Gabbing About Graphic Novels: Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts…

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If you are like me and find fairy tales and their retellings a mite tedious without some innovative new twist or format, then you will heartily appreciate Craig Phillips eye-poppingly viewable new collection, Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten Tales from the Deep Dark Wood.  This beautifully presented, large format book contains ten fairy and folk tales from around the world in graphic novel format.  We received our copy from Allen & Unwin for review and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Diverse myths and legends from around the world, from Iceland to Poland to Japan, retold in easy-to-read glorious full-colour comic book form by a stunning Australian artist with an international reputation.

A cobbler girl tricks the Wawel Dragon, after all the king’s knights fail…
The Polar Bear King loses his skin…
Momotaro, born from a peach, defies the ogres everyone else is too scared to face…
Snow White and Rose Red make friends with a bear…

From Poland to Iceland, Japan to Germany, these ten fairytales from across the globe re-told as comics will have you enthralled. Giants! Trolls! Witches! Beasts! You will encounter them all in this visual cornucopia of a book.

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Giants, Trolls, Witches, Beasts: Ten Tales from the Deep, Dark Woods by Craig Phillips.  Published by Allen & Unwin, 26 April, 2017.  RRP: $24.99

Target Age Range: 

Lower Primary to adult

Genre:

Traditional fairy/folk tales

Art Style:

Cartoon realism

Reading time:

Rather than ripping through the whole thing as I normally would with a graphic novel, I read one story a night until I had finished the book.  This worked really well, because it gave me time to consider and absorb each story before moving on to the next. (So, to answer the question, it took me ten days to get through it).

Let’s get gabbing:

I love graphic novels and I am lukewarm-to-openly-hostile toward fairy tales, so one might expect that I would find my enjoyment of this book to be fair to middling, but the strong illustrative element has swung this one for me.  It seems, on reflection, to be an absolute no-brainer to liven up oft-told stories like fairy tales with vibrant illustrations but the use of full page illustrations in different frame layouts along with the traditional fairy tale style text and dialogue works incredibly well to flesh out the details and atmosphere of each story.  Some of the stories here, such as the tale of Baba Yaga, the story of Snow White and Rose Red and the myth of Finn McCool will be familiar to many readers, but mixed in with these are less typical (if you are from a European background, anyway) stories, such as Momotaro, the peach-boy and the tale of the Polar Bear King who is forced to wear a fleece of feathers.

The graphic novel format is just genius because it instantly broadens the audience of the book.  Teenagers, or older reluctant readers for instance, who might roll their eyes at the thought of reading fairy tales could easily pick up this tome without embarrassment and become absorbed in the visual appeal of the stories.  The text is in that traditional, sometimes a bit convoluted, fairy tale style and so might be a bit tricky for the lower end of the intended audience, but taken with the illustrations, this book has high appeal to a whole range of reading ages.

Overall snapshot:

I would absolutely love to see a follow up tome to this one from Phillips, with folk tales from an even wider range of cultures because the format is so readable and can so easily transfer between read-alone for confident readers, to read-aloud in a group setting, to read-together between parents and children snuggled up before bed.  What an innovative new way to present some old classics that we feel like we’ve all seen before.

Until next time,

Bruce

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Utopirama: Hygge – Living the Danish Way

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If ever there was a time that needed a bit of added cosiness and sheltering from the winds of doubt and division, I think we can all probably agree that that time is now.  We see ourselves as contributors to the peace and unity of the world here on the Shelf and to that end, allow me to introduce you to Charlotte Abrahams new offering, Hygge: A Celebration of Simple Pleasures, Living the Danish Way.  Don’t be alarmed though, for this is not another quick-fix, self-help, de-clutter-and-you-will-be-happy sort of book – quite the opposite in fact – but an exploration of the Danish concept of hygge and how it may contribute to the fact that Danes often top polls about the happiest nations on Earth.  We received a copy from Hachette Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Candlelight is hygge; the smell of freshly brewed coffee is hygge; the feel of crisp, clean bed linen is hygge; dinner with friends is hygge. ‘Hygge’, pronounced ‘hoo-ga’, is a Danish philosophy that roughly translates to ‘cosiness’. But it is so much more than that. It’s a way of life that encourages us to be kinder to ourselves, to take pleasure in the modest, the mundane and the familiar. It is a celebration of the everyday, of sensual experiences rather then things. It’s an entire attitude to life that results in Denmark regularly being voted one of the happiest countries in the world.

