Tuesday, May 5, 2009

"The Scarecrow and his Servant" by Philip Pullman

After a violent thunderstorm, a scarecrow standing in the middle of the field is stroke by lighting and is amazingly sprung into life. After yelling for a while a young orphaned boy, named Jack runs over to aid him. Scarecrow offers him a job has his servant and Jack excitingly agrees, since he has no other place to be. So begins the story of the Scarecrow, a courteous fellow with a generous spirit, a passion for adventure and a small pea for a brain. Accompanied by Jack, his now faithful servant, the Scarecrow leaves his bird scaring duties behind and seeks a life of glory and excitement. They set out boldly for a place called Spring Valley, a place that is written on the Scarecrow’s Heart. Through out the story, the Scarecrow and Jack are plunged into different scenarios that they have to get out of. They take part in battles, brigands, and treasure islands, but the one thing that the Scarecrow is unaware of is the gravest threat of all: the one family who desperately wishes he had never sprung to life.

This is a very simple non-complex book that revolves mainly around the theme of friendship and the theme of good vs. evil. Friendship pops out everywhere in the book, but mostly between the Scarecrow and Jack. These two characters really have a close relationship, which knits tighter by each chapter. They work as a team and get out of any trouble that they encounter. They care for one another and show this in many ways throughout the book. For example the Scarecrow always let Jack cut a piece of his turnip head to eat, so he would not starve. Towards the end of the novel Jack and the doctor nurse the Scarecrow back to health when his broom get s infested with termites. Also it has the typical sense of good against evil, where the Scarecrow and Jack are the good guys and try to fight of their enemies like the Buffalonis, which are chasing them throughout the whole book. Then there are all the robbers, cruel birds, and the brigand they fight in.

Personifications and similes where used infrequently in the book. It helped enhance the writing a bit. Similes like, “…the Scarecrow barked like a dog”. I would have preferred the writing more if no rhetorical devices were used, since the target audiences are young kids. A great thing about the book was that it used many descriptive adjectives that truly enhanced the writing and made it a pleasure to read.

Pullman has fabricated up something entirely his own: a tale of great charm and wit, told in an easy style, which reads as though it all came, right in the first draft. It teaches great moral, and sensible lessons in a comprehendible way. It is remarkable that He has managed to create a flawless plot and has conveyed it with simplicity and even silliness, which embraces such complexity, yet offers children so much wisdom.

Since this book is intended for a younger audience, there were no issues that pertained to me or any other adolescence. The one theme that did stick to me is the idea of the friendship, which is portrayed through out the book. If everyone had a friend like Jack, the world would be a better place. Jack is kind, caring, faithful, and smart. This factor will stick to me and I will consider these factors when I meet new people and in the choice of friends that I will have.

As with all Philip Pullman's books, the writing is a delight. Not a wasted word. The subject matter is probably best suited to younger readers 7 - 10, or as a series of bedtime stories for 5 - 7 year-olds. Charmingly illustrated by Peter Bailey.

By:Arshia Hayat-Davoudi

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

"Hatchet" by Gary Paulsen

Brian Robeson, a thirteen-year-old boy is on his way to spend the summer with his father aboard a single engine plane, a Cessna 406. Half way through the journey the small bush plane is involved in a plane crash in an uninhabited part of the Canadian woods after the pilot dies of a heart attack. Brian then must find a way to survive and in the process, discovers much about him self and in the process of this journey he becomes a man.

There were quite a few themes present in this novel by Gary Paulsen. The theme perseverance and determination comes into perspective through out the novel. This is especially seen in how Brian learns to solve problems that will potentially be life-threatening. He calls upon his intelligence, memory, and youth to overcome such experiences as creating fire, fighting off a moose, building shelter, and finding food.

Another theme that plays significant part in the novel is the theme of never giving up! We are shown throughout the story that without hope, life is meaningless. Brian learns this the hard way, but it is what sustains him when he faces the most difficult challenges to his survival.

Education is another major theme. The pilot said that flying was just like anything else: it just takes a little bit of learning and practice. This will be especially applicable to Brian when he spends each day learning something new about survival and life in general.

The story is a narrative told knowledgeable about Brian Robeson’s fifty-four day survival in the Canadian wilderness after a plane crash. This way of telling the story was very effective, since it painted a picture for you to construct to your liking. Also the writing of the author was very simple allowing you to understand and grasp every little bit of it.

An issue that stuck with me while reading the book was how Brian’s parents were divorced and the pain he feels through out the story surrounding this topic. One thing that this book has taught me is that sometimes shielding someone else from pain is a way we might be able to forgive and forget our own pain.

There are many symbols and metaphors used by the author such as Brian’s mother sitting in a station wagon with a strange man with blonde hair symbolizes the secret he can’t tell which brings him tremendous pain or the hatchet given to him by his mother symbolizes survival as it is the one tool he could never have done without. The attack of the moose is a metaphor for the sudden and expected events in life that can destroy us or make us better. These are just a few, Paulsen has used many symbols, metaphors and in some cases motifs to enhance his writing.

Gary Paulsen has a lot of improving to do on this book. “Hatchet” was not an exciting book at all it had a very predictable plot unlike other books. The novel was not only slow paced but very repetitive. Also the descriptions dragged on for pages almost like the book “Great Expectations”. Hopefully Gary Paulsen will take this feed back and write a more creative and enjoyable story.

