Saturday, October 11, 2008

What We're Reading

The Princess and the Goblin, George Macdonald.

What a charming story! This is one of the few children's classics that I'd not read as a child. The fine young gents are enjoying the story, and it's refreshing for me to have a read-aloud that flows well as a read-aloud. We're right smack in the middle, and the gents are trying to guess what the goblins will do next, is the huge big grandmother good or wicked? and if Curdie will end up rescuing the princess from some evil predicament or other. I'm enjoying the little bits about how princesses (and by association, princes) behave: They keep their word, they try to be gracious, they keep on trying. The gents get a little lost during some of the goblin conversations, but they ask questions and I summarize some of the longer bits (er...and skip some...please tell me I can't be the only one who "abridges" a little when the guys aren't following or when I get bored), so they're getting the gist of the story and thoroughly enjoying it. I'm enjoying the story too, and for once I have no idea how it will end.

The Lightning Thief, Rick Riordan.

I read the Lightning Thief, Book one in the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, last spring while chaperoning a lovely lady's choir trip. I'd finished my book and the young lady sitting behind me loaned me the first book in the series she'd brought along on the trip. A rolicking good adventure, and a fun introduction to/review of Greek mythology. Percy (short for Perseus) is a modern-day son of the ancient Greek sea god, Poseidon. Modern-day Olympus has moved to the eight-hundredth floor of the Empire State Building, and Hades resides in the Land of the Dead beneath Los Angeles. The book is fun and action-packed. I made it through the first, second, and half of the third books before the trip was over.

When it came time to choose a new read-aloud, I thought the fine young gents would enjoy an adventure with swords and battles and monsters, so I started reading The Lightning Thief.

Problem one: Too scary. After two nights, five-year-old gent asked me to stop reading the book at bedtime. It was giving him bad dreams. But the gents begged me to keep reading the story during the day, so I decided to stick with it.

Problem two: Speaking of abridging while reading (above), I found myself skimming over the parts referring to the fact that Percy's parents were not married, some of the references to the escapades of the Greek gods and goddesses, and after having a chat with five-year-old gent about how we talk to others, I skipped the many uses of the words "stupid" and "idiot." I was feeling a little uncertain about skipping any of the lines, words, sentences, paragraphs. After all, I have strong feelings about reading stories as the author has written them, for better or for worse. But listening to my usually mild-mannered young man begin calling his brother "stupid" reminded me just how impressionable these young minds can be, so I started editing on the fly.

Problem three: The Lightning Thief was a rolicking good read, but as a read-aloud....clunk, clunk, clunk. After the first few chapters I was kind of hoping the fine young gents would be willing to give it up. I felt the same way about Peter and the Starcatchers a couple years ago. Children's stories have become so action-driven that the writing that makes a story rich, charming, beautiful, full has disappeared. It's almost like reading a movie instead of a book, just an endless description of the action. When I started The Princess and the Goblin in the evenings, the contrast was so marked that I was relieved, and I couldn't wait to finish The Lightning Thief so I didn't have to read it any more.

It sounds as though I hated the book, and I really didn't. Is it the greatest book out there? Nah. But it's a great story. Is it a great read-aloud? Certainly not. But Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a fun series, a clever way to introduce and reinvent the ancient stories of the Greek gods. I'm sure it will be delightful for the fine young gentlemen when they're, say, tweens. But we'll wait until then to bring out the rest of the series, and they can read them on their own.

Walking the Bible: A Journey by Land Through the Five Books of Moses, Bruce Feiler.

I misplaced it (for real, not "misplaced" because I didn't want to read it any longer), and have just found it again. Feiler decided to visit all of the places mentioned in the first five books of the Bible. It's a fascinating and mostly well-written book. I've particularly enjoyed the landscape descriptions and the stories of the people Feiler meets along the way.

As a side note, while Feiler is visiting the Sinai Desert, he was certainly obsessed with food. There are several really bad food metaphors--comparing distant mountains to raw ground hamburger, for example. Clunk. It was a bit distracting (to me) from the purpose and direction of the book, but the clunkers were entertaining to read out loud, and rest assured, once he's out of the desert the bad metaphors stop and the normal flow of the book resumes.

Good book, definitely well worth reading.

This Is Your Brain on Music: The Science of a Human Obsession, Daniel J. Levitin.

"Pitch is so important that the brain represents it directly...If I put electrodes in your visual cortex (the part of the brain at the back of the head, concerned with seeing), and then I showed you a red tomato, there is no group of neurons that will cause my electrodes to turn red. But if I put electrodes in your auditory cortex and play a pure tone in your ears at 440 Hz, there are neurons in your auditory cortex that will fire at precisely that frequency, causing the electrode to emit electrical activity at 440 Hz--for pitch, what goes into the ear comes out of the brain!" (p. 29)

My lovely Irie sis, knowing how much I enjoyed Oliver Sach's Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, mentioned that Da5id was reading a similar book. Not long after she showed up at my door with This is Your Brain on Music. Levitin breaks down music into separate elements, such as melody, harmony, pitch, rhythm, tempo and so on) and addresses the science behind each element. That's as far as I've gotten, and some of it is very technical, but it is fascinating.

Oh, and this is either the perfect book or the worst book ever for me as the Earworm Queen. (Depending on whether you're me or the person sitting next to me, I suppose.) Levitin uses well-known music of all genres as examples to illustrate the concepts he's discussing. At swim lessons the other night, I found myself inadvertently humming in succession Michelle (Beatles), Roxanne (Sting) and the "Chinese Dance" from The Nutcracker (Tchaikovsky).

King Arthur (Usborne Classics Retold) , Felicity Brooks.

Second-grade gent's reading book. "It's good," he says. He likes the swords and stuff. I like that he's experiencing classic tales that he'll be reading later on in his education.

A Seed is Sleepy, by Dianna Hutts Aston (Author) and Sylvia Long (Illustrator)

Part of our fall nature study, we pulled out A Seed is Sleepy for the pages that show tree seeds. We've since looked at this beautiful picture book daily. The illustrations are stunning, detailed and life-like, and the text is informative and simple. A nature library classic. I first read about this book at Nina's Painted Rainbows and Chamomile Tea (isn't that a lovely name for a blog?), along with its companion, An Egg is Quiet. Nina always has great book recommendations for young children, and these books are real treasures.

Happy Reading!


KarenK said...

Actually, I did begin reading The Princess and the Goblin to you and your sister when you were both a little too young, I think, and Cristy started having nightmares, so I put that one away (after devouring it myself) and picked up something else (Wizard of Oz?: why is that not scary??). Another book that did the nightmare thing was the Jungle Book for some reason - and who can fathom the reasons? Somehow it resulted in the night terrors.

Brit said...

I find that to be the case with us, some of the new exciting books my son picks up fall very flat when I try to read them out loud. I end up finding older books with full and rich descriptions so much easier to read to them. Not as much "he said," "she said" back and forth.

Sara said...

I think I'll try the Princess and the Goblin with Carbon. Thanks, as always, for the book post. I love them!