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.

giants trolls witches beasts

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

Picture Book Perusal: Skinny Brown Dog

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It’s high time I featured a book with hat-wearing animals and in the absence of a Jon Klassen classic, today I am bringing you new release picture book Skinny Brown Dog by Kimberly Willis Holt and Donald Saaf.   I have not read a picture book that has had such a brain-twisting effect on me for quite a while and I’m still giving my head a good scratch over the underlying themes and issues in this one as we speak.  We received a copy of Skinny Brown Dog from PanMacmillan Australia and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Benny the baker leads a simple life. He makes delicious cakes, cookies, and muffins, and keeps his customers well fed and happy. When a skinny brown dog shows up on Benny’s doorstep, nothing Benny says can convince him to go away. While Benny insists that the dog isn’t his, customers soon grow as fond of the skinny brown dog as they are of Benny’s yummy treats. The children even name him Brownie—the perfect name for a baker’s dog.

Benny starts to wonder what it might be like to have a dog of his own. But it’s not until Brownie comes to his rescue that Benny realizes a dog can make for a very good friend. Full of winning characters (and delicious treats!) from the award-winning Kimberly Willis Holt, this book celebrates a very special friendship.

skinny-brown-dog

On first reading this story, I was immediately reminded of John Brown, Rose and the Midnight Cat, because there seems to be a similar underlying metaphorical suggestion going on here..but I’m not 100% sure what it is.

That appearances are reflective of our attitudes?

The life-changing magic of giving someone a chance?

The importance of following Workplace Health and Safety Guidelines for small business?

I just don’t know!

Happily, while there are obviously layers to peel back within this story, I suspect that the more nuanced of these will go over the heads of younger readers, who will instead end up focusing on the charming and delightful story of friendship and acceptance.

Benny the baker (a bear) is a kind and gentle soul and his bakery is a hub for the community.  When a skinny brown dog turns up outside his bakery, Benny tries, unsuccessfully, to gently move it on.  Of course, no one can resist the lure of puppy dog eyes – especially when said eyes look like chocolate chips – and the dog, who is eventually named Brownie, is taken to heart by the community.  Benny, however, remains unmoved on the point that a bakery is no place for a dog…until an accident happens and Benny does some re-evaluation of what and who is important.

The illustrations bear an endearingly old-fashioned tilt, and evoke the community feel of times gone by, when people visited individual shops to buy their necessary goods and shopkeepers and patrons knew each other by name.  The repeated refrains from Benny – “He’s not my dog!”- and Miss Patterson (an elephant) – “Yes, I can see that” – are suggestive of the knowledge that young readers will have already picked up; that the skinny brown dog is slowly but surely becoming part of Benny’s life.  The ending is no less heartwarming for its predictability and the author has done a wonderful job of allowing Benny (and the reader) ample time to commit to the course of action that he has been trying to put off.

And yet….underneath the simple story of friendship and acceptance is a whole subtext that begs for careful deconstruction by older readers.

The world of Skinny Brown Dog is populated by animals (most of which wear some kind of jaunty hat), and while the majority of these animals talk and take on human roles, the skinny brown dog, who is eventually named Brownie, does not.  Despite the fact that he wears a suit and bowler hat throughout, just like everyone else.

See what I mean about underlying metaphorical suggestion?  There are animals who are obviously meant to be people, but Brownie, who is also dressed as a person, like the other people-animals, is clearly meant to be an animal.

Except when he’s not.

Like when he hands a dropped purse back to Miss Patterson, using his paw, with a tip of his hat.  Or in the final few pages of the story when Brownie is pictured on his hind legs, whereas previously he has got around on all fours.  Is Benny’s acceptance of Brownie as a friend and companion the catalyst for Brownie’s self-confidence and self-worth, represented by his new, upright stance?  Perhaps now that Benny is really “seeing” Brownie, the carefully constructed facade of Brownie being something “other”, and “not like us” has fallen away.

This is certainly a “more than meets the eye” sort of picture book that can be enjoyed on more than one level.  Much like its unassuming cover, the story itself beckons the reader on into the subtext of the story, to discover and create meanings beyond outward appearances.

The shelf brands Skinny Brown Dog highly recommended reading!

