09 November, 2011

Quality Rules, OK?

The Treehorn Trilogy

Florence Parry Heide

A book from the Library Thing Early Reviewers programme. To be truthful, a trilogy from the.... I’m reviewing it as one, however, since each book is short and i received the three together. Before i start on the books themselves, i have to comment what a pleasure the Early Reviewers is; i had a note in my letterbox from the postman, indicating they’d tried to deliver something but it was too big and i hadn’t been there, so i walked to the other end of town, to the sorting office, wondering what it could possibly be. Then walked back, carrying a parcel, having no idea what was inside it, actually shaking it, trying to make deductions about the contents!

First things (almost) first, then. The three books come as a box set; and what a box it is! Unlike many i have or have had, it is solid, well constructed, a container that will take a lot of beating from a child who is likely to treasure these books for years; it has a different colour on each face, reflecting the use of these attractive, gentle (not the bright, sharp colours popular with children’s publishers) pastels on the covers of the books within; there are also three illustrations by Edward Gorey, a foretaste of those to come, as the drawings in the books are by him.

The books, then. Again, like the box itself, the quality is high; it’s been a long time since i have bought books for children of the age these are aimed at (a good half dozen years, i should think, with the prime book buying several years earlier, as JAG tended to have his sisters’ books recycled, rather than new ones bought), but i do not remember many that were of this quality: Good strong covers i imagine could take quite a beating; pages of thick paper which won’t fold or tear as easily under little fingers; a slight gloss to the surface which might well protect the content by aiding in slowing down staining by juice spillages.

The content, then. I do not remember reading any of these books when our children were younger; i’m not saying it didn’t happen, just that i don’t think it did. The point is that i’m pretty sure i’d have recalled them (even apart from my very good memory for books i have read) because they are lovely. Treehorn is a young boy, maybe eight or ten years old, though his abilities seem to vary at times; he has parents who are, while physically present, in any meaningful sense absent, having no understanding of his life, nor any ability (it seems) to even hear him when he speaks ~ at least, what he says makes no impact at all upon them, and it ought to, because he reports some fairly strange happenings in his life. These happenings are, of course, the point of the book as Treehorn tries to make sense, and take value from, a tree which temporarily grows money, a genii in a jar, the sudden and inexplicable downsizing he goes through. In each case the reader can see he acts rationally (at least from his point of view) and the people around him cannot because they don’t understand, being caught up too much in their own lives ~ surely how some adults much appear to children much of the time. As i mentioned earlier, the drawings are by Edward Gorey, for as long as i can remember, one of my favourite illustrators. They add hugely to the value of the stories, as always with good illustrations, as they help to interpret what is happening, often with a delightful humour.

All in all, this is a lovely set, beautifully produced, written, and illustrated; Heide died last month, but i hope that she had the opportunity to see what this publisher had done with her trilogy, as it much surely have made her happy. The opportunity to receive and review it has certainly made me happy, and i look forward to the time (perhaps not too soon in the future, thank you) when i can read these to grandchildren.

04 November, 2011

Another winner

The English Parliament

Kenneth MacKenzie

Neither an history of Parliament, nor a description of how it works, this book is more an history of how it developed the functions it has from the precedents allowed it under the feudal system. One of the great strengths of the British Constitution, unwritten, but not undefinable, is that everything in it can be traced back, mostly to the late mediƦval period and the structure of the England’s governance under the feudal monarchy. It is for this reason that attempts such as those by the current Labour and Liberal Democrat parties to essentially remove the House of Lords are so wildly misguided, to be resisted with all Parliament’s ability, and why any attempt to make the United Kingdom into a republic are (it is devoutly to be hoped) doomed to failure. This continuity of the feudal state, which in some measure we still live in, is almost unique among the world’s nations; i don’t know of another which has the same ability to trace back all the forms of government to the system of seven or eight centuries ago, though it may be possible in the case of, perhaps, Japan, whose history is something i am largely unaware of.

I'm really fortunate; i've been going through a patch of good books lately ~ of the last twenty i've read i'd say there're only about two i haven't enjoyed. Yay! Yay for good books. Yay for clever authors. Yay for me for finding them.