Stuff and Nonsense: children's literature

Showing posts with label children's literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label children's literature. Show all posts


Phoebe & Her Unicorn

About a month ago, I stumbled across Phoebe & Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle in Children's, screamed at the sheer sparkly cleverness of it, and brought it home.

Where I devoured it.

So I acquired the second book, Unicorn On A Roll: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure. And devoured that.

And then ... what??? My library did not own the third book, Unicorn vs. Goblins: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure! So sad. So I had to wait for another library to send their copy along. And, eventually, they did and I devoured that ... but maybe a little more slowly, because I thought it would the last volume for me.

But, lo, the Children's librarians had ordered the fourth book, Razzle Dazzle Unicorn: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure, (still no third book) and there it was on the shelf earlier this week ... sparkling at me, tempting me with snarky unicorn whispers to take it home. And I did.

And then I finally came to my senses and subscribed to the daily update at GoComics. Because, you see, Phoebe & Her Unicorn is a webcomic created by Dana Simpson and I could have been reading it a leisurely pace since 2012. Rather than gobbling it down like so much delicious leftover Halloween candy. But then, you know, I'd have missed all the fun forwards by PETER "I WROTE THE SEMINAL UNICORN NOVEL" BEAGLE, Corey Doctorow, Lauren Faust, and the author herself. Also, the books come with activities, recipes, and vocabulary lists ...

Clever, cute, and laugh-out-loud funny (seriously, I don't recommend these as quiet, waiting room reading) Phoebe & Her Unicorn is reminiscent of Calvin & Hobbes and, indeed, I believe anyone who adored C&H will adore this comic. Also strongly recommend it to socially-awkward nerd girls with too big vocabularies.

The illustrations are well done -- simple but very expressive and I love that Marigold is a proper unicorn with cloven hooves and a tail more reminiscent of a lion's than a mare's. Also, she's very swoopy and curvy -- like a swan or a delicately carved carousel horse.

Yes, I'm quite enamored with Phoebe & Her Unicorn and can't wait for the fifth compilation to come out next year.

Simpson, Dana. Phoebe & Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle. Andrews McMeel, 2014.

Simpson, Dana. Unicorn On A Roll: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure. Andrews McMeel, 2015.

Simpson, Dana. Unicorn vs. Goblins: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure. Andrews McMeel, 2016.

Simpson, Dana. Razzle Dazzle Unicorn: Another Phoebe & Her Unicorn Adventure. Andrews McMeel, 2016.


The White Cat & The Monk: A Retelling of the Poem "Pangur Bán"

I first encountered Pangur Bán as a character in the animated film The Secret of Kells (just a lovely, lovely work more people should see), ended up googling a madly about the actual Book of Kells, Irish monasteries, illuminated manuscripts, and ... oh, just all sorts of things.

Eventually, this wandering about the internet led me to a sweet piece of marginalia called “Pangur Bán,” a lovely poem written by an Irish monk about his cat. There’s a whole Wikipedia entry for it, if you’re interested. So, when I saw Bogart and Smith’s The White Cat and The Monk on display in Children’s, it should come as no surprise that I immediately made away with it.

The White Cat and The Monk is a quiet and yet joyous little story suitable for readers of all ages. Smith’s serene watercolor and ink illustrations, in gentle shades of grey and brown with splashes of the palest, softest candlelight yellow (artfully broken up by a bold yet judicious use of gem colors on the manuscript pages), are well worth a second, third, even forth glance. It’s the kind of book I’d give both my (cat-loving) mother and my (cat-loving) college roommate’s (equally cat-loving) six-year-old son.

The White Cat & The Monk: A Retelling of the Poem "Pangur Bán" w/ text adapted by Jo Ellen Bogart & illus by Sydney Smith (Groundwood Books, 2016)


Mars Evacuees

The fact that someone had decided I’d be safer on Mars, where you could still only SORT OF breathe the air and SORT OF not get sunburned to death, was a sign that the war with the aliens was not going fantastically well.

When the Morrors showed up and said they could cool down the overheated earth and save humanity, humanity understandably rejoiced. But the Morrors (rhymes with horrors?) really meant they were going to bring on a new ice age, making the earth inhospitable to humans, and perfectly hospitable to Morrors. And so began a long and nasty war ... and the humans have been losing ground.