Until next time,

Bruce

Meandering through Middle Grade: Night of the Living Worms…

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Today’s little gem is an illustrated early chapter book that will have all those mini-fleshlings who are ready to move on from such favoured duos as Elephant & Piggie clamouring for more.  We received Night of the Living Worms: A Speed Bump & Slingshot Misadventure by Dave Coverly from PanMacmillan Australia for review, and here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

What’s a bird to do when his sibling is a big-time celebrity? It’s a question Speed Bump has to deal with every single morning, because his brother happens to be the one and only Early Bird. You know, THE Early Bird, who ALWAYS gets the worm! Unfortunately, Speed Bump is a sleepy little bird with a big head and tiny wings who’s worried he’ll never live up to his brother. But he has a great buddy, the ever-hungry Slingshot, who knows how to lift his spirits. Together, they end up on an adventure deep in the nighttime forest, where they’re forced to confront something more terrifying—and slimier—than they’ve ever imagined. It could all go horribly wrong . . . or it could just change Speed Bump’s luck for good.

night-of-the-living-worms

If there’s one thing that draws me back to “children’s” books again and again, it is the unashamed acknowledgement that illustrations and text are made for each other.  Night of the Living Worms sits in that category of books between picture books and chapter books, wherein the author knows that for beginning readers – and indeed, for any reader who enjoys more context around their text – illustrations are essential.  This book is a bit of a combination between chapter book and graphic novel, with no more than a paragraph of text on each page, some of which is encased in speech bubbles, and every page is adorned with eye-popping line art to bring the story to life.

Speed Bump is a good sleeper who lives in the shadow of his older brother, Early Bird.  As we all know, Early Bird gets the worm and for this reason, Speed Bump has to content himself with nuts and berries for snacking on, until such time as he can beat his seemingly unbeatable brother to that elusive worm.  Slingshot is Speed Bump’s best friend and a more stalwart and supportive companion a bird could not wish to find.  When the two decide to take up a foolproof strategy to beat Early Bird to the worm, things don’t go as planned.  There are worms available for the plucking alright, but it turns out that maybe these worms have a plan all their own to defeat Early Bird!

Helped by a collection of forest creatures, Speed Bump and Slingshot must find courage they didn’t know they had and find a way to save the day, before Early Bird meets a nasty, worm-driven end.

This book was heaps of fun to read and the characters are vivid and full of personality.  The nightwalker worms were actually pretty creepy when viewed all together, but there are plenty of laughs throughout the story that will please reluctant readers and those who just want to have fun in their reading.  As an early chapter book, it’s a quick read for an accomplished reader, but for those just starting out on longer books it should provide just enough challenge, as well as plenty of support through the illustrations and use of white space and speech bubbles.  I quite enjoyed a selection of illustrated punny goodness early on in the tale, with various birds making various punny comments to elicit a guffaw or two.

The ending of the book is both exciting and quite fitting for the trouble that Speed Bump and Slingshot went to – as well as for the trouble they got themselves in!  This book also contains a preview of the second book in the series, Night of the Living Shadows, to further hook in young readers and create anticipation.  I’d say this intrepid duo are definitely one to watch if you have a mini-fleshling in your dwelling who is just beginning to tackle longer books, or indeed one that just loves a good comic adventure story with larger than life protagonists.

Until next time,

Bruce

Norse Mythology Never Looked So Good: Odd and the Frost Giants Illustrated Edition…

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odd-and-the-frost-giants

Odd and the Frost Giants by literary all-star Neil Gaiman was originally published in 2008 and made it onto my ever-growing TBR list round about the time I started blogging – so roughly four years ago.  In all that time though, I have never made any effort to actually get my hands on a copy and read it.

That is, until this stunning illustrated edition came along, courtesy of Bloomsbury Australia.

Perhaps it was the “come read me” expression on the giant eyeballs visible through the beautifully tactile cut-out cover, but Odd suddenly jumped straight to the head of my reading queue.  Before I get too caught up in the visual treat that this book provides,  here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Odd, a young Viking boy, is left fatherless following a raid and in his icy, ancient world there is no mercy for an unlucky soul with a crushed foot and no one to protect him. Fleeing to the woods, Odd stumbles upon and releases a trapped bear . and then Odd’s destiny begins to change. The eagle, bear and fox Odd encounters are Norse gods, trapped in animal form by the evil frost giants who have conquered Asgard, the city of the gods. Now our hero must reclaim Thor’s hammer, outwit the frost giants and release the gods .

This rich and layered tale of courage is told with humour and in breathtaking style by two creators at the height of their powers: from the author of modern classics such as American Gods, Coraline and The Sleeper and the Spindle, Odd and the Frost Giants will leave you spellbound. Lavishly produced and packed with Chris Riddell’s glorious illustration enhanced with metallic ink, this is a spectacular and magical gift.

I’m not going to lie to you.  I probably would never have bothered to hunt this book down and read it had it not been released in this gorgeous illustrated format.  I put so many books on my wishlist that unless there is something particularly special about a book (or unless I find it on special – ha ha ha), there are too many new books rushing into my consciousness to bother hunting down one I had a passing interest in a number of years back.

Having said that, there was absolutely no reason for me to be putting off picking this one up because it is a super-quick read, coming in at between 100 and 120 pages, depending on which edition you choose. The narrative style is that of the all-seeing narrator, with Gaiman’s signature quirky wit and there is no filler at all in the plot.  From the moment we meet Odd, all words are directed toward the adventure upon which he is about to embark.  The story itself isn’t anything earth-shattering, being a re-imagining of some aspects of Norse mythology, but it is fast and different and engaging enough to keep younger readers interested throughout.

