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Category Archives: Children

The Cats of Tanglewood Forest

The Cats of Tanglewood ForestUnknown

by Charles DeLint

Illustrated by Charles Vess

Little, Brown and Company New York, NY    2013

ISBN:978-0-316-05357-0

This is a delightful tale that promises to be a new classic.  It is as likable as The Wind in the Willows or Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and would appeal to the same age group.  Charles Vess’s watercolor illustrations have a dreamy quality reminiscent of the Beatrix Potter illustrations.

The setting deep in the hill country could be any remote country but my mind-set it in the Smokey Mountains. The animal population is rather varied including a black panther, a fox, a possum, bears and of course the wild cats.  The young heroine meets the animals in the forest who talk and have rich lives in what seems to be an entirely different reality than that of the “grown-ups.”

Our young heroine, Lillian, is a wild child and a dreamer.  She is an orphan being raised by her Aunt on hard work and old stories.  Lillian wanders freely in the woods once her chores and her home schooling work is finished for the day.  She keeps hoping to spy a fairy, but she can never seem to find one.  She’s warned, “When it comes to spirits, it’s best not to draw their attention.  Elsewise you never know what you might be calling down on yourself.”  But Lillian just want to say hello.

The dilemma of the story comes early as Lillian falls asleep under a tree and gets bit by a poisonous snake.  This happens to be the tree where all the forest cats congregate.  Lillian is friendly to everyone.  She leaves milk out for the wild cats, shares the chicken feed with the wild birds and always leaves a biscuit under the oldest apple tree for the Apple Tree Man.  The cats know she will die if they don’t do something so they work a large magic, and turn Lillian into a kitten.

From this point on in the story Lillian’s adventures take her into the world she always wished she could see.  She also learns that magic has consequences, and usually you don’t like them.  The story is about how hard she works to make everything in her world right again, even if it means she might end up a dead snake-bit girl.

This would be a great read aloud chapter book for young school age children.  It would be a charming tale for a young girl, especially a forest child and a dreamer.  Even as an adult I was delighted to be swept back into my own childhood dreams.

Charles DeLint is a master of modern fantasy and ‘real world’ magic.  Much of his material is geared to an older audience, and some of it can be very dark.  This is a simple tale told with great depth and mastery.  I highly recommend it.

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Posted by on April 15, 2013 in Children, Fantasy

 

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Chu’s Day

Chu’s DayUnknown

Neil Gaiman

Illustrated by Adam Rex

HarperCollins NY, NY

ISBN: 978-0-06-201781-9

I picked up this book because I’m fond of Neil Gaiman as an author.  He does use an amusing word play as Chu seems to have a tendency to sneeze.  Warning us, the book begins “When Chu sneezed, bad things happened.”

Generally in books like this I find a simple theme developed and repeated in variations five or six times before the climax.  Often the pages then turn the story around and go backwards through those variations with repercussions.  The classic example of this is Green Eggs and Ham by Dr. Seuss.  Gaiman has simplified this formula in the extreme making this a very short children’s picture book.  He uses the principles of comedy one, two and the punch line on three.  The story turn around is done entirely in pictures.

As it is a children’s picture book it is really the illustrations that sell the story.  Adam Rex seems to use an illustration convention that is quite unique.  When the story is “telling” about Chu, the panda’s day the pictures are stark and set against a white background like many science based photo picture books.  When the story is “showing” Chu’s day the pages are filled with color and whimsical animal characters.

This might be a fun book for very young children suffering from colds or hay fever.  I could see exploring the details in the illustration with a child while reading to them.  It would be fun to ask, “what could happen if you sneezed like Chu?”

This is no great piece of literature.  I would be thrilled to see it in every pediatric waiting room.

 
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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in Children

 

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Wonder

WONDER

by R.J. Palacio

Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY 2012

ISBN978-0-375-86902-0

I got this book for my son for the holidays.  It was being heavily promoted and it seemed like the sort of thing he might enjoy.  I couldn’t wait to read it myself.

Wonder is a book of children’s fiction.  The main characters are fifth graders in New York.  The themes, however, are very adult.  The story is about a boy who has a severe facial deformity, or as the story more accurately states “mandibulofacial dysostosis”.  He’s been home-schooled all his life, but now he’s going to start fifth grade in a school.

The story is told sequentially by multiple points of view.  First we get August, the main character, and his sense of self and fears for starting.  Then the friends he makes at school give their take on August.  We hear from his sister and his sister’s oldest friend.  We even hear from August’s sister’s boyfriend.  The story wraps up at the end of the 5th grade year again from August’s point of view and we see how much he has grown and changed over the course of the year.

Having raised a special needs child and his sister I have to say that I was impressed with the emotional honesty of this book.  The children seem a little older, more mature than typical midwestern 5th graders, but the way they process their experience is spot on.

The themes in this book are very adult.  We often forget that children do experience these things as well.  This book is a positive, uplifting look on overcoming adversity.  It doesn’t hide or try to sugar coat the emotions the characters feel.  It honors adult support without needing the adult characters to “fix” everything for the children.

It was a difficult book for me to read.  I have seen too much of these things in my life not to be impacted by the story and the reactions of the characters.  The best thing I can say about this book, and this really is a huge recommendation, is that I found it to be genuine.

 
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Posted by on January 5, 2013 in Children, Uncategorized

 

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