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Posts from August 2007

Recommendations from Under the Radar: Day 5

Today is the fifth and last day of the Recommendations from Under the Radar series. We hope that you have found it enjoyable. Participating blogs today include:

  • A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: The Vietnam books by Ellen Emerson White
  • Big A, little a: The Deep by Helen Dunsmore
  • Bildungsroman: The May Bird Trilogy by Jodi Lynn Anderson
  • Finding Wonderland: The Avion My Uncle Flew by Cyrus Fisher
  • Not Your Mother's Bookclub: A look at some recently revised classics
  • Fuse Number 8: Stoneflight by George McHarque
  • lectitans: Gentle's Holler and Louisiana Song both by Kerry Madden
  • Chasing Ray: Kipling's Choice by Geert Spillebeen
  • Interactive Reader: A Plague of Sorcerers by Mary Frances Zambreno
  • The YA YA YAs: Resurrection Men by TK Welsh
  • 7 Impossible Things Before Breakfast: Such a Pretty Face: Short Stories About Beauty edited by Ann Angel

Radar_2 You can find the full schedule here and a post from Colleen Mondor about the philosophy behind this whole undertaking here. Thanks for joining us for Recommendations from Under the Radar.

Under the Radar: The Treasures of Weatherby

Book: The Treasures of Weatherby
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Pages: 213
Age Range: 9-12

I read Zilpha Keatley Snyder's newest book, The Treasures of Weatherby, with interest, curious to see whether it would hold up in comparison to much-loved favorites of mine like The Velvet Room and The Changeling. The Treasures of Weatherby is, according to Snyder's foreword, "the big, old house story to end all big, old house stories." 12-year-old Harleigh Weatherby the Fourth (aka Harleigh Four, aka Hardly) lives with an assortment of relatives in an enormous, fascinating, crumbling, old house. His room is at the top of a high tower, a window-lined octagon with an "ornate tile floor and thick stone walls." Harleigh stands to inherit the house, being the next descendant after his aunt and father. Harleigh is well aware of his own importance. He's also much smaller than most kids his age, because of a health problem, with his quality of life only recently improved by surgery. Harleigh's self-importance and disconnectedness with others are evident in this early passage:

"The usual people were there to notice Harleigh's energetic entrance, and possibly realize how wrong they'd been when they'd suggested that sleeping in a tower could be dangerous to your health. Only three people, actually, because, not being a Weatherby, Matilda the cook didn't count." (Chapter 1)

It's clear that to Harleigh, the only people who "count" are direct descendant Weatherby family members. A variety of indirect descendants do live in the house, off in peripheral wings, but these lesser relations are of minimal interest to Harleigh. Harleigh is insufferable at the start, although the reader does feel for him, because of his health issues, and the way that kids in school, when he went to school, picked on him.

Exploring the tangled and neglected gardens of Weatherby House, which his illness has prevented him cataloging previously, Harleigh finds an abandoned tree-house. There, he meets a mysterious girl named Allegra, who might, just might, be able to fly. Allegra is fascinated by the house, and its inhabitants, and soon inspires Harleigh to a new level of interest, too. Allegra reminded me quite a bit of Ivy from The Changeling, someone who makes life more interesting for a sheltered child, and appears and disappears at will. (And, oh, how I wished that Ivy was a real person when I was young.)

In the remainder of the book Harleigh investigates a mystery concerned with the lost treasure of Weatherby House, tackles a long-overgrown maze, and alternates between curiosity about and frustration with Allegra. In the process of his adventures, he evolves and become a better person. Here's an early passage showing Harleigh's self-absorption:

"The candy was a chocolate bar. Harleigh really liked candy, but he didn't get it very often because Aunt Adelaide thought chocolate was habit-forming. Allegra broke the bar in two and let him pick which piece he wanted. At first that only added to his frustration, because it was broken so evenly it was hard to decide which one was biggest. And after he'd finally chosen, he was sure he'd made a mistake and picked the small one." (Chapter 7)

A bit strong, I think. And his personal growth from that point seemed suspiciously rapid. Despite my small quibble over Harleigh's personal growth, however, I enjoyed this book, and thought that it compared favorably to Snyder's earlier work. The Treasures of Weatherby has all the ingredients that made the original books so appealing: a mysterious old house filled with interesting treasures (the tower and the library being reminiscent of The Velvet Room), a beguiling girl with secrets, and a hint of what may or may not be supernatural (Can Allegra fly? Does she really hear the voices of ghosts in the house?). This dash of the occult reminds me of Snyder's books about the Stanley family, and the more famous The Egypt Game. The house is also very cool, an amalgam of the best features of the Professor's house in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Elizabeth Enright's Four-Story Mistake, and Colin's house in The Secret Garden. (I thought of the latter after reading Darla's comparison of Harleigh with Colin in another review.)

