Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Last Dragon

Author: Silvana De Mari; translated by Shaun Whiteside
Reading Level: 4th - 6th

Pages: 361
Publisher: Miramax/Disney
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

I have not that much good to say about this book. It annoys me to read the compulsive "listing of stuff" (yes, I realized that it was intended to represent how the Elf and the Dragon would think and organize their inner worlds) page after page: what kind of books there are in the library (many kinds and you're sure to be told a FULL page of the various subjects or how readers should think of anyone or any event (it's never just one descriptor, almost as if the author cannot make up her mind how to describe a character or an emotion, but a "list" of adjectives. I cannot imagine that it is the device of the translator, but a slight possibility remains.

If I hadn't had to read it for a group discussion -- I would have probably dropped the book midstream. Only one out of a few professional review sources agrees with me that this is a very message-heavy tale dressed in a fake fantasy clothing, and the humor is often crude and unfitting for the tragic tone of the underlying tale. Look for the VOYA review on this B&N page.


Author: Cynthia Kadohata
Reading Level: 6th - 8th Grade

Pages: 260
Publisher: Atheneum (S&S)
Edition: Hardcover, 2006

Kadohata's strength lies in her quiet tone and close-up examination of the main characters' thoughts and feelings. Weedflower is a perfect example. The readers are intimately familiar with every strand of emotion in Sumiko's life but the full picture of the time in history is a bit foggy. The fate and experiences of Sumiko's uncle and grandfather (in the prison camp) is also sketchy at the best. This is in keeping with Sumiko's young girl perspective. There is no telling if Kadohata had opted to force other pieces of the historical puzzle into the telling, the result would have been a more diluted or intensified tale.

My personal issue with this book is my indifference to Sumiko. I don't find her particularly inspiring or even likable. Her status as a social outcast seems more self-imposed than forced upon by others and her small triumphs did not stir much admiration in me. I felt impatience and displeasure, rather than empathy, for her. Maybe because she seems way too self-absorbed - which, once again, shows the author's skill at portraying a realistic person without false glorification. But, I need that glorification. I need to see that she opens her eyes and understands more about what is affecting her people, and not just how miserable her own life is or what's going in within her immediate environment.

Report from the field: Several people (of Japanese and general Asian descent are troubled by the cover. Their first reaction has been consistent: "No one at a Japanese-American Internment Camp would have worn a kimono! That is entirely inaccurate!" And besides, Sumiko never once wore a kimono throughout the entire story.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Lily Reads: Funny Frank

Author: Dick King Smith
Reading Level: 1st and 2nd

fairrosa: So, how would you describe this book?
Lily: I would describe this book as funny, sarcastic, and cute.
fairrosa: Anything else you'd like to share?
Lily: Yep. I liked it because it was full of ideas that were cool.

Lily Reads: Betsy-Tacy

Author: Maud Hart Lovelace
Reading Level: 2nd to 4th Grade

fairrosa: So.. you gave this book 5 stars. Is it that great?
Lily: Yes. Because I felt that it made you very emotional and so you had a connection with the book.

Lily Reads: All-of-a-Kind Family and More All-of-a-Kind Family

Author: Sidney Taylor
Reading Level: 1st to 3rd

fairrosa: Why do you like All-of-a-Kind Family?
Lily: I liked this book because it's about five girls and they have adventures and it's very exciting.
fairrosa: Do you have something to say about the second book?
Lily: Yes. It has a lot of tension.
fairrosa: How? What happened?
Lily: There was a disease going around and they didn't want to catch it.

Sunday, January 7, 2007

Stranger in A Strange Land

Author: Robert A. Heinlein
Reading Level: Adult

Pages: 438
Publisher: Ace Books, Penguin Putnam (G.P. Putnam's Sons, original)
Edition: 1987 (1961)

I found this "most famous science fiction ever written" quite a disappointing read: the style is stale; the tone is preachy, the world view and solution of the human condition is simplistic, and the "science" is shaky at its best, although it was a ground-breaking work of its time.

Just because this story features a "Man from Mars" does not excuse its lack of scientific explanation of the telepathic power and the super-human abilities of Michael and eventually those humans that he has taught. And since there is so much talking and telling, emotionally I was never invested or drawn into the characters and their experiences. This is also such a product of its time - a reactionary social commentary against the puritanical social norms of the 50s America. Although I am not sure that many comments do not apply today, the tale as a whole feels very outdated.

Although Heinlein allows his male characters and the narrative voice to sometimes praise the female characters in their resourcefulness and their intelligence, a slight hint of male-dominance and superiority courses under the surface throughout the story: the fact that the true heroes of the story are Michael and Jubal and although the women are given important roles, they are never truly in the decision-making positions speaks volumes. And I am unsure why all the mothers show constant scorn against their own children when the "message" is for them to all love each other equally and without bias. To reduce the human condition and complexity to one singular solution, disregarding the forces of artistic (music, literature, art, etc.) or other human achievements and needs seems so narrow-minded to make me unhappy! (Jubal couldn't find a single book to read in the NEST... my goodness!)

I did enjoy Jubal Harshaw's brazen honesty and fearless loyalty.