Posts tagged ‘Children’s Fantasy’

The Road to Epoli

Since I can’t draw, in honor of Inktober I searched out a graphic novel to fit each daily theme presented. Now that October is over, I finally have a chance to catch up on my blogging. Here’s my submission for Oct. 22nd’s theme: trail.

Road to Epoli.jpgTitle: The Road to Epoli
Series: Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo (#1)
Authors: Ben Costa & James Parks
Illustrator: Ben Costa
ISBN: 9780399556135
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, c2017.

Rickety Stitch is a revived skeleton. Although like most of his kind he has no physical brain, his personality pegs him as an anomaly. Working several dead end jobs with his friend The Goo gets him nowhere, as Stitch strums on his lute, trying to capture the song that haunts his dreams. En route, The Goo gets captured and Stitch gets pressed into service of capturing a gnome for a giant ogre-spawn as the only way to rescue his friend. With the help of an imp with questionable motives and morals, a naive gnome, and a no-nonsense unicorn, Stitch discovers that this might be the first step of an epic story, one he will no doubt be singing about when it finally ends.

The vibrant colors used in the illustrations remind me of Princeless or Nimona, inevitably appealing to a broad teen audience. I also feel like this might provide an introduction to the idea of D&D, if only because it feels like multiple campaigns might be in the works, and there are plenty of incidents where readers might questions motives and actions of the characters. Will he or won’t he? The humor inside the story also appears to be aimed at older audiences, as Rickety Stitch is continuously seen drinking in taverns, complaining about job politics, and waxing existentially about his identity and purpose. Whether being stabbed or scorched, Rickety Stitch seems immortal in his ability to avoid any permanent damage. By the end of the book, the plot seems to have been one long set-up for future tales, as Stitch is still struggling to remember the song that plagues his dreams and seems no closer to his vaguely determined destination, although he does finally receive a map for guidance. The characters are more memorable than the story, and I’d be curious to see how that translates for future installments. I feel this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Rickety or The Goo.

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Nobody Likes a Goblin

nobody-likes-a-goblinTitle: Nobody Likes a Goblin
Author/Illustrator: Ben Hatke
ISBN: 9781626720817
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: First Second, c2016.

The adventurers took everything.
They took the gold. They took the maps, the books, the gems, and the scrolls.
And they took Skeleton.
So Goblin put on his crown and walked out into the wide world to find his friend. (unpaged)

Ben Hatke’s bright and colorful illustrations are beautiful, but unfortunately the story isn’t as fully realized as the drawings that accompany it. Readers are left with little rationale behind the adventurers’ actions, why nobody likes a goblin, or the goblin’s automatic approval of an unknown becoming their king. I sense influences from other stories (a long-bearded wizard leads a multi-race raiding party and a stolen goose is recovered) but none of the characters are given details that could confirm or deny these allusions. I appreciate the inclusion of a female adventurer and that the damsel in distress wields a sword during her rescue. I loved meeting Hatke at an event this past summer, and bought some of his artwork. This book feels like a collection of loosely related pictures that could have received more support through the narration. Several of my coworkers completely disagree and thoroughly enjoyed the book, so you may find more enjoyment in it than I did.

The Golden Compass The Graphic Novel Vol. 1

Golden Compass Graphic Novel 1.jpgTitle: The Golden Compass The Graphic Novel Vol. 1
Original Author: Philip Pullman
Adapted by: Stephane Melchior
Translator: Annie Eaton
Illustrator: Clement Oubrerie (with Philippe Bruno)
ISBN: 9780553523720
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Borzoi Book published by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC. c2015. (Originally published by Gallimard Jeunesse, c2014) Adapted from The Golden Compass, c1995.

“Lyra! So that is what they’re teaching you here? Spying!”
“Ouch, that hurts!”
“The wine! It’s poisoned!”
“A spy and a liar. They’ve really done well with your education.”
“I was hiding! I saw! The Master poured powder into the wine.” (unpaged)

Lyra has lived at Jordan College for almost her whole life, and is tired of being supervised by the stuffy professors and scholars who live there. She wants to go on adventures with her uncle, Lord Asriel, whom the head of the school tried to secretly poison on her last visit. Instead, she is whisked away from the dangers of the city, including rampant kidnappers dubbed the Gobblers, by the mysterious Mrs. Coulter. However, Mrs. Coulter has her own agenda, including an association with a board using children to research a mysterious substance called Dust, that multiple groups are racing to understand and control. Heading for an adventure she always wanted but could never anticipate, Lyra is left relying on the help of a group of gyptians and her own skills as she travels to the North, to the land of ice, cold, and not-so-friendly armored polar bears.

