Monday, June 30

Ten Mile River

by Paul Griffin
Dial 2008

In a sentence: It's Of Mice and Men, only set on Manhattan, and it's dogs and not rabbits, and instead of the big guy being strong and dumb he's strong and smart, only he's book smart and he still takes lip from his scrawny pretty-boy partner because... uh, let me get back to you on that.

The premise does seem to lean heavily on Steinbeck even if that was never the intention. Two underage juvie loners, Jose and Ray, on their own and living off the fat of the land (taking cash for breaking windshields and boosting whatever else they need), living hand-to-mouth until they are 20 which is when Jose thinks is a good time to think about the future, if he should make it that far.

Ray, hefty and insecure, could probably return to a foster home, land himself a good education, and really make something for himself. But he keeps taking orders from Jose who is one dumbass mistake after another and prone to taking off his shirt to show off his abs in front of girls. Ray's bashful longing for a girl at a salon leads both him and Jose toward going straight, but with the opportunity/cliche to do "one last job" and the retire (Jose wants the cash to buy a motorcycle) everything falls apart and the boys are incarcerated and and taken back to square one.

The bond that holds these boys together is elusive. They fell in at juvie a while back and seem to have one of those classic unspoken man-love relationships. Ray plays the housewife at times, insisting on cleaning and being left to cook, and Jose both takes advantage of the situation and gives Ray a hard time for it. The homophobic banter is authentic learned-from-the-inside posturing but there may be something just below the surface to justify it; we are never really given insight into their background to know for certain.

Come what may, it's clear that Jose's living on borrowed time and Ray will turn out okay.

Griffin's debut, though it feels derivative and mines familiar territory, is assured and authentic in its language. Wannabe delinquents will enjoy Ray and Jose's exploits from a safe vantage point though I totally suspect the prime audience for this book are the sheltered, privileged kids who need the occasional dose of reality to remind them that there's another world just outside their comfort zones.

I liked it, I didn't like it... my opinion about the book seemed to go with the breeze. I think once the Steinbeck imagery entered my head it was hard not to go looking for the parallel commentary -- how are Ray and Jose like modern day depression-era drifters George and Lenny, what's the underside of the homeless juvenile off-the-grid workforce look like, that sort of thing. I should let Griffin's book stand on its own but like I said, whether it tried to or not, it brought on the comparisons on its own and once it did it became impossible not the read it the way one would a modern day adaptation of Hamlet. There is tragedy all over this from page one and the question is: will it resonate with a the YA reader it's intended for?

Honestly: dunno.

Friday, June 27

Sons of Liberty

by Marshall Poe
illustrated by Leland Purvis
Aladdin Turning Points series 2008

This first title in a new series of graphic novels that focuses on "turning points" in history follows the members of a fictitious Boston family as they endure British rule from 1768 through the signing of the Declaration of Independence. That's the nuts and bolts and as things go the book is about as dry as that description.

This is the down side of the "trend" in graphic novels. "Let's take the most exciting moments in history and show them in a comic book format and that'll make them less dull." Uh, no it doesn't. The idea of having fictitious events "blended" with factual moments sounds like it could be dynamic, but if the interest isn't there going in you have to create that interest.

We start with Nathaniel Smithfield at age ten excited by the rousing words of the patriots, much to his loyalist father's dismay. Okay, so you want to set up the tension between generations, and you want to play with history... you still have to provide both the history and the emotional tug. You can't just assume the reader will know what's going on in Boston in 1768 and you can't portray a ten year old boy like a modern day boy in colonial clothing.

In a visual level this is sort of a mess as well. I missed the initial transition between the "chapters" in Nathaniel's life, from ten year old play-soldier to teenage apprentice to engraver Paul Revere (yawn). It wasn't readily apparent that Nathaniel had aged, he just looked inconsistently drawn. This was followed by a clumsy bit of exposition meant to show how Nathaniel had grown in his beliefs and feed a bit of history at the same time. And is that his dad he's talking to? That wasn't clear either, and on the whole being able to recognize characters (no matter how thinly fleshed out) is crucial in sequential storytelling, particularly if you're going to follow a character as they age.

