Lessons from the Tortoise

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

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Fantasy Series (and standalones) for kids/YA

I'm giving a talk later this morning to families here for Parents' Weekend, and as a takeaway I made a list of books I like to recommend. These are almost all fantasy, almost all for pre-teen and up, almost all series. They are all also books I've read and therefore can recommend with some confidence--which is why, for example, Scott Westerfeld's Leviathan isn't on the list even though Nick tells me it should be. I really want to read it, but just haven't yet. Also missing from the list are my "usual suspects": Philip Pullman and J.K. Rowling. That's because they're in the talk.

So here's the list:

Some Terrific (Mostly Fantasy) Books for Kids and Young Adults

A highly idiosyncratic and partial list of books you may have missed, for people who’ve exhausted the Harry Potter and Twilight series

Most of these books are appropriate for kids 10 and up; starred books might be better for 12 or 13 and up.

*Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games trilogy. Most book-loving teens have already discovered this devastating dystopian fantasy, starring a fierce teenaged hunter, Katniss Everdeen.

Sarah Beth Durst, Into the Wild and Out of the Wild: fairy tale characters enter our world with devastating, but often comic, results.

Cornelia Funke, the Inkheart series: in a world where stories can become real, readers and writers become dangerous and powerful. See also her unrelated The Thief Lord, in which a pair of orphans must make a new life for themselves in a magical Venice.

Neil Gaiman, Coraline, The Graveyard Book, *Stardust, Odd and the Frost Giants. Gaiman’s books are infused with a sense of the magical and the mythic; these standalone novels are all influenced by fairy tales and earlier literature, but bring new life to them. Coraline terrifies even my college students, but lots of younger kids adore it. The Graveyard Book has one of the scariest opening chapters I’ve ever read, but most readers are comforted by what follows

Frances Hardinge, Fly By Night: a book-loving girl teams up with a con man in a tightly controlled culture of folk deities and mysterious conspiracies. See also Hardinge’s The Lost Conspiracy, an unrelated tale of a magical realm where “the Lost” travel outside their bodies to keep the peace.

Diana Wynne Jones, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci: six novels all set in the same multiverse; not a sequential series but a loosely linked chronicle of the rules of magic in many different worlds. See also Howl’s Moving Castle, Fire and Ice, and other standalone fantasies.

*Justine Larbalestier, Magic or Madness trilogy: math may be magic and there is a mysterious portal between Sydney, Australia and New York City; Larbalestier’s Liar and How to Ditch Your Fairy are also terrific, and quite different—Liar is darker, for older kids, while How to Ditch Your Fairy is a fairly light-hearted exploration of a high school for athletes where some kids have personal fairies.

Kenneth Oppel, Airborn, Skybreaker, and Starclimber: adventures in the air and outer space in an alternate-history version of Victorian England.

James A. Owen, The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica: a five-book series about a map of imaginary places that turns out to be real; C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, and other literary figures are characters in this adventure series.

Terry Pratchett, The Bromeliad Trilogy, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, the Tiffany Aching books. Pratchett’s books are always funny and often very literary in their references; the Tiffany Aching books include the always-hilarious Nac Mac Feegle, a band of tiny but immensely fierce warriors, while the Bromeliad trilogy deals with a race of people who live in the spaces between floors in a large department store. The Amazing Maurice retells the Pied Piper story, with a surprising twist. See also Nation, a novel of exploration and attempted conquest in an alternate version of Victorian England and the Pacific.

Philip Reeve, Larklight series: Victorians in space.

*Michael Scott, The Alchemyst series: a twin brother & sister team up with figures from history and myth to combat mythic evil staging a return to power.

Rebecca Stead, When You Reach Me: last year’s Newbery award winning book; time travel, A Wrinkle in Time, and New York City in the late 1970s.

Jonathan Stroud, The Bartimaeus Trilogy: alternate history and magic combined with a smart, snarky djinn; this series will get kids reading—and enjoying!—footnotes. A fourth book is apparently due out this fall.

Laini Taylor, Dreamdark series: so far there are only two of these novels set among fairy creatures who must reweave the fraying tapestry of the world; a third is anticipated.

*Megan Whalen Turner, Attolia series: theft, conspiracy, murder, romance, and intrigue in a Greek-inspired magical realm.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

teaching, again

The fall semester is upon us, and I'm teaching two sections of a class I'm really excited about: Twice-Told Tales, Fairy Tales in Literary and Popular Culture. I'm just focusing on one fairy tale (Cinderella), and I've had a terrible time narrowing down the syllabus. What I've got still feels like a work in progress, but classes start Monday so it's as done as it's going to be for now.

