Wednesday, April 30, 2014

ARCADIA by Tom Stoppard

Tom Stoppard

            Arcadia is a play that takes place at Sidley Park, a stately country home in Derbyshire. The play shifts back and forth between the early 19th century and modern day Sidley Park.  The action in both time periods takes place in a bare room with a large table.

In the 19th century, Thomasina, the daughter of the house, is working with her tutor, Septimus Hodge; there are books and Hodge’s tortoise.  In the modern time, Hannah Jarvis, an author, is working on a book about the history of the gardens – or, more precisely, about the hermit-genius who lived in the 19th century gardens like a “garden ornament” or “pottery gnome”.  She is joined by, among others, Valentine, a son of the house, and his tortoise.

            In each time period, people come and go and dramas unfold. But the room and table remain constant. As the play proceeds, everything from both time periods remains on the table. The table and its contents are period neutral, and, by the end of the play, the table has become quite cluttered with objects.

There are striking parallels between the two time periods. Early on, questioning her tutor whether God is a Newtonian, Thomasina asks “[a]m I the first person to have thought of this?” (p. 9).  In the modern time, Chloe asks her brother “Valentine, do you think I’m the first person to think of this?” (p. 77).

            There is humor. Valentine explains to Hannah how her tea is getting cold – by itself. “Your tea will end up at room temperature. What’s happening to your tea is happening to everything everywhere….It’ll take a while but we’re all going to end up at room temperature.” (p. 82).

            The modern day dramas involve the 19th century dramas – an attempt to sort out the past with meager historical evidence. There is poetry and duels; parks and a hermitage; heat exchange and Lord Byron.

            And, there is Entropy. As the play progresses, so does the chaos. Toward the end of the play, the distinct time periods begin to bleed into one another. They proceed at the same time and intertwine. Chaos ensues.

            The result is a fascinating, intellectual drama. Arcadia is a great read, and I hope one day to see it performed.


Thursday, April 10, 2014


An Introduction to the Secrets of Meshyah’s World
Judith Victoria Douglas


            Tree & Sky is a book for middle grade children written by Judith Victoria Douglas. Although it is billed as a collection of short stories, it reads more like a book in that there are continuities between the three stories, or chapters. Each of the stories, however, had been published separately at an earlier time.

            As the title indicates, the stories center around Meshyah Bluebird Garcia, a Hispanic-American of Lakhota Sioux descent. Also at the center with Meshyah – or, Shy, as she is called – are her two closest friends, Jasmine, of East African descent, and Ozwald, of British descent. The three of them live under a geodesic dome on the Antarctic continent at what has become the north pole.

            In the first story, or Chapter,  “The Tree on My House”, Shy and her friends are 10 years old. The story explains about the geodesic dome under which they live, as well as the Before Times. Shy and her friends make a remarkable discovery on the patio roof of Shy’s home: a little seedling. The little seedling grew into a big tree, a very unexpected tree under their dome.

            In the second story, “The Day the Sky Fell”, Shy and her friends are 11 years old. We learn more about life under the geodesic dome and the immense amount of work it takes to maintain the dome. When an emergency occurs, the dangerous and fragile nature of the dome becomes apparent.

            In the third story, “Under a Honeycomb Sky”, Shy and her friends are 12 years old. Although the main event in this story is Shy’s twelfth birthday party, it describes even more about life under the geodesic dome.

            For her twelfth birthday, Shy received a five year journal. She and her friends planned to find a way to send the journal, with their stories, into the past to warn the people of the Before Times about the devastating events to come. At the end of the book, we are told that Shy and her friends will write two more stories, which will be published in a separate book.

            My favorite story is the first, “The Tree on My House”. It reminds me of the Native American legends written by Tomie dePaola, and the tree is truly a wonderful character.

            In my opinion, Tree & Sky is a science fiction/environmental awareness book for children in late elementary school and early middle school grades. The writing and dialogue sometimes feel a bit stilted, but it is a creative and interesting story. I enjoyed reading Shy’s stories!


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