Author/Illustrator: Dr. Seuss
My rating: 4 of 5
In the kingdom of Didd lives a small farm boy by the name of Bartholomew Cubbins. Now, Bartholomew has a rather plain hat that he wears nearly all the time, a very ordinary hat with a perky feather sticking up from the top. Nothing special, but Bartholomew likes his hat. But one day, something extraordinary happens: as the king passes by, everyone removes their hats, including Bartholomew. But the king and his whole processing come back to him, insulted, because there’s still a hat on Bartholomew’s head! Bartholomew, the king, the guards, and just about the whole king’s court do their best to bare Bartholomew’s head, but for every hat that’s removed, another appears in its place until it seems like Bartholomew’s snowing hats. Whatever shall he do?
I’ve grown up reading Dr. Seuss since I was little, but I only found The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins fairly recently. It’s fun–fairly different from, say, The Cat in the Hat, but fun still the same. It has more the feeling of an old-school children’s tale, something long ago and far away, maybe by Hans Christian Andersen. With a little bit of Through the Looking Glass thrown in–all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t fix the problem, you know? But at the same time, it does have a certain Seussical quirkiness to it, that sense of fun and whimsy. It doesn’t read in great swathes of rhyme and easily sounded out words, although the reading level isn’t particularly difficult. This would probably be best for readers in elementary school, although it would also be a fun read-aloud story for younger audiences. If I had to guess, I’d suspect that this was rather earlier in Seuss’s writing, so he was still developing his own personal style. But it’s still a great story, and the illustrations are great fun as well–seriously the facial expressions are great! I’d recommend The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins to anyone who enjoys a light-hearted, classic picture book–whether they’re kids or not.
Author/Illustrator: Dan Santat
My rating: 5 of 5
On a distant island, imaginary friends live together just waiting to be imagined, to be chosen by a child. But one little creature finds himself waiting and waiting . . . and waiting. It seems like he’ll never be imagined. But rather than give up, becoming discouraged or cynical, he does something extraordinary. He goes off to find his chosen child all by himself, facing all sorts of adventures and dangers on the way. And even when it looks hopeless, he keeps searching until he finds his friend, his name (Beekle), and a happy future–together!
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend is so many positive things that I could go on raving about it for quite a while. This picture book’s story is immensely optimistic and yet also practical, full of good messages such as “believe the best of your friends even when circumstances make it seem like you shouldn’t” and “take positive action instead of sitting around feeling sorry for yourself.” It’s really delightful and encouraging. Plus, it’s just fun and imaginative, and the characters are likeable and believable. And the art–I can see why this won the Caldecott. It’s bright and fun and adorable: a hint of Shaun Tan, a touch of kawaii anime style, and a lot of originality, all perfectly combined. Even the lettering is a perfect fit. Seriously, you should check out The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend and share it with the young readers/listeners in your life, especially those around 4-6 years old; they’ll love you for it.
My rating: 4 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience
There are plenty of girls who would love some excitement in their lives. Miyuki-chan? Not so much. She’d be happy to be able to just go to school, work her part-time job, and hang out reading and playing video games like a normal girl. But Miyuki-chan has . . . a unique sort of problem. Adventure just seems to find her–and drag her into the midst of it, whether she wants to go or not. Whether it’s falling down the skating bunny-girl’s hole into Wonderland on the way to school or getting dragged straight into her video game to be the heroine, Miyuki-chan’s been there and done that. And probably will again. . . .
I may have mentioned before, but I love CLAMP’s manga, always. Having said that, Miyuki-chan in Wonderland is a bit different from anything else they’ve ever written. It consists of a series of short chapters (7 in all, fitting into a single manga volume), each focusing on a single, bizarre episode in Miyuki-chan’s life. I really like the character of Miyuki-chan; in a lot of ways, she’s your average high-school girl, only I’d say that she’s generally just a bit more blonde and go-with-the-flow in character than most. Overall, a nice kid though. The folks she runs in to on her adventures . . . not always so nice. And I must give the warning: this whole story is kind of yuri. I mean, there are some pretty sadistic individuals that Miyuki-chan encounters, all of them female. So, the end effect can be sort of hentai. One of the reasons I don’t like this one as much. But . . . Miyuki-chan always makes it out okay, so it’s not as creepy as it could be. And the situations she ends up in are certainly varied and imaginative–you kind of get the impression that the CLAMP members were just having fun and went with whatever they felt like writing at the time. On the plus side, there are some fun references, including references to other CLAMP works. (Oh, and I’ve mentioned this before, but check out Miyuki-chan making cameos all over the place in Tsubasa!) I guess I would mostly recommend Miyuki-chan in Wonderland to older readers who are familiar with CLAMP’s work and who enjoy something a bit off the wall (a more limited demographic than usual, I know).
