Monday, November 29, 2010

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis

Book Jacket

Narnia...the world of wicked dragons and magic spells, where the very best is brought out of even the worst people, where anything can happen (and most often does)...and where the adventure begins.

The Dawn Treader is the first ship Narnia has seen in centuries.  King Caspian has built it for his voyage to find the seven lords, good men whom his evil uncle Miraz banished when he usurped the throne.  The journey takes Edmund, Lucy, and their cousin Eustace to the Eastern Islands, beyond the Silver Sea, toward Aslan's country at the End of the World.


I love C. S. Lewis in all his literary incarnations--I'll take his theology, his space trilogy, his apologetics, and his children's fantasy.  I even took a class that was entirely devoted to the life and works of Lewis while I was in college.  The Narnia series has long been a favorite of mine, and the Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favorite of the seven books.  Each adventure that King Caspian and his crew face becomes more and more thrilling.  By the time they reach the End of the World, I feel like my heart has grown to fill my entire body.  Lewis kills me with his simple truths and his descriptions of places my soul wants to visit.

I love Eustace's story.  It only makes sense that it would take transforming into a dragon for him to learn how to become bearable.  I love the Island of Darkness, and the simple horror of dreams coming true.  The albatross that whispers to Lucy in Aslan's voice, "Courage, dear heart," is one of my favorite passages from all books ever.  And of course I love Aslan, who is firm and loving and always there when he is most needed.  He isn't a tame lion, or in the case of the Dawn Treader, a lamb. 

This is a book that only gets better with age.  Stories that seemed to be mere tales of adventure suddenly are full of depth and spiritual insight.  Lewis is brilliant.  Everyone should read him.

Five out of five talking mice.

Release Date:  1950
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  J LEW and YPL LEW

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

Book Jacket

Jason has a problem. He doesn’t remember anything before waking up in a bus full of kids on a field trip. Apparently he has a girlfriend named Piper, and his best friend is a guy named Leo. They’re all students at the Wilderness School, a boarding school for “bad kids,” as Leo puts it. What did Jason do to end up here? And where is here, exactly? Jason doesn’t know anything – except that everything seems very wrong.

Piper has a secret. Her father, a famous actor, has been missing for three days, ever since she had that terrifying nightmare about his being in trouble. Piper doesn’t understand her dream, or why her boyfriend suddenly doesn’t recognize her. When a freak storm hits during the school trip, unleashing strange creatures and whisking her, Jason and Leo away to someplace called Camp Half-Blood, she has a feeling she’s going to find out, whether she wants to or not.

Leo has a way with tools. When he sees his cabin at Camp Half-Blood, filled with power tools and machine parts, he feels right at home. But there’s weird stuff, too – like the curse everyone keeps talking about, and some camper who’s gone missing. Weirdest of all, his bunkmates insist that each of them – including Leo – is related to a god. Does this have anything to do with Jason’s amnesia, or the fact that Leo keeps seeing ghosts?

Join new and old friends from Camp Half-Blood in this thrilling first book in The Heroes of Olympus series.


We had a launch party for the release of Rick Riordan's newest book (and watched Mr. Riordan himself via the interwebs as he read an excerpt from this book!) back in October, but I resisted using my librarian powers for selfish purposes and signed up on the waiting list like a normal patron.  Well, my turn to read the newest saga of Greek-gods-meets-modern-America has arrived!

Riordan has outdone himself.  Part of my love for this book might stem from the fact that I have gotten used to myths merging with the world I live in, but mostly I think it has to do with some really fully-formed and likable characters.  Jason is the quintessential hero, but he has no memory of who he is, and is therefore crippled with confusion and fear.  Piper is beautiful and sassy, which should by all rights cause me to roll my eyes at yet another dream-girl character, but instead she confronts all those stereotypes and made me admire her.  Leo is hilarious, but he avoids being a useless funny sidekick by realizing he is exactly that--and revealing to us that he is far more scarred than his witty exterior lets on.

I'm amazed at Riordan's depth of psychology, and his gleeful distortion of literary tropes.  Awesome, sir.

But don't let your eyes glaze over in boredom.  The story is fast-paced, with battles and mysteries and hilariously characterized Greek gods and monsters.  The addition of Roman mythology is wonderful--instead of ignoring the fact that our world has two different names for the same gods and goddesses, Riordan weaves it all together in his own Riordan Mythology.

I should also mention that yes, Percy and Annabeth and all the rest appear in this book.  They'll have even bigger parts in the books to come, unless I'm completely off my prediction game.  So there's that, even if you don't love Jason, Piper, and Leo (which you will).

Five out of five mechanical dragons.

