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Summerland by Michael Chabon


Rating: (Recommended)


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Take Me Out

I was ecstatic when I learned that Michael Chabon had written a book for children. My expectations were elevated: another J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, E.B. White? The Harry Potter stories are great, but J.K. Rowling’s writing just doesn’t measure up to some of the literary greats. I’ve read every book Chabon’s published, and have found him to be a terrific writer and master craftsman. So when I turned to page one of Chabon’s Summerland, it was with the anticipation of delight. I was hooked by the first line: “Ethan said, ‘I hate baseball.’” By the time I turned page 500, I was satisfied that the story ended. I was bemused at some of Chabon’s cleverness. I liked the world he created, the young hero Ethan Feld, the journey, and the forces of good and evil battling through baseball. I was not mesmerized. E.B. White’s place remains secure.

Here’s an excerpt (p. 172-3) from the beginning of chapter 8 titled “Taffy”:

“Ethan had forgotten all about How to Catch Lightening and Smoke. Now, as the party warmed themselves beside the giant’s huge cookfire, trying to banish thoughts of how that fire might very soon be put to awful use, he searched the index for anything there might be about making up a battery with a giant.
The giant’s lodge was a kind of immense igloo of rocks, a stony dome formed from huge chunks and jags of granite, puzzled together like stones in an old wall. You entered through an arched notch – right beside that pile of bones, which they had all tried not to look at too closely. Then you proceeded inward along a steep-walled corridor that wound in on itself, until you got to the centermost chamber of the spiral. Here the dome was high enough for Mooseknuckle John to enter without ducking, and wide enough for him to stretch out to his full length on the floor in his fur cap and boots. To Ethan, creeping in with his friends huddled close around him, it seemed vast, filled with echoes and shadows and hints of all kind of unpleasant odors. The floor was covered from end to end in thick furs and skins, some of which seemed to be those of bears, gray and brown, of wolves and moose and elk; others, Ethan would have sworn, were the lush, silvery-black pelts of gorillas. The only opening, here at the center of the giant’s lodge, was a wide triangular notch cut in the roof to let out the smoke from the towering bonfire over which he cooked his grisly food. Apart from the furs there was no furniture of any kind. From three stout leathern ropes worked into the joints of the walls hung an iron pot as big as a garage, a dipper as deep as a bathtub, and a spoon whose bowl was a wide as a trash-can lid. And, on one side of the room, stood an iron cage, bigger than Ethan’s bedroom at home, empty but for a heap of bones and old fur blankets in one corner.”

You can almost hear a child giggle at the idea of an “iron pot as big as a garage,” then chuckle at “a dipper as deep as a bathtub,” then laugh out loud at “a spoon whose bowl was as wide as a trash-can lid.” Summerland is a magical story, well written, and thoroughly enjoyable. I expected a masterpiece and was disappointed. If you read aloud to children, reading Summerland for fifteen or twenty minutes an evening will be a real pleasure and may take a month or more to complete the whole book, or even all summer if you’re good at voices and dramatic pauses.

Steve Hopkins, October 30, 2002


ã 2002 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared in the December 2002 issue of Executive Times


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