Book: Sold

SoldSold
Patricia McCormick
2006 (Hyperion)

This is the story of Lakshmi, a Nepalese girl who had a happy, but difficult life on the side of a mountain with her mother and little brother until her lazy, gambling stepfather sold her away. She is taken to the big city in India and put in a brothel. Her life becomes one entirely of fear and pain as she works to pay for her way home amid a household full of girls without hope for a future or a life other than the one they have no matter how hard they work. It’s a heartbreaking story that is all the more painful for the fact that although Lakshmi is fictional, thousands of girls just like her do really exist and are living her life every day. McCormick did an amazing job in telling this story.

I was incredibly impressed with every inch of this story. From Lakshmi’s wants and fears and hopes, which were so real and so hard to read at times, to the incredibly detailed and textile descriptions of everything from the mountain Lakshmi grew up on to the floors of the brothel kitchen. The descriptions of people were particularly intense. Their hair was described, the colors and shapes and implied emotions in their faces, the fabric and draping of the clothes they wore, even their shoes! In some cases, I almost wished the descriptions hadn’t been quite so vivid, but ultimately it was that vividness that brought the world and the characters and their suffering and hope to life.

One of the things I found most interesting in this book was the portrayal of the men in it. Almost all the male characters were pretty horrible, as you might expect from such a story, but there were a few that were not. What was interesting was that both of the male characters who were nice and had a presence in the book beyond a page or two were young – the son of one of the other women and a boy who sold them tea each day. Few of the adult men got to be anything but horrible. The few who did, made lasting impressions on Lakshmi but never returned. I started to wonder after a while where all the nice men were or if the impression I was supposed to get was that there weren’t any in that part of the world, which wouldn’t really be true either. On the other hand, that probably is what Lakshmi started to think (if she thought about it at all), and I can see why perhaps McCormick would have wanted the reader to share her impressions.

This was an amazing book that really does a great job of shedding light on an ongoing tragedy that much of the world largely ignores. Lakshmi was really one of those characters that stays with you long after you’ve stopped reading. Sold makes the reader think and maybe even want to help. I would definitely recommend this book. It’s an amazing read and is absolutely worth it.

- Publisher’s Description
- Readergirlz issue 8 (September 2007)
- Patricia McCormick’s Website
- Buy it from Amazon

Gender-Flipped Tales: The Frog Princess

Frog and PrinceTale:

In old times when wishing still helped one, there lived a queen whose sons were all beautiful, but the youngest was so beautiful that the sun itself, which has seen so much, was astonished whenever it shone in his face. Close by the Queen’s castle lay a great dark forest, and under an old lime-tree in the forest was a well, and when the day was very warm, the Queen’s child went out into the forest and sat down by the side of the cool fountain, and when he was dull he took a golden ball, and threw it up on high and caught it, and this ball was his favorite plaything.

Now it so happened that on one occasion the prince’s golden ball did not fall into the little hand which he was holding up for it, but on to the ground beyond, and rolled straight into the water. The Queen’s son followed it with his eyes, but it vanished, and the well was deep, so deep that the bottom could not be seen. On this he began to cry, and cried louder and louder, and could not be comforted. And as he thus lamented some one said to him, “What ails thee, Queen’s son? Thou weepest so that even a stone would show pity.” He looked round to the side from whence the voice came, and saw a frog stretching forth its thick, ugly head from the water. “Ah! old water-splasher, is it thou?” said he; “I am weeping for my golden ball, which has fallen into the well.”
“Be quiet, and do not weep,” answered the frog, “I can help thee, but what wilt thou give me if I bring thy plaything up again?” “Whatever thou wilt have, dear frog,” said he — “My clothes, my pearls and jewels, and even the golden crown which I am wearing.”

