Friday, October 12, 2012

Almost-Orphans, Crazy Father Figures, and Medieval Castles

I just finished reading A Brief History of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper, a historical novel about young royal cousins on an fictional island nation on the cusp of World War II.  I was immediately struck by its similarities to I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, a YA classic that I had missed and recently read on my quest to fill in some of my children's literature gaps.  I wasn't the only one - one of the blurbs in my paperback edition made the connection too.  The similarities are so numerous and specific that I made a list:

  • Orphans or de facto orphans who have to largely fend for themselves, check.
  • Said almost-orphans live in genteel poverty, check.
  • Mentally ill father or father figure, check.
  • Isolated medieval castle, check.
  • 1930s setting, check.
  • Teenage narrator who narrates by writing in her journal, check.
  • "Plain" narrator and more beautiful older sister/cousin, check.  
  • Love interest named Simon, check.

There are, of course, some differences, the major one being that A Brief History of Montmaray addresses politics and the impending world war whereas those go unmentioned in I Capture the CastleA Brief History of Montmaray is also the first book in a trilogy. 

Can you think of any other two books with so many similarities?  I wrote about others that came to mind here, particularly Roald Dahl's classic Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Wendy Mass's recent book, The Candymakers and here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

That First Chapter Book Read-Aloud

I just finished reading my younger daughter her first chapter book!  It was Beezus and Ramona by Beverly Cleary, the very same first chapter book I read to my older daughter.  It was a hit both times.  I picked it because Beverly Cleary gets real kids so right (Ramona thinks growing up goes so slowly, Beezus confronts the fact that while she loves Ramona, she doesn't always like her), it is funny (I mean, really, what is better than a kid who takes one bite out of every apple or bakes her doll inside her sister's birthday cake because she is pretending to be Gretel), and it is timeless (the lack of computers, cellphones and other gadgets just doesn't matter).  And of course, there is what it is not: scary, boring, or sad.

What's the first chapter book you read to your children?  Why did you choose it?