and what we wish they were

Monthly Archives: January 2013

January is nearly over, but there is still time (I hope) for me to review at least one of my favorite children’s books! Either way, I’ll enjoy reading the review at Simpler Pastimes.

Simpler Pastimes

If you’ve looked at my 2012 reading list, you may note that I’ve read quite a few children’s books this year. And yes, you may infer from this fact that I still love children’s literature. While I’ve read quite a few of the “greatest hits” over the years—Little Women, Anne of Green Gables, The Witch of Blackbird Pond, the Little House books, The Chronicles of Narnia—there are still many I’ve missed. So back a few months ago when the Classics Club was looking for someone to host a January Children’s Classic Read-a-long, I jumped at the chance. Even better? Jean of Howling Frog Books will be posting a series on lesser-known children’s authors during the month of January as well.

Classic Children's Literature Challenge January 2013

I decided that rather than simply host a read-a-long, which can be limiting, I’d do something more along the line of Carl’s wonderful R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event

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Debbie from Yulpa Reads has reviewed The Fault in Our Stars for us.  As a cancer survivor herself, she shares a unique perspective.

The Fault in Our Stars

Sixteen year old Hazel Grace Lancaster has terminal cancer, but because of a “Cancer Miracle,” has purchased for herself an unknown bit of time. She wishes to minimize the damage her death will cause by staying close to home, spending her time taking classes at the junior college, reading, and watching reality TV.  To please her parents, who are, as she says, the only ones in a worse position than she is, she attends a Cancer Kids Support Group.  There she meets Augustus Waters who had “a little touch of osteosarcoma a year and a half ago…but is on a roller coaster that only goes up”.  As their relationship slowly develops, Hazel shares her favorite book, An Imperial Affliction, with Augustus.  The author, Peter Van Houten, is the only person Hazel has come across who seems to understand what it was like to be dying but not have died.  An Imperial Affliction ends in mid-sentence. Hazel accepts that the main character, Anna, has died but wants to know what happens to everyone else in the novel.  She has written to the author many times without an answer.  Augustus makes it possible for the two of them (and Hazel’s mother) to go to Amsterdam to meet the reclusive author.
Does this sound like a book that is sweet, funny and life affirming?  Well, it is. The dialogue is witty and intelligent.  It is wonderful to watch these two young people fall in love despite their circumstances.  And it is particularly delightful to watch Hazel bloom and become stronger in spite of her frail body.
Very mild violence that involves the smashing of Augustus’ baseball trophies (with his permission) by their friend Isaac when he finds out his “forever” girlfriend dumped him because he was going to be blind.
I remember a few mild appropriately descriptive words.
Sexual Content
Normally, I’d be disturbed about a sexual encounter between sixteen and seventeen year old kids, but in this case it felt life affirming. Others may disagree. Most of the explicit language was about her oxygen and his artificial leg.
Supernatural Elements

Hazel and Augustus and Hazel and her Dad have some discussions about what they think happens after death. And the Dutch Tulip Man, a character in Imperial Affliction, is a metaphor for God.
Personal Reflections
As a cancer survivor, I identified with Hazel. There is not even a hint of sentimentality in the book, no brave sacrifice, no heroic messages, just reality. Her story felt true, so I was not surprised to find at the end of the book an acknowledgement to Esther Grace Earl and her family.
Even a successful fight against cancer involves loss. Hazel’s lungs can no longer do their job alone and their friend, Isaac, must pay a price for survival that would horrify most of us, the loss of his eyes. Even without such side effects, the body that you are left with is not the same one you had before. John Green respects his readers enough to tell them the truth and believes they can handle it.
Hazel loved An Imperial Affliction because it was her story and an honest story. She wanted to know what happened to the other characters because if they were doing well, maybe her parents would be OK, too. I love The Fault In Our Stars because it is an authentic story of hope and the daring to risk love in the face of death.
To find out more about the foundation created in Esther Earl’s honor go to .
Unlike Peter van Houten, John Green answers questions about his books. You can read some of them at

End note from Laura Catherine – I LOVED the book.  It was funny and clever and profound.  But I have to give my “mom of two young girls” disclaimer.  The sexual encounter between Augustus and Hazel is not graphic or steamy, but it would be the thing that would prevent me from recommending this for middle schoolers and younger teens.  

Since I’m still reeling from The Fault in Our Stars, I’m not sure I’m up for a book like this, but here’s a great review of The Sea of Tranquility – with parental warnings at the end.

The Selection

America Singer is a sixteen year old girl living in the Post-WWIV Kingdom of  Illea (formerly the United States).  Citizens of Illea are divided into castes.  Ones and Twos live lives of wealth and privilege.  Eights are homeless outcasts. American is a Five – certainly not the lowest of the low, but life is hard.  Life is even harder for Aspen, a Six and the boy she loves.  It isn’t easy for people to marry outside their castes, but America and Aspen are determined.  But when a letter arrives from the palace inviting all young women of Illea to apply for The Selection – think The Bachelor – everything changes.   Girls from every caste are given the opportunity  to be selected as a candidate to marry Prince Maxon and become the future queen of Illea.  This is the farthest thing from America’s mind, but both her mother and Aspen see it as America’s chance to have a better life.  Since she feels the chances of her making the selection are slim, she agrees to apply in order to appease them.  Of course she makes it.

Soon America is living in the palace with thirty-five other contestants vying for the prince’s affections.  Of course America’s heart belongs to Aspen.  But sadly, before the selection, he ended it – claiming he could not ask her to live life as a six.  So, she spends her days there trying to forget him, becoming Prince Maxon’s confidante, and earning compensation and comforts for her family.

Despite her broken heart, life at the palace has it’s perks (and dangers).  But when  America’s feelings for Maxon intensify – just about the time Aspen is assigned to the palace guard – things get complicated.  If you’re thinking this all sounds pretty predictable, you’re mostly right.  There aren’t a lot of twists and turns in this book that I didn’t see coming, but I couldn’t help myself.  I couldn’t put it down.  But too bad for me, the story doesn’t end  – until the sequel or maybe the sequel after that.  Dang.


The castle undergoes a couple of attacks, but there’s nothing graphic or even terribly tense.


Maybe a four letter word or two, but I don’t recall any.


In Illea sex before marriage is punishable by death.  So, America and Aspen have restrained themselves, but it’s clear that they are passionately in love and that keeping things pure is a struggle.  Also, when American joins the selection she is told to not to deny the prince anything -ANYTHING.  Fortunately Maxon is a total gentleman.




– In countries where a caste system actually exists, why do you think people tolerate it?

– Do you think arranged marriages could realistically work?

-Is it possible to be in love with two people at the same  time?

– Do you think this book is predictable?  Which parts?

-Do you like the characters?  Are they two simple or one-demensional?