Tag Archives: classic

Corduroy

Author: Don Freeman

My rating: 4.5 of 5

In a big department store, a small stuffed bear named Corduroy sits on the shelf waiting for someone to take him home. One day, a customer points out that he’s missing a button, prompting a midnight expedition through the store in search of said button. Corduroy finds lots of interesting things that night. But the next morning, he finds something even better–a home and a new friend.

Over 50 years old, this picture book is just as charming and engaging as it was when it was originally published. Corduroy is just a very cute story, with a nice sprinkling of adventure and humor and a satisfying “happy ending.” I appreciate the way the author expresses Corduroy’s opinions of his experiences–“I guess I’ve always wanted to” or “I think I’ve always wanted to” for all the adventures in the store, but “I know I’ve always wanted” when it comes to a friend and a home. It’s a nice way of using repetition with variation that I like to see in kids’ books. Fair warning that this book is a bit text heavy when compared to other picture books; at age two-and-a-half, my niece is just now able to sit still for and enjoy reading the text in its entirety, but before that, I had to do some summarizing. (It’s recommended for ages 3-8, technically). As for the art itself, it’s got a charming old-school feel to it, one that both captures the flavor of when it was written back in the 1940’s but that is still enjoyable and approachable today. Corduroy is definitely a classic, and a picture book that I would recommend for just about any younger child.

 

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Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon (manga)

Mangaka: Naoko Takeuchisailor-moon

Translator: William Flanagan

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Usagi Tsukino is an average middle-school girl–cute, cheerful, and prone to oversleeping. She’s also the reincarnation of an ancient Moon Princess–a Sailor Guardian wielding the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal to protect the world she loves. As she awakens to her powers, Usagi discovers other Sailor Guardians, friends from her past life who join her in the battles she faces. And they will definitely face numerous enemies in battle as those drawn to the power of the Legendary Silver Crystal for their own greedy reasons seek to take it from her.

First off, I must recognize that Sailor Moon has a certain appeal that uniquely comes from growing up with it; I have any number of friends who absolutely adore the story–all of whom first watched it on TV back in middle school. So I have to preface my review by saying that I only just read this manga recently, so I’m coming at the story from a different perspective, acknowledging that there are aspects of it that I’m just not going to appreciate in the same way. Please don’t be offended if you are one of those people who love this manga dearly. I can certainly acknowledge that is a classic–one that anyone who enjoys manga should read at least once–and that it has been highly influential not only on readers but on other mangaka over the years. I found Sailor Moon to be quite a unique story. The genre blend is something I’ve never seen before, at least not in this particular mix. While being essentially a shoujo story (with a strong mahou shojou flair, complete with the instantaneous costume changes and frou frou styles), there is a strong shounen vibe to the story as well. I found this particularly notable in the battles, both with the named attacks in the midst of the battles and with the sequence of each defeated enemy being followed by a stronger enemy. Personally, I found the enemies and their motives to be a bit bland and unoriginal. Although the character designs and the specifics changed, they were all essentially interchangeable otherwise, at least for the most part. On the other hand, the characters of the Sailor Guardians were charming, distinct, and interesting. I think the reason I enjoyed the series as much as I did was that I enjoyed the characters. As for the plot . . . the overarching plot of reincarnation, destined love, everlasting friendship, and all that goes into that was actually quite good. I enjoyed the time-travel plot elements that were thrown in as well. But the repeated fights just weren’t that enjoyable for me. Still, I think Pretty Guardian Sailor Moon is a solid classic manga that is well worth reading at least once, both for the characters and story themselves and to understand the innumerable references to it that pop up elsewhere.

 

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Omnibus Edition)

Author: Alan Moorethe league of extraordinary gentelmen omnibus

Illustrator: Kevin O’Neill

My Rating: DNF

Warning: Mature Audience

In England during the year 1898, a mysterious unnamed individual–going merely by M–has begun collecting a most unusual group of people together. Strayed to the outskirts of society and beyond by choice or chance, these individuals have both the will and the abilities to do what many might consider impossible. And perhaps, for the sake of their country, they might even be motivated to have the will to work together and accomplish the task.

