To be kept waiting is unfortunate, but to be kept waiting with nothing interesting to read is a tragedy of Greek proportions.
From The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book Two: The Hidden Gallery
I finished off book one of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place and am now most happily immersed in book two. I think I’ll wait until I finish the series (what’s published of it so far) until I share my thoughts about it, but I couldn’t resist sharing this quote, which is one of Agatha Swanburne’s many, many wise sayings. (By the way, Agatha Swanburne was the founder of the Swanburne Academy for Poor Bright Females, which surely must be one of the best names ever dreamed up for a school, real or imaginary.)
I picked up The Brave Little Toaster by Thomas M. Disch at the library because it’s a story I’d heard of and I was looking for a short chapter book to read aloud while waiting on DLM #2 to finally arrive. While it isn’t a true chapter book (there are no chapter designations), it’s long enough that it took us several short read-aloud sessions to finish. (As a side note, does it drive anyone else nuts that such books don’t have chapter designations? Why don’t they, especially when they simply have huge breaks in the page layout instead? Chapters would make them so much easier to read!) To be honest, I’ve read other stories I enjoyed more. However, my girls enjoyed it, and they were never satisfied with where I stopped reading–they always wanted more. (I’m really beginning to suspect this particular reaction as a sign of anything other than the fact that they love to be read to. ;- ) )
The Brave Little Toaster is the story of five appliances–a toaster, a Tensor lamp, a Hoover vacuum cleaner, an electric blanket, and a alarm clock/radio–that leave their home, a cabin in the woods, in search of their master’s city home. They show all sorts of ingenuity and teamwork in order to finally reach his home, and they meet a few characters along the way. Although they don’t exactly get what they set out for, the story does have a happy ending.
If you can get past the fact that it’s an adventure story involving household appliances, it is a fun read. Actually, when it’s all said and done, I think the fact that it’s about household appliances makes the story a bit more appealing, at least from a teaching standpoint. The story is a great model of personification, and the characters even have depth and development. (Now, mind you, I haven’t mentioned this at all to my girls, but I’m thinking like a former public school teacher here.) Another plus of this story is that it uses fairly sophisticated vocabulary and sentence structure, so the listeners really have to pay attention to follow it. There’s even a bit of random philosophizing by the author:
And what a long and weary way it was! The forest stretched on seemingly forever with the most monotonous predictability, each tree just like the next–trunk, branches, leaves; trunk, branches, leaves. Of course a tree would’ve taken a different view of the matter. We all tend to see the way others are alike and how we differ, and it’s probably just as well that we do, since that prevents a great deal of confusion. But perhaps we should remind ourselves from time to time that ours is a very partial view, and that the world is full of a great deal more variety than we ever manage to take in.
An original1980 publication date makes the characters in this story foreign to today’s child, I would guess, so there’s also the fun little walk down memory lane it forces its reader to take. Really, there’s much to commend this short story, especially if you’re looking for a short, light read, as I was.
I know there’s an animated movie that was made from this book which I thought would be fun to show the girls, but alas, I’ve been unable to locate it. I’ve found a couple of sequels, but not the original. Maybe someday we’ll run across it.
What’s in your read aloud basket this week? Please, share in the comments, or leave a link to your own RAT post in the comments.
I haven’t been blogging much during these last few weeks (days!) of pregnancy, but I have been reading. Here’s what I’ve reviewed since last month’s Nightstand post:
- Bomb by Steve Sheinkin-This one won a ton of awards this year, from various ALA distinctions (including a Newbery honor) to the Cybils to the National Book Award. I didn’t love it, but I can see why it won. Fans of fast-paced nonfiction and historical drama will appreciate this one.
- Mockingbird: A Portrait of Harper Lee by Charles J. Shields–I really enjoyed this respectful biography of the elusive Nelle Harper Lee.
- Carney’s House Party by Maud Hart Lovelace–This one is just pure fun.
- Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage–I like this middle grade novel well enough in the end, but I’m not sure I agree that’s it worthy of the Newbery honor it received.
I’ve also been reading aloud to my children in hopes of finishing up some things before baby brother makes his appearance. These are the chapter books I’ve shared during Read Aloud Thursdays over the past month:
- A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett–This was a “kill two birds with one stone” sort of book because it’s also on my own personal Classics Club list.
- Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown by Maud Hart Lovelace–Like Carney’s House Party, this one is pure fun.
- The Brave Little Toaster by Thomas M. Disch–Stay tuned for this week’s Read Aloud Thursdayfor more about this one.
- The Princess and the Goblin by George MacDonald–read aloud with Lulu, with my thoughts also coming to a RAT soon.
We currently don’t have a chapter book read-aloud going right now, although I am still working through The Blue Fairy Book with Louise. I feel like I’m in total limbo right now, waiting for the baby, so we’re trying to wrap up as many things as we can. Whether or not I can stand to not have a read-aloud going depends entirely on how things go the first few days of this week and whether or not it looks like baby brother is coming sooner rather than later.
