Tag Archives: illustrated

Book Review: How To Write Books in a Series–Finally: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword

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Spoilers.

Bek has proved right, and I owe her a public profession of her correctness. We got together in April, and started somehow or another, in talking about everything and nothing, talking about Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series. I told her I’d sort of fallen out of love and why, and she demanded to know where in the series I’d left off, then proceeded to tell me that the next book—the ninth book, How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword—is where Cowell finally brings it all together, mollifying my complaint that the books that have trying to become book in a series have remained a book series instead.

The witch Excellinor returns in How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword with another prophecy about the next king of the Wilderwest. In book 8, the next king was concluded to be either Hiccup or his nemesis, Alvin the Treacherous, Excellinor’s son. Now Excellinor reveals that the king is going to be known by ten objects, eight of which Hiccup already carries with him or has back home on Berk. These objects Hiccup has been collecting since the first book, one of them being a toothless dragon.

I am reminded again of the parallels that could be drawn between this series and J. K. Rowling’s series for a slightly older audience, Harry Potter. Harry late in the series is told that his quest involves collecting six items—Horcruxes—the first of which he encounters by chance in the second book. Hiccup’s books being so much smaller than Harry’s and Hiccup having more objects besides to collect, it is unsurprisingly really that it has taken Hiccup as long as it has to find the objects—though one could yet question why he needs all of these things—or really any of them (other than to appease a prophecy). Moreover J. K. Rowling gives us a whole 750-page book devoted to the organized and intentional search for Horcruxes. Harry searches for Horcruxes in order to be able to destroy a great Evil and the search can be seen only as fairly selfless. A search conducted by Hiccup for ten objects that would cinch him a powerful title and earthly authority could be misconstrued as selfish—even as the stated goals of his kingship (free the dragons, free the slaves) are fairly selfless—making an intentional and willful search for the King’s Lost Things potentially harmful to Hiccup’s image as selfless hero. So while I did get a bit tired of the episodic quests of earlier books, I see now why it was important for the journey to this ninth book to be so drawn out, why Hiccup’s retrieval of the eight objects had to seem so unconnected to a larger goal.

The Slavemark too that Hiccup has kept hidden since book 7 returns to plague our hero and cause the trouble that we were promised that it would, but being revealed when it is, it is even more troublesome for Hiccup, who seemed prior to its revelation to have finally risen above all the tribes’ prejudice and ridicule and seemed to have won out over his nemesis and the over his enemy, the dragon Furious, who has vowed to destroy all humankind.

So here we have, I think, the beginning of the series reading like books in a series instead of a book series—finally. I hope for good things henceforth.

I tore through How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword in just a few days. By the 75th page if not before I was hooked and deeply entrenched in the suspense of the plot.

Cowell continues to experiment with illustration in this book, using a number of styles. Primarily she uses the 19th and early 20th century captioned illustration, which either captures a singular moment with a repeated line of the text or which is a portrait of a particular character or place. A few of the captions of the illustrations enhance rather than repeat the text, adding lines that could be taken as optional, but I chose to believe were instead text themselves, meant to be read in conjunction with the normally formatted text. She again uses just a touch of mixed media, using a photograph of fire in several instances as dragonfire. I actually feel as if this mixed media was less successful than the mixed media she experimented with in book 8, partially because the photograph was more integrated here with the drawing and partially because the infernos that the photograph was meant to represent I think could have been given more oomph with an illustration instead of a photograph of a narrow tongue of flame. That being said, I see what Cowell was trying to do with the photograph. The photograph looks to be more concentrated fire drawn by Cowell because her drawing style is sketchish and her lines loose, where the photograph is layered as reality.

****

Cowell, Cressida. How to Train Your Dragon, Book 9: How to Steal a Dragon’s Sword. New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2013.  First published 2011.

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.