If you have even the most passing knowledge of American history (uh, we got our independence is all you need to know here) then it's obvious from page one how this ends. The boy will grow, and with him his sympathies toward the the colonialist cause, and in the end dad will be converted by reason to liberty. Yea, liberty. What would rock, what would be new and fresh and make history come to life are all the details from the other side. Let's see it through the blind eyes of the loyalists -- because we know how it turns out in the end, let us see the reaction to those on the losing side, how they lived it and rationalized it If history is written by the winners let the winners be gracious enough to show both sides.

Poe, a professor of history, doesn't give us anything that we haven't already seen before in Forbes' Johnny Tremain, or even Lawson's Ben and Me for that matter. With an eager audience like the one currently built into graphic novels aimed at kids why not shoot for the moon? Instead of a passive-aggressive boy who throws the first rock in a riot, then wonders "did I just do that?" lets see something that might hit a little closer to home: show us how the occupying forces came to overstay their welcome, and how liberty was forged as a result of their oppression, really show it. Show the oppression and the struggle and not merely a couple of brash statements illustrated by the slamming of a hand on a table.

It's hard not to constantly see how history echoes, and to be accused of revisionism in the process, but there are some uncomfortable points in Colonial American history that inform who and what we are as a nation today. Why give us a retread of textbook material in comic form when we can deliver so much more to today's young readers?

Thursday, June 26

Shooting the Moon

Frances O'Roark Dowell
Atheneum 2008

Jamie Dexter is an army brat, her dad a full bird Colonel running a base in Texas during the Vietnam war. When her brother skips college, and medical school, to enlist Jamie couldn't be happier. In her 12-going-on-13 year old mind, there can be no higher honor than to serve one's country. Isn't that what her dad is always saying? But then why does her dad, always referred to as the Colonel, keep trying to talk his son out of his enlistment? And why instead of letters does her brother keep sending Jamie rolls of film for her to develop?

It's apparently natural that history repeats itself as the echoes from Vietnam and our current situation in Iraq reverberate in literature. As seen through Jamie's eyes we watch her move away from her pro-war position as she comes to meet and know other soldiers on the base. She never waivers in her pride for her brother, never loses the respect of or for her father, but a shift takes place when she comes to realize that the price of service, the high price of honor, may not always be justified.

I walked into this book cold and I wasn't sure I was going to like it. That may be the point, to have a young girl so gung-ho for war that it might appear a bit uncomfortable or distasteful. Naturally she's going to grow and change by the end - she's in those awkward years as it is - so the only real questions are how will she change, and how much.

But the book has a serious flaw: it's missing it's final third. In the last couple of pages (no, I won't spoil the ending here) there is a new piece of information that would seriously effect Jamie's entire family. Worse, the two years following this information are essentially tidied up in two paragraphs that seriously cheat the reader from watching the effect on Jamie as she grows into being a young woman. If this was a conscious decision to withhold this information in lieu of a sequel, it was a serious mistake. As it stands, this ending is a sort of slap in the face. Imagine if the Harry Potter books jumped from number four to number seven with two pages to cover the two years in between. That's how much I feel the ending here leaves out.

Some might disagree. The book did receive the Boston Globe/Horn Book Honor for fiction this year.

As a final note, this book and Barbara Kerley's Greetings From Planet Earth both deal with Vietnam from a child's eye view and the moon features prominently as a symbol in both. It's curious, because Kerely's book deals with what happens after the soldier returns home and less about how the family felt when it happened. In that sense these books might be well suited for a classroom to discuss the full range of feelings concerning either the Vietnam War or the effect of war on families in general.

Wednesday, June 25

I'm the Best Artist In the Ocean

by Kevin Sherry
Dial 2008

The follow-up to I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean turns out to be The Biggest Disappointment of the Year so far.

