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An old family tale

Fiona's Lace

Title: Fiona's Lace
By: Patricia Polacco

Patricia Polacco is a wonderful storyteller, and a good number of her books are about her family. This is the story of her great-great-grandmother, Fiona, who as a young girl came over from Ireland along with her mother, father, and younger sister Ailiah to start a new life in Chicago. They went from being a farming family to (as did many immigrants who settled in America) working as domestics in wealthy people’s homes. Fiona’s mother was highly skilled in lacemaking, and taught her daughter how to make beautiful quality lace. Fiona started making lace to sell in stores and help support her family. When the 1871 Great Fire engulfed a large area of Chicago, Fiona and her sister were alone at home. They had to run for their lives, but wanted to make sure their parents know where to find them. The lace Fiona was making for a client plays an important part in this story's happy ending.

View similarly tagged posts: picture books
Posted by websterp on Oct. 8, 2014 at 12:51 p.m.

Peripheral supernatural

Tam Lin

Title: Tam Lin
By: Pamela Dean

If you were the Queen of Faery and had to pay a septennial teinde or tribute to Hell, where would you hunt for your victims? A small liberal arts college in Minnesota seems as likely a place as any to capture promising human youths: take your pick of any of the plethora of English and Classics students inordinately fond of quoting Shakespeare and Homer in everyday dialogue.

Pamela Dean's Tam Lin retells the Scottish ballad(s) of the same name in this modern setting. As in many versions of the ballad, the protagonist is a strong-willed young woman named Janet. (Her middle name, in a nod to other versions, is Margaret.) Starting on her first day as a freshman, Janet receives inklings that sinister things are going on beneath the facade of what passes for "normal" in college. Her dorm is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a student who committed suicide in 1897, strange rumors circulate regarding the intrigues of the exclusive clique that is the Classics Department (which is also known for its annual midnight horseback rides on Halloween), and certain of her classmates display unusual evasiveness about their pasts. But these are just the idiosyncrasies of college life, are they not?

The original supernatural element of the ballad remains peripheral in the sense of peripheral vision; it defies any attempt to look at it directly, remaining ever at the edges of the narrative. Until the seventh year arrives again, that is, and Janet finds herself in a position where only she can save the Queen's intended sacrifice, Tam Lin. "It was exactly as if she had spent four years reading a poem, probably by Keats, and had gotten to the end and seen, finally, what relation all the pieces bore to one another...Not science fiction at all, but a far older idea, remnants of things she had read in her childhood."

View similarly tagged posts: fiction, teen fiction
Posted by Xenon on Oct. 8, 2014 at 8 a.m.

Present past, present future

The Orenda

Title: The Orenda
By: Joseph Boyden

When Europeans first arrived in the Great Lakes area, they were not the dominant powers of the region. That honor belonged to tribal confederacies such as the Wendat (whom the French called Huron) and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois). The French chose to forge alliances and trading partnerships with the Wendat, which led to their entanglement in a feud between the Wendat and the Haudenosaunee. The French attempt to give the Wendat a monopoly in the fur trade also exacerbated the existing conflict.

In recognition of the complexity of these social dynamics, The Orenda is narrated by characters from each of the cultures involved: a Jesuit missionary named Christophe, nicknamed Crow for his black robes; a Wendat warrior named Bird; and a young Haudenosaunee girl named Snow Falls, whom Bird adopts as his own daughter after taking her captive in battle.

We all know what happens next: epidemic disease, bloody wars fought with new technologies, the decimation of native populations. What The Orenda shows is that these cataclysms followed seemingly minor but ultimately insidious events such as the Wendat allowing the disease-carrying Jesuits into their villages—the "butterfly effect" of chaos theory.

As Boyden writes, "When you fall asleep laughing in the evening, it's difficult to awake crying in the sun. But this isn't about sadness, or pity, or blame...Hindsight is sometimes too easy, isn't it?" Without obsessing over either futile blame or some conception of inevitability, The Orenda also reminds us that "What's happened in the past can't stay in the past for the same reason the future is always just a breath away...The past and the future are present."

View similarly tagged posts: fiction
Posted by Xenon on Oct. 6, 2014 at 12:07 p.m.

Real & fantastic

Hilda and the Midnight Giant

Title: Hilda and the Midnight Giant
By: Luke Pearson

As Americans, we like to think of England as the bustling city of London surrounded by the rolling green hills of the countryside. The reality is different, of course, but it is easy to disconnect from that reality when we live an ocean and the width of a continent away — and just as easy to imagine that fairies might exist in those enchanted hills. The Hilda series* takes advantage of these notions, and introduces readers to a world almost exactly like our own, but where the presence of fairies and otherworldly creatures is part of everyday life. One day you could open your door to go out, and a Wood Man might walk in, causing you to say, "Hey! You have your own house, go home!" Alas, to no avail, as he simply ignores you and makes himself at home by the fireplace. Incidents like this are par for the course for this world, and so Hilda and her mother just roll with it — except for rare occasions when dangerous creatures like trolls, giants, and large black hounds must be dealt with.

The whimsy of this world is given to the reader so straight that at first you question it, thinking that maybe the character is having a dream. But then you find that the world is just like that, and it works out wonderfully. Hilda is a character who shows us that while this world may be a little dangerous, with caring and kindness (and perhaps a little help from some friends), you can get along just fine. A fantastic read that readers of all ages are sure to enjoy.

*SCPL also owns Hilda and the Troll, Hilda and the Bird Parade, & Hilda and the Black Hound

View similarly tagged posts: graphic novel
Posted by berlinskit on Aug. 23, 2014 at 10:21 a.m.

Left behind

Torn Away

Title: Torn Away
By: Jennifer Brown

Life can change in an instant. Growing up in Elizabeth, Missouri, Jersey Cameron is used to frequent tornado warnings. When a tornado rips through her hometown, destroying her house and killing her mother and sister, Jersey is left with nothing. Before long, her stepfather sends her to live with her biological father, whom she doesn’t know. Racked with loneliness and guilt, Jersey doesn’t know how to go on with her life. When it becomes clear that her father doesn’t want her to live with him, Jersey ends up with her mother’s parents, who supposedly had disowned her mother years before. Jersey soon learns that her grandparents are not the people she expected them to be, but can she learn to trust them enough to be able to overcome all the emptiness that the tornado left behind?

View similarly tagged posts: fiction, teen fiction
Posted by pughc on Aug. 16, 2014 at 10:07 a.m.

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