The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
September 12, 2020
In spite of dilemmas, conundrums, inquisitions and counteractions, school has been initiated. Did I manage a good use of my words? A nice variety, slightly challenging, apart from the usual? Put in plain words, school has started. A different kind of school for most, in front of a screen instead of the usual room of 30 or so desks, a screen with many bobbing heads in Zoom squares, double sets of eyes and ears, and voices that must listen and speak only in turn to escape chaos. Virtual school in front of a computer is the experience for numerous students this year. Many things have changed. But some things remain the same. Like the annual book lists of required reading.
For years, too many to count and as many books to choose from, students have been handed or sent a list of books at the beginning of the school term. If you go online, you can find lists of recommended books written in groups according to age, from elementary school through college. Many are chosen for enjoyment, enlightenment and growth. Some are beloved, others controversial. As a coming of age reward, a student finally gets to read about Juliette (and Romeo) or Jason (and the Argonauts), Jay (of "The Great Gatsby") or Jo (in "Little Women"). In this review I will introduce Milo, Meg, Jonas and Michael. They are each found within the lists...
Morality. In "The Giver" by Lois Lowry, Jonas lives in a community controlled by many rules that cannot be questioned, all set up by the Elders. If he hadn't been chosen to be the next Receiver of Memory, he would have remained unaware. But in grooming for the position of future authority came knowledge. Given the hidden facts of their existence came the responsibility of truth along with the price of eliminating choices. There is a baby born. But that baby has not lived up to the standards required. Jonas finds that the absence of choice has led his family and his community blindly into heartbreaking immorality. And he must act.
Faith and Hope. Michael is 10. His family has come into hard times and must move into a dilapidated home, away from where he had grown up, away from his friends. His baby sister is born, too early and with a heart defect. From the faces of his parents he can tell she might not survive. In his search for direction and answers, Michael makes a new friend (Mina) whom he introduces to an old, dirty and crabby man who lives secretly in his garage. Are those wings folded up between the old man's shoulder blades? David Almond weaves his novel "Skellig" around the tension between despair and joy, joy which can only be obtained if one is willing to hope with a good amount of faith.
Imagination. Being willing to imagine something not held within your own basis of thinking is a big leap. Madeleine l'Engle offers a door into the unknown in her novel "A Wrinkle in Time." She uses her characters Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who and Mrs. Which, to help Meg and her brother Charles find their missing father on a faraway planet. It can only be reached through a tesseract (a four dimensional cube) which forms a bridge between time and space. They have to be willing to imagine what is told to them to be true in order to be the rescuers. And they don't know that they hold within themselves the perfect power to conquer all until the end.
The Map. Whenever going on an adventure, a map helps. But what if one doesn't recognize the map? Norton Juster wrote "The Phantom Tollbooth" for readers wanting to find the map of going anywhere and everywhere. In a fun journey of words pitted against words, and both regular and odd sayings and some numbers thrown in for good measure, Milo takes a ride through the tollbooth into the Kingdom of Wisdom. Haven't most of us wondered why we had to learn fractions or prevail over complicated word problems in math, put into our long term memories names and dates in history, or memorize long lists of spelling words and their definitions? Who has not been bored at school or home, even work? And who hasn't had time on their hands without knowing what to do with it? Juster brings Milo, Tock and Humbug through a series of adventures. In those adventures a subliminal map is created through one experience after another, and one delicious word on top of another delicious word, until we find that we have built the map within our own minds to experience wondrous things, real and imaginary.
I purposefully did not give age groups on these books because it isn't the actual age of the reader, but their desire that makes them a candidate to embrace these stories. Perhaps your child has one or more of these books on their book list. Or maybe you remember reading them when you were younger. Or maybe you missed these. It's never too late to read them for the first time or read them again. Read them with your kids, or just for you. My favorite is the Tollbooth because I adore words. "Words words words" is my mantra. Have a few or a few thousand with me. Please. Grow your horizons and enjoy.
*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.