The illustrations though, are something else.  It seems like Chris Riddell’s work is on every second book cover at the moment – deservedly so, because his style is so distinct – but I did feel a bit as though I was reading The Graveyard Book over again once I opened this one.  Odd and Bod are similar in name and looks, and I kept expecting Silas or some gravestones to pop up here or there!

In terms of presentation, this is a high quality offering.  I’ve already mentioned the cutout front cover design, which, apart from being delightfully chunky, makes for a great game of peekaboo for those of you who are into Instagram and the like:

bruce-and-odd

I think I look quite regal there…

The text is set out on plenty of white space and the glossy page finish makes the book feel a bit luxurious.  Every second page (or thereabouts) is adorned with a full-page illustration, like this:

odd-page-spread-1

Every so often we are also treated to a double-page spread illustration like this:

odd-page-spread-2

…so in terms of this being an “illustrated edition”, you are certainly getting plenty of bang for your hard-earned buck.  The large size of the book means that this is a perfect choice for gifting (for when you want to really impress and show a youngster of your acquaintance that books are cool presents after all), or for family read-alouds, where everyone can crowd around and appreciate the illustrations.

I would highly recommend this edition of Odd and the Frost Giants to readers who like having an experience, rather than just scanning words on a page.  The fable-like quality of the story and the calm, stoic nature of Odd are perfectly complimented by the bizarre characters of Bear, Fox and Eagle, who need the help of a human if they are to escape from the pickle in which they find themselves.  Apart from all that though, this is a book that you can absorb in just a few short sittings, so if, like me, you have had this one languishing on your TBR list for a while, bag yourself this gorgeous edition and jump right in.  You won’t be disappointed!

Thanks again to Bloomsbury Australia for providing us with a copy of the book.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

Bruce’s Reading Round-Up: The “Japan for Younger Readers” Edition…

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We’re off to Japan today to explore some titles ostensibly for those younger than I, with three books for middle grade and young adult readers.  Let’s get amongst it!

First up we have a tome that I bought to satisfy my own curiosity about an emerging juggernaut of popular culture (emerging in the West, at least), the Studio Ghibli creation, Totoro.  Of course, being a Bookshelf Gargoyle, I turned first to see if I could experience the story in the printed word before I resorted to DVDs, and behold, there was a beautifully presented, illustrated novelised version of the film for young readers. Oh look, here it is!

My Neighbour Totoro (Hayao Miyazaki, novelised by Tsugiko Kubo)

Two Sentence Synopsis:

my neighbour totoro

Satsuki and Mei move to a “haunted house” in the country to be closer to their mother, who is residing in the hospital with an illness. After Mei discovers a forest guardian spirit named Totoro, in the nearby woods, Satsuki is desperate to meet him as well.

Muster up the motivation because…

…Not having seen the film, I can’t say whether or not this is a faithful retelling of the film, but on its own it is a delightful story about two sisters and their move to a new, rural village.  As I was reading I was reminded strongly of the innocence and gentle rhythm of an Enid Blyton story, but without the ginger beers.  I was somewhat disappointed that more of the characters from the fandom didn’t appear in the story – only Totoro himself and the Catbus – but the story focused more on Satsuki and Mei than on the magical creatures.  Similarly, many of the illustrations only featured the girls doing reasonably ordinary things.  Overall, I really loved reading the book but in case you are in a similar position as I, the story covers Satsuki and Mei’s growth in their new home, with only the wispiest wisps of foray into the magical forest world of Totoro.

Brand it with:

forest guardians, weeding and planting, bus stops, getting to know your neighbours

Next up is a darkly comic YA offering….

Summer, Fireworks and My Corpse (Otsuichi, translated by Nathan Collins)

summer fireworks and my corpse

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Satsuki is playing in a tree with her friend, when she is pushed off the branch, falls and dies.  She then narrates the tale of how her murderous friend and the friend’s brother attempt to hide her body so as not to get into trouble.

Muster up the motivation for…

…an absolutely ripper quirky little gem of a tale.  Given that this is a translation, I’m not entirely sure if the translation is a bit clunky or the original voice of the story is simply cold and detached.  I thoroughly enjoyed this short tale, in which Satsuki wryly narrates her experience as a corpse, being dragged (quite literally) from pillar to post by her young friends as they try to escape detection.  The older brother character, Ken, is quite nonchalant about the whole situation, and calmly solves problems as one well-meaning sticky-beak after another threatens to ruin the charade.  The events in the book occur in short enough a time so that things don’t become utterly ridiculous and unbelievable, yet there is still a subtle sense of “Weekend at Bernie’s” that underlies the whole ordeal.  The ending is an absolute cracker that I did not see coming at all and threw the rest of the story into a new light.
As an added bonus, the book includes a second, shorter story featuring dolls, ghosts and a young girl working as a housekeeper in the home of a rich widower.  This story actually had my mind working far more than the main one, with a much more ambiguous, but equally satisfying, ending.