Alice, daughter of the famous fighter pilot Captain Dare, has been shipped off to a (partially) terraformed and (sorta-kinda) habitable Mars with a bunch of other kids to continue their education from a place of safety. Except, of course, it turns out Mars might not be all that safe. There's weirdness afoot. And then all the adults disappear.

Mars Evacuees was an absolutely delightful read. Funny and smart, with lots of relatable female characters and careful, skillful world-building. And, yes, while the story was a mad romp, it also deftly handled heavy issues like war, racism, and gender.

There was no part of this novel I did not enjoy (well, except for a few bleak bits when SPOILERS but that was perfectly understandable) and I am completely chuffed to know there is a sequel, Space Hostages, in the works. As a child, I read lots of "soft" sci-fi like This Place Has No Atmosphere, The Dancing Meteorite, and Orvis and I'm pretty darn certain eleven-year-old me would have adored this book, too. Perky talking floating robotic goldfish! Hooray!

Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall (Harper, 2014)


The Velvet Room

Belonging to a place isn't nearly as necessary as belonging to people you love and who love you and need you.

The Velvet Room follows the story of Robin, a bookish young girl whose family is one of the many migrant families found in California during the Great Depression. They are constantly on the move, trying to make ends meet, and there is little room in such a life for the beauty or solitude Robin craves. But then a stroke of luck -- her father finds work at the McCurdy ranch and Robin makes an important friend in a little old woman named Bridget.

Despite the mystery behind the old Palmeras House and Robin's insistence on befriending the bruja, there's nothing particularly frightening or ominous about the story. I say this because the title of the book itself sounds mysterious and the current edition looks (imho) pretty darn ominous!

Instead of being about scary things, The Velvet Room much more about the (gently told) hard truths of a childhood lived during the Depression and also about finding a place to be yourself without losing the ones you love. Truth be told, The Velvet Room reminded me quite a lot of of Doris Gates' Blue Willow, in that they share similar settings and both deal with longing and belonging. I'm pretty sure if you enjoyed the one, you will enjoy the other. I certainly enjoyed this book and wish it had a sequel. 4 out of 5 secret diaries.

The Velvet Room by Zilpha Keatley Snyder w/ illus. by Alton Raible (Atheneum, 1965)


Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer

Owly is an adorable, but lonely little owl. He desperately wants friends, but everyone he approaches rejects him because he's bigger then them and a touch awkward. Sad little friendless owl. Then a chance encounter with an earthworm turns things around. Owly makes a friend! And then another friend! And another! And soon he is neither lonely nor sad.

Oh, The Cute! It's impossible not to go "Awww" while reading Owly and want to dole out hugs after finishing it. There's a strong moral message about friendship and not judging people until you get to know them, but it's all wrapped up in beautifully expressive line drawings and the tone is never preachy. I say tone, but there's no written dialogue. The story's told through illustration and interpretation. It's really cleverly done. This may make me sound singularly unobservant, but I was so taken with the story that I was thirty pages in before I realized no-one was "talking."

And kudos to The Husband for giving me this for Christmas. He thought it might be a good companion to Chi's Sweet Home and he was right! There are many more Owly adventures available and I look forward to getting them through my library system. Meanwhile, there are a bunch of awesome free mini comics downloadable from Andy Runton's site.

Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton (Top Shelf, 2004)


The House at World’s End

With their father off sailing around the world and their mother hospitalized after their house burns down, Tom, Carrie, Em, and Michael are thrust upon their grudging Aunt Valentina and Uncle Rudolph. All is misery until Uncle Rudolph takes everyone for a picnic in the country. Inspired by the World's End, a ramshackle wreck of a building, the children hatch a plan to live there free of their Aunt and Uncle and, after rather less finagling than you'd expect, off they go.

What was the point of making a bed if you were going to sleep in it that night? Why brush your hair if you were going out into the wind? ... Why hurry home from a ride, or from watching squirrels in the woods, or sliding on the frozen duck pond, just because it happened to be the time that ordinary dull people had their supper?

Once freed from their probably-well-meaning-but-annoyingly-boorish adults, the children have many adventures – but this is a slim novel so I can't really tell you about them without giving everything away! Suffice to say that, if you grew up devouring stories like The Trolley Car Family or Swallows and Amazons, I think you'll really like The House at World's End. It's charming and rather sweet, with lots of animals and a strong sense of morality.

