"review" · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · Tales

{book} kenny and the dragon

Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings wrote an excellent review on Kenny and the Dragon so I had to see it for myself. That I, too, am a fan of DiTerlizzi’s illustrations is another contributing factor. To confess all: I have come to like DiTerrlizzi’s textual storytelling as well—The Search for Wondla clinched that for me. I began to read Kenny and the Dragon expecting great things, and I was right to do so.

Kenny and the Dragon was a pleasure to read. It was a small hard back, 152 pages w/ illustrations, so no excuses. You don’t even have to have read Kenneth Grahame’s Reluctant Dragon, but you may want to: it is one of those books where the author is affectionate in the treatment of his inspiration and you want to share the same affection for it as well.

What do you do when your new best buddy has been designated a scourge by the community and marked for imminent extermination? Just ask Kenny Rabbit. When the simple folks in the sleepy little village of Roundbrook catch wind that there’s a dragon running loose in the countryside, they get the wrong idea and the stage is set for a fight to the death. So it’s up to Kenny to give his neighbors front-row seats to one of the best-known battles in history—the legendary showdown between St. George and the dragon—without losing a friend in the fray. ~jacket copy.

Kenny and the Dragon sounds like a fairly typical bullying story. Kenny’s a bit of a strange young rabbit, shy, bookish, has one real friend who is an adult. But he isn’t the one to be bullied in the story—or to be imminently exterminated. His new friend Grahame is, and he really does want to keep his friend safe. –spoilers—The stellar complication in the story is how his other and longtime best friend is the one ordered by the king to slay the new friend. And it isn’t as if the dragon and the old friend wouldn’t get along rather wonderfully.—end–

So you know those stories where the bully is obvious and the choice is made easy as to who the villain is and what should be done? Not so here. Although a villain does come in late, allowing the conclusion that cathartic experience of overcoming a tangible evil—you know, like ignorance/bigotry.

[Kenny] looked down at his bookshelf and gazed at the books […] In some of them, there were wizards and witches who could give you enchanted weapons or supernatural powers that allowed you to overcome your foes and save the day. Kenny’s life didn’t have these villains intent on doing nothing but bad things—it was more complicated than that. (98)

Carl mentions both the literary references and the occasional big words. He also suggests that a pairing of DiTerlizzi and Kate DiCamillo could mean something stellar. I agree. DiCamillo does come to mind when reading Kenny because the two do not flinch away from big and richer words with young audiences and they both can create a timeless feel in their tales that can still feel wholly original.

Bibliophiles will love reading this one with their young-readers or non- even beyond the literary references, because Kenny is encouraged to read. His family lives on a farm and it is apparent his parents are hard-working. He is an only son (at home anyway) and instead of being harangued for being a reader and oft distracted, it appears understood that it is okay that he is. The story (and family) make time for work and pleasure, responsibilities and exceptions.

sketch from DiTerlizzi, found in a “7 Imp…” interview (see below)

The parents are a favorite part of the read. Mom is very much a mom, she is protective and stable and warm. The dad is an awesome character for other reasons; although there is little doubt ever that he is a good dad. It is just that Kenny seems very different from his dad who’s language is rougher and interests are tied to the land rather than the clouds. You can see why Kenny gravitates toward the bookshop owner in town for conversation, chess, and reading material. But Mr. Rabbit is not to be replaced. I love the moment when Kenny really sees his father—really notices him and his value.

Kenny looked up at his dad as they walked back home. In the warm lantern light, he seemed wise now, like Arthur’s Merlin. And Kenny realized that his father’s wisdom was gained from real experiences and not something he had read about in a book. (114)

[…”read about in a book.”—there is a great discussion about: reading about adventures and having one; about what can be learned from books, and what is better learned from “real experiences;” what can be played out (like theater) and what inspires play (theater); what if the information in the books is ignorant or wrong? Those sorts of conversations. A lovely tension, and a lovely complication for bibliophiles.]

The parents are wonderful in the course of the story because Kenny isn’t an anomaly. His parents are loving and compassionate people. They are hospitable, and they are fierce. And so is he. The parents stand behind or in front of Kenny in encouragement and support of his efforts without coming across as inept or without parent/adult-status.

A hero who is championed by their still-living parents in a juvenile (or any) adventure where a goal is in becoming one’s own heroic self is rare. Kenny and the Dragon was like basking in the sun after a long dark winter.

So, Kenny is a good story in which to talk about friendship and bullies and bigotry, and definitely ageism—if that is a problem for you or yours.  Of course, Kenny isn’t a message-y book. It offers good values and interesting complications which can only encourage creative solutions and a collaborative atmosphere. It offers what most kids and adults really want: a good story. It has good strong characters whose interactions can be heart-warming, tense, or comedic—and there is even a hint of romance for Kