Tag Archives: Harper

The Spindlers

Gosh it’s nice to read such a good yarn, because that’s how I’d describe Lauren Oliver‘s new middle grade novel, The Spindlers. It’s the kind of book you want to escape into, curled up under a blanket on a chilly day. 

When the spindlers steal Liza’s brother’s soul, only Liza knows what must be done. She descends Below to rescue Patrick’s soul, to an otherworldly place filled with strange creatures. Some are helpful, like the lumer-lumpen, who light the woodland paths, and the nocturni, the caretakers of human souls. Others are terrifying, like the scrags, the shape-shifting lizard-like minions of the spindler queen. Oliver’s book has all of the trademarks of a fine quest story, and as Liza makes her way, relying on her wits and the help of those she meets, the narrative will call to mind some of the best-loved books about venturing to other worlds, such as Coraline, Narnia, and Alice in Wonderland.

There’s something comfortable about recognizing the conventions of a particular type of story, don’t you think? It’s a mixture of feeling reassured and delighted, like when it’s getting close to Christmas and you start taking out all of your most loved decorations and setting them up around the house. “Oh yes, there you are!” you think when you unwrap your favourite ornaments after months of forgetting about them. So in The Spindlers, when you first meet the eccentric talking rat Mirabella, you soon see that she will be Liza’s guide on her adventure and it starts feeling like the story is falling into place in a way that is familiar and magical at once. By the time I reached the last part of the story and it became clear that it was going to end with a “test of wills” where Liza would have to outsmart the spindler queen in order to win her brother’s soul, I was a very satisfied reader. I love that plot element of many quest stories.  

What I think is special about The Spindlers is that Oliver manages to offer readers a conventional quest structure, but with more than enough creativity in the world and characters she has imagined to make the book feel different and memorable in its own right. I’d say it’s less frightening than Coraline, but just as captivating. I think it could be quite something in a graphic novel format too. Iacopo Bruno’s striking cover certainly gets me wishing that there were some illustrations scattered throughout the book. A gorgeous new adventure that belongs right next to some of the great classics, The Spindlers will be winning over readers for a long time to come.

The Spindlers is published by Harper.

The One and Only Ivan

Often, the longer a book sits in my TBR pile, the less likely I am to read it. It gets forgotten, or it loses its initial appeal. Then there are the books in the pile that you look at and you think, “Oh, yeah! I still really want to read that one. I’ve got to get to it.” And months pass. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate, somehow ended up stuck for ages in TBR status, and reading it has made me wonder what other miracle books might be in that pile, because I think this book is one miraculous book.

The One and Only Ivan is the story of a gorilla who lives in a cement and metal “domain” in the Exit 8 Big Top Mall and Video Arcade. He’s been there for 27 years. There’s a jungle scene painted on one wall of his cage and people pay to see him, though not as many as when he was young. Ivan is alone in his domain, but he has friends: Stella the elephant, and Bob, a stray dog who forages for scraps in the Mall trash. There’s also Julia, the daughter of the man who cleans the mall at night. She likes to draw the animals, and talk to them. Ivan is an artist too. He paints what he sees in his cage, mostly apple cores and banana peels. He wishes he could draw something that doesn’t yet exist, that he only imagines, but he’s not unhappy with his ordinary pictures. As the mall starts losing money, the owner, Mack, brings a baby elephant to be part of the show and hopefully to drum up business. Ruby’s arrival signals a change in Ivan. He promises Stella that he will protect Ruby no matter what and find a way to get Ruby to a safe place. It will take all of his courage, creativity, and hope, to make good on that promise.

And FYI, you will be needing tissues.

Applegate’s prose has a pared down quality that brings it close to poetry. The directness and simplicity of the language fits with how you might imagine a gorilla to think and perceive the world. Each short chapter is perfectly shaped for great emotional impact. It’s not often you find a book that will not intimidate a less confident reader but that still has such rich themes and gorgeous writing. I’d feel confident putting this one in the hands of a child who is more reluctant as well as an avid reader. It will prompt thinking and discussion about the issues connected to humans’ use of animals for profit, but also inter-species understanding, and compassion. The gentle sweetness of Patricia Castelao’s spot illustrations enhance the reading experience. Can you say perfect read aloud? Teachers everywhere, take note. You want this one.

Here’s a Q&A with Katherine Applegate, and you should take a look at the website for the book where there’s some extra information for curious readers and for teachers to bring into the classroom.

The One and Only Ivan is published by Harper, an Imprint of Harper Collins Publishers.