Giant Squid is back, and being a creature full of ink, he just has to draw. He's pretty goo at drawing all the other fish he sees -- he can draw this, he can draw that -- just as he was boastful of all the fish he used to be bigger than. Leave it to a couple of disgruntled clown fish and a shark to rain on Squid's creative spirit by pointing out that he's making a mess. Then, after a similar thoughtful moment Squid announces that he's making a "Mess-terpiece!" Fold open the the extended spread to reveal that Squid has tagged a whale with oceanic graffiti.

What was great in the previous book was that Squid was a boastful little boy. Like a boy first able to grasp the concepts of language and self, Squid defines himself according to his limited knowledge until he realizes the error of his boast. Then, quite energetically, he embraces that realization and realigns his ego with his environment: he's the biggest thing inside the whale!

But the brag of being the best artist in the ocean doesn't make sense because he's the only artist in the ocean, as far as we can tell. Comparing himself to nothing, the fact of the matter remains in question. Logically one would assume he would find a better artist in nature and then could readjust his claim, but not here. Instead he utters a play on words and leaves us with a very elaborate illustration.

I have to interject here that I went to art school and have more art history in me than I know what to do with. That's me being Squid, but the boast is for a purpose. See, when you read the tiny print at the back of the book you discover that Sherry modeled the endpapers off the work of Miro and the illustration in the whale was influenced by Picasso's Guernica.

The graffiti on the whale is an homage to a cubist's rendition of the horror of the Spanish Civil War? What. The. Hell.

Now, if I hadn't read this note I would have just tripped merrily along, but then I had to go back and look. I don' quite understand how Miro fits into it, but is the Guernica-whale supposed to represent the Squid-artist's depiction of the horror of the oceanic life cycle? I mean, I guess it's cool and all, if you get it (which I didn't on the first pass) but is that really something to casually work into a picture book?

To make a sequel to I'm the Biggest Thing in the Ocean it would have seemed natural to me that Squid have some other illusion of himself exposed, knocked down another peg, or perhaps he could help some other sea life see the error of their ways. Perhaps we could learn something about the oldest thing in the ocean, where we move from old dolphins to old tortoises to crusty Old Mr. Coelacanth.

I guess that's the lesson I never learn. No matter how much I want sequels to favorite books I really should be more careful what I wish for.

Wednesday, June 18

The Willoughbys

by Lois Lowry
Houghton Mifflin / Walter Lorraine Books 2008

I resisted this initially because I was deep in other reading and couldn't get to it. Then when I had the time to get to it I resisted because, oh, I don't know. Because I was afraid it would suck, and I'd hate to have to say that about a Lois Lowry book?

Fear not, I will not say that The Willoughbys sucks. Neither does it shine.

It does what it sets out to do: it tells of a family of unpleasant children who wish nothing more than to rid themselves of their parents and live as orphans in the world. While fully cognisant of classic books concerning orphans in this world -- Horatio Alger and Dickens tales and the like -- the story is set in another world altogether. It appears to have been hewn from the same fabric as children's books from the mid-20th century. In it's sparse settings, it's descriptions of people, in it's overall vibe it all but shares the same literary lineage as books by Roald Dahl and William Pene Du Bois.

These are no slouch authors, and this is not feint praise, yet there is this lingering feeling that the book resides in a place that isn't so much a shadowy netherworld that parallels our own but a sort of Disneyland facsimile, where the details are perfect but the grit and soul are missing.

The Willoughby children, headfed up by the obnoxious older brother, decide that they would be oh-so-much better of in the world if they were orphans. Realizing that their reprehensible parents don't care much for them, they concoct a plan to send them abroad on a dangerous vacation in the hopes of an untimely demise. Unknown to them, the Willoughby adults have decided it best to vacate their house and, once away, sell off their possessions and leave the children to fend for themselves. Naturally there subplots, chiefly concerning a baby left on the doorstep, a rich-but-heartbroken candy inventor, an immature nanny, and some shenanigans concerning a mother and her son abandoned in Switzerland.

