Category Archives: Brit Hits

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey

Whether you’re making it to the beach this summer, or you’re just dreaming about sand and surf, Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey will help you remember why there’s nothing like a day spent at the shore.

There are a few new characters in this offering: Granny’s excitable dog Truffles, a little girl and her own loyal hound Fluffy, and the Dollies, who look super cute dressed to match the Raspberry Ripple ice cream they share with Traction Man. As always, it’s the little adventures turned BIG that make this duo hilarious, such as when they explore “the secret crevices of the Rockpool” and lead the charge during “Operation Picnic.”

The level of detail in many of the illustrations is a big part of what makes this book (and the other Traction Man adventures) so much fun. You could spend a good twenty minutes reading the endpapers alone, as Grey introduces one of the Dollies, Beach Time Brenda, to the reader through an advertisement at the beginning and a mini-comic at the end. I love the humour. Brenda is “fully accessorized with lots and lots of stuff” and she comes with “teen tottery microshoes,” “sundowner cocktails and snacks,” and a “small plastic barbecue.” Ah Mini Grey, I get you. I really do.

The Traction Man books are all about being over the top with melodramatic adventure and dialogue that is often silly and exaggerated and therefore perfect for an action figure hero. But the best part of this whole delightful package is, I think, the way that the books celebrate good clean, honest play, the old-fashioned kind where kids are given space and a few great toys to create something themselves, a story, an adventure, and memories.

It’ll make you feel ready for anything, most certainly for more Traction Man and Scrubbing Brush.

Traction Man and the Beach Odyssey is published by Alfred A. Knopf.

How to Train Your Dragon

When I worked at The Flying Dragon, whenever I spotted Cressida Cowell’s How to Train Your Dragon on the shelf, I always felt guilty. Here was an adorable-looking dragon book that I had not read, and here I was, working in The Flying Dragon. It was wrong, so wrong. I still have not read How to Train Your Dragon, but I just watched the movie and I am in love with it. It was brilliant. And cute. And heartwarming. And funny. And the animation was mind-blowing. (Gush, gush, gush. Side note: in another life, I would have the ability to draw dragons and be really, really good with computers and I would work for Pixar or DreamWorks and everyday I would be amazed by my incredible good luck to do something so beyond belief and so tremendously fun).

So the moment has arrived. I vow to read How to Train Your Dragon. I am about to order it from the library, and I am thrilled to report that there are eight titles in the series. Yay for me.

Here is a video of Cressida, speaking about the books at a literary festival:

Here’s the trailer for the movie, which you must see:

Toothless looks so much like my Siamese cat, who is almost as dangerous (and can almost fly).

Review to follow soon!

Neil Gaiman is whispering in my ear and it’s spooky

I’ve been in the midst of a bit of an audiobook slump the past few months. After listening to about 10 audiobooks since I got my iPod last Christmas, I’m finding that while I enjoy a well-cast audiobook, I would almost always rather read the book myself. I tend to get more out of reading than listening. I sink into characters more. I can better take in the nuance of the author’s style. My mind doesn’t wander about when I have a book in my hands the way it sometimes does when I’m listening to a story. So just as I was about to click “Cancel” on my Audible membership, I saw this:

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Yes folks. The audiobook of The Graveyard Book is narrated by none other than Mr. Neil Gaiman. It would have been just wrong not to Neil Gaiman read it. I mean, have you heard this man’s voice? (Take a listen to this interview). Ah… the glorious tones of a posh British accent.

So, I need hardly say that listening to The Graveyard Book is proving to be the best antidote to audiobook fatigue a girl could want. Sometimes I feel like an audiobook gets in the way of me creating a relationship with the text, since it’s someone else’s voice in between me and the story. Neil can step right up and read me any story he wants, anytime.

I will want to write smart things about this book (especially that opening chapter… holy scary). I will do so once Neil has finished whispering it in my ear.

