Wonder is about a boy called August Pullman, who was born with a condition that means that his face is deformed and out of proportion, even after surgery. August, known as Auggie, is a kind person who is very understanding, and though most of the time he is happy with who he is he can see how other people looking at him might feel, and he knows why children point and stare or scream and run away, or why adults find it hard to look at him.
Auggie is like a normal person, or he feels that he is. He knows that it’s only his face that makes him different, and he knows that he can’t change that. He has been home-schooled for most of his life, and he’s certain, when his parents decide to send him to school, it’s going to be hard. He is clever and intelligent and he makes good jokes and likes making friends, but in school he slowly finds out what the real world is going to be like- unprotected, cruel. The children at school are all disgusted by him, all except Summer, who sits by him at lunch and talks to him. Auggie likes his headteacher, Mr Tushman, and he likes Summer and Jack Will, a boy who showed him round on his first day. He takes an instant dislike to Julian, the boy who showed him round the school with Jack Will, and there is no doubt that more will come of it later on.
Auggie learns to survive at school, clinging on by the tips of his fingers, while his sister Via struggles with friendship problems while trying to show her parents that Auggie isn’t the only person in the world. As the year progresses, it feels like everything is changing… for everyone.
This book was a pleasure to read. I didn’t even know that Auggie’s condition existed until I read this book and it moved me to tears. I could see that what happened in Wonder would be identical to what would happen if someone like Auggie turned up my school, and it made me feel ashamed. If you look at someone like that, you are stupidly led into believing that they don’t have any real thoughts, and obviously it’s not true. It really made me think, and in the process of reading it, I think that the way I think changed a lot, as will the thoughts of anyone else who reads it. I like the way it includes song lyrics and the beginning of each part of the book, and the way it jumps between nearly every character’s point of view, often more than once. From the front cover of the copy I read (as shown above) I had no idea what to expect. The book was better than I anticipated, and after reading it I could understand why the cover looked as it did and I think that the cover just added to the perfection of the book, in that it was in no way random, as I had thought before I read it, and it summed up the whole book just in one picture. The message of the book? Accept difference and learn to love it, and never be afraid to stand up for what you know is right.
Genre: Realistic/ dealing with issues
Estimated reading age: Ten and up
Price on Amazon: £4.93 for paperback, £8.15 for Kindle edition
Author: R. J. Palacio
Main characters: Auggie, Via, Summer, Jack Will, Julian
Rating: ★★★★ A great book with a powerful message.
Twelve-year-old red-haired Brendan lives in a small village, which is preparing itself for a Viking invasion. His parents are dead and his guardian is his uncle, an abbot and the head of the village. He is intent on building a wall all the way around the village to keep it safe from the Vikings and assumes that Brendan will help him. Brendan is an apprentice in the scriptorium and is good friends with the monks, who tell tales of Aidan of Iona, a great illuminator, who is working on the Book of Iona. Iona is a small island near Kells.
Brother Aidan later comes to seek shelter in the village with his white kitten Pangur Ban and the unfinished book of Iona. Wanting to carry on his work on the book, Aidan sends Brendan into the forest to look for berries to make green ink, even though Brendan has been forbidden to enter the forest by his uncle. He wants to impress Brother Aidan though, so he takes a bag and sneaks out through a hole in the scaffolding holding up the wall. He has never been outside the village before. In the forest, which looks menacing at first but is beautiful if you know where to look, he meets a forest spirit called Aisling. Aisling can control everything in the forest- it is hers. She shows him where to look for the berries and helps him climb a tree for the first time. To start with she is hostile towards him, believing that he has come to steal her forest, but soon she realises that he is just an innocent boy and she befriends him.
