Sunday, September 9, 2012

Tuesdays at the Castle by Jessica Day George

When I was 10 my dad had me help him sheetrock the basement ceiling. He piled three phone books on the tallest chair in the house, told me to scramble up as he stood on the ladder next to the chair holding a heavy piece of sheetrock flush with the ceiling. He needed help holding the sheetrock while attaching it to the ceiling. Sweat trickled down his face as I quickly clambered on top of the slippery phone books. Once my head was in position, he used a noisy power drill shooting screws into the sheetrock around me, making my perch unsteady and sending a fine spray of white powder that fell like snow on everything and everyone in the room. After sheetrocking, he taped and textured the ceiling in a unique design that I had never seen before on any of my friend's ceilings. As an architect, my dad's house has always been like a member of the family. Doors were built by him, rooms redone by him, rooms added by him, murals put on the walls by him; the design of the house was a product of his imagination; the yard - his secret garden. He is so bonded to the house that at times he'll talk about it in the third person. Family members look at each other and go, huh? We don't really get it, to be honest. How can a person be so attached to a house? Yet, we don't really think of the objects that we're attached to in our own  life. Maybe we don't name them, but we do develop attachments. For some, it might be their cell phone. For me, is it my computer. His just happens to be a building. Celie in this book reminds me of my dad except she's bonded to a magical castle. It protects her and she loves it like a family member. Her bond is so strong that those who know her well recognize that love. They may go, huh, like we do with my dad, but they respect her for that connection and rely on her to communicate with the castle when they sense danger.

Celie is eleven and pouting because she can't go with her parents to pick up her brother from graduation from the College of Wizardry. She is left with her good-natured brother, Rolf, and bossy sister, Lilah. Celie loves the castle that creates new rooms when it is bored; rooms with bouncy floors, slides, and sizes or contents inside that stretch and shrink at whim and with purpose (umm... dad I want a bouncy floor in my old bedroom, if you are reading this). When Celie's parents get ambushed and are presumed dead, foreigners from neighboring kingdoms invade the castle and plot to dethrone Rolf, the newly crowned king. The three siblings have to bond together and seek the castle's help in preventing this coup. 

Celie is a spunky character who changes from an innocent child in the beginning to one who must work with her siblings as a political takeover emerges around them. The three bicker somewhat in the beginning but bond together in their time of need recognizing each others strengths and using them to rid their beloved castle of the enemy. Celie is the mapmaker of the castle and knows its perimeters better than anyone. Rolf, is good at handling people and is able to hold off the Regents. Lilah is super-dooper organized and helps run the castle household or plan an attack on the enemy. The attacks begin as silly pranks that kids will enjoy that delay Rolf from signing a succession which he knows will be a death warrant. When the stakes get higher and the pranks are stopped, the tension mounts and Celie must act more mature. Strong-willed and strong-minded she takes up the task that makes for an exciting end to the story. 

The author shows that not all of the Regents are villainous, but some are cowards. They are afraid to stand up for what is right. Celie calls them on this at the end and when they confess and turn to help her, it is a great example of how to try to correct a mistake. Also, Celie forgives them and does not harden her heart against their lack of judgement. She's angry and shouts but in the end does the right thing. Her leadership and good innocent heart make her an endearing character. She vacillates between being a child and acting like an adult and this makes her authentic as well. In this book when she grabs her old stuffed toy for comfort, it is touching and rings true to the character. That said, it is going to appeal to fantasy or fairy tale lovers in grades 4-6. I don't think it will appeal to older teens because the protagonist is young. The only hint of romance is between Pogue and Lilah. The author keeps you guessing with Pogue as to what side he's on in the beginning which makes for some nice tension, but it is pretty clear whose side he is on after the first third of the book. 

A couple of things I wished were different but that didn't take away from my enjoyment were that I wanted the spy to use something more original than an invisibility cloak; however, kids will love the nod toward Harry Potter. Another thing I wanted to know was how Lilah changed the table into a pulley system. Celie tells Lilah to use the table chair to hold her as she rappels down the wall and Lilah takes it further and invents a pulley system. The author does a great job showing the ingenuity of the kids as they deal with the enemy as pressure increases for Rolf to do the Regents bidding. I wondered why the omnipresent castle didn't spit out Khelsh and the Emmissary in the beginning since it had that capability. Perhaps if Khelsh had crippled the castle in the beginning while practicing some black magic so that it couldn't get rid of them? Just a thought...

Just like my dad's home or "castle" is an extension of his imagination and creativity in design, the castle in this book is an extension of Celie, who is growing up and becoming independent. She draws strength from the castle's stone when she needs to be brave or bold. She looks to it for guidance, protection, and wisdom. When it can no longer protect her she must rely on her own strength and ingenuity to stand up for what is right. I believe I get now. My dad I mean. Let this novel turn your huh's into aha's and make you marvel at the extension of Jessica Day George's creativity and imagination.

Check out these similar books:
Museum of Thieves has a building that's alive but that building is unpredictable and on the edge of being out-of-control. Good for younger students. Incarceron has an evil building with romance and violence that is more for older teens.

Reading Level 6.4
4 out of 5 Smileys

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