Friday, July 13, 2012

Fiction Friday (10)! I haven't done a Fiction Friday since March and I'm not really sure how I let that happen. I've certainly been reading books in that time, I just haven't been reviewing them with any degree of frequency. I think a part of that is my natural tendency to grow weary of reviews in the period after I've released a book. Once subjected by reviews of your own work, one feels a little less motivated to subject others to the same. But as I've mentioned before, I think it's important for an author to discuss what he or she is reading from time. I think authors read books for different reasons than non-writers and that we see different things within the work. 

This week, I'm going to share three different chapter books that I've read over the past two months. I've been working on a chapter book project of my own for the past month or so, and have returned to reading the genre again after some time away. I believe that when writing in specific children's formats such as picture books, readers, or chapter books, it's important to continually refresh oneself to the parameters of the format before diving in. (By I'm the complete opposite when it comes to YA novels. I avoid reading any of them while working on something.) Enjoy.

Utterly Me, Clarice Bean by Lauren Child
(Candlewick 2002)

As Clarice's class prepares their utterly important book projects, mysterious things begin to happen. First there is a flood in the boys bathroom, then the winner's cup goes missing, and to top it all off, her best friend has completely vanished. In fact, things are beginning to resemble the events in her favorite book series about Ruby Redfort, a child secret agent. It's hard for Clarice to concentrate on book projects with so much going on around her.

I've always been a fan of Lauren Child's work, not only for her wonderful illustrations, but also for her unbelievable ability to capture the voice of a child. While her picture books have always displayed her artistic genius, this Chapter Book allows the author to showcase her wonderful writing talent.

Clarice is an exceptionally entertaining narrator, mostly because she is unexceptional in almost every way. By that I mean, Clarice is a normal kid and that's what makes the books so endearing. So often children encounter characters who find themselves in fantastical situations, or characters who are so quirky that they are unlike anyone the reader will meet in real life. It's refreshing to meet a character like Clarice who demonstrates that you don't have to be exceptional to be special. All you need is what every child instinctively has: an vivid imagination and a curious nature. 

Billy Bones by Christopher Lincoln
(Little Brown 2008)

A delightful, more middle grade read that has a Roald Dahl meets Beetljuice feel to it, Billy Bones follows a family of skeletons charged with keeping the secrets of the rotten human family dwelling within the house where they live in a secret closet. Of course, not everyone in the Biglam family is rotten, least of all Millicent, the recently orphaned little girl who has been in the care of her most rotten uncle. 

Millicent reminded me of Matilda (from the Dahl book of the same title). She's the kind of character you root for not only because of the unfairness of her condition, but also because of the positive nature of her spirit. She quickly befriends Billy, a young skeleton boy with secrets of his own. From there, the secrets of the house begin to surface in explosive fashion, literally. 

I really enjoyed spending time with this cast of characters and the wonderful illustrations added to the story's appeal. A perfect book for fans of Series of Unfortunate Events.

Little Fur #1: The Legend Begins by Isobelle Carmody
(Random House 2006)

This is one of those books that I was really torn about. On one hand, as an adult, I found it fascinating. I really enjoyed seeing our world through the eyes of Little Fur and her friends. To make the everyday world feel new and strange is a difficult task that Carmody was able to pull off. I also thought the mythical elements of the story were intriguing. I loved 'The Old Ones' and the idea of this innocent creature being their protector. Little Fur as a character is well-formed and the bravery she discovers within herself along her journey is wonderful to see.

Then there's the other half of me that kept shaking my head as I read the book. The environmental message in the book comes off incredibly heavy-handed. That in itself didn't bother me because it played into the character's view of the world. The part that left me shaking my head was the complete disgust presented in the book toward humans in general. Granted, by the end, there was a very slight concession that perhaps not every human in the world was terrible and evil, yet it still left the impression that most were, or at least our lifestyle is. Again, as an adult, I'm not sure I would object too much to that point of view, but as a book for children, it struck as incredibly odd. I really wonder what kind of message it would send to an impressionable child, especially given that most readers are going to be suburban children living in the very kind of place described in the book...not to mention what a dog owner would think (given the way dogs are depicted as willing slaves of human evil).

An odd story with charm whose message goes a little over the top.

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