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Module 1 - Book Reviews

International Children's Literature

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The Keeper of the Isis Light - Monica Hughes
Owl Babies - Martin Waddell
Journey to the River Sea - Eva Ibbotson
Ella's Big Chance  A Jazz Age Cinderella - Shirley Hughes

Hughes, Monica.  1980.  THE KEEPER OF THE ISIS LIGHT.  New York:  Simon & Schuster.  ISBN:  0689833903.
Olwen Pendennis is the 10-year-old (sixteen in Earth years) Keeper of the Isis Light.  Olwen has lived on Isis her whole life and been raised by Guardian after her parents death when she was approximately four Earth years old.  Guardian has educated Olwen and provided for her every need in more ways than Olwen knows or understands until a group of colonists arrive from Earth.  With the arrival of the Earth colonists, Olwen's life changes dramatically.  Olwen had been content with her life and she is afraid that the colonists will ruin her world and change the life she has been comfortable with.  The colonists can only live in the valleys of Isis in order to not be harmed by the ultraviolet light of the planet's harsh sun and to have enough oxygen to breathe.  Olwen feels sorry for the colonists because they cannot experience all the beauty of Isis as she can, for Olwen can go anywhere on the planet without feeling the harsh effects the colonists would.  Olwen at first fears and is fascinated by the colonists, after all, she has only known Guardian, a robot, during her life, and she doesn't understand why Guardian insists that she wear a protective suit that covers her from head to toe whenever she is around them.  Olwen and a young colonist, Mark, develop a special friendship that promises to develop into something deeper when Mark sees Olwen without her protective suit on dressed in her normal clothing.  The shock leads Mark to have a serious accident and the time has come for Guardian to tell Olwen the truth about her appearance.
Hughes reveals characterization through the thoughts of her characters.  The reader knows the thoughts of Mark and Olwen as they are becoming acquainted and the fears of both after the accident.  The reader feels Olwen's pain as she makes decisions that will affect her life forever.  The reader also sees how Olwen grows through interacting with the colonists.  I don't think she would have grown much more if the colonists hadn't arrived on Isis and forced Guardian to reveal certain truths to Olwen.  We experience Olwen falling in love and feel her pain when she makes a choice about that love, deciding to let Mark go and her resolve to move far enough away from the colonists to still be of help to them, but far enough away that she won't have to interact with them very often. 
     '"How can you love me, Mark, when you can't even bear to look at me?"
     "I can."  His profile was towards her.  She saw his throat move as he swallowed.  "I know now that I do love you.  The real you.  Inside.  Not what your...what Guardian did to you.  That'd take a bit of getting used to.  But I will, Olwen."  He turned and faced her, his mouth firm, his eyes full of such resolve that her heart skipped in her chest.
     It was hard to smile when his eyes were on her.  "Well, you're growing up," she teased softly.  "But it's no good, Mark.  We mustn't play games.  We have nothing in common, not even the same appearance of humanity.  Isis is mine, from the valleys to the mountain peaks, summer and winter, and cosmic storm.  You can't share that with me and I will not spend my life as a prisoner.  I must be free."  Her lips were so dry that she could hardly say the last words.  For a second she let herself put her arms around him, not looking at the expression on his face.  The she turned her back and ran all the way up the valley to the Cascades."' (Hughes p. 228-229, 1980).
     One of the major themes in the book was the issue of prejudice.  Guardian has genetically changed Olwen so that she doesn't look human in the way the colonists do.  When her true appearance is revealed the colonists all shrink away from her and are afraid except for the youngest colonist, a child named Jody.  Jody fully accepts the "funny lady" and demonstrates how prejudice is learned.  The book also expresses the theme that change is necessary for a person to grow emotionally and Olwen demonstrates this with her decision to let Mark go, accept her appearance and move on with her life.  "Great science fiction books use metaphors and grandiose plots to discuss universal ideas. In many ways, "The Keeper of the Isis Light" is very similar to the great Sylvia Engdahl book, "Enchantress From the Stars". Both books talk about prejudice and feature incredibly strong female characters. In this book, however, there are some uniquely emotional moments. The story is written in a crisp approachable style that will never go out of date. If you've a kid interested in sci-fi or just wants a low key introduction to it, this book is the perfect offering. A book that will be well remembered for years to come (I hope)." (Bird, 2004).
