Ursula K. Le Guin (and Voices for 409)

These three books share a world as a setting, and have a few characters in common, but they are not a conventional series like the Harry Potter books or the Lord of the Rings trilogy. The relationship is a bit like that of The Hobbit to The Fellowship of the Ring. We begin with a story of Orrec Caspro as a boy, but years are lost between the first and second books; the next book shows him as an accomplished and renowned poet. It's like The Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones, which skips Christopher Chant's middle years entirely, showing him only as boy and then as master.

High on desolate, rocky hills live lonely peoples whose supernatural gifts allow them to unmake, sicken, or injure one another. These small bands do constant battle for the scant resources that are there. Orrec and Gry have been friends all their lives, and they hope to marry, but their families each have planned other marriages in order to increase their wealth. Orrec struggles with blindness that his father imposes on him to keep him from "harming" others with his "great power." In fact, Orrec has not inherited the power, and the blindfold is a ruse to intimidate others who might take his land or livestock. Gry brings Orrec a guide dog, trains him up with the power of animal calling that she has inherited. However, she refuses to use that power to call animals to the hunt, as she is expected to do. In the end, Orrec sheds his blindfold, and the two of them leave the Uplands for adventures unknown.

This would be a great novel to read in 409, Storytelling. It has so many elements that are inherent to the course, including an understanding of stories as a deep part of cultural heritage and therefore enmeshed at times in cultural conflicts. An occupying army keeps the people of Ansul down and and drives their literary heritage underground. The invader culture is oral-only and despises books. In the house of Galvamand, there is a female heroine, 17-year-old Memer, who guards the treasure of her house along with her elderly master, the oldest man of the house. While women were free in Ansul before, the invaders force women to hide, and so Memer spends many of her days disguised as a boy. Orrec and Gry figure into the story as wandering storytellers; Orrec Caspro has become a famous poet in the years since Gifts. This is the best of the three books in this new series.

Gavir was raised a slave, and knows no other life, until one day his sister is killed by a cruel and heartless son of the household where he is slave. This sparks a journey of insanity, escaping to the forest, to a wild hermit, then a band of brothers, then a forest city, back to the marsh people from which he came, and finally to the north, to a free city and to the university where Orrec Caspro resides and teaches. This is a slow-going book, and one that requires faith in Le Guin's storytelling, but it is worth it in the end.

Story Proof and Storytime

Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story by Kendall Haven

Here's how I can imagine discussing this one in 409:

--Chapters 1, 2, and 7: all are about the definition of "story," including pitfalls of previous overly broad definitions.

--Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6: all are about the way the human mind is set up to use story.

--Chapters 8, 9, and 10: 8 is anecdotes, 9 is research results, 10 is concluding inspirations.

Haven is redundant in a way that is probably reinforcing in the oral, but drags in the written version. I wished several times that chapter 7 followed chapter 2; he doesn't give enough sense of why the brain science is compelling before spilling the beans on what he thinks a story actually *is.* When that's the main point of a book, you want to know it up front.

Too many of the chapters are full of long paragraphs quoted from other research, strung together by bare connective tissue that is less an argument and more a "see this, and this too" kind of structure.

This is, however, fresh and needed. There's nothing else out there that even attempts to be this synthetic. I don't think this avoids the pitfall of being a dissertation; in fact, large chunks read like an enthusiastic lit review. But the effort is valiant, and the research connections are so worthwhile. Despite flaws in the writing style, librarians need this book to justify so much of their creative programming and to inspire them to think beyond the things they've already seen. For working professionals, the chapter of anecdotal evidence is a must-read.

Storytime by Lawrence R. Sipe

This is, as the foreword implies, a master taxonomy of research pertaining to young children's reading. It starts with children, moves to texts, and basically maps out an enormous landscape of literature on these topics. Though well-written, this too at times reads like a lit review. However, it tells us why we should care, while also telling who else has cared for the very specific reasons that we might care about young children's reading patterns. This is a solid foundation for justifying playing with stories...

