Sunday, January 31, 2010

Good books, December 2009/January 2010

Ottoline and the Yellow Cat by Chris Riddell, 2008, 176 pages (age 6 and up).
Ottoline Goes to School by Chris Riddell, 2009, 176 pages (age 6 and up).

We discovered these very entertaining books at the library. The fairly simple stories are told with a combination of text and drawings – and the drawings are wonderful, detailed and humorous. The basic premise is that Ottoline and her unidentified-species friend, Mr. Munroe, solve mysteries while Ottoline’s parents are away. All three kids enjoyed the books and so did I, which shows you the wide range of appeal. We will be looking for the next one in the series.

Johnny Tremain by Esther Forbes, 1943, 322 pages (age 12 and up).

This was the January choice for one of the book groups I go to, and I really enjoyed reading it again. Johnny is an apprentice silversmith, very talented and proud of it, until an accident cripples his hand and makes him unable to continue in his profession. As he figures out what to do next, he learns some hard lessons but also makes some good friends. Not only do you come to like Johnny and his friend Rab, but the book is set in Boston just before the Revolutionary War, and the author makes you feel what an exciting and scary time this was. It’s always nice to get a little history review while reading a good story!

Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell, 1866, 652 pages (age 13 and up).

One evening I was tired but not ready to sleep yet, and I was looking through our shelves for something that would be a soothing and comfortable read. Finally I came upon my copy of Wives and Daughters. It’s similar in some ways to Jane Austen’s books, but I actually like this book more. The main character is Molly Gibson, who for most of the book is in her late teens. Her mother died when she was small and her father, a doctor, remarries a woman who is initially charming but actually quite selfish. Molly also gains a stepsister who becomes a close friend, but is very different from Molly. The interplay between the characters is fascinating. Of course there is also romance, and I love the character of Roger Hamley, who is not only a truly good person, but also a scientist! And Molly’s stepmother is a great reminder of how a selfish and insincere person can disrupt a whole family while protesting that she’s only thinking of them.

I, Claudius by Robert Graves, 1934, 432 pages (age 15 and up).

If you’ve ever studied the Roman Empire and couldn’t keep the emperors straight, or dozed off while reading about their civilization, this book might be one to try. It’s written like an autobiography of Claudius, who was emperor after Julius Caesar, Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. (See? I would never have been able to tell you that before without looking it up.) He tells about his life and the vast amounts of political intrigue that went on, which in that time and place usually involved people poisoning or executing or banishing each other. It’s not a story of sunshine and light, and I wouldn’t recommend it for younger children, but it definitely brings that time period and those people to life. And when you finish it, you can sit back and be very, very glad that you’re not part of the ancient Roman nobility!


The Taming of the Shrew
M. and I had read this play before, so it was fun to revisit it together. Petruchio’s methods of “taming” the shrewish Katherina are extreme, and we had a good time exclaiming over how mean he is, but Katherina is pretty mean too in the beginning. The dialogue between the two is hilarious, and it’s a fun play to read out loud and to see performed.

The Merchant of Venice
What a great play. The story of Antonio borrowing money from Shylock, the Jew he’s treated badly in the past, and Shylock insisting on a pound of Antonio’s flesh as the penalty for late payment, has to be one of the most interesting in literature. We talked about the motivation of the different characters and whether they were justified, and what should have happened in the end. You could have hours of discussion just from this one play.

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