Monday, March 21, 2016

This Strange Wilderness: The Life and Art of John James Audubon by Nancy Plain

I couldn't put down this 90 page book that chronicles the adventurous life of John James Audubon as he compiled his famous book, "Birds of America," published in England in 1827. Nancy Plain shows his passion for nature and unusual self-taught artistry that helped him create unique pictures that not only showed birds in movement but also in their habitat. Anecdotes, hardships, and adventures made this a page turner. Audubon's labeled paintings are spread throughout the book and accompany stories adding strength to the text. Audubon's scientific accuracy combined with art and his experimentation with mixed media gave his pictures a photographic quality, something no other ornithologists were doing at the time.

Audubon got married and started a business until bad investments led him to live a life of struggle to make ends meet. His wife, Lucy, made money as a teacher and when Audubon wanted to pick up and leave to go collect his bird specimens, Lucy stayed in one place raising their two young boys providing the family some economic stability. Audubon periodically roamed and when he was shutout from the publishing world in the United States, he went to Europe to market his idea for a book that contained 500 bird species he had collected over decades. He was hugely successful but was away from his family for three years putting a strain on relationships and missing out on a chunk of his boys childhood. Eventually he made it home and the family started a business that combined his artistic ability with the skills of his wife and sons.

Lewis and Clark had recently finished exploring the interior of the United States and westward expansion was beginning when Audubon first came to the US. He was avoiding Bonaparte's draft in France where he was born to a well-off seaman and step mom. Audubon was an explorer who traveled all over the US creating honing his unique talent. He said that he killed 100 birds a day at one point to study them. He also didn't give credit to another artist that did the flowers in his paintings. The author shows Audubon as a flawed human being that cared deeply about his family and nature and who predicted the extinction of the passenger pigeon, Carolina parakeet, and (the almost extinction of the) buffalo. He recognized the need for restraint in hunting even though his own killing seemed excessive. This contradiction would make for good discussions in a book club.

5 Smileys

Sunday, March 20, 2016

All American Boys, by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

A 16-year-old black man, Rashad Butler, is mistaken for being a thief at a convenience store and is brutality beaten by a police officer, Paul Galluzzo. The incident divides the school as students protest. Rashad's best friends play basketball and a big game is coming up with scout's recruiting for colleges. The coach won't discuss the Rashad beating and tells the players to leave it at the door. But they can't ignore it as fellow basketball players Quinn, best friend to Galluzzo's younger brother fight on the court. Quinn witnesses the brutal beating and must decide to pretend that he didn't see it, or not talk about it like the coach, or engage in the protest.

The alternating viewpoints give an outsiders perspective in the white man, Quinn and an insiders look in the black voice of Rashad. Quinn struggles with where his loyalties lie. Galluzzo's family has done much for Quinn's after his dad was killed in Afghanistan, particularly the cop Paul Galluzo. Quinn has to decide what's right even if it means alienating his hero, Paul. If someone is being oppressed or their human rights abused, is it right to stand by silently or is it better to humanize the victim and engage in the battle? Quinn's dilemma is in stark contrast to Rashad the victim dealing with the physical and physchological struggle; the young man who lives in a culture where parents teach children how to behave around the police out of fear. Right after the beating while in the hospital, no one believes that Rashad didn't steal a bag of chips. He tries to come to grips with racial injustice, his launch into the media spotlight, and dealing with the trauma through drawings.

This is an excellent story to engage in the conversation of police brutality and I recommend Ta-Nehisi Coates book, "Between the World and Me," that captures the fear of police and drugs and shows how religion and slavery create a complex African American culture. I thought the father in this book captured what Coate's describes quite well (although his past as a cop distracts from it). Coate's book captures the anger and is quite authentic in voice; whereas, this book felt forced in spots.

Quinn and Rashad never meet at the end. Their dialogue is side-by-side as they lock eyes and Quinn wants him to know that he is not invisible to him any more; that he is willing to act. This shows how the two communities need to engage in conversation. Dialogue is where it starts. I've been reading a spat of history books where populations did not have the right to protest over injustices brought on by institutions. Institutions run on fear are counterproductive to freedom and human dignity. A great start to a necessary conversation.

