Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge 2016: Voyage to Magical North

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alphabet soup challenge 2016

After a brief period during which I forgot all about the reading challenges in which I am participating, I am pushing ahead to finish off the last few letters that I need to complete the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 hosted by Escape with Dollycas into a Good Book.  Even though the challenge allows you to bend a bit for the trickier letters, choosing books that have that letter anywhere in the title (rather than heading up the first word of the title), I’ve done my best so far to stick to the letter of the law, as it were.  Today’s book completes the “V” requirement of the challenge, with middle grade fantasy adventure, Voyage to Magical North (The Accidental Pirates #1) by Claire Fayers.  I bought this one after hearing some trusted blogs raving about it and noticing that shining golden V in the title.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Twelve-year-old Brine Seaborne is a girl with a past–if only she could remember what it is. Found alone in a rowboat as a child, clutching a shard of the rare starshell needed for spell-casting, she’s spent the past years keeping house for an irritable magician and his obnoxious apprentice, Peter.

When Brine and Peter get themselves into a load of trouble and flee, they blunder into the path of the legendary pirate ship the Onion. Before you can say “pieces of eight,” they’re up to their necks in the pirates’ quest to find Magical North, a place so shrouded in secrets and myth that most people don’t even think it exists. If Brine is lucky, she may find out who her parents are. And if she’s unlucky, everyone on the ship will be eaten by sea monsters. It could really go either way.

voyage-to-magical-north

I picked this one up on the promise of humour, quirky characters and an adventurous story and I am happy to say that the book delivered on all three.  As far as the plot goes, it’s a fairly typical quest to find the hidden “treasure” while defeating an apparently unkillable villain, but where this book stands out is in the telling.  The characters all have strong traits and obvious flaws and for most of them, a bit of growth is the order of the day by the end of the adventure.  Brine, the protagonist, is brave and able to make the most of certain unpleasant situations; Peter, Brine’s fellow servant (although really an apprentice magician), is by turns unsure and cocky, and liable to be easily led.  Cassie O’Pia, the pirate queen of the Onion (the boat which should have been called the Orion, but for an unfortunate spelling error) flies by the seat of her pants while maintaining the facade of absolute pre-planning.

There’s also an epic and mysterious library staffed entirely by women, a back-from-the-dead magical villain to rival Lord Mouldy Shorts himself, a colony of telepathic (and unusually ravenous) ice birds and a collection of other slightly-left-of-centre characters to add flavour to this piratical soup.  The humour is wry and dry and exactly the sort that will appeal to adult readers, as well as the age of reader at which the story is targeted and all in all, this is an impressive series opener, with the promise of completely new directions for the team’s next adventure.

I did find that the pace of this one was a tad slower than the average middle grade fantasy adventure I’ve read, mostly due to the fact that the characters tend to do a lot of reflecting on who they are, where life is taking them, and what on earth they’re doing stuck on a pirate ship with a deadly magician.  The point of view alternates between Brine and Peter, so there is a bit of variety in both the focus of the action as well as the mood of the book, with Brine seeming to throw caution to the wind (or at least make the best of a possibly bad lot), and Peter exploring how deeply his own vein of potential villainy may flow.

Overall I found this to be a fun and absorbing read with some original aspects and plenty of side giggles.  I particularly enjoyed the snippets from “The Ballad of Cassie O’Pia” which headed up a number of chapters and wouldn’t mind composing a little tune so I can sing them now and again when I’m feeling particularly piratical.   I recommend this one for middle graders who like an adventure into which they can sink their teeth and adult readers who like middle grade reads that are anything but run-of-the-mill.

If you are interested,  you can check out my progress in the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge for 2016 here.

Until next time,

Bruce

Picture Book Perusal: Ned the Knitting Pirate…

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picture book perusal button

Yes, I know: knitting is more Mad Martha’s field of expertise, but when we noticed that knitting was combined with piracy in this book I stepped boldly into the fray.  Today’s book, Ned the Knitting Pirate by Dianna Murray and Leslie Lammle was received gratefully from PanMacmillan Australia for review.  Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

The crew of the pirate ship the Rusty Heap are a fearsome bunch! They’re tougher than gristle and barnacle grit. They heave and they ho and they swab and they . . . knit?

