young adult fiction

The Witch of Blackbird Pond – Historical fiction for young and old

witch of blackbird pond“No, writing is not lonely. It is a profession crowded with life and sound and color. I feel privileged to have had a share in it.” —Elizabeth George Speare

Elizabeth George Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, on November 21, 1908 and lived all her life in New England. She described her early writing days and the development of her first novel, The Witch of Blackbird Pond (the 1959 Newbery Award winner):

I turned naturally to the things which had filled my days and thoughts and began to write magazine articles about family living. Then one day I stumbled on a true story from New England history with a character who seemed to me an ideal heroine. Though I had my first historical novel almost by accident it soon proved to be an absorbing hobby.” Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994)

The result was a deeply layered reading experience with a vivid heroine, Kit Tyler, who is imperfect and endearing. In1687, Kit, an orphan, loses both home and guardian when her grandfather dies and his estate on the Caribbean island of Barbados defaults to his creditors. She must sail to Connecticut colony to live with her Aunt Rachel who has married a staunch Puritan, Matthew Wood.

On the voyage up the Atlantic seaboard, Kit makes friends with the sea captain’s son, Nat Eaton, as well as a serious young minister, John Holbrook, also heading for the same town. Later, William Ashby, son of the richest man in town becomes a suitor approved by Kit’s Uncle Matthew.

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I remember thoroughly enjoying the romance woven into the tale when I first read the novel as a young teen. Recently, when I read the book to my own daughters, I found myself using the story and its characters to give them a life lesson on finding a compatible marriage partner.

Despite the kindness of her relatives, willful, spoiled, lonesome Kit cannot seem to adjust to Puritan life and suffers greatly. She finds solace in the meadows outside the town, and soon meets Hannah, an old Quaker woman who has been ostracized for her different beliefs and lives a serene and misunderstood life far from the town and surrounding farms.

“Tis a strange thing, that the only friends I have I found in the same way, lying flat in the meadows, crying as if their hearts would break.” (Hannah)

While their friendship brings Kit much joy, it also later leads to peril as Kit is accused of witchcraft.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond is not a historical lesson on 17th century witch hunts disguised as fiction. The setting and time period are well researched, but the complex plot and the characters’ growth brings this young adult novel to life and earns it my highest rating and recommendation for children 10 and older and adults who either missed it in their youth or want to re-read it.

Other young adult fiction titles by Elizabeth George Speare:

The Bronze Bow

The Sign of the Beaver

Calico Captive

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Are You Ready to Be Scared? Fantasy by Jonathan Stroud

Lockwood and Co.“Between the ages of seven and nine I was often ill, and spent long periods in hospital and at home in bed. During this time I escaped from boredom and frustration by reading furiously: books littered my bedroom floor like bones in a lion’s cave. I tended to enjoy stories of magical adventure more than ones about real life – I think this was because they provided a more complete escape. Around this time I fell in love with fantasy.” Jonathan Stroud (www.jonathanstroud.com)

Jonathan Stroud is a wonderful wordsmith and a skilled world maker. His two fantasy series, Lockwood & Co. and The Bartimaeus Sequence, employ supernatural beings that frighten and intrigue the reader.

I’ve read The Screaming Staircase and The Whispering Skull in the Lockwood & Co. series and am looking forward to getting my hands on the third novel, The Hollow Boy, which has just been published.

Mr. Stroud uses his home turf, the City of London, as his setting, but has masterfully altered it to create a fantasy world in which “The Problem” has occurred, an invasion of ghostly hauntings that frighten and often kill the human residents. A culture of children and teen warriors has arisen to do serious battle with these malevolent apparitions.

Anthony Lockwood, Lucy Carlyle, and George Cubbins make up the members of the maverick agency Lockwood & Co. that dares to venture out at night to solve ghostly hauntings without the supervision of adults. Lucy, a teen girl with the dubious gift of hearing ghosts joins in the adventures of the two boys who inhabit a rambling three-story house in the city.

I am not a believer in ghosts, but I found myself irresistibly pulled into the world Mr. Stroud created.  Swords at their sides, intrepid “agents” risk their lives locating the source of the ghosts – often a burial ground, beloved object, or murder site. Ancient wrongs are righted, people are protected, and human evildoers are unmasked. Weapons that work on the supernatural creatures include salt bombs, magnesium flares, iron chains, and silver rapiers.

