"review" · Children's · Picture book · recommend

breaking bunny

30 DAYS OF PB 2013 aDay Twenty: Battle Bunny

by Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett

w/ pictures by Matthew Myers

Simon & Schuster, 2013

breaking bad bunny

Alex, whose birthday it is, hijacks a story about Birthday Bunny on his special day and turns it into a battle between a supervillain and his enemies in the forest–who, in the original story, are simply planning a surprise party.–book summary

ba Bunny-1small

Battle-Bunny-coverlarge1ssYou know the saccharine picture book that is so cloying it would rot your teeth after a few reads if your teeth had survived the first reading seeing as there is that unfortunate but compulsive need to— yeah, I should stop there, because undoubtedly you already know of the kind of pain of which I speak. Children do, too. And they anticipate more than the grimacing contrived sweetness.

Whenever I synopsize Birthday Bunny (the original, terrible book) for a bunch of kids, I say: “A bunny wakes up on his birthday. But none of his friends remember it’s his special day. He goes to the forest, and he sits on a stump, and he gets very sad, and what do you think happens at the end?” And then a chorus of bored kid-voices comes back in unison: “They throw him a surprise party.” It’s a pretty good axiom for a children’s book writer: Surprise parties are not surprising.–Mac Barnett (7 Imps interview)

Jon Scieszka and Mac Barnett have found away to rescue this type of picture book from the collective groan. They enlisted Matthew Myers’ help and created Birthday Bunny and Battle Bunny.

Their effort to avoid an overtly contrived work succeeds in how well Alex is characterized from cover to cover. It is easy to attribute the changes from Birthday Bunny to Battle Bunny to Alex without thought of the grown men behind the project. Believing a child is wielding a pen, who can possible guess where the story is going?!

ba bu tumblr_muivaw4ipC1qk8jkmo3_r1_500ba bu Birthday Bunny is so terribly convincing it serves only to make the modifications that much more impressive. For example, their ability to transform this adorable bunny into something considerably more vicious will transfix the reader. Battle Bunny works as catharsis, pushing back against the subject and themes of Birthday Bunny. It inspires creativity–and perhaps more, the artist-reader’s ownership of their creative spirit. Its also just hilarious. 

Experience this one. and gift it.


do check out this 7 Imps June 2013 interview!

{Images belong to Matthew Myers}

"review" · Children's · Picture book · recommend · Tales

{book} the frog prince continued

DAY 08

The Frog Prince Continued by Jon Scieszka, paintings by Steve Johnson

Viking (Penguin) 1991. ages 5 & up.

“First he broke The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. Now he uncovers the awful truth–and high hilarity–of life “happily ever after”. It seems that the Frog Prince doesn’t think life is a bowl of duckweed–all the Princess does is nag, nag, nag. So it’s off to the deep dark woods to look for a witch willing to help him out.” –publisher.

The Frog Prince knows he should be living a Happily-Ever-After just like the story said, but he isn’t happy and neither is the Princess. The honeymoon period is over and he has these froggy habits that “drive the Princess crazy,” like flicking out his tongue at flies and hopping on furniture. But she has changed, too, no longer wanting to go down to the pond being one. She is doing what is expected of her, and she expects of him what is expected of him, but the Frog Prince is the Frog Prince and maybe being a frog was just better.

The Frog Prince goes in search of a witch to change him back, but because he knows his fairy tales he dodges some very nasty outcomes. Finally he meets the Fairy Godmother… Yeah, maybe this was not the sort of magical solution he was looking for; maybe the solution is not unlike the solution in the first story. Jon Scieszka is as humorous as ever and his tale from the Frog Prince’s point of view offers a fun (and somewhat irreverent) perspective on an old fairy tale story continued…

The prince depicted in green clothes and long skinny legs that recline like a frog also has earnest buggy eyes. Steve Johnson captures the Prince’s anxiety wonderfully and translates the domesticity of “continued” life to depressingly comedic proportion. In their down time, the witches are actually creepier in Johnson’s paintings, even as they are equally sillier. And you just know something is going to go wrong with that Fairy Godmother wielding a wand. She doesn’t inspire much hope, and you know by this point in the story the poor Prince is just desperate—which brings us of this fabulous illustration of a Frog Prince lost deep in the woods and deep in regret. It really is pathetic. And I can’t help but think that the vehicle-thing is just perfect for the situation.