Well, one of them does, at least! Unfortunately for Ned, his knitting doesn’t go over well with the captain and crew. They urge him to hide his hobby and strive to be scurvier, like pirates should be. But when the briny ocean beast shows up to feast on the Rusty Heap and its crew, maybe Ned’s knitting is just the ticket to save the day!

ned-the-knitting-pirate

If you’re looking for a pirate tale with a difference in a picture book market that is saturated with piratey titles, then look no further than Ned and his two pointy sticks.  Ned is a delightful young pirate who is perfectly content to be who he is, despite the fact that his love of knitting seems to rub his shipmates up the wrong way.  In every pirate situation – finding treasure, drinking rum, swabbing the deck, belching – Ned finds time to pick up the needles and get crafting.  Even though his shipmates are keen to undervalue Ned’s hobby at every opportunity, even they can’t deny that Ned’s knitting might come in handy when traditional methods of frightening off sea monsters have failed.

The book is written in a bouncy, jaunty rhythm with rhyming text, so it’s perfect for reading aloud to your little landlubbers. There’s also a repeated refrain in the form of a pirate song that will allow adventurous readers to join in lustily with a harmless sea shanty.  The illustrations are appropriately fluid, featuring a palette of mostly cool, ocean colours.

I did find it a bit strange that Ned’s knitting was shunned by the pirates when sailors of that vintage would have been experts with a thread and needle.  Given that it was essential for sailors to be able to repair torn canvas sails and sew their own clothes and hammocks, it wouldn’t seem to be too far a stretch for some sailors to have a good knowledge of yarn-related crafts also.

But I suspect I’m overthinking things here.

Especially when you consider that it would be hard to knit when you’ve only got a hook for a hand.

Practicalities aside, this is a fun and quirky addition to the pirate kidlit subgenre with a subtly subversive message about being true to oneself even when those around you can’t see the value in your passions.

Until next time,

Bruce

A Foolhardy Reading Round-Up: Kidlit Titles for April!

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Welcome to April and a Kid-lit-a-thon Round-Up!  Today’s Round-Up features three picture books and two middle-grade graphic novels.  One of these will be submitted for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge AND the Title Fight Reading Challenge, but you’ll have to read on to find out which.  We received all of these titles from Netgalley for review.  Now, let’s get (whip) cracking!

Little Red (Bethan Woollvin)

Ten Second Synopsis: little red.jpg

Red Riding Hood with a skandi twist, this book is a retelling with sass.

Muster up the motivation because:

There are a lot of fairy tale retellings getting around at the moment, but the bold, minimalist colour scheme, chunky woodcut-style illustrations and text that oozes subversive wit sets this one apart.  The general arc of the Red Riding Hood story is preserved here, but Red is presented as one independent and resourceful young lass.  The simple combination of red, black and white in the illustrations is incredibly effective and makes this book a joy to look at, as much as to read.  I’d love to see what is coming next from Woollvin and how she might tackle an original story.

Brand it with:

Girl power, Woodland Survival, You’re Axed!

Far Out Fairy Tales (Joey Comeau, Louise Simonson, Sean Tulien, Otis Frampton)

Ten Second Synopsis: far out fairy tales

This is a collection of fairy tale retellings with a definite pop-culture flavour.  Each fairy tale has been modernised with popular motifs, including zombies, ninjas and computer games.

Muster up the motivation because:

Apart from the graphic novel format, the point of difference in this collection is a neat summary at the end of each story giving the differences between the modernised version and the traditional tale.  While I found most of the tales a little bit too contrived for my tastes – the Cinderella ninja in particular gave me reading-indigestion – they are perfectly pitched for a younger middle grade audience and varied enough for at least one or two of the tales to appeal to every reader.  The standout favourite for me was the retelling of the Billy Goats Gruff, set inside a video game with boss fights and dungeon crawling, but the Snow White story featuring robots was also quite subtle and well thought out.  The illustrations are varied in style and because each retelling has a different author, the book has a sense of the original with each new story.  This would be a great pick for youngsters looking for familiar stories in a fun, graphic format.