The frog answered, “I do not care for thy clothes, thy pearls and jewels, or thy golden crown, but if thou wilt love me and let me be thy companion and play-fellow, and sit by thee at thy little table, and eat off thy little golden plate, and drink out of thy little cup, and sleep in thy little bed — if thou wilt promise me this I will go down below, and bring thee thy golden ball up again.”

“Oh yes,” said he, “I promise thee all thou wishest, if thou wilt but bring me my ball back again.” He, however, thought, “How the silly frog does talk! She lives in the water with the other frogs, and croaks, and can be no companion to any human being!”

But the frog when she had received this promise, put her head into the water and sank down, and in a short while came swimming up again with the ball in his mouth, and threw it on the grass. The Queen’s son was delighted to see her pretty plaything once more, and picked it up, and ran away with it. “Wait, wait,” said the frog. “Take me with thee. I can’t run as thou canst.” But what did it avail her to scream her croak, croak, after him, as loudly as she could? He did not listen to it, but ran home and soon forgot the poor frog, who was forced to go back into her well again.

The next day when he had seated himself at table with the Queen and all the courtiers, and was eating from her little golden plate, something came creeping splish splash, splish splash, up the marble staircase, and when it had got to the top, it knocked at the door and cried, “Prince, youngest prince, open the door for me.” He ran to see who was outside, but when he opened the door, there sat the frog in front of it. Then he slammed the door to, in great haste, sat down to dinner again, and was quite frightened. The Queen saw plainly that his heart was beating violently, and said, “My child, what art thou so afraid of? Is there perchance a giant outside who wants to carry thee away?” “Ah, no,” replied he. “It is no giant but a disgusting frog.”

Golden Ball“What does a frog want with thee?” “Ah, dear mother, yesterday as I was in the forest sitting by the well, playing, my golden ball fell into the water. And because I cried so, the frog brought it out again for me, and because she so insisted, I promised her she should be my companion, but I never thought she would be able to come out of her water! And now she is outside there, and wants to come in to me.”

In the meantime it knocked a second time, and cried,

“Prince! youngest prince!
Open the door for me!
Dost thou not know what thou saidst to me
Yesterday by the cool waters of the fountain?
Prince, youngest prince!
Open the door for me!”

Then said the Queen, “That which thou hast promised must thou perform. Go and let her in.” He went and opened the door, and the frog hopped in and followed him, step by step, to his chair. There she sat and cried, “Lift me up beside thee.” He delayed, until at last the Queen commanded him to do it. When the frog was once on the chair she wanted to be on the table, and when she was on the table she said, “Now, push thy little golden plate nearer to me that we may eat together.” He did this, but it was easy to see that he did not do it willingly. The frog enjoyed what she ate, but almost every mouthful he took choked him. At length she said, “I have eaten and am satisfied; now I am tired, carry me into thy little room and make thy little silken bed ready, and we will both lie down and go to sleep.”

The Queen’s son began to cry, for he was afraid of the cold frog which he did not like to touch, and which was now to sleep in his pretty, clean little bed. But the Queen grew angry and said, “She who helped thee when thou wert in trouble ought not afterwards to be despised by thee.” So he took hold of the frog with two fingers, carried her upstairs, and put her in a corner. But when he was in bed she crept to him and said, “I am tired, I want to sleep as well as thou, lift me up or I will tell thy mother.” Then he was terribly angry, and took her up and threw her with all her might against the wall. “Now, thou wilt be quiet, odious frog,” said he. But when she fell down she was no frog but a Queen’s daughter with beautiful kind eyes. She by his mother’s will was now his dear companion and wife. Then she told him how she had been bewitched by a wicked warlock, and how no one could have delivered her from the well but himself, and that to-morrow they would go together into her kingdom. Then they went to sleep, and next morning when the sun awoke them, a carriage came driving up with eight white horses, which had white ostrich feathers on their heads, and were harnessed with golden chains, and behind stood the young Queen’s servant Faithful Henrietta. Faithful Henrietta had been so unhappy when her mistress was changed into a frog, that she had caused three iron bands to be laid round her heart, lest it should burst with grief and sadness. The carriage was to conduct the young Queen into her Kingdom. Faithful Henrietta helped them both in, and placed herself behind again, and was full of joy because of this deliverance. And when they had driven a part of the way the Queen’s daughter heard a cracking behind her as if something had broken. So she turned round and cried, “Henrietta, the carriage is breaking.”

