The Maniacal Book Club Reviews….Lilliput!

3

manical book club buttonToday you, the Book Club and I will follow along with Gulliver on a little side-track from his famous Travels and muscle in on an adventure and daring escape with Lily, a feisty Lilliputian with a no-holds-barred attitude to getting away from her giant captor and making it safely to her diminutive home.  We gratefully received a digital copy of Lilliput by Sam Gayton from the publisher via Netgalley.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Inspired by Gulliver’s Travels, Lilliput is an exhilarating adventure filled with cunning escape plans, evil clock makers, and very talkative parrots. Join Lily as she travels through 18th century London over rooftops, down chimneys, and into chocolate shops on a journey to find the one place in the world where she belongs…home.

lilliput

Now let’s turn it over to the Book Club!

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

When the world looks small, perhaps it is time to consider it from a new perspective. What Gulliver did, he did out of ignorance and wonder, never considering how his actions may affect young Lily. Can we really blame her for wanting to return to her home? We can learn a lot from Lily’s adventures but it is to Finn Safekeeping, Lily’s stalwart friend, that we must turn to find the real gentle hero of this tale. It is in him that we can claim the redemption of the big people. If we were all a little more like Finn Safekeeping, we might use our wasted minutes for the benefit of the little people in our world.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothless

No dragons in this book. There is a talking parrot but, who is pretty funny and says funny things in Spanish. There’s a scary clockmaker with a scary, nasty watch and it cuts up Finn’s arm. Finn was my favourite. He’s pretty brave. There’s a brave bird called Swift too. I would have carried Lily back to Lilliput but she didn’t ask. It would have been good to have a dragon in this book.

 

Mad Martha

maniacal book club marthaHome!

Not too big, not too small.

Just right for a feisty, angry girl,

Imprisoned by giants.

Nothing will stop her.

Not time. Not fear. Not pain.

Fly Swift, fly!

For home!

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

Lilliput was an out-of-the-box, pleasant surprise for me to say the least. Not having a particularly in-depth prior knowledge of Jonathan Swift’s famous tale about Gulliver, or indeed any particular interest in finding out about the same, I requested Lilliput solely on the striking, atmospheric beauty of the cover art and the promise of a (slightly) familiar tale told from a new perspective. I found this book to be a deeply engaging and action-packed story about freedom, friendship and perseverance against all odds.

Lilliput is aimed at a middle-grade, or even slightly younger, audience but I think it will have a much wider appeal due to the strong, fairy-tale style of the narrative and the promise (for adult readers) of an adventure based on a familiar and much-loved story. The events of Lilliput occur after the events of Gulliver’s Travels and Gulliver has essentially kidnapped Lily and brought her back to London in an attempt to prove that his travels actually happened. The action moves apace throughout the book, beginning with Lily’s unsuccessful escape attempts from a birdcage in Gulliver’s study, to a dynamic and dangerous ending that requires the combined efforts of all of Lily’s new friends to pull off.

I appreciated the way that Gayton did not shy away from portraying the less attractive features of his characters. Gulliver is portrayed as a cruel kidnapper, Lily can be truculent, vituperous and hot-blooded, the clockmaker is violent and conniving and even a group of three little girls, to whom Lily falls victim, are by turns grubby, sly and unfeeling. Finn Safekeeping really is the hero of the story in my opinion and provided a foil for the baser aspects of humanity portrayed in the other characters. With Mr Ovinda and his jive-talking parrot providing the comic relief, this story really does have everything you could want in a neat little package.

The story has the feel of a traditional fairy-tale in some parts due to the realism with which Lily’s plight is portrayed. She is not simply a funny little fairy person in an uncomfortable new home – Gayton has deftly drawn out the real emotions behind Lily’s imprisonment and her desperation to return to her loved ones before time catches up with her. This aspect of the book would be a great conversation starter for young readers about perspectives and needs in our own world, particularly with regard to displaced peoples and indigenous populations.

The short chapters and eye-catching illustrations also add to the appeal of the book and overall I think this would be a wonderful choice for adult fans of Gulliver’s Travels to read with their offspring.

The Book Club gives this book:

image image image image

Four thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang)

 

 

A Picture Book Oddity: The Princess and the Fog…

1

image

If I was looking for a picture book featuring some odd elements, say, for an Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge, then today’s book would surely top them all. Or at least most of them.  I am submitting today’s book, The Princess and the Fog by Lloyd Jones, which I received from the publisher via Netgalley, under the categories of Odd Title, Odd Subject Matter and Odd Character.  That made your eyebrows raise in slight awe, didn’t it?  And so it should.

Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Once upon a time there was a Princess. She had everything a little girl could ever want, and she was happy. That is, until the fog came…

“The Princess and the Fog” is picture book to help sufferers of depression aged 5-7 cope with their difficult feelings. It uses vibrant illustrations, a sense of humour and metaphor to create a relatable, enjoyable story that describes the symptoms of childhood depression while also providing hope that things can get better with a little help and support.

The story is also a great starting point for explaining depression to all children, especially those who may have a parent or close family member with depression. With an essential guide for parents and carers by clinical paediatric psychologists, Dr Melinda Edwards MBE and Linda Bayliss, this book will be of immeasurable value to anyone supporting a child with depression, including social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, counsellors, arts therapists, pastoral care workers and school staff, as well as parents and carers.  

princess and the fog

So let’s go through the checklist:

A title that’s a play on words? Well that’s odd.

A book about depression aimed at 5-7 year olds? Don’t see too many of them around!

A main character who’s a princess? That’s not odd at all.  But a princess with clinical depression?!

AWOOGA!AWOOGA!

That’s the Oddity Alarm ringing at all 5 bells.

As soon as I read the blurb of this book, I simply had to request it, despite the fact that I Really. Don’t. Like. Princesses.

Not the real life ones. I’ve got nothing against Kate Middleton. I certainly don’t have a bad word to say about Mary of Denmark (she’s from Tasmania, don’t you know?).

But I really dislike princesses in literature*. That goes for any age, any style, any kind of princess. I think they’re overused, undercharacterised and I simply don’t understand why they’re promoted as some kind of idol for young girls.

But I put that aside because here was a picture book about depression written for small children.

Essentially in this tale, the princess has a normal, princessy life of happiness, until one day she doesn’t. There’s no reason why she shouldn’t be as happy as she was before. Nothing has particularly changed. But she doesn’t feel like doing the things she used to enjoy. She doesn’t feel like playing with her friends like she used to. Generally, she just doesn’t feel much of anything good.

The author has done a wonderful job here using metaphor and the evocative illustrations to present to children the feelings associated with depression. I’m sure any child who has experienced depression themselves (or seen it in someone close to them) will definitely resonate with the creeping sadness that is represented by the Fog and the ways in which it absolutely changes the Princess.

As the friends and family of the princess gather round and support the princess against the Fog in whatever ways they can, the princess slowly begins to come back to herself. By the end of the book, there is hope that the princess can once again experience the happiness she had at the start of the story, with the understanding that with help, the Fog can be kept mostly at bay.

I’m not entirely convinced that the end of the book is as strong as the beginning in the way it draws young readers into the world of the depressed person, but this is such a difficult topic for adults, let alone for young children. I applaud the author for addressing such a tricky topic and I think that this book will be a great conversation starter for little ones about depression and, importantly, the things that friends and family can do to support someone who isn’t behaving like themselves.

This is definitely worth a look if you work with early years-aged children in any kind of caregiving or educational capacity.

Progress Toward Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge Goal: 10/16

Until next time,

Bruce

*The only exception to my dislike of princesses in literature (or on television) is the northern-accented, pillow-case wearing lass from the UK children’s show Little Princess. Partly because it’s narrated by Julian Clary and partly because her accent is brilliant, her parents are frumpy and she doesn’t wear pink.

 

 

A KidLit Haiku Review: The Snowbirds…

3

 

image

It’s Mad Martha with you today for another haiku review, so plump up your feathers (or feathered pillow) and join me in my wintry foray into a  fable-esque tale for youngsters, set in Japan and including elements of Russian legend: The Snowbirds by Jim Fitzsimmons.

Here is the blurb from Goodreads:

In a small Japanese mountain village, young Shoji enters an ice carving competition. He soon finds he has a rival in Orochi, another boy in the village, who tries to sabotage Shoji’s entry, but with the help of his family Shoji creates a most beautiful Snowbird.

When the other ice carvings are revealed they discover that Orochi has stolen Shoji’s idea and has also carved an equally beautiful Snowbird. The judges cannot decide the winner of the competition so they announce that the result will be declared the next morning.

During the night Jack Frost discovers the two Snowbirds and thinks one of them will make an ideal companion for his Grandfather Frost, the Snow King. At the same time Shoji, anxious for the safety of his Snowbird, sneaks out of his house and meets Jack Frost who explains his plan. Shoji agrees to let him have his Snowbird, but they are both interrupted by the arrival of Orochi who demands payment in return for his.

