Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Spider and the Fly...The Yummy Edition

The Spider and the Fly 10th Anniversary Edition
based on the classic 1829 poem by Mary Howitt
illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Simon & Shuster (August 2012)
Ages 6 and up

It's true, I was reading-deprived as a child; however, not until I read the 10th anniversary edition of Mary Howitt's 1829 poem, illustrated Tony DiTerlizzi, did I realize just what an abomination that was. For crying out loud...this little masterpiece has been around since 1829? Of course, maybe if DiTerlizzi had been there to illustrate it sooner, there's a good chance we would have crossed paths. Thankfully, a 10th anniversary edition just came out and I was ready for it.

In this thinly veiled morality tale about the perils of vanity, self-absorbed little Fly is courted by silver-tongued master manipulator, Spider, who preys on Fly's superficiality. Spider plies Fly with fanciful promises and compliments, slowly drawing both Fly and reader into his web. Meanwhile, the illustrations tell the real tale as the ghostly apparitions of past victims try to warn her away (a really lovely touch).

DiTerlizzi has created a delicious visual feast with classic Hollywood horror film flair. I do believe this is the first Gothic-style picture book I've come across, and if that's not already a thriving genre, it should be. (Gris Grimly has illustrated some rhyming collections of macabre, but I can't think off the top of my head of a picture book with this sort of vintage horror quality to it.)

A big bonus in this 10th Anniversary edition is the movie poster printed on the inside of the dust jacket:

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Twisted Tombstones

Last Laughs: Animal Epitaphs
Written by J. Patrick Lewis and Jane Yolen
Illustrated by Jeffrey Stewart Timmins
Charlesbridge (July 2012)
Ages 7 and up

Can a book of epitaphs for animals really be all that funny? Why, yes it can, especially if you combine the pithy wit of Jane Yolen and J. Patrick Lewis with the playfully dark illustrations of Jeffrey Stewart Timmins.

For the most part, this picture book of sly final farewells delivers on its twisted promise to delight in the animal kingdom's dearly departed. While I felt a little let down with a few of the them, the many brilliantly (ahem) executed epitaphs more than make up for any lost momentum. Among my favorites, Lewis' "Chicken Crosses Over" puts to rest any notions about the endlessly debated road crossing, and Yolen's "Hen's Last Cluck" makes mischief with a beautifully rendered nine-word, two-line salute to fowl behavior.

The epitaphs, while delivered tongue-in-cheek, are so wide ranging in their subjects—from the farm to the sea and all points high and low—that Last Laughs is a sneakily tender tribute to the animal kingdom. Truthfully, I never thought I'd feel for an eel or regret a piranha's sudden passing.

Last Laughs has a life beyond its reading, offering inspiration and prompts for young writers to pen their own animal epitaphs. In fact, I took a stab at this (poorly rhymed) epitaph for several crows:

Look no further.
This was a murder.

A great gift for Halloween.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

A Wonder(ful) Book

R.J. Palacio
Knopf Books for Young Readers (February 2012)
Ages 8 and up

Contributor: Blingin' My Game

Wonder caught my eye by the cover, which shows a boy with a truly unusual face. When I started reading the book, I absolutely loved it!!! The story is about a boy named August Pullman who was born with a deformed face and has been home schooled his whole life. By the time he reaches fifth grade, his mother decides that it’s time to go to a private school. 

August faces lots of challenges and has some good and bad moments. When his middle school principle, Mr. Tushman, introduces him to his new school, August isn’t sure that he wants to be there, knowing that the students and teachers will stare at his one-of-a-kind face every day where it can't be hidden. He has to deal with the whispering, laughing, staring and pointing at him as he walks by in the halls. He goes to sleep every night, thinking about having to go through it all over again the next day. Through it all, his sister Olivia and his mom and dad don’t want him to give up going to school, so he has to dig deep to keep going. I don't want to give away the ending, but I will say that after readers get done with this book it will make them think about how they treat others they meet and if they have treated them in the right way.

I would recommend this book to anyone from 5th grade to as old as you can read. A wonderful book that I find very inspirational, especially for anyone that has had to deal with life’s challenges. It teaches people that everyone is different in their own special way, and everyone should be treated the same even if they look different. 

Happy Reading!!