Tag Archives: fiction

The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

8 Apr
The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman

This is the story about a young girl named Lyra Belacqua.  Lyra, an orphan grows up in a collegiate environment under the infrequent  care of Lord Asriel. Lyra and her daemon, Patalaimon run amok among the campus buildings at Jordan college. During one of Lyra’s escapades she finds someone trying to poison Lord Asriel and saves his life. Shortly after, her closest friend Roger is snatched by the Gobblers and Lyra sets out to save him. She traverses other  lands and battles witches. Pullman’s story is full of symbolism and imagery and contains mystery and suspense. This book is an adventure and readers will find it challenging to put the book down. Students that love fantasy are sure to love this book and students not quite sure of the fantasy genre may actually find they enjoy this story. This book is a must for any school library collection or the children’s section of a public library.


This is one of those books that you read and immediately you see the setting and characters. Pullman’s imagery calls to mind Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. The writing is rich and descriptive. The battles are intense and full of suspense. There is quite a bit of hoopla surrounding this book’s symbolism. I’m still at a loss when trying to understand how so many people wanted to ban this book. This book is well written and I will read it to my daughter when she is older.

Suggested Library Activity:

Use this book in a book club. Draft discussion starters beforehand to get them share their thoughts on the story. This book can also be used as an introduction to map reading. Read an excerpt from the book relating to Lyra’s travels. Have students create their own maps creating their own world.  Introduce features such as legend, compass and scale.

Bibliographic Citation:

Pullman. P. (1995). The Golden Compass. New York: Yearling.

Additional Book Review:

“Admittedly, it took me a little while to get used to Lyra’s world… there was definitely a learning curve for me; trying to figure out what this dæmon thing is all about, who are all these other creatures, and what is the point of this story in the first place.  But once things started falling into place, the story really took off for me and I lost myself in it…”
Lo, H. (2008, July 5). Review: The Golden Compass. Message posted to


Booklist starred (Vol. 92, No. 13 (March 1, 1996))

“Gr. 7-12. In the first of a planned trilogy, Pullman has created a wholly developed universe, which is, as he states, much like our own but different in many ways–a world in which humans are paired with animal “daemons” that seem like alter egos, only with personalities of their own. The story begins at Jordan College in Oxford, where young Lyra Belacqua and her daemon, Pantalaimon, are being reared and educated by the Scholars. Although a lackluster student, Lyra possesses an inordinate curiosity and sense of adventure, which lead her into forbidden territory on the night her uncle, Lord Asriel, visits. He’s there to solicit funds for a return journey to the distant arctic wastes, where he has observed and photographed strange goings-on, including a mysterious phenomenon called Dust that streams from the sky and a dim outline of a city suspended in the Aurora, or Northern Lights, that he suspects is part of an alternate universe. After he leaves, Lyra finds herself placed in the charge of the mysterious Mrs. Coulter and in possession of a rare compasslike device that can answer questions if she learns how to read it…”


Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz Ryan

17 Mar

Ryan’s story is full of vivid imagery and painful lessons. It is a story about Esperanza, a privileged girl living in Mexico during the Great Depression. After Esperanza’s father is murdered by bandits, Tio Louis offers to buy her home, but does not offer a fair price. Esperanza’s other refuses to sell and the whole property including the vineyards is set on fire and burns to the ground. Tio Louis then offers his hand in marriage to Esperanza’s mother. Esperanza’s mother and Esperanza prepare to flee Mexico with their servants and head to California to begin a new life. This is where Esperanza’s story really begins. During one episode, Esperanza is taught how to prepare potatoes for planting. Esperanza’s mother becomes ill with valley fever and Esperanza has to survive and work to pay for her mother’s care. During this time Miguel, her friend steals all of her money and vanishes in to thin air. Miguel does eventually resurface retrieving Esperanza’s grandmother from Mexico. This is a deep story about survival, injustice and what it truly means to live.

Winner of the Pura Belpre award

Suggested Library Activity:

Have students research this time period. Have them imagine what it would be like to be children living during this time. Create a news broadcast and interview someone from this time (another student can act a character out). What kinds of questions would they ask someone from this time period?

Bibliographic Citation:

Ryan, Pam Munoz. (2008). Esperanza rising. New York: Scholastic.

Additional Book Reviews:

“Esperanza Rising is a very thought provoking book about the plight of those seeking seasonal employment on the big farms in California during the Great Depression. Esperanza learns the value of hard work and after a while overcomes her selfish ways…”
Wednesday, B. (2010, May 19). Book Review: Esperanza Rising.


Horn Book starred (Spring 2001)

In this poignant look at the realities of immigration, thirteen-year-old Esperanza, daughter of an affluent Mexican rancher, is forced to trade fancy dolls and dresses for hard work and ill-fitting hand-me-downs after her beloved father dies. Laboring in the United States, picking grapes on someone else’s land for pennies an hour, Esperanza is transformed into someone who can take care of herself and others.