The solutions to the Prince’s dilemma were not expected and perfect. And there is a happily-ever-after, the kind Jon Scieszka would dream up and one I think most will champion, princess-y or non- alike.

{images belong to Steve Johnson}

"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · Lit · mystery · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · short story · Tales · Uncategorized · young adult lit


The Chronicles of Harris of Harris Burdick: Fourteen Amazing Authors Tell the Tales

Art & Story by Chris Van Allsburg, with an Intro by Lemony Snicket

Houghton Mifflin, 2011; Illustrations-1984; Stephen King’s The House on Maple Street-1993.

Hardcover, 195 pages + Intro & Author bios.

the 14 are: Sherman Alexie, A Strange Day in July; M.T. Anderson, Just Desert; Kate DiCamillo, The Third-Floor Bedroom; Cory Doctorow, Another Place, Another Time; Jules Feiffer, Uninvited Guests; Stephen King, The House on Maple Street; Tabitha King, Archie Smith, Boy Wonder; Lois Lowry, The Seven Chairs; Gregory Maguire, Missing in Venice; Walter Dean Myers, Mr. Linden’s Library; Linda Sue Park, The Harp; Louis Sachar, Captain Tory; Jon Scieszka, Under the Rug; and Chris Van Allsburg himself, Oscar and Alphonse.

For more than twenty-five years, the illustrations in the extraordinary Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris Van Allsburg have intrigued and entertained readers of all ages. Thousands of children have been inspired to weave their own stories to go with these enigmatic pictures. Now we’ve asked some of our very best storytellers to spin the tales. Enter The Chronicles of Harris Burdick to gather this incredible compendium of stories: mysterious, funny, creepy, poignant, these are tales you wont soon forget. ~Publisher’s Comments.

The House on Maple Street : ‘It was a perfect lift-off.’

Who has not had Chris Van Allsburg’s Mysteries of Harris Burdick used as a writing prompt—besides Sean? N and I were kicking around the idea of checking the book out from the library when I heard The Chronicles of Harris Burdick was coming out. I told Natalya she still should write her own inspired piece, but there was no having The Chronicles in the house without her getting a hold of it. It features some of her favorite authors.

Mr. Linden’s Library: ‘He had warned her about the book. Now it was too late.’

(11 for a while now) Natalya’s response the experience? She handed the book over with a modest list of her favorites. The story by Sherman Alexie was number one, and I believe Stephen King’s was a good second (and I agree). She liked most of them, but there were a few that she couldn’t get into. After reading The Chronicles, I could see why those few failed to interest her, or were too confusing. Needless to say, I was just happy she honed in on two new-to-her authors who such phenomenal writers.

The Seven Chairs: ‘The fifth one ended up in France.’

It is a successful anthology that can host such credible diversity, and The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is one such collection. There is the “mysterious, funny, creepy, [and] poignant.” There are the sports themed, the fantastical, the science fictional, the psychological, and the classically flavored morals & tales. There are some for the Readerly, but most all are for every reader. I liked the stories that could be read on multiple levels, but not necessarily more than the ones that drew me in rather singularly and had me scrambling for the ending. DiCamillo’s channeled Kate Chopin for me, and Lowry had me thinking about Madeleine L’Engle’s Walking on Water, the magic in childhood and a person’s potential. Everyone should find three or four stories to savor, if not more. All should honor The Chronicles of Harris Burdick’s placement of Stephen King’s story as the closer—for that lingering satisfaction in a book well-made.

Oscar and Alphonse : ‘she knew it was time to send them back. The caterpillars softly wiggled in her hand, spelling out “goodbye.”‘

It was interesting to see what the author’s took from the Illustration and how they used the caption in the story. Some were more literal with the elements, like Tabitha King’s contribution, but why the bat and no mention of the yo-yo? Another uses the image a bit more abstractly, like with Cory Doctorow’s. Many begin in one place and you can’t help but wonder how the Illustration comes in; I had to exercise a great deal of patience with Gregory Maguire’s piece. Others create the kind of suspense the Illustrations do, implications lingering, like Alexie’s, MT Anderson’s, and Allsburg’s.


A Strange Day in July : ‘He threw with all his might, but the third stone came skipping back.’

I admit to being worried that The Chronicles of Harris Burdick would ruin The Mysteries of Harris Burdick for me. But it didn’t. I enjoyed some of the approaches, the imaginative takes on the Illustrations and captions. A few Illustrations seem impossible, but the story was good. The Chronicles of Harris Burdick is fun and intriguing in a new way. If anything, may this compendium present a new kind of challenge, to perhaps out-imagine and out-write some of these amazing writers collected here.

