A Maniacal Book Club Review (and Top Book of 2016 Pick!): The Girl Who Drank the Moon…

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Well, we all agree – today’s book is a Top Book of 2016 pick!  

Bruce's Pick

The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill is a delightfully original fantasy tale for middle grade readers featuring dragons, swamp monsters, magic, abandoned babies and a whole lot more.  We received a copy from the publisher via Netgalley for review, but were unprepared for the complex and well-plotted story upon which we were about to embark.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and deliver them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey. 

One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule–but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her–even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.
girl who drank the moon

And here’s what the Maniacal Book Club have to say on the topic…

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

If a baby is left in the forest and no one is around, will anyone hear its plaintive cries?  That depends on who you ask, according to the stories passed down in the Protectorate and the Free Cities. Perhaps it will be heard by a witch.  Perhaps a saviour.  Perhaps its heart-broken mother.  If you were to ask a Guru, he might say that a special child like Luna will always find a way to have her voice heard by the people who matter.  Even if that voice is silenced by loss and witchery.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

 

THERE IS A DRAGON IN THIS BOOK!!!!  Fyrian is the dragon and he is tiny and funny and he is Luna’s pet but before that he was Xan’s pet.  Xan is the witch and Fyrian calls her Aunty Xan.  There is a sad story about what happened to Fyrian’s family but I can’t tell you what it is because Bruce says that would be spoiling it.  Even though Fyrian is really tiny he turns out to be important in the end.  I really liked Aunty Xan too and especially Glerk.  Glerk is a swamp monster and also a poet.

I think kids who love adventure and dragons would like this book.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Under the moon, 

in a dark, hidden forest,

a baby is taken from her home.

Under the moon, 

in a dark hidden forest, 

a girl finds a home.

Under the moon, 

in a dark, hidden forest,

a girl makes a home

in her heart.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruce

It’s a tricky thing these days to find a book – in any genre, for any age group – that feels like a breath of fresh air.  The Girl Who Drank the Moon, while using some familiar themes from children’s literature, feels like it has been put together in a wholly new way.

The story is a complex mix of fantasy, family drama and socio-political tussle that plays out over the span of Luna’s young life, culminating in a satisfying finish in which the inner doubts and flaws of various characters are realised, overcome (in some cases) and incorporated into new lives, and we witness Luna’s transition to almost-adulthood.

There are a great range of original characters here, from Xan, the “witch” who does what she deems to be right despite not understanding why a certain city continues with a bizarre and seemingly useless ritual; there’s Glerk, the swamp monster who was born at the beginning of the world (or did he birth the world at the beginning?) and is Xan’s firm friend and resident poet; and Fyrian, the tiny dragon who thinks he is enormous and seems capable of nothing but pure love and joy for his odd little family.  There is also an unexpected villain (about whom I shall say no more in order not to spoil things), a desperate, grieving mother who becomes far more than the madwoman she is branded to be and a pure-hearted, and a pure-hearted ordinary man who loves a pure-hearted ordinary woman and wants nothing more than to live a peaceful life in the bosom of his family.

Reflecting on this one, I can see some underlying themes of integrity in the midst of confusion, standing up for what’s right, even if it means standing alone, and the fact that great suffering can, in some cases, find great healing, given time and the right circumstances.  While these themes aren’t laboured by the author, their inclusion gives this story depth and raises it above the level of your typical middle grade fantasy adventure.  There are real lives playing out in this world of magic, and it’s a wonderful thing for authors to trust that young readers can handle difficult topics if they are presented with authentic characters.

I highly recommend this to adult readers as well as younger ones, as the story is one that defies being labelled with a particular age-grouping.  We definitely suggest having a crack at this one if you are a fan of magic and fantasy in a context that doesn’t discount the need for characters that feel real and deep and developed.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

 

The Maniacal Book Club Reviews…Captain Pug!

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I hope you’re ready for cuteness overload today because the Maniacal Book Club is pleased to introduce you to an adorable (and hardy!) little protagonist who will likely steal your heart, as well as your jam tarts.  I speak of Captain Pug: The Dog Who Sailed the Seas, who is making his debut in a delightfully illustrated early chapter book by Laura James and Eglantine Ceulemans.  We received a review copy of Captain Pug from Bloomsbury Australia and he has immediately become a favourite of the eldest mini-fleshling in the dwelling.  But let’s find out more about this intrepid Pug!  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Pug is going on a seafaring adventure. He’s had jam tarts for breakfast. He’s wearing a smart sailor suit. There’s just one problem. Pug is afraid of the water!

