I bring you our poll for ‘childhood books revisited’. Thank you for your recommendations! Whether you’ve read these before or, like me, somehow missed out on some of the middlegrade classics, I hope you enjoy the selection and conversation. Our goal is to have the chance to compare how we felt reading a book when we were younger with our thoughts about it today. If you didn’t read these ones as a kid, consider how well (or not) the authors make a story enjoyable by all ages, what themes might work better depending on the age of the reader, and how much (or little) you’d have enjoyed it had you read it when you were younger and why.
This will be our last theme for 2023 with meetings taking place on November 25 and December 9th.
You have only a few more days to sign up for Secret Santa, if you’d like to participate. Please see this post for details and the signup link.
Finally, reminder that an AirBNB has been booked for a New Year meetup from December 28 to January 4. Please see this link for more information and how to RSVP if you’d like to come hang out with us.
And here are your books! You may vote for up to 3.
A quest to recover a legendary lost weapon by bumbling young apprentice monk, mouse Matthias.
Redwall Abbey, tranquil home to a community of peace-loving mice, is threatened by Cluny the Scourge savage bilge rat warlord and his battle-hardened horde. But the Redwall mice and their loyal woodland friends combine their courage and strength.
Notable review by Bentley
See this review and more like it on www.bookbastion.net
This book was actually one of the first chapter books I read as a child, but because that was so long ago and at the start of my life as a reader, my brain had pretty much deleted all of the details of it – save for the fact that I enjoyed it when I was young. I’m happy to report that I found the book just as enjoyable as an adult reader; perhaps even more so, for the aspects of it I’m sure I appreciate more as an adult reader that would have flown over my head as a child.
As a middle grade fantasy story, this is quite well done. Jacques centers the plot around Cluny the Scourge’s days-long siege of Redwall Abbey and uses this conflict to introduce some fairly standard fantasy tropes to young readers unfamiliar with the genre. Good vs. Evil; The Chosen One and Political Machinations between courts are all covered here in ways that remain faithful to the genre without boring the children that this series is written for. Particularly well done is the way the various woodland animals overcome their differences in order to work together against their common enemy, Cluny.
As an adult reader of this series, one thing I was surprised by was the way it does not flinch from violence or the devastating effects of warfare on the people who live and die during it. With a lot of middle grade books, there’s a tendency for authors to sort of skim over death, or fake the reader out before resetting everything to the way things were before. Here, Jacques unabashedly kills off characters left and right, and it makes for some pretty compelling reading. Knowing that the danger is real and permanent in this series ups the ante considerably. At times I felt like I watching an all-animal version of Game of Thrones, which I suppose makes Matthias the Jon Snow of his world?
Speaking of the all-animal cast, I couldn’t help but wonder where humans factored into all this. It’s quite confusing to have riderless horsecarts and gigantic fortified Abbeys built from bricks and no mention of how they got there. Doing some digging on my own I read that Jacques intent was the show a world where humans didn’t exist at all, but I didn’t think that was particularly well conveyed given the fact that the entire cast called a place that would have been physically impossible for them to build their home.
The only other thing that brought my rating down was that in some moments it seemed as though the seriousness of the situation was forgotten by the characters. There were a number of moments where Redwall was under direct siege by the enemy, and certain characters were either eating or sleeping and otherwise unconcerned, which was a tiny bit frustrating. But these are minor complaints in a sea of other positives that makes it them very easy to overlook.
I love finding Middle Grade series that would speak to young boys in particular, as I think they are an oft-neglected demographic in the reading world. While the action, characters and plot movement in this series is sure to entertain most readers in any demographic, I think Matthias is a wonderful role model for young male readers in particular. I happily recommend this book to as a good starting point for fans new to fantasy.
★★★★ = 4/5 stars
At the age of twelve, Jonas, a young boy from a seemingly utopian, futuristic world, is singled out to receive special training from The Giver, who alone holds the memories of the true joys and pain of life.
Notable review by Kristine
I’ve taught this book to my 6th graders nine years in a row. Once I realized that the book is actually a mystery, and not the bland sci-fi adventure it seemed at first skim, I loved it more and more each time. Nine years, two classes most years… 17 TIMES. I’ve come to see that the book isn’t the story of a depressing utopia. It’s the story of the relationship between the main characters the Giver, Jonas, and… I won’t say her name. And of course, the baby Gabe.
Every year, as we read the book out loud together, I am amazed at details the students notice (things I’ve missed the previous 15 times), or questions they raise that lead to further insights for not just the class but ME. My God, the things they come up with, that I as an English major, or even me if I’d read this with a book club, could never have gone that far in depth.
As I began to more fully understand the book over the years, I was better able to guide their discussions, which helped them think more deeply about the book, and made me appreciate the book even more. And by “guide,” I don’t mean calm, controlled, teachery, “I already know the answer” talk.
