Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Nick was sick last week, which meant I watched a bunch of not-so-great kid movies (you can skip the new Charlotte's Web, for example, and also Madagascar) and, once he felt a little better, I read a lot as well. (We did manage a trip to the library.)

I read, in quick succession, Diana Wynne Jones' The Pinhoe Egg (another Chrestomanci book, and maybe the best); Markus Zusak's The Book Thief (one of last year's Printz Honor Books); The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron (last year's Newbery Award winner: the famous "scrotum" book); and, in a reprise of my early teen years, Judy Blume's Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

I expect I'll have more to say about the Patron and Blume books in a column at some point, and I'm going to write about Diana Wynne Jones in my academic book on children's fantasy and theology. But I want to try to say something about The Book Thief, which is a terrific book. It took me a while to get into it, I have to say. Death is the narrator, after all, and he's, well, not the most inviting guy. This is a risk, but worth taking. My favorite part of the book is an inserted picture book, written by one character for another, partway through: it's just lovely in itself, and also a wonderful meditation on the power of words to both harm and heal.

All four books, somewhat to my surprise, turn out to be not only about religion but are, I believe, religious books. All take up questions of belief--Margaret the most obviously, but Lucky runs it a close second. In those two, the main characters are trying to find something to believe in, looking for a "higher power" to take control. (Spoiler alert: it doesn't really work, but things turn out ok.) In both The Pinhoe Egg and The Book Thief--books that might not normally be discussed together, but it's my blog so I can do what I want--the great danger is unexamined belief, and it can only be combated by those too foolish to know it can't really be combated at all. The Book Thief, a Holocaust novel, is surprisingly funny in places (and beautiful throughout), while The Pinhoe Egg, a humorous fantasy, is surprisingly solemn in places (and funny throughout).

I still have four books on my stack, but with the last two weeks of classes coming up I may not get to them quickly. But I made a good start.

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