*I find it amusing The Chronicles book ends with husband and wife.

do check out NY TimesReview by Leonard S. Marcus, “Choose Your Own Adventure.”

the video below is essentially the “Introduction” in the book, though one should definitely read the Intro in the book.

"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · mystery · recommend · series · short story

Guys Read : Thriller

Ten stories guaranteed to thrill, chill, and have you so far on the edge of your seat that you’re actually on someone else’s, from the following notorious authors: M.T. Anderson, Patrick Carman, Gennifer Choldenko, Matt de la Pena, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Bruce hale, Jarrett J. Krosoczka, Anthony Horowitz, Walter Dean Myers, James Patterson; with Illustrations by Brett Helquist. ~jacket copy

Volume 2—Guys Read : Thriller edited (and intro) by Jon Scieszka

Walden Pond Press, 2011. Hardcover, 272 pages. Ages 8-12.

The second installment of Guys Read’s Library is Thriller, a collection of short stories that delivers “the wildest mix of detectives, spooks, cryptids, snakes, pirates, smugglers, a body on the tracks, and one terribly powerful serving of fried pudding” (Jon Scieszka, “Before We Begin…). Yep, sounds like a guys read to me. And it begins with the cover.

Brett Helquist as Illustrator would not only do his part to provide an image for each story, but he has a mystery to share as well. Sciezska begins his Introduction by drawing attention to the cover. “Why is that shady-looking character lurking in the dark alley? What’s he doing with that crowbar? Is that something in his other hand? What is he doing? What has he done?” Sciezska continues to speculate and draw definitions of ‘mystery’ and ‘thriller’ from his contemplation and leaves the story of the cover art up to capable hands, the readers’. “You will have to work out the rest of the story yourself, because that’s all we’ve got from Brett Helquist’s cover. And Brett is suddenly not talking anymore. Smart guy.”

The stories vary in subject matter and in approach, there is even a comic. Three or four at the very least should capture the reader via style/voice. I am guessing the target audience will likely find more. I found humor in every story in Funny Business, but with Thriller I was beginning to think any review I wrote would ultimately surrender to “Jon Scieszka and these authors/illustrators know their audience, they know what they are doing.” It may yet. But as it was I was a bit underwhelmed. And then I found my three or four: (in no order of preference) Pirate by Walter Dean Myers, Thad, the Ghost, and Me by Margaret Peterson Haddix, Nate Macavoy, Monster Hunter by Bruce Hale, and Ghost Vision Glasses by Patrick Carman. Okay, The Old, Dead Nuisance by M.T. Anderson was a good way to start the anthology. And undoubtedly Patrick Carman’s Ghost Vision Glasses was the perfect last story of the collection. While I don’t think one should have to read such a book of stories in order (I like to pick out my favorite authors/titles first), Carman’s story does leave the right level of excitement that makes you think the whole book was a winner.

And Guys Read: Thriller is a winner. This Library of books Scieszka is curating, editing, is a brilliant idea, and it is meeting its promise. These books and stories will entertain the most reluctant middle-grade reader, and said reader will likely find at least one author to pursue. Many of these stories would provide great writing prompts, let alone inspire a reader to write or illustrate their own Thriller. Jon Scieszka and these authors/illustrators know their audience, they know what they are doing. I can’t recommend this Library enough.


Because it is Halloween-time and I am thinking about Neil Gaiman’s All Hallows’ Read, wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could get ahold of these Thriller stories in bite sizes, each printed in slim volumes of singular stories, to purchase and place in school libraries, English classrooms, and trick-or-treat pillowcases? Well, at least for your favorite young people in your life, Guys Read: Thriller en masse is available in time for the season.

Guys Read: Thriller also makes for a good Readers Imbibing Peril (RIP) for the younger (and younger at heart) participants in Carl V./”Stainless Steel Droppings” Challenge.

"review" · juvenile lit · non-fiction · Uncategorized


Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka

by Jon Scieszka

Viking Press, 2008.

hardcover, 106 pages. Juvenile/Non-Fiction.

Requested this from the Library after reading Melissa’s (at “Book Nut”) review; I was looking for a guaranteed laugh. Melissa writes, “It’s a sweet book, full of humor and affection,” and it truly is.

Have you ever:

–Had your brother try to sell you your own shirt?

–Made a list of all the bad words you know–for your teacher, who is a nun?

