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Culture Watch

Page Three

Reviewed by Julia Sneden

13 WORDS by Lemony Snicket and Maira Kalman
Published by Harper Collins
Suggested age: 3 through forever.

The book will grab anyone who understands that words and pictures can unite to create joy, regardless of the reader’s or listener’s age. If you don’t have access to a child, I’d suggest borrowing one so you can have an excuse to read it aloud, many times over. It’s a wonderfully lighthearted and even silly book, designed to enrich vocabulary via Snicket’s prose, and to delight eyes with Maira Kalman’s colorful, whimsical pictures. Snicket and Kalman are a most felicitous pairing. It’s a great grandparent/grandchild read.

by Terry Pratchett
Paperback by Harper Collins, Publisher
367 pp. Suggested Age: Young adult and on.

If there’s still anyone who hasn’t heard of Sir Terry Pratchett, he or she is in for a treat, not just because Sir Terry’s books are worth reading, but also because there are so many of them. If you’ve read one, you’ll be eager for more. Pratchett is a prize-winning, British author who has produced an astounding volume of work, among which are three or four trilogies and the large Discworld series. He never fails to challenge and prod the reader into new and deeper levels of thinking. He is a profoundly moral writer, but at the same time, his writing is consistently playful and often just delicious. He’s one of the few writers of fiction for young adults who can be relied on to give his female characters strength and intelligence and resilience that are equal to the strength and intelligence and resilience of his male characters. If you chose to give this, do read it first, just for your own enjoyment. And be prepared to respond to requests for more of Terry Pratchett.

And a caveat:

by John Grisham

©2010 by Belfry Holdings, Inc.,Dutton Children's Books (div.Penguin Group)
Hardcover, 263 pp.

John Grisham is a man who knows how to spin a good yarn: Witness his best-selling thrillers and the movies made from them. When I was looking for something for a grandson who prefers spending time on the computer to time spent reading a book, I was delighted to see that Grisham had gone into the young-adult market. I figured that he’d be able to grab even the most reluctant reader.

This is not that book. It is condescending, pedantic, and incredibly dull, with simple-but-wordy explanations of every aspect of a murder trial, and lots of extraneous fill by way of tangential characters who have nothing to do with much of anything. It also is in need of a good editor, if only to catch the repeated errors of grammar, to wit:

  • the word “then” is not a conjunction
  • sentences need both a subject and a verb
  • a comma does not belong between independent clauses
  • subjunctive clauses like “as if Mr. Hogan was full of nonsense” need subjunctive verbs like “were”

The casual use (as opposed to intended use to delineate a character) of incorrect grammar does not mark a story as “hip,” or cause a youngster to identify more closely with the writing. A well-written book can do more to educate a child about the use of the English language than any amount of red-ink-correction on the papers he hands to his teacher. Authors owe it to young readers to be careful, or at least to insist on good editors who can catch the errors.

But beyond matters of grammar, the condescending tone of this book turned me off. It sounds as if it had been written by someone who talks down to children, something I cannot believe of Mr. Grisham, who gave us books like “The Client,” with its lively young hero.

It looks as if someone might be planning a series of Theodore Boone adventures. I hope not.

©2010 Julia Sneden

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