What I can't tell you is whether The Treasures of Weatherby has the same magic to it that I found many years ago in The Changeling, The Velvet Room and The Green Sky trilogy. Part of the magic of those books, for me, was my own mindset when I read them. It's difficult to get that wide-eyed, diving into a set of books feeling back as an adult. I think what I would say is that The Treasures of Weatherby gave me hints of that feeling, but I haven't fallen in love with it the way I did (and remain) with those books. I would be interested to see which of the books a twelve-year-old today, reading them all for the first time, would prefer.

Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: December 2006
Source of Book: Santa Clara City Library
Other Blog Reviews: Chasing Ray (part of an article about the lure of mysterious houses), Books & Other Thoughts

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Recommendations from Under the Radar: Day 4

Day 4 of the Recommendations from Under the Radar series is now available at the following websites:

Radar_2 You can find the full schedule here and a post from Colleen Mondor about the philosophy behind this whole undertaking here.

Under the Radar: The Green Sky Trilogy

Books: The Green Sky Trilogy: Below the Root, And All Between, Until the Celebration
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Pages: 242, 224, 224 (2004 reissue editions)
Age Range: 10 and up

Zilpha Keatley Snyder's Green Sky trilogy depicts a world in which people live up in the branches of trees, beneath a green, leaf-filtered sky. Gravity is lighter in Green Sky than on Earth, and people are able to wear silken panels attached to wrists and ankles (called Shubas) that allow them to glide gently down between branches. The residents of Green Sky are descendants of flight from Earth, one that took place as the home planet ran into irrecoverable trouble. Green Sky residents are more evolved than citizens of Earth, shunning violence and anger, and focusing on peace and joy. They don't even have words for "kill" or "anger" -- the worst state to be in is one of "unjoyfulness", and even this is rare. The children have spiritual gifts (mind-reading, and the ability to move objects with their minds), although the Spirit gifts have been fading in recent years.

Here's an example of Ms. Snyder's poetic descriptions of Green Sky, from Below the Root:

"He stood on the narrow grundbranch, looking down hundreds of feet, through vast open spaces softly lit by filtering rays of greenish light, bordered and intersected by enormous branches, festooned with curtains of graceful Wissenvine. Shaking out the wing panels of his shuba, the long silken robe worn by all except the youngest infants, he launched himself downward into space."

Although Below the Root depicts a society that is on the surface idyllic, imperfections are evident from the early pages of the book. People are pressured to never show unhappiness or irritability. The society is very hierarchical, with the community leaders kept apart from the rabble (called Kindar), living in nicer homes, and idolized. Certain locations within the community are forbidden (such as the fields where fruit is harvested). People are warned never to so much as glance at the forest floor, in fear of a race of monsters that dwells "below the root".

The Root is the root of the sacred Wissenvine, a natural plant that was adapted through the Spirit gifts of early Green Sky residents. The root forms a steel-like network along the forest floor, trapping the monsters (called Pash-shan) below. The upper parts of the Wissenvine give rise to useful vines that harden when cut (allowing construction of furniture), beautiful flowers, and Berries that cause a dreamy, happy state when consumed. The Root, and the Vine, affect all life in Green Sky. However, there are unhappy rumors that the Root may be withering...

Below the Root begins when 13-year-old Raamo learns that he has been Chosen to become one of the Ol-Zhaan, the spiritual leaders of the community. Only two new Ol-Zhaan are chosen, out of all seven cities across Green Sky, and Raamo is quite surprised to be one of them. He's an indifferent student, with poor memorization skills, and a dreamy manner. His co-Chosen One, a girl named Genaa, seems a much more understandable choice. Soon, however, Raamo learns that he has been selected because of his greater-than-average Spirit skills. He discovers that, contrary to what most of the Kindar believe, the Ol-Zhaan have also been losing their Spirit skills. They've chosen Raamo in a desperate bid to help slow the withering of the Vine, and maintain the status quo.

