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we move to canadalaura khttp://www.blogger.com/profile/05524593142290489958noreply@blogger.comBlogger6476125
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what i'm reading: the golden compass by philip pullman

Sun, 03/29/2015 - 06:00
The Golden Compass, by Philip Pullman, has been on my to-read list since it was first published in the mid-1990s. Although I generally don't read fantasy fiction, after reading an outstanding review in The New York Times Book Review, I was very intrigued. Thanks to the Teen Book Club I facilitate at the library, I recently had an excuse to read it: The Golden Compass (published as Northern Lights in the UK) is our March title.

This is an absolutely wonderful book. Lyra Belacqua, a smart, spunky 11-year-old girl, is wholly believeable as our powerful, but very human, hero. She lives in a world recognizable to us, but different - a parallel universe which unfolds naturally, without the ponderous world-building that I find so tedious in more typical adult fantasy fiction.

The book is chock-full of adventure, mystery, and action, with just the right touch of thoughtful reflection thrown in. It's an excellent youth or tween read, which is to say it's fast-paced, written in a clear and straightforward style, and with the darker, scarier, and potentially violent material handled with discretion and a gentle touch. There is sadness and loss and frightening elements, as there should be, but there's nothing graphic.

The Golden Compass is sometimes called a youth novel, but it lives on the younger side of that spectrum, perfect for a 10- or 11-year-old who is a good reader. Why, then, is it catalogued in the adult section of our library? I can only speculate that it might have been a response to "challenges" - meaning controversy and calls for banning or limiting access in the library.

To an adult reader, the reason for the challenges - though silly, in my view - are obvious. On the surface The Golden Compass is a straightforward fantasy-adventure, but on another level it can be read as a critique of The Church. The book is certainly not anti-religion or anti-spirituality, but it is a harsh condemnation of the institutional Church - the Church of the Inquisition, the Church of intolerance, and most of all, the Church that has harbored and protected known pedophiles for centuries, allowing countless children's lives to be shattered.

There are other aspects to which some Christian readers might object: our hero is herself identified with Christ imagery. But I believe the principal objections would focus on a negative portrayal of the institution of organized religion.

Some critics see Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy (The Golden Compass is book one) as a response to C. S. Lewis' The Narnia Chronicles, with its clearly Christian underpinnings. Not being a reader of fantasy, and never having read Narnia (I read and enjoyed The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe as a child, but stopped there), I can't comment on these critiques. There are many comparisons online, but most focus on film adaptations - not a reliable way to critique a book!

The 2007 movie adaptation of The Golden Compass was greeted with articles like "The Chronicles of Atheism" and "The Golden Compass: A Primer on Atheism". This is nonsense, of course. I'm pretty sure anyone who says the movie version of The Golden Compass is about atheism hasn't seen it. For this, I'll turn to the late, great Roger Ebert's review of the movie.
For most families, such questions will be beside the point. Attentive as I was, I was unable to find anything anti-religious in the movie, which works above all as an adventure. The film centers on a young girl named Lyra (Dakota Blue Richards), in an alternative universe vaguely like Victorian England. An orphan raised by the scholars of a university not unlike Oxford or Cambridge, she is the niece of Lord Asriel (Daniel Craig), who entrusts her with the last surviving Alethiometer, or Golden Compass, a device that quite simply tells the truth. The Magisterium has a horror of the truth, because it represents an alternative to its thought control; the battle in the movie is about no less than man's preservation of free will.One of the better pieces I've found on this subject was by Jenn Northington, writing on Tor.com, for Banned Books Week 2013.
One could argue that while the disdain for organized religion and bureaucracy registers in Pullman’s books as well as in his interviews, it doesn’t prevent them from containing all kinds of mystical elements. There are witches with super powers, embodied souls in the form of daemons, a trip to the underworld. One could further say that they promote a sense of spirituality and a belief in the possibility of things beyond our comprehension. There’s a word for that; some call it faith. This argument, of course, is unlikely to hold weight with anyone who objects to the series. In matters of taste there can be no dispute, and each reader finds something different in a book.If The Golden Compass works equally well as a great children's read, and a response to a famous fantasy series, and a critique of a social institution, that is quite a feat, and Pullman deserves huge recognition for pulling it off. The symbolic meanings are there for discussion and debate, but the solid base of the book is vivid, highly accessible, and simply excellent.

i survive another march break and live to tell the tale

Sat, 03/21/2015 - 05:00
I'm still providing library services to teens, and I'm still loving my job. March Break is one of our big-ticket items. I'm expected to plan and provide a week-long lineup of free programs for teens. I strive for a variety of programming - some tech-y, some crafty, some movement, some just for socializing and fun. Here's what we did this year.

Stop-Motion Movies: Working in groups, teens created their own short animated movies, using the library's tablets and a variety of materials - Lego, Play-Doh, plastic animals, and so on. We were amazed at the creativity on display in the room. All the groups took the activity much farther than our samples and demos.

Learn Bollywood Dance: A professional Bollywood dance instructor based in Mississauga led teens in a free dance lesson. There was a lot of buzz about this program around the system, and staff was very excited about it... but turnout was low, the only poor attendance of the week. I offered the program in response to teens' requests - that's our mandate - but those teens who were clamouring for Bollywood were nowhere to be seen. Oh well! The kids who came had a great time. (So did I!)

DIY Jewelry Making: I suspected this would be the most popular program of the week, and I wasn't far off. For many teenage girls, jewelry-making is something close to nirvana. We amassed a huge array of materials, from which girls made necklaces, earrings, bracelets, and keychains. Despite my best efforts - make something for your mom! make a braided leather friendship bracelet! - no boys attended.

March Madness Party Games: Our TAG - the teen leadership group I coordinate - developed this program with me. We led teams in games like trivia, taboo, and "murder tap", which the teens had created themselves. TAG decorated the room in streamers and balloons, and everyone left with a loot bag, which included a gift card from a popular bookstore. It was really good and silly fun, and turnout was great - most of them repeats from earlier programs, which I take as a good sign.

Game Day plus temporary tattoos: Our final day of March Break (and every Friday during the summer) is always easy and social. We set up videogames and offer a variety of board games, and kids just come by and hang out. This year I added a big bowl of candy and a henna artist - both big draws. We called the henna "temporary tattoos" to sound more gender-neutral, and it worked.

It was a fun, if exhausting week. As if I needed more challenge, my calendar was crowded with some inconveniently-timed union and activist obligations - including my first appearance at the Library Board! (That's much of where these worries were coming from.) On the other hand, it was made much easier by great support both at home and at work.