Most readers know Roald Dahl for his wonderful, though often dark, children’s novels–Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, Witches, and many others. Dahl also wrote short fiction aimed at adults. In those stories, Dahl always “aims to disturb” the reader, and, skillful writer that he is, he generally achieves his goal. So when picking stories for this collection, and horror fiction almost always works best in the short story format to my mind, Dahl sought out writers of the uncanny who could tell a tale that would leave you ill at ease. I can attest that he succeeded, at least in my case.
While there are some familiar names in this collection, including E.F. Benson, Edith Wharton, and Sheridan Le Fanu, most of the writers here were new to me. Dahl says he read “seven hundred and forty-nine ghost stories” in compiling the tales presented here, and he was “completely dazed by reading so much rubbish.” But the fourteen titles he chose are among the best ghost stories written.
From the opening story “W.S” in which a writer finds himself pursued by one of his characters to the final tale, “The Upper Berth,” involving the haunting of a cabin on board an ocean liner, these stories all will make you decidedly uncomfortable and likely to turn an extra light or two on around the house.
Dahl sought out stories that were neither violent nor graphic, but rather ones that seemed likely enough at the outset and then took a strange turn somewhere along the way. Empty rooms and loneliness seem to propel many of these tales. Often the protagonist finds him- or herself alone, perhaps at the holidays or in a new city. This alone-ness sets the stage for some supernatural encounter, though it is often only afterwards that the uncanny nature of things is revealed.
Check the WRL catalog for Roald Dahl’s Book of Ghost Stories
Each year about this time, I try to find a set of new horror titles to look at that are eerie without being gory. The sort of book to read when evening comes early and mist hangs on the fields. My favorite scary stories come from the late Victorian period or from those modern writers who carry on that tradition.
“One winter’s evening, about five o’clock, just as it began to grow dusk . . .”
What better start to a story for a blustery autumn evening? I was delighted this year to come across a new collection of Charles Dickens’ tales of the supernatural. The quote above starts his tale “The Bagman’s Story.”
I love the way that Dickens conjures up characters. His novels are filled with memorable people, often with memorable names, and his short fiction displays the same skill. Here, we meet a range of fascinating people, from Tom Smart— who finds true love and a great pub with the help of a haunted Windsor chair— to Mr. Goodchild, who hears the confession of a ghostly murderer in “The Ghost in the Bride’s Chamber.” Many of the stories here resonate with themes that Dickens explored more fully in his novels: the miser whose lust for money poisons his life, the man who despises others’ joy and cheer until supernatural beings show him the error of his ways, and the young woman bilked of an inheritance by an cruel guardian.
More atmospheric than horrific, these stories can still bring a chill, and cause you to look over your shoulder as you climb the stairs or peer out the back door into the dark night.
Check the WRL catalog for Supernatural Short Stories
If you enjoy different versions of fairy tales, then you must read The Three Little Tamales by Eric Kimmel. It is a southwest version of The Three Little Pigs. The story begins in a restaurant owned by Tio Jose and Tia Lupe. Every morning they make the best tortillas and tamales in Texas. One day three little tamales were cooling by a window as a tortilla rolls by and warns them they are going to be eaten. The three little tamales decide to run away to avoid this terrible fate. The first little tamale runs to the prairie and builds a house out of sagebrush. The second little tamale runs to a cornfield and builds his house out of cornstalks. The third tamale runs to the desert and builds her house out of cactus. The tamales were happy for awhile until Senor Lobo aka…the big bad wolf… comes knocking on their doors. He threatens, “I’ll huff and I’ll puff like a Texas tornado and blow your casita from here to Laredo!” Can the three little tamales escape the big bad wolf? This is a great story to use to introduce children to the Spanish language. A glossary is located in the front of the book to help the reader understand the meaning and pronunciation of the Spanish words used in this tale. A great read aloud for elementary school children who will definitely enjoy the colorful cartoon illustrations.
Check the WRL catalog for The Three Little Tamales.
You know how some movie reviews say, “This film grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go”? Well, The Enemy does that in book form. I was hooked from the very beginning of this dark and somewhat disturbing story. It is set in London a year after everyone over sixteen falls victim to an unexplained illness. The adults who did not die are now zombie-like, killing and eating whatever they can to survive, and their kids are left to fend for themselves.
