Yesterday I played the CD of this to my fourth class and showed them the illustrations (from the F&G I got at last week's HarperCollins' spring pr...moreYesterday I played the CD of this to my fourth class and showed them the illustrations (from the F&G I got at last week's HarperCollins' spring preview). It is terrific!
When I told the kids we were going to listen to something by Lemony Snicket several announced that they'd HATED the Unfortunate Event books. But of course --- these are fall fourth graders, after all, and I suspect those that disliked the books only picked them up (as 3rd or even 2nd graders) because friends were liking them. I love the books myself, but would be the first to say they require a child reader with a particular sensibility and taste (a Carrollian one, if you will).
But this is actually much more accessible, I'd say. The illustrations are fun, but it is the CD that makes this package. Handler is a witty and wise writer and narrator. This is sort of an anti-Peter and the Wolf, I'd guess. Like that classic, the different instruments and parts of the orchestra are highlighted, but so differently. Handler/Snicket, as he does in Unfortunate Events, speaks ironically and amusingly, but never down to his child audience and throws in a few tidbits to the adults as well. (I don't have the book here, but I recall a witty reference to several Bachs and then Offenbach. All dead, of course.)
Look out for this one. And I know that if it is performed again (with Handler narrating)in my town, I'm there!(less)
As much fun as the other two. The author is really playing off a particular sort of Victorian novel. Sort of the way Richard Reeve's does with Larklig...moreAs much fun as the other two. The author is really playing off a particular sort of Victorian novel. Sort of the way Richard Reeve's does with Larklight, but without the sci-fi touches.
It reminds me a lot of Joan Aiken's Dido Twite books. It is an alternate history --- Victorian, mixing real (Victoria shows up in the most recent book), made-up by others (Sherlock Holmes, Watson, and the Baker Street Irregulars make an appearance in this one), tongue--in-cheek stereotypes (from the upright Indian Lal Singh to the American mad scientist and more).
The writing is fresh and witty, the plot a romp, and the characters great fun. Interestingly, there are three young protagonists. Firstly there is Emmaline "A Pioneer of Aviation" whose parents have no interest in her so she is now with her Aunt Lucy (after escaping a horrible school in the first book). Emmaline is an inventor. Then there is Rubberbones, "A Bouncing Boy." AKA Robert Burns, Rab is a village boy who helped Emmaline escape the terrible school. He is mostly indestructible and loves to fly (kites, machines, etc.). Then there is Princess Purnah who did catch my stereotype radar. She is from a made-up Asian country and speaks her own version of English and constantly thinks and talks about her country using every stereotypic 19th century convention out there. And that is the point --- the author is using all conventions and stereotypes to produce a rollicking good-time of a story.
Seems to me parody is most successful when the audience knows the object being parodied. My students know their early readers so this book is hilariou...moreSeems to me parody is most successful when the audience knows the object being parodied. My students know their early readers so this book is hilarious for them. (less)
Wow. What a book. What a story. What an amazing piece of writing.
Now I admit it took me a while to read this one. While I definitely enjoyed sad anima...moreWow. What a book. What a story. What an amazing piece of writing.
Now I admit it took me a while to read this one. While I definitely enjoyed sad animal stories as a child, now, with the occasional exception, I avoid them. And so, when I received a gorgeously packaged ARC of Kathi Appelt’s The Underneath, I admired it (as it is handsomely illustrated by David Small) , and then read the flap. “An abandoned calico cat, about to have kittens, hears the lonely howl of a chained-up dog….” Nope. Not for me. Until someone told me it reminded her of Russell Hoban’s The Mouse and his Child which happens to be one of my favorite books. So yesterday, feeling lousy with allergies, a head cold, and a painful hip (can’t run which is misery for me), I pulled out the ARC and read it.
And was immediately and utterly drawn in. I read without pausing till I was done. What a remarkable book. It is an adventure, a story of myth and magic, of sadness, of family — and is very beautifully done indeed. Yes, it is sad. Yes, there are abused animals. Even worse, some dead ones too. But, oh my goodness, is it rich and complex and gorgeous. I would have loved, loved, loved it as a child.
While I can see why someone might compare it to The Mouse and his Child because of the journey aspect of the story, the setting, and the sentiment within (and the illustrations as Small also did an edition of the Hoban book), it seems extremely different to me. Another book this reminded me of was Kate DiCamillo’s The Tale of Despereaux. The darkness, the multiple plot threads (from different points in time) all coming together slowly, the allegorical qualities, the magical elements are in both. But DiCamillo’s like Hoban’s has humor. Be warned that Appelt’s book is deadly serious. Actually, the more I think about it the more it reminds me of Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Books, still books I love, love, love.
What is it about? Hard to describe. It takes place in a deep Southern swamp — a place full of sentient trees, of intelligent animals, of shapeshifting creatures, a place of misery and mystery, a place of magic and myth. Within this magical yet hyper real place are two twisting and intersecting groups of beings. There is the bad man, an abused dog, a calico cat and her twin kittens. And then there is the other group. The magical and mythical one. The story threads swirl and twist around each other, a mix of the past and the present.
