100 Chapter Books Project: The Giver

giver

I have to admit that I didn’t have plans to ever read Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993). Even its place near the top of the Top 100 Chapter Books list (fourth!) didn’t give me any confidence that it would be a book I would enjoy. I’m not a fan of dystopias, especially those where the protagonists are children. I also am not a fan of this cover. (This could be why I ended up choosing to get the audiobook version.) However, the fact that I spent the last week making excuses to find time to listen (I did extra weeding in the yard!) will clue you in to how my feelings about this book have changed.

What it’s about: Jonas lives in a highly controlled community where families are assigned (two parents, two children — one boy, one girl), life is about rules, and free will is unknown. Jonas is turning twelve and is about to be assigned his adult job based on his personality and skills. To everyone’s surprise, rather than a standard job, he is told he will be the new Receiver. To have this job means to be set apart from everyone else, doing a job that not many understand, a job that will change his view of the entire community and its way of life.

Age level: Grades 6-8

Best part: The community seems rigid and boring at the start but the true horror of it is only slowly revealed, leaving the reader to find everything out at the same time as Jonas. It’s a very effective way of telling this story.

Worst part: The vague ending. I’m not the only one to think this either. Apparently, readers bugged Lowry for years, asking what really happened at the end. It prompted her to write three other books set in the world of The Giver, though apparently the fate of Jonas is revealed with just a brief mention.

Verdict: Buy (Borrow)

I decided to give this a weird verdict because I wanted it to count among the best books I’ve read during this project but I’m not sure that it would be one to have on a home bookshelf. I can’t imagine ever wanting to reread it. But I think it should be in every library and on lots of reading lists. It’s a thought-provoking, life-changing story.

Have you read The Giver?

The next book I’m reading is The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright. This is the second book on the list about The Melendy family (the first was The Saturdays which I liked but didn’t love). I have a feeling I’ll feel the same about this one.

*****
Schedule – June through August
 
June 15 – #80 The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)
June 30 – #70 Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1994)
July 15 – #7 From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg (1967)
July 31 – #65 Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012)
August 15 – #43 Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson (1980)
August 31 – #77 My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George (1959)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

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The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (1950) by C.S. Lewis is number five on the Top 100 Chapter Books list.

What it’s about: Simply, four siblings–Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy–find a fantasy land through the back panel of a wardrobe.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best part: The wardrobe, of course. Why else would parents build secret playrooms, accessible only through a large cabinet?

Worst part: Sexism and violence. Here’s one example — To Susan and Lucy, spoken by Father Christmas:

“You must use the bow only in great need,” he said, “for I do not mean you to fight in the battle.” …

“And the dagger is to defend yourself at great need. For you also are not to be in the battle.”

“Why, sir?” said Lucy. “I think–I don’t know–but I think I could be brave enough.”

“That is not the point,” he said. “But battles are ugly when women fight.”

I have to admit that this time through I really noticed the sexism and the promotion of children committing violence. The fact that Aslan makes Peter prove himself by killing and then berates him for being emotional afterward instead of cool and detached and immediately wiping his sword like a trained killer made me feel sick.

Verdict: Borrow

I also found myself getting annoyed at Lewis’ patronizing tone. His writing is simple and cold and, frankly, unfriendly. It seemed like I was having a story told at me instead of to me. I think this was highlighted even more because I had to read this right in the middle of my Diana Wynne Jones month. (Unrelated tidbit: She went to Oxford and had Lewis as one of her lecturers.) Her writing is so magical and full and alive while his felt stale and sparse. I’m actually quite disappointed with this reread. Have you reread any of the Narnia books as an adult? Do some work better than others?

I’ll admit that I’ve already listened to my next book, Each Little Bird That Sings, and it was wonderful. So, if you have time, grab a copy and join me next month for the discussion. You won’t regret it. It’s a story like no other!

*****
Schedule – April through June
April 15 – #71 Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (2005)
April 30 – Spring Break
May 15 – #31 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
May 31 – #4 The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
June 15 – #80 The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)
June 30 – #70 Walk Two Moons by Sharon Creech (1994)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

hugo_intro_cover2One of the more current books on the Top 100 Chapter Books list is 2007’s The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick (#39).

What it’s about: A young orphan, Hugo Cabret, works in a Parisian train station, keeping the clocks running after the disappearance of his uncle. His passion, though, is the automaton that he rescued from the museum fire that killed his watchmaker father. His desire to repair it and reveal the secret it is keeping leads him to unexpected relationships and a hidden history.

Age level: Grades 3-5

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Best part: The artwork, obviously, and the use of real cinematic history. When Z and I read this together a couple of years ago, we immediately researched Georges Méliès and his film “A Trip to the Moon”.

Worst part: The story is a bit chaotic and made me feel uncomfortable at times, seeing a child in trauma.

Verdict: Buy

A Caldecott Medal winner, this book is always a pleasure to read and the kids at Z’s school seem to love it as well. The fact that it’s a huge book but a quick read gives them a sense of accomplishment and, I think, teaches them not to fear the chunkster. It’s an imaginative format, about two-thirds images and one-third words. It allows the reader to create the bridging narrative themselves. This really is a special book.

The next book I have scheduled is The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I haven’t read the book in years but I’ve always been on the fence about C.S. Lewis and Narnia so this will be interesting.

*****
Schedule – March through June
March 30 – #5 The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis (1950)
April 15 – #71 Each Little Bird That Sings by Deborah Wiles (2005)
April 30 – Spring Break
May 15 – #31 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865)
May 31 – #4 The Giver by Lois Lowry (1993)
June 15 – #80 The Four-Story Mistake by Elizabeth Enright (1942)