Saturday, August 29, 2009

August Reading Roundup - Part 1, Fiction

The Listener: What If You Could Hear What God Hears? By Teri Blackstock

One day Sam Bennett wakes up hearing voices, even when nobody is speaking. He’s hearing people’s thoughts – the unspoken desires of their souls, specifically: their “spiritual needs.” His pastor pushes and coaches him into responding by sharing the gospel with each person, and as Sam catches on he’s out at the bus station, mall, or ball game every night going up to strangers and getting their attention by talking to them about their deepest need. In time Sam and those close to him come to realize that even without the edge he has from the gift, everyone can respond to others in this way. Although I found this book simplistic (as if God's only priorities are whether people are “saved” and (if so) “sharing their faith”?) but it was also convicting.

Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear

The first in a series featuring a smart, empathetic sleuth who has just set up her own detective firm. The year is 1929, and Maisie’s first solo case draws points her back to the horrors of World War I, in which she served as a nurse. Straddling the gap between literary fiction and mystery novels, the book explores the British class system, the war, and how it changed everything.

Kid Lit

With fiction, I often read the way my mother does: not going to bed until I’ve finished my book. So when I’m not getting enough sleep or something, sometimes I’ll stay away from novels - opting for short stories or kids books when reality is just too much. This month I read a lot of kid lit.

The Collected Tales of Nurse Matilda, by Christianna Brand

These books inspired the movie, Nanny McPhee. The plot is basically the same: group of wild children slowly learn to love the one person who brings order into their lives through the use of reverse psychology (and a bit of magic). Not as interesting as Mary Poppins or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, which plow the same ground. Still, they were fun, and would probably be good for reading aloud. The second book so closely copies the first in this series that I didn’t continue on to the third, but young children would not see that as a flaw.

Freddy and the Space Ship, by Walter Brooks

A small but fun genre of children’s literature are books from the 1950s and 60s about space travel – yes, the era when Buzz Lightyear replaced Woody the Cowboy in childhood fantasies. One of my favorites is Miss Pickerill Goes to the Moon (a voyage Dr. Doolittle also made, as you may recall). Hoping for more of the same kind of fun, I picked up this one, in which our barnyard hero Freddy the Pig and some of his friends attempt a trip to Mars. It was OK, but not great. I cleansed my reading palate by revisiting Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, in which two enterprising 11-year-olds have the opportunity to visit a child-sized planet that orbits our own at a respectable distance.

Bloomability, by Sharon Creech

Recommended by a friend who recently returned to the US after four years teaching in an international school overseas. This coming-of-age story takes 13-year-old through a year in an American boarding school in Switzerland. Dinny has always moved around – her father can’t keep a job – but resists the changes that come when an aunt and uncle “kidnap” her and take her abroad. Here, however, she meets kids who have experienced the same kinds of changes she has. Well written and engaging.

The Lightening Thief, by Rick Riordan

I rounded out my kid-lit jaunt with something I picked up at the airport, having run out of reading material. This young-adult fantasy novel features a misfit kid who can’t understand or control his strange powers until he discovers their source: his dad is one of the Greek gods from Mount Olympus. Percy (short for Perseus) is uprooted and sent to a special summer camp for other kids in his position, then reluctantly drawn into a quest along with his geeky sidekick (in this case a satyr) and a smart-girl friend. (Parallels to another series are rather obvious.) Fun read!

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