Soon another young Ol-Zhaan, Neric, two years older than Raamo, seeks his help in uncovering a terrible secret. The secret is protected by a clandestine group of the most senior Ol-Zhaan. Discovering it puts Raamo and Neric, and all of Green Sky, in grave danger. Below the Root is a gripping, fast-paced tale, one that tackles serious issues, but uses the fantasy setting to keep things from being too disturbing.

In order not to give away the secret here, and spoil the series for readers, I'm going to refrain from any detailed discussion of the second and third books in the trilogy, though I will make some general comments. I thought that the second book dragged a bit. And All Between starts out by repeating some of the events of the second half of Below the Root, though from a different character's perspective, and it doesn't really get interesting until mid-way through. Until the Celebration is darker than the first two books, but ultimately redemptive.

The language in this series, filled with made-up terms, is engaging. In a precursor to the later work of J. K. Rowling, Ms. Snyder uses words derived from other languages, to lend an exotic flavor to her fantasy community. Pensing (connecting with other people's minds) is derived from the French verb penser, to think. A bread-like fruit is called pan (the French word for bread is pain). A monkey-like house-pet is called a sima (from simian), and what is apparently a rabbit is called a lapan (another French word). The series also features nids (living hammocks woven of the Vine), kiniporting (moving things with one's mind), and grunds (tree trunks), all words that sound appropriate to what they describe. Some of the names of characters are also entertaining. The pompous novice-master for the young Ol-Zhaan is called Regle (regal?). A young sycophant is called Salaat (salaam, abasement?).

The characters is the Green Sky trilogy are solidly drawn, and consistent between the books. One of my favorite passages from And All Between describes Raamo's father:

"Never one to waste an opportunity for spoken communication, Valdo had, at that moment, great reason to find words of appropriate quality and quantity, and he was more than equal to the occasion. As the words of her father rolled grandly on, Pomma's mind turned again to what might be happening in the nid-chamber".

One thing that I found Interesting on re-reading this series is that although the Green Sky trilogy is a middle grade series, it has several PG-13 elements. There are thinly veiled references to sex (called "love relationships"), contraception ("Youth Wafers" that people eat to "produce temporary sterility" while living in youth halls), drugs ("Wissen-Berries", a mild drug, and "pavo-berries", a hallucinogenic), and even drug trafficking.

There's a bit of a free love vibe going on in Green Sky (the books were published between 1975 and 1978). People live in co-ed youth halls between the ages of 15 and 25, and are encouraged to have multiple relationships, before finally settling down with a bond-partner. The Ol-Zhaan never settle down with bond-partners, though they do have "relationships" among themselves. The references to Berries, which teachers encourage students to eat, to make them more complacent and obedient, made me think of today's Ritalin and the like. The use of gentle fantasy names to describe these aspects of Green Sky life may keep younger kids from really noticing them - I certainly don't remember being aware of any of this when reading the books as a child. But adult readers will certainly stop and take notice.

Other themes are more directly addressed, particularly the question of whether or not violence is an inherent part of human nature, and whether or not it is acceptable to turn to violence if ones own life, or someone else's life, is threatened. There are also veiled questions about segregation, and whether or not separate but equal makes sense for different populations. I was surprised, actually, on re-reading this series for the first time in many years, by how substantive it is. I had remembered it more as a nice fantasy, where people glide around among the trees. And while that aspect is certainly part of the joy of the series, larger issues such as civil rights are also central to the story.

One important and annoying note about the reissue editions: the very last page of the third book was missing from my copy. Fortunately, I had an older edition, and I was able to read the last page there. Otherwise, I would have been very frustrated. It's possible that this has been fixed in other printings, but a word of warning is advised.

On re-reading the Green Sky trilogy for the first time in many years, I was struck how deep these books are, and by how they seem to foreshadow a number of later titles (The Giver and The City of Ember/The People of Sparks come most immediately to mind). Zilpha Keatley Snyder may have started out (quotation from her online autobiography) revisiting "a game that involved crossing a grove of oak trees by climbing from tree to tree, because something incredibly dangerous lived "below the root"", but she's given us much, much more in this series. 

