Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Incredible Journey

While waiting for the final book in the Rick Riordan Heroes of Olympus series, we delved into another classic that has been hanging around in our bookcase - The Incredible Journey.  I don't think I've ever read it, but I had seen the movie as a child.

The Story:  A young lab, an old bull terrier, and a Siamese cat are being watched by a friend of their family, while their family is off in England for months and months.  While they like their temporary master, when he goes away on a hunting trip, the lab takes the initiative in heading westward towards their original home, miles and miles across the forbidding Canadian wilderness.  Through a series of unlikely circumstances, no one knows that they are gone for weeks, not even the kindly lady who was watching over the house (and them, too, supposedly), while their temporary master is gone.  The going is not easy, and the old dog especially has a hard time with it, especially in the beginning, but the intrepid trio doesn't give up, and look after and encourage each other through it all.

The Good:   This is not your typical "the animals start talking as soon as their owners leave the room" kind of story.  The story is all told as if you were watching the animals, and it is very exciting.  You really get the feel of each animal through their actions and the way the author writes them.  The cat is loyal to his friends (particularly the old bull terrier, whom he hunts for occasionally), but is also a typical cat, disappearing to go stalk something, fiercely independent, smart as a whip.  The bull terrier is a sweet old thing, who doesn't understand when people they meet don't automatically fall in love with him all the time, and who is determined to keep up with his friends, even when his old body is having troubles with it.  The lab is wary of people who are not his beloved family, and is single-minded about his westward journey. Their way is not without significant troubles, but some of the people they meet along the way are kind and wonderful, and in the end (spoiler!), they all make it home!

The Bad:  There are parts when each animal is injured and you aren't entirely sure they are going to make it.  The bull terrier has his troubles because he is so old and unused to such effort, and he has a run in with a bear cub that ends with some injuries.  The cat is convinced to cross a river and a dam bursts, sweeping him away and nearly drowning him.  The lab has a run-in with a porcupine that ends with him severely quilled.  They are hungry, and it isn't easy going.  Some people are not kind to them, especially when the bull terrier kills some chickens, and they get shot at for stealing garbage.  The more sensitive child might be put off by these troubles.

The Verdict:  Totally worth being the classic it is.  I hope we can get our hands on the movie, to see how it holds up (I haven't seen it since I was a kid).  It is recommended for ages 8+, and I think that's about right.  It was captivating and you really root for the animal trio. It was not a very long read, which is nice after some of the beasts we've been tackling.  Overall, I can recommend this highly.

Have Spacesuit, Will Travel

Finally, her first Heinlein!  I am a complete Heinlein fan (I've read most of his books, juvenille and adult fiction), and love all of them.  I started when I was 9 years old, when my dad brought me into a used book store, found Red Planet, and started my obsession.

I decided Evalina was ready.

Have Spacesuit, Will Travel is a classic, and for good reason.  A problem with many Heinlein novels is that they seem to be discontinued, so it can be trickier finding them, but I got my hot little hands on a couple, joyfully.

The Story:  Kip, like many regular teenage boys, dreams of going to the moon.  His chance comes in the form of a contest from the SkyWay Soap company - come up with a winning slogan, and get a trip to the moon base!  He is obsessed, and enters the contest methodically countless times.  The day finally comes and... he doesn't win.  As a consolation prize, he gets a used spacesuit.  It's a total fixer-upper, and instead of just let it sit as a curiousity, Kip restores it.  He names the suit Oscar, and learns to work in it, buys parts from all over, wanders around his family farm in it.. and gets kidnapped by a passing alien spaceship!  There, he meets a spunky young girl named Peewee, who has also been kidnapped, and he gets his wish - they go to the moon!  However, it isn't all that he could ever want, because he gets to go to the moon as a hostage of the evil alien "wormfaces," who operate from a hidden base on the moon and are about to try to take over the world.  He manages to free his spacesuit, Oscar, from the clutches of the aliens, and get Peewee and her friendly alien companion, The Mother Thing, free, but they are still not out of harm's way.  Still they have to traverse treacherous lunar terrain with less air than they need, towards the lunar station, and that's only the beginning of their adventures.

