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.
Photos from my SCBWI talk on middle-grade and chapter books
“A road’s a kind of holy thing”
Pin the Tail on the Donkey, Only With Books (and No Pinning)
At the end of this post, I will be no closer to a decision.
Room by Emma Donoghue