Publisher: (reissue editions)
Publication Date: 1975-1978 (original titles), November 2005 (reissue editions)
Source of Book: Purchased all three from Amazon

© 2009 by Jennifer Robinson of Jen Robinson's Book Page. All rights reserved.

Recommendations from Under the Radar: Day 3

Welcome to Day 3 of Recommendations from Under the Radar. Today's features include:

  • A Chair, A Fireplace & A Tea Cozy: The President's Daughter series by Ellen Emerson White
  • Big A, little a: The Tide Knot by Helen Dunsmore
  • Jen Robinson's Book Page: The Zilpha Keatley Snyder Green Sky trilogy
  • Bildungsroman: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 1
  • Chasing Ray: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 2
  • lectitans: Innocence by Jane Mendelsohn: A Discussion Part 3
  • Finding Wonderland: The House on Hound Hill by Maggie Prince
  • Miss Erin: The Reb & Redcoats and Enemy Brothers, both by Constance Savery
  • Bookshelves of Doom: Harry Sue by Sue Stauffacher
  • Interactive Reader: Shake Down the Stars by Frances Donnelly
  • Chicken Spaghetti: Pooja Makhijani guest blogs with Romina's Rangoli by Malathi Michelle Iyengar
  • Writing & Ruminating: Dear Mr. Rosenwald by Carole Weatherford
  • Shaken & Stirred: Elizabeth Knox and the Dreamhunter Duet

Radar_2 You can find the full schedule here and a post from Colleen Mondor about the philosophy behind this whole undertaking here.

Children's Literacy Round-Up: August 28

Here are the recent children's literacy-related news stories that caught my eye:

  • Random House just donated $1 million to First Book. According to, "The gift, a multiyear commitment announced today, is the largest single philanthropic contribution ever made by the house, the world's largest trade book publisher."
  • In other First Book-related news, a Pennsylvania drug court is working with First Book to provide books to children of drug court mothers and fathers. According to the Altoona Mirror, "Participant Jennifer Mallery-Cole sympathized with the families she saw and recommended that drug court obtain a grant for books to be distributed to children."
  • (Philippines) has a lovely feature / opinion piece by Cathy S. Babao-Guballa about raising kids who love books. It includes suggestions like this: "There are three lessons that I always pass on to other parents when it comes to developing a love for the written word. One, you need to be a role-model for the love for reading. Two, expose your child to a wide array of books and encourage him or her to find favorites. And three, especially at a young age, it is very important to read to your child and interact with him or her as you read." Do click through and read the whole article.

That's all for this week. Happy reading!

Under the Radar: Favorites from Zilpha Keatley Snyder

Book: The Velvet Room, The Changeling
Author: Zilpha Keatley Snyder
Pages: 226 (each)
Age Range: 9-12

On the surface of it, Zilpha Keatley Snyder is an odd choice for Books Below the Radar. Since she was first published in 1964 she's published 44 children's books, mostly for middle grade readers. She has received three Newbery Honors (for The Egypt Game, The Headless Cupid and The Witches of Worm), and various other awards. Her most recent book, the Treasures of Weatherby, was published in 2006. Her next book, The Bronze Pen, is scheduled for publication in March of 2008.

The reason that I chose to feature Zilpha Keatley Snyder for the Books Below the Radar series is that, although she's written several of my favorite books of all time, I don't think that her newer books have received as much attention as they deserve. Her last Newbery honor was received in 1972, for The Witches of Worm. Many of her books are long out of print, though you can often find them at used bookstores. But she's still out there, reading and writing, and apparently enjoying life.

In this series, I'm going to feature several of my favorite of Ms. Snyder's older titles, and then move on to review and compare her most recent. Today, I'll talk a bit about Ms. Snyder's background and work as a whole, and discuss my two all-time favorites from her titles. Tomorrow I'll discuss the Green Sky trilogy (Below the Root, And All Between, Until the Celebration), and the next day I'll review the newer title The Treasures of Weatherby.


