Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Magician's Nephew

I decided to read The Chronicles of Narnia in the "new" order, which is chronologically and not in the order they were published. I know that there are people who would say that this is incorrect, but I think it is going to be just fine.

We started, therefore, with The Magician's Nephew, which was the 6th book published in the series, but the first in order of events as they occur.

The Story: Digory's mother is sick, and so they move in with his Aunt and his very strange and mysterious Uncle in London. He happens to meet the neighbor girl, Polly, and they have lots of fun playing together. One day, they decide to explore the crawlspace between adjascent houses (which are all connected) and end up inadvertently in Digory's uncle's study. As it turns out, Uncle Andrew fancies himself a magician, and tricks the children into acting as guinea pigs in his magical "experiment" - after using actual guinea pigs didn't turn out so well. Much to his surprise, the children are transported magically to a place where they can travel between different worlds. They visit a strange world of Charn, where everything is dead and desolate, until Digory makes a grave error and awakens the evil Empress and Witch, Jadis. Jadis follows them back to their own world and wreaks some havoc there before Digory and Polly manage to get her back to the magical place between worlds, and then they enter what was an empty world. They witness something truly spectacular - the birth of a new world, Narnia. In order to protect this new world from the Evil Witch who hitched a ride with them, Digory, with Polly along with him, is sent on a magical quest before he (and Polly) can return home.

The Good: The writing is fantastic, and the imagery is so full. The characters are multifaceted and the adventure is exciting. Who wouldn't like to read about new worlds, and magical creatures? Even in their ordinary lives in London, Polly and Digory are fun characters. Throw magic in with them and it's just lovely. This book (and the ones to follow) are simply classics.

The Bad: Some things are a bit frightening, and some of it is a bit dated (I had to explain what a hansome cab was), but that's not all bad. Evalina's pretty sensitive at times, and none of the chapter ending cliffhangers really got her too anxious. I can't think of much bad to say about this book, except for that Evalina couldn't probably read it by herself, but she's not quite 6 yet, so what do you expect? It is rife with religious imagery, but even though I am not religious, I see nothing wrong with a Jesus-lion. It's pretty innocuous, in that regard.

The Verdict: Amazon lists this as ages 9+. For a read-aloud book, it was fine for Evalina. She loved it. I loved reading it. It didn't take very long for us to read, and we were also reading one of the Magic Schoolbus books along with it. I cannot wait to see how she likes the next books in the series. I would recommend this to anyone.

Evalina's "Book Report": Coming soon. She drew some great pictures, I just have to get them on the computer.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A Wonderful Bonus

One fantastic thing about reading to your children is that, some days, they want to read to you.

A couple of nights ago, Evalina read The Runaway Bunny to me. The night before, it was Would You Rather Be a Bullfrog. Last night, we were treated to Yertle the Turtle, with much gusto and feeling (and when she was done with Yertle, she carefully put her bookmark in the place where she left off, since there are two other stories).

I'm bragging a little here, and I hope you will indulge me. Evalina is very concerned about what effects punctuation has on words. If something is italicized, she must read it with the proper emphasis. In parentheses? Same thing. It's really fantastic.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that she's got a bit of dramatic flair. *Ahem* No clue where that came from.

When I was very tired the other night, and we had already read two chapters of The Magician's Nephew, she really wanted to read a chapter in The Magic Schoolbus book we were reading (about electric storms). I told her that I just couldn't keep my eyes open after a few pages. "Ok, mommy," she said, "I'll read the last few pages of the chapter." And she did. I helped her out on a few words, but she read wonderfully.

I don't think there are many moments when my heart swells with more pride.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Igraine the Brave

I have never read anything by Cornelia Funke before, but I know that Igraine the Brave won't be our last book by her. We read it in just over two weeks, while also reading Magic Schoolbus books alongside.

The Story: Igraine's family is full of magicians, and they live in Pimpernel Castle, and are guardians of the Singing Books of Magic. Igraine has no desire to be a magician. She wants to be a knight. She has just turned 12 years old, and she wants nothing more than a life of chivalry and knightly persuits. She gets her chance to prove herself when her parents have a magical mishap, and she and her (magic practicing) older brother must defend the castle, and the Books, against Osmund the Greedy and his dastardly knight, Rowan the Heartless. Igraine sets of on a quest, and has wonderful adventures with a giant, and an honorable knight, among others.

The Good: How great is it to have kids learning about chivalry? Igraine is a spunky, brave, and smart young girl, who is not afraid to face potentially frightening situations (unless spiders are involved). In this way, she is a very good heroine. The other characters are also very well described, from Igraine's parents, The Fair Melisande and Sir Lamorak the Wiley, to the chivalrous knight who helps her, The Sorrowful Knight of the Mount of Tears, to her clever brother, Albert and his magical mice, to her talking cat, the ever fish-hungry Sisyphus, right to the evil-doers, Osmund the Greedy and Rowan the Heartless.
The chapters are pretty short in general, so it's easily broken down if you are reading it in installments, and though I read this one aloud to Evalina and only had her reading the chapter titles, she was following along quite well. Amazon lists this book as good for ages 9-11, but she had no troubles with the story at 5 (almost 6).

The Bad: Igraine gets herself into trouble sometimes, and doesn't always listen to her parents or other authority figures. She is sometimes rash. Some of the writing may be a bit over the heads of younger kids, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It didn't seem to limit enjoyment.

The Verdict: We loved this book and looked forward to reading it every night. I can't wait to read more by Cornelia Funke! I wish we had the first in the Inkheart series (I inadvertantly bought the second one instead of the first one... oops). I would recommend this book to anyone who likes fantasy, and Harry Potter fans would probably appreciate it. It is lighter than the Potter books, though, in style and story. More fairytale like.

Evalina's "Book Report": I'm going to start having her do this, as an exercise that will help her out in school eventually. I had her draw five of her favorite things in the story. Here they are (and interestingly, she didn't draw Igraine herself! I thought for sure the castle and Igraine would have made appearances)

This is the horse, Lancelot, enjoying a carrot (no idea why the horse has no mane)

The Sorrowful Knight of the Mount of Tears, who lost the ladies he was protecting.

Igraine's cat, Sisyphus, eating a Knight Fish.

Rowan Heartless, the evil Spiky Knight. (Doesn't he just look evil? That grin! Terror-inducing)

The magical stone lions that (happily, apparently) guard the gates of Pimpernel. Evalina was quick to point out their manes, and said they were roaring.