Saturday, October 23, 2010

Book Review: The Search for WondLa

Since I'm still basking in yesterday's celebration of the library, it seems right to do a review of an interesting new book, The Search for WondLa by Tony DiTerizzi (he of The Spiderwick Chronicles fame).  This is a good book for middle schoolers to read, but also raises some more involved issues for those of us who might be more mature readers of children's books.

Tony DiTerizzi is one of those talented individuals who most of us wish we could write as well as he does, or draw as well as he does, and would never consider the ability to do both!  And he does both well in this book.  It is the story of a 12 year old girl, named Eva Nine, who is raised without any other human contact and trained by a robot for eventual transition from the underground environment where Eva has spent her entire life to life on the surface of Earth (presumably).  But when Eva is forced above ground prematurely, it looks nothing like the situation she has been learning to survive on.  Her computers don't recognize any of the life forms, the promised contact with similar beings does not come to be, and she is being pursued by an unknown creature for unknown purposes. 

So, as I said in the beginning, it is a great story for middle schoolers.  A heroine of the right age is on a quest--for friend, for family, for connection, and for understanding her place in the world.  It is a combination of science fiction and mystery, with lots of cool technology and fantastic creatures, all illustrated with wonderful pictures (and a 3-D map if you access the resources via the Internet).  My almost-12-year-old son really enjoyed it; he found it complex enough to be interesting without getting lost, and enjoyed the creatures and the world DiTerizza had created.

There is another component of the book.  DiTerizza has added some Internet connectivity through graphics in the book.  Using a technology he calls "Wondla Vision," if you download the softwear, you can scan the graphic pages in the book into your webcam to access a 3-D map of the planet with a visual script of what happens where.  DiTerizza called this "Augmented Reality."

I have to admit that this was one of the reasons I was particularly interested in this book (confession:  I haven't read or seen the movie of The Spiderwick Chronicles).  But this feeds into one of my big interests--the evolution of the book in the world of multimedia information.

So we downloaded and installed the software, and eventually figured out how to make the graphics works, and got to see the "Augmented Reality."  And I have to say that I didn't think it was worth the bother.  My son was similarly unimpressed; he pronounced it all "OK," and he wasn't the one who spent the time getting the software to work (as always, it didn't go as smoothly as promised on the website).

So whatever the enhanced book turns out to be, I don't think this is it.  But I still appreciate DiTerizzi for trying out something new.  It was at least an interesting experiment.  And perhaps those who are as strong readers as both my son and I are would find the computer information more interesting and helpful.

But there was another aspect of this book that I found REALLY interesting.   However, to discuss it, I have to refer to specific character and plot actions.  So if you haven't read the book, but intend to do so, I would suggest you stop here, read the book, and check back later to see if you agree with my analysis.


OK, so what I think is REALLY interesting about this book is that while it is a science fiction book, and fools around with computerized "Augmented Reality" and all that, it also beckons back to that wonderful century-old book, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (originally published in 1900).  DiTerlizzi suggests that he was inspired by the illustrations in that book by W.W. Denslow, and they are kind of traditional images for a space-age novel.  (Which is not a criticism--they are lovely.)  And (if you've read the book), it refers to the Wizard of Oz as one of the major plot devices.  But while I haven't read this in any of the reviews, this book seemed to me to be almost a jazz riff on the original story.  Is not the orphan Eva a substitute for Dorothy, Rovender the Scarecrow, Muthr the Tin (Wo)man, and Otto the Lion?  With Besteel the Witch, and a journey to Solas to find the duplicitous Curator Zin?  Or am I reading too much into it?

So this is really my favorite thing about the book.  To me, DiTerizzi is experimenting with how to combine the best of the old--the Wizard of Oz, and even beyond that, the Hero's Journey a la Joseph Campbell--with the possibilities of the new--the computer, web cams, and the World Wide Web.  Maybe it is not fully realized, but I appreciate the attempt to combine the two, which at least raises the issues in my mind about how to best approach this challenge.

No comments:

Post a Comment