Zilpha Keatley Snyder has a detailed autobiography on her website. The Fantastic Fiction site for Ms. Snyder contains a shorter biography, and a list of published titles. Zilpha Keatley Snyder was born in 1927, during the heart of the Depression, in Lemmore, California, the second of three daughters. Her parents were both storytellers, and she read at an early age, saying (in her autobiography):

"Books and reading must have had a beginning somewhere but it is beyond memory. I seemed to have been born reading. Actually my mother claimed I taught myself after eavesdropping on lessons she was giving my older sister. Then one day when she was sick and I was four years old, I offered to read to her. When I proceeded to do so, she thought I had memorized the book until she began to ask me individual words. Later when I became, briefly, a kind of neighborhood oddity--I had not yet been to school and I could read the newspaper and was sometimes called into neighbors' homes to demonstrate to skeptical guests--my mother claimed to have had nothing to do with it. Actually I think she used two methods which are almost certain to produce an early reader. First of all, she read to us--a lot. And then, when I tried to horn in on my sister's reading lessons, she told me I was too young--a challenge that no self-respecting four-year-old is going to take lying down."

She became a writer, in her own eyes, at the age of eight, when she first learned that there was actually a profession in which people were paid to make up stories. She was a proficient reader and writer as a child, but also a daydreamer, saying about her young self:

"Books! Books were the window from which I looked out of a rather meager and decidedly narrow room, onto a rich and wonderful universe. I loved the look and feel of them, even the smell. I'm still a book sniffer. That evocative mixture of paper and ink and glue and dust never fails to bring back the twinge of excitement that came with the opening of a new book. Libraries were treasure houses. I always entered them with a slight thrill of disbelief that all their endless riches were mine for the borrowing. And librarians I approached with reverent awe--guardians of the temple, keepers of the golden treasure."

It wasn't until after years of school, marriage, raising children, and teaching that she began writing for publication, producing mostly books for children. She says (again in her web autobiography):

"I began to write for children by accident, through the fortunate accident of nine years in the classroom. But I've continued to do so because over the years I've come to realize that it's where I'm happiest. It is, I think, a matter of personal development (or lack of it, as the case may be). There are several peculiarities that I share with children which, like having no front teeth, are perhaps more acceptable in the very young, but which, for better or worse, seem to be a part of my makeup."

Once she started writing for children, she never looked back, producing a tremendous volume and variety of titles. You can see a complete listing, organized by series and by date, here. In addition to the books that I'll be discussing this week, I also particularly enjoyed the Stanley family series (The Headless Cupid, The Famous Stanley Kidnapping Case, Blair's Nightmare, and Janie's Private Eyes), and Libby on Wednesday.

The Velvet Room

The Velvet Room (1965) features 12-year-old Robin Williams (Robin Williams the actor was only fourteen in 1965). After losing their farm in the Depression, Robin and her family have spent the past three years traveling around California in their old Model-T, taking work where they can get it. Robin is the middle child, with two older and two younger siblings, and she is the dreamer. She's always getting in trouble for "wandering off". She loves to read, when she can get her hands on books:

"Just looking at the outside of the library made Robin lose herself for a minute, remembering the feel of libraries. There was that special smell made up of paper, ink, and dust; the busy hush; the endless luxury of thousands of unread books. Best of all was the eager itch of anticipation as you went out the door with your arms loaded down with books. Libraries had always seemed almost too good to be true. It didn't seem possible that anything as important as a book could be free to anyone -- that is, to anyone who had a permanent address."

As the story begins, the Williams' luck appears to be changing. Through being in the right place at the right time, Robin's Dad gets a job, at least for fruit-picking season, working for rancher Don McCurdy. The job comes with the first house that the family has lived in for three years, although the house is more of a two-room shack.

Things on the McCurdy ranch aren't easy. Robin is expected to work long hours in the apricot pitting shed, under the baleful eye of the foreman. She worries about the health of her father (whose earlier illness contributed to the loss of their own farm), and what a recurrence of his illness will mean for the family's future. When she starts school, she finds that the families of the farm and migrant laborers are treated as second class citizens.

Despite all of this, Robin never gives up hoping for something better. And she soon discovers that the McCurdy estate holds very special secrets. She finds first an enchanting old mansion:

"It was about the largest house that Robin had ever seen. It was built of pale gray stone, and at one end it had a high round tower. A long portico supported by stone arches ran all around the front and one side. It was a wonderful house, almost like a castle -- but after a moment Robin realized that something was terribly wrong. On the bottom floor there were no windows. Every place a window should have been there were only rough planks. The house looked wounded; like a beautiful face with bandages for eyes."

