"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)

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Blood Red Snow White: a novel

Blood Red Snow White: a novel (F Sed YA) by Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick writes dark tales. His stories, such as Midwinterblood, a Printz Award title, are saturated in mystic and sinister senses that underlie the authentic folk tale and fairy tale. He may be known by our students from his contribution to The Great War: stories inspired by items from the First World War (SC Gre).

This one is a special treat and it seems written specifically for our St. Albans' Form II students. Following his previous work, Sedgwick interweaves multiple and simultaneous dramas while keeping Blood Red Snow White rooted in the terrible and beautiful Russian folklore.Overlayed with the tumult of the Bolshevik revolution, Sedgwick places the real-life Arthur Ransome, a British journalist and children's writer, as the center point from which his imaginations flows in all directions. Ransome's encounters with Lenin and Trotsky are moments that remind the reader to see the history behind the narrative, although it is his narrative that is most compelling. The reader never loses the familiar feel of the fairy tale despite the dark turns. This is especially true during Ransome's escape where the three magical "tests" that must be passed by the hero, appear in the desolate, frozen landscape of no man's land.

The author's "Timeline," "Appendix," and addendum, "Ransome the Spy?" inspires further reading about not only the Russian Revolution, or the biography of Arthur Ransome, but most importantly that of Russian folktales.

Highly recommended for History teachers and Form II students.

Younger readers may want to beging reading Arthur Ransome's classic children's Swallows and Amazons series of novels, which we have in our library. These were originally published in 1930 and are still in print.

Even younger readers may want to read The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship: A Russian Tale written by Arthur Ransome in 1916 and later illustrated by Uri Shulevitz which won the Caldecott Medal in 1969. This also is in our library!

Monday, November 21, 2016

The Fox at Drummers' Darkness.Fiction

Many parents know this. Often when cleaning up their son's room, they come upon a small treasure. Something lost or forgotten, yet something that touches the heart. It is no different for librarians. We tidy. We straighten. We order the disordered. And, once in awhile, we too come across a forgotten title - one carrying relevancy. One for every generation, yet somehow overlooked amidst the popular authors and titles of the times.

The Fox At Drummers' Darkness by Joyce Stranger is a poignant narrative of the life of a young fox intertwined with Welsh folk stories and mysticism. It is told without the overly sentimental tone seen in other anthropomorphic novels, such as Redwall (Brian Jacques). It is told with a realism soften by poetic syle that brings the life of a fox in the wild alive through instinct for survival. Sentiment is sparingly saved for the Huntsman, the farmer and his wife and Johnny Toosmall as their lives become more desperate during a long drought. Stranger's style of sparse and pointed writing - choosing just the right adjectives and adverbs in cleanly constructed sentences - does evoke empathy for all characters regardless of species.

Welsh author Joyce Stranger (born Joyce Muriel Wilson) was also an accomplished biologist and observer of animals, not unlike author Jean Craighead George, and her expertise comes through in this short but powerful novel. Yet where George sticks with advendure and biology, Stanger relys on her Welsh history, too. William Geldhart's exquisite pen and ink illustrations add to the sombre tone and give pause for reflection. While this book may not appeal to all young readers, those who feel a tenderness for Steinbeck's The Red Pony or Gibson's Old Yeller, can appreciate this gem.

Stranger, Joyce. The Fox At Drummers' Darkness.  New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976. Print.

(Out of print; available in used copies)