4 Smileys.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Attack of the Alien Horde (Miles Taylor and the Golden Cape #1) by Robert Venditti, Dusty Higgins (Illustrations)

This superhero book has a strong character arc, layered themes, and hero's journey to create a humorous and entertaining read that mixes comic illustrations with narrative text. The technique strengthens the story and will help readers because every time Miles turns into a superhero the text becomes a comic strip with speech bubbles. It works particularly well with the story and is funnier because of the visual of a small middle school boy turning into a six foot five, muscular caped crusader. Seventh grade was the ultimate in awkward periods for me and I would have loved this book with its alter-ego protagonist who deals with middle school peer pressure and identity that is grounded in strong morals.

Miles Taylor is the new kid in school and he is bullied by the star football player and his flunkeys. If it isn't coke dumped on him, it's food getting stolen, or verbal abuse. He takes it as best he can and even tries to fight it but always ends up on the losing side. Worse, Josie sees it all - the girl he has a crush on at school. Top that off his parents have gotten divorced as his mom ran off with another man. She calls once a week and Miles feels angry and frustrated. The divorce has meant his dad, an electrician, has had to move into a small apartment and they don't have enough money to pay the bills. The reader never learns the mom's career or even if she had one, but I assume so since Miles and his dad are so short on cash.

The strong character arc and definition of what makes a hero is what kept me engrossed in the story. Miles is pretty clueless and downright stupid at times which makes him the antithesis of the conventional superhero. When he goes with his dad on a job and ends up with a magical cape in his hands from the previous superhero, it is obvious that its going to be hard to save the world when you have to be in school all day long. Miles hooks up with genius and superhero aficionado, Henry Matte, who helps him discover and manipulate the powers of the cape (and use his brain power more efficiently).

The two figure out that in order to use the cape, thoughts must be on others and not oneself or the promotion of oneself. The cape will not work if the user has any thoughts on pride, domination, or using it for personal gain. Miles learns to deal with power humbly. He also learns that to be a hero he must be willing to die even though the odds are so against him. He must act because to do nothing is unacceptable. At the climax Miles realizes that he might not be the smartest, or best looking, or athletic, or exceptional, but he is good and he can use that to better the world. When he fights the Gaarls and the odds look bad, it is an outside force that rescues him. This is like the hero's journey in the "Lord of the Rings." It involves a character dealing with the corruption of power and going on quest or journey that will most like fail and being rescued by others.

The play on words and cartoonish villains are a hoot. The Unnd's not only stand for the prefix "un", or not, their name is used in all the words such as unhappy- they are un(nd)happy, un(nd)friendly, un(nd)inviting, un(nd)amusing. It reminds me of "ikke" in Norwegian which means "not" - an influence on Midwesterners use of the phrase, "ick!"when Scandinavian immigrants moved there. And while the villain, Commander Lord Calamity, is a tyrant that kills a servant that displeases him in a cruel way, he bows to his mother who calls him "Oggie" and makes his favorite rancid soup. Calamity is evil incarnate and quite silly. When he sees Earth for the first time he feels moved by its beauty but he has no inkling what the concept means. One of his soldiers has to explain it to him. The Commander might have a thing or two to learn from the earthlings and suggests that he is not beyond redemption and the ending shows that evil exists on Earth too as well as with the aliens. The General (from Earth) sees his rescuers as aliens with too much power (reminds me of the Transformers movie plot). The end definitely implies a sequel. Nothing too serious here, folks, and one that young readers will find fun and funny.

4 Smileys

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Lilliput by Sam Gayton, Alice Ratteree (Illustrator)

Lilliput is a spin-off or fan fiction of Gulliver's Travels by Jonathan Swift. Gulliver has gone to the land of Lilliput and kidnapped Lily so he can restore his reputation and prove to the world that his travels were the truth. He is so bent on this mission that he does not see the immorality of holding a person captive against his or her will. When Lily puts Escape Plan Thirty-Three into motion she has just about given up hope. She is helpless against Gulliver's tyranny and authority. It isn't until the clockmaker's apprentice finds her plea for help in a message that her escape plans start to work and the two become friends along the way.

The author, Jonathan Swift, in his classic, Gulliver's Travels, satires politics and the mindset of people during his time. This was The Age of Reason where science and technology were used to justify systems and beliefs. Religion was losing its power and Swift saw a danger in this as people's reasoning was rationalized by science at the expense of human dignity. Science was replacing religion and Swift did not agree with it because it was at the expense of spiritual morality and human rights. Sam Gayton in "Lilliput," exposes this notion in the character, Gulliver, who says he is a man of reason; yet he holds Lily captive for six years torturing her when she tries to escape. He uses science and does not see Lily as an individual but a way for him to enlighten the world. Gulliver's reasoning, self-centeredness, and lack of morals cost him dearly in the end.