I’ve been a big fan of the His Dark Materials trilogy ever since it was first published almost 20 years ago. (Not saying “Man I’m old” prevents me from being old, right?) When I heard they were making it into a graphic novel trilogy, I was excited. I was slightly disappointed to learn that this trilogy of graphic novels is only focusing on the first book, and question the rational behind splitting the original novel in this manner. This first volume leaves off with Lyra’s journey north with the gyptians just beginning, and she still has a long way to travel. The artwork is also not what I expected from a story that deals with fantastical elements and beasts. Muted in tone, with lots of dark blues and dusty orange/reds, the color palette may have been determined by the story’s setting and mood more than the other way around. Lyra’s determination and free-spirited nature is still evident in this portrayal, but quite a few of the more animated facial expressions for her and the other characters strike me as overly exaggerated and at times comical. The number of panels per page (sometimes as many as nine) also necessitates that they are quite small, and so details do not translate well, with the exception being when the artist intentionally makes a panel bigger for emphasis.

The background behind Dust and the deamons has been eliminated almost completely, except for a few quick expository pages and some overheard conversations on Lyra’s part. Readers must pay attention to the illustrations to determine the nature of daemons, including their ability to change shape, the necessity of physical proximity to their humans (I almost typed owners, whoops!) and the ties that bind them to those humans. For readers who enjoy fantasy and the ideas of other worlds, this would be an adequate introduction to the ideas. Make no mistake though, this is a paltry substitute for the real thing, and I’m saddened by the fact that some people won’t be motivated to tackle the original.

Egg & Spoon

Egg & Spoon.jpgTitle: Egg & Spoon
Author: Gregory Maguire
Narrator: Michael Page
ISBN: 9781491502167 (audiobook)
Discs/CDs: 11 CDs, 12 hours 51 minutes
Pages: 475 pages
Publisher/Date: Brilliance Audio, c2014. (audiobook) Candlewick Press, c2014 (hardcover)

She is an insane old woman, though Cat, but at least I’m safe in the warmth, and she knows ho to cook. The old woman was ladling pink broth into a bowl whose sides were etched with obscure runes. “Drink up, my dear. I find borscht a wonderful marinade when applied from the inside.” […]
Cat demurred and said, “Who are you really?”
“I’m Queen Victoria. I’m Nellie Bly. I’m Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean — what difference does it make? I’m hungry and I want to eat, so do my bidding.”
“I couldn’t dare take your supper. I have nothing to pay you with.”
“You’re not taking my supper, you’re supplying it.” (141-142)

Gregory Maguire creates a tale reminiscent to the Prince and the Pauper. Even though Ekaterina isn’t a princess, she has many more advantages than Elena, who is essentially starving to death as she tries her best to care for her sick mother after her father has died and her two brothers taken away from home. A lightning strike forces their unlikely meeting, and Elena finds herself in an enviable position when the Ekaterina’s train takes her away from the poverty and towards the Tsar’s palace. She hopes to use that opportunity to reclaim her brother from army conscription, but she doesn’t know that Ekaterina is hot on her trail with her own transportation. In their travels, they realize that Russia might be in more trouble than either girl, and are recruited by the fabled folkloric witch Baba Yaga to solve the problem of melting ice and disappearing magic.

Michael Page’s voice is properly moderated between the high pitched, stereotypical screech of Baba Yaga and the clipped tones of the prince (although he does sound vaguely English and not Russian). Even the two younger girls have slight differences that easily distinguish between the educated Ekaterina and the more rurally raised Elena. The sweeping landscape is described beautifully, and Elena’s situation is especially heart-wrenching when readers realize the troubles behind her meager existence.

Maguire’s tale is less impressive, for if readers are familiar with the story of the prince and the pauper, then they essentially have the plot of the first part of the book. The second half pairs the girls on an adventure to save Russia. It’s discovered that the floodwaters and dampened winter and magic are connected, involving the firebird and ice dragon. I was unfamiliar with the ice dragon legacy, and was intrigued by my introduction to this Russian myth. By the end of the novel, the twist, feel good resolution revealing the cause of the trouble is somewhat moralistic and preachy, encouraging the human race to whine and want less and focus more on reducing the wants of others. It’s an unexpected altruistic message, and while anti-materialists might appreciate the thought, I was disappointed that such a long journey yielded so little action in the conflict.

