Tuesday, December 4, 2007

SHADOW OF THE BEAR by Regina Doman

Title: Shadow of the Bear (first published as Snow White and Rose Red: A Modern Fairy Tale)
Author: Regina Doman
Date of Publication: 1997
Series: Fairy Tale Novels

Age Appropriateness: This is definitely a book for an older audience. While the handling of the material is excellent, it is not material that a younger audience should be exposed to: drugs, violence, adult situations. That being said, the material, especially the adult content, is written to pass over the head of an innocent reader. I would suggest fifteen or sixteen as an ideal audience.

Overall Rating: Excellent. The story is beautifully told and true in the best sense of being universal. The author includes metaphysical conversations that would provide a teenage reader with a viable alternative to the “life is bland and boring” and “why do bad things always happen to me?” brands of teenage angst. Instead, the book allows the reader to participate in a reality greater than the humdrum and everyday. The story is also unapologetically Catholic, allowing a deeply Christian charism to inform the moral actions of the characters, giving a whole new color to an already strong tale.

Objectionable Content:

Language: Dang, lousy, weirdo, stupid, damnation (2), fool, idiot, jerk, hellions

Violence: Two girls and a boy have a snowball fight. Three boys attack a boy and a girl. The girl is bruised and passes out from a heart condition, but is otherwise unharmed. The boy with the girl beats up the other three boys to keep them from attacking the girl. A girl pushes another girl who has just insinuated that the sister of the first girl is a prostitute. Two girls try to question a third girl by hurting her. A girl hears a man beating someone. A man grabs the hair of a boy he has tied up and beaten. A man shoots at an unarmed girl. A man pinches the neck of a trapped girl to make her answer his questions. A girl fleeing kidnappers is grabbed and manhandled by one of her captors. A man hits a girl in the head with a gun. A boy grabs another boy to force him to let go of a girl. A man uses a plastic bag to partially suffocate a girl. A man attempts to kill a girl by suffocating her with a plastic bag. A boy kicks a man who is threatening to kill him and a girl. The girl strikes him with a brass candle-lighter. A man shoots at a boy, hitting him in the arm, and then the man shoots him again.

Adult Content: A girl is described as wearing very short skirts. A girl has a crush on a boy. A girl says she would probably go to the prom with a boy if he asked her. A girl talks about a boy calling her. A boy moves so close to a girl she thinks he’s going to kiss her in public. Instead, he asks her to go to a dance with him. A boy asks a girl to a dance. A couple is described as being “heavily involved with each other.” Another couple is describes as being involved with each other. A boy puts his arms around a girl to slow dance with her. Underage students smoke cigarettes. A boy swing dances with a girl. A boy kisses a girl on the forehead. Underage students drink beer. A girl goes into a bedroom with a boy to watch a movie. The boy tries to kiss her, but she resists. The boy starts to force her to do what he wants, but she escapes by saying she needs to use the bathroom and climbing out a window (the language is ambiguous enough that a young reader might not understand that she just escaped a near-date-rape).

A girl tells a boy she thinks that she’s falling in love with him. A girl insinuates that another girl is a prostitute. A girl verbally challenges another girl’s relationship with a boy. A girl is told that boys “track down girls in order to score off them.” A girl publicly yells at a boy for trying to take advantage of her. When a boy rescues a girl from a kidnapper, he holds her in his arms and strokes her cheek. A boy hugs a girl and rocks her gently to calm her. A boy cradles a near-unconscious girl whose life he just saved. A boy kisses a girl.

