1997 Honor: Ella Enchanted

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 4/5

Ella Enchanted was one of the 1997 Newbery Honor books. Written by Gail Carson Levine, it is a riff on the familiar Cinderella story. Ella is “blessed” with obedience by a fairy who attended her christening. She is forced to follow any command given to her. While her mother is alive, this is a mildly annoying burden; Ella develops a strong will and a quick wit to escape through loopholes. However, after her mother dies, her father sends Ella off to finishing school with the daughters of a woman who will be Ella’s stepmother.

Hattie, one of the wicked stepdaughters, figures out Ella’s curse and uses it to torment her. After Ella is ordered to break a friendship with the only other girl at school who understands her, Ella runs away. Adventures ensue. Ella is captured by ogres and uses her knowledge of their language to turn their powers against them; refreshingly, Ella’s friend Prince Char and his knights arrive only after Ella has the situation well in hand. Ella proceeds to a giant’s wedding in the hopes of convincing Lucinda, the fairy who set the curse, to remove it. She is unsuccessful, but meets up with her father. Shortly thereafter, he remarries and Ella is forced into servitude.

Ella understands that the kingdom would be unsafe if she gave in to Prince Char’s wish that she marry him, so she fabricates a letter from Hattie saying that Ella ran away to marry a rich man. However, Ella can’t resist attending Prince Char’s homecoming balls; they fall in love all over again. The strain of her stepsister’s commands warring with Char’s love eventually allows Ella to break the spell, whereupon she marries Char.

This book was one of my all time favorites as a child. I read it over and over and over (what? I’m an obsessive rereader of my favorite books). It’s still entertaining as an adult. I know it will never happen, but I would love to see the author rewrite this as a more fully realized YA novel rather than a kid’s book. Both the world building and the character development fit the scope quite well, but leave me wondering about other details of the world and of the characters.

I highly recommend this to mid elementary school to early middle school readers who enjoy a story where the princess rescues herself. The blend of action and well developed characters, both primary and secondary, keep the reader’s attention and make this a fast read.

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1949 Honor: My Father’s Dragon

VERDICT: Treasure

Laurinda’s Rating: 3.5/5

In this amusing tale from 1949, a boy retells the story of how his father, when he himself was young, traveled to a far away island to rescue a baby dragon.

When his (used henceforth to refer to the father) mother ejects the alley cat which he has been feeding, the boy sets off to Wild Island to rescue an imprisoned baby dragon. Using his wits and the items he brought in his bag, he outsmarts a wide variety of hostile animals. Tigers are fond of chewing gum, the rhinoceros clearly wanted for a toothbrush and toothpaste with which to clean his horn, and the lion desperately needed a comb for his mane. In a final stroke of brilliance, the boy ties lollipops to the crocodiles’ tails to get them to form a bridge across the river.

The boy successfully frees the chained up baby dragon, and the two fly away together.

This is a simple children’s book, but the wittiness of the boy and the fabulous illustrations¬†make this worth reading. It took maybe – maybe – half a lunch period to read, so it’s a quick and entertaining entry in the Newbery cannon.