Monday, July 21, 2008

Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson

I must confess, I could never quite manage the series of the Anne books when I was a child. I would skip over the long passages where Anne would ramble on so. It shocked me that there was a character in literary history that could talk more than me. So I would skip to where there was action, and pictures. The copy that I had when I was 10(and still have) had color plates that helped move the story along. But when one entire page was one long monologue of Anne's dramatic speech about something describing the Haunted Wood, or the Lake of Shining Waters, I tended to skip it.

But that isn't to say that I didn't get the main point of the story, and that I didn't have a genuine love for the characters, because I did. So when PBS released the Kevin Sullivan production with Meagan Follows as Anne Shirley, I was in love with the books all over again, even though I knew the movie mixed them up, and cut them back drastically (Davie and Dora, where are you??). I even convinced my mom to take a family summer trip to P.E.I with her and my older brother (what a sport!) so I could see the Anne house, the red clay beaches, and all that my imagination had created while speed-reading the books and watching the movies. My trip did not disappoint. I loved it. And I hope future generations of Anne readers will get a chance to take this trip as well.

So now it is the 100 year anniversary and a writer has taken it upon herself to create Anne's world before Montgomery imagined it, using hints mentioned in the previous novels. This is no small feat, and Wilson has done a marvelous job. She has to please Anne fans and critics alike.

Remember, Anne's life before the Cuthbert's was not a happy one, she's an orphan, and Wilson does not shy away from the grim reality of being parentless during this time period. Despite baby Anne's horrid homelife, her exuberance shines through. She has an imagination that allows her to rise above the servitude she is forced to live and she survives within her own world. Wilson writes this without being too heavy handed, you cheer for Anne all the way through because you know how it is going to end.

Anne's journey to Green Gables is a wonderful read, not as amusing as the other books in the series because her transfers from horrible home to horrible home are so sad, but she meets many wonderful characters, mirroring the character journey in the other books. And these characters become her friends, and you know she has become important to them. This book is about her journey, her resilient spirit, and her search for a loving home.

Now if only it had color plates...

Friday, July 18, 2008

Miss Spitfire: reaching Helen Keller by Sarah Miller

I have had an obsession with Helen Keller and Laura Bridgman since I was a little girl. For those of you who don't know, Laura Bridgman was the pre-Helen Keller. She was famous before Helen Keller, was blind, deaf, and mute just like her from a very young age and acquired language as well. But she was not very pretty or even-tempered as she grew up, so she was not quite the showcase for the Perkins School, but she paved the way for the next generation of blind, deaf, and mute learners like Helen Keller.

Miss Spitfire is the story of Helen Keller from the beginning of Helen's education from her teacher, Annie Sullivan's point of view. Much like the famous movie, The Miracle Worker, it includes all the famous scenes with the doll, the locking in the room, the antics of learning to use a napkin in the dining room, and of course, the culminating scene by the water pump. But because this novel was researched using Annie Sullivan's letters, each chapter is started with an inspiring and insightful words from the letters. It is a wonderful fictional biography that has filled my obsession nicely.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

No more Bunny Rabbit. Really. Parents should learn
that if they give their girls stupid nicknames, the girls are going to rebel. Can anyone say "Nobody puts Baby in a corner?"

Frankie experiences a revelation the summer before her sophomore year at Alabaster, a private boarding school that is as white as it's name. She no longer wants to be the innocent Bunny Rabbit her parents think she is, the invisible geek her classmates think she is, and foolishly underestimated by her new boyfriend.

So she evokes the mastermind of mischief that has laid dormant inside for so long. She infiltrates the all-boy secret society at her school, anonymously having them doing her biddings with hilarious pranks and high jinks.

But while she wanted to teach everyone at Alabaster a lesson, she learned a few herself, and what it means to be a true leader.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Willoughbys by Lois Lowry

I love Lois Lowry, it's no secret. Many a time I have said I want to be just like her when I grow up. One of my greatest moments in life was when I got to give her a ride home from Vermont to Massachusetts in my little car. I think she wanted to sleep, but I, being the quiet, shy, silent type, would not let her sleep a wink as I peppered her with questions about the writing life.

However, lately her books have seemed a bit, well, grim, to me. Depressing even, that I have to ask who her intended audience is. I love her writing, I love her style, she is truly gifted, but I have been worried about my hero.

So enter The Willoughbys. Lowry knocked this one out of the park in every way. I loved the cover on sight, with its Edward Gorey-esque style, designed by Lowry herself. And I love the name of the family, bringing in Austen references of the foolish player from Sense and Sensibility. But what Lowry does best is treat her readers as smart thinkers, something often missed in children's books today. This book is a satire, it is not as what it appears; it is not simply the story of a family of abandoned children trying to off their parents any more than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is about a kid going to a candy store.

The Willoughby children are four smart children born to the most unfortunate parents. Forced to endure the same names, share the same sweater, and dealing with general neglect, the children are not too heartbroken when their parents decide to take an extended vacation--with out the children. So the four Willoughby children declaire themselves orphans, much like their literary heros, Anne of Green Gables and Pollyanna. But, to their suprise, they must endure an odious nanny, an impending house sale, an auspicious neighbor, and many other adventures that will lead them with a most unexpected family.

An enjoyable read for the Lemony Snickett crowd.

Monday, July 7, 2008

A New Venture Begins

I have another blog where I discuss knitting and my knitted baby hats, but all the time people are asking me for reviews of children's books and what to read and more suggestions. So I thought, wouldn't it be smart to have one place where I could write reviews and have links to websites where I know others could find great reads for their kids, so voila!

The BiblioBecky is born.

Here you will find nuggets of info about children's, YA, and sometimes adult books, some suggestions from humble little me, and other great resources.