Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
(My copy is an ARC that was gifted to me by a friend!)
@thebrainlair) as we discuss the second chunk of this amazing book. I host my thoughts with Kathy's responses, and she hosts her thoughts with my responses at The Brain Lair. We've split it into thirds, so be sure to come back for the wrap up next week.
(Miss the first chunk? Take a gander at our mostly spoiler free chat from last week)
Maria: I am still totally in love with this book. So far, I’m also still convinced I can put it in my classroom. I don’t think that all the kids will be drawn to it, but the fourth and fifth graders who are dragon obsessed could find this the new book that is perfect for them.
Kathy: I still see it as 7th grade and above. The language and the situations seem more mature today. I know you teach gifted children, so maybe that’s what you are thinking. The themes also seem suited to older to me also. I don’t doubt that younger students can read it and get something out of it, I understand how students read differently depending on emotional maturity and background experiences, that we all bring our own schema to books. I also get how students filter books differently than we do and that students develop at different rates. But, I still hesitate, it’s like giving Hunger Games to 4th/5th. Ultimately, it has to be a parental decision, but I wouldn’t recommend it. ::getsoffhighhorse:: The truth is, though, that almost every on or above level fifth grader in my building has read or is reading Hunger Games. I think the value of this story - and the lack (so far) of the intensity of mature romantic themes - makes it a better text for this age group than Hunger Games. Again, I’m still taking a wait and see attitude. I can’t make a final call on the text until I know what happens at the end.
What do I love about Seraphina? Well, let’s start with who.
The grotesques in her mental garden. First, let me state how incredibly cool I find the whole mental garden concept. The way Seraphina can organize and visualize this place, and how she interacts with the people in her garden, is fascinating. I have read about how the highly intelligent people of the past made mental maps to help them recall the things they learned, and I was always intrigued. When you add in the characters who live here, I’m beyond excited. Yes, it’s a bit of a spoiler - but the additional fact that she is starting to meet these people in her real world AND is figuring out what they mean to her has me completely hooked. I keep waiting for the next tidbit to be revealed.
Kathy: It reminded me of Moonwalking With Einstein (which I need to finish one day) with the mental map thing. I like how it helps her sleep after she’s put her emotional state in order. We should all practice that! We must meet Fruit Bat soon!!! His age is startling. I love both Loud Lad and Miss Fusspots and how they have been playing a role all along. It makes you wonder about Janoula.
Earl Josef: Okay, I don’t love him... but I’m loving hating him. He’s so deliciously creepy. I keep thinking I know what and who he is... and then I get some new little bit of information. I’m still not quite sure I know his role in the story. That’s a great feeling.
Kathy: Yes! What is his secret? Is he related to Lars? Is this all just a red herring?
Prince Lucian Kiggs.
Yes, here is my new book crush. I love his interactions with Seraphina. I was completely smitten by this line:
(Seraphina) "I was rude!"
(Kiggs)"And I was offended. It was all very by-the-book." 173
I just have a thing for the humorous, slightly snarky heroes who are hiding that sensitive spot. I’m pretty sure I’m not alone on that. I love how Kiggs admits his anger toward his mother, that she followed her heart and made his life miserable. I even love the fact that they are now in the midst of a crisis with one another. I’m not sure what I want to have happen between them, but I’m not put off by the romantic yearnings the way I am in some books.
Kathy: I do love him! I can see why Seraphina is attracted to him. I love the give and take and wordplay between the two of them. They seem connected on a deeper level. You WANT them to be together. But, I also like Glissenda’s character. He is engaged! Have you read Fire by Kristin Cashore? I love Prince Brigan in that book and Kiggs reminds me of him. I haven’t read Fire yet, but I do own it! See - Graceling is the kind of book that I think completely crossed the line into YA themes and I had no question about whether or not it belonged in my classroom. I was sad to not be able to share it, but I know that one doesn’t go to school with me. Maybe our view of the line is a bit different (or maybe not, since you’ve read the end of the book and I haven’t), but it’s not THAT different :)
Orma: Yes, he still reminds me of a Vulcan. I love how he clamps down on his emotions, but he knows he really does feel strongly about his niece. I love the fact that he takes risks for her, and that he values his memories of his sister. My favorite line of his right now? “I value your continued existence” (pg 285). Yes, that’s a Vulcan.
