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Showing posts from February, 2012

The Humming Room, by Ellen Potter, 182 pp, RL 4

As she proved in Olivia Kidney, SLOB and The Kneebone Boy, Ellen Potter is as master of mystery and setting a scene that is not quite what it seems. From the apartment building full of quirky neighbors that turn out to be ghosts to a brother who is really a sister and a labyrinthine castle that is not what it seems, Potter creates worlds that are familiar and odd, magically mundane. Because of this, I can't think of an author better suited to bring us an updated version of Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden. While retellings, prequels and sequels of classic fairy tales abound these days, aside from Neil Gaiman's fantastic 2010 Newbery Award winner, The Graveyard Book, which loosely follows Kipling's The Jungle Book, I can't think of another author who has done a straight update in this way. Burnett's timeless classic, with the hysterical Colin Craven locked up in the middle of a mysterious mansion, lends itself perfectly to Potter's talents as a w…

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett, 272 pp, RL 4

Sara Crewe, the heroine of Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess comes by her compassion, tolerance, friendliness and imagination no doubt through her own charming nature but also as a result of the nurturing of her father for the fist several years of her life. Mary Lennox and her cousin, Colin Craven, the main characters in The Secret Garden, undoubtedly Burnett's best known work, stand in stark opposition to Sara's almost too-perfect person. Both Mary and Colin are vile little creatures who, through death and indifference, have been left to be raised by servants. Growing up in India, Mary is unwanted by her mother and handed into the care of an Ayah as soon as possible. She begins life as a "sickly, fretful, ugly little baby" who grows into a "sickly, fretful toddling thing." By the age of ten when Cholera has taken her parents and sent her to Yorkshire to live with her only relative she has a "little thin face and a little thin body, thin…

The One and Only Ivan, written by Katherine Applegate, illustrated by Patricia Castelao, 300 pages, RL 3

Since I started writing book reviews I have become the kind of person who reads the quotes of praise on the back of the book, the dedications and always, always the author notes and acknowledgements. Katherine Applegate's newest book, The One and Only Ivan, comes with some very high praise from award winning authors Patricia MacLachlan ("Beautifully written, intelligent, and brave, this story is life changing") and Gary D Schmidt ("This book will break your heart - and then, against all odds, mend it again. Read this.") While I think that these author quotes could be applied to MacLachlan's latest book, Waiting for the Magic, and Schmidt's, Okay for Now, they are also very apt when speaking of The One and Only Ivan. I have to be honest, I don't normally like middle grade novels with animals as characters and, even after I read the description on the back of the book, it was the author quotes and my esteem for their own books that prompted me to rea…

Same Difference, by Derek Kirk Kim RL: TEEN

In 2004 Derek Kirk Kim won both major comics industry awards, the Eisner, the Ignatz and the Harvey for his graphic novel, Same Difference and Other Stories. In 2007 Kim won a second Eisner for his collaboration with Gene Luen Yang, The Eternal Smile. Yang, who's most recent graphic novel is the superb Level Up with art by Thien Pham, is the creator of American Born Chinese which, besides being the first graphic novel ever nominated for the National Book Award, is the winner of the Michael L Printz Award, the Newbery of young adult fiction. Now, the outstanding publisher of graphic novels First Second has issued a redesigned deluxe edition of Same Difference with new cover art that includes a very cool clear dust jacket that is swimming with fish and an afterword in which Kim shares some early character sketches and influences.

I'm still new enough to the world of graphic novels and come from a place of ignorance (if not prejudice) so I feel a bit like I need to defend/explain …

Friends with Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks, 224 pages, RL 5

As I started reading Faith Erin Hick's excellent graphic novel Friends with Boys, which started as an online comic, Vera Brosgol's wonderful Anya's Ghost came to mind right away. Both books have dark haired, outsider protagonists with big black eyes who are haunted by ghosts. However, Anya's ghost is kind of the evil twin to the ghost that has haunted Maggie McKay since she was a little girl, making Friends with Boys the perfect compliment to Anya's Ghost. And, despite the fact that the main character of Friends with Boys is a high school freshman who is haunted by a ghost, I think that older readers of Raina Telgemeier's superb graphic novel Smile would enjoy this book. Home schooled her whole life, Maggie finds herself forced to attend public high school with her three older brothers, Daniel and the twins Lloyd and Zander, when her mother leaves home. Alone and a little bit lost most of the time, Maggie is befriended by Lucy, clearly a fellow outsider in this …

Mega Mash-Ups, by Nikalas Catlow, Tim Wesson and . . . you! 75 pp, RL 2

Brilliant! Just Brilliant! That's what Mega Mash-Ups are! The minute my seven year old got his hands on Aliens vs MAD Scientists Under the Ocean he grabbed a pencil and got busy. I have never seen him remain dedicated to a singular project (that does not involve electronic media) for so long! For that, I thank you, Misters Catlow and Wesson!  The premise of this series of books (there are three now, more to come) is genius. Catlow, creator of a few of the really great doodle books that have hit the shelves lately (Do You Doodle? and Oodles of Doodles and Doodle Bugs) illustrates a story, which I'm guessing Wesson helps to write. The reading level is somewhere around second grade, though there is not as much text as in a Captain Underpants book, if that means anything to you. I'd say the amount of text in this book is more akin to Dav Pilkey's Ricky Ricotta books. The unique part of these stories is that every page leaves blank space for the reader to fill in the illustr…