Tag Archives: children’s fiction

Octopus Alone (Picture Book)

Author/Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan

My rating: 5 of 5

Octopus enjoys watching life in the ocean unfold around her, other sea creatures having fun. But sometimes it all just gets to be too much, and she needs to be alone. One day, she swims away until she finds somewhere quiet and alone where she can play by herself in the quiet . . . but after a while, she’s ready to return to her friends back home.

As in her Little Owl books, in Octopus Alone, Srinivasan does a delightful job of blending story with education about nature. We are shown a charming variety of sea creatures doing what sea creatures do, all drawn in the author’s usual gorgeous and distinguished style. And this would be a good children’s book just for that. But we get something more, as well–we get a main character with an established, distinct personality. One that tends to go against a lot of social expectations, no less. In point of fact, we get a picture book with an introverted main character, one that wrestles with that fine balance between needing relationships and needing to be alone sometimes. As an introvert myself, reading this in a children’s book is just brilliant. Whether it’s helping introverted kids understand themselves or helping extroverted kids understand that some people need more space and quiet than they do, this book is something that is just helpful and timely. Highly recommended, for the art, for the animals, for the story, and for the social aid that this book clearly is.

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The Kissing Hand (Picture Book)

Author: Audrey Penn

Illustrators:  Ruth E. Harper & Nancy M. Leak 

My rating: 4 of 5

A young raccoon faces his first day of school with trepidation. That is, until his mother shows him a secret trick to help him be brave and remember that she loves him.

I found myself reading this adorable picture book with my niece, and I must say that it’s charming. The pictures are a delightful watercolor with a nice color blend, and the use of anthropomorphism is nicely balanced, if a bit weird to read as an adult. Don’t think about the details too much. I also liked that the writing is accessible to young readers but is also a bit more complex than the typical “see spot run” sort of thing that we see so much of. Most of all, I liked how the story presents children with a real, workable idea to help them handle difficult situations with courage rather than hiding the fact that tough things are a part of life. All in all, definitely recommended, especially for kids ages 4-6 or thereabouts.

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When You Reach Me

Author: Rebecca Stead

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up, Miranda’s life has been pretty normal. Her childish yet bright single mother falling in love, wavering over whether to give Richard (Mr. Perfect) a key to their New York apartment, getting all excited over entering a TV game show, making plans for what to do with the winnings before she ever gets on the show. Her best friend Sal who has always been there for her, growing up together, like two sides of the same coin. But her sixth grade year, Miranda’s life begins to fall apart. Sal stops talking to her for no obvious reason, and suddenly nothing seems certain anymore. And then she starts getting these messages, small notes giving her instructions, telling her things about the future that no one should have known, claiming that the writer has come back in time to prevent something awful–and that her following these instructions is vital to this happening.

When You Reach Me is one of those unexpected, brilliant finds that just go to show that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Although the whole Newbery Award should have probably been a good indicator of that. It’s like this fabulous mashup of the things I love best of the writings of Madeleine L’Engle (no surprise, since she’s clearly an influencer of Stead’s writing), E. L. Konigsburg, and Frank Cottrell Boyce. The writing itself is just really good, for one, with layers of depth in the characters and little observations of the everyday thrown into the mix and with a lot of character development and growth and self-realization over the course of the story. That in itself would make for a great story, but then you throw in all the time-travel stuff and the mystery surrounding that, and the book goes to a whole new level in my mind. I liked that attention was given to the effects of time travel, but essentially zero mention was made of the actual mechanics; it wouldn’t work in every situation, but for this story, it was the best possible way to handle the topic. The inclusion of all the references to A Wrinkle in Time really helped to set the stage and explain the time travel better, so that was nicely done as well. Oh, and this is an actual instance of first-person, present-tense that actually works; it feels like reading a letter for the most part, maybe that letter Miranda was supposed to write. Recommended particularly for middle-grade readers, but this is one of those stories that surpasses its recommended grade range, so if you like the above authors’ works and are interested in time travel-related stories, When You Reach Me may be worth trying.

