The Golden Compass (1995, Northern Lights in the U.K.) by Philip Pullman is number 28 on the Top 100 Chapter Books list. Sometimes I think that a series book is appropriately listed separately on the list because it’s either the best in the series or is a fantastic standalone. But, in cases like this one, I think that the book is likely a stand-in by voters for the entire series. The His Dark Materials series works best when all three books are read together and they are all rather good.
What it’s about: Lyra Belacqua is an orphan who lives at Jordan College in Oxford (in a world that is not quite ours), always accompanied by her daemon, Pantalaimon. In Lyra’s world, daemons are bosom companions (souls) that take animal form and are changeable when one is a child but choose a fixed form during puberty. Lyra spies one day on the leaders of Jordan College and her uncle, Lord Asriel, and finds out about an elementary particle called “dust” and about another world that exists across the Aurora Borealis. Lyra soon finds herself fighting against a sinister plot to change her world as she knows it, but she also finds that she isn’t alone when she gains assistance from some very unexpected companions.
Age level: Grade 5+
Best part: Lyra is simply amazing. She’s smart and capable and headstrong but she’s also human and she makes several very tough decisions and is willing to face the consequences to help others. Iorek Byrnison, Serafina Pekkala and Farder Coram are also outstanding characters with depth, flaws and very individual world views.
Worst part: This series is constantly challenged or banned. The reasons touch on politics, religion, and violence. The truth is that this is a book that encourages readers to question authority (especially religious and political authority), to make informed decisions based on science and fact, and to protect those things that are important parts of our core beings and our environment. The likely true reason for so many challenges is that Pullman is a secular humanist.
This was a reread for me and I did it on audiobook with a great full-cast version. I’m on the library waiting list now for the audiobook of The Subtle Knife, book two in the series because I can’t remember everything that comes next in the story. I loved this portion of the tale as much as I did when I read the series a few years back. The characters are so vivid and the plot is intense and compelling. It’s an incredibly thoughtful and substantial book which I’m sure dozens of students have analyzed over the years.
Next up is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery. This is a re-read for me and it’s a short story so I would like to spend a little time doing some background research and reading on the author along with reading the story itself. There will also be a movie coming out later this year so if anyone hasn’t read this and wants to join me, feel free!