Book Review: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart Still Waffles Between Book Series and Books in a Series

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Spoilers!

The eighth book in Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, How to Break a Dragon’s Heart deals with heartache: betrayal and unrequited romance. I’ve said before that the plots of these books seem to be becoming larger, more epic. This book’s plot gets larger still. A witch locked long in a tree tells Hiccup that he was never destined to be born, that his parents were never meant to marry. But this Hiccup in destiny has created in Hiccup a second possible heir and hero of a prophecy, the other possible hero being Alvin the Treacherous, Hiccup’s ever-returning-from-seemingly-inescapable-peril arch-nemesis and (we learn in this tale) a distant relation of Hiccup’s. Hiccup or Alvin is destined to be King of all of the Archipelago, a role that previous books have promised us that Hiccup will attain.

As much as I appreciate Hiccup’s reflective chapters as endings to each of these books for the emotional punch that Cowell tends to use them to deliver and for the poetry of their prose and sentiments, they do rather detract from the mystery and suspense. I wonder how far Cowell expected to write in Hiccup’s timeline, whether she ever dreamed she’d be allowed to tell this much of the arc, and whether she regrets now the decision to reveal early his destiny.

Could the attainment of his crown or of the peace that his reign will bring according to the older Hiccup be the goal that finally makes this series more of books in a series and less a book series? So far, the series has lacked a continuous problem. In books in a series, the Ring has to get to Mordor and Sauron must be defeated—or Harry has to graduate and Voldemort must be defeated—or even Clary and Jace have to be together. Right now there is no problem that, when solved, we know will mark the end of Cowell’s series. Hiccup’s adventures have been episodic rather than serial. Each completed quest has meant the attainment of some goal, but they have brought Hiccup, cumulatively, no further towards one goal more important than all the others.

Honestly, I’m starting to get a bit tired of Hiccup’s adventures, and I think a goal would go a long way towards providing me with the motivation to finish this series, which is slated to be a full twelve books long. Not because book series are in any way necessary lesser than books in a series. There has not been an episodic book series that I’ve taken to in quite some time. I think I personally prefer to see books in a series with good character growth and a complex plot needing more than one book to be properly told. If How to Train Your Dragon remains episodic, it will not make it lesser writing. I want to make that clear. I write with a clear preference towards the epic. I think for this book series, particularly, though, the waffling on the threshold of epic has become somewhat tiresome. I want soon to know on which side of the door I can firmly stand.

Beyond this plot of Alvin and Hiccup warring over the throne, Furious the dragon has sworn to bring an army of dragons against the humans, destroying them all lest the humans destroy each dragon. Now, eight books in, we get to the war of Dreamworks’ film adaptation (I really believed DreamWorks had invented a war between dragons and Vikings).

I do want to take a moment to praise the page layout for the chapters where POV characters were locked in hollow tree dungeons. That’s a cool use of mixed media.

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***1/2

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon, Book 8: How to Break a Dragon’s Heart. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2009.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, Little, Brown and Company, or Hachette Book Group. It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: The Sea of Monsters: The Odyssey, Blurred Lines, and a Career

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Spoilers ahead.

Of all of the Percy Jackson books, of all of Rick Riordan’s books, book two of Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Sea of Monsters, is probably my favorite. You’ve probably already realized from reading this blog that I am a bit of a nerd. I am particularly fond of Homer’s Odyssey, enough so to have a favorite translation (Robert Fitzgerald’s). All of the Percy Jackson books draw heavily from Greek mythology. The Sea of Monsters draws heavily from The Odyssey in particular, with Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Clarisse seeking out the island of Polyphemus by way of Circe’s island and Charybdis and Scylla, Percy being turned into a guinea pig and Annabeth tricking Polyphemus by calling herself “Nobody.” Reading The Sea of Monsters is a bit like reading a wonderfully rendered crossover fanfiction for me.

Told with all of the usual sass of Percy’s voice and all of the fast-paced action and situational humor of Riordan’s style, The Sea of Monsters is certainly a fun read—and a quick one.

The lines between monster and hero are blurred a little in this novel (though not as much as they will be in later books). Percy has a new friend and half-brother, Tyson, a young Cyclops abandoned to grow up on the streets of New York, but beloved by his father, Poseidon. Cyclopes are by definition monsters, but Tyson is gentle and acts heroically in defense of his friends. Polyphemus, also a Cyclops and Percy’s and Tyson’s half-brother, for all that he is one of the antagonists of this novel is not particularly violent or antagonistic. He uses what resources he can (the Golden Fleece) to keep his island healthy and to lure meals to himself, not outwardly violent or malicious acts. Now, that he happens to eat satyrs does not endear him to the reader, but nor does it make him inherently wicked. What Polyphemus seems most to desire companionship. Likewise, monsters have joined the ranks of Kronos’ and Luke’s growing army, but so have demigods. The black and white battle lines of heroes versus monsters are not in place for this novel.