Kathy: From Orma, that was a huge admission. And he touched Seraphina’s elbow. Also big. I also loved that even though he answered the earring, he told her he’d bite her head off if he didn’t get an explanation. He was funny and Vulcanesque at the same time! He is my favorite character because, weirdly, I think he embodies the best of both human and dragon characteristics. I don’t know if that’s because he’s been in his saarantras form for a long time that gives him “emotions” but he has them. And he is at war with himself, just like Seraphina.
I love the fact that we can see so much of our own humanity’s struggles in this story. I mentioned last time that I see the race struggles and the anxiety of people who try to “pass” in society as something they are not. Fitting in is hard enough when you can express yourself completely - when you feel you have to hide something it becomes unbearable. That’s one reason I loved the section when Queen Lavonda and Ardmagar Cormonot are listening to Seraphina’s testimony, and each character exhibits the traits more common in the other’s race. “Perhaps those qualities were what had enabled them to reach an agreement after centuries of distrust and war. Each saw something familiar in the other.” (pg 280) Isn’t that always what it takes to find a way to work together?
Kathy: But, I see it as something we rail against. I don’t see people trying to find the similarities, the familiar. Instead, they embrace the differences and tends towards separation. At least in my experience. At the risk of becoming emotional myself, I say it’s difficult being the minority, the different. Too often I’ve encountered those who’d rather not find the commonalities. Though, on the other hand, I am blessed. I am the ONLY African-American at our school. I feel, not only accepted, but an integral part of the team. But, that’s a story for another time.
I talk about Seraphina’s struggle to hide her dragon parts, her disgust at knowing who she is, even when she so clearly loves Uncle Orma. How will she learn to accept who she is? To love all parts of herself? To see what she sees in Orma, in herself and know that she is ok?
Yes - that is so true. We do look for the differences - we highlight the differences and we use them as excuses for how we can’t work together. That’s a reason I think this story is valuable as a model for discussion, and for thinking about how two SO different creatures could find some common ground. So we should sure as heck be able to!
Really, though, it all comes back to Seraphina. I can feel her. I hear her struggle. I care about what happens to her, and I’m struck by the beauty of her thoughts. I love the scenes where she lives a memory from her mother. So often when the mother is gone from a heroine’s tale there is no way to have that connection. Linn’s memories allow Seraphina to begin to learn from her mother as a mentor, and I love that. I also love how she is growing up before our eyes. Maturity comes as you learn to find balance, allowing all the parts of yourself to come through. Seraphina is learning to see herself as not just a halfbreed, a talented musician, and a wallflower. Now she’s starting to see herself as a woman. I grinned along with her as she noticed the men around her noticing her.
Kathy: Hartman does a great job of bringing Seraphina to life. It’s a gift that she has shared so eloquently. She so clearly illustrates what it means to be human, that we can all find a connection with Seraphina. I also love how “present” Linn seems to be even though she is character only in memory. Which leads me to be surprised that Claude is so “absent” even though he is in the book! He is the reason Seraphina is disgusted with herself. He, in essence, tries to excise Linn much like the Ard wanted to do!
Seraphina is strong, intelligent, and unsure of what to do. I think the kids who read this book will be able to sympathize with that combination.
Kathy: Her being “strong, intelligent...” and as you say above “becoming a woman” “noticing the men noticing her” lends credence to my belief that Seraphina is better suited to the older students. I hope that you write about your students’ reactions to the book. I would love to hear what they get out of it, what they focus on, and compare it to our thoughts. It is this aspect of the story that I’m watching carefully, trying to maintain a “wait and see” until I’ve finished the book entirely. I don’t see this as a book that would be right for my whole group, but I do think many of my fifth graders would be able to get valuable insights from the text. Yes, they may get different insights than they would if they read it as an older student - and I think that’s okay too. I do tend toward being overly cautious with books that include mature themes - even to the point of being nervous about some books that are designated as “10 and up”. My librarian has a shelf of books behind her desk that she only allows the fifth graders to access. It’s a bit of a shame that it’s so hard to manage this aspect of a K-5 building. There’s that gray area of when students are able to handle more mature concepts and thoughts... it’s not an easy call.
What do you think, readers? Where do you draw the line when you recommend books to various ages? What makes a book definitively "too old" for a certain age group? What factors would you take into account when making a book available to a specific student or set of students?