Books We Are Loving – February 2021

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Kiki’s Delivery Service by Eiko Kadono

We have been big fans of the classic Studio Ghibli film ‘Kiki’s Delivery Service‘ since my children were small, however I only found out last autumn that it was based on a novel, when a new english translation was published. Knowing how different Studio Ghibli film’s tend to be, compared to their source material, (see also Howl’s Moving Castle, and Arrietty, which was based on Mary Norton’s The Borrowers), I was interested to find out what the original story was like.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is about a young witch who needs to leave home and make a place for herself within a new community to fulfill the coming of age tradition of her society. It is told as a series of standalone stories, where Kiki learns to solve problems, which builds her confidence and takes her from outsider, to well loved member of her new town.

And it’s lovely.

It’s far more understated than the film, though the bones are all there. But the film leaves out some stories that are wonderful, and I wish had been included. This new edition also has some lovely illustrations and is, all round, a lovely book to have.

(I just wish more of Eiko Kadono’s books were available in english – did you know there are five sequels to Kiki’s Delivery Service?)

Awesomely Austen: Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey by Steven Butler and Eglantine Ceulemans

A year ago I talked about us reading Jane Austen’s Persuasion – our first book in the Awesomely Austen series – and now here were are at the end of the series with Northanger Abbey. All the books in the series have been fantastic, and we have all thoroughly enjoyed reading them. I think this series would be a great primer, if you were wanting to read the original novel with your children/teens.

Each book is far more that an overview of the story, it takes the time to make sure you understand what the protagonists feel. The authors takes care to accurately portray the personalities of the principle characters by how they speak and act, (rather than just telling you ‘Mr Collins is proud and boring’ for example), so that you get how the relationships, and power dynamics work between the characters.

They introduce each story with one line bios about each character and by the end of the series my lot were guessing who was going to end up with who, who was going to be awful, and who was going to be great. We would also stop sometimes after a chapter and use what we’d learnt about the characters to guess what was going to happen to them next. It was great fun. Anyway it’s really good stuff and I highly recommend it.

Green Ember Archer series – S.D. Smith

The final book of this series came out at the end of last year and we just finished listening to it in January.  Both of my children, ages 11 and seven, were keen to spend more time with the Green Ember characters they have come to know and love.  And though I don’t love the Green Ember series, Jo Shanks is my favourite character from the series and if S.D. Smith was going to create a series about any one character I am glad it was him.

This series consists of The Last Archer, The First Fowler and The Archer’s Cup.  Readers are given the chance to meet the Bracers (who appear in the final book of the Green Ember series) and the opportunity to spend more time with Helmer (our second favourite character), Heyward, Emma, Heyna and Cole.  We get to hear about familiar battles from unfamiliar points of view, fill in some gaps in our knowledge about the main series, and learn a few new details that have us pining to re-listen to the original series.

The Archer’s Cup gives Emma, Jo, Heyna and Cole a chance to shine as more than just secondary characters and though I generally cringe at S.D. Smith’s dialogue, the wise-cracks amongst these four are relentless and kept us giggling right the way through.  The wise-cracks were a necessity for Mister 11 who found the content of this third book especially uncomfortable.  The Archer’s Cup is a bit of a curveball.  Unlike every other Green Ember book we’ve listened to so far, this book is all about love – the romantic kind.  I mean, there is a mystery thrown into the works so children won’t dismiss it outright.  And the mystery and the wise-cracks break up the love stuff nicely.  But this story is essentially a dialogue on romantic love with many points of view voiced.  And there is a valuable lesson here for young people foraying into romantic relationships and Jo Shanks, in my humble opinion, was the right role model for tweens and teens in this scenario.  Call me soft, but this was my favourite of the seven Green Ember books we’ve read so far.

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