Friday, December 31, 2010

Childhood Challenge: ON THE BANKS OF PLUM CREEK

I can't believe this is my last installment for my 2010 Childhood Challenge. I rather enjoyed my year of re-reading my childhood favorites and have a couple in mind for future re-readings when I get some free time. For the 12th and final book of my challenge, I chose to read On the Banks of Plum Creek by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is the fourth book in the Little House on the Prairie series.

From my memory
The most salient memory I have of any of the Little House on the Prairie books is reading them out loud with my mom and sister. We took turns reading chapters out loud in the evenings, and we read through the entire series that way. We also watched the TV series, which helped to make the entire Little House on the Prairie franchise hold a special place in my heart. However, I couldn't specifically remember any one book, so when I went to pick out one at the bookstore for my re-reading adventure, I relied on a friend who was with me to recommend her favorite book from the series. When she told me about some of the plot line, I was surprised at how little I remembered of the details from any of the books, so I was quite excited to break into this book this month.

After re-reading
When I started reading the book, I was a bit disappointed--the writing style is simple (and can be redundant) and meant for much younger readers than I had remembered (as in, the book read more like a chapter book for beginning readers). Once I got over the choppiness of the writing style, though, I realized why the books are so beloved: They lovingly recreate a time in history that is foreign to most modern readers. Laura Ingalls Wilder pays great attention to detail, describing exactly what the stove looks like that Pa bought for Ma, how the walls in the house drip when the summer weather gets too hot in the summer, how the incredible shifts in weather affected their daily lives--in essence, she provides a picture of daily life in a time long gone.

When Laura goes to school for the first time in her life (at the age of 8), she and Mary (who was 9) walked by themselves to town--a 2.5-mile walk. They had never been to town before and so followed their Pa's oral directions on how to get to the school house. They didn't wear their shoes because their shoes had to stay in good condition for snowy and icy weather. It amazes me that just over a hundred years ago, two kids were sent off by themselves to walk barefoot on a 2.5-mile journey that they had never been on before. But that was normal for them. It is books like these that remind us how drastically our country has changed.

As I read, I began thinking of discussion questions that I would want to go over with kids if I were reading the book with younger readers. Things like, "How did they cook their food before Pa bought Ma their stove?" or "How do you think you'd make a broom if you couldn't buy one?" or "What games would you play if you couldn't turn on any lights as it gets darker inside?" And there were times that Laura Ingalls Wilder describes things that happen without telling why they did; for example, she describes giant fireballs coming out of their stove during a huge blizzard but doesn't say why that happened. That would be an interesting start to a lesson on science spurred by literature.

I now want to go back and read all the other books in the series--to walk down memory lane and to better appreciate what I have in my daily life to make living easier.

Do you have any fond memories of the Little House on the Prairie books?

I hope you all have an amazing evening as we ring in a new year, and I hope your new year brings you a year of reading great books. Happy reading!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

NaNoReaMo 2010: Recap

At the end of November, I was proud to say that I had made it through my goal of reading 10 books throughout the month. Near the end of the month, I cheated a bit from my original guidelines by reading books that were not on my Kindle and by reading a book that wasn't even on my Unread Book Challenge list. But I'm okay with that--I still had a blast reading book after book, and I'm glad I did the challenge while I could. Now that it's the end of the semester, I know I'll be swamped with reading students' work rather than books for fun.

Talk of the Town by Lisa Wingate was a breezy and enjoyable read. If you have read any of her books before, then you can guess the general premise of the book: a big-city gal who has her priorities in life a bit mixed up but still has a good heart underneath it all gets stuck in a small Texas town and meets a range of fascinating characters (naturally including a hot guy) who help her get her life on a better track. But just like I enjoy watching Lifetime movies no matter how formulaic they are, I enjoyed reading this book. Wingate writes from a Christian fiction angle, yet religion doesn't take over the story. If you enjoy light, romantic stories that leave you filled with a feel-good feeling, then you should check out this book.

I moved from Talk of the Town to Mossy Creek by Deborah Smith and many more authors. It is a collection of short stories about the people living in a fictional southern town (Mossy Creek) pulled together into one book by an overarching narrator. I was enchanted by the stories themselves--the people of the town have such intriguing stories that I found myself being pulled into them and wishing they were real people I could meet. Each short story was like a chapter in the town's story (my favorite is The Naked Bean). While I loved the individual stories, though, I got annoyed by the narrator who wrote a short snipped between each story. The town's newspaper gossip columnist, Katie Bell, was writing letters to a woman in England who wanted to know more about the town and its history. Bell's voice served as a "voiceover" of sorts to transition from one story to the next. Yet the style of writing in those transitions grated on my nerves, and I thought the book would have been much better without those snippets. Even so, I look forward to reading the second book in the Mossy Creek series: Reunion at Mossy Creek.

After that, I read Booth's Sister by Jane Singer, a book I was looking forward to reading because I have a special place in my reader heart for historical fiction, and I am especially fascinated by the exploration of often ignored characters in history. I never considered Booth's family and how they must have felt after Lincoln's assassination. Once I started the book, though, I was quickly disappointed and ended up speed reading through quite a bit of the book. The majority of the book takes place after Asia, Booth's sister, pretends to faint and hits her head on an iron. She then, in her subconscious, goes through highlights of her life with her brother John when they were younger. I thought the book's premise was just fine--I didn't like the narrator's voice. Half the time, I had to re-read sections because I couldn't figure out what the author was intending to say. The language and style left me feeling like my brain was muddled; in fact, at one point, I remember thinking that Asia must have been on an acid trip rather than under a fainting spell. By the end, I felt like I had wasted energy on getting through the book.

I had started reading another book on my Kindle when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I came out to theaters. When my husband and I went to see the movie, I realized how much of the book I had forgotten and quickly abandoned the book I had been reading in favor of re-reading the seventh Harry Potter book. The only problem with reading Harry Potter during my month-long reading fest was that I love Rowling's writing style so much that after finishing the book, I had a hard time getting into any other books. None of them were living up to Rowling, so I started and stopped several before settling on Marked by P.C. and Kristin Cast, the first book in the House of Night series.

Marked is a vampire book for young adults and is a fun read, yet I don't feel compelled to go out and read any more books in the series. For me, the story was marred by the authors' attempt to use way too many obvious metaphors and snarky humor. If it hadn't been for the writing style, I think I would have enjoyed the story enough to keep reading the series. As it is, though, I found myself rolling my eyes far too often to enjoy the book.

The final book, Savvy by Ingrid Law, was so good that it will get its own post. I'll just say here that it was a perfect ending to a fun reading month.