Carriage“No, mistress, it is not the carriage. It is a band from my heart, which was put there in my great pain when you were a frog and imprisoned in the well.” Again and once again while they were on their way something cracked, and each time the Queen’s daughter thought the carriage was breaking; but it was only the bands which were springing from the heart of faithful Henrietta because her mistress was set free and was happy.

by the Brothers Grimm (available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)

Thoughts:

Flipping this story, more clearly than any I’ve done before it, forced the story into a matriarchal world. The power is passed through the daughter’s lines and the prince is really kind of inconsequential. Beyond that, the story makes pretty good sense with gender-flipped characters. You have a flighty, spoiled prince, a practical queen who wishes her son had some better manners and a frog princess who really just wants to change back to herself and get back to her kingdom. I actually thought the weird gold ball thing might make more sense to modern readers with the princess changed to a prince. Who knows? I do like that this classic version of the story is kiss-free. It’s slightly less creepy that way.

“I Want to Play Her”: Explorer

Theodosia and the Serpent of ChaosI love this cover so much and I found the girl portrayed on it to be so incredibly compelling! This is the cover of Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos by R. L. La Fevers and the image is by Yoko Tanaka. This girl looks so ready for adventures! She’s dressed as a Victorian schoolgirl, but her exploring pose and the lantern suggest something of a treasure hunter-catacomb explorer spirit (the cat helps with that feel). You just get the feeling that she’s a supremely practical girl. If something scary jumped out at her, she’d look to see what it was before freaking out about it. And rats? Not a big deal. This is a girl who is prepared, smart as a whip and always on the prowl for interesting bits of information. I get the feeling she’d crawl through pretty much any type of dungeon for an interesting scrap of paper. And that’s a pretty awesome character! She’s a leader type, but probably would benefit from a friend who’s slightly on the cautious side (although her natural practicality does keep her in check much of the time). It’s all the better for the fact that she’s probably only about twelve and so she’s also bursting with that enthusiasm and obsession that kids always have about things they’re interested in! She would be an absolute blast to play!

Poetry Friday: Jabberwocky

JabberwockyIt’s almost Halloween, so I wanted to post something scary! The poem that scared the snot out of me when I was a kid (and still gives me chills when I read it in a quiet room or hear it well recited) was “Jabberwocky” from Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass. This is one of those poems that has become more than I think it’s author ever imagined it would be. Words he made up for the poem are used in conversation (especially among kids, there’s whole papers on this topic) and the poem itself is quoted all the time and frequently in the most surprising of places. I don’t think I even realized when I first heard it that the words in it weren’t real words. They flow so perfectly and I was so young, why would it occur to me they might be nonsense words? They were just words I didn’t know yet. But it’s a completely awesome poem. My husband quotes it frequently and counts it among his favorite pieces of literature.

Jabberwocky

‘Twas brilling, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxome foe he sought-
So rested by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

“And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!”
He chortled in his joy.

‘Twas brilling, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

Have a great before-Halloween weekend everyone! Make sure to check out the round up over at Literary Safari and see what everyone else is posting today!

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Television: Brothers and Sisters to the Rescue!

Brothers and Sisters to the Rescue!This episode of Little Einsteins* was all about Hansel and Gretel. The classic fairy tale siblings wander out into the woods and get trapped in a gingerbread house by a witch. Unable to save themselves, the Little Einsteins rush to the rescue. The witch continually block their path, but the foursome is able to solve each puzzle and eventually make it to the gingerbread house where Leo, the group’s clear leader, defeats the witch with help from the viewing audience. Hansel and Gretel are saved and everyone goes home.

