42. -45. YA Round Up

“The Feast of All Souls, I ran from my tutor -

Latin and grammer - no wonder!”

42. Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Laura Amy Schlitz

Reading this book (which I did on recommendation of the excellent Young Adult Historical Vault) is what prompted me to start the Newbery Award Project, actually. I’d never even heard of the book, and I really, really enjoyed it, which made me wonder what other gems I’d been missing.  It’s slightly different from most Newbery’s I’ve read, in that this is a collection of monologues and dialogues written by a librarian in order to help her students learn (and perform) about the Middle Ages.  They are meant to help the students experience better the real lives of the people who lived on and around a manor in England in 1255.  They range from the lord’s son to the beggar - and everyone in between (the blacksmith’s daughter, the half-wit, the mud slinger, the sniggler*).  They aren’t just informative, they are also quite poetic and beautiful - without pulling punches about the way life back then was nasty, brutish and short.  If you, like me, have never heard of this, but like young adult fiction - and/or history, I really think you’ll like it.  

Project: The Newbery Prize Project

* read the book to find out.  Or, google, I guess.

43.

Dorothy lived in the midst of the great Kansas prairies, with Uncle Henry, who was a farmer, and Aunt Em, who was the farmer’s wife.”

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, L. Frank Baum

We are on a BIG Oz kick at my house.  First the kids’ school did the play - then they wanted to re-watch the movie, and finally we decided we needed to read the book.  Which, surprisingly, I didn’t have.  In fact, although I’d read many Oz books as a kid, it turned out that I’d never actually read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Funny, because even as a child I was sort of an annoying completist, but there you.  So I read it aloud to monkey one and two, in the edition I linked above, which was the one they were selling at Newtonville Books

SO.  Here are my thoughts on the book.  One, the movie is better.  It just is.  Ruby slippers are better than silver, there are a bunch of rambling diversions in the book that aren’t necessary, the ending is better - the wizard showing the scarecrow he had brains all along but giving the diploma (ETC) is better than saying he has brains, but giving him fake brains to make him happy.  Put this one with The Godfather, Little Big Liars, and Curious George - the movie is better.

BUT the book is still pretty good. It’s much better than the subsequent Oz books, which, to be honest, even as a kid I could tell were pretty janky and slapped together (like, we are reading number 2 now, and the drop off in quality is precipitous).  The original does read like a true children’s classic, and I’m glad I finally read it.  My kids liked it quite a bit too - enough that we are plowing on with the sequels.  If I had to critique it would be to guess that it must have been originally published serially, because the story repeats the desires of the characters ad infinitum.  I saw the movie, so I know who wants what (these are the jokes, people).  No need to remind me every three pages that the Lion wants courage, the Tin Woodsman wants to go home, Scarecrow wants a brain and Dorothy to go home. We. Get. It.  Even my six year old started complaining of the repetitiveness.  But other than that, worth reading if you haven’t.

One more thing - the link is to the version we read, which has stylized modern illustrations. I actually don’t recommend it.  Better to find a version with more exciting illustrations.  These are pretty spare and modern, which isn’t really an Oz thing. Oz is all about more is more. 

44. I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett

Why was it, Tiffany Aching wondered, that people like noise so much? Why was noise important?

45.  The Shepherd’s Crown

“It was born in the darkness of the Circle Sea; at first just a soft floating thing, washed back and forth by the tide."

These are the last two Tiffany Aching books, the ones I decided to hold off on reading to my 8 year old, because the series gets more adult as it goes along, and I thought he might find it too scary.  Instead I read them to myself, and I am so so glad I did, because both are superlative.  Honestly, I don’t know why this series doesn’t get more accolades - they are funny, and smart, and Tiffany is wonderful.  And if you go through life not knowing about the Nac Mac Feegles (the small blue hooligans who follow Tiffany wherever she goes), I am sorry for you.

Midnight (which I’d read before) is about fear, really - fear of witches, fear of the other, and hysteria, and all the things that can happen when those things take hold of us.  Very timely, yes? But it’s also funny and smart and interesting and I loved it maybe the most of the whole series, which is saying a LOT.  If we’d ended here, I’d have been satisfied.

Shepard is the last book Pratchett ever wrote (he died recently of early onset Alzheimer’s.  What a loss to us all).  Knowing that, you can tell that it’s slightly less complicated and frenetic than his usual pace, but it’s still a lovely and complete novel on its own.  It satisfyingly wraps up the story of Tiffany and her much beloved Chalk, and it ends on a lovely hopeful note.  I’m glad we got more Tiffany, and this is a worthy ending to her story.

I know that everyone who reads this blog is sick of me flogging these books, but I just really, really love them. I wish I’d had them growing up - Tiffany is a worthy companion to Anne, Jo, Laura and the others.  

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017