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 Richard Peck

I was saddened to learn of the passing of Richard Peck, the Newbery Award winning author of A LONG WAY FROM CHICAGO and A YEAR DOWN YONDER, on May 23rd. He was a great writer for readers of all ages, who brought history to life with humor and was not afraid to tackle current topics. When he came to speak at the Provo City Library back in 2010, I was touched by his humility and graciousness; tears filled his eyes because he couldn’t believe that so many people would come to hear him speak, let alone give him a standing ovation. He will be greatly missed.

Here is one of my favorite quotes by him about the importance of reading:  

"Read to your children

Twenty minutes a day;

You have the time, 

And so do they.

Read while the laundry is in the machine;

Read while the dinner cooks;

Tuck a child in the crook of your arm

And reach for the library books.

Hide the remote,

Let the computer games cool,

For one day your child will be off to school;

Remedial? Gifted? You have the choice;

Let them hear their first tales

In the sound of your voice.

Read in the morning;

Read over noon;

Read by the light of the Goodnight Moon.

Turn the pages together,

Sitting close as you'll fit,

Till a small voice beside you says, 'Hey, don't quit.'"

 End of the World

Does it say something about you if all you want to read is a story about the end of the world? I hope not, because lately it’s all I seem to be reading! There’s something intriguing about a story set in a world where things can be so much worse, and lately I seem to live for those small threads of meaning that bind people to hope in the face of bleak events. Here are five stories set in familiar but fundamentally altered worlds where people are redefining life as we know it. 

6.29 The Last PolicemanTHE LAST POLICEMAN
By Ben H. Winters
(2012) 

Suppose you were a beat cop who wanted to be a detective and you were suddenly granted your wish because the world is going to collide with an asteroid in the near future. This is Hank Palace's situation, and in a world where suicide is commonplace, the remaining police force of Concord, New Hampshire, thinks Hank is a nutcase for investigating an apparent suicide as a murder. And yet… why did the man hang himself with a belt other than his own? The end of the world scenario of this detective novel makes it both thought-provoking and strange.  

 

6.29 Station 11STATION ELEVEN
By Emily St. John Mandel
(2014) 

Outside of Toronto, a famous actor, Arthur Leander, collapses from a heart attack in the middle of a performance of Shakespeare's King Lear. Shortly thereafter, a deadly super-flu quickly spreads and wipes out approximately 99% of the world's population. The novel switches back and forth in time, before and after the pandemic, and centers on the lives of Arthur and people connected to him in one way or the other. In the years after the Fall, one of these people, Kirsten, join a group of traveling actors/musicians who are determined to keep a modicum of culture alive because as their motto says, "Survival is insufficient."

 

6.29 Life as We Knew ItLIFE AS WE KNEW IT
By Susan Beth Pfeffer
(2006) 

Sixteen-year-old Miranda begins her diary with accounts related to boys and prom. Her writing shifts dramatically after a meteor hits the moon altering the moon’s gravitational pull. This collision changes life forever on earth. Tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanoes and the loss of electricity abound. Through the ten-month ordeal, Miranda records how her family through everything and how every day death is a constant threat. Will they have enough food and fuel to make it through the long, cold winter? Will life ever return to normal? Is there even such a thing as “normal” anymore? 

 

6.29 The FiremanTHE FIREMAN
By Joe Hill
(2016) 

Harper Grayson is a nurse volunteering her time to help those infected by a terrifying plague that is spreading throughout the country. The doctors have named the infection Draco Incendia Trychophyton, but everyone else just calls it Dragonscale. The first symptom is an array of tattoo like marks across the body and the final symptom is spontaneous combustion leaving victims mere ash. When Harper contracts the disease she is quarantined in her home until a mysterious fireman with uncanny pyrotechnic abilities takes her to a hidden community of survivors.

 

6.29 The Age of MiraclesTHE AGE OF MIRACLES
By Karen Thompson Walker
(2012) 

On a Saturday just like any other, Julia and her friend Hannah have had a sleepover. As they wake up and the day progresses however, they discover that the world as they know it will never be the same. The earth has suddenly begun rotating slower and slower adding minutes and then hours to each day. Not only do the days and night grow longer, but gravity as well as growing food is affected. Julia is facing her world being turned upside down in other ways as well, friendships dissolve, her parents’ marriage is strained, and they boy she likes doesn’t ever seem to notice she’s around.

