So far, every book highlighted on Favorite Book Friday has been a picture book. While a good picture book ought to be able to hold the interest of an adult, I think it’s time to share a book with a little more meat to it.
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I discovered The Great Good Thing by Roderick Townley by accident.
As you may know, I have a thing for books. A few years ago, pins for Books by the Foot were all over my Pinterest feed. You probably saw them too. In case you didn’t, they’re a company that sellsused books primarily for aesthetics. They supply movie sets and interior designers with certain styles of books. Perhaps you want a shelf of all green books. Or maybe a movie is shooting a scene in a library and needs a ton of hard cover, old-looking books. Books by the Foot will sell, um, books by the foot for such purposes.
The pin I kept seeing was a deal they had for children’s books. You could buy a box of used books for around $50, if memory serves correctly. This was a big box that would hold 50 or so books. I ordered a box and received some duds and some gems. Among all the books I received was The Great Good Thing.
I knew I had to investigate all the books before letting my kids have them, and this was one of the first I read because the cover and title intrigued me. I didn’t read any descriptions about the book before starting, so I had no idea what to expect.
That’s the way the book should be read.
If you trust my judgement, just stop here. Go get a copy of the book and read it. Then come back and finish this post and let me know what you thought.
But here’s the rest, in case you’re not so trusting.
The Great Good Thing takes place in two dimensions. The first is a medieval type realm with a princess named Sylvie (a plucky type like Merida from Brave with the same aversion to early marriage), knights, a jester, and the typical cast of characters one finds in a fairy tale of that type. However, the plot has little to do with the typical saving of the damsel. The second dimension, which is where the real conflict of the book arises, is the real world.
You see, The Great Good Thing is a book in the book. That’s confusing. The book is about the book. Still not helping. Let’s see how I can explain this.
As you begin to read the book, you believe you are reading a typical story. By that I mean, you believe you are reading about characters and events occurring in some other place and some other time. And in a way, you are. However, it quickly starts to become clear what you are actually reading is a story about the book and what goes on when it’s pages are closed. It’s sort of like Toy Story. When it’s being read, everyone is acting their part and moving the story along. When the book is closed or not being read, the characters each have their own identities outside of what the book has assigned them and they can move around the pages and enjoy some degree of free will.
If you remember from Toy Story, the toys crave being used. Likewise, the characters in the book, want it to be read. They want to act. In the past, they received this opportunity quite often. As time progressed in the real world (time is stagnant in the book, of course), problems arose for the book’s characters. The owner of the book grows older, and much later in the future, the book exists in a time when people aren’t reading like they used to.
You see, time is judged in the real world by what the book characters are observing throughout the story. The physical book in the story is quite old and out of print—existing in the beginning before there was television in a time when people often read for entertainment. By the end of the book, the real world has modern conveniences, including television.
I should mention that the cardinal rule of the book world is that the characters must not look up at the Reader. Of course, Sylvie breaks this rule. Ultimately, though, this defiance leads to the salvation of herself and all the other characters after a fire and a fading from memory.
The story has a happy ending, but there is a lot more excitement than I’ve mentioned along the way. I’ve got to keep some things secret in case you’ve read this entire description before reading the book (which mean you don’t trust me).
Sprinkled in with the story is also some indirect commentary on the passing of time, growing older, changing personally, and, to some extent, changing as a society. I won’t get into all of that. Hopefully, you’ll read the book and see what I’m talking about. But I’ll warn you, this book made me cry. It likely won’t do that for kids since they can’t comprehend this aspect of the book. They just don’t have the frame of reference to understand the fleeting nature of time or what it does to you. But adults get it. So, the book made me cry much like a sentimental song might do (as you’re driving down the road with fresh make-up heading to work or some important meeting—yes, that’s happened too). It triggers memories and simultaneously makes you think of the future. If you have older folks in your life who you hold dear, it will make you think of them. I couldn’t help thinking of my grandmother, which was part of the triggering of my ugly crying.
My grandmother. She's honestly the sweetest, nicest person I've ever known. Isn't she beautiful on the outside too? I've got an amazing picture of her doing some backyard sunbathing in her (now) retro bathing suit, but I went with this one instead. I can't have people lusting after Granny!
Before having a blog, this was a book I recommended to others. I loved every minute of reading it, and I hope you and your family will too. I have plans to read this to Little Mama next year. I let her pick a book and we read a chapter a day until it’s finished. I am going to do some gentle persuasion to convince her to go with this one next. We just started Redwall, so it’s going to be a minute (if you’re familiar with that one).
If you do read The Great Good Thing and enjoy it as much as I did, I’ll let you know this. There are two sequels:
Into the Labyrinth
and The Constellation of Sylvie
I read a few pages of Into the Labryinth as a preview, and they were good. I was excited to discover sequels exist, but I haven’t been able to bring myself to read them yet. Into the Labryinth takes place in the digital age; the book has been put online. While that’s clever and fits in with the time progression that takes place throughout the story, I just don’t know how I feel about it.
As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m a technology tolerator. I don’t embrace it (says the person with a blog). I don’t want its introduction to the story to mar it for me. That’s probably silly, but maybe there are some folks out there like me who get what I’m saying!
If you read the book, give me your thoughts in the comments! If you’ve read the sequels, let me know whether I’m being ridiculous or if my fears are legitimate.
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