My discussion techniques, simple:
–I’d stop the tape (books on tape are AWESOME- the narrator is always so much better than I could ever be) and say something like, “So, what do you think? Doesn’t this seem a little WEIRD?” and off they’d go, bouncing ideas off each other until finally someone said something incredible, something no kid had thought of in the past nine years. Once I myself knew how to be interested in this book, I knew what might keep them hooked.
–Or, I myself would suddenly realize something new, and I’d stop reading and say, “OH MY GOD DID YOU GUYS GET WHAT THAT MEANT??? WHAT IT MIGHT MEAN????”
I feel free to participate myself, since I myself still have so many questions about the book. I’m not spoiling the ending when I bring up my own questions, because I know this book is a mystery in which things don’t much get answered- they’re left to linger, and that’s part of the beauty and hopefulness in this book.
There are still lines, moments, in the book that give me chills. I wait for them greedily, just to hear the words spoken.
I feel lucky to have been forced to read this book a dozen times. There are other books I’ve read a lot with my students, and this is the one that most stands up over time, the only one that keeps my interest. I truly am on the edge of my seat to see what we will realize next. Because I’ve seen that, even if I think I have it all figured out, some kid is going to say something to rock my world.
I can’t believe Lowry was able to make a book this clever; part of me thinks a work this good is impossible, and that we are just reading too much into it. But no, it’s all there, all the pieces, and she put them there. I just don’t see how could she have written such a tightly woven mystery- how could she have know all of the questions the book would raise? And you know what, she probably didn’t. A book isn’t like drawing a map. You make the world, and things happen. And in this case, she did make a perfect world. (I SO did not mean that as a UTOPIA PUN!!!!!!! I hate puns so much!!!!!! I mean, she so fully created that world where everything that happens is plausible.)
Just read the damn book, then call me.
Or, call me after like, Chapter 13, then after 18 and 19.
I’m sorry to say that the book you are holding in your hands is extremely unpleasant. It tells an unhappy tale about three very unlucky children. Even though they are charming and clever, the Baudelaire siblings lead lives filled with misery and woe. From the very first page of this book when the children are at the beach and receive terrible news, continuing on through the entire story, disaster lurks at their heels. One might say they are magnets for misfortune.
In this short book alone, the three youngsters encounter a greedy and repulsive villain, itchy clothing, a disastrous fire, a plot to steal their fortune, and cold porridge for breakfast.
It is my sad duty to write down these unpleasant tales, but there is nothing stopping you from putting this book down at once and reading something happy, if you prefer that sort of thing.
With all due respect,
Notable review by Lizziegolightly
When I was a child, I learned a thing or two from reading the works of Roald Dahl. The most important of these lessons is that adults are, more often than not, either evil or oblivious and, to co-opt Lemony Snicket’s writing style, by oblivious I mean “lacking conscious awareness; unmindful.”
As an adult, I have only received mountains of proof substantiating the notion that adults are either evil or oblivious. All you need to do is watch the news or enter the workforce and you too will realize the same. So it is through this lens of animosity towards grown ups (hey, just become I am one doesn’t mean I have to think like one) that I read the first installment of Lemony Snicket’s 13-part serial A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Snicket, or his alter ego, seems mighty influenced by Dahl and Edward Gorey. Like the former, most of the adults in the book are worthless. Those who aren’t are either dead or somehow taken away from the Baudelaire children. Like the later, bad things keep on happening to our protagonists.
The three Baudelaire children– Violet, Klaus and Sunny– live a rather charmed life with parents who love and respect them. Upon an unsupervised excursion to the beach, a fire consumes the Baudelaire home and kills the parents. The three children are taken into the temporary care of Mr. Poe (who has a son named Edgar, by the way) until a relative can be located. After some time, the children are pawned off on Count Olaf, a horrid actor with a title and no money. From the beginning, it is obvious that he has only taken in the children because of the vast fortune they are set to acquire. When he learns that the inheritance will be withheld until Violet is of age, he punishes the children repeatedly. We will stop there, lest I give away the end of this first book.
Aside from a page-turner plot, what works in the book’s favor is the language. Snicket uses large grown-up words with the context of child-sized sentences. He defines the words without being condescending and goes on to explain many of the legal concepts that are used throughout the story. The characters are also intriguing. The adults in the story often appear as grotesque figures that make just enough sense to keep the storyline plausible. And, in the grand tradition of children’s literature, the Baudelaire orphans are quick-witted and strong-willed.
I found this book as part of a three series boxed set at a thrift store by my house. Each book is small and hard covered, designed to look like a Victorian tome and filled with beautiful illustrations. Now, I can’t wait to get started on volume two.