I’ve got a couple of books in the works right now. I picked up Lit! by Tony Reinke (which has been on my TBR list forever!) at the end of last week and am about half way through it now. I even got a tiny head start on April’s Reading to Know Bookclub selection, No Name by Wilkie Collins. However, I got sidetracked from both of those titles when Steady Eddie and I made an early morning trip to the hospital Friday morning thanks to a false labor alarm and I took along my Kindle which is jam-packed with unread titles. I thought I’d need something fun, light, and mindless to read, so I started on The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place Book One: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood and was completely sucked in. I’m over half-way finished with it, so look for a review soon.
As for April, who knows? So much depends on . . . a certain little baby who should be entering our family very, very soon. (Please, Lord, let it be very, very soon!) I might finish up the Ashton Place series. Janet’s reviews of the Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander have really piqued my curiosity, too. I hope I can manage to maintain my momentum with Wilkie Collins. I read a lot right after the DLM was born, and I hope I can read a lot after DLM #2 arrives, but that will likely depend on the aforementioned 2 3/4 year old little boy and how he responds to being a new big brother. 😉
I had never even heard of Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage when it won a Newbery honor earlier this year. I think that’s sort of odd since I even half-way followed the ALA award chatter on the mock Newbery blog, Heavy Medal. (It turns out that it was discussed there, but it was before I had tuned in.) However, I wanted to read it because I have this little half-formed goal of reading all the ALA notables before I die (especially the Newberys), and besides, the Amazon description sounded good:
A hilarious Southern debut with the kind of characters you meet once in a lifetime
Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone’s business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she’s been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her “upstream mother,” she’s found a home with the Colonel–a café owner with a forgotten past of his own–and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.
Full of wisdom, humor, and grit, this timeless yarn will melt the heart of even the sternest Yankee.
I mean, I’m a Southerner, so I can “get” these characters, right? And besides, I like strong female protagonists, and this sounds like yet another story full of quirky, small-town characters, which I generally like. Well, by the end of this story, I did like it, but it wasn’t without its problems for me.
First, sometimes quirky just seems over-the-top–like how many quirky characters can we fit into one small town? I’m not sure that that’s an entirely accurate description for this particular novel, but somehow starting out with a protagonist named Mo (short for Moses) LeBeau who was rescued as a newborn in a hurricane set me up to expect more quirkiness, so even when the characters aren’t particularly quirky (like maybe they’re just ornery instead), I saw it as quirky. This sometimes seems like a tired, old schtick for middle grade fiction to me by now. Second, I’m kind of over all the middle grade novels with nontraditional families. Now, don’t get me wrong–I know that nontraditional families exist, and in fact, I know quite a few and have quite a few in my own extended family. Like the novels chock full of eccentrics, though, these novels with families in which the child lives with people of no blood relation to her are many and similar. (Often, the parental figures are not even the protagonist’s adoptive parents–they’re just people who picked her up along the way, apparently.) Mo LeBeau lives with the Colonel and Miss Lana, an unmarried couple who apparently have some affection for each other, but who live rather unconventional lives in a trio of connected apartments. The only intact family in the story is headed by an abusive, alcoholic father and husband, so it seems pretty off kilter. Third, and this one is limited to this particular story, I don’t appreciate the inclusion of profanity in most middle grade novels. The couple or three curse words in this story seem really out-of-place, mostly because there are so few of them (which I realize is an odd thing to say about something I’m complaining about) and even the villains in the story seem somewhat sanitized, except for this. I don’t know. The whole thing just seems a bit “been there, done that” to me.
This last thing is more of an observation than anything, especially considering that these are mainstream novels written by mainstream authors. I’ve noticed this tendency in middle grade novels for a sort of nebulous spirituality to be included. Here’s an excerpt from a letter Mo writes to her “Upstream Mother” (her birth mother):
Death makes you think. Everybody has a way of believing.
The Colonel says God took Sunday off, so he does too. He walks in the woods or lies on his bunk. He says if God needs him, He knows where to find him. Miss Lana believes in treating people right. She mostly hits Church Festivities–Easter, when she wears a new hat, and Christmas Eve, to cry while Dale sings “Silent Night.”
Dale goes to church because Miss Rose likes him to. I sometimes go to keep him company, and hear stories of the Original Moses[. . .]
Lavender, who I will one day marry, believes in NASCAR Zen, which I suspect he made up[. . .]
What do you believe? Please let me know.
If you’re wondering about me, like Miss Lana I believe in treating people good. And like the Colonel, I think God can find me. (176)
While I’m not exactly expecting the novels to include the Gospel, I’m just sort of sick of (or maybe sad about?) the lack of real Christians in these stories. As a Christian, this gives me pause–not from the “I’m banning these books from my reading list” way, but in a “why aren’t Christians better represented?” way. (For another novel that’s very similar to Three Times Lucky but does include a born-again Christian, read my review of Lucky for Good by Susan Patron. The similarities between Three Times Lucky and Lucky for Good extend beyond the similar titles.)
The saving grace in all this is the mystery in the story, although it is very slow to get off the ground. It’s an unlikely sort of story, but then, the whole premise of the novel is rather unlikely. Ultimately, though, the exciting ending left me with a good taste, rather than the previous indifferent and or even bad taste, in my mouth. I still don’t think it’s necessarily a Newbery level story, but for a novel in a genre overpopulated with novels of similar construction, it’s a fun read. (Dial, 2012)