I got a little distracted this week. The plan was to re-read The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley even though I just read it about a year ago. I figured it would be a good chance to remember the story line and what my thoughts toward it were. I started the book last Sunday and then hit a wall on Tuesday. That wall’s name is Joan from the library. A few weeks ago when I initially got up the courage to talk Newbery with her she mentioned that the Multnomah county librarians hold a sort of mock Newbery event where they read the possible winners for the new year and then convene to discuss them. So this last Tuesday I asked Joan for “the list.” Here it is:
Almost Astronauts: 13 Women Who Dared to Dream by Tanya Lee Stone
How Oliver Olson Changed the World by Claudia Mills
The Magician’s Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
A Season of Gifts by Richard Peck
When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin
She then offered to let me borrow the last one on the list that she had just checked out from the library. She said she had loved it and after reading it hurriedly over the last few days I wholeheartedly concur. IT’S AMAZING! Rich with Chinese culture and folk-lore the heart of the story, rather the moral of the story, is finding contentment where you’re at and being thankful. I loved it. From the list I had already read Season of Gifts and liked it as well. Not as much, but it’s good. All the others are on hold at the library and I’m currently reading Oliver Olson. So, I figured a cursory glance at The Hero and the Crown is just fine, especially when the 2010 Newbery medal is at stake. (It’s announced on January 18th. Um, that’s my birthday.)
I initially read The Hero and the Crown because of Amy Wood. I had asked her to check out some books she had read and liked from the library that I could take with me on my honeymoon. As is typical in a stack of books I loved some of them (like Alex and the Ironic Gentleman) felt so-so about others (Beauty) and felt like it was a huge accomplishment when I finished a select few (The Hero and the Crown). Typically I can really get into Sci-Fi fantasy novels but this one was difficult for me. Surprisingly during my second, sort-of read through I enjoyed it a lot more.
The books setting reminds me a little of King Arthur folk-lore in that there is the royal family living in a castle, surrounded by a village, while dragons and magic are still a regular part of life. (were there dragons in King Arthur? now I can’t remember.) But they were little dragons, mind you. Not the huge, fire-breathing, scare the pants off you dragons; little guys that still cause a lot of damage but are more easily killed. Robin McKinley does a great job at giving you a setting that makes you feel comfortable, like: “yeah, I’ve read books like this before so I have a good frame of reference,” while still throwing in phrases or cultural differences where you feel the need to keep reading to understand what it’s about.
Aerin, our red-headed heroin, doesn’t really fit into royal life because everyone believes her dead mother was a witch who bewitched the king into marrying her and giving her a child (preferably a son, but what are you going to do). So Aerin scares them a bit because she is a tad unknown. Not to mention she doesn’t have the royal, magical gift common to all her other family members, which, unfortunately I don’t remember what that is. She’s also clumsy and awkward and altogether out of the ordinary. The story picks up when Aerin realizes she wants to be a dragon slayer. She starts out with the little ones and eventually takes on one of the few large ones left. The story sounds like it’s full of action and adventure, and it is, but it’s also got some tender moments. It’s also interesting and easy to see the character development of Aerin as she grows out of her clumsiness and embraces confidence in her abilities, even though they look different from the abilities of her family, peers, and even sex.
Thanks for the recommendation Amy! It took me awhile to fully appreciate it but I finally got there.
On another note: Forrest and I went to the Title Wave Bookstore yesterday and it was so amazing! It’s run by the library and all the books are old, unwanted library books that are sold for dirt cheap prices. Some of them are .75 cents!!! Yeah! I got two Newbery titles and am extremely excited about them. Forrest and I also purchased $1 t-shirts with the Library summer reading program logo on the front. We’re nerds and proud of it!
Till next time…