for this one, so I shall have to refresh my memory on that one. (It wasn’t this year.)

There are lots of animals here, but it is Grace and Daniel’s relationship with the otherwise shunned ‘Birdman’ – who only otherwise interacts with his dog, goats and hens, and the wild birds who flock to him – that is the crux of this novel. As the lone survivor of the cursed neighbouring island of Samson, the close-knit community on Bryher keep themselves and their children well away from him, but in doing so they also remove from themselves the knowledge of what went wrong there, and how to prevent it from happening to themselves.

302. Cool! by Michael Morpurgo

I’ll admit to finding the POV (point of view) the most fascinating part of this book (I guessed early on what the climax would be). Robbie, the narrator, lies in a coma in a hospital bed, often but not always hearing what is happening in his room, who is visiting and speaking to him, but although the book is illustrated, he himself cannot see – as he doesn’t open his eyes – what the new people look like, or tell how time is passing. (This is got around by the use of clippings about his progress from the local newspaper.)

303. Dear Olly by Michael Morpurgo

A tale in three parts: first that of Olly, whose big brother Matt teaches her to watch and watch over the swallows nesting in their garden, and then goes off to Rwanda to work with the orphaned children there; then of Hero, a young swallow Olly had watched from the egg, rescued from danger and sent off on his own journey to Africa; and finally that of Matt, who finds his destiny challenged in a way that will affect the rest of his life.

304. The Butterfly Lion by Michael Morpurgo

These last two have framing stories: a caring older adult tells a young boy in trouble about something much bigger and scarier that happened to them, allowing the boy to face his own trials.

Can a tamed lion ever be truly tame, or can he ever be truly wild again either? As in so many of Morpurgo’s books, some war or other is in the background, tearing families and communities apart, but rarely is that the point of the book, and it isn’t here either, although it can become a point of recontact, as well as of separation.

305. Toro! Toro! by Michael Morpurgo

Just as in the last book, a boy hand-rears and then cannot fully give back to the wild an animal meant for other things. Here, though, the bull is saved from the ring, and takes his own place in the raging war.


Friday, 28 November 2008

Well, I’ve made it, and any more books I add to the list are now bonuses. Maybe we can aim for 365 (not a leap year) in 2009. Or perhaps I should just do a bit more work on the masters instead…

I haven’t even told you that Reginald and Holzmichel (the latest Travelling Teddies) have been here a week already, because I can’t show them to you. I’d be less frustrated by this if there were actually something wrong with the camera, and it wasn’t that I’ve still not found the charging cable…

Anyway, this is about the books:

296. Into the Fire by Miriam Walfish

In World War I East End London, a group of Orthodox Jewish boys about to be conscripted decide to join up together as a group of Pals, who could thus stay together and support each other religiously through their training and service. We are reminded that these are just boys by the other plot about an orphaned child in Salonika, who despite the war wants to make his way to England where his only surviving relatives live.

297. Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

I was actually disappointed by this classic. One of my main childhood memories of the long car journies to and from my grandparents during the December school holidays is always stopping in the same village, and going to the same craft shop, where they always had a video of Disney’s film of Pinocchio playing, over and over again. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it from start to finish, but I must have seen all of the scenes many times. So, I thought it would be good to read the original now. (To be fair, the original is in Italian, and this edition doesn’t even say who their translator was, so it’s possible the adaptation is responsible for some of the faults I’m about to describe. If I’d enjoyed it more, I might try reading one of the English translations on Project Gutenberg, but I amn’t inspired enough to do that now.)

I think the main thing that annoyed me is the lack of continuity. The first example of this I noted (and one of the slightest) is that near the beginning we’re told Pinocchio doesn’t have ears; a few pages later his smile is so wide it reaches his ears, and then a few chapters later he’s being pulled along by his ears. The timeframes mentioned don’t match up either. I suppose a lot of this has to do with Collodi having (according to the Wikipedia link about him above) originally published this as a newspaper serial, and honestly, it reads like an oral saga, where the individual tales all concern the same characters, and interrelate, but were never really meant to all be told together, or be held to each other’s details.

But this may be a rare case of the film being better than the original book, and I don’t plan on seeing the film to check does it live up to my memories!

298. The Midnight Fox by Betsy Byars

This book, about the quiet indoor son of two very outdoorsy parents, who is sent to stay on his aunt and uncle’s farm while his parents go on a cycling holiday, and hates it until he comes across a rare black fox, made me think of another childhood memory, but this time a book I read over and over. A Family of Foxes, by Eilís Dillon, first taught me that foxes come in colours other than red and tells of some far more hardy island boys from a place where the phrase “cute as a fox” is only negative (meaning “cunning”, not “sweet”!). In both books the boys attempt to protect the unusual foxes from adult detection and thus slaughter, and have to overcome moral quandaries to do so. I think I still prefer my childhood read, but this one is good too.

