Thursday 31 March 2016


I want to like graphic novels, I really do. I try them from time to time, but never seem to have much luck. They're ok I guess, but the story always seems a bit disappointing somehow. Why not write prose and write a really good story? What is the advantage of the format? Does it go beyond enticing reluctant readers? El Deafo didn't really hit the mark for me last year (see my review), but I did quite like French Milk a few years ago (see my review) although that's a much more obvious topic for me.

I've seen the covers of Raina Telgemeier's hugely popular graphic novels about the place recently, enough to get me curious about her work. Clearly I'm quite behind the times, Raina has  dominated the New York Times Graphic Novel list for the past few years, and her books tend to stay up there for over a 100 weeks. My library had a copy of Drama sitting on the shelf so I borrowed it recently, and read it in the past day. Graphic novels certainly are quick reads! And that's a good thing, a nice quick read for those times when you need to read something between other meatier reads.

Drama tells the story of Callie and her friends and fellow students at Eucalyptus (!) Middle School. Callie is a 7th grade student, and a keen participant in the drama group at the school- she loves theatre, she loves her role as set designer, and wants to work in theatre as a set designer when she grows up. The school is doing a play called Moon Over Mississippi and as with everything the production has some drama of it's own along the way too. All set amongst a background of first crushes, some dating problems and confusing times in friendships.  Naturally I liked the Les Mis references.

Drama is certainly inclusive, the kids depicted are from all sorts of backgrounds. Sometimes we learn this from their names, other times from the colour of their skin. Although I guess if graphic novels use colourists, then the colourist decides skin colour, not the author? I really do wonder how the colourist/author interaction works. I only learned that colourists existed a few months ago when I read El Deafo (see my review). So who decided that Callie had purple hair? That seems kind of important.

I found a rather fascinating description of Raina's work process on her blog- check it out, it's fascinating. Oh, and here she explains the interactions with her colourists, also fascinating, and an explanation as to why colourists even exist- as Raina says that it would take her an extra 6-9 months to do the colouring herself! Wow, it's clearly a process I have no idea about- I find it incredible that it could take so long. You can hear a great interview with Raina Telgemeier here.

I have Smile in the house, I'll try and read it soon.

Friday 25 March 2016

You're a Bad Man, Mr Gum

I came across Mr Gum back in May last year, in a fabulous list about Roald Dahl's enduring influence, a list created by Andy Griffiths

OK, his books aren't published in Australia, but I can't leave him off this list. Here are the first lines of his Roald Dahl Funny Prize-winning first book: "Mr Gum was a fierce old man with a red beard and two bloodshot eyes that stared out at you like an octopus curled up in a bad cave. He was a complete horror who hated children, animals, fun and corn on the cob. What he liked was snoozing in bed all day, being lonely and scowling at things."

Who could resist that? I liked the cover, so ordered it online straight away, and then got to reading it recently.

It is an awfully silly book, full of farts, general grossness and offal.

There was broken glass in the windows and the ancient carpet was the colour of unhappiness and smelt like a toilet. 

I loved the wonderful smeary pages making the book like it had just been removed from Mr Gum's house. 

You're a Bad Man, Mr Gum is the first in the Mr Gum series, there are at least eight Mr Gum books now. I'm sure they're all as grossly good as this one.

Thursday 24 March 2016

The 50 Children's Books That Should Be in Every Family Library

Every list is unique of course. This one from Good Housekeeping is an odd mix and appears to be in no particular order. Naturally, it's rather American.

As always the books I've read are in red.

1. Wonder - R.J. Palacio (see my review)

2. The Cat in the Hat - Dr. Seuss

3. An Awesome Book of Thanks - Dallas Clayton

4. The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian - Sherman Alexie (see my review)

5. Dragons Love Tacos - Adam Rubin

6. If You Give A Mouse A Cookie - Laura Numeroff

7. The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

8. Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - Judith Viorst

9. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky (see my review)

10. Looking for Alaska - John Green

11. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - E.L. Konigsburg (see my review)

12. Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

13. Busy, Busy Town - Richard Scarry

14. Tuck Everlasting - Natalie Babbitt (see my review)

15. Frog and Toad Are Friends - Arnold Lobel

16. The Dark is Rising - Susan Cooper

17. Eloise - Kay Thompson

18. The Complete Adventures of Curious George - Margaret and H.A. Rey

19. This is the World - M. Sasek

20. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - Mark Haddon

21. The Brownstone - Paula Scher

22. The Circus Ship - Chris Van Dusen

23. Olivia - Ian Falconer

24. Dada - Jimmy Fallon

25. Where the Sidewalk Ends - Shel Silverstein

26. Beautiful Oops! - Barney Saltzberg

27. Wild - Emily Hughes

28. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett (see my review)

29. Zero - Kathryn Otoshi

30. Charlotte's Web - E.B. White 

31. Max the Brave - Ed Vere

32. Rosie Revere Engineer - Andrea Beaty

33. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee

34. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl (see my review)

35. The Heart and the Bottle - Oliver Jeffers

36. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh (see my review)

37. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger

38. Home - Carson Ellis

39. The Day the Crayons Quit - Drew Daywalt

40. On A Beam Of Light - Jennifer Berne

41. The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum

42. Llama Llama Red Pajama - Anna Dewdney

43. The Borrowers - Mary Norton (see my review)

44. Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing - Judy Blume

45. Press Here - Hervé Tullet

46. What Do You Do With An Idea? - Kobi Yamada

47. Of Thee I Sing - Barack Obama

48. Where The Wild Things Are - Maurice Sendak

49. Ramona Quimby, Age 8 - Beverly Cleary

50. Leo A Ghost Story - Mac Barnett


Always more inspiration.

