February 19, 2010

Recent Reads

Two very different books whose only commonality is that they are middle-aged children's novels and I read them both this past week. Well, and they both have animals in them.

Lauren St. John, author of The White Giraffe can certainly write. Her line-by-line prose is wonderful. The similes and metaphors are original and strong. When the bad guy sees something is wrong, he doesn't just "turn white as a sheet" like he would in most books. His face "goes the color of a frozen hen." The landscape of the game reserve in South Africa is lovingly detailed and never slows the pace of the book. I could totally see this as a live-action Disney-type film in the same class as The Journey of Nattie Gann or Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken. But to me, that's a problem as well. Other than the gorgeous writing, it never rises above tried and true genre elements. She's gone on to write more books as part of a series and young animal lovers will, I'm sure, love these books. I am curious about the author's memoir. Apparently she actually did grow up on an animal farm in South Africa. Good thing, too, because if I hadn't known that I might have been a little harsher because, come on, a white girl in South Africa is the "chosen one?" Sheesh. Lovely read, though.

Seaman is the opposite. Interesting "story" which basically details Lewis & Clark's journey. But the line-by-line writing is, um, utilitarian to say the least. You know the old canard about "show, don't tell" in your writing? This author tells everything. And many sentences end in an exclamation point! For no apparent reason! But it's way better than reading about this journey in a textbook, so I can see why teachers might like it. One thing that bugged me: there is a slave named Knox. She never refers to him as a slave. He's a "loyal servant" but never a slave. Why the avoidance? I mean, really.