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Book Review: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a Poorly Formatted, Solid Story

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I found a copy of Tom Angleberger’s The Strange Case of Origami Yoda used some time ago, and recognizing that it sold well and was therefore probably something that I should read, I took it home. It sat unread on my shelves until I thought that I’d be able unexpectedly to see Angleberger. I hurried through it, reading nearly half of it in two hours before leaving for the supposed signing. By the time that I left for the signing, I was so far into the book that I couldn’t very well stop. I finished it in two days. So take my review with those things in mind.

The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is written as if by a number of different characters reporting on encounters with one character, Dwight, and his finger puppet, Yoda. Several different fonts are used to distinguish the characters, though some characters share fonts, and all of the fonts are similar enough in style for the font changes themselves to not interfere with the flow of the novel as a whole.

The text and format of the book as collected narratives, however, do make it disjointed, and that I think is what keeps it from shining for me. If there had been less acknowledgement of its form within the texts, if the characters hadn’t kept referring to the book and complaining about being asked to write in it, I would have been less thrown from the novel with each new chapter.

Each report is headed by a drawing of the POV character. Illustrations pepper the report as well. In their loose, sketchy style, the illustrations remind me of those that I’ve seen on Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid books, though Kinney’s are somehow both better at conveying emotion and more cartoonish. Kinney’s books also sell enormously well, and I have to wonder if the similarities between the two illustration styles contribute to Angleberger’s success.

A few quick notes: I will be the first to admit that trying to capture the essence of my characters in drawings is one of the hardest things, but I recognize that I am not a professional artist and plan on accepting help—or foregoing illustrations more likely. Angleberger accepts help from Jason Rosenstock with whom he has co-illustrated the book. I don’t know which illustrations are Angleberger’s and which are Rosenstock’s, but I suspect that the more professional illustrations are Rosenstock’s, so I applaud Angleberger accepting some help, but maybe he didn’t accept enough or was overenthusiastic about having illustrations at all. On the whole, the illustrations may make the books seem less frightening to a young reader, but they don’t for me add anything to the plot or to my understanding of the story. Applause for the text there. (Though I would argue that an overreliance on illustrations might signal too little confidence in children’s imagination and in the strength of the text. “How can you read this? There’s no pictures.” “Well some people use their imagination.” It’s not as though Angleberger is describing unique experiences—apart from perhaps the origami Yoda itself, and that is illustrated on the cover by Melissa Arnst.)

So overall, I don’t feel as if the format of the book as collected narratives or the inclusion of illustrations were particularly good choices and feel that these choices may have limited my enjoyment more than enhanced it. However, the content is solid.

This is a school story, and its focus is on the everyday challenges of interacting with classmates.

Dwight is unpopular. He does odd things like wear the same t-shirt for a month. This book was not part of the curriculum for Giving Voice to the Voiceless, but I think that it easily could have been. There’s no explicit mention of any neurodevelopmental disorder that might explain the quirks in Dwight’s behavior, but I suspect that Dwight might fall somewhere on the autism spectrum, explaining his difficulty relating to his peers, the difficulty that he has in speaking to them, and the ritualistic behaviors in which he engages.

While Dwight is unpopular, the finger puppet that accompanies Dwight gives wise advice to Dwight’s classmates, some of whom believe that the puppet may even be able to predict the future.

The premise of the book is to determine whether or not this is the case—though that mystery is never solved—and the end makes it seem less about Yoda and more about Dwight—particularly Tommy’s relationship and reaction to Dwight. The book takes the form of an apology. Tommy decides after examining Dwight and Yoda that he’d “rather be on Dwight’s side than Harvey’s. Dwight is weird, but I guess I’ve started to like him, and I hated to let him down. Somehow I didn’t mind letting Harvey down” (138).

Tommy’s relationship to many of his classmates changes over the course of his study. Harvey begins as one of his better friends, and Dwight as just the odd kid of the class. Dwight is able by standing out more than usual by the adoption of his puppet to influence the whole of the school for the better, bringing partners together, exposing bullies, healing peer relationships, and making traditionally disappointing school events more fun.

It’s a story of the power of the outcast and of acceptance, and I really like the conclusions that Angleberger and his characters come to.