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Cinnamon (Picture Book)

Author: Neil Gaiman

Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Once upon a time, in a small, faraway kingdom, there was a young princess who was blind and who would not talk. Her parents offered (dubious) rewards to anyone who could get her to talk, but although many tried, none succeeded. . . . Until one day, a fierce, man-eating tiger came to the palace and offered to help the princess find her voice.

Cinnamon is a lovely picture book combining the talents of two of my favorite creative individuals–Neil Gaiman and Divya Srinivasan. I would have to say that it manages to highlight the things I love about both of their work. The tale itself is, in a sense, classic fairy tale material. The combination of the mundane and the fantastic, the inevitable flow of events, the underlying darkness at times, and the sometimes fable-like quality all contribute to this feeling of fairy tale that the story evokes. Yet at the same time, it manages to avoid the downfall of many fairy tales when they are told as such–being boring. This story certainly is not boring, and I contribute a lot of that to the author’s great talent and sense of humor. Quirky and realistic details like the stunted mango trees and the contrast between the Rani’s cranky old aunt and the picture of her in her youth give the whole story a much more vibrant and interesting flavor than it would otherwise have. Srinivasan’s art is also huge in transforming this story, giving it a vibrance and luminescence that is just stunning. If you’re familiar with her Little Owl books, the style is very similar and equally charming and lovely. Settings that are generally alluded to in the text are brought to life, again helping to make this story anything but boring. My favorite illustrations are the ones showing Cinnamon and the tiger together as the young princess experiences life afresh through the tiger’s influence. There’s just so much emotion and depth in those pictures that it’s quite moving. I think Cinnamon is a great picture book for younger readers (I’d say ages 5 or so and up, depending on the reader), but is also an enjoyable tale for older readers to share as well.

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The Snowman (1982 Movie)

TVC London

My rating: 5 of 5

One day a young boy awakens to a delightful surprise–lots and lots of snow! He can’t wait to get out of the house to play in it. In fact, much of the day is spent in the construction of a most excellent snowman. But the boy awakens that night at midnight to find something most wondrous–his snowman has come to life!

The Snowman is one of those delightful classic stories that just never loses its charm. I grew up watching this, and recently revisiting it with my 3-year-old niece (who, incidentally, also loves it), I found myself just as enchanted as when I was a child. The only words in this entire movie are in the introduction; other than that, it’s told entirely in pictures and music. And what pictures and music they are! The art is expressive, hand-drawn animation following the original picture book (also wordless) closely. It’s truly beautiful and charming. And the music is absolutely breathtaking and unforgettable. And the story itself is innocent and adorable while also being filled with and open wonder that you just don’t see nowadays. It’s nostalgically lovely. Honestly, I find myself unable to avoid comparing this movie to some of Studio Ghibli’s movies–in the fabulous music, the beautiful animation, the attention to detail, the way it looks at the mundane with new eyes, the wonder of the boy and the snowman’s journey, and the copious attention to nature that is given here. I love it and would highly recommend it to anyone; it’s entirely appropriate for even little children, but has a charm that may just capture the hearts even of an older and more jaded audience.

Directed by Dianne Jackson/Produced by John Coates/Music by Howard Blake/Based on The Snowman by Raymond Briggs

 

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Miraculous: Tales of Ladybug & Cat Noir (2015- Cartoon)

Zagtoon with Method Animation, Toei Animation, SAMG Animation, AB Droits Audiovisuels, SK Broadband, & De Agostini Editore

Status: Ongoing (2 Seasons, 34 episodes)

My rating: 4 of 5

In present-day Paris, Marinette deals with the same things most students do–friends, schoolwork, crushing on the cutest boy in the school. Not that Adrien seems to even notice her particularly, although it would help if she could actually talk to him without tripping all over herself and looking like an idiot. But that’s not all she deals with, because you see, Marinette has a secret alter-ego–the superhero Ladybug, sworn protector of Paris along with her partner Cat Noir.