All of this Victoriana plays well into the hands of children who may be yearning for something akin to Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events. The only problem is... who's reading those books anymore? They appear untouched every time I check the shelves in my local library, and they certainly aren't selling in the stores. It begs the question of a phenomenon rather than a predilection toward this type of story, though Harry Potter did sort of redraw the map for dark adventure. Still, there isn't much call for a book that parodies those classics, so what has to sell here isn't the atmosphere but the humor.

And it's a dry humor, droll, one for only the sharpest crayons in the box. I know of at least one fourth grade class whose teacher read this book aloud to them toward the end of the year. The comments I heard were "It was pretty good," and "A little weird." They didn't know the source material for these ragamuffin tales and heard them strictly as face value modern stories. Was the audience too young? Perhaps, but an older audience would ask for more of this sort of story. A little more gore, a few more perils.

I am reminded suddenly, and for no reason whatsoever as my mind wanders, of Edward Gorey books. There comes a point where a reader suddenly gets what Gorey is doing -- internally, they grok the Edwardian-cum-Poe drawing room farce -- and from that point on the reader has become jaded. Anything similar to, but not, Gorey becomes instantly derivative and weak. So what happened here?

Lowry has given us a paper doll theatre with beautiful decor, costumed characters, even a script, but no motivation or soul. Everything is driven toward the happy ending from the very start, right down to the naming of the abandoned baby, the entirety a mechanical exercise in changing scenery but not in the joy of the story. One could (and someone has) attempt to make a story with the character cards from a game of Clue and do no worse.

I am happy to see Lowry write something not-so-serious for the middle grade set. I only wish, well, that it didn't feel so orphaned as a result.

Tuesday, June 17

Off Go Their Engines, Off Go Their Lights

by Janice Milusich
illustrated by David Gordon
Dutton 2008

Future generations (or species, should we not survive) will marvel at a society that would complain about gas prices while at the same time feeding their children books like this that replace warm and fuzzy animals with warm and fuzzy service vehicles as a bedtime story.

I recognize that boys like cars and trucks and things that go. I also see frantic parents looking for a book that features various books on vehicles because otherwise they cannot get them to sit still for a book. I find this combination particularly odious.

Hiding behind "friendly" service vehicles (each with its own little face across the grill) doesn't disguise the message that these anthropomorphic cars don't also represent a good deal of what's wrong with our culture. As the humans drive around town in their double-wide taxi on clean, unclutterd streets (a nostalgia for an America that never existed) the occupants watch as fire engines and delivery vehicles go about their daily duties only to be put to bed with the sing-song title refrain. "Here we go, little car, it's time for bed!" it says.

Okay, little fossil fuel guzzling, planet destroying society, time for the big sleep.

Where's the book that features the electric trolley putting in a day's work powering down? Where are all the pedicabs parked for the night, the mag-lev trains running the commuter lines?

How do you break a cultural dependence on a petroleum-based economy when you raise children to see nothing else from their earliest bedtime books?

All politics is local. Start here. Find another bedtime book.


Monday, June 16

Tupelo Rides the Rails

by Melissa Sweet
Houghton Mifflin 2008

Covers are funny things. You're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but a lot of time goes into making those covers appealing so that you'll pick them up. Also, after the umpteen-millionth time you decide to ignore your gut feeling and give a book a chance despite its cover, and get burned, you decide that maybe you should trust the gut a little more.

So I passed this book by several times, is what I'm getting at. The cover didn't speak to me. The title didn't speak to me. Nothing about this went "woof! woof!" And generally, I'm not a dog person, and I've been seeing a lot of dog books recently that left a sour taste in my mouth.

Obviously I put the gut in check and picked it up. And then I almost gave it up again. Tupelo is deliberately left by the side of the road with his sock toy, Mr. Bones. What?! Who starts a book off by having a dog dumped by the side of the road... unless its a middle grade novel where the dog will save the family but only at the risk of his on life? That's a heavy message to dump on kids without warning. So many questions; why was Tupelo dumped? Was he a bad dog? Did he live with mean people? Won't kids wonder (and worry) about being left by the side of the road themselves?

