children

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One of my roommates and I work part-time for a children’s library, and one of the activities this past fall was teaching kids how to interpret stained-glass windows – so in between midterm cramming, we ended up painting eight huge faux-stained-glass windows of popular children’s (and a couple YA) books for the kids to guess. Anyone else like to have a go?

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booklish-oz21

Introducing… Booklish! A new, biweekly feature showcasing culinary creations (with accompanying recipes) inspired by books or fictional characters. Read more about this feature here. This inaugural installment is devoted to L. Frank Baum’s 1900 classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

View Recipe: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz Lemon Brick Cake

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Today, we have brick-layered lemon yellow cake with lemon frosting “mortar”, an outside layer of whipped lime icing, sprinkled poppy seeds along the sides, and shards of lime emerald hard candy pieces scattered on top.

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Date read: 2.18.09
Book from: Personal collection
Reviewer: Emera

Ursula Vernon - Nurk
Nurk, a timid but sensible shrew, one day receives an urgent letter addressed to his famous grandmother Surka, the warrior, pirate queen, and general adventurer. Unfortunately, no one has seen Surka for seasons, and so Nurk packs Surka’s diary and some clean socks into his trusty snailboat, and heads off in search of adventure for the first time in his life. Dragonfly royalty in distress, perilous climes, and strange beasts aplenty await him.

I’ve been a huge fan of Ursula Vernon for years now, both of her vibrant, wildly imaginative artwork – she created the cover and interior illustrations for Nurk, of course – and of her equally weird and hilarious life and writing, as seen in her blog.

Nurk is her first mainstream published book, and is par for the Vernon course, combining a deeply practical, deeply likable hero (à la the protagonist of her long-running webcomic Digger, in which grandmother Surka is a character) with earthy wit, tooth-shattering cuteness, quick pacing, and occasional jolts of very enjoyable, very deeply creepy imagery. As a sampler: unripe salmon growing on trees; silent, voracious, cow-sized caterpillars…

Though for an adult reader, the plot is rather unmemorable (predictable twists, there-and-back-again structure), the individual elements are sufficiently weird and entertaining to make it worth the read. I do wish I knew some young persons of an age to be suitably gifted with it. Well, in a couple of years some of my cousins will be thereabouts, and in the meantime, it’s a quick, fun, slightly twisted adventure for readers of any age.

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Ursula Vernon

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Date Read: 10.12.09
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Jimmy Jibbett is a boy who dreams of becoming a comic book artist and spends his days in the basement making his stories come to life on paper. His mother is also an artist, but his father is a humorless businessman and his two sisters are brats; overall, his family doesn’t really support his aspirations. But Jimmy finds hope through his friends, certain members of his family, and ultimately his imagination.

Review

This is a pretty charming little story, complete with full illustrations  drawn by the author in the style of a 10 year old. I was lured to buy this book when my friend pointed it out to me on a shelf and said something along the lines of, “Dude! That’s one of my favorite children’s books! It’s about this kid that draws comics!”. I mean, who doesn’t love a kid who loves and draws comics? Case and point.

I had no trouble envisioning Jimmy as this scrawny kid with a constantly runny nose who simultaneously entertained wild dreams of inventing the world’s favorite superhero and nurtured a secret desire for that superhero to come to life and be his best friend. Jimmy is pretty much the quintessential dorky pre-pubescent boy, and subsequently, loser so if you were one of those, read this book.

My one gripe is that it seemed like the entire story was covered by a slight sheen of awkwardness. Although the story is touching and relatable, the writing doesn’t achieve that level of lighthearted elegance usually found in Newbery winners and Jimmy as a character doesn’t really stay with you after you finish reading. The plot was a little bit too simple and straightforward, and the few plot devices seem like they were devised and then inserted into the story. However, I do have to say The Main in the Ceiling has one of the absolutely cutest endings ever.

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Jules Feiffer

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Date Read: 3.31.07
Book From: Personal Collection
Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Deeba and Zanna begin to experience strange phenomena until suddenly, one day, they find themselves in the alternate universe of Unlondon. Here they find that Unlondon has been waiting for a long time for Zanna, the “Shwazzy,” to fight the evil Smog, an evil cloud of pollution. However, things are not what they seem when events contradict the prophecies and Deeba is forced to fight the Smog on her own.

Review

I MISS BEING 12.

I have a feeling that if I read this while in middle school, I would have deemed Un Lun Dun The Best Book Evar. The book is incredibly reminiscent of Phantom Tollbooth, chock full of strange realizations of imagination, each a quirky interpretation of something we find in our reality. There’s not much to say plot-wise… the bulk of content was simply the adventure and development of Unlondon and numerous characters, a delightful afternoon romp for the appreciative reader.

