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All posts for the month August, 2013

Books My Mother Gave Me: The Children of Green Knowe (L.M. Boston) Review

Published August 26, 2013 by julietstubborn

This book is set around Christmas time, making it not the best thing to read during August, but there you go.

The book follows Toseland (Tolly) who is sent to live with his great grandmother at the house of Green Noah.

Due to the village being flooded, Tolly must row to the house, leaving him imagining he is on his way to the ark. There is a lot of religious symbolism in the book, such as a statue of Saint Christopher in the garden, but we are never shown them outside Tolly’s point of view, so they could be interpreted as his games of make believe. Or not. It is up to the reader to decide for themselves.

“It looked as if someone had been trying to draw her for a very long time and every line put in had made the face more like her.”

Tolly’s great grandmother is just as imaginative as he is, indulging him when he has imagined things and telling him stories about olden times.

Not much does happen in the book, it is mainly just Tolly’s life there and stories of the children who used to live there – the children of the title, who reside as ghosts now; although ‘ghosts’ is probably the wrong word for them. The children are not really displayed as ghosts as how can they be ghosts when it was their house once too? – the fact they are not seen as ghosts is the only reason I can think of for why I was not scared by this book as a child – the children are only ever portrayed as being there, in fact Tolly really wants to see them which takes some of the ‘ghostiness’ about them away.

” “Why do you live in a castle?” He said, looking round. “Why not? Castles were meant to live in.” “

While not a lot does happen in the book, the old stories Mrs Oldknow tells are important to the plot as she explains why the house is called Green Noah when it was once called Green Knowe. It involves a tree cursed by a gypsy after her son was sent to Australia for trying to steal a horse.

This makes the book unique as while the children (or ghosts) are not portrayed as frightening at any point; the cursed tree is. If anything the ghost children help Tolly when he wanders near the cursed tree during a storm.

“It was Tolly who sang alone, while, four hundred years ago, a baby went to sleep.”

The book allows you to make up your own mind whether you think it is all make believe or whether the castle really is full of ghosts. It is written well also. I distinctly remember hearing about Tolly being rowed to Green Noah for the first time, as the description of the floods and later on the snow is wonderful.

Although the central plot is covered in about five pages, it is a book you want to read, even if just to hear more about Tolly’s life there with the ghost children.

There were other books in this series, but this was the only one I ever had. When I was younger, I always assumed it was quite an old fashioned book, (it was published in 1954)and didn’t really ever read it myself after my mother stopped reading to me, but reading it again, I don’t think it should be set in the present or in any other time than it is and I’m quite tempted to try and find the others.

Books My Mother Gave Me: The Phantom Tollbooth (Norton Juster) Review

Published August 19, 2013 by julietstubborn

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Due to the fact I am likely to ramble in this review I also put up a video review of this book, but the written version is more coherent.

The story follows a basic adventure plot. Milo arrives home from school to find a cardboard tollbooth in his house, along with a map and some coins. He goes through and finds himself in a strange world with warring kings and literal metaphors.

“You weren’t thinking and you weren’t paying attention either. People who don’t pay attention often get stuck in the Doldrums.”

Milo gets lost very early on and finds himself in a place called the Doldrums where it’s very hard to do anything. Even think. He manages to get out with the help of a watchdog – a dog with a clock on his body – called Tock.

Tock actually goes tick, but was inscribed with the name Tock when he was born due to a misunderstanding. He’s very sensitive about the story and cries when he has to tell it.

The first city Milo and Tock arrive at is Dictionopolis. The city of words. It is in Dictionopolis they are given their quest: Rescue Rhyme and Reason from the Castle in the air. Rhyme and Reason were sisters who were banished a few years ago for failing to settle an argument between their two king brothers.

“Rhyme and Reason answer all Problems.”

When I was first read this as a child, I loved the literalness of the tollbooth land. Everything is extremely logical, but somehow that seems to make it more confusing. And the only way for everything to make sense is to bring back Rhyme and Reason or more specifically the princesses of Sweet Rhyme and Pure Reason as they are named.

“If something is there you can only see it with your eyes open, but if it isn’t there, you can see it just as well with your eyes closed. That’s why imaginary things are often easier to see than real ones.”

