30 October 2011

Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke

One of my students asked me the other day, "Is that a good book?" After I said that it was, he said, "I should make you write me a letter when you're done with it!"

Touche, my little friend.

As some of you know, I have challenged my 7th grade classes to read 21 books this year. When they finish with each book, they have to write me a letter depending on what genre the book belongs to. So, why not write a bit about what I'm reading? Maybe it will make my minions happy when I tell them...

My first reaction to thick Young Adult books is, "I'll pass." I wasn't looking forward to another long book with little to no literary connection, and a plot soaked in action-for-the-sake-of-action-so-the-kids-will-buy-more-books kind of action.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by Inkheart.

The best place to start is with an excerpt. Mo, one of the main characters, tells his daughter Meggie:

If you take a book with you on a journey...an odd thing happens: The book begins collecting your memories. And forever after you have only to open that book to be back where you first read it. It will all come into your mind with the very first words: the sights you saw in that place, what it smelled like, the ice cream you ate while you were reading it...yes, books are like flypaper - memories cling to the printed page better than anything else.

When I find truths like this early on in a book, I am much more likely to continue reading. This particular passage was on page 15, and it wasn't 6 pages later, on the header for the next chapter, I found a quote from The Wind in the Willows, by Kenneth Grahame. If I hadn't been sold at that point, that would have done it. In fact, my Moleskine is full of names of writers I found through Inkheart, as each chapter has an apt passage from many different stories.

I really enjoyed the art throughout the book too. Funke's sketches are simple but compelling, though sometimes she uses the same drawing more than once - the only feature I wish would have been different.

The story itself is compelling too. Meggie is the protagonist, a young teen who loves to read. Her father is a book-mender, and we find out slowly that he is able to read things - and people - into and out of books. The major conflict begins when Meggie is only three; as Mo reads to his wife from Inkheart, she disappears and three characters from the book appear. Two of them are evil, Capricorn and Basta, while Dustfinger will do anything to return to "his" story. The ensuing action (which I will not reproduce here) is well done, and we find ourselves set up for a sequel as Basta survives along with the Magpie - Capricorn's mother.

I'm not yet sure how I feel about this leaving room for more. My initial reaction is that the story could have ended with Inkheart. I would have been satisfied seeing an end to Basta (who will surely die at the hands of Dustfinger at some point, albeit in one of the sequels), and the evil mother of Capricorn.


I haven't read the next part to the story, Inkspell, or the third book, Inkdeath. And I'm sure there's more to tell in the next two books...I'm just having a hard time getting over the need to make everything in the Young Adult genre a series. I suppose Funke surprised me before, maybe she'll come through again.


Anonymous said...

I am a retired elementary librarian and was told by someone high up in the library field that there are many sequels, not because the author necessarily wants to write them, but because that is what the publishers want to publish. Anymore, it is harder and harder for new authors to be published, because of the risk that poses to the publisher. (As you are finding out.) And if a proven author has very popular book, the publisher insists on more.

But in defense of publishers, I found that students were more willing to read the sequel to a book they really enjoyed than to try a new book.

That series is a wonderful series, and would certainly not be what I consider "junk reading". If you can get your students to read it, I think they will gain a lot because of the literary quality and vocabulary used in the book. I do not want to denegrate "junk reading", however. I learned that reading "junk" is many times the doorway to reading more literary works.

I am excited that you are applying the information you read in THE BOOK WHISPERER. I read the book several years ago and recommended to the staff at my school, but could not get anyone interested in reading it.

We need more educators with your dedication and love for reading, learning and your students! Thanks for caring for our youth!

Man O' Clay said...

Thanks for commenting. And I agree about lower-level reading, even reading "junk" - that's why I allow many of my students to read whatever they want. Then maybe I can suggest, push, prod other books into their hands. (One of my students is already reading Dickens!)

Yes, publishers do insist on sequels. In fact, if you have a YA book to sell, one of the initial questions is, can you see this story as a series? And I have that same tendency, to read about characters I already know. And many, many times I find myself wanting more of Middle Earth or Narnia. However, I don't think that's a good reason to stretch a story that doesn't have the "stuff" to stretch it with.

Eventually, young readers will figure it out, I guess. Then publishers will have to adapt.

Chris Phillips said...

I always try to plan my ideas out to fit into three movements when outlining, but make sure the first movement could stand alone. I don't know if you've read Hunger Games, but you could tell the last book was given a lot less care than one and two.

Man O' Clay said...

Hunger Games is on my list to read, but I've heard the same thing from numerous sources.

I think there's a difference between outlining a story in three parts, and writing a great story and then stretching it into two (or more) parts you didn't originally intend to write.

That's what I tend to think is going on with a lot of these trilogies these days. Maybe I'm wrong...

I think I will continue reading Funke's stuff though.

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