Showing posts with label Children's Literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Children's Literature. Show all posts

Friday, January 2, 2015

The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

Hilary Westfield dreams of being a pirate. But there are a few minor problems standing in her way, such as The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates' refusal to allow girls to join their piratical ranks. Instead of heading out to sea, Hilary, along with her dearest friend, the gargoyle, finds herself being shipped off to Miss Pimm's Finishing School for Delicate Ladies. In an effort to escape a life of waltzing and crochet hooks, Hilary answers an ad for a pirate crew and is soon swept up in a seafaring adventure involving a rather secretive map, a magical treasure that may or may not exist, a rogue governess, and the most treacherous--and unexpected--villain on the High Seas.

Pirates, magic, a talking gargoyle...what's not to love? If you're looking for a story that is everything a children's book should be (fun story, fast pace, perfect voice, vibrant characters, AND it's hilarious!), The Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates: Magic Marks the Spot is very definitely it. It's the type of book that insists you read a snippet out loud every five minutes to whoever happens to be in the room--the brilliance MUST BE SHARED. Best of all, in a book that could have been filled with cliches, I found a refreshing array of unexpected characters and plot turns. The perfect end to my 2014 list of books read, this one shoots right to the top of my favorites for the year. And if the grin on the face of my nine year old is any indication, she's enjoying it just as much as I did.

Verdict: If you're looking for a great start to your 2015 literary treasure hunt (for you or your kiddos), consider this the X that marks the spot.


Friday, August 29, 2014

10 Books That Have Influenced Me

My friend Jennifer challenged me on Facebook to list the ten books that have impacted me the most. While I typically avoid Facebook challenges, being the bookworm that I am, I rather liked this idea. Instead of posting an excruciatingly long status, I thought I'd take the opportunity for a blog post. So, here are some of the books that have shaped me--as a reader, a writer, and a person.*

*Disclaimer: This will in no way be an all inclusive list.

1. The Bible. Think me cheesy for including it if you will, but I wouldn't be the person I am today if not for this one. Favorite book of the Bible: John (because of all the gospel authors, John was truly a writer at heart).

2. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. An honest conversation about Christianity--that is totally not boring. This book (and the movie) had a huge impact on my life and really cemented my desire to interact with people--and life--in a different way. There were many moments while reading this book that I wanted to shout its pages from the rooftops. Or at least tweet as many <140 character lines as possible.

3. Love Does by Bob Goff. I wrote an in-depth review of why this book is so amazing (you can click on the title right ^ there to read it). In short: Say yes to life and love people. Seriously, JUST LOVE PEOPLE. No strings attached. The stories of how Bob has lived out this ideal are crazy awesome. It will change your world.

4. The Mandie Books by Lois Gladys Leoppard. My first book love. I bought many a book in this series with my hard-earned allowance money. Mandy, her friends Joe and Celia, and Snowball the cat get into all sorts of trouble and solve mysteries. With a little bit of history thrown in. Seven-year-old me was in heaven, and knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: A writer.

5. The Wind in the Willows. I can still vividly remember the moment I pulled this one off the library shelf. I was immediately charmed and quickly fell in love with Mole, Otter, Toad and Badger. Years later, it would be the inspiration behind the styling and adventure-filled pages of my first children's novel, The Fantastical Adventures of Pinkletin Frog.

6. Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. I've talked before about my inability to make it through certain classic novels, but classic children's literature makes me swoon. And Alice is most certainly my favorite in that category. So much so, that my current work-in-progress has an awful lot to do with that magical world down the rabbit hole. Obviously classics are my muse.

7. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery. When I was a preteen/teen, Young Adult fiction wasn't even close to the caliber it is today. Thank goodness for Anne. She saved me from the stacks of angsty, gag-me-with-a-spoon teen fiction and introduced me to the beautiful world of literature. Anne and Gilbert will always be my favorite literary couple.

8. The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins. I've never cried so much while reading a book series. I was completely unprepared for just how much I would love these novels. Suzanne Collins has some mad, mad writing skills, y'all. Everything about these books, from the use of first person, present tense to the balance of victory vs. tragedy, is storytelling done right. And I'll have you know I was team Peeta all the way.