The travellers pass through Illusions and Reality. One beautiful and one invisible because no-one ever looks at it, as they are all too busy trying to get to somewhere. They also meet Chroma, who conducts the symphony of colour for the whole world. If he stops conducting then there is no colour and everything appears in outline. Milo has a go at conducting, and ends up making a whole week pass in a few minutes, and nothing is the colour it should be. The symphony of colour was one of the things I remembered most about the book as it was such a clear image. You can clearly imagine the notes which would appear at dawn, and how each person in the orchestra would pick up their turn.

The travellers carry on their way having various mini adventures as they go – which are much better to read about than explain, so I won’t mention them – eventually they decide nothing can go wrong now and end up in Conclusions.

An island; extremely easy to get to, but almost impossible to get back from. Such is the peril of Jumping to Conclusions. After hours getting back from Conclusions, they finally reach Digitopolis: The city of numbers.

The one thing in the book I never understood was the use of subtraction stew, which is a food in Digitopolis. The more you eat the hungrier you get, which does make sense, but it is never explained how you then get full again, or whether everyone is constantly starving. But as that is the only part of the book I don’t like and as I am bad at maths, it may just be I never figured the explanation out…I can forgive the book that.

“Out the demons came – from every cave and crevice, through every fissure and crack, from under the rocks and up from the mud, stomping and shuffling, slithering and sliding, through the murky shadows. And all had only one thought in mind: destroy the intruders and protect Ignorance.”

The literal metaphors reach a height with the Mountains of Ignorance, which lead to the Castle in the air. The Mountains of Ignorance house many demons such as: the demons of trivial tasks – so you never get anything important done, and the demon of insincerity, who sounds frightening, until you realise he doesn’t mean any of it.

The part with the demons was something I didn’t remember so much from when I was a child, but it’s one of my favourite parts of the book on re-reading it. The demons are all real life things that everyone is guilty of – as is Milo at the beginning of the book – but by making them literal beings, it makes it much easier to see how Milo can defeat each one.

With the princesses rescued, Milo returns home, and the next day, just when he wants to go back through the Tollbooth, it has disappeared, because Milo doesn’t need it anymore.

The land through the Tollbooth is a literal place, with so many memorable images. It makes so much sense, it becomes nonsense. If that makes any sense at all…

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map of the land

Books My Mother Gave Me: Well-Wishers (Edward Eager) Review

Published August 12, 2013 by julietstubborn

Unlike the other books in this series, this one is written in first person, by all of the characters individually, as they all have their own chapter.

“Another rule is not to put in things that don’t mean anything and are just there to make it more exciting. Like saying, “There I stood, my heart beating.” Naturally your heart would be beating. Otherwise you wouldn’t be standing there; you’d be lying down dead.”

This book follows James, Lydia, Laura, Gordy and Deborah who were also in a book entitled Magic or Not? which is the one book in the series I never owned. It follows on from Magic or Not? though, as the children find a magic wishing well.

“Magic doesn’t seem at all like the kind that would be true, when you come to think of it. Still, neither do airplanes and electric lights and outer space.”

The magic in this book seems to be of a more ordinary variety. There are no quests to olden times, instead the wishes coming true could be seen as mere coincidence, but they would be quite big coincidences.

Through the wishes the children help a depressed young girl and reform the school bully.

While the changing of the viewpoint did annoy me slightly, though it didn’t as a child, it is done well. Each chapter has a distinctly different voice as it is written by different people, you don’t confuse them easily.

The main adventure of the book comes from a new family who want to move into town. There are a number of people who want to stop them. It is never explained why they do not want the family moving in, but reading it now, it seems kind of obvious. Although, it is left to the reader to decide why some people do not want the family moving in, the most likely reason seems to be because the family is black, but because this is never explained outright in the book, a younger reader might not make the connection. The book handles it well. The main characters are not against the family moving in, which is of course important, because when the book was written in 1960, racism was a big problem, and having the children on the side of the new family makes clear the moral of this book, which is don’t be upset with who you are.

“The books tell all about knights and musketeers rescuing beautiful damsels. But they never put in what Lancelot said to Elaine on the ride home.”

