Thursday, November 8, 2007

Another TBR book vanquished!

Books can join a TBR list in a variety of ways. Maybe it's one that a friend recommended, or a professor assigned the week you had three papers and two projects due, or that you heard about on NPR or in the New Yorker or someplace equally tony (I certainly never put books on my TBR list after hearing about them in People magazine or on Craigslist, not that I even know what these things are!!!) Others may come into your life in a more passive way: you receive them as gifts, or your parents were going to donate them to the library and you decided to keep them. The Book of Changes by Tim Wynne-Jones, came into my life in about the most passive way imaginable. Six years ago, I presented at a librarians' conference about the services my museum offered to school libraries. Each conference participant got a goody bag. I would imagine it was the librarian's version of the goody bags guests to the Oscars receive: in addition to the boring branded letter openers and tape dispensers, there were notecards with animals encouraging people to read, this roll of shiny silver tape, and best of all, the chance to receive one book from a selection of seven or eight. They had extra bags, so I got this book.

Your first question may be, does this Tim Wynne-Jones have anything to do with Diana Wynne Jones? After looking at about fifteen different websites, I still can't tell you for sure. I visited both of their official websites and read their autobiographies. They don't match. Diana is much older (hers dwells mostly on memories of her childhood during World War II), whereas Tim has young children. However, Tim does have a sister named Di, which could be short for Diana, so she could be a relative. None of the websites mentioned any relation between the two, but how many "Wynne-Jones" can there be out there?

Tim does have an interesting background, though. He grew up in England (Diana is British, too...) and emigrated to Canada with his family as a little boy. He played in a rock band and wrote music for "Fraggle Rock." How terrific is that? He's an author and editor of children's books, and designed his own home.

The Book of Changes is a book of short stories, aimed at older children. There are seven stories in the book, and each deals with themes that kids can relate to. "The Clark Beans Man" is about negotiating the complexities of the social scene at school. The kid in "Madhouse" feels his family stacks up unfavorably to that of his friend -- until he takes a closer look. The kid in "Hard Sell" learns how good it can feel to defend someone else.

My favorite was "The Ghost of Eddy Longo", for its supernatural element. It was the tale of a teenaged hockey phenom, a goalie who had never been scored on, a third-generation local hockey great. His grandfather was so famous in town that there was a statue of him outside the local arena. His father, however, for all his promise, had disappeared the night of the unveiling of the statue...or had he? It was much less "lessony" than some of the other stories, and more human, but still conveyed its central moral: that it's not about winning or losing, but about how you play and how much fun you have.

The title story, "The Book of Changes", was also clever, and evocative. The main character had to do a project on some aspect of Chinese culture. The day before it was due, he still hadn't started. The girl who presented that day was presenting on the I Ching, and he boldly asked the I Ching what he should do for his project. It actually had an answer for him, too, although it wasn't apparent right away. As he sweated through the night, made false start after false start, procrastinated, worried, I was right back there in fifth grade (or grad school, or NaBloPoMo) facing an impossible deadline.

But yet, I feel I missed Tim Wynne-Jones's target audience. I don't know if kids would like these or not. I didn't dislike them, I just felt that they weren't aimed at me. Which they weren't, but still, I don't feel that way when reading the Harry Potter books, or books by Phillip Pullman.

If anyone can enlighten me on whether a connection exists between Tim Wynne-Jones and Diana Wynne-Jones, please do so!