Once I gave a girl a copy of Pablo Neruda’s love poems. Call me the pretentious Latinx college student wanting to impress the girl.* Truth is, I never read the book. Never read anything by Neruda until a few years later when I purchased a copy of The Poetry of Pablo Neruda on a whim. Wasn’t too long until I discovered a poem that just resonated with me (and still does to this day).
There’s a certain romanticism and magic realism that marks a Neruda poem, which Pam Muñoz Ryan captures in her juvenile novel, The Dreamer. Peppered with the illustrations of Peter Sís, the novel follows young Neftalí as he tries to find his place in the world. His imagination is fueled by the books he reads. He collects words and pine cones as if they were treasures made especially for him. He loses himself in daydreams and magical worlds, which is discouraged and forbidden by his overbearing father. But the world around Neftalí is changing and fueled with violence and injustice. As he struggles to speak with a stutter, he begins to use his gift of writing to give voice for others unable to speak for themselves.
Pam Muñoz Ryan’s Pura Belpré Award winning novel gives us a peek into a world no different than ours. With a political turmoil spilling out into the streets. Where those in power are silencing the media. Where fathers force their beliefs into their children’s lives. With those who are trying to change the world do so with a pen rather than a bullet. And yet, where magic still exists. Still thrives within the pages of literature and leaves of nature. This coming of age story is a must for those seeking a book to share with the children in their lives.
Continue dreaming, dreamers. And happy huntin’.
*You should have already figured out who the girl is by this point.
The League of Princes is back in their third (and final?) book. Like the first two, The Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw shows us the power of wit and wisdom of writer Christopher Healy. Fast paced and fun the whole way through, Healy shows us sides of our heroes that he hasn’t before. Gustav has a soft side? Duncan kingly? A compromising Liam? Frederic as…well, let’s not give away too much.
After last year’s release of The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle, I asked Healy whether the series would end as a trilogy. His response broke my heart and left me with hope all the same. Three was the magic number, but after that we’ll see where it goes. (I wish I screen capped this Twitter conversation so I could cite it correctly.) After reading the third book, I’m left with hope again. It’s as open-ended as the first and second book.
If anyone could inspire children to read, it’s Christopher Healy. Several children have shied away when I suggest The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom. The book is a children’s literature tome. A brick. Added weight in the backpack. However, they fall in love with the characters and Healy’s uproarishly hilarious writing style. Several writers have taken the helm of writing about old, well-known characters found in fairy tales. No one’s carried them the way Christopher Healy has, though. And as an adult reader, he’s inspired me to write again. Hopefully, that means that there are future writers in his audience as well.
There isn’t a doubt in my mind that Healy is racing towards mastering his craft. With this final book in the League of Princes, it’s clear that whatever he does in the future will excel among his peers. I look forward to what the future holds.
Product description from Amazon:
The League of Princes returns in the hilariously epic conclusion to the hit series that began with Christopher Healy’s The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom, which the Los Angeles Times called “one of the more clever, hilariously successful incarnations of the current literary rage to rip apart and rewrite fairy tales.”
Prince Liam. Prince Frederic. Prince Duncan. Prince Gustav. You think you know those guys pretty well by now, don’t you? Well, think again. Posters plastered across the thirteen kingdoms are saying that Briar Rose has been murdered—and the four Princes Charming are the prime suspects. Now they’re on the run in a desperate attempt to clear their names. Along the way, however, they discover that Briar’s murder is just one part of a nefarious plot to take control of all thirteen kingdoms—a plot that will lead to the doorstep of an eerily familiar fortress for a final showdown with an eerily familiar enemy.
Product Details: A Hero’s Guide to Being an Outlaw by Christopher Healy
Walden Pond Press (29 April 2014)
I must confess something. This might come to some of you as surprise, but I’ve never read a single Harry Potter book before. Ever. I’ve also never seen a single one of the films in completion—Jessica, when we were together, convinced me twice to see the first movie after it came out on DVD and both times I fell asleep. I saw the three-headed dog and enough of the ending to learn that Snape wasn’t the one trying to kill Harry. I know. You’re all probably reeling right now. I’ll give you a moment.
