Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Sky Is Falling

by Giselle Renarde

God help me, I love children's books. I'm not talking Young Adult fiction. I'm not talking picture books. I'm talking that slice in between. I think it's called Middle Grade fiction?

I just finished one such novel that I won't even name because it was so terrible. I guess you might classify it as a supernatural/paranormal or horror? It was a traditionally published book, but the writing was awful and it was full of typos. This book is 20 years old (can you believe 1996 was 20 years ago?!?), but the tone didn't feel contemporary enough. Sounded like it was written by some old lady who hadn't been around a child in 40 years.

AND YET... I couldn't put this book down. It was bad on so many levels, but I loved it. Maybe I loved it because it was bad. The story wasn't really compelling, but I still wanted to know what would happen next.

Maybe there's something consoling about reading a traditionally-published book and thinking... ‘another author just like me obviously whipped this thing up on a deadline.’ I suspect it was ghostwritten because the writer it's copyrighted to isn't the name on the cover. Somebody wrote this awful book to pay the bills. I can respect that.

But I actually want to tell you about the children's book I read before this one, because it was compelling and well-written and ticked so many boxes for me:

The Sky Is Falling by Kit Pearson is a WWII-era novel about a young girl and her brother who are sent to Canada from England as War Guests.

I'm a sucker for war stories, particularly non-battlefield ones. Give me Wartime Farm and Foyle's War, anything about the many people who joined he war effort without fighting on the front lines.

Before I picked up this book, I had no idea my country played host to English children. I knew kids from London were evacuated to the countryside, but being put on a ship without their parents and transported to another country to live out the war? I didn't learn that in school.

And, because the Canadian portion of the book was set in Toronto, I got the satisfaction of recognizing landmarks of my hometown. That's especially pleasing through the eyes of a child who's just arrived here from a small town and isn't used to big cities or our weird Canadian ways.

The Sky Is Falling is the first book in a trilogy and I enjoyed it enough that I'd be interested in seeking out the next two. The edition I had in hand was clearly children's fiction, but when I looked this book up on Amazon I noticed the cover looks like literary fiction. That’s… an interesting choice. I wouldn’t necessarily classify it as litfic, but I definitely enjoyed it as an adult reader.


6 comments:

  1. I didn't know kids went to Canada from England during the war, either. That's really interesting.

    I think a lot about what's going on when I can't put down a book that's objectively bad in a lot of ways. I almost feel like reading books like that and trying to figure that out is more valuable than anything else. For me, it always comes down to something like what you said. There are questions I really want to know the answers to, and when I'm curious that way I'll put up with a lot.

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    1. The antagonist (in the bad book) was really irritating, so I guess it was well-written in the sense that I got annoyed by this character. There was also a lot of weird-ass imagery that reminded me of Labyrinth.

      The climax and resolution weren't very satisfying, but you have to read all the way to the end to find that out. And I did read to the end, which is more than I can say for a lot of books.

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  2. I remember reading The DaVinci Code, maybe fifteen years ago. At that point I hadn't published much and had done no fiction editing, so I wasn't as sensitive to poor writing as I am now. Still, the flaws in the book were glaring. But I couldn't put it down. When I'd finished, I kept recalling more and more implausible and ridiculous aspects of the novel, but that didn't stop me from devouring (and enjoying) the book.

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  3. I read a YA book, "Lockerboy" about a teenager who had been issued a locker at school, through the back of which is the entrance to an alternate universe. I read the book because it was written by a friend, but it took a good third of the book before I realized it was pretty simple and not very nuanced. Momma X had to tell me it was YA. I still finished it. Guess if you come up with a good enough scenario, the very uniqueness of it comes through.

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  4. Some famous author, I forget who, said that a good story will beat beautiful writing any time. Keeping you reading because you want to know what comes next is probably as good a definition of a good story as any.

    I read books from the library voraciously when I was a kid, and then later I read other newer books out loud to my sons, mainly science fiction and fantasy. All of Anne McCaffery's Dragonriders of Pern books, Ursula LeGuin's Wizard of Earthsea books,The Lord of the Rings trilogy, a seemingly endless series of books derivative of Dungeons and Dragons games--my younger son refused to admit he could read until it was made clear that nobody was going to read his brother's D&D rule books to him, so he read them himself.

    I loved historical books as a kid as much as I did sf&f, and I read Sherlock Holmes as much for the Victorian era setting as for the mysteries. I wonder whether there's much of a market for YA historicals these days, when everything seems to be futuristic and apocolyptic. The WII book you mention sounds interesting; maybe I could interest my ten-year-old granddaughter in that, but maybe not. As an almost-teenager, she chooses her own books and isn't much influenced by adult suggestions.

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  5. Sacchi, if your granddaughter likes fantasy/magic stories, suggest the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia Wrede. Written in the 70s, it's a clever take on the princess genre, where the princess volunteers to live with a dragon because she prefers that to an arranged marriage. She bakes cherries jubilee, knows how to fence, and is a tomboy. Then in the second book, she meets the king of the Enchanted Forest, who is also a big unconventional. A rousing good story!

    I'm reading 3 middle-lit books now for my tutoring job, since they'll be having a Battle of the Books next Thursday, and as the "English teacher expert", I've been asked to be there, to cheer them on. As long as I'm paid, I'll go. I was surprised at how quickly I read the first book, "Number the Stars." Only took me a little over an hour. We'll see about the other 2.

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