Captain Pug is the first book in a glorious new illustrated series for fans of Claude and Squishy McFluff.

Captain Pug

How could you not love that sweet little puggy face?  Here’s what the Book Club think:

Guru Dave

maniacal book club guru dave

What does it take to follow one’s dreams? Courage, persistence and a sense of adventure.  What does it take to follow the dreams of one’s owner? All of the above plus a fancy hat.  We can learn much from the tenacity of young Captain Pug, who presses on despite a fear of water, to fulfill the hopes of his fine Lady Owner.  We can also learn much from Pug’s experiences in the gastronomic field – namely, the truth of that old piece of household wisdom about refraining from swimming (or indeed sailing) immediately after eating.

To0thless

maniacal book club toothless

There were no dragons in this book.  There is a cool little dog who tries to be the captain of a boat but he keeps getting seasick because he eats everything he sees.  I liked the two Footmen who had to carry the dog’s owner around in a chair.  I can imagine Bruce in a chair like that.

The ending is pretty exciting, with helicopters and a big ship and I really liked all the pictures.

Pug is pretty funny but I hope there’s going to be a Pug book with a dragon in it soon.

Mad Martha

maniacal book club martha

Captain Pug, oh Captain Pug!

Cute as a little red ladybug.

He keeps up his morale as he sails the canals!

Hits the right note while in a rowboat!

Proves no pug is finer while on a cruise liner!

Captain Pug, oh Captain Pug!

There’s no other dog we would more like to hug.

Bruce

While I’m not entirely smaniacal book club bruceure about the technique involved in Mad Martha’s poem, I do have to agree with her sentiment about just how charming Captain Pug is in this attractively presented little tome.  I am always a little skeptical of advertising material that insinuates that a reader will love this new book if they are a fan of an already published author or work, particularly when all the stories have in common is the fact that a dog is the main character.  The media release that came with this book indicated that it would be lapped up by fans of Aaron Blabey’s morally bankrupt picture book hero, Pig the Pug, presumably due to the pugginess of Captain Pug.  The eldest mini-fleshing in the dwelling, at five years old, is a massive fan of the aforementioned Pig, but I wasn’t sure he was going to enjoy this one simply because it had a pug on the cover.  Allow me to be the first to admit my ill-placed skepticism however, because after watching the read-aloud of this book (which took only two sittings) the mini-fleshling was already asking how long he would have to wait before the second book (Cowboy Pug) comes out. *January 2017, for those who are interested!*

So after a slightly apprehensive start, I freely confess to being won over by the fun, charming, humorous adventures of this cute little pug (who of course looks even cuter in a sailor hat).   One of the best things about the book is that it is illustrated throughout, with pictures placed strategically around the text.  This was an enormous boon to the mini-fleshling, as he is not quite ready for pictureless read-alouds but can handle listening to longer bits of text when there are pictures to help him keep up with the story.  The book also makes clever use of fonts and text enlargements to aid the newly confident reader.

The first few chapters moved a bit more slowly than I would have liked, setting up Lady Miranda (Pug’s owner), her life of luxury, and her dreams for Pug to achieve glory as a charmingly attired sea captain.  The second half of the book moved a lot quicker as Lady Miranda and Pug inadvertently become separated and Pug must face the trials of overcoming his fear of water in ever more precarious (and amusing) situations.

I would heartily recommend Pug’s first outing as an engaging read-aloud or read-together for those taking their first steps into longer books or for more confident readers who love a bit of silliness and a whole lot of beguiling illustration.

The Book Club gives this book:

  imageimage

Eight thumbs up!

Until next time,

Bruce

Death or Ice Cream? A Maniacal Book Club Review and International Giveaway!

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Welcome to today’s Maniacal Book Club Review and giveaway! Today’s book is one that I have wanted to get my grubby claws on ever since I first saw it and I was lucky enough to be sent a review copy by Allen & Unwin (thanks Onions!)…but by that time I had already bought myself a copy, on account of not wanting to have to wait around like a chump to read it.  So that extra copy means….GIVEAWAY!  More about that in a minute.  I haven’t even told you what book you could be winning.

It is Death or Ice Cream? by Gareth P Jones, who brought you such middle grade gems as Constable and Toop and the Ninja Meerkats series.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Larkin Mills: The Birthplace of Death!

Larkin Mills is no ordinary town. It’s a place of contradictions and enigma, of secrets and mysteries. A place with an exquisite ice cream parlour, and an awful lot of death.

An extraordinary mystery in Larkin Mills is beginning to take shape. First we meet the apparently healthy Albert Dance, although he’s always been called a sickly child, and he’s been booked into Larkin Mills’ Hospital for Specially Ill Children. Then there’s his neighbour Ivor, who observes strange goings-on, and begins his own investigations into why his uncle disappeared all those years ago. Next we meet Young Olive, who is given a battered accordion by her father, and unwittingly strikes a dreadful deal with an instrument repair man.

Make sure you keep an eye on Mr Morricone, the town ice-cream seller, who has queues snaking around the block for his legendary ice cream flavours Summer Fruits Suicide and The Christmas Massacre. And Mr Milkwell, the undertaker, who has some very dodgy secrets locked up in his hearse. Because if you can piece together what all these strange folks have to do with one another . . . well, you’ll have begun to unlock the dark secrets that keep the little world of Larkin Mills spinning . . . 

death or ice cream  Want to win a copy?  Just click on the Rafflecopter link! Ts & Cs are in the entry form.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

And here’s what the club thinks of it:

Guru Davemaniacal book club guru dave

Inspired by the title of this book, I too am called to question.  What is life? What is death? Is death the final ending for we mortals or does such a thing exist that can restore the dead to life? Is it likely that such an object could be related to poultry? The ending of this book raised more questions for me to ponder.  Not all the questions raised in the story were answered by the end.  This book should only be given to those who are willing to shut off the television and open their eyes.  Unless, of course, the competitive basket weaving championships are being televised.

Toothless

maniacal book club toothlessThere are no dragons in this book.  But there is a super-cool egg and a creepy guy with hooves and a wax museum and a guy stuck in a statue.    I really liked Park.  She’s a cool, funny, brave girl who has to figure out some of the mystery.  It would have been better if the egg was a dragon’s egg. Kids who aren’t afraid of some really weird stuff should read this book, especially if they want something different with lots of murder and sneakiness and strange ice cream flavours.

Mad Martha

There once was a being called Larkin maniacal book club martha

Your doorstep just pray he won’t darken,

He joined up with Mills

In a battle of wills,

And a townful of oddness they’ve sparkened.

Bruce

maniacal book club bruceWhat a strange and refreshing ride this book took us on!  I haven’t been this impressed with a book’s genre-bending originality since Ishbelle Bee’s John Loveheart Esq series for grown-up readers.  While Death or Ice Cream? doesn’t reach that level of carnage and mind-twistery, this is definitely not a book for young readers who are faint of heart, or who are used to middle-grade books that follow a traditional narrative format.

The  book begins with a series of seemingly unconnected chapters featuring various residents of Larkin Mills, including (my personal favourite) Olive and her unwanted accordion and Ivor and his missing artist uncle.  At first reading, it appears that these chapters could possibly stand alone as representations of the oddness of Larkin Mills, but the further one delves into the novel, the easier it is to see the links between the earlier chapters and the book’s climax, which ends up reading more like a traditional story format.

In order to appreciate this book, the reader needs to have acquired a taste for dry, dark humour and not be too bothered by unpredictable turns of events.  For this reason, this book will not appeal to every reader in the target age-group, but if you are looking for something different for a sophisticated upper-middle grade- or early-YA-aged fleshing of your acquaintance, you should definitely leave this lying around in their eyeline.  Having said that, it’s a great choice for adult readers looking for something layered, irreverent, quirky and fun.

The Book Club gives this book:

  imageimage

Eight thumbs up!

I’m also submitting this book for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge hosted by Escape with Dollycas:

alphabet soup challenge 2016

You can check on my progress in that challenge here.

Until next time,

Bruce

The Case of the Cursed Dodo (The Endangered Files #1): A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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image manical book club button

It’s time for another gathering of the Maniacal Book Club and this time we have an offering that will also fit comfortably into category two of the Oddity Odyssey Reading Challenge: books with an odd author.  For you see, this book is penned by a Giant Panda. Who happens to be a detective.  The book also fits quite nicely into category three (books with odd subject matter) as the noir style is not one often seen in books for middle-graders, nor is the fact that the story is written in the format of a chaptered screenplay.  So pretty odd all round, I should think. Allow our discussions about this odd little contender to sway you towards taking a walk on the wild side.

