Thursday, May 26, 2011

Reading an Author

I'm pretty loyal when comes music or books. When I hear or read something I like, I will usually try and discover the rest of the works by the artist. One of my favorite books of the last decade was Because of Winn-Dixie and over the past year or so, I've read most of the author's other books. Though none have grabbed me as much as that one, I've enjoyed visiting Kate DiCamillo's imagination and really like how she's branched out into more fantastical stories. Here's my reviews of three of her other books, in order of how much I liked them them. Enjoy.

The Magician's Elephant by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick, 2009)

I went into this book slightly tentative and with a reserved sense of anticipation. On one hand, I absolutely loved Kate DiCamillo's Because of Winn-Dixie, but on the other I found later novels The Tale of Despereaux andThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane to be rather stiff (see reviews below). To be completely honest, had there not been the promise of an elephant, I may have skipped this one. Thankfully, I did not.

When an elephant falls from the sky, it sets off a chain reaction of events that eventually lead to a heartwarming reunion of characters and a compassionate awakening in a dreary winter town. The Magician's Elephant is a delightfully compact story with a perfect blend of heart and magic, working in correspondence to bring to life this very satisfying tale. In many ways, this book is the culmination of a writing style used in The Tale of Despereaux andThe Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. It's very direct and not at all sentimental, but has a way of suiting this fantastical story in a way that I felt didn't quite serve the other books. By the end of this novel, the emotion bursts through in a series of extraordinary events that reward the reader with a truly enjoyable story.

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
(Candlewick, 2006)

On the surface, this should have been one of those books I loved, but for several reasons I just didn't connect with it. The 'tale' itself was entertaining and enjoyable, however I had a hard time finding any redeemable characters. They are all rather selfish or dim-witted or both. Even Despereaux as the hero wasn't all that lovable, mostly because he wasn't fully fleshed out. In my opinion, the entire book felt like pieces of underdeveloped tales that would have been more interesting separated.

The novel's habit of directly speaking to "the Reader" felt intrusive to me. This is a very tricky ploy and extremely hard to pull off. To work, I think the narrator has to be a voice that we know, almost as a character as in The Series of Unfortunate Events. Though most young readers may find it fascinating if they are encountering for the first time, and therefore it's effective for its target audience. In fact, the whole book is one that I think middle grade readers will love, which explains it's popularity. I am surprised however that it won the Newbery Medal. But, that award is often given on reputation.

In another note, I was surprised to see in the Acknowledgements that this book was written with the help of a grant. At the time of this book's publication, the author was already a two-time Newbery Honor winner and her first novel was being made into a film....surely there are writers in more financial need of a grant.

by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick, 2009)

A well written story with a straight forward message. I admit to getting teary-eyed. It's definitely a book for a certain sensibility. It's only downfall is simply that the story isn't all that original. I've encountered this story before, but if you haven't read a ton of books about a doll's life as I have, and assuming it's of interest to you...then you would do well to read this one. Kate DiCamillo has wonderful direct style that always manages to be moving.


  1. I haven't read Elephant yet...but loved Tulane (like you know.) But I think "Tiger Rising" has been my favorite so far...

  2. I didn't know you read Tulane. I thought it was OK. But I felt like I'd read the same story before. There's a book called Hittie, Her First Hundred Years that is very similar. I also didn't care for Edward too much.

    Tiger Rising is the one I still haven't read. Did you read Winn-Dixie?