Welcome back to Batty About Books! Today is the first of three parts where Kathy (aka @thebrainlair) and I discuss Seraphina. As always, there are some mild spoilers. My thoughts with Kathy's responses are here, and Kathy's thoughts with my responses are on her blog - The Brain Lair. Wow. This first section really is everything I love about books. I fear that I may spend more time gushing praise than taking a critical look, but I do feel like this book deserves some serious praise. Check out the GoodReads Summary. Please - please - do yourself a favor and read this book! . (It’s a fast read, because you’ll get totally hooked). Then come back and chat with us about it! I’ll try to keep the spoilers as mild as possible as I discuss this book with my buddy, in case you want to read our thoughts before checking out the book. First - the premise. Honestly, there have been very few books that include dragons that haven’t won my heart. (Yes, there have been some that I was not thrilled by. Eragon tops my list, though my students were horrified to hear that several years ago when it was really popular) You may not know this - but I call my classroom “the Lair”, myself “the Dragoness”, and my students have pencils with “dragonling” etched into them.
This concept, though, is so intriguing. Dragons - the “Saar” in this book - can take on human shapes. Some of whom do it well enough that they can truly pass for human. So incredibly cool! I love how the saar have to wear bells to help the human population identify them immediately. Kathy: I liked how some where the bells as jewelry, in varying sizes, proudly. Though they sound like bells you would put on a cat to know where it is so it won’t get into trouble or too much trouble.
The Saar remind me of Vulcans. (Yes, a Star Trek reference. I’m not only a Star Wars gal.) They are coldly logical, obsessed with knowledge. Their code of honor - their “ard” - is to impose order upon chaos. (pg 51). I’d love to know if the author was influenced by Star Trek, because so much of her story so far seems to reflect the themes that were common on that show. Kathy: I said they remind of students on the autistic spectrum or even with mild Asperger’s. I may take a glance at her website to see what she lists as her influences besides music. I also love the ard and that the main liaison between dragonkind and humans is the Ardmagar.
I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to note here that Seraphina is half-breed. It is a dirty, hidden secret that could mean her very life if she is discovered. I appreciated that the build up to this secret was quick, and that it was confirmed early in the story. I think students will pick up the hints on this one quickly, too, and that they will feel vindicated when they are proven correct. Kathy: Yes, having it unveiled upfront goes a long way towards explaining not only her behavior but Orma’s. “Knowing” what we do about dragons and humans, it gives us a perspective on her and music.
More Star Trek connections - Spock himself,and his struggles to have his logical Vulcan half push aside his emotional human half, keeps peeking at me through the pages. At least Spock didn’t have to hide his nature the way Seraphina does. Kathy: Though I think she hides it because of the way Spock’s people treated him. She doesn’t want to be seen as siding with dragons because, despite her teacher, she seems them, and in extension herself, as despicable. She fears that others will see her that way too.
What this does for us, as readers, is open up a whole new level of understanding. I see the historical tie-ins to the days of slavery, when a person who could “pass” as white took the same types of risks Seraphina is facing. The bigotry and hatred that lies just under the surface of the treaty between Saar and human - it all would make for an incredibly rich discussion when tied in with American history (and probably the histories of many other countries with hatred between different ethnic groups). Kathy: Hartman has a way of making things accessible. Don’t forget the Quigs who were fenced in for “their own safety”. It always fascinates me, even today, when people’s hidden natures come to light. As long as others stay in their place and provide a service, they can be tolerated but the truth will out. Like is doing through the Sons of Ogdo.
Beyond the story itself, Seraphina is a feast for lovers of lyrical language. (See what I did there?) I would have read this section much more rapidly if I didn’t keep stopping to jot down notes on gorgeous descriptions and stunning word choices. Kathy: Ha! I decided to just write my part using mostly just quotes from the books! And yes, your alliteration was noted!
A book that can use words like “avuncular” and “emulsified” and blend it in with text that supports kids as they read is a treasure. It seemed well balanced, with challenging words like this mixed in with easier to read sentences - so kids can begin to learn the “gist” of the words in context. Seraphina describes herself as “half lawyer; I always noticed the loopholes” - a trait many of my students share. Her description of the snowflakes of memory that “crackled in my mouth like a tiny lightning storm” (pg 87) made my mouth drop. What do you think memories taste like? This one tasted like strawberry. Kathy: So what grade do you think this book would be for? I’m thinking 7th and above right now. But we aren’t too far in. I think LA teachers would have a field day with this one. I love when Linn talks about Claude’s use of metaphor - “when I believed you never wanted to see me again, I felt I’d stepped off a ledge and onto empty air” and it’s comparison to emotions - great lessons in this book. Oh, this book is perfect. Yes, for typical readers I think that upper middle school would be ideal. I talk about this just below...
Okay - one last amazing quote from the book for your reading pleasure. “He released the last chord like a boulder off a trebuchet” (pg 136) Seriously? Awesome.
I adore this use of language (one of my favorite authors is Jane Yolen for this very reason) and it is the perfect match for my students. I teach strong readers in upper elementary. They would adore the language in this - and I’m just hoping that the content stays appropriate for them as I finish the book. If it does, I will be grabbing a small group set of Seraphina once it hits paperback release. Kathy: Well, I guess that answers my question! I was really thinking late middle school though. The setup tells me something big is coming. Yes - I’m waiting to decide on this one until I get the whole thing read. But assuming there isn’t any mature content issue, I can absolutely see using this for my strong readers. I’d say that for typical developing readers, though, middle school would be a good time to use this book. That is especially true if you want to dive into the historical parallels.
Honestly, I could go on for several more pages. But I want to leave some beauty for other readers to discover on their own and share here. Come on, friends - join in the discussion!