narnia

Summer Reading: Catherynne M. Valente’s ​Fairyland Series

Welcome to Summer Reading 2017! I’ve written before about the glorious summers of my childhood, when I could devote long uninterrupted hours to burning through enormous Lord of the Ring-type sagas. I’ve also shared the cautionary tale of a dear friend whose parents made her put down her book and play outside, but I’m sure none of our readers could behave in so dastardly a fashion. (NOTE: I am not entirely against the outdoors and exercise and whatnot, but they made her put down her book. Things like that take years of therapy to get over.) With all that in mind, when Amy asked me to do some Summer Reading posts, I decided I wanted to focus on some of my favorite series for children and young people—but only series that have already come to a satisfactory end, as there’s nothing worse than being stuck with a cliffhanger while you wait for an author to hurry up and write, all the while worrying that before they finish they might die in some sort of freak word-processing accident.

I thought I’d start with my very favorite fantasy series. For decades, if you’d asked me what my favorite series was—the books I’d read over and over, the books I’d have to make sure my own kids read, my desert island books—I would have said the Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis. I was (and still am) a hardcore Narnia-head. As a child, I reread the series every summer. I wrote Narnia fanfiction (before ‘fanfiction’ was even a word). I love these books. (NOTE: I know that not everyone loves Narnia because of the Christian allegorical aspects. I completely understand that, but it’s not hampered my own love of the series because I was raised ‘unchurched’ and didn’t even notice that it was a Christian allegory until I was in my late teens or 20’s. I was <ahem> perhaps not the most observant of readers.) But now, if I had to pick one series to keep me company on a desert island, one series to pass along to my kids, I think I’d pick Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books.

The Fairyland books, with one exception, are about September, a 12-year-old girl living in WWII-era Nebraska, with a mechanic mother who works in the aircraft factory and a father missing overseas, until—in the tradition of children who get lost in wardrobes and swept up by passing tornadoes—she catches a ride with the Green Wind and his Leopard. They drop her off in Fairyland, ruled by the evil Marquess, where September soon finds herself on a quest to defeat the Marquess and free her friends. These books are for all ages, beautifully written, with a heroine who relies on her bravery, her intelligence, and her friends to save the day. There is little that is black and white in Fairyland: even the villains have complicated histories of good intentions gone bad, and even the heroes can make poor choices under difficult circumstances. I’ve read these books both for my own enjoyment and as readalouds (which is particularly wonderful, as Valente has a gift with language and original phrasing) and I think they belong on every family’s bookshelf.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

“You seem an ill-tempered and irascible enough child,” said the Green Wind. “How would you like to come away with me and ride upon the Leopard of Little Breezes and be delivered to the great sea which borders Fairyland?”

In book one, September visits Fairyland for the first time and meets her soon-to-be-best friends: A-Through-L, a Wyverary, and Saturday, a Marid. (A marid is a type of ifrit or djinn, and a “Wyverary” is the offspring of a wyvern and a library. And honestly, if that isn’t enough to send you out to find this book immediately, I don’t even know what you’re doing hanging around these parts.) Both of her friends are held captive (one way or another) by the evil Marquess, ruler of Fairyland, and September must defeat her to save them.

 

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

In book two, September returns to Fairyland to find that its magic is being sucked away by Fairyland Below, ruled by Halloween, the Hollow Queen. September soon discovers that Halloween is her own shadow, left in Fairyland after her previous adventure, and when she reunites with her friends, A-Through-L and Saturday, she finds that they have shadows also.

 

The Girl Who Soared Over Fairyland and Cut the Moon in Two

In book three, September returns to Fairyland with her new sidekick, a 1925 Model A Ford, and discovers that she’s been named a criminal, specifically a “royal scofflaw, professional revolutionary, and criminal of the realm.” On a mission to the Fairyland’s Moon, she must defeat a mysterious moon-Yeti and figure out what actually happened to all of Fairyland’s missing fairies. Unlike the first two books, this one ends with something of a cliffhanger, but that’s okay because you can go straight to book four...

