Posts Tagged ‘middle grade novels’

Booknotes: The Gammage Cup

May 26, 2010 @ 6:30 am | Filed under: Books

Attempting to catch up on notes about things I’ve recently read and enjoyed…

Of all the curiosities that had been pitched out of Fooley’s balloon, the painting was the only one to fall into the Watercress River. When it had been fished out, nobody knew what it was, but fortunately Fooley had listed in his book the names of the curiosities, and when everthing else was checked off—like the family tree, the poem, the hourglass—it was obvious that the remaining item was a painting. The bath in the Watercress had done it no good. Though the colors of the squares, triangles, circles, and shields were clear enough, and the interconnecting black lines intact, the piece of parchment looked as though inky fingers had daubed it. But daubs or no daubs, the Periods (and therefore the ordinary villagers) adopted the painting for their own. Ever since Fooley’s time, a painting was a pattern of colored shaped connected by black lines, following the classical example.


The Gammage Cup by Carol Kendall. Kendall is one of those writers whose voice I just plain enjoy. She’s a quirky storyteller with a taste for misfits. This novel is about the Minnipins, a tradition-loving people who live in small villages in an isolated mountain valley. Their distant ancestors settled here after escaping from terrible enemies about whom little is known, now, except their names: The Mushrooms. A few centuries ago, one of the Minnipins journeyed over the mountains and back via hot air balloon. Most of Fooley’s souvenirs—and memories—were scattered when he crash-landed back at home, but the remaining fragments have been carefully enshrined in a village museum and in the customs of his descendants. (You can tell them apart from the rest of the villagers by their names, which are taken from a scrap of paper that survived the crash and is now presumed to be a list of the friends Fooley made on his journey: Ave., Co., Wm., Eng., etc. “The Periods,” as these folk are reverently called, run the village.)

Folks in the village like things to be done just so, and they have little tolerance for eccentrics like Gummy the poet or lively Curley Green, who recklessly paints images of things from real life, in disregard of the proper classical style. (My kids love Kendall’s work, but her character names drive them up a wall.) When Muggles, the reluctant heroine, and her misfit friends begin to suspect the terrible Mushrooms are preparing for another attack, they have to persuade the rest of the villagers that the danger is real. Instead, they get kicked out of the village.

This is a fun read, somewhat formulaic but Kendall’s unusual voice makes the formula feel new. Beneath the storybook action is a quiet exploration of intellectual honesty; the villagers—especially The Periods—tend to do things just because that’s the way they’ve always been done, without pondering the origins of the customs. Muggles, though fearful of the social consequences of coloring outside the lines, can’t help but ask questions.

There’s a sequel, The Whisper of Glocken, which Rose and Jane have beat me to. They enjoyed it.

The cover of the current paperback edition is perfectly dreadful. I tried not to look at it too much.

Here’s my old post about Kendall’s wonderful The Firelings, which also takes a look at the relationship between custom and reason.

From the Archives: The Firelings by Carol Kendall

March 18, 2010 @ 10:34 am | Filed under: Books

Originally posted in September, 2005.

I’m reading the girls a book I discovered at age ten or eleven and read with immense relish several times over the next few years: The Firelings by Carol Kendall. I’m enjoying it just as much this time around. And it’s one of those “oh please, just ONE more chapter” books for the kids.

The Firelings are a halfling people who live in the shadow of a volcano they call Belcher. The village legends tell of Belcher’s former life as a Sky Creature who danced a little too energetically one day and stomped a hole in the floor of the sky, through which he tumbled into a sea of his own brine. This misfortune, as far as the Firelings can tell, left Belcher in rather an irascible state. From time to time—dark times in Fireling history—he has required a tasty Morsel to prevent his crotchety temper from erupting with disastrous effect. And once, long ago (so the legends tell), a group of Firelings actually dared to attempt to leave Belcher’s sprawling body, seeking exit through the fabled Way of the Goat. Belcher punished them with a terrible Spewing, and ever since, the survivors have tiptoed very carefully, attempting to interpret Belcher’s wishes in the bubblings of mud near his Throat.

Now Belcher’s belly has once more begun to emit ominous rumblings, and his fiery tongue has been seen darting out of his mouth as if to suggest he is craving another Morsel…and in the whispers around the village, a certain name pops up with an alarming frequency. What will this mean for young Tacky-obbie and his friends Life, Trueline, Milk, and Mole Star? My kids are desperate to find out. I know, but I’m not telling.

Related post:

The Gammage Cup

To Have and to Hold

June 5, 2009 @ 10:04 am | Filed under: Books, TBR

My monster TBR-pile woes are well documented on this blog. I’ve already accumulated more books than I can read in a lifetime. The trouble is, people keep writing new ones. And then other people go and read them, and write captivating posts about them, and next thing I know, I’ve spent the clothing budget on books we don’t have room for, and my library hold list is, well, an embarrassment. Seriously, ma’am, you think you’re going to get through all those in three weeks? Let’s face it, you and I both know that’s not going to happen.

(Which is why I never actually make the library pick-up myself. I send Scott. Let him take the rap. Ha.)

The trouble is, half the time I can’t remember where I heard about the books in the stack. And this matters to me, both because it helps me decide what to read next and because I like to give people credit for their excellent recommendations. Also, sometimes if it’s a children’s book, I won’t remember that I’m the one who put it on hold—I’ll assume it was a Jane pick, and then suddenly the book’ll be due and Jane will say, “Mom, are you sure you want this to go back today? You haven’t read it yet, have you?”

For example: Masterpiece by Elise Broach. Was this my pick, or Jane’s? If mine, where’d I read about it?

So, OK, I’m going to try keeping a record here of the library books I reserve and where I heard about them—which review made me want to read the book, to quote Jen Robinson again.

