The Song of Seven: A Read-it-if Review…

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read it if NEW BUTTON

If you are a fan of classic children’s literature of the style of C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien and even Enid Blyton (and let’s face it, who isn’t?) then I will be pleased to introduce you to another author who definitely belongs within the ranks of these writers, but of whom you have probably never heard.  Today’s book is The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt, which was first published in 1967 under the title De Zevensprong, in the original Dutch.  We were lucky enough to receive a copy from Allen & Unwin for review – a copy which Laura Watkinson has ably translated for its release in English and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

At the end of every schoolday, new teacher Mr Van der Steg entertains his pupils with tall tales of incredible events, which he claims really happened to him – involving hungry lions and haunted castles, shipwrecks and desert islands. One day, when he can’t think of anything suitably exciting to tell them, he invents a story about a very important letter which he’s expecting that evening, with news of a perilous mission. Evening arrives and so, to his surprise, does an enigmatic letter…

And so Mr Van der Steg is drawn into a real-life adventure, featuring a grumpy coachman, a sinister uncle, eccentric ancestors, a hidden treasure, an ancient prophecy and Geert-Jan, a young boy who is being kept prisoner in the mysterious House of Stairs. Although the treasure rightfully belongs to Geert-Jan, his uncle is determined to seize it for himself. As Mr Van der Steg, with the help of his pupils, sets out to rescue the boy, he becomes more and more entangled with the strange history of the Seven Ways, the House of Stairs and the powerful Conspiracy of Seven.

 

the-song-of-seven

The Song of Seven by Tonke Dragt.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 23rd November, 2016.  RRP: $29.99

 

Read it if:

*you are a fan of classic old children’s literature in the vein of C. S. Lewis’s early Narnia tales

*you can’t go past a story that involves a tricky riddle, a grand old house and getting out of school work to listen to stories

*you are the type of person who, when a complete stranger turns up to your house in a mysterious coach in the night and tells you to hop in, would probably put down your hot chocolate, kick off your bunny slippers and climb aboard

*you’ve ever been invited to an illicit party that really brought the house down

After having put Dragt’s The Letter for the King and The Secrets of the Wild Wood on my TBR list when they first came out, but never having got to reading them, I was excited to see The Song of Seven released, not least because it’s a standalone novel.  It took me a couple of chapters of delightfully vintage-feeling prose before I looked at the publishing information to find that rather than just being vintage-feeling, the text actually was vintage!  I must applaud Laura Watkinson, the translator, for recreating that nostalgic tone of great children’s literature of times gone by in this contemporary English release, because the story just oozes retro charm.

The most interesting thing about this book for young readers is that the protagonist, Frans van der Steg (or Frans the Red, as he calls himself when telling stories to his class) is an adult, and more than that, a schoolteacher!  It’s so rare to find contemporary children’s stories that aren’t told from a child’s perspective these days that it certainly made the book immediately stand out for me as something different, and perhaps even timeless, as no doubt to a child, an adult is an adult is an adult, no matter what historical period you find them in.  In fact, apart from the supporting cast of Frans’ class and Geert-Jan, the boy confined in the House of Stairs, all of the main characters are adults.  This collection of unlikely  companions makes up a group of conspirators, who are invested in dealing with the prophecy connected with the House of Stairs, and Geert-Jan himself.

While the vintage tone of the book was definitely refreshing and cosy to fall in to, I did find that there were a lot of chapters in which not a lot happened.  The author seems to delight in leaving Frans the Red in the lurch, and just when it seems he is about to make a breakthrough regarding the conspiracy, his fellow conspirators decide not to tell him, or something happens to ensure that the next key piece of information is left dangling, like a carrot on a stick, for Frans and the reader to chase.

Once Frans makes it into the House of Stairs as Geert-Jan’s tutor, however, the pace begins to pick up and we are treated to yet more oddball adult characters, as well as a setting that must be seen to be believed.  The climax of the tale comes together quite quickly and it is an exciting and unexpected ending that balances out the slower pace of the first half of the story.  Throughout the book there is a definite sense of magical realism lurking behind the ordinary happenings, the fact that one of the characters is a magician notwithstanding.  Even though I wouldn’t class this as a typical fantasy book, there is an undeniable undercurrent of the uncommon and extraordinary between the lines of each page.

If you have a confident, independent reader in your dwelling who isn’t afraid to solve a riddle, and wishes that their classroom teacher would spend a good portion of each day telling stories, then you should definitely nudge The Song of Seven in their general direction.  If you are an adult fan of books for young readers and you love a book where the magic is in the nuance of the story, then I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Eclectic Chaos” Edition…

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I’ve got five books for you to chase down today, from middle grade adventure to adult paranormal to non-fiction art and photography, so saddle up, get your eye on your quarry and let’s hunt those tomes!

Tree Houses Reimagined: Luxurious Retreats for Tranquility and Play (Blue Forest & E. Ashley Rooney)

*We received a copy of Tree Houses Reimagined from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  treehouses-reimagined

Did you have (or yearn for) a treehouse as a kid?  This book is a collection of imagination-expanding treehouses featuring child-like creativity and adult engineering.

Muster up the motivation because:

If you love to browse Pinterest or other sites for inspirational images, then this book will be one you’ll want to “pin” to your coffee table for easy access.  The book features a diverse collection of actual treehouses from around the world (although mostly in the UK) that have been designed to reflect the imaginings of their owners.  Some look like fantasy castles with turrets, while others are designed to blend into the environment.  Quite a number feature those metal slippery slides of old that would take the skin off the back of your legs on a hot day.  The images also show the interiors of many of the treehouses, noting their special features. It was quite fascinating to read about how the builders had to use special techniques to place the foundations of the treehouses without disturbing the root systems of the trees.  It also includes lots of architectural drawings and floor plans of the featured houses.   I really wanted (and expected) to love this book and hoped it would fire my imagination and provide me with a warm fuzzy feeling that these places truly exist, but instead I became more and more irritated by the fact that the majority of these treehouses are owned by rich people and therefore beyond the reach of the average person ever to attain.  The further I read, the more bitter I became, until by the end I was angrily swiping the pages and thinking, “Keep your damn treehouses, Richie Rich!” If you are not as small minded and bitter an individual as I am, you’ll probably enjoy this tome.

Brand it with:

Up where we belong; hangin’ out; fun with timber

The Ferryman Institute (Colin Gigl)

*We received a copy of The Ferryman Institute from the publisher via Netgalley*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  the-ferryman-institute

Charlie is a Ferryman – a guide charged with catching souls as they die and guiding them towards their individual afterlife – for over 200 years and has never failed on an assignment.  When, during a fairly simple assignment he is faced with a hitherto unencountered choice, Charlie must decide whether to take the opportunity presented to him or carry on with the status quo.

Muster up the motivation because:

As “afterlife” stories go, this one is well-constructed with a deeply considered world.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find it to have the pace and action to go with the deeply considered world and DNFed at 34%.  While I found the first part of the story and the set-up of the institute and its patrons, and Charlie’s surprise choice, quite interesting, the author continually slowed down the action by introducing Charlie’s philosophical issues with his life as a Ferryman through extensive chunks of dialogue with his colleagues.  I certainly feel like I was reading long enough to have covered far more than 34% of the story.  The book flicks back and forth in time and place, opening with the events that lead to Charlie being presented with an unexpected choice, and then swapping between Charlie’s life at the institute and the events in Alice’s life that lead to her being moments from death, and a major factor in Charlie’s fate.  For me, this was a slow-burner that I just wasn’t prepared to be patient with.

Brand it with:

Key in the door; decisions, decisions; change of career

The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey (Carlo Collodi & Alessandro Gallenzi)

*We received a copy of The Adventures of Pipi the Pink Monkey from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Ten Second Synopsis:  pipi

Pipi lives with his monkey family in the jungle and happens to be pink.  This isn’t the only thing that sets him apart though – Pipi is the most mischievous monkey you’ll ever meet!

Muster up the motivation because:

This is a re-branding of Collodi’s (of Pinocchio fame) Pipi stories which were originally published in the early 1880s.  The tone of the stories exudes that old-fashioned feel, with the language reminiscent of Blyton or your standard fairy tale, with a dash of Roald Dahl.  Pipi really is a naughty little monkey; a risk-taker who isn’t afraid to break the rules if doing so will satisfy his curiousity.  Young readers will find plenty to giggle about in Pipi’s tricky adventures, and parents will be pleased to see that Pipi gets his comeuppance a few times, though it is never enough to put him off his next bout of mischief.  There are small illustrations peppered throughout the text (by Axel Scheffler, no less!) but I would have liked to have seen more of these to make the book a little more accessible for youngsters.  The final pages of the book include some easy-to-read information about Collodi’s life and works (including a hilarious letter from the author to his young fans about the importance of keeping your word), the characters in Pipi, and a quiz about the events of the book.  If you are a fan of classic stories (or would like your mini-fleshlings to become so), this is a quality revision of the original tales, with added extras to entice the youngsters in.

Brand it with:

Monkey business; truth and fibs; classics reimagined

Fizzlebert Stump and the Great Supermarket Showdown (A.F. Harrold)

*We received a copy of Fizzlebert Stump from Bloomsbury Australia for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  fizzlebert

Fizzlebert (Fizz to his friends), member of a travelling circus, finds himself in an unexpected position when the circus is sold to a local supermarket.  Will Fizz and his friends be able to use their special skills to serve the supermarket – or is there a way to return to the circus?