Very quickly Tupelo sniffs out hot dogs, and a hobo camp, and a band of dogs who are themselves lost or abandoned. They take Tupelo to a hill where they each bury a bone in honor of Sirius, the dog star, their impromptu god. Then along comes Garbage Pail Tex, a hobo with a bucket of cooked hot dogs for the dogs. Once fed they hop a train to another town where Tex finds the dogs either their old masters or new homes. All find homes but Tupelo who, lacking a bone before, could not make a proper wish for a new home. He decides it is time for him and Mr. Bones to part company, to bury him and make a wish to Sirius. Garbage Pail Tex finds him and together they find Tupelo and new home.

It says something about this book that I was compelled beyond the cover and the introduction to read through. You couldn't have asked me to imagine abandoned dogs, hobos, train-hopping, star gazing, and religious ceremonies for dogs all in one place. Certainly not in a picture book, which I suppose is why this one surprises.

And here we get to that area I harp about with picture books, where editors fear that kids cannot handle sophisticated, demanding stories. I'm thinking "Wow, dog dumped by the side of the road - no one's done that before" and then it hits me in the shower: Hansel and Gretel, taken into the forest and left for dead not once but twice by their parents. These days it's a wonder you don't see libraries being pressured to purge all their Grimm stories that aren't rewritten to have more favorable (in some eyes) endings.

It was worth pushing through my misgivings about this. While it might not be one of my favorite books of the season it's certainly a title worth checking out.

Sunday, June 15

Big Dumb Book: Tim, Defender of the Earth!

by Sam Enthoven
Razor Bill / Penguin 2008

Let's play a game of Mental Picture and see how things go.

First, imagine two giant monsters throwing down like a couple of WWF wrestlers in a large metropolitan city. Sort of like in a Godzilla movie, with both of these monsters a couple hundred feet tall, tossing each other into famous landmarks and obliterating the skyline. One of them is a genetically cloned T-Rex and the other is a mad-scientist- turned-humanoid-cockroach mutant.

Are you still with me?

Okay, so the city is London, not Tokyo, and both creatures are the inadvertent results of secret British government funding. There is no radioactivity involved. T-Rex makes his appearance when the funding for his project evaporates and he escapes down the Thames to the sea where he instinctively seeks the Yoda-like wisdom from a nine million year old Kraken who is the current Defender of Earth.

Have you cried uncle? But wait! When asked by the Kraken if he has a name T-Rex responds with a line pulled straight from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

"There are some who call me... Tim."

Oh yes, and the mad scientist. Well, he was working with nanobots that could deconstruct organic matter at the cellular level, move about as a swarming cloud under mental telepathy, and then recombine it either as it was or modified. When his project is rebuffed by the government he takes it upon himself to take his research to the field, as it were, deconstructing roaches and rats and hapless drunks in the Underground at closing time and recombining them into his own super-self, a god-like being impervious to almost anything that can be thrown at him.

And the scientist has a daughter, Anna. And she's a bit of an outcast. And she hooks up with another outcast, a boy named Chris. And Chris has been chosen to wear a special bracelet that can harness the energy of Earth, energy that can be used by Tim. And...

I'm sorry. Once you get started with a story like this it's hard to know how much is too much. Clearly the author doesn't believe in such restrictions because he tosses everything into the pot. There are times where I would say this is a bad thing because sensory overload eventually kicks in and numbs the brain to the point of boredom, but not here.

This is the book that recently helped solidify my thinking behind the Big Dumb Book. Just as there are Big Dumb Movies that you can enjoy on a purely entertainment level, so are there books that just carry you along, like surfing a wave on absurdity. As a break from all the other required summer reading -- you know, that stuff like broccoli that's supposed to be good for you -- here's a bit funnel cake from the county fair to prevent the brain from calcifying.

Bonus time! Check out this illo to be bound into the hardcovers

Do you know a teen boy who can appreciate literature, Monty Python, and comic books? Bingo, here's their next book.

Wednesday, June 11

NYC dystopia x2

Today, I am cross-posting with Guys Lit Wire, the blog for books aimed at teen boys.

dys·to·pi·a noun. a society characterized by human misery, as squalor, oppression, disease, and overcrowding.