A band of kids are using the Waitrose grocery store as their home base, and they have turned it into a fortress. They send out parties to scavenge for food, which is becoming harder to find, and they must fight roving bands of zombies, whom they call “Grown-ups.” Don’t get too attached to any particular character, even if they seem to be one of the main protagonists, as the death toll is high. It gets even higher when Waitrose is visited by a kid they have never seen before, who claims to be from a similar entrenchment of kids at Buckingham Palace. The Waitrose kids, along with a group of kids similarly holed up in the nearby Morrisons grocery store, decide to abandon their stores and attempt to travel to the palace, where survival is promised to be much easier. And it’s not necessarily a suicide mission. As one character says, “The thing about grown-ups is, some of them are strong, some of them can run fast, and some of them are clever, but the strong ones are slow, the fast ones are stupid, and the smart ones are weak.”
I had to push past a particular incident very early on featuring the kids taking on a pack of feral dogs, but I can tell you dog-lovers that this is the only instance of canine violence in the story. There is plenty of human violence, however, and fans of Michael Grant’s Gone series and the Hunger Games series will find similarities here: kids in peril fight for survival in a world where adults can no longer help them.
Check the WRL catalog for The Enemy.
Today’s post is written by Tova from Circulation Services.
Since reading 11/22/63, I have become a Stephen King fan, devouring many of his books back to back. King’s ability to weave in-depth character development into his genre-busting tales of horror and mayhem is not only a sweet treat for the reader, but a source of inspiration for aspiring writers like me. One of the more understated aspects of King’s writing is his sense of humor. Sometimes offbeat and quirky, a certain plot point or snatch of character dialogue will have me laughing out loud – and I do like to laugh.
While in between reading King’s books, I decided to search out other authors who infuse humor into their tales of suspense. Using WRL’s NoveList, I happened upon Carl Hiaasen, an author whose books are often requested by library users. Although I had never read any of Hiaasen’s works, his newest book is Bad Monkey; and, as someone with a soft spot for monkeys, I was compelled to give it a read.
Okay, so the titular monkey, whose image graces the cover of the book, is not a cute Curious George-type. Mischievous, cynical, and impulsive, Hiaasen’s monkey commits acts that shall go unmentioned in this blog entry. However, Hiaasen’s monkey is one of the most memorable, and surprisingly sympathetic, characters in the book. Hiaasen successfully uses him to help tie the novel’s multiple plot threads together.
Set primarily in southern Florida, Hiaasen’s tale revolves around Andrew Yancy, a disgraced Monroe County detective who has been demoted to Health Inspector (aka “roach patrol”) due to a heinous act he committed against his mistress’ husband. In spite of his reassignment, Yancy just cannot help but launch his own investigation when a fisherman reels in a human arm from the ocean; and Yancy inadvertently ends up in possession of it. How did the arm become detached from its original owner? Official investigators want to neatly declare that the detached arm is the result of an unfortunate boating accident and be done with it. However, Yancy, after uncovering some inconsistencies and shady details, thinks otherwise. His investigation leads him back and forth between Key West, Miami, and the Bahamas. Along the way, Yancy consorts with a colorful array of characters, including a sexually adventurous coroner, a disconcerting voodoo queen, his fugitive ex-mistress, a creepy land developer, the mysterious widow of the arm’s original owner, and, of course, the aforementioned monkey.
I found the humor I was looking for as the book is often laugh-out-loud funny. The whereabouts of the detached arm, which Yancy first stores in his freezer, is a running gag throughout the story. The snappy dialogue is also a source of humor. Yancy’s antics made me laugh and groan simultaneously as he transgresses multiple boundaries and finds himself in sticky predicaments of his own making. The fun is in imagining Yancy as he tries to get out of his self-made predicaments. That Yancy was morally and ethically corrupt pleased me greatly. I prefer my protagonists to be like most people in life – a mix of good, bad, and everything in between.
Hiaasen cannot compare to Stephen King when it comes to character development; however, his work stands on its own as he succeeds in creating a memorable cast of characters. By the end of the book, we certainly have a more rounded view of Yancy and we can sympathize with his desire to get his old detective job back, even if he employs questionable means to that end.
