Thursday, March 4, 2010

Oliver Jeffers makes neat things

Out this past Tuesday is Oliver Jeffers' new picture book, The Heart and The Bottle, a poignant (I bet that's the word literally every review of this book will include. But it's the only one that fits!) story about a little girl filled with curiosities. Incorporating more of the mixed media style he uses in his paintings, coupled with many found images reminiscent of The Cabinet of Natural Curiosities, Jeffers crafts a deceptively simple story about love, loss and recovery. He stills plays with recurring images from his other books, including rubber duckies, whales and, of course, the penguin, but it's a beautiful new development of his aesthetic. I have loved all his books, and this new one is no exception. (And I'm especially glad there's now one about a girl.)
The only hazard of handing people this book is that if they are, at this very moment, in the process of losing someone close to them they can, will and did break down and cry at the counter of the bookshop. Turned out she was shopping for things to DISTRACT her, including two of Jeffers' other books when I made the suggestion. I've never felt like such an ass for handing someone a book. She did, however, tell me a really wonderful story about her uncle, who gave her a cat who was all the colors she could think of, and an old fashioned baking mixer for her to use to make bubbles in the bath.
The Heart and The Bottle is not the only awesome new thing out from Oliver Jeffers this week! (That was a terrible transition. Sorry. There was really no good way to do that.) Completely unrelated to his books, Jeffers has teamed up with his studio mates to make a few items now for sale at the following link:
I'm a big fan of the "this machine kills fascists" pencils and the "Places on Earth: a Self Congratulatory Guide to Personal Globalization" map.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

3 awesome books with illustrations, for ages 7 and up

Mr. Popper's Penguins by the Atwaters: An adorable, totally wholesome story about Mr. Popper, a humble house painter with humongous dreams of being an Arctic and Antarctic explorer. When, in response to a fan letter, Mr. Popper's favorite explorer promises a suprise over a radio broadcast, Mr. Popper's life is changed forever by the delivery of a penguin of his very own. Now charged with caring for the strange bird, Mr. Popper finds all means and manner of solutions, and eventual showmanship with his ever-growing flock. Hilarious, and so cute it's almost physically painful, Mr. Popper's Penguins is a perfect book to read aloud to younger kids and for kids to read on their own. Because, really. Who doesn't like penguins?

Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman: Join a boy (aptly named Odd, Gaiman has a way with names) on an adventure with three very cranky Norse gods who, thanks to Loki, have been turned into animals and robbed of their powers. This is the newest children's book from Newbery winning Gaiman, and as usual he is able to delivery snappy dialogue, individualistic protagonists and a thoroughly comical view of famous mythological deities. Unlike The Graveyard Book and Coraline, this book has plenty of adventure without being too scary for younger readers. It can also serve as a really great intro to Norse mythology for the younger set. Personally, my favorite part actually came at the end of the book, and isn't even a part of the story (but is rather the about the author, clearly written by the author) which is not to say the content is fantastic fun... it's just that that's a really good about the author.
The Cricket in Times Square by George Seldon: Chester Cricket arrives in New York quote by accident by way of picnic basket. But once he settles in, he finds all the Big Apple has to offer: friendship (with an adorable cat and mouse pair, yeah, they're friends, things work differently in the city, they tell Chester) music and even fame. Despite a pretty outdated depiction of an older Chinese gentleman (writing in dialect doesn't help anyone...) this book holds up pretty well, with enough adorable to give you diabetes. The illustrations by Garth Williams (who also illustrated Charlotte's Web) punctuate the book nicely. A generally lovely little book.

Battle Royale by Koushun Takami

This is not a book for precocious kids who read up. It's not really a book for kids at all, or at least, I don't think it is intentionally. But I can't imagine that some of the older teens (and adults, too for that matter) who read and loved The Hunger Games would not like this rollicking, bloody, and totally graphic novel of middle school students fighting in a death match. Because who doesn't love a story about kids fighting in a death match? Parents, you say? Bah.
For ages at least 15+, this book may fill the void that
Mockingjay (the last in the Hunger Games trilogy) is leaving in the bloodthirsty pit of YA-reader's souls. Though it's not as cleanly (or expertly) written as Hunger Games (which may be in some part on account of being translated) it's almost as addictive, and for added morbidity, the children in this novel have all known each other for years. What follows is an incredibly violent, bloody and horrible fight to the finish, with the most loving descriptions of brains hanging out of a crushed skull that I am likely to ever read.
And if that's not graphic enough for you, check out the manga version.

Incarceron (and Sapphique) by Catherine Fisher

Already published in the UK (and recipient of the Times Children's Book of the year) Incarceron is an awesome YA novel I'm very excited to hand off to fans of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. Though Incarceron is not as readily accessible as Hunger Games (and therefor less likely to appeal to the precocious readers who read UP for Hunger Games), it does have the same undeniable (and addictive!) sense of forward prepulsion. Like Hunger Games, Incarceron is a page turner, with enough violence to appeal even to the blood thirstiest young readers. However, thematically, Incarceron stands very much apart. Set (half) in an enormous, sentient prison, the characters in Incarceron are very much aware that they are under constant surveilance. Even in the parts which take place outside the prison, the characters bear the same burden. Imagine Foucault wrote a speculative sci-fi fantasy novel. For kids. Kids who took to the sight and surveilance themes of Little Brother by Cory Doctorow may also enjoy this novel, if they are willing to go into an alternate universe. Add these themes into a world of a constantly shifting and unstable reality, along with enough serpentine plot twists to make you dizzy, and you have the world of Incarceron.
I liked this book so much that, despite never using Amazon in the US, I hopped on Amazon UK to order the sequel,
Sapphique, which is not out in the states yet. And it was TOTALLY worth my lapse of moral consumerism! It is a worthy follow-up indeed, and it does exactly what a second book in a trilogy should, which is to expand the world we've already encountered and to complicate the problems and relationships of the characters. Fisher uses varying points of view for maximum tension, even that does occasionally mean switching POV as a way of punctuating exciting moments. I am wary of saying too much about this sequel, since I enjoyed it so much because it was so suprising, and I would hate to ruin that experience for anyone else. Suffice to say, it was a pleasure to read, and I anxiously await the third book, which is due out in May (in the UK).