This book improves too upon the style of Riordan’s first novel, The Lightning Thief. The first had a few moments of preaching that jarred the quick-paced action, as if Riordan could not believe he was getting this chance to talk to the masses and could not imagine being allowed to do so again—let alone… 17 times more (many of these bestsellers) with more books still scheduled for release. Perhaps when publishing The Sea of Monsters Riordan realized that he’d made himself a career and that he could take his time to more subtly deliver his messages.

This book is particularly interesting to read with the 20/20 hindsight of later books. Having read further in Percy Jackson’s timeline, I can appreciate the subtle foreshadowing, and I have new insight into Hylla and the loosing of Blackbeard and his crew on Circe’s island. Particularly the last two of The Heroes of Olympus series, The House of Hades and The Blood of Olympus, point out the consequences of careless actions made in Percy’s younger years, and where I might have thought nothing of the release of the pirates on the villainess’ home prior, now I know what terror it caused for more innocent victims on the island, and I have to take Percy’s heroics with the grain of salt that tainted my palate later.

All this only deepens my appreciation for the book however. Flawed heroes are better characters and character development is too often missed in stories.

*****

Riordan, Rick. Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 2: The Sea of Monsters. New York: Hyperion-Disney, 2006.

This review is not endorsed by Rick Riordan, Hyperion Books, or Disney.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: The Best of the Best from 2014

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2014 is now a mistake that I’ll write on checks and thank you cards. I want to highlight the best books I’ve found this year, because a book that can earn five stars deserves some extra recognition and to be easily found by those looking. Here are some completely arbitrary categories to try and make the best of the best even easier to find. I’ll try to stick the books in what I believe is the target audience.

 

TODDLERS-KIDS (AGES 0-8)

Mini Myths: Play Nice, Hercules! by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli.

Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora! by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli.

The Kiss That Missed by David Melling.

The Paper Bag Princess by Robert Munsch and illustrated by Michael Martchenko.

Wherever You Are My Love Will Find You by Nancy Tillman.

An Elephant and Piggie Book: Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems.

Penguin and Pinecone by Salina Yoon.

 

MIDDLE GRADE-YOUNG READERS (AGES 8-12)

The Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Patricia C. Wrede.

 

TEENS (AGES 13-19)

*

 

ADULTS (AGE 20+)

Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

The Kingkiller Chronicles, Day 1: The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss.

Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton.

 

*I’m looking over the books that I read this year, and I simply didn’t read a lot of teen books, two that I would call targeting teens (though even then I waver and say one could be more appropriately middle grade and the other might be adult): The Ascendance Trilogy, Book 2: The Runaway King by Jennifer A. Nielsen and The Bane Chronicles, Book 1: What Really Happened in Peru by Cassandra Clare and Sarah Rees Brennan. Of the two, The Runaway King was heaps better.

Let’s take a moment to recognize and laugh at the fact that not a one of these best of the best could be qualified as realistic fiction. Another point for fantasy literature.

Book Reviews: December 2014 Picture Book Roundup

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Romeo & Juliet: A BabyLit Counting Primer by Jennifer Adams and illustrated by Alison Oliver. Gibbs Smith, 2011.

I’d like this BabyLit primer better if the numbered items corresponded better to the story. Unless there actually are ten kisses (I found five in a cursory search of the text)? BabyLit counts eight love letters never sent by either Romeo or Juliet, and nine streets and bridges, which seems highly unlikely in a city the size of Verona (modern-day Verona certainly has more than nine bridges over the Adige). Oliver’s illustrations, however, are as cleverly detailed and whimsical as ever.

**

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Snowmen at Night by Caralyn Buehner and illustrated by Mark Buehner. Dial-Penguin, 2002.  Intended audience: Ages 4-8.

The story provides a whimsical explanation for why snowmen might have crooked hats or arms in the morning, supposing that snowmen, in the style of Raymond Briggs, come alive and congregate to play in the snow at night after children have gone to bed. I was more taken with Mark’s illustrations than Caralyn’s story. The illustrations are clever, detailed, colorful, beautiful. The story just seems a little obvious and overdone, with no real surprises.