That said, I rather disliked the father for leaving his family to gallivant across the ocean. Yes, his family was in fine fettle and his house not burnt down at the time of sailing, but to leave your wife and four children alone to fend for themselves for so long for your own selfish pleasure? Why be a father? Why be married at all? (I know, I know ... novels like this only work with the parents out of the picture and Dead Dad isn't fun).

Also, I read The House at World's End the same week I listened to James Herriot's Cat Stories and all the animal love bled together enough that I kept trying to set the novel in 1940s Darrowby, despite Dickens' indication it is set in New England.

The House at World's End by Monica Dickens (Doubleday, 1970)


A Hidden Magic

Jennifer, an impoverished and altogether ordinary princess, enters through a magic gate into an enchanted forest at the instigation of a handsome-but-self-centered prince. The self-centered prince then proceeds to makes some unfortunate decisions and ends up bespelled by a magic mirror. Jennifer, finding herself more-or-less obligated to rescue the prince, heads deeper into the forest in search of a way to save him.

A Hidden Magic is a lighthearted fantasy adventure that successfully spoofs many standard fairy tale tropes. The protagonist is well drawn and, while the story's outcome might be clear from the beginning, the novel is still a jolly romp. Comedic encounter follows comedic encounter, the dialogue is generally quite witty, and everything wraps up very nicely and neatly. If you have an hour or so to spare, A Hidden Magic is well worth the time.

(And it is beautifully illustrated by my favorite children's book illustrator, Trina Schart Hyman ... which is, admittedly, my whole reason for picking up the book!)

A Hidden Magic by Vivian Van Velde (Harcourt, 1985)


Happy Birthday, Anna Sewell

I said, "I have heard people talk about war as if it was a very fine thing."
"Ah!" said he, "I should think they never saw it. No doubt it is very fine when there is no enemy, when it is just exercise and parade and sham fight. Yes, it is very fine then; but when thousands of good brave men and horses are killed or crippled for life, it has a very different look."
"Do you know what they fought about?" said I.
"No," he said, "that is more than a horse can understand, but the enemy must have been awfully wicked people, if it was right to go all that way over the sea on purpose to kill them."


There is no religion without love, and people may talk as much as they like about their religion, but if it does not teach them to be good and kind to man and beast it is all a sham - all a sham, James, and it won't stand when things come to be turned inside out and put down for what they are. 
― Anna Sewell, Black Beauty

It's hard to believe, but there was a time when I could quote passages from Black Beauty. Indeed, I was so fond of some passages I wrote them down in purple ink in my special not-to-be-shared-with-anyone quotations book! (I wish I'd kept that book, but I tossed it in high school ... deciding it was both embarrassing and "not grown up").

I'd never been a horsey girl, but I picked up a copy of Anna Sewell's Black Beauty during an elementary school book fair -- I presume I liked the cover? Or maybe it was discounted with my copy of The Swiss Family Robinson? Regardless, I started reading Black Beauty on the way home from school ... and then I read it everywhere. Including, much to my mother's disapproval, the bathtub.

So happy birthday, Anna Sewell. You rocked my eleven-year-old world.


Manga: Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 8

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 8 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2012)

I cannot believe I haven't written about Chi's Sweet Home since March 2012. What have I been doing? Reading the wrong books, obviously.

Volume 8 opens with Chi fully recovered from her tummy upset and ready for fun. Alas, her humans are too busy to play with her and Chi takes off for the park in search of Cocchi. Cocchi is his usual bundle of grumpy swagger, but Chi's adorable hijinks keep Cocchi from being too full of himself. Anyway, we know from Volume 7 that Cocchi, for all his swagger, has a soft marshmallow center. He wants a home, too, and it's clear he genuinely cares about Chi.

Chi and Cocchi engage upon a series of misadventures culminating with Chi becoming trapped in a garden shed. She escapes The Shed of Doom only to suffer a bath at the hands of the Yamadas and then ... could it be? Yes, it is! The Cone of Shame! Ahhh! Will that teach Chi to stay out of places she doesn't belong?