The biggest experiment in this class will be the use of freewriting and focused freewriting, which we'll do (almost) every day. I took a fantastic workshop at Bard's Institute for Writing and Thinking which introduced me to this technique, and consultants from IWT came and worked with our faculty on it (and other things) over the summer, as we all prepare for teaching our first-year seminars for the first time. I don't know if anyone else has converted as fully as I have, but I'm really looking forward to the experiment.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

a couple of lines

from Here, There Be Dragons...

"Astraues," Aven called out. "God of the four winds and friend to sailors. Say a little prayer when you look at him, so he will give us what we need to keep on our course."
"A little prayer?" said Jack. "To a constellation?"
"To what it represents," said Aven.
"But I don't believe in what it represents," said Jack.
"Prayers aren't for the deity," said Aven. "They're for you, to recommit yourself to what you believe."
"Can't you do that without praying to a dead Greek god?"
"Sure," said Aven. "But how often would anyone do that, if not in prayer?" (p. 218)

"The Summer Country is a land greater than any in the Archipelago of Dreams, because it has within it everything to be found in the Archipelago, and more. But where someone like Ordo Maas could find it anywhere, the Winter King would never find it at all. Because to him, it is always just out of his reach--when, in truth, he had it in reach all along."
"It sounds," John said, "as if you're talking about our world."
"Yes," said Bert. "Your world is the Summer Country." (p. 310)

The Finish Line

Here's the summary of my 48-hour book challenge efforts:

I read 7 books, including all four (to date) in The Alchemyst series, and the first in "The Chronicles of the Imaginarium Geographica," Here, There Be Dragons. I can't wait to read some more in that series! All the books I read were fantasy (not a big surprise). I'm particularly intrigued by the overlaps in the two latter series--I want to think more about that, maybe after I read the rest of the Imaginarium Geographica books.

I read a total of 2778 pages.

I put in 16.75 reading hours, and 3 hours of social networking, for a total of 19.75 hours.

Thanks, MotherReader, for putting this together again! It was a weekend well spent!

and one more...

The last book I read for the 48 hour book challenge is another series book, Here There Be Dragons, by James A. Owen. What a great way to end! It's a terrific quest story, with a similar mix of characters and motifs as the Alchemyst books has, but put to entirely different effect--more comic, and more directly intertextual. There's great pleasure to be had in trying to puzzle out the references and connections, some of which come as quite a surprise at the end--though, really, they shouldn't, now that I know what they are. And there are three more books in the series, so I have plenty of fun to come...

(Nick told me I'd enjoy this one. Why is he always right?)

Saturday, June 05, 2010

is this it?

OK, I've finished my 6th book in the challenge, and put in 2 more hours and 389 more pages. So here are the updated totals:

2454 pages
14.75 reading hours
2.5 blogging/networking hours
6 novels

And now I've caught up in The Alchemyst series and I'm seriously annoyed that The Warlock is not yet available for me to read. The little teaser at the end of The Necromancer is pretty tantalizing...

There are other books on my TBR stack so I may pick up another one, but I have to say, I'm pretty close to done. And I'm still kind of stuck in The Alchemyst's world--and liking it--so I'm not sure I'm ready to break that spell. On the other hand, there's still plenty of reading time left this evening. I don't expect to do much tomorrow morning--my time is up at 10:30 and I'm headed to church at about 8:45. So this may be it. But I'll check in again tomorrow morning to confirm the totals, one way or the other.

48 Hour Book Challenge Update

Whew! I'm surprising myself by how much I've read. The quick totals, 28 hours in:

12.75 hours of reading
let's call it 2 hours of social networking, blogging, reading updates, etc.
2065 pages
5 novels

The last three I've read are the first three books in Michael Scott's Alchemyst series; we have one more in the house and that's the next up. This is one appealing series: gods, demigods, and monsters from all kinds of mythology, a nice mix of the historical and the present-day, and all kinds of ambiguity about who's on whose side. I'm only sorry that the fifth novel isn't out yet--I'll finish the weekend without closure, but at least caught up on a series I'm enjoying.

But now I really need to get out of the house. I hit the farmer's market this morning and now it's time to get to Trader Joe's.