***

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The Dark Lord and the Seamstress by J. M. Frey and illustrated by Jennifer Vendrig. 2014.

I won a copy of this picture book via Goodreads‘ giveaways.  I was intrigued by the title and by the summary and, yes, the cover.  I was a bit let down to open the book and discover line drawings.  While I won’t vehemently protest black and white in a picture book as I heard one girl do this month, I admit that I expect color, especially from modern picture books, and I certainly at least appreciate shading.  This book allows for black and no other color, though it does use crosshatching to indicate shadow.  I and later my roommate consoled me by deciding that this will just have to become a coloring book as well as a picture book.  (I’ve taken no colored pencils or crayons to it yet.)  The illustrations show an anime style influence but manage to avoid seeming too cartoonish, and the characters are expressive.  The text is written in rhyming verse, which was really rather well executed though in places the rhyme slipped just a little.  I think it will be best read aloud because of that format.

On the whole, I appreciate the story as a clever adaptation of the old fairy tale type (perhaps AT425C: Beauty and the Beast or maybe AT 425J: The Heroine Serves in Hell for her Bridegroom).

The last few pages at first threw me. I balked at the idea of the angels wearing the badge of the devil’s love on their robes, but the more I thought about it, the less it bothered me, and the less I saw it as a marking angels as belonging to the devil, and the more I saw it as an idea that servants of the Judeo-Christian God would wear badges denoting the power of love over the darkest evils.

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Wait a minute!  First, the author found my blog post!  And that’s exciting!  But more exciting still is that this book was designed as a coloring book, and this means that this book is something new.  There are a few coloring books that will attempt to tell a story (usually these are movie adaptations), but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a picture book meant to be a coloring book.  So let’s revise my opinion.  This is a purposefully interactive picture book, one that invites the reader to capture their imagination on the pages.  Kids love coloring books.  Or I did as a kid.  I also loved picture books.  But there are probably kids who enjoy one or the other.  This book might invite artists to enjoy a story.  It invites readers to become artists.  Interactive picture books (like Hervé Tullet’s) are on the way up, but I don’t think I’ve yet seen one this interactive.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: What Tears Can’t Mend (320 words)

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It was impossible to keep Albert anywhere. He had unusually long and slender fingers for his two years. By sixteen months, he was climbing out over the side of his crib so often that they’d bought a second mattress to at least cushion the inevitable fall. And then they’d had to start unpacking the diapers from their package after he’d learned that he could use the tightly packaged diapers to reach the doorknob. Once he’d found stuffed animals could be stacked just tall enough, they’d resorted to a bolt on the outside of his bedroom door, and this, at least, had kept him in his room. But Eileen hadn’t long been able to withstand the idea of locking up her son, and soon for a while all hope of constraining Albert had to be suspended.

So maybe it shouldn’t have come as any surprise when they got the call that Albert had left class, that they’d searched the school but not found him.

But if not a surprise, it was still a nightmare come real.

It was the reason that they had always worried about being unable to keep him anywhere. It was the culmination of all of their earlier failures.

And it was terrible.

It broke her.

And finding him at home, sitting at the kitchen table with a bowl of Corn Flakes in front of him, did not mend the brokenness inside of her, though she held him as if she would crush the pieces back together and cried as if her tears could bind the brokenness together like glue.

A part of her stayed broken when they sent him back to school the following day.

That brokenness followed her all day like a shadow. It whispered in her mind what she had not been able to do, had never been able to do, never would be able to do.

It was the piece that began the unraveling.

Mine was the stolen line this week.  And it took me in all kinds of weird directions.  Where is the cute story of rambunctious toddlers that I’d planned?  Ah well.  Writing, everyone.  Also, I’d like to state that this comes from a childless woman who isn’t even sure she wants any sprouts running about her feet. So, maybe when someone closer to me has kids, I’ll figure out that my ages are all wrong. Maybe I’ll learn that I’ve made grave, life-threatening mistakes in trying to corral this fictional wee one, but just… pretend I know what I’m doing… for the five minutes it takes you to read this story, and no that no children are endangered by my poor parenting.

Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master used this line to write “Lock Trick” (474 words).

Kate at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “The Greatest Escapee.”

Bek at Building A Door managed to write with “Breaking Free” something nearer to the sweet story about a rambunctious toddler that I thought was my destination.

Check back for more.  I’ll post links as they appear.

Presents Under the Tree

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A friend sent me this message:

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Happy Christmas.