It's mean, but it's impossible not to laugh as Chi bounces off everything and becomes adorably annoyed with her Elizabethan collar. It brings back very clear memories of my own cats' experiences with the collar. Oh, the wailing and general angst. Oh, the indignity. And the hilarity.


Seasonal Reads: How Six Found Christmas

Once upon a time, a little girl sets out to find a Christmas. She'd only heard of Christmas, but never seen one herself and is very curious what it could be like. In her travels through the Great Snow Forest of the North she meets five animals who have also never experienced a Christmas. They travel along together for time and do indeed find a Christmas in the end. While it may not be the Christmas you or I expected, "Christmas is not only where you find it; it's what you make of it."

The book's message -- very sweet and simple -- is worth remembering. Christmas doesn't have to be creches or tinsel. It can be a simple, ordinary, everyday thing if it feels like Christmas to you.

How Six Found Christmas written & illus. by Trina Schart Hyman (Holiday House, 1969)


Seasonal Reads: Hershel & the Hanukkah Goblins

Hershel of Ostropol, tired and hungry, arrives in a village on the first night of Hanukkah. Expecting light and merriment, latkes and music, he instead finds a village wrapped in cold and darkness. The village cannot celebrate Hanukkah, you see, since the goblins began haunting the old synagogue on the hill. They make the villagers' lives a misery all year round, but Hanukkah is particularly bad. So brave Hershel sallies forth to drive the goblins from the synagogue ...

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins is one of my favorite Hanukkah stories and not just because one of my favorite children's illustrators, Trina Schart Hyman, illustrated it! Yes, Hyman's illustrations are superb -- her goblins are an excellent blend of funny and frightening, but Kimmel's text is equally superb -- so clever and funny (and also little scary). I really liked that Hershel was a crafty hero who used his brains to defeat the goblins rather than resorting to butt-kicking -- he was a hero a reader might hope to become. Although ... he does lie a lot. Some would think that might not be the best lesson for kidlets, but I'd say that if you're going to lie to anyone, it might as well be goblins!

Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins written by Eric Kimmel & illus. by Trina Schart Hyman (Holiday House, 1989)


Seasonal Reads: I Saw Three Ships

     "I hope I'm not sickening for something," she said to Constantia as they sat before the fire filling Polly's stocking after the child had gone upstairs.
     "Do you feel feverish?" said Constantia anxiously.
     "No," said Dorcas, "but it's Wednesday and I haven't polished the furniture."
"You must be ill," said Constantia. "Have you a headache?"

Elizabeth Goudge’s I Saw Three Ships is a beautifully written and emotionally wrenching story (reader, I cried) about a little girl named Polly Flowerdew who lives with her two maiden aunts, Constantia and Dorcas, in an English seaport town not long after The Terror.

Polly wants to leave the house unlocked on Christmas Eve, believing in the old custom that says that the Wise Men may come calling. Her far less fanciful aunts strongly oppose the idea, but Polly’s youth and idealism soften them, and by the end of the book, three wise men have indeed come calling (and gotten into the wine) and a miracle has occurred down in the harbor.

Really, just a lovely Christmas story -- sad and sweet and funny -- and I can't believe it's out of print. It's definitely going on my list of Christmas rereads -- right next to No Holly for Miss Quinn and The Worst Best Christmas Pageant Ever.

I Saw Three Ships written by Elizabeth Goudge & illus. Margot Tomes (Coward-McCann, 1969)


Seasonal Reads: A Child's Christmas in Wales

Years and years ago, when I was a boy, when there were wolves in Wales, and birds the color of red-flannel petticoats whisked past the harp-shaped hills, when we sang and wallowed all night and day in caves that smelt like Sunday afternoons in damp front farmhouse parlors, and we chased, with the jawbones of deacons, the English and the bears, before the motor car, before the wheel, before the duchess-faced horse, when we rode the daft and happy hills bareback, it snowed and it snowed. But here a small boy says: "It snowed last year, too. I made a snowman and my brother knocked it down and I knocked my brother down and then we had tea."

I'm on a Trina Schart Hyman kick -- blame it on the Hershel and the Hanukkah Goblins I saw at Barnes & Noble. There are so many books I picked up as a child because of Hyman's tempting and richly-detailed illustrations and she remains one of my favorite illustrators. So, when I saw my library owned this edition of A Child's Christmas in Wales, I snapped it up. I'd never read A Child's Christmas in Wales -- didn't hear about it until I was a college student with limited patience for poetry. Needless to say, I did not read it then.

