Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Children's Lit.

While my son was at fencing Monday night, I wandered over to The Book Exchange, the best little new/used bookstore in the world, in my opinion.

Of course the honor of the best big used bookstore in the world has to go to Powell's, that behemoth of a building that covers an entire city block, three stories high, in downtown Portland, Oregon. When you walk in, you can pick up a MAP so you don't get lost. Seriously. An evening at Powell's was a favorite date for Andy and me when we lived in that area.

But in Missoula, The Book Exchange is tops. As the name implies, you can turn in your old paper backs and get credit in the amount of half of whatever the listed price on the book itself is, which can then be used for other paperbacks, likewise listed at half off the cover price. When you consider that an older paperback might have originally sold for only $2.99, and a new one might go for $12.99 or more retail, you can see how a book lover on a tight budget could easily fall in love. Buy low, sell high, baby. They make their money on hardcovers and brand new paperbacks, which are not eligible for store credit, as well as by selling to the masses, the majority of whom don't bother with the hassle of carting bags of paperbacks into the store for trade. I'll ride this train until it runs out of steam, for sure.

So I was there Monday night and found a handful of kids' paperbacks that I either love or know my kids have on upcoming reading lists. I left the store with Call It Courage, by Armstrong Sperry; Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, by Mildred D. Taylor; The Incredible Journey, by Sheila Burnford; Black Star Bright Dawn, by Scott O'Dell; and The Pushcart War, by Jean Merrill.

I started Call It Courage in the parking lot, while I waited for my son. I hadn't read it since I was about ten years old and I remembered loving it then, so I was anxious to read it now, as an adult. When the boy's class was finished and he climbed into the car, he commented that we already have a copy of it on the bookshelf at home and he had read it two years ago. Oops. That one will go back (or at least one of the copies will, whichever had the higher retail price on it). Since he'd already read it, I coerced him into picking up where I'd left off and reading aloud to me all the way home, a forty minute drive. It is a short book and I finished what was left of it in another half hour after we got home. I remember now why I liked it so much. It is a wonderfully crafted coming of age story, completely immersing the reader in a completely different time, place and culture.

Once I got the kids into bed, I started on Black Star, Bright Dawn. Scott O'Dell can be hit and miss sometimes, but when he is good, he is great. Island of the Blue Dolphins, of course, is a classic, and we just finished reading aloud The Black Pearl, which takes place in a small fishing village in Mexico. We loved The Black Pearl. I hadn't heard of Black Star, Bright Dawn before. It is the story of an eighteen year old Eskimo girl in the far North of Alaska, who ends up racing a dog team in the Iditarod when her father is injured and cannot compete.

With all the hype in my home this last ten days or so about the Iditarod, I thought this one would be a winner. I read late into the night and finished it before I turned off my book light and went to sleep. It was ok, but not great. It was similarly a coming of age story, a lone young person fighting against great odds for survival, but just not as well done, in my opinion.

What was crazy, though, was the fact that I'd read two books cover to cover in one evening, both of which had such similar themes, but in such outrageously different settings. The first was of a boy, fighting the dangers of the ocean and the equatorial sun on a tropical island in the South Pacific. The other involved a girl in the frozen white north, battling frostbite, unstable ice and the occasional rogue bull moose. Both stories involved a bright, intuitive dog as the main character's closest companion.

As I fell asleep that night, and into today, my mind has struggled to keep the characters straight, sometimes putting Mafatu on a dog sled on the Yukon River, sometimes putting Bright Dawn on an outrigger canoe, fending off sharks. Remind me not to read two books back to back like that again--especially not late at night.

My daughter picked up Black Star, Bright Dawn this morning and finished it just as I tucked her into bed tonight. It was perfect for her, for this week. She really enjoyed it. I knew she would.

Tonight, I have been reading The Pushcart War. I love it. I can't believe I haven't come across this book before. It has had me laughing out loud several times. It is clearly one of the most clever and creative books I have ever read that was intended for kids--plenty to hold my attention, as well.

My son has watched me read it this evening and is anxious to read it himself, based on the little hints I have thrown his way about a war raging on the streets of New York City between the truck drivers and the pushcart owners, with the weapon of choice being pea shooters and a little old lady named Anna, appointed General over her troops.

Pick it up, if you find it at the library or a used book store. It's a worthy choice. Happy reading!


Mister Ed T said...

Glan=d for you. I've been relying on the local library.

CML_Shearings said...

I just finished reading "Black Star, Bright Dawn" this afternoon. Thank Elli for loaning it to me. It was a quick & totally enjoyable read. It gives a glimpse into the native Eskimo culture as well as a feel for the Iditarod.