Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Ever Breath by Julianna Baggott

This post is a book review. Really. But it will take me a minute to get there.

I have two children, four years apart. My son, 10, likes books about science. He likes to pour over them, again and again, memorizing the delicious facts and savoring the tasty trivia. The only fictional stories he's been interested in at all involve butts, roughly drawn comics, underpants, middle school hardships, warrior cats, and fake superheroes. I don't think I need to mention titles -- you know which ones I mean. Still, any book with pictures of the moon's surface will handily defeat any book that has characters and a beginning, middle and end. He's just not that into fiction.

My daughter, 6, has a categorical aversion to chapter books. Not only does she not want to admit she can read, she also does not want to be treated like a person who can read. In her mind, as she has explained it to me, reading will lead to college, and she doesn't want to go there. While I completely blame myself and all of my "Oh, sweetie! Don't ever change! Be my baby forever!" nonsense, I still feel like we should be able to move past the picture book stage before she hits puberty. Jan Brett, I super-love you, but I am done reading Fritz and the Beautiful Horses to my six year old, while she firmly asserts she cannot handle any more challenging fare. Then there's the fact that Sadie likes science books too. Books about polar bears. Books about caves. Books about what your heart does -- not figuratively, or as a literary theme, but as an actual biological fact.

True fact that is lodged in my bitter, resentful throat: Both of my kids prefer nonfiction to fiction. They will sit and listen to books about geography, or history, or science. They will not sit and listen to storybooks. They will not get interested in dragons. They do not yearn to discover more about elves or wizarding schools or hard times on the cold prairie. They just want to know more about why fish are cold, or where Indonesia is.

I'm a book person, and more specifically a fiction person. I have fantasized, since I knew I was going to have kids, about reading to them from the favorite books of my childhood. I looked forward to sharing Narnia with them, Middle Earth, the Moomins, etc. it's hard for me to realize that I can't keep up with Benny's interest in astronomy and the lymphatic system, and if I have to read "McElligott's Pool" one more time I will put a fishhook in my eye and gouge out my frontal lobe. I mean seriously, learning to swallow the fact that my kids just aren't that into novels has been almost as bad as finding out makeup is made out of bacon fat, or whatever.

Pretty difficult. It hasn't been great. But. There have been moments.

I bought Julianna Baggott's newest book, The Ever Breath, because hope springs eternal in this human breast, and because I like her, and I thought, hey, we'll give it a shot. What could it hurt? We've stalled on so many read-aloud attempts, and retreated to the safety of Childcraft for Benny and Let's Read and Find Out for Sadie. Why not try one more?

People, this is the book review part of the blog post. And I really feel like this is all I need to say, to sell you on this book. It was like magic. After the first chapter, I had one child tucked up on each side of me, and the other child tucked up on the other side. When I tried to quit reading for the night, I heard the words that had never been said by my children before: "Just one more chapter!" I felt like I was dreaming. I'm not kidding -- it was weird! I don't even know why this happened -- I'm not sure what captivated them in The Ever Breath where other books have so utterly failed. Why is it so accessible to these kids of such disparate ages. Why was Sadie saying, "This is my favorite book!" and why was Benny saying, "This book is better than Harry Potter!" I don't know.

I can tell you it's inventive. It's exciting. It's something you haven't seen before. And I can tell you that the children in my house careened through it at breakneck speed, anxious to get more, find out more, read more. That means a lot to me -- maybe this won't be the only book we'll read cover to cover, all curled up together. But it was the first!


  1. Not to sound haughty in any way, but I'm so intrigued by your kids' aversion to fiction. My children certainly have reading issues that make me scratch my head ALL THE TIME, but that's not one of them. I think I'd feel like you if they did -- love your analogy to makeup and bacon fat. :-)

    Anyway, great review, and I thought you might like to read this interview Melissa Wiley did with Julianna Baggott recently:

  2. Sam (13 now GAH!) and Maisy Jane (still mercifully 7) both went GAGA for this book, too---that's a pretty broad spectrum of ages, and yet they both gobbled it like mother's biscuits.

    I let them review the book and JB was kind enough to let my loinspawns interview her. I am running it tomorrow...

  3. Great review. I know that it's magical when you hit upon a book that just opens up those brain gates and hooks "Ah, I like it" to reading something.
    I'll have to see if I can find the book.