There are obviously a lot of changes to the story in this version. The parents abandoning the children in the woods is completely cut out, probably because the fates of Hansel and Gretel are actually fairly unimportant to this tale. Hansel and Gretel themselves are also portrayed as completely helpless. They need to leave a trail for themselves every day to be able to get back home and when the witch traps them all they seem to do is sit and wait to be rescued. First of all, it’s the same trail every day and they still need to drop something to lead them home? Seriously? And as for being trapped by the witch, did it not occur to them that she trapped them in a house made of food? They could eat their way out, or at least pull apart the gingerbread walls and make a new doorway for themselves! But no, they just whine and wait to be rescued. Quite a change from the fairy tale characters who roast the witch!

I find this show rather interesting, but it does kind of bother me that the gender images, and to a lesser extent the racial ones, are pretty heavily following stereotypes here. The girls’ obvious talents are ballet and singing, respectively, while the boys are more obviously the brainy types. The white boy is the obvious leader while the black boy, Asian girl and white girl adoringly follow along with everything he suggests (even the rocket does whatever he wants!). There’s nothing saying every show needs to break image rules for gender or race, but I’d love to have seen something surprise me here. Anything.

* Little Einsteins is a television show and not the same as “Baby Einsteins”, the line of DVDs and books that promise to make babies smarter but probably don’t do anything of the kind (Michael requested that I clarify this, since it can be a little confusing).

Book: The Castle Corona

The Castle CoronaThe Castle Corona
Sharon Creech
illustrated by David Diaz
2007 (Joanna Cotler/HarperCollins)

Sharon Creech as essentially woven a new story in the style of old folk tales in this book. The story follows two groups of people: a brother and sister who live as peasants in the village and the royal family who live in the castle. Each of the seven main characters wants something, but none of them really seem to be working very hard to get it. They are very realistic people, even though the world they live in does not feel very real at all (it feels like the world of a folk tale, which inherently has an unrealistic feel to it, even though nothing in it is unbelievable). One of the most charming things about the book is that the story is woven so perfectly that the reader almost doesn’t realize it’s happening until the very end. There is so much going on in this book that other than stating that it’s a book about seven people who want things and how they try to get what they want, there really isn’t any way to explain it.

The Castle Corona kind of defies classification. It is not fantasy because nothing fantastical happens, there is no magic or anything that couldn’t really exist, it just happens to be a world that doesn’t exist and never has. I’ve been saying it’s a folk tale rather than saying it’s a fairy tale because we associate magic with fairy tales these days, and there isn’t any magic or nicely wrapped up happy endings in this book. This book just is what it is.

I was thrilled with the characters in this book. They seem very flat at the beginning, like fairy tale characters (“beautiful princess”, “plucky peasant girl”, “adventurous prince”, etc.), but they became very multifaceted and interesting. I was particularly pleased that all three of the main female characters, and even the female secondary characters, were strong and interesting. They defied typical expectations. Everyone saw the queen as just a pretty hostess, but she was really much more clever than her husband and always aware of what was going on around her. The princess seemed to be a stereotypical vapid, pretty princess, but what she wanted was to do something and the fact that she never got to drove her crazy, which proved that she was more. Even Pia, who was the plucky peasant girl, may have been charmed by the handsome prince, but she still wished that she could have rescued herself when the time came and found it annoying he had to swoop in and save her! The women were smart and interesting. The male characters had their own wants and personalities and, for once, they were as varied as people’s wants and personalities really are! This was, for me, a completely character driven book and with this book it was incredibly amazing. I didn’t start out liking all the characters, and I’m still not sure I like all of them, but I found all of them incredibly interesting and entertaining to read about (and since when do you need to like everyone you read about anyway?).