Disturbing or scary elements: A city is describes as dangerous. A girl hears a woman cry out. A girl sees her mother with another figure looming over her. A man says his feet have been numb for a couple of hours. A girl fears a man is a drug dealer. A boy says he was in juvenile detention for drug possession. A boy talks about beating up three boys who looked like they were trying to drown his brother. A woman says her husband died of cancer and a boy said his mother died of the same. A boy recovering from near-frost-bite is in pain. A boy advises a woman to lock her door. A girl is afraid a boy might be planning on robbing her family. A girl is afraid of a boy. A girl feels faint. A girl remembers her dead father. A boy tells a girl about a man who was murdered by being shot and strangled in a robbery. A girl tells her sister a boy might be a drug-dealer. A girl remembers seeing drug deals conducted on the playground of her school. A girl suspects a boy may have doctored a gift of cookies. A boy and two girls jump onto a train that has started to move.
A girl ruminates on the frailty of life. A boy invites two girls to see his “special place.” He takes them to an abandoned church. One of the sisters is afraid, but is comforted by the other. The floor of the church is unstable and there are rats there. The effect of the church on the boy and one of the girls worries the other girl. A girl has a premonition that something terrible happened in this church and later finds out that a murder took place there. A girl notices that a boy looks furious about something. A boy pretends to be dead after being beaten in a snowball fight. A girl talks about her nightmares. A boy talks about a nightmare he has. A boy talks about a friend of his being killed in a robbery. A girl misses her dead father. A girl is afraid of a dangerous-looking boy. A man yells at a couple of girls when they accidentally startle him. Two girls see a friend of theirs engaged in suspicious activity. Two girls get lost in run-down part of the city. A mother is nervous about her daughter being out late with a boy she doesn’t know.
At a dance people pretend to be having a good time, but a girl sees through this pretense. A boy is forced to leave a dance because an adult believes he is a drug-dealer. A boy and a girl are waylaid by three boys who demand money and later attack them. The girl passes out during the attack. Two boys talk about how their friends were attacked and robbed; one of the boys tells the other he can’t keep visiting two sisters because the visits put them in danger. A girl tells a friend about how a boy tried to take advantage of her. A girl bawls out a boy for trying to take advantage of her. An old woman talks about how a friend of hers was killed in a robbery which probably involved drugs. A girl suspects that her friend might have been involved, but the old woman thinks the girl’s friend is looking for the murderer. A boy warns two girls that if they look for their friend they will be in danger. The boy tells the girls how his mother was attacked and their house was ransacked because their friend was sheltering there.
Two girls and three boys kidnap a girl. The kidnappers offer to pay the girl for information about her friend and threaten to take her to someone who will make her talk when she refuses. The kidnappers say someone will give the girl third degree. One of the kidnappers says that it will teach the girl’s sister a lesson because the girl’s sister earlier escaped from him. A girl walks into a dark basement without a light and is afraid of what she will find there. In the dark, she comes across a boy who is tied up and gagged. A group of kidnappers threaten to tie a girl up. A man threatens to shoot a trapped girl. A man ties up a girl and threatens to use her to make a boy give the man information. A boy threatens to throttle another boy if the boy doesn’t explain why he kidnapped a girl. A man is holding a boy and a girl hostage and plans to kill one of them right away.
Both the boy and the girl would rather be killed than see the other die. A man threatens to harm a girl’s sister if she doesn’t do what as he tells her. A boy tells a girl that they’re going to die if their kidnapper comes back. A man threatens to kill a boy and a girl. A man tells a girl her sister is dead. A man shoots at a boy and a girl. A man tells a boy that he strangled his friend because the friends wouldn’t tell the man something that would put the boy in danger.