Release Date:  October 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 4+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL RIO

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Young Authors Grades 3-5 (November 23, 2010)

Only three months into a monthly program, and already we have a steady clientele!  Granted, it's a small group, but I think these kids more than make up for the small size with their awesome talent.  My goal for the writing clubs we offer at Dunlap Public Library is to introduce students to multiple free writing prompts, to increase their creativity and ability to create quickly, as well as to increase their comfort in sharing their creations with other students.

Today we covered three different prompts.  1)  Write multiple statements that begin with "I am...", 2) Write a poem about a color using that color crayon, and 3) Write a story that begins, "She would not give him the last piece of pie." 

I am constantly amazed at the imaginations these kids have.  I assumed the "I am..." prompt would result in statements about their ages or heights or personalities.  Not so!  Instead I was greeted with statements like "I am a bomb.  I am going to eat you.  I am an invesibele {sic} person."  Or "I am the wrath of my brother.  I am in a secret hideout in the Night Winter Forest.  I am going to stay ten all my life."  Brilliance.

These kids have great minds, and I'm so glad that I get to share in their creativity and craziness for an hour each month.  I hope more 3-5 graders join us on December 21 at 3:00 p.m.!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Behemoth by Scott Westerfeld

Book Jacket

The behemoth is the fiercest creature in the British navy. It can swallow enemy battleships with one bite. The Darwinists will need it, now that they are at war with the Clanker powers.

Deryn is a girl posing as a boy in the British Air Service, and Alek is the heir to an empire posing as a commoner. Finally together aboard the airship Leviathan, they hope to bring the war to a halt. But when disaster strikes the Leviathan’s peacekeeping mission, they find themselves alone and hunted in enemy territory.

Alek and Deryn will need great skill, new allies, and brave hearts to face what’s ahead.


I loved Westerfeld's Uglies series, so when I discovered he had a new series out (first Leviathan, then Behemoth), I jumped to read them.  While I like the futuristic techological story of the Uglies books more, I was still very much caught up in the alternate-history world of Behemoth.  To be honest, World War I never much interested me, but a story that follows Archduke Ferdinand's fictional son on an adventure through Istanbul?  In a world where one side of the war (Clankers) fights with machines and the other side (Darwinists) with fabricated "beasties"?  My interest is piqued.  And not only with the fictional world which Westerfeld created--reading his alternate history made me want to know more about what actually went down in the 1910s.

Alek is a believable aristocrat thrown into the real world.  He is talented and gifted, but his flaws (like an unfortunate inability to keep his identity secret) are realistic enough to gain reader empathy.  Deryn is the perfect soldier, with great instincts and a level head in the heat of battle.  However, she is also a girl.  Both her position in the British military and her unrequited crush on Alek (who simply thinks of her--who Alek thinks is a him--as a friend) could come to disastrous ends if her secret is revealed.

I loved the characters, and that is what makes me love a book.  Added to that is my love for Istanbul and the giddy joy I felt reading about the spices and chaos of the Grand Bazaar.  Behemoth is a quick read, filled with adventure and secrets and skulking around in the night.  Make sure you read Leviathan first, though!

Four out of five stars.

Release Date:  October 2010
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not yet owned by Dunlap.

Family Reading Night (November 18, 2010)

The state of Illinois celebrates Family Reading Night once a year, and Dunlap Public Library joined the fun this year!  We dressed up as characters from our favorite books, drew posters, made bookmarks, and wrote letters to our favorite authors.  Everyone who came also put their name into a drawing for books donated to the library. 

That's me, dressed up as Hermione Granger

Writing to Barbara Park

Making bookmarks

Making a poster for Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy

Book Jacket

Can superhuman Power be used for good or does its exercise always addict the user and end badly?  Will nature rise in revolt against technology?  Would we find everlasting life a bore and a burden? 

These are among the distrubing questions raised by Tolkien's enthralling epic of adventure, The Lord of the Rings.  Tolkien himself hoped that his stories would help his readers become better people, and he consciouusly drew upon some of hte most troubling and challenging themes from mythology, religion, and philosophical tought. 

Professors Bassham and Bronson have recruited a Fellowship of scholars trained in philosophy and also steeped in the lore of Middle-earth, to delve into some of the fascinating issues raised by The Lord of the Rings.  The writers' Quest was to steer clear of both "the webs of wizards" and "the haste of fools," to arrive at a truer understanding of the most magnificent tale of our time.


I've got to own up to my fangirlishness and admit that I was completely and totally in love with J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy (and supplementary books) for four years of my life.  They are still my foundation on which I compare other fantasy epics.  So a book of essays about the moral questions raised in The Lord of the Rings?  I'm so there. 

I mean, really, how is a book not awesome when the dedication is "To the entwives--wherever they may roam."

