Sunday, October 19, 2008

Reader's Diary #403- Pierre Berton: The Secret World of Og

Pierre Berton's The Secret World of Og is probably one of my biggest disappointments this year.

When I first discovered that he'd written a juvenile fiction book about a race of underground green people that could only say "Og" I was beyond intrigued. It went straight to the top of my wishlist and a couple Christmases ago, my wife got it for me for Christmas. While I kept putting it off and putting it off, I continued to see heaps of praise for it. Recently, I decided to finally get around to reading it and I covered one chapter per night reading it aloud to my five year old.

I thought it stunk. I found it terribly dated (cowboys and cap guns?) and sometimes questionably inappropriate (a near lynching of the little boy Peter ends with a noose around his neck). Of course, Berton could be given credit for portraying children's imaginations accurately-- in every scenario my friends and I created as kids they ended with one of us "dying" (eyes closed, tongue hanging out).

I found it to be a very tedious read. Often, right in the middle of the action, Berton would get sidetracked with a character's background which seemed far more suited to the style of an adult or young adult novel than the children at which it was supposedly aimed. Take, for instance, when Patsy falls into a river:
Patsy had been the first of the children to learn to swim, just as she was the first in many things that required agility. Most important of all, she had been the first to learn to cross her eyes, a feat which was greatly admired by the others but which sometimes unnerved old gentlemen. They would pat the child on the head and remark..."
Wait, is she still in the river?

Worst of all, background history as in the paragraph above, just seem to make the book overly personal and private. Berton apparently wrote this for his own children, who make up the main characters of the book. I know a lot of authors draw from their own children for inspiration but The Secret World of Og seems to be filled with minute details that only the Berton children would fully appreciate. At times I felt like I was watching a stranger's family slide show. Yawn.


Wanda said...

What did your daughter think of the book?

John Mutford said...

Wanda: Good question, seeing as she's more of the target audience. She's been pretty quiet about it. Seeing as I'm not keen on it, it would be easy for me to read that as ambivalence or even that she didn't care for it. We often discuss books, but it usually comes natural. In this case, after reading your question, I had to go and ask specifically. It didn't give me much to go on. Did you like the book? Yes. Did you have any favourite moments? All of it. Was there any parts you didn't like? No. Did you like it as much as "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" and "Buunicula"? (We read these recently.) Yes, I liked them all the same.

So there you have it. She's not ready to start a bookblog any time soon.

richard said...

I confess to having loved Og as a child (age 8? 9?) and reading it several times. But I haven't gone back to it since, and I wouldn't be entirely surprised to have it feel dated for me as well.

Bybee said...

I never heard of Pierre Berton until that

Anonymous said...

Oh, this is something to take into consideration since I, too, have heard nothing but praise for the book (until now) and always planned to buy it some day.

John Mutford said...

Richard: At least you'd have nostalgia working in your favour.

Bybee: Which song? "My Baby Loves A Bunch of Authors"?

Imani: I know, I feel like I've snowed on everyone's parade.

Wanda said...

John: I have three children, I know all about one word answers. (i.e.: "Anything interesting happen in school today, what did you learn?" verses "How was school?" always get better results!)That is why I asked what your daughter 'thought' of the book, not if she liked it. I was a little concerned after reading your review. As mentioned, I have this book tucked away ready to give to my daughter next week for her 8th birthday. I haven't read it myself and wasn't planning on reading it with her. After reading your little one's "review", I'm feeling much better about giving this book as a gift. My youngest also read and loved "The Mouse and the Motorcycle" and has just started "Bunicula". Great books to measure against; we shall soon see if "Og" holds up at my house...

Thanks for asking your daughter and posting results. :)