First off, apologies to those who love this, admittedly classic, comic book–you should probably stop reading now. Actually, this particular review is for myself more than for anyone else, so that when I look back in 5 years and wonder whatever happened to the characters, I’ll be reminded of all the reasons I stopped reading to begin with. Because The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen has the potential to be a wonderful story. The premise is intriguing, the blending of Victorian period literature and style with the superhero comic. I would even say that, at times, Moore and O’Neill manage to pull it off. Certainly, a familiarity with and appreciation of classic literature will certainly increase one’s appreciation of the comic–the incorporation of characters and stylistic elements was one of the things I appreciated the most. So if there’s that much good, why did I stop halfway through with no intention of ever picking this comic up again to finish it? Because I found this comic to also be racist, sexist, violent, bawdy, and offensive in the extreme. Is that seriously necessary?! So yes, I won’t elaborate further, but I can’t recommend The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, nor will I ever read any of it again.

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The Red House Mystery

Author: A. A. Milnethe red house mystery

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Mr. Anthony Gillingham has made a life of wearing many hats, switching from one to the next as soon as he has mastered the first. And his sharp wit and photographic memory make doing so rather easy–not that he doesn’t work at excelling at whatever he chooses to do. So when he stops in at the countryside residence of Mark Ablett (to visit an old friend who is also staying there on holiday) and discovers a murder has just occurred . . . well, why not try being a detective?

I absolutely love Milne’s Winnie-the-Pooh series, so I was pretty excited when I discovered he also wrote other books, including this one, solitary mystery. For those who love fast-paced, tightly plotted mystery thrillers, The Red House Mystery is nothing like that. For those who enjoyed Milne’s children’s books, this is that sort of story, just for adults and a murder mystery. Which makes no sense at all, I know, but it’s true. This book is quaint and bucolic, there’s a period-specific air of leisure–and indeed a very period-specific vibe in general–that shine throughout in that natural way that historical fiction can never quite emulate. Which isn’t to say that the mystery itself isn’t interesting and perhaps even clever. It’s just developed in a more leisurely sort of way. I liked the characters, even though Mr. Gillingham is a bit larger than life–how many detective stories are written about characters who aren’t? In any case, The Red House Mystery isn’t groundbreaking or marvelous, but for a nice, easy-paced, fun read, I think it suits quite nicely.

 

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The Importance of Being Earnest

Author: Oscar Wildethe importance of being earnest

My rating: 5 of 5

As an excuse to leave the dullness and responsibility of country life, Jack Worthing has invented a troublesome brother named Ernest who lives in the city–naturally when his “brother” is in trouble, he has to go to town to take care of him. While in the city, he leaves his true identity behind, going instead by the name of Ernest himself. And it is by this name that he becomes betrothed to the lovely Gwendolyn; imagine his horror when he finds that she has sworn to only ever love someone named Ernest! Later when Jack has returned to his country house and his ward, the young Cecily, he finds that his friend Algernon is onto him and has the tables on him quite dramatically by coming to visit–as Jack’s wayward brother Ernest. Worse still, Algernon and Cecily proclaim their love for each other, or rather Cecily proclaims her love for someone named “Ernest” just as Gwendolyn did. As Gwendolyn arrives at Jack’s country house, the four are in a right proper stew of lies and confusions–but perhaps the most surprising thing is how much truth has been unwittingly told as lies.

I can’t say I’m a huge fan of college literature classes (because I’d rather read stories than butcher them), but I’m ever grateful to my school for introducing me to this jewel of a Victorian play. It’s this satirical, hilariously funny representation of the excesses and the absurdities of the upper classes of Victorian England, and it’s a wonderful read. (Actually, it might be even better seen on stage, but it’s fantastic to read as well.) The wordplay in the drama is brilliantly executed–the sort of stuff that will be quoted probably hundreds of years from now. (River Song even quotes it in the most recent Doctor Who Christmas special!) Some of the ideas presented are quite cutting, but they’re also absurdly funny, perhaps even more so because of how awful they are at times. It’s a lot like Shakespeare’s Comedy of Errors in the crazy confusion that the plot becomes. And the surprise ending is ironically perfect–just what the characters deserve. I think even if you’re not much into historical plays, The Importance of Being Earnest might be worth at least trying; it’s a lot of fun.

Note: This play is old enough to be public domain and can be found for free on Google Books and on Project Gutenberg.