More fool me.

A Child's Christmas in Wales is a beautiful prose poem of childhood and Christmas in a small Welsh town and Hyman's illustrations pair so well with the story. I know there are many editions of A Child’s Christmas in Wales, but this one is so lovely and perfect that there really need be no other editions!

I would really like prints of some of the illustrations to hang on my walls. The one of Aunt Hannah, who liked port, "singing like a big-bosomed thrush" in the middle of the snowy yard is my favorite -- mostly, because I expect to age into Aunt Hannah.

And, as with Trina Schart Hyman's Little Red Riding Hood, there are cats everywhere!

A Child's Christmas in Wales by Dylan Thomas with illustrations by Trina Schart Hyman


The Cats of Roxville Station

Dumped off a bridge by humans who no longer want her now that summer is past, Ratchet manages to make her way to the fields surrounding Roxville Station. Through trial-and-error as well as careful, surreptitious observation of the other feral cats, Ratchet learns how to make a safe home for herself, where to hunt, and how to avoid humans while taking advantage of human civilization. Ratchet grows into a fine hunter and survivor, moving her way up the feral cat hierarchy until she is second only to Queenella. She could, indeed, soon displace Queenella ... but she keeps crossing paths with Mike, a foster boy who longs for a cat of his own and is desperate to woo Ratchet. Will he succeed in becoming Ratchet's First Home?

I picked this novel up because I was looking for something a little like Chi's Sweet Home as the next volume isn't out until August 2013. And, heartbreakingly sad and sweet as it was, The Cats of Roxville Station did give me a good idea of what life might have been like for Chi had she not been taken in by humans but immediately fallen in with Blackie or Coochi.

This book isn't just about a pack of fictional feral cats -- there's quite a lot of science to it with talk of cat behavior and development, the lifecycle of monarch butterflies, and dwindling barn owl habitat. As someone interested in urban/suburban wildlife, I found The Cats of Roxville Station to be extremely interesting. And charming. Very, very charming.

The Cats of Roxville Station written by Jean Craighead George & illus. by Tom Pohrt (Dutton, 2009)


Seasonal Reads: The 13 Nights of Halloween

The 13 Nights of Halloween written & illus. by Guy Vasilovich (HarperCollins, 2011)

A very clever and amusing rewrite of that holiday classic, “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” with thirsty vampires, icky eyeballs, and caroling corpses replacing the traditional items. And, seriously, who wouldn’t prefer eight marching mutants to eight maids a-milking? Unless they were mutant milkmaids! That would be awesome, yes?

The ghoulish illustrations are quite gorgeous -- it’s like looking at stills from an animated film -- and consistently manage to be both creepy and cute. Indeed, our wee witchy girl with her big eyes and bat-beribboned pigtails is so adorable that I wanted to put her in my pocket and carry her around with me! I’m pretty sure her mummy wouldn’t be pleased, though.


Graphic Novel: Ozma of Oz

Ozma of Oz adapted by Eric Shanower & Skottie Young (Marvel, 2011)

Dorothy, on the way to Australia with her uncle, is washed overboard and finds herself stranded, with a plucky talking hen, on the shores of the enchanted land of Ev. There she is terrorized by the nightmarish Wheelers, and befriends a patent double-action mechanical man, before heading on to the royal city. There Dorothy and Co. run into some trouble with the acting ruler, but are rescued by old (and new) friends. Together they travel to the underground kingdom of the Nome King to free Ev's remaining royal family.

Problem is, the Nome King has turned them all into decorative ornaments. The king offers them each chances to identify the royals amongst the bric-a-brac, but if they fail they will be turned into ornaments, too. Finding the royals is, of course, harder than they would have thought and the future is looking very ... decorative ... for our intrepid band of would-be rescuers, but will a plucky piece of poultry save the day?

