library escapades · My life stories · The stories we read

Library Escapades: January ’15

Hello! Yes, I know January was last month-promise this isn’t the result of sleep deprivation. But last month my library opened back up after several weeks of renovations, and my oldest son and I enjoyed a visit there on one of our dates. It’s worth writing about, even if a month late.

Is there anything finer than discovering a trove of new books once again within your reach-for free? (Let’s not talk about my library fines, shall we?) I should have been one of the children who got to review books on Reading Rainbow. But it’s not too late for me! Someone please find me a paying job where I can read and review children’s novels. Thank you.

In the meantime, I’m happy to share two books from last month’s haul with you here.

A Tale of Two Castles by Gail Carson Levine

Levine wrote the popular Ella Enchanted. While I was not happy about the film version of the book, I enjoyed reading Ella and a few others by Levine. But Castles is by far my favorite story of hers. I love stories where not all is as it seems, and the characters here certainly fit that bill. I once read that an author should write secondary characters as though they thought the story was about them; this could easily be said of the characters here. Not necessarily in terms of arrogance, but in the sense that the characters are so fleshed out I found myself wishing there were novels written about them too. There is an intelligent, inscrutable dragon; an ogre with a reputation that may or may not be accurate; and Elodie, the young protagonist who must navigate the many unexpected turns of life in the city of Two Castles, where she has just arrived.

Don’t worry, Elodie is quite compelling enough to be the main character. The story is told from her point of view. Amidst getting swept into tales of intrigue, mystery and danger, she has her own questions that must be answered. Will she finally be accepted by the mansioning troupe as an apprentice? (Mansioning is the word for acting in Two Castles.) The adventures she encounters along the way bring one unexpected turn after another, forcing Elodie to use her mansioning skills in unusual ways. She navigates these adventures with creativity and determination, with the qualms and fears that readers will also identify with. It’s recommended for grades 3-7.

The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated (The Knights Tales Series) by Gerald Morris and Aaron Renier

I wrote about another of Morris’s books here. Morris is another author of books for older children whose works I thoroughly enjoy. This story is written for a slightly younger audience than the others I have read, around grades 1-4. Shorter chapters and a slightly simpler vocabulary can’t detract from Morris’s humorous tongue in cheek style, though. Children who read The Adventures of Sir Balin the Ill-Fated will be simultaneously introduced to the Arthurian legend and intelligent story-telling that is a hallmark of Morris’s books. It’s great to read books where the author doesn’t dumb down a story simply because it’s for a younger audience.

Both these books are excellent examples of stories that teach important lessons through story, not lecture. Levine’s Elodie learns what makes a trustworthy friend; Morris’s Sir Balin comes to recognize that he doesn’t have to live under the weight of what might be, but only of what he chooses. If you are looking for books for a child or child-like reader in your life, I’d recommend these books to you.

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