***

He wore the bow as if it were the most natural thing in the world, as un-self-conscious as he had been when he had stripped in the walled garden to explain to her what to expect on her wedding night.  I could almost ignore it, but the shiny, red curls were just too garish in his dark, untidy hair.

“Cam,” I asked, “what’re you doing here?”

He grinned.  “You wanted me here.”

“Well, yes, of course.  I mean it’s Christmas–”

“So I came.”

“Won’t Amalie mind?”

“She knows I’m here.”

“Of course she does.”

I put on the kettle and cut slices of plum pudding.  We ate while seated crossed legged on the floor, a most unsophisticated banquet for the queen’s consort.

***

He could have chosen no more garish color than green for the bow that perched amid the true red tendrils of his hair.  I think he knew it too.  He wanted to draw attention to the effort that he’d put into his role.  He wore one of those soft, secret smiles as he lifted his hand from the lute strings, letting the last thrums of the song vibrate on the warm air.

“It’s a beautiful song.”  It was the best thing I could have woken up to, an alarm I would pine for daily once he was gone.  He didn’t acknowledge the compliment.  I didn’t expect him to.  Instead I fell back to our script.  “What’ve you brought me?”

I felt a pang of regret as he put the lute down in the case by his feet and reached behind his back to retrieve a bottle that he’d hidden.

“Avennish fruit wine.”

“And what’s in the wine?”

“The smile of a cat,” he said easily, “and Christmas cheer.”

I gave him a cat’s smile.  “I’ll have some of that.”

“What’ve you brought me?”

***

It was an odd noise that had woken me, a sort of huffing, wheezing, groaning.  I stumbled down the hallway.  The Christmas lights had been lit.   I had thought I’d unplugged them the night before.  Must not have.  It was pretty though, with it’s white lights twinkling.

“No!  Christmas trees are no good.”  A man in a blue suit came hurtling past me.  “Bad, bad Christmas tree.”

“What’s so bad about Christmas trees?” I asked the man.  He’d put himself between the tree and I, and with a flourish he’d drawn from his pocket a strange, bulky pen that he pointed like a sword now at the tree.  Its lights flickered.

“Oh lots of bad things about a Christmas tree.  Basically–”  He bent his long, lithe body around.  I had a brief moment to inspect his face before he grabbed my hand and finished, “Run.”

He yanked me out the door, and we were hurtling down the stairs.  We were a block away before I had time to notice the blue curling ribbon in his hair and it wasn’t till much later that I was able to ask him how it had come to be there.  I didn’t understand the answer.  I came to believe that he had used technobabble to cover the embarrassing tale.

***

My own characters are getting a little jealous.

“This is one of your worst ideas yet,” Aidan grumbled, affixing the green bow to his hair yet again.  It had a tendency to slip.

Darryn had an easier time keeping the bow from sliding.  He barely moved his head as he promised, “She’ll like it.”  He said it as if that covered any of the bows’ faults.

“She’d better.”

Book Reviews: November 2014 Picture Book Roundup: It’s Blue… or Maybe Green?

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Away in a Manger illustrated by Lisa Reed and Randle Paul Bennett. Candy Cane-Ideals, 2012. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

The text and audio of this book are the first two verses of “Away in a Manger,” sung by “Junior Asparagus,” who is unfortunately one of my least favorite musical talents among the VeggieTales cast. The illustrations are bright and colorful, and VeggieTales fans will appreciate seeing familiar faces in a probably equally familiar tableau. I witnessed one parent trying to read this book (or it might have been its sister book, Silent Night) to a child, and stumbling to an awkward halt when it turned out that the audio button was the text in its entirety. That rather detracts from the book’s ability to lead to interaction between a parent and child. A parent can turn the pages, but the time spent on each page is limited and the parent’s voice is lost amid Junior’s warble.

*

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Step Into Reading: Level 2: A Pony for a Princess by Andrea Posner-Sanchez and illustrated by Francesc Mateu. RH Disney-Random 2002.

I was drawn to the book by the promise of a pony but was a little worried by the book being a Disney spinoff. I was more impressed with this book than I expected to be. The plot is well formed. A deductive thinker could reason the plot from details. Belle sees a barrel of apples, and later decides to return to the barrel to sate her hunger, only to find the barrel empty, then logically she seeks to discover what happened to the apples. I do think it unlikely that a wild pony could be so easily caught by a trail of sugar cubes, but this is a Disney story, and Belle qualifies as a Disney princess, so I will forgive the implausibility and call it more of an inevitability.