Well, there's plenty of that going around in a pair of books I'm featuring today, both of them set in New York City but written 40 years apart from one another.

First up is the dead and the gone, Susan Beth Pfeffer's sequel to Life As We Knew It. As with the previous book, the events that follow occur after an asteroid has hit the moon, knocking it out of its former orbit. Where Life As We Knew It was set in rural Pennsylvania and followed closely the struggle for survival as seen from a teen girl's perspective, the dead and the gone shows us how events unraveled through the eyes of Alex Morales, a seventeen year old boy living in Manhattan.

Alex is the second-eldest of the Morales children, his older brother Carlos is a Marine stationed on the West Coast. Alex's mom is a nurse on night duty when the book begins, possibly on her way home. His father is in Puerto Rico attending the funeral of Alex's grandmother. At home, Alex's two younger sisters wait for him to return from his night job working at a pizza parlor. The news of the asteroid's collision course is peripheral at best; most people are listening to the baseball game.

Unraveled is the best way to describe events that follow. As the shifting of the moon has profound effects on the planet's delicate ecosystem, tides have flooded the subways and knocked out all satellite transmissions. Quickly Alex moves into survival mode in order to protect his sisters and keep the family together. When his sisters ask about the safety of their missing parents Alex reassures them without hesitation that everything will be okay. Alex is as pragmatic as he is protective, shunting his emotions in order to assure their survival.

Where events felt more ominous in Pfeffer's previous exploration of this disaster scenario, here in New York City the events that unfold seem merely to hasten the inevitable. As the food shortages and flu epidemic spread, as the rich get out of town and the poor are trapped on an island left for dead, New York comes to represent the ultimate failure of the urban model of living, an unsustainable wasteland. Alex casually learns to lie and steal and, in the end, manage to get himself and one of his sisters successfully out of New York and toward a promise of a new life further inland.

Recently released for its 40th anniversary, Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! gives us another version of the Big Apple in decay. The events are no less ecological, though the cause is man-made this time.

It's the future, the end of the millennium. You'll have to forgive a book written in the 1960's for getting the future of 1999 wrong, though in many ways the book does correctly understand some of the probelms we're facing today. Harrison's premise was that the US was unconcerned with population control and that short-sidedness led to a planet where the population outstripped its resources. Greenhouse gases have ruined rich agricultural farmland, food and water is scarce, New York city is under a constant heat wave. As Harrison paints it, only the date of this scenario might be wrong as we may still be headed in this direction under global warming.

I have to break the review here to interject that this book was nothing like I had remembered it to be. I had this strange sense of double deja vu because there are familiar elements in the story that echoed both a movie adaptation of this book and the sudden realization that my disappointment was the same I felt when I first read this book as a teen. The movie was Soylent Green, and the disappointment I felt then as now was that there is no such thing as Soylent Green in the book. That is to say, if you've seen the movie and you think you know what the book is about, you don't.

Harrison tells the story of a police detective named Andy Rusch who happens to land on a case of murder that was a crime of opportunity. The problem is that the corrupt politicos believe there's something deeper going on and Andy's forced to continue to follow through on the investigation beyond when it should have been dropped. There's a girl involved, a gangster's moll, who takes up with Andy once she's out of her meal ticket. And darting through the story is the thug on the lam who shows us the seamier underside of a New York Harbor clogged with decommissioned Liberty Ships used as emergency housing for the world's refugees.

What Harrison has done is graft a noirish crime story onto a New York City that has collapsed under the weight of its population. It's a dirty, ugly world with rationed water, no electricity, a black market for produce and meat, and corruption at every level of government. Where the dead and the gone gives us the quick death of NYC Make Room! Make Room! gives us the tail end of the long, slow demise. Both versions, as written, are equally plausible portraits of a city in decay.