If you love LotR and you like to think deep thoughts, then you should definitely check this one out. 

Favorite essay:  Tolkien and the Nature of Evil (pg. 99)

Four out of five stars.

Release Date:  August 2003
Reading Level:  Grade 9+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  Not owned by Dunlap.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Book Jacket

Junior is a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian reservation.  Born with a variety of medical problems, he is picked on by everyone but his best friend.  Determined to receive a good education, junior leaves the rez to attend an all-white school in the neighboring farm town where the only other Indian is the school mascot.  Despite being condemned as a traitor to his people and enduring great tragedies, Junior attacks life with wit and humor and discovers a strength inside of himself that he never knew existed. 

Written with raw emotion by accalimed writer Sherman Alexie, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, his first novel for young adults, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one unlucky boy trying to rise above the life everyone expects him to live.


I was given this book for Christmas last year, and it was so engrossing that I read the entire thing in between morning presents and an afternoon with the extended family.  For that alone, I recommend it.

However, it is worthy of praise for much more than its readability.  Alexie revealed a new world to me; the story is a semi-authobigraphical story of his own adolescence growing up on a Spokane Indian reservation.  Junior, the narrator, is an intelligent and ambitious high school freshman who is caught between his Native American heritage and the future that seems to be possible only through integration into white society.

While that sounds heavy-handed, the book is anything but.  Junior maintains a sense of humor even when addressing the depressing issues of alcoholism and poverty that are prevelent on the reservation.  Much of his personality is revealed through cartoons that he "tapes" onto the pages.  He is an awesome kid who is trying to make his way in the world without abandoning those who are not as ambitious as he.

I loved the book.  There are some mature themes, so I wouldn't recommend it for all ages, but adults and mature teens should definitely give it a read.  It's funny, it's sad, and it will make you think.

Five out of five stars.

Release Date:  September 2007
Reading Level:  Grade 7+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL ALE

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

Book Jacket

Blending rich elements of Welsh legend and universal mythology, Lloyd Alexander creates the imaginary kingdom of Prydain to tell a tale of enchantment, both good and evil, and of the Assistant Pig-Keeper who wants to become a hero.

In an enthralling chronicle, Taran, Assistant Pig-Keeper to a famous oracular sow, sets out on a hazardous mission to save Prydain from the forces of evil.  He meets adventures in which humor and high valor are blended in a way that will keep readers of many ages completely absorbed--for this is fantasy that is rooted in reality and truth.

For, as Mr. Alexander says in his introductory note: "Most of us are called on to perform tasks far beyond what we believe we can do.  Our capabilities seldom match our aspirations, and we are often woefully unprepared.  To this extent, we are all Assistant Pig-Keepers at heart.


A 5th grader in my last book club recommended that I read The Book of Three.  It's an old school fantasy in which a young kid is swept into events bigger than he can imagine, which is pretty much the setting for all of my favorite books ever. Since a couple of my favorite author/bloggers claim Alexander's Chronicles of Prydain as influential to their reading lives, I figured this was a safe bet for an entertaining read.

I have to admit I was a little disappointed.  I don't think I've ever said this about a book before, but I felt like this one became too epic too quickly.  Before I could get my head into Alexander's world of Prydain, Taran (the boy protagonist) is following runaway pigs, facing evil villians with pretty faces, and castles are crumbling.  It all felt too contrived.  Of course the kid who dreams of glory will immediately run into the man he idolizes, who will naturally take him under his wing even though the kid is mostly useless.  The ending was similarly quick and too neatly wrapped up.  The bad guy was defeated before I really had a chance to fear him.

And on a completely personal preference, I just don't like when books give characters unpronouncable names.  I don't care if it looks cool--fantasy doesn't necessitate ridiculousness.  Sure, sure, Alexander was channeling the Welsh, and maybe they had names like Eilonwy or Arawn, but it's too many Ws for my taste.

I did, however, love Eilonwy.  Her stream of consciousness conversations with herself are hilarious.  She's very slightly unhinged, which is perfect for the neice of an evil enchantress who joins the good fight just to spite her aunt. 

Although I never really liked Taran, which is not great since he is the main character, I did appreciate what Alexander did with his character.  Taran is known throughout the book as an Assistant Pig-Keeper, but despite his low-status job, he is determined to do his part in a quest that is much bigger than anything he could have prepared for.  It's been better done in other books (I'm looking at you, Frodo) but the idea is still inspiring.

I will probably read the rest of the series at some point in the future, so I guess it was decent.  However, it was definitely not a page turner.

Three out of five stars.

Release Date:  1964
Reading Level:  Grade 3+
Where In Dunlap Public Library's Collection:  YPL ALE