9. The Lord of the Rings Trilogy by J.R.R. Tolkien. My very first foray into the world of epic high fantasy, I didn't read these (or The Hobbit) until I was 25. I'm so glad I did. And even more glad I read them before seeing the movies. I think the fact that I can't get through the wordiness of a Jane Austen novel, but I devoured these books is pretty telling about my personality...

10. The Circle Books by Ted Dekker. I can't describe how mind-blowing these books are. Part contemporary thriller, part epic fantasy...you just have to experience it for yourself. Plus, Ted will always be my hero for pushing the boundaries of faith-based fiction and refusing to allow people to tell him what he is and isn't allowed to write.

Runners-Up. You didn't seriously expect me to stop there, did you? I have to give a quick shout out to Jane Eyre, The Chronicles of Narnia, the Flavia de Luce novels, and Watership Down. Also, my current obsessions: The Meaning of Maggie, and The Beekeeper's Apprentice. (If you need something to hold you over until Sherlock returns, I highly recommend that last one.)

Your turn! What is one book (or two or three or five) that has influenced you or your life's journey? Have you read and loved--or hated--any of the books on my list? Share in the comments!

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Meaning of Maggie by Megan Jean Sovern

From the inside flap (because I can't write a more perfect blurb, and because this description--and that cover--is part of what made me fall in love at first sight):

Eleven years old.
The beginning of everything!
For Maggie Mayfield, turning eleven means she's one year closer to college. One year closer to voting. And one year closer to getting a tattoo.* It's time for her to pull up her bootstraps (the family motto) and think about more than after school snacks and why her older sisters are too hot for their own good. Because something mysterious is going on with her cool dude dad, whose legs have permanently fallen asleep, and Maggie is going to find out exactly what the problem is and fix it. After all, nothing's impossible when you're future president of the United States of America, fifth grade science fair champion, and a shareholder in Coca-Cola. Right?

*Not that she wants to get a tattoo. They're terrifying. But it's nice to know she's closer to getting one anyway.

I'm going to say it now (if you haven't figured it out already): The Meaning of Maggie is pure brilliance. So good, in fact, that I finished it, in its entirety, IN ONE DAY. It would have been in one afternoon, but as I approached the end, I knew there was a 110% chance that I was going to ugly cry, so I had to wait to finish it until after the kids were in bed.

The book opens with Maggie listening to the incessant beeping of a heart monitor from the atrociously uncomfortable confines of a hospital room chair. Why am I giving away the opener? Because this is what made me love this book so, SO much. I could immediately relate, having spent the majority of my eighth year in and out of hospital rooms while both my grandparents--my much beloved, one and only set of grandparents--battled cancer. As the story progressed, the connection only increased. Maggie's struggles were my own: trying to deal with normal life--and even have fun--in the midst of something BIG, the emotional ups and downs of being a kid surrounded by such grown-up happenings, the desire to know exactly what was going on, and the sick, sinking-stomach feeling that knowledge brought. In Maggie's mother I saw my own mom, working past the edge of exhaustion to take care of her parents while trying to shield me from all the stuff I saw anyway (because, like Maggie, I had a knack for observing and understanding things I wasn't supposed to). It felt like Maggie and I were soul sisters, despite the age difference. Though, technically speaking, she'd be my older soul sister, since I was only three in 1988.

Now lest you think it all sounds just a bit too melancholy, let me assure you, Megan Jean Sovern has created the perfect literary storm. While Maggie's story is full of emotional punch, her spunky personality and razor sharp wit bring constant humor to every page (I'm always a little jealous when eleven-year-olds are funnier than I am). Every character is fantastic, but Maggie quickly became one of my most favorite MCs ever. She navigates the waters of the unknown, annoying older sisters, and young love with the poise and optimism befitting a future president, with the perfect dash of endearing, giggle-inducing exuberance. The story is told in first person (my favorite!) so you get the full impact of Maggie's genius. And the usage of footnotes and emphatic ALL CAPS moments are the cherry on top of the proverbial word sundae (a passion for sweets is another trait Maggie and I share).

In conclusion, this debut novel has it all and delivers it in a most unputdownable fashion. Intelligent, charming, and poignant, it's the perfect summer read that will both tickle your funny bone and tug at your heartstrings.

PS: A portion of the proceeds of this book will be donated to the National MS Society. It's a win-win.

PPS: This book also has one of the best book trailers ever.