Muster up the motivation because:

Fizzlebert Stump delivers plenty of offbeat humour and general silliness and if you are a fan of the humorous stylings of folk like David Walliams, you should find plenty to enjoy here.  I was quite relieved at the book unexpectedly beginning with Chapter Four, given that it made me feel like I had made progress before I had even started reading, but this is cleared up in due course and the book re-starts at Chapter One.  Having not read the earlier five books in the series was not a problem thanks to the very thorough narrator (who interjects at regular intervals to take the reader off at a tangent) thoughtfully presenting a concise recap of important things to know about Fizz and the circus.  Essentially, this story features a blackmail attempt that results in the circus folk being forced to work as cashiers, packers and night staff at Pinkbottle’s supermarket, with predictably ridiculous results.  Luckily though, Fizz and his friend Alice are on the case and all ends well, provided you consider police officers being shanghaied into impromptu circus acts a satisfying ending.  The book is peppered with black and white illustrations throughout, and the general presentation is designed to inspire fun and reflect the chaotic and quirky life of Fizz and his circus family.  If you have a mini-fleshling who is at chapter book level and loves stories featuring silliness and slapstick, the Fizzlebert Stump series, and this offering in particular, could be a savvy choice.

Brand it with:

No business like show business; the daily grind; this place is a circus

Quest of the Sunfish: Escape to the Moon Islands #1 (Mardi McConnochie)

*We received a copy of Quest of the Sunfish from Allen & Unwin for review*

Two Sentence Synopsis:  quest-of-the-sunfish

In a world suffering the effects of rising sea levels, Will and Annalie live a simple existence with their father Spinner.  When Spinner must suddenly disappear to avoid capture by the Admiralty, Will and Annalie discover that there was more to their father than they could ever have imagined.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is an adventurous story set in a world that has adjusted to rising sea levels and the unexpected loss of livelihood and lifestyle.  The book begins with an exciting scene in which Spinner has moments in which to escape from mysterious people coming to get him and Will is left in the dark as to what is happening and why.  His sister, Annalie, ensconced at her fancy boarding school, is questioned by members of the Admiralty as to her father’s whereabouts, and it is obvious to both siblings that their father is in danger.  Being a general fan of seafaring stories, I expected to enjoy this one but I ended up DNFing at page 77, after about ten chapters.  I could see that the adventure part was about to get underway, but the pace was moving too slowly for my liking so I made the decision to leave the story there.  The author has gone to a lot of trouble to set up the world and the characters, but I felt that there was too much “telling” rather than “showing” going on and I couldn’t conjure up any imagery of the world as I was reading to anchor me in the story.  I suspect I could have enjoyed this more if I had no competing reads to compare it with, but after an interesting opening few chapters, this one didn’t measure up for me.

Brand it with:

Salty seadogs; environmental disaster; escape!

So, me hearties, which of these titles will you be rounding up today?

Until next time,
Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

Yarning with Mad Martha about…the Edgar books (+ a free crochet pattern)!

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yarning with mad martha_Fotor (2)

Cheerio my dears!  If you are a fan of the delightfully macabre Edgar Allan Poe, then today’s books are sure to have you quivering with excitement!  Recently we managed to get our paws on some books that have been on our TBR list for a while and just as we suspected, they were a hit with the shelf-denizens AND the mini-fleshlings!  edgar and the cover_Fotor

I speak of the Edgar series of books, part of the Babylit range by Jennifer Adams, that introduces the tiniest of fleshlings to literary classics.  While most of this range are in the form of primers, the Edgar series bumps things up a bit, with more text, a story loosely based on the originals and a gorgeous pair of protagonists that you can’t help but fall in love with….and of course, recreate in yarnful glory.

The first book in the series is Edgar Gets Ready for Bed, inspired by Poe’s famous poem, The Raven.  Following on from this we have Edgar and the Tattle-Tale Heart and most recently, Edgar and the Fall of the Tree House of Usher…I’m pretty sure you can guess the titles of the poems upon which these last two are based.

edgar gets ready for bed

edgar and the tattle tale heart

tree house of usher

Sadly for us, our library only had the second two books in the series, so we’re still hanging out to read about Edgar and getting ready for bed (“Nevermore!”) but the second two books were hugely enjoyable.  The older mini-fleshling particularly loved the Tree House of Usher with its initial “No Girls Allowed” theme, while the younger mini-fleshling enjoyed seeing Lenore (Edgar’s younger sister) finally receive the recognition that she deserved.

edgar face to face_Fotor Even if you haven’t read the original poems (in which camp I fully admit to sitting), the stories stand well in their own right.  For those who are more familiar with Poe’s work however, you will find plenty of motifs in both the text and Ron Stucki’s darling illustrations.  The books are available in paperback and hardback as well as board book (our favourite!) formats, so there will be a perfect edition for mini-fleshlings of any age.  We’d definitely recommend Poe fans and Poe fans-to-be check these out (either with your eyes, or from the library – we did both!) at your earliest convenience!

edgar on a bust

Edgar quickly found a bust on which to perch

 

Now, on to the crochet pattern!  I will admit that this pattern may have a few small errors in it, as I tried to render Edgar’s head and  body in one single piece, rather than attaching a beak separately.  The pattern is written in US crochet terms because that’s how I learned first.

