Author Archives: Amy

The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley

Have you ever read a book about which you have almost entirely mixed feelings?  The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley is one of those books for me.  On one hand, I absolutely loved it, and there were many times during my reading of it that I thought, “Wow.  This will definitely make my top picks of the year list” or “I haven’t enjoyed a book as much as I’m enjoying this one since I can’t remember when.”  However, there were other points at the story that totally left me scratching my head and even gave me an unpleasant feeling at times.  I think I can attribute the negativity to my unfamiliarity and discomfort with the whole genre of fantasy, although it’s definitely one I’ve been slowly warming up to over the years.  (Ten years ago, the only fantasy I had ever really read was Narnia and A Wrinkle in Time.  Now I can add quite a few more titles to the list, though most of those are children’s novels, too.)  This book has an unlikely heroine, Aerin, who is the daughter of the King of Damar.  The Damarians do not like her much, for she is decidedly not their idea of a royal.  She doesn’t look like them, with her pale skin and red hair.  She doesn’t act like them, or more exactly like anyone else from the royal house, because she has no obvious gifting that those of the royal house grow into at some point, usally during adolescence.  What’s worse, her deceased mother’s background is suspect; most Damarians consider her a Northern witchwoman who bewitched the king to no good end for the kingdom.  The novel opens with Aerin just sort of existing in the castle, with only her cousin (?) Tor for a friend.  There’s a complicated sort of pecking order among the royals that determines who is a Sol, or next in line to the throne, and Tor (along with Aerin, really, though no one wants to admit it) is first Sol.  The first part of the novel seems almost Medieval and just altogether lovely, with plenty of poingnancy and heart and feeling, with Aerin’s clumsiness and discomfort and angst over her place in the kingdom giving the reader plenty of reasons to love and identify with her.  A turn happens in the story once Aerin begins experimenting with a recipe to make a dragon-proofing salve and finally hits upon the winning combination of ingredients.  She then becomes a heroine in her own right and finally quests for the missing crown that will restore Damar to its former strength.  All of Aerin’s heroic feats, which are described in pretty intense detail, very fully put this story into the realm of fantasy.  It’s this part of the story that I found difficult–to follow, yes, but even to like (at times).  Again, I’m pretty sure this says more about me as a reader than about the book itself.

This book is definitely on the old end of the age range for Newbery titles.  The Newbery criteria for the age range of the winning books are as follows:

A “contribution to American literature for children” shall be a book for which children are an intended potential audience. The book displays respect for children’s understandings, abilities, and appreciations. Children are defined as persons of ages up to and including fourteen, and books for this entire age range are to be considered.

There’s a very mature love affair or two in this story (including a weird love triangle of sorts), and even a few pointed references to s**.    There’s nothing at all graphic in this part; it’s just a few references.  However, there’s definitely an understanding of the way things work in the adult world.  Of course, all of this mature understanding of the world is one of the things that made this book enjoyable to me.  I’m pretty sure the mileage this book would get among the intended audience would vary greatly depending on the children.

This one’s definitely a mixed bag for me.  Robin McKinley creates a very poignant tale with a very flawed but likable heroine.  I marked more passages than I could ever share here (or than anyone would ever want to read!), but this one is very representative of both McKinley’s style and what makes me like Aerin so much:

She had almost enough of the herb she had been worrying about.  After dithering awhile and muttering to herself she decided to go ahead and make as much ointment as she had ingredients for, and fetch more tomorrow.  It was a messy business, and her mind would keep jumping away from the necessary meticulousness; and she knocked over a pile of axe handles and was too impatient to pile them up again and so spent several hours tripping over them and stubbing her toes and using language she had picked up while listening to the sofor, and the thotor, who were even more colorful.  One she was hopping around on one foot and yelling epithets when her other foot was knocked out from under her as well by a treacherous rear assault from a fresh brigade of rolling lumber, and she fell and bit her tongue.  This chastened her sufficiently that she finished her task without further incident.  (75)

If it just weren’t such a fantasy novel!  😉  Truly, this book contains lots of strong characters and the initial set-up goes a long way in depicting what heroism really is.  It’s just a little bit weird for my taste.  Still, a Highly Recommended for the right adult or teen who likes this sort of thing.  (Greenwillow, 1984)

newbery through the decades

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Newbery Through the Decades: The 1990s

newbery through the decadesCan you believe we only have three more months in the Newbery Through the Decades challenge?  Wow!  I’ve enjoyed it SO much, and although I haven’t been able to read as much for it as I’ve wanted to, I’m so glad to have read the books I have gotten to.  In fact, I’m already making plans to do it again in 2016, and I hope you’ll join me!  :-)

Of course, we still have three more decades to explore.  Without further ado, here’s our list for the 1990s:

1999 Medal Winner:   Holes by Louis Sachar

Honor Book:

  • A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck

1998 Medal Winner:   Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Honor Books:

  • Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
  • Lily’s Crossing by Patricia Reilly Giff
  • Wringer by Jerry Spinelli

1997 Medal Winner: The View from Saturday by E.L. Konigsburg

Honor Books:

  • A Girl Named Disaster by Nancy Farmer
  • Moorchild by Eloise McGraw
  • The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner
  • Belle Prater’s Boy by Ruth White

1996 Medal Winner:   The Midwife’s Apprentice by Karen Cushman

Honor Books:

  • What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman
  • The Watsons Go to Birmingham: 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis
  • Yolonda’s Genius by Carol Fenner
  • The Great Fire by Jim Murphy

1995 Medal Winner:    Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech

Honor Books:

  • Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman
  • The Ear, the Eye and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

1994 Medal Winner:  The Giver by Lois Lowry (Houghton)

Honor Books:

  • Crazy Lady by Jane Leslie Conly
  • Dragon’s Gate by Laurence Yep
  • Eleanor Roosevelt: A Life of Discovery by Russell Freedman

1993 Medal Winner: Missing May by Cynthia Rylant

Honor Books:

  • What Hearts by Bruce Brooks
  • The Dark-thirty: Southern Tales of the Supernatural by Patricia McKissack
  • Somewhere in the Darkness by Walter Dean Myers

1992 Medal Winner: Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

Honor Books:

  • Nothing But The Truth: a Documentary Novel by Avi
  • The Wright Brothers: How They Invented the Airplane by Russell Freedman

1991 Medal Winner: Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Honor Book:

  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

1990 Medal Winner: Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
Honor Books:

  • Afternoon of the Elves by Janet Taylor Lisle
  • Shabanu, Daughter of the Wind by Suzanne Fisher Staples
  • The Winter Room by Gary Paulsen

This is definitely the decade for which I’ve read the most titles.  If my memory serves me correctly, I have read seventeen of these, give or take a few.  Alas, I read all of these in my pre-blogging days, so I have no reviews to share from Hope Is the Word.  If someone wants to know what I recommend, though, I’m happy to share.  :-)  Hands down, my favorite title of the bunch is A Long Way from Chicago by Richard Peck.  Peck is a favorite of mine, and he never ceases to amaze me with his ability to blend humor and pathos.  It’s a hilarious, touching, must-read.  Once you meet Grandma Dowdell, you’ll never forget her.
Another title I highly recommend is The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis.  This one captures a child’s perspective in a very volatile time in history, all with a generous helping of humor.  I love it, too.

There are so many good books on this list that I won’t even begin to name names (excepting the two above, my favorites) for fear of leaving someone out.  :-)  As for what I’m going to read, well, I’m focusing on titles I know I haven’t read.   I might pick up one of the nonfiction titles because it’s about time I paid Russell Freedman some attention.  We’ll see what comes my way.

What’s on your TBR list for this month’s challenge?

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Newbery Through the Decades: July link-up

newbery through the decadesGreetings on this hot and humid July afternoon!  I hope you’ve all taken a few minutes even today to enjoy a good book!  This afternoon my big girls were gone with Nana to get some help with a sewing project, so I put a movie on for the DLM while Benny finished up his nap, and I spent a blissful hour or so engrossed in a wonderful new-to-me Newbery winner that happens to be from July’s list.  I’m right in the middle of The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, and I am LOVING it.  I can’t wait to share more about it! Look for a review sometime next week.  :-)

I did share much earlier this month a review of my number one TBR title for this month’s challenge, Homesick:  My Own Story by Jean Fritz.  I enjoyed this one a lot, too, and handed it immediately off to nine year old Louise, who also enjoyed it.

Also, in case you missed it, I also shared my thoughts on Gone-Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright.  This one isn’t from the 1980s; it won an honor in 1958.  However, I just read it aloud to my girls this month, so I thought I’d share it here.

Isn’t it wonderful to finally make time to read some of these books you’ve wanted to read for years?  Yes, it is!  I want to hear all about what you’ve read this month for the challenge.  Please, share in the comments, or link up your blog posts.  Also, be sure to come back tomorrow to chat about August’s challenge!


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Read Aloud Thursday–July 2015


Hello!  How are you all doing these days?  I feel like I’ve been away for most of the summer and only slowly began making my return this month.  We have been in a fairly consistent read-aloud routine, so that‘s something to smile about.  :-)

This has been the summer of Elizabeth Enright.  We have read both Gone-Away Lake and Return to Gone-Away.  We just finished Return to Gone-Away on Tuesday night, so I’m just now sharing my thoughts.  (Do go back and read my short review of the first book in order to get the characters in order.)   This story picks up where the first books ends, more or less, with the Portia and Foster’s family deciding to purchase one of the grand old homes at Gone-Away, the Villa Caprice.  Return to Gone-Away, then, is about their experiences in fixing up this old house, which is full of antiquities and oddities.  There are quite a few adventures and even a mystery, all of the rather mild sort, with just a teensy bit of the creep factor (this being a very old and derelict house).   My favorite part of the story is when Julian and his cronies decide to spend the night in one of the grand old deserted houses (unbeknownst to their families, natch) and spend some terrified moments when their campout is crashed by none other than a billy goat named Uncle Sam (who manages to finish off the tottery old staircase with his clattering and climbing).  Yes, it’s as funny as you might imagine. Another favorite episode is when Portia finds a treasure trove of seashells in the attic of the Villa Caprice, but that’s mostly because we have a resident conchologist at the House of Hope.  In fact, Louise’s bedtime reading this week has been this book, so the obsession runs pretty deep:

Reading of Portia’s discovery was one of those delightfully serendipitous “Oh!  You, too?” moments.  Both girls cited the end, which is a very satisfying conclusion to the mystery of the story, as their favorite part.  Really, the best thing about reading this book for us is the fact that it deals with houses and home, which has been the overarching theme of our summer.  The end of the book says it best:

So at last the new old house had  a new old name to be called by.  Mr. Blake painted the name on a signpost to stand at the entrance of the drive; and Mrs. Blake had it printed at the top of all the letter paper and on the flaps of all the envelopes.

Gradually people began to speak of the place as Amberside, though there were a few diehards who never stopped calling it the Villa Caprice, or, as in the case of Eli Scaynes, the Villa Cay-priss.

But Julian and Joe and Tom and Lucy and Davey never called it anything except “the Blakes’s house”; and Portia and Foster never called it anything but “home.”  All their lives they knew that one of the best things that ever happened to them was to be able to call it that.  (211-12)

{Happy sigh.}  :-)

As always, the very best thing about Enright’s books are the description and characterization.  I shared a quote here that showcases that.  Do we recommend the Gone Away Lake pair?  Yes!  Is it my favorite of Enright’s books?  No.  I will forever and always love the Melendys best.  Any time spent with Enright, though, is time well spent!  (Harcourt, 1961, 1989)

Other Enright reviews here at Hope Is the Word:

Steady Eddie is in the middle of reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud now.  I started it after realizing that the DLM is roughly the age Louise was when I first read it aloud to the girls.  Plus, July is the month for Carrie’s Narnia Challenge, and I wanted to get in on it.  After the first chapter or so, though, I decided to invite Steady Eddie into the fun.  He read the whole Narnia series for the first time earlier this year (!!!), so he was happy to jump in.  Our read aloud routine has almost always revolved around our school day, so it hasn’t always been possible for him to participate.  Now, though, we’re busier than ever during the day, so bedtime is the most consistent read-aloud time for us.  (I’m sure we’ll move back to lunchtime reading, too, as we settle back into a school routine.)  I’ve been in and out of the room, busy, during the reading this time, so I can’t say for sure how well it’s going over, Chronicles of Narnia Reading Challengebut I’m pretty sure it’s a hit.  😉   Just when I think the DLM isn’t listening, he prostrates himself across Steady Eddie’s back (as he‘s lying in the floor) and asks a question, so yes, it’s an unqualified success.  :-)

Picture books aplenty have been consumed this month, but I haven ‘t made note of the more popular titles.  In fact, just as I’m writing this, I hear the DLM “reading” Barnyard Dance aloud to one of the girls (something he loves right now–reading aloud to us!)  Benny just brought Freight Train to me to for us to share, so of course I stopped writing about reading aloud and actually did it.  :-)

I know Steady Eddie has been reading from a collection of Beatrix Potter tales at night to the boys, too, while I’ve read to the girls, and that makes me happy.  :-)

Just when life reaches its craziest, thankfully things (usually!) begin to settle back into place.  That’s the way it has been here, with reading aloud being one of the routines we’ve returned to first.  I’m so thankful for it!

What have you been reading aloud this month?  Please share in the comments!


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WWW: Return to Gone-Away by Elizabeth Enright

This month we’ve spent time with a favorite author, Elizabeth Enright, in two of her summertime stories.  Return to Gone-Away, the second of the pair, is full of delightful descriptions.  This one almost makes me want a kitten.  Almost.  :-)

Mr. Ormond Horton had been as good as his word; he had brought Portia one of his cat’s best kittens.  He (it was a he-kitten) was little and gray, with tabby stripes on his sides like the wavery marks on watered silk, and eyes that were still blue because he was so young.

He did all the things a proper kitten should do.  He romped, rolled, pursued his tail delightfully, tapped at a thimble with his perfect paw.  He could flatten his ears, crouch, growl and stalk like a tiger.  He could purr a miniature purr and wash his face better than Foster could.  At dusk, small though he was, he could be quite alarming as he humped his back up, bushed his tail, and danced sideways eerily at something no one else could see.

Julian had named him, though Portia had planned to.  He had just scopped the kitten up in his hand and said:  “Here you go, Mousenick,” and the name had stuck.

Everybody in the family liked him, and Gulliver and Othello did not mind him.  As for Portia, whenever she looked at him, her heart melted.  (140-141)


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