Sunday evening, I met up with some friends (bussing in some torrential rain which soaked my jeans) at Kopplin’s Coffee to discuss Twelve Impossible Things Before Breakfast by Jane Yolen, my choice for this month. Jane Yolen was in town at the University of Minnesota a couple of weeks ago and I needed to read a book of hers suitable for a YA audience prior to the event. (By the way, she gave a fantastic speech; I was very impressed.) She’s such a prolific author, I am surprised I had not read any of her work before. I got to choose the book club options for voting for April so I could multi-task my graduate school and book-club reading.
Our book club is called the Book Club of Doom. It is really Sonja and Derek’s baby, historically, and we tend to read YA Sci-Fi and Fantasy.
We did one sentence sum-ups of our conversation at the end of book club and when I got home I made them into the following video. It comes off pretty harsh, but it’s not a bad book for middle graders as Derek notes, and as he noted in person but not on tape, for reluctant readers. The abruptness of Yolen’s short stories was jarring to me, but might be refreshing and encouraging to children who are still learning to enjoy reading for pleasure.
This is a book I really didn’t enjoy much upon first read, but am appreciating more and more as I give it time to percolate.
We didn’t go over the stories one by one, so here’s a quick recap in text on each, both a brief description and opinions stated by the group.
A modern day revisit to Wonderland. Most of our group appreciated the references and clever wordplay in this story, but felt that a lot was lost from the original tone of Alice in Wonderland when taking away the Victorian context. A bookend to the collection with Lost Girls, another re-telling of a classic literary tale which closes the book.
A family vampire tale. The reviews seemed mostly positive, and both the title and the story was one of the more memorable from the bunch. I personally had some issues concerning the mother’s sacrifice at the end of the story, but Sonja brought up an excellent point which I realized the next day, which is that this story (and others from this collection) features a child narrator who takes on responsibility when the adults in their life do not.
A fairy story. More interesting family dynamics! The meat of this story came from, in my opinion, the Harlyn’s perception of reality and measuring of her own mental stability (compared to her mother’s, who suffers from mental illness) as she encounters the fairy, as well as hiding her knowledge from the adults present. Both Sonja and I had recently read The Fairy Ring and it resonated with this tale strongly. Most of us agreed the story could have done without the excessive fairy interaction and character shrinkage.
A story about a broken home and financial straits. Gretchen wanted this story without magical elements. Another section of the group nearly screamed metaphor at her. :p That said, we all (especially Sami) lost a lot of respect for the story due to its tidy ending.
Sea Dragon of Fife
Almost a ballad about a battle at sea. I think we all almost forgot this story existed.
Futuristic tale in which one can pay to be more animal for a short while. One of my favorites. The best world building overall, most of us agreed, and the most “teen dystopia” of the bunch. Derek and I both enjoyed the reference to Where the Wild Things Are which worked especially well since in the future setting, the book had become a relic.
A ghost story. One of Gretchen’s favorites. The scariest. This was probably the most appropriate story for its short length.
A deceased father, a compost pile, two siblings, and a noise at the window. As with Phoenix Farm, we almost all hated the tidy ending (concerning the father’s ashes, which had been dumped in a compost pile, returning to their urn). As with Harlyn’s Fairy, I would have preferred less explicit showing that the supernatural is real. What makes a good ghost story (as in The Babysitter) is often not knowing exactly what happened…and it feels like the mystery is a bit too deflated in this tale.
The Bridge’s Complaint
The Bridge retells the Billy Goats Gruff. We had some great discussion regarding gender in this story. The Bridge is not gendered, so how we read gender into it was pretty interesting. This was also the only story which was not told from an explicitly juvenile or young adult perspective. The Bridge seemed also to have the strongest voice, which may be part of the reason that Gretchen liked it so much.
Brandon and the Aliens
Aliens invade and a boy takes them on. On his bike. We didn’t discuss this story much at all. I’ve been thinking of it since in terms of the Responsible Child surrounded by Immobile Adults, as in Mama Gone. It also speaks towards the perception and intelligence of children versus adults, as in some other alien invasion stories, like many of Ray Bradbury‘s tales.
A boy is born cold. After he is orphaned, he takes to the wild. Will he find a bride, or death? Mixed reviews on this one. Derek thought this was the most traditional seeming story, most classic of tales.
A Nebula-Award winning short story about a modern-day girl who is kidnapped by Peter Pan and surprised by the political situation in Neverland. The more I consider this story, the more I like it. Overall the reaction to this story was warm, especially compared to the others in this collection. It really shows what Yolen could do if she decided to write longer stories. I originally was not sure how I felt about the ending, in which the main character brings another girl back with her from Neverland, but we discussed it in terms of the representation of experience. After your experience, after your choices, you bring the consequences of those choices with you. So I rather like the ending, and we as a whole embraced it probably especially in light of the “with a bow tied on it” endings of Bolundeers and Phoenix Farm
It is important to note that Yolen wrote an informative intro and afterward to this collection. Sami in particular found the afterward intriguing in reflecting back on the stories after finishing reading them.