I was introduced to Jonathan Stroud’s writing in his earlier New York Times bestselling series: The Bartimaeus Sequence: The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye, Ptolemy’s Gate, and The Ring of Solomon.

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In the Bartimaeus books, the people who sought to harness the power of demons have become evil themselves (which is a fair warning to resist summoning evil spirits). These demonic slaves nurse an abiding hatred for their human masters and ceaselessly seek to escape – to destroy, kill, and then return to their hellish home. Nathaniel, an inexperienced, yet arrogant magician’s apprentice, encounters Kitty, a member of the Resistance, and finds himself rethinking his role in the governmental system that has placed power in the hands of corrupt officials who use it to further their own selfish interests.

Both the Lockwood and Co. Series and the Bartimaeus Sequence contain story lines and world building that are based on a view that the occult world, be it demonic or ghostly, is dangerous and opposed to the wellbeing of humans.   This was comforting to me because I threw away my ouija board as a teenager, and as an adult, continue to have nothing to do with contacting the evil spiritual world. I would like to point out that the demon Bartimaeus is a sympathetic character that incongruously develops some concern for his human counterparts. This puts him in an odd “good demon” category.

As a fantasy author, Mr. Stroud never opens a window into the Heavenly realm, nor does he bring in the helpful services of angels or the power of a benevolent God to work on behalf of the beleaguered people in his stories.  It is best lockwood & co. 3if the reader enters Mr. Stroud’s fantasy worlds without expecting a Christian worldview.  Taking that into consideration, these two series are delightfully scary, interesting and penned by an excellent storyteller.

Categories: British novels, Children's Books, Fantasy, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Plan Ahead for Summer Reading

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt’s almost summertime and I am pushing my “read more” agenda again! Here are some specific ideas for getting more from your reading this summer:

1) Read more – set higher personal reading goals! Summer reading is a special experience because is often takes place out of doors, on a beach or a porch swing. We can allow ourselves a large allocation of time to read during this season because our routine is changing as we welcome our children home from school and make vacation plans.

My goal: Read a minimum of an hour a day June -August.

2) Connect with others in your reading! Reading is not a solitary happening, but a satisfying conduit for building common experiences. Use your inner circle’s reading recommendations – children, spouses, parents, librarians, and friends. Target your children’s favorite book and watch their pleasure as you become familiar with the plots and characters they love.

My goal: Read The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

3) Stretch your mental muscles! All have the capacity to enjoy a classic book. Although there is no harm in seeking a “light” read; the mental challenge in reading classic literature propels you into new depths — past the shallow water of superficial plots and stereotypical characters.

My goal: Read The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

4) Re-read a childhood favorite! Go down memory lane and enjoy that classic children’s book again. Perhaps a family member might join you in this endeavor, but even when you read something independently, you can still take time to share excerpts that you felt most impacted by; whether it be humorous, serious, or touching.

My goal: Read Winnie-The-Pooh by A.A. Milne.4cd2e-the_sweetness_at_the_bottom_of_the_pie

5) Listen to an audio version of a book! On a family car trip or even during your mundane work commute, pop in an audio book and enjoy a good story as the miles roll by.  As a side effect, if your children are listening too, audio versions of books allow them to participate and experience literature above their own reading level.

My goal: Listen to the fourth book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Book #1 is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – all the books are narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwhistle)

6) Be a good reading example to others! Maybe this summer is the time to read purely for enjoyment. Others watch what you do more than what you say, so if you especially want your spouse or children to pick up a book in their spare time, – to “read for pleasure” – as the phrase goes, then you must do the same.  Show them by example that reading isn’t always work!

My goal: to put up my feet in the daytime and read when the chores are not yet done.

7) Hit the library! Make use of your tax dollars and browse the local library for good ideas and free books to borrow. Library summer reading programs for kids and adults help direct our goals to increase reading with their prizes and recognition.

My goal: Sign us all up for the Dauphin County Library summer reading program on June 1st.

da69a-girl-reading1So, enjoy some special reading adventures this summer and please tell me about them!