I would recommend Bad Monkey if you are looking for a light, fun, suspenseful story with a wicked sense of humor, and if you do not mind some coarse language and raunchy adult themes. I will certainly check out more of Hiaasen’s work – while in between Stephen King books, of course.
Check the WRL catalog for Bad Monkey
It sounds dreadful: a group of talking dogs goes around the neighborhood solving mysteries. It sounds like one of those wholesome cozy novels where the cat helps his human solve the crime, or like Scooby-Doo without the kitsch appeal. It’s amazing, really, that Evan Dorkin could take such a cutesy premise and turn it into something powerful and dark and wonderful.
Life is perfectly normal for the canines of Burden Hill, until a beagle named Jack begins to suspect that his doghouse is haunted. Concerned for their friend, Pugsley the Pug, Rex the Doberman Pinscher, and Whitey the Terrier seek help from the Wise Dog, an English Sheepdog accustomed to dealing with the paranormal. You’d expect this to devolve into a hokey little fluff piece, but listen: precisely five pages later I had tears in my eyes, and then it happened again two chapters after that. And then a bit after that I had to put the book down to have a good sniffle. And then again, and again.
The emotional depth is truly astonishing. Over the course of several discrete but sequential stories, you come to care for the seven main characters—six dogs and one cat—and the secondary characters they meet. Some of the stories are campy (cannibal frogs! zombie dogs! humongous killer rats!), but the comedic relief never undermines the pathos of the narrative.
Jill Thompson’s artwork beautifully illustrates Dorkin’s text. She draws her animals realistically without resorting to cartoony gags and paints them with lush watercolors. I’m thinking of one panel in particular that made my jaw drop, in which a Weimaraner tilts her head and looks at us with soulful eyes, the light and shadows dancing on her face. The image itself is haunting, as is her speech bubble: “My children are missing.”
The language is (mostly) mild, but the physical violence can get gory and the emotional violence is intense. However, more mature readers should check this out from the library, or even buy it from a comic book store; if the publisher, Dark Horse, sees enough profit from Beasts of Burden, then Dorkin and Thompson will be obligated to continue writing stories with my new favorite paranormal investigators.
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Sally and the Purple Socks by Lisze Bechtold was a big hit at my recent sock-themed school-age storytime. The audience, which was mostly kindergarteners, found the book’s humor very appealing. Also, several of them told me they were excited to hear the story because they love the color purple. After I read Sally and the Purple Socks, one of the kindergarten teachers in attendance jotted down the title so she can read the book to her class again soon. At the beginning of the story, Sally (a duck) opens a package containing a pair of tiny purple socks and a note indicating that the socks will “grow to the size ordered.” The socks soon expand to fit Sally’s feet, but instead of stopping there they just keep growing. Sally is very resourceful, so each time the socks get bigger she finds a new use for them. When they no longer fit her feet, she wears them as a hat and scarf. Later they serve as curtains, blankets, a carpet, and even a giant circus tent. Will Sally’s purple socks ever stop growing?
In her illustrations, Bechtold uses a limited color palette that makes the purple socks stand out on every page. Even when they are huge, the socks retain their shape, with rounded toes, turned heels, and ribbing on the cuffs. On some pages, the illustrations tell parts of the story that are left out of the text. For example, Sally turning the socks into curtains is only shown in the pictures and not described with words. Readers will want to be sure that all their audience members have a good view of the book, and may want to ask listeners to explain what’s happening on the pages where the plot occurs only in the pictures. Text is also absent on the spread where Sally and her friends are putting on a circus performance. At storytime, I asked my audience to describe the different acts that are part of the circus. Readers may also want to fill out the sparse text with their own words. For example, the purple background of the circus scenes may not be sufficient for all audience members to understand that the circus is taking place beneath a tent made from Sally’s socks. Since Sally and the Purple Socks worked so well with the kindergarteners, I’m eager to also share it with preschoolers and early elementary-aged kids this fall. Since my listeners were so excited about the purple in this story, I’m planning a color-themed storytime where I’ll read this book and others that prominently feature different colors.
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Today’s post is written by Jennifer from Circulation Services.
