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Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

I had a social media meltdown the other day.

Not a meltdown on social media, mind you. Thank goodness for that! This was a meltdown over social media.

I’ve been thinking about how I can reach more people with my blog. Discouraged, some days…okay, many days… over these idiotic numbers WordPress and Facebook feed me every time I open my account. Numbers of clicks. Number of likes. Numbers that represent to me — on the gray days — how few, instead of how many.

The solution, so they say, is more social media presence. More tweets, more pins, more posts, more videos.

I dutifully scroll through others’ pages to figure out how to do this thing better. Tink through Twitter feeds. Glaze over at Instagram accounts. And suddenly, everything seems utterly hopeless. All the pristine, perfectly-staged snapshots, the threaded tweets, the young media blitzers out there who have integrated every detail of their on-line presence to accumulate tens of thousands of followers. I am competing with this?

More accurately, I have no hope of competing with this. What’s more, it makes me feel mean in an Old Sneepish sort of way, this gazing at numbers. More often than not, social media is an overwhelming, soul-withering exercise for me. 

 

So, I have a melt down. I move rapidly from being overwhelmed by social media to sheer, existential doldrums. What is the point, anyway? What do I have to say to the world that’s worth hearing in the midst of our present, shattering noise-level of nonstop messages?

The gracious small voice that answers me, does so with a question: What do you give, when you give the gift of reading?

And I know the answer to that question. At least, part of the answer to that question.

The gift of reading, of loving books, is the gift of a magnificent doorway into a rich world. An expansive world albeit a much quieter world.  One that enhances our lives.

This door swings wide to reveal things we never even knew existed, acts as a portal connecting us to human thought across time and space so we can learn seemingly without boundary, be taught directly from the originators of ideas, the seers, the tasters, the handlers, hear the wrestlings of questioners, catch the insights of people remarkably unlike ourselves who may well have thought their thoughts in other languages and millennia. When we give the gift of reading, we put children in touch with ideas and know-how and experiences and insights and viewpoints far beyond our own limited ones. We give them rocket ships to the farthest reaches of knowledge, bridges to cultural landscapes we’ve never traveled, tête-à-têtes with powerful thinkers in areas of expertise we’ve never dabbled in. 

Reading serves as a gateway to empathy and understanding as we meet people utterly unlike ourselves, hear their stories, some so bitter, so intense, see life from their vantage point. This gateway frees us from hedged-in viewpoints, ushers us out of the small neighborhood of our acquaintances and into other communities,  other witnesses of the human experience. Sometimes these encounters rile us, frustrate us, push us to meet folks we disagree with. Sometimes they introduce us to a kindred spirit. Sometimes our new vantage points surprise us, stop us short with exquisite beauty, poignant insight, electrifying connections. When we give the gift of reading, we give access to a barrier-breaking range of human stories and voices — voices that sing and wail, remember and predict, challenge and commiserate.

Reading’s door is a passageway to a world of characters who become as dear to us as flesh-and-blood friends and who make us better people, be they a straight-talking lawyer from Maycomb, Alabama, or a house elf with a penchant for socks. What a gift these book-friends are. They understand us, articulate our pains and pleasures, amuse us, inspire us, accompany us throughout life. They are always there, unchanged by time, ready to invigorate a spare moment come what may. Reading transports us into imaginary and real places that mark us as intensely as human personalities. Middle-earth and Klickitat Street; Cather’s Nebraska and Dickens’ London. When we give the gift of reading, we open provocatively imaginative doorways .

That is part of what we give when we give the gift of reading. Teachers — blessed teachers — from ancient days to the present, keep making millions of copies of keys to that doorway so others can enter in. When we read with our children and grandchildren, when we spread books in classrooms and libraries, hospitals and refugee camps, prisons and shelters, we scatter pass-keys to rich storehouses.

 Here’s to pressing on.

As I step gingerly into more avenues in the hopes of spreading this love of books — which to be honest feels like stepping into busy traffic without knowing the rules of the road! — I invite you to follow me, say hello, help me do this thing better!

