September Book Notes

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

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.

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11 Reponses | Comments Feed
  1. patience says:

    We couldn’t get into Secret of the Andes either. I really thought we OUGHT to have, as you say its a Newberry book and had so much of the “living book” about it … but blah. I gave up on reading it aloud and Rose didn’t take over with private reading, as she often does. I think I had the same problem as you – it just took too long to get properly started.

  2. Kathryn says:

    We stuck on Secret of the Andes too. Once? Or twice? I don’t remember, but I know we never got past those first chapters.

  3. Angi says:

    I love reading about other adults who enjoys children’s books. I am looking forward to my girls reading to themselves, and the discussions that will follow.

    (I left you something on my blog).

  4. CJ says:

    Some of those older Newbery winners are v…e…r…y slow-moving. My oldest son and I read one from the same era a few years ago — The Black something? I’d have to look at my reading journal to remember the name. Pirate story, ferociously dull for long stretches. How does one write a dull pirate story? How does it win a prestigious award? I still don’t know but I assume the kid lit pickings were much slimmer then. Hope this one livens up soon for you!

  5. Jeanette says:

    I am going to look for A Murder for Her Majesty. Thanks for the recommendation.

  6. Emily Pitman says:

    Push through on Secret of the Andes… We read it last year (with 8yo son) and yes, it took forever to get into, but the relationship that grows is really dear.

    Good luck from me in ME. : )

  7. Sheila says:

    I know exactly what you mean about having a hard time with one particular read-aloud. I had the worst time with Half Magic, even the kids forgot about it over the weekend. I never finished it.

    We’re just now finishing Farmer Boy (which I read in 2 nights by myself at night in bed) as our current Read Aloud. We started the Little House series last year, and by chance met a friend, when we were finishing Little House in the Big Woods, who said “Oh, DON’T read Farmer Boy – it’s boring and nothing to do with Laura!” Soooo, when it was hard to get via the library, I skipped it and went on with all the others (we read every single one). Now of course I can’t believe I listened to her. We adore it. She had such a way with descriptions. We all want that spicy apple pie.

  8. JoVE says:

    Tigger read that first one a couple of weeks ago and absolutely loved it. she’s 11.

  9. Barb says:

    ‘A murder for her majesty’ sounds fabulous (btw the link is not working as it has 2 ‘http’ in it). This seems to be my year of children/teenage literature and I am reading and reading, stacking up the books for my 9 year old to read after me 🙂

    I don’t think that some of the older books are too slow, it is rather that people have been getting used to everything being quick and instant and fast paced. My children have been growing up with little contemporary ADHD-inducing media. But from early on they were introduced to the much slower pace of literature and films from our parents and grandparents generation. I agree though, that sometimes it takes a bit more discipline to read through something slow and elaborate (and often subtle) than a quick page turner.

  10. Jordana says:

    You and I are on the same book cycle. I just checked out the The King’s Fifth and A Murder for Her Majesty. My son often resists my suggestions and then always sheepishly admits he loved them when he reads them. So far the murder mystery is getting good reviews from him.

  11. Joann says:

    We are reading this, too! I’m dozing off but the boys like it. LOL We are to about the 4th chapter. I was thinking it was slow, but it’s set in South America – mañana you know. The more rhythmic, less frenetic atmosphere is captured? Llama herders cannot have had particularly exciting daily lives.
    Watching the llamas spit – whoo, be still my heart!
    We did have to go look up llamas humming on YouTube, so that added a little side trail. And we had to google the Peruvian Andes and saw some neat YouTube footage of folks trekking the Inca Trail to Macchu Picchu. Which led to discussions of the elevations of the Andes versus the elevations of the Rockies. So connections happening here which means we continue on.