Thursday, April 27, 2006

Spirit Walker

“A cry echoed through the Forest.
He froze.
It was not the yowl of a vixen, or
a lynx seeking a mate. It was a man.
Or something that had once been a man.
With a creeping sense of dread,
Torak watched the light between the
trees begin to fail. . . .”

This is the second in the series Chronicles of Ancient Darkness by Michelle Paver. The first was Wolf Brother.

The story is told from the points of view of a young boy, Tall Tailless (Torak), and a Wolf, his spirit brother. Torak, an orphaned boy, with the help of a wolf cub fights a demon bear who threatens to destroy their world. Because of the avalanche that comes after this fight Torak and Wolf are separated. Torak must defeat the Soul-Eaters – on this quest he meets many challenges. A strange sickness is threatening the Raven Clan and all of the other Forest people. Torak must find a cure. This leads him to the Seal Clan. On Seal Island life is very different from life in the Forest – everything works in connection with the sea. Though he is kidnapped and taken to the island, he finds a friend and kinsman in the Seal Mage, Teneris, and the boy Bale. Things are not as they seem and Torak must be careful and listen to his Forest friends, Renn and Wolf, – he learns about true friendship.

Spirit Walker is an adventure story. Torak has adventures on his journeys, he learns more about his powers, and himself. The reader also gets to see how the ancient people wasted nothing and respected the land and all of its inhabitants.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Wolf A Journey Home

Asta Bowen (pronounced OWSH-ta), the author of this novel lives in Montana and has written a fictional account of a wolf, Marta, and her family as they try to return to their home hunting grounds after being mistakenly relocated by naturalists. The story is based on facts about a pack of wolves that was monitored.

Wolf relocation is both a political and social issue. Hunting wolves in the U.S. nearly obliterated them – in 1973 the gray wolf was added to the endangered specie list. At that time it was estimated that no more than 400 wild wolves remained in this country. Relocation programs have been in place to reintroduce them to areas that were once home to a wolf population, however because the wolf has such a tremendous instinct to return to its home territory, these efforts have not always been successful.

For many years the wolf has had a bad reputation as a killer. Ranchers have had concerns that wolves would kill livestock. Even in our stories and legends the wolf has often been given a less than desirable role – the big, bad wolf in “Little Red Riding Hood” and “The Gingerbread Man” to name a couple.

This novel gives you a very personal look at this young wolf struggling to survive and save her family. It gives the reader a different kind of insight into why wolves do what they do, as the story is told from Marta’s point of view.

I love animal stories, and I found this one to be intriguing.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


This book uses the character of folklore, High John the Conqueror, in the form of the novel’s character Tall John. In researching this folk hero, I found that a similar character is present in Virginia Hamilton’s collection of American Black Folktales titled The People Could Fly. The story is titled “John and the Devil’s Daughter.”

This folk hero was an African prince who was enslaved and sent to America. Despite the enslavement, his spirit was never broken and he has survived in folklore as a “trickster”. One story is that when slavery was abolished, he returned to Africa and left his powers behind in a root. This folk hero’s name has been given to a number of roots to which magical powers have been attributed in American folklore. The plant most commonly referred to by this name is Ipomoea Jalapa. Apparently, High John the Conqueror Root embodies the spirit of a heroic, fearless survivor of slavery. High John the Conqueror represents courage, strength, bravery, and the spirit of hope.

With this background, this novel by Walter Mosley is about 47, a young slave who is hated by his brutal slave master. The author has woven historical fiction, allegory, and fantasy to create a book about the nature of freedom. Because of the type of story it is, the book must be read and reflected upon, not just taken at face value. This book isn’t just about the slavery of American history, it is about choices that people make both then and now. The novel is a first person narrative set on Corinthian Plantation in 1832. 47 has just been sent to work in the fields and live with the other men; he meets a runaway slave who calls himself Tall John. 47 must rise above his struggles.