The story of three sisters seems to be deeply ingrained in our human subconscious. There are the mythological Weird Sisters, the women of Ang Lee’s film Eat Drink Man Woman, and those of Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, to name just a few examples. One could even go so far as to contemplate the “Three Sisters” method of planting beans, squash, and corn, used throughout North America in pre-Columbian times. The motif is not limited to any single culture, and more often than not, as in Lee and Esquivel’s works, the lives of the three sisters are intimately connected to the food that they cook and enjoy.
Marsha Mehran’s novel Rosewater and Soda Bread is a fine addition to this little niche of a subgenre. After fleeing their home country of Iran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, the three Aminpour sisters open Babylon Café in the tiny Irish town of Ballinacroagh. Practical Marjan, the oldest, is trying to keep the café (and everyone’s lives) running smoothly while being pursued by a dashing English gentleman. Middle sister Bahar bears a heavy burden from a troubled past, but is finding solace in an unexpected place. And the youngest, Layla, is a Shakespeare aficionado who just wants a little independence from her older sisters – and time to spend with her boyfriend. As if life isn’t complicated enough, their landlady and former pastry chef Mrs. Delmonico finds a “mermaid” washed up on the beach. Who is she, where did she come from – and what about the baby on the way?
Much like a rambler in the hilly Irish countryside, Rosewater and Soda Bread is unhurried in reaching its destination, minding small details and occasionally taking detours. This is part of the book’s charm, though, especially when Mehran describes Marjan’s cooking and its effect on those who consume it. For (most of) the residents of Ballinacroagh, Bablyon Café’s food and drink are synonymous with comfort. Indeed, the best word to describe Mehran’s prose would probably be “cozy.” I would highly recommend settling in with the book on a rainy day, a hot cup of bergamot tea by your side, and letting yourself be enraptured by the charm and intrigue of the Aminpour sisters’ adopted hometown.
Recipes for many of the dishes referenced in the story can be found in the back of the book, something for which I’m very grateful. I nearly drooled when reading the description of Marjan’s tacheen, a saffron rice and chicken dish: “…first buttered rice and almonds, then fried chicken and sautéed spinach, the yogurt binding them into a brotherhood of delicious play.” Sounds delightful, doesn’t it? I would recommend this book for gourmands, anyone interested in Irish culture, those who are fascinated by what happens when cultures from thousands of miles apart meet – and by how sharing a meal can help break down even the most seemingly insurmountable barriers.
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Atticus O’Sullivan looks a youthful 21, with blond hair, charming grin, and a trace of surfer dude attitude. Atticus enjoys the sunshine of Tempe, Arizona, has a close connection with nature, and enjoys hunting with his Irish Wolfhound Oberon. He owns his own business and has a relaxed, carefree life.
Atticus is the last of the Druids; he’s made it 2,000 years by keeping a low profile and communing with nature.
So far Atticus has managed to stay far ahead and hidden from a crazy Celtic god, but his luck is about to change. Aenghas Og has found Atticus and wants his sword, Fragarach, back. This time he won’t quit until he has beaten Atticus, even if it includes unleashing a few demons to get his way.
There are other magical beings in this world, including many from Celtic mythology. The author adds the requisite vampires, werewolves, witches, and fairies to flesh out Atticus’ story, but they aren’t the main focus.
Hearne weaves old mythology, popular references, puns, and witty repartee to create a funny, action-filled story. If you enjoy urban fantasy but have been looking for something that feels fresh and different, while also providing a sense of comfort familiarity, this is the book to pick up.
Prepare to put your feet up for a few hours of laughs, action, and a refreshing new perspective of a modern magical world.
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There are few writers who are as good at raising chills and creating an atmosphere of unease as Philip Pullman; his stories of the macabre should find readers of any age looking over their shoulders on dark autumn nights.
In Clockwork, Pullman starts off as many ghost stories do, with a narrator telling a gathered audience a scary tale to enliven a cold winter’s evening. In this case, the audience are the townsfolk of a small village in Germany, who are gathered in the White Horse Tavern to hear local writer Fritz spin his newest story. He has just introduced the character who looks to be a possible villain in the story when who should walk in but the man himself, Dr. Kalmenius, whose “eyes blazed like coals in caverns of darkness.” With Fritz leading the way, the townsfolk all quickly make their excuses and leave the tavern, all except the apprentice clock maker, Karl, who has been unable to complete the masterwork that will end his apprenticeship. As you probably guess, Kalmenius makes an offer to Karl that appears good on first glance, but when you deal with the powers of darkness, you put body and soul in peril, as Karl finds to his great discomfort.