Trying to sneak back into the village, he is caught by his uncle and banned from leaving the abbey where he and his uncle live. Brendan finds it too hard to stay away from the scriptorium though, and goes there to see Brother Aidan and be taught illumination. Later he ventures into the forest again and meets Aisling, who shows him more of the forest- the parts that you can go into without a fear, and the parts that you can’t. Brendan makes the mistake of entering the temple of Crom Cruach, who is an ancient Celtic deity. It is like a cave, and he would have got stuck inside it had Aisling not saved him. Brendan finds out that Aidan needs his help to finish the book, as he is growing old and his eyesight is failing him. He has lost the Eye of Collum-Cille, which is an eye-shaped crystal that he had used to do the finer detail on his work (it acted like a magnifying glass). His ancestor had got it from Crom Cruach. He knows where he lost it- he was running away from the burning Kells and it must have fallen out of his bag. One of the attacking Vikings stood on it and it shattered as he ran for his boat to try to get away.
Brendan realises that the book can only be completed properly if he obtains the other eye, so he tries to get out of the village to go to the shrine to get the other eye. He is caught and locked in his room by the abbot, and as far as he can see there is no way out. But aisling manages to free him, and together they go to try and take the eye from Crom Cruach, not knowing whether or not their mission is going to be successful…
I really enjoyed this film. I first saw it at the London Children’s Film Festival several years ago, where I was a Young Juror. I had to review the film after I saw it on the big screen, so this is my second time reviewing it. I loved the way all the illuminations came to life and I loved the animation style, which was brightly coloured in the appropriate places but dark and terrifying in others.
The storyline was original and interesting, but my only complaint was that the voices of the characters are slightly emotionless, and it sometimes made me come out of the film and think, ‘This is very believable’. It is really a young children’s film, but it interested me and inspired me to look at some more medieval illumination. It could also interest adults, because the storyline is gripping and the animation is good. It’s the kind of film you might watch as a family or show to young children. It was amazing on the big screen! My favourite scene was when Aisling shows Brendan the forest and is comes to life it beautiful bright colours. I would have enjoyed this film more if I was slightly younger, but it was still very good and I definitely advise that you watch it!
Estimated watching age: 8 and up
Price on Amazon: £5.67 for normal DVD, no BluRay that I can see
Producer: Tomm Moore, Didier Brunner, Paul Young and Viviane Vanfleteren
Director: Tomm Moore, Nora Twomey
Film certificate: PG
Names of the people who play the main characters: There are none, it’s an animation
Rating: ★★★ I would have enjoyed it more if I was a bit younger but it is perfect for young children
Snow White is a small child, playing with her friend William and climbing trees and rescuing birds, when her mother dies. After his wife’s tragic death Snow’s father King Magnus does not intend to remarry but, out hunting, he comes upon a battered cart. When he opens the door, he finds a beautiful woman chained to the walls. She enchants him and he falls in love with her. When he announces that he is going to marry her, the innocent Snow White is oblivious to the fact that Ravenna is evil and intends to steal her father’s throne and rule the land. She sees her stepmother as a kindly person, being to young to see past the façade the new queen has adopted. On their wedding night, Ravenna murders King Magnus and her soldiers storm the castle, setting fire to everything they can lay their hands on. Snow’s playmate William and his father Duke Hammond escape the burning castle, but William fails to persuade his father to turn back to save Snow. They ride away, leaving her in the hands of Ravenna, who is joined by her evil brother Finn.
Seven years later, Snow is still imprisoned in the tower where she was first taken. The castle is grey and dreary and its inhabitants are gloomy and dispirited. The land, once green and lush, has been poisoned by Ravenna’s evil reign and is black and charred. Even the sky is grey. Ravenna’s magical powers enable her to absorb young women’s beauty by breathing it in and leaving them lying dead with grey hair and wrinkles. This way she can make herself almost immortal. She has a magic mirror, which can melt off the wall and turn into a faceless golden man. This magic mirror reveals to the queen that Snow White will become fairer than her, and if the queen can kill her she will be indestructible, immortal. If not Snow White was the power to destroy her forever. On learning this she sends Finn to Snow’s tower to bring Snow to her. Snow has been looking out of a window and sees a bird very like the one she once rescued. The bird hops along the windowsill and lands on a big metal nail. Snow manages to pull it out of the wall and is lying on her bed with it hidden in her hand when Finn comes in to take her away. He sits on the bed and talks to her, trying to make her trust him so that he can get his hands on her. Thankfully she doesn’t believe him for a moment and she stabs him with the nail before running to the open cell door as fast as she can.
