Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Reading Critically

We've been reading Wildwood Imperium, the third book in the Wildwood series by Colin Meloy. I picked up the first in the series on audio at the library a couple of years ago, and the boys and I really enjoyed it. It has a sort of Americanized Narnia feel to it, about young adolescents crossing realms and discovering a magical land, and the audio book is beautifully read by Amanda Plummer. It was hard to not to fall in love with the main characters, Prue and Curtis, two kids from Portland who discover that they have unique access to a magical land full of talking animals, witches, mystics, and more. The supporting cast of characters is equally wonderful and intriguing, from Branden the Bandit King to Efiginia the elder mystic, and many others. Although the story seemed to wrap itself up nicely in one book, we were excited to learn that it was a planned trilogy and we wouldn't have to say goodbye to the characters just yet.

I bought the 2nd in the series, Under Wildwood, as soon as it came out.  We didn't love it quite as well as the first, but there were so many cliffhangers that we still anxiously awaited release of the final book earlier this year.

Because of my mild disappointment with the 2nd book, I was a little worried that the third would be a further downhill slide. Unfortunately, I think I was right. Meloy seems to have bitten off a bit more than can be chewed with the plot, which I am having trouble following, let alone the boys. It's difficult to remember what Prue's mission is in this one, let alone the many other groups at play now -- and halfways through the book, I'm still not sure why we should care about any of them. I have hinted to the boys that we could give up and try something else, but Noah in particular is determined to get through it. So, we've been soldiering on. Along the way, though, I've started pointing out some of the book's flaws --- I figure the time we spend muscling through this less-than-delightful time will not be completely wasted if my kids get some critical thinking skills out of it.

One of the things I brought up to Noah was character motivation. The books begins with a young girl who successfully performs a seance, conjuring an ancient spirit. She doesn't know exactly who the spirit is or what she wants, but she begins receiving instructions from the spirit each night to obtain certain items from the Wood. The girl follows these instructions, putting herself at great peril to do so, even though has NO idea who this spirit is, why she wants these things, or what might happen when she gets them. It just doesn't strike me as very believable or compellling, even for an impusive kid. So, I started talking to the kids about it in terms of character motivation and why it's such an important part of good writing because it makes the story believable.

To be honest, I wasn't sure if either of them "got it" at all. I mean, they are 6 and 9 and character motivation is probably a tad above their heads, right?  As usual, though, the boys surprised me. The book is slowly revealing more background about the girl's past, and Noah was the first to point out that some of the information may explain why she's so interested in spirits of the dead and why she might be a bit more reckless than your average 11 year old at times. "It's all starting to make a little more sense now," he said.

He was right, it is. I still can't wait to finish the book. Meanwhile, we did decide to take a break from it and have a week of picture book reading at bedtime. They both made piles of their old favorites this morning -- is it bedtime yet?

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