Jessie Burton’s The Restless Girls

Once upon a time twelve princesses wore out their shoes dancing the night away.  Jessie Burton cleverly adapts this famous Grimm’s tale to a modern story in The Restless Girls.  Keeping many of the same elements – a hidden door to a magic land, the girls locked away together every night, and an irate king demanding to know their secret – Burton’s twist gives each princess a special proclivity for a modern skill not so girly.

One is expert in botany, another in math, the eldest wanting to follow their mother’s love of adventure and speed.  Each of the twelve has her own gift, nurtured and encouraged by their now dead mother, who died in a strange race car accident, but now locked away in a room by the fear of the their grieving father, the king.  The princesses, however, retain their self-possession and manage to overcome.

Finding the secret door behind the portrait of their mother, the princesses bravely follow a dark path to a land of talking animals, diamonds on trees, and music.  Each night, just as in the Grimm tale, they dance all night wearing out their shoes.  Each morning the king demands to know how they escaped, and offers his kingdom to anyone who can solve the mystery.

Of course, a handsome prince solves the dilemma in the old fairy tale, but Burton’s modern version has the girls solving their own problems, with the eldest as the leader and role model for all the others.

I discovered the book while researching the author, whose story The Miniaturist famously brought in a lucrative contract and a subsequent movie deal for the first time author. Since then she has written The Muse, and her latest book I’ve ordered from the UK – The Confession.

Alfred Hickling’s review of The Confession prompted me to find The Restless Girls. In assessing her new book, he refers to Burton’s book for middle schoolers and her improved writing style:

“What one notices here, however, is a more free-flowing aspect to her prose, which is plainer and less obstructed by overworked passages than her earlier work. Perhaps this new sense of liberation has been prompted by having produced her first book for children, The Restless Girls; a retelling of the Brothers Grimm fairytale “The Twelve Dancing Princesses” with a racy new slant… Kept under lock and key by an overprotective father, they are ultimately redeemed by the restorative power of storytelling.”

Give yourself a treat and read this wonderful book.

Two Picture Books for All Those “Adults”

The Wall in the Middle of the Book

Jon Agee and Tommie dePaola  probably were not thinking about politicians or government shut downs when they wrote these picture books for children, but maybe they were trying to ingrain some thoughtfulness into children at a young age – hoping it would stick with them into adulthood.

1df8b181803ff459c707c43af70be49d-w204@1xAgee’s The Wall in the Middle of the Book is supposed to protect one side of the book from the other.  The key words are “supposed to.”  A brick wall runs down the spine in the center of book, and the action takes place on both sides. As the “safe” side slowly disintegrates and floods, the knight is forced over to the other side, where he thinks the monsters will eat him.  Surprise – no one eats him and he makes new friends, What a waste of five billion dollars to build the wall. Preconceived notions about things and people, over a boundary or otherwise, are often distinctly wrong.

Unknown  Quiet

Tommie dePaola’s Quiet has a clear message for all adults tired of listening to the news or rushing around trying to perfect the holiday celebrations for all –   “To be quiet and still is a special thing.”  The little girl says, “I can think when I am quiet.”  The little boy says, “I can see when I am still.”

For all those who know the beauty of quiet – pass it on to others.

Louisiana’s Way Home

9780763694630  The openng lines of Kate DiCamillo’s new book for middle schoolers – Louisiana’s Way Home – reminded me of a resolution I have yet to complete:

“I am going to write it all down, so that what happened to me will be known, so that if someone were to stand at their window at night and look up at the stars and think, My goodness, whatver happened to Louisiana Elefante? Where did she go? They will have an answer. They will know.”

I usually avoid reading memoirs, assuming the writer’s memory will have been embellished and cleaned up. But writing my own story for posterity is appealing, especially because I could embellish and clean it up. What has been stopping me? Probably the suspicion of my story being only interesting to me.

Louisiana’s story begins with the curse her grandfather set in motion; mine would mirror it with my grandmother’s power of bestowing a curse, passed through generations.  Be assured, I have not tried wielding her power – not consciously, anyway – and not yet.

Louisiana’s story is “discovering who you are – and deciding who you want to be.”  For fans of DiCamillo, Louisiana may bring back thoughts of Raymie Nightingale, and Raymie is mentioned, but Louisiana has a more compelling story, leaving her friend behind in Florida and starting over in Georgia with a new friend, Burke, who can climb trees and outsmart the vending machine to get free peanuts.