I really loved this book. The descriptions were great, the characters were vivid and real and interesting, and the plot had just the right number of twists and turns! As I was reading it I couldn’t put the book down and as soon as I finished I wanted to pick it up and start again. Rarely is that the case with me. Even if I adore a book and wish it had kept going longer, I almost never have the desire to immediately read it again. This is really a special book. Clearly the publisher thought so too because it’s absolutely gorgeous. The cover is embossed in gold and the first page of every single chapter is illuminated like an old manuscript in gold scrollwork and a little illustration that kind of looks like stained glass. This is really a beautiful book. I highly recommend this one. It’s unlike Creech’s other books, but absolutely as good (one of her best, in my opinion).

- Publisher’s Description
- Sharon Creech’s Website
- Buy it from Amazon

Gender-Flipped Tales: The Prince and the Pea

Prince CrownThe Tale:

There was once a Princess who wished to marry a Prince; but then he must be a real Prince. She travelled all over the world in hopes of finding such a gentleman; but there was always something wrong. Princes she found in plenty; but whether they were real Princes it was impossible for her to decide, for now one thing, now another, seemed to her not quite right about the gentlemen. At last she returned to her palace quite cast down, because she wished so much to have a real Prince for her husband.

One evening a fearful tempest arose, it thundered and lightened, and the rain poured down from the sky in torrents: besides, it was as dark as pitch. All at once there was heard a violent knocking at the door, and the old Queen, the Princess’ mother, went out herself to open it.

It was a Prince who was standing outside the door. What with the rain and the wind, he was in a sad condition; the water trickled down from his hair, and his clothes clung to his body. He said he was a real Prince.

The Princess and the Pea jewelry“Ah! we shall soon see that!” thought the old King-father; however, he said not a word of what he was going to do; but went quietly into the bedroom, took all the bed-clothes off the bed, and put three little peas on the bedstead. He then laid twenty mattresses one upon another over the three peas, and put twenty feather beds over the mattresses.

Upon this bed the Prince was to pass the night.

The next morning he was asked how he had slept. “Oh, very badly indeed!” he replied. “I have scarcely closed my eyes the whole night through. I do not know what was in my bed, but I had something hard under me, and am all over black and blue. It has hurt me so much!”

Now it was plain that the gentleman must be a real Prince, since he had been able to feel the three little peas through the twenty mattresses and twenty feather beds. None but a real Prince could have had such a delicate sense of feeling.

The Princess accordingly made him her husband; being now convinced that she had found a real Prince. The three peas were however put into the cabinet of curiosities, where they are still to be seen, provided they are not lost.

Wasn’t this a gentleman of real delicacy?

The Princess and the Pea papercutby Hans Christian Andersen (available in its original form at SurLaLune Fairy Tales)

Thoughts:

This story actually flipped really well. Not only did the characters generally switch pretty smoothly (with the single exception of “Queen-mother” to “King-father”, which just sounds strange), but the story still makes just as much sense, maybe even more! A princess who is destined to inherit a kingdom would have to get married, but it is believable that it would be important to her and to her parents to keep their family line going and of pure royal blood, thus her husband must be a Real Prince. So she goes looking for one and her father even devises a test. When a suitable prince is found, the test (which must be something a prince would never suspect or anticipate) is performed. It all makes a lot of sense, actually. This exercise might even have made me like this story a little more.

“I Want to Play Her”: Magician

ShatterglassTheron’s cover for Tamora Pierce’s novel Shatterglass caught my attention the other day. It shows a teenage girl in a very proper dress (kind of Victorian in style, but clearly without the proper Victorian underpinnings) standing in a room full of blown glass jugs and serving pieces. A small dragon hangs over her shoulder and she looks back at it with an expression suggesting they are sharing a secret. Her hand is held up, as if she were holding a tray or a plate, but instead of a serving piece being propped there we see the crackle of electricity. This is clearly a girl with intelligence and a command of arcane powers. She is young, not a full blown sorceress, and there is a hint of something secretive about her powers (as if she can’t, or isn’t willing to, let anyone else know about them). She’s got an interesting hair style, too. It shows care and would have taken much time to arrange. This is clearly a girl with a proper life somewhere who is currently something more than she normally appears to be – maybe a rich man’s daughter who found she has powers but can’t show them for fear of her father’s wrath. Many story ideas and character hooks spring to mind from this image. It’s really compelling. I love that it’s a young woman with power. We don’t see that nearly enough! Sometimes you want to play a wizard without having to be either graying or a 200-year-old elf! The idea of a teenager with wizardly powers is very appealing in its way and this girl embodies that idea! I definitely want to play her!