The magic in the story is supplied by the magic that the girls encounter through their association with Baba Yaga, who has multiple distinguished and unique traits including her unpredictability, attitudinal house which reminds me of Howl’s Moving Castle, sarcastic shape-shifting familiar, and pattern of speech which allude to time travels or future premonitions. She is by far my favorite character in the whole story. I can only imagine the fun Maguire must have had in writing her scenes considering the fun I had reading them. Her nontraditional exclamation “Honey Buckets!” became a term of endearment towards her guests, who while certainly unpredicted are not entirely unwanted, regardless of what she alludes. I find that same sort of unexpected endearment towards her in what ultimately is a overly long, predictable plot. Extreme fantasy and fairy tale/folklore fans might appreciate this exposure of not-often portrayed Russian mythology, but most will probably loose interest before the quest even begins.

A Nearer Moon

A Nearer Moon.jpgTitle: A Nearer Moon
Author: Melanie Crowder
ISBN: 9781481441483
Pages: 150 pages
Publisher/Date: Atheneum Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2015.

[…] It was one of Mama’s never-to-be-broken rules:
Don’t go past the bend in the river.
Don’t go below the dam.
Steer far away from the slick.
People said there was a creature that lived beneath the slick lying still as a gravestone on top of the water, a creature that cast a curse on the swamp and sickened anyone who drank it. But Luna didn’t believe in the creature, and she didn’t believe in curses. (10-11)

Luna and her little sister Willow love going out on the water on their pole boat, trying to catch fish in the dam that their village of stilted houses lives over. Only the oldest residents remember the days before the dam mysteriously appeared, stopping the river and turning the bright waters into the treacherous swamp. Luna doesn’t believe in curses until their boat mysteriously dips under the water line and Willow ends up with the swamp sickness. With only weeks until the wasting illness kills her sister and no cure in sight, Luna might have to start believing in magic and miracles.

Told in alternating perspectives, first from Luna’s and then from the view of a water sprite decades prior, it’s at first a little confusing. But very quickly readers will realize that they are similar stories of sisterly bonds and the lengths sisters will go to maintain them. Having just watched My Friend Totoro, the two stories are similar, with an independent pair of sisters who take advantage of the world around them, encounter a magical creature, and have to overcome an illness. Crowder’s writing style and word choice also remind me of Thanhha Lai’s Listen, Slowly, very lyrical and descriptive. Luna’s grandmother at one point “raised her eyes to the ceiling, searching the cobwebbed corners of her mind” which just sounds so poetic.

Luna is a likeable character, who feels guilt over her involvement in her sister’s illness and that it’s her sister and not herself who got sick. She adventures time and again out by herself, or with steady childhood friend Benny by her side, in efforts to cure this disease that everyone else has resigned to the fact that it’s incurable. “It was a supremely stupid thing she was doing. And if the brief history of her life was any indication, if she was set on doing a supremely stupid thing, it was best to have Benny along.” (33) I’m envious of her freedom of movement, as I don’t think my mother would have let me out of her sight after the first attempt, much less the second or third. Any other book would have made Benny and Luna a romantic pairing, but I’m so glad they are just friends here.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the sprite’s side of the story. It proves Crowder’s efficiency with words, that she’s able to so effortlessly squeeze two stories into only 150 pages. Perdita is an adventurous water sprite whose twin sister worries about her never-ending ramblings and roving. She and Luna are a lot alike in their independent and inquisitive natures. The stories start decades apart but they finally catch up to one another in the end. I loved the ending, as (if blog readers will allow me one final comparison) just like in Frozen there really isn’t a bad guy, but only broken hearts that once mended heal everything. A beautifully told story.

Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer

Unusual Chickens.jpgTitle: Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer
Author: Kelly Jones
Illustrator: Katie Kath
ISBN: 9780385755528
Pages: 216 pages
Publisher/Date: Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, c2015.

