On the Fourth Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me four colly birds...
I know, right? I always thought it was 'calling birds', too. But, according to Wikipedia—bastion of accurate information that it is—it was originally 'colly birds', which is another term for blackbirds. And so I chose to read My Name is Mina, David Almond's prequel to Skellig, in which, over the course of the book, Mina keeps an eye on the nesting blackbirds who live in her tree: the place she spends the majority of her time writing and thinking and dreaming.
As it's written in the form of Mina's journal, there isn't a simple, over-arching plot with an easily identified conflict to be resolved, quest to be completed, or problem to be overcome. In it, she describes her day-to-day life with her mother, tells the story of how she came to be homeschooled, and intersperses her commentary with poems and wordplay and ideas for educational exercises that she believes are absent from the traditional classroom experience. She looks at and experiences the world with joy and wonder, takes pleasure in learning new words—so much so that she gets an immense amount of satisfaction (you can totally feel it) in writing out her favorites in BOLD CAPS—and walks through life constantly finding the EXTRAORDINARY in the ordinary.
Her joy and curiosity are both genuine and infectious—when she mentioned learning that a group of goldfinches is called a charm, I was prompted to do some quick Googling about my beloved state bird* and then later, for jigsaw puzzles that feature the work of Paul Klee**—and, though I was briefly concerned that Mina might fall into the ranks of characters like Stargirl and Ida B.***, she didn't. Because her staunch individuality and wide-eyed wonder are tempered with true thoughtfulness, with a determination to understand the world and her place in it, and sometimes, with frustration and anger and grief and a desire to Act Out.
In other words, her voice reads three-dimensional and true, and it was a pleasure to spend my morning with her. In another place, in another time, some of her ideas would have literally been viewed as heresy—at one point, it occurs to her that sometimes it feels that the world we live in could actually heaven, and that we could all be angels; at another, she muses about how the voice of God speaks through the beaks of birds; at another, she thinks about how writing is creation, and how, in a way, that makes the writer a sort of God—but here and now, they come off as purely lovely.
*A group of black-capped chickadees is called a BANDITRY or a DISSIMULATION. Is that not the BEST THING EVER? So perfect.
On the Third Day of Christmas, my true love gave to me three French hens...
Man, and I thought that finding a turtledove-related book was hard. French hens are even more scarce! Therefore, Notes from an Accidental Band Geek is a bit of a stretch: it's about a girl who plays the FRENCH horn, whose nickname is CHICKEN.
Yeah, I know. I said it was a stretch. Anyway.
Elsie Wyatt has a goal: she wants to become the youngest French horn player to ever be accepted into Shining Birches, the preeminent summer music camp. Her father and her grandfather both went there, and in both cases, it was the first major step in the journey towards the first seat in a major orchestra.
The problem is, Elsie missed the necessary audition, so she has to join her high school's marching band—marching band, where you can't even PLAY a French horn!—in order to fulfill Shining Birches 'ensemble diversity' requirement. And so, in addition to dealing with starting high school without any real friends, she has to step out of her comfort zone, socially and musically.
This would be a good pick for fans of Millicent Min, but with the caveat that oftentimes, Elsie is even more difficult to like than Millicent. After all, Millicent is hilarious (granted, often unintentionally, but still), while Elsie is... not. She's so prickly and difficult that it's hard to buy the romance storyline, let alone the other people who take a platonic interest in her, so it's likely that some readers will not take to her.
Elsie aside, though—along with her tempestuous relationships with her friends and her father—the stuff about marching band is both AWESOME and INTERESTING. Dionne does a wonderful job describing marching band culture and explaining the vocabulary and customs without ever letting those descriptions feel inorganic or resorting to didacticism.
Enjoyable, competent stuff, though not one that has me doing backflips.
He was so upset that he threw his arms out and spun around—seriously, it was like something out of Les Mis—and said, "HOW. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT YOU OWN THIS MANY BOOKS, BUT YOU DON'T HAVE THE ONE THAT I WANT?"