Poetry Friday: After the Storm

Migraine is a diseaseIt’s been raining on and off this week, so my headache has been bad. Because of that, I decided to post this poem from the Help for Headaches and Migraines poetry contest. Rain is always a problem for me because of the changing air pressure and is notoriously a problem for many people with Migraines and headaches. Spring and Fall are my least favorite seasons for this reason. I hate it when people say to me “I just love it when it rains (or thunderstorms), don’t you?” I never know what to say, since I can’t exactly say “No, I hate it. It hurts.” This poem does a good job of conveying the feeling of the end of a long bought of storms, a feeling I’m eagerly awaiting right now, so I thought it would be a good one to share!

Storm Leaves Town

An opening in the clouds
Blue peeks out
The blanket lifts
The iron Blanket of gray pain and
devil-red bolts

Fist behind the eye opens
Loosens its grip
Makes space
The eye can move

Sky opens, fist loosens
Spikes retreat until next time
Open the shades
Soften the brow
The storm has left

Enjoy it now

by Kate McCafferty

I hope you’re having better weather than I am! The round=up is over at Writing and Ruminating, so go check it out!

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Movie: Miss Potter

Miss Potter PosterMiss Potter was a moderately recent biopic of Beatrix Potter that focused on the time surrounding the publication of her first few books and the romance with the publisher of those books. This was very much a “chick flick” (although, as my father was quick to point out, not the type of chick flick that is date fare). It was slow moving and focused entirely on the interpersonal relations between Beatrix Potter and the people around her. The romance was rather uninteresting, actually, with no real build-up or surprises or even tension. What made the movie was the tension between Beatrix and her mother and the friendship between her and her publisher’s sister. For no apparent reason, Beatrix’s brother was completely absent from the film except for a few flashbacks showing him as a child. I really wondered why he wasn’t at the Christmas party.

The retellings of Potter’s stories were a little over-cute, but they didn’t cut out parts I had expected (Peter’s father having been made into a pie by Mrs McGregor, Jemima being in very real danger, etc.). Instead, they left those parts in the stories, but whitewashed Potter’s childhood. We saw her as a little girl with numerous animal “friends”, which she reportedly was, who got disgusted by her brother pinning bugs to a board, which she definitely would not have been. The fact that those cute, cuddly friends sometimes found themselves being dissected by the young artist and her scientist brother never got mentioned. The drawings themselves were also animated to move and Potter reacted as if she saw them do so each time, when clearly no one else did. This was cute and very much in keeping with Hollywood’s idea of a “charming young lady children’s book author”, but somehow I get the feeling that if Beatrix Potter Heelis was around today she’d be very much annoyed by it. She was not that type of woman, by all the reports I’ve read. Maybe she had changed by the time those were written (most came from later in her life, after she’d mostly stopped writing for farming), but it seemed far too much a Hollywood convention to me. Why must Hollywood make the world of children’s books and those who create them so “precious” (almost to the point of nausea sometimes)? Why can’t the people who write books for children just be adults like everybody else? Is that really so much to ask?

I did enjoy the movie, but obviously it brought up a few issues! I would recommend it, just don’t take it to be necessarily a very accurate picture of Beatrix Potter. Not that any biopic is really that accurate, I suppose. But it was a fun little romance, even with the bittersweet ending.

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