June 25, 2009

Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?

Posted in Children's Literature, Historical Fiction, Mystery at 12:02 pm by j128


Book cover of "Montmorency: Thief, Liar, Gentleman?"

Montmorency: Thief Liar, Gentleman? is a novel by Eleanor Updale and was published in 2003. It is the first in the Montmorency series followed by Montmorency on the Rocks: Doctor, Aristocrat, Murderer?, Montmorency and the Assassins, and Montmorency’s Revenge. Stephen Fry has heralded it as “one of the most original, witty, and delicious books” in a very long time. It is set in Victorian London, specifically, 1875-1880 and it details the story of a petty thief and his rise to high social standing.


In Victorian London a thief crashed through a glass window on a rooftop when he had been trying to escape from the police after he had stolen a bag of something. When inspected, it was apparent that the thief was sure to die – he was beyond repair, yet a young doctor defied death by sewing up the thief again through a series of complicated procedures and surgeries.

Once the thief is recovered enough from his injuries and operations, Dr. Robert Farcett (the young ambitious doctor) decides to display the thief at social gatherings attended by first class Victorians. It is while attending these gathernigs that the thief learns of a new development in London: the underground sewer system. Slowly, the thief begins formulating plans and plots his new life once he has been released from prison.

The thief, though, understands that he will not risk being caught again and decides he wants to be wealthy and he realizes he must have an accomplice. The accomplice in question is himself and he decides to take on the challenge of a double-life.

His alter-egos are as follows: Scarper, a disgraceful, grubby thief and also a manservant for the sophisticated, wealthy aristocrat Mr. Montmorency. Now Montmorency only has to wait until he is released into the world and begin his new “lives.”

On the designated date, all of the prisoners are reviewed and are selected as to who will be released and left behind. Montmorency is one of those who are released and he is given a package with something that could have helped him along in his new life – unfortunately, a guard takes it away from him even before he can take a chance to inspect the documents.

Now out in the streets of London, alive and free, Scarper/Montmorency begins by stealing articles of clothing, even paying a call to Dr. Farcett’s house where he removes articles of clothing for Montmorency. Scarper arrives at a hotel where he requests a room for Montmorency.

The hotel is somewhat of first-class and while Montmorency resides there the owner’s childish and lisping daughter is attracted to him, unfortunately for her, Montmorency is not interested and tries to avoid her at all costs. Scarper takes care to scare off the daughter to stay away from Montmonrency’s room or she’ll know what will happen.

Meanwhile Montmorency becomes the star of the show and even goes to the opera as well as attending a lecture by the one person that Montmorency ever liked when he was still only known as Prisoner 493. He also rescues a man from an out-of-control carriage and the man becomes Montmorency’s first true friend and his name is Lord George Fox-Selwyn.

Lord George Fox-Selwyn and Montmorency become fast friends and Montmorency is admitted as a member of George’s club. Afterwards, George gives Montmorency a job as a spy in the British government – the first assignment being to break into a Mauramanian embassy and prevent a European war. The success of the assignment gives Montmorency a permanent position and casting aside Scarper and all of his vile deeds, Montmorency returns every stolen possession to every rightful owner, and begins his new life as government spy with George.


http://www.eleanorupdale.com – Eleanor Updale’s official website.

http://www.answers.com/topic/montmorency-scarper – Article describing brief summaries of the Montmorency books.

The Amulet of Samarkand

Posted in Adventure, Children's Literature, Fantasy at 12:00 pm by j128

The Amulet of Samarkand The Amulet of Samarkand by British author Jonathan Stroud is the first book in The Bartimaeus Trilogy. It was published in 2003 in the U.K. and North America. The story is told in two different perspectives: first person (Bartimaeus) and narrative (Nathaniel). It is often viewed as a paralel world of our own world and I really like how Mr. Stroud manages to integrate magic into everything, even ancient history i.e. the fall of the Roman Empire, which is covered in Ptolemy’s Gate. Of the entire series, this one is my favourite.

The protagonists are twelve-year-old magician’s apprentice Nathaniel and a cheeky, often hilarious, djinni whom Nathaniel has summoned named Bartimaeus. The plot revolves around a powerful magical object, the Amulet of Samarkand, which Nathaniel ordered Bartimaeus to steal from the powerful and harsh magician Simon Lovelace.


Set in an alternate London, England, Nathaniel was early on in life given away by his parents to become a magician’s apprentice, mainly because of the money gained. He is told to forget his name forever as it is vital information that can be used by enemies and demons (djinnis and the like). His master, Mr. Underwood, has hardly any interest in him, let alone any interest in acquiring an apprentice, and his wife, Mrs. Underwood soon takes the scared boy under her wing and even manages to find out his name, as she says she does not want to call him “boy” all the time despite her husband’s furious remarks later on.

Nathaniel is educated in all sorts of subjects from world politics, geography, history, foreign languages, swimming, music, art, and magic. Of course, not all these things are taught to him by Mr. Underwood. They are taught by several tutors, who are all commoners: non-magical people who don’t have as much living standards as magicians do.

Everything is all very well until one fateful day when Nathaniel is summoned by Mr. Underwood so he can show off his apprentice. Mr. Underwood’s associates, however, do not take to Nathaniel very well, especially the man whom Nathaniel would later find out to be Simon Lovelace, and whom Nathaniel calls “a sore loser” after a cruel remark.

Set against revenge, Nathaniel releases mites upon the party and he is beaten sorely for his crimes. In an attempt to defend him, his art tutor Ms. Lutyens is sacked, yet another demonstration of injustice to the commoners.