In addition to the house, Robin finds a small stone cottage in the woods, inhabited by a bent old woman with an array of unusual pets. Robin becomes friends with Bridget, the old woman, and through Bridget, Robin is introduced to the secret haven of her dreams -- the Velvet Room.

The Velvet Room is the old library of the abandoned mansion, Las Palmeras, complete with a window-lined tower surrounded by red velvet drapes. Although most of the house is empty, the Velvet Room remain intact, filled with books and other treasures. Here is Robin's first impression of the Velvet Room:

"From the first glimpse, from the first minute, it was more than a room —- more even than the most beautiful room Robin had ever seen. Her hands shook on the doorknob, and the shaking didn't come from fear or cold. Her trembling hands were only an echo of something deeper that had been strangely shaken by that first sight of the Velvet Room... It was as if she had been there before, or at least known it was there. As if she had always known that there would be a place exactly like this."

The Velvet Room represents a sanctuary to Robin, a place where she can escape from the worries of her life and dream in peace. She also discovers a secret diary in the Velvet Room, and uncovers a mystery. She doesn't spend all of her time in the Velvet Room, however. Robin also becomes friends with Gwen, the daughter of Mr. McCurdy. Gwen is nothing like Robin. She is the picture of self-confidence, and somewhat oblivious to the issues of those less fortunate. She's good-hearted, however, and despite the concerns of both of their families, the two girls become friends. As the story progresses, Robin faces major choices, about the Velvet Room, about her relationship with Gwen, and about her place within her own family.

This is what I concluded about the book in an earlier review, and which still holds:

"Although Robin's story is set during the Depression, her struggles to fit in and to remain loyal to her family while holding on to what is important to her, are timeless. The Velvet Room, and the old woman, Bridget, render the story magical, while Robin's other relationships and experiences feel (sometimes painfully) real. I can't recommend this book highly enough. I loved it the first time I read it (when I was probably 10 or 11) and I love it still."

The Changeling

The Changeling (1970) is told from the perspective of Martha Abbott. Martha, sometimes called Marty Mouse, is shy and plump, and takes frequent refuge in tears. She doesn't seem to fit in with her highly accomplished, conventional family, and she lingers around the fringes in elementary school. Martha's life changes dramatically when, at seven, she becomes best friends with Ivy Carson.

Ivy is fearless and imaginative. She walks likes she's dancing, has uncontrollable curly hair, and wears ragged clothes. She's an expert tree-climber, and knowledgeable about many fascinating subjects. Although Ivy lives with the disreputable Carson family, she believes that she's really a changeling, someone switched at birth by the fairies. And Martha believes her, because it's impossible to believe that Ivy could be anyone ordinary. Here is Martha's first impression of Ivy, entering school as a new student:

"When she skipped up to the teacher's desk, Martha noticed, for the first time, Ivy's way of walking--a kind of weightless skimming, like a waterbug on the surface of a pond."

Together, Ivy and Martha have wonderful adventures. They play games in a local grove called Bent Oaks. They learn to ride horses, and spend time at the local stables. They get into laugh-out-loud sorts of trouble (there's an incident involving the removal of spilled crude oil from some ducks, for instance, and another involving purple enamel paint...). But mostly, they use their imaginations, and act out stories. They believe that real magic may occur from time to time, though everything that happens to them could be explained away by those of a pragmatic bent.

Sadly for Martha, Ivy's family comes and goes over the years, leaving Martha without Ivy's company for years at a time. For the reader, this only lends more magic to the story -- Ivy is mysterious and elusive. For Martha, this coming and going starts to cause conflict as she gets older. When Ivy returns she upsets tentative strides that Martha has made towards making other friends. Ivy is not someone who is ever going to fit in. As the girls enter junior high school, Ivy plans never to grow up. I've never forgotten the chant that the girls derive, to help stave off adulthood:

"Know all the Questions, but not the Answers
Look for the Different, instead of the Same
Never Walk when there's room for Running
Don't do anything that can't be a Game."

I think that everyone could benefit from reciting that one every so often. I think that most kids wonder, at some point, if they might be a changeling, too. Left on the doorstep by magical parents, and holding a secret magic deep inside? The Changeling has universal appeal.