This book has a great title, and it’s a good middle-grade read for its morals, but I really wanted to be blown away by this book. I wanted it to deserve its bestseller status. Especially as Angleberger is now among those local authors that I might one day have a chance to meet in a relaxed setting.  I wish that I could be more pleased with the book’s format.

***1/2

Angleberger, Tom. The Strange Case of Origami Yoda. Illus. Tom Angleberger and Jason Rosenstock.  Cover art by Melissa Arnst.  New York: Amulet-ABRAMS, 2010.

This review is not endorsed by Tom Angleberger, Jason Rosenstock, Melissa Arnst, Amulet Books, or ABRAMS.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book and Film Reviews: Of Ice Princesses in Disney’s and Martin’s Worlds: Frozen and The Ice Dragon

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I found George R. R. Martin’s The Ice Dragon at a shop called Too Many Books and had to take it home with me because I was having a difficult time deciding whether or not Martin would be able to write children’s literature.  This high fantasy novella is probably meant for middle-grade readers.  It gets into none of the depth that A Song of Ice and Fire does, but the story remains a wartime story, with the battle not coming to the protagonist’s doorstep till the climax, but always with the growing threat of approaching armies and increasing numbers of soldiers passing through the village where the protagonist lives.  Its protagonist is young, seven at the novel’s climax, and Martin as he does within A Song of Ice and Fire remains relatively true to the childlike perceptions of his protagonist.

Martin handles this children’s book with the same flowery and abstracted prose with which he writes A Song of Ice and Fire.

It was impossible to watch Disney’s Frozen without thinking about this book (which is a good way to give this review a jumpstart: turn it into a paired book and film review).  Like Adara, Elsa is winter’s child, though she seems to have been born in summer (seeming to come of age and have her coronation in summer), which I find an interesting choice.  Like Adara, she is cold to touch and can interact with ice and snow in ways that others cannot.  Yet, while Adara is cold and removed, Elsa feels too strongly.  This seems to me to be a difference in the writer’s visions of winter.  Martin seems to see—or at least to write about—the winter of the medieval farmland, when plows are stilled and harvests are no more and all that can be done is to huddle by a fire and hope to survive to the spring and the planting while consuming the year’s harvest.  Disney saw the blizzard and the biting wind.

Martin’s ideal reader seems to be a younger child who feels like an outsider among peers for being too into his or her books and too reserved.  Such children undoubtedly exist and need literature that caters to them, so yes, I guess I would say that this is successful children’s literature, but I’m not sure it’s what I expected.  It’s more message than it is adventure.  I think I wanted an adventure, especially as I am used to expecting A Song of Ice and Fire from Martin, and it is difficult to draw any moral direction from A Song of Ice and Fire.

Adara loses her power when she begins to feel love, but in losing her power, she gains the love and acceptance of her family and her village.  The Ice Dragon‘s message is that you can be loved despite your distance from the world and that that which makes you different from others can be used to save others but also that you will be better loved if you do interact with the world at large and lose the chill of your power.

With love, Elsa learns to control her power and gains the acceptance of her family and kingdom as well as a crown and power of another kind, making Elsa seem at first the more empowered heroine.  However, Elsa’s power must be curbed to make her safe, while Adara is never a danger to others, just a puzzle.  I still think Disney’s is the better message to send to young girls because Martin’s story says that you will be loved better if powerless and Disney’s allows a heroine to keep her power and to wield it openly so long as she wields it with prudence and control, and prudence and control really ought to be used with power regardless of gender.

Before I close, a few brief notes about the illustrations of Yvonne Gilbert’s in Martin’s The Ice Dragon:  At first I was miffed to see that each chapter with the same illustration of dragonback battle, but I grew to really like the repetition of that image as an illustration of the constant but distant war that pervades Adara’s life.  Otherwise her illustrations are wonderfully detailed and expressive.

***                                    ****

Martin, George R. R.  The Ice Dragon.  Illus. Yvonne Gilbert.  New York: Starscrape-Tom Doherty, 2007.  First published 1980.  Tom Doherty Associates, LLC is now an imprint of Macmillan.

Frozen.  Dir. Chris Buck and Jennifer Lee.  Walt Disney.  2013.

These reviews are not endorsed by George R. R. Martin, Yvonne Gilbert, Starscrape Books, Tor Doherty Associates, LLC, Macmillan Publishers, or Walt Disney Animation Studios.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader and viewer.

Book Reviews: A Few More Morals and Misadventures From Berk

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The lesson of How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, the fourth book of Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, is that fate can be altered and your own luck can be made by you—which is interestingly contrasted with the prophecies scattered throughout these plots and the patrilineal monarchy of the Viking tribe of which the book’s hero, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, is a part.  Hiccup will (unless something happens to him) become chief of the Hairy Hooligans.  If Hiccup does not survive to take up the chieftaincy, his cousin, Snotface Snotlout, will take his place. I’m interested to see if, as the series, progresses, Cowell plays with this newly introduced concept of creating luck and altering fate against the seemingly fixed destiny of her hero, whom the reader from the beginning knows will become a famous Viking hero, the series being written as a set of his memoirs, and the elder Hiccup telling “this story as if it happened to somebody else, because the boy [he] once was is so distant to [him] now, that he might as well be a stranger” (Prologue, How To Twist a Dragon’s Tale).

Probably the star here is the ludicrous ideas of a medieval culture that believed that the world was flat.  Hiccup seeks the vegetable-that-no-one-dares-name, a potato, a strange probably imaginary plant from the mythical land of America.  Yet, only a potato can counteract the deadly poison of the Venomous Vorpent, and Hiccup needs that cure badly.

The book does teach readers to stand up for, protect, and cling to friends, which ordinarily I would think to be a incontestably good lesson, but Hiccup clings to Fishlegs against his father’s command.  While children need to learn whom to befriend and whom they should not, and parents can misjudge children, parents often have a good sense about whether or not their children’s friends are positive or negative influences, and I’m not sure that teaching children to flout their parents’ judgment is ideal—however flawed Stoick the Vast’s judgments have proved in the past—and they have proved to be quite poor, and I would have Hiccup cling to Fishlegs, especially in lieu of his father’s suggestion that Hiccup befriend his bullying cousin, Snotlout.

****

Before I could finish a review of How to Cheat a Dragon’s Curse, I went ahead and listened to the audiobook, read by David Tennant, of the fifth book in the series, How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale, so now I can answer some of the questions that I was posing in the review of book 4.

As yet, Cowell has done little with book 4’s lesson about the opportunity to change fate, other than to remind that readers that it’s never too late to do something heroic.  I suppose the primary moral of this tale is best summed up by Stoick the Vast: “WE WILL NEVER SURRENDER!” (69).  The primary quest of How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale is one to stop a volcano from exploding and hatching a flock of rare and particularly vicious Exterminator Dragons.

How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale sees the return of Hiccup’s arch-enemy, Alvin the Treacherous, still not dead, and it introduces a very Harry Potter-like element to Hiccup’s and Alvin’s conflict (with Alvin having created his own worst enemy in Hiccup, and yes, I fear that concept was used by Rowling first).  We also learn more about Hiccup’s mother, a very shadowy woman, mentioned previously really only by name and as possessing an “extra-strong, heavy-duty bra” (How to Train Your Dragon 169).  She still does not make much of an appearance and seems to be a rather absent parent, being too busy questing to be at home with her family, but her back story and Stoick’s is delved into.

Cowell plays with the western fairy tale/hero story clichés, having riders on white and black dragons.

This is the first of her books where dragons are ridden.  Still no Night Furies, but Hiccup now has a lame Windwalker, too young yet to fly, but he will carry Hiccup along the ground.  Could this be the inspiration for the half-tailed Toothless of Dreamworks’?  Hiccup’s Windwalker is illustrated more darkly than other dragons, so I’m supposing that he is black.  The Windwalker as yet has no name.

