Archive for April, 2010

Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 28, 2010 by Jessica Lada

I didn’t notice at first that  Wolf Brother by Michelle Paver was the first book of the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness series, but I am thrilled it is.  This is a world I want to spend more time in.  It isn’t a typical fantasy with magic wands and spells.  It’s a spiritual, elemental sort of magic and it’s integrated completely into the story world.  It doesn’t feel like a fantasy at all as you’re reading.  Not only does Pager take you back six thousand years to show you the European forests and technology, but she puts you in the ancient mindset and strips away modern paradigms.

Set in prehistoric forests of Europe, Wolf Brother is the story of twelve-year-old Torak whose father has just been killed by a demon bear.  With the help of his wolf guide, Torak must find the Mountain of the Spirit World and defeat the demon bear before the next full moon.  If he fails, the bear will be invincible and he will kill until the entire forest is destroyed.  Along the way, Torak encounters other tribes, prophecies, and glaciers.

In this day and age it’s tough to forget about technology or imagine what it would be like without it.   But Paver cleverly tricked me into forgetting about cell phones and televisions and for the span of the story I saw the world like Torak did.

Paver splits the book between three viewpoints: Torak, Wolf, and Renn (a girl from the Raven clan).  I’d like to camp with this trio.  Torak is the hero and the dominant point of view.  He has a likeable and compelling mix of determination, fear, and loyalty.  Torak perpetually rides the exciting edge of discovery.  It’s his first time on his own in the forest, so even though he has been taught well, there is a new level of anxiety.  It reminded me of my very first time driving a car solo.  I met my friends at the zoo.  I’d been there hundreds of times before, but riding in the passenger seat is different from actually driving the route yourself.  There’s a mixture of fear and freedom that Paver captured perfectly in Torak’s voice. I’d been there hundreds of times before, but driving the route myself was radically different than riding in the passenger seat.  There’s a mixture of fear and freedom that Paver captured perfectly in Torak’s voice.

Torak’s sidekick Renn is charming and likeable.  She is feisty, capable, and talented; but also humble and grounded securely by morals.  The use of Wolf’s voice as a character was absolutely brilliant.  His keen mind and observations stripped away all labels.  If you lived without books or school or written language, how would you describe things?  Wolf’s point of view broke the world down to the barest level, observing rivers, snow, fire, humans, and even death by using only concrete ideas rather than abstract concepts.

Occasionally the transitions between viewpoints were rough and had confusing pronouns, but luckily the character voices are distinct enough to sort things out.  I worried that the descriptions of survival (hunting, clothing, making arrowheads, etc.) would become longwinded, but Paver kept the details concise and interesting.  I have to commend her for resisting the temptation of info-dumps, especially after all the research she did.  (According to the book jacket, Paver ate lichens, chewed pine resin, and slept on reindeer skins in the forests of northern Finland during the research process.  That’s what I call dedication.)

I was shocked that this novel functioned on so many levels all at the same time.  Not only was it an exciting young adult fiction, it also touched the root of humanity and what it means to be a part of this blue planet.  I started reading this book on Earth Day (by mere coincidence) and it turned out to be surprisingly apropos.  Beneath the adventure and coming-of-age, it was a story about harmony with the world around us and harmony with each other.

If you enjoy Tamora Pierce, Brian Jacques, or even Jack London, Wolf Brother and the Chronicles of Ancient Darkness are right up your alley.  It is more than just a fantasy novel or a coming of age story.  The real magic in this story doesn’t come from potions or artifacts but from the world around us.

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Earth Day Festival in Norman, Oklahoma

Posted in Stuff with tags , , , , , , , on April 15, 2010 by Jessica Lada

The Little River Zoo in Norman, Oklahoma
wants to teach kids and remind adults about being kind to the earth, wildlife, and each other. That’s the message they teach every day at the zoo and this Sunday, in celebration of Earth Day, the Little River Zoo is bringing that message to the community. The 11th Annual Kids for Kindness festival is being held at Reaves Park in Norman from noon to 6 p.m. There will be booths from local businesses, lots of fun and educational activities, a petting zoo, and a menagerie of local mascots.

The Little River Zoo is not just your normal zoo where you might spend the afternoon looking at animals through cage bars or perhaps grab a snow cone. From the moment you walk into the Little River Zoo, you’re up close with the animals. When I did the interview for this article, I turned around and found myself face-to-face with a full-grown skunk named Honey and I even got to pet a porcupine. Each animal at the Little River Zoo has a story. Most are rescue animals and all are socialized so that they can interact with humans. This zoo does not believe in spectators but in hands-on education. And hands-on education is exactly what they have planned for Sunday.

Director of Operations Mickey Pierce, says, “We have furry little ambassadors, which makes it an easy concept to understand—to love your planet.” The Kids for Kindness event Sunday is free of charge so that everyone has the opportunity to participate and have fun. Co-founder and Director of Little River Zoo Janet Sadler Schmid says, “In the past we’ve had well over 100 different organizations from the community that come together to support the zoo and to put on the event and to send their message from a humane educational level.” Janet says there are activities appropriate for all ages, even toddlers.

At the end of the day, kids will go through a graduation ceremony of sorts. They will make a promise to be a kind kid and be good to the planet, and then get a certificate. “They get their little cup of lady bugs to take with them to understand about letting the ladybugs go—not in the back seat of the car, but in your yard. And that’s kind of a furthering of the message. It’s a life changing thing for a lot of kids,” Janet says.

Each organization that sets up a booth is bringing a message and showing how they work that message into their business. For example, Home Depot will be teaching kids how to plant flowers. Even businesses who are not setting up booths have contributed in other ways, such as providing food for the volunteers, ice, water, transportation, and even a tent for the petting zoo.

It isn’t too late to help out. Janet says they always need more volunteers and Mickey says there is still room for more booths. “It’s a big park. I’m going to take them if they want to come,” Mickey says, even “if I have to write your name on 1000 maps on Saturday.” If you are interested in volunteering or setting up a booth, contact Mickey Pierce at (405) 366-7229.

Whether you come out for an hour or for the entire afternoon, “Kids for Kindness” promises plenty of fun and education for kids and adults alike. And even if you can’t make it out to Reaves Park on Sunday, you can find the same message at the Little River Zoo 365 days a year.   Check them out at http://www.littleriverzoo.com/

–originally posted at Blogcritics.org