Saturday, 9 March 2013

Animals at Large

In high school, my friend Nancy raised livestock to sell at the local fair to earn money for her college fund. Among other animals, Nance had a series of pigs she became very fond of for their intelligence and character. The memory of one particular black pig has stayed with me for his improbable and amusing name, 'Chicken George'.

In Nancy's household, the college-fund animals were the only ones that earned their keep financially; still, others exhibited entertaining quirks and personalities for which they're remembered fondly decades later, such as the unlikely and endearing friendship that arose between a gangly Irish setter called Shaun, and a mallard duck named Lashes.

Each evening, when it was time to put Lashes in for the night, Nancy had only to tell Shaun, "Go get Lashes!" and he would locate the duck, place a gentle paw on her back, and keep her in place for Nancy to collect. Lashes never appeared frightened of the large and lanky dog; in fact, the two would curl up together to sleep, and Lashes regularly spent time grooming and removing fleas from Shaun's coat.

Such are the personalities and quirks we observe in animals - qualities that make them ideal characters for books!

Series featuring animals as main characters

The realm of fantasy offers stories that completely blur the line between humans and animals; animals become the main protagonists: heroes, villains, and everything in between. The varied qualities of different species, such as intelligence, cunning, loyalty, fierceness, gentleness and compassion, make them engaging choices for writers and readers. We become so absorbed in their characters and adventures, that the line between human and animal disappears completely. Here are some links to series in which animals are the main characters:

Children's Series Books Featuring Animals Porcupine Image




Series featuring animals as companions

The wordless companionship of animals makes them prime friends to take on adventures. Their protection, friendship, and comfort often make all the difference during a lonely and possibly dangerous adventure. A challenging journey or a mission of mystery seems so much more possible with a faithful pet, and they're often able to provide humour when it's needed most. Here are some links to series in which animals make loyal companions:

Series featuring animals that can communicate

Animals can be so expressive sometimes their communication doesn't feel wordless. But what if they could talk? What if they could tell you what they're thinking? Warn you of danger? Stories in which an animal is able to communicate in some way, allow us to experience the world from a different perspective. Here are some links to series in which animals can communicate:

Monkey Photo for Great Animal Series Books Recommendations





Series featuring animal stories that make the heart race

Animals are not always friendly companions. Sometimes they frighten and threaten; sometimes they must battle fiercely to protect themselves and those they care about; sometimes they simply battle their own fears in the face of grave challenges. Here are some links to animal series that cause the heart to race:

Author Erin Hunter has also captured this excitement in two series (which are further divided into sub-series), called Seekers and Warriors.

Series featuring animals that need care or rescue

Series Books for Children Animal Rescue and Horses Stallion Image
In other stories, roles are reversed and it is humans who are the loyal companions and fierce protectors. After seeing the vulnerability and helplessness of animals that have been hurt or mistreated, compassionate and heroic children are propelled on missions to rescue and care for animals in need. Here are some links to series in which animals need care or rescue:

Make no mistake: the range of animal series books is as varied as the animal kingdom itself, and, while pigs are by no means the only species singled out as worthy protagonists, it's interesting to note that they do feature prominently. But then that's hardly a surprise, is it Nancy?

Marielle [January 24, 2013]

Why the Option to Buy?

This month we're introducing the option to purchase books online at Book Depository UK, and Amazon, based in the US. Every website costs money to operate and develop. It's often the visitor's preference that this fact is masked from them, but the fact remains, and its transparency helps to protect the character of Cereal Readers.

There may be a handful of people dismayed at this new feature; however, many more will welcome the news. We have endeavoured to make this feature both subtle and convenient: convenient for those who wish to use it; convenient to ignore for those who do not! Please note that purchases through either store support Cereal Readers without any additional cost to you.

