Cannonball Read IV

A bunch of Pajibans reading and reviewing and honoring AlabamaPink.

Archive for the tag “Newberry Award Winner”

Idgiepug’s CBR#4 Review #58-62: The Chronicles of Prydain by Lloyd Alexander

Having a 7-year-old and working in a high school, I don’t usually play the “kids today have it so easy” card.  Being a kid is HARD now.  However, modern kids do have one big advantage over those of us who grew up in the 80s, and that is the incredible range and scope of children’s literature.  When I was a kid, I had the Chronicles of Narnia, the Chronicles of Prydain, and a now-out-of-print series called the Seven Citadels, and that was about it for good fantasy series.  There was Tolkien, of course, but not a lot of little kids are ready for Tolkien.  Today’s kids have the Warriors, the Owls of Ga’Hoole, How to Train Your Dragon, Harry Potter (of course), and the list goes on and on.

I recently read the Underland Chronicles, which were very good, but I convinced the little pug to let me read the Chronicles of Prydain to him at bedtime, and I was reminded of how much I love these books.  Reading them again was like meeting up with old friends, and, somewhere around book three, I remembered that one of the outstanding features of these books is that they each contribute an integral piece to the story, unlike some more modern series in which some of the books feel a bit repetitive or, unfortunately, like filler.  For example, even though I really like the Underland stories, in each book, you have the same basic set-up: Gregor goes to the Underland and has to go on some terrible quest.  In the Harry Potter series, each book (except the last) centers on Harry’s return to Hogwarts and eventual showdown with evil.

In Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain, however, each novel tells a distinct story that reveals a step in the maturation of Taran, the main character.  In book one, The Book of Three, young Taran is frustrated by his secluded life on a small homestead known as Caer Dallben where he has been raised by a farmer, Coll, and an enchanter, Dallben.  Because he has no title and doesn’t know his parents, Taran complains to Coll who gives him the title Assistant Pig-Keeper because of his work with the enchanter’s oracular pig Hen-Wen.  When Hen-When escapes, Taran takes his new title seriously and dashes off into the forest after her, launching himself on an adventure in which he meets one of Prydain’s greatest warriors; joins a band of companions that includes a hairy, half-man half-beast creature called Gurgi, a king named Fflewdur Flam who prefers barding to ruling, and a lovely and chatty young princess named Eilonwy; and confronts one of the evil henchman of Prydain’s worst bad guy, Arawn.  In the second novel, The Black Cauldron, Taran re-unites with his companions to join a raid on Arawn’s stronghold to re-capture a giant cauldron which Arawn uses to produce deathless warriors known as the cauldron-born.  In The Castle of Llyr, Taran escorts Eilonwy to the Isle of Mona so she can learn to be a lady and discovers his true feelings for her when she is kidnapped.  Taran Wanderer focuses on Taran’s quest to find his parents so that he can, hopefully, ask Eilonwy to marry him when she returns from Mona, but those plans are waylaid when, at the start of the fifth novel, The High King, Taran and his companions learn that the evil Arawn is making his move in an attempt to control Prydain completely.

The last novel in the series won the Newberry Award, and it is the most like a traditional heroic journey tale, which causes some people to unfairly (in my opinion) call the novels a rip-off of Tolkien’s work.  They’re working in the same tradition, but Alexander’s work is obviously geared toward children and is more of a coming-of-age story.  Even though Alexander had a young audience in mind, he’s never condescending.  As I hoped, the books introduced my son to classical fantasy.  He enjoyed them, and I hope, will eventually tackle longer, more elaborate series.

Idgiepug’s CBR#4 Review #49: Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

Checking out the Newberry award winners’ shelf at the library while little Pug browsed the Garfield collection, I saw Jack Gantos’ Dead in Norvelt.  I picked it up for a quick read and enjoyed it a great deal.  It’s a clever coming-of-age-meets-mystery story that feels both familiar and unique.

The novel features a semi-fictional young Jack Gantos who finds himself grounded for the entire summer, primarily as a result of the tension between his parents.  His father has big dreams for himself and the family, including moving out of the dying small town of Norvelt and heading south to Florida, while his mother is practical, frugal, and devoted to Norvelt and its aging population.  Because he’s grounded, Jack actually looks forward to being released to help Mrs. Volker, one of the original Norvelters, as she writes the obituaries of the town’s other original residents.  Mrs. Volker is still bright and active, but arthritis has left her hands virtually useless, so she needs Jack to type up her obituaries.  Once a nurse, she also tries to help Jack with his chronic nosebleeds.  All seems normal at first in the aging town that Eleanor Roosevelt helped establish as a kind of egalitarian utopia, but then some of the deaths begin to seem suspicious, and Jack is pulled into a mystery.

The book features many themes that seem familiar, such as the head-in-the-clouds father and the hardworking, down-to-earth mother, which make the more bizarre moments (and the story does get quite bizarre by the end) more believable.  Kids will enjoy the twists and turns of the mystery, but there’s more going on under the surface.  The book says a lot about family dynamics and the values of small towns.  I could understand Jack’s mother love for Norvelt and felt for those characters who wanted to preserve their little Utopia, but I also felt sorry for Jack’s father and understood why he felt trapped there.  The book was gave me the good, quick read I wanted.

TylerDFC #CBR4 Review 25 #The Giver by #Lois Lowry

In Jonas’ community all choice has been taking away from the citizens. Each year the children achieve a new milestone and new responsibilities until age 12 when they learn what their role in the community will be and start training to that end. Young Jonas is selected to be the community’s new Receiver. That responsibility, and the secrets he learns in this training, force him to confront everything he believes and question everything he has ever known.

The Newberry Award winning young adult book, The Giver, is a very quick read. It is well written and mysterious and does a good job of sucking the reader in to the mysterious world of the story. When Jonas meets the current Receiver, a nameless old man who asks Jonas to call him Giver, he learns that a Receiver is the keeper of the memories of the world. Slowly the Giver transfers his memories to Jonas beginning with a memory of someone sledding down a hill. Jonas experiences these memories as if he is living them and after the memory is complete he is now the sole possessor of the memory. Once the Giver shares the memory with Jonas it is gone from the Giver’s mind. These pleasant experiences soon give way to ones of pain and suffering. It is the Receiver’s burden to keep the memories of the past so that the citizens of the community are unencumbered. Through these memories Jonas sees the hypocrisy of the community and questions if he can go on with the knowledge he has now.

The premise is interesting and fans of post-apocalyptic fiction will enjoy it. The Giver is the first novel in a loosely connected series. I haven’t read the other 3 books yet but I plan to even if for no other reason than the ending leaves everything hanging and nothing answered.

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