“Dear People Who Sell Special Chickens,

Look, maybe Mom was right about not writing while I was angry. I’m really sorry I said that stuff. Probably you’ve been busy too. But now I really need you to write back, even if you don’t send me a catalog. Because a chicken showed up yesterday, and I think it must be one of yours, because it is really definitely not an ordinary chicken. I’m pretty sure my parents are going to freak out, and I really need to figure out what to do. What are you supposed to do with a found chicken—is it like a found dog? Do chickens go to the pound? But it’s got to be yours. It’s really unusual, for sure. Can you please come get it quickly? Sincerely, Sophie […]

“Dear Great-Uncle Jim,

You know that chicken I told you about? It can use the Force.” (33-36)

Sophie moves with her mom and dad to her Great-Uncle Jim’s farm, which her family inherited upon his death. Through letters she writes, but can’t send, to her dead grandmother and great-uncle, and letters to the Redwood Farm Supply, which she does send, Sophie details her exploits as she discovers first one, then two, then even more chickens on her great-uncle’s farm. These chickens are anything but ordinary, and Sophie is not the only person who notices the unusual attributes. There may be a chicken thief on the loose, and Sophie is going to do everything she can to protect her posse of poultry.

This is a book that needs to be read aloud to classes everywhere, perfect for fans of Charlotte’s Web or other farm based fantasies. Sophie is a biracial only child, which is addressed but never obsessed over. She is self-reliant, strong-willed and independent, writing at one point “Don’t you dare send someone to take my chickens.” Knowing when to ask for help, she consults the library and other experts in researching the care and feeding of chickens. Sophie occasionally has a sarcastic way of approaching things, like telling her grandmother “I’m really sorry you’re dead” that make her an endearing and relatable protagonist. The most realistic aspect of the narration style used is there is very little directly quoted dialogue, which is rarely found in actual letters and lends a more realistic tone to the story. The illustrations are quirky and charming at the same time, adding to the plot’s humor without turning into slapstick. Give this to fans of humorous stories who are uninterested in the potty humor of Underpants. Get it, read it, share it, and recommend this unusual book. One of my favorites and one of the most memorable of the whole year.

Space Dumplins

This week, in honor of World Space Week, we’ve got reviews featuring space, in all it’s many forms. Today, I’m presenting an action packed space adventure by an award-winning graphic novelist.

GRX050 Silver Six COV TEMPLATETitle: Space Dumplins
Author/Illustrator: Craig Thompson
ISBN: 9780545565431
Pages: 316 pages
Publisher/Date: Graphix, an imprint of Scholastic, Inc., c2015.

Violet Marlocke’s father is a lumberjack in a futuristic space-age time and her mother works as a fashion designer for a pretentious boss who only cares about next season’s trends. Lumberjacks in this alternate reality don’t cut down trees, but harvest and transports whale poop produced by giant flying space whales, which is then processed into energy. One whale has recently eaten Violet’s school, and areas in the path of destruction are being evacuated. When Violet’s father goes missing after a whale diarrhea environmental disaster, she heads off in a slightly restored space junker, along with a young chicken and a lumpkin, who’s contrariness is seen not just in his attitude but his uncharacteristically short and round body, resembling a walking talking kidney bean. Enlisting the helps of her father’s lumberjack buddies, Violet quickly realizes that there is more happening than she realized, her father’s life is on the line, and her actions might affect more than one family.

Rather than stick to a monochromatic scheme like some graphic novelists, Craig Thompson’s latest creation is literally BURSTING with color, starting with the raised lettering on the cover for the title. The roids, or asteroid belt, where Violet and her family work is the darker shades, lending to its recognizable position as lower class. By comparison, the space station reminds me of the Capital from The Hunger Games series, with overly prejudiced and super stylized citizens in neon and bright shades. Whale poop is portrayed as clingy green goo, reminiscent of the slime made in science class or seen on Nickelodeon, and the whales are bold purple. Even the aliens and fashions and ships are unique, with some of the aliens having claws, suction-shaped fingers, or appendages protruding from their heads. The details are also incredible, down to the tattoos on Violet’s father, which are distinct, identifiable, and most certainly contain significance, even if we don’t figure it out.

The plot is smart and sophisticated as well. Elliot the chicken has a dream journal and cites Biblical references. There’s commentary about socioeconomic classes, prejudices, environmental disasters, unions, and government conspiracies. At one point when talking with Elliot, Violet comments “You must go crazy cooped up here all the time.” and Elliot responds “COOP? Please no speciesist slurs.” Two panels later (on the same page), Violet deadpans “So, you’re no FREE-RANGE CHICKEN, huh?” (41) and we’re not quite sure if she meant it as a “slur” or seriously. The ending reminds me of Men in Black, and I even liked the epilogue, even if it does get slightly hokey/preachy towards the end. With plenty of action and subplots, this is meant for invested and engaged readers. For fans of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or any slapstick, unimaginable science fiction space odyssey that somehow meshes into a coherent, believable, and satisfying read, this one will surely entertain both kids and adults. This is poop humor done right.

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