The illustrations are particularly emotive.  I after listening to the audiobook, opened the book that I had and looked at the illustrations.

I especially enjoyed David Tennant singing with the many voices of the Vikings in this book.

****1/2

Cowell, Cressida.  How To Train Your Dragon, Book 4: How To Cheat a Dragon’s Curse.  2006.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2010.

Cowell, Cressida.  How To Train Your Dragon, Book  5: How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale.  2007.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2010.

Cowell, Cressida.  How to Train Your Dragon, Book 5: How to Twist a Dragon’s Tale.  Narr. David Tennant.  Hodder Children’s Audio: 2007.  Audio recording.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, David Tennant, Hodder Children’s Audio, or Little, Brown, and Company, part of Hachette Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Quick and Light Romp in Gooseberry Park Hides a Shadowy Theme

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I first read Cynthia Rylant’s Gooseberry Park as part of my local library’s Nutmeg Book Award group in 2000.  Looking over the list of nominees, I am either amazed that this book left such a lasting impression upon me—or certain that I missed several weeks of the program (both are possible, but the latter actually more likely as I know that Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted is on my to-read and not my read list).

I had of late been itching to reread Gooseberry Park and snatched the first copy that I found on the shelves of my local used bookstore.

Gooseberry Park is a quick story of friendship, the coming together of unlikely friends in acts of heroism against nature and disaster, using manmade comforts to combat the cold and the ice and to find one another again after natural disaster has separated them—and wow, that just got a whole lot deeper and darker than I ever gave the book credit for being.  Generally, a man over nature plot is not one to which I ascribe.

The story is fun and easy (apparently hiding some deeper, darker themes).  Humor peppers the story, often through the animal characters’ fascination with human inventions, primarily through Murray, a bold and scatterbrained bat.

Arthur Howard’s memorable, expressive, and realistically rendered illustrations are much to be praised I think for the book’s memorability.

Fans of Rylant’s Mr. Putter and Tabby series for younger readers will find some familiarity in Gooseberry Park, though Mr. Putter is the protagonist of that series and here Professor Albert is more of a background figure while the animals take a more prominent role.  This, like that, is children’s literature with adult protagonists, a rarer thing among children’s literature, and something I would not expect to work well, except that I have heard young children say how much they enjoy the Mr. Putter and Tabby series and Pixar’s movies, almost all of which I have felt were fantastic and many of which have been major blockbusters, have honored almost exclusively adult protagonists.  Somehow, though, it is easy to forget that Stumpy, Kona, and Murray are adults, though Stumpy’s motherhood is central to the plot; only wise Gwendolyn the hermit crab reads unmistakably like an adult, and she is the senior of the other three main animal characters.

In rereading, I was honestly a bit disappointed with Gooseberry Park, but I had also held it high in my mind and had been eager to reread it.  As I said, it was fun and it was quick, and apparently there were themes that I hadn’t expected to find and didn’t recognize till I sat down to analyze the light read, but I’m also unsure why I remembered it with such fondness unless it was for its illustrations and readability—both of which I have to praise.

***

Rylant, Cynthia.  Gooseberry Park.  New York: Apple-Scholastic, 1998.  First published in 1995.

This review is not endorsed by Cynthia Rylant, Apple Paperbacks, Scholastic, Inc, or the Nutmeg Book Award committee of 2000 or any other year.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Hiccup’s World Expands in How To Speak Dragonese

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Here there be some spoilers.

I began the third in Cressida Cowell’s How To Train Your Dragon series, How To Speak Dragonese, by listening to the audio recording read by David Tennant.  Halfway through that, I stumbled upon a hardcover copy of the book at my local used bookstore.  I couldn’t leave it there.  I began the book again, enjoying the visual and textural stimulation with which the audio recording could not provide me.  When I had caught up to myself, I passed myself, and I finished the print copy before finishing the audio copy (and have yet to finish the audio and may not).