As I organized my thoughts for this review, I remembered the China Miéville event I attended at which I saw him speak about Un Lun Dun and the entire YA genre with vivid boyish excitement, and the memory is coloring my opinions of Un Lun Dun with much fondness. I crushed hard on the fact that so much of the humor and wit in Un Lun Dun was derived from references and puns concerning books. Some pun examples, though not necessarily book-related, are the Black Window, Unbrellas, and Bookaneers! But most of the circumstantial humor was centered around books, and made me suspect that Un Lun Dun was really a huge elaborate scheme to write a book to promote the message: “BOOKS ARE TEH SH*T!” and it made me extremely happy.

Unfortunately, I actually don’t consider Un Lun Dun a must-read. But if you’re a die hard Miéville fan, definitely check it out. The main character is very likeable, and it is an insanely easy read with maximum 4-page chapters. To top it all off, you get to see Miéville‘s very own original illustrations. There’s nothing better (or sometimes worse) than observing an author treading new ground, and Mieville does so quite expertly. There is indeed a deep understanding of the YA psyche and which elements excite the imagination.

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China Miéville
Un Lun Dun, by China Miéville (2007) E

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Date read: 11.8.08

Book from: Personal Collection

Reviewer: Kakaner

Summary

Nobody Owens (Bod) lives in a graveyard, has ghosts for friends and family, and a mysterious neither-living-nor-dead guardian. As he grows up, he has to learn both the ways and secrets of the large graveyard as well as deal with the outside world. This foreign world is extremely dangerous place for Bod because the assassin of his family is still on the prowl. Throughout the journey of his childhood Bod basically learns about growing up– girls, beings which are neither living nor, and slowly, how to function in the outside world.

Review

Way to go Neil Gaiman! All those months of meticulously following the progress of The Graveyard Book on his blog certainly paid off– the day it was released, I headed over to my local bookstore, plucked one brand spanking new copy off the display, and settled into an armchair to read for the next couple hours. I read it all in one sitting, and in about a week, after procuring enough monetary funds, I immediately bought the book.

I have to say The Graveyard Book was spot on in so many respects– character development, pacing, storytelling… to name a few. Sure Bod lives in a graveyard, but his childhood frustrations and adventures  are so relatable. He has his own quarrels with his guardians, fighting against the constraints of the graveyard much like children do their own homes. The imagery is simply splendid, especially Bod’s adventures beneath the graveyard and all the different fantastical creatures. And, who doesn’t like ghosts, vampires, and other such creatures? I definitely felt transported into another world through that imaginary magic portal every child wants to travel through. Above all, I was definitely caught up in the snowball effect of the novel– you’re reading and the suspense and developments keep piling on until suddenly, you realize you haven’t been breathing for several pages. That is the feeling I’d been longing to experience again, that same thrill of reading Patricia Wrede or Brian Jacques or J.K. Rowling as a child with breathy light-headedness.

The Graveyard Book has replaced Coraline as my favorite Gaiman YA fiction. It is fantastical, yet down to earth at the same time, and strikes a wonderful balance between barreling trains of action and meandering scenes chock full of character development. Quite honestly, one of my recurring gripes with Gaiman’s works is they typically feel a bit cold, despite being terrifically written and crafted. I usually enjoy every minute of a Gaiman novel or comic, but come away feeling a bit dissatisfied, as if it didn’t successfully speak to me on a deeper level. The Graveyard Book, however, was warm and honest, and definitely a great read for any child or even adult.

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Neil Gaiman

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Date Read: 7.4.07

Book From: Borders piracy

Reviewer: Kakaner

M is for Magic is a collection of short stories written for children. I had been eagerly anticipating the publication of this collection because I find Gaiman’s writing tends to come across warmer and his characters more relatable in his children works (Coraline, Wolves in the Walls, etc.).

I am sorry to say that this collection was sorely disappointing. First of all, I had already seen about half of these stories in other collections, for example, “Troll Bridge”– for the third time– and “Sunbird”. The first story in the collection, “The Case of The Four And Twenty Blackbirds”, was abysmal. It literally hurt me to read it. It was incredibly contrived, and each paragraph seemed to end with a terribly joke or pun. To top it off, the story was also filled with sexual innuendos written in a childish manner, a clear attempt to transcend the boundaries of the age bracket of the genre through clever humor. I couldn’t believe I was actually reading children’s literature or Gaiman’s work for that matter.

“The Case of The Four And Twenty Blackbirds” certainly spoiled the rest of the collection for me. There was no spark and nothing remarkable in the rest of M is for Magic. Despite the overall lackluster appeal of this collection, I still have great respect for Neil Gaiman and am still looking forward to his new works.

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Neil Gaiman

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