     I enjoyed reading this book.  It actually reminded me of a Star Trek episode I once saw in which the guardian was human and the ward was a robot.  Both the book and episode dealt with the issues of prejudice, love, choices, and the consequences of those choices.  There are two more books in the trilogy and I will have to get them to find out what else happens to Olwen on Isis.  I found that even though the book was written by a Canadian author, I really couldn't find any cultural differences in her writing.  That may be partly due to the fact that the book is science fiction.  The only term that was used that I could tell a difference in cultures is she used the term "negroid" for the black character, Jody.
     I was disappointed to learn that Canadian author Monica Hughes passed away in 2003.  She had won several awards for her work.  After reading this book, I will have to acquire more of her works to read.
     I didn't find hardly any reviews in magazines or journals for this book, but I did find several customer reviews on 
Bird, E. R.  28 June 2004.  Amazon.Com.  Available from:
Waddell, Martin.  1992.  OWL BABIES.  Ill. by Patrick Benson.  Cambridge, Mass:  Candlewick Press.  ISBN:  0763617105.
In this picture book appropriate for ages 3-7 three owl babies wake up to find their mother GONE.  Where could she be? What is she doing?  When will she get back?  The three owl babies console each other as they speculate what their mother is doing and when she will get back.  Sarah and Percy are the brave siblings while Bill keeps exclaiming "I want my mommy!"  When the mother returns, the baby owls joyously welcome her back with jumping up and down and flapping of wings.  The mother's response is "WHY ALL THE FUSS? You knew I'd be back."  The text is at times in all capital letters to emphasis emotion, such as the mother's "why all the fuss?"  The text is also in light colors against a dark or black background to give the reader a feeling of night.  The theme in the book centers around the feeling of abandonment and of being lost.
     The illustrations by Patrick Benson were done with black ink and watercolor crosshatching.  The illustrations are done in shades of blues, greens, and browns against black to emphasize the feeling of night, the time when the owls are usually awake and active.  The crosshatching adds to the illustraions by giving the reader a "feel" for the texture of the trees and leaves.  The owl babies are drawn to look cute and fluffy which will appeal to young readers.
     I enjoyed the illustration on the cover of the book that pictures the three fluffy owl babies together on a branch.  The owls stand out against the black background.  I also thought the illustration showing the mother owl flying in behind the owl babies was powerful because owls fly silently and the illustration reinforces this fact.  The illustration also gives the feel of moonlight shining on the trees with the muted greens and blues and the shadows of the trees on the forest floor.
     The text is clear and simple for young readers.  The owl baby, Bill, keeps repeating that he wants his mommy.  I found this annoying myself.  If I were one of the other two siblings, I would have told him we knew that already and lost patience with him.  The author's simple text conveys the owl babies growing sense of alarm and loneliness as well as their relief when their mother does return.
     The author, Martin Waddell, is from the United Kingdom and has written numerous books for children.  In reading this book, I could not tell from his writing that he was from the United Kingdom.  The story could have been told from an American author as well.  Waddell believes "that a picture book's theme should relate directly to events and experiences in a young child's life.  "Because emotion is a child's driving force," he says, "each of my picture books is about a very big emotion."  (Waddell, 1992).
     Personally, I found the book to be all right.  It doesn't stand out like some of my childrens' picture books do.  The story is very simple but it needs more to the plot.  "Mom, just out for a night flight, does return, of course, and her fledglings are delighted to see her.  The repetition just doesn't work.  The plot is too meager, the text too unexciting." (School Library Journal, 1992).  I found myself agreeing with this review.  I think the owl babies should have had some kind of little adventure before mom returned.  It would have added more interest to the story.  Possibly the character of Bill could have seen some growth from being so scared that the only thing he could say was that he wanted his mommy to showing a bit more independence.
School Library Journal.  1 December, 1992.  Books in Print.  Available from: 
Ibbotson, Eva.  2001.  JOURNEY TO THE RIVER SEA.  Ill. by Kevin Hawkes.  New York:  Dutton Children's Books.  ISBN:  0525467394.