–Broken your brother’s collarbone playing football–four times?

–Tied your little brother into his bed with your dad’s ties?

Jon Scieszka has. Which is probably why Jon’s dad used to call him and his five brothers KNUCKLEHEADS.

Here is Jon’s side of the story. And here, at last, is the memoir that might answer some of the questions of how the heck does someone think up a story of a little man made of very smelly cheese. ~inside Jacket Copy

Are you curious as to what kind of childhood might inspire a writer and literary activist such as Jon Sciezska? I hope you’ve come across The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, or The True Story of the Three Little Pigs. And/or do you know Scieszka’s name as the first National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and his advocacy for the Reluctant Reader? He is also known for his non-profit literacy initiative for boys called Guys Read.  As the Publisher comments, “Part memoir, part scrapbook, this hilarious trip down memory lane provides a unique glimpse into the formation of a creative mind and a free spirit.” Knucklehead: Tall Tales & Mostly True Stories about Growing Up Scieszka will likely be the most amusing non-fictional work you’ll read all year. Scieszka would have the reader laugh, share in the affection he has for his family, and reassure the reader that boys given some room to be their wild and dangerous selves can have fantastic results–“a creative mind and a free spirit.” Although, I suppose not everyone is interested in such results.

I think it helps to have siblings, preferably a few male siblings; a childhood where you could run a bit wild around the neighborhood; and/or a relative who had those things and likes to share stories when reading Knuckleheads. The injection of nostalgia is sweet.  But the book wherein two chapters end with “warnings” was created with the younger audience in mind. Knucklehead is an autobiography for young readers. Will his stories inspire a bit of mayhem? I don’t know, I kind of hope so. Will it cause boys to feel better about being a boy and make them want good things for themselves? I think so.

If I had to do a report on the autobiography of a famous person in school, I would’ve loved to use Knucklehead.

Scieszka says he’s flabbergasted by his success, and feels lucky to get up every day and make up wild stories for kids.

“If the day gets really bad, I can always pull out fan mail,” he says with a laugh. “Who else gets mail where kids write to you and say, ‘Dear Mr. Scieszka, We were supposed to write to our favorite author, but Roald Dahl is dead. So I’m writing to you.’ ” ~Jon Vitale (“Jon Scieszka, A Seriously Funny ‘Knucklehead'”)*


*Jon Vitale wrote about Jon Scieszka and Knucklehead in 2008 for NPR books, “Jon Scieszka, A Seriously Funny ‘Knucklehead’.” I recommend the nicely written little article wherein Vitale writes,

Dick And Jane never made Scieszka want to read, but Dr. Seuss’s The Cat In The Hat and the funny parodies in Mad Magazine did. Later, when Scieszka was a graduate student at Columbia University, he began writing his own fiction. His heroes were Borges, Cervantes and Kafka — writers who played with language and new ways to tell stories.

After he got his degree, Scieszka brought his post-modern sensibility to a Manhattan elementary school, where he was teaching. He remembers telling the second-grade class about Kafka’s Metamorphosis.

“[I said] ‘What if a guy woke up one day and he was a bug? Wouldn’t that be weird?’ and they loved that,” Scieszka says. “And I think that was the trigger that made me think … oh man, here’s my audience. They’re just a lot shorter than I ever thought they might be.”

And I really want you to read the excerpts from Knucklehead. “Chapter 33: Car Trip” had be laughing out loud for several minutes.

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · series · short story · wondermous · young adult lit

guys read

Guys Read #01: Funny Business

Edited by Jon Scieszka

w/ Illustrations by Adam Rex

Scholastic Inc., 2010.

10 stories, 268 pages, tradepaper.

Ten stories guaranteed to delight, amuse, and possibly make you spit your milk in your friend’s face, from the following esteemed writers:

Mac Barnett (The Brixton Brothers: The Case of the Case of Mistaken Identity)Eoin Colfer (Artemis Fowl; Airman; Half-Moon Investigations)

Christopher Paul Curtis (Bud, Not Buddy; The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963; Elijah of Buxton)

Kate DiCamillo (Because of Winn Dixie; Tiger Rising; The Tale of Desperaux)  & Jon Scieszka (The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Fairy Tales)

Paul Feig (Ignatius MacFarland: Frequenaut!; and television: Freaks & Geeks)

Jack Gantos (Joey Pigza series; The Rotten Ralph series; Hole in My Life)

Jeff Kinney (Diary of a Wimpy Kid franchise)

David Lubar (Nathan Abrecrombie, Accidental Zombie; In the Land of the Lawn Weenies)

Adam Rex (The True Meaning of Smekday; A Fat Vampire: A Never Coming of Age)

David Yoo (Stop Me if You’ve Heard This Before; Girls for Breakfast)

“Book Nut” reviewed Funny Business the other day on her blog and it reminded me that the daughter owned this one. A Book Fair find. She’d read and crammed onto her bookshelves and I’d forgotten about it.

