Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The End of the Point by Elizabeth Graver

"Bargain, theft, or gift," inquires this generational novel about one family's relationship to their summer sanctuary - Ashaunt Point.  
It is 1942. Bea is again accompanying the Porters to the Point as their nanny. Although her main responsibility is eight-year-old Janie, she keeps on eye on the teen-aged Helen and Dossy since "the place was filled with men and boys" stationed there by the army. Later in the summer, Bea herself turns down a proposal from one of the soldiers but will always wonder what she gave up in the bargain. 
For Helen, the Point offers timelessness. "I would like to stay just where I am or go backwards," she writes in her diary of 1961. Spending time in her garden and swimming with her children distract her from her fears about her pregnancy and not finishing the degree she has just begun. What will this next child take from her? Or will he be a gift?

For Helen's oldest son Charlie, the Point offers shelter after he drops out of college in 1970. Short of funds, he feels justified taking food from vacant summer homes. "Stolen? Gifted? Doors were open. Help yourself," he thinks. However, his plan to live off the land is short-lived when developers arrive with bulldozers. 

Finally, it is 1999. Bea has made a home for herself in Scotland and does not return to the Point. Helen returns between chemo sessions and finds beauty in the family land that has been preserved. Charlie and his wife also return to visit. Coping with the stress of trying to conceive, they find distraction in digging up the bones of a porpoise Charlie buried years before. "Together they dig, then, the sun on their back, Ashaunt quiet…" And they imagine that someday their daughter will be "a lover of plants and flowers, a worrier with perfect pitch."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Listen to This

Lately my daughter will lift her head from the one of five books she likes to read simultaneously and say, "Listen to this, Mama."
For example, this morning she read this from Fourth Grade Fairy: Gnome Invasion by Eileen Cook:  "Every time Katie came to the house he was always making notes about what she ate, what types of games she liked to play, what kind of socks she liked to wear..."

I think she was struck by this line in particular because having just finished reading Harriet the Spy ("that was satisfying") she has been doing a little spying on her own. Or it may be because she, too, is obsessed with socks.

While waiting for the kids to select library books yesterday, I flipped through a few Middle Zone books that caught my eye. So listen to this...

"All sorts of folks were making the long trip north. There were slouchers and starers. A few snoozers. Puckered here and there along the row were men stretching their limbs, hoping to catch a hint of a breeze."
- A Tangle of Knots by Lisa Graff

"Once I am aloft I am surprised how well I operate the balloon. I figure out the blast valve as I move very slowly on currents of air. It is quiet and peaceful and I wonder if I will be going to jail at the end of this."  
- my one hundred adventures by Polly Horvath

"My name is August, by the way. I won't describe what I look like. Whatever you're thinking, it's probably worse." - Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Bow of Odysseus

We recently saw this exhibit at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth. It reminded me that my kids' exposure to mythology has been laughingly lacking considering my own undergraduate experience. So I went to the library to see what versions of Homer's Odyssey have been published for children.

For reference, I began with the text we used in Freshman English:
The Odyssey of Homer Translated by Richard Lattimore
"So the suitors talked, but now resourceful Odysseus, once he had taken up the great bow and looked it over, as when a man, who well understands the lyre and singing, easily, holding it on either side, pulls the strongly twisted cord of sheep's gut, so as to slip it over a new peg, so, without any strain, Odysseus strung the great bow. Then plucking it in his right hand he tested the bow string, and it gave him back an excellent sound like the voice of a swallow." (319)

I then turned to the "retellings." With colorful illustrations on each page, this first version captures the poetry of the original and the gripping tension of its plot:

The Odyssey Retold by Robin Lister and Illustrated by Alan Baker
"Odysseus ignored the mockery. He tested the bow in his hands, taking his time, until it began to feel once more, as it had done all those years ago, like an extension of his own arms and hands. At last he was satisfied, and in a single flowing movement, he bent it back and strung it and then plucked it like a lyre so that it sang out pure and clear as a swallow's song." (Chapter XV)

I was pleasantly surprised to find this next version by the author of the Magic Tree House series. Fans of this series know that Osborne can tell a compelling story. Her simplified version may appeal to younger readers or listeners:
Tales from the Odyssey by Mary Pope Osborne
"Odysseus slowly examined the bow. Then he bent and strung it effortlessly, as if he were a musician stringing a harp. When he finished, he plucked the taut cord. It sang like a swallow's note." (239)

The final version I looked at comes from the Classic Starts series. Illustrated with pencil drawings, this version captures the main events, but its simplified language is somewhat tedious:
The Odyssey Retold by Tania Zamorsky and Illustrated by Eric Freeberg
"Finally the suitors agreed. They gave Odysseus the bow. The moment it touched his hands, Odysseus handled it easily. He strung it quickly. He plucked the string to test it. It rang with a grim tone." (131)