Category Archives: Children's/YA

The Inkworld trilogy, by Cornelia Funke

I finally got through all three books in the Inkheart trilogy. I should probably find a better way to phrase it, as that makes it sound like it was a struggle or a chore to read them, and it wasn’t.

The concept is fascinating: Mo is a bookbinder and book enthusiast whose voice literally brings characters to life. As in, when he reads, things come out of the book into our world. Of course, balance must be maintained, so whenever something comes out, something goes in. Mo’s wife was taken into a book called “Inkheart” when one of the villains of the book came out…and now the characters are looking for Mo. Some of them want to go home; some of them want to take over our world. Mo and his daughter Meggie just want their family back.

That’s book one (Inkheart). It was filmed a couple of years ago with Brendan Fraser as Mo and Paul Bettany as Dustfinger (one of the characters). It’s not a great movie but the things that were flawed about it (especially lack of protagonist consistency) work in the book, where it’s easier and more obvious to switch between different points-of-view.

Books two and three are about the fallout from book one. Meggie is still obsessed with the Inkworld and is trying to find a way into it. She doesn’t quite know what she’ll do when she gets there: she just wants to go.

Most of books 2 and 3 explore the Inkworld and the inevitable change that occur, as every writer know, when characters take on a life of their own. Books 2 and 3 are also ways for Funke to show off the complexity and detail of the world she created but didn’t visit in Book 1. Not that there’s anything wrong with that – it is a fantastic world.

There’s quite a lot abou tthe power of language and word use, of course, and parts that deal with reader versus author: what kind of ownership does an author have over his work once it’s done? What kind of ownership does a reader have over his favourite work? What responsibility does a writer have to his characters and to his readers? In that element of the concept – the reality of fiction, the idea that we are all characters in a story – it reminded me of Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder. But where Sophie’s World is a deliberate education in philosophy, these questions in the Inkworld are explored through characters, so the reader never feels like they’re hearing a treatise.

I really enjoyed these books, and have been recommending them to my friends who like other-world fantasy. Some of the machinations in Book 3 are a little bit reliant on coincidence, but I suppose that’s only natural when the story is ‘being written’ as it happens. More could have been done with the culture shock aspect of it, too, I thought – but I don’t know what you’d cut out in its place. Anyway, they’re excellent books and worth reading.

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The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman

I finished The Graveyard Book on the train down to London on Saturday. It was good, as Neil Gaiman always is, and deserves every award that it’s gotten. Although, admittedly, I’m biased, since I read Neil Gaiman’s journal on a regular basis and also have no idea what else was nominated for most of the awards it’s won.

There is one comment that I wanted to make about The Graveyard Book, especially having recently re-read Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: When are fictional characters going to realise that trying to avoid a prophecy only serves to bring it about? It goes all the way back to Greek tragedy and the Oedipus story. Trying to avoid the prophecy (trying to kill Bod, Harry, and Oedipus, respectively) in fact creates the terms by which the prophecy is fulfilled. It’s like fictional characters have no knowledge of what has come before. 🙂

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But you don’t have to take my word for it.

Reading Rainbow airs its last episode

This makes me sad. Reading Rainbow was one of my favourite shows, and featured some of my favourite picture books. Like this one or this one.

What I think is saddest is the rationalisation for cutting the show. I have no problem with using television as an education medium to teach kids how to read, with emphasis on phonics or whatever the current vogue method might be. Literacy as an ability is important.

No, what I think is saddest is the implication that once you know how to read, you’re done. That it’s not necessary to instill and foster a love of reading for its own sake. That learning why to read is not important, at least not as important as knowing how to read.

This is patently untrue. Literacy is so much more than just the ability to read – something that I’m afraid the educational standards overlook far too often. Teaching kids that reading is fun and enjoyable is just as important as teaching them how to sound out words. One of the biggest obstacles that teachers face is students that don’t want to read. They don’t see reading as something to be enjoyed, just something to be endured. But if we can teach children that reading is not just required, but recreational, then we can create teenagers who can and will read outside of class, and then we have adults who read for pleasure as well. And adults who read can change the world.

Reading expands your mind. It gives you insights into other people, other lifestyles, other countries, other times, and other ideas. Reading teaches in a way that the classroom cannot. And people who don’t read tend to be more close-minded than people who do, simply because they don’t have the breadth of mental experience to understand that there are different perspectives in the world. Aliteracy is just as much of a problem as illiteracy.

We need adults who will read, not just adults who can read. And in order to have that, we need to have children and teenagers who read because they want to, not just because they have to. That is what Reading Rainbow provided. It wasn’t just about the featured book – although each episode had a fantastic featured book. It was also about how that book could connect with your life: Gregory, the Terrible Eater, for example, led to lessons on healthy eating and getting along with your parents and making compromises. And it was also about ordinary kids telling about the books they liked, showing that reading is something that kids just like you did even when it wasn’t a part of school, and giving a range of ideas for what to read after the show was over.

There is a hole in educational programming now; I only hope that something fills it before it becomes a hole in our lives as well.

The original theme song

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Harry Potter

When I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince the first time, it had been a while – probably a year – since I’d read the book. I have the audiobook on my hard drive, so in order to refresh my memory (after the fact) of the details they’d left out and things they’d changed, I listened to it. Then I went to go see it again.

And then I went crazy and became obsessed with not just the books but the movies. In the last four days I have reread all the books (except Half-Blood Prince, since I listened to it) and rewatched all the movies. The movies several times. (I can’t concentrate in silence – I have to have something going on in the background. I know. I’m weird. I have, however, passed 10K words on my dissertation so I’m not being totally obsessive and academically useless.)

I know that Harry Potter is not the ‘best’ series in a literary sense, and that it tends to overshadow other children’s and young adult literature that is just as worthy of consideration. But it is a fun series nonetheless, and one of the things I am most impressed by is the world-building. Granted, there are things that are inconsistent – website after website has, I am sure, pointed them out. I don’t care. To maintain the level of detail that she has across seven books and however many years of writing takes incredible imagination, planning, organization, and memory. Seemingly insignificant details come back later, giving the books a richness and depth that is only fully obvious on a reread/relisten. It is something that I aspire to as a writer, and something that I look for as a reader. [I enjoy fantasy, but only really world-building type fantasy – I’m not really into the paranormal (vampires especially) unless they are a part of a bigger mythos as they are here.]

The obsession seems to fading now that I have actually gotten through all of the books – even Order of the Phoenix which I don’t think I’d reread since its movie came out. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be able to do something different. At least, until the next time this particular obsession hits.

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