You’ll need to get the book to find out the rest of the story, but suffice it to say that it involves a plucky serving maid, a lost prince, a relentless knight, and, hovering over all, the spectral figure of Dr. Kalmenius and his work. Clockwork would be a great book to read aloud on a cool night when the moon is full. Just be careful, because when you start a story you never know who might show up in it.
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In Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, Eric A. Kimmel retells a folktale that originated in West Africa. This is just one of the many trickster tales about Anansi the Spider that are part of the oral storytelling tradition in West Africa, the Caribbean, and elsewhere. Tricksters like Anansi are mischievous characters that are often clever or foolish. Other well-known tricksters in folklore include Brer Rabbit and Coyote. In Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock, Anansi comes across an unusual-looking, magical rock in the forest. He soon discovers that whenever someone says the magic words (“Isn’t this a strange moss-covered rock”), the speaker falls down unconscious and wakes up an hour later. Always the trickster, Anansi decides to use his knowledge of the rock’s magic to fool all the other animals in the forest. One by one, Anansi leads the other animals to the rock and waits for them to say the magic words. While they are unconscious, Anansi goes back to their houses and steals their yams, bananas, and other food. However, Anansi gets a taste of his own medicine when he tries to trick Little Bush Deer. She has been quietly watching him fool the other animals and planning a way to teach him a lesson.
A storyteller himself, Kimmel has done an excellent job of infusing the text of Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock with the flavor of oral storytelling. The book’s first sentence reads, “Once upon a time Anansi the Spider was walking, walking, walking through the forest when something caught his eye.” The storyteller’s voice echoes in the repetition of the word “walking” and in the use of the stock phrase “once upon a time,” which signals to the listener that it’s time to settle in for a story. Tales from the oral storytelling tradition are often filled with repetition to aid in memorization, and this Anansi story is no exception. I’ve found that since Kimmel repeats many phrases throughout the story, listeners can easily follow along and participate in the reading experience. For example, when I share this book, I like to ask my audience to shout out “KPOM!” each time one of the animals falls down unconscious. The audience knows when to shout because every “KPOM!” is preceded by the magic words, “Isn’t this a strange moss-covered rock.” Janet Stevens’s artwork features expressive animal faces and interesting textures. She has made the moss on the rock and the fur on the lion look soft, while the elephant is very wrinkly. Readers may enjoy searching for Little Bush Deer hidden in the background on many pages early in the story. Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock is a fun read-aloud for school-age children, or for older preschoolers who are ready to listen to a longer story. Those who enjoy this book may be interested in Kimmel’s other Anansi picture books, including Anansi and the Talking Melon, Anansi and the Magic Stick, and Anansi Goes Fishing.
Check the WRL catalog for Anansi and the Moss-Covered Rock.
Fictional Academy Award-winning director Stanislas Cordova’s oeuvre consists of 15 films released from 1964 to 1996. As controversial as he is revered, his last five films were released independently and are collectively known as the “black tapes.” His fans, known as Cordovites, regularly stage secret showings of these films called red-band screenings. Enigmatic and reclusive, Cordova hasn’t been seen in public or granted an interview in years, but stories about Cordova’s family and lifestyle at his private estate, “The Peak,” are the stuff of urban legend. Stanislas Cordova is also the elusive focus of journalist Scott McGrath’s personal journey into the heart of darkness in Marisha Pessl’s second novel, Night Film.
Night Film opens with the apparent suicide of Cordova’s beautiful and talented 24-year-old daughter, Ashley. Her death piques the curiosity of Scott McGrath, an investigative journalist whose remarks about Cordova on a national television program resulted in a libel suit. Despite paying a substantial settlement to Cordova, McGrath still believes he is a dangerous man and he starts an investigation into Ashley’s suicide, intent on proving Cordova was somehow responsible for what happened to his daughter.
