Earthsea Cycle #1: A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. LeGuin

Read: 24 April, 2017

The first book in the Earthsea Cycle gives us the origin story of Ged – a boy with promising magical talent who, in a moment of weakness, makes a terrible mistake that shapes the rest of his life.

I first read this book as a young teen, and I was surprised by how much of it I could remember. The unleashing of the shadow thing, in particular, was still vividly in my memory. It was particularly interesting to revisit scenes that have stuck with me all this time and to go “uh, so this is where that’s from…”

This was written in an era when fantasy was still very much tied to oral storytelling – “Tolkienish”. It makes the narrative pace very fast, as we get little more than brief sentences to cover weeks and even years of the story’s chronology. That doesn’t mean that the story’s pace is fast, though. Quite the opposite, in fact, as it does drag a bit as Ged travels around the world and meets with largely unconnected side quests.

The style also adds a distance between the reader and the action. Rather than seeing the action, we are told about it. This used to be standard in fantasy, but a book written like this now wouldn’t get anywhere near the same reception.

That doesn’t make it bad, by any means. It’s beautifully written, and the worldbuilding is magnificent, but it does mean that people who aren’t either at peace with older fantasy genre conventions, or who have adjusted their expectations to the newer expectations of the genre are going to struggle with the book.

All that being said, it fully deserves its place in the canon, right alongside Tolkien for its worldbuilding and lyrical narrative. And for me, specifically, it’s wonderful to visit again with an old friend.

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Room on the Broom by Julia Donaldson, illustrated by Axel Scheffler

Room on the Broom is a delightful story about a witch riding around on a broom with her cat. Three times, she accidentally drops an item, and it is retrieved for her by a new animal who asks for a spot on the broom (and, of course, there is room). However, when the broom breaks, the witch is chased by a hungry dragon, until her new friends scare it away. They then make a new, and even better broom, together and fly off.

I really enjoyed reading this to my son. The words are fantastic, with a very upbeat, musical rhythm that made it lots of fun to read. The characters are also distinctive enough that I found it very easy to come up with unique voices for each.

The artwork looks simplistic, but gorgeous, at first, but there’s actually a fair bit going on in the background (usually to do with animals who react to the events of the story without being acknowledged by the text). The artwork is very colourful, and the character faces are expressive. My son enjoyed looking through them and telling me his own stories inspired by the background details.

Room on the Broom is a well-rounded, quality children’s picture book.

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Again! by Emily Gravett

It’s time for the baby dragon to go to bed, so its parent reads it a story about Cedric the dragon who has never, in his whole life, (not once) been to bed. When the story is over, the baby dragon wants to read it again!

The illustrations are great and my son loved it when the baby dragon spits fire and burns a hole through the book (it’s an actual hole!). There’s also a theme where not sleeping makes the dragons turn red (and taking a nap makes them turn green). It’s subtle, but an interesting detail we noticed and could talk about.

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A Book Dragon by Donn Kushner

Read: 30 September, 2012

Dragons must have a treasure to guard, or so says Nonesuch’s grandmother. But when Nonesuch finds himself alone and getting smaller, he embraces his new size and finds a new sort of treasure.

Over the course of the novel, Nonesuch travels through a number of time periods, stopping for longer stays in a Medieval monastery, and then again in the modern era. On the way, he passes through the War of the Roses, the Black Plague, the Fire of London, the dawn of the Age of Reason, and World War II (through the perspective of a Jewish character who left Germany for America).

As I was reading, I found myself thinking of how useful this book would be to help contextualize and introduce a number of different historical periods. This would be especially useful for homeschoolers to help provide a “path” through a lesson, for example.

I also found it useful in that it was relatively short and simply, but introduced more complex concepts and vocabulary. For that reason, I’d say it’s a great resource for young readers who are just getting into novel-length works.

Unfortunately, not a whole lot happens in the novel, and I have to wonder if it will keep a child’s attention. Most of the story involves Nonesuch exploring some new environment, complete with pages of description. Although it’s possible that if it’s incorporated into a lesson plan, this deficiency might be compensated for by the extra-libris activities.

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Discworld #8: Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

Read: June 2007

Constable Carrot, Captain Vimes, and the rest of the Nightwatch must save Ankh-Morpork from a “noble dragon” that’s taken over the city.

Another great book from the Discworld series. I absolutely loved Captain Vimes. He’s just such a great character and would work perfectly well in a story of his own sans the comedy. The humour is, as usual with Pratchett, laugh-out-loud hilarious.

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