 

The Boy Who Lost Fairyland

...which begins not with September, but with Hawthorn, a changeling who was born a troll in Fairyland before being spirited away to the human world. I was all set to be annoyed with Valente for swapping out September for another protagonist, but I immediately fell for Hawthorn, who, in an effort to act like a Normal child starts writing a rulebook of Normal behavior (e.g., “Knives and scissors are sharp, but different than swords, and you can only use them to fight cucumbers and onions and packages from the postman, not Ancient Enemies from Beyond Time,” followed by “There are no such things as Ancient Enemies from Beyond Time”). Plus he hangs out with the best wombat ever in the history of wombats. We catch up with September eventually and another cliffhanger leads us straight into the fifth and final book...

 

The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home

...where different teams, including September and her best friends (and Hawthorn with his friends) must compete in a Royal Race for the throne of Fairyland. And really, I don’t want to tell you anything more because you should go out and read these fabulous books for yourself. Happy Reading!

 

 


Summer Reading: If You Liked the Narnia Books

It’s hard to finish an utterly engrossing series like the Chronicles of Narnia, but we’ve rounded up some equally magical fantasy books that will keep you reading happy at every reading level.

 

Your next picture book

Free Fall
By David Wiesner
 

It may seem like a stretch to recommend a wordless book to Narnia fans, but Free Fall (by Caldecott winner David Wiesner) lets imagination narrate with its gloriously illustrated story of a boy who falls asleep reading an atlas and dreams his way through a series of fantastic adventures.

 

Your next chapter book

Just like Narnia, The Dark Is Rising sequence is a thrilling, complex mythology of children pulled into the great battle between good and evil—pulling from Celtic, Norse, and Arthurian traditions. Start with Over Sea, Under Stone.

 

Your next readaloud

More people should read The Hounds of the Morrigan, a thrilling fantasy set in Ireland. Pidge and his little sister set off on a quest to find a lost stone that may prove pivotal in the battle between the forces of good and evil, but the deadly hounds of the Morrigan are fast on their heels.

 

Your next teen read

A Wizard of Earthsea is the first book in Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea trilogy. With its Taoist ethics, feminist sensibility, and nuanced world building, Earthsea is a worthy follow-up to the Narnia books for older readers.

 

Your next grown-up book

Lots of people miss C.S. Lewis’s sci-fi take on the ideas in Narnia, written for adults, which starts with Out of the Silent Planet. If you loved Narnia, you’ll definitely want to check out Lewis’s grown-up version.


Suzanne’s Favorite Books of 2015

Fun list of best books of 2015 created by home|school|life magazine's awesome book columnist. #homeschool

I love this time of year! New beginnings and new resolutions­­—plus all the Best-­Of booklists come out, so I can restock my to­-read list. In the spirit of celebrating last year and looking forward to some seriously good reading in 2016, I thought I’d share some of my favorites of 2015.

Favorite Young Adult

Pure
By Julianna Baggott
The Raven Boys
By Maggie Stiefvater

Favorite First Book of a Post­-Apocalyptic Trilogy Where I Didn’t Love Books Two and Three but Book One is So Good That I Can’t Help Recommending It and You Should Probably Read the Others And Make Up Your Own Mind :: Pure by Julianna Baggott

Favorite First Book of a Contemporary Fantasy Series With Clairvoyants and Ley Lines and Cute Boys Which I Stopped Reading After the First Book Because the Fourth and Final Book is Coming Out in March 2016 and I Want to Read Them All in One Glorious Binge :: The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater

Favorite Fantasy Heist Novel Which I Didn’t Even Know Was a Thing But Which As a Big Ocean’s Eleven Fan I Was Thrilled to Discover and Even More Thrilled to Learn That It’s the First of an On­-Going Series (NOTE: Maybe Don’t Get Too Attached to All of the Characters in the Heist Crew) :: The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch

 

Favorite Reading Inspired by My Obsession with the Broadway Musical Hamilton

(Because we’re all obsessed with Hamilton, right? Even those of us who live nowhere near New York and couldn’t afford tickets even if we did and so are forced to make do with listening to the cast album over and over again and singing along while our children mock our hip-­hop skills? If you are not yet obsessed with Hamilton , you have my permission to stop reading briefly to immediately check out the album. As a bonus, it totally counts as a homeschool history lesson.)