Lyra is rushing to the cold, far North, where witch clans and armored bears rule. North, where the Gobblers take the children they steal–including her friend Roger. North, where her fearsome uncle Asriel is trying to build a bridge to a parallel world.
Can one small girl make a difference in such great and terrible endeavors? This is Lyra: a savage, a schemer, a liar, and as fierce and true a champion as Roger or Asriel could want–but what Lyra doesn’t know is that to help one of them will be to betray the other.
Notable review by Sean Barrs
This novel is an absolute work of pure genius, and is in my top ten reads of all time. Before I go into the depths of character and plot, let me start by saying this book is up there with other fantasy hard hitters: by this I mean books like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia: the books that define the genre. This is high praise indeed, and this novel is worthy of it.
The protagonist of the book is Lyra, a young girl, who is parentless and seemingly friendless. She has grown up in an Oxford College and has developed a detachment to her guardians. She spends her days enjoying her youth and harassing those that turn out to be some of her greatest allies. For her, this book is a journey of self-discovery: a way of exploring the limits of her character and potential. Her adventure sees her befriend an armoured polar bear and become the wielder of the golden compass. This is initially described as a lie detector but it is apparent that the depths of its power have not been fully explored.
“It lay heavily in her hands,the crystal face gleaming, the brass body exquisitely machined. It was very much like a clock, or a compass, for there were hands pointing around the dial, but instead of the hours or the points of a compass there were several little pictures with extraordinary precision, as if on ivory with the slenderest sable brush. She turned the dial around to look at them all. There was an anchor; an hourglass surmounted by a skull; a bull, a beehive…..Thirty-six altogether and she couldn’t even guess what they meant.”
This book retains all the classic elements of fantasy: magic, mythical creatures and supernatural phenomena. The world Pullman has created is physically intertwined with our own; there are references to cities and countries in which his idea has been planted.
Each human has a daemon that is essentially their soul. These take on the form of an animal that is representative of the person, for example someone who is enthusiastic and friendly has a colourful cat whereas as solider has a wolf or a hound. The author does very little to explain this. It is just thing “thing” that we are told about at the start but through the book but we begin to see the significance of it. The fact that children’s daemons change is a subtle hint how children can be influenced and have not found their identity where as adults are secure and confident. In this the author has created an air of mystery as we explore the true meaning of the bond as we read further.
The plot is fantastic. The author manages to surprise the reader on several occasions as he drops several, massive plot turns. This sees the story go into unexpected directions. From the beginning of reading a book, you begin to predict what will happen. Some books are completely predictable and obvious in their direction; this one was not. I physically gasped at some moments as I found myself awed by the author’s storytelling; this is when several characters origins, in relation to Lyra are defined. The book begins as a simple rescue mission but ends as a story that is questioning the morals of all characters involved. The fate of the characters is destined in the mysteriousness of the northern lights; the gateway to beyond.
This is one of those books that is applicable to all ages; it originally appears to be a children’s book, but it can be enjoyed by anyone. Much of the content in here touches on themes that most children would not comprehend fully, never mind be able to philosophise about. The author considers spirituality, religion, morals and the existence of the soul, amongst other things. Most children would not pick up on these references and understand the significance of them; however, they would still adore the book.
The book can be seen as two separate entities existing at the same time; the first, and most obvious, is the one that appeals to children; the saving of innocents from despotic adults with lots of exciting characters. The second is on a deeper scale; the author explores the conflicting powers of science and religion, manipulation and morality in terms of actions being for a greater good. In this the author is a genius, he has wrote a book that can be both a children’s bed time read and an adult’s point of pondering.
Twelve-year-old Artemis Fowl is a millionaire, a genius, and above all, a criminal mastermind. But even Artemis doesn’t know what he’s taken on when he kidnaps a fairy, Captain Holly Short of the LEPrecon Unit. These aren’t the fairies of bedtime stories—they’re dangerous! Full of unexpected twists and turns, Artemis Fowl is a riveting, magical adventure.
Notable review by Danielle The Book Huntress Pluto is a Planet!
Want to meet the guy who’s smart enough to take over the world? Well he’s twelve years old. And his name is Artemis Fowl. I have two words for this book: GREAT FUN.
If you are at all young at heart or you just want to read something different from your usual fare, then check out this book. Artemis will keep you entertained with his hijinks. At the age of 12, Artemis is keeping his family afloat as they suffer from grief at the disappearance of Artemis Fowl, Sr, his father. His mother has retreated into delusions and barely leaves her room. The family is on the brink of bankruptcy, but not for long, if Artemis has anything to do with it. Assisted by his faithful bodyguard, a very large, deadly, intimidating man would do anything for him, Artemis decides to steal his very own fairy to hold for ransom: his very own pot of gold. He doesn’t realize that Holly is just as dangerous as he is.