Jake G. Panda is a bit of a loner.  The in-house detective at the Last Resort, a hotel refuge for endangered species, attracts trouble like spilled sugar attracts ants.  When Jake gets a phone call from his Professor friend that is cut suspiciously short, the detective hightails it straight to the last known deserty whereabouts of his friend to get to the bottom of things.  Captured by a smuggling cartel, Jake and an unlikely band of fellow endangered animals escape and return to the Last Resort to sort out the mystery of a lost suitcase and a jade Dodo.  But at least one familiar face from Jake’s past has got there first.  Can Jake keep his wits about him and unravel this age-old mystery or will some double-crossing creatures rain on his parade?

the case of the cursed dodo

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Ah, the panda. So alone and yet, he pretends to enjoy his lonely existence. So it must be for many who find themselves endangered.  The message then, is to lean on one’s friends, to see one through the tough times.

But at the same time one must beware upon whom one leans – because the smiling face of a friend could simply be a mask behind which a deadly assassin hides.

Or perchance not.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book.  But there were some cool lizard-type guys and a really cool snake.  That’s close enough I suppose.  There was lots of action and animals being captured and escaping and stealing things and swapping stuff around.  There was lots of mystery which was pretty cool.  And there are some nasty rats.  I would have liked to eat the rats.  Jake G. Panda seems like a cool customer.  Maybe he can take me on his next case.

Mad Marthamaniacal book club martha

Take some advice

from the school of hard knocks,

Should you move to the desert

Take sand-proof jocks.

 

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I was surprised by the originality of the format of this book.  When I heard this was pitched at middle-graders, but had a noir flavour, I wasn’t sure how the author was going to pull it off.  Noir is not my favourite narrative style, and I wondered how the gritty overtones would suit a book for a younger audience.
I needn’t have worried.  The book is written like a screenplay, with most of the noir elements contained in Jake’s introspective voiceover monologues.  These all have a bit of a tongue-in-cheek vibe and there’s plenty of dry humour throughout the book, as well as a few slapstick scenes thrown in for good measure.  Reflecting on it, it reminded me of movies like the Naked Gun, but aimed at kids.

For the most part I enjoyed the twists and turns and the action-adventure scenes throughout the book, but I felt that the inclusion of an old flame of Jake’s around about the middle of the book slowed things down a bit and I’m not sure how that storyline will appeal to young readers.  Other than that though, there are thrills, spills, mystery and mayhem and a whole slew of obscure endangered animals to whet the curious appetite.

This series of books is something really different for this age-group and the illustrated format and the interesting narrative style will no doubt have fans of Jake G. Panda holding their collective breath for the next instalment.

Overall Rating:

imageimageimage

(Noir of any kind is not Mad Martha’s cup of tea)

Oddity Odyssey Challenge Progress Total: 1 of 16 books

Until next time,

Bruce

 

 

How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

Welcome young and old to another meeting of the Maniacal Book Club.  Today we have a book for middle grade readers who are not afraid to be scared right out of their swimming pools.  We received How to Rid Your Swimming Pool of a Bloodthirsty Mermaid by Mick Bogerman through the Goodreads First Reads giveaways and how grateful we are to have been introduced (albeit through book number two) to this action-packed, thrill-filled story of monsters, mayhem and malevolent mermaidery.  This book is part of the Slug Pie Story series, which began with How To Navigate a Zombie Cave and Defeat Pirate Pete and is currently at How to Destroy the New Girl’s Killer Robot Army.  Clearly, we were drawn to both the fantastical content and the fact that these books hinted at providing helpful tips for conducting oneself in the aforementioned frightening circumstances.

bloodthirsty mermaid

Mick thinks he’s bartered a sweet deal when he trades seven mows of rich neighbour PJ’s lawn for seven swims in PJ’s pool. Since last month’s incident fighting zombie pirates in which Mick’s little brother Finley nearly drowned, Mick has decided to take no more chances and seize the opportunity to teach Finley to swim.  Things don’t go according to plan however, because when Mick and Finley accidentally feed a mysterious substance to PJ’s beloved sea monkeys, a large, deadly, scaly problem that no one could have foreseen suddenly surfaces to throw all humans in the vicinity into mortal danger.  The boys’ mistake somehow causes the growth of a real-life mermaid – not the lush-tresses, coquettish, tail-flicking sort of mermaid, but an enormous, gorilla-hairy, hypnotic-eyed, human-eating mermaid.  Now it’s up to Mick, Finley and the utterly inept PJ to find a way to get Marilyn (PJ’s choice of name) out of the pool before anyone else becomes her lunch, dinner or midnight snack.