Brand it with:

Zombies and Ninjas and Robots, Oh My!, graphic tales, fairy tales levelled up

Kuma-Kuma Chan’s Home (Kazue Takahashi)

Ten Second Synopsis: kuma chan

Kuma Chan is an unassuming little bear.  In this tale, a young boy gets an invitation from Kuma Chan to visit his home, resulting in a relaxed day of doing nothing much at all.

Muster up the motivation because:

This is another classic Japanese character that will have you flip-flopping between “Oh, so Kawaii!” and “What on earth is going on here?”  Apparently Kuma Chan, or Little Bear, is a big hit with mini-fleshlings in Japan and this is the second book in the series.  Kuma Chan himself gets around looking rather bemused most of the time, and nothing much happens in the book, aside from the boy’s journey to Kuma Chan’s house, but overall this is just a delightful read.  The fact that the boy and Kuma Chan literally just hang out together in silence for most of the book results in a calming sense of satisfaction with one’s lot.  I will definitely have to seek out the original book in the series and I would love to see what the Little Bear is up to next.  This would be a perfect choice for a reader of your acquaintance who loves books that defy conventional description.

Brand it with:

Chillin’ with my homies, Bear necessities, kawaii

Squirrel Me Timbers (Louise Pigott)

Ten Second Synopsis: squirrel me timbers

A pirate squirrel must follow a map to discover buried treasure.  Will the treasure live up to his expectations? And what’s a squirrel to do with all that booty?

Muster up the motivation because:

If you are a bit over the whole pirate thing that seems to be booming in children’s books these days, I can guarantee that adding in a squirrely twist livens things up nicely.  The rhymes are a little awkward to read aloud at times, but the cheeky illustrations and the unexpected “treasure” are fun and original.  Sammy is a very likeable protagonist and I did have a bit of a giggle at some of the twists in his nutty quest.  This should appeal greatly to young swashbucklers looking for a new perspective on what makes a pirate tick.

Brand it with:

Pieces of eight (nuts), X marks the spot, Treasure hunting rodents

Fluffy Strikes Back (Ashley Spires)

Ten Second Synopsis:  fluffy strikes back

Fluffy, sergeant in charge of Pets of the Universe Ready for Space Travel (P.U.R.S.T.) must come out of retirement to foil an invasion of aliens with spray bottles.  Will Fluffy be able to meet the challenge and rescue the pets in his charge?

Muster up the motivation because:

Despite the utter weirdness of the concept of this graphic novel series, it is actually a guffaw-worthy tale.  This is the second book in the P.U.R.S.T. series and I hadn’t read the first, so I didn’t realise that this was a graphic novel.  This meant I wasn’t prepared for the high level of visual humour contained within this tome.  The concept of the book is a little confusing when read – cats, dogs and other small animals working together in a secret (literally) underground organisation to save the world from aliens (insects) – but makes perfect (and hilarious) sense when absorbed visually.  The humour is actually pretty dry for a graphic novel aimed at kids, but there are plenty of just-plain-funny aspects as well, such as the entrance to the P.U.R.S.T. headquarters being accessed through a litter tray and the alien insects using spray bottles to ward off the cats.  I would definitely recommend this to mini-fleshlings or adult readers looking for a quick, off-beat and strangely compelling graphic novel series that doesn’t take itself – or anything else – too seriously.

Brand it with:

Alien Invasion, Notes from the Underground, Thankless tasks

Yes, you guessed it: I will be submitting Fluffy Strikes Back for both the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge and the Title Fight Reading Challenge.  It fits quite nicely into the first category: something related to fighting in the title.  For more info on the challenge, just click this attractive button!

Title Fight Button 2016

 

Also, you can check out my progress for the Alphabet Soup Reading Challenge, hosted by Escape with Dollycas, here.

alphabet soup challenge 2016

Until next time,

Bruce