I seem to lean on old familiar ways…

So I’m having a sick day…actually, more of an “I feel intensely like staying indoors where it’s warm, cuddling up in my PJs and indulging myself with hot toast and toffees” day. You know, the kind that tends to hit females once a month or so.

Seriously, I probably should feel guilty about this but I don’t in the slightest. I haven’t had a really good self-indulgence in ages. Besides which it’ll give me a chance to do some more sorting out re: my next writing project – yes, we’re back to wangsting about that again, although I’ve managed to keep it mostly off-blog this time. I just seriously do feel like I’m ready for the next level of literary challenge…and you know where we go from there, right? (No, not more pointless Bob & Ray trivia. Think that particular biographical urge is out of the system for now…although I can’t say it’ll never strike again.)

In the meanwhile, and in keeping with the general theme of all things cozy and comforting, let’s get on with the next installment in the review series: Kidlit.

The Giver by Lois Lowry:

The classic dystopian model begins with the suppression of man’s humanity. The charm — and the power — of The Giver, on the other hand, lies in a society where that humanity seems to be the first concern: Right choices are made for you, hungers fed, needs met before you’re even aware of them. Only slowly does it become evident that life in Utopia has thus been stripped of all depth, nobility, and — horrifyingly — meaning. A remarkable achievement in the genre (there is a scene in which young Jonas asks his parents ‘Do you love me?’; their reply is as chilling as anything in Orwell) and a book to be considered long after the reading.

A Doll’s House by Rumer Godden:

Rumer Godden’s celebrated ‘novel in miniature’, a dainty confection that nevertheless resonates with truth and conviction. Any little girl who’s ever ‘played Barbies’ will understand immediately — and be enchanted. (And when they start clamouring for a sequel, please note that Godden’s ‘Doll Series’ also includes such mini-classics as Impunity Jane, Candy Floss and The Story of Holly and Ivy.)

Acorna: The Unicorn Girl by Anne McCaffrey & Margaret Ball:

It’s a genuinely charming fantasy concept – what if the unicorns of legend were really long-ago visitors from another planet? Unfortunately, McCaffrey and Ball’s notion of unicorn charm seems to be based around one of those gilt-horned tchotchkes from the local gift shop.
From the ‘Three Men and a Baby Alien’ opener, through a visit to an Arab-merchant uncle complete with hospitality and harem (I fully expected Anthony Quinn to play him in the movie version), and finally on to rescuing a passel of adorably Dickensian child slaves…in short, there’s not a moment in this whole production that isn’t insufferably, obviously CUTE. I felt as though I was reading the sci-fi equivalent of baby talk. Then again, if you’ve ever caught yourself sniffling at a glittery Hallmark card…go for it.

Strawberry Girl by Lois Lenski:

How the other half lived, junior. The centerpiece of Lenski’s ambitious experiment in ‘regional’ kidlit – simple, sentiment-free tales of family life in the hardscrabble corners of America. Like its many more obscure mates, ‘Strawberry Girl’ is that rarest and most valuable of kidlit resources, accurate historical fiction for preteens. Read it by all means…and then get thee down to the library to hunt out the rest.

Sweet Valley High: ‘R’ for Revenge:

It’s not always easy being a sexy, sun-kissed Sweet Valley girl — not even if you’re the co-captain of the cheerleading squad. There’s always the possibility that a crazed librarian, still nursing a grudge over being kicked off HER high school cheerleading squad, will lock you up in a damp cellar…which like, makes your hair, like, all stringy.
This isn’t quite the campiest of the SVH thriller plots (that would probably be the one in which the crazed spa owner, not content with her army of beautiful zombie employees, decides to redo herself as the Wakefield twins’ mother). But it’s pretty good loopy fun in its own right, especially when the ‘Teen Angel’ flashbacks start kicking in. As usual, the Wakefield saga has just enough wit and style to pull itself off.

These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder:

One of the nice things about the ‘Little House’ series is that the reading level rises as Laura grows up…so it’s no surprise that this chronicle of her teenage years reads rather like a frontier version of a modern ‘Sweet Dreams’ romance. (Please note especially the chapter on maneuvring a rival out of your boyfriend’s buggy!)
Familiar teen concerns take on a new interest from a 19th-century point of view, especially one as spunky and subtly funny as Wilder’s – a hundred years before the fad for ‘revisionist’ her-storical literature, here’s Laura, in a throwaway moment, refusing to vow to ‘obey’ her husband during their wedding ceremony. Shame that this rich source material was largely disregarded while creating the TV version of her romance.

Rumble Fish by SE Hinton:

A grim exploration of inner-city life with none of the quietly hopeful nuances of Hinton’s keynote work, The Outsiders. Instead we simply follow Rusty-James, gangbanger-in-training, as he lurches from one violent episode to another, with a final burst of pretentious symbolism at the end.
All this is supposed to demonstrate the folly of romanticizing the thug life, but since Rusty is a tad slow on the uptake (to put it kindly) the lesson never does quite kick in, making the whole thing seem kinda pointless. Even at age thirteen I can remember being intensely frustrated by this book. Those wanting more after The Outsiders would be far better served by it’s semisequel, That Was Then, This Is Now.

The Long Secret by Lois Fitzhugh:

A (slightly) kinder, gentler semisequel to Harriet the Spy that follows Harriet’s ‘mousy’ classmate Beth Ellen through a summer of self-discovery. Fitzhugh’s fierce realism – and gallery of spikily grotesque characters – is something of an acquired taste; but readers who persevere will be rewarded with a sweet and sensitive read.

By Elizabeth Enright:

Gone-Away Lake:

A lot more than the lake has gone-away since this bright and mildly fanciful ‘chapter book’ was published. Its intended audience has been engulfed by Animorphs and R.L. Stine and probably no longer considers the discovery of some old abandoned summer homes very exciting. Still, if you can catch a 9-13-year-old in just the right mood…they’ll be getting a treat. (They may even be up for the sequel, Return to Gone-Away.)

And Then There Were Five:

This is the third title in the Melendy Family quartet and showcases the irrepressible Mona, Rush, Randy and Oliver at their most engaging. Their first summer in the country kicks off with an afternoon’s dam-building, ends with their adoption of a local orphan…and despite a noticeable lack of plugged-in entertainment options, the enthusiasm – also humour – never flags for a minute in between. (The girls’ tomato-canning experiment is an especial hoot.)
It’s a shame they’ve never been adapted for movies or TV; these smart, spunky young individuals-in-training capture ‘it’s cool to be yourself’ better than any earnest pop tartlet ever could.

Spiderweb For Two: A Melendy Maze:

The last entry in the Melendy series. Contains the usual abundance of lively characters and small adventures, highlighted this time by genuinely clever puzzles and ‘olden-days’ stories…this time with a rather bittersweet edge. The theme is finding the enduring value in change, which in practice means the three older kids – until now the anchors on which most of the wit and originality rested – appear just often enough to be missed badly. Even the most endearing of kids have to grow up sometime, I guess…but that doesn’t mean readers have to like it!

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