After this cold, hard incident Nathaniel decides to speed up his studies on his own and begins learning far more magic than he ever did from his master Mr. Underwood and magic that his way beyond his years. Finally after a period of time he is ready enough to summon the five-thousand-year-old djinni Bartimaeus and orders him to steal Simon Lovelace’s most prized possession, which is none other than the Amulet of Samarkand and Nathaniel does this all without his master or his wife’s knowing. It is unfortunate, however, that Nathaniel does not even realize the extent of power the Amulet holds.

Eventually Nathaniel is given a new name by Mr. Underwood, which Nathaniel shall be known for the rest of his life: John Mandrake, after Nathaniel’s attempt to be named William Gladstone, England’s saviour, or at least, the England’s magicians’ saviour and whom Nathaniel regards as his hero.

Soon after his Naming, Nathaniel attends a special gathering of other magicians with Mr. and Mrs. Underwood. He also first sees the Prime Minister, Rupert Devereaux. An attack ensues upon the party with the use of a magical object in the shape of a disc and the suspect held is the Resistance, a group of commoners who oppose magic and continually battle against magicians’ power.

The climax heightens when Bartimaeus is caught and prisoned in the Tower of London after a fight in Sholto Pinn’s merchant shop, which results in considerably serious damage to the humans and the store. Inevitably, Bartimaeus is captured and imprisoned in the Tower of London (I think), but escapes as he is rescued by Farqual (another djinni and sort of archenemy of Bartimaeus’s). Bartimaeus also escapes Farqual after the initial rescue.

Meanwhile, Nathaniel has been found out by his master, and has been severely punished. Mrs. Underwood sympathizes but cannot do anything in her power except to give Nathaniel advice about his actions and their consequences. Soon afterwards, it is announced that Mr. Lovelace has called, and wishes to see Mr. Underwood.

Nathaniel breaks out in a sweat and the sense of danger is heightened. Just at that moment, Bartimaeus appears, and discovers through Nathaniel he has lead Simon Lovelace to Mr. Underwood’s house. For a brief moment, Nathaniel is trapped between either running away or saving Mr. Underwood, despite him being a lousy master. The young apprentice’s good heart wins over and he attempts to save the Underwoods but fails. Mr. Lovelace uses the Amulet and destroys Nathaniel’s home and everything in it.

However, as Bartimaeus is there, he manages to rescue Nathaniel from the raging fire, and also prevents his young master to go back into the flames to try and rescue Mrs. Underwood. They find refuge in an abandoned old building and Nathaniel broods over the loss of the person who was dearest to him and how he could have saved her. Bartimaeus is sent out to get some food and brings in the morning paper, the headlines screaming about the wreakage of the Underwoods’ residence.

The two learn of Mr. Lovelace’s function, which will be in the countryside, and while Bartimaeus goes off to investigate, Nathaniel ventures out to buy the evening paper. Unfortunately all the newpapers have been sold and even more unfortunately, Nathaniel is confronted and his scrying disk is stolen

On the day of Mr. Lovelace’s function Nathaniel and Bartimaeus disguise themselves as a father and son business; their ticket to getting inside. Nathaniel looks around while he serves as a waiter and finally gets away to explore and discovers Mr. Lovelace’s devastating plot behind the whole function – ultimately leading to a political take-over.

After Nathaniel has defeated a magician who was intent on killing him, he and Bartimaeus do their best to warn the rest of the magicians, but their attempts are seemingly hopeless as the magicians are blind to everything except the main entertainment. The boy and djinni are trapped in a magical bubble consequently when Bartimaeus bites an earlier character Jessica Whitwell.

After a presentation, Simon Lovelace unleashes the terror: the most powerful djinni from the Other Place, which Mr. Lovelace controls by a horn. All is confusion and fright and everyone scatters. Nathaniel and Bartimaeus some how break out of the bubble and send back the monster and Simon Lovelace with it. Peace is restored and Nathaniel becomes apprenticed to Jessica Whitwell; other than that, the aftermath of the near-disaster is quiet as, in Bartimaeus’s words, the Prime Minister doesn’t want others to know his life was saved by a mere boy.

At long last, Nathaniel releases Bartimaeus, and the ancient djinni departs but not without leaving a memento of sorts: the smell of brimstone.


The Amulet of Samarkand has also been planned for film adaptation for some time and it has only been recently revealed that Mirimax will be financing the film; other details aside from director and screenwriter is unknown as it is still in development.


http://www.bartimaeustrilogy.com/ – Official website of The Bartimaeus Trilogy

June 24, 2009

Jane of Lantern Hill

Posted in Canadian Literature, Children's Literature tagged at 8:32 pm by j128

Jane of Lantern Hill

Book cover of "Jane of Lantern Hill"

Jane of Lantern Hill is a novel by Canadian author L.M. Montgomery, published in 1937. The author began writing Jane in 1935 and had it completed by 1936 and she dedicated it to Lucky, her pet cat. She was planning and preparing to write a sequel but it was never completed.

Like many of L.M. Montgomery’s books, namely Anne of Green Gables, Prince Edward Island makes a great part of the plot, yet this story begins in Toronto, Ontario.


Jane Victoria Stuart, a young girl of eleven years, lives in Toronto, Ontario with her gorgeous mother Robin, her maternal grandmother, and Aunt Gertrude, her grandmother’s sister, at 64 Gay Street. Ironical to the street’s name, Gay Street isn’t cheerful and is quite grey. It was once said that Gay Street actually lived up to its name but in Jane’s time it is awfully gloomy, her only ray of sunshine is her only friend: Jody (Josephine Turner) who is an orphan and lives next door at a boarding house, where she is a servant.

Jane is called Victoria by her family and addressed as Miss Victoria by the few servants, which consists only of a chauffeur and a cook. They don’t have a housekeeper or even a maid because Aunt Gertrude sees to keeping the entire house ruthlessly spic and span, she cannot even stand the sight of dust, and is constantly tidying things and keeping things in order.