Books are the perfect product to buy online. The Internet allows you to browse books when it best suits you, with the added insight of reviews and ratings to help in your selections. Often there are cost advantages, as the books - so physically heavy - can be stored and shipped from more central locations. Book Depository ships free of charge to a range of countries in the world (often with mystifying speed!), while Amazon provides free shipping to many North American customers. Of course, there is now a growing number of people who prefer e-readers, for which buying online is essential.

I am hopeful that this 'option to buy' will enable us to build the content and features of Cereal Readers more quickly, and therefore make the site a more useful resource for everyone referencing it. As always, we appreciate your support and value your comments.

Marielle [December 1, 2012]

The 11+ Reading Level - a Bermuda Triangle?

It's November - already! To coincide with the eleventh month, we're undertaking a mini-blitz on books for the 11+ age group. You may have noticed that this age group has been mysteriously missing from our Reading Level browse feature since our launch - and not because we have any bias against 11-plusers! No, somehow it's just that this age group is somewhat overlooked, or perhaps more accurately, one that slips through the cracks. Series descriptions from publishers often specify 10+ or 12+...but almost never, 11+. Of course, there is the ubiquitous '9-12 years', but the poor old 11-pluser is really wedged in there without fanfare.

if you're 11 years of age, you could be forgiven for feeling you've disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle of the reading public...

For librarians, parents and, of course, the readers themselves, eleven is a pretty key age. Readers are inching beyond the stable realm of the primary school books and looking ahead to all those enticing and well-promoted series firmly on the YA shelf. They want more action; more excitement; more intrigue; more complexity...perhaps even a tiny bit of romance; still, they're not really ready for the often dark and issue-ladden stories firmly in the 'young-adult' or 12+ age group. So, what's available for them then?

Well, we've done our best to start the ball rolling and hope you'll find some good choices as we unveil our 11+ age category. If you have any series you think work well for this important age group, please email them to us. We'll be continuing our search on behalf of the 11-plusers throughout the month of November. 11-Plusers - unite!

Marielle [November 2, 2012]

Dystopian Fiction - A Perfect Fit for Young Adults

Dystopian fiction is a compelling genre which has grown considerably in popularity with young adult series writers and readers. Prime examples include The Hunger Games, Chaos Walking, Divergent and Delirium. The strong and imaginative writing in this genre is not the only reason for the success of these novels: the themes of the dystopian world and the challenges faced by the central characters make it a genre brilliantly suited for young adults.

The dystopian genre dovetails perfectly with the interests and issues young adults face in real life, as they - on the brink of inheriting a world they may be critical of - must determine their own path. How much is true in what they've been told to believe? What will they accept or reject? What values are they willing to fight for? With whom does their love and allegiance lie? There is also history and mystery in each skewed dystopian world: Why did this society develop as it did? Why are resources scarce? Who holds the power? And, most importantly, what can be done about the society's flaws?

In dystopian fiction, the society or some particular element of life has become exaggerated to an extreme, often because those in power have decided that life will be "better" without particular freedoms, and control is usually the central backbone of the society. The drastic change to the world order has sometimes been facilitated by an event such as disease, war, or an environmental factor.

Such is the case with the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness. The defining element of the society is a disease which results in everyone being able to hear each other's thoughts. The ensuring "noise" conveyed in the novels creates a palpable tension, and provides a backdrop for exploring truth and lies, manipulation and control. How can there possibly be secrets when everyone can hear your thoughts? How many ways are there for people to hide their thoughts? The first novel in the series also explores what it means to come of age as a man in this society; whether to accept violence as a rite of passage - and hence become part of the oppression - or to paradoxically choose independence by relinquishing control. Ness beautifully centres this dilemma in his depiction of the knife in the first novel The Knife of Never Letting Go - a knife that represents both a physical and metaphorical knife - as the main character, Todd, wrestles with what it will mean if he is ultimately to use his knife.

