Sunday, 15 March 2015

Children's books and literary fiction: A mother-son quick-lit

It's been another wonky month for reading. I finished a book I'd already reviewed, and am part-way through four others. I've also been making an effort to read more to my preschooler; I let him pick half the time and try to keep my choices focussed on education rather than books I'd like to read. Top observations: Franklin is only slightly better than Caillou, and spelling books promote literacy more than straight up alphabet ones. And reading to someone else cuts into solo reading time significantly. Since I only finished three books on my own steam, I decided to beef up my Quick-lit review list with a couple of my new favourite kids books.

Here's what we've been reading:

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm, by Nancy Farmer
After last month's African geography blitzt, I picked up this old childhood favourite - just because it's set in Zimbabwe and I know where that is now. Farmer's prize-winning futuristic novel follows the odyssey of three over-protected children through the streets of Harare as well as the three unusually gifted detectives their parents hire to find them. The story is set in 2194, but blends science-fiction and East African history with a steady pulse of Shona folklore and spirituality. It's been just long enough since I read it last to be surprised at every new twist, and amused by what Farmer did and didn't predict for the future back in 1994 (did anyone see the smartphone coming?). I think it will be a couple more years before my eldest is ready for this one, but I think both her and her brother will really enjoy it.

Mr. Flux, by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Matte Stephens
Our last trip to the library fell during Reading Week. I plunked the baby down in front of the board book shelf, and she immediately made friends with two university students who were probably there to study. I didn't want to wander off and imply I expected them to babysit, nor did I want to interfere with their little tête à tête when all three were so clearly enjoying themselves. I ended up spending more time than usual perusing the children's section, and found this fabulous book as a result. It's a fun introduction to the Fluxus art movement of the 1960s, which was started by a group of artists who didn't take themselves, their art, or life too seriously. When Mr. Flux moves into Martin's changeless neighbourhood, all kinds of delightfully off-the-wall things start happening: from eating toast instead of cereal for breakfast to filling a swimming pool with salad. Stephens' illustrations add even more examples of Mr. Flux's bends on the ordinary. My favourite is pictured here: Martin and Mr. Flux playing ping-pong with olives while seated on turtles. I love it. While I'm not about to buy a bidet and put in on a pedestal, I do want my children to understand that the way we do things isn't the only way to do them and that a bit of change can be enjoyable - even if it's a little silly. Having this sort of book around allows me to do exactly that.

A Very Witchy Spelling Bee, by George Shannon, illustrated by Mark Fearing
A crafty combination of spelling and spells: a young witch competes in a double spelling bee by adding a letter to a word to change an object into something else entirely. "Hoe" + "s" becomes a "shoe". Add an "r" and get a "horse". If only she could get the top contestant to play fair... My son picked this one at random of the library shelf, and it's become a favourite for both of us. I love how a little magic showcases the fun you can have with letters. And my preschooler has started asking what signs say and how to spell them, rather than assuming all words that begin in "L" are talking about him.

The Sweetness of Forgetting, by Kristin Harmel
Harmel combines a secret sorrow on the brink of being lost in a Alzheimer's fog and the emptiness that has defined three generations of women in a war-torn Parisian mystery whose clues are hidden in old family recipes. Still Alice meets The Secret Keeper in this beautiful story of love, loss, and family.

The Last Anniversary, by Liane Moriarty
This early Moriarty novel weaves several plot lines together, each focussing on a resident of Scribbly Gum Island, a tiny dot off the coast of Sydney whose unsolved mystery put it on the map back in the 1930s - and has kept the family who owns it rolling in tourist dollars ever since. When the family matriarch dies and leaves her house to her grand-nephew's ex-girlfriend, her tightly-run ship starts to unravel. I can't say much more without giving the game away. It's quirky yet nuanced, laugh-at-loud funny and achingly sad - so, so much better than I expected from the back cover.

And so ends this month's literary round-up. Next month, I should have some non-fiction reviews to share. Do pop over to Modern Mrs. Darcy for more short and sweet reviews.

4 comments:

  1. I adore children's books, so I'm delighted by your choices. I'm especially intrigued by the Flux book. :-)

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    1. I hope you can find it! It'd be a great addition to any children book lovers collection :)

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  2. The first book in Africa sounds like a fun read. I am putting it on our summer to read list. Thanks for stopping by TJ's musing.

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    1. It's very fun - I think it'd make a great escapist summer read. Thanks for returning the visit :)

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