"My father gave me free run of his library. When I think of my boyhood, I think in terms of the books I read."

Jorge Luis Borges (1899-1986)

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Traitor's Gate.Historical mystery

The Traitor's Gate by Avi, illustrated by Karina Raude (F Avi)

This title from 2007 appeared twice in one week: firstly, it was referred to in an article I read; secondly, as a donation to our library. To be honest, dear students, I wondered if the "universe" was sending me a message - READ this book!  So, I did.

While I enjoy some of the author's works - most notably The Man Who Was Poe - most do not stir my literary heart. Yet, here was one that pulled me in within the first few pages and now, I MUST share my thoughts with you!
On the chilly afternoon when my great adventure began, a thick, dank, brownish fog had crept in, rendering the classroom even more dismal than usual.  The Whale-oil lamp that sat upon the sergeant's desk glowed by faintly through a glass globe - a soot-smudged metaphor for the school's incessant dullness (12).
Here is the world of Charles Dickens, dear student! You can feel his own life and his subsequent settings in his works reflected in this dismal Victorian world as seen through the eyes of a young boy. John Horatio Huffman unwillingly assumes the responsible role among his family members who are befuddled by the arrest of the father, a "gentleman."

Avi brilliantly meshes facts from Dickens's childhood, settings from Dickens's works, and the author's creative plot to present, not only to present a pleasingly convoluted mystery, but more importantly for you, to give you the visceral sense of those living in mid-19th century London - both rich, destitute, and the few struggling between these opposites. The realistic pen and ink illustrations mimic those  that appeared in the serial publications of his magazine, Household Word, where his novels were presented in "installments."

Do not be surprised if we begin to study a bit about Mr. Dickens in the near future!

Avi. The Traitor's Gate; a novel.  New York: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2007. Print.

Other titles/authors that are related and may be of interest are:

  • The Haunting of Charles Dickens by Lewis Buzbee (F Buz) where Mr. Dickens is a character to help a young boy solve a mystery.
  • Leon Garfield was a prolific British author of many children's titles that bring Victorian England alive for readings.  A very favorite mystery is Smith (F Gar)about a young pickpocket who is witness to a serious crime.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Twist of Gold.Historical fiction

Twist of Gold by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Simon Reade (822.91 Mor)

Over the summer, I am hoping that several rising Form I students enjoyed reading the adaptations of British author, Michael Morpurgo's novels in a different format - the play. For those of you who have never read a play, it is a far different experience than that of the novel. A strong sense of the visual is present; the reader as observer is more pronounced, rather than that where the author is speaking directly to you. "  It is best to read a play in one uninterrupted sitting without any distractions (Opitz)." This little gem is another of Morpurgo's and written for younger readers, Forms C and up

Set in 1847 during Ireland's Great Famine and at the very beginnings of the plague, two children are forced to leave their dying mother and board a ship for America in search of their father. Annie, who is 11 years old, and Sean, her slightly older brother at 14 years of age own almost nothing except for one family heirloom. As a symbol of their Irish descendants and clan, they are bound to keep it safe whatever the cost.

This play is a glimpse into the history, hardship, and strength of those forced to emigrate - both the unscrupulous and duplicitous along with the selfless and generous characters met all along the way. It carries the tension and melodrama of any good story told in any format.

For those readers who are not familiar with the Great Famine in Irish history, I strongly suggest that you consider reading this award winning non-fiction and riveting history found in our collection:

Black potatoes : the story of the great Irish famine, 1845-1850 by Susan Campbell Bartoletti

Opitz, L. (n.d.). The Play's the Thing: Drama Versus Theatre. Retrieved August 04, 2016, from http://www.skidmore.edu/academics/theater/productions/arcadia/playreading.html. Written by Associate Professor of Theatre at Skidmore College.