299. A World of a Difference by Elisheva Mintzburg

This is a really well-written autobiography (although I believe the names have been changed for privacy), and a very interesting tale. The author describes her life, and how she came to convert to Judaism, with the steps along the way. She explains the steps and qualms along the way, and how this was right for her, with the help and the hindrances she received.

300. King of the Cloud Forests by Michael Morpurgo

And number 300. I had always thought of Morpurgo as a writer of realist fiction, but here he verges onto the fantastic, and perhaps because it isn’t what I had expected from him, I wasn’t as convinced as I might have been. The beginning made me expect one set of issues, but then that really wasn’t what the book ended up being about at all. So not my favourite of his canon, but it won’t put me off reading others.


Thursday, 27 November 2008

Now you see what happens when I get annoyed with myself for not doing stuff: I retreat and do even less! And then I feel worse.

I haven’t sorted out the camera issues, and my laptop’s power supply is out of action (and before anyone suggests getting a new one, it’s completely non-standard and basically hasn’t been made since I got the computer (brand new!)). I’m broke, haven’t been creative or studious or literary or active enough to prevent frustration and keep me happy, and I have to stop letting people (with me high on the list) down.

Should I tell you what I remember about the books? Perhaps achieving something will make me feel better. (I may have to stop suddenly, when the owner of the computer I’m on gets home.)

292. Why Eating Bogeys is Good For You by Mitchell Symons

Silly facts for those who enjoy being slightly disgusted. Where I had background knowledge, that presented seemed accurate.

293. A Dog Called Grk by Joshua Doder

This was quite good, really, and made me think of The Prisoner of Zenda and Graustark (especially since I’d just heard them shortly before), with the imaginary Eastern European country in political turmoil. I’m looking forward to finding the rest of the series sometime. Unfortunately, the more one learns of events around the world, the more one realises how much danger political and other upheaval can put children in. (Shades of The Garbage King here, although the genre is quite different. Grk is a great little dog!

294. Saffy’s Angel by Hilary McKay

The first in another well-established series it might be worth my while to continue with, although this leans more towards Scarlett in genre terms than Grk. Saffy grows up in an overly self-consciously eccentric artsy family, quite happy until she discovers her name isn’t on the paint chart with Cadmium, Indigo and Rose, then distancing herself once she learns the reason why. Her (rather self-imposed) isolation leads to her finally catching the eye of the girl down the road, who everyone’s been so careful not to stare at that they didn’t realise she wanted to make friends! Somewhat surprisingly (to me) this book ends up spanning several years, with some rather skimmed over for the sake of a realism that might not have been necessary.

295. A Rose Among Thorns by Rochel Schmidt

There’s a lot of good historical research behind this book, but there’s also a lot of reminding yourself that war stories, whether fact or fiction, tend to be the stories of survivors, because that’s how a story ends up being told. It’s gripping.

There are four more already (nearly at the 300 I set as my official goal for this year, if now unlikely to make the 366 I was hoping for), but I have to get off the computer. I’ll tidy up the links etc tomorrow.

Ridiculous Avoidance

Friday, 7 November 2008

Still no camera charger, so I can’t show you the handbag I’m making, or the matching corsage (both from Erika Knight’s Essential Crochet, seeing as my flatmate gave me the book and the yarn – both deep purple! – at the same time. to put on my coat when I go out with it. I’m really quite happy with both, although there is some finishing up to do. I’ve bought lining material for the bag, and a friend has offered to sew it all up, so I basically need to decide what to do about a handle for it, and attach a safety pin to the corsage. I did the large size of the pattern for the latter, with a chunky wook (instead of crochet cotton!) so it will perhaps make more of a statement than I meant it to, but I think the pair of items are going to use the two skeins I was given quite well.

There are no visiting teddies here just at the moment, which gives me a few days to sort out charging the camera…

In the meantime, I have been reading a decent amount, although I’m still a couple of weeks behind the book-per-day aim.

276. Foul Play by Tom Palmer

Football fan and wannabe detective who doesn’t mind skipping school for a good clue to the current mystery, Danny is basically a good kid who squabbles with his older sister but gets on well with his father. He gets a bit too personally involved with the strange events happening at the local football stadium one night, however…

This book is absolutely calculated to appeal to reluctant boy readers, but it’s not bad for all that!

277. Akiva by Rabbi Meir Marcus Lehmann

I said a bit about this book last week, in comparing it to And Rachel Was His Wife. I think the main thing I’d add is that the latter is character driven, while this has imparting information and a point of view as its objective. It’s very good for all that.

278. Artist Trading Cards by Leonie Pujol

Maybe when I finish the Masters I could take up ATCs…

279. Graphic Biographies: Martin Luther King Jr by Gary Jeffrey & Chris Forsey

Any other day [than Wednesday – the rest of this post has taken me awhile] I’d ignore the current Politics (with a big ‘P’ – I don’t think one ever can fully ignore small ‘p’ politics), and focus on the ones discussed in this and the following few books, but I think every (American, but not only) politician who mentions dreams in a speech knows their listeners will think of Martin Luther King Jr (and the ‘American Dream’ too), and I am pretty sure Barack Obama wouldn’t mind that today.