 

austen ranking 1

Now that we've covered the not-so-great adaptations of Jane Austen's classic novels, it's time to move on the the merely okay! Ummm ... yay?

Whether it's altered characters, terrible kisses, or unfortunate placement of manholes, each of these adapatations had something about them that was just a little off. They aren't the worst, but they definitely aren't the best. Here's why.

6.27 Mansfield Park 200720) MANSFIELD PARK
 Directed by Iain B. MacDonald
(2007)

Billie Piper's performance is such an odd take on Fanny. She never quite meshes with the historical setting, and the hair and costume choices don't help (why does she keep wearing her hair down?!?!). Though the 1999 adaptation, which we'll get to later, makes serious departures from the book, those alterations at least feel intentional and carefully thought out. The changes to the characters here, particularly in making Fanny lively and playful, just don't make sense. Plot points are also rushed or skipped over entirely. While MANSFIELD PARK is certainly Austen's most serious and difficult novel, this adaptation feels frothy and frivolous.

To be honest, I probably should have put this on the "Not So Good" list, but I temporarily forgot it existed and have since had to renumber everything in that post. Whoops.

6.27 I Have Found It19) KANDUKONDAIN KANDUKONDAIN (I HAVE FOUND IT)
Directed by Rajiv Menon
(2000)

This Tamil film, the first Indian adaptation of an Austen novel (correct me if I’m wrong), is a movie I wish I liked. The tone is uneven, with a jarring mix of war scenes and music video-style montages of dance and song. And then there’s the unintentionally hilarious fact that (spoiler!) instead of falling ill near the end of the story, the Marianne character instead falls into a manhole. Nevertheless, the songs are fun, Aishwarya Rai is lovely as ever, and it’s the film that eventually led to BRIDE AND PREJUDICE, so I can’t complain too much.

 

6.27 Pride and Prejudice18) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE: A LATTER-DAY COMEDY
Directed by Andrew Black 
(2003)

AKA “the Mormon one.” This movie isn’t quite good enough to stand on its own as a film or an Austen adaptation, but if you’ve ever experienced an LDS singles ward, it resonates. The transition of an early 19th century England to early 21st century Provo is surprisingly smooth, given the shared obsession with early marriage. It’s mildly entertaining in a slapstick sort of way, and I’ll never stop thinking the scene with heartbroken Lizzie and Jane in the grocery store is funny: “Triple choc-choc-choc-chocolate chunk? Or Uncle Bubba’s Big Belly Batter Brickle?”

 

6.27 Bridget Jones17) BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY
Directed by Sharon Maguire 
(2001)

Is it fair to call this an Austen adaptation when it’s already the adaptation of another book? I’m not sure, and I struggled with its placement since it’s so popular but not a personal favorite. It’s funny and satirical and very British, and it makes some clever nods to PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (including the casting of Colin Firth as Mark Darcy). I think my main hang-up with this one is Bridget as the main character. Where Elizabeth Bennet was clever, charming, and witty, Bridget is a lovable hot mess. It’s easier for me to like her and the film if I separate it from Pride and Prejudice altogether.

I know that fidelity is a nebulous, unattainable goal, or whatever, but don’t mess with my favorite characters (I’m looking at you, every LITTLE WOMEN adaptation I've ever seen).

 

6.27 Persuasion16) PERSUASION
Directed by Adrian Shergold
(2007)

This movie would have been much, much higher up the list but for one thing: MINUS ALL THE POINTS FOR THE WORST KISS IN CINEMATIC HISTORY. Anne’s out of breath from running through the streets of Bath, and she’s left with her mouth gaping open like fish while Wentworth waits an absurdly long time to bend down and meet her kiss. *shudders*  

I need to watch the final scene from NORTH AND SOUTH as a palate cleanser after even thinking about it.