Tunnels

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Tunnels, by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, has certainly garnered a lot of attention across the pond. Touted as “the next Harry Potter” (a phrase that sets off alarm bells for me), the writers purportedly pocketed a wack of cash for this book, and there is a movie in the works. Two strikes. Also, I must admit to looking askance at just about any book that is co-authored. Probably unfair, I know, but just tell me exactly how do you write a book with someone else? OK, maybe you can manage to write a book with a partner, but in my experience, they are never as remarkable as solo efforts.

So it was with more than a little trepidation that I started into this one, and sure enough, there’s good, and there’s bland to be found in these pages. I’ll start with the good:

1) The cover: It is awesome, in a dazzling, blockbuster-ish, sort of way. The shiny green orb at the mouth of the tunnel really does appear to glow (heck, it even seems to glow on the screen, doesn’t it?). This is most eye-catching. I also love the terrible spookiness of the man with his curvy knives and his puppy with the glowing eyes. Creeeeeepy! The cover will sell this book to many, many eager kiddies.

2) The Underground World: First, the basic premise… Will Burrows likes to dig. His dad is an eccentric archaeologist who has spent many hours with his son digging under London, looking for tunnels and caverns and odd artifacts. One day, daddy disappears and Will suspects he’s gone underground. So Will and his trusty sidekick Chester head down after Will’s father and what they find is a strange and oppressive society that is no friend to “Topsoilers” (people from the world above). What drew me along in this story was the vividness, and awful creepiness of the underground universe. Gordon and Williams describe the place – its smells, its dankness, its rough-hewn construction – in careful detail. I could really see it.

3) The Plot-Twists: It was a bit of a slow start, I must say. For the first 100 pages or so, I appreciated how suspense was building and tone was being established, but I think that it took too long for the story to snap into proper action. Once it did, things chugged along in a satisfying way, with some surprises along the way. There is one fantastic (and for me, completely unforeseen) twist, close to the end of the book. It’s a zinger.

And now, the bland:

1) Character: Will, the main character, lacked roundness. Big time. When I really think about it, I didn’t care much about his fate (meaning, I didn’t care much about him). I just wanted to find out what happened next. This is unfortunate, since there is a lot about the imagined world, and the suspense of this story that makes it memorable. Will just seemed like a not-very-interesting excuse for the action. Some of the secondary characters were better drawn, but in general, much could be improved in the area of characterization.

2) The Ending: I won’t give any spoilers here, but let’s just say that the end of the book (minus the Epilogue – which was a sharp little treat) left me indifferent. There is an obvious “To be continued…” feeling about it that is annoying and just seemed like a cop out.

So, overall a satisfying read, with some significant flaws. It is fun while you’re reading, but not wholly memorable. Tunnels is a solid adventure story, with a strong fear factor, so I can imagine many kids jumping into it happily. By the way, it reminded me hugely of City of Ember (though not with the same spark – he he – or payoff). Fans of that series will likely want to take a look at Tunnels.

Philip Ardagh quite liked it. Read his review in the Guardian.

Clarice Bean in a Box

When I was a kid, the only Christmas gift better than a plain old book, was a box set of books by a favorite author. (Yes, I was supremely geeky, but now I’m not afraid to admit it). I’m not sure why, but there’s something about books that come with their own nifty container that just makes the world feel tidy, sensible and full of promise.

This is why I think that The Exceptionordinarily Good Boxed Set of the first two Clarice Bean books, complete with Clarice Bean notebook, pencil and handy storage case, is sure to leave many a groovy 8-year old girl utterly satisfied this holiday.

Picture please:

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Clarice Bean floats my boat. She is clever, kooky, artistic and smart. She is what every 8 year old girl would be in a perfect world. These stories are just right for almost any kid – avid reader to reluctant and all those in between. The reading level is friendly, with fun images scattered throughout. The jokes are plentiful, and the characters are real and oddball enough to keep the pages turning. Also, Clarice’s adventures are rooted in typical kid experiences. I guess that makes them “relate-able,” which works for most children.