Grandmother is a miserable old lady, extremely strict and jealous of anything or anyone that Jane’s mother loves. She is also manipulative and bends people to her will, even if it means by force and as such this is how Jane and her mother live under the same roof with Grandmother. Jane intensely dislikes living with her grandmother and would be glad at any opportunity to get away.

Jane’s mother Robin, who is of said beauty and is youthful-looking is a sad creature and her only comfort is Jane. Jane finds it strange and doesn’t understand how her mother, blessed with beauty and who attends so many parties and social events could be always so sad. Of course, she comes to the conclusion that her sadness stems from the unreasonable suppression and tyranny of her grandmother but neither mother or daughter can seem to do anything about their situation….

Jane’s gloomy world and existence takes a total transformation when she discovers that she has a father and it is confirmed that he is alive. Her whole life, Jane was taught to believe by her grandmother that her father had died, and it was only by her “charity” that Robin and Jane had managed. Naturally, she is quite surprised by this revelation, and dreams of meeting her father and wonders what he’s really like as Grandmother enforced the idea that he was too wild and adventurous for her Robin and that he abandoned her with baby Jane. He’s also a writer.

A letter arrives from Andrew Stuart, Jane’s father, and he writes a request to see “his Jane”, suggesting that she visit Prince Edward Island, where he resides and also Jane’s birthplace. Grandmother is initially against this and stubbornly refuses to let Jane go, but finally consents when an uncle thinks it would be a good idea. Jane doesn’t really want to go to the Island but once she arrives she loves it.

She prepares to go and she goes shopping with her grandmother, who just about chooses every single outfit for her. Robin tearfully chokes not to mention a single thing about her to Jane, a thing that her daughter doesn’t fully understand but obeys.

There she meets Aunt Irene, whom Jane immediately dislikes, and she stays with her overnight. Aunt Irene is her father’s sister and is an uptight aged woman with a sort of “Victorian sensibility” about her and doesn’t understand Jane’s behaviour towards her. Next morning, Jane meets her father for the first time and loves him.

She calls him Father, as she calls Robin Mother, but he tells her to call him just “Dad”, which she likes. They soon by a house for themselves on Lantern Hill and become acquainted with the locals, namely the Snowbeams and the Jimmy Johns and the twin sisters.

They establish their house, supply it with furniture, and Jane grows a little garden of her own with her favourite flowers and assumes the roll of a housekeeper, learning how to cook and also learns other womanly, traditional domestic roles – things that she was never allowed to do in Toronto because her grandmother wouldn’t allow it. She also comes to own two little kittens, which she names Big Peter and Little Peter and her father gets a dog, which they name Happy.

Aunt Irene comes to visit a few times, during which Jane loses complete control of the house as she wasn’t strong enough to stand up to the forceful aunt, and is laughed at by Aunt Irene for all her hard work and taking on the job of keeping house. Jane is rightfully indignant, which she keeps under an immense self-controlled cold calm. Her father is disappointed that Jane doesn’t like his sister but she can’t bring herself to tolerate Aunt Irene, not even for Dad.

Throughout the course of the summer spent on the Island, Jane develops character and gains self-confidence as well as backbone. She reads the Bible to Dad, a thing which she always dreaded to do at home, but it is different reading it to her father and she does so excellently. They dig clams for dinner, have wild strawberries and cream for dessert (a thing deemed as “quaint” by Aunt Irene), etc.

When Jane returns, she is a changed young lady. Because of her developed character, she now stands up to Grandmother – a thing that the old lady dislikes – and relishes reading the Bible, a significant change that Grandmother and Aunt Gertrude can’t comprehend. She is no longer afraid of her grandmother or her aunt and she actually loves school now, whereas before she hated it. She also gets along much more easily with Phyllis, an older cousin of hers that used to always intimidate her.

Grandmother is again jealous of Jane’s love for her father and tries to suck up to Jane by giving her a cat as a Christmas present as she has heard tons about the Peters. Jane receives the cat with little appreciation and the cat is indifferent to her. Jane’s mother tries to make Jane love the cat just a little, for Grandmother, but Jane can’t make herself. When the cat goes missing and Jane and her mother apparently find it one wet evening, they take it home, and feed it and care for it. Suddenly, the cat is much more affectionate towards Jane and she begins to love it but Grandmother gives it away due to the fact that she insists its not the same cat she had purchased – it was another lost cat and only looked like the Christmas cat.

In the summer, Jane returns to the Island, and this summer she learns of the mystery and secret of her parents’ long separation and slowly pieces it together. Her mother and father had met and married as a young, happy couple and soon Jane was born. Despite her parents’ happy marital union, adversary was met on both sides of the family. Aunt Irene disliked Robin and Robin didn’t like Irene’s overbearing, domineering ways and who was also always butting into her relationship with Andrew (Jane’s father). Grandmother didn’t like Andrew and his seemingly “wild ways” and, of course, her jealousy applied as well. She eventually manipulated Robin into returning to Toronto and convinced her to stay there. Jane’s father sent numerous letters to Robin but none were ever replied and he assumed that Robin had dumped him. (In reality, it was Grandmother who burnt all the letters and consequently Robin was unaware.) Due to the external battles from Aunt Irene and Grandmother, Jane’s mother and father grew misunderstandings and confusions and overall, drifted apart from each other – a result and conclusion that was satisfactory for Grandmother.

Jane’s Toronto friend Jody is to be sent to an orphanage but with her intervention, she manages to get Jody adopted by the sister twins who have always wanted to have a child but have never been successful in acquiring one as they constantly argue over whether they want a boy or a girl, and the child’s age range, etc. Jane talks to them about Jody and at first they disapprove (one wants a girl, the other wants a boy and Jody’s age isn’t initially ideal for them) but in the end, they decide that they will adopt Jody.

Jody is of course overjoyed she’s going to the Island and happily anticipates seeing Jane in the summer. When Jane returns, she pieces together more of the puzzle behind her parents’ relationship and when she receives a letter from Aunt Irene that mentions her father going to Boston – probably to get a divorce and marry another young woman that Aunt Irene approves of – Jane goes back to the Island to see Dad. She walks all the way to Lantern Hill in the cold and wet and meets a surprised Dad.

She tearfully tells him about Aunt Irene’s letter and she finds that fortunately the spiteful aunt was wrong. Dad is only going to Boston to meet the publishers for a book he has written – that’s all, and for the first time in her life she cries. (Jane had always done her best not to cry because her mother had said that she’d never cried – not even when she was a tiny baby.) She quickly succumbs to pneumonia and this crisis leads her mother to journey to the Island, despite the strong contradictions by Grandmother.

Jane’s parents finally have a reunion and Jane recovers. As the story closes, Jane starts making plans for her family with her parents.


This story was made into a 1990 made-for-television movie from the same people who had made the series Anne of Green Gables. From the many fan reviews and critic reviews I have read on the Internet, it wasn’t overly successful and wasn’t well-received, nor entirely faithful to the original novel.

Next to Mrs. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables series, Jane of Lantern Hill is my favourite book by her.

August 5, 2008

A Little Princess

Posted in Children's Literature at 4:16 am by j128

Cover of

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

A Little Princess is a 1905 novel by English-born American author Frances Hodgson Burnett – for some reason, I’m always surprised when I read that she is actually American as I’ve always envisioned her as being British…! Anyway

It is one of those unforgettable classics and one of my favourites, next to another of Mrs. Burnett’s books: The Secret Garden. It has been made into film and television several times; see below for more information.

A Little Princess is actually an extension (and revised) edition of a novella by Mrs. Burnett entitled Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin’s Boarding School. I will include a summary of both Sara Crewe and A Little Princess.

A Little Princess may also be known by the alternate title The Little Princess in some sources and some publications of the story.

Summary of A Little Princess

Sara Crewe, the heroine and protagonist of the novel, has arrived at Miss Minchin’s Select Seminary for Young Ladies in London, England with her father and they have come all the way from India. She has short black hair with a curl at the ends, big green eyes, and is thin – she thinks herself as ugly in comparison to a colonel’s fair, blonde daughter, yet that is far from the truth. Her mother died when she was born, thus she doesn’t remember her or miss her, but as such, she and her father have grown a strong bond with one another. She is very rich and is soon revealed to be a heiress of a large fortune, which she will attain when she comes of age.

As she is very rich, she has more privileges than the other girls at Miss Minchin’s boarding school; having her own pony, private sitting room, and a personal French maid. She is quite popular and gains the status of a show student (almost a teacher’s pet) as she is very clever and has good marks in her studies; the French teacher is quite impressed with her French; she also speaks Hindustani. She learns quickly, loves to read books of all kinds, and will remember everything that she reads without hardly any effort. While she is popular and revered by many of the girls, there are some who are spiteful such as Lavinia Herbert – who was the richest pupil in the school until Sara came along and replaced her.

Sara’s behaviour, defined as “queer”, is part of her character’s attractiveness; she is kind and takes the scullery maid, a young girl named Becky, under her wing and smuggles food to her. Becky is at first surprised and wary about this strange act of kindness as she has never been given a kind word by anyone before and quickly befriends Sara. The servants and Miss Minchin come to learn of this kindness.

Finally, Sara pretends a lot and “supposes” things. She pretends that she is a princess and acts as if she were one with airs of politeness, hospitality, and generosity. She does admit that pretending to be a princess while being rich is quite easy; it would be more of a challenge if she were poor. Her pretend royal position is the core of Lavinia and other similar spiteful girls’ scorn and bullying; yet they can never pin down Sara no matter how they try. When diamond mines are discovered and her father invests in it, her popularity is increased.

Her eleventh birthday proves a fateful day. Again, as she is the richest girl in the school, she is presented with a lavish birthday party and many presents from her father including books and a doll that is only known as the Last Doll, almost the size of Lottie – a little girl who is also motherless and Sara has become her adoptive mother. Upon Sara’s request, Becky is allowed to stay yet to keep away from the other girls. Yet soon after the party goes to Miss Minchin’s room where there are cake and refreshments, the headmistress is visited by a solicitor who informs her that the diamond mines were non-existent and that Sara’s father has died from jungle fever (a type of malaria that is contracted in the East Indies) and he was raving about seeing her until he died. It was the loss of his financial wealth and his illness that killed him. As such, Sara is destitute and Miss Minchin takes advantage of this as, contrary to appearances, has always had an intense dislike for Sara, and turns her into a lowly miserable-looking servant – a drudge. To say miserable-looking is well-suited as she wears an outgrown black frock that is too short and too tight for her, revealing her slender, yet thin, legs, and while she is at first feeling low due to the treatment she receives from the other servants and Miss Minchin and Miss Amelia (Miss Minchin’s younger sister) she eventually brightens by supposing she was a princess still or a soldier in battle, “a long and weary march”, and she is a prisoner of the Bastille.

While this pretending helps her, her two true friends from her former school life can’t believe her living conditions, yet she consoles them that less fortunate people than her have been in even worse living conditions, giving examples such as the prisoners of Bastille and the Count of Monte Cristo in the dungeons Chateau d’If. Her duties as a servant are to run any errands that the servants, cook, and the Minchin sisters give her; she studies in an empty classroom with old books in the night, for she fears of not being able to remember things she learned if she is not “going to school” anymore.

Her “supposings” and pretend games eventually materialize into reality when she comes across the Indian Gentleman and his lascar, Ram Dass, who owns a pet monkey, and she speaks with the lascar in his native language. He takes an interest in her circumstances and comes to learn of her living conditions; he and his master surprise Sara by refurnishing the attic so much that eventually it is no longer worth being called an attic and she is fed more than enough food, Becky as well. Everyone wonders at the physical changes in Sara and Becky, yet they have no idea how this change occurred. The biggest surprise of all arrives one day in many parcels, addressed to “The Little Girl in the Attic”, and they are full of beautiful, rich clothing for her, and she joins her classmates again as a new person. Not long after that, she sees Ram Dass’ monkey and brings him in from the cold; the next day she returns him to his master, and it is discovered she is the lost child that the Indian Gentleman’s solicitor had been searching for, for almost two years. They adopt her and she never goes back to Miss Minchin’s school again and Becky becomes her personal attendant.

Sara also learns that the diamond mines have in fact doubled and she is still heiress – there was never any loss at all.

At the start of the story, Sara was seven years old, and by the time she is rescued she is nearly thirteen.

Summary of Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss MInchin’s Boarding School

Sara Crewe follows very much the same storyline as A Little Princess yet it is different in respects of attention to detail and storytelling. At the start of the story, Sara is already poor and a servant. Her history is briefly described: before she had been a student and her father a wealthy, young man yet when he died and his fortune dissolved, she was reduced to the state she is in now.

The schoolgirls are mentioned rather in a group and are never mentioned by name except for Ermengarde. There is also never any mention of Becky and Sara lives in the attic next to the cook. As her status as a show student is only mentioned as history, her acts of kindness remains unmentioned and is only displayed by her giving the five out of six buns to the homeless girl outside the bakery.

It is almost a short story, being over one third of the more well-known story, and it is almost its own story – there are many passages throughout the story in which it is almost verbatim in similarity to A Little Princess.

While both versions are in print, the revised and expanded edition known as A Little Princess remains more well-known.

“It’s Like Magic!”

Throughout the novel Sara Crewe pretends and “supposes” things, included is her pretending being a princess. When a sudden turn of fate makes her penniless, her pretending and “supposing” is put to the test especially when appearances are contrary to her visualizations of comfort.

While she is a servant, her pretends become so strong that they materialize into reality, first by the mysterious refurnishing of the attic and by her new clothes, and her unexpected rescue by her father’s friend’s solicitor who had been searching for her for two years.

This sort of magic is common in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s books including The Secret Garden in which the protagonist’s sickly cousin Colin heals himself through a similar magic: by positive thinking and affirmations in the form of mantras to keep himself in the right – “magic” – frame of mind as well as simple physical exercise. While Sara’s circumstances are vastly different from Colin’s, they both intensely practiced magic. This magic is most often described as New Thought.

In the Media

A Little Princess has been adapted into three movies and television shows multiple times. The first two starred Mary Pickford and Shirley Temple as Sara Crewe. The third one, released 1995, was directed by Alfonso Cuarón. All of the movie adaptations to date have transfered the geography of the novel to New York and Sara’s father is in the British army and is allegedly killed in action, yet actually survived. In the 1995 version, he served in the British army to fight in World War I and suffers from amnesia and doesn’t recognize his daughter until the climax. I have not seen any of these films; I have only read reviews and in my personal opinion, none of them live up to the original story.

As far as television goes, it has been made into an anime (Princess Sarah) by Nippon Animation and a few other shows. The only media adaptation I have seen of A Little Princess is a 1986 miniseries and it is very faithful to the original story (see image, left), including that it is set in London. The edition I saw was on two VHS tapes, it could also be available on DVD.

See Also

The Count of Monte Cristo


Sara Crewe: or, What Happened at Miss Minchin’s Boarding School on Project Gutenberg

A Little Princess on Project Gutenberg

The screenplay of the stage play adaptation of A Little Princess

Full length feature film A Little Princess starring Shirley Temple

December 10, 2007

The Wright 3

Posted in Children's Literature, Mystery at 4:24 am by j128

The Wright 3

The Wright 3

The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist was published in 2006. It is the sequel to the author’s much acclaimed previous novel Chasing Vermeer. It features Calder and Petra, whom we met in the previous novel, and a new character: Calder’s friend Tommy Segovia who was mentioned throughout Chasing Vermeer.


Tommy Segovia has returned to the Hyde Park neighbourhood in Chicago in the month of June with his mother Zelda Segovia after the unfortunate events with his stepfather. (See Chasing Vermeer.) He feels “oddly like a ghost” for it seems everything has undergone a change. His old house has been painted green, reminding him of unripe tomatoes, and his best friend Calder has changed, too, since he last saw him. Calder no longer has at least one spot of dried food on his face, his hair is combed, he ties his shoelaces, and his teeth are brushed. Also he has a new set of pentominoes. They are three-dimensional and are orange; they also make a sharp clacking noise whenever Calder stirs them in his pocket, unlike his old ones, which made a soft clatter. The latest development is also Calder’s befriending of Petra Andelee, which Tommy does not fully agree on yet. She reminds him of an exotic monkey he once saw in the zoo because of her eyes. Their friendship happened over the recovery of a painting by Vermeer that occurred while Tommy was away in New York. Tommy is considerably bugged by the Vermeer event as it was missed glory for him.

The story really begins when Ms. Hussey, their eccentric, excitable, and fun school teacher, announces the “demolition” of Hyde Park’s famous landmark: the Robie House, built by one of America’s most well-known architects of the twentieth century, Frank Lloyd Wright. The Robie House is due to be cut into sections and donated to four famous museums internationally: the Museum of Modern Art in New York City; the Smithsonian, Washington, D.C.; the Deutsches Museum, Munich, Germany; and the Meiji Mura Museum, Japan, as repairs are costly and the university doesn’t have the money.