Alexander Hamilton
By Ron Chernow
Fever 1793
By Laurie Halse Anderson

Favorite Biography That Inspired it All and At 800-­Some Pages is Maybe Not a Quick Read but Still a Great Book About Our Ten­-Dollar Founding Father Who Just Like His Country Was Young, Scrappy, and Hungry ::Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

Favorite Upper­-Elementary/YA Historical Fiction That I Had Been Meaning to Read For Years And Finally Got Around to Because It’s About the 1793 Yellow Fever Epidemic in Philadelphia That Also Sickened Alexander Hamilton :: Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Favorite New Sarah Vowell Book About America’s Favorite Fighting Frenchman and Alexander Hamilton’s Best Bud the Marquis de Lafayette Which Has, Disappointingly, Not All That Much Hamilton But Which is Wildly Entertaining Nonetheless As Are All of Sarah Vowell’s Books of History :: Lafayette in The Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell

 

Favorite Readalouds

Favorite Series That I’m On My Fourth and Probably Last Time Through Reading Aloud Until I Have Grandchildren Many MANY Years From Now :: The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis

Favorite Series That Just Keeps Getting Better and Is Giving Narnia a Run For Its Money As My Favorite Kids’ Fantasy Series of ALL TIME Where We’re Currently Reading Book Four (The Boy Who Lost Fairyland) While Anticipating the Release of the Fifth and Final (Sniff) Book (The Girl Who Raced Fairyland All the Way Home) in March 2016 ::the Fairyland series by Catherynne M. Valente

Favorite Series by My Favorite Kids/YA Fantasy Author Diana Wynne Jones Where We’re Currently Reading The Magicians of Caprona Which is Turning Out to Be One of My Daughter’s Favorites Because It Has Magical Italian Cats :: the Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones

 

And finally:

Favorite Memoir That Examines the Author’s Life in Terms of Her Favorite Literary Heroines (Including Elizabeth Bennett, Anne Shirley, and Jane Eyre) Which Also Has the Best Title of Any Book I’ve Read This Year :: How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I’ve Learned From Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis


Stuff We Like :: 5.28.15

home|school|life's Friday roundup of the best homeschool links, reads, tools, and other fun stuff has lots of ideas and resources.

Around the Web

I loved this: that magic moment when you become a reader, not just someone who can read a book. (With bonus REM lyrics!)

Why can’t we read anymore?

Are you watching this great web series from the American Museum of Natural History? This most recent episode, all about languages as seen through the eyes of an anthropologist and a computational biologist, is fascinating.

 

On home/school/life

On the blog: Lisa nails it with her thoughts on the whole “Oh, I could never do that” attitude homeschool parents sometimes run into.

From the magazine:Practical strategies to help a student who’s having trouble focusing. (Middle school parents, this one’s for you!)

On Pinterest: I think building this cardboard castle would be such a fun summer project.

 

Crafty

I’ve been ripping up old T-shirts to knit rugs for all our bathrooms. (It feels so good to find a use for all those old T-shirts.)

I’m also knitting up fresh dishcloths for the kitchen, which is probably as close as I ever get to spring cleaning. I like the Ballband Dishcloth pattern (it’s free!). (I use KnitPicks Dishie because it has the best colors, the cotton isn't too hard on my hands, and it seems to hold up well.)

 

Reading

Sometimes these kinds of books annoy me because you would have to have a PhD in woodworking to do anything they suggest, but Woodshed for Kids: 52 Woodworking Projects Kids Can Build really does have projects that kids can build.

I downloaded Rebecca from the free SYNC summer audiobooks series and have been loving listening to it while I’m walking the neighborhood. (Rebecca's not available anymore, but they have a great lineup of freebies for this summer.)

I am stalking Amazon for my copy of The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings, The Fellowship: The Literary Lives of the Inklings: J.R.R. Tolkien, C. S. Lewis, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams— it’s supposed to be a fascinating read.

 

At Home

I am so late to the party with the whole Homicide: Life on the Streets thing, but I am so hooked.

Speaking of being late to the party, Jason and I are just getting around to listening to Serial, finally. Of course, being late adopters means we can binge listen, which is a plus.

Honey-roasted carrots with tahini yogurt are so good. (If you don’t have Ottolenghi’s book Plenty, go get it — it will change your vegetable cooking life forever.)