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, British novels, Chick lit, Children's Books, Christian Fiction, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Mystery, Read Aloud, Romantic Fiction, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Lord of the Rings Trilogy: Don’t Go Alone

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” (African proverb)

Lord of the RingsThis is my 58th Pine needles and Paper trails blog post and I am finally writing about my favorite book of all time. Why did I put off publicly declaring my eternal love for the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Most likely because I was certain my limited vocabulary and imperfect writing could never do justice to J.R.R. Tolkien’s fantasy masterpiece.

Here goes.

The Fellowship of the Ring, the first book in the trilogy entitled “The Lord of the Rings”, was first published in 1954 by J.R.R. Tolkien, a literary giant and a close friend of C.S. Lewis (“The Chronicles of Narnia”). These men produced fantasy stories that profoundly impacted their own generation and ours, and set the bar high for all fantasy writers who came after them.

If you enjoyed the movies directed by Peter Jackson, many more delights await you in the novels. In my opinion, the movies were brilliantly cast and filmed with breathtaking cinematography, but were disappointingly truncated because this tale is so intricate.

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Entire characters, locations, and action in the narrative were ruthlessly hacked off on the cinematic chopping block, never to be brought to life on the silver screen. I understand the filmmaker’s limitations. However, to honor Tolkien’s life work, we simply must read the entire narrative (or listen to an unabridged audio version).

I love the way Tolkien develops each character and shows the reader the complex relationships between them. One example of this rich character development is that the first “fellowship” in The Fellowship of the Ring consists of the hobbits who band together to take the Ring from its hidden life in the Shire to Rivendell to gain the wisdom of elves and men.

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Frodo Baggins, our unlikely hero, believes he must go alone and tries to sneak off on his journey, bravely risking his life. However, the original story directly contradicts the movie scenes because his hobbit friends conspire to help him: loyal Samwise (“Sam”) Gamgee and three other hobbits: Meriadoc (“Merry”) Brandybuck  , Peregrine (“Pippin”) Took, and Fredegar (“Fatty”) Bolger.

When Frodo discovers what his faithful friends have planned, he protests:

“’Sam!’ cried Frodo, feeling that amazement could go no further, and quite unable to decide whether he felt angry, amused, relieved, or merely foolish.

’Yes, sir!’ said Sam. ‘Begging your pardon, sir! But I meant no wrong to you, Mr. Frodo, nor to Mr. Gandalf for that matter, He has some sense, mind you; and when you said go alone, he said ‘no! take someone as you can trust.’

‘But it does not seem that I can trust anyone,’ said Frodo.

Sam looked at him unhappily. ‘ It all depends on what you want,’ put in Merry. ‘You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin – to the bitter end. And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours – closer than you keep it yourself. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is. We know most of what Gandalf has told you. We know a good deal about the Ring. We are horribly afraid – be we are coming with you; or following you like hounds.” (The Fellowship of the Ring, p. 118)

The hobbits hope to escape the terrifying Black Riders and arrive safely in the Elven sanctuary to bring the Ring of power to those who would form an effective plan to keep the weapon away from Sauron, the Dark Lord. “Fatty “ stays behind in the Shire to play his part in a less perilous way.

The Lord of the Rings 3

I forewarned my teenaged daughter when she began reading the trilogy that Tolkien was given to lengthy descriptions of flora, fauna, rocks, paths and streams. I explained that the adventure was mostly lived out on foot and it took an excruciatingly long time to get from one location to another. This literary device communicates to the reader that the quest was arduous.  Unlike many modern novels, the protagonists sleep and eat and drink along the way, depicting the real pace of life and their human frailty.

If you decide to take on the challenge of reading the trilogy and “do the math”, roughly 400-500 pages per book times three novels, it will require a serious time commitment. Not to brag, but I have done so three times. I believe I am ready for my fourth; it’s just that wonderful.

My favorite edition of the trilogy was published in 2002 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. The hardcover books boast beautiful color illustrations by Alan Lee who explained his artistic style:

“In illustrating The Lord of the Rings I allowed the landscapes to predominate. In some of the scenes the characters are so small they are barely discernible. This suited my own inclinations and my wish to avoid, as much as possible, interfering with the pictures being built up in the reader’s mind, which tends to be more closely focused on characters and their inter-relationships. I felt my task lay in shadowing the heroes on their epic quest, often at a distance, closing in on them at times of heightened emotion but avoiding trying to re-create the dramatic highpoints of the text.” Alan Lee

Lord of the Rings 4

The Fellowship of the Ring, The Two Towers, and The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien

Categories: British novels, Classics, Fantasy, Inspiration, Read Aloud, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

The Screwtape Letters – More from C.S. Lewis for Narnia Fans

screwtape 1C.S. Lewis may be best known for his seven children’s novels called The Chronicles of Narnia (which I adore by the way and have blogged on a few times already). However, another jewel in the crown of his literary and apologetic achievements is the notable epistolary novel The Screwtape Letters. Author C.S. Lewis masterfully composed letters from the fictional demon “Uncle Screwtape” to his nephew “Wormwood”. Screwtape offers diabolical advice on how to tempt Wormwood’s human assignment. Lewis writes letters solely from Screwtape’s perspective and cleverly alludes to what Wormwood has previously written.

Although the book was written for adults, teen readers may find themselves able to comprehend the underlying truths: “These letters from veteran devil Screwtape to his novice nephew Wormwood shed more humbling light on the spiritual weaknesses of people than they do on the state of supernatural beings. Wit and wisdom combine to aid us all to discern better the traps of the Evil One.” Honey for a Teen’s Heart by Barbara Hampton and Gladys Hunt

Our family enjoyed listening to the wonderful 2009 Focus on the Family Radio Theatre production of The Screwtape Letters with the vocal talents of Andy Serkis who played the character of Gollum in the Lord of the Rings films.

One must continually keep in mind that C.S. Lewis’ used the irony of “hearing from a devil” to stir our minds and hearts to encounter old truths in a fresh way. Hopefully, the following excerpts of the wit and wisdom of C.S. Lewis may whet your appetite to read or re-read this classic. (Screwtape refers to God as “the Enemy” in all his letters):

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“At present the Enemy says ‘Mine’ of everything on the pedantic, legalistic ground that He made it: Our Father hopes in the end to say ‘Mine’ of all things on the more realistic and dynamic ground of conquest.”

“All extremes, except extreme devotion to the Enemy, are to be encouraged.”

“He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. In a word, the Future, is of all things, the thing least like eternity – for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays.”

“The aim is to guide each sex away from those members of the other with whom spiritually helpful, happy, and fertile marriage are most likely.”

“Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground.”

“He would therefore have them continually concerned with eternity…or else obeying the present voice of conscience, bearing the present cross, receiving the present grace, giving thanks for the present pleasure.”

Several articles from C.S. Lewis aficionado, Brenton Dickieson of www.apilgriminnarnia.com offer a more in-depth look at the Scewtape Letters. http://apilgriminnarnia.com/2014/01/20/impossible-beauty/

Categories: British novels, Classics, Fantasy, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Cheaper By the Dozen – Quirky and Profound

cheaper by the dozen 3Cheaper By the Dozen, the memoirs of two of the twelve children born to Frank B. Gilbreth, Sr. (“Dad”) and Lillian Moller Gilbreth (“Mother”), was an instant hit upon its publication in 1948. Hollywood made a movie of the story shortly afterward, in 1950, starring Clifton Webb and Myrna Loy.

This true story weaves anecdotes of the quirky Gilbreth tribe together with an unmistakably strong cord of familial affection; “Dad” and “Mother” love each other unreservedly and welcome each new “model” with delight.   Even in the 1920s, a family with twelve children was an anomaly, but these parents eschewed convention, followed their hearts, and discovered creative ways to deflect the pitying or disapproving reactions of others.

According to Frank Jr.’s and Ernestine’s account, their mother and father jointly decided to have a large family – an even dozen, discussing it on their honeymoon and making a pact to try to achieve their goal. With no twins, “Mother” successfully gave birth to and raised their hoped-for dozen.

The stories inside the 180 pages of Cheaper By the Dozen, albeit full of wry humor, are inextricably linked to the Frank’s and Lillian’s professional contributions. In contrast, the modern movie, Cheaper By the Dozen, released in 2003, starring Steve Martin and Bonnie Hunt, while charming, lacks the vital connection to the real-life parents who pioneered the field of motion study and engineering improvements; the modern movie dad is a football couch and the mother, an author, writes only about family life.

As a parent, “Dad” carried on the legacy of his own mother: “Dad’s mother, Grandma Gilbreth, believed that her children were fated to make important marks in the world and that her first responsibility was to educate them so they would be prepared for their rendezvous with destiny.” (Cheaper By the Dozen)

When financial privation steered young Frank away from his aspiration to attend MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), he made his own way, rising from bricklaying work to his eventual calling as an efficiency expert.

“Dad” couldn’t help but use his large family as a “laboratory” for his experiments in increasing productivity and making work easier. The most bizarre example included having his children’s tonsillectomies filmed to help improve surgical efficiency.

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The adult children who authored Cheaper By the Dozen seemed fond and proud of their parents, taking all the idiosyncrasies in stride:

“Dad offered his services to President Woodrow Wilson at the start of World War I with the following telegram: ‘Arriving Washington 7:03 p.m. train. If you don’t know how to use me, I’ll tell you how.’”

“Mother was a Phi Beta Kappa and a psychology graduate of the University of California. In those days women who were scholars were viewed with some suspicion. When Mother and Dad were married, the Oakland paper said: ‘Although a graduate of the University of California, the bride is nonetheless an extremely attractive young woman.’”

In her autobiography As I Remember, Lillian described herself as “shy and bookish”, yet she was the perfect partner for brilliant and ambitious Frank. Anna M. Lewis describes young Lillian as having“ a knack for time management and organization that was beginning to show itself. She would carefully calculate how long the streetcar trip was from home to school.” (Women of Steel and Stone: 22 Inspirational Architects, Engineers, and Landscape Designers)

The couple’s collaboration and mutual respect extended throughout their marriage. Frank convinced Lillian to get her doctorate in psychology after their first four children had been born.

SPOILER ALERT: The authors’ foreword in my edition of the novel warned me that tragedy loomed ahead for the family;  Frank died young, at age 55. The novel ends with this event and the heroic actions of his widow to carry the load of both their professional work and family life.

“Dad” had a bad heart and knowing his time was limited, set out to give his children the best home education possible. His was not a motivation of pure eccentricity, though many of his ideas seemed peculiar. “It was also why he had organized the house on an efficiency basis, so that it would operate smoothly without supervision; so that the older children would be responsible for the younger ones. He knew a load was going to be thrown on Mother, and he wanted to lessen it as much as he could.” (Cheaper By the Dozen)

After Frank’s death, Lillian continued to work in the industrial design field. In her research, she brought time motion and efficiency into the home and kitchen to find the one best way to perform household tasks. Among the many ideas Lillian implemented for aiding the handicapped, was a design of an ideal kitchen layout for the disabled homemaker or veteran. (Women of Steel and Stone)

cheaper by the dozen 1In later years, Lillian became a professor of management at Purdue University, received over twenty honorary degrees, and, above all, loved her family.

On the Dedication page of their heart-warming book, Frank Jr. and Ernestine offer a profound tribute to their parents:

“To Dad who only reared twelve children.“

“To Mother who reared twelve only children.”

The sequel, Belles On Their Toes, also authored by Frank B. Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey, picks up with the family’s adventures after the death of their beloved “Dad”.

Categories: Autobiography, Biography, Children's Books, Classics, Humorous, Inspiration, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Boys Read? Are You Serious?

“Explore, build, conquer – you don’t have to tell a boy to do those things for the simple reason that it is his purpose. But it’s going to take risk, and danger, and there’s the catch. Are we willing to live with the level of risk that God invites us to?”

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

See! A boy is reading in this candid photo.

John Eldredge, Wild at Heart, 2001:Thomas Nelson Publishers

Good books can help build the man. The young boy needs all the help he can get to rise up to the heights of his unique calling. Through stories that flesh out endurance, sacrifice, and fighting for the right, he can attain his destiny. A well-rounded male protagonist demonstrates to the young reader that success must be hard-won and involves taking risks and will inspire him to believe he can make a difference.

John Eldredge claims in Wild at Heart that “Life is not a problem to be solved; it is an adventure to be lived. That’s the nature of it and has been since the beginning when God set the dangerous stage for this high-stakes drama and called the whole wild enterprise good.  He rigged the world in such a way that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives, which is to say when we live by faith.  A man just won’t be happy until he’s got adventure in his work, in his love, and in his spiritual life.” (p. 238)

Fictional stories well-told can breathe on the embers that lie dormant in all boys and men, fanning the flames of their strength and power, and enabling them to rise up and do big things for their families and the good of others.

These great “boy books” offer plots and settings that show the resolution of a boy’s inner conflicts: “Do you think I can do this?” “Am I any good?” “Am I heroic?” Our world needs men who use their strength for the protection of others — men who overcome and walk out their bigger purpose.

The titles listed here represent a few stories that showcase a male character facing adventure, danger, and risk. My list is eclectic and loosely organized into recommended age categories. Keep in mind that often a good book will be a wonderful reading experiences for many age groups.

Pre-Teen:

The Narnia Chronicles by C.S. Lewis – each book offers a heroic and YOUNG protagonist, e.g. Peter, Edmund, Shasta, Eustace, Caspian

The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop – William is off on a quest into a fantasy world

Honus & Me by Dan Gutman – one of 5 “Baseball Card Adventures” – a boy goes back in time to meet his sports hero.

The Matchlock Gun by Walter Edmonds – a young boy must defend his family against Indian attack

The Bears on Hemlock Mountain by Alice Dalgliesh – a boy must find out for himself if there are bears on the mountain

The Whipping Boy by Sid Fleischman – a spoiled prince and a commoner team up for adventures

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes – a silversmith apprentice in Revolutionary Era Boston finds his courage

My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George – a runaway survives in New York’s Catskill Mountains

Mid-Teen:

The Pendragon Cycle by Stephen Lawhead – wonderful re-telling of King Arthur and Merlin

Call Me Francis Tucket by Brian Paulsen – a 14 year old faces trials in 1800’s American West

Hatchet by Brian Paulsen – a teenager must survive alone in the Canadian wilderness

Little Britches by Ralph Moody – a heart-warming saga of pioneer life in Montana in the 1800s

The Bronze Bow by Elizabeth George Speare – a young boy faces dangers in Palestine at the time of Christ

Late Teen:

God’s Smuggler by Brother Andrew – a Dutch missionary smuggles Bibles behind the Iron Curtain

Midshipman Hornblower by C.S. Forester – a British naval midshipman endures hardships during the Napoleonic War

Last of the Breed by Louis L’Amour – an escaped American soldier evades captures in Soviet Siberia

Treasure Island, Kidnapped, or The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson

Categories: Biography, Children's Books, Inspiration, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

A Double Header: The Outsiders and The Cross and the Switchblade: Gangs, Violence, and Redemption

The OutsidersThe Outsiders, written in 1963, speaks in the voice of a 14-year-old boy, “Ponyboy” Curtis, who struggles to find his way in the midst of the gang violence in his hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma. In The Outsiders, the rival gangs, the Socs and the Greasers are separated by economics, not race or geographic location.

S.E. Hinton began writing the novel when she was just fifteen in response to a ruthless beating a friend received at the hands of “The Socs”, the gang of teens represented by the wealthy members of her city. Her main character, Ponyboy, puts into words the angst of surviving in a society that leaves adolescents to their own devices, either through benign neglect or outright abuse.

Ponyboy’s situation differs from the other characters in the novel in that he has two older brothers who truly love him and look after him. The three brothers stick together after their parents are killed in a car crash and try to maintain a clean house so that they aren’t pulled apart by Social Services. Darry, age 20, is the oldest brother, who sacrifices his future plans to work and hold the family together.

Events in the lives of the boys take a dramatic turn for the worse and make for a suspenseful and tragic story. “Many of the issues that adolescents in the novel face are still very prevalent today. Teenage suicide, pregnancy, smoking, drinking, and the importance of staying in school are still areas of concern for teens. Perhaps the only area that is missing is illegal drug use. Today, undoubtedly, at least one gang member would be using an illegal drug.” http://www.cliffnotes.com

The 1983 movie, “The Outsiders” starred Rob Lowe, Tom Cruise, Ralph Macchio, and C. Thomas Howell, among others.

The-Cross-and-the-Switchblade-292322The Cross and the Switchblade by David Wilkerson, deals straightforwardly with life-threatening heroin drug addiction in its story of redemption of gang members in New York City in the early 1960s.

One of the most hardened gang members, Nicky Cruz, recounts how as the president of the Mau Maus, he was the most ruthless in his violent acts, even to the point of murder. When the skinny preacher from rural Pennsylvania showed up on the streets of his city, Cruz mocked and spit at him, but Wilkerson persevered, giving him the message that Jesus loved him, and stayed in the city to establish the first house for rehabilitation for drug addicts and other homeless teens.

The Cross and the Switchblade documents the transformation of Wilkerson’s own life as he followed the seemingly irrational call of God to the streets of New York City and the amazing changes that took place in the thrown-away teens that society had given up on.

Published in 1962, the autobiography sold more than 15 million copies in 30 languages, and was later made into a movie in 1970 starring Pat Boone and Erik Estrada. Another autobiography, Run, Baby, Run tells the life story of Nicky Cruz, who is still actively traveling and speaking to teens about life transformation through the Holy Spirit.

Tragically, David Wilkerson died in a car accident in 2011, but his legacy lives on in the Teen Challenge centers helping those struggling with addiction, and the Times Square Church founded in 1987. Wilkerson’s son and ministry partner, Gary Wilkerson, is releasing this September the full story of father’s life in David Wilkerson: The Cross, the Switchblade, and the Man Who Believed.

Categories: Autobiography, Inspiration, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Divergent by Veronica Roth– Pineneedles Goes Popular

Veronica Roth’s first published novel Divergent (publication 2011) hit the young adult fiction world with a great splash. Following it are two more novels in the trilogy: Insurgent and Allegiant. I have only read Divergent, so I beg my readers to refrain from imbedding “spoilers” about the plot line or fate of the characters in your comments.

Divergent is about a young woman named Beatrice Prior (“Tris”) who lives in a futuristic Chicago that is divided in to five factions called Dauntless, Abnegation, Erudite, Amity, and Candor. Each faction is dedicated to cultivating a particular virtue in its members: bravery (Dauntless), selflessness (Abnegation), intelligence (Erudite), compassion (Amity), and honesty (Candor). Tris grew up in Abnegation, where she has always felt stifled, but at the age of sixteen, she will have the opportunity to choose which faction she wants to belong to for the rest of her life –but if she leaves Abnegation, she’ll also have to leave her family, and there’s no going back.” Veronica Roth, www.veronicarothbooks.com

Divergent

The dystopian world created by Roth features a re-organized government in war-ravaged Chicago that works tirelessly to keep order, but allows for little free will and the protagonist, Tris, needs more and is more than boxed in conformity. As the tale unfolds, her divergence shakes the entire foundation of this skewed society.

Tris’s faction trainer and love interest, Tobias “(Four”), explains his epiphany about the flaw in the Faction system: “’I think we’ve made a mistake,’ he says softly. ‘We’ve all started to put down the virtues of the other factions in the process of bolstering our own. I don’t want to do that. I want to be brave, and selfless, and smart, and kind, and honest.’ He clears his throat. ‘I continually struggle with kindness.’” (Divergent, p. 405)

Numerous other themes run through this young adult series that I look forward to processing, including the questions: what is our core identity? how do we obtain the freedom to grow in it?

It looks like Roth got ahead of herself while studying for her creative writing degree at Northwestern University as her author bio reads: “while she was a student she often chose to work on the story that would become Divergent instead of doing her homework”. This quirky comment inspires me as an author to write creatively in the midst of other responsibilities.

Roth continues to pour forth stories set in her futuristic world, told from the perspective of Tobias: Free Four, The Transfer, The Initiate, The Son, and The Traitor.