Jack Frost brings the Snowbirds to life and tells them they must travel to the North Pole where his Grandfather will choose one of them to be his companion. On their journey they meet different characters and encounter many difficulties until they both finally arrive, but which one will be chosen? Jack Frost has a cunning idea to help his Grandfather decide…

 

the snowbirds

Adversarial 

actions lead to hard choices

Noble heart thaws ice

Fitzsimmons has developed an original and interesting story here, but at the same time it feels incredibly familiar due to the style of writing that can only be described as a fable.  I think this style will appeal both to grown-ups, who will appreciate a new and different “fairy tale” to read to their youngsters, and to children, who will be assisted into independent reading by the familiarity of the format.  At only 78 pages (in the digital version), the story is also very attainable for younger readers who are venturing into reading on their own.  The tale is very atmospheric, with the wintry surrounds leaping off the page through the descriptive writing and I could almost feel the snowflakes as I read.  The descriptions of some of the scenes, and of the snowbirds themselves are quite beautiful and lend themselves to easy visualisation for the reader.  I can certainly imagine youngsters and their grown-ups wanting to hop onto Google to have a look at some real ice sculptures after reading these sections.

Kids will love to despise the odious Orochi and his devious and spiteful actions towards Shoji’s delicate creation.  I’m sure they will also relish the fact that Orochi’s snowbird bears an incredible resemblance in personality to its maker.  The story is illustrated with line drawings that give a sense of naivety and reflect the tone of the story.

I was quite surprised at how quickly and how easily I became engaged in the story.  Not being a massive fan of traditional fairy tale formats, I appreciated the way that Fitzsimmons has mixed old and new.  The interesting setting helped me engage in the story also, as did the fact that the story was devoid of princesses.  I think parents and carers will really like the strong family bonds represented in Shoji’s family and the emphasis on perseverance,  truthfulness and generosity underlying Shoji’s actions.

If you are a fan of fairy tales and fables, The Snowbirds is well worth seeking out to add to your collection.

Yours in wintry, icicle-laden magic,

Mad Martha

 

A Seasonally Spooky Haiku Review: A Christmas Horror Story…

6

image

It’s Mad Martha with you today ready to scare the pants (and other assorted items of clothing) off you readers with the spine-tingle-inducing creepy novella that is A Christmas Horror Story by Sebastian Gregory.  At only 160ish pages, this is the perfect antidote to cutesy seasonal cheer for all you Grumpy Cats out there.  I received a digital copy of the book from the publisher via Netgalley.  As I’m a bit pushed for time at the moment, busy, as I am, spreading cutesy seasonal cheer (in 30+ degree heat) I have used the blurb from Goodreads.  Allow yourself to be drawn in, my little pretties….

On the night before Christmas, lock the doors to the house…

Forget the jolly old man in his red, big-buttoned suit. Because another creature is up on the roof, preparing for his annual visit to little children everywhere.

With a belt of knives round his waist, a writhing bag on his back and a Santa-sized appetite, he’s a little…different to the St Nick you might be expecting.

And you can leave out all the carrots and mince pies you like…but it’s you he’s after.

A horrid Christmas to all, and a terrible night.
christmas horror story


Coal in your stocking?

He’s coming for YOU my dear

Take your last mince pie

I love a good seasonal terror-fest as much as the next monster – remember we brought you Chris Priestley’s Christmas Tales of Terror last year? – but this little gem really ups the ante in the look-over-your-shoulder-because-that’s-not-Santa-behind-you stakes.  I thoroughly enjoyed this atmospheric little tale about three siblings, who, being left alone on Christmas Eve due to their mother’s working schedule, come under threat of the Child Eater – a festive imposter of legend who (rather obviously) eats children while calling out (less obviously) in German in a sinister monster voice.

I won’t go into too much detail because the story is so short to begin with, but the two best parts of this for me were the very ambiguous ending and the continuation of the Child Eater’s legend throughout history.  If you are a fan of things that eat children – and let’s face it, we are all acquainted with at least one little pill who we would happily see swallowed up by a Christmas monster – then this little tale will be the perfect bite-sized festive horror experience.

I was unaware while I was reading this that I had very recently attempted another of Sebastian Gregory’s works, which I abandoned for reasons that will become obvious if you read my Goodreads review, but if you read this one and enjoy his style, you may want to check out The Boy in the Cemetery also.

Until we meet again, may all the fat guys coming down your chimney be benign in intent,

Mad Martha