Maia is a wealthy orphan attending the Mayfair Academy for Young Ladies in London in the autumn of 1910 when her guardian arrives to bring her news of her "future."  Her guardian has found relatives that are willing to offer Maia a home - in Manaus, Brazil up the Amazon River.  Thus begins Maia's adventures in crossing the ocean to join the Carter's, an excentric family in which the uncle is obsessed with collecting glass eyes, an aunt who hates insects with a passion and who is constantly spraying pesticide to kill them, and the twins, Gwendolyn and Beatrice who are only interested in themselves and do their best to make Maia miserable so she will go away.  Miss Minton, Maia's governess, looks and acts very stern when she and Maia first meet on their way to the ship that will take them to Brazil, but they form a quick friendship when Maia guesses what is contained in her heavy trunk. 
     '"You'll need two men for that," said the governess." 
     The porter looked offended.  "Not me, I'm strong."
     But when he went to lift the trunk, he staggered.
     "Crikey, ma'am, what have you got in there?"  he asked.
     Miss Minton looked at him haughtily and did not answer.  Then she led Maia onto the platform where the train waited to take them to Liverpool and the RMS Cardinal, bound for Brazil.
     They were steaming out of the station before Maia asked, "Was it books in the trunk?"
     "It was books," admitted Miss Minton.
     And Maia said, "Good." (Ibbotson p. 16, 2001).
     From that incident, Maia and Miss Minton begin bonding and throughout the rest of the book Miss Minton has only Maia's best interests at heart.
     Maia longs for adventure and she soon gets her wish.  She must deal with her unpleasant relatives on their rubber planation while making friends with the native servants.  Her relatives hate South America and try their best to remain "English" by serving only "English" foods in their home and refusing to go outside.  Maia also makes friends with Finn, a local half-native boy and Clovis King a child actor who has come with his troupe to perform a play in Manaus.  Maia and Miss Minton try to escape the Carter's home every chance they get and explore the area's natural beauty.  "Ibbotson pokes wonderful fun at these caricatured Ugly Europeans - a shiftless, hopelessly in-debt, rubber plantation owner, his insect-phobic wife, and their priggish twin daughters." (Horn Book Magazine, 2002).  They make an unexpected trip into the heart of the Amazon and meet Finn's native relatives until a search party "rescues" them.  Maia is also involved in a plan to help Finn remain in the Amazon and not go back to England to claim an inheritance that he does not want.
  The book is interspersed with black and white illustrations by Kevin Hawkes which help to add to the ability to visualize the events,scenery of the Amazon, and the characters.  Miss Minton is made to look very thin, menacing, and hawk-like at the beginning of the story, and by the end of the story looks more motherly and kind.
     Eva Ibbotson lives in northern England and because of this she makes London of 1910 sound very believable since she is more familiar with it than an American author would be.  Her descriptions of the Amazon make the beauty and natural wonder come alive for the reader as well.  The descriptions used in her writing make the characters come alive for the reader.  I found myself chuckling at the description of Miss Banks, the head of the girl's school.  I read the description to my 12-year old daughter and she laughed and said she could also picture the character.  "Well, Maia, we have good news," said Miss Banks, a woman now in her sixties, frightening to many and with an amazing bust which would have done splendidly on the prow of a sailing ship." (Ibbotson, p. 5, 2001).
     I did find myself becoming annoyed by the character of Clovis King, the child actor.  Clovis was rather weak-willed and tended to blame life for his circumstances instead of taking some responsibility for himself or make some decisions.  His only concern was to get back to England and English food.  His character did grow at the end of the story when he finally admitted that he was not Finn Taverner to his "grandfather," that he and the real Finn had switched places.  That demonstrated that Clovis was finally taking some initiative and showed moral growth.
     I enjoyed this book greatly.  I have read another of Ibbotson's books before, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I did this story.  The descriptions contained in this book were more believable and easier to picture.  The adventure story moved quickly and the Carter family was easy to despise, especially the twins, Gwendolyn and Beatrice who were the typical greedy villians in the story.  I really began to despise the twins for the simple reason that you could tell that they probably would never change unless something drastic would happen to them and they could finally care about someone other than themselves.
Horn Book Magazine.  1 January, 2002.  Books in Print.  Available from:
Hughes, Shirley.  2003.  ELLA'S BIG CHANCE  A JAZZ AGE CINDERELLA.  Ill. by Shirley Hughes.  New York:  Simon & Schuster.  ISBN:  0689873999.
