Children's · Classics

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

by: L. Frank Baum

I listened to Anne Hathaway’s reading of this book – Audible is doing a celebrity reading series.  I really loved her rendition.  I will say some of the voices of the minor characters were a little on the weird side but other than that, it was fantastic.  There were delightfully subtle inflections that really made her reading pop. Plus her voice is just pleasant to listen to and her ability to emote and create a scene is, of course, superb. I loved the voices she did for the scarecrow and the tinman – had I not known better, I would’ve thought a man was reading those parts. And she manages to emphasize the humorous bits with just the right inflection. If you want a version to play for the kids that the adults will enjoy, I will gladly endorse this one.  (It’s a short 3+ hours, so perfect for a longish road trip.)

The story itself is really quite good. It’s simple and goes quickly, without ever being overwhelming or confusing.  The novel version differs significantly from the movie versions – the movie version doesn’t significantly change much, but it does leave out quite a bit.  I like the book more – though I normally do – for its expanded adventures and because I like the depiction of Dorothy better.  It is a children’s book, written well but simplistically, with little elaboration or in-depth analysis of any situation. It makes getting lost in the story quite easy.

The story itself is compelling and fun.  Nothing is too serious, though I imagine kids will find their pulses racing at certain points.  Plus, Hathaway does an excellent job of making a scene seem full to bursting with excitement.  I like that Dorothy is able to enjoy herself and her adventures while still wanting to go home.  And, of course, reading it as adult made me realize that the scarecrow had brains, the tinman had brains, and the lion had courage all along.  Baum does a really wonderful job of endowing his characters with their desired characteristics without ever having to state that they exist.  And I think it’s true that people are often blind to their best traits, so it’s amusing to see in a book.

Dorothy is sweet and adventurous, polite and brave.  She’s not a super-strong character,  but she doesn’t need to be. Being polite and courteous to others can often be strength in and of itself; plus, she takes on the Wicked Witch of the West with such bravery and aplomb.  She’s extremely homesick but doesn’t let that control her or stop her from enjoying this new world of Oz.  The pacing is excellent, the scenery and people of Oz unique and compelling – cute and funny.  (Much more than the movie could show!)

If you’ve got children or you want to revisit childhood again, I would recommend this book.  If you’ve no patience for children’s books, or if you like stories that provoke deep thoughts or delve into complex subjects, then, alas!, this may not be the book for you.

Teen Fiction

The Animorphs

The Moonlight Library blog is doing the most awesome sauce thing. They are rereading and summarizing/reviewing all of the Animorphs series, a sci-fi staple of my childhood. (Well, up until about book 25, when they began to be ghostwritten and, sadly, lost much of their charm for me.)

Ah! I can’t express to you all the fond memories and joy these posts are evoking in me.  I love that someone out in the wide world is doing this and making it available for everyone else.  (My thanks!)  I love discovering things that I missed as a kid or feeling that “fond memory” glow.  (Or, sometimes, laughing at how something I thought was soooo awesooommmmeeee!!!!! was in fact pretty ridiculous.) I’m just in love with this whole business, really.

I remember finding, years ago, a website where someone had done a similar-but more snarky-website with the Sweet Valley High books, another staple of my childhood.

Anyone know of other childhood book series being given a similar treatment? Please, leave a link in the comments!

Classics · Science Fiction

A Wrinkle in Time

A Wrinkle in Time by: Madeleine L’Engle

We read this for my book club this month (and yay! I actually read and finished the book for my book club!). Surprisingly, I’ve never read this before.  I believe at one point I read the first chapter of one of the sequels but it didn’t make much sense to me so I put it back down.  When I was younger – I think I was in elementary school? – I had very little tolerance for science fiction.  I don’t have much more tolerance for it now, but I’m trying to open my mind.

Anyway, like I said, it was the book of the month.  I started it today during lunch, actually, then decided to see how far I could get before the club started, and then decided that I was going to finish it and be late to book club.

It tells the story of Meg Murry, a young girl whose physicist father has gone missing.  She, her brother, and a new friend, chosen because of their abilities, strike out with the help of some mysterious not-quite-witches to bring him back.

As you can tell, it’s a pretty quick read – short and the writing is straightforward.  I want to describe it as simple, but it’s not.  There’s nice vocabulary and some fairly complex concepts that are delivered so well that is nearly effortless for the reader to absorb them.  You don’t really realize the importance of what you’ve read until the end, when you stop and process it.

This is a children’s book and it feels a bit fairy tale-ish in its setup.  The action and the plot move quickly and without complications or much deviation from the main storyline.  There’re familiar themes, like the presence of three, gifts from powerful beings, and rules that must not be broken.   It’s this familiar structure that allows the easy delivery of complex concepts. It’s a bit ingenious now that I think about it.

I wasn’t expecting this to be as much of a children’s book as it is, which was perhaps an odd expectation on my part. I think I was expecting a more adult presentation on the issues presented in this book, rather than the kid version of things.  (Don’t get me wrong, though! Children’s books are often rather exceptional at presenting complex issues; this one does so rather brilliantly.)

I must say, the writing is excellent and the characters, though sometimes odd, are likable.  They vary on the believable range, but it’s science fiction, so put away your skepticism! I really liked that Meg has an affinity for math and science.  I wish she had been able to use that affinity to her advantage more throughout the book, but there you have it.  Meg is well-developed; the rest of the characters have well-developed actions and dialogue.  They’re well sketched, too, but have little room for development themselves; much of the story is given to plot narrative.

Truthfully, though, I feel a bit unfulfilled after reading this book.

Don’t get me wrong, I was absorbed in the story and really enjoyed it, but it feels like there’s something missing.  It could be that the succeeding books fill in something; given that the plot is not completely resolved within the first book and neither are several important questions, I think this is highly likely. Or it could be that the book’s plot moved so quickly; I think I would have enjoyed spending a little more time with the characters and getting a more intimate glimpse of Meg’s growth throughout the story. It’s a little more plot-driven than I normally prefer; once the action started the book just sped towards the ending.

Overall, this is a rather excellent children’s science fiction novel and a very quick read.  This is a must read for serious science fiction or children’s literature fans.  If you want an excellent quick read, something to share with a kid, or are looking for a starter sci-fi, this is also good. If you’re big into character development and want to spend quality time with your heroine, this, alas, is not the book for you.

If you’ve read or want to read this book, drop me a line in the comments with thoughts or questions!