Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Reading Not So Great Books

I've talked before about the Read Aloud Hour(s) we do around here. If you want a refresher, click here for the books I've either read to the kids or talked about or even, sometimes reviewed.

A while back I went to another of those Fabulous Homeschooling Mother's Book Nights at our Fabulous Local Book Store, where a Fabulous Bookstore Employee gave us a virtual tour of the kids reading world these days. Some of the books were for a younger set, and some weren't so new, but all in all it was fun to see what's out there, new and pristine and not in a second hand store (where I usually get our ReadAlouds). I'll list a few, in case you need some ideas:

Picture Books for Younger Kids

Dogger Shirley Hughes
Voices in the Park Anthony Browne
Wendell's Workshop Chris Riddell
Beyond the Deep Woods Chris Riddell
Katie Morag's Island Stories Mairi Hedderwick
No David MacPhail
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble William Steig (dare you to read this one aloud without crying)
Burglar Bill The Ahlbergs
Van Gogh Café Cynthia Rylant
Katie and the Dragon Mary Hooper
Binky The Space Cat Ashley Spires

Older Kids

Sea of Trolls Nancy Farmer
Wee Free Men Terry Pratchett (also Truckers and Diggers)
Elijah of Buxton Christopher Paul Curtis
Karlssen Astrid Lindgren
Tanglewreck Jeannette Winterson
The Book of the Maidservant Rebecca Barnhouse
Skellig David Almond
The Castle in the Attic Elizabeth Winthrop
Neddiad Daniel Pinkwater
Framed Frank Cottrell Boyce (also Cosmic)
Weedflower Cynthia Kadohata
The Prince of Neither Here Nor There Sean Cullen (yes, THAT Sean Cullen)
The Eyes of a King Catherine Banner
Blood Red Snow White Marcus Sedgewick

Sciencey Titles

Adventures in Sand David Baird
Car Science Richard Hammond (of Top Gear fame)

Christmas Titles

The Thirteen Days of Christmas Jenny Overton
Christmas in Noisy Village Astrid Lindgren
The Mummers Song Ian Wallace
The Christmas Cat Efner T Holmes (Tasha Tudor's daughter)
The Spirit of Christmas Nancy Tillman
Classic Christmas PJ Lynch

Anyhow, after this Fabulous Evening I picked up a few titles, because a) we needed another read aloud since our marathon love affair with Lord of the Rings just ended (two months to read all three books), and b) while I am cheap, I am also unable to resist a clever new book, particularly one that comes with a Big Fat Recommendation. Oh, and c) I needed a few Christmas presents. But SHHH! Don't tell any of the offspring in this house about these or there will be one highly irritable elf around here come Christmas morning (one that looks scarily like me, eeeks).

So, thanks to that Fabulous Bookstore Night, our newest Read Aloud the other day was The Eyes of a King, by Catherine Banner.

It was recommended.

It was enthusiastically recommended.

It had a cool cover. Max thought it looked really dumb but he was just creeped out by the eyes above the castle.

It was written by a teenage girl.

It was part of a series, which I always like: if it's a world we love we all feel comforted it won't be ending after that first book.

But we hated it.

We ALL hated it.

We didn't even finish it we disliked it so much.

We've only ever done that once before, with Edward Eager's Half Magic (a book everyone other than us seems to adore). That one we stopped reading because it never captured our interest. It was kind of ho-hum.

This one we stopped reading because it was too darn emotional. Too many pages were devoted to emotional outbursts, lengthy bouts of angst, and an unusual amount of wrenching emotional pain. The trouble with all this emotion is that it wasn't very, err, how to put this nicely? — interesting. And it didn't seem terribly genuine. There were descriptive adjectives that built up out of nowhere, but they were so over the top it was almost bewildering. I felt sad reading this book, because it had a lot of potential but not enough skill to carry it off.

As such, I had a lot of trouble reading it aloud and not one of my three kids liked listening to it. At one point Max even groaned aloud and said "How long is it going to take for his brother to finally DIE? This is AWFUL!" Correct me if I'm wrong, but if the death of a fairly major character arouses this kind of response, things can't be good, right?

So we put it aside. And now I'm warning you. I would hazard a guess that a 15 year old girl might enjoy this read, but really, I'm just going by all that emotion. Most 15 year old girls I know like their emotion served up in generous dollops, with cream on top.

And now we're reading The Wee Free Men, by Terry Deary. And yes, I AM reading some bits with a ripe Scots accent, if you want to know. It's a fun read. It's lively and reminiscent of Diana Wynne Jones, what with all that chatty goofy witch lore. A much better read.



Rebecca said...

Thanks for your honest assessment of Eyes of the King. I didn't buy it that night because other people had and there were no more copies on the shelf.

And.. I went home, looking for it on Amazon and read the reviews. And some people were just scathing.

It was written by a 14-year-old girl and maybe that's why it might appeal to that age group?

I'm now glad that I ignored that recommendation. :) And bought Theodosia instead.

Mrs. Deeply Suburban said...

Dogger! I can't believe Dogger is on that list! Not that it isn't a good book; it certainly is. But so 70's British, I thought it obscure. We must have read that a good dozen times.

We abandoned quite a few books over the years, and ploughed through a few that were probably better off dropping. Swiss Family Robinson, anyone? I was so relieved to hear my preadolescent rage, "This is stupid!" and back it went to its dusty shelf in the public library. Life's too short.

sheila said...

That's a fun read, Rebecca. My kids quite liked it, even if I did have some skeptical moments thinking about parents leaving their kid alone in a museum overnight. We also bought the one Gillian recommended, about the staff or the Spear of Destiny or something? Can't remember the title right now.

Mrs Deeply, I LOVE your new name. It suits you to a T, truly it does. I'm with you on the SFR. I have a distinct memory of R reading it to the kids one night: I looked over and they were all busy ignoring him read and he finally looked at me and said "No one likes this stupid book, I don't know why I'm reading it..."