****

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Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann. G.P Putnam & Sons-Penguin Putnam, 1996. First published 1994. Intended audience: Ages 3-5.

This was at least a second read. Good Night, Gorilla is something of a classic. I think the illustrations are what make this book. The zookeeper goes about saying goodnight to the animals (making it a plausible animal primer), but on the first page, the gorilla steals his keys and follows him through the zoo, unlocking cages. The whole of the zoo follows him home and into his bedroom. Too many responses to her “Good night, dear” alert the zookeeper’s wife of the trouble, and she calmly gets up out of bed, takes the gorilla’s hand, and leads all the animals back to their cages. The gorilla and the mouse escape even her watch and follow her once more back to the bed that she shares with the zookeeper. I appreciate the presentation of a more alert, more able wife.

***

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Peekaboo Barn by Nat Sims and illustrated by Nathan Tabor. Candlewick, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 0-3, PreK.

This lift-the-flap animal primer comes with a free app download code. This is the first of a few books I’ve since come across with app companions. Apparently, this book was an app first. The animals are cartoonish with bug eyes that are mildly disturbing. Sometimes there’s only one flap on a page, sometimes there are two. At first read, this was confusing, as I didn’t know to look for two flaps and would open the barn doors to discover only one of the animals whose sounds I’d just read. Then I noticed that the loft doors also occasionally opened. I’m not sure if as a toddler reader, this variation would be exciting or confusing. If I’m being finicky, the animals are not seen or entering the barn, but the scene never changes, the sun never moves across the sky. It would have been very simple to introduce more plot into this book.

*

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That’s Not My Snowman… by Fiona Watt. Usborne, 2014. First published 2006.

There’s not much exciting about this winter edition of a series of touch-and-feel primers that spans all manner of creature, machine, and… sculpture. I do puzzle what sort of squishy nose one could give a snowman. I prefer to have logical connections between the illustrations and text. The inclusion of the ever-present mouse in this series adds a nice element of continuity to the story and the series.

**

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An Elephant and Piggie Book: Waiting Is Not Easy! by Mo Willems. Disney-Hyperion, 2014.  Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I am a fan of Mo Willems and of Elephant and Piggie in particular. I was not expecting the mixed media illustrations in this book nor the subtle hint of the passage of time as the white space becomes darker. I think both the messages of patience and of the beauty of nature are valuable to today’s children, so used—as we all are—to instant gratification. I like it even better on a second reading, particularly I enjoy Piggie’s answers to Gerald’s questions Piggie about the surprise.

*****

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Baby Bear Sees Blue by Ashley Wolff. Little Simon-Simon & Schuster, 2014. First published 2012. Intended audience: Ages 2-6, Grades PreK-1.

I am biased towards Wolff’s books and this one in particular. Wolff is a professor at my alma mater. This book I saw as an unbound proof when she read it to us. I saw it later read at a local library story hour and witnessed the unbiased enjoyment of it from the children and the librarian. Wolff’s illustrations are jewel bright, and the text does not seem overly formulaic as many primers can seem, though Wolff does keep some repetition in the line “Baby Bear sees [color]” to give the story a familiar structure and rhythm. Wolff does not shy from poetic language within her text, but she keeps true too to the toddler understanding of the world with Baby Bear’s speech, as when Baby Bear asks who is waving at him, indicating an oak leaf stirred by a breeze. I had not considered till reading a particularly detailed review on Goodreads that the closing line makes the book fit appropriately too into the bedtime story mold.

****

These reviews are not endorsed by any one involved in their making.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Challenge: Legal Theft: Trial (421 words)

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The following includes major spoilers for my WIP book series (as it currently stands).  I’m sorry, but the boys insisted that this was the only scene that was getting written.  So, you’ve been warned.

The breeze sank to the floor as soon as it came through the windows, rolling stubbornly across the length of the room. It was the sort of heat that made it uncomfortable to wear even a threadbare linen tunic, the sort of heat that would have chased Darryn to the creek in happier times, where he could have soaked the tunic in the water without any lack of decorum. Court procedure demanded that he stand still, and they’d dressed him in a borrowed tunic of black velvet, highly unsuitable for the weather but perfectly suited, he was told, for the role of a Justice of the law and prince of a people. It itched besides.

But the shirt, the heat, all this he thought he could bear if it were anyone else standing below the platform.

When Darryn thought about Aidan, Aidan was always large, board of shoulder and boarder of personality, filling a room in ways that few others that Darryn knew could do.

But the boy in front of him now was small, and his red hair seemed a traitor to his otherwise subdued bearing.