This is the third Marvel adaptation of an Oz book and, I swear, they just keep getting better! Skottie Young's full color illustrations are just charming and capture the adventurous spirit of the story. I especially love how he drew Bill(ina) -- giving a little yellow hen so much character. The expression around her eyes when she thinks Dorothy is telling another whopper about Oz is just priceless. And Ozma, while a stunner, is clearly no vapid princess. Her thoughts and feelings are clear in her face and actions. She's a princess a girl could get behind and she knows how to rock a poppy headpiece. Oh, yes, I'd ship Dorothy/Ozma any day.

Can't wait for Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz to come out in hardcover on September 26. Will be standing by my mailbox at noon, waiting to flag down the postie.


Bunnicula Nostalgia

"Okay," he said, "this is it. I'm sorry I had to go this far, but if they'd listened, this wouldn't have been necessary." He dragged the steak across the floor and laid it across the inert bunny. Then with his paws, he began to hit the steak.
"Are you sure this what they mean, Chester?"
"Am I anywhere near his heart?" he asked.
"It's hard to tell," I said. "All I can really see are his nose and his ears. You know, he's really sort of cute."
Chester was getting that glint in his eyes again. He was pounding away at the steak, harder and harder.
I first encountered Howard, Chester, and the mysterious bun-bun in their midst at an elementary school book fair. Bunnicula's cover art immediately won me over and I remember rushing to the payment table to fork over my hard-won allowance as quickly as possible. Not for me the chose-your-own-adventure books are the smelly pens of multi-hued ink, no. I must have Bunnicula.

I gobbled Bunnicula down in one sitting and then reread it over and over again. At some point, I must have figured out there were more books about Bunnicula out there in the world, waiting for me to read, because I clearly remember relentlessly begging my mother for an advance on my allowance and a trip to Little Professor so I purchase Howliday Inn.

Oh, I loved these books! And even now, as I reread them, the stories still hang together well and remain as funny, clever, and smart as I remember. The deadpan narration of Harold the dog, the wild accusations of Chester the cat, the Monroe family's amusing interactions, and simple silent adorabs of Bunnicula -- all these things make for an excellent read.

And there are four more books after The Celery Stalks At Midnight! How did I not know this? I guess, by the time Nighty Nightmare came out, I was already in junior high and well into a hardcore Dark is Rising bender I would not surface from until high school. Vampire bunnies might have lost their charm?

Well, that doesn't stop me from catching up with Bunnicula now. My library consortium has all the Bunnicula books on audio and I look forward meeting Howie again and seeing what new mischief Chester will get us into.


Mighty Long-Winded Post Signifying Nothing Much

I was going to write about The Duchess of Whimsy and how much fun I had reading it, but my mind keeps circling back to a conversation I had with a coworker. At lunch one day last week, I could not stop talking about The Duchess of Whimsy and Minette’s Feast (a really lovely story about Julia Child’s cat). I thought they were marvellous books. Very cleverly written with lots of detailed, whimsical illustrations -- the kind of illustrations I turn back to, again and again, sure I've missed some adorable detail.

I don’t know, maybe my fangirl carryings-on were de trop, because my coworker became a bit grumpy and went on a mini rant about being annoyed by all the “clever” and “sophisticated” picture books being published that aren’t really meant for children. Sure, the detailed illustrations and witty text appeal to me, but would a four-year-old appreciate it? A four-year-old does not have the attention span for such detail and wouldn't tolerate sophisticated language. Such picture books are better suited to older readers, but they wouldn't read them because they'd be looking in the chapter books.

To some extent, I agree with her. PreK/K me wouldn’t have known what a soirée or bistro was without explanation … which my mother, teacher, or librarian, when reading the story aloud, would have supplied. Aren't adults meant to read picture books to children? And isn't it good the books are so clever and detailed -- so the adults have as much fun reading the story as the children do hearing it? I know I would have loved the pictures in either book and I know my mom would have really enjoyed reading Minette's Feast to me.

Also, need picture books be “dumbed down” to whatever we think a child’s level is or ought to be? Shouldn’t we aspire to inspire children to push the limits of their understanding? (And, I somehow I just can’t see any author getting up in the morning and thinking “Alright! Today I’m going to write a story for 2-year-olds about a red balloon! With simple stick drawings and a beat-them-over-the-head-with-obviousness moral so the little buggers don’t get confused”).

A quick look at GoodReads tells me most readers agree with me that the The Duchess of Whimsy is beautiful and witty with no complaints about its level of sophistication:
"First of all, let me say that the illustrations are *perfect* and I wanted to peruse each page slowly and intently to catch every little detail!"

