Into the Book


Children’s Lit

  1. “ ‘Well,’ said Rachel, ‘I like books, but I’m not crazy about book reports.’ ” Rachel, the protagonist of this “book report,” never said a truer word. It is certainly one thing to be a voracious reader, but to be a reader, critical thinker, and writer all at once truly is a remarkable thing. However, it must be said that the book report is easy if the book is a delight. And surely, Eleanor Estes’s Pinky Pye is one such book.


  2. Sarcasm is a classic language of literature. A good portion of cynicism and a dash of irony can turn any fantastically absurd story into a novel reminiscent of classic writers such as Hemingway, Wilde, and Fitzgerald. This is the secret of the brilliant author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket.
     In a series of 13 books, A Series of Unfortunate Events follows the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny, on a journey fraught with peril as time and again they attempt to escape from the evil Count Olaf, who is after the family fortune. The Wide Window, book three in the series, chronicles the unlucky children’s placement with their second legal guardian, Aunt Josephine. (In case you were wondering, the first guardian is dead.) The orphans are placed in a (literally) precarious position- a rickety old house built on the side of a cliff overlooking the carnivorous leech-infested Lacrymose Lake. Aunt Josephine is a kind but misguided old woman with a plethora of irrational fears. To top it all off, Aunt Josephine has recently made friends with the suspicious sailor, “Captain Sham” (who is really Count Olaf in disguise). Alas, though the orphans can see through the ruse, both their guardian and lawyer prove to be remarkably stupid, playing right into Olaf’s spidery hands every time. Spoiler warning: The brave and resourceful children manage to get themselves out of several life-threatening situations, as well as reveal Captain Sham’s true identity, but are unable to save their newest guardian from a tragic fate. Oh, and the Count gets away scot-free. But never fear! There are 10 books to go!

     Being myself a fan of the happy ending, I was surprised as a young reader to discover that I actually enjoyed A Series of Unfortunate Events, and I eagerly plowed through all thirteen books in a relatively short amount of time. I started reading the series as a sort of challenge to the author. Children’s tragedies? Really? What an odd idea… children’s stories should be happy, should show the heroic being rewarded for their courage and the evil being punished for their wrong. But the world doesn’t always work that way, and neither do Lemony Snicket’s stories. But these books are more than fairytales gone wrong. The reader is drawn into the series because of its uncanny connection to reality- and at the end, feels almost as if he has become a character in the grand adventure of the Baudelaires. The Wide Window is typical of the earlier books in the series, written with a simple and somewhat predictable plot, but also containing clues that point to the end of the story and leave you hungry for more. The books are an easy read for upper elementary students, but even adults can appreciate the irony and cleverness of Lemony Snicket as he masterfully strings the series together in a captivatingly cohesive tale.

    Alisha Hange

  3. Some books are magical portals, whisking you away to faraway lands as they spin tales of adventure and magic. These books tell of danger, courage, honor, valor, they smell of earth and sweat and the sweetness of wildflowers. The Middle Moffat by Eleanor Estes is most certainly not that kind of book. And yet… here we find a different flavor of magic. Here, there is no medieval garb, merely braids and bobby socks. Still, the magic is in the pleasant happiness of life: awkward snapshots of organ recitals and Christmas mornings, basketball games and best friends. The Middle Moffat is the story of Jane, an imaginative ten year old placed right in the middle of a family of five. Jane’s little family has just moved to Ashbellows Place, and Jane is beginning to get used to her new surroundings, making new friends, and having little adventures of her own as she learns that being in the middle is, sometimes, the most exciting place to be.

     Jane has a unique way of looking at things. Sometimes, this gets her into trouble, as her imagination doesn’t always match up to reality. For example, when she tries to have an organ recital at her house, her romantic expectations of bellowing music at Woolsey Hall are sadly disappointed by a slow, simple plunking of “My Country Tis of Thee.” Nevertheless, Jane’s escapades always turn out to have unexpectedly pleasant results, though drastically different from those she had first envisioned. This book is a series of snapshots of these escapades, brilliantly portrayed in a way that draws readers in, and connects them to the lovable, clumsy ten-year old’s world.

     I have long been a fan of Eleanor Estes. Her characters are real, and their stories, while unusual, are always flavored with hint of familiarity. The best thing about Estes’s novels is that she allows us to step into the minds of her characters, walking with them through little disappointments, little victories. The key is that the action is small. Here there are no dragons to overcome, merely the fear of going on stage with a piece of your costume missing, or the embarrassment of introducing yourself incorrectly to someone you admire.

    This book is the type of book you read on a snow day, snuggled up with a warm blanket and a large mug of hot cocoa. It’s an easy read, although some of the language might be a bit proper (Jane’s favorite hobby is sewing, and some of the terms she uses may be a bit unfamiliar to some readers). The book flows, though each chapter contains a new adventure, we see a definite progression in Jane as she grows throughout the novel.

     A child’s world is characterized by the importance of small things. What I love about Estes’s writing is that she grabs hold of those indescribable childlike emotions and impulses we all have experienced, masterfully putting them into words, capturing moments that allow us to re-live those happy Christmas mornings, those victories in an all-important sports competition, those moments when we make up with our best friend after a fight. This is essence at its finest. The Middle Moffat has something for everyone, a story, a word, or a feeling that will connect with readers of all ages and remind them of the intangible stuff of life that makes it so pleasantly worth living.

  • The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place is an interesting children’s book written by E.L. Konigsburg. This author has a reputation for writing pretty good books (From the Mixed-Up Files is her best), so I picked this book up on a recommendation from a friend. I enjoyed it; definitely a different-from-normal novel, but there was just something about it that didn’t sit right with me. Read on for all my thoughts on the book. (more…)

  • The Wednesday Wars is a book that was recommended to me by a school teacher.The book being about a school teacher, I was naturally a little bit dubious as to the literary excellence of this book. But let me tell you: this book is great (I guess school teachers know what they’re talking about after all)! The Wednesday Wars mixes baseball, rats, Shakespeare, and the 1960s in an interesting and creative way, telling the story of Holling Hoodhood, a seventh grade kid. (more…)

  • The book Heat, by Mike Lupica, remains a great fiction novel. Set in the stark realism of New York City, it tells the story of a young boy named Michael, who finds comfort in playing baseball. He can pitch…really hard. But hanging over his fun is a worry that he and his family will be separated.