But in a head-to-head grudge match it's Pfeffer's book hands down as the better read. Pfeffer's book continues to draw out the disaster in diary format, one day at a time, inviting the reader to put themselves in Alex's shoes in deciding whether or not he's made the right decisions. the dead and the gone deals somewhat flatly with Alex as a protector of his sisters and there is little for him emotionally. Harrison's book has a more balanced emotional story at it's heart with Andy questioning love and what it means to live in this rotten world, but in imagining the worst aspects of his world into our future he retained some ugly racial and sexist stereotypes that, while "authentic" for a reader back in 1966, detract from the story.

the dead and the gone
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Harcourt Children's Books 2008

Life As We Knew It
by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Harcourt Children's Books 2006

Make Room! Make Room!
by Harry Harrison
Tor Books 2008

Monday, June 2

McFig and McFly

A Tale of Jealousy, Revenge, and Death (with a Happy Ending)
by Henrik Drescher
Candlewick 2008

Blurb: Extremely satisfying in a very old-school sort of way, but what a strange planet it seems to have come from.

McFig, a widower, shows up one day having purchased a plot of land next to another widower named McFly. Both men hit it off instantly, as do their children Anton and Rosie. McFig admires his new neighbor's cottage so much that he decides to build his next door exactly like it. And McFly is more than happy to assist while the children do as neighbor children do, they play contentedly in the background.

The day after the cottage is finished McFly is startled to see McFig building a tower on top of his otherwise identical cottage. Not to be outdone, McFly builds a glass playroom on top of his cottage. Then McFig retaliates, McFly responds, both men building higher and more absurdly until one day McFly falls from the top of his weather vane and dies. McFig, having lost his friend and with nothing to build for, dies from boredom.

All the while and unattended by their fathers Anton and Rosie have grown and fallen in love. They marry after their fathers have died, tear the cottages down to their original structures, and sell off the junk. With the proceeds from their sale they build a connector between their homes to create one large home for all their kids.

And they live happily ever after.

I'm feeling this book he way I felt Brock Cole's Good Enough to Eat. It feels like an older story but I can't for the life of me source it. That the main characters are adults acting like fools, I'm all for that. I think kids get plenty of picture books that are a bit warm and fuzzy, why not give them some lessons in the realities of the adult world?

Naturally younger readers will recognize the one-up behavior, and the blind rage that causes people to behave irrationally, just as it makes perfect sense that the children of these two maniacs are clear-headed enough not to do as their fathers have done. I even like that the two men are widowers -- let's explain that concept to the children while we're at it. I think that may ultimately be what resonates with me, like many old fairy tales where the widowers marry wicked step-mother types or are completely useless without a female influence to keep them on an even keel, these guys are a bit unhinged on their own.

Drescher's art -- back-painted drawings on acetate, like animation cels -- has a jagged, folk-art quality to it, perfectly in keeping with the overall feel of the homes being built. Sort of like Gary Panter meets Howard Finster in the Grimmwald.

I don't get the feeling this is going to end up high on a lot of people's list (i.e. libraries) but if you get a chance check it out for yourself and let me know if I'm as loopy as McFly and McFig.

Introducing... Guys Lit Wire!

Taking a break here from the reviews to announce a very big project that has been in the works for some time. It's a new blog, collectively dedicated to the pursuit of matching good books with teen boys

Guys Lit Wire is live!

The origins of this blog came about late last year when a bunch of us kidlit bloggers were lamenting a lack of books for teen boys, or at least a perception that there weren't enough good books, or that boys -- especially teen boys -- were getting lost in the static because of a presumption that teen boys don't read.

So for the last six months or so a whole passel of us have been preparing for a launch of this new site that will serve as a sort of clearinghouse of reviews, interviews, and whatnot aimed at books of interest to boys. Or rather, guys.

Colleen over at Chasing Ray and Sarah at Finding Wonderland have been the primary movers and shakers working behind the scenes, lining up our schedule of posts for the rest of this year, designing it to be Made of Awesome. This final result is the culmination of a whole lot of work by a lot of people and I, for one, am excited and proud to be a part of this.

New posts go up every weekday. I'll be checking in with my first post on Wednesday the 9th. No need to mark your calendar, I'll probably cross-post my reviews. In the meantime, drop in and see what's up!