Friday, January 25, 2008

Barkbelly by Cat Weatherill

I’m pretty sure I read about this one over at Pixie Stix. She has it tagged “Quirky and Hard to Define.” That it is. I enjoyed it, though. It would make a great read aloud- the epic quest for self-identification is moderately episodic, keeps you wondering what will happen next, and has great character names like Candy Pie and Farmer Muckledown. I like it so much that I immediately picked up the companion, Snowbone, but it was too much of a good thing. I think I only got through the first chapter before realizing that I was done with the adventure. At least for a while. So often I come back to Cathie Mercier’s comment about sequels: is there really more story to tell, or do you just want more? In this case, I think, yes, there is more story there, but I don’t need any more just yet.

This story seems very un-American to me (and indeed, the author is British), and I’m trying to decide why. Part of it is the landscape; American concepts of and attitudes towards wilderness are so different from European ones. This book in particular really channels England’s long history of fantastical creatures living alongside humans. We don’t have that a part of our cultural history. Hmmm… I’m going to have to think about this some more.

I’m fascinated by covers and how they change from country to country
and over time to appeal to new readers. This one is so much more appealing. I’m not sure if it’s the UK cover, or the new paperback one.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson

I read this because one of my 6th graders kept telling me how good it was. It came out in 2005, and I’m sure it’s not a coincidence that Gail Carson Levine’s Fairy Dust and the Quest for the Egg came out that same year. It seems that Disney paid a lot of money to talented writers to flesh out bad storylines involving classic Disney characters. (Although, I adore David Christiana’s illustrations in the latter.) This book has a lot of good elements- a mismatched group of kids who have to overcome their differences to save the world (including one who is treasonous), three-dimensional holographs that enable the kids to enter a parallel, sinister world, and roller coasters. Unfortunately, the story just doesn’t hang together well. Aside from the main character and the one who defects to the dark side, the kids are pretty much interchangeable. One of the more annoying plot contrivances is the man who seems to know what the kids need to do to save Disneyland from the villains, but insists that the kids have to find out for themselves. It’s never really clear why he can’t solve the problem himself.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dragon Slippers by Jessica Day George

I read about this on a blog somewhere and it made it onto my “to read” list, but I don’t remember where I saw it written up. Probably on someone’s Best of 2007 list. It’s a nice variant on the Capable Girl theme, and, again, the cover doesn’t do it justice. It has a lot of humor to it, starting with the aunt who gives the main character, Creel, to the dragon so that a knight can rescue, and then marry, her, saving the entire family from financial ruin. The dragon society that George creates is rich, and I loved the passages about Creel’s embroidery and dress-making skills. I can see this one being a hit with the 9-11 crowd, while they’re waiting for the next Inkworld.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Elvis and Olive by Stephanie Watson

I grabbed this one out of the galley pile at the store one day when I needed something to read at lunch. It’s solid realistic, opposites attract, friendship fiction, if somewhat exaggerated. Each of the girls is an extreme- the straight-A good girl from a health-food yuppie family, and the off-beat, free spirit, untruthful girl with a questionable history. There are plenty of morals, and you won’t miss them, but I’m sure kids will be amused by Annie’s antics, and may identify with her slice-of-life friendship with Natalie.