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Friends, fellow-readers and lovers of acquatic life take heed! The Bogerman boys’ story is a cautionary tale for all those who do not read the fine print.  It is so easy to be seduced by advertising and fail to consider the consequences of our purchases.  Add to this the growing gap between rich and poor and the communication breakdowns that occur between those in the two camps, and before you know it a scaly, hungry water-demon has been unleashed to reign down merry hell on the hired help.

Let this story be a lesson for all those who send off for the offers at the back of vintage comic books.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book.  But there is a really scary mermaid who hypnotises people into the water and then EATS THEM!! That was pretty cool.  And her name’s Marilyn.  That was funny.

I like Mick because he’s fearless and does lots of cool stunts to try and get Marilyn back to the ocean.  Finley’s pretty cool too because he always thinks things through.  PJ is a bit of a baby.  But he turns out okay in the end.

I hope one of Mick’s next books has dragons in it. But the killer mermaid was okay as a substitute.

Mad Martha

Let us all heed advice from our mothersmaniacal book club martha

We should not judge the books by their covers

For like Disney’s she ain’t

This Mer-lass needs restraint

As with flesh-ripping death you’ll discover

maniacal book club bruceBruce

I was surprised at how much I really enjoyed this tale.  The story is pitched at a middle grade audience, but Mick himself warns parents at the very start with a disclaimer that this book is not for the faint-hearted reader.  On the other hand, if you have a young male reader (or female, obviously, but particularly male) who loves action, fantasy violence, heroic actions, kids having to solve problems out of their depth (pun intended) and just general mayhem and adventure, then get them onto this series right this second.

Mick is a rough-as-guts narrator with a strong sense of right and wrong, and is highly protective of his younger brother. Finley is the thinker of the partnership, considering problems from all angles before making a decision.  And PJ….well, PJ learns some valuable lessons about moving out from under his rich parents’ shadow and thinking for himself.

I read this book in one sitting I was so riveted by the narrative style and the action and I think it’s a book that will have great re-reading value.  I’m excited to see what happens in the other adventures in the Slug Pie stories series as this seems to be a fresh, action-packed take on the standard middle grade fantasy genre. The back of the book features a handy little recap of all the tips and tricks that the boys have picked up for dealing with mermaids of the bloodthirsty variety, which was a nice touch.

What I liked most about this tale, as an adult reader, was the references to the retro sea monkey ads that used to feature in the back of comic books.  Like PJ, oh how I wanted a little kingdom of sea monkeys to brighten up my shelf, with their waving, webby fingers, and their happy capering amongst the fernery.  Really, it took me back. In case you have no clue what I’m talking about, here’s the ad that had me pining and yearning for such exotic pets.

sea monkeys

How did they get away with such false advertising I wonder? Oh, that’s right, it was the 70s.

I would definitely recommend giving this particular Slug Pie story a go – particularly if you are in summer right now, because there’s nothing better than reading a story about bloodthirsty pool-dwelling monsters in temperatures which demand regular swimming as an antidote to heat-related death.

Until next time,

Bruce

 

BirdCatDog: A Maniacal Book Club Review…

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manical book club button

Welcome, bookish creatures of all persuasions, to this Maniacal Book Club review.  Today we are discussing the wordless graphic novel BirdCatDog by Lee Nordling and Meritxell Bosch.birdcatdog2

BirdCatDog is a wordless picture book that follows three animals (guess which ones!) simultaneously as they go about their daily errands.  For each animal, there is at least one surprise in store and as paths cross and some other animals from the wild side of the fence make an appearance, things become very tangled indeed.  All ends happily enough though, and the reader is left with the message that no matter who the “main character” portrayed in the story happens to be, we are all the heroes of our own little tail tale.

 

maniacal book club guru daveGuru Dave

Creatures of flesh, creatures of stone – it matters not.  What matters, dear friends, as is pointed out to us in this tale-with-a-hidden-message is that perspective is all important!  Each of us sees the story in our own way, but if we look at it from a different angle, we may notice something we haven’t seen before.