Tommy is a collector and he collects everything from old popsicle sticks to four-leaf clovers, which he has about fifty pressed in a photo album. His most prized collection, however, are fish, which are all placed on a special shelf. He even owns a pet goldfish named Goldman. He finds another fish find on the property of the Robbie House when he decides to dig. The fish in question is a carp and it is dragon-like. Tommy shows it to his goldfish and hides it in Goldman’s fishbowl, deciding to keep it for himself for a while.

Meanwhile Petra and Calder are both looking out their bedroom windows. Petra is trying to think of something to write when the train goes by and she sees the silhouette of a man with a black billowing cape and he drops a square shaped object out of the window. The square shaped object turns out to be, when Petra and Calder investigate, another copy of The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells. (Petra had picked up another copy at Powell’s, the nearby bookstore, in the give-away box.) Petra begins reading The Invisible Man between intervals.

Through their own separate investigations, etc., the three children come together in friendship, and start working together to save the Robbie House, including a campaign run by Ms. Hussey explaining the difference between appreciating a whole piece of art and appreciating only part of a piece of art by taking duplicates of famous pieces of art, mainly paintings, and tearing them apart. Their campaign is very successful and even appears in the newspaper, much to Tommy’s pleasure.

Sometime after this Petra gets the idea to name themselves the Wright 3 and Tommy also shows his friends the carp he found on the Robie House’s property. They’re all really amazed, yet no matter how proud Tommy is, he lies that he didn’t find on the property of the Robie House, but somewhere in the Japanese Gardens. The three friends go there and Tommy shows them where he “found” the carp.Shortly after this episode when Tommy comes home, he finds their flat has been ransacked. Tommy rescues Goldman from near death but realizes the carp has disappeared. The police arrive and investigate, with the conclusion that it appears that nothing of value was stolen – or so it seems. Zelda says at least she and Tommy still have each other….and Goldman. They tidy up their flat and buy an even better bowl for Goldman.

As the schedule for the Robie House’s demolition nears, Petra, Calder, and Tommy decide to sneak into the House to investigate and cover themselves by telling their parents they’ve gone to the cinema to see a running of The Three Musketeers, concluding that the length of the film should be enough time for them. Unfortunately while they are in the Robie House they are captured and tied up by two thieves who have been stealing things from the Robie House and they also stole the carp fish, which is of considerable value as it was owned by Frank Lloyd Wright, who lost it one day during the construction of the Robie House, and naturally, the carp is worth a considerable amount of money. The thieves’ intentions had been to sell the carp and get the money. Once they’ve left the Robie House they are going to set fire to it.The children begin their escape by asking if it is all right if they pray but actually they are not. They’re “chanting” in “Romain Latin” or in actual truth, they are conversing with one another in the new code invented by Calder. Petra tells one of the thieves in English she needs to use the bathroom and when she gets back Tommy and Calder have tied up the thieves.The children’s parents come to know of it and are all shocked and give their children a bit of a lecture, but they are all happy that the children are safe.

The thieves confess their scheme and even “confess” that they weren’t really going to burn down the Robie House with the children inside, though the Wright 3 really aren’t so sure. In the end, the Robbie House is saved from its demolition, and Tommy and his mother are even allowed to live in it; giving tours, and a gift shop will be added. All’s well that ends well.


Just as there were codes in Chasing Vermeer, so there are in The Wright 3. Introduced are the Fibbonacci numbers and the number three. One of the examples included is the fact that all three children will be turning thirteen years of age. More examples can be found within the book. Yet again in Brett Helquist’s illustrations there are hidden images and this time they’re fishy. It takes a while to pinpoint them but once they have been found it is incredibly difficult not to notice them.

H.G. Wells and Rear Window

In The Wright 3 one of H.G. Wells’s books, The Invisible Man, appears. As did Charles Fort’s Lo! play an important role (Chasing Vermeer) so does The Invisible Man. H.G. Wells’s novel sort of almost runs parallel to The Wright 3. (Expect a review of The Invisible Man soon.) Also featured in the book is the 1954 film Rear Window, based on the short story by Conell Woolrich. Zelda mentions it to Tommy and they both watch it with a bowl of popcorn. As Zelda says it was already old when she watched it (yet it is her favourite). It is used in sorts of a reference to Tommy looking out his window, which has a view of the Robie House, and him observing what is going on outside.


Article about The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells

January 23, 2007

Chasing Vermeer

Posted in Children's Literature, Mystery at 12:56 am by j128

Chasing VermeerChasing Vermeer was written by Blue Balliett and illustrated by Brett Helquist (A Series of Unfortunate Events) and published in 2003. A sequel, The Wright 3, was published in 2006. Chasing Vermeer revolves around two sixth-graders, Petra and Calder, who come together through a terrible crime. This crime was the theft of Vermeer’s painting, A Lady Writing. The thief delivered three letters in October to three people – a man and two women – prior to stealing A Lady Writing.


Petra Andalee and Calder Pillay go to the same school known as University School or U. School for short. They live on the same block only a few houses apart. But they are not friends. They do not hold anything against each other, they just have never really socialized with one another.

Calder’s friend Tommy had recently moved to New York City with his mum Zelda and his new dad whom he comes to call “Old Fred.” During his stay in New York, a boy known only as Frog disappears, and no one really knows about it – or so it seems.

