Monday, September 22

abandoned: taken

by David Massey
Chicken House / Scholastic 2014

Teens in peril. That's where you lose me.

I try to read books as "blind" as possible, knowing as little as I can going in so I can let the freshness of the story carry me. Sometimes, though, I get a sense early in a book that it's going to piss me off. In the past when I was a younger man and felt like I had a lifetime to read everything I'd finish every book out of a sense of respect for the author and the craft. But I'm older now, aware that I will never get to read everything I want to, and some backs don't earn that right to be read to the end.

Here's the short version: I have no patience for books that put teens in extreme peril.

That sounds absurd. Peril, imminent danger, kids at the mercy of extremely dangerous adults, this is practically everywhere. Maybe I'm just getting tired of it.

Taken starts with a young woman meeting up with a group of young war veterans -- barely adults themselves --  getting ready to sail around the world for charity. Because the crew are themselves disabled their insurance requires an able-bodied hand named Rio, who is our narrator. There's some tension among personalities, resentment over having Rio as a babysitter, and as they set sail I suddenly get a hinky feeling.

This is called Taken. What, or who, gets taken?

See, I could get behind an adventure where a crew of new adults has to deal with the elements, a damaged boat, a clash of cultures and miscommunication, a trial of character. I can't resist. I flip the cover over and discover they are hijacked by pirates, held by a militant warlord, prisoners of war. There is an image of a fourteen year old girl clutching a machine gun with a necklace made of human teeth.

I'm out.

The news is full of kids in peril. A teen girl beaten and raped for protesting the public beating of her father. Women, girls, and boys abducted by militants, adding to the hundreds of others already gone missing. Terrorists using video games to recruit teens to their efforts. This is news, not something to be reduced to "ripped from today's headlines" sensationalized entertainment.

People can write what they want, people can read what they want.

I've got plenty of other books to read.

Saturday, September 13

goodnight brew

by Ann E. Briated
illustrated by Allie Ogg
Bailiwick Press  2014

No. Wrong. Sorry. Not for kids. Terrible parody with no redeeming qualities. Seriously.

You would be hard pressed to find a parody of a children's classic more tone deaf and misguided as this. The idea of a children's book parody should have echoes of childhood skewered with a winking eye. Goodnight Brew seems to labor under the assumption that a not-so-clever title reworking aimed at craft brew-loving hipster parents is going to be the next Go The F*ck To Sleep.

It isn't.

Unfunny, unclever, unbelievably dull, and with no plot to it. And for those who might be quick to point out that the source material, Goodnight Moon, equally lacks a plot I would say... yeah, okay, so it's a little thin. But it is satisfying, it has a lullaby quality to designed for bedtime reading. It has a purpose and for that purpose it does it's job well. Goodnight Brew is so relentlessly vapid that it cannot even muster a yawn out of a casual adult. At best, it might be just a tad above a bender following a suitcase of cheep, evil-smelling beer in the lost brain cells department, although this might still be giving it too much credit.

I don't have a problem with parodies of children's books, but if you're going to do it they better be stellar. I thought The Very Hungry Zombie book that came out last year was beneath contempt, but alongside Goodnight Brew it at least has some redeeming qualities.

Just don't ask me what they were because I've already forgotten it, which is what I suggest we all do with Goodnight Brew as well.

Friday, September 12

shh! we have a plan

by Chris Haughton
Candlewick  2014

Four black-ops solders take on an impossible night mission with little hope of success. Just kidding!

In the depths of a purple-blue night four night stalkers our out with their nets in hopes of coming across something to catch. Actually only three of the stalkers have nets, the smallest seems to be tagging along. When they come across a bird the Little One cannot help but call out "Hello, Birdie" but is quickly hushed. "Shh! We have a plan."

Following the Rule of Threes the older trio creep stealthily upon the bird on the ground, in a tree, and out on a frozen pond, always failing to catch their prey. At last the Little One offers up some bread crumbs and they stalkers are suddenly surrounded by many birds. With the birds so close it seems as if catching them will easy until they realize they are outnumbers and outsized and off the run.

When they see a squirrel they turn to Little One. "Shh. We have a plan." And thus we end back where we started, with the stalkers unwilling to accept the truth and Little One shrugging at the reader.

Is it a lesson in respecting and protecting small creatures? The triumph of innocence over mischievous adventures? A subtle anti-hunting tract?

How about kids being kids?
Kids getting a notion in their head and proceeding with what they believe is a well-considered plan only to have it fail due, in part, to their own limited understanding of the real world.

Okay, I'll get out of the deep end now.

Stylistically, Shh! We Have a Plan is dark, but it's the darkness of night, the darkness of woods where even the light of the moon only makes things look various shades of blue. The human characters have a ragged torn-paper look to their edges while the natural elements have a cleaner simplicity to their shapes. The animals in particular, with their bright reds and greens and geometric shapes, are reminiscent of Alexander Girard without mimicry. A hat-tip in general to mid-century modern in both design and storytelling is owed here from Haughton who, it seems, has a genuine affinity for the naif.

Thursday, September 11

richard scarry's best lowly worm book ever

by Richard Scarry (mostly)
Golden Books  2014

A recently discovered Scarry manuscript is unearthed... and out pops Lowly Worm!

Weird-but-true, and totally irrelevant, anecdote about a Richard Scary book. Once while working in the bookstore a woman came in, furious, to return one of those cute little critter books because of its "gratuitous use of meat." Specifically, she was offended by a picture of a pig in a hot air balloon in which the balloon was in the shape of (or perhaps in some loopy sort of logic was actually) a giant sausage.

It's not hard to get off on weird tangents like this with Richard Scarry because his books, with their anthropomorphic animals and vehicles can be, at times... odd. Garbage trucks with toothy mouths painted on their backsides like they're about to gobble garbage furiously. A rasher of mice riding around inside a roadster made from a single pencil, implying either rather tiny mice or enormous pencils...

And in this most recent title, loosely following a day in the life of beloved Lowly Worm, there is a page simply titles "This is me" where Worm is drawn the size of a garden snake with all his accoutrement's laid out and labeled around him. That he has a head the size of a kitten, an eye as big as a grape, with a foot-shaped tail isn't as alarming as the fact that he's naked save for his underpant (singular) wrapped around his middle like a diaper. That's when you realize that Richard Scarry spent some time seriously considering Lowly Worm's attire. There's a trouser (again singular, as pants are plural for us bipeds), a shirt collar, a bow tie, and a shoe. A shoe for a worm that, in Scarry's word, often stands upright. From there anything goes.

All the Scarry cast of characters are here. The cat family, including Huckle, the pigs and bears and bunnies, all of them doing the things people do. This day-in-the-life was recently discovered by Scarry's son who finished the artwork in his father's signature style. It feels both old and new, and in a way it truly is both. It's a throwback to the timelessness that makes classics feel like they've always been there.

But if, like that one customer on mine, you find gratuitous meat a problem, you might want to skip this one. The page where Worm collects eggs for Farmer Cat for their breakfast might cause fits of apoplexy. Kids, on the other hand, will love it.