Brand it with:

What’s a little murder between friends?, hide and seek, thanks for the memories

Finally, we have a YA historical fiction with a touch of the ole’ swordplay.

Risuko: A Kunoichi Tale (David Kudler)

risuko

Two Sentence Synopsis:

Risuko, “Squirrel”, wants nothing more than to climb, to escape her home life of poverty.  When she is sold to a travelling noblewoman, her life changes beyond anything she could have imagined, and her father’s legacy will place her in danger.

Muster up the motivation because…

…being a historical novel for young adults set in sixteenth century Japan, this is different enough from the typical YA offering to warrant some attention.  It didn’t turn out to be quite what I expected, and the writing felt too American in voice to be really authentic, but there was enough going on here to hold my interest.  Throughout the book there is the mystery to solve of why Risuko has been taken and what it is she is being trained for, and with most of the characters keeping their cards close to their respective chests, the reader is never exactly sure who is trustworthy.  The Korean chef character was my favourite as he is the only one who seems to be exactly who he seems, although his dialogue is burdened with a weirdly Scottish sounding brogue.  The ending, in an enormous departure from the rest of the novel,  is action-packed and laced with emotion.  Overall, this felt a bit unfinished to me, with pacing issues and an oddly detached narrative voice, but will certainly be of interested to those who are prepared to invest themselves in the character and setting from the get-go.

Brand it with:

living by the sword, onward and upward, born to climb

So there you have it.  I hope there’s something in there for you to get your teeth into.  I will hopefully continue the trend of reading more Japanese books this year – I’ve spotted some very enticing little tomes coming out in the next few months, and I have also ordered the picture book rendering of the My Neighbour Totoro films, so I will be able to report back on whether I have learned anything more of this intriguing pop culture phenomenon.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

 

 

 

The Kaboom Kid Series: A “Five Things I’ve Learned” Review…

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Welcome to my brand new review feature! I have thoughtfully titled it the “Five Things I’ve Learned” review and within it I will (in rather obvious fashion) reveal five things I have discovered while reading the featured book!  It’s going to be great.

The books I have chosen are particularly topical at this moment, given that the first test against India has just started as I am writing this and the co-author of the featured books, David Warner, is currently sitting on 77 from 73 balls.  If you have absolutely no understanding of my previous sentence, then I am guessing that you know very little about the sport of cricket.  Or, perhaps, you can’t stand cricket.  Never fear intrepid readers, if you are part of the former group these tomes will introduce you to the sport, and if you are in the second group (of which I am a card carrying member) keep and open mind as you read on.

So today’s offering is the first two books in a new series for 8 – 12 year olds, The Kaboom Kid by David Warner, J.V. McGee and Jules Faber.  These are the next in a current trend for pairing a famous sports person with an author to create series of books that kids – and particularly boys – will enjoy. The AFL did it. Rugby League has just popped out a series featuring Billy Slater (QUEENSLANDER!) and now Cricket Australia are at it.  The books feature loveable larrikin Davey Warner, who loves cricket and can’t get by without his beloved bat Kaboom, his best friend Sunil, and his stinky dog Max.

Let us stride confidently onto the pitch and face the first two balls from this new sporty series, shall we? *Richie Benaud impersonations optional*:

kaboom kid 1  kaboom kid 2

The Big Switch:

Davey Warner and his grade six friends are mad for cricket and just want to play it every moment of the day.  His team has a big game coming up against arch-rivals, Shimmer Bay, so they need to get in all the practice they can.  But when the boys end up in Mr Mudge’s class for this year they know they’ll have to tread carefully – old Mudge hates cricket and won’t allow any mention of it in his classroom. After a run in with class bully Mo Clouter leaves Davey in detention, it looks like all his practice time will be taken up picking up rubbish.  But Davey’s got a brand new trick up his sleeve that he thinks might win them the big match – if only he could get time to practise!

Playing Up:

Davey doesn’t mind practising with his big brother Steve, provided Steve gives up on his constant stream of advice about how Davey can improve his technique.  But Davey will put up with it for now – the selectors for the representative side are coming to Sandhill Flats and Davey wants to make sure that he and his lucky bat Kaboom give a performance that will impress.  When Davey plays a silly stunt in the classroom and Mr Mudge confiscates Kaboom, all his hopes of impressing the selectors goes up in smoke.  Davey cheers up a bit when Steve asks him to play up in the older boys’ team, but without Kaboom, Davey will probably mess that up too.  But Davey hasn’t counted on his teammates ability to band together when the chips are down.

