January 31, 2011
The Legend of Ninja Cowboy Bear by David Bruins and Hilary Leung
Eli said, “I want a picture book about Ninjas.” Listen here, children’s book authors: here is the niche that needs to be filled. There are practically no ninja books for 4-year-olds. When read Eli the title of this book, he just about fell over. A ninja cowBOY BEAR??!? We had to inter-library-loan it, and I do think he was a mite disappointed to learn that the book is about three separate creatures (a ninja, a cowboy, and a bear). Still. At least there’s a ninja in it. Basically, the ninja, the cowboy, and the bear get into an argument over who is better, and in the end discover that they all have their own special strengths. And then there’s a funny little rock, paper, scissors-esque game to play at the end, which featured extremely confusing hand and body gestures, although Henry got it right away and was ninja-cowboy-bearing all over the living room. The illustrations have that kind of Dan Yaccarino cuteness which the kids love (but which I find a little flat sometimes, to be honest). But hey! Did I mention there’s a ninja?
January 27, 2011
Petit, the Monster by Isol
This is a very simple book based on what has probably been an issue since cave people were trying to figure out what makes children such nutty little beings: sometimes kids are angels, and sometimes they are not. They are, sometimes, as you can guess from the title, monsters. This is a theme we’ve explored before, in books like Edwardo, The Horriblest Boy in the Whole Wide World and Jeremy Draws a Monster and even, to a certain extent, Jumpy Jack and Googily. Apparently we need to keep being reminded that Kids Can Be Monsters, and That’s Ok.
We’re introduced to Petit and all his conundrums (“Petit can be very nice to Grandfather Paco/and very mean to pigeons”). And then his mother brings this duality to his attention (“How can such a good boy sometimes do such bad things?”). Petit chews on this dilemma for a bit, thinking about what he does well, and what he doesn’t do well, and other children who are not so nice, and how sometimes he likes them, even if they’re mean. He finally says to his mom, “I must be some kind of good-bad boy, maybe. There’s no other explanation.” Which yes, of course, it’s true, and so good for Petit to verbalize it, and especially good for the surely good-bad kid(s) sitting in my lap to hear. And then it ends hilariously: “‘Mother is good because she understands, and bad when she sends me to bed without dessert. Could it be that it runs in the family?”‘
I’m going to ignore the fact that Eli’s most pressing question was, “Why is his name Petit?” and assume that they were all reassured to read yet another tale of a boy who had difficulty being good all the time.
January 22, 2011
A Tale Dark and Grimm by Adam Gidwitz
I have now seen three reviews of this book that mentioned turning the last page, flipping the book over, and starting it again. I pretty much dismissed all that, but got it because the concept — a retelling of classic Grimm brother stories that weaves Hansel and Gretel into each one — sounded intriguing. Henry started reading it first, and it was one of those books that he just carried all over the house and read in corners and under tables and didn’t do anything else until he was done. Then I picked it up, and while it didn’t grab me wholesale quite the way it did Henry (or, well, maybe it’s more that I have to drive the car and make the dinner and don’t have a 7-year-old’s luxury of having my day’s agenda be: Read Book), I plowed through. But! While I was plowing through, Henry kept stealing it back. And then I finished it, and if I saw it lying on the couch, later, I couldn’t help picking it up to reread some of the juicy parts.
And it is pretty juicy. If by juicy you mean “with blood spurting everywhere.” It’s not gratuitous, and those Grimm brothers do tell a gory story, so it really just plays off that, but there is a lot of gruesome stuff in here. But it’s not scary. Not heart-pounding, I mean. It’s more alarming, and “oh no!” and, mostly, “what’s next?” I will say that you’ve got to know your kid on this one, and it totally wouldn’t work as a bedtime chapter book. But the whole thing was so exciting, and so deliciously grotesque, and it all wraps up in such a satisfying manner, that you really do have to go back and reread. A lot of the Grimm stories were unknown to me, but I love the way Gidwitz ties them all together, and the part where Hansel goes to Hell and fools the devil’s mother is worth the price of admission right there.