Title: In Other Lands
By: Sarah Rees Brennan
Synopsis (via Goodreads):
The Borderlands aren’t like anywhere else. Don’t try to smuggle a phone or any other piece of technology over the wall that marks the Border—unless you enjoy a fireworks display in your backpack. (Ballpoint pens are okay.) There are elves, harpies, and—best of all as far as Elliot is concerned—mermaids.
Elliot? Who’s Elliot? Elliot is thirteen years old. He’s smart and just a tiny bit obnoxious. Sometimes more than a tiny bit. When his class goes on a field trip and he can see a wall that no one else can see, he is given the chance to go to school in the Borderlands.
How I got it: As I started compiling my To Be Read list last month, I realized that I had several books by Sarah Rees Brennan still to read. I’ve been reading Brennan’s work since she was sixteen and am a huge fan but I’ve fallen behind and out of touch. So I went to find out what she’s been up to lately. I was shocked to learn of her recent health issues but relieved and delighted to find she still has her rapier wit and a new book out. I had to buy it immediately. Books by Sarah Rees Brennan are exempt from the Book Buying Moratorium.
When I got it: December 2017
Why I want to read it: Sarah Rees Brennan is the only writer who has ever made me spontaneously laugh out loud when I was reading her work. She creates original characters with personalities that just leap off the page. While I have yet to read her last series (maybe it’s the female lead that’s putting me off?), I am excited to start this one.
A fascinating question really. With the advancements in genetics it’s only a matter of time I imagine. Clone stories seem to be everywhere over the past couple of years (Orphan Black anyone?) but it’s a haunting story I read a few years ago that really made me think about the evolving definition of humanity.
Like some of my favourite stories recently (Curious Incident, Wonder, Out of Sight) House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer sets out to make you question perception and uses first person point of view to maximum impact. The novel is set in the dystopian world of Opium where we meet Matt, a young clone of the local drug lord who was bred for parts. Matt is treated like an animal with no more rights or feelings than a cow bred for meat. Farmer’s writing is so vivid and we are right there with Matt as he battles for identity and questions who he really is. An unusual take on the traditional Coming of Age story but very effective.
Several of my grade 10 students have read The House of the Scorpian since I added it to their Independent Study List, and it has prompted some great debate and deep thinking in their writing. A good story that gets kids talking is always a good thing in my book 🙂
I have yet to read the sequel, The Lord of Opium, but it’s definitely on the To Be Read list for this year.
Ages: 12 and up Rating: 4.5 stars
Wonder was recommended to me by a young friend who really enjoyed it and thought I might too. Being the highly intuitive young man that he is, I knew better than to doubt him and downloaded it immediately. Wonder is the story of August, a ten-year-old boy who has been home-schooled his whole life. It’s not like he doesn’t have friends, or is behind intellectually, but still his parents have decided it’s time to go to school. Begin with all the other new kids entering middle school in grade 5. August is adamant about not going. You see, August has what he calls mandibulofacial dysostosis, which, as I read the description, sounded a lot like Treacher Collins syndrome, a rare condition characterized by severe facial deformity. Really he’s just an ordinary ten-year-old but few tend to work their way past the surface to find that out. Auggie’s used to the glances, the second looks, the looking away when people don’t know what to say. Middle school is hard enough as it is without looking different. After meeting the principal and touring the school, Auggie decides to go, beginning a journey that is both touching and inspiring.
What I loved most about this book is that it’s told from a variety of viewpoints. The first section is from Auggie’s point of view, then the same incidents are reviewed and the story is continued from his sister’s point of view. We then hear the story of Auggie’s journey through the first year of middle school from a continuing succession of his classmates and even his sister’s boyfriend, before returning to Auggie. The reader views the same incident from two or three view points, an invaluable lesson for many children as they learn to think outside of themselves. Also, the author never loses sight of the characters’ voice. I could see and hear these children telling their story; the slang was right, the vocabulary was right, and the actions and uncertainties rang true.
Wonder is a exceptional story from start to finish. One of the most valuable lessons we can pass on to the next generation is to see through another’s eyes; feel what another is feeling and try to understand the reasons for another’s actions and reactions.
Not only does Wonder make us think, and hopefully make our children think, it’s also an enjoyable read. Never did I feel as if I was being preached at, which is what put it over the top for me because, trust me, kids know when they are being preached at.
Ages: 8-12 Rating: 5 stars
For the Love of the Bard
I have had a love affair with Shakespeare as long as I can remember, but every time I hear someone say they hate Shakespeare or they don’t understand Shakespeare or why do we need to study Shakespeare, I wonder how I ended up so different. Even some English teachers I know avoid Shakespeare (to my mind a travesty but there ya go). I can’t think of anything better than a week in Stratford and I’ve lost count of the number of Shakespeare plays I’ve seen live. I roamed the streets of Stratford England in awe and saw Judi Dench in The Merry Wives of Windsor. I revel in his words and delight in his intricate plots.
Now I don’t come from a family of Shakespeare lovers. My parents didn’t read sonnets to me in the womb and there were certainly no performances to attend in tmy small Northern Ontario city. So where did my passion come from? Well I trace It all back to a single book; Cue For Treason by Geoffrey Trease. The story is set in Elizabethan England and is the tale of 15-year-old Peter who escapes prosecution for a minor offence and heads to London where he eventually ends up as Shakespeare’s apprentice. There is murder and intrigue and a plot to assassinate the queen and I was riveted from start to finish.
It was the set novel in my grade 9 English class and we spent a long time with it, tracing the historical elements, labeling maps and learning about Shakespeare’s plays.
I don’t remember how many times I read it but I went over and over my favourite scenes and answered every study question in the back. It was a fascinating study of the times and the political and social climate, not to mention how theatres operated.
I then sought everything I could find about Shakespeare, theatre, Elizabethan England and the Tudors. Strangely enough I didn’t study Shakespeare in high school until my final year and I wonder if that might not have cemented my love of the Bard. Honestly I don’t think I could have been turned off, but I can’t help wondering if a bad first experience with Shakespeare is where all the haters come from. Students who are presented with the Bard too early, before they can appreciate the genius of the language and the bawdiness of the comedy. Or a teacher who is indifferent to Shakespeare but forced to teach it, resulting in everyone being unhappy.
I was lucky. I had two very passionate English teachers in high school that I credit with nurturing my newfound love, leading me to eventually study and teach dramatic literature.
There is no doubt that the impact of a single book can be very powerful in its influence on a child. Saying that Cue for Treason is the reason I am where I am today is pretty simplistic, but it certainly started me down the path. I feel an overwhelming desire to read it again but I’m a little afraid that as an adult reader I won’t feel the same magic.
Will let you know how it goes…