This children's book is a version of Cinderella set in the 1920's.  The Cinderella character in this story is named Ella Cinders and she helps her father in his dress shop by creating and sewing beautiful dresses.  She enjoys her life in the dress shop and her friend, Buttons, the delivery boy, until one day her father remarries and brings her stepmother and two awful stepsisters into their home and the dress shop.  Her stepmother takes over running the dress shop and business increases so that Ella must work harder making the dresses that are now in demand while her two stepsisters model her creations.  Her stepsisters make fun of her shabby clothes and call her "Pudge" because she is not as slim as they are.  When an invitation arrives to the duke's grand ball, Ella's stepmother forbids her to go.  Ella is sure her life will never live up to her dreams until her fairy godmother steps in and gives Ella her big chance to go to the ball.
     This picture book is intended for children ages 4 - 8 and introduces the reader to the dazzle and fashion of the 1920's.  The artwork for this book was done in gouache color combined with pen line.  One of the most interesting facts I found out about this book is that the ball scenes were inspired by the dance sequences in the R. K. O. Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies.  The dresses drawn in the book were inspired by the French couturiers of the 1920's giving the time and setting an authentic feel.  My favorite illustration is the opening of the book that contains the title.  The illustration covers both pages and shows Ella Cinders in her 1920's fashion descending the stairs to a ballroom scene reminiscent of the Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers movies complete with a piano and part of a band showing in the background.  The colors in the illustration give one the feel of softer lights at night and give it a dream come true quality.
     The fashions used in the book give the reader the feel that the book takes place in France, since they were inspired by the French designers of the era.  The story could have taken place in any large city around the world - London, Paris, or even New York.  What gives the reader the idea that it doesn't take place in the United States is that the ball is for the Duc of Arc and the United States does not have titles of nobility.  The spelling of the Duc's name also gives one the indication that the setting is European rather than in the United States.
     I found the message in this retelling of the Cinderella story very interesting.  Cinderella has the chance to become rich and important and instead turns it down for love and a more personally fulfilling future with her friend, Buttons.  Buttons didn't feel he had a chance against the rich Duc, but is delighted that Ella feels the same about him as he does her.  I enjoyed the scene of Ella sitting on the crossbar of Buttons bicycle as they ride off together "into the sunset"  with the fairy godmother watching them as they rode by.  The fairy godmother was the catalyst that helped Ella discover that what she truly desired in life was not riches, but love.  "When the suave socialite duke puts the slipper on Ella's foot, she dismisses him and turns to Buttons, who has been her solace through her ordeal.  Together they will go off and start a shop of their own, a more preferable life than being dressed like an expensive doll." (Booklist, 1 November, 2004.)
      The stepmother and stepsisters in this version were not ugly, but beautiful.  The stepsisters were still mean to Ella by making her do so much work, making fun of her shabby dress, and by calling her "Pudge" even though she wasn't stick thin like them.  Frankly, Ella looks comfortable with her weight.  The stepmother seemed more concerned with business, looking important, and gaining status in society than she did anything else.  The stepmother and her daughters didn't know how to sew, but they did know how to increase business for the dress shop and how best to display the clothes that were made there.
     ELLA'S BIG CHANCE does not use the traditional opening or closing of the story in this version of Cinderella.  Instead the story opens with the lines, "Mr. Cinders kept a little dress shop in a quiet but elegant part of town.  People came from far and near to buy clothes from him because he made such lovely things." (Hughes, 2003).  The ending of the story shows the fairy godmother watching the young couple ride the bicycle down the street and closes with the lines, "They were too happy to notice a lady walking alone farther up the street, carrying a fancy umbrella.  She paused to watch them go.  Then, smiling a secret smile, she walked on." (Hughes, 2003).
     The author and illustrator, Shirley Hughes is from the United Kingdom.  She studied at the Liverpool School of Art and Design and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art in Oxford.  "She began to write and design her own picture books when her children were very young." (Ella's Big Chance book jacket, 2003).

International Children's Literature
Sylvia M. Vardell, Ph. D. - Instructor
Renee Schneider - Student

This site was created as an assignment for a Texas Woman's University course.  The course is a graduate level course in Library Science LS 5903.24 Special Topics - International Children's Literature.