Ifflepinn Island by Muz Murray

In Ifflepinn Island, Iffleplum, also known as Plumkin, loses his elfin heart (the true heart, not the machine that pumps blood) because he is not careful with it. The story follows his quest to regain his heart which brings him into contact with various peoples from other parts of his world and some from other realms. Learning that he is considered to be a mythical creature and subject of a prophesy, Iffleplum attracts a great deal of attention with many folks trying to influence world events for better or for worse, or sometimes just for their own personal gain.

Ifflepinn Island is “a read aloud fantasy… for green growing children and evergreen adults,” which is a fair description of the target audience. The style, based on great children’s literature of a century ago combined with the rhythm and whimsy of Dr. Seuss, may be difficult for readers unused to the formal tone or who struggle with unfamiliar words. It’s an excellent choice for your fourth grader who reads at an eighth grade level for whom there are incredibly few books that are both challenging and appropriate. Written and beautifully illustrated by yoga master Muz Murray, Ifflepin Island is a philosophical story and some may find it challenging to their world-view. But then, that’s what philosophy is supposed to do.

Sometimes the right book finds you at the right time. Ifflepinn Island is one of those books for me. Designed to be read aloud at family reading time, it suits my dramatic style of reading (yes, even when reading silently in my own head) and I found it loads of fun. Being a philosophical story, it is a great read for young people developing their world view or those older among us who are willing to be challenged in our thoughts. It guides us to be thoughtful with ourselves and with others, judging only those who set out with the goal to do harm.

You can find this book or CD on the author’s own website¬†MuzMurray.com

Into the Hare Wood by Tonya Macalino

On her last day of school Hannah Troyer finds an honor guard of neighborhood cats lining the street as she walks home. This is the first in a series of strange events that include a neighborhood tramp, a violent storm and a family legacy that her father never taught her.

The Gates of Aurona series would fit in nicely in any school library. The reading level is matched perfectly to the upper elementary interest level with a professional appearance that is becoming more common in independently published books. Hannah’s social difficulties are left vague and are ancillary to the story, giving any child who feels they are on the edges of their family or friends group someone to relate to without pathologizing those feelings.

I enjoyed Into the Hare Wood more than most of the light fantasy books I read to my own children. Too many middle grades books either ignore the difficulties of real life or have the story focus too heavily on those difficulties. Hannah can feel lonely but still know she is loved. The family can make sacrifices when dad loses his job and remain grateful that they didn’t lose the house, a very real possibility for many families in similar situations. The family pulls together when things get scary with mom neither being the Great Problem Solver nor absent and ineffectual. The realism is a nice counterbalance to the fantastic plot.

For part two of the story read:

All books can be purchased through Amazon by clicking on their images.

The Art of Literacy

Literacy is more than a set of skills, it is an art.

This goes against everything we’ve been taught. We are told that literacy consists of knowing sight words and decoding longer words. It means having a good vocabulary and understanding idioms. It sometimes requires prior knowledge. And we believe what we are told because it makes sense. But in our hearts we know there is something more. And we don’t teach that something when teaching our children to read.

Just after starting this blog I got sick. It was pretty bad and required hospitalization. Before I knew something was wrong I stopped being able to read. I did not lose any of the skills listed above and my eyes worked normally. But I could not make sense of the stories unfolding on the pages. I barely managed to get through the first nine reviews I had planned before giving up and listening to podcasts and books on tape. I wondered if I would ever be able to return to the activity that defined me for so much of my life.

A lot of people I know have gone through this at some point. It usually coincides with a drop in creative energy, which makes sense. Reading requires creating people and places. We create sights and sounds and even touch and smell from nothing more than squiggles on a page. It is just as creative as drawing a picture or performing a piece of music, but the art is for ourselves.

Understanding that there is an art to reading is vitally important to parents and teachers and librarians as we teach our children. Charlotte Mason, the 19th century British educator, understood this. She recommended reading a single page from a story each day so the children could fully focus on what was read. Because they were not given the end of the story along with the beginning they could spend time developing their creative reading brains as they imagined what might happen next. Homeschooling parents influenced by Mason report that their children will often come to them several times a day to discuss what is being read.

This level of engagement is not possible with the predictable, formulaic books that publishers love because they are easy to sell and educators love because they fit neatly into reading levels. If we are going to teach our children the art of reading they need complex stories in which the characters do unexpected things. We need to ask our children what they might do before getting to the end of the story. We need to share what we feel when we enter the story.

Don’t think I am opposed to teaching the technical aspects of reading. I am all for teaching phonics and grammar and vocabulary to give children the tools they need to become skilled readers. I am even a rare defender of Direct Instruction as a method of teaching technical literacy. But as teachers of the next generation we have to remember the most important lesson of all, the one we learned from Reading Rainbow. We have to teach our children why to read. And we can only do that if we teach them to connect reading to their hearts and to how they navigate the world.

I have fortunately recovered from my illness, both physically and creatively, and will be returning to this blog with new reviews each Thursday.

See you next time!