The character of Gulliver needed a bit more development. His change of heart and the redemptive ending was not clear to me. What made him see Lily as a human being when for six years he was the authoritative tyrant over her? Was it seeing her in a different cage by a different person? Or was it seeing the apprentice in his abusive wristwatch strangler? While I really liked Gulliver's flawed character, I needed more information on his motives in order to get a clearer picture of why he acted the way he did at the climax. It seemed abrupt.

The play on words, puns, references to the classic, and scatological humor have strong audience appeal.Young readers will relate to the characters that must submit to the authority of adults that are narcissistic and misled in their goals in life. Mr. Plinker is more of a one-dimensional villain who is ensconced in greed; whereas, Gulliver is more complex and is a good person who makes a series of bad choices justifying them in his cruel actions. I have not read Gulliver's Travels since it was required in middle or high school and frankly I cannot remember any of it. This makes me want to pull it out and give the "flimbip" - I mean Emperor Flimnap - a go again.

4 Smileys

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

A Hobbit, A Wardrobe, and a Great War: How J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis Rediscovered Faith, Friendship, and Heroism in the Cataclysm of 1914-18 by Joseph Loconte

I've read bundles of fiction and nonfiction books on World War II, but not World War I. How did fascism, Nazism, communism, and eugenics take root after WWI? Why did people support narcissistic leaders that became despots that ruled in terror and greed creating violent totalitarian governments as their unchecked powers grew year after year? According to Joseph Loconte the reason lies in the results of one of the most violent and devastating wars; WWI. Loconte shows how WWI was so savage that not only were 16 million people killed, but those that survived were disillusioned and cynical, rejecting the current government, politics, religion, and spiritual morality. In the midst of this postwar malaise, J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis rejected the literary trends and wrote books in response to the spiritual crisis plaguing their country. They resurrected the medieval myth creating epic worlds torn apart by war and suffering and filled with flawed heroes embracing the traits of sacrifice, valor, and friendship as they struggle with good and evil.

The first part of Loconte's book focuses on the history of WWI and the climate before, during, and after the war. The Myth of Progress was the prevailing belief before the war; that the industrial revolution, Darwin's theory of evolution, breakthroughs in medicine and inventions meant that the human condition could be explained by science and technology at the expense of spiritual morality. The belief was that progress was so great under a liberal democracy that all countries should have it and many believed God had chosen them and would bless them as they went to war. Britain, England, and Germany thought this way. The church declared a holy war and made it one not of justice, but righteousness. The problem was the focus on human achievement meant the subversion of moral obligations and human dignity. Atrocities were committed with no thought of right or wrong or the moral implications on the individual. Eugenics promoted a "pure" race that hid those considered flawed away from the public eye. Society embraced collectivism over individualism and people rationalized cruel and violent actions. For Lewis and Tolkien this was an affront on human dignity and character.

Tolkien and Lewis wrote epic tales about war based in the fantasy genre, but realistic in their portrayal of war and its savagery and suffering. Both men were drafted into the army. Tolkien fought in the Battle of the Somme, one of the bloodiest battles in modern warfare, where almost 60,000 men died. Lewis turned 19 and ended up on the Western Front in a trench. When his sergeant was killed by mortar, Lewis took shrapnel - one so close to his heart it could not be removed. All of their close friends were killed. When the two met at Oxford their war experiences, literary tastes, and friendship grew to the point that Tolkien was critical in Lewis' conversion to Christianity and Tolkien said he would have not finished Lord of the Rings without Lewis' critiques and support. Neither writers glorify war in their books and both create flawed characters that need support from others or a higher being on their quests.

Postwar Europe had a plethora of antiwar literature; yet, these two men created works rooted in medieval literature and while critics call it escapism and a nostalgia for the past, Loconte proves that it is a realistic portrayal of being in the trenches and a look at the human condition. The recurring theme of the desire for power and domination over others disguised under the umbrella of religion and morals is found in both works. Loconte expounds on literary themes more toward the latter part of the book getting into specific examples. The heroes in their works is the result of great characters who put others needs ahead themselves. WWI robbed people of their humanity. The trenches, the Battle of the Somme, the razing of nature and towns left people feeling helpless and caught in a big machine that they had no control over. Almost every family lost someone in the war. A fatalism and moral demise left people apathetic and feeling that they had no choices or free will in their lives.