Miraculous Ladybug was a fun, unexpected find for me, something I’ve heard other people mention but didn’t have high expectations for myself. It’s a French kids’ CGI adventure show, and it’s pretty random for something like that to even cross the radar in the States anyhow. Not surprising, though, considering that this show is actually quite good. It pulls from a lot of different sources, giving it a unique flavor–kind of a mix of mahou shojou and your more traditional superhero stories, but also a cute slice-of-life story. The CG can feel a bit stilted at times, but overall the animation is excellent if not my ideal style; it still has some cute anime influences, which is fun. This story is solidly a kids’ show. It’s clean–astonishingly so, in fact. It has the repetition, the set episode pattern, to make it ideal for a younger audience (although that very thing may get kind of annoying for older viewers). By the end of each episode, everything is cleaned up and put back right, and the city views Ladybug and Cat Noir as proper heroes. Moreover, the show teaches important life lessons like responsibility, honesty, and courage. All of which make this an excellent show for children, but there is actually something there for older viewers, too. Because behind the masks and the cheesy villains and all, you’ve got some awesome characters who show growth over time. You’ve got diversity. You’ve got an adorable slow-burn romance. You’ve got real, developed friendships and Marinette has an awesome, supportive family. So there’s more than meets the eye in this cute kids’ show. I’m looking forward to seeing where Miraculous Ladybug goes in the future (I’ve only seen season 1 so far), although I’m dying for some development and a reveal between Adrien and Marinette. We’ll see if/when that ever comes.

Created by Thomas Astruc/Written by Thomas Astruc & Sébastien Thibaudeau/Directed by Thomas Astruc, Christelle Abgrall, Wilifried Pain, & Jun Violet/Music by Jeremy Zag, Noam Kaniel, & Alain Garcia/Voiced (in English) by Cristina Vee, Bryce Papenbrook, Keith Silverstein, Mela Lee, Max Mittelman, & Carrie Keranen

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Rapunzel’s Revenge (Graphic Novel)

Authors: Shannon Hale & Dean Hale

Illustrator: Nathan Hale

My rating: 3.5 of 5

For most of her childhood, Rapunzel lives a life of luxury with her mother, Mother Gothel–only she mustn’t ever look over the massive “garden wall” surrounding her home, she mustn’t question her mother, and she mustn’t mention her odd memory-like dreams. But on her twelfth birthday, Rapunzel just can’t contain herself anymore. She uses her impressive lasso skills (taught her by one of Mother Gothel’s guards, a kind man by the name of Mason) to climb the wall–only to find a world of desolation and slavery, which she soon finds is controlled by her mother . . . or, well, the person she thought was her mother. It turns out, she was taken from her real mother when she was just a little kid, and her actual mother is a slave in the mines now. In an attempt to control Rapunzel, Mother Gothel has her imprisoned in a tall tree that she’s created with her growth magic. But Rapunzel’s not one to sit demurely waiting for a rescuer, nor is she one to leave her real family in trouble.

I’ve seen some pretty interesting retellings before, but Rapunzel’s Revenge has got to be one of the most interesting and frankly bizarre to come my way in quite some time. It’s a western fantasy/weird west remix of the tale, complete with deserts, lassos, and outlaws–but with magic, too! And it’s not just a straight-up Rapunzel retelling, either; you’ve got Jack and the Beanstalk, for sure, and certain elements from a handful of other classic fairy tales. It’s pretty crazy, really, but in an interesting way. Rapunzel is an excellent example of the modernized empowered “princess,” a girl who’s smart and determined and takes matters into her own hands. Stubborn and kind of awkward, too, with enough personality to make her a sympathetic character, not just a modern stereotype. Her friend Jack makes a nice counterpart, with both of them challenging each other, forcing character growth and revealing character traits to the reader. As for the plot itself, it’s mostly a big rescue journey/adventure from the point where Rapunzel rescues herself and meets Jack–and it’s at this point that the western elements really start to show. It wasn’t the greatest plot ever, but a solid middle-grade story, still, plus a creative outtake on the whole retelling thing. The art is honestly not my style, but it works well enough for the story and I don’t have anything objectively negative to say about it–it’s just not what I prefer for graphic novels personally. I’m not sure I’d recommend Rapunzel’s Revenge for everyone, but if you like graphic novels and are interested in a quirky retelling with a strong female lead, it’s a story you just might enjoy.

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