The disease in Delirium by Lauren Oliver is of a far different nature; rather than overriding noise, there is an overriding of love. Love is ascribed all the ills of the world: pain, anger, jealousy, and hatred. A "cure" has been perfected and all eighteen year olds must undergo this procedure which nullifies their emotions. Poignantly, the effect relates not only to romantic love, but to love shown to children, relatives and friends. Life continues in a fog that emotions are unable penetrate. Oliver cleverly frames each chapter with snippets of literature, science, and biblical references, recast as extracts from the governmental literature of indoctrination; in doing so, she demonstrates the sinister power of manipulation when history is rewritten in the hands of the victors. The main character, Lena, finds that although she has yearned for relief from the heartache of losing her mother, the value of her life can't be measured by the absence of pain. Love - with all its gamut of emotions - is worth fighting for.

Mortal combat is the central story-line in Suzanne Collin's The Hunger Games, yet the real fight is internal for Katniss, Peeta and Gale; they fight to stay true to their own values and beliefs, while immersed in an impossibly hostile and all-pervasively controlled environment. Despite being forced to make undeniably difficult decisions, they use intelligence and courage to outwit external forces and maintain an honesty and strength of character.

The heroes and heroines of these dystopian novels are written with considerable sensitivity and appealing narrative voice, their characters developing over the course of the series. They are not without flaws; they are not super-heroes; and they are not without conflicting loyalties. In Veronica Roth's Divergent, Tris is confused about her choices and allegiances. She faces the classic dilemma of youth when forced to choose between staying with who and what she knows, or following her yearning to try another path; forge new bonds. Gradually, she recognises that she, and others, are more complicated than initial traits might indicate. No one can really be 'classified by type', in reality being a complex mix of qualities.

The characters in these dystopian novels are real, likeable, and courageous as they face challenges and their own fears. They live in interesting, thought-provoking and brutal worlds, where choices are not clear-cut and they must grow up quickly and choose a path. The journey with them is thoroughly enjoyable.

Marielle [September 14, 2012]

Larger Than Imagination - Film Versions of Children's Books

"My son's read the book, so he's fine to see the movie...."

This is a surprisingly common belief, and children often diligently finish a book or series as "proof" that they're ready to see the movie, regardless of its rating. Don't be misguided by this line of thinking; the experience of watching a film can be - and often is - a far cry from reading the book!

some aspects of film presentation you may not have considered...

The beautiful paradox of books is this: in utilizing children's imaginations - both the boundlessness of their creativity and the limitations of their knowledge and experience - there is, within appropriate reading material, a general safety net. Despite the potency of an author's story-telling abilities, children can typically only "picture" the worst thing they can imagine. Their image of a hideous troll, for example, will generally only be as hideous as their minds can create. The story might be gripping with an exciting tingle of fear, but their image of the creature in actuality, might be quite vague and blurry around the edges...and if it's all too much, they can always put the book down.

Now, cut to the film version of that book your child enjoyed so much. The images are no longer the product of one child's imagination, but rather the combined product of dozens of adult imaginations. The hideous troll is suddenly on screen, gruesome and overwhelming; the combined efforts of the writer, the director, the special effects crew, the make-up artist, the light guy, the sound guy...did I mention all these people were adults? And this alarming visual is all accompanied by dramatically loud and overwhelming music! When they need respite from the continuing action, confronted children can't put the film down and progress through the story at their own pace. Even leaving the cinema or stopping the DVD at that point, doesn't erase the image imprinted on the memory, larger than life; larger than a child's imagination.

Film versions of books are typically packaged into two-hour films, regardless of the length of the book; regardless of how many days or weeks your child took to read the book itself (at a pace befitting a child's imagination and reading ability); and, regardless of the label of "children's film", producers almost always target teens and adults as well. If you haven't already discovered the 'Parental Guide' on the Independent Movie Database, it's well worth referring to next time you're considering a movie. It provides very specific information (such as detailed scene descriptions, specific language, etc.) for any material that might be a consideration, and helps you make an informed decision in light of your child's age and sensitivities. The nature of the visual medium means it's worth taking extra care with the film versions of books and, if necessary, resisting those emotional pleas and beguiling eyes!

Marielle [August 18, 2012]