100 Chapter Books Project: A Wrinkle in Time

Madeleine L’Engle is probably best known for her novel A Wrinkle in Time, an apparently beloved book as it comes in right at the top, number two on the Top 100 list. This means that not only did it show up on a lot of the lists submitted but that it was also highly ranked on those lists. Sadly, I only read it for the first time in 2008 and it didn’t blow my mind the way that it probably would have when I was a kid. I was looking forward to this reread though and I chose to read Hope Larson’s graphic novel adaptation since I was curious about it as well.

What it’s about: Meg’s physicist father has been missing for years but her mother insists he is simply on a job for the government and will be back someday. And now Meg’s younger brother Charles Wallace has made three strange acquaintances–Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which–who are of the same opinion, that Mr. Murry is alive (though probably not well) somewhere far away and he needs their help. The children therefore must trust these beings to get them across the universe by tesser, a bending of time that facilitates space travel.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best thing: As I read the graphic novel version of Wrinkle, it was necessarily a condensed version of the novel. I actually found it to be much clearer than the original. Larson’s artwork is strange and blue and really quite amazing in the way it jibed with my mental pictures of the story. I highly recommend it to both fans of the original and those new to the novel.

Worst thing: Even more than the first time I read this book, I really disliked Meg. I know that her tenacity and obstinance and temper are supposed to be some of her strengths but seeing her face next to her words somehow made her more annoying to me. I couldn’t see why Cal would start liking her at all.

Verdict: Buy/Borrow

I still don’t think this book would appeal to everyone but obviously it does appeal to a lot of young readers. Was this a favorite of yours when you were young? Why?

The next book, When You Reach Me, is based on this one so it will be interesting to read them back to back. I think I’m going to try it as an audiobook.

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Schedule – February through May
note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after
February 28 – #11 When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009)
March 15 – #35 Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (1972)
March 31 – #60 Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999)
April 15 –  #90 The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston (1954)
April 30 – Spring Break!
May 15 – #68 The High King by Lloyd Alexander (1968)

100 Chapter Books Project: The Wolves of Willoughby Chase

The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (1962) is #57 on the Top 100 list which means it obviously stuck with quite a few readers. I only recently started reading Aiken with the Armitage Family stories (I highly recommend the full collection — The Serial Garden) and was eager to keep exploring her work. This book is much darker that those other tales but still displays her special talent for tapping a range of emotions and for writing memorable characters.

What it’s about: Sylvia arrives at Willoughby Chase to live with her cousin Bonnie Green at just the wrong time. Bonnie’s parents are headed off on a sea voyage for her mother’s health and have invited a distant relative, Miss Slighcarp, to take care of the estate and to act as governess to the children. But the moment that the Greens leave, Miss Slighcarp’s real intentions come to light and the girls must find a way to save themselves and their home.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best character: This has to be shared by some of the supporting characters — Pattern (maid), Simon (gooseboy), James (footman) and Dr. Field (doctor). They all come through when the girls need them with little or no chance of reward and considerable risk in some cases. They are all one-hundred percent brave and good.

Worst character: Well, there’s no question that this is Miss Slighcarp. There’s a scene where she comes into the room wearing Bonnie’s mother’s best gown that is particularly horrid. And the fact that she isn’t just satisfied with stealing money and plotting her relatives’ deaths but also has to dish out misery to dozens of random children is incredibly evil.

Verdict: Buy

There seem to be ten or eleven more books in the Wolves Chronicles. If you’ve read some or all of them, which would you recommend? I would love to keep exploring the series!

Z and I are still reading Goblet of Fire and I’m not sure we’ll be done in time for the next blog entry. It takes a long time to get through a 700+ page book while only reading 20 minutes a night (and taking a few nights off during vacation)! Luckily, I’ll be capable of writing about it anyway since this is a multi-time reread for me.

And, if you’ve noticed, the next two books after that are A Wrinkle in Time and When You Reach Me. Not only do they make a good paired read (the second is based on the first) but there’s also a graphic novel version of Wrinkle in case you are due for a reread but are also in the mood for something slightly different. And if you read them a little early (before the end of January), they can count toward the 2014 Sci-Fi Experience.

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Schedule – January through April
note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after
January 31 – #98 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)
February 15 – #2 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)
February 28 – #11 When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009)
March 15 – #35 Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (1972)
March 31 – #60 Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis (1999)
April 15 –  #90 The Children of Green Knowe by L.M. Boston (1954)
April 30 – Spring Break!

100 Chapter Books Project: Ballet Shoes

Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (1936) comes in at #78 on the Top 100 list but I think it would be much higher if more people had read it. It’s charming and smart and leaves the reader feeling happy and inspired.

What it’s about: Three adopted sisters–Pauline, Petrova and Posy–must learn dancing and acting to support themselves and their adopted family when times get tough.

Age level: Grades 4-6

Best part: So much about this book was awesome, from the girls themselves and their diverse personalities to the boarders at their house who have their own unique things to offer and even the absentee Great Uncle Matthew.

Worst part: The only quibble I had with the book was the stereotyping by hair color — the blonde was also the prettiest and the natural actress, the redhead was saucy and the dancer and the brunette was exotic looking but not particularly pretty and so, of course, she was interested in math and engineering. Why couldn’t the beautiful blonde also be the smart one? Oh well … 1936, I guess.

Verdict: Buy

So, I tried to find a clip to imbed from You’ve Got Mail that has Meg Ryan’s (Kathleen) mention of this and the other “Shoe” books but I couldn’t find a working one. So here’s the dialogue instead (which not only introduces this book and the series it is in but also is a commentary on indie versus chain bookstores) –

WOMAN SHOPPER: Do you have the “Shoe” books?
SALESPERSON: The “Shoe” books?  Who’s the author?
WOMAN SHOPPER: I don’t know.  My friend told me my daughter has to read the “Shoe” books, so here I am.
KATHLEEN: Noel Streatfeild. Noel Streatfeild wrote Ballet Shoes and Skating Shoes and Theater Shoes and Movie Shoes …
(she starts crying as she tells her)
I’d start with Skating Shoes, it’s my favorite, although Ballet Shoes is completely wonderful.
SALESPERSON: Streatfeild. How do you spell that?
KATHLEEN: S-T-R-E-A-T-F-E-I-L-D.
WOMAN SHOPPER: Thank you.
As she walks away … KATHLEEN (to herself): They know nothing, they know absolutely nothing.

This was the introduction to the series for many of us (and a big help in finding this strangely-spelled author), but I still never picked one up until now. Of course I thoroughly regret it and anticipate reading the other Shoe books at some point because the characters were so vivid. (The other books are about different children but I anticipate the same high quality of writing.) The story is lovely and inspirational and yet still funny and light. I can totally see girls being inspired by this book to follow their dreams. I don’t know why I didn’t buy this book for my niece for Christmas but she’ll definitely be getting it next summer for her birthday!

What is your favorite Shoe book?

I’ll be back in January with The Wolves of Willoughby Chase which I am really looking forward to! Z and I are also already reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire together and I hope we will be done by the end of January (we just finished the Quidditch World Cup game). It takes a long time when you’re reading it for just 20 minutes a night!

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Schedule – January through March

note: dates are not necessarily set in stone – posts may go up a day or two before or after

December 31 – Winter Break

January 15 – #57 The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken (1962)

January 31 – #98 Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (2000)

February 15 – #2 A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle (1962)

February 28 – #11 When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead (2009)

March 15 – #35 Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume (1972)