Morally problematical content: A girl is depressed about the death of her father and a move to a big city. A girl doubts her mother’s wisdom in inviting a stranger into the house. A girl is frustrated when her mother and sister don’t show more common sense regarding the stranger. A boy and his brother were in juvenile detention for possessing large amounts of drugs, though the boys were framed. There is a drug problem at a school attended by two sisters. A girl is uncomfortable in the presence of a stranger and later is unable to sleep. A group of boys mercilessly pick on a girl at school. A girl is insecure about her physical appearance. A group of girls mercilessly tease another girl. A girl resents being pressured to make friends. A girl is hurt by a harsh grade on her paper. A girl resents her grade and verbally expresses this resentment in front of class.
A man and a woman hold a debate about the nature of art and truth. The man insists that art is about form and not truth. The woman implies that truth is relative. A girl offers to “pound” boys who have been verbally tormenting her sister. A boy startles a girl by placing an icepack on her neck and then teasing her about a boy. Two girls and a boy have a discussion about the nature of reality and how people figure into it. A girl talks about a man being rude. Two girls and a boy discuss the nature of beauty and ugliness, good and evil. Two girls and a boy with standing-room-only-tickets at an opera sit in seats other patrons have abandoned. A boy gives some money to a pan-handler. A boy feels sorrow and loss for the death of a friend.
A boy asks two girls to keep a secret, but says it’s all right for them to tell their mother. A boy playfully pretends to be a bear. A boy talks about his father, from whom he and his brother are estranged. Two girls are depressed when a friend can’t visit them. A boy makes a sarcastic comment about a girl’s obedience to her mother. A girl feels jealous of her sister. A girl is angry at herself for being insensitive and feels that life is unjust. A boy talks about God being unjust. He later clarifies this statement by saying that God doesn’t always make sense to him. A girl asks directions from a woman and then finds out the woman is a prostitute. A girl admires herself in a mirror. A boy agrees to a girl’s curfew, without having any intention of abiding by it. A girl is depressed about being alone. A girl tells a boy to shut up. A girl lies to a boy and he calls her a liar. A girl feels vulnerable in a crowded room. A boy puts his arm across the back of a girl’s chair protectively. Some boys make fun of another boy. A boy swing dances with a girl. A boy feels uneasy when he sees a police car and tries to avoid the police. A boy teases a girl for following her mother’s rules. A boy dances a slow dance with a girl and she feels uncomfortable when his hands move across her back. A boy plays a movie in a bed room, hoping to lure a girl into the room with him. A girl lies about needing to use the bathroom in order to extricate herself from a dangerous situation. An officer is initially unfriendly to a girl, but helps her notwithstanding.
A girl wakes up in a strange bed after passing out due to a fainting spell. She discovers she was brought there by a friend and is safe. A boy verbally chastises his brother for not being careful enough. A boy picks up and carries a girl who is too dizzy to walk. A girl leans against a boy for support. A girl worries about a boy she is interested in. A group of girls verbally abuse another girl. A girl lies to a principal about an incident. A principal punishes a student more harshly than she deserves. A mother questions a principal’s judgment. A girl tells boys that they’re not real men and that she pities them. Two girls search through yearbooks for information on their friends. A girl bends the truth in order to talk to someone about their friends. A girl complains about detention. A man yells at two girls who were trying to help him. A girl eavesdrops on a conversation. A girl is accosted by girls who antagonize her. A girl follows a man home in order to find information on her friends. A girl uses a can to eavesdrop on a man in his basement. A girl unlawfully enters a man’s house in order to free someone she heard being imprisoned and beaten. A man antagonizes a boy. A girl allows herself to become a potential murder victim in order to save a boy. A boy gives CPR to a suffocating girl. A girl, finding herself in a hopeless situation, questions the justice of the universe. Two girls, having escaped potentially deadly situations, discuss their experiences.

Artistic Content: Beautifully written and well-paced, the book in some ways very closely mirrors the fairy-tale, Snow White and Rose Red, it re-tells. The book, however, provides a much more contemporary and accessible approach to its subject matter, as well as dealing with issues universal to adolescents and adults. The characters have depth and potential to develop without being saccharine. The plot moves flawlessly toward the fairy-tale conclusion without being predictable or trite.

Overall Message: The story supports both the Christian fairy-tale theme of good vs. evil as well as meaningfully incorporating elements any modern teen would be dealing with both in and outside of a school setting. Characters within the story are clearly portrayed as good or evil based on personal choices and are held suitably accountable by the athorities within the framework of the story. The story also flouts stereotypes and refuses to use easy devices as the vilifying of authority figures or blessing morally dubious acts simply because they are committed by a sympathetic character. The story, like all true fairy-tales, holds its denizens to a strictly moral code in order to ensure a happy ending after the harrowing adventures are over.

Buy it here: http://www.lulu.com/content/1006728

Saturday, December 1, 2007


Title: A Bear Called Paddington
Author: Michael Bond
Date of Publication: 1958
Series: Paddington

Age Appropriateness: All ages. Though not all ages will perhaps understand the humor inherent in the book, all ages will be able to sympathize with the erstwhile bear. There is no material that would be offensive to the youngest child, with the possible exception of Paddington’s uncanny ability to get himself into trouble.

Overall Rating: Excellent. The book is both wonderfully innocent and hilariously funny.

Objectionable Content:

Language: the worst word in the book is “nasty”

Violence: A bear accidentally runs into a man and knocks him down.

Adult Content: n/a

Disturbing or scary elements:

A bear has to travel by himself because his guardian had to go into a home for retired bears. A bear is worried he doesn’t have enough money to pay for room and board. A bear is very hungry. A bear talks about getting his head stuck in a cup when he tries to drink. A woman asks a man what he had done to a bear when she finds the bear covered in cream and jam. A bear slips and falls into a saucer of hot tea. A taxi driver threatens to charge extra for transporting a sticky bear. A driver is startled and narrowly misses hitting a bus. A man and a woman appear to be arguing with another man. A bear thinks a woman may be a bit fierce. A bear feels homesick for his aunt. A man is a little bit afraid of his housekeeper.