Darryn suspected that it was the weight of the personalities that sat tight to either side and behind Darryn. Their disapproval fell heavily on Darryn and must be falling even more heavily on Aidan.

Darryn knew that they wanted him to speak first. They had made him practice what to say. He was glad now that they had. He would be dumb without their script heavy in his throat.

“Adian Agabus.”

If Aidan looked small, Darryn’s voice sounded smaller. A full name didn’t suit Aidan, not from Darryn. For so long they’d been beyond names. The use of even a given name was like a whip crack in their words, calling the other’s attention. The full name sounded and tasted like the snap of a bone.

Darryn tried again, and the name was a familiar plea, “Aidan.”

Aidan looked up. For a moment, while their eyes met, Darryn saw a flash of familiar fire in the hangdog face. Then Aidan looked away.

The words trembled against Darryn’s lips. “You’ve been called before the council—” No, those were older words, words from their childhood. “Before the court,” Darryn emended, “to answer charges of—” They weren’t really charges. Darryn had seen it. He’d seen what Aidan had done. Darryn’s surety of Aidan’s act made the whole script a lie.

“Aidan, my grandfather’s dead.” Darryn’s voice scratched, but he carried on. “And you killed him.”

This first line came from Gwen at Apprentice, Never Master, who wrote “Rattle and Hold” (409 words).

Before she read her work, Kate at More Than 1/2 Mad wrote “Things That Change & Things That Stay the Same.”

Check back for more stories from the line.

Book Reviews: October 2014 Picture Book Roundup

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The Very Busy Spider’s Favorite Words by Eric Carle. Grosset & Dunlap-Penguin, 2007. Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I’d forgotten when I picked this book up this October that I’d already read the book back in January 2013. But since that review has never made it to this site, here is what I wrote then for Goodreads:

I liked this book even less than The Very Hungry Caterpillar’s Favorite Words. There was no pairing of nouns such as there was in The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The only real delight in this series is Eric Carle’s illustrations, but those are even more delightful when paired with a background rather than being an isolated figure. Other than that, I can praise their small size, just right for a young toddler’s hands.

Re-reading this book this October, I think maybe that first review was a tiny bit harsh. I still can’t color myself impressed, but I did enjoy the colors of Carle’s illustrations, and I was not so… offended.

Still, it does seem that this book’s purpose is to capitalize on Carle’s commercial success.

*

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Mini Myths: Be Patient, Pandora! by Joan Holub and illustrated by Leslie Patricelli. Appleseed-Abrams, 2014.

Last month I read and then praised Play Nice, Hercules!, a Mini Myths book written by the same team. I expected to like Be Patient, Pandora! I won’t again go into the credentials of the team, which are excellent. Be Patient, Pandora! like Play Nice, Hercules! retells the myth in a modern setting and with a similar but more commonplace situation for a toddler audience and then includes in the back a summary of the myth for a slightly more mature audience.

Holub and Patricelli’s tale tells of a young Pandora who finds a wrapped present on the floor, which her mother forbids her to open. Like many children, Pandora bends the rules. Her anticipation of the present too great to leave the box alone, she pokes it, jumps on it, and unintentionally destroys the packaging and what the box contains: cupcakes, which is a very interesting substitution for all of the evils of the world. My Classics professor introduced us to the argument among scholars as regards the Hope (elpis) that remained in Pandora’s jar. Holub and Patricelli probably wisely don’t engage in whether the Hope is a blessing or a blight, loosed or withheld but Pandora does say that she hopes that her mother still loves her, a nod to the Hope that remained in the jar.

*****

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An Elephant and Piggie Book: My New Friend Is So Fun! by Mo Willems. Hyperion-Disney, 2014. Intended audience: Ages 6-8.

I was actually able to recommend this book as a response to a similar situation with which a young customer was struggling—and that I consider a high praise for a book. If a book is enjoyable, that is one thing. If a parent believes that a book might teach an important social lesson, that’s quite another.

Piggie has met Brian, and Elephant Gerald and Brian’s best friend, Snake, worry over whether Piggie and Brian will become such good friends that Gerald and Snake will be replaced. Told in Willems usual and wonderful style, Gerald and Snake go to check up on Piggie and Brian who are indeed having great fun together and, as if anticipating their friends’ worry, tell them that have even gone so far as to make best friend drawings. The drawings turn out to be of Gerald and Snake, and Gerald’s and Snake’s fears are assuaged. The moral here is that its possible to have more than one good friend.

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