Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Series on a Series, Part One

Sometimes I like to pick books on purpose, instead of totally randomly. Sometimes I even like to follow a kind of theme. I'd been thinking recently of some of the books I'd read when I was younger. I read the same books over and over, partly because there weren't any big readers in my family and I'd never been to the library until I was about 12, and partly because there just weren't as many books. But I liked to read books from a series, because I was a fast reader even back then, and in a series, the characters lasted longer. So I'm doing a little project on books in series for kids.

Vanishings, by Jerry B. Jenkins. There are thirty-some-odd books, maybe more following this one, so not too much happened in this book; it was all set-up. We established characters and backstory, and to find out how the four kids come together and what happens to them, you need to keep reading. In that way, it's pretty good: you won't run out of reading material any time soon. (I noticed sequel number 35 on the shelf at the library. If I was interested in continuing to read these, I would find out how many there are, but I don't care.) From a more critical point of view, the writing was pretty good. The reading level seemed pretty low for the intended audience-- ages 12 to 15, based of the ages of the main characters-- but that's not a big problem, since there is an entire market for children's and young adult literature geared for reading levels different from age levels. Not much a plot, as I said, but there is progression within the story. The big thing with this book is, it's not a story, it's a sermon. Kids who aren't Bible thumpers probably won't enjoy it too much. Unlike other books based on religion or religious happenings, in which you can ignore parts you disagree with, if you were to skim over everything in this book you don't like, you'd have to skip right to the end.  

Goddess of the Night, by Lynne Ewing. This is a series for older kids, high school girls really. It promises to be an interesting story for the next several installments. The author's writing style was good to great, in most respects. Hurrah for commas. However, her downfall is that of many early writers, and by early writers, I mean high school and college students who read this kind of crap. Let me quote from a tutorial I did earlier this week on this same exact subject, "you spend more time talking about the scene, your feelings while getting dressed, and other facts of the setting, than the actual events." The author of Goddess and the author of the paper I critiqued both felt it necessary to set every scene by describing each and every visible, audible, and smell-able thing in range. These authors need to learn that, while detail is important, giving equal detail to everything gives everything the same level of importance. They should instead include detail in situations where the characters are in a position to notice it. How often to you notice every piece of furniture and its exact placement in a room? Maybe it's because I live out here in farm country, but I rarely notice any smells; they're all frozen right now. This writer, however, has something wafting through the kitchen or the night air every time someone walks through a door. All these details make the scenes seem less realistic, instead of more, as is the obvious intention.  

Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I read these over and over when I was little. I got rid of my boxed set in middle school, after I stopped reading them, and now am trying to find some in good condition; I'm not having much luck. Anyway. I'm going to read them again because now, there are companion series about Laura's ancestors and her daughter. These are relatively recent and I'm sad I've missed out on them so far. I'm curious to see if they are as good. Compared to some of the more recent publications in children's literature, these aren't the world's greatest books. Consider, however, that this book was originally published in 1932, when children's literature was virtually nonexistent, and what material there was, was very unrealistic (see my entry on Help! I'm a Prisoner in the Library, from the relatively recent 1970's). The Ingalls series, on the other hand, while not as realistic as one might suspect, is still a classic: good grammar, historical facts, family relationships, good stuff. On a brief tangent, I read in an article a year or two ago that boys often like the Little House books, among others, because they include detailed instructions. In giving the reader a picture of everyday life before 1900, Wilder includes step by step instructions, narrating as she watched her mother form straw hats, make cheese, and churn butter, or as her father makes bullets, loads his gun, and butchers a piggy. Apparently boys like these hands-on narrations. Specifically in this series, the author doesn't include too much emotion, just an accounting of events. These don't take away from the readability for a female audience, since it is an accounting of home life and family relationships (yes, girls do really like reading about those).

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