Losing my Voice to the West of the Moon

moon2West of the Moon by Margi Preus is the most spellbinding book I’ve read aloud since Harry Potter, and – obviously – that’s saying something big.

Preus’s artful prose moves through a series of dreamscapes, blending fairy tales and history in ways so divine, I often found myself completely breathless.

Why breathless? Because my kids insisted I read the whole book in one sitting!valemon

Now, lest you think me a pushover, Dear Reader, let me assure you that my children frequently beg me to read “just one more chapter.” They are often denied this heady delight, but West of the Moon had me so transfixed I did not wish to stop.

Not even when my voice started to go. Not even when my throat began to hurt.

At the center of the tale is an incredible Norwegian girl named Astri. She’s no perfect heroine, which is precisely what makes her lovable to me. I was an imperfect child. Probably, you were an imperfect child too. Imperfect children need to believe they can be the heroes and heroines of their own lives, and that’s exactly what Astri shows them they can do.

“Now I know how much I’m worth: not as much as Jesus, who I’m told was sold for thirty pieces of silver. I am worth two silver coins and a haunch of goat.”

That’s right, young Astri is sold for next to nothing to a cruel goat farmer who treats her like a slave, but when he decides she must also become his bride, she flees, setting off with her little sister, Greta, in search of their father in America.

It’s a story of immigration and liberation; it’s a perfect quilt of many different tales. Real historical facts are stitched together in such an artful fashion that by the time my children and I became aware we were learning history, we were positively giddy with the fact!

Armed with only her wits, a troll treasure, a black book of dark spells, and a hairbrush that just might be magic, Astri and her sister move through a world that is both like a fever and a dream.

This is one character that refuses to accept her miserable lot in life, and – like any real girl – Astri is willing to do what it takes to escape hardship and abuse. She lies, she steals, she tangles with Death himself, and, of course, she comes out the winner.

This is a story that will stay with me a very long time.

Do you have a favorite fairy tale? What is it? What makes it appealing to you?

Advertisements

A Beautiful and Terrible Thing

You know what I look for in a good book? sadeyes

The truth.

When I was a girl I obsessed over Judy Blume’s books. I especially loved Tiger Eyes because it dealt with everything from death and grief to physical attraction and risky teen behaviors.

I loved Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? because it helped me face my own confusion about religious belief vs. non-belief, and it didn’t gloss over any of the scary parts of puberty, even though it somehow made them less terrifying.

I loved Deenie because she was beautiful and had to deal with something really difficult – something that affected her life in all kinds of painful ways – and that somehow put my own life in perspective. I learned compassion and how to count my blessings.

I loved Forever because it dealt so honestly with sex and young love, and the kicker was that nothing bad happened to the characters. No one was excommunicated. No one contracted AIDS. There were no unplanned pregnancies, and the choice to have sex did not derail anyone’s life.

Of course, the truth is that any of those things could have happened. Those things do happen in the world, which goes to show there are plenty of truths Judy Blume never even touched. But what I loved about Judy – what I still love about Judy – is that she wasn’t afraid to write the truths she knew with all the gory parts left in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good fantasy, but the only thing that makes me believe in witches and wizards, or dwarves and elves is that very human element: The Truth!

I find the truth in dialogue that sounds real, complex characters that must wrestle with opposing desires, choices made with wrong motives, disasters born from right motives, and all the various shades of gray that keep the world in motion.

But be careful as you go!

“The truth,” Dumbledore sighed.It is a beautiful and terrible thing, and should therefore be treated with great caution.” -J.K. Rowling

Writers: Please keep getting down and dirty – keep telling the truth!

Readers: What truths still need telling?

A Dark & Grimm Summer Vacation

I love to read aloud to my children.

I get to play all the parts, so I especially love it when books are full of interesting characters. Yeah, I do voices. I do them shamelessly, and in public, in case you were wondering. So, naturally, I have my favorites.ravens

Last summer we tackled A Tale Dark & Grimm, Through a Glass Grimmly, and A Grimm Conclusion, all by the very talented Adam Gidwitz. And guess what, this summer we’re doing it all over again. Why?

Because these books are so much fun!

It’s all built into the text: you get warn your kids about any upcoming bloody scenes, interrupt the story with delightfully ominous warnings, and–in the third book–repeat the most challenging word since “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious.” I won’t spoil that part for you. Just remember it has something to do with Eddie.

Reader Tip: After carefully pronouncing Eddie’s full name several times in front of the kids, flub it up on purpose! Kids love correcting adults (you’ll probably need their help anyway).

Fairy tales have always been awesome, but in the age of Disney many kids don’t know that yet. That’s where Adam Gidwitz saves the day.

With his permission, I’m including a short excerpt from the introduction (you know, the part before the book starts getting good): fairyforest

Before I go on, a word of warning: Grimm’s stories–the ones that weren’t changed for little kids–are violent and bloody. And what you’re going to hear now, the one true tale in The Tales of Grimm, is as violent and bloody as you can imagine.

Really.

So if such things bother you, we should probably stop right now.

You see, the land of Grimm can be a harrowing place. But it is worth exploring. For, in life, it is in the darkest zones one finds the brightest beauty and the most luminous wisdom.

And, of course, the most blood.

Kids today need fairy tales.  And Adam Gidwitz is here to provide them!

What’s your favorite children’s book to read aloud, and why?

Bookish Worlds

Not long ago J.K. Rowling confirmed a thought I’ve long entertained.

All these people saying they never got their Hogwarts letter: you got the letter. You went to Hogwarts. We were all there together. 

Of course it happened inside your head, but why on earth should that mean it wasn’t real?

Of course. Obviously. I’m a Ravenclaw. You’re a… well, I don’t remember, but if you read Harry Potter, we were there together.

Really. J.K. Rowling said it’s so.swirl

When I’m reading a good book, I fall into it. I practically leave my body behind.
Without a doubt, it (my body) will be breathing, laughing, and probably rubbing pages all over its face in a way that might embarrass me if I were actually there. Good thing that when pages are involved, I’m not.

I leave my body places all the time.

I love traveling, sifting through secret thoughts, and peering into mirrors while wearing other people’s skins. I don’t even mind when my heart gets broken, so long as it happens in other, bookish worlds.

So if you stumble across my body, just take a peek over its shoulder. Those pages on my face ought to tell you where I am.

I might be under the sea, flying in space, or halfway up a beanstalk somewhere green. Happy blogging!

Look for me in wardrobes, and in cupboards under stairs.

And feel free to join me there.