After Granny and Louisiana drive off for a new life, so much happens: Granny loses all her teeth, tells about finding a baby on a pile of rubbish, and deserts the twelve year old. Nevertheless, Louisiana’s steady and optimistic outlook leads her to a new family, a new life, and a happy ending.  The story is at once a sad lesson in hope and a caution to not wallow in fate.  Destiny is what you make it.   Louisiana is abandoned by someone she trusts, tries to work things out on her own, consults with a minister, and finally chooses forgiveness with a new family.   Burke’s grandfather sums up the point of the story when he tells her to  “Take what is offered to you.”

The curse?  Turns out Louisiana never really had one –    only Granny has to contend with that problem.

And DiCamillo delivers another poignant tale of a brave little girl who gets the support of friends from unlikely places and in unexpected ways.  We all need that now and then.

Related ReviewRaymie Nightingale

The Girl Who Saved Christmas

51cf-a9vJjL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_   Listening to the audiobook of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas had me thinking I was listening to Santa.    Haig’s follow-up book this year is The Girl Who Saved Christmas; I was hooked from the first lines:

“Do you know how magic works?  The kind of magic that gets reindeer to fly in the sky? The kind that helps Father Christmas travel around the world in a single night? The kind that can stop time and make dreams come true?  Hope.  That’s how.  Without hope, there would be no magic.”

Maria Russo in the New York Times says:

” If somewhere in the afterlife Roald Dahl met Charles Dickens and they cooked up a new Christmas tale, it couldn’t have much on this fleet, verbally rambunctious, heart-stealing follow-up to “A Boy Called Christmas,” set in Victorian London (with cameos by Dickens himself). Amelia Wishart, the first child to have gotten a gift from Father Christmas, is orphaned and sent to a workhouse. At the North Pole, magic levels plummet. Christmas is in jeopardy, and Father Christmas is in custody. Amelia to the rescue? We’d all better believe it.”

0511-1009-2806-0628 Santa magically delivered this story to my iPhone this morning. Just what I wanted – a book for Christmas.

Did you get a book for Christmas?

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The Twelve Books of Christmas

Unknown   Despite the song, the real twelve days of Christmas start on Christmas Day and continue through the eve of the Epiphany (Twelfth Night). But the countdown to Christmas may start as early as December 1st if you have an Advent Calendar and sometimes right after Halloween in shopping malls.

With twelve days left, here is a short list of Christmas themed books you might have missed.

  • Dash and Lily’s Book of Dares by Rachel Cohn and David Leviathan

What would you do if you found a notebook in the stacks of a New York City bookstore with a mysterious note, challenging you to solve a mystery?  In this young adult book, the authors of Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist create a quirky and delightful story combining a love of books with teenage first love.

Lily, an avid reader and dog walker, has written a set of clues and challenges in a red notebook and left it on her favorite bookstore shelf hoping for the right guy to find it.  Dash (short for Dashiell), a lover of books and yogurt, finds the notebook and they begin passing it between them with clues, sometimes literary, leading each to new places and experiences around the city during Christmas.

  • Agatha Christie Christmas Mysteries

A Christmas family get-together abruptly ends in a murder with Hercule Poirot called in to investigate in Hercules Poirot’s Christmas, and in The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding (a wonderful BBC audiobook), Poirot finds a scrawled note on his pillow: “DON’T EAT NONE OF THE PLUM PUDDING. ONE WHO WISHES YOU WELL”.  A fun alternative to listening to The Night Before Christmas.

9781509848195  Pablo Picasso’s Noel by Carol Ann Duffy follows the famous painter as he moves through a small town in the south of France on Christmas Eve, drawing the residents and the festive scenes he encounters, accompanied by his small dog.

  • The Indisputable Existence of Santa Claus by Dr. Hannah Fry provides mathematical proof of Santa with puzzles and games.
  • Christmas: A Biography by Judith Sanders gives a social historian’s examination of the origins, myths, legends and history of the season.
  • Christmas with the Savages by Mary Clive, a funny children’s story based on real events and people, is seen through the eyes of a prim eight-year old girl in a large Edwardian country house.
  •  Christmas Remembered (audiobook) by children’s author Tommy dePaola shares his love for Christmas in fifteen vivid memories, spanning six decades – as a teenager in Connecticut, an art student in Brooklyn, a novice monk in Vermont, and an artist in New Hampshire.

To get to twelve, try some Charles Dickens:  The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth, A Christmas Tree, and The Holly Tree – all available on line at Dickens on Line.