Meanwhile Ms. Hussey, the new sixth grade teacher, is loved by everyone. She suggests going on an art expedition to look for clues and patterns in paintings at the museum after her other idea of writing a letter to her that she would never forget. Petra and Calder both get in trouble when they go into an out-of-bounds place but Ms. Hussey doesn’t mind. She says it’s a good way to find things out.

The art expedition initially fails as well. The class talks about art and Ms. Hussey talks about an interesting point in the story: Picasso said that artists use lies to tell the truth. This idea is used throughout the book as it continues.

By a few odd coincidences Petra and Calder learn about Johannes Vermeer and they create a friendship with one another whilst trying to learn more about Vermeer and the theft. Both Petra and Calder find it quite urgent to recover A Lady Writing.

Through their investigations they become acquainted with Mrs. Sharpe, a widow who’s husband was killed just before he told her a secret about Vermeer that would shake history. Mrs. Sharpe is a cold and fierce old lady but as the story proceeds she seems to warm to the children and in the end they are friends.

After long hard work the children finally recover the Lady and the thief is identified, though he dies of a heart attack before he is arrested. The thief’s identity becomes very notable especially as his identity is connected to a friend of Calder’s. It ends with the possibility that Petra could be related to Vermeer.


In Chasing Vermeer codes play a major role. One of these codes are Calder’s pentominoes. They play a major part in almost every single part of the story. Pentominoes are mathematical puzzles and in the back of the book published by Scholastic, there are insructions on how to make your own.

There is also the number twelve. Many of the surnames of the people involved are spelt with twelve letters. Both Calder and Petra turn twelve years old on the twelfth day of the twelfth month, Petra and Calder are in the sixth grade, and even the author’s name, Blue Balliett, is composed of twelve letters in total. There are many more “twelve” sequences in the book than are listed here. You just have to look for them carefully.

In the illustrations by Brett Helquist there are carefully hidden pentominoes. In almost all of the illustrations there are also frogs. Calder and Tommy also designed a code and it is shown in the book with a code translator.

Charles Fort

Chasing Vermeer features Charles Fort’s book Lo! and it is read by Petra and Calder, bringing many unexplained events to their interest and the reader’s, thus raising wonder and questions.


In 2006 a sequel was released entitled The Wright 3 and is illustrated by Brett Helquist as well. There is a rumour of a third book being in the works.


A film Chasing Vermeer is scheduled to be released either 2007 or 2008, based on the book by Blue Balliett. Other than the rough release date, nothing else yet is known. The rights were bought by Warner Brothers.

Read More

The Wright 3 (sequel)


Official website of Chasing Vermeer

September 2, 2006

So You Want to Be a Wizard

Posted in Children's Literature, Fantasy at 6:55 pm by j128

So You Want to Be a Wizard

So You Want to Be a Wizard

So You Want to Be a Wizard, by American author Diane Duane, was written in 1982 and published in the next year. It is the first book in the Young Wizard series.


The protagonist, Juanita Callahan, or Nita, is a thirteen-year-old girl and is constantly bullied and beaten up, in and out of school by Joanne’s gang. The reason why Nita is bullied and beaten up is because she can’t always supress from talking back and keeping quiet.

The first time we see Nita, she is being chased by Joanne’s gang and takes refuge in the library. The librarian, Mrs. Lesser, takes care of the bullies. Meanwhile downstairs in the children’s library Nita discovers a book she had never seen before. Its title says: So You Want to Be a Wizard. Nita had thought she had read every single book in the children’s library and she wonders how this one had escaped her eye.

Nita takes it home and comes back with the book, a black eye, and a few other injuries from being beaten up.

While Nita recuperates she reads as much as she can and before she falls asleep takes the Wizard’s Oath. Next morning she sees her name in the list of wizards.

When Nita had been beaten up, Joanne had nicked Nita’s space pen that her uncle gave her. The space pen can write on anything. Nita realizes this and goes to a quiet place to make a retrieval spell for her pen and there she meets another wizard, Christopher “Kit” Rodriguez, who is a year younger than her. They tie both spells together and are taken to Manhattan, but it is a different Manhattan.

A huge, ominous shape is coming there way and the two children make a spell to gain energy, and the result is a white hole from space, which, is simply put, Fred. Fred’s name when translated into English is Khairelikoblepharehglukumeilichephredeidosd’enagouni.

Next day Nita and Kit go to school earlier than usual and wait for Joanne. Fred helps them get Nita’s pen back, though, unfortunately he swallowed it and the consequence is that he begins emitting various objects that includes a new widescreen colour TV, a learjet, and a blue Mercedes Benz, etc. To fix the problem, Nita and Kit go somewhere they never dared before: Old Crazy Swale’s house. It is the local Advisories’ house and they are Tom and Carl. Fred’s problem is fixed and Tom and Carl tell the young wizards and Fred about the bright book also known as Book of Night with Moon and the bright book’s opposite: the dark book also known as Book Which Is Not Named. Nita is told that they can retrieve her pen by using a World Gate.

On the weekend Kit and Nita travel to Manhattan to go to the World Gate and get Nita’s space pen. The problem is, though, the World Gate has been moved due to reconstruction and they have to walk up to the top of a building in order to reach the World Gate.

Perytons, wolf-like creatures, come along while Nita is doing the spell and something you are never to do is to break off during a spell. Upon seeing the perytons, Nita does this exactly: break the spell and then the children are whirled into a dark world, which is reminiscent of Manhattan. It is Manhattan, but something has gone terribly wrong.

This Manhattan is wrought with hate and darkness. There are no human beings or animals. Vehicles are twisted and are killer-machines, even an innocent-looking fire hydrant, which sucks up a pigeon with a long stick tongue. It is here that Nita and Kit must retrieve the bright book and the book of darkness. But they must be careful, because there is danger lurking at every corner.