Though I enjoy the voices with which Tennant reads these stories, they worked against Cowell in this tale, alerting me to one of the plot twists too early.  I was unable in rereading to tell if I’d have guessed the twist at the same point without Tennant’s voice acting.

Visually, I appreciate very much Cowell’s use of formatting as well as her illustrations.  Always, the Viking’s Norse has been distinguished from Dragonese by its font, but now these are distinguished by their fonts again from Latin, and the nanodragon Ziggerastica’s Dragonese distinguished from all of these by its smaller font size.

This time Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III has to battle Roman legionaries hoping to cause trouble among the local Viking tribes, particularly Hiccup’s Hairy Hooligans and the Bog-Burglars.  The Bog-Burglars are a tribe of female warriors led by Big-Boobied Bertha (yeah, you read that correctly).  It’s really nice to finally be introduced by Cowell to some female characters.  No Astrid, but now we have Camicazi, Big-Boobied Bertha’s daughter and heir to the Bog-Burglars.  Camicazi is a small girl and spunky (to say the least).  She considers herself a master escaper and unlike Hiccup and Fishlegs does not sit waiting for a rescue but acts to better her situation.  She convinces Hiccup and Fishlegs to help her with her first escape attempt, but Hiccup and Fishlegs give up after the first failure—and while this might be amounted to wisdom and common sense as Camicazi’s escape plans become more and more absurd and her punishments become more severe, culminating in several days in solitary confinement, the Vikings won’t escape the Romans by passively waiting, and these characters demonstrate a nice reversal of the too long stereotypically gendered passivity and action.

It is, however, eventually Hiccup’s wits and his ability to talk to dragons that save the trio and Toothless—and Camicazi’s wits and boldness when Hiccup’s getaway boat sinks.

This is definitely a tale that lauds “the little guy,” making it especially tailored to its middle grade readers.

I did not like this book as well as I liked the previous two, but I very much enjoyed Cowell’s representation of the Romans, which while twisted to fit her dragon-filled alternate history, really captures the nastier aspects of the Romans that I didn’t learn about till much later in my life.  In middle school, for example, no one told me about the Romans’ habit of making themselves vomit so that they could eat more.

This was perhaps also the most inward of the two books, partially because of the passivity of the protagonists previously mentioned and their confinement, but also because it deals more with Hiccup’s fears that his father might not think him a worthy heir (a theme from the cinematic adaptation How To Train Your Dragon) more than the others have done.

It should also be noted that this is probably the first of the books that really relies on its predecessor; here the books become books in a series and not a book series.

****

Cowell, Cressida.  How To Train Your Dragon, Book 3: How To Speak Dragonese.  New York: Little, Brown-Hachette, 2005.

Cowell, Cressida.  How to Train Your Dragon, Book 3: How to Speak Dragonese.  2005.  Narr. David Tennant.  Audio recording.  Hodder Children’s Audio: 2005.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, David Tennant, Hodder Children’s Audio, or Little, Brown, and Company, part of Hachette Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Review: Hiccup’s Adventures Continue in How to Be a Pirate

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I’ve been feeling ill these past few days and several weeks ago a friend had been listening to the How to Train Your Dragon series on audio and recommending them to me.  I remembered this recommendation one night when I didn’t want to watch anymore TV and didn’t feel as if I had the focus to want to read but wanted a story to distract me.  Having already read How to Train Your Dragon, the first in the series of “memoirs” by the Viking hero Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, I found an audiobook of the second in the series, How to Be a Pirate.  Cressida Cowell’s books are read by David Tennant in his natural Scottish accent.  Having David Tennant read to me a book filled with humor and adventure in voices such as my parents never managed was a true blessing while I was miserable.