This morning’s early blog perusing added a number of titles to the hold list:

Any Which Wall by Laurel Snyder. Anything by Laurel goes automatically in my TBR pile, but in this case it was Book Aunt’s review that reminded me to add it to the queue.

Colleen Mondor of Chasing Ray is going to cause a relapse of Scott’s back problems when he has to haul home the pile of books I have my eye on after reading this post. I’m going easy on him by starting with only two titles:

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly (wah, our system only has it on order; could be a while before it arrives). Psst, Becky, have you seen this one yet? Seems up your alley.

Tracking Trash by Loree Griffin Burns. This was another memory spark. Who reviewed it last year and made me go ooh? Susan, was it you?

Any Which Wall is in that post, too. Along with a number of other books that look quite intriguing. Be warned.

The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland. I just read about it this morning and have already forgotten where. Bookshelves of Doom, perhaps? Oh, wait, I remember! It was Monica Edinger’s post on the theme of hope in YA books at educating alice.

Graceling by Kristin Cashore. Have been meaning to add this one for a while, but didn’t remember to until reading BEA roundups and hearing about people snagging ARCs of its sequel, Fire.

Of a Feather: A Brief History of American Birding by Scott Weidensaul. Surely I heard about this one at Mental Multivitamin. And yet a quickie Google search doesn’t turn up a link, not on the first page of hits, at least. Can this be? I must be missing it.

I see we’ve reserved a copy of Battle Royale, a manga title by Koushun Takami, because Scott told me it’s a very similar premise to that of Hunger Games (which I loved, and whose sequel, Catching Fire, I am desperate eager to read).

The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott. On my list because all Julianna Baggott’s books go on my list. Stay tuned for more about that. 🙂

That’s just this week’s list. This week’s library list. It doesn’t count the books I bought. (And odds are I’ll wind up buying copies of some of the above, too. With five avid readers in the house (so far), we tend to hold on to library books longer than is, perhaps, fair to other patrons. If a book is a hit with all of us, it’s better to just go ahead and buy a copy. At least, that’s the story I tell myself. And that’s why crisp new copies of Guernsey Literary Society and Mysterious Benedict Society are sitting on my table right now.)

(Also because apparently I will pay cash money for any book with “Society” in the title.)

You see why I have a TBR problem. I hope no one needed new clothes this summer.

September Book Notes

September 9, 2008 @ 7:25 pm | Filed under: Books

Books we’re reading and books I’ve recently read:

A Murder for Her Majesty by Beth Hilgartner. Middle-grade novel about an 11-year-old girl hiding from her father’s murderers. She witnessed the crime and has reason to believe the killers were acting on orders from Queen Elizabeth. Half-dead from hunger and cold after making her way from London to York, young Alice Tuckfield encounters a group of amiable choirboys (most of them are amiable, at least) who take her in and convince her to hide out in the boys’ choir as a lark. I thoroughly enjoyed this suspenseful tale, which I read before giving it to Jane so that we could have the fun of discussing it. I think Scott is next in line. He’ll like the setting: much of the action occurs in and around the York cathedral choir.

The King’s Fifth by Scott O’Dell. Next on my list of read-before-Jane-gets-hold-of-it. She has so much more reading time than I do that if I give it to her first, she’ll be miles away from it before I ever turn a page. Also, I bought it, so ha-HA, I get first dibs. This is another compelling and fascinating read. A young Spanish cartographer sits in a prison in New Spain, awaiting trial for failing to give the King of Spain his share—one fifth, following the precedent set by Cortes—of the treasure he is believed to have discovered in the Seven Lost Cities of Cibola. The young man, only seventeen years old, relives his adventures on the trail with Coronado and his army in search of the fabled cities where the streets are paved with gold. I’m only halfway through and am completely captivated. Very suspenseful, vividly detailed. The kind of historical fiction I love: a “respectfully imagined” (to borrow Gail Godwin’s phrase) rendering of real historical figures and events.

Secret of the Andes by Ann Nolan Clark. Will I ever get into this book? This is my third attempt at reading it aloud to children. First attempt was years ago, when only Jane was old enough to listen. After three slow chapters, I gave up on the “aloud” part and just handed it to her to finish. And she loved it. Last year, I tried again, this time with Rose. Stymied once more by those opening chapters. And yet, glutton for punishment optimist that I am, I’m giving it a third go-round, this time to Rose and Beanie. (Rose never finished reading it last year.) You see, I’ve put a lot of faith in Jane’s enthusiastic recommendation. Any minute now, it’s going to pick up steam. It won the Newbery in 1952, for Pete’s sake!

For now, at least it has generated a lot of discussion about the Incas, the Spanish conquistadors (happy coincidence!), and llamas. The main character is a young Indian boy, Cusi, who lives in an isolated mountain valley with his elderly guardian, Chuto, and a herd of llamas. There have been all sorts of hints in these quiet opening chapters about Cusi’s heritage (which he knows nothing about) and Chuto’s occasional mysterious journeys away from Hidden Valley with some of the llamas—journeys from which he always returns alone. Cusi wears golden earplugs, which a wandering minstrel recognizes as a sign of royalty. And now Chuto is going to take Cusi on a journey out of the valley for the first time. There’s a brooding sense of “the time has come” in the air…you see why I don’t want to give up on it? There is rich story potential here—if the characters will just get past the preparing-to-travel stage (and the singing to the llamas, oh my heavens, enough already with the the interminable singing to the llamas!) and get on with the actual traveling. Not that I’m impatient or anything.

Some books just don’t lend themselves well to reading aloud. I’ll give this one two more chapters before I decide, for once and for all, that this is one of them.