What you will need:

Black yarn

Small amount of white yarn

3.5mm crochet hook

Stitch marker

Pipe cleaners or thin wire

Scissors

Yarn needle

Head, beak and body

Using black yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6 sc in the ring

  1. 2sc in each sc around (12)
  2. *2sc in the next sc, sc* repeat x 6 (18)
  3. Sc in the next 6 sc; 2sc in the next 6 sc; sc in the next 6 sc (24)
  4. Sc in the next 8 sc; ch 1, turn (8)
  5. Repeat round 4 (8)
  6. Repeat round 4 (8)
  7. Sc in next 8 sc, then continue in the round sc in the next 16 sc (24)
  8. Sc2tog; sc in the next 4sc; sc2tog, ch 1, turn (6)
  9. Sc in next 6 sc, ch 1 turn (6)
  10. Repeat round 9 (6)
  11. Sc in next 6 sc, then continue in the round sc in the next 14 sc (20)
  12. Sc2tog, sc in the next 2 sc, Sc2tog, ch 1, turn (4)
  13. Sc in the next 4 sc, ch1, turn (4)
  14. Repeat round 13 (4)
  15. Sc2tog, sc2tog, ch1, turn (2)
  16. Sc in the next 2 sc, ch 1, turn 90 degrees (2)
  17. Sc down the edge of the beak and continue with 1 sc in each sc and back up the beak, back to the point of the beak
  18. Repeat round 17
  19. Repeat round 17
  20. Repeat round 17
  21. . Sc in the next 8 sc (place a stitch marker here!), sc in the next 18 sc, SKIP the stitches that make up the beak, slip stitch in the sc with the stitch marker. Stuff the head a little here if you wish. (26)
  22. 2sc in the SAME sc, sc in the next st; *2sc in next sc, sc in the next sc* repeat 5 times (27)
  23. *2sc in the next st, sc in the next sc* repeat 6 times (41)
  24. Sc in each sc around (41)
  25. Repeat round 24
  26. Repeat round 24
  27. Repeat round 24
  28. Repeat round 24
  29. *Sc2tog, sc in the next sc* repeat 6 times (27)
  30. *Sc2tog, sc in the next sc* repeat 6 times (18)
  31. *Sc2tog, sc in the next sc* repeat 6 times (12)
  32. Stuff the body and head here.
  33. Sc2tog repeat 6 times (6)
  34. Sc around (6)
  35. Fasten off leaving a long tail. Using the yarn needle, weave the tail through the last round of sc, pull tight, knot and snip remaining tail off.

Finishing the beak

Using the yarn needle and black yarn, whip stitch the open stitches at the bottom of the beak together.  Tie off and snip remaining yarn away.

Tail

Using black yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6 sc in the ring.

  1. Sc in each sc around (6)
  2. Repeat round 1 eight more times
  3. Flatten the tail, fasten off leaving a long tail and attach to the back of Edgar’s body at a jaunty angle.

Wings (Make 2)

Using black yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6 sc in the ring.

  1. 2sc in each sc around (12)
  2. Repeat round 1, three more times
  3. Flatten, and sc across the opening
  4. *Ch 6, sl st in the next sc* repeat 3 times
  5. Fasten off and attach to Edgar’s body, with chains facing tail.

Eyes (make 2)

Using white yarn, make a magic ring and crochet 6sc in the ring.  Sl st into the first sc.  Close the ring tight, fasten off and stitch onto Edgar’s face.  Use black yarn to embroider pupils.

Hair

Using two short strands of black yarn, surface slip stitch to the top of Edgar’s head.  Knot and pull tight.

Legs (Make 2)

Cut your pipe cleaner or wire into two short sections of about 1.5cm.

Using black yarn, ch 1, sc over the pipe cleaner until your pipe cleaner is covered in sc stitches.

Ch 6, attach to the final sc on the pipe cleaner with a sl st. Repeat twice more.

Fasten off and attach leg to Edgar’s body firmly.

edgar and brucey_Fotor

I hope that these instructions are easy enough to follow.  Of course, if you’d like to make a little Lenore to keep Edgar company (as well as to keep a beady eye on him!) you can follow the pattern above and just add a small bow to the head.

Until we meet again, I am,

Yours in yarn,

Mad Martha