I will recommend this book for younger children ages ranging from eight to twelve because the book uses very simple English and the plot is not complicated at all. It will be a comfortable and enjoyable read as the children engage into the story. Overall I will say that anybody ranging from age thirteen and up should not read this book, because it will be very predictable and unchallenging.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

"The Wars" by Timothy Findley

Robert Ross is a sensitive young man from Canada who joins the military as a way of relieving himself from the guilt of his sister. The nineteen-year-old fights in the First World War, where he is exposed to unimaginable violence, constant death and the insanity of trench warfare. Ross is himself victimized, and he sees many around him die or go mad. He loses many friends during the war, and he experiences many horrors. From the unforgettable Chlorine gas attacks to the confrontation and death of a commanding officer resulting in an accusation of betrayal of his country. An odd story, almost an illusion, circulates about Ross's attempt to save horses at the cost of men during the war. The unraveling of the events suggests that Ross saw that war turned humans into brutes.

A theme that plays a vital role and is found through out the book is Robert’s sensitivity towards the different animals he encounters. Timothy Findley, the author of “The Wars”, conveys emotions and clues through these animals. For example the bird represents the danger that Robert was going to experience in the novel. They are warnings, since each time Robert notices they have stopped singing, an attack soon follows. The rabbits that come up in the novel on several occasions’ bring old painful memories of Rowena (Robert’s sister). Putting this aside, the theme of fire in the novel is the most important one. The fire conveys a feeling of pain and emotional distress. An example to prove this is, on page 46, "and he stood and he stared as he passed the fires of his father's factories, every furnace blasting red in the night...What were all these fires - and where did his father and his mother sleep beneath the pall of smoke reflecting orange and yellow flames?" This reflects Robert's distress about the immense destruction that occurred during World War I. Also on page 66, "Shall I light us a lantern, sir? Said Regis. 'No,' said Robert. 'Not for a moment anyway.” This exchange over the lantern occurs just after Robert kills the horse, and he does not want to observe the deed that he has just committed.

This novel contains a lot of symbolism that is expressed through the animals. As I have mentioned above. The birds in the novel symbolize an occurrence of an event in the future, while the horses show the companionship between man and beast. Even the title “The Wars” illustrates Roberts challenges against him self and the on the battlefield.

Timothy Findley wrote “The Wars” like a puzzle. You have to start from the four corners of it and find out about the relationships that where present. Find out the pros and cons, and also piece together the diverse viewpoints and emotions on an event that took place. Also the time sequence in this novel varies, since it tends to jump from one person’s opinion of Robert’s situation to another. I find this very effective since otherwise the novel would be much to depressing to read and the switches from a war scene to a lighter subject in order to grasp the reader’s attention truly makes the novel more interesting.

This book gave me a new perspective on military life. In the past I would have fancied ideas of joining the military, but after reading this book and learning about the atrocities of war, I will not consider about following through with it. Many men died for stupid reasons. The most tragic fact about this is that for some it was just numbers of deaths, while for the veterans that live today were the faces of brothers, friends, and comrades.

In some ways “The Great Expectations” and “The Wars” had factors in the story that intervened with each other. In the novel “The Wars” the main character, Robert, learns how to become an adult and learn the different priorities that a man has. This is just like Pip in “The Great Expectations”, since he is also learning the different values and the impotents. During our history class we discuss many events that took place in “The Wars”, for example the battle of Ypres, and the chlorine gas attacks.

I find that the story was a little choppy at times. It did not have smooth transitions from scene to scene, and I wished the story did have more action between the two armies, but other than that Timothy Findley did an outstanding job writing this short yet powerful novel.

I recommend this classic Canadian novel to adults and teens that have a vague interest in WWII or like to read about the cruelty of war and learn about the trench life of a WWII Canadian soldier.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Can You Spell Revolution?

Chris Stren is not having a good time in Grade Eight. He hates his schoolwork and his teacher; his mother is always on his case about something; and his best friend won't talk to him anymore. Quiet and shy, he feels as though his life is floating away. Then one day out of the blue, Clouds McFadden, the new boy in his small-town school, rocks his dull world. The pushy and articulate Clouds formulates a plot to overthrow the leadership of the school in order to provide voice to the student body. By the students, and for the students! He gathers Chris and a few other Grade Eights to become a group called the Revolutionists. Each member is charged to perform an “Act of Dissent” based on historical precedents, such as Mahatma Gandhi's acts of non-resistance and Woodward and Berstein’s exposure of the Watergate scandal. However, the Revolutionist’s plan goes wrong when Clouds assumes the role of a dictator and threatens to use violence to achieve his goals. When Chris discovers that Clouds is attempting to imitate Vladimir Lenin, he must find the courage, and power to take control of the Revolutionist project and save his school.

In my opinion, the only, and most important theme in this novel is revolution. The student body, mainly the Revolutionist’s, try to change the hands of power and authority in their schools. Through out the novel the ideas, the personas, and mutual talk among the students are embedded around the idea of revolution and different revolutionists.

One aspect of the book that I loved was that it was told from the point of view of the main character, Chris. This was a great attribute to they way the story was told since it made it easier for me to relate to and when you can relate yourself to a book you will be more engage and eager to read it. Also the integration of historical events, and prominent figures gave a small yet enjoyable history class. The idea of the flaws that tyrants in a school have also added to the interests the book has because every adolescent can relate to an event that he or she has witnessed in her lifetime, about the unfair, or authoritarian treatment by a teacher or higher power.

The book was entertaining, and I really didn't know how it was going to play out. Matt Beam manages to set his plot up quickly and then to keep you in suspense for a good long while. One thing that I was disappointed with was that the transitions of character development through out the book was a little to fast, and clunky. The author, Matt Beam, could have expanded and added more meat to each scene as well, but the use of allusions (Woodward, Vladimir Lenin, etc.) and metaphors (“…lifted our heads, like cautious soldiers in a field.”) made the story more real, and made the reader get a sense of the picture being portrayed.

Overall this entire book was an A++ on my charts! I recommend this book to anyone 11 and up, who have a bit of interest in history and a dislike in authority, and those who prefer to preserve a sole leadership in their classrooms will want to avoid this story.