Top 10 fantasy titles for 2008, from Booklist

And yet another source of info on fantasy books...


Quick list of the titles:
1. Book of a Thousand Days
2. Tunnels : Book 1
3. Cherry Heaven
4. The Golden Dreams of Carlo Chuchio
5. Red Spikes
6. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
7. Emmy and the Incredible Shrinking Rat
8. Powers
9. Exodus
10. The Land of the Silver Apples

I just finished Powers by Le Guin, and I'll blog that loosely-connected trilogy separately.

Evolution as the link between arts and sciences

The NY Times has a great article on an interdisciplinary program that involves the serious use of methods from the humanities to investigate scientific topics. What's remarkable is that this program aims for a true balance between the fields, not the borrowing of humanities by the sciences of which I have heard complaints from some humanities-oriented colleagues.


I'm interested because of the example given in the article of evolutionary studies program that involves a "crossover approach" by David Sloan Wilson, author of Evolution for Everybody. He points out that Darwin's data were qualitative.

This could link to my research on evolution for children, 1882-1914 or so.

American Indians in Children's Literature: Meyer's Twilight: second post

An interesting post about the depictions of Native Americans in the fantasy/vampire novel Twilight by Stephanie Meyers, a book that will be on the reading list for LIS590VV, Fantasy Literature and Media for Youth....

American Indians in Children's Literature: Meyer's Twilight: second post

Fantasies featuring storytelling

Is storytelling always this pervasive in fantasy literature, or is it just my reading lately? I'm musing on what a research question about the function of storytelling and/or portrayal of storytellers in fantasy might become....

The Castle Corona by Sharon Creech
A fun and funny fantasy about 2 children who find a mysterious royal pouch, and are eventually taken to the Castle to be the king's tasters (in case of poisoning). This has Creech's characteristic light and quirky feel, which is nicely suited to the fairy-tale setting. The only hiccup comes at the end of the book, which felt precisely one chapter too long. But otherwise, it was a fine read, and features a Wordsmith who is the castle's designated storyteller. He weaves tales out of the elements that his royal audience chooses for each evening.

The Giver by Lois Lowry

is really about The Receiver, Jonas, whose whole world changes when he is assigned to apprentice with the elder that he will come to know at The Giver. This was a smash hit when it came out, dystopian in a way that really resonated with young readers, perhaps because the book is set in a repressive society where adults keep the truth of such matters as "releasing" people from the community well-hidden from child eyes. Story and history feature prominently.

The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E. L. Konigsburg
It's another mixed-up tale from Konigsberg, this one set between the worlds of a young newcomer to the town of Malo, Florida, one Amadeo Kaplan. Amadeo befriends William Wilcox, and the two become engaged in a mystery when Amadeo helps William and his mother with the arrangement for his eccentric neighbor's estate sale. The neighbor, Mrs. Zender, is self-centered and obnoxious, which makes her fascinating to the polite Amadeo. In a refreshing turn, she is not redeemed in the end, and the tangled matter of the provenance of a certain piece of art in her collection leads the young protagonist all the way back to Nazi Germany. If it sounds contrived that all these pieces should wrap up so neatly, that's because it feels contrived at points. However, it's Konigsburg's style to mix things up, and if the sorting out is a bit stretched, it's still a fun tale.

Does Snogging Count as Kissing by Helen Salter
If you like the other snogging books (Angus, Thongs, and Full-Frontal Snogging) you'll like this one as well, which is chick-lit light for the middle-school set. It can be a little depressing to remember exactly how middle-school really was, and Salter's writing is so accurate as to be uncomfortable. However, it's also smart and funny, as we follow Holly from her boyless existence to a newfound maturity, courtesy of a few well-timed snogging sessions.

Short blurbs on books about children/YAs and technology

Goodstein, Anastasia. Totally Wired.
Written in an easy-to-read journalistic style, Goodstein covers all the essentials of teen technology use for bewildered parents (or librarians). Though parts are redundant with Harris (see below), both are of use to future youth services librarians. Chapters 1-4 deal with teens, and then chapters 5-7 address what adults can or should do about all the things teens are doing. Mostly, Goodstein calls for understanding, relating contemporary tech activities such as IMing to her own 80s-era teen experiences such as 3-way calling.

I Found It on the Internet. Harris, France Jacobson.
Though it's short, the book is worth reading as written, in 3 parts, one at a time. Part 1 parallels the first 4 chapters of Goodstein. Part 2 is a little different, in that it lumps all the dangers-and-dark-sides together. Part 3 is for adults, and would go well as a parallel reading to Goodstein's chapters 5-7. Although the writing is more laden, the audience for this book is more directly youth services librarians; Harris spells out her best recommendations and practices in useful ways. Though the more metaphorically-minded will extrapolate some of the same conclusions from Goodstein, Harris is well worth a read.

Sex, Brains, and Video Games. Pierce, Jennifer Burek.
Similar topic, yet another kind of approach. Pierce's audience is also librarians, and her book does a great job of situating current media practices in light of historical development in librarianship, going all the way back to the beginning. The book delivers what the title says, synthesizing research in three somewhat disparate areas for consumption by librarians serving teens.

4 YA Novels

How does a professor have time to read 4 novels at the end of the school year??? By getting very sick for over a week, that's how! While able to do nothing else, I read these 4 great books, and I do think they helped my immune system.

Frannie in Pieces by Delia Ephron
(Related to Nora Ephron?) Frannie's life is shattered when her father dies. She begins to pull herself back together when she finds a box with her name on it filled with a handmade puzzle that her father created, apparently as her birthday gift before he died. Since he was never on time with gifts, and he died a week before her birthday, this makes her suspicious but not suspicious enough to unravel the mystery of the puzzle's origin, not until the end of the book. In the middle, Frannie's mom sends her off to be a counselor at summer camp. She's put in charge of arts and crafts, and has the kids make an enormous mural of all the household items that, in small print, say they can kill you. The head counselor puts as stop to this... Frannie is whiny and difficult, regressing from her 15 years to more like 7 at times, but the story is well written and well worth reading.

Book of a Thousand Days by Shannon Hale

Dashti is a mucker; she knows songs of simple healing. But she has no way to make a living, and so becomes the maid for Lady Saren of the gentry. Unfortunately, both are locked away in a tower for 7 years to rot. Fortunately, they get out in fewer than 7 years, but not before Hale details the aching isolation of the prison tower. All ends well, especially for Dashti. If you're a fantasy fan and haven't read Hale, run don't walk to pick up The Princess Academy. Then, if you're up for more, this would be a nice second course.

The Spell Book of Listen Taylor by Jaclyn Moriarty
Who is the audience for this book? The publisher says 14 and up, but one of the characters is in 2nd grade (many others are adults). The spell book belongs to Listen, who is related to the Zing Family, holders of the Zing Family Secret, by her father's girlfriend, Marbie Zing. The book is a series of mysteries to be unraveled, and I hate to give too much away. This Australian import makes up in meticulousness what it lacks in compelling plot, although there is sufficient suspense to keep the reader going. If you're a Westing Game fan, this is worth a try, and frankly there's little else out there with which it can be productively compared.

Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs

As if high school weren't hard enough, Phoebe's mother has to go and fall in love with a Greek, as in a man who lives in Greece, and has the nerve to insist that they move to his Greek island in one month. Move away from southern California and all Phoebe's friends, away from the memories of her father who died six years before. And that's not all... once she gets there, Phoebe is told that she's going to an exclusive school with (did you see this coming?) the offspring of the Greek gods. There's a lot of this Greek-god-offspring business going around, what with the successful series beginning with Lightning Thief by Riordan. Needless to say, Phoebe quickly meets a young male god who catches her eye... predictability aside, this one is worth it; it's a great light beach read pitched just right for YA romance fans.