Facebook: Orange Marmalade Books
Twitter: marmalade_books
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School Ship Tobermory, written by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrations by Iain McIntosh
published in Scotland in 2015; first U.S. edition 2016 by Delacorte Press

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You may know him as the author of the vast No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but Alexander McCall Smith has written a number of chapter books for young readers as well.

This latest one is a fast-clipped adventure set on a school ship. That is, this lucky crew of boys and girls are going to school aboard the good ship Tobermory, learning the ropes of sailing and having a few other lessons to boot, while sailing among the islands off the Scottish mainland. Nice gig, huh?

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Not so fast, though, because although the majority of these children are responsible, well-mannered, bright, and eager persons, there are a few bad apples in the barrel. Nasty ol’ William Edward Hardtack, for one. He and his fellow bullies aim to rule the ship with snark and cruelty.

Ben and Fee, twelve-year-old twins, are the newest students aboard the Tobermory. It doesn’t take but a hot minute for them to land on the wrong side of Hardtack and Co. That means that as well as learning how to scrabble up those impossibly high masts and how to use proper sailing terminology — That’s not a staircase! It’s a companionway, if you please! — they’ve got to outmaneuver the rotten tricks of the bully squad.

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The adventures are ratcheted up when a film crew on a neighboring vessel take on some Tobermory students as extras. Ben is one of those lucky kids, but before long, he’s sniffed out some mighty suspicious activity aboard the Albatross. What are they really up to?

Smith’s story reads like a tale from bygone days. There’s a simplicity, naiveté, and old-fashioned decorum of language that makes this feel a bit like a story written in the 1950s. The bad guys are thoroughly bad. The good folks are 100% good. The conflict is a straightforward cinch to follow. Even the danger, though there is potential for great harm, never turns violent, and at the height of his distress, the Captain’s strongest exclamation is, “My Goodness!”

The book takes an unusual tack with the illustrations, inserting comic panels at various places within the story that recap some of the recent events. These make for jolly interruptions.

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All of this makes the book a great choice for young-but-advanced readers. A 7-year-old with mad reading skills could make her way through this without being in over her head with mature content, even though it’s 215 pages long. My one quibble is McCall’s repeated references to one student’s “rather large front teeth” a completely unnecessary detraction and unfortunate focus on appearance. The second Tobermory tale, The Sands of Shark Island, is already out in the UK.

 

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polly-and-the-wolf-cover-imageThe Complete Polly and the Wolf, written by Catherine Storr, illustrated by Marjorie Ann Watts and Jill Bennett
originally published in 1955-1980; collected and reissued in 2016 by The New York Review Children’s Collection

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Polly who, like all children, had some Great Fears and one of her fears was of the wolf who was certainly hiding under her bed.

So Polly’s dear mother chased away that Fear by telling her some marvelous bedtime stories in which Clever Polly utterly outwits a befuddled wolf every time. The more ingenuous the wolf becomes in his ploys to eat her up, the more deft Polly becomes at outsmarting him. This girl is one smart cookie!

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That mother, Catherine Storr, published the first set of stories, entitled Clever Polly and the Stupid Wolf, in 1955. Subsequent stories were published in a couple of volumes, and they’ve all been collected here for your enjoyment.

These tales are full of humor. Yes, this wolf is bad. Audacious. Wicked! Indeed, he plans to climb into Polly’s bedroom “before it’s light tomorrow morning, crunching up the last of [her] little bones.” Like every good fairy tale, the danger lurking out there is dark and toothy.

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At the same time, he is immensely gullible, so easily traipsed along on a tangent, hoodwinked by the astute Polly at every turn. It’s a ticklish pleasure to watch Polly bait him with some innocent conversation. His vanity and gnawing appetite for juicy little girls get the best of him every time and zip-zup, with one sleight of hand Polly makes his plans fall to pieces.

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The stories begin fairly simply and grow in length and complexity. They are illustrated with zesty ink drawings that fairly pop with personality. With its feisty, female protagonist, these stories would make a lively read-aloud for brave children ages 5 or 6 and up.

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