Tag Archives: children’s fiction

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O’Brien (unabridged audiobook read by Barbara Caruso; 7 hrs 15 min on 6 discs): I grew up on the movie version, and figured it was high time for me to finally read the book. Mrs. Frisby is a widowed mouse with four children living in a cinder block in a farmer’s garden for the winter. At the start of the story, her youngest son Timothy is ill with pneumonia and cannot leave the house. However, the plow will be coming through soon, which will destroy the cinder block and kill everyone inside. After helping a young crow named Jeremy, he takes her to see a wise owl, who tells her to ask the rats to move her house. These rats are unusually intelligent, with quite the backstory. I was a little disappointed that Mrs. Frisby never got a first name, but given that her husband’s deeds were the only reason anyone gave her the time of day, I suppose it was fitting. All in all, I liked it. The characters were compelling and the ending was satisfying, if quite bittersweet. I’m not sure I would have enjoyed it as a child; I was fairly sensitive when it came to the death of animals. As an adult, however, I found it to be a fascinating exploration of how a wild animal would deal with newfound intelligence. Recommended.

A note on the audio version: Caruso, unfortunately, narrates as if she were reading to a small child with a learning disability, adding lengthy pauses between each and every clause. It took me well into the second disc before I got used to her cadence. Once I did, however, I had no trouble getting into the story.

A note on the movie: The first half or so of the movie is quite true to the book, but it adds a mystical element in the form of a magic amulet. This is completely out of left field, but it does help Mrs. Brisby (changed from Frisby at the insistence of the makers of Frisbee) come out looking more like the hero of the tale. The book is also much less clear-cut: there are no true villains, and you don’t even know for sure who’s still alive at the end. That’s not to say one is better than the other, of course; I enjoy both book and movie for what they are.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Knightscares #1: Cauldron Cooker’s Night by David Anthony and Charles David

Knightscares #1: Cauldron Cooker’s Night by David Anthony and Charles David: Josh and Jozlyn live in your typical Medieval-ish fantasy village, with fairy armies and witches’ holidays. Our story begins on Cauldron Cooker’s Night, a celebration for witches that leaves regular folk cowering under their beds. When the whole town is turned to frogs by a vengeful witch, it is up to Josh and Jozlyn to save them. Along the way they encounter ogres and wizards, magic mushrooms and bog beasts. Master Gramble, the turtle with the brain of a stone, was probably my favorite character, and I hope he shows up in future volumes of the series. The illustrations were fine and detailed. This was more or less a standard sword’n’sorcery tale but I happen to like me some good old fashioned S&S so I’m not complaining. That said, it is undeniably written for children, complete with cautionary asides about not eating wild mushrooms without a parent around and other such things that took me out of the story. Which isn’t a bad thing, of course – it just means that I, as an adult, did not get as much enjoyment out of the story as I probably would have a couple decades ago. However, this would be a fun one to read aloud to your kids, if only to say “griznt” over and over again.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

Heroes A2Z #1: Alien Ice Cream by David Anthony and Charles David

Heroes A2Z #1: Alien Ice Cream by David Anthony and Charles David: Three superhero siblings save a small Michigan town from certain peril, this time in the form of aliens peddling hypnosis-inducing ice cream. Their powers are silly (speed and sports; the ability to drive anything with wheels, including airplanes; and anything Superman can do, respectively) but fun. Most memorable for me was the youngest, Zoe, who is still in diapers. I was a little concerned by the idea of a superhero lacking bladder control, but all the same, it was quite clear the authors wrote with their audience firmly in mind. For example, Zoe speaks only one word at a time, all potential vocabulary words; in this book they all started with the letter A but I assume future books in the series go through the alphabet. Adorable illustrations adorn every page. I was amused by the strange little asides and the commentary on sibling rivalry. In short, this is the sort of thing I would probably have enjoyed as a child. I also probably would have colored the illustrations.

Also posted on BookCrossing.

For ages # and up

I was looking through some stuff the other day and was reminded of a comment one of my reviews had received, suggesting that instead of just calling something a children’s book, I should name a specific age range. It occurs to me that I have absolutely no idea how to define such things. I believe I have two major factors working against me:

  1. No children in my life. I am not a parent; I don’t babysit; my nieces and nephews all live halfway across the country; and I was the youngest child so I never even had a younger sibling to care for. In short, I have exactly zero experience in choosing age-appropriate literature for children of any age.
  2. I’m not even sure if my own childhood reading was age-appropriate. First of all, I didn’t really enjoy reading. I hated everything we ever read for school. Aside from a few books by Beverly Cleary, Gordon Korman, and Daniel Pinkwater, I don’t recall much between picture books and adult science fiction and fantasy. By the time I was a preteen, I was reading mostly Piers Anthony and Robert Asprin. Is this age-appropriate? Hard to say, I guess, though I did grow up to be a (fairly) well-adjusted and (somewhat) normal adult. All the same, I’m sure I embarrassed my mother that time when I looked up from one of the Incarnations of Immortality books to ask her what a concubine was.

I am also at a loss to define “age-appropriate” in terms of subject material. I could probably rate books in terms of vocabulary, but who am I to say what topics are or are not suitable for a child of a certain age? Most banned/challenged books become that way because someone believes it is inappropriate for children of a certain age group. When do people magically become old enough to handle any variety of topics? I say if you’re in high school, you should be capable of handling adult themes. I read Night by Elie Wiesel as a freshman. It could be argued that a fourteen-year-old is not mature enough to handle such a subject, but considering the events occurred when Wiesel himself was fifteen, the objection seems trivial.

So, how do you determine the proper age range for a book?

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