Also available for Divergent fans is the movie of the same name released in March 2014 and starring Shailene Woodley, Theo James, Ashley Judd, Ansel Elgort and a stunning cast of excellent actors and actresses. I was one of the “see the movie first” fans, and then played catch up by reading the novel.

divergent moviehttp://www.imdb.com/title/tt1840309/?ref_=ttfc_fc_tt

As an endnote, I would like to promote the value of cultural literacy, different from literacy in general, that allows us to interact knowledgeably with others in the broader world around us. Although I have parameters regarding what I expose myself to in popular movies, media and books, many offerings from these sources excel in describing what is happening in the minds and hearts of our fellow world citizens and give me the means of connecting with people of different ages and beliefs.

Please note: unlike other books I have recommended, this novel has an element of sensuality as the “chemistry” between the main characters is described in several scenes.

 

Categories: Chick lit, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

The Newbery Medal – Creative Children’s Literature

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In 1922, the Newbery Award became the first children’s book award in the world.  Named for 18th-century English bookseller John Newbery, the award fulfills the following purpose: “to encourage original creative work in the field of books for children. To emphasize to the public that contributions to literature for children deserve similar recognition to poetry, plays, or novels.”

A valuable aspect of the award is the honor it gives librarians, recognizing their life work to serve children’s reading interests. The panel of judges is made up of children’s librarians from pubic and private schools (members of the American Library Association). They choose the most distinguished American children’s book published the previous year. Although only a single book wins each year, several runners-up, listed as “Newberry Honor Books”, receive high marks and embossed seals on their covers as well.

The focus of the award – “original and creative work” – highlights two values I personally esteem in literature.   Writers and book publishers inundate children with copycat stories that get churned out in an attempt to follow the popularity flow. Movie producers often pursue the same “follow the leader” strategy to insure high box office sales in the film medium. In contrast, the Newbery Medal offers originality.

The first winner of the Newbery Medal was a history book, The Story of Mankind by Hendrik Willem van Loon. Next up was the whimsical fantasy,The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting that won in 1923. Two stories which are more current and accessible due to recent book-to-movie efforts are the 1999 Winner: Holes by Louis Sachar and the 2004 Winner: The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread by Kate DiCamillo.

I recently re-read the 1972 Newbery winner, Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIHM by Robert C. O’Brien. This fantasy tale brings the reader into the lives of lab rats who escape their scientist captors and seek to establish their own society, one built upon self-reliance. The central tenet of their Great “Plan” is to live without stealing, unlike their rat ancestors.Mrs. Frisby

Mild-mannered Mrs. Frisby, the widow of lab mouse, Jonathan Frisby, steers her difficult course by the compass of familial love and finds unlikely allies in the rats of NIHM.

Mr. O’Brien wove a fantasy story that charms more than it scares the young reader. The author died only a few years after the publication of Mrs. Frisby, which makes me wonder what more he would have written given the opportunity. The ending of the book left me with several questions: What happened to the rats of NIMH; did they make a success of their new home in Thorn Valley? Did the Frisby mouse children grow up to do great exploits like their heroic father?

As I researched the Newbery Award for this blog post, I read the list of 92 winners out loud to my teen daughters and was chagrined to find that they only recognized 10% of the books on the list. I myself have missed out on numerous titles since I only read the Newbery books that were published when I was a child and then later those winners promoted on homeschool curriculum book lists.

Better get cracking!

Check out link to the Newbery list and send me a comment with your favorite winner! I would like to send out a prize – my first ever on pineneedlesandpapertrails- to the reader with the most Newbery titles read, so shoot me a total (honor system).

Update:  Winner Winner Chicken Dinner to blogger Susan Lea  of http://mimiswardrobe.wordpress.com who has read 76 of these titles!  Wow! Here is her response to this contest:  “I have read (or at least have them in our kids’ library) 76 of them. I noticed that there were several winners for Laura Ingalls Wilder, Susan Cook, and Madeline L’Engle. All of their books are favorites of mine, but my very favorite from that list has to be Forgotten Daughter by Caroline Snedeker. I imagine it’s one of the least-known (and hard to find), but I fell in love with it as a high school student, and my copy is highly-prized and will never be lent out! ”

http://www.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberyhonors/newberymedal

http://ww.ala.org/alsc/awardsgrants/bookmedia/newberymedal/newberymedal

Categories: Children's Books, Classics, Fantasy, Girl Fiction, Historical Fiction, Humorous, Inspiration, Read Aloud, Uncategorized, young adult fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

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