 

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The Story of the Treasure Seekers

Author: Edith Nesbitthe story of the treasure seekers

My rating: 3 of 5

The Bastable children (all six of them) are aware in a vague sense that their family’s fortunes have fallen: there isn’t pocket money for them anymore, expensive treats are missing from dinner now, they’ve been pulled out of their school on a long-term holiday, and their father seems to spend nearly all his time at work now. And being bright, clever children with lots of spare time on their hands and no mother living to keep them in check, the six siblings determine to seek out a treasure in order to restore their family’s fortunes. Only, they can’t decide quite how to go about the business. Noel thinks he should either sell poetry or marry a princess (maybe both). Oswald thinks they ought to be highwaymen, which Dora (the eldest) disapproves of very strongly. Alice wants to try using a divining rod. In short, everyone has an opinion, and no one agrees . . . and so it is decided that they will try out each of their ideas in turn to see if any of them will work.

I’ve always enjoyed Edith Nesbit’s writing, ever since I first discovered The Railway Children when I was in middle school. Her writing is, naturally enough, a bit old fashioned (being that she wrote in the late 1800’s), but her writing is just the sort of children’s adventure that always feels timely and homey. She understands children very, very well. (Not to mention that her writing was hugely influential on any number of more recent authors, including C. S. Lewis, and has thus, in a sense, passed into contemporary literature more than we’re aware.) In any case, although I generally love her writing without reserve, I am of two minds regarding The Story of the Treasure Seekers, which I just read for the first time. The premise is absolutely smashing, and her execution of it is brilliant–at once both touching and highly amusing. The Bastable children are highly developed as characters, perhaps more so than in most of her other books. And I think this is where the story got off on the wrong foot for me. Because, you see, Oswald is the one telling the story. And he’s remarkably well written. As a twelve-year-old boy who thinks rather too well of himself, who is falsely modest, and who is at times shockingly sexist. Not to mention, he’s trying to hide his identity for most of the book, only he keeps forgetting himself and referring to himself in the first person–exactly the blundering, cute attempts a kid would make, and it really is brilliant, but it’s also annoying to read. I would have enjoyed this story a lot more if, say Noel or Alice had been telling the story, especially Alice with her fierce determination and loyalty. I guess I would leave reading The Story of the Treasure Seekers up in the air regarding recommending it or not; it’s a classic, but don’t judge all of Nesbit’s writing by this one book. I’d really recommend reading Five Children and It before trying this one.

Note: Although I have a Puffin edition pictured here, this book is old enough it’s public domain. You can get an electronic copy for free at Project Gutenberg if you just want to try it before committing to anything.

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The Island of Dr. Libris

Author: Chris Grabensteinthe island of dr libris

My rating: 4 of 5

Billy has almost resigned himself to a rotten, boring summer: his mom and dad are “spending some time apart” for the summer, so he’s stuck in a lake cabin with his mom–with no TV, no video games, no friends. Not to mention, he managed to break his iPhone and get on the wrong side of the local bullies within his first full day there. In desperation, he wanders into the study of Dr. Libris, the cabin’s owner, and begins reading books from his shelf . . . . And that’s when things begin to get interesting, as Billy hears voices coming from the island in the middle of the lake–voices saying stuff right out of the book he’s reading!

I was immediately captured by the cover of The Island of Dr. Libris; I mean, come one, doesn’t it look just delicious? Like sherbet in summer or something. I wasn’t disappointed by the story inside either. This is a solid middle-grade slice-of-life/fantasy. It discusses serious topics like parents being separated and dealing with bullies in a forthright but not overwhelmingly heavy manner, which is nice. It also brings in lots of classic literature, which is always great to see in kids’ books. The story itself is original and interesting–a sort of science-fiction view on bringing books to life. I enjoyed Dr. Libris’s lab notes scattered in among the chapters to give additional perspective on what’s happening. (Also, short chapters, making this a good choice to read when you don’t have much time in a sitting to read.) Overall, this book reminds me–in feel, rather than in specific stylistic or plot points–of works like The Mysterious Benedict Society and The Name of This Book is Secret. I would recommend The Island of Dr. Libris, particularly for middle-grade readers who enjoy works similar to those just listed, or who enjoy works bridging slice-of-life and fantasy concepts generally.

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