Category Archives: Bedtime Stories

Bedtime Stories: Unnatural Creatures

unnaturalPost by Mark T. Locker.

Unnatural Creatures: short stories selected by Neil Gaiman.

One of the great aspects of short stories is that you can often dive into the story and come out the other end within a reasonable amount of time. But sometimes I feel like even a great short story author can be pretty hit or miss and I often don’t like reading collections by a single author for this very reason. What I do like is collected stories, especially those carefully curated by a respected figure in the field. And you don’t get much more respected in the field than Neil Gaiman. Known for a million novels for adults, young adults, and picture books for kids, not to mention the Sandman graphic novels, Gaiman is a beloved figure in the literary scene. So a collection of short stories by him must be pretty good.

Unnatural Creatures is a collection of stories about creatures, both magical and otherworldly. The authors are as varied as the subject matter they cover: from 19th-century authors E. Nesbit and Frank Stockton to contemporary cartoonist Gahan Wilson to Neil Gaiman himself, this collection will have something to please just about everyone. The first story, by Gahan Wilson, is a creepy and strange tale of a mysterious blot that appears and disappears at random, always growing and causing distress. What is it? Where did it come from? Frank Stockton’s tale, “The Griffin and the Minor Canon” is a sweet tale about fear and misunderstanding. It’s also about a griffin. I love this story. With sixteen stories to choose from, this collection of unusual and imaginary creatures is a wonderful  way to end the day, transported to a magical world in the safety and comfort of your blankets.

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Bedtime Stories: I Shall Wear Midnight

midnightPost by Mark T. Locker.

I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett

The imaginative universe known as Discworld is vast, varied, magical and hilarious. Terry Pratchett’s creation has developed quite an adoring following since the first novel was published in 1983. In 2001 he wrote his first novel for young adults. Naturally, that’s when I finally became interested. In all, Pratchett wrote six young adult novels which is only a fraction of the 41 novels overall. Five of these are about the young witch of the Chalk, Tiffany Aching, and her horde of tiny, blue, crude fae folk, the Nac Mac Feegles. Dressed in kilts and always ready for a fight, a drink, or preferably both, the Feegles are sworn to protect the “Wee Big Hag” and are always nearby, if unseen.

In I Shall Wear Midnight Tiffany Aching is now all of 15 years old and officially the witch of the land. Although the people rely on her and she helps them with all manner of problems, once in a while a sentiment of fear and suspicion arises in the villages and witches are seen as a threat more than anything. Unfortunately this is where Tiffany finds herself now. Even the baron distrusts her, although she has been his friend since she freed him from the Fairy Queen when she was nine years old. It’s trying time for all the witches.

Terry Pratchett had a particular knack for striking a tone between silly, insightful, and touching all at once. This book is no exception, though it is a little more touching than the earlier Tiffany Aching novels. Maybe that’s because we are also watching this little girl (who was already awesome and tough at nine) grow up into a young woman, full of self-confidence but also doubt, frustration, and confusion as she learns how to navigate the world as an almost grown-up. This series of books has been a great companion to me and I highly recommend it to any fans of fantasy, YA lit, or just great storytelling.

 

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Bedtime Stories: DRAGON PUNCHER ISLAND

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Post by Mark T. Locker.

I haven’t read books out loud to my son in a while, partly because a) He always has his nose buried in books on his own and b) He’s super into comic books and like I keep telling him, you CAN’T READ COMICS ALOUD.

Well I asked him if he wanted me to read him a book (I am really good at it and have been depriving the world too long of my skills) and he grabbed a COMIC (maybe it was technically a graphic novel) called Dragon Puncher Island. That’s a good start. What a ridiculously silly title! What a ridiculously silly book inside! The most remarkable feature is John Kochalka’s style of illustration. Simple bright characters: monsters, dragons, superheroes, with what appear to be family photos as faces. The monster’s face is the author’s child and the superhero “Mr. Puncher” is a tabby cat’s face. The dragon from the sea appears to be the other cat in the family.

What’s the story? Who cares? The monster/child has a super weapon he calls “Spoony Spoon”. It’s a spoon! The Dragon Puncher has little time for Spoony Spoon and the stinky monster wielding it. Of course while they are busy arguing, Spoony Spoon falls into the sea. And who should emerge just then? The cat-dragon! Whatever will happen?? This ridiculous book is pretty easy to read out loud even though it’s a comic book. Just come prepared with three silly voices to narrate it all.

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Bedtime Stories: To Hold the Bridge

hold the bridgePost by Mark T. Locker.

To Hold the Bridge: Tales from the Old Kingdom and Beyond by Garth Nix.

If anyone has been reading these book reviews for any amount of time, you will know that Garth Nix is one of my go-to young adult fantasy novelists. His Old Kingdom books (Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and now Clariel) are my personal favorites. Well, Garth Nix has just released a new collection of short stories, and I  couldn’t be happier. What’s more intriguing is that a few of these stories are set in worlds that fans of his novels will recognize and be excited to revisit. Others are surprisingly real-Earth based, but no less fun to read.

The first story, To Hold the Bridge is a great little story from the Old Kingdom, a place I’m always happy to revisit. A harrowing tale of a poor, physically imperfect but clever and well-trained joins a troupe that guards an important bridge. When a necromancer launches an attack, the young man finds himself the only thing standing between the undead and the village beyond.

Another story was first featured in Holly Black’s compilation, Zombies vs. Unicorns. Garth Nix’s story has both zombies AND unicorns, so we all win! My favorite story is a short, sweet story about a young man whose voice was damaged in a childhood accident so he doesn’t speak much. Where he really thrives is as the Quiet Knight, his live-action role playing (LARPing) character, in which he dresses as a knight and battles the forces of evil. It’s sweet.

Finally, fans of Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes will rejoice to see their beloved characters brought back for an encore after, in the case of Shade’s Children, nearly 20 years. Although a couple of these stories are not what I’ve come to expect from Garth Nix, they’re all fairly enjoyable. And that short stories can be read in their entirety before falling asleep makes these perfect bedtime reading.

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Bedtime Stories: Something Wicked This Way Comes

something-wicked1Post by Mark T. Locker.

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Halloween is just a few days away! I don’t have much time left to share fabulous spooky stories with you! This one is something of a classic, though if you’re anything like me you have only been exposed to the movie version, starring Jonathan Price and some other non-Jonathan Price people. Oh, and Pam Grier. Pam Grier is in it!

Well, the movie is fantastic and is a staple of my Halloween viewing schedule. But recently I began reading Ray Bradbury’s short stories, as beautifully written as they are at times bizarre. Something Wicked This Way Comes was written in 1962 and takes on all the styles Bradbury does best: eliciting the feelings of childhood with eerie accuracy; taking on themes of darkness and creepy things; and talking about the autumn.

Jim Nightshade and William Halloway are best friends barely thirteen years old. When a mysterious carnival comes into town in the dark of night, letting fly an eerie whistle, the boys are excited and scared. There is something wrong about this carnival and cautious Will is worried but won’t let that stop him from following devil-may-care Jim to whatever lays ahead. Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Show, as the carnival is called, holds dark secrets that will test the boys as they discover what these attractions are doing to the unwitting adults of the town.

Gorgeously written and both scary and moving, this story of children growing into adulthood and dark and mysterious forces is a must-read any time of year, but especially at Halloween, which I’m pretty sure was Bradbury’s favorite time of year.

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