Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Kid review: The Castle Corona, by Sharon Creech

I pulled this book off the library shelves to read to my kids because we enjoyed Creech's "Pleasing the Ghost" but none of her other books have struck me as their style (though I read "Bloomability" and "Love That Dog" myself, and liked them). I hoped Castle Corona, an extended (and, I assumed, unique) fairy tale written for 9-12 year olds, would fit the bill. Knowing it might not be as much of a thrill as some of their favorite read-alouds, I started it on a long car trip--generally a good opportunity to give a book a little more time to grab their attention.

Three days and 61 pages later, we're home and we'll be returning the book to the library. As a fairy tale, Castle Corona might succeed--but when's the last time a fairy tale went on for 319 pages? Here's the kid's eye view: "The book wasn't action-packed at all, and I didn't care about the characters." (Ben, 11)

"It's a good book for people that don't like books that much and don't like any action, just like two people finding something that they don't know what it is and find out in the end, and then there's something about a hermit which I didn't even know what a hermit was at first before I was told. So, it was kind of bad!!!!!! Especially since my mom said that the author had some other really good books so that adds two more !!s" (Evan, 7)

The kids weren't the only ones who were bored as the story moved back and forth between the king and queen's family, and two peasant children. The plot, such as it is, unfolds painstakingly slowly, with extremely short chapters in which very little happens. Creech introduces each character through long descriptions: Pia was a slender girl with large, round dark eyes and thick black lashes, curly black hair, long legs, and an easy, graceful way of moving....She could be feisty, if challenged, but she could also be silent, withholding her temper. There was a girlishness in her open joy of the smallest of pleasures: a bird sailing through the sky, cool river water, a piece of red cloth found in the market. At the same time, there could be a mature air about her: she avoided self-pity, respected others' feelings, and looked after her brother and so on. These character outlines do nothing to connect the reader to the characters (well into the book, the princes are still being described as "Gianni, the elder prince" and "Vito, the younger prince"--otherwise the reader might very well forget which is which) and, in some cases, don't seem to have any bearing on their actions.

If my kids wrote like this I'd tell them, "Instead of a long description, how about showing us what's important about your character, using the things he/she does and says?" In fact, my kids don't need to be told this. When I launched into yet another paragraph describing another character's hair and personality, I was met with a resounding "We don't care!! Just get on with the story!" A pretty good summary of our response to the entire book, I'd say.

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