Tolkien and Lewis wanted to awaken the noble spirit in people like the medieval myths of old such as Beowulf, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, or the Icelandic sagas. They created works that showed the violence and suffering of war, but also the compassion, courage, and sacrifice of others for a good cause. Their stories show that life is a moral contest. It is the responsibility of the individual to resist evil and not one person can resist the corruption of power. That is the tragic flaw in humans; that even the purest of heart such as Frodo cannot resist the desire to dominate. It takes an outside force to check that desire and in Frodo's case, even someone as twisted as Gollum is not beyond redemption. Lewis is showing at the end of his book that there can be no heaven on Earth as the Pevensie's step through a door into Narnia-like Heaven. Loconte ties this to the pitfalls of liberal democracy and the desire of the church and state to create a heaven on Earth before WWI. While this is too complex to write about in a review it is a fascinating comparison between the Narnia and Lord of the Rings books and WWI.

These two men ignored the trends of the times because they were inspired and saw in the midst of violence, heroic individuals on the battlefields of France. They saw soldiers going back to help another injured comrade at the risk of being killed themselves. The Hobbit is the ordinary British soldier. The British army showed remarkable resistance in the war. They didn't run away or lose their moral fortitude. Reepicheep shows the greatest valor on the battlefield. He is the smallest and supposedly the weakest but he rises above himself and shows great courage. Same with Frodo, Sam, Aragon, and more. Loconte explores these characters proving his point and showing the importance of reluctant allies uniting in fellowship and friendship by the end, just like soldiers. Tolkien and Lewis met one to two times a week for 16 years with a group called, "Inklings." They had their own fellowship of the ring.

Loconte points out how today the modern superhero saves the day on his or her own strength. Tolkien and Lewis create heroes that cannot save the day and prevail against evil on their own. They are destined to fail and they know it is a doomed quest. It is this tragic mix of good and evil that makes the story so powerful because their only rescue can be by grace and redemption from an outside force. The heroes know they will die in both books: Frodo when destroying the ring and the Pevensie's when they enter the stable. Loconte shows how this parallels war and the soldiers plight. The soldier knows he will die. At the Battle of the Somme it was a slaughter; yet, the men kept coming out of the trenches toward the enemy. The books ends with hope that there is goodness in humans. That the shadow of sin and suffering can be lifted from people's lives. That the Great War will be won, but not on Earth because the human condition is a mix of sin and free will.

5 Smileys

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Arena 13 (Arena 13 Trilogy #1) by Joseph Delaney

Students will like the action in the book, but I won't remember it with its flat characters, meandering plot, and contradictions. I had more questions at the end than answers. I have read a lot of Delaney's books and I wouldn't call him a flowery writer that inspires me with his word choices. Instead, I like his simple plots, strong character arc, and creepy monsters. His books have violence in them but because the villains are monsters, it creates a slight buffer for younger readers. This book is violent but  the monsters are more human-like and characters are beheaded, cannibalized, and stabbed. There's some blood draining too. This book reads like a draft and the plot holes and lack of character development left me frustrated. Like I said, many of my students will like the action and won't notice the conventional flat characters, but I was disappointed.

Leif is a thirteen-year-old orphan that won a lottery ticket to train with the master, Tyron, who runs a school for fighters. The trainees combat in Arena 13, a place where bets are placed on who will win, as the object is to be the first person to cut an opponent with a sword. Some fights are to the death and others are not. The combatants have two android-like lacs  they learn to fight with in the arena. Lacs is an abbreviation of the word "similacrum" for the android's are in the image of humans. These characters are never really explained. It is hinted that they might have a consciousness and the great arena fighter "Math" relied on his lac like a human but this is not explored.

Leif is motivated to fight in the arena and his father has trained him. I was never sure why he wanted to fight. He's the best stick-fighter in his provincial town. When he comes to the city he wows everyone with his incredible skills, but his first fight is for money not because he loves it. He really doesn't have to overcome many internal obstacles in the plot. External, yes. Internal, no. I really thought this was underdeveloped. Leif's only problem comes from a romantic subplot with a girl and even then his actions are out of kindness and some peer pressure. He does not have much by way of flaws and is pretty mature.

Some contradictions surround his father when he says that he talked about the arena a lot and yet Leif is very naive about how dangerous it is. I would have thought the father would have trained his son to protect himself and warned him of the evil that haunted their family. He'd know his son was a target. Leif is a sensible kid and his motivations for fighting seemed in contrast with the recklessness and danger of being a fighter. When he wins the lottery ticket and Tyron shows him what he's getting into the motivation to stay and his inner monologue as to continue was just that he liked to fight.