"The illustrations are wondrous, humorous and filled with details; the story is filled with the extravagance of a whimsical duchess. "

"Humorous, and full of an exuberant sense of fun."

“If your child liked Fancy Nancy or Eloise then they will love The Duchess of Whimsy by Randall de Séve.”

“This is a simply delicious book, and a perfect readaloud for story time.”

“A beautiful book filled with such tremendous words. This would make a nice choice for an Early Literacy storytime on Vocabulary.”

“Wondeful kids story, amusing and not preachy, and a great vocabulary builder.”

“This would make a really fun read aloud! I also think this would be a good character and vocabulary process study.”
And all this is just my very roundabout way of me saying: To heck with my coworker, The Duchess of Whimsy (and Minette’s Feast) is a great picture book and everyone should read it.


Wherein I Witter On About Narnia

A few years ago, The Husband gave me a beautifully boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia on CD. A HarperCollins publication, it consists of a laminated box with slipcase and seven CD books nestled in their own individual slipcases. Everything, including the CDs themselves, are decorated with colored illustrations from the novels and are just a real pleasure to both look at and to handle. I must admit, though, that until recently I'd only listened to my favorite books in the series and ignored the rest.

However, our long drive to Niagara Falls last month required a significant amount of audio material to comfort and entertain us while we crossed the wilds of New York into fell Canada. The Chronicles seemed perfect for the trip -- familiar, but not too, and long enough that we go get through one book each way. Also, one of us had forgot to stock up on audiobooks at the library so it's not as if we were spoilt for choice.

Since we came back from Niagara Falls, we've been keeping up with the Narnian adventures of those Sons of Adam and Daughters of Eve. Currently, we're on the first disc of The Silver Chair (excellently read by Jeremy Northam) -- Eustace has muffed the first sign, everyone's had a lovely supper, and now we're off to the Parliament of Owls. I can't wait to reacquaint myself with Puddleglum the Marsh-wiggle! With his gloomy optimism and dogged courage in the face of certain doom, he remains one of my favorite characters.

The Silver Chair is, as far as I'm concerned, Book 4 of The Chronicles. I know most Narnia lovers have strong opinions regarding The Chronicles reading order. Read them in the order they were published or read them in the order of events? I go with publication order, because I think the stories make better sense that way. Also, if read in the order of publication with The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe first, Narnia is slowly built up in my mind with great mystery and marvel. Yes, even though I've read The Chronicles many many times since childhood.

(I say that, as there is no wrong way to read a book, there is also no wrong order to read them in. Stick yourself in wherever the tale seems most interesting and go on from there. If that means starting with The Last Battle ... well, why not?)

I was a little worried, when we starting listening to The Chronicles, that The Husband wouldn't really enjoy them. He'd read The Magician's Nephew on his own (believing it the first one, poor lamb) and thought it was all right, but expresses a little crankiness toward The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe because, way back in junior school, it was one of those books the teachers read to the students. Unfortunately, no teacher ever progressed further than the first third of the book and I can certainly see how that would be annoying -- the Pevensies and Turkish Delight over and over again without ever getting to Christmas, or the Stone Table, or the destruction of the White Witch's army. Seems like a torture worthy of the White Witch, really, with her "always winter, but never Christmas."

(This is a bit sad, but whenever The Husband talks about his early education I imagine him at Pole and Scrubb's 'orrible Experiment House).


Manga: Chi's Sweet Home, Volume 7

Chi’s Sweet Home: Volume 7 by Kanata Konami (Vertical, 2011)

Chi's midnight adventure from Volume 6 continues. Chi, collarless, follows her new "friend," Cocchi, out of the park ... and nothing terrible happens, I promise you. Did you really think anything too terrible could happen to Chi? Well, aside from getting heart-breakingly lost in Volume 1?

Blackie makes sure Chi gets home okay and everything is hunky-dory (except for a few small misadventures with bathing and a goldfish) until Chi goes off on another adventure with Cocchi and gets into big (tummy) trouble. The Yamadas reaction to their cat's first illness is pretty hilarious and Chi's desperate attempts to physically escape her sick feelings seemed very true to life.