Reviews

Dive in! Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie

Rushdie, Salman. Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Granta Books in association with Penguin Books, 1990. 216 pages. Tr. $13.65, ISBN 978-0-14-015737-6; PLB $20.71, ISBN 978-0-329-78295-5

TL;DR: Do I recommend this? Yes!

Genre: Fantasy

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Haroun, son of Rashid Khalifa, the Ocean of Notions, makes the mistake of asking his storyteller father, “What is the point of stories that aren’t even true?” His father suddenly loses his Gift of Gab, and says that he might as well stop being a storyteller. At this time, Haroun runs into Iff, a Water Genie, who is dismantling the faucet that allows Rashid to be such a master storyteller. In order to secure his father’s storytelling capabilities, Haroun blackmails Iff into taking him to Kahani, the Sea of Stories.

Critical Evaluation/Reader’s Comments:

This is an intricately woven fantasy with elements rooted in real-life places and events. Readers need not know those references in order to enjoy the book, but the way that Rushdie combines real life and fantasy (especially in such an intricate book) is awe-inspiring. Haroun’s bravery (and realness as a boy) make him leap off the page. This book was unputdownable, smart, and funny to boot.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

While Titlewave classifies this as a book for adults, Kirkus Reviews writes that the novel is  “targeted for an audience as large as a bull’s-eye on the side of a barn” (1990). I agree with Kirkus that this book is one that can be read by anyone.

This is a great fantasy book that doesn’t focus on white kids having adventures. Instead, it references places in the Middle East and utilizes a great deal of storytelling elements and figures from that region in the book. I would hand this to any fantasy fan. This book would also be a great read for students who are looking for a more complex book to read — while it is not necessarily an adult-level book, it has more to offer in terms of storytelling nuance and detail than something like Alex Gino’s George, which is another wonderful book with a reading level more accessible to less advanced readers. (Idea from myself)

Grade Level: Titlewave classifies it as Adult; I would recommend this book for students grades 6-9

Awards and Starred Reviews:

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Reviews

Guitar Hero: Kubo and the Two Strings

I know, I know — this is a book blog!!!! Sometimes, however, you just gotta watch a movie. What follows is my review of the movie Kubo and the Two Strings. I’ve struggled with other Laika films (particularly The Boxtrolls) because their casting is often disturbingly non-diverse (ALWAYS AND FOREVER LOOKING AT YOU, BOXTROLLS), and while this movie was still problematic in terms of casting, the storytelling is superb.

 Kubo and the Two Strings. Directed by Travis Knight. 101 minutes. Laika Entertainment. 2016, $17.96 (DVD). ASIN: B01KMKM5NW

TL;DR: Do I recommend this movie? YES

Genre: Fantasy (Animated Movie)

Part of a series? No.

Plot Summary:

Kubo and his mother live in a cave above their village. His mother is fading as her mind drifts away, and Kubo, one-eyed from infancy after his grandfather stole an eye from him, must provide for himself and for his mother. Kubo goes down to the village each day to play his magical string instrument and make origami figures dance and act out his tales, but as soon as the bell before sunset tolls, he packs up and heads straight home. As his mother warns him, he can never let The Moon King (his grandfather) or his mother’s sisters find him, so he must always be home before dark. During the festival, he ignores this rule, desperate for contact from his deceased father. As soon as the moon shines on Kubo, his aunts appear and destroy the village in an attempt to capture Kubo. Kubo must grab only what he has on his back and run.

Critical Evaluation/Viewer’s Comments:

Unfortunately, Laika still struggles with casting nonwhite actors in main roles (Kubo, Monkey, the Moon King, and the Beetle are all voiced by white actors despite being designed as Japanese characters). That said, there are still many more voices from actors of color voicing other Japanese characters in the film, so while I am disappointed by their casting choices yet again (looking at you, The Boxtrolls), at least they have improved slightly.

The storytelling, however, makes me still appreciate the movie despite the casting issues. I will continue to acknowledge the casting situation as I look at Laika films, but Kubo really delivers on storyline. Kubo’s music and magical abilities are delightful to behold, and the animation of the origami figures coming to life and floating through the air is truly stunning. Some twists are guessable from early on, but ultimately, it was still a fabulously animated film.

Curriculum Ties/Library Use:

This film is more intense in content than I was anticipating, so I would not bust out this movie for younger tweens. Instead, I would perhaps only use this movie with eleven-to-thirteen year olds (and up into teens) given the peril that characters are constantly in. Without spoiling too many elements of the film, people do die and are frequently in frightening situations. The main conflict of the film is that Kubo’s grandfather — who has already stolen one eye from him — is desperate to pluck the other one so that Kubo may be blind to humanity and finally be perfect, fit to sit alongside the Moon King in his otherworldly palace.

This would be great movie for a tween group that is interested in storytelling; ultimately, Kubo knows his “story” (i.e., Hanzo the samurai warrior versus the Moon King), but he doesn’t know how that story ends. Play this movie, talk about stories and the craft of storytelling, and fold origami! We could also look into bringing in a storytelling expert and have a storytelling workshop after we watch Kubo. San Francisco Public Library offered some storytelling classes this summer, so this could be doable if we found good storytelling instructors. (Ideas from myself)

Grade Level: 4+ (Common Sense Media approves this one for kids ages 9 and older)

Awards:

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Reviews

Catch-up Post: Clockwork, or All Wound Up by Phillip Pullman

I read this over the summer. As I wrote on my main blog,

Clockwork was deliciously creepy! I am a huge scaredy-cat when it comes to creepy reads, and I found myself wondering if I should put it down! I am glad that I didn’t … the eerie story the novelist shares is so gripping! Sir Ironsoul is so frightening! I especially loved the opening, middle, and closing arcs — hearing the rumors about Prince Otto and then seeing what happened to Prince Otto before returning to the end of Karl and Sir Ironsoul’s story was really cool. So glad to have read this one!

I guess I need to work on using fewer exclamation points 🙂

Pullman crafts a fantastic tale, weaving in story elements until they click together and get the whole thing up and running. The eerie illustrations add to the creep factor, and who doesn’t love a scary tavern tale?

Warnings:

  • Gore/blood

Themes/Major Plot Points/Etc.:

  • Storytelling
  • Clockwork
  • Cheating
  • Good and evil
  • Mad scientists
  • Scary