Joining McGrath in his quest are two strangers who have a connection to Ashley: Nora Halliday, a coat check girl who encountered Ashley shortly before her death, and Hopper Cole, who met Ashley when they were teenagers. As McGrath, Cole, and Halliday trace Ashley’s movements in her final weeks and unpack the mysterious nature of Cordova and his films, they learn the unsettling truth about a genius filmmaker and his family.
As a movie fan, I was interested in reading Night Film because the book’s plot and the character of Stanislas Cordova sounded intriguing. Pessl did not disappoint. Her characterization of Cordova and the descriptions of his films are so vibrant and detailed that I finished the book regretting that Cordova’s films do not exist in real life.
I’ll admit I had a rather mixed reaction to Night Film’s protagonist, Scott McGrath. On the surface the character seems awfully similar to Mikael Blomkvist from Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy (both are divorced investigative journalists whose reputations are tarnished by high-profile libel suits). Scott’s investigation is compelling and the friendships he forms with Hopper and Nora are sincere and poignant. Ashley Cordova may be dead at the beginning of the book, but Pessl does a nice job bringing the character to life, so to speak, through newspaper and magazine articles, interviews with film actors and acquaintances, and, especially, through her relationship with Hopper.
Another effective aspect of Night Film is Pessl’s use of multimedia elements. These elements are extensive and include copies of internet slideshows, news articles, and web pages from the Blackboards, a secret web site dedicated to all things Cordova. The narrative is fast-paced and engaging, but these multimedia elements truly immersed me in Cordova’s life and work. This experience doesn’t end once the last page is turned. There’s even a free app for smartphones called the Night Film Decoder that readers can use to scan select pages of the book and access videos, audio clips, and slideshow presentations. The additional content is a lot of fun and complements Pessl’s vision of Cordova, his family, and his films.
“Mortal fear is as crucial a thing to our lives as love. It cuts to the core of our being and shows us what we are.”
- Stanislas Cordova (Rolling Stone, December 1977)
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I admit it; I occasionally hit a reading slump. I’m surrounded by hundreds of thousands of wonderful stories, and sometimes I am unable to find one book that will pull me down the rabbit hole. So I turned to a fellow librarian for advice. I asked for the one book she had read that she just could not get out of her head. Her response was immediate — R.J. Palacio’s Wonder. No hesitation, no thought, no second guessing, she laid Wonder at my feet and I’m so glad she did.
Ten-year-old August Pullman will be starting public school for the first time after being homeschooled his entire life. Auggie happens to have a combination of rare genetic mutations that cause severe facial abnormalities. Because Auggie is so obviously different on the surface it is hard to see that he is just like many other boys his age — intelligent and funny and passionate about Star Wars. Needless to say going to public school will be an adventure filled with friends, enemies, middle school wars, laughter, joy, and pain.
I don’t want to give details of the plot because Wonder is a story about everyday life for someone that happens to be ordinary with an extraordinary face. These details are best appreciated and understood as revealed by Auggie. Wonder weaves together the shifting perspectives of Auggie and his friends and family to reveal the joys and challenges of life with compassion and humor.
Wonder is magic that will pull you in and won’t let go. For me it’s the very best kind of book, one that makes me love being in the rabbit hole, but also able to appreciate the world around me a little more when the story has ended. There will be moments this book will make you cry, but it is worth every teardrop. This is a book that will stay with you for a long, long, long time.
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United We Spy was a fantastic conclusion to the Gallagher Girls series. The book’s plot has many twists and turns that keep the reader wanting more. This story has everything from romance to adventure. It starts with an explosion and ends with shocking destruction. The book answers the one question we’ve all been waiting for… “Who will live, and who will die?”
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Whatever by William Bee is charming and very funny. This spring, several of the librarians in my department passed this book around, taking turns sharing it at elementary schools. The book tells the story of Billy, a boy who is not easily impressed. No matter what his dad shows him (a giraffe, the world’s bounciest castle, or even the edge of outer space), Billy just responds with a bored expression and the word, “Whatever.” When I read this book aloud, I encourage my audience join in on the refrain of “Whatever,” and to say it with plenty of attitude. Near the end of the story, Billy’s dad tries to impress his son by introducing him to the world’s hungriest tiger. This fateful meeting leads to a surprise ending that makes many children and adults laugh out loud.
