Friday, July 21, 2006

Post-Apocalyptic Children's Lit

Yes, such a genre exsists. I'm totally serious.

The City of Ember By Jeanne DuPrau

Doon's outburst on job assingment day disturbed Lina-- Ember couldn't be dying. But as Lina runs around the city as a messenger, she starts to see that Doon was right. Ember is dying. The blackouts come more and more often and they're lasting for longer. Supplies are running out. Peaches are now just a legend. There is very little new paper. Colored pencils are a special, rare, luxury. What if the lights never come back on? Can Doon and Lina find another way?

City of Ember is half mystery, as the kids try and piece together lost instructions that were half eaten by Lina's baby sister. But why does Ember exsist in the first place? Why do they live in world where there is only the city and nothing else? Where there isn't any light? Where everything depends on the generator? What happens with the generator fails?

Some of these questions are answered in the sequel, The People of Sparks where we learn that the world new the end was coming--through war, famine, and disease--and created a new colony underground. When they come above ground, and meet with the survivors of the great wars, will the two cultures survive? Will they get along? Can they?

I love DuPrau's use of language. She manages to perfectly capture so many small details-- such as the papery smell of tomatoes. She can evoke so many senses with just a few words--truly astounding. Ember was great, but the message of Sparks was so heavy-handed that it ruined the book. I'm interested in seeing how the prequel, The Prophet of Yonwood, ends up being.

The Big Wave Pearl S. Buck

Kino lives on a mountain by the sea in Japan while his best friend, Jiya, lives in the fishing village on the beach. Kino fears the volcano three mountains over and Jiya fears the anger of the sea. One day, the volcano and the sea battle, resulting in a giant wave that washes away the entire fishing village—and Jiya’s entire family. The main meat of this story is how Jiya learns to live again after watching the destruction of his entire family, village, and world.

Buck manages to convey so much in a very little space. She manages to span a life-time, and a full cycle of grief very potently and truly, all in a mere 64 pages. Excellent.

And, although it's not post-apocalyptic, Lois Lowry's The Giver is as dystopian as it gets... and dystopian chidlren's literature is almost as disturbing as post-apocalyptic literature (this is a visceral reaction. I really enjoyed the books I'm talking about right now, they're great books and good for children, but at first glance, the notion of such genres of children's lit exsisting give me pause. But I'm a optimistic hippie like that.)

Anyway, Jonas has been assigned to be the Reciever. He holds the memories of the community's past. A past where people were related to their families. Where there was emotion. Where there were holidays and hills and snow and sunburn... where there was pain, but also real joy... Where there was color.

But years and years ago, the people made a shift to sameness. Now there are no hills. Husbands and wives are assigned to each other and do not look on each other's nudity. When you reach puberty, you are given medication to stop "the stirrings". Children are assigned to family units. Each one has one boy and one girl. Because of genetic engineering, people look a lot a like. But it is not all happy. Anything that isn't perfect--babies that cry too much, old people, are "released".

And once Jonas discovers that releasing is just an euphanism for euthanasia... his vision of the community and what it stands for falls apart.


Saturday, July 15, 2006

Rainy Hazy Days are made for reading. Not blogging.

Gah. So far behind. Short and Sweet it is folks! Starting with the books I read back in MAY and haven't talked about yet! (Also, I am still reading up a storm. Seriously. I have 65 books checked out right now. Not to mention the ones waiting on my bookshelf!)

A Dirty Job Christopher Moore

Oh my. This has to be the funniest thing I've read since Moore's Lamb : The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. One day, during a tragic loss, Charlie (the ultimate beta-male) discovers he's Death. Or, one of many little deaths that run around and collect souls when people pass. His toddler daughter can kill with a single word and can't keep a house pet alive until two hell hounds arrive to stay. And there are demons in the sewers trying to take over the world. HYSTERICALLY!!! Because really, there's nothing more funny than a 2 year old screaming "Kitty!" at people and watching them keel over. (Seriously, I loved this book so much that I moved it to the top of this post so it wouldn't get lost in the shuffle)

Caddy Ever After Hilary McKay

This is the latest (and maybe last?!) book in the Casson Series (others were Saffy's Angel, Indigo's Star, and Permanent Rose). The narrative of this one is a bit different as different sections are told by the four Casson family, instead of focusing on just one child. But the magic and love continue. And my own personal heartbreak, because Caddy discovers that love at first sight exsists. And it is NOT darling Michael. (Horror! I know!) Absolutely lovely and perfect.

Tales of the City and More Tales of the City by Armistad Maupin (well, I read the first in May, the second in June)

This are actually both rereads for me. I read the first three books in this series in high school and loved, loved, loved them. But I never read the next three. I checked them all out from the library and decided to start by rereading the early ones because high school was a long time ago.

These are the stories of an unlikely band of people thrown together by all living at the magical apartment building, 28 Barbury Lane in San Fransisco, plus the other people sucked into their lives. Originally serialized in a newspaper, the chapters are only a few pages long, making for nice reading. They're light, they're breezy, the characters and the trouble they find themselves in are CRAZY. (In that delightful way)

I will say though, these books don't hold the impact they once did for me. I'm told by people who were there that they do paint an extremely accurate portrait of San Fransisco in the 70s. And they are still funny and light and I will be reading the next four!

And now we're totally into the June books!

The Booktalker's Bible: How to Talk About the Books You Love to Any Audience Chapple Langemack

Ok, so this will only appeal to you if you ever have to do Book Talking (where you go and do a little spiel on a book so people will want to read it.) BUT! If you have to do booktalking, this book is GREAT and has lots of examples (seriously, my "to read" list grew a ton while reading this.) I highly recommend for teacher and librarian types.

Refugee Boy Benjamin Zephaniah

Alem is half Ethiopian, half Eritrean. No matter where he is, he's the enemy. His dad takes him on a vacation to England and then leaves in the middle of the night, with a note saying that he must seek asylum. Alem is left adrift in a cold, foreign land and has to navigate the insane system of asylum seeking and immigration. Tragic, well written and a damning (and true) portrait of British immigration.

Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years Sue Townsend

So, JoJo has left Adrian and gone back to Nigeria. Their son is living with Pauline. Pandora has been swept into Parliament with the New Labor landslide. And Adrain has a cooking show for offal (main market: stoned university drop-outs). HILARIOUS.

Ok, that's enough for one day. More to come! I'm still behind.

I do just want to mention that I'm currently finishing up Suite Fran├žaise by Irene Nemirovsky and it is absolutly wonderful and my new favorite book. The hype doesn't even do it justice.