Sunday, February 1, 2009

Castle in the Air

Right now I'm reading Diana Wynne Jones's Castle in the Air as the Noodle's bed time book. I really love Diana Wynne Jones, but I had a really hard time choosing one as a read-aloud. Partly because the Noodle's taste in books is so determinedly different to mine, and partly because he is really quite young yet.

The first one I thought of was Charmed Life, but I just couldn't imagine myself reading out Gwendolyn's betrayal of Cat. Likewise The Lives of Christopher Chant and his dreadful, dreadful parents and uncle. Although the cricketing angle would certainly appeal.

The first book of Jones's I ever read was Dogsbody. I think Iwas eight or nine, so I guess it was in about 1980 or so. I loved it, but I was utterly devastated by the tragedies of the story. Not so much by the bleak treatment of the little girl, but by the fear and grief of the puppy. For many years I didn't realise that many of the books I'd really enjoyed from the library were by the same author. I read A Tale of Time City and The Homeward Bounders and both really stuck in my head. Although it never occurred to me that Homeward Bounders was started out in Britain. I assumed it was set in Sydney, which tells you alot about Australian's children's literature in the 1980s.

I don't think it was until I picked up Cart and Cwidder and Drowned Ammet that I started to figure it out, and I was well a teenager by then. I've pretty much spent the rest of my life collecting the books - some new, some secondhand and sometimes more than one edition, just because. I always felt slightly guilty that if I was honest I would surely bring The Spellcoats or Charmed Life to a desert island rather than, say, Jane Eyre.

I suspect I'm being a bit oversensitive about the Noodle. All of Jones's books contain horrendous families, with neglect and oppression being widespread. Even the nicer families in some of her books, like The Merlin Conspiracy, don't notice a lot of what is going on with the children. No doubt as the Noodle gets a bit older he'll manage more of them. If he's interested.

He's enjoying Castle in the Air very much indeed. The only reason I didn't pick Howl's Moving Castle is because I thought he might completely miss Sophie falling in love, which rather dampens a lot of the humour. It's not possible in Castle in the Air. Things are spelled out very clearly indeed, from the dishonest soldier, Abdullah's love for Flower-in-the-Night and the ridiculousness of the soldier's wishing to marry a princess who turns out to be a screaming, tantrum-throwing toddler. The Noodle has been laughing like a drain. I didn't actually read this book until I was an adult, and it's certainly not one of my favourites (what with the broad humour and even broader stereotypes), but a lot of it is damned funny. Especially as Abdullah's day dreams spiral more and more out of control as other people get in on the act.

I sometimes worry that the kid will only ever read humour. And then I remember that he's only seven, and my favourite book at that age was a biography of the Wright Brothers from the Scholastic catalogue. I guess I'll just have to let him decide for himself (sigh) because, as many of you know, the recommendation from the mother is the kiss of boredom and disengagement.


Mim said...

Ooo yep, anything I suggest to my 11 year old is automatically anathema. We had to practically tie him down to make him watch Star Wars and as for books, well, it's a lost cause. Not that I've stopped trying, and he still quite likes being read to so I have hope yet but the only stuff he reads voluntarily is Star Wars "fact" books and the junior Star Wars novels.

The tying him down thing may have been an error of judgment.

I have never read any Diana Wynne Jones books, we have a copy of Howl's Moving Castle because I bought it to tempt said 11 year old. Perhaps I should give that one a go out loud.

Ampersand Duck said...

I sometimes worry that the kid will only ever read humour.

This is a problem?

Seriously, my boy only reads comics, no matter how much I read to him. He'll start a book, really enjoy the bit he reads, and then lose track and forget how much he liked it, and goes back to comics. At least comics have text in them, even if most of it is onomatopoeic.

I save Diana W-J for myself :)