A Couple More

I hate it when I fall behind on my book reviews. I forget a lot of the details and consequently have little to say. C’est la vie. Here’s what little I have to say on two books I read earlier this year.

The Blue Fairy Book edited by Andrew Lang
Grade: A

It took a while for The Blue Fairy Book to win me over. I expected a lot from it, having heard about Lang’s colorful series of fairy-tale books many times before and having forgotten how simplistic fairy tales typically are. But it was the simplicity that eventually turned me around. Sometimes simple is best. I particularly enjoyed reading versions of classics like Little Red Riding Hood, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp, Rumpelstiltzkin, etc. that were slightly different from the stories I remember hearing as a child. Often they were darker. I also liked some of the tales that I had never heard before, including one in which the hero ultimately failed (such a novelty!).

I wouldn’t call this collection of tales perfect. A couple of them are too much alike, some have elements that don’t really make sense (e.g., a hill of glass), and some are not told as well as others. Nevertheless, it is an excellent introduction to fairy tales and fun reading for adults as well as children.

The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois
Grade: A-

After years of working as an arithmetic teacher, Professor William Waterman Sherman wanted to get away from it all. He thought a long trip in a balloon would be ideal, so he had a balloon basket built large enough to function as a house. He stocked it with everything he could possibly need, then he hitched it to a big balloon and away he went.

The best way of travel . . . if you aren’t in any hurry at all, if you don’t care where you are going, if you don’t like to use your legs, if you want to see everything quite clearly, if you don’t want to be annoyed at all by any choice of directions, is in a balloon. In a balloon you can decide only when to start, and usually when to stop. The rest is left entirely to nature. How fast you will go and where is left to the winds. It is a wonderful way to travel.

The professor didn’t get to decide when to stop, though, and he was stranded on the island of Krakatoa. Krakatoa is a real island famous for a huge volcanic eruption in 1883, the same year that this story takes place. What the professor found on the island and how he escaped the eruption make for humorous reading.

I think that The Twenty-One Balloons, with its focus on balloons and gadgetry, is most suited to young boys and middle-aged men, but it’s a funny story that almost anyone should be able to appreciate. It teeters on the edge of tediousness a few too many times, however, which is why it gets an A- rather than a solid A.

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