I once had a friend who was a bit like Ivy -- we played on a secret island made of sticks in a swamp near my house, read up about fairies, and took turns writing a joint story. That friend moved away after fifth grade -- perhaps that's part of why The Changeling has always stuck with me.

For me, this book held up completely, re-reading it for the first time in perhaps 20 years. It's a bit hard for me to say whether it would have the same magic for new readers -- it's always hard to know how nostalgia fits in to one's own impressions. But I think that it would hold up, and that the appeal of The Changeling is timeless.

Something that I had forgotten is that The Changeling includes a precursor to Ms. Snyder's Green Sky trilogy (which I will be discussing tomorrow). One of the games that the girls play involves The Tree People, who live high up among the trees on a beautiful world with low gravity, such that they can glide about. Ms. Snyder later developed this concept into a three-book series, but Green Sky first appears in print (as far as I know) as a gleam in Ivy Carson's eye.

Here is what Ms. Snyder said about this in her autobiography:

"Like so many of my books, the trilogy's deepest root goes back to my early childhood when I played a game that involved crossing a grove of oak trees by climbing from tree to tree, because something incredibly dangerous lived "below the root." Years later when I was writing The Changeling I recalled the game, and in the course of embellishing it for that story, became intrigued with the idea of returning to the world of Green- sky for a longer stay. The return trip took three years and produced three more books. Initially published in 1975, 1976, and 1978, the trilogy was later reincarnated as a computer game (published by Spinnaker Software of Cambridge, MA)."

There's also a mention in The Changeling of a wealthy Montoya family, who could be descendants of the 1930s Montoya family (Gwen's ancestors) mentioned in The Velvet Room. It's a nice, inside-joke sort of continuity. Other things that I love about the book (beside the above poem) include:

  • Martha's gradual evolution from seven-year-old Marty Mouse to someone with a logical place, and friends, in her high school society;
  • The wonderfully loyal friendship between the two girls, and the different things that they each bring to the relationship;
  • The magic of Bent Oaks, and the games that are played there;
  • Martha's realistic relationships with her family;
  • The depiction of cliques and fitting in, and what happens to people who are different, at Martha and Ivy's school; and, most of all,
  • Ivy.


You can see the impact of Ms. Snyder's childhood in both The Velvet Room (the struggles of a Depression-era family) and The Changeling (fanciful children's games, like those she played with her sisters). Certain themes and images echo throughout many of her books: friendship, feelings of isolation while being part of a larger family, the hidden magic that hides behind ordinary objects, the allure of tress, and the mystery of big old houses. I suspect that you could see the impact of these themes echoed in my own childhood writings, and in my dreams to this day. Zilpha Keatley Snyder's books have played a part in making me who I am, an adult who reads children's books, and has been know to go around murmuring softly under her breath:

"Know all the Questions, but not the Answers
Look for the Different, instead of the Same
Never Walk when there's room for Running
Don't do anything that can't be a Game."

The Changeling and The Velvet Room have both been reissued by, and are available from Amazon, with the original illustrations. I highly recommend that people who loved these books as children take advantage of this wonderful opportunity, and re-read the books. And I hope that The Velvet Room and The Changeling, as well as Ms. Snyder's other titles, will become beloved by a new generation of readers. 

Publication Date: Originally 1965 (Velvet Room) and 1970 (Changeling), reissued in 2004
Source of Book: Purchased from Amazon

This post is (c) 2007 by Jennifer Robinson. All rights reserved.

Recommendations from Under the Radar: Day 2

Welcome to Day 2 of Recommendations from Under the Radar. Today's entries include:

Radar_3Again, you can find the full schedule here and a post from Colleen Mondor about the philosophy behind this whole undertaking here.

Recommendations from Under the Radar: Day 1

Today is the first of five days of posts featuring books that SBBT team members feel deserve special attention. Welcome to Recommendations from Under the Radar! Today's posts include:

Radar_2 You can find the full schedule here and a post from Colleen Mondor about the philosophy behind this whole undertaking here.