Finn alerts the guards and they chase her, and as she runs out into the open courtyard she can see no other option but to escape through a sewer. From there she jumps off a cliff into the sea that surrounds the castle and finds herself on a rocky beach with a white horse by her side. She mounts it and rides for the Dark Forest. The Dark Forest is the most feared place in the kingdom, and understandably so. Terrifying creatures lurk inside, and the ground is unsteady and dry one second but muddy the next. Snow can hear the knights on horseback coming up behind her and so when the white horse gets stuck in a mud hole she has to abandon it and carry on on her own. The knights fear the Dark Forest, so they turn back and she makes her way through the Dark Forest slowly and fearfully. Ravenna is furious when the knights tell her what happened, so she sends them to find somebody who does not fear the Dark Forest so they can hunt her down. The knights and Finn arrive at a small village where a drunk man has got into a fight. He is Eric the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) and he is somebody who is known to venture into the Dark Forest often. The knights take him to the queen and because he, like everybody else, hates her, he challenges her and asks what she’ll do if he refuses. The knights around him immediately turn on him, but the queen offers something better than anything else he could wish for. He is a widower- his wife has recently passed away. Knowing that she will never do anything of the sort, she tells him that she can bring his wife back to life, but he does not believe her. To avoid getting killed, he goes into the Dark Forest to search for Snow, but when he finds her instead of capturing her he helps her get away and looks after her in the Dark Forest which she does not know her way around.
The Duke and William talk in the Duke’s castle, and William says he has to go and save Snow White. The Duke lets him go, and William joins Finn’s soldiers as an archer to go to search for Snow White. Meanwhile the Huntsman and Snow spend the night in an all-female village where everybody has cut their faces to prevent themselves from being any use to the evil queen. Without beauty, they are not noticeable. The Huntsman leaves Snow sleeping and walks away, hoping to leave her to be cared for in the village while he goes back home. He’s not gone far when he realises that Finn’s men have managed to track them there. They burn the village to the ground, and, against his better judgment the Huntsman returns to save her. William sees Snow being led by the hand by the Huntsman, and although he calls her she doesn’t hear and doesn’t turn around. The Huntsman and Snow escape by boat and are left in a forest, where eight dwarves find them. The dwarves join the cause to help Snow save the kingdom from Ravenna and they take her through their mine to a hidden enchanted forest, where there are fairies and other woodland animals and everything is green. There Snow White is blessed by the woodland spirit- a white deer with huge horns. The dwarves tell the Huntsman that she will be the one to end the darkness.
Finn, his men and William manage to find them there too though, and before they can all escape Gus, one of the eight dwarves is killed. William joins Snow White’s side and the Huntsman kills Finn. The rest of the knights run away. That evening the dwarves, Snow, the Huntsman and William have an emotional funeral for him late at night before going to sleep in preparation for the long walk to the Duke’s castle the next day. Snow wakes up early and goes into the woods, where she meets Ravenna disguised as William. ‘William’ offers Snow an poisoned apple and she takes it and eats it, which sends her into a death-like state. Even a kiss from William cannot break the spell, but when she has been carried back to Duke Hammond’s castle and laid in the church for the funeral the next day, the Huntsman appears, distraught and inconsolable. He kisses her goodbye and leaves the church. The kiss wakes Snow White and she walks into the courtyard where everyone is mourning her. The speech she then makes converts everyone who is still unsure about following her and they plan a full-scale attack on the castle the next day.
Huge numbers of Duke Hammond’s nights charge across the beach, led by Snow White, and the dwarves sneak into the sewer that Snow used to escape to open the gates for them. Ravenna uses her magic to conjure up black knights from glass shards and sends them to deal with the Duke’s men whilst she tries to kill Snow. Ravenna is just about to stab in the heart when Snow uses the small dagger that the Huntsman gave her to deal the queen a death wound. The queen’s magic mirror shatters as she dies, and Snow White is crowned queen. The last scene is at her coronation, where she stares down the long line of people, and at the very end the Huntsman appears from the crowd.
