Children’s Fantasy Novel: The Door in the Forest

Children's Fantasy Novels: The Door in the Forest by Roderick TownleyChildren's Fantasy Novels: The Door in the Forest by Roderick Townley
Title:  The Door in the Forest
Author: Roderick Townley
Genre:  Middle-grade Fiction (Children’s fantasy novels)
Age Category:  8 years +

Children’s Fantasy Novel: The Door in the Forest

Daniel Crowley cannot tell a lie.  For most of his life, this inability has been a fairly manageable annoyance.  Now, as soldiers move into the small town of Everwood, it’s become downright dangerous.  There’s a rebellion in the City, and the soldiers—especially the unsettling and erratic Captain Sloper—are determined to root out any sympathizers.

This is particularly bad news for Daniel’s friend Emily Byrdsong, a newcomer to Everwood and granddaughter of the town witch.  There’s something mysterious about the Byrdsong family—Emily’s parents haven’t been seen since their arrest for participating in the rebellion, Grandma Byrdsong has a curious fondness for bubble baths, and they live in a house where the rules of time and space don’t seem to work quite the way they do in the rest of Everwood.  Captain Sloper is suspicious of the Byrdsongs, and is determined to use Daniel’s honesty to expose them . . . and the rest of the town.

But the Byrdsongs aren’t the only mystery in Everwood.  There is an island on the edge of town Continue reading

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The Complexity of Children’s Stories and Social Development

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling cover art
What makes for good children’s books?  In this series on how to choose children’s books, I have suggested that choice-worthy children’s books have both subjective appeal, and developmental value.  In other words, good kids’ books are appealing to a child, and help her grow.

One characteristic that can affect the developmental value of a kids’ book is the complexity of the book’s story.  In this article I will explain what I mean by “story complexity,” and what I see as the connection between the complexity of children’s stories and social development (e.g., emotional and intellectual development).  I will draw on prominent examples of recent juvenile and young adult fiction to illustrate my points: J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter seriesHarry Potter series, by J.K. Rowling, and Rebecca Stead’s Newbery Medal winner When You Reach MeWhen You Reach Me, by Rebecca Stead, Newbery Medal Winner.  While what I have to say will apply mostly to older children, I will also try to give some rough guidance on choosing complex stories for younger children.

If you would like to read from the first article in this series, How to Choose Children’s Books,” click here.

Children’s Stories and Social Development: Complex Characters

Viewed one way, the basic elements of a story are characters and plots.  Both of these elements may contribute to the complexity of a story.  First, I will discuss how the characters in a story may contribute to its complexity.  A complex character is one whose mental, emotional, and behavioral activity is developed by the author to such a degree that she seems deeply true to life. Continue reading

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince: Summary and Review

Harry Potter Books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling, cover art
Title: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling
Author: J.K. Rowling
Genre: Young Adult Fiction
Age Category: 14 to 19 years +

I plan to review the seventh and last of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter booksHarry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, by J.K. Rowling—before the release of the seventh Harry Potter movie in November, 2010.  But, I can’t review the seventh book before I review the sixth, right?  So, here’s my take on Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Book 6)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling.  While I will not divulge here any important plot twists or outcomes of this book, I will talk about the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling, so if you are worried about spoiling that book, stop reading!

Harry Potter Books: Summary

In the previous installment of the Harry Potter booksHarry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter books: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J.K. Rowling—Voldemort and his minions tried to steal a prophecy (i.e., a crystal ball that preserves prophetic words previously spoken) about Harry and the Dark Lord, to help them in their wicked bid for power over the wizarding world.  With help from members of the Order of the Phoenix—a secret society formed to counter Voldemort’s forces—Harry and his friends foiled the plot in dramatic “shoot-em-up” style. (For my review of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, click here.) Continue reading

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Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Summary and Review

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling, cover art
Title: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling
Author: J.K. Rowling
Age Category: 12 to 16 years +
Genre: Young Adult Fiction

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix: Book Review and Summary

Today I present a Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix book review and summary.  This fifth installment in J.K. Rowling’s masterful juvenile fiction series about Harry Potter picks up where the fourth book left off.  The Dark Lord Voldemort—having been restored to power at the climax of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Book 4)Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, by J.K. Rowling—and his minions are covertly at work, preparing for outright war.  They seek something Voldemort “didn’t have last time” (p. 96), i.e., when Harry was a baby and Voldemort last launched his campaign for power over the wizarding world.  But, what exactly is Voldemort seeking? This question drives the plot of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Book 5)Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling forward on the deepest level.  Harry’s consistent experience of visions hinting at Voldemort’s activity and emotions help him and his friends in their efforts to understand and foil Voldemort’s plans.

In Rowling’s trademark style, the path toward answering the central question of the novel has many twists, turns, and subplots.  One significant subplot is Continue reading

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Divination and Prophecy in the Harry Potter Novels (Part 3)

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, by J.K. Rowling, cover artThis is the third and final article in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “The Harry Potter Controversy”.  In this third installment of the series, I try to answer some objections that might arise in relation to the place of divination in the Harry Potter series.

Harry Potter: Divination and Prophecy

At this point in the series, someone might object that while I have dispatched the general problem of magic in these children’s books—magic is just Rowling’s metaphor for spiritual power—there is still the whole issue of divination, which the Bible explicitly forbids (as I noted in “The Harry Potter Controversy”). After all, Harry and his best friend Ron take divination class for several years from the divination teacher at Hogwarts, Professor Trelawney. How can this not be worrying for Christian parents? Doesn’t it cast the occult in a positive light?

There are several reasons I think parents should not be worried about the place of divination in the Harry Potter novels. First, Continue reading

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Allegory in Harry Potter (Part 2)

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling, cover artThis article is the second in a series about J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter novels.  To read from the beginning, click here for the first article, “The Harry Potter Controversy”.  In this second installment of the series, I make the positive case for Christian allegory in Harry Potter.

Allegory in Harry Potter

In making a case for allegory in Harry Potter, my point is that certain characters and events in these books stand as symbolic representations of central characters and events in Christian theology. Continue reading

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Harry Potter: Controversy (Part 1)

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, by J.K. RowlingI have a confession to make: I’m a Harry Potter fanatic.  Prior to last summer I had been enjoying each of the Harry Potter movies as they were released, but I had yet not read any of J.K. Rowling’s children’s books.

However, last summer, right before my family and I went on an extended road trip, my wife, Angela, and I saw Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which covers the story through the sixth of the seven Potter books.  While we enjoyed the movie, it left us desperate to know what happens next (as those of you who have seen the movie know, it ends on a more mysterious and fraught note than any of the others).  So, we checked the seventh and last book in the series out of the library—Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling—and took it on our road trip, reading it aloud to each other in the front seat (while our kids watched DVDs with headphones on in the back seat; at six and eight, they’re still too young for Potter, but their time will come…). Continue reading

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