Wednesday, October 28, 2009

One of the titles on the state Battle of the Books list for Wisconsin elementary students (2009-10 school year) is Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls. I've never read it before now, although I've heard others talk reverently about it for years. I knew that the dogs were going to die at the end, and knew also that they would protect the boy, but I still shed a couple tears at the end of the story.
The setting is the Ozark mountains of eastern Oklahoma; the only city identified is Tahlequah. The time frame is early 20th century, but the decade wasn't identified. My reactions were mixed about this book. I found it very disturbing that all female characters were so very invisible. Mama is only seen fussing over Billy (the protagonist) and his three sisters aren't even given names! The most outrageous aspect, however, is the gloss-over of the death of another boy. I was expecting the sheriff to come after Billy, but no officials came inquiring about the child's death. Is that disregard for life even possible? Evidently, in that time and place it would have been. I hope that the children reading the book today will realize that the times were very different and 'now-a-days' there would be serious consequences. There are many redeeming qualities of this book, however, and I understand why it has become something of a 'classic' in children's literature.


Friday, October 02, 2009

I've read two more books since the last post.
Rasputin's Daughter by Robert Alexander is a wonderful work of historical fiction. I love reading historical fiction because - in addition to learning facts about a particular time and place in history - I'm able to feel what is in the hearts and minds of the people of that time. Through the emotions of the characters the period comes alive for me!
Alexander has taken pains to research the country of Russia, the time period of WWI, and the memoirs of Maria Rasputin - the eldest daughter of "The Mad Monk Rasputin". Hearing the story from the perspective of Maria removes the political taint that has colored all other tales of Tsar Nicholas and his family's seemingly bizarre relationship with Rasputin. Clearly Rasputin was a man of great contradictions - clairvoyance, gifts for healing on one side and drunkeness and sexual promiscuity on the other. In this book, Maria is a girl entering womanhood and she is becoming painfully aware that her father is not the saint that the commoners of the land believe him to be. At the same time, she is awakened to her own sexuality by a dashing and mysterious young man - Sasha. The strain of the war with Germany, the hemophelia of the heir, the hunger and despair of the peasantry, and the desparate attempts of the royal (extended) family to maintain the power and wealth of the monarchy were the tinder just ready to explode when the matchstick that was Rasputin set the country ablaze in revolution. Wow! Historical fiction makes the most fascinating reading!

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle. Perhaps my third time to read this work of fantasy/science fiction/religious alegory and every reading gives me more to think about. This book is a classic among children's literature, although many have argued that children cannot possibly understand all that L'Engle has wrapped into this story. Probably so, but then the same must be said of many other well-written books marked as 'children's literature'. The simple inclusion of a young protagonist should not mean that the book is not worthy of an adult audience! What do you think?

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