Ah, cricket.  The gentlemans’ game.  The game that inexplicably requires players to stand for hours in the blazing, sunburn-inducing, melanoma-causing, sweaty, sweaty heat of an Australian summer.  Really, who’s idea was the last bit? Surely we would be better off playing cricket in winter. Anyway, you may have guessed by now that I am not the greatest fan of the game of cricket as a spectator sport.  I don’t mind playing it, but watching it is akin to having one’s skin peeled off in 1cm strips by teeny tiny wallpaper scrapers.  In my opinion, anyway.

BUT!

I actually got sucked into these books!

Yes!

I willingly read the first and quite happily picked up the second to continue Davey’s adventures.  And you know what? They actually turned out to be pretty fun little holiday reads! Amazing!  So here’s…..

Five Things I’ve Learned From….

The Kaboom Kid #1 and #2

1. Cricket is far more interesting to read about than to watch

2. The Australian selectors should probably consider including dogs as specialist fielders to improve the test side’s performance

3. Playing by the rules on the cricket pitch is non-negotiable. Playing by the rules in the classroom however, is entirely optional

4. A grumpy old teacher is almost always going to have a hidden passion for some obscure sport or activity that they will then attempt to force upon their students (possibly in response to learning #2)

5. It is actually possible to love cricket so much that you want to play it all the time…although as this is a work of fiction, I’m still not entirely convinced of this

Davey reads like a modern day Ginger Meggs, and the multicultural friendships and the feeling of the cricket lovers being “misunderstood” reminded me very much of that other Australian award-winning, cricket-based children’s novel, NIPS XI by Ruth Starke.  There’s a lot in the books that kids will enjoy – the boys get up to all kinds of hijinks and Davey’s stinky dog Max provides a plenty of comic relief.  I was a bit put off (having sat on the shelf of a few teachers in my time) by the casual blackmail applied by Davey’s team mates to his teacher Mr Mudge, in order to get back a bat that had been confiscated as a punishment for Davey breaking the rules in class.  Not quite sure what Warner is suggesting here, but one would have hoped that fair play in life is just as important as fair play on the cricket pitch.  I suspect kids won’t be beating themselves up over the ethics of that one, though.

The chapters and paragraphs are short and well-spaced and there are illustrations throughout, so the books are visually quite appealing, and not too overwhelming for younger or struggling readers.  The Aussie flavour and slang of the books will resonate nicely with those looking for a read from down our way and I found that you don’t have to know too much about cricket to be able to follow the action in the games.  (*Pointed aside* In fact, the whole first book is based around a trick shot from Davey that I thought was against the rules of cricket.  I have since discussed this with others who are more knowledgeable about the sport than I, and they agreed.  But unless David Warner contributed nothing to this book but his name on the cover, one would assume that  they would have got the rules of the game right and therefore we are all wrong. Input on this would be welcome from others who’ve read the book).

If you’ve got a cricket-mad (or just generally sports-mad) young person around your dwelling who is wandering around bleating about being bored this holidays, I can heartily recommend these first two of the Kaboom Kid series.  They’re quick reads that won’t cause any headaches from requiring too much, and will return plenty of enjoyment.

And they’re completely sun-safe. (Provided you read them in the shade. Or while wearing a broad-brimmed hat).

And they’d fit nicely in a Christmas stocking.

Just sayin’

I received a copy of these books (without even having to ask! They must have assumed that with a name like Bruce it would be unAustralian for me not to enjoy cricket) from Simon and Schuster Australia in return for an honest review.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

An Unseasonal ARC Haiku Review: Santa Clauses…

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Welcome one and all to our unseasonably jolly post! It’s Mad Martha with you today, bringing you an early Christmas present – Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Chuck Groenink!  Despite having verbal first names in common, these two clever blokes have combined their talents to create an eye-soothing Christmas miracle of a picture book, filled with haiku to enhance the poetical pleasure of your preparations for the big, exciting, big, stressful, exciting, big celebration that is Christmas.

The book opens on December 1st, with a haiku-ish weather report accompanied by Santa (in casual attire) amidst a snowstorm of just-delivered mail.  From there we are treated to a haiku a day, covering all the bustle and administrational organisation that goes on at the North Pole in preparation for that night of nights.  Who would have thought that Santa himself is subjected to the trifling annoyances of the season, such as untangling festive lights and replacing faulty bulbs? Other poems inform us that Santa and his Northern folk also partake of the more joyful traditions of the season, including stringing popcorn garlands and sharing favourite Christmas stories beside the fire (or in the barn!).

santa clauses

Advent calendar

of haiku will be our new

yearly tradition

As lovers of haiku, we around the shelf were overjoyed to find this beuatiful new rendering of the familiar lead-up to Christmas type of book.  It’s such a simple idea and a fantastic way to introduce children to this form of poetry.  I suspect parents will enjoy it also, given that it provides a nice break from having to read rhyming stories about Santa repeatedly from September onwards!  So the haiku format was always going to be a winner for us, but the icing on the cake is the amazing quality of illustration that Chuck Groenink has achieved.  The pictures are soft and inviting and but still reflect the mystery and anticipation of the season.  For someone living in the (blistering) Southern Hemisphere, Christmasy books that emphasise the snowiness that we don’t experience here can often feel a little bit annoyingly exclusive, but Groenink’s imagery conveys the comfort of familiar family traditions and the atmosphere of a little community coming together drew us in as something we could connect with, rather than emphasising our lack of cold at Christmas time.

