Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Inquisitor's Tale

The Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy DogThe Inquisitor's Tale: Or, The Three Magical Children and Their Holy Dog by Adam Gidwitz

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading this book was a joyful, cleansing experience. As we currently live in a time of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant, hate-speech, that is clogging our governmental system and society, reading The Inquisitor's Tale was a refreshing reminder that love, acceptance, and kindness are the real reasons we exist.

Set in the 1200s, this is the story of three children (and a dog) from completely different races, cultures, and experiences. Jeanne is a Christian Peasant, William is a biracial oblate monk (orphan given to a monastery), and Jacob is a Jew. Each of them has a quality that makes them easily despised in medieval times: Jeanne, for her poverty, William, for his mother's Muslim blood, and Jacob, for refusing to believe in the divinity of Christ. Yet, by the grace of the Judeo-Christian God, they each have been given a miraculous gift and can perform miracles. This is both their blessing and curse as they live in a time of superstitious ignorance.

The story begins in a medieval inn with a group of people drinking ale and relating to the narrator the various origin stories of the three children, and their dog.  They tell that the group is being hunted by King Louis the 9th for acts of Heresy. The stories they tell convince some that the children (and dog) are Saints, while others condemn them as devils for being "magical." All, however, are completely engrossed in the tale and want to hear more.

The children are set on their path because they have all been turned out of their homes for various reasons.  Jeanne's town fears she may be a witch.  William is too outspoken and strong to obey his closed-minded superiors in the monastery.  Jacob is burned out of his village.  Through Providence, the children meet, and decide to travel together.  

Because of their divine gifts, every place that is touched by the children experiences some kind of miracle.  Jeanne has visions of the future, William possesses super-human strength, and Jacob can heal mortal wounds.  Every time their lives are in peril, the holy power of their goodness somehow transforms their adversaries into better people.  

Eventually, their wandering becomes a quest to protect the knowledge and wisdom of the Jews, which is what brings the wrath of Louis the 9th upon them.

This is a tale of the Judeo-Christian God's love for His people and the many misinterpretations of how that love is expressed. It is a tale of misguided piety, and the hubris of believing that people have the right to judge others in their God's name. But mostly, this is a story of three wonderful children (and their dog) who bring hope, friendship, and meaning to the lives of many through their unique connection to their God.

Highly recommended to ages 12+ because of content. Contains an annotated list of sources, and an explanation for the historical characters and events that inspired this work of fiction.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The Magic Mirror by Susan Hill Long

The Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket SquirrelThe Magic Mirror: Concerning a Lonely Princess, a Foundling Girl, a Scheming King and a Pickpocket Squirrel by Susan Hill Long

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Magic Mirror, by Susan Hill Long, is written in a style that makes me think of Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur, if it had been written for children. This is a questing tale full of mystery, villainy, comedy, piety, and mistaken identity.

Maggie the Crutch, a crippled, foundling girl has been raised by Minka, a widowed ale-brewer, and has no idea of her parentage or history. She knows only that she was found in a church, as a small child, wearing a velvet green dress, and with an irrevocably damaged leg.

Maggie is raised with clothes on her back and food in her belly but not an abundance of love and affection. Minka isn't cruel but she isn't loving either. Minka is selfish and stern and overly practical. When Minka tells Maggie that she has promised her to marry a hunchbacked wool-monger, Maggie is distraught.

In town, while running her errands, Maggie meets a merchant named Bilious. Bilious tries to interest Maggie in some items and shows her a mirror that allows the viewer to behold their heart's desire. In this mirror, Maggie sees a wild-eyed old man, and Maggie just knows this man is the key to her destiny. She decides to journey towards this destiny and away from her fate as a wool-mongers wife. She abandons her life with Minka in the night, and stows away on a cart traveling West.

Maggie's quest introduces her to a cast of interesting characters. She meets a dangerous thief and his men, a monk and his bag-pipe playing nephew, a princess and her controlling father, a pick-pocketing squirrel and a mysterious street urchin. Through pure serendipity, each person Maggie encounters has played a role in the mystery of her destiny. But so many questions remain unanswered until the very end...

Who is the wild-eyed man? Why does she feel so called to him? What is her true identity? It seems that only the Magic Mirror knows.

This is a fun tale told in a medieval world of suspicion and schemes. Though slow-moving at first, The Magic Mirror is a delightful story which will appeal to a wide audience.

Ages 10+

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Fake News

There are many truths, but some truths are more credible than others.  The conundrum of teaching Information Literacy.  

Sunday, January 1, 2017


FangirlFangirl by Rainbow Rowell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My only experience with Rainbow Rowell's work had been Eleanor and Park, which was phenomenal, so I thought I'd go on an author binge and explore some more.

Let me begin by saying that I am 40 years old- a far cry from a teenager- and yet, I was boo-hooing over this book like I was 18 again.

As a Middle School Librarian, I like to read the books that the kids are begging for but SLJ classifies as "Grades 9 and up." My 8th graders are dying for books that define them as older than their 6th grade schoolmates. It is hard to satisfy the developmental needs of 11 year olds and 14 year olds in the same collection. After reading Fangirl, my verdict is that, while this book cannot be a part of my School Library collection, I will be recommending it to my more mature 8th graders.

Cather and Wren Avery are twin 18 year-old young women beginning their freshman year at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. They have been inseparable all their lives; especially after their abandonment by their mother, and subsequent mental illness of their father.

In their shared bedroom, in a home in Omaha, the girls spent most of their childhood obsessing over the Fandom of the famous fantasy series, "Simon Snow." Together they would write fanfiction about Simon Snow- Cather as the main author and Wren as her coauthor and beta tester. They lived and breathed Simon Snow and they did this together.

Their bond, their oneness, was something that was never brought in to question until the summer before their freshman year. Wren drops a BOMB on Cather when she announces that she does NOT want to be roomates at UNL. Wren wants to meet new people. Cather wants to curl up in a ball of social anxiety and write herself into oblivion.

At UNL, when they get their rooms, Wren is paired up with a boy-crazed, party-addicted socialite named Courtney. However, Cather is paired up with an older, jaded, snarky, caustic, voluptuous man-eater named Reagan (whose "supposed" boyfriend is ALWAYS around). Wren launches herself right into the social scene, while Cather tries to blend in with the scenery and avoid all human interaction.

To make matters SO much worse- Cather discovers that her favorite professor (Fiction Writing Class) believes that Fanfiction (Cather's self-professed purpose for existing) is PLAGIARISM! Throw in confusing relationships with guys, serious family drama, and an estrangement from her twin and Cather is ready to give up.

This journey into self-actualization is beautifully written, completely relatable, and entirely absorbing. I could not put Fangirl down.

Ages 14 and up for content and age of characters.