The best part of all this is, after this prezzie has made you the most beloved aunt (mom / dad / cousin / grown-up person) of all time, you can continue to be the coolest gift-giver ever by providing that lucky kid with the latest, freshest Clarice Bean book: Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now for her birthday (this one happens to be a Cybils ’07 nominated title for Middle Grade). Feel free to read my review.

So there you go. All 8-10 year old girls on your list taken care of.  Easy peasy.

Can’t Beat Clarice Bean

Someone who loves me bought me this:

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(which in case you can’t figure it out is a Charlie and Lola Orange Pencil Tin).

My snazzy treat was very promptly filled with a choice selection of new felt-tipped pens in various colours, and it is sitting next to me at this very moment, making the world a better place.

So, it’s fairly clear that I more or less worship Lauren Child. Sometimes I wish that through some sort of Freaky Friday-ish incident I could become Lauren Child for a day, just to experience life from inside the mind of such an artistically brilliant gal.

While I wait for this to happen, I read her books and buy them for all the kids I know. Even better than Charlie and Lola (did I just write that?) is Clarice Bean. To add to her general fantastic-ness, Clarice has her own website: Clarice Bean’s Utterly Cool Website.

Not too long ago I finished reading the latest Clarice Bean title:

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(As a complete aside… how stylish does this book look? It looks mighty pretty lying on any bedside table, I promise you that).

Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now just happens to be one of the many nominated Middle Grade titles for The 2007 Cybils Awards. It’s in there with some real heavyweights, so I hope it isn’t overlooked just because Clarice is not all angsty and oppressed by her friends/family/society/the world.

In this, the third installment of the series, Clarice finds herself worrying about anything and everything under the sun. Always keeping her “Ruby Redfort Survival Handbook” close at hand, Clarice finds little solace in Ruby’s advice on the subject of worrying:

“Always remember: It’s the worry you haven’t even thought to worry about that should worry you the most.”

Indeed… well, as Clarice discovers, truer words were never written. Her family provides much scope in the worrying department. If it wasn’t enough that their house is quite literally falling down, Clarice is convinced that her Mom and Dad are on the verge of divorce. Then, just when Clarice feels that perhaps things aren’t as bad as she thought, her best friend Betty up and moves to California. Bummer.

At its heart, this is a story about coping with change, and learning to accept that the unknown is in fact, unknown, and it will always be there, whether you’re worrying about it or not.

Baking analogy time…

If Clarice Bean books were a baked good, they would be gorgeous, perfect cupcakes that not only looked smashing, but tasted like heaven too.

Sure to be gobbled up by any reader with taste.

Clarice Bean, Don’t Look Now by Lauren Child is published by Candlewick Press (who else).

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomoto (Pop-Up!)

In the words of wise, wise Mae West, “Too much of a good thing is wonderful.” This is most certainly true for any and all things conceived by Lauren Child.

I have just returned from The Flying Dragon , after a most successful Christmas shop. I discovered THE BEST BOOK for my niece, and snatched the last copy for my very own:

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Yes, yes, you say… I have seen this before. But no! You have not seen the Pop-Up edition!  Take a peek:

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Words cannot describe how completely irresistible this book is. Pop-ups do possess a particular ability to enchant grown ups and kids alike, and I must say that this one is no exception. Lauren Child’s wackiness is enhanced to perfection by the “paper-engineering” of Corina Fletcher. (Speaking of “paper-engineering” – doesn’t it just boggle the mind to think that there are people out there who get to do this for a living? What other crazy professions exist with hardly anyone knowing about them?) I don’t want to spoil the surprises, so let’s just say that Ms. Fletcher is one talented pop-up artist. Prepare to be amazed, and to get a few good chuckles along the way.

I was so excited by this gift that I’m going to have to ask my fella to hide it somewhere so that I don’t wear it out before I hand it over to my niece. I’ve looked around to find some of the other titles that Corina Fletcher has “engineered.” I for one, will be on the look out for more of her amazing work:

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Bound to be pretty fantastic, I think.

I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato, Pop-Up! by Lauren Child, with paper-engineering by Corina Fletcher, is published by Candlewick.