 

6.27 Pride and Prejudice 194015) PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Directed by Robert Z. Leonard
(1940)

If you’re obsessed with fidelity, this is not the adaptation for you, but as a stand-alone film and piece of cinematic history, it’s charming. Released in 1940, producers worried that the film would make our British allies seem stuffy and prejudiced, so certain characters (*cough* Catherine de Bourgh *cough*) were significantly altered. The time period was also moved forward to capitalize on the popularity of GONE WITH THE WIND in its flamboyant costume design.

So, the storyline is a far cry from Austen’s original, but Lawrence Olivier was destined, both in appearance and manner, to play Fitzwilliam Darcy. In fact, I think he may actually be Darcy. Can a fictional character be reincarnated as an iconic movie star?

 

6.27 Emma Approved14) EMMA APPROVED
Directed by Bernie Su
(2013-2014)

Bernie Su’s creative follow-up to THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES is unfortunately not quite as good, though I still enjoyed watching it. The production quality is better (this is a very pretty adaptation) but the setup feels forced. Where Lizzie was a vlogger, Emma is simply recording videos for posterity, and it stretches credibility a little too much. The storytelling isn't as clever and insightful as THE LIZZIE BENNET DIARIES and the characters felt less real, but the series grew on me over time.

Why? The chemistry between Alex Knightley and Emma is a major redeeming quality. The rest of the plot struggles initially, but the sexual tension is A+.

 

 Letter Writing

There is a lot of excitement around our house when the mail carrier drives down the street every afternoon. We are lucky and our mail is delivered after school.  My kids inevitably fight over whose turn it is to get the mail. If it happens to be close to someone’s birthday there will be a birthday card from my grandma, but other than that, it ends up mostly being junk. I have started wondering . . . 

Do children even know what an actual, real-live letter is? The digital world has taken over and understandably so. Communication is much quicker through texting and email. The up and coming generation’s knowledge of “mail” mostly consists of fliers with a few bills mixed in (and even most of those are now paperless). I have realized they don’t have very many opportunities to experience true letter writing. The idea of writing a letter and having to wait for a response almost seems to be a foreign concept in today’s world. All types of news can be received almost instantaneously. I wanted to have my children understand what it used to be like, when all communication had to be through letters. Enter the world of reading. A person can be engulfed in a pretend sequence they have never experienced for themselves. I am intrigued and amazed by authors who use letters back and forth to characters in order to tell the story. It adds an interesting element for the reader. Around our house we have read some books recently that reminded us how exciting the process of letter writing can be.   

6.25 Love Ruby LavendarLOVE RUBY LAVENDER
By Deborah Wiles
(2001) 

Nobody likes it when their grandma moves away. Ruby had been living with her grandma and they were basically best friends until her grandma moves to Hawaii—of all places—to be with a new grandbaby. Ruby sends letters to her grandma to keep her informed of all the happenings in their small town and to ask, every letter, when she is coming home. Ruby is taking care of some chickens she rescued and the chickens have babies. There are some hard elementary school friend growing pains she experiences, which are harder because her grandma isn’t around.  

 

6.25 Extra CreditEXTRA CREDIT
By Andrew Clements
(2009) 

Abby does not want to flunk the sixth grade, so when her teacher offers an extra credit assignment to have a pen pal in Afghanistan, she signs up. Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, Sadeed wants to do the pen pal assignment as well, but deeming it inappropriate for an 11-year old girl and an 11-year old boy to be pen pals, Sadeed enlists his little sister to be Abby’s pen pal. Abby has to post the letters she receives on the bulletin board to receive the full extra credit points. Some interesting twists and turns make it tricky to decide if she can post all the letters she receives. She comes up with clever ideas to get her extra credit, but also be true to her pen pal—or pals as the case may be.  

 

6.25 Dear Mr. HenshawDEAR MR. HENSHAW
By Beverly Cleary
(1983) 

Leigh Botts writes a letter to his favorite author, Boyd Henshaw, every school year. He finally receives a reply and Mr. Henshaw asks Leigh questions and asks for his reply. Reluctantly, Leigh answers the questions Mr. Henshaw asked in his letter. Leigh decides he might actually like writing and Mr. Henshaw encourages him to keep a diary to help him cope with his parent’s divorce and some hard relationships at school, including someone who is daily stealing from his lunch. 

 

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