The last adventure seems as if it is a ‘proper’ adventure, with a girl locked in a tower by an ogre, however it soon turns out she was in fact grounded by her father and the children help her escape to meet her boyfriend at the cinema, but a gas leak at the cinema means she then actually does need rescuing making it a good updated damsel in distress adventure.

When I was younger, this was one of my favourite Edward Eager books, so I was surprised how much of it I had forgotten. Having read them all again I think I now prefer the The Time Garden but as this book is the only one with a clear moral at the end, it seems like a fitting end to the Edward Eager series.

Books My Mother Gave Me: The Time Garden (Edward Eager) Review

Published August 5, 2013 by julietstubborn

This book was the Edward Eager book I remember the most from when I was a child, but reading it again, I seemed to have forgotten much more about the story than I thought I had, forgetting one of the main characters (the Natterjack) completely!

The book follows Roger, Ann, Jack and Eliza again, as they are sent to a house for the summer, while their parents work in London.

Jack has grown up since the last book, and is convinced they dreamt it. He would much rather spend his time chatting up girls than going on magical adventures.

“Anything can happen when you’ve all the time in the world.”

The garden of the house has various kinds of the herb thyme growing in it, and a sun dial  bearing a cryptic message. They meet the Natterjack – who looks like a toad but can talk and are sent back in time by the thyme, but only in time, not space, so the house still stands behind them, and they are in the middle of The War of Independence.

As it turns out there will be a battle that night, the children realise maybe they are the ones who have to make sure everyone is ready to fight, and that if they wern’t there it might not have happened.

They appear as people of olden times, to avoid them constantly being asked why they dress so oddly.

To have an adventure somewhere else, they take a load of the magic thyme in a box with them to Boston for the day and go to the house where Little Women was set. Of course, the children use a wish to take them back in time to meet some of the people from Louisa May Alcott’s book.

I have never read Little Women , but you are immersed into their world in such a way that it doesn’t really matter, as you understand everything that is going on anyway. Though I have never read Little Women, I remembered this adventure of theirs perfectly.

In the adventure they are sent to help a woman who is supposedly ill, but is really just lazy, while there, her child steals Ann’s ring and refuses to give it back, leading to an argument and the Natterjack turning into a dragon. I won’t say how, because you should read it. Maybe if this part had made it into Little Women, I’d have been more tempted to read that book as a child as well.

“Suppose you were up in an airplane. You could look down and see us, here on this beach, and you could see the Boston road, over beyond the woods, too. But it’d take us half an hour to walk from here to there. Time’s like that. It’s all there, Henry the Eighth and Lincoln and yesterday and today, all happening over and over all the time. Only it takes time to get from one to the other.”

This also explains how they met with their parents in Magic by The Lake. It isn’t done in the most obvious way, that is the children don’t wish to see their parents as children. They just wish to see their parents, but do not specify when. 

Once there, they realise who the other children are, this is done well, with many of the sentences being the exact same ones as in Magic by the Lake, but told from Roger, Jack, Eliza, and Ann’s point of view rather than the other children’s.

Back in the Time/Thyme garden. Jack and Eliza find Old English thyme, which should surely get them to their parents in London. To make this wish, they break the rules, and find themselves not only in Elizabethan England, but everyone notices they are not wearing Elizabethan clothes. Eliza is sent to the Tower of London, while Jack is made a palace guard.

Back in the present, Roger  and Ann realise they may be in trouble, and set out to save them, but this will use up the last of their magic.

They get sent back to Victorian times and go on a tour round the Tower of London, where they see the letters “E-L-I-Z” scratched into the wall, while there is a chance this is just someone called Elizabeth, it could also be their cousin Eliza, so they wish for her to be in their time.

“Even last times don’t last forever, you know.”

While I remembered liking this Edward Eager book the most from when I was younger, and could remember the adventure into the book Little Women and the adventure into Elizabethan England, there was a lot I had forgotten completely, so it was surprising to read about it as if for the first time.

This book may in fact be better to read yourself, rather than having it read to you as it was to me, because of the frequent mentions of time versus thyme, which of course cannot be fully noticed when said out loud.