Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Wizard in the Tree

Evalina got The Wizard in the Tree, by Lloyd Alexander, free from the library for doing such a great job with her summer reading.  I'd never heard of it before, but thought we'd give it a chance.

The Story:  Mallory is a kitchen maid with a love of fairy tales.  When walking through the woods, she discovers her favorite oak tree was cut down to make way for a road - and is astonished to discover a wizard inside the tree!  Arbican had been trapped there years and years before, and missed his kind's exodus to the land of Vale Innus.  He's not at all what Mallory expected from a wizard, being grumpy and unwilling to grant her wishes.  Still, he lost some of his powers in the time he spent stuck in the tree, and needs Mallory's help getting them back.  Meanwhile, the unscrupulous Squire Scrupnor is trying to turn Mallory's beloved village into a coal mining town, and plans on taking all of the profits for himself, while blaming Arbican for the murder of his predecessor.  Can Mallory help Arbican escape to Vale Innus, and stop Scrupnor?

The Good:  It's an engaging story, and Mallory is a strong female protagonist.  Arbican is an interesting wizard, not cliche and predictable.  Scrupnor is a thoroughly dispicable bad guy, slimy and no good.  The story is exciting in parts and Evalina seemed to enjoy it.

The Bad:  Some language is quite strong.  Mallory is repeatedly referred to as a slut and a wench (though in the original and not contemporary uses of the words), and I actually skipped over the words if I was reading the sentences they were in (slut more than wench).  I just don't need Evalina repeating those words on the playground.  Some of the plot was kind of talky - an entire chapter was pretty much grown ups talking about grown up politics, and I think it got a bit boring for Evalina in that part.  It was right after Arbican was introduced, too, and I know she just wanted to see more about him!  (So did I).  Though it was only 144 pages long, it seemed much longer in parts, and ended well, but kind of abruptly.

The Verdict:  It was a good book, overall, but I wouldn't say it's something I would go out of my way to read.  Amazon says it's best for ages 9-12, and I would agree with that.  Evalina liked it well enough, but I do think that some of it went over her head.  Not bad, but don't rush out and buy it for your 6 year old.  Older, maybe...

Monday, September 7, 2009

Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator

It took us about a week to read Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator, which is pretty good, considering school started and all.  We liked it quite a lot, and look forward to reading more Roald Dahl soon!

The Story:  This books starts off right where Charlie and the Chocolate Factory left off, with Willy Wonka telling Charlie that he was going to inherit the chocolate factory, and his whole family was invited to come and live at the factory (instead of in their tiny little house) and help run it.  Before they can settle into their new life of fun and luxury and chocolate filled days, the whole family (including the three grandparents in their big bed, Charlie's parents, Mr. Wonka, Charlie, and Grandpa Joe) went for a ride in the Great Glass Elevator.  And where should that Great Glass Elevator take them, but into space?  They went to explore the brand-new, and as yet unoccupied by humans, Space Hotel U.S.A, only to find themselves face to face with Vermicious Knids, horrible gobbling globs of aliens (and of course, Mr. Wonka knows all about them).  They have a great adventure escaping the Knids, and rescue a bunch of astronauts and workers heading for the hotel in the process, before getting back to the factory.
Call that the end of Part 1. On to Part 2.
Once back on solid ground and in the factory, Mr. Wonka devises a plan to get the old grandparents out of the bed they haven't left in many years.  He gives them the wonderful creation Wonka-Vite, which will strip 20 years off a person for each pill they take.  This would have been all well and good, if it hadn't been for Grandma Georgina's greed with them, and the fact that no one seems to listen to directions.  They end up as two babies and a minus (that'd be Grandma Georgina, who took too many pills and is -2 years old).  Charlie and Mr. Wonka set off to save Grandma Georgina from Minus-land (far below the chocolate factory, also accessed by The Great Glass Elevator), and to set things right with her and the now baby grandparents.  Of course, it's an adventure in and of itself.

The Good:  Roald Dahl's writing style is just a lot of fun.  He makes even the most fantastical journey seem matter-of-fact. Of course they would go into space in the elevator.  Why not?  And what should they find there but giant evil slug creatures like the Knids?  And of course the elevator would be immune to knid attack.  Of course Mr. Wonka has invented a wonderful pill to make you younger, and an opposite potion to make you older.  He's like a magician, enrobed in chocolate.  Charlie is ever-sensible, and Grandpa Joe is a joy.  The chapters are a bit longer, on average, than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but still pretty short.   Evalina was laughing out loud at parts, and really enjoyed it.  Though the recommended reading age is 9-12, it was no problem for Evalina, and I bet she could read it by herself if she wanted to.

The Bad:  Some grownups (including the President of the United States) are portrayed as utter fools.   The story is more out there (and I mean out there - outer space) than the first book, and I didn't have a problem with that, but some people might.  The Knids are really really terrible and frightening, and some chapters end with cliffhangers.  The more sensitive readers might not like that (though Evalina had no troubles).  There isn't anything else I can think of really.  Perhaps another bad thing is that there are no more adventures with Charlie to read about?

The Verdict:  The story is a bit more disjointed than Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, but it was still super fun.  Evalina loved it, and so did I.  It was fun to read.  It wrapped up Charlie's story quite nicely.  The end of the first book was rather abrupt, and I think this one is good to read, if only to find out what happened.  Recommended!