You can read and excerpt or listen to an audio excerpt.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

So, The Earth Isn't Flat ??

I watched a program on HBO last night called “History as Pop Culture.” I really thought the teacher was a little over-the-top in his style, and I am not sure that I agree with all of his assertions about history and its teaching, but it did give me some food for thought.

According to his way of thinking, it is the literature that gives us our history because often we take what is in literary works as the truth rather than the creation of a novelist or poet.

Hence, he says that the belief that Columbus wanted to see if the world was round was not really the case, but rather came because of a book written by Washington Irving about Columbus. Now, I really don’t think I ever learned that Columbus was the first to suggest this theory; possibly he wanted to demonstrate the theory by sailing west to find the East Indies and the spices that were so valuable.

Some give Copernicus credit for inventing the globe, and that is well before Columbus “sailed the ocean blue.” Ptolemy (A.D. 100-165) apparently based his maps on a curved globe.

Most historians credit Aristotle (384-322 B.C.) with theorizing that the Earth must be spherical. He reasoned that because the stars seen in Egypt were not the same as those seen in the north, therefore the Earth could not be flat. He also wrote, “… the horizon always changes with a change in our position,” “which proves that the earth is convex and spherical.” [This appears to only consider thinkers in “western” cultures and not China or other “eastern” cultures or the cultures that may have been thriving in North and South America.]

In doing some research, one can point to Gulliver’s Travels and say that Jonathan Swift may have helped to create the Earth is flat myth in his writing. Thomas Bullfinch another American author may also have promoted the belief that the ancients did not realize the Earth was round. Other modern writers also presented the world is flat idea in their writings – Darwin, Kipling, and Doyle.

Of course we must also concede that there probably were always people who believed the world to be flat and there may still be some of those people.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Dark Angel

I have now read three of David Klass’s novels (You Don’t Know Me and Home of the Braves), and they have all made me think about issues. Many times when I read a book there is one particular part that stands out in my mind. In this one it is a quote from page 274.

“How can such a great country treat the people who teach in its schools like failures?” he asked and the rage in his voice was mixed with a deep sense of bafflement. “My father and mother were both high school teachers in Japan. Teaching there is no more highly paid than it is here. But people from the best universities go teach in the high schools and the junior high schools for the honor of being teachers. Everyone respects them for the valuable service they provide. They are senseis. They train the next generation. How come in Pineville we’re the scum of the earth?”

The quote is not the main focus of the book, but it was the part that spoke very loudly to me. This just shows that our life experiences are the basis of how we view most issues.

Dark Angel is about 17-year-old Jeff who thought he would never again have to deal with his bother Troy who had been convicted of murder. Now, six years later the sentence has been overturned and Troy returns to live with the family. This tears Jeff’s life apart. The family had moved to a new town and no one even knew there was a brother . . . Jeff loses his girlfriend, another friend disappears, and he is afraid of Troy. This book was one that I wanted to keep reading because I wanted to know what was going to happen. This book has the “good boy” – “bad boy” characters in the two brothers. It has been described by some as a psychological thriller.

You can read an excerpt from

Monday, April 03, 2006

The Warriors

This is another contemporary fiction work by Bruchac that incorporates Native American culture. The main character, Jake Forest, loves to play lacrosse for the Junior Warriors a team from the Iroqouis reservation. His mother has been living away from him as she worked to become a lawyer, and now she wants him to come to live with her in Maryland. He will go to a private school. His mom didn’t realize that this school has a tradition of having great lacrosse teams; they are obsessed with the sport. The reader sees things through Jake’s eyes. Coach Scott tells stories about history and Native Americans that make Jake very uncomfortable, but he sees that some of his friends are bothered by comments about the terrorists from the Middle East since that is their heritage. Something happens to Coach Scott that causes Jake to see the coach in a different way, and he learns that “things could change so quickly.”

This is a very readable book.

Read about the author

Biography of Bruchac

More on Bruchac from the IPL