The Good: This is sci-fi gold.  It is chock full of real facts and figures (which sometimes can get overwhelming, but it's still nice to have them there), and Kip's plight is something you can relate to.  He has a dream and he sets about making it happen.  That's commendable.  Though the outcome is not what he might have expected, the journey is certainly exciting, and what teenaged kid from a small town wouldn't want to save the entirety of humanity, all before figuring out where he is going to go to college, and how he's going to pay for it?  Peewee is lively and likeable, though sometimes she can be a brat, but you still root for her.  The Wormfaces are as despicable and terrifying as The Mother Thing and her kind are fair and just (at least to their own thinking), and Kip is not without flaws.  His trusty space suit, Oscar, is with him through thick and thin, and is essentially another character.  I remember liking this book when I was 9 or 10, and I certainly enjoyed it the second time around!

The Bad:  Sometimes the technical details get a bit dense.  Heinlein doesn't shy away from math and physics, and trying to explain that to a 9-year old can sometimes get a bit challenging, but that's a minor complaint.  If nothing else, it reaffirmed how math is important, and could even save your life (!) if you get into a desperate situation.  The writing holds up surprisingly well for something written in 1958, though there are certainly parts which could be a bit more modern.  Minor complaint.

The Verdict: Evalina was begging for more Heinlein!  (That's my girl)  She loved it all.  It was a relatively quick read, and I loved reading it with her about as much as she liked reading it (and sometimes, Philip was listening from his bed, having finished his own reading...)  Read this.  Classic sci-fi, made none the worse for it's age.  Amazon has it recommended for grades 7+, which is a possibility if you are trying to understand all the math and such, but the rest of the subject matter was not too much over Evalina's 4th grade head (as a read-together book).  Can't wait to get her some more Heinlein!

Heroes of Olympus: Son of Neptune

We finished Son of Neptune a while back, but I just haven't had a chance to blog about it until now.  Evalina is chomping at the bit to finish this series, and we just got the final book (Mark of Athena) last night, so I thought I would try to play catch up and get the books we have read in between written up.

The Story:  Percy Jackson has no memory.  He woke after sleeping for months, with a wolf, Lupa, telling him that he was a demigod, and told him his name, but not much more. He has memories of his girlfriend, Annabeth, but not much else, and he sets off for the demigod encampment that Lupa sent him to, but nothing seemed familiar.  When he gets there, he meets Hazel, daughter of Pluto, who was dead but came back to life (this is not a widely known fact), and Frank, who has not yet been claimed by his Godly father.  Percy joins the legion with the other sons and daughters of the Roman gods at Camp Jupiter, but is not widely accepted, as he is unknown and has strange ways.  Frank and Hazel are some of the only ones to accept him, and together they embark on a quest to free Thanatos (the God of Death) from the hands of an ice giant in Alaska, beyond the realm of the Gods, in an attempt to defeat Gaia, in her attempts to waken and overthrow all the Gods.  The Prophecy of Seven is close to coming to pass.

The Good:  Evalina was thrilled to see Percy back, after his disappearance in the last book.  It was interesting to get to know the Roman aspects of the Gods, and Frank and Hazel are totally likeable characters.  The growing threat from Gaia was nerve-wracking, and there were some close calls and nights when we "had" to read more than one chapter because the cliff-hanger was just too big.  I'd call that a good.  Frank and Hazel both go through some serious transformative moments and they both grow from slightly timid, unsure newbies to strong and confident heroes.  There were times when we grabbed out the Mythology book to get some background on the Roman mythology.  That's a good.

The Bad:  At times, it seems like the odds are just too much against Percy and the crew.  It's nerve-wracking at times.  And also bad? When we finished this, the final book in the series hadn't been released yet!  Neither of us is much good at waiting for books.  There is more overt romance in this book, I think, than in the others, which is ok, but something to be noted.   It is also hard to read the book, knowing that Annabeth and Tyson and the others from Camp Half-Blood are looking for Percy, and fighting the same enemy, but not knowing what they are doing!  I know that this is not really a bad, but something to think about.

The Verdict:  Another really fun read from Rick Riordan!  Can't wait to read the last one in the series, and then on to the Red Pyramid series, about Egyptian mythology.  The recommended reading level is age 10 and up, and although she has since re-read it, Evalina (age 9) was probably better off reading it with me first, so I'd call that about right.  It was on the longer side, so that's something to be aware of.  Overall, thumbs up, for sure!