Though William Bee’s illustrations were created digitally, they look old-fashioned. Details in the illustrations hint that the story is set many decades ago. Billy’s dad wears a fedora, and at one point in the story he and his son ride on a steam-powered train. Some of the illustrations feature unusual patterns and designs. For example, a giraffe’s long neck is patterned with lines and numbers like a yardstick. Though the pictures are colorful and often busy, they are not overwhelming because they have plenty of white space surrounding them. I have enjoyed sharing Whatever with groups of students at elementary and middle schools. Although the book looks quite simple, its concept and humor appeal most to older children. This very short story makes for a nice break between longer books, or is a great way to end a read-aloud session with laughter.
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A destroyed tribe, a talking pug, enslaved elves, a cruel Santa, a murderously evil and monstrously large baby harp seal, and a revenge-filled barbarian. Turning the first pages of Battlepug might make you wonder if the author had taken a list of all the random ideas he had during his entire childhood and created a mad-lib of a graphic novel. In a world of super-intense angst-ridden, save-the-world superheroes, it’s refreshing to have an artist break free and just draw whatever they think is cool and/or amusing.
There is no pretension to this story; it is narrated by a naked (but coyly covered), tattooed woman who is retelling this legend to two dogs: a pug and a French bulldog because one asked for a bedtime story with flaming devil monsters while the other one asked for one with puppies. She promises the dogs it will be both terrifying and sweet to appease both their desired flavors.
A gentle but unnamed boy witnesses the murder of his entire village, including his doting mother, by a smiling and sweet-faced baby seal of Godzilla-like proportions. He is saved by a fateful flick of the monster’s tail and rescued by several elves and taken to their evil master, the King of the Northland Elves (a glaring, thinly veiled Santa Claus) only to be enslaved and sentenced to a cruel life of hardship and toil. The difficult life doesn’t break the child. Rather his hate and need for revenge become magnified and he learns the art of combat, originally for their amusement, eventually for their doom.
The warrior (who seems to be based on Conan the barbarian) seeks the scarred man who let the seal loose on his village, and his travels lead him to a swamp where he first encounters the elephant-sized pug. Despite a bumpy first meeting (and not an insubstantial amount of slobber), the warrior and the rideable dog team up with a crazy old man named Scrabbly to track down his nemesis, Catwulf.
Mike Norton launched Battlepug in February 2011 and in 2012 won an Eisner award for the best Digital Comic. While it could be easy to dismiss this story based on any one of its ludicrous parts, the storytelling is deft and the artwork is solid and amusing without being silly. The pug’s eyes pointing in two different directions and lack of a convincingly ferocious bark play perfectly against the warrior’s grim and unsmiling presence.
A promising start to a unique series, I would recommend this to graphic novel, fantasy, and adventure readers and anyone who has a strong sense of the absurd.
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Rabbit takes refuge in his rabbit home after being chased by a fox in the dark. Little does he know that he will have a stream of visitors also running from the fox. First to arrive is Duck, who is followed by Mouse, and then Lamb. They are all squeezed in together in Rabbit’s very small bed when there is another knock at the door. Duck opens it to find Baby Fox on the doorstep. Expecting to be eaten, the animals are surprised that Baby Fox also needs shelter because he lost his mom. Readers will not be surprised that the next knock at the door is indeed Mother Fox searching for her baby. They will be pleased at the nice ending when Mother Fox offers up her soft and snuggly body as a bed for all of the animals. Young readers will enjoy looking in the pictures at the beginning of the book to find the fox lurking in the dark background. The mixed media illustrations will certainly put readers at ease throughout this satisfying story.
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Violet Ambrose is the body finder. The bodies of dead animals and people call out to her. Sometimes she hears a sound, sometimes she sees an aura, sometimes she notices a smell, but she can always locate the dead. She can even locate their killers. Those who have killed something, or someone, in their lives bear a signature as well. Police officers, hunters, her mouse-hungry cat—marks on those are to be expected—but there are others who stand out to Violet for a much darker reason.
