Tag Archives: Children’s book reviews
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Snarked! Volume One: Forks and Hope by Roger Langridge.
This week I am delving into the world of graphic novels. Or maybe it’s a comic book. Honestly, it’s difficult to tell the difference. Either way, graphic novels are a great way to get reluctant readers into reading. My kid has been one of those. Those pages of text, only occasionally rewarded with a black-and-white drawing, can be intimidating, especially after years of big colorful pages with words at the bottom. We picked up “Snarked!” at the used book store for a quarter. It was a quarter well-spent! Set in a world that is firmly set around the imagination of Lewis Carroll, it features characters from Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, and “The Hunting of the Snark”. In the story, a young headstrong princess named Scarlett is trying to find her missing father, the Red King. Assisted by the unlikely helpers, the Walrus and the Carpenter, she is pretty sure he has been dumped on Snark Island so that a puppet government can be installed.
Although the Walrus talks in an excessively florid prose that may be confusing to younger kids, the story is otherwise totally approachable for kids. It’s exciting without being scary or violent. There are several volumes available, so I look forward to reading the rest of the series with my son.
Clariel: the Lost Abhorsen by Garth Nix.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
If you are a fan of the Old Kingdom Trilogy, you have probably been awaiting this novel with much anticipation and maybe a little bit of fear. After all, new additions to much-loved and long-completed series often promise much and deliver little. If you don’t know what the Old Kingdom it, now is a great time to find out. The original series, written by Australian fantasy/sci-fi author Garth Nix, was started in 1995 with the novel Sabriel. In this novel, and its subsequent two follow-ups, we are introduced to the world of the Old Kingdom, an ancient land of magic, necromancy, and a world still in a semi-Medieval feudal system. Across the Wall to the South, there are cars, phones, conventional weapons. Magic is mostly unheard of. None of this works beyond the Wall, which is why horseback, sword and arrow are still the norm. The kingdom is ordered around the Charter, which is a magical system which keeps order and structure. Think of it like the light side of the Force. There is also a dark side, the Free Magic used by rogue magicians and necromancers. The Abhorsen is the Charter’s answer to Free Magic. Like royalty, it is passed on in the bloodline. When an Abhorsen comes of age, he or she will wear the spelled bells and keep the dead from rising again. Creepy stuff, but important.
Clariel is set several hundred years before Sabriel. She is a fierce and fiercely independent young heir to both the Abhorsen and the royal bloodlines who wants nothing more than to live in the woods, protecting the woods and the wilderness. She is the very definition of a reluctant hero, as she and her family move to the capitol city of Belisaire in order to further her mother’s career. This book does not fail to deliver. It never tries to ride on the coattails of the previous books to carry itself and works as the first book in the series, or as a prequel to read after. Great fantasy for adults or middle-school aged kids and up.
Choose your Own Adventure: Prisoner of the Ant People by R.A. Montgomery.
Anyone who grew up in the late seventies or beyond had probably read a book by R.A. Montgomery, though they might not even know his name. The author and publisher of over 200 Choose Your Own Adventure books passed away last week at the age of 78. I have many memories of reading these unique books over and over again as a kid. Just looking at the covers of such volumes as The Cave of Time and Your Code Name is Jonah brings back floods of memories, not necessarily of the plots, as those vary with each reading and each choice bu the reader, but of the feeling of adventure and control over your own destiny as you read.
What made these books so special was the way Montgomery put the reader in the driver’s seat. Not only is it one of the few books you will find written in the second person (as in, “You walk into a room”) but at pivotal moments in the story you, the reader, must decide what to do next. Do you take it slow and explore the spaceship for the missing crew, or do you follow your gut and shrink yourself to a tiny size and look for them at the subatomic level? Choose, but choose wisely. For one decision may lead to a successful adventure but the other may lead to your demise.
My son picked out his first Choose Your Own Adventure a couple weeks ago. He picked Prisoner of the Ant People which is a weird sci-fi novel filled with Martians, disintegration rays, and talking ant “people”. I’m excited to be introducing him to this wonderful and exciting world of interactive reading. If anyone else has tried to do the same kind of bo0k, they have not succeeded. R.A. Montgomery will always hold the torch for those who want to decide whether or not to follow the Sherpa into the Yeti’s cave.
Post by Mark T. Locker
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole by Mac Barnett. Illustrated by Jon Klassen.
My son, at six point three years old, is almost too old for picture books now. While it’s a shame that we won’t have this format to enjoy together forever, it certainly won’t stop me from seeking out new and wonderful picture-heavy reading material for my own enjoyment and for the enrichment of you, the readers. Especially now that Jon Klassen and Mac Barnett have found each other, why would anyone move away from picture books? There can be nothing but great things coming from these two for a long time to come. And any time Adam Rex wants to fill in for Jon Klassen, that’s okay too.
Sam and Dave Dig a Hole is a charming and painful story. Two boys decide to dig down in the yard to see what kinds of treasures they can find. Without giving too much away, let’s just say that the cross-sections of the deep, winding hole they dig show us just how close they come to finding some remarkable treasures. The drawings are wonderful and make the story what it it. Mac Barnett’s touch for subtle humor definitely helps drive this story too. Truly a great collaborative work between some of children’s literature’s great new voices.
Post by Mark T. Locker.
Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman.
Neil Gaiman is one of the most diverse and prolific writers I know of. From eerie to fantastic (and often a bit of both), from picture books to long novels for adults, Gaiman covers the gamut. Best known, perhaps, for his super scary young adult book Coraline which was made into a movie, he has taken a turn with his newest book, a short picture-filled story called Fortunately, the Milk. The story begins with a family that is fresh out of milk. The father steps out to the corner store to pick some up. When he doesn’t return for a long time, his two girls begin to worry. Finally, after a very long time (far longer than it should take to get some milk from the corner store) he returns. When asked what took him so long, he relates the long and inexplicable tale of what befell him when he left the market.
The rest of the book is the story of what took him so long, with occasional interjections by his daughters. It’s way more incredible than you’d dare think. Burbling green aliens hell-bent on redecorating Earth in a most tasteless manner is only the beginning. A stegosaurus in a time-travelling hot-air balloon named Professor Steg is to be his companion through time and space for a large portion of his journey. The father is hilariously focused on making sure the bottle of milk is safe throughout the entire ordeal. Hence the title, Fortunately, the Milk. “Fortunately, the milk was safely tucked away when the volcano erupted” for example.
My son and I both had a great time reading this book. I was worried it might be too random and nonsensical but it manages to retain a fairly cohesive, if totally weird, narrative thread. The only difficulty is that there are no chapter breaks, so reading at bedtime is a challenge. You have to choose an arbitrary stopping point which is easier to argue over than a chapter’s end. Super fun and imaginative book for kids 6-10.