2016: 100.-105: YA Round up!

Another month or so, another review of Young Adult Books.  Some we read aloud, others I, a sophisticated lady of 38 read to myself.  Some gems here that you might want to check out for your own wee ones (or yourself if you are like me!)

First, two more Dahls that we read aloud

"Until he was four years old, James Henry Trotter had a happy life."

100. James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl

This was the very first chapter book my mom read to me, so you can imagine how excited I was to read it to Thing 1 and Thing 2.  They were a little reluctant at first (“Mom, we know this story, we saw the movie.”), but once we got going they were totally into it.  And, they told me that the movie was not as good as the book, earning them enormous brownie points.  (They are right, too. The movie is 1) made with creepy stop motion animated puppets), and 2) has all these other subplots that aren’t in the book, and that the book does not need).  The story, in case you don’t know it, is of James Henry Trotter, a small boy whose parents have dies, and who lives with his horrible aunts.  After a mysterious man offers him some magic crystals, which he accidentally drops in the garden, a giant peach grows.  James finds himself on the peach with a groups of new friends (gigantic insects who also ate the little green things), and tremendous adventure ensures. A lovely story, not too scary and the insects are grand characters, as is James himself.  One thing that was sort of funny - the book starts with James’s parents being eaten by a rhinoceros that escaped from the zoo.  My kids could not handle that - not because it was scary but because “rhinoceroses are herbivores, mom.”  So they could get behind a gigantic magic peach and human sized bugs, but could not suspend disbelief as to the dining habits of the rhinos.  They are adorable.

"In the biggest brownest muddiest river in Africa, two crocodiles lay with their heads just above the water."

101. The Enormous Crocodile, Roald Dahl

This is another shortie (a very, very shortie.  We read it in two nights, but could have done it in one long reading session).  And it was new to me - the first Dahl we read that I’d not read before.  It’s a pretty simple story - an enormous crocodile wants to eat the local children, and is thwarted in his ambition.  My kids liked it well enough, but honestly, unless you happen to have a copy, I wouldn’t kill myself getting my hands on this one unless you are some sort of crazy Dahl completeist.  Cute but thin.

"There once was a boy named Milo who didn’t know what to do with himself - not just sometimes, but always." 

102. The Phantom Tollbooth, Norton Juster

What a perfect pick for the 100th book of the year.  The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my favorite books from growing up, and, in an absolute “parenthood can be so rewarding” moment, my son LOVED it too.  I was a little worried when I suggested it that it might be a bit too advanced for him (Thing 2 only listened to it on and off), but he just got it - and was disappointed that there were no sequels (Thing 1 loooooves sequels).

In case you haven’t read it (of course you have, though, right?), it’s the story of Milo, a young boy who is bored and disaffected with every aspect of his life.  One day he comes home and finds a new toy has arrived unexpectedly. It’s a tollbooth, so he pops into his toy car and drives through, remarking, wistfully, “I do hope this is an interesting game, otherwise the afternoon will be so dreadfully dull.”

As he drives through the tollbooth he find himself actually being transported to a new land.  He is heading for the city of Dictionopolis, and after some false starts, gets there.  There he learns that the princesses Rhyme and Reason were exciled from the kingdom, and things haven’t been right since.  So he secures permission from King Azaz, of Dictionopolis (who thinks words are the most important things) and from the Mathemagician of Digitopolis (who is certain numbers are best) to rescue the princesses.  And along the way he meet the strangest and most interesting creatures.  And Thing 1 loved the tale, and all the crazy people Milo  met.

But, of course, the book is really about learning and growing and being engaged in the world.  Milo accidentally jumps to the Island of Conclusions, he gets stuck in the terrible Doldrums, he literally eats his words for dinner.  It’s both a marvelous story and a moral lesson - an Alice for our time (or rather for 1961, when it was written).  A fantastic children’s book that you really must read. 

Now we enter the category of children’s books I just read on my own because I felt like it and they were there…

103. Across the Miles; L.M. Montgomery

This is a collection of stories written by L.M. Montgomery, all turning on correspondence as the driver of the plot.  It’s part of a series of collections published about twenty years ago, all capturing previously uncollected Montgomery tales (Akin to Anne, tales about orphans; At the Altar, stories about marriage; Along the Shore, tales about the sea, etc.).  They are charming little stories, but probably only really interesting to Montgomery super fans like myself. For me they are total comfort food, and that’s why I re-read this one, but if you are an Anne girl you might like digging up some of these stories, to get more Montgomery.  

“I didn’t know how long I had been in the king’s prison.”

104. The Thief, Megan Whalen Turner

I don’t even know where I found this, or what possessed me to start reading it.  It’s not a book I knew growing up, but it’s the 2007 Newbury Honor winner, so I guess I figured, what the heck.  So glad I picked it up, because it’s a great read - and I found out today, while writing this, that it’s part of a series.  I’ll have to get the other ones, and I think I might read them aloud to the kids.  This is the sort of book (magic/fantasy adventures) that Thing 1 adores.

It’s the story of Gen, a thief who was locked in the king’s deepest and darkest prison as a punishment for boasting that he would steal the king’s seal - and then successfully doing so.  He thought he’d never see the light of day again, until he is unexpectedly released to work for the king’s Magus, his royal scholar who believes he knows where to find an ancient treasure - but needs a master thief to help me retrieve it.  Gen is dragged along on the adventure, hoping he can somehow escape his dreadful fate.

Very fun, and if you or your little ones like adventures, this one is a delight.  I need to go get me the sequels!

“If, standing alone on the back doorstep, Tom allowed himself to weep tears, they were tears of anger.”

105. Tom’s Midnight Garden, Philippa Pearce

A classic YA novel, about Tom, who is sent away from home while his brother recovers from the measles.  Bored and lonely in his aunt and uncle’s tiny flat, he is lying awake at night listening to the grandfather clock.  All of a sudden it strikes thirteen! He investigates, and finds himself in a lush beautiful garden that certainly hadn’t been there when he went to bed.  Tom’s midnight adventures have begun!

It’s interesting to watch Tom explore the other world, and try to figure out its secrets, and (SPOILER), I’m always a sucker for time travel tales.  But looking at it from a modern perspective, it’s a little bit of a slow story.  Very atmospheric, with a little bit of melancholy that often seeps into well regarded children’s books (can you say Tuck Everlasting?).  But not much really happens, and to me it feels like the kind of YA book that grownups like more than children - I can’t see my monkeys enjoying this.  I appreciated it more than I loved it.

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017