Sunday, November 17, 2013

Dodger, by Sir Terry Pratchett

“Dodger” is the story of a poor but street-smart orphan who lives in Victorian-era London.  Dodger makes his living as a “tosher”, which means that he wades through the city sewers in search of lost coins and jewelry.  It’s a rough life, and it’s made even more challenging when Dodger stops a kidnapping in progress.   From that point on, Dodger is drawn into a web of crime and espionage, relying on his wits to carry him through.

I’ve been lucky enough to visit London once, but I didn’t know a whole lot about the city’s history.  The author’s writing is very detailed, and after a few chapters you almost feel like you’ve gone back in time.  Horse-drawn carriages are everywhere, as is the dirt and filth of a huge city.  It’s an unlikely place to find a hero, but that makes Dodger’s brave acts seem even more impressive.

Through the course of the story, Dodger gets to meet notable people from that era, including Charles Dickens and Sweeney Todd.  Introducing them as characters seemed a little gimmicky at first, but I was grateful that I got the chance to learn more about them.  After I had finished the book, I had a whole separate list of people and places that I wanted to learn more about.  I also liked the way that the author left a little opening at the end of the book, in case he ever wanted to write a sequel.  Even if he doesn’t, it kind of makes the reader wonder about what will happen to Dodger next.

Reading books about the world out other places or other historical periods is a great way to experience another person’s life.  Is there another place that you’d like to visit?  What about a period of history that you’re particularly interested in?

Sunday, November 3, 2013

The Indian in the Cupboard, by Lynne Reid Banks

“The Indian in the Cupboard” was one of my favorite books when I was in school.  I think that it was on our fourth-grade reading list, and I remember that our teacher read it to us out loud, one chapter every day.  I was so impatient back then that I checked it out from the library and finished it myself at home, because I couldn’t wait to see how the story turned out!  Even reading it now, the book is just as good as I remember. 

This book is about Omri, who gets an empty cupboard for his birthday present.  Completely by accident, Omri places a plastic Indian inside the cupboard and locks it with a family heirloom key.  The Indian comes to life, and Omri quickly discovers that he can bring other plastic toys to life as well.  Working with his friend Patrick, Omri quickly turns his messy bedroom into the Wild West, complete with a cowboy and horses.

This sounds like an awesome way to play, but the situation quickly gets out of hand. Omri discovers that his toys are real people, with real problems.  The cowboy is an uncontrollable crybaby, and the Indian wants to build a home and take a wife.  Even worse, Omri and Patrick begin to fight over who owns which toys.  It’s a tense situation, and it’s especially difficult for them to keep this magic a secret between them.

I’d recommend this book to just about anyone, even if you don’t really like books about magic.  The magic in this story is just sort of there in the background, and the real plot is about what happens to the characters.  You can’t help being amazed as these tiny people learn to adapt to this huge new world around them, and how Omri learns to be responsible for the people he brought to life. 

After I read this book again, I spent some time looking at all of the bulldozers and excavators that my son keeps in his room.  If they somehow turned real, I bet that they’d turn our house into a construction site!  Do you have any favorite toys of your own?  Do you ever wonder what would happen if they somehow became real?