On one of the last nice days before Fall sets in, Violet’s relaxing day at the lake takes a turn when she comes across the body of a girl from the next town. Then girls from her own town and her own school begin to go missing. Violet knows there is a chance she could help find the killer. Even though her uncle is the chief of police, and she trusts him to do his job, only her best friend Jay can keep her from setting off on a personal investigation of the crime. Besides, there is the Homecoming dance to worry about, and the feelings she may or may not have for Jay, who may or may not feel something in return. High school is hard enough without a murderer on the loose.
Although our heroine does have a preternatural ability, this book reads more like a murder mystery than a supernatural fantasy. There are missing girls, a police investigation, and persons of interest. Author Kimberly Derting even gives us a few passages from the murderer’s point of view, which heightens the suspense.
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Paige is despondent. Her family recently moved from central Virginia to Manhattan and she has to deal with acclimating herself to a new city and culture while her relationships with her parents, especially her mother, have been crumbling. She misses her old life, and her old friends, especially her best friend Diana. Paige floats around New York with a sensation of being lost, unsure of herself or what she wants.
Both her mother and father are writers (hence her unfortunate name, Paige Turner), but she is more like her grandmother, a painter. Introverted and quiet on the outside, Paige is full of life and emotions on the inside. She can’t express these feelings in words so she buys a sketchbook, determined to follow her grandmother’s rules that she came up with to teach herself to be an artist. Starting the first drawing is daunting, and brings to the surface more of her anxieties. Is she a good enough artist, what if she has nothing to draw about? Monologues of self-doubt constantly run through her head, even as the pages begin to fill up with sketches.
Entering her new school, Paige quickly falls in with Jules, her brother Longo, and his friend Gabe. The foursome is soon inseparable. Paige still struggles with self-doubt, and everything cool and fun she sees in her friends strengthens her inferiority complex, and fear that her lack of specialness will be discovered. Her inner voice promises that she can change. But how can she build a new self and remove those parts she dislikes most?
Ever practical, Paige makes a list of those aspects of her personality she dislikes the most and intentionally faces them with the help of her friends. She discovers that they too have things that they lack the courage to face, and she begins to coach them, even as she is developing and evolving herself. The image of a seed being planted and carefully tended to as it grows into a fragile shoot appears several times in the drawings and is particularly apt.
The writing is lyrical and evocative while being relatable to anyone who was unsure of themselves when they were a teenager. Paige has a knack of summing up complicated emotions using simple phrases. She states that “like fun house mirrors, different people reflect back different parts of me” and while mourning her loneliness early on, she states that she hates how all her “friends now live in picture frames.”
Recommend for young adults and graphic novel readers and anyone else who can relate to the heart wrenching process of finding yourself.
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While watching the Avengers movie in the theater (I admit, twice), I was intrigued by the characters of Hawkeye and Black Widow. Not having much knowledge of the Avengers outside of Iron Man and Thor, I found it interesting that there were members of the team who did not possess any superpowers or special flying suits. Experience and training will only get you so far when facing a massive army of technologically superior aliens from another dimension. Hulk may smash, but normal humans should be running in the other direction while screaming.
As expected, when a movie piques the public’s interest in specific characters from a comic universe, new material often follows. I picked up a copy of the first volume of the new Hawkeye graphic novel series, titled Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon. The series covers Hawkeye’s life away from the Avengers, where he lives quietly as Clint Barton in a rather crummy apartment building. He is assisted in many of his exploits by Kate Bishop, who is a member of the Young Avengers, and had previously stepped in for Clint when he took some time off from the Avengers. She is an equal, if not better, bowman than Clint.
Unlike other human superheroes like Batman or Iron Man, Hawkeye isn’t angsty, and there is a lot of humor injected into his interactions, especially with Kate. He fights mainly with his bow and an array of sometimes ridiculous specialty arrows, a method which is used smartly against him by the authors in a humorous segment where he keeps firing random arrows with somewhat unbelievable abilities. He tries to live as normally as possible, enjoying rooftop BBQs with his neighbors, buying a used sports car, and practicing his archery, but generally finds ways to get himself in trouble much as he might try to avoid it. It seems once you are identified as a superhero, groups of ninjas can’t help but attack you.
This volume is a quick but fun read. Recommended for fans of the Marvel Universe and anyone who is tired of having perpetually disagreeable and tormented superheroes.
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