The reasons why this is one of my favourite films:
- Kristen Stewart, who plays Snow White, is one of my favourite actresses.
- It has a good plot with an interesting twist at the end and is unlike any other Snow White film I have seen.
- I like the idea that Snow White is not only a princess but a warrior as well.
There may or may not be a sequel to this film, and if there is it is likely to me more about the Huntsman than Snow White.
There’s something in this film for everyone. There were a lot of special effects but they fitted in with the movie really well, so it wasn’t like they were just doing them for the sake of it. There are knights on horseback and trolls for boys, which meant my brother really enjoyed it as well. I found it a really enjoyable experience to go and see it in the cinema because it’s the kind of thing that looks amazing on a big screen, but I would also watch it with my friends at sleepovers etc.
The enchanted forest was well thought through, with enough fairies and pixies to make it a fairy tale but lots of natural beauty too. All the acting was very strong, apart from that of Chris Hemsworth, the Huntsman, who’s Australian but for some reason attempted a Scottish accent, somewhat unsuccessfully. I liked the girl power aspect of it, with Snow White being a fighter, because it’s not something that has been done before. It’s not a slow moving film at all- every crucial thing happens a very short time after the one before. Charlize Theron does really well as the evil queen, not pantomime evil but properly scary stuff! It’s got a bit of romance but not too much, just the right amount. The scenery was really good and I particularly liked the parts set in the Dark Forest. One complaint is that the Dark Forest wasn’t at all scary- it just looked like some plasticy trees and smoke machines. Other than that it was all amazing. Another good thing about it- no Prince Charming!
Estimated watching age: It is a twelve but it is also a fairytale, and apart from the special effects there’s nothing in it that could be disturbing to anybody from eight and up.
Price on Amazon: £9.99 for normal DVD, £15.00 for Blu-Ray.
Producer: Sam Mercer, Palak Patel, Joe Roth and Helen Hayden
Director: Rupert Sanders
Film certificate: 12
Names of the people who play the main characters: Kristen Stewart, Charlize Theron and Chris Hemsworth.
The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender is an amazingly moving book about a nine-year-old girl named Rose Edelstein who can taste people’s emotions in the food they make and prepare. She can taste if a farmer was angry when he picked his tomatoes and if someone was in a rush when they baked a batch of cookies.
She only finds out about her strange talent on her birthday, when her mother bakes her a lemon cake. She goes and lies down to have a nap, leaving Rose to take the cake out of the oven. She can’t resist tasting it, but when she does, it feels like there’s a hole in the food- like it’s hollow. Her mother’s heart wasn’t in it when she was making it. The dinner is the same, and Rose, being young, has trouble coping with what’s going on on her own. Gradually she gets used to it and it becomes part of her normal lifestyle, but because she puts up with it doesn’t mean that she enjoys it. It dominates her life.
The Edelstein family have a difficult relationship. Rose’s father, who has a strange terror of hospitals, only singled her out when she showed a talent for drawing soccer balls perfectly.
Rose’s mother is having an affair with a man at her carpentry class, Larry, and Rose only knows because she can taste it in her mother’s food. The rest of the family are in the dark.
Rose’s older brother Joseph used to be scarily smart, the class genius, but his grades are slipping and Rose notices that there’s something odd about him- sometimes he just disappears.
Rose’s grandmother is ancient and sends the Edelsteins strange cardboard boxes containing broken teacups, dish towels, and cracked tins of old rouge. They only ever talk to her down the phone.
Rose admires Joseph’s friend George, who often comes round to solve physics problems with Joseph. It is he who first helps her find out her problem. Of course, he has to leave for college and when Joseph doesn’t get in, he rents a flat by himself, so that Rose is left with only her parents for company. They hardly ever talk to her and only Rose’s mother ever really seems to acknowledge her.
George leaves for college and although he comes back to see her sometimes and calls her on the phone, but their relationship doesn’t work out and after a while he gets married to a botanist from his college.