A great fan of the film done by DreamWorks, in my mind the main characters are even more fleshy than those illustrations offered by Cowell in the prequel to this story—and Hiccup is a brunette rather than a redhead, though Toothless’ film incarnation and book illustration I am able to separate, remembering that when I am reading or listening to the book, Toothless is a green Common or Garden dragon about the size of small kitten.  I did not for these familiar characters mind the absence of Cowell’s illustrations necessitated by the audiobook format.  But for new characters—in particular Alvin the Poor-but-Honest-Farmer, who is the catalyst of the adventure—I was surprised to find myself missing the sketchy illustrations by Cowell (though when I found her illustration of the man, I preferred the image of Alvin that my mind had cooked up).

I worried that the series might be one of those the adventures of which became repetitive.  Two books in, I can’t fault the series for that.  This second book was different enough from the first to be just as interesting and just as funny—if not more so.  I think Tennant’s voice acting may have added to the humor of the book.  Certainly, he made the sarcasm in Hiccup’s tone more palpable.

This second book continues Hiccup’s challenge to be accepted as Hope and Heir to the Tribe of the Hairy Hooligans.  He combats bullies and Viking ideals, to which he does not conform.  Hiccup again leads the Hairy Hooligans, but not in the obvious ways that he does in How to Train Your Dragon.  There, Hiccup won the Hooligans’ admiration through action.  Here, he won my admiration through inaction.  He shows that he is not only clever and brave but wise, [SPOILER] foregoing glory and riches for to protect his people from a danger they cannot see and from a danger that they desire and covet. [END SPOILER]

This is still technically a boys’ book, even more devoid than the last of a female presence, the only female figures being a dragon or two, but even while I recognize Cowell’s intended audience, I still object that I am a woman and I enjoyed the book.  (Categorizing books into boys’ and girls’ requires pigeonholing and often involves adherence to a should-be-dead system of bias and prejudice whereby girls must become housewives and child-bearers and boys can be adventures and heroes.)

****

Cowell, Cressida.  How to Train Your Dragon, Book 2: How to Be a Pirate.  2004.  Narr. David Tennant.  Audio recording.  Hodder Children’s Audio: 2004.

This review is not endorsed by Cressida Cowell, David Tennant, Hodder Children’s Audio, or the original print publisher, Little, Brown, and Company, part of Hachette Book Group.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.

Book Reviews: Need a Gift Idea? Ask Bradley Trevor Greive

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Bradley Trevor Greive stole my heart with his book Tomorrow, a gift from a friend.  Since then, I’ve read three more of his books, all of them a powerful encouragement to me.  Tomorrow, The Book for People Who Do Too Much, The Blue Day Book, and A Teaspoon of Courage all begin with a description of a person at their worst (worried, stressed, blue, frightened) and end with encouragement of what can happen when you take a leap of faith, when you relax and take care of yourself, when you remember joy.  The advice is both practical and humorous as are the descriptions of the best and worst states of living.  Paired with black and white photographs of expressive animals, how can these books fail?

These are the best gift books of which I know because who doesn’t need a little encouragement, a little laugh, some pictures of cute animals to create an occasional endorphin spike?

These are short books, the type that can be snatched up and read in 10 minutes or so, so they can be read by those who are too busy, can be a quick pick me up in a work day or in the middle of a huge college paper.  Each page consists of a phrase to a sentence or two, the majority of the layout being given over to a photograph.  The font is fairly large (pt. 12 Arial, I’d guess), making them easy to read without running for reading or magnifying glasses.

Greive questions humanity, asks the reader to think and consider (“Why do people do too much?” asks The Book for People Who Do Too Much), but then makes the reader laugh, and reminds them of the power of humanity too.

The humor can be a little adult.  “Roller Derby is similarly indicative of poor judgment, as is starting your own religion in order to claim generous tax benefits,” warns A Teaspoon of Courage.  “We say that we want love, affection, and companionship,” claims Tomorrow, “but what we really want is wild, passionate sex.”  These books are not for children, though the pictures of animals are cute and might be alluring to kids.

I read Tomorrow first in high school.  I was ready for Greive’s cynicism then if I didn’t agree with it (I’m still not sure that I do) and knew enough about the world to understand his references to the ridiculous things that adults sometimes do.