Done? Okay. Let’s move on.
Now I didn’t not read Harry Potter (and, subsequently, not watch the movies) because of my “academic” background like my BFF (best frenemies forever), Eddie, has suggested several times. Like with Stephen King and Anne Rice (both writers whose works I’ve read, mine you), I decided in high school—two years before any college English professor could sully me with his bias on trendy lit—that I didn’t like the character.
Wizards? In the modern world? Without a ring of power and Hobbits? Please. No, thank you. Not even thank you. Just no. Get out of my room. How the fuck did you get in here, anyway? (At this point, I turn up the latest by Korn and start thrashing about my adolescent bedroom).
It took, however, two rather adorable Potter fans—one is Carol, my friend, and the other my coworker—to finally convince me to settle down and read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (or, for you British readers and purists, …and the Philosopher’s Stone—which is something that I sincerely dislike about being American when the very notion of a philosopher’s stone befuddles so much that an entire plot device is renamed so our feeble little minds can comprehend it—though, I guess, in a pre-Google era (though, not really pre-), we couldn’t just Google that shit).
There was some resistance, I’ll admit. The book flows marvelously, so it was easy to lose track of the time. It took longer than I would like to have read it—two weeks, because I only read at home and not at work or when Shaun was here and, often times, I’d get distracted with other books (I have an Alex Lemon book of poems I have to review, as well)—but I enjoyed more than I did the first time I picked up a Harry Potter book and skimmed through it—a copy belonging to a rather obnoxious blonde freshmen girl who happened to be in the same theatre arts class as me (or I just hung out in her class because the teacher and I were tight and I didn’t like feeling like a loser in lunch as I had zero friends who shared the lunch period with me). “Peh,” said I. “This will never catch on in America.” That’s right. I completely ignored the growing Pottermania that was bursting at the seams outside.
The thing that disturbed me the most, however, is the complete disregard for the magic a book can hold. A few people, after learning that a Potter-disliker was diving into the first book because he finally wanted to know what the hell his friend and coworker were going on about, told me something similar, “I don’t know how you’ll feel about it. The whole magic is growing up with it.”
Every reader is far from being finished with “growing up.” And no book loses its magic with age. If it does, then the magic wasn’t there in the first place. It doesn’t matter if you’re 13, 30, or 98—if a book is “magical,” it should be magical for whatever age its current audience is.
So was Harry Potter magical to me? Yes. In a way. I’m not about to give myself to the church of J.K. Rowling or set up a match of Quidditch at the park with my friends and random Craigslist finds, but I’m willing to replace my saved books—books thrown into the recycling bin at work—with newer copies of the series.
Outside of his Sandman comic books, I’ve never picked up anything by Neil Gaiman—I know: BAD BOOK HUNTER! BAD! However, the other day the Junior Library Guild sent us a shipment that contained a copy of Fortunately, The Milk, and admit laughter ensued.
After discovering that his kids don’t have any milk for their breakfast cereal—more importantly, any milk for his tea—one father takes a trip to the local corner store only to find himself on adventure of epic lengths.
A natural wordsmith, Neil Gaiman carved out a book that both parent and child will enjoy reading—preferably together as sneaking off with your kid’s books is frowned upon for some reason. Accompanied by the art work of Skottie Young, the story springs from the pages and takes you on a whirlwind of an adventure that’ll have you all in stitches.
You can buy Fortunately, The Milk at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. It’ll make the best last minute Christmas gift!!!
New books came into the department yesterday so, of course, I sat at the desk and leafed through a few of them. A few caught my attention, but it was David Almond’s Mouse Bird Snake Wolf caught my eye. Now there are a few Almond books on the shelves already, but nothing that ever interested me enough to sneak a peek. So maybe it was Dave McLean’s illustrations that pulled at my attention, but I assure you it was the writing that kept me glued.
Creation myths have always been my favorite topics because it stirs the author’s and reader’s imagination (Atheist note: I just don’t regard them as science). David Almond constructs a beautiful, yet incomplete, world where children’s imagination holds the same power of the slumbering gods, reminding us that we’re all creationists (in the simple sense of imagination, mind you). And like all imagination, we can create the wonderful and awesome and the deeply dark and disturbing. And let us never forget that is us that inspire gods, not the other way around.