Visit the website www.youngwizards.com for book descriptions in the Young Wizard series and the Feline Wizardry sequence.

For series description and other related topics in the Young Wizard series read the article on Answers.com: Young Wizards.

August 27, 2006

Howl's Moving Castle

Posted in Children's Literature, Fantasy at 9:46 pm by j128

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl's Moving Castle

Howl’s Moving Castle by British author Diana Wynne Jones was first published in 1986. It was adapted in 2004 as an animated film by Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli. See my previous post Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 film) for more information about the movie Howl’s Moving Castle.


The setting is in the fictitious magical kingdom of Ingary, where many fairy-tale tropes are accepted ways of life. Another accepted way of life is that it is a misfortune to be born the eldest of three, for everyone knows that if the three ever go out into the world to seek their fortunes the eldest will fail first.

Sophie Hatter is the eldest of three sisters, the younger two being Lettie and Martha. Sophie and Lettie were Mr. Hatter’s daughters by his first wife, and after his first wife died he married his youngest shop assistant Fanny.

The Hatters owned a family business in Market Chipping selling ladies’ hats. After Mr. Hatter died suddenly just as Sophie was old enough to leave school, Fanny plans her daughters’ futures.

Lettie becomes an apprentice to Cesari’s, the pastry cook in Market Square; Martha is apprenticed to Fanny’s old school friend Mrs. Annabel Fairfax; and Sophie would inherit the hat shop when Fanny retires as Sophie is the eldest and in the meantime becomes an apprentice to her mother.

During this time the Witch of the Waste has been rumoured to be stirring again and planning to terrorize the country. The King had ordered his personal magician, Wizard Suliman, to deal with the Witch. Unfortunately, it seemed Wizard Suliman had not only failed to deal with the Witch: he had been killed by her. So naturally people became fearful when they caught sight of a tall moving castle. It was then learned it was not the Witch of the Waste, it was Wizard Howl who was equally terrible: he was cold-blooded and sucked the souls out of beautiful young girls or ate their hearts. Because of these rumours, all the girls are warned never to go out alone.

The story really begins to happen when Sophie is magically turned into an old woman of about ninety by inadvertedly offending the Witch of the Waste.

Sophie flees Market Chipping and takes refuge at Howl’s moving castle. She hires herself as a cleaning lady and with good reason: the castle really needs it.

In the Castle she meets Calcifer, a terrifying fire demon whom she makes a bargain with to destroy the contract that binds Howl and Calcifer. She also meets Howl’s apprentice Michael Fisher, who is a teenager of about sixteen and then Sophie meets Howl himself. She realizes Howl is the same young man she had briefly met in Market Square on May Day when she went out to visit her sister Lettie at Cesari’s, a bakery.

Sophie gets to work on the Castle and cleans almost all of the Castle, despite the complaints made by the other occupants. The exceptions: the yard (b/c Howl says otherwise he will not know where his things will be for specific spells) and Howl’s bedroom (even though it is pigsty and Sophie wishes to clean it, Howl says that if he likes living in a pigsty, Sophie can’t do anything about it).

Howl turns out to be the kind of person who spends more time on himself than any other thing or person. He always comes down clean and fresh and smelling of sweet perfumes. In addition, he tries to weasel out of things by pretending to be much too busy with some other thing or any other kind of excuse he can make up.

An example of Howl’s weasling out of things is that the King had summoned Howl to find Wizard Suliman and now also called Howl to find his brother, Prince Justin, who went to the Waste to rescue Wizard Suliman, whom Prince Justin was great friends with. Howl tries to weasel out of this, but fails; he tried by talking Sophie into visiting the Palace and seeing Mrs. Pentstemmon, who trained both Wizard Suliman and Howl, and the King, but both attempts fail – though this is mostly due to the fact that upon the spot Sophie forgets everything that Howl told Sophie to say to the King and Mrs. Pentstemmon.

There are a series of adventures before and after visiting the Palace, including the fruitless attempt to carry out a peculiar spell that includes catching a falling star. Sophie and Michael do this spell together with their seven-league boots, after Howl realizes what they were trying to do he forbades Michael to ever try it. Howl won’t tell Sophie or Michael anything about the spell, but they can see it greatly upsets him.

Because of the bargain between Calcifer and Sophie, Calcifer carefully drops many hints related to the contract between Howl and Calcifer. Sophie eventually figures out what the hints mean and pieces them together.

In the end Howl defeats the Witch of the Waste and Sophie destroys the contract between Calicfer and Howl, thus freeing Calcifer and Howl back to normal. Sophie is reduced to her original age and she and Howl fall in love.


The curse that was placed upon Howl is in the form of John Donne’s poem, Song: Go and catch a falling star. Read the poem here.

For those people who have not read Howl’s Moving Castle before they saw the movie of the same name, it may be confusing (the book). The book and the movie are two different stories. The first part of the movie is based upon the book, but the rest of the movie is entirely original. One cannot relate the book and movie as one.

I am one of those people who read the book before the movie. I was not initially aware that the movie was based upon a book of the same name by Diana Wynne Jones until later. But I can’t say I like the movie better than the book or the book better than the movie; simply put, I like both of them for what they are. As I said earlier, they are their own different stories.

If you would like a more detailed article about the book Howl’s Moving Castle, read Answer.com’s article . It includes, besides the plot, Calcifer’s hints, and a small summary of Howl’s Moving Castle’s sequel: Castle in the Air. The sequel’s title is not to be confused with Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, which is not at all related to Castle in the Air.

*On Answers.com, regarding Howl’s Moving Castle, there are two articles: Howl’s Moving Castle (film) and Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 Fantasy Film). The latter article has the article about the book below a review of the movie and the first article contains an article about the movie only.

See Also

Howl’s Moving Castle (2004 film)