Author: Terry Pratchett
Illustrator: Mark Beech
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Here be dragons. . . . Also pond monsters, abominable snowmen, and the dread Snorry. Within these pages, you will find brave explorers who travel great distances and brave untold dangers . . . even braving the vast inches of the Carpet and the Linoleum! You will meet knights and princes who approach their quests and tasks in, shall we say, an unconventional manner. Regardless of the adventure, you’re bound to find a sense of fun and quirky humor that’s sure to please.
I started reading Dragons at Crumbling Castle initially in memoriam to an incredible author who will be deeply missed by the literary world. While the reading was certainly bittersweet, it was also wondrously enjoyable. This book is a collection of short stories that were written and originally published in a newspaper when Pratchett was in his early twenties. The tales are delightful–full of wit, good humor, and a reckless, youthful abandon that is great fun to read. I would say the writing reminds me of other great children’s authors (Roald Dahl, Edith Nesbit, and Edward Eager in particular), although it retains Pratchett’s own unique flavor as well. I wish this book had been around when I was little. In this collection, which was just recently published, Pratchett added footnote commentary (mostly fun, slightly sarcastic side remarks to further explain or enhance the story) which is really interesting to read, showing both the development of the author over the years and the consistency of his writing throughout as well. Beech’s illustrations are a perfect fit for these stories–offbeat and quirky in a style that reminds me strongly of Quentin Blake’s work. Altogether, I would highly recommend Dragons at Crumbling Castle, especially as a fun book to read aloud with the children in your life–it would be a very fun book to share together.
Note: Normally, I don’t comment on the typography of a book, but I feel this book deserves comment. The majority of the text is set in a standard serif font, nothing special. But then you have random words and phrases on the page set in all sorts of random fonts, maybe one or two times on a two-page spread. It’s really striking and dynamic!
Author/Illustrator: Barbara Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
It’s always an adventure to travel by train, seeing new and unexpected places. But one day, a little girl gets even more of an adventure than usual. . . . The train is flagged to a stop, and she finds that all the adult passengers have fallen asleep. And what she finds when she steps off the train is nothing short of incredible. Hey, she even makes some new friends on this particular stop!
I absolutely loved reading Trainstop! My review here is likely to sound a lot like my review of The Red Book; I’m finding that the things I love about them are simply the author’s style, which is amazing. Yet each book is unique and surprising, which makes it even better. Trainstop is both adorably cute and surprisingly whimsical and imaginative. It’s really positive too–helping people (even when they’re really different from you), making friends, being open to adventure–those are the sorts of ideas that surface throughout this story. The art is very attractive: defined by solid, black lines, yet soft in those lines and softened further by the watercolor fills throughout. I also love the way Lehman tells the entire story through pictures–no words at all–making this a story with even greater universal appeal for all ages. Trainstop comes with high recommendations.
Author/Illustrator: Barbara Lehman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
A girl finds a red book buried in a snowdrift and takes it along with her to school. When she opens it, she finds this red book is magic. It shows people and places across the world. Even better, it opens the doors to a delightful new friendship.
The Red Book was a delightful find. It’s completely wordless, yet is exquisitely expressive, living on the borderline between a graphic novel and a children’s picture book. The bold, dark outlines are reminiscent of graphic novels, solid and dynamic. But the coloring is done in a soft watercolor, and the pictures themselves are really cute. I love Lehman’s art style and color palette! The story itself is surprising but fun, simple yet imaginative. I would definitely recommend The Red Book, especially for imaginative kids who enjoy books with lots of pictures.
Author/Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Eric came as an exchange student. He was . . . different, hard to understand sometimes. Probably because the place he came from was really different, but it was hard to tell. No one really knew whether he even enjoyed his time as an exchange student–not until they saw what he left behind in his room!
I admire and enjoy Shaun Tan’s writing so much! It’s endlessly original, insightful, whimsical, and fun–all words that describe Eric perfectly. This is a delightful illustrated short story. (I was truly surprised but also thrilled by how tiny it is when I got my copy in the mail–only about 5-6 inches tall) The exchange student in question is enigmatic in the best sort of way: odd, curious, paying attention to things we would never give heed to. He even chooses to sleep in the cupboard rather than a normal bedroom! The words of the story are simple but rich in a way that would make this a great read-aloud book for kids (but also a fun tale for older readers–it’s really not “childish” at all). It’s the illustrations that make the story complete though . . . it’s like, the words themselves have a meaning, but add in the pictures, and the words take on entirely new and vivid meanings. Truly brilliant. I especially love the use of contrasting grey-tones versus color to make the ending stand out. Because of the skill with which it’s created and charm it evokes, I would highly recommend Eric to readers young and old.