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We at the shelf love this book so much that we are going to buy it in hardcover and begin a new pre-Christmas advent ritual of reading it in the run-up to Christmas.  Much more satisfying than that Elf on the Shelf business. Does anyone else find that Elf a little bit disturbing? Like a little malevolent minion watching all that’s going on…with his eyes…always watching.  It’s all a bit too 1984 for me (the book, not the period in history).  We suggest that you do the same and bring a bit of haiku into the Christmas season.

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole is released on September 1st, so you have plenty of time to acquire it before December!

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

*I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

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A Graphic Novel Double-Dip: Megalomaniacal Cats and the Highschool from Hell…

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Grab your savoury carbohydrate-based snack of choice and get ready to double-dip into the spicy relish of graphic noveldom, for today I have two of the same for your viewing pleasure.  The first is for the grown-ups, while the second is aimed at a YA audience.  Let’s get dipping!

I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin and Benjamin Dewey opens with protagonist Allison Breaking, investigative journalist and owner of the site Breaking News, being contracted to ghost-write the memoirs of someone that she has been assured is very unusual.  Enter Burma, a talking orange moggy, who is on the last of his allocated nine lives and wishes to record all the drama and excitement of his previous eight.  Once Allison gets over the shock of working for a talking cat, she begins to take down all of the fantastical claims that Burma asserts are true – for you see, it seems that Burma, in each of his previous lives, had a damn good crack at taking over the world.  Various circumstances managed to get in the way every time however, leaving Burma to recount his glory days to Allison in the comfort of his mansion-like apartment.  But as Burma’s tales become more outlandish and maniacal, and strange events start to occur around Allison, the question is begged: has Burma put his plans for world domination behind him, or is this just the start of a new Cat Empire?

I was the catDip into it for….

content that you wouldn’t normally find in a graphic novel.  This was an odd reading experience for me because the subject matter and storyline didn’t seem to suit the illustrated format, or rather, were not what I expected based on the graphic novels I usually read.  Admittedly, I only read graphic novels occasionally, but I normally like them to be at least mildly humorous, with a decent smattering of quirky oddness.   This didn’t really fit either of those categories and seemed to me that it would work better as a novella.

In terms of graphic novel-ish elements that one might normally expect, the art is reasonably traditional in style, there’s a fair bit of violence and there’s quite a bit of interesting stuff happening in the background of frames of scenes when Allison is out of doors.  But there’s a lot more story here than I would generally expect and the plot moves reasonably slowly, as Burma recounts each of his eight previous lives (with the same end result each time).

Don’t Dip If…

…you’re looking for a standard, fast-paced story with lots of action and unpredictable twists.  This one unfolds at languid, cat-lying-in-the-sun sort of a pace.

Overall Dip Factor:

Give it a go if you like cats, and need some tips on how to rise up the ranks to Overlord’s Favourite Pet when the inevitable Catpocalypse happens.  Otherwise, if you don’t mind a graphic novel that places the emphasis firmly on the “novel” part, this may be something you’d like to try.

Satan’s Prep by Gabe Guarente and Dave Fox follows unfortunate, young Trevor Loomis who has been sent to a high school in the bowels of Hell due to a clerical error after his untimely (and somewhat embarrassing) death.  As he moves through classes that are by turns humiliating, painful and painfully humiliating, and faces the attentions of demonic bullies, his only hope of release is through earning grades good enough to have him transferred to Purgatory.  After meeting the alluring Persephone Plumm, however, some things, at least are looking up for Trevor.  Torn between his own conversations with Persephone, and his friends insistence that she is a succubus sent to torment him further, Trevor doesn’t know how to proceed.  But sometimes, as Trevor learns, you’ve got to rise against the authority holding you down and become the posthumous hero you were born to be – even if it is only in your own lunch hour.

Dip into it for…

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confirmation that school, no matter where in the greater frame of reality it exists, can sometimes be hell.  This is a funny, fast-paced take on all the staples of school life that reek of horror and suffering including, but not limited to, icky science experiments, rejection by cliques with varying degrees of unsightliness, and dodgeball.  You can’t help but feel sorry for Trevor as he ploughs on through adversity, trying to make the best out of a bad business,  while simultaneously minding his own.  Some of the characterisations are quite clever and nicely reflect the bureaucracy and red-tape for that is present for those still living.  There’s even a feel-good ending that was quite unexpected and tied up the loose ends in a very satisfying fashion.

