Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Waiting for Harry with Skellig

The kids are in their last quarter of school and we are making summer plans. Not too many, because we like our summers a bit lazy on the kid end as they are busy on the bookshop/gardening/adult socializing end. One of the most exciting plans is to attend the midnight Harry Potter party at our local independent bookstore on July 21st when the seventh and final book in the series becomes available. I have read each book aloud to the girls, sometimes in marathon sessions requiring multiple throat resting breaks, but for the final book I broke down and preordered two copies for each kid to consume.

Because of the long breaks between the publication of each of these eagerly-awaited books, we've taken to reading some other great fantasy fiction. I and the other Jags can recommend the mordantly funny Baudelaire orphans series by Lemony Snicket, Susan Cooper's creative and literate books, "The Boggart" and "The Boggart and the Monster", and Philip Pullman's Dark Materials trilogy.

After noting the recent ten best children's books list put together a Carnegie Medal panel to celebrate its 70th anniversary, daughter Amy and I both read "Skellig" by David Almond, the 1998 Carnegie winner. We both really enjoyed this book about a young boy, Michael, who moves with his mom, dad and sickly infant sister to a rundown house. While his parents are preoccupied with the baby's health, Michael explores a dilapidated garage in the backyard and finds a pale man in a dirty black suit weakly sitting in the back, covered with cobwebs and dead flies. At first he is terrified, but he screws up his courage and returns to find the man in the same spot the next day, unmoved. He ends up bringing him bits of food and drink and with the aid of his new homeschooled friend, the William Blake-quoting Mina, he gets the man, Skellig (a Celtic word for rock), up on his feet and moving. The rest of the book centers around how Mina and Michael perceive Skellig. Is he part bird? Part angel and healer? Is he human or divine or extra-terrestrial? It's quite an interesting plot, overlaid with side issues highlighting the difficulties of being an adolescent and therefore part child/part adult, part innocent/part worldly-wise.

As an aside, in delving into the Internet ether about the Harry Potter release date I found the Holy Observer website, a gently satiric look at contemporary religious issues. The Holy Observer piece about how to protest other fantasy titles while waiting for the next Harry Potter to come out is a hoot, especially this advice:
Whenever possible, avoid reading these books as you protest them. It's best to avoid the appearance of evil, and you never know when you may be affected. More than one Christian has become addicted to evil, thinking he was more resistant than he actually was. Don't fall prey to this common trap of the devil.