Aug. 28th, 2012

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Once again, I'm dreadfully behind... and this week I've been dealing with planning my Talk Like a Pirate Day program, a daughter recovering from surgery, and a deep obsession with harps. Also contemplating the upcoming Cybils.

Here’s another one that Dr. M. recommended to me.

Book of Story BeginningsThe Book of Story Beginnings by Kristin Kladstrup.
In 1914 a boy named Oscar (14) finds a book called the Book of Story Beginnings. Bored with Iowa farm life, he ignores the warning poem on the first page of the book. He writes the beginning of a story, of a dark sea coming up all around a farm house on a hill and a boat pulling up to the front door. When he looks out the window, the dark sea and the boat are truly there. He climbs into the boat – witnessed only by his little sister - and is never seen again.

Now in the present, Lucy’s great-aunt Lavonne has just died and left them the Brick, the large brick farmhouse on a hill in Iowa. Her father, a chemistry professor who just failed to get tenure, and her mother, an editor, decide that moving to the free house in Iowa beats being broke in the big city. Lucy, of course, is not consulted. With nothing to do but explore, Lucy finds first Oscar’s old journals and then the Book. There are other story beginnings in the book, including one about a ship crewed by orphans with a girl on board who dreams of another life, and one that Lucy remembers her own father telling her of the king of cats and the queen of birds, who are married but can’t stop arguing. This situation reflects both Lucy’s parents and, from his journals, Oscar’s. But Lucy feels compelled to write her own story beginning, and so she writes a story where her father is a magician. Before she’s quite grasped what’s happening, Oscar is back, still 14, and her father has turned into a bird and flown off. Now Lucy must convince a very disoriented Oscar to work with her to get her father back. To do so, they must journey into the stories held in the Book of Story Beginnings – working with the very tight constraints that they can only write the beginning of stories, not the middles or endings. If they can get into the story, will they be able to think like story characters themselves well enough to find Lucy’s father safely? And then, how will they get back to Lucy’s time? And if they can get back to Lucy’s time – should Oscar stay there or try to return to his own time? This is a meaty adventure story, with engaging characters and plenty to think about in between the close shaves and narrow escapes. It’s fat enough that it might go over best with older middle grade readers, but there’s nothing in the content that would make it inappropriate for the advanced younger reader.

The struggle to get back to the right world reminds me of my childhood favorite Parsley Sage, Rosemary and Time by Jane Louise Curry, as well as the much more recent Edge Chronicles by Jacqueline West. The contemplation of the story that one is involved in reminds me of Marissa Burt’s Storybound (though I liked this one better) and, happily, but for adults, Jasper Fforde’s zany classic The Eyre Affair.

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