The character arc of Leif is not strong. The shows that it was being alone, but this was not revealed in the beginning strongly enough. At least I missed it. Leif has people reaching out to him and being generous. He is not isolated but favored by Tyron. He becomes friends with one of his roommates and Tyron's daughter. Again, just one of many contradictions. I thought the introduction of the game and patterning of the Arena was clunky. Rather than work it into the plot as he does later in the book, the beginning has two pages that say, "Dictionary of Nym." I skimmed it. The Nym language didn't work for me either. They use English to control the robots but its called, Nym. He explains that wurde is different than word, but that is it. Again, I wanted more depth.

The mish-mash of mythologies worked against the world-building. Sometimes I'm okay with a mix but I had a problem with visualizing this story because the Arena is so gladiator-like. I had a picture of Rome which was contrasted by Leif, the wolf imagery, and Midgard that is from Norwegian mythology and the Hob who sucks blood from victims making him more like the vampire folklore from Eastern Europe. My world-building was garbled by the contrasting images.

Kwin is Tyron's daughter and she wants to be a fighter. Her arc is clear although her character is flat because of the first person narration. She's more mischievous and a rule-breaker. She captures teenage rebellion and I found her more interesting than Leif. I would have liked it better if she had been the protagonist. She's flawed, obviously a talented fighter, and oppressed in a prescribed gender role. I recommend skipping this and reading Delaney's Spook's or Last Apprentice series.

2 Smileys

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Soul of an Octopus: A Surprising Exploration into the Wonder of Consciousness by Sy Montgomery

This narrative nonfiction story reveals the author's scientific study, care, and love of octopuses mainly at the New England aquarium. Her passion for the invertebrates is obvious and drew me into the story from the get-go. I learned more than I ever thought about how difficult it is to transfer and keep these Houdini-like creatures in their cages, as well as, their range of colors, ability to play, and unique senses and neurons that are in their arms. Some passages are very scientific but the density is lightened by the author's narration making for good pacing most of the time. The end narrative text started to sound a bit repetitive with the diving in the wild and the octopuses getting old and dying as it happens several times throughout the text, but overall it is an excellent book. If you like science and animals then I recommend it.

The author's passion for animals shows in that she tries to prove that the intelligent octopus creature has a soul. I thought the argument as a whole in the book weak. She does mention philosophers and different theories. They are spread throughout the book so none of it is overwhelming and she recognizes that to define a soul is really not possible; that some say it is an inner being that gives people senses and intelligence, others it gives life meaning and purpose. "Perhaps none of these definitions is true. Perhaps all of them are. But I am certain of one thing as I sit in my pew: If I have a soul-and I think I do-an octopus has a soul, too." Her stance is clear from the start, but she doesn't get into the different theories much. Maybe that is a good thing considering the target audience.

Her writing reminded me of "The Secret Garden" where Colin is so moved by nature that he is miraculously healed in his soul and stands up to recite the Doxology. The author is so moved by octopuses that her emotional descriptions show a passion that is deeply felt: "Perhaps, I muse, this is the pace at which the Creator thinks, in the weighty, graceful, liquid manner-like blood flows, not like synapses fire." She has terrific writing with plenty of similes and metaphors to help readers picture the creatures and their environment in the aquarium or wild.

The book does explain mating and covers the loss of beloved animals either as pets or from an aquarium's caretaker's perspective. I learned more about scuba diving than I expected and she describes the tight friendship she developed from working at the aquarium and diving. These friendships add a human element that is a nice balance to the scientific narrative. I did not know anything about octopuses before reading this book and a knowledgeable reader might have a completely different reading experience than me.

4 Smileys

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Ash & Bramble (Ash & Bramble #1) by Sarah Prineas

This is a story about storytelling. It is a mixed-bag of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales. It is a romance. It is metafiction. It reminds me of "Inkheart" as the protagonist is trapped within a story and Gregory Maguire's adult fairy tale twists. The power of fairy tales is explored by expert Jack Zipe's in his book, "The Evolution of Storytelling and Fairy Tales." He says fairy tales offer readers alternative patterns of action to social behavior as people adapt to changing environments. The lasting fairy tales that become classics like "Cinderella" are remembered and retold over and over again, but they also evolve to reflect the culture and social norms. Grimm fairy tales reflected class struggles and social behaviors of the times. Sarah Prineas reflects 21st century modes of thinking that cleverly incorporate fairy tale traditions with modern text narratives and changing norms. Fairy tales have clear morals and Sarah Prineas incorporates this in "Ash & Bramble." Her moral is that stories shape lives and readers don't have to accept the status quo, such as a princess having to marry a prince, but they can change it by making their own choices.