This book will help you to look at things from a new perspective.  Perhaps if Messrs Nordling and Bosch were to follow us all around and document our daily doings in such a way as they have for these lucky animals, there would be much less conflict in the world.  It is possible.

maniacal book club toothlessToothless

No dragons in this book. There is a wolfish big dog, and a hawkish bird of prey and a nasty looking mountainish cat, so if you mashed them all together they would make a pretty cool predator creature.
I liked the way the stories get all mixed up at the end and how each animal gets into scary trouble and gets chased around by bigger, nastier animals.

There’s no words either, which is good because sometimes it’s better just to look at the pictures really closely and make up your own story.  It would be better if there was at least a small dragon in it.

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha

A dog, a cat, a bird

form a story and each gets a third.

So keep your eyes peeled

once they’re further afield

or you may find your path becomes blurred.

 

maniacal book club bruceBruce

Take it from me folks, this book is going to be a hit in upper years primary classrooms, because there is nothing more fun than a wordless book with a complex story.  BirdCatDog is unusual in that it sets up a challenge for the reader right at the very beginning – do you try and “read” it like a normal book and take in the story in its entirety, page by page, or do you follow the handily colour-coded strips and take it in one animal protagonist at a time?  And if you pick the latter option, which animal will you choose to follow first?

The genius element to this book is that it demands rereading.  In order to appreciate the overarching story, you simply have to flick back to the beginning multiple times, so this will be a great choice for engaging those reluctant readers in a book-based activity. 

The art is beautifully done in a cartoon style, with the colour-coding followed throughout to lend continuity – blue for bird, green for cat and yellow for dog.  The imagery in each vignette is deceptively simple, but when taken together at the page level, creates a complex visual experience that demands closer attention. 

Another engaging element of the book is the questions posed by all the characters in the story – who is the hero of the story? Are there multiple heroes? How can that be?  There is so much potential here for the classroom in opening up discussion about storytelling and bias – whose perspective is important and who gets left out? How do we decide whose perspective is the most important?

Leaving the classroom applications to the side though, this book is simply a visual treat and will provide plenty of entertainment for readers young and old as they unravel and then retangle the threads of each creature’s escapades.  I definitely recommend having a look at BirdCatDog if you are a fan of stories told in a visual medium (and even if you aren’t!).

Until next time,

Bruce (and the gang!)

*I received a digital copy of this title for review from the publisher via NetGalley*

 

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A Zombified Maniacal Double Dip (and an Fi50 reminder….)

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manical book club button  image  fiction in 50

Welcome to this (rather crowded) Friday post.  First up, a reminder to all those intrepid writers of mini-narrative, Fiction in 50 kicks off on Monday for this month, and the prompt for October is….

the darker side of

You fill in the blank! To play along, just create a piece of fiction in 50 words or less and then come back on Monday and add your effort to the linky or leave a link in the comments.  For more detailed instructions and for future prompts, click here.  New players are always welcome!

Now onto business.  Today the Maniacal Book Club is going to attempt a double dip review. Please bear with us as this has never happened before and it could go horribly (and amusingly) wrong.  To add to the potential chaos, we have also chosen two books featuring the living impaired that would be perfect for middle graders (particularly boys) with an interest in combating undeath in all its stinky forms.  Let us begin with Mr Katz is a Zombie by M.C. Lesh.mr katz is a zombie

Twelve year old J.D. has a fairly interesting life – his parents are ghost hunters (as well as being perfectly ordinary people) and J.D. himself can see and communicate with ghosts.  When J.D. acquires an old book of spells during one of his parents’ ghostbusting jobs, he suspects it might lead to trouble.  This suspicion turns out to be correct when his friend Rodney accidentally reads a spell out loud and turns their teacher into a shuffling, stinky zombie.  Never one to turn a blind eye to injustice, J.D., Rodney and Rodney’s twin younger brothers take on the task of figuring out how to turn Mr Katz back into his non-stinky self before brains are splattered all over North Goethalsburg.  Cue action!   Cue adventure! Cue extra-large sacks of jam-filled doughnuts!

Dip into it for…

…a fun romp that features a remarkably sensible and compassionate protagonist, some well-meaning and inventive zombie-herding techniques and a general reminder to always read the fine print.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re not a fan of zombies.  Or fine print. Otherwise you’ll find this to be a light, entertaining read.

