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.
Author: Terry Trueman
My rating: 4.5 of 5
You might consider Shawn McDaniel a genius: he’s smart and has a photographic memory of everything he’s experienced since he was a small child. That’s if you actually could know him. . . . Actually, if you met him on the street, you wouldn’t think that at all. Because Shawn has cerebral palsy and is completely unable to interact with the world around him. So no one, not even his family, have any clue that he’s able to even think at all, much less that he’s probably much smarter than they are. Which brings us to Shawn’s very real and very immediate problem: he thinks his dad is planning to kill him and there’s nothing he can do about it.
I really had no idea what to expect when I picked up Stuck in Neutral; the cover looked interesting, so I decided to try it. But this story was a wonderful surprise; powerful and moving in ways I couldn’t have expected. It’s the sort of story that changes how you view the world around you. Trueman, whose own son has a condition very similar to Shawn’s, has a brutally, painfully real view of how the world views people with cerebral palsy and similar conditions. And he is painfully, viscerally honest about the needs these people have. But by telling the story from Shawn’s perspective, trapped but intelligent and very aware, he brings everything into a different focus and makes you re-evaluate your preconceptions. But this book isn’t just some lecture to make you feel bad about how you react; Shawn is an incredible character and I got totally wrapped up in his story, the suspense of watching his father deciding his fate. And the cliffhanger ending was excellently done, leaving things up to the reader’s interpretation. I would definitely recommend Stuck in Neutral to all readers in their upper teens and older.
Author: Louis Sachar
My rating: 4 of 5
Alton’s parents have been trying to charm their way into his rich, taciturn great-uncle’s graces for ages, so when Alton gets asked to help “Uncle Lester” (now blind) with his bridge playing, it seems like the opportunity of a lifetime. Took bad that Uncle Lester, better known as Trapp, is not one to be tooled by false charm. As he spends more time with Trapp, Alton grows to truly appreciate both his great-uncle and the game he loves. Who knows, Alton might even figure out how to become a decent bridge player himself–if his parents’ scheming, his best friend’s girl-chasing, and Trapp’s former cardturner’s slightly-crazy attractiveness don’t get in the way.
Normally, I shy away from anything resembling a sport- or game-centric book; I find them appallingly boring. However, anything written by Louis Sachar deserves a try, and I wasn’t disappointed by The Cardturner. The characters come through well, particularly Alton. The first-person tone is excellent–conversational and nice-high-school-kid-ish. There is also sufficient plot aside from the game to keep the story interesting. I think what surprised me most was Sachar’s honest attempts to include bridge into the story: as Alton learned, he explained what he learned in beginners terms, and he typically tied the explanations into the story so that they also had a point (and didn’t just sound like a rule book). The Cardturner flows well, and I found it to be quite enjoyable. I would recommend it both for those who enjoy game-related books and for those who simply enjoy a good slice-of-life, human drama sort of story.