Pin is trapped in the story of Snow White, except there is no Snow White and she is enslaved as a seamstress by the despotic Godmother. Obsessed with escape, she does all that she can to break out of her ground hog's day storyline. She meets other repressed characters along the way and the terror of Godmother's reign over the castle is revealed in how she murders or abuses those that oppose her. Fear keeps people chained to the occupations Godmother has forced them to perform. When Pin plans and executes an escape with Shoe, a shoemaker in the castle, with the help of her magic thimble, she discovers that she cannot escape her story to an alternate world but must work within it to change it.

The Godmother erases peoples memories and turns them into puppets that serve her, but there are some that fight or resist the amnesia. Pin ends up being inserted into a new story after her failed escape where her name is Pen. The names in the fairy tale are a nice mirror to how names have been created in fairy tales over hundreds of years; that is, characters seldom had names of their own and usually they represented an occupation or social position or way they were clothed, such as Hunter, captain, princess, Little Red Riding Hood, maiden, king, nobleman, etc. Prineas does the same thing but also enhances the metafictional subplot about character, writing, storytelling, and the story's moral, particularly with Pin's name. Pin's personality is prickly and she rebels against authority from the onset. When her name changes to Pen in the second part, she is trying to rewrite her story and make her own choices in life versus the predestined one that Story has chosen for her. She wants free will and is going to fight the system (which is Story) to obtained it.

It is hard to create a villain that never speaks nor shows up in a tangible way in the storyline; yet, the author attempts to do just that. Story is silenced at the end and the protagonist, Pen, has changed the story. She's strong. She rescues boys. She wants to make her own choices who she marries, not a prince that has to protect her. In fairy tales, the storyteller has the power because he or she wants to influence social practices and must be able to tell effective stories if he or she wants those stories to become a part of a tradition where people will adopt or subvert the morals being espoused by society. Is the new storyteller, Pen? Has the power shifted from Story to her? Or is Story dormant? Or destroyed? I'm not sure.Or perhaps Pin who uses first person is the narrator or storyteller. Her voice alternates with Shoe who uses the more objective third person; thus, telling the reader that Pin is the storyteller and she has the power not Story. Perhaps it will be explored more in depth in a sequel. I wanted this message to come through stronger than it does. Perhaps it will be explored more in depth in a sequel.

Themes are layered in this story from Pen finding her identity to the characters having the freedom to control their own destiny. It is about power and the corruption of it and the strength of stories. Characters were forced to play parts in the story they didn't want to. I just finished reading a book about the despot Stalin and he did much of the same thing to Russians forcing them to play parts many did not want to. The subplot involving romance and friendship explores the theme of loyalty and courage. The fact that the characters have no control or authority reflects the condition of being a child and this will resonate with young readers as well. Pen is outspoken, bold and brassy and I liked her voice and strong character.

Another nod by the author toward fairy tales is Shoe being punished for making a fur instead of a glass slipper. According to Philip Pullman in "Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm," there is a rumor that when Charles Perrault published his fairy tale book with Cinderella he mistook the French word vair (fur) for verre (glass). In Jack Zipes translation of the Brothers Grimm's first edition of folk tales Cinderella had gold slippers. Time has settled on glass slippers it would seem, but it this was not always the case. The action scene with Shoe and Pin is a clever nod by the author toward these contradictions that I appreciated as a reader of fairy tales.

Fairy tales have changed over time. When the Brother's Grimm printed their first edition, they were terse, short and characterized by conventional stock figures that revealed little interior life in their characters. The Godmother is a stock character except at the end where it is implied she had no choice. This seemed contradictory or maybe the author was just showing the humane side of Shoe who can forgive even tyrants. The original Grimm fairy tales showed class struggles and while most women accepted their role in a traditional patriarchal society there were some that were not satisfied with their life. One has sisters that didn't want to spin flax all day and they outwit their father, the king, to get out of the task. Another has a queen who has more wisdom than the king and she continually outwits him while respecting and maintaining his patriarchal status; thus, not threatening the social norm. Here Prineas explores the female being forced unwillingly into a role she does not want. The Grimm fairy tales consistently have underdogs that prevail in difficult circumstances and Prineas uses the same archetype in her work. While the target audience for this book is young adult, younger readers reading at a high level can tackle it and enjoy its complexities.

4 Smileys