Overall Dip Factor:

maniacal book club guru dave

 Guru Dave says: The message of this tome is clear: Mess not with that which is beyond your understanding! Although if you must delve into the magical arts in a crowded public place, at least direct your spells toward someone who is NOT responsible for providing an in-depth report to your parents on your behaviour.

maniacal book club toothless

Toothless says: No dragons in this book. But there is one zombie and one ghost so that nearly makes up for it.  This was a fun book.  I would have liked to be running around with J.D. and Rodney and the twins, chasing after Mr Katz.  It would have been fun with more brain splatting too.  Oh well. The stinky bits were funny.

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha says: While chasing zombies, four young boys learned magic spell books are not toys.

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce says: I ended up really enjoying this one for its snappy dialogue and the amusing narrative that J.D. keeps up throughout the story.  The second half seemed to move a lot more quickly than the first and the twist in the tail of the plot was  unexpected,  convenient and really quite funny.  I’d recommend this particularly for young male readers (although girls will like it too) and as this is the first of a series, I’ll be keeping an eye out for J.D’s next adventure.

Four thumbs up!

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Now on to the intriguingly named Ben Fox: Squirrel Zombie Specialist At Your Service by Daisy Whitney.

ben fox zombie squirrelsBen is really more of a dog person.  It’s not that he dislikes cats, but he just isn’t particularly enamoured of his own family cat, Percy – a haughty siamese that showers affection on Ben’s little sister Macy.  When the Fox family gets a new doggy door installed for their dog Captain Sparkles, things begin to get weird.  On investigating a strange noise in the night, Ben comes across a creepy, blank-eyed squirrel staring in through the doggy door…and as Ben continues to investigate, he discovers that a whole army of squirrels that have clearly succumbed to untimely death due to squishing by car, has been raised in his backyard and appears to be doing the bidding of Percy the cat.  With Percy’s intentions for his undead squirrel army unclear (yet obviously nefarious), Ben must rely on the one person he never thought he’d need if Percy’s evil plans are to be thwarted before the Animal Zombie Apocalypse begins right in his own backyard.

Dip into it for…

…a surprisingly original and engaging novel with a strong protagonist and a plot that doesn’t waste words.  And for the zombie squirrels. Obviously.

Don’t dip if…

…the thought of villainous zombie woodland creatures (or doggy doors) offends you.

Overall Dip Factor:

maniacal book club guru dave

Guru Dave says:  Once again, a book that appears flippant on the surface, carries an important lesson for young minds.  Sometimes we are so preoccupied fighting the Animal Zombie Apocalypse in our backyard, that we forget to notice the conflict arising in our own living rooms.  Those who wish to take up the mantle of zombie hunter would do well to dwell on the wisdom contained in this tome.

maniacal book club toothless

Toothless says: No dragons. Again. But zombie squirrels are super-awesome.  I haven’t seen zombie squirrels before.  And this book also tells all about other zombie animals like zombie raccoons, zombie dogs, and my favourite, zombie ducks.  I’d love it if Ben Fox could fight off the Zombie Duckpocalypse next! Quaaaaaaaaaaack!

maniacal book club martha

Mad Martha says: When fighting zombie woodland creatures, focus on their beastly features.  To defeat these undead rodents, requires planning that is cogent.

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce says: You could be forgiven for thinking, as I did when I requested this book, that a middle grade book about the Squirrelpocalypse set in motion by an evil feline overlord could well end up being a complete load of rubbish.  Thankfully, I can assure you that this particular book about the Squirrelpocalypse and its evil feline overlord is an undiscovered gem!  I really, truly enjoyed this book from beginning to end, and finished it off in two short sittings. 

The great strength of the tale is the totally believable main character, Ben, who really is an “everyboy” who happens to have Cerebral Palsy.  While this condition does factor in to some parts of the story, it’s not a big deal and it’s not emphasised – just as in real life, it just is.  I applaud Whitney on creating a character who has a disability, but whose disability is not in any way the focus of the story.

This book is fun, it’s got a solid plot underpinning the slightly ridiculous squirrely invasion, and there’s enough action and humour to keep you turning pages at a rate of knots.  It will appeal to both boys and girls, particularly if they have a pet cat or dog (or both) and can imagine at least one of these plotting to take over the world.  This could easily provide some very entertaining pre-bedtime read-aloud experiences, or it would be a great choice for confident middle graders looking for a fresh twist on the zombie/monster theme.

Five thumbs up! (Bruce added a second thumb)

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So there you are – two zombie treats for the middle graders (and older MG fiction junkies) who would benefit from undeath mixed with action and humour.

Until next time,

Bruce (and the Book Club)

* I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley*

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