Book Review: The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency

Wollstonecraft-cover1

The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy

In a Nutshell

A deductive genius lacking empathy or social skills and a loyal, intuitive confidant team up to solve crimes in early 19th century London. Sound familiar? It’s a Sherlock/Watson style adventure with a historical, girl-power twist!

The Whole Enchilada

When 11 year old Ada and 14 year old Mary (historical figures Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley) are thrown together to share a tutor (Percy Bysshe Shelley) they could hardly be more different, but they soon learn that they share a curiosity about the world and a love of knowledge that binds them together as fast friends… and eventually as co-conspirators! Bored with the constraints of being female in the early 1800s, they decide to open a secret detective agency, where their curiosity and bravery get them into more than a few scrapes–which their intelligence and complimentary differences may or may not be enough to get them out of!

As a lover of history, literature, and strong female characters I was immediately drawn to the premise of The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency, but once I started reading it was Jordan Stratford’s writing and characters that made me love this book. Stratford doesn’t pander to his young audience, instead he challenges them with historically relevant ideas and language–not so much that a young reader would be frustrated, but enough to make a reader stretch her mind and stray a little bit out of her comfort zone. After finishing this book I couldn’t wait to give it to my own 10 year old daughter to read.

Since she started reading it, my daughter hasn’t been able to put it down. She loves Ada and Mary because they’re adventurous and smart. She says, “Ada is my favorite because she’s not totally likable, she’s kind of rude, but she doesn’t mean to be. I like that I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that Ada and Mary talk about things I’ve never heard of and do things I don’t expect.”

There has been a lot of talk recently about the dearth of strong female characters in literature and the media, and what that may have to do with the lack of women in STEM careers. No single book is going to fix this; but young Ada and Mary, along with their friends and cohorts, are an excellent beginning. Furthermore, there are a number of excellent “extras” available on the website, http://www.wollstonecraftagency.com, including games, educational materials, and an upcoming short story about Mary and Ada. I highly recommend this book not just for young girls, but for young readers of any gender who are adventurous and curious about the world around them.

I was lucky enough to interview the author of this fantastic series, Jordan Stratford, in my capacity as the Reading Rainbow Mom. We talked about his inspiration for the series, getting feedback from his own 9 year old daughter, and his feelings about the amazing Kickstarter campaign that made the series possible. Click here to read the interview on the Reading Rainbow Blog.

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From Page to Screen: A Review of The Giver Movie

The Giver Book and Movie

I’ve found that there’s a trick to seeing film adaptations of favorite books: 1 part nostalgic love, 3 parts willful ignorance. That’s how I went into the new movie adaptation of The Giver, one of my favorite books from childhood.

Anyone who chose to take on adapting The Giver for the big screen was going to have a tough road ahead of them. First of all, this book is beloved. Second, the reason it is beloved is because it is a nearly perfect gem of a book. The language is plain but beautiful, and utterly appropriate. The story is concise, but lovingly told. There are no slow parts, no boring parts, no extraneous parts. Every detail included is necessary, and every necessary detail is included.

That being said, let me get something out there right now–the movie is not the book. In fact, it departs significantly from the book. In the movie Jonas is far more angsty than he is in the book. Romance plays a more significant role. The secondary characters in the movie do things they never would have even considered in the book. Asher has a completely different assignment. The Chief Elder (Meryl Streep) is a more overtly menacing character, very “big brother”, which I never found to be the case when I read the book. And the biggest hurdle of all; let’s face it, these actors are nowhere near age 12.

The Giver Characters

If you go into the movie hoping for a direct page-to-screen translation of the book you will be disappointed. There’s no getting around it. If you’re a purist, avoid the movie altogether.

However, if you go in as I mentioned above, with 1 part nostalgic love for the story, and 3 parts willful ignorance, you will find this movie very enjoyable. By “willful ignorance” I mean let go of your attachment to the details. When you first read the book you had no expectations. You were probably somewhere between the ages of 9-15. Try to experience this movie as you first experienced the book–as a child on the cusp of abstract and moral philosophical thinking.

Do I think the movie is brilliant? No. But the story is solid, the themes are thought-provoking, the art direction and cinematography are stunning, and the acting is (with one or two exceptions, admittedly) well-done. Most importantly, the “translation” from book to screen is loving and reverent. It’s clear that (director) Phillip Noyce, and (writers) Michael Mitnick & Robert B. Weide wanted to do justice to the original story. A boring movie would not have done justice to the book that has served as a quickening of the super-ego for so many of us; but a boring movie is, I fear, exactly what we may have gotten out of a direct page-to-screen translation.

You may not agree with me. I believe a movie based on a book should be a translation, not a direct transfer. I like to see the producer or director’s fingerprints in the end result. I am, after all, the person whose least favorite of all the Harry Potter movies is the first, because it’s too much like the book, as if the story went straight from J.K. Rowling’s head onto the celluloid. If I wanted the book in its pure form I would read the book. The Giver movie gives me the translation–the fingerprints–I like so much.

If you don’t take my word for the quality of The Giver movie, maybe you’ll take the word of my 9 year old daughter, who saw the movie with me and who is a passionate fan of the book. She said, “I actually liked it! I didn’t think I would, I was afraid it would be bad. But I really liked it! I liked the story, and when Jonas started seeing color I felt like I was seeing color for the first time too. I think we should own this one.”

From the mouths of babes.

Hannah the Homeschooling Horse (and Her Human Friend) Learn About Pi

December brought a LOT of changes for the Bkwurm family, one of the biggest of which is that our youngest daughter (9) is now going to be homeschooling! Or perhaps I should say that Hannah the horse will be homeschooling, and Hannah’s human friend will be homeschooling with her. As the first “official” week of homeschooling, we took things a bit slow, doing research and review, getting the advice of teacher friends and fellow homeschoolers, and laying our plans for a fun and fruitful rest of the year.

Hannah did dive into math this week, however, and learned about circles, circumference, diameter, and Pi. (Hannah was a bit disappointed when she learned this was not the pie she thought it was, until I relented and agreed that we could learn about Pi, and then make pie.)

Apple Pie

Hannah and her human friend.

We started with Cindy Neuschwander’s fantastic series of math adventure storybooks about Sir Cumference. The first seven of these great books can be found in the Reading Rainbow App, so our first step was to grab the iPad and read the first two books: Sir Cumference and the First Round Table, and Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi. The first of these books introduces students to a number of different shapes as King Arthur, his faithful knight Sir Cumference, and the carpenter Geo of Metry search for the perfect shape for a table for the King and his knights.

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander in the Reading Rainbow App.

Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi by Cindy Neuschwander in the Reading Rainbow App.

In the second book, Sir Cumference and the Dragon of Pi, Sir Cumference swallows a mysterious potion which turns him into a dragon. His son Radius and wife Lady Di of Ameter must find the correct dose for Sir Cumference’s cure: a magic number that is the same for all circles, regardless of their size.

Pie Diameter

Measuring diameter

Measuring circumference

Measuring circumference

After reading this book Hannah and her human friend had to go around the house and yard measuring the circumference and diameter of all the circles they could find (including a pie crust) then dividing the first number by the second to find if that magic number (3.14) was really the same for ALL circles. Guess what? It was!

Working the sums

Working the sums

So now Hannah knows the formula: Circumference ÷ Diameter = 3.14 = π (Pi)

Hannah also learned that if you can find either the circumference or the diameter, then you can use Pi to find the missing measurement.

Now if you’ll excuse us, it’s time for some pie.

Time for Pie!

Time for Pie!

Best Books of 2013 for Parents AND Kids

Vintage old books on wooden table over grunge background

Reblogged from Reading Rainbow

If you don’t already follow me as the Reading Rainbow Mom on the Reading Rainbow Blog then you won’t have seen today’s post about my choices for the Best Books of 2013, including my 5 favorite Children’s Books of the year. I’m partial to it, so I thought I’d share. Enjoy!

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There were so many great books that came out this year, especially in the children’s/picture book genre, it’s been very difficult to choose just five. But after much agonizing and reflecting, here are my choices for the five best children’s books of 2013. You may disagree with me—and all the better if you do! Please let me know in the comments below which books YOU liked best! I’m always looking for the next book to read, and I’d love to have as many recommendations from fellow book lovers as possible!

The Reading Rainbow Mom’s Top Five Children’s Books of 2013

Let’s Go for a Drive! by Mo Willems – Gerald and Piggie are back! And this time they have a new scheme— to go for a drive. But wait! First they need… I love just about anything by Mo Willems, and this is the next in a  long line of satisfying books that are a joy to read and look at.

The Dark by Lemony Snicket – My first exposure to this book was hearing Mr. Snicket himself read it aloud at the LA Times Festival of books, and it was instant love. Parents sometimes think that kids need cheerful, happy books all the time; but there is darkness in the world and even the youngest, most sheltered kids know this on some level. In this book the master of dark tales takes young readers right to where darkness lives, and shows them that it can be overcome. Every time I read it I hear his voice taking me closer and closer to the dark.

This is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen – Another somewhat dark tale, this book is a follow-up to the wonderful I Want My Hat Back, and Klassen once again hits the bulls-eye with this story narrated by a thieving fish, set in the murky blackness of the ocean, and filled with lots of wonderful characters, laughs, and lessons along the way.

The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate – Ivan is an easygoing gorilla who rarely misses his life in the jungle. In fact, he hardly ever thinks about it at all. Instead he thinks about art, and how to capture the taste of a mango or the sound of leaves with color. Then he meets Ruby, a baby elephant taken from her family, and she makes Ivan see their home—and his own art—through new eyes. When Ruby arrives, change comes with her, and it’s up to Ivan to make it a change for the better.

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures by Kate DiCamillo – Another beautiful book by Kate DiCamillo, where magic is the norm and anything can happen. DiCamillo’s always finds new and touching ways to show readers the importance of friendship and being true to yourself, this story is no exception. Plus, who can resist a flying, poetry-writing squirrel?

To read the rest of the post, including my 5 best book picks for parents, click here.

Happy Reading!

Summer Reading Suggestions From My 8 & 13 Year Old Kids

My girls as… Masterpiece Theater hosts? Not sure, but they’re obviously ready to do some reading!

This summer we’ve been making weekly trips to the library, and my darling daughters have really racked up the frequent reader pages (so to speak). This is par for the course for my 13 year old, who has always been an avid reader, but it’s the first time that my 8 year old seems to be getting as excited about reading!

I always let them roam the library and choose books on their own. (Although I’m not totally hands-off, I will make suggestions from time to time.) I’ve been pleased with what my 13 year old has been reading (which includes some old favorites she’s re-reading as well as some new discoveries and challenges) and completely thrilled with what my 8 year old is reading–especially since her choices this summer have inspired her to stay up late reading in bed, and to check out more and more books by the same author or in the same series.

Here’s what my girls have been enjoying this summer:

The 13 Year Old

A Single Shard by Linda Sue Park
Stargirl by Jerry Spinelli
The Warriors series by Erin Hunter (one of her re-reads)
The Guardians of Ga’Hoole series by Kathryn Lasky
Hatching Magic by Ann Downer
From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Marley & Me by John Grogan
Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
The Dragon Slippers series by Jessica Day George
The Call of the Wild and White Fang by Jack London

The 8 Year Old

The Ivy & Bean series by
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume
The Bunnicula series by James Howe
The Ranma 1/2 series by Rumiko Takahashi (Anime)
The Waggit series by Peter Howe

The 13 year old obviously reads more voraciously than the 8 year old at this point, but that’s fine with me. As long as I see both my girls enjoying their books, reading because they WANT to, and eager to talk about them with me, then I’m happy! Although the 8 year old’s list is shorter, lately her face lights up around books in a way that it hasn’t done before. It’s an exciting thing for this book-loving mom to see!

If you (or your children) have any favorites to share with my girls, or if you’re looking for more 8-13 year old suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment. I’ll be happy to pass questions on to my little readers. As for us, we’re always looking for more books to try!

Happy Reading!