And what images spark from Dave McKean’s imagination. His depictions of the world and the creatures created by the children leave the reader enraptured.
This beautiful, yet chilling, book deserves a spot in your children’s bedtime story shelf as it is a delight for both adult and child.
About the book (inside flap):
The gods have created a world—they’ve made mountains, forests, and seas; people and beasts—and now their days are fat with tea and cake, mutual admiration, and long naps in the clouds. But the world has curious gaps in it, and Harry, Sue, and Little Ben set out to fill them. They conjure a mousy thing, a chirpy thing, and a twisty legless thing. As each creature takes its place in the living world, the children’s ideas grow bolder until the power of their visions proves greater and more dangerous than they, or the gods, could ever have imagined. It is possible to unmake what’s been made?
Enter the world as dazzling as it is familiar in an original creation tale conjured by master storyteller David Almond and visionary artist Dave McKean.
Mouse Bird Snake Wolf by David Almond with illustrations by Dave McKean
Candlewick, 14 May 2013
Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is available in hardcover with a paperback edition released in January 2014. You can pick up a copy at Amazon (Hardback/Paperback) or Barnes and Noble (Hardback).
It seems everyone’s trying to write the next Harry Potter, which I guess is better than everyone trying to write the next Twilight…oh wait. While I don’t like Harry Potter (breathe, it’s okay) or books in the same vein (it’s not my type of fantasy), I picked up Keeper of the Lost Cities by Shannon Messenger in hopes to find a book that I could suggest for the International Book Discussion we’re having at the library next March. While I’d rather suggest Rump, the paperback edition is slated for an April release.
The book follows the same format as Potter-esque books: Sophie Foster is different from most 12-year-olds. For starters, she’s a senior in high school who was offered a spot at an ivy league university. She can also hear people’s thoughts. All this changes one day when she meets Fitz. Like her, Fitz is different. In fact, he’s an elf. And he reveals to Sophie that she’s one, too. An opportunity of a lifetime is offered, she can give up her life as human and live among the elves and other fairy tale creatures in the Lost Cities. Of course, this begins the chain reaction that reveals all the secrets that hide within her head.
Now, I gave this a four-star review on GoodReads to make up for my bias. There are some things I found rather bothersome with the book. Shannon Messenger doesn’t avoid clichés like the plague. It’s the first lesson we learn in creative writing, avoid clichés. Or reinvent them. Her writing dragged at times, even though the story didn’t slow in pace. And several times throughout the book, I wondered if she was searching for her voice. There are few other things I disliked but I don’t want to give away any spoilers so I’ll bottom them for another day.
Now, don’t think this book bad. The story, while familiar, is great. The reader is sucked in with its fast pace. And with Sophie, there isn’t a dull moment. The love triangle (there’s always a love triangle these days) is present, but I wonder if it’ll be a quadrangle later on. It’s also not a central plot, which makes the book easier to digest. And while I disregarded it as a potential suggestion for the book discussion, I have to say that I’m fighting the urge to purchase the next book. So it’s made it onto my suggestion pile.
About the book (back cover):
Twelve-year-old Sophie Foster has a secret. She is a Telepath, and has a unique ability to hear the thoughts of everyone around her—something that she’s never known how to explain, and has made her and outcast, even in her own family.
But everything changes the day she meets Fitz, a mysterious boy who appears out of nowhere and also reads minds. She discovers there’s somewhere she does belong, and staying where she is will put her in grave danger. In the blink of an eye, Sophie is forced to leave behind everything and start a new life in a place that is vastly different from her own.
Sophie has new rules and skills to learn, and not everyone is thrilled with her “homecoming.” There are secrets buried deep in Sophie’s memory, secrets that other people desperately want.
Would even kill for…
Keeper of the Lost Cities
by Shannon Messenger
Aladdin, Reprint edition (6 August 2013)
Keeper of the Lost Cities is a perfect read for any child between the ages of 8-12, or any adult who’s a child at heart. You can pick up a copy at Amazon or Barnes & Noble. An e-book edition is available for Kindle and Nook.