Don’t Dip If…

…tales featuring hell don’t float your boat.  Also, this is a comical sort of a comic, so if you’re looking for the real-life sort of violence and torment, you won’t find it here.

Overall Dip Factor:

This is going to be a hit with readers in the young adult age bracket.  It’s the kind of story that places a well-worn plot into a setting that has great mileage for putting quirky new twists on a familiar theme.  Trevor is also a very relateable anti-hero and will no doubt become the poster boy for those who just want to get through school with a minimum of fuss – demonic or otherwise.

 

Until next time, my art-loving double dippers,

Bruce

 

*I received I Was the Cat in digital form from the publisher via Netgalley in return for an honest review*

* I received Satan’s Prep in digital form from the publisher via Edelweiss in return for an honest review*

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Waving the Pro-Gargoyle Banner: Two Kid Lit Titles Featuring Everyone’s Favourite Monster…

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Hello all and welcome to a post that’s very close to my stony heart.  Today I have for you two books for the littlies that feature my stony brethren.  Yes, that’s right, at least two authors have loved Gargoyle kind so much that they felt the need to create stories around them.  Admittedly these books don’t feature my sub-genus (the type of gargoyle found only on bookshelves) but all publicity is good publicity as they say.  The two titles through which we will be taking a scenic constitutional are Heart of Rock, a shortish story in a very fairy-tale-ish vein by Becca Price, and middle grade crowd-pleaser, The Gargoyle in my Yard by Philippa Dowding.

First up – Heart of Rock.  I received a digital copy of this title from the publisher, Wyrm Tales Press (great name!), via Netgalley. Thanks!

In this read-in-one-sitting fable, a community of wizards come under attack from hideous Night Mares (ie: flying monster horses, not bad dreams).  In order to save their people from this menace, the wizards carve oversized gargoyles out of stone and bring them to life using a rock that has been formed by nature into the shape of a heart.  After defeating the nightmares, the wizards and gargoyles part on friendly terms.  Years pass and another kingdom falls under what seems like an insurmountable attack.  After hearing of the legend of the heart of rock, a champion sets out to regain it and ensure the safety of his home.  But the gargoyles need the Heart of Rock to survive – whose need will triumph?

heart of rockWhen I first read the blurb for this book I was expecting an epic adventure, so I was slightly surprised to find out that it really is just a short story – only 36 pages of text with some small illustrations throughout.  After readjusting my expectations slightly, I was drawn in by the traditional fairy tale style of narration that Price uses throughout.  The story is quite simple, with the wizards, then the new kingdom, then the gargoyles facing a seemingly impossible dilemma, and then overcoming it.  The plot follows a fairly stable trajectory, with nothing too scary or unexpected occuring.

As a standalone story, I felt it was a bit lacking, but at the end of the book the author notes that this story will be released as part of a collection of fairy-tale style stories.  I think that in that context, it will be well received by young readers and their grown-ups, due to the overall themes of considering the needs of others and working together to achieve shared goals.

I would have liked the gargoyles to have had a bit more personality to them, but the fable style of story-telling didn’t really allow for any in-depth character development.  Incidentally, if Price were to extend this story to a full-length YA title, I’d be interested in picking it up!

Recommended for:

*Parents who will choke on their own words if they have to read “Snow White”, “Cinderella” or “The Princess and the Pea” to their fairy-tale mad offspring one more time

*Early readers who enjoy the familiar style of a traditional fairy tale, but are keen to experience a new storyline

Next up, I have The Gargoyle in My Yard by Philippa Dowding, book one of the Lost Gargoyle series for early middle grade readers.

Twelve year old Katherine has a mother that loves garden statues, but Katherine begins to think she’s losing her mind when she glimpses the new gargoyle statue her mother has bought stomping her prize Asters – in Katherine’s new sneakers, no less.  Even more surprising is the fact that Katherine’s mother knows that the little gargoyle is actually alive!  But now what is the Newberry family to do? With a 400-year-old, grumpy, house-guest scaring, apple munching gargoyle living in your backyard, it suddenly becomes very difficult to host a barbecue or invite little children up the path for Halloween.  Katherine and her family have to figure out a way to keep Gargoth happy before things get out of hand.

gargoyle in my yardThis is such a charming little book.  Katherine is a sensible sort of a kid and I very much enjoyed the twist that got her parents involved in solving the problem of Gargoth.  In fact it’s nice to see a book for kids of this age group in which the protagonist’s parents are (a) living and (b) useful!  Gargoth himself undergoes some poignant character development also as we find out more about his back story and how he came to be stranded in the Newberry’s yard.

