The Dark is Rising Sequence: Book One

August 19, 2013 at 9:34 pm (Education, Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

The Dark is Rising SequenceThe Dark is Rising Sequence started in 1965 (probably much sooner if you were to talk to the author) with the publication of Over Sea, Under Stone under the name Susan Cooper Grant.  In 1973, The Dark is Rising would come out, followed by Greenwitch in ’74, The Grey King in ’75, and finally Silver on the Tree in 1977.  The Dark is Rising was a Newberry Honor book (runner up to the Newberry Medal) and The Grey King actually won the Newberry Medal.

The books have stared back at me from shelves my entire life, but I didn’t actually pick them up to read until this year – my 29th year – for a Young Adult book club at Half Price Books (Humble).

Having finished Over Sea, Under Stone I can officially tell you that I’m hooked.  Not only will I finish reading the series, I will be releasing my reviews of each book in a serial here on my blog and I am adding all the books to my daughter’s homeschool curriculum, with some help from a website I stumbled across:

Title: Over Sea, Under Stone

Author: Susan Cooper

I am reading from this edition.

I am reading from this edition.

Genre: Young Adult/ Fantasy/ Mystery

Length: 236 (book one) out of 1082 pages (whole series)

You might wonder why a fantasy series has become a mandatory reading assignment for my daughter. If you follow my blog at all, you might have an idea. Over Sea, Under Stone is just screaming to be part of a King Arthur unit. Pendragon’s name is dropped countless times; myths, legends, fairy tales, and the search for the grail make up all the major plot points; and, it’s full of research and adventure. What better to inspire a ten year old into the exciting world of a lifetime in literature?

The following I took straight from the aforementioned site I stumbled upon re-posted here in case the link ever fails):

A writer must be able to do or manage the skills of writing fiction:

Plot–What sort of story line has Susan Cooper devised? What happens? Is it a satisfying story line? Does it seem appropriate for the story?

Over Sea 2Conflict–What is the conflict of the story? What is at stake if the central characters fail in their quest? Who are the opponents in the story? How do they complicate the plot?

Characters–Who are the main characters in the story? What does Cooper tell you about each one of them? How does each character differ from the others? How does Cooper compare Simon, Jane, and Barney? What is each child’s personality and why is this personality important to the story? Why does Cooper choose children as the heroes and heroine of the story? Why not Great Uncle Merry?

Setting–Where does the story happen? What is the country side like? How is this appropriate to the story? Could Cooper set the story anywhere else and still make it work as effectively as it does now?

Symbols–What objects in the story take on symbolic meaning? In what way is the grail a symbol? Rufus the dog? The manuscript? Each of the characters? The rising tide or the boats? The fact that the grail is found in a cave? The standing stones?

Theme–Considering all of the elements mentioned above, what is Cooper’s point (this gets us into the third form of knowledge; see below)?

Over SeaA writer must know about the Arthurian tradition in general and the grail tradition particular:

The grail is an object of great significance and importance. What did you notice in the stories you read? How does Cooper convey this concept in her story?

The grail can be found only by the most perfect of knights. What qualities do Percival, Galahad, and Bors de Gannis have? Does this suggest a reason why Cooper decided to send children rather than adults on the quest?

Grail knights always demonstrate their perfection by undergoing severe temptations. What temptations do Percival, Galahad, and Bors face? What temptations to Simon, Jane, and Barney face?

In the grail stories the heros live by strict codes of ethics. Describe the grail knights’ value system. What rules do Simon, Jane, and Barney live by?

Grail knights always have a spiritual mentor. Who functions in this role in each story?

How do boats or other symbols like the wind, the number three, or color help to make the stories’ points?

Grail stories often center on illusion and false realities. What illusions do the three grail knights face? How does Cooper suggest that reality is not what the children believe it to be?

Grail stories fundamentally center around the quest for perfection and the test of one’s character. How does the quest test each grail knight or each child in Cooper’s story? What does each child learn from the experience?

Grail stories often involve magical, mysterious, or mystical places like castles or dark forests. Where in Cooper’s story do you notice elements of mystery?

Grail stories ultimately change how the central character views life. What is the effect of the search for the grail on each of the three grail knights? On the three children in Cooper’s story?

A writer must have a message, theme, point, or lesson to communicate.

What is Cooper message? What is she trying to say about the human experience?

In what ways might the children’s experience parallel our own experiences? What do we learn about ourselves from their experience?

What quests do we have to face? How might/should we go about accomplishing these quests? What do we learn from the children’s experiences which might guide our quests?

I love how this enjoyable fiction lends itself so readily to the study of storytelling, the King Arthur tales, the development of legends in general, religious history, as well as the kiddo’s general history lessons as we sort out documented history from legendary fictions developed over time.


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The Wild Girls – A Review

March 14, 2013 at 3:58 am (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

WildGirlsTitle: The Wild Girls

Author: Pat Murphy

Publisher: Speak (an imprint of Penguin Group)

Genre: Young Adult

Length: 288 pages

Dear Publishing Companies,

Allow me to tell you something you probably already know: Take a book, add a matte finish to it, trace some swirly-like-ivy lines about, and add a garden or forest scene – I will most likely take the book home on the spot.

At least that’s what happened with Pat Murphy’s The Wild Girls.  And despite having an equally girly and gardeny looking book on my night stand (The Distant Hours by Kate Morton), I started reading The Wild Girls that day.

Even if the cover had not been so fabulous, the first line is:

“I met the Queen of the Foxes in 1972, when my family moved from Connecticut to California.”

How do you pass up a first line like that?

It’s a story about twelve year old girls for twelve year old girls, but at twenty-nine I was still dying to know all about the Queen of the Foxes and how interesting a girl would have to be to have the honor of meeting her.

My own wild girl, running, after we read in the park and took a boat ride, but before we had our picnic in the grass.

My own wild girl, running, after we read in the park and took a boat ride, but before we had our picnic in the grass.

Joan meets Sarah in the woods behind an old orchard and immediately takes to her even though Sarah is malicious and contemplating throwing rocks at her.  She can hit a kid dead on from about thirty feet away, too.  Soon the girls are fast friends with woodsy aliases Newt and Fox, telling and writing stories together as they each escape their lives in the comfort and enchanting beauty of the woods and its wildlife.

In the spirit of Bridge to Terabithia (without the inevitable water works), The Secret Garden (without the invalid), and a dash of How to Buy a Love of Reading (or writing), The Wild Girls is a great coming of age story for girls harboring an inner Josephine March (Little Women).

I loved it.  I read a lot of it to kiddo outside and she loved it as it served for a great book to welcome spring.  I can’t wait to read it again when she is older and see what she thinks of it then.

In the mean time, I’m looking for more Pat Murphy titles, reading Kate Morton, and writing a novel.

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