Those occasional cynical comments are muffled by reminders of the wonder of simple pleasures like stargazing and the taste of raindrops on your tongue, making the realistic cynicism more palatable (a spoonful of sugar).

All Greive’s advice and observations of course need to be taken with a grain of salt.  I know those who wouldn’t mind a world without hugs, and a yearning for love is not always one for wild, passionate sex, but over all his observation is keen.

Some days I don’t have Greive’s faith that the seemingly impossible is possible—for me or anyone—but it’s nice to have even a stranger telling me that I can, cheering me towards greatness and a better me.

These are books that I might strategically place in the open when I have a place that I can decorate and few kid visitors.

*****

Greive, Bradley Trevor.  A Teaspoon of Courage: A Little Book of Encouragement for Whenever You Need It.  Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2006.

Greive, Bradley Trevor.  The Blue Day Book: A Lesson in Cheering Yourself Up.  Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2010.

Greive, Bradley Trevor.  The Book for People Who Do Too Much.  Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2003.

Greive, Bradley Trevor.  Tomorrow: Adventures in an Uncertain World.  Kansas City: Andrews McMeel, 2004.

These reviews are not endorsed by Bradley Trevor Greive or Andrews McMeel Publishing.  They are independent, honest reviews by a reader.

Book Review: The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs, a Wonderfully Illustrated Anthology

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Paul Goble is an author/illustrator whom I know from my childhood.  He and I share a fascination with horses, attested to, for one, in Caldecott medalist The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses.  Several of the stories in his latest book, The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi, which I won from a Goodreads giveaway, prominently feature horses, and Goble illustrates each tale in his characteristic style, reminding me of that childhood favorite.

Unlike The Girl Who Loved Wild Horses, The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs is not a picture book.  It reads most like anthologies of fairy tales and folklore that I have read.  The stories here are mostly if not entirely from oral tradition.  Could this anthology be read to children?  Easily.  These seem to be the type of tales that would have been told to people of all ages around a campfire, and yes, were probably told too as bedtime stories.  Parents should probably use discretion when deciding whether this book is one their child would enjoy, simply because its tone is more serious than many of today’s kid’s books.  I found there wasn’t a lot of humor in these tales.  These tales would be a great introduction into Native American religious beliefs, and would also fit nicely alongside of other myths and folktales in a curriculum.

Goble uses a combination of watercolor and ink to achieve bright earth- and jewel-toned illustrations that favor detail and texture.  He also favors a bold, white outline seeming to separate each of his colors and particularly each of his figures.  Interestingly, all of his human figures—at least in this book—are mouth-less.  What emotion is portrayed in the illustrations seems to come from the tilt of the head or the gestures, which I think might leave the images a little stiff, save for the tone set by color and text.  Both this and his bold white outlines are intriguing and unexpected features; I don’t feel well enough qualified to discuss why he may have made these choices in his illustrations, but I think them worth noting as creating a style that is very much Paul Goble.

Goble is a Caldecott-winning illustrator.  He shines in The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs.  Reading this, some of the illustrations seemed to almost magical meld themselves with the text so that I felt as if I was reading both at once, or being ushered into each line by a splash of color, the colors building as the words did into a full picture.  Unless you experience this feeling with this or another book, I don’t think I’ll be able to capture it.  And maybe I was just reading too late at night when this happened, and exhaustion was getting the better of me, but I want to attribute this to the careful planning and pure magic of Goble.

Goble’s illustrations certainly add to the vibrancy of these tales, but they take a backseat for me to the text, rarely told stories, carefully collected and headed and footed with cultural notes, and notes about the collection of the tales, and sometimes with Goble’s interpretation of the stories.  I enjoy the illustrations, but this book will stay on my shelf as a colorful anthology of folklore.

****

Goble, Paul.  The Man Who Dreamed of Elk-Dogs & Other Stories from the Tipi. Bloomington, IN: Wisdom Tales, 2012.

This review is not endorsed by Wisdom Tales Press or Paul Goble.  It is an independent, honest review by a reader.