280. Graphic Biographies: Harriet Tubman by Rob Shone & Anita Ganeri

It’s rather longer since Harriet Tubman escaped slavery, and helped others both in the journey and the life after slavery. America has had a long struggle towards full equality of all its communities, as has every country out there. I’d be interested to know of some that have really got there, even if only in law. While the explicit (and legal) inequalities Tubman (and King, and Mandela) fought against are now much diminished and more subtle, in many ways that makes them harder to fix.

281. Graphic Biographies: Nelson Mandela by Rob Shone & Neil Reed

So, after all the politics, the series of books is a good one! The graphic story is well told and drawn, and each book has a couple of standard non-fiction style pages before and after it, to give context. I haven’t read the ones on entertainers, many of whose stories, like Mandela’s, have not come to an end yet.

282. Who Was Mary Seacole? by Paul Harrison

Seacole was a visionary front line nurse. More front-line than Florence Nightingale, and well known in her day.

Still wading through all the books to be discussed in this post by Friday, and today’s Sheldon tickled me. (Although it’s now got me thinking that I have no good excuse for not having finished the Braille Primer yet…)

283. Natural Disasters: Forest Fires by Laura Purdie Salas
284. Blazing Bush and Forest Fires by Louise and Richard Spilsbury

Yes, these two are on the same topic. Both are good, and I can’t decide which one to recommend over the other. The first tends to briefly tell the story of a particular memorable fire in history, and from there give facts, whereas the second gives information and then shows example pictures and tales, so it really depends which approach suits your purpose, taste or child.

285. You Wouldn’t Want To Be A Victorian Miner! by John Malam

Quite true, you wouldn’t, especially as a child! This is a most informative, well done series. It’s also reminded me of a film I saw (on television) as a child, but that I can’t find on IMDB. It was about a small mining village in England (or possibly Wales) where the mine was to be modernised, or closed, or something, and the pit ponies were to be killed rather than bringing them back above ground, I think. The local children get very upset about this, and after their protests get them nowhere they go through one of the old unused mine shafts (?) and kidnap the ponies. Being a children’s film it all ends happily, of course, with the ponies allowed a field to retire into. I can’t remember the title or other details, so if anyone has any ideas, I’d appreciate it.

286. I Wonder Why Volcanoes Blow Their Tops and other questions about natural disasters by Rosie Greenwood

The focus here (which surprised me) is not volcanoes, but natural disasters, but all are interestingly described, with bright clear pictures.

287. Waiting for Anya by Michael Morpurgo

My plan is to gradually read my way through Morpurgo’s canon, because he presents big historical (and other) issues in affecting and enthralling stories that children and adults like. This one is set in a French village on the Spanish border during WWII. The adult men went to fight and many are now prisoners of war, including Jo’s father, so the women, children and older or disabled men are getting on with looking after each other and the sheep without them. Apart from this absence the war has stayed away from the village for three years, until a unit of German soldiers is billeted upon them to guard the border, and Jo discovers there are more impacts than he realised.

288. Scarlett by Cathy Cassidy

So, Scarlett is a very troubled twelve-year old who has just been kicked out of her fifth school since her parents split up three years previously. People do seem to recognise that counselling might help, or have helped, but since they only ever threaten her with it (rather than offering it to her) that isn’t going to happen. After cycling through living with her mother, her grandmother, her uncle and her mother again, this city girl’s latest ‘last chance’ is to be sent to her father, his new wife and stepdaughter in a cottage in rural Ireland, and she doesn’t want to go.

289. My Special Brother by Rena Schiff

Far better than I thought it would be (I have to admit to letting the garish cover put me off over the years), this is the slightly fictionalised story of a 1960s Orthodox Jewish family in New York who buck the expectation that disabled babies will be left at the hospital to go straight into care, and bring their youngest son (who has Downs) home to be a beloved member of the family. Thankfully most of these explicit expectations have now been overcome, and there is ever more provision and support for children and adults with disabilities to receive extensive education and live as productive respected members of the community [although there is a lot more for us all to do] but this family worked their way through the prejudices and ignorance, and then allowed their story to be told to explain things to the rest of us. I’m making it sound very worthy – really it’s a good story too.

290. Just Between Friends by Sara Wiederblank

A definite relationships novel, this has four friends in their mid twenties dealing with how their expectations have either not been met, or have been met but still don’t entirely satisfy. One of those frustrating (but often frustratingly real) tales where the reader wants to just make the characters sit down and talk to their spouses or other loved ones!

291. Ug: Boy Genius of the Stone Age by Raymond Briggs

Fungus the Bogeyman remains my favourite Briggs protagonist, but this is amusing. I don’t think I’d recommend it to anyone who didn’t know a bit about the Stone Age already, as most of the story revolves around the anachronisms within our understanding of it.