June 2017 21/50

Wednesday 23 March 2016

The Minpins

I think perhaps The Minpins was the first Roald Dahl I ever read, and that was only as recently as 2008. Young Master Wicker was in Year 2 and he had the first of many teachers who would read Roald Dahl to his class. I'd never read any Dahl in my own childhood so I took the opportunity to read them as Master Wicker had them read to him. I fell in love with The Minpins and I fell in love with Roald Dahl at the same time. He certainly is The Master. I found a second hand copy of The Minpins the other day and it seemed like an opportune moment to reread it. After all 2016 is the centenary of Dahl's birth.

The Minpins was Roald Dahl's last book, published a few months after his death. It tells the tale of Little Billy, a young boy who lives in a nice house just next to the Forest of Sin. Little Billy's mother is always checking on him, and making him do good, boring things.

Little Billy's mother was always telling him exactly what he was allowed to do and what he was not allowed to do. 
All the things he was allowed to do were boring. All the things he was not allowed to do were exciting. 

One day Little Billy is lured into the Forest of Sin by the devil himself. Billy goes despite his mother's warnings of the many vicious and fearful creatures that live in the wood.

Do not believe one word of what your mother says about Whangdoodles and Hornswogglers and Snozzwanglers and Vermicious Knids and the Terrible Bloodsucking Toothplucking Stonechuckling Spittler. There are no such things. 

Of course there is a terrible monster living within the woods, a revolting creature who belches smoke and fire and loves nothing better than eating little children. Perfect Dahl. But there are also gentle little creatures who live in the trees out of reach of the fearsome Gruncher. They have suction boots and ride about on birds.

It is all magnificently illustrated by Patrick Benson, another thing that sets The Minpins apart from Dahl's other books- the vast majority of which are illustrated by Sir Quentin Blake of course. The Minpins is a great Dahl short story, probably not as well known as many of his other books, with a great message at its heart. I'm glad to have a copy in the house, and glad to have reread it.
And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don't believe in magic will never find it. 

Saturday 5 March 2016

Platero and I

Platero and I, is a prose poem, a book like none other that I have read. Platero is a donkey, owned by poet Juan Ramón Jiménez. Juan and his donkey wander about the countryside near their village of Moguer, in Andalusia in Spain. 
Platero is a small donkey, a soft, hairy donkey: so soft to the touch that he might be said to be made of cotton, with no bones. Only the jet mirrors of his eyes are hard like two black crystal scarabs. 
I didn't really get a feel for the donkey, even though I know he has a fondness for oranges, grapes, and "purple figs topped with crystalline drops of honey" (well who doesn't?), he is the passive recipient of the poets musings and observations, and his companion on his meanderings. Yes, the author has a fondness for Platero, but it wasn't passed on for me. Although I still cried when Platero died (I don't think that's a big spoiler, turns out donkey stories are like dog stories).

If I was to be unkind about Platero and I, and I am somewhat inclined to be, I would say that it was an old man wandering about Spain talking to his donkey, and that would about cover it.

Night falls, hazy and purple. Vague green and mauve luminosities persist behind the tower of the church. The road ascends full of shadows, of bells, of the fragrance of grass, of songs, of weariness, of desire. 

I was completely frustrated by the lack of narrative force. On one level it is a collection of 138 short stories, or prose poems if you want. Most a mere one or two pages long, some three pages. Elements of most are descriptive and lyrical, and really quite beautiful. But 138 disjointed fragments don't add up to anything, certainly not a cohesive, satisfying whole. Published in 1914 it is all marvellously non -PC. 

It can all be summed up for me in CVIII. The White Mare. 

I am sad, Platero ..... Look, when I was crossing Flores Street in Portada, in the same spot where lightning killed the twin children, Sordo's white mare was lying dead. Some almost naked little girls were walking around her silently. 

Dead children. Dead animals. Random nakedness. Sadness. Even the canary dies. A few moments after that passage we read how Sordo tried to dispose of his old, blind white mare but she came back to his house. He drove her away again, cutting her, only to have the town children stone her to death where she falls. It's cheery stuff alright. But poetic. 

One of her eyes was wide open, and, blind in life, now that she was dead, seemed as if it could see. 

I was surprised to learn the origin of Rio Tinto within this book (a river near Moguer, "The copper from Riotinto has poisoned everything.", now more famous as a multinational mining company), and at a reference to Oscar Wilde. One chapter, The Pomegranate, was a sensuous ode to the beauty of a pomegranate written with a deep love and respect for these jewelled fruits. 

I certainly wonder at the inclusion of this book in 1001 Children's Books You Must Read Before You Grow Up. I can't imagine any child reading it. It took all my adult will power to read it through to the end. I can't even see children enjoying it as a read aloud story. It's too disjointed, too bizarre. Platero and I was also included in one of the editions of 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, so I guess I am one book closer to death. 

Juan Ramón Jiménez won the Nobel Prize, so clearly it is me who is lacking. But my struggle was real. It is the first book that I can remember reading that is translated from Spanish. I was looking forward to it for that reason, now I'm somewhat fearful of the others. Perhaps I don't understand the Spanish world view, it is certainly an unknown world for me.