“You are in for a raging robot, a homicidal turkey, a bloody souvenir, a biker taking over a kid’s bedroom, and more, by some of the best and funniest writers around.”–Jon Scieszka (viii, “Before We Begin…)

The collection of short stories is targeted to specifically appeal to boys. All the protagonists are boys, and the content is markedly “boyish.” Gross-out humor, bodily functions and bodily secretions, you know, every day stuff.  Of course, this is not limited to boys, there are girls like N who thought most were funny, and there are grown-up girls like me who have the sense of humor of a junior high boy sometimes (much to the amazement and mortification of my husband).

Melissa (“Book Nut”) thought Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Begins was the funniest. It is very amusing and Artemis Fowl readers will especially appreciate it. Colfer writes about his brother, the “young criminal mastermind” who could get anyone out of a scrape.  Jeff Kinney’s Unaccompanied Minors is of a similar autobiographical flavor, telling stories about he and his brother growing up, the tormentive antics. Diary of a Wimpy Kid fans will find comforting familiarity and hilarity here. (These were a little more difficult for N to catch the humor as an only child.)

N votes Paul Feig’s My Parents Give My Bedroom to a Biker, Kate DiCamillo/Jon Scieszka’s Your Questions for Author Here, and Will by Adam Rex as her top 3 faves. They are pretty brilliant. And having her read them aloud was good practice for figuring out the delivery of a funny story; knowing when to pause for us to laugh, snort, and gasp over “did he say he “shrinkage”?”

Adam Rex’s Illustration to accompany Lubar’s Kid Appeal. Intriguing, isn’t it?

I was laughing aloud at David Yoo’s A Fistful of Feathers even as it turned deliciously sinister by the end. Best of Friends by Mac Barnett and Kid Appeal by David Lubar are moving stories of friendship; the kind of train wrecks you cannot possibly look away from. The wit and imagery are marvelously perpetrated–course, this could be said of all the stories. The writing is really good.

One of my favorites is The Bloody Souvenir by Jack Gantos which should come with a warning label: not for the weak of stomach. But it is awesomely funny. It makes for a great ending to the collection, but for the squeamish this may be best shoved toward the middle, maybe before Your Questions for Author Here (which would have most teacher’s howling).

Gantos’ contribution and Rex’s have the best lingering effect. Rex’s Will is a great submission with the Percy Jackson fandom still at large (amongst other latent-hero stories). “And Aidan won’t leave because there is no special school for him–he only goes to that Norse god summer camp in Connecticut” (36). Everyone else is coming into their special powers and Will marks another year of “normalcy.” “Sucks about you not getting powers,” said Aidan. “I know.” Will sighed. “I’ll never be a hero.” (54)

The stories vary in style and humor. All are appealing and are sure to capture the reader and non-reader’s interest. This collection is highly successful in achieving its intent: To catch the attention of guy audiences and giving them a taste of the talented authors available them. “We do know that every Guys Read Library book will be packed with the kind of writing guys will enjoy, the kind of writing that gives guys a reason to want to be readers.” (ix, “Before We Begin…”)

The plans are for volumes to feature: Nonfiction, Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Thriller/Mystery, Sports, and Who Knows (ix). According to Jon Scieszka’s website for Guys Read (guysread.com), Guys Read #02: Thriller is expected Fall 2011. Looking forward to this one. “Brett Helquist is painting the cover.” Here is the list of authors they provided, “Anthony Horowitz, Walter Dean Myers, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Matt de la Pena, Jarrett Krosoczka, Bruce Hale, James Patterson, Gennifer Choldenko, Patrick Carman, and one M.T. Anderson.” Curious who’d they’ll tap for Sci-Fi/Fantasy; though I’d like to see this split into two volumes, one each.

This has to be the easiest recommend for anyone looking for a book for the guy in their life (reader or no). Guys Read features other recommended reads under a variety of Interests, check it out.

almost forgot the great book trailer: