Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

“They say he was born with his eyes open. Some of the mice pulled away from Despereaux in disgust, and others, thrill seekers, reached out to touch him with a whisker or a paw.”
Why is this sentence so memorable, why is it so powerful? I think two words are the strength of this section – thrill and whisker. All the writing in the Tale of Despereaux gives the sensation of words as jewels, sparkling on the page.

Here is another lovely example :
“The mouse father put Despereaux down on a bed made of blanket scraps. The April sun, weak but determined, shone through a castle window and from there squeezed itself through a small hole in the wall and placed one golden finger on the little mouse.”
And now we have the movie. I have such mixed feelings when a loved children’s book is made into a movie. I fear that the lovely words might be lost. I have not yet seen the movie of Despereaux by Kate Di Camillo because I wanted to re-read this beautifully written tale of heroism, mice, rats, princesses and soup. I was not disappointed by the book.

I have loved the writing of Kate DiCamillo for years since reading Because of Winn Dixie and The Tiger Rising. Both of these books are certainly in my top twenty all time favourites list. The Tale of Despereaux is such a different genre from these two but it is equally powerful and important.

My other fear about children’s books made into movies it that parents and children will not know there ever was a book in the first place. Many people do not know Dick King Smith wrote a simple little tale called The sheep pig but they have seen the movie Babe. Talking to some mums recently I discovered they were not aware Jumanji by Chris Van Allsburg along with The Polar Express are also marvelous books.

Yet despite these fears I also avidly seek movies from books. Recently I saw I was a Rat by Phillip Pullman listed in a television guide and in Google videos I discovered a movie of The Christmas Miracle of Jonathon Toomey (see previous blog entry) which looks fabulous and another of Westlandia by Paul Fleischman.

One of my favourite cultural experiences in recent years is attending Little Big Shots, the film festival for children. It only runs for a few days but there are so many amazing films including many based on children’s books.

I will leave these blog musings with another quote from The Tale of Despereaux as an example of the fine language.

(The king bent over) to look more closely at Despereaux, one ear, two tears, three enormous king-sized tears fell with an audible plop onto Despereaux’s head and rolled down his back, washing away the white of the flour and revealing his own brown fur. ‘Sir. Most Very Honored Head Person, sir.’ said Despereaux as he wiped the kings tears out of his own, ‘She’s in the dungeon.’”.
If you are looking for other mouse or rat heroes you might try Poppy by Avi and all the great sequels and Time stops for no mouse by Michael Hoeye and the sequels these, like Despereaux, are books I would love to get into the hands of all children.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Whittington by Alan Armstrong

I am never sure if I like books where animals can talk like humans and can also talk to humans but I do like books that weave fairy tales and folk lore into their narrative so I came to the reading of Whittington by Alan Armstrong with mixed expectations.

As usual the presence of a Newberry sticker on the front cover was a great enticement to read this book. I won’t say it will make my top 10 list or even my top 100 list but I did enjoy this book. Armstrong takes the story of Dick Whittington and his cat and adds new details to the story so we can come to know this modern cat called Whittington who is an ancestor of the original (unnamed) cat.

While the story did catch my imagination I am puzzled why it was awarded a Newberry honour. The characters – human and animal are very thin and many of the events in the barn I found quite contrived.

If you like animals especially cats and ducks and have a little familiarity with the story of Dick Whittington and his cat this junior novel might appeal.

You can read more of the plot at http://www.kidsreads.com/reviews/0375828648.asp

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

Just this week I have been seeking quotations to use in a library display and to add to my day planner to keep my spirits high in 2009. Searching on the internet for library quotes and quotes about books, research, information, reading etc I have found some really inspiring words.

Last night I finished re-reading Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse. Our hard back copy at school was lost last year by a Year 6 student and I wondered if we should purchase a new copy. Then I discovered I had a copy of my own so I took the time to read this wonderful novel in free verse. I remembered my powerful reaction to this tragedy and so I took my time with this reading, not want to confront Billie Jo’s pain all in one go.

The link to all of this and my opening about quotations came as I completed my reading. Scholastic make these editions of classic children’s books with bonus features. I mentioned this in my review of The Book without words by Avi. In Out of the Dust there is a recipe for Apple Sauce, her Newberry acceptance speech – more on that later, an interview with Karen Hesse, some historical details about dust storms in Colorado and the depression and the struggles of farm life.

In the section “About the author” Karen Hesse talks about working in a library and here is her lovely quote :

“Working in a library – well, I loved that the way I love chocolate pudding. It was truly that good.”

I also found my self thinking of a lovely picture book Come on Rain with its lyrical language about rain and now I discover this special book is also by Karen Hesse. In Out of the Dust Hesse totally captures the feel of those long awaited rain drops.

It started out as snow
big flakes
catching on my sweater
lacy on the edges of my sleeves

until at last it slipped into rain
light as mist
it was the kindest
kind of rain
that fell
soft then a little heavier
helping along
what had already fallen
into the hard –pan
until it
steady as a good friend
who walks beside you
not getting in your way
staying with you through a hard time.

I am really glad I took the time to read this wonderful book once again and yes I will buy a new copy for my school library. As Hesse said in her Newberry speech “Reading historical fiction gives us perspective. It gives us respite from the tempest of our present-day lives. It gives us a safe place in which we can grow, transform, transcend. It helps us understand that sometimes the questions are too hard, that sometimes there are no answers, that sometimes there is only forgiveness.”

Here a couple of the quotation gems I have found :

One sure window into a person's soul is his reading list.
Mary B. W. Tabor

I find that a great part of the information I have was acquired by looking something up and finding something else on the way. -
Franklin P. Adams

Books are the quietest and most constant of friends:
they are the most accessible and wisest of counsellors,
and the most patient of teachers. -
Charles W. Eliot

At the moment that we persuade a child, any child, to cross that threshold, that magic threshold into a library, we change their lives forever, for the better. -
Barack Obama

I read because one life isn't enough. -
Richard Peck

Knowledge is free at the library. Just bring your own container.

My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: riding a bike to the library.
Pete Golkin, Arlington, Virginia

How amazing to find a quote about libraries by Barack Obama.

Remember to keep an eye on my Library Thing mentioned in my last blog.

Read only on the days you eat - seen in a school library in Canada and part of all my library communication - this is my slogan.

Read more about Out of the Dust.