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!

What to Read With What You Eat: Holiday Cookie and Book Pairings

Books n Cookies

The holidays are a time for baking and eating, of course, but if you’re a bookworm the holidays are also a time for reading. (Let’s face it, if you’re a bookworm EVERY time is a time for reading!) And what could be better than putting great food together with great books! This Yuletide season my two daughters and I decided to pair cookies with some of our favorite books. (Although the kids made the cookies, the Stephen King and non-fiction pairings are mine. They haven’t had the disturbing pleasure of reading either of those books yet.)

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Let’s start with the classics. Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and Scottish shortbread. A book and cookie that are absolutely essential to the holiday season:

Dickens' A Christmas Carol with Scottish shortbread.

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with Scottish shortbread.

DividerMy youngest loves Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, and don’t these cookies make you think of falling down the rabbit hole?

Alice and Peppermint Swirls. Careful which side you bite from...

Alice and Peppermint Swirls. Careful which side you bite from…

DividerA Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (and when you have a creative 13 year old around, a tree grows in our kitchen as well).

Rice Krispies Trees are the perfect pairing with Betty Smith's classic coming-of-age novel.

Rice Krispies Trees are the perfect pairing with Betty Smith’s classic coming-of-age novel.

DividerChocolate peanut butter bars with Gregory Maguire’s Wicked—I think this pairing speaks for itself.

These homemade chocolate peanut butter cups really are Wicked!

These homemade chocolate peanut butter bars really are Wicked!

DividerSomething about these adorable melting snowmen made me think of Stephen King’s Different Seasons… horrifying, but irresistible!

Twisted melting snowmen paired with the master of twisted plotlines.

Twisted melting snowmen paired with the master of twisted plotlines.

DividerAnd for the adult readers… Peppermint bark brownies with Pamela Druckerman’s Lust In Translation.

Peppermint Bark

Sinfully delicious

To see where many of these (and more!) tantalizing holiday treats came from, visit my boards on Pinterest.

May your holidays be filled with sweet treats and tasty books!

Birthday Indulgences: Books and Cupcakes!

Today is my birthday, which means I get to spend the day doing the things I love most!

Tree Grows In BrooklynThe first, of course, is read, and I plan to treat myself with a nice two or three hours at the library with Betty Smith’s A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, one of the very best coming-of-age books ever. It’s no surprise that I love this story about a girl who falls hard for books, who uses her love of words to rise above her heartbreaking (although not altogether unloving) circumstances and make something of herself. It’s a beautiful story that is beautifully written… And it’s no coincidence that I assigned it to my Rediscovering the Classics book class during my birthday month!

The second thing I get to spend hours doing today is a newly discovered love of mine: Elaborate Food. My birthday choice this year was Teacup Cupcakes, made in the beautiful china teacups inherited from my grandmother. I know this is a bkwurm blog, and cupcakes have nothing to do with books except as a tasty treat to keep up your energy for reading, but scroll down for a feast for the eyes (and the all-too-easy directions for making it)!

Teacup Cupcakes

Start by using your favorite cake recipe (mine is pound cake) and follow instructions for cupcakes.

Start by using your favorite cake recipe (mine is pound cake) and follow instructions for cupcakes.

 

I researched the china maker & pattern online to make sure it was oven-safe before putting them in.

I researched the china maker & pattern online to make sure it was oven-safe before putting them in.

 

Baked according to the cake recipe, but I checked after 15 minutes, and every 5 after that to make sure they didn't burn.

Baked according to the cake recipe, but I checked after 15 minutes, and every 5 after that to make sure they didn’t burn.

 

The glaze is SUPER easy and SUPER delicious--fresh-squeezed lemon juice and powdered sugar. Yum!

The glaze is SUPER easy and SUPER delicious–fresh-squeezed lemon juice and powdered sugar. Yum!

 

Covered with dishes while the glaze hardens and I move on to...

Covered with dishes while the glaze hardens and I move on to…

 

...Preparing the cherries for the topping. I used regular old maraschino cherries, dried well.

…Preparing the cherries for the topping. I used regular old maraschino cherries, dried well.

 

Dip into chocolate chips melted in the microwave, then set on greased foil or wax paper in the fridge for an hour or so to harden.

Dip into chocolate chips melted in the microwave, then set on greased foil or wax paper in the fridge for an hour or so to harden.

 

Place the cherries on top of your Teacup Cupcakes and viola! A dessert fit for a Queen!

Place the cherries on top of your Teacup Cupcakes and viola! A dessert fit for a Queen!

 

These were beautiful, delicious, and so much fun to make! Plus, something about being made IN the teacup makes it seem like a very literary dessert.