Rose’s friend Eliza abandons her to go round with another group of girls as they grow up, and Rose makes her own friend, a girl who she thinks is going to stay her friend forever. She thinks that her friend Sherrie accepts her talent and finds it interesting, but it turns out that she is only friends with Rose so that Rose can eat food she makes and tell her how she’s feeling, whether she really likes a boy, whether she’s really depressed. When she realises that Sherrie doesn’t even know she has a brother and is only interested in Rose’s talent and not in Rose herself, Rose tries to change their friendship so that they are proper friends instead of being like servant and master. Sherrie, who is self-centred and didn’t care much about Rose in the first place, slams down the phone after Rose suggests a film instead of more food tasting and they never speak again.
When Eliza and Eddie, Rose’s only remaining childhood friends, leave for college, Rose, who is deciding to stay at home instead to ‘avoid the drama of dorm cafeterias entirely’, is on her own.
Rose changes, dying her hair and learning to drive and making her own money by working at a restaurant and in an office, where she meets a man called Peter who is later to become her boyfriend. Joseph’s disappearances grow more and more frequent and alarming, until Rose begins to give him up for lost. Rose perfects her talent at tasting foods, and even tries her own food, although there’s a taste in it that she hates and can’t work out. Her mother’s affair goes on and her father is still terrified of hospitals and her grandmother dies, and Rose finds out something she never knew about her grandfather. But amongst all this, Rose finally finds out where she belongs.
I really enjoyed this book because it mixes the impossible with reality and makes it really believable, just by the way Rose tells it. The sentences are beautifully constructed and normally I read books very fast, but with this one I slowed down a lot so that I could concentrate on the language.
The dialogue does not have speech marks around it and it’s not in italics, but it’s not at all confusing and somehow makes it a better read.
I like the way it’s told from Rose’s point of view, because when time passes and she goes from being a nine-year-old to a thoroughly independent teenager, she doesn’t even notice herself changing until she’s looking through the family photo album and doesn’t recognise herself. I found that bit especially moving. Time goes very slowly, but by the end of the book you realise that there is a completely different person telling the story than there was at the beginning.
The subject of the book is very original and I think that the characterisation of Rose’s family is very well done. I also like the way it doesn’t end with a flourish, and the last sentence is very subtle.
One of the three things I don’t like about this book is that the family have a lot of secrets from each other, and none of them are really resolved by the end. It’s a bit unsatisfying. I think that Aimee Bender should do a short epilogue in which Rose mentions those secrets, even if it’s just to say that they stayed a secret.
Another not-so-good thing is that Rose’s character does not really develop through the story until the very end, when the change in the way she thinks and acts is too abrupt. She’s a teenager but she speaks and thinks exactly how she did when she was nine. She’s had to virtually look after herself since she was a child but this does not really come across in the way she tells her story, which in a naïve and simple way like somebody who has not really seen the world and is still at the stage of playground games. By the time Rose is twenty-two the story is still told in that same way.
And then there’s the whole mystery of Rose’s brother Joseph’s disappearing skill, which I feel is definitely not a crucial addition to the book. Take it out and the book would, yes, be less unusual, but because Rose doesn’t really give much thought to the fact that Joseph’s gone makes it seem a bit pointless. If a mother or father lost their son they would probably be frantic, but after Joseph’s final disappearance life in the Edelstein household seems to go on exactly the same way. The conclusion, when Joseph is found and hospitalized, was too sudden and out of the blue. The story could not have done without Joseph as a character but it could have done without his special skill. With most books I like I would say that I wish there was a sequel but I think this book finishes in the right place, although the end does feel just a bit rushed.
I have read this book at least seven times and would definitely go back to it again. It’s got a bit of everything for everyone in it, and as well as being a teenage book it could also very easily be for adults too. The cover picture is also very inviting and while it doesn’t give much away it’s very descriptive of the book. The girl on the cover looks exactly how I imagine the nine-year-old Rose.
Genre: Fantasy/realistic at the same time!
Estimated reading age: Twelve and up
Price on Amazon: £5.29 for paperback, £5.03 for Kindle edition
Author: Aimee Bender
Main characters: Rose, George, Joseph, Rose’s mother, Rose’s father.
Rating: ★★★★ Overall an amazing original book with a great front cover, but some things could have been given a lot more thought and time.