Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Janitors by Tyler Whitesides

Janitors (2011) by Tyler Whitesides
Janitors by Tyler Whitesides is a fun story for middle grade readers about the adventures of a couple of kids, Spencer and Daisy, who discover the secret world of the janitors at their school.

It turns out that Marv Bills and Walter Jameson do more than mop floors. They're fighting toxites, little creatures invisible to most people unless they've been exposed to magical glop, that want to sap the smarts out of kids. Marv and Walter's problem though, is that while they want to help the kids, the BEM, Bureau of Educational Maintenance, has withdrawn support for them, as if the BEM actually wants kids to get stupid. Not knowing why the BEM has withdrawn support, Marv, Walter, and a handful of other "rebel janitors" continue to use glopified equipment, struggling to fight back the toxites on their own. But when the BEM start coming after them, the kids want to step in and help.

What will happen when the BEM start coming after the kids?

The book is a bit long for its target audience, but I think it would be an enjoyable read for most upper elementary aged readers.


Pillage by Obert Skye

Pillage by Obert Skye is a novel written for middle schoolers and high schoolers
Pillage (c) 2009 by Obert Skye
, and something which older elementary aged readers would enjoy as well.

Beck Phillips goes to live in the quaint town of Kingsplot with his estranged uncle when his mother dies. There, he begins to uncover dark family secrets, and discovers a strange ability to get plants to do what he wants. Not only that, but when he goes exploring in places where he's been specifically told not to go (Beck has a thing about disobeying authority) he discovers another talent that he didn't know he had, but that is a bit more dangerous than being able to control plants. Of course it involves dragons.

Without giving away spoilers, the book is not one that dragon lovers would enjoy because of certain events in the book that were painful to witness. But it is well-written for its target audience, and young people would enjoy it.

For myself, I had a hard time liking Beck after the first scene. He wants to get out of a few days of school, and tries to do this by releasing a hive of bees into the school. Did he not consider that some students might be so allergic to bee stings that his doing so could be fatal to them? It might be realistic for a fifteen year old not to consider such consequences, but that fifteen year old isn't any more likable to me because of the lack of understanding such consequences. He knew enough to know it would cause difficulty and disruption, even pain to others, and that's enough to make him an unlikable character to me.

However, to the target audience, the opening scene could be very funny and enjoyable, and many readers would even be able to relate to Beck. After all, what high schooler or middle schooler wouldn't want to get out of school for a few days?

Like many books for young people, the adults in the book tend to be bumbling idiots, harsh bullies, neglectful, dismissive, or crazy. Something that usually turns me away from such books. But it wouldn't bother the target audience. After all, using such tropes leaves the way open for the young protagonists to step in and save the day. Which is what young audiences like.

The main conflict of the story seemed to take longer than it ought to develop, which might try the patience of its target audience, but there was enough action along the way to keep teens interested. There are twists and turns that I didn't anticipate, and that young readers would find delightfully frightening. These twists and turns are what helped me overlook the things I didn't like, and kept me interested in the story despite not being a member of the target audience.

The end leaves it obvious that a sequel is coming, yet wraps up the present conflict in a satisfying way. 

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Beowulf by ???

Beowulf
Beowulf, written possibly around 700 A.D., is the story of the title character, Beowulf. He is a hero from the land of the Geats who hears rumors of a terrifying monster wreaking havoc in Denmark at the castle Heorot, ruled by Hrothgar. Feeling an obligation to help, Beowulf sets off for the land of the Danes.

From there, the audience follows Beowulf through three main battles in the story. Beowulf's battle with Grendel, his battle with Grendel's Mother, and his battle with a dragon at the end. The story was originally written in Old English, and there are multiple translations into modern English.

I see Beowulf as a Christian allegory of the age old battle of good against evil. There are references to Christianity throughout, woven through with old Pagan beliefs that would have held over from before the coming of Christianity to Europe. I personally enjoy the story, and recommend it to people who enjoy mythology, and stories of heroes who fight against difficult odds despite the danger and pain to themselves.

Tuesday, January 8, 2019

The Magician's Nephew by C. S. Lewis

I've reviewed The Magician's Nephew on this blog  before, but I enjoy C. S. Lewis's work so much, that I want to read it over, and over again. Books like his, as well as Tolkien's books, especially The Hobbit, and To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee are books that I simply can not tire of reading.
Magician's Nephew, The (c) 1955 by C. S. Lewis
In The Magician's Nephew, not the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia, but the first chronologically, Polly and Diggory, girl and boy protagonists, embark on an adventure when they are tricked into touching magic rings by Diggory's unscrupulous uncle, Uncle Andrew. On their adventure, they find themselves in Charn, a dying world, and encounter Jadis, the cruel and ruthless witch who, against their wishes, accompanies them. Then joined by Uncle Andrew who is more than willing to be Jadis' yes man, as well as a good-hearted cab driver Frank and his horse Strawberry, the children find themselves in Narnia. But now with Jadis here in Narnia determined to wreak havoc, the children are recruited by Aslan the Lion to fetch a silver apple from a certain garden far to the west in order to plant a tree that will protect Narnia from Jadis' evil for many years. 

Will the children be able to accomplish their goal? And will Diggory get his wish to bring a healing apple from Narnia to save his dangerously ill mother? Read the book to find out!

The Magician's Nephew is a wonderful book for children and adults, and I enjoy reading it now as much as I enjoyed reading it as a child.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Farmer Boy (c) 1933 by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder follows the adventures of little Almanzo Wilder between his 9th and 10th years as he goes to school, watches his teacher deal with school bullies, and works alongside his family on their farm in New York state.

Farmer Boy is the 2nd book of the series about Laura's husband's childhood.

Like other books written by Laura Ingalls Wilder, the book doesn't have a story question, end goal, or plot, it simply follows Almanzo through various adventures in chronological order. The writing is simple enough for children to read and understand, yet vivid and descriptive as well. Each chapter works as its own short story, and that is the magic of the book. The story shows us how people lived back in the 1800s, and gives us a glimpse of a life when things were a little tougher, yet a little simpler, and people were happy with what they had. Almanzo, his brother and his two sisters, for example, are ecstatic Christmas morning when they wake up to find presents in their stockings. Just their stockings, not a room full of wrapped gifts. Yet, they're happy and contented. He and his family work hard for what they get, and while he may not have everything someone else might think he needs to be happy, Almanzo is. He's happy with his family, a boughten cap he gets for Christmas, and a full plate of food!

I enjoyed reading this story when I was young, and I enjoyed listening to it on cd just recently. I recommend this book to both children and adults who would enjoy an easy read about life in the 1800s.