So, with two divorces behind her and her 50th birthday rapidly approaching, journalist Charlotte Abrahams ponders whether it’s hygge that’s been missing from her life. Is it a philosophy we can all embrace? In a society where lifestyle trends tend to centre on deprivation – be it no sugar, no gluten, no possessions – what does cherishing yourself actually mean? And will it make her happy?

In Hygge, Charlotte Abrahams weaves the history of hygge and its role in Danish culture with her own attempts, as an English woman, to embrace a more hygge life. In this beautifully written and stylishly designed book, she examines the impact this has on her home, her health, her relationships and, of course, her happiness.

Light a candle, pour yourself a glass of wine, and get ready to enjoy your more hygge life.

hygge

Quick Overview:

Hygge is simple, hygge is person-centred, hygge is conscious enjoyment of things we find life-giving.  Hygge dispenses with guilt and deprivation in favour of full enjoyment of an experience while it is happening.  Given that this is a book exploring the Danish concept of comfort, cocooning and design that contributes to a happier life, I can only think that the author and publisher must consider it a success that I found the reading experience to be remarkably hyggelige indeed!  Even the cover of the book, which features some delightfully tactile felt trees reflects the mindset that happiness involves enjoying the moment – and if the moment you are in currently involves reading a book, why not make that book inviting to hold, to physically demonstrate how a simple, everyday thing can be turned into something special and pleasurable?

Abrahams is an Englishwoman researching the concept and lifestyle of hygge and therefore is an outsider, looking in on a practice and mindset that is intrinsic to being Danish (it appears), yet foreign to the rest of us.  In that respect, she has done a wonderful and accessible job in laying out the ideas behind hygge and its physical manifestations, given that we don’t even have a word for the conceptual whole she is describing in the English language.

The book is divided into a series of sections relating to the different aspects of hygge, beginning with the people-centred design behind many Danish objects – from furniture to lampshades to public spaces – and moving on to ways in which hygge manifests in peoples’ social connections and guilt-free indulgences.  In between examples of the ways in which Danes create hygge in various situations are interludes in which Abrahams examines her own life and describes her attempts to make small changes here and there to bring about a cumulative and conscious experience of heightened happiness.

Given that the Danes experience weather that is practically polar opposite (literally, I suppose) from that found in Queensland, some parts of the book relating to cosiness and retreat from raging frost and snow seemed a bit unattainable for Australian climates (which is probably why Australians didn’t come up with the concept of hygge), however Abrahams has done a great job of laying out the concept in a way that allows the reader to apply it to their own situation.

As I mentioned, reading the book – slowly, chapter by chapter – felt really hyggelig to me.  Even though reading multiple books is something I do every day, I don’t necessarily take the time to consciously note and enhance my reading experience if I happen to enjoy a book.  Inspired by Abraham’s small efforts, I ended up finishing this book while swinging in a hammock on the deck of a Queenslander, while jacarandas bloomed in front of me and a light breeze ruffled my stony ears.  Hygge! Australian style!

Utopian Themes:

Guilt-free experience

Mindfulness

Shelter from the storms of life

Companionship

Equal Participation

Protective Bubble-o-meter:

protective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubbleprotective bubble

 

 

 

 

 

Five out of five protective bubbles for the liberating experience of telling deprivation-freaks to sod off; that you’re ditching the ascetic, paleo, fun-free dinner out for a glass of whatever you fancy and time spent with people you actually like

Until next time,

Bruce

Small Fry Safari Challenge Haiku Review: Mirror…

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small fryBonjour my lovelies, it is Mad Martha with you today for a haiku review that is doubling as a submission in the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge.  If you haven’t yet heard about this fantastic and very user-friendly challenge you can click on the attractive button to the right.  If you’d like to take a peek at some of the other challengees’ submissions, you can find them helpfully collated here.

I am pleased to submit the very first entry in category two, which in my opinion is the trickiest of the lot: a book with a piece of furniture in the title.  My submission is Mirror by Jeannie Baker.  I submit it under the sub-clause that a mirror is a furnishing, and therefore fits the category. Hey, it’s my challenge and I can bend the rules if I want to.

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If you haven’t yet encountered Mirror (or indeed, any work by Jeannie Baker), then you, my dear friend, are missing out, for this particular work is a triumph of artistic and conceptual design.  The wordless picture book follows the story of two young boys – one in Sydney, Australia and the other in the Valley of Roses in Morocco.  In an ingenious twist however, the story follows the boys simultaneously across four pages, with each single page folding out to a double page spread, as pictured below.  **Please note that the TARDIS pictured was merely being used to aid in keeping the pages still and has no relation to the events depicted in Mirror. As far as I know, anyway.**

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In this way, the daily activities of each boy and his family are displayed side by side in glorious detail. On one side, information is displayed in English and on the other, Arabic, and so the book really reflects the concept of “two sides to every story”.  Throughout the book keen-eyed readers are treated to Baker’s trademark collage art and the opportunity to search for repeated motifs across the boys’ activities.  Apart from being a visual treat, the book is also a brilliant starting point for discussing similarities in the lives of those who seem, on the surface, to be living in very different contexts.

So here is my haiku:

Holding a mirror

to our preconceived notions

inspires reflection

 And here’s some more of the artwork to whet your appetite:

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 Now, I suggest you pursue this title without delay! And there’s still plenty of time to sign up for the Small Fry Safari Kid Lit Readers Challenge – it’s only eight books in total that you have to read to be able to say you have conquered the Safari!  Join us on the Safari bus, we’d love to have you along.

Ta-ra my dears,

Mad Martha

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Adult Fiction Review: The Bone Road…

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Morning me hearties! Today I have a book for the grown ups.  It was released a while back, and I remember picking it up at that time but for some reason I didn’t get very far into it during that attempt.  This time however, I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley (thanks!) and I was hooked after the first few chapters.  I give you…The Bone Road by Mary Holland.

In The Bone Road, we are first introduced to Rhona and Jak as they attend to the burial rites of their mother and grandmother respectively.  In the culture of those who travel the Bone Road, the dead are placed in the ground beside the road and left to return to the soil, and become part of the road that gives life to the Wid and the Zeosil who travel and camp along it.  Rhona then, must decide whether she will continue her mother’s work as a divvy – a woman gifted with the ability to sense life in the unborn, and to predict whether the child will be born a Wid, a Zeosil or a Shun (unable to breed) – and how she will fulfil her mother’s death bed task.  With unforseen danger closing in all around, Rhona will have to use all her resolve to fight for her place in a changing society.

 

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Now, first let me say, this is a complex book.  I was trying to decide whether to give it a Read-it-if review or hand it over to Mad Martha for haiku-reviewing, but neither of those seemed to fit this story, so I’m just going to do a plain old review.  (Never fear though, emergency protocols have kicked into place since this event and the hasty formation of the Maniacal Book Club has occurred to deal with such odd books out in the future!).

There is so much going on in this book.  In fact, I have got so used to reading kid lit and lighter adult fare, that I didn’t realise how hefty a read this was going to be…but I really didn’t notice the time I was spending on it because I was so engaged with the story.

Basically, the book is told in a number of parts that span many years – initially, Rhona and Jak stop in at a major camp and Rhona takes the decision to form a life partnership with Matteo, a Shun, whom she has loved for many years.  In the culture of the Wid and Zeosil, Shun people are a sort of untouchable class, and Rhona’s decision causes shock and some measure of outrage in the camp.  The initial part of the book deals with this circumstance, as well as Rhona’s attempts to put to rest the task that her mother gave her on her deathbed – to find and warn a lander woman (a person living in a settled community) named Selina about “the Rider” and the dangers he poses to the stability of Wid and Zeosil society.  The second part of the book…well, I can’t tell you much because it would be a big spoiler…but it focuses on Selina and her attempts to take revenge on a person in her household who has wronged her.

Essentially, The Bone Road tells the tale of a society that is in flux.  The travelling culture of the Wid and Zeosil is coming under threat from landers who are gaining more power and control of the Bone Road.  New alliances and enmities are being formed between Wid, Zeosil and Shun, and new ways of thinking about the Shun are causing friction within the travelling community.  So amongst all the action, there is a tangible thread of social commentary running through the novel.  There’s also a fair bit of violence, a bit of romance, a bit of mystery….a bit of everything really!

I would recommend this book for those who like a light fantasy – and by that, I mean where the fantasy is in the building of a different world, rather than in magic and mythical creatures.  I would also say that this book would appeal to those who enjoy women’s lit (I’d say Chick Lit, but there’s almost a disparaging twang that goes along with that term…) and stories set in worlds in which women have a dominant role to play.  Finally, I’d say this would be a great choice for those who like novels that fully explore relationships – between individuals, and also between communities.

This felt to me like a long read, even though it comes in at under 400 pages, simply because there is a lot going on.  There’s a lot of cultural information that needs to be explained, which may account for some of that lengthy-feeling, but also there’s a lot of complex things happening.  It’s certainly a book to pick up when you have time to spare, so you can really focus on slipping into the world and the culture and taking it all in.

Until next time,

Bruce