This would be a lovely serial  read aloud before bed for kids aged seven to ten. Because the story is reasonably short and manageable, the book would also be a perfect choice for confident readers aged from around nine to twelve. The writing is laced with humour and the imagery is certainly chuckle-worthy at times.  The book would definitely appeal to kids who are looking for a bit of magic and fantasy in their reading and a story that features a not-often-seen fantastical creature.

I also very much appreciated Dowding’s sympathetic rendering of gargoyle history and the often lonely predicaments that we gargoyles find ourselves in.  As a bookshelf gargoyle I am shielded from much of this in that I spend much time surrounded by humans and small, domesticated animals, but for those of my species that live out-of-doors (or on top of doors or as knockers on doors) the sense of being overlooked can become overwhelming.

Do something compassionate. Smile at a gargoyle today.

As this is also part of a trilogy, I will be putting books two and three on my TBR list forthwith.

Recommended for:

* kids who have sophisticated taste regarding preferred mythical creatures in their reading

* anyone looking for a fun, light read that also has some poignant moments and pathos

So there you have it.  If there are any other Gargoyle-ish books out there, I’d love to hear about them so that I can add them to my list.  It always pays to keep abreast of what the humans are putting out there about us.

Until next time,

Bruce

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For the kid inside the grown-up suit: Nurturing one’s jaded inner child…and a Fi50 reminder!

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Afternoon thrill seekers! Today I’ve got some special picture books to share with you … particularly if you are feeling the weight of the world pressing down upon your worthy and attractively shaped shoulders.  But before that, here’s a reminder for the Fiction in 50 crowd!  Fi50 for March will kick off on Monday and our prompt for this month is:

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If you want to join in all you have to do is come up with a piece of fiction or poetry or whatever in 50 words or less then link up to the linky that will be in Monday’s post, or leave your link in the comments.  For more detailed instructions, click on the button at the top of this post.  We had some new faces again last month and it was a lot of fun seeing the creative interpretations of “Love in the Time of….”  So light the fire of those creative cannons and get those powder monkeys working double time!

But on to the picture books….you know what I love? Coming across a book that is clearly written for adults, but is sneakily packaged in picture book format to trick the unwary into thinking that it’s just kid’s stuff.  Today I have two such sneaky tomes of which I’d like to make you aware.  These are definitely for the inner child who has been a bit neglected and downtrodden and needs a bit of solace and support.  Let’s all take a moment to consider our neglected inner child.  Poor little guy. Or girl.  *sniff* Sad book

First off, here’s the poignant, powerful and just plain awesome Michael Rosen’s Sad Book by Michael Rosen (obviously) and illustrated by Quentin Blake.  If you have ever suffered from depression or know someone who has, you NEED TO GET THIS BOOK.  It is possibly the most accessible and authentic and user-friendly explanation of the ebb and flow of experience for a person with depression that I’ve ever come across.

In simple and compelling prose, Rosen describes how his behaviour changes when he feels “sad” and how his experiences of grief and loss have contributed to this state of affairs and how sometimes his sadness has nothing to do with anything that he can pinpoint….it just “comes along and finds you”.

The illustrations and colour palette perfectly compliment the tone of the book as it moves from powerlessness to hope.  Get it. Do. You won’t regret it and it may resonate (if you’re beholden to the black dog) or enlighten (if you’re blissfully untouched by such a mental illness).

Next up is a book I happened across at the library and was caught by the intriguinhappily ever afterg title…Happily Ever After is So Once Upon a Time by Yixian Quek and illustrated by Grace Duan Ying.  The beautiful cover art also drew me in and I wanted to know what this book was about.  On reading the first page, in which the narrating little girl asks, “Will Prince Charming and Snow White still love each other after ten years? Does anything ever last?” I decided that I had to find out more.  So the book was duly borrowed to be perused at leisure.

The first half of the book consists of the little girl asking fairly bleak sorts of questions in the same vein as those on the first page.  She questions the hype and hyperbole of the “happily ever after” delusion and in rather depressing fashion, notes that “happiness, like bubbles, burst all too quickly.”

“So why is this a book to nurture one’s already-doing-it-quite-tough inner child, Bruce?” I hear you cajole.  Well, it’s the second half of the book in which things pick up.  After a bit of mournful introspection, the little girl seems to take a turn into a bit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and decides that happiness is hers to access, provided she has the right mindset.

All up, it’s an odd little concoction, but certainly worth it for the beautiful illustrations alone.

Right then. Enough faffing about with this nurturing business…I suggest you set that inner child to work creating a masterful piece of sensitve, inspiring fiction. In no more than 50 words.

See you on Monday!

(Oh and don’t forget to enter the two giveaways I have running right now. One finishes today so be quick! Click here or here)

Bruce

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