Caroline the Future Librarian

Caroline Davis | LIBR 265-10 | SJSU | Wrenn-Estes

The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley

Title: The Blue Sword
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Ace Trade
Date: December 2007
ISBN-13: 9780441012008

Plot Summary: After her father dies, Angharad “Harry” Crewe must move to the isolated military outpost in Istan to be near her brother who is stationed there.  The colonial settlement in a foreign country feels strangely like home for Harry, even though the desert setting is far removed from the forests where she grew up.  She is fascinated by Corlath, the native king of the Damar, who has come to the settlement to warn about invading tribes from the north.  That night, Corlath’s kelar, or psychic ability, instructs him to kidnap Harry, believing her to be necessary in order to defeat the impending invasion.  Harry adapts quickly to the Damarian culture, even training how to fight.  She is gifted with kelar and begins having visions of Lady Aerin, a legendary figure from Damarian lore – and Harry is even given Lady Aerin’s weapon, a blue sword.  Corlath instructs her on his plan for defending themselves, but Harry believes she knows a better strategy and follows her instincts, even if it means disobeying Corlath – whom she is falling in love with.

Critical Evaluation: The Blue Sword is a notable fantasy book because it is the first of the Damarian Chronicles, which are based on Robin McKinley’s imaginary land of Damar.  Harry is a great protagonist – she’s clever and resourceful, sensitive to other cultures, and not afraid to do typically male activities, like wield a sword and lead an army.  The plot is not unusual, in having a foreigner adapt to a native culture and become a hero – this same theme is seen in other books, and films like Avatar and Dances with Wolves – but McKinley’s treatment of this common plot is unique because of Harry’s unusual character.  The Blue Sword blends several genres – fantasy, adventure, legend, and even romance – and would have a wide appeal for readers.  And if you enjoy The Blue Sword, you can plan to read The Hero and the Crown next – the prequel that tells the story of Lady Aerin before she was a heroine.

Reader’s Annotation: Soon after Harry moves to the isolated colonial outpost of Istan in a desert country, she is kidnapped by the native king, Corlath, who believes she is integral for defending his tribe from invading northerners.

Author Information: Born on November 16, 1952, in Warren, Ohio, Jennifer Carolyn Robin McKinley was the only child of school teacher Jeanne Turrell McKinley and United States Naval officer William McKinley.  As a child, McKinley was envious of boys because “they were the ones who got to have adventures, while we got to – well, not have adventures.”  She started telling herself stories about girls who “did things and had adventures.”  Her later writing career was heavily influenced by these early narratives about heroic women.

These early tales evolved into several stories set in a fictional world she called Damar, and as she wrote about it, McKinley realized “there was more than one story to tell about Damar, that in fact it seemed to be a whole history, volumes and volumes of the stuff, and this terrified me” (“Robin McKinley,” 2009).  She set aside this project and began working on what became her first published book, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. McKinley’s works are primarily fairy tale adaptations and tales of Damar.

In 1991, McKinley moved to Hampshire, England, to marry the author Peter Dickinson.  In addition to writing, McKinley is an avid reader and enjoys “nineteenth-century novels, murder mysteries (‘not too gore-spattered’), old-fashioned adventure, and British history.”  Her musical taste ranges from “grand opera to heavy metal rock,” and she loves spending time gardening.  She enjoys horseback riding, has taken up musical pursuits like bell-ringing and voice lessons, and has kept a blog since 2007.

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Is Harry more closely connected to her own culture or the Damarian culture to which she adapts?
2) How does kelar work?  Can it be acquired?
3) McKinley wrote Harry because she wanted to write about a female character in an typically male role – does she achieve her goal?  Does gender really matter in a story like this?

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: None

Challenge Defense Ideas: This book has no apparent challenge issues, but if a challenge comes up:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews available for viewing on Amazon.com.

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I did a report on Robin McKinley for this class and enjoyed The Blue Sword as an imaginative fantasy novel that I thought teens would enjoy.

Extras:

Robin McKinley’s website and blog.

Robin McKinley on Facebook and Twitter.

May 15, 2010 Posted by | Books | | Leave a comment

Beauty by Robin McKinley

Title: Beauty
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: HarperCollins
Date: May 1993
ISBN-13: 9780064404778

Plot Summary: The third daughter of a wealthy merchant, given the name Honour at birth, renames herself Beauty when she is five-years-old.  However, as she grows up she feels that she is ill-suited for the name, considering herself plain-looking and short.  Her great loves in life are her books and her horse.  When her father’s fleet of ships is lost at sea, she and her family move to the northern countryside.  They make the best of their reduced circumstances and work hard at their new life.

Their fortunes begin to reverse when they receive the news that one of her father’s ships has appeared in port.  Her father leaves to sell the cargo and pay his debts, and returns with a rose for Beauty (in this version, she had asked him to bring back rose seeds for her to plant).  He reveals that he had stayed overnight in a mysterious castle in the forest, and when he plucked the flower from the garden he was met by a furious Beast, who demanded that either the merchant or one of his daughters return in one month to become his prisoner.  Beauty is willing to go.

She is waited on by invisible servants, served delectable food, and kept in a luxurious room.  Although the Beast is hideous, he treats her kindly and they become companions.  Each night he asks her to marry him, and she repeatedly declines.  Beauty is allowed to see her family for one week, but accidentally stays too long and discovers that the Beast is dying upon her return, when she reveals her love for him and breaks the curse that kept him in that ugly form.

Critical Evaluation: Despite sticking so closely to the original tale, Beauty does have some twists, including that she is physically plain, and she prizes her intelligence (as the narrator, Beauty occasionally makes allusions to Latin writers and Greek mythology – the family canary is named Orpheus).  The symbolism of the names is significant – whether or not she considers herself beautiful, Beauty always makes honorable choices (her real name), which displays inner beauty.  It can be argued that this is a feminist adaptation of the fairy tale – in any case, Beauty is not planning to sit around and dream about getting swept off her feet, she is willing to work hard and dreams of going to university.  McKinley’s work predates the Disney film, and some of her ideas (including the presentation of an immense library) may have influenced the filmmakers.  Whether or not McKinley’s Beauty had any kind of effect on the animated production, this work was noteworthy for inspiring a revival of fairy tale adaptations, particularly for young adult audiences.

Reader’s Annotation: In this adaptation of the fairy tale “Beauty and the Beast,” Beauty considers herself plain looking and intelligent, and would rather attend university than worry about husbands.  When she becomes the prisoner of a beast, she’s in for more than she bargained for.

Author Information: Born on November 16, 1952, in Warren, Ohio, Jennifer Carolyn Robin McKinley was the only child of school teacher Jeanne Turrell McKinley and United States Naval officer William McKinley.  As a child, McKinley was envious of boys because “they were the ones who got to have adventures, while we got to – well, not have adventures.”  She started telling herself stories about girls who “did things and had adventures.”  Her later writing career was heavily influenced by these early narratives about heroic women.

These early tales evolved into several stories set in a fictional world she called Damar, and as she wrote about it, McKinley realized “there was more than one story to tell about Damar, that in fact it seemed to be a whole history, volumes and volumes of the stuff, and this terrified me” (“Robin McKinley,” 2009).  She set aside this project and began working on what became her first published book, Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast. McKinley’s works are primarily fairy tale adaptations and tales of Damar.

In 1991, McKinley moved to Hampshire, England, to marry the author Peter Dickinson.  In addition to writing, McKinley is an avid reader and enjoys “nineteenth-century novels, murder mysteries (‘not too gore-spattered’), old-fashioned adventure, and British history.”  Her musical taste ranges from “grand opera to heavy metal rock,” and she loves spending time gardening.  She enjoys horseback riding, has taken up musical pursuits like bell-ringing and voice lessons, and has kept a blog since 2007.

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: Can be compared to other versions of Beauty and the Beast

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Compare Beauty to other adaptations of the fairy tale, including the Disney film.
2) Was it necessary for Beauty to become more physically attractive by the end of the story?
3) How would the ending be different if the Beast didn’t transform back into a man?

Interest Age: 12 and older

Challenge Issues: None

Challenge Defense Ideas: This book has no apparent challenge issues, but if a challenge comes up:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews available for viewing on Amazon.com.

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I read this book for this course when I wrote a paper on Robin McKinley and the fantasy genre.  I thought it was important to include this title on my blog because of the impact it had on the young adult genre.

Extras:

Robin McKinley’s website and blog.

Robin McKinley on Facebook and Twitter.

May 5, 2010 Posted by | Books | | Leave a comment

East by Edith Pattou

Title: East
Author: Edith Pattou
Publisher: Harcourt Children’s Books
Date: September 2003
ISBN-13: 9780152045630

Plot Summary: On a farmstead in medieval Scandinavia, a girl named Rose lives with her six siblings, her loving father, and her very superstitious mother.  Rose’s mother is obsessed with the notion that the direction of a child’s birth will determine their traits and destiny, and has intentionally birthed each of her seven children for a different point on the compass – all the directions except North.  Rose tries hard to be a gentle and obedient East, but feels more natural wandering the surrounding countryside than doing domestic tasks at home (with the exception of weaving, one of her favorite activities).

The family sinks deeper into poverty, and Rose’s sister Sara (South born) falls extremely ill, when a white bear appears at the farm and says that he will return in a week.  If Rose will leave with him, Sara’s good health will return and the family will become prosperous.  During the next week, Rose accidentally discovers that her true birth direction was North – and her parents had lied to her.  Confused and hurt, Rose decides to leave with the white bear.

She stays with him for months in a castle built into a mountain.  A mysterious visitor comes into Rose’s room and sleeps on the other side of her bed every night, but she cannot speak to him, touch him or even light a candle because of an enchantment.  When she finally discovers who it is, an evil Troll Queen takes him away intending to force him into marriage.  Feeling guilty for breaking the spell that allowed the queen to capture him, Rose determines that she will find where he has been taken and rescue him.

Critical Evaluation: This creative retelling of the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon” is given realistic depth because it is set in medieval Europe.  Rose does the most traveling in the book, and refers to the countries Fransk, Iseland, Gronland, Anglia and Njord – recognizable as France, Iceland, Greenland, England, and Norway, her home.  The land of the trolls, enigmatically referred to as east of the sun and west of the moon, is located in the farthest reaches of the north, presumably the North Pole.

East is told from an alternating first-person point of view, shifting between Rose, her father, her brother Neddy, the Troll Queen, and the White Bear.  This technique is useful for keeping the reader aware of the developing plot in different regions (for instance, we know what events are happening at the farmstead while Rose is away in the mountain castle).  It is also useful to track developments and changes in the characters – the White Bear, who thinks in short phrases while an animal, narrates in complete sentences when back in his human form, and speaks adoringly of the Troll Queen who has him under a spell.  The defeat of the Troll Queen is not the climactic battle that the reader may expect, but the sweet love story that develops between Rose and the human White Bear makes up for it.

Reader’s Annotation: In this retelling of the fairy tale “East of the Sun, West of the Moon,” Rose feels responsible for breaking a spell, allowing the evil Troll Queen to capture a human man to force him into marriage.  Rose determines that she will do whatever she can to rescue him.

Author Information: Edith Pattou has written three fantasy novels for young adults (East and the Songs of Eirren books – Hero’s Song and Fire Arrow), as well as a picture book called Mrs. Spitzer’s Garden.  Pattou received a Masters in English from Claremont Graduate School and a Masters in Library and Information Science from UCLA.  She lives in Ohio with her husband, a college professor, and her daughter.

Pattou claims that she was inspired to become a writer after reading The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child.  When asked to give advice to aspiring authors, she said, “The main advice I have for someone who wants to be a writer is to read.  Turn off the TV and read everything you can get your hands on.  Also, I highly recommend keeping a notebook.” (Source)

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale Retelling

Curriculum Ties: None

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Discuss and contrast the journeys that Rose takes in the novel.
2) Do you think the fortune of Rose’s family turns around because of the white bear, or because of Harald Soren?
3) Was Rose’s mother right to be superstitious?  Is Rose really influenced by being a North born?

Interest Age: 14 and older

Challenge Issues: alcohol consumption by a minor character

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the book and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist available for viewing on Amazon.com.

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I first became aware of East when I read a review of another retelling of “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.”  This was one of my favorite fairy tales as a child, because it casts the woman as the rescuer, so I was interested to see how it would be expanded into a young adult novel.

February 27, 2010 Posted by | Books | , | 1 Comment

Stardust by Neil Gaiman (Audiobook)

Title: Stardust
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: HarperAudio
Date: September 2006
ISBN-13: 9780061153921
Read by: Neil Gaiman

Plot Summary: Tristran Thorn was raised in the village of Wall, on the border of England and Faerie.  When he sees a star fall on the other side of the wall that creates the boundary between the two worlds, he promises to retrieve it for the most beautiful girl in the village, who has rejected his previous advances.

Tristran is not the only one interested in the fate of the fallen star.  On the other side of the wall, a witch and her two sisters plot to find and capture it for themselves, so they can use it to make themselves youthful again.  And a pair of brothers are vying to be the next Lord of Stormhold after the death of their father.  In order to ascend the throne, they must retrieve the Power of Stormhold – a topaz necklace that will be found with the star.  And in the midst of this there is Yvaine, a beautiful and bright woman who injured her leg when she fell from the heavens…

Critical Evaluation: As audiobooks go, it is always wonderful to find one that helps the story to come alive for the listener.  When the author reads the book, the audience is lucky to be hearing the story as it was intended to be told.  Listening to Neil Gaiman read Stardust was a pleasure, particularly because his British accent lent an air of authenticity to the voices of his characters.

By creating a wall that separates England from the world of Faerie, Gaiman uses a technique that I find makes fantasy stories like this more believable.  I think it is always more effective to have characters from the “real” world enter into the realm of fantasy – imagine if the Pevensies had been raised in Narnia, or if Alice had always been in Wonderland.  He was also able to use this boundary as a significant part of the plot – if Yvaine crossed into Wall, she would be transformed into a lump of rock.

I was familiar with the film adaptation of the Stardust story, but I’d never read the book before listening to this audio version, so I enjoyed noting where the plot had been changed for the movie, and getting deeper into the story.  For instance, there is a scene in the film where a unicorn appears to rescue Yvaine.  In the book, the unicorn is first encountered when it is fighting with a lion over a crown – a much more symbolic introduction.  The plot with the witch, particularly the ending, is quite different in the book (but perhaps not dramatic enough for movie audiences).  Also, Tristran is renamed Tristan in the film.

I was surprised how much more adult the book was than the movie.  There are somewhat descriptive sex scenes, a bit of graphic violence, and one use of the “F” word (otherwise, not much profanity).  I have a copy of the graphic novel version of the story (illustrated and unabridged), and Vertigo Comics recommends it for “mature readers.”  In my opinion, it would be appropriate for high school students, particularly older teens, who are crossing over from young adult fantasy into adult fantasy.  The amount of content is not overwhelming.

Reader’s Annotation: Tristran Thorn ventures into the realm of Faerie to retrieve a fallen star to impress the most beautiful girl in his village.  What he doesn’t know is that the star is actually a woman, and that he is not the only one seeking her.

Author Information: Neil Gaiman is the author of several works of fantasy and science fiction for adults, young adults and children.  He has written short stories, novels, comic books, and screenplays.  Many of his books have been adapted into films, including Stardust and Coraline.  Gaiman has won several awards and honors for his writing, including the Hugo, Nebula, Bram Stoker, and the Newbery Medal.  Gaiman grew up in England, and currently lives near Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Gaiman describes his writing behavior and his experience of creating Stardust: “As far as I’m concerned, the entire reason for becoming a writer is not having to get up in the morning. It’s not writing when you don’t want to, and writing late at night if you want to. I’m a fairly undisciplined writer. I’m the kind of writer who, if a deadline is looming and I’m not there yet, will go off and take a room for a couple of weeks in a cheap hotel somewhere that I don’t know anybody, and do nothing but put my head down and finish the book or the project. It depends on what I’m writing as to how I actually write. Stardust was written in longhand because I wanted to inject the kind of feeling to recreate the kind of sentence structure, emotion, the whole thing that people had in, say, the 1920s. I wanted a slightly archaic voice. Most of all, I didn’t want to do what I know that I do when I’m working on a computer. I work on a computer as if I’m working in clay. You put down the kind of thing that you mean and then you look at that for a few seconds. And then you work into it, you delete this word, you add that word. You change the tense. You decide that isn’t quite what you meant and you use a thesaurus or whatever. There is no discontinuity. There is no break between your first and second draft. There is no first or second draft. What you have is an ongoing, improving first draft. With Stardust, I wanted to write a novel that could have been written, with perhaps the exception of two rather mild sex scenes, one moment of ultraviolence and the word “fuck” written very small, it could have been written in the 1920s.” (Source)

Genre: Fantasy

Curriculum Ties: N/A

Booktalking Ideas:
1) Track the development of Tristran and Yvaine’s relationship.
2) View the movie version and discuss the differences.
3) Think of other titles that juxtapose real and fantasy worlds.

Interest Age: 15 and older

Challenge Issues: sexual content, some graphic violence, an instance of profanity

Challenge Defense Ideas:

• Become familiar with the audiobook and its content.

• Refer to the collection development policy of the library, if none, see here to develop one right away.

• Refer to reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, School Library Journal, Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, and others available for viewing on Amazon.com.

• Try to get reviews of the book from teens who have read it.

Selection: I chose this audiobook because I was looking for a fantasy written for adults that would also appeal to teenagers.  It was an added bonus to have Gaiman reading his work.

Extras:

Neil Gaiman’s website and blog.

Stardust Film trailer:

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Audiobooks | , | 1 Comment