Just writing this makes me get all hyperbolic. Sorry! Suffice it to say I recommend it and look forward to hearing what others think about it.(less)
I adore this series. When it was still incomplete, I had kids (4th graders) every year who ate them up. They loved exploring them, seeking out clues....moreI adore this series. When it was still incomplete, I had kids (4th graders) every year who ate them up. They loved exploring them, seeking out clues. The ancilary books (the autobiography, the Beatrice Letters) and the web additions were incredibly fun and clever, in my opinion.
These work bcause of the language, word play, mystery (we still haven't learned much more about the narrator and I'm still convinced we are to learn more one day somehow), literary references (to every sort of literature which doesn't have to matter to child readers, but is fun for us older ones), wild feats of imagination, and more. The steadiness of the three children, their glum stick-to-it-ness, the growing-up of Sunny (she talks more by the end of the series --- unlike the Simpson's Maggie who seems to be stuck in that just-before-talking phase forever), and even some slightly more complexities for the villains.
These books are witty, intelligent, and bizarre. I love them completely. (less)
I was and am a BIG Lemony Snicket fan. And once I came across Edward Gorey in high school I was smittened too. I like Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, and...moreI was and am a BIG Lemony Snicket fan. And once I came across Edward Gorey in high school I was smittened too. I like Ambrose Bierce, Mark Twain, and other snarky writers enormously. But for whatever reason, this book didn't provoke the same response from me as the works of those writers do. (Gorey's Hapless Child is my all-time favorite.) The Willoughbys was just...okay. (I keep going between two and three stars. Two for my personal response, three because I respect what the author is doing.)
I guess I'm having the same problem with it that I had with M. T. Anderson's Thrilling Tales (of which I liked the second MUCH better than the first). Both writers are playing off older books, but if these are meant for children today (as they are deemed "children's books" and the humor is playing off a knowledge of older books), then what do kids who don't know those books think? Lowry provides a bibliography at the end, but her annotations don't exactly make one want to read the books.
For example, being a bit sensitive to German jokes, I wasn't wild about the fake German until someone pointed out that people often do fake languages. (I guess Sellers did it in the Pink Panther movies with French, didn't he.)
I totally see what Lowry is doing and wish I liked it more than I do. Others do. (less)
This is an absolutely beautiful and interesting book. The subtitle is "Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration" and that is what we do,...moreThis is an absolutely beautiful and interesting book. The subtitle is "Exploring the Fine Art of Children's Book Illustration" and that is what we do, guided by Dilys Evans. The design and quality of art is superb; the end papers, in particular, are amazing. Artists featured include: Hilary Knight, Trina Schart Hyman, Harry Bliss, David Shannon, Bryan Collier, Paul O. Zelinsky, Petra Mathers, Brian Selznick (including Hugo Cabret!), David Wiesner, Betsy Lewin, Denise Flemingh, and Lane Smith. (less)
I reread this book a few years ago (after J.K. Rowling spoke of it as her one childhood favorite) and loved it. I'm eager to see what they do with the...moreI reread this book a few years ago (after J.K. Rowling spoke of it as her one childhood favorite) and loved it. I'm eager to see what they do with the movie. I haven't heard of any kids today reading it and am afraid, frankly, to give it to any. Feels a bit of its time somehow. But I love it.(less)
I love, love, love these. I spent two years happily illustrating "The Elephant's Child" while in Sierra Leone. I love the writing, the cadence, the wi...moreI love, love, love these. I spent two years happily illustrating "The Elephant's Child" while in Sierra Leone. I love the writing, the cadence, the wit and humor.
But, I do have to warn new readers that there is language that can cause concern to many today. I suggested to a new fourth grade teacher that she do a unit on these and she came to me and showed me the word n-word in one of them. We then took a look at several editions and saw that it was edited out in some of them. But it spoiled the stories for her, sadly, and she is now not going to do the unit.
This is my all-time favorite book. After my father read it aloud to me (probably when I was eight or so), I read it (and Looking-glass) over and over...moreThis is my all-time favorite book. After my father read it aloud to me (probably when I was eight or so), I read it (and Looking-glass) over and over and over. I remember thinking sometimes, "Hm...about time I read Alice again." I just thought Wonderland and Looking-Glass Land were fantastic places and would have loved to go to both.
Since 1990 (when I studied the book at Princeton) I've been doing a unit on it with my fourth graders. I read aloud from this annotated edition so that I can slip in bits of context when necessary.
People tend to have a totally misinformed idea of this book, mostly because they know it only from the Disney movie. The thing is, what makes this book so wonderful is the humor and word play. If you read it for plot you will be royally frustrated because there is hardly any. It is really a bunch of strung together episodes as Alice meanders about. Each chapter is wonderful all alone. Reading them in the annotated versions makes it possible to better appreciate so much of Carroll's wit. The songs/poems are wonderful parodies of popular songs/poems of the time. He makes great fun of education and the life of a girl of Alice's stature. I've probably read the book aloud 25 times to kids so know it very, very, very well! I know what kids need explain, what they will enjoy most, and so forth.
Another aspect of reading the book is that it is probably one of the most illustrated children's book of all time. There are so many cool illustrators of it. Tenniel is the ur-illustrator and wonderful, but others are pretty cool too.
By the way, Jasper Fford and Neil Gaiman both get Carroll. (less)