Author: Lloyd Alexander
My rating: 4 of 5
Village scamp and layabout, young Lukas, finds his life rather upended when a traveling entertainer invites him to participate in the show . . . and somehow sends Lukas straight into another land. In the kingdom of Abadan, shortly after nearly being killed, Lukas is declared king. What better occupation for someone whose deepest dedication is the pursuit of pleasure and the avoidance of any sort of labor! But when the plight of the people of Abadan and its neighboring kingdom attract his attention, Lukas (known there as King Kasha) finds that being a king isn’t all fun and games–in fact, it can be deadly serious.
I couldn’t say exactly why, but ever since I first read it, The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha has been one of my favorite Lloyd Alexander books. It’s certainly true to his style: bumbling boys who haven’t a clue getting thrown into adventures in which they grow hugely; brave, bright young women who are more than they seem; foolish poets who are wiser than they appear; grand adventure at every turn; humor and irony abundantly available; and lessons to be learned in the most enjoyable way of all–through story. I really enjoy the characters in this book. I think it’s especially nice that Lukas is quite clever–however clueless he may seem–and that he grows so much through his adventures. He’s the sort of character that you really don’t particularly like at the beginning, but he grows on you rather. I think the setting suits the story well also–flavored by the legends of ancient Persia, yet unique to this tale. Plus there’s the mystery of what exactly happened that’s never really explained. And maybe it’s just me, but I really love the dry, sarcastic humor with which Alexander seems to view the world; it contains a lot of wisdom, if you pay attention. I would definitely recommend The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha to anyone who likes a good adventure–plus it’s appropriate for late elementary (or at least middle school) and older.
Author: Lloyd Alexander
Illustrator: Trina Schart Hyman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
A young carpenter has become disillusioned with his career and uncertain of his future. So one day, on a whim, he visits an old fortune-teller who has set up business over a cloth merchant’s shop. The fortune the old man gives him is absurd–but couched so cleverly that it sounds impressively positive. The young man leaves, convinced his future is bright, but he soon comes back with more questions . . . only to find that the old man has disappeared and the family he was staying with is convinced that he transformed himself into the young carpenter. And clever enough to see an opportunity when it presents itself, the young carpenter decides to take up a new career in fortune-telling, with surprising results!
If you’ve read any Lloyd Alexander, you’ll quickly recognize his distinctive, fable-like style in The Fortune-Tellers. Although, unlike most of his books, this is a short story–a children’s picture book, actually–it carries much the same feel as longer works such as the Prydain books or The Marvelous Misadventures of Sebastian. It’s quite the charming tall tale, full of wit and irony in good measure as well as a hefty dose of humor. It’s notable that the text itself is–like many of his stories–very unspecific regarding the location; this is the sort of story that could happen anywhere (which I love about his books!). But this picture book does something very interesting; it takes a story that could happen anywhere, anytime, and through the use of illustrations, sets it in a very specific location–the country of Cameroon. Hyman’s pictures are exquisite–colorful, intricate, and full of life and personality. The portray the place and the individuals involved so well that it gives an entirely new flavor to the text. It’s quite charming. I especially love her work with all the fabric patters–they’re really beautiful. I think The Fortune-Tellers is a fun and fascinating tall-tale sort of story that would be enjoyable for both children (probably around 5 and up) and for adults as well.
Author: Lloyd Alexander
The Prydain Chronicles, vol. 1
Taran dreams of a life of heroism, convinced his real life in tiny Caer Dallben is anything but. While daring swordfights spark his imagination, he finds himself Assistant Pigkeeper to an oracular pig who, while quite nice in her own way, has never done anything exciting. Or at least, not until one fateful day when all the creatures in Caer Dallben started acting terrified and ran away . . . a day when the Horned King rode. Chasing after the pig, Hen Wen, into the forest, Taran soon finds himself dragged into an adventure as big as he could have ever hoped . . . only, heroics in truth seem a lot more like hard work, sacrifice, exhaustion, hunger, and conviction than like anything he ever expected. On the course of his journey, Taran meets numerous people who show him what true valor looks like: Prince Gwydion, the lovely Eilonwy, the creature Gurgi, travelling bard (and notorious liar) Fflewddur Fflam, to name a few. In the end, Taran’s whole view of life will change . . . and you never know, he might develop a touch of heroism himself.
I love Lloyd Alexander’s writing, and his Prydain books in particular. There’s just something about his matter-of-fact, pragmatic, yet somehow satirical voice that’s both captivating and extremely funny. His plot is exciting, but I must say, it’s the people that stand out, and the things they learn (which are almost always things we need to learn ourselves as well). Gwydion is a true hero–by which I mean he’s a servant who puts others before himself. Gurgi, with all of his crunchings and munchings is quite the enigma, someone you could easily feel sorry for but who’s actually braver and more loyal than most anyone when it comes down to it. And the princess Eilonwy . . . Alexander’s female leads are always impressive and a treat to read, and Eilonwy’s no exception. I admire her strength of character, and I think her metaphorical way of speaking adds both humor and depth to the story. Poor Fflewddur . . . you’d think he’s mostly there for comic effect, but then there are moments when he truly surprises you. It’s a delight to see the characters growing throughout their journey. I LOVE The Book of Three and would highly recommend it to anyone upper elementary to adult.