Sunday Afternoon Visits: 3 Days Early

I'm bringing you this week's "Sunday Visits" post a few days early. I'm leaving tomorrow to go to Sonoma County with three friends from college for a long weekend. It's rare for us all four to be together (we live in New York, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and California), and on Sunday, I'll be focusing on that. But I leave you with a few tidbits:

  • Read Roger seeks an explanation for why, when he's listening to an audiobook, he has to be doing something else, too. He can't just sit and listen. Many commenters have weighed in -- this compulsion to multitask while listening to audiobooks is clearly widespread. I think that commenter Lelac is onto something with this point: "You read a lot faster than you listen. If the audiobook could move along at your normal reading clip, it would be able to absorb more of your mental energy."
  • The news is all over the Internet, and the mainstream press, that a recent study found that one in four adults say that they read no books at all in the past year. One of the more thoughtful blog responses that I've seen in this one by Kate McNeill, link courtesy of AmoxCalli, but many others have weighed in. Peronally, I'm not as up in arms about this news as some. I think that adults are entitled to their own preferences -- if people don't want to read, that's their choice. I certainly have things that other people enjoy that I don't want to do. I feel differently about kids -- I think that adults should be doing everything that they can to give kids the opportunity to grow up enjoying books. Because that's when most people learn to love books -- when they're young. But I accept that it's not going to take with some people. There's a lot of variation from person to person -- that's what makes the world interesting. See also Becky's response at Reading With Becky.
  • A new issue of The Prairie Wind (newsletter of the SCBWI-Illinois chapter) is now available. I especially enjoyed Ilene Goldman's kidlitosphere feature: Why Do Bloggers Blog? This roundtable discussion features several writers who also blog. I also liked Louann Brown's article: From Cornfields to Cyberpace. This article is a beginner's guide to websites for illustrators.
  • Longstocking Kathryne Alfred has a new job teaching middle-school English at a private elementary school. Her appointed mission is to get kids to love reading for fun. How cool is that? She's looking for book recommendations, and has received lots of great feedback in the comments.
  • To celebrate the start of the new school year, Gail Gauthier is giving away an autographed copy of her out-of-print novel A Year with Butch and Spike. You can find details here. But don't delay. There's a deadline to enter.
  • Expectant Mom Mindy has put together a nice post about Books for Babies at She discusses board books and links to several other posts about choosing books for babies. Mindy's child is one who will be read lots and lots of books, no worries about that.
  • And lastly, a sad story from Ananka's Diary. "The latest edition of Nation Geographic is reporting that redheads (known as "gingers" in the UK and Australia) may be extinct in 100 years." I find this especially sad, because I share my life with a redhead. Then again, he has two dark-haired parents, so there's still hope for highly recessive red-headed genes in the world.

And that's all. Hope that you all have an amazing weekend!

Upcoming: Recommendations From Under the Radar

Radar Next week, the team that brought you the Summer Blog Blast Tour (SBBT) and the One Shot World Tour: Best Read with Vegemite will be featuring Recommendations From Under the Radar. As our host Colleen Mondor says, in her post of introduction to this new event:

We "will be posting about books we all individually feel have been overlooked. Some of them might have been award winners in the distant past, and some are even out of print, but all of them are books that each of us have enjoyed and want to tell more people about."

I'll be featuring several titles by Zilpha Keatley Snyder, one of my favorite childhood authors, whose work I still love today. I hope that you'll check back next week to see what everyone else comes up with for Books from Under the Radar.

Updated to add: The complete list of planned Radar Book posts is now available at Chasing Ray.

P.S. The image above is compliments of Little Willow.

Readergirlz: Live Chat with Holly Black

I'm posting the following announcement from readergirlz:

"Join readergirlz on our group forum for our hour-long live chat with Ironside and Tithe author Holly Black!

Thursday, August 23rd

Chat Reminder:
1. Look for the title August: Holly Black Live Chat -- which will come up on the forum Beginning at 7 PM Pacific / 10 PM Eastern.

2. Remember to hit the "refresh" button every few seconds to see the newest posts as the posts go by Fast. Otherwise you'll be wondering where everyone is :)

3. The first reader on the chat to post a quote that reflects Tithe or Ironside will get a signed copy of Avielle of Rhia by Dia Calhoun! The second to join and post a quote will get Dragon's Keep by Janet Lee Carey.

SO . . .

Come chat with Holly Black about the joys and frustrations of writing fantasy.

Here's your chance to ask her all those questions you've been saving up and to explore her tantalizing faery world."