A bear finds he can’t get out of a bath and calls for help. A bear fears he’s going to drown in a bath because he forgets to pull the plug out. A bear hits himself in the eye with grapefruit juice. A bear gets lost in a crowd. A bear is unable to immediately rejoin the adult looking after him. A bear pushes a “stop” button on an escalator, thinking that it’s an emergency. A bear gives a rude man a hard stare, causing him to collapse into a chair, sweating. A bear feels sick after riding an elevator. A bear can’t see and thinks someone turned all the lights off. A bear knocks over a display stand onto himself. A woman and a girl talk to a store detective about a missing bear. A bear falls off a small tower he constructed.

A bear is startled when a store detective knows his name. A man waves his fist at another man. An adult is alarmed by a small bear in his dressing room. A man tries unsuccessfully to cheat a bear. A bear gets stuck in a prompter’s box. A family is anxious about a bear who’s been missing for a couple of hours at high tide and the family finds his hat floating in the water. A bear gets stuck in a box that came with a set of magic tricks.

Morally problematical content:

A bear stows away on a ship from Peru. A family takes in a bear, though they think it might be illegal. A family gives a bear an English name because no one can pronounce his Peruvian name. A bear stands on a table to eat. A woman complains to her daughter about what happens when she leaves her husband alone for five minutes. A bear is reluctant to take a bath. A bear asks if he can sit in a puddle instead of taking a bath. A family neglects to report a stowaway to the authorities. A bear draws a map of Peru on a bathroom floor with shaving cream. A bear bails water out of tub using his hat to keep the water from getting dangerously deep.

Two children warn a bear about what an adult will say if they don’t clean up a mess. A family pretends not to recognize a bear after he has had a bath. A girl tells a bear that he’s “the stickiest bear imaginable.” A bear saves a piece of bacon in his suitcase for later. A bear decides not to tell a adult about bailing out the bathtub. A bear decides not to tell an adult that he’s stored a piece of bacon for later. A man looks at a bear’s hat distastefully. A man is rude to a woman and suggests she try shopping in the bargain basement. A bear stares very hard at a rude man, causing the man discomfort. A young man who works for the rude man approves of the bear’s actions. A rude man gives a cold look to his employee. A bear stares very hard at the rude man. A woman rests her shopping bag on a bear’s head and the bear pushes it off. A bear discovers that he’s knocked over a window display and tries to put it back together.

A bear accidentally ruins a man’s painting and tries to fix it by painting his own picture over it. A boy hopes to get sick to avoid school. A bear gives a man a hard stare because the man held his painting up the wrong way. A woman is offended when a bear doesn’t want to check his coat if he has to pay for it. A bear accidentally drops a sandwich on a man’s head. A bear talks loudly in a theatre. A bear watching a play doesn’t understand that the actors are just acting and tries to intervene. A bear goes to rescue a girl from the play he believes has been thrown out by her father. A bear gets ink all over his sheets when he writes letters. A bear is given a magic trick set and practices with it. A bear believes he has made a jar of marmalade disappear. A disagreeable man crashes a party to get a free meal. A bear accidentally destroys a man’s watch. A man tells a lie about how much the watch cost. A man storms out of a party he crashed. A man laughs at another man. A man pretends to pull a sovereign out of his ear.

Artistic Content:

The book is told in a series of short stories revolving around the bear Paddington. The episodes are short and charming. The characters besides Paddington are not given much depth, but character studies would bore the young audience the book is intended for. The stories of the well-meaning bear with “a strong sense of right and wrong” are charmingly told without being saccharine, and an older audience can appreciate the humor that does not get crass or vulgar.

While Paddington often does things that should not be imitated by a child, he is never, ever intentionally naughty. Sometimes he doesn’t immediately own up to something he has done, but out of a sense of sheepishness, not because he means to be deceitful. He is always found out later, anyway. The adults in the story are usually kind, helpful and protective with the exception of a few minor characters.

Overall Message:
A well-meaning bear often gets into scrapes but always lands on his feet.