When LEPrecon (Lower Elements Police reconnaisance), the covert Fairy organization policing the faery creatures that have retreated underground to get away from humans, comes looking for Holly, he has to fight off a siege on his house of supernatural creatures such as a troll (don’t want to be in their way), a dwarf with flatulence from ingesting rocks and soil when he burrows his way through the earth, and a centaur genius who is LEPrecon’s equivalent to MI6’s Q, and a whole slew of highly-trained deadly fairies.
I picked this book up on a lark, looking for something different to read. And boy was I rewarded. This book will make you laugh and keep you enthralled for hours. Although this is perfectly suitable for a young teen or a pre-teen, it’s also sophisticated for an adult to enjoy, and a must read for lovers of Faery.
At first, Jude and her twin brother Noah, are inseparable. Noah draws constantly and is falling in love with the charismatic boy next door, while daredevil Jude wears red-red lipstick, cliff-dives, and does all the talking for both of them.
Years later, they are barely speaking. Something has happened to change the twins in different yet equally devastating ways… but then Jude meets an intriguing, irresistible boy and a mysterious new mentor. The early years are Noah’s to tell; the later years are Jude’s. But they each have only half the story, and if they can only find their way back to one another, they’ll have a chance to remake their world.
This radiant, award-winning novel from the acclaimed author of The Sky Is Everywhere will leave you breathless and teary and laughing—often all at once.
Notable review by Warda
It’s reread no: 4 and I don’t know how this book still has the ability to make me feel the way I do right now. Like I believe anything is possible and magic is tangible. It’s healing. I can never seem to get enough of it. Slice of heaven of a book if there ever was one.
My heart. Words will fail me. This book did something to my soul. My heart exploded about a hundred times whilst reading it and I cannot express how much I loved it! How much I’ll continue to love it. It was expressive, imaginative, and so god-damn gorgeous. I want to bask it its beauty forever. Everything about it just worked! I was gushing throughout the entire thing, internally weeping, because it was just perfect. Utter perfection. Sublime. I absolutely drowned in it and had no intention to come back up.
It’s the type of book you want to shove into everyone’s hands, urging them to read it, so they can relish in its beauty. It left me with a renewed sense of wonder for the world, about people, our capabilities, myself. It’s tragic and it breaks you, and it puts you back together again in the best possible way. And what’s better is that as soon as I finished it, I wanted to pick it back up again.
This is the story of Paul, a sophomore at a high school like no other: The cheerleaders ride Harleys, the homecoming queen used to be a guy named Daryl (she now prefers Infinite Darlene and is also the star quarterback), and the gay-straight alliance was formed to help the straight kids learn how to dance.
When Paul meets Noah, he thinks he’s found the one his heart is made for. Until he blows it. The school bookie says the odds are 12-to-1 against him getting Noah back, but Paul’s not giving up without playing his love really loud. His best friend Joni might be drifting away, his other best friend Tony might be dealing with ultra-religious parents, and his ex-boyfriend Kyle might not be going away anytime soon, but sometimes everything needs to fall apart before it can really fit together right.
This is a happy-meaningful romantic comedy about finding love, losing love, and doing what it takes to get love back in a crazy-wonderful world.
Notable review by Tatiana
Any book that makes me cry deserves at least 4 stars. Boy Meets Boy managed to squeeze tears out of me on several occasions. It doesn’t mean, however, that this is one of those downer novels where someone dies or suffers horrible decease or misfortunes. Quite the opposite, this book is actually upbeat and lighthearted, and my tears were tears of pride and relief mostly.
The setting of the novel is unusual. In fact, I am dying to borrow from Tony Kushner and call Boy Meets Boy a gay fantasia. A town where all action takes place is fantastical, the level of acceptance of all kinds of sexuality is unprecedented. Our main character Paul is the most well adjusted gay teen you will ever meet. He never had any trouble coming out at the age of 5, he is popular, in fact, a transvestite quarterback is popular in Paul’s wonder-school too. In short, Paul’s life is free of all homosexuality-related problems and anxieties we all are accustomed to reading about. However it doesn’t mean Paul is perfect – he falls in love, botches his relationship, gets involved with his ex, is concerned about his relationships with his friends, both gay and straight – basically he has all your normal teen problems. This is a book about how he deals with them.
Boy Meets Boy is a wonderful, heartfelt, sweet love story, story about friendships and acceptance, a celebration of individuality and difference. This book is rightfully regarded as a pioneer gay teen novel. And, most importantly, it is a delight to read.
What shall we read next? (Pick up to 3)
- The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (21%, 6 Votes)
- Redwall by Brian Jacque (17%, 5 Votes)
- I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson (17%, 5 Votes)
- The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket (14%, 4 Votes)
- Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer (14%, 4 Votes)
- The Giver by Lois Lowry (10%, 3 Votes)
- Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan (7%, 2 Votes)
Total Voters: 10