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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!

The Little Acorn Girl

Once upon a time there was a girl who collected acorns and left them in a basket on the porch. 
The birds came to eat the acorns while the girl sat and watched. Soon she found she could understand the birds’ whistles and songs; and so she watched and listened until the birds came to love her and visited for herself, and not just the acorns. Eventually the birds loved her so much that they each gave her a feather from their own wings until she had enough for wings of her own. 
Then, the little acorn girl put on the wings, spread her arms, and flew.

Book Review: "The Age of Miracles" by Karen Thompson Walker

 

In A Nutshell
Adolescence or the Apocalypse, it’s hard to say which experience is more traumatic; but The Age of Miracles handles them both with a deft—if somewhat emotionally distant—talent.
The Whole Enchilada
Something about adolescence begs to be compared to the end of the world as we know it. In fact, when it comes to coming-of-age novels they seem to fall into one of two categories: disturbing dystopian post-apocalyptic, or sentimentally earnest and understanding true-to-life renditions. It’s easy to understand why this is; after all, it’s hard to look back on adolescence with any kind of objectivity. What with the raging hormones, the parade of first discoveries, the fear of/struggle for independence, and the cutthroat social wrangling, comparing adolescence to an apocalypse actually seems generous. 
In The Age of Miracles Karen Thompson Walker manages to make both adolescence and the apocalypse seem equally heartbreaking and mundane—quite a feat, if you think about it, considering that neither adolescence nor an apocalypse are at all mundane. The book begins with the announcement that the rotation of the earth is slowing, causing increasingly longer days and nights. Julia (our protagonist) is just entering adolescence, with all the usual firsts ahead of her: first bra, first period, first kiss, first heartbreak, first betrayal, and first love. As she takes her first steps into adolescence Julia has to say goodbye to more than just the comforts of childhood; she also says goodbye to 24 hour days, to the sight of birds flying, to grass and trees, to friends and family members, to walking in the sunlight, and eventually to living above-ground altogether. When Julia is through with adolescence there is literally nothing recognizable about her life.
While I enjoyed reading this interesting commentary on the world-altering changes that come with growing up, I was never able to fully lose myself in the book the way I like to. This was partially because our protagonist is unusually emotionally distant for someone going through the most extreme highs and lows we experience during the course of a lifetime; and partially because the narrator is an older Julia who often mysteriously alludes to future events without necessarily clearing up her references later. I wonder if this was a narrative device designed to lend certain events or plotlines more weight than they might otherwise have, but if so it came across to this reader as a breach of the “show don’t tell” rule of storytelling. Aside from this small nitpick, however, the book was a charming read, and when I finally read the last page I walked out into the moonless night of my backyard it was with a small twinge of anxiety about the next morning’s sunrise. It will be a while before I take the even flow of days and nights for granted again.
The premise of The Age of Miracles might make many readers think it’s a Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel, but I think it would be misleading to label the book as such. The book is really about a young girl’s coming-of-age, and the narrative fits more closely into the “sentimentally earnest and understanding true-to-life” category than the “disturbing dystopian post-apocalyptic” one. When it comes down to it, Julia is just a girl trying to figure out how to move from childhood to adulthood with grace and honesty. Karen Thompson Walker gives her heroine a sincere and recognizable voice, one to which any young girl will be able to relate, and with which any adult will be able to sympathize.

The Busy Parent’s Guide to Finding More Time to Read

The end of the year is very hard for me as a reader: My calendar suddenly gets full, I’m trying to finish up projects I’ve had going for too many months, there’s shopping to do, etc. As if all this wasn’t bad enough, this is the time of year when everyone publishes their “Best Books of the Year” lists. The Millions’ Year in Reading 2011 has been particularly devastating to my TBR list this year, not to mention to my self-confidence as a reader. How did I miss all these great books? What have I been doing with all that time I could have spent reading?
I know I’m not the only one feeling this way, and it’s time to take some action. Let’s take back the book! Who’s with me?! 
I have to warn you that it won’t be easy. I know this sounds antithetical, but making time to read requires some sacrifice. You’re going to have to be disciplined. You’re going to have to enlist the help of your family. But most of all, you’re going to have to give yourself permission.  Here we go…

1. Read more than one book at a time. I generally have four to six books going at once, but not everyone needs that many; you really only need two: one for your purse/briefcase and one for by the bed. The one by the bed should be something light and easy so that you can let your mind relax after a long and tiring day of being a parent. This could be a collection of short stories, or a non-taxing novel. I find Christopher Moore and Alexander McCall Smith to be great bedside authors. Your purse/briefcase book (or books) is whatever you’re focusing on at the moment. This is the book you’ll pull out during lunch, while you’re waiting in line, sitting at the doctor’s office or in the after-school pickup line, etc.
2. Find one chore you can let slide. Certain chores have to get done, I accept this; grocery shopping and meal preparation are not chores I can let slide. But there must be something in there that you can let slide. Not get rid of, just let it slide a bit. I’ve decided to do this with laundry this month and see how it goes. Is anyone really going to die if I do the laundry tomorrow instead of today?
3. Forget about the news. The 24-hour news cycle has been terrible for readers! There’s always something being tweeted, or shared on Facebook, or one internet article leading to another through a series of links. Not only do I have less time to read, but I’m far more discouraged and depressed! My advice is to give yourself one hour of the day when you check in on what’s going on in the world. If anything really important rocks the news world after that, you’re going to hear about it one way or another anyway, so relax and pick up a book.
4. Put books on your coffee table (or any empty surface.) This has multiple benefits: It keeps you motivated, it keeps your books accessible, it makes your kids far more likely to pick up a book and start reading, and it makes your whole family look smart, really. This particular strategy is win-win. Quick, go put some books out right now!
5. Delegate one chore to each of your kids. This one will obviously depend on the ages of your children, but trust me; your kids can do far more than you think they can. I promise I’m not trying to tell you how to raise your kids, but anything you can delegate to someone else is more time you have for reading. (Hey, don’t start to feel guilty on me now! I warned you that this wouldn’t be easy.) Here are some of the chores even a young child can do: empty the dishwasher (or at least the silverware); put away folded clothes and linens; dust bookshelves (of which you probably have many, if you’re anything like me); set the table; clear the table; sort the laundry; pack all or part of their school lunch. The list doesn’t end there, but I’m sure you can come up with the rest on your own.
My 10 year old’s “orange dinner”
6. Pick one day a week when your kids make dinner. Again, this will depend on the ages of your children, but my youngest is seven and has been making dinner two or three times a month for the past year. I’m not recommending you leave them alone to fire up the BBQ and grill burgers or anything, but there are plenty of safe things kids can make while you sit on the couch with your book and supervise. Sure you may end up having macaroni & cheese, sandwiches or cereal on those nights, but it won’t hurt anyone to have sandwiches for dinner once a week, and it WILL do your kids good to see you reading.
7. Liberate yourself from your T.V. This is often the hardest one, but it’s always the most important. Cancel your cable subscription, say goodbye to your satellite, take a break from the TiVo, or best of all just throw your T.V. out the window! Our culture spends so much time watching T.V. when we really could be doing other things. If you don’t want to get rid of your T.V. altogether, I challenge you to at least cut your viewing time by 1/3 for three months. If you’re still going through withdrawals after that then maybe you should resolve to cut your reading time and watch more T.V. instead.
8. Read to your kids at bedtime, regardless of their age. This is another win-win strategy. Your kids will love it, you will get more books read, and you’ll be one of the only parents with a finger on the pulse of youth reading culture. You might be surprised at some of the great Y.A. books on the shelves right now. Many of them are definitely worth reading, even as an adult. (I won’t make a list of Y.A. books here, that’s a topic for another post, but if you’d like some suggestions please leave me a comment.)
9. Set your alarm on weekend mornings. Wait, don’t stop reading yet! I am a BIG supporter of sleeping in on weekends, so I’m not going to urge you to get up at 5am or 6am; I’m merely suggesting that you set your alarm for just a tiny bit earlier than you normally wake on weekends—maybe 30 minutes or so. Then spend that time snuggled in bed enjoying the unhurried morning with your book.
10. One word: Audiobooks. (I have to admit that I am not personally a huge fan of this option; but that’s just my particular reading style. I’m a visual learner rather than an auditory one, so when I listen to books they tend to go in one ear and out the other.)  Many of the members of my Rediscovering the Classics group listen to their books and I’m always amazed not only by their insights and attention to detail during discussions, but also by the sheer volume of books they are able to “read.” Audiobooks can set you free. Now you can read on your commute, while doing data entry, while washing dishes or folding laundry, while gardening, while teaching yoga (okay, maybe not that that last one… Actually, who am I to hold back yoga instructors? Listen away!) 
If you feel I have forgotten anything, or have a strategy you employ and would like to share please comment and let me know! I’m assuming that readers of this article are parents (obviously) and either work full time, run a household, or both; but that is not to say that some of these strategies won’t work for readers in different walks of life. 
Good luck and Happy Reading!