Archer’s Goon

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by Diana Wynne Jones

Published 1984

So this may be my favorite DWJ book to date.  This was a fun and rollicking story with a family that works together, and a whole troop of annoying enemies (who are also all siblings; I have a thing for sibling groups).  The interactions and dialogue in this story are fantastic, and there were several points where I actually laughed out loud at something particularly ridiculous.

Howard comes home from school one day to find the Goon sitting in his kitchen.  The Goon explains that he’s come to collect 2000 words from Howard’s father because Archer wants them.  Absolutely none of this makes sense to Howard or his sister at the time, but we gradually find out that Howard’s dad, an author, has been “paying” 2000 words to Archer, who “farms” a section of town–and these words are apparently powerful, because Archer isn’t the only who wants them any more.  All of his siblings, who farm the rest of the town (not geographical areas, per se, but departments – utilities, banks, crime, education, etc.) are also trying to get their hands on those words.  When Howard’s dad goes on strike and refuses to produce them, things get a bit…  chaotic.

Summarizing a DWJ plot is a difficult job, so you’ll just have to take my word for it and give a go.  Jones also actually ended this book strongly (in my opinion), which was a fantastic change from many of her other books I’ve read.  As always, her world-building is excellent, especially in this book where it turns out that normal life isn’t so normal after all.  Archer and all of his siblings are written well and Howard’s family is a team that works together throughout the story.

A solid read for fun and relaxation – 4/5.

Family Grandstand

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by Carol Ryrie Brink

published 1952

I’m not sure what has happened to our society, but I can’t seem to find books like this any more.  This is a happy book about a happy family.  There are two parents and several children.  The parents have rules and the children obey them.  Everyone respects and loves everyone else.  The adventures are funny and not stressful, and emphasize kindness, selflessness, inclusiveness, the importance of a good attitude, and respect for those in authority (like parents, the elderly, and teachers), all without sounding preachy.  There’s no divorce, no discussion of sexual orientation, no realization that parents are actually evil and stupid and selfish.  Instead, it’s everything that a children’s book should be:  innocent and fun.

I understand when people say that there need to be children’s book where children are in the same situations as the potential readers, e.g. story-children whose parents are divorced.  That’s well and good, but at the same time, we have to remember that books are, in many cases (possibly even most cases in children’s literature), a presentation of an ideal.  I don’t think that normalizing divorce (which is just one of many examples; extra-marital sex amongst under-15-year-0lds would be another) by presenting it in every single story for every single child in that story is a good trend.  What you’re saying is not just “Hey, it’s okay if you’re in this situation,” but also, “Hey, this is the way everyone is, and it’s all you can really hope for for your future, too.”  I’m really over modern children and YA literature insisting that it’s impossible for two adults to get married (without having sex first to “make sure it’s going to work”…  because yes, I think we should tell young adults that your marriage is going to work or not work based on whether or not you like to bang…  that could be what’s leading to the high divorce rates later..???), and then stay married…  you know, forever.  Until one of them dies.  Like they promised to do when they got married.

Books like Family Grandstand aren’t trying to insist that every family in 1952 was perfect.  But in 1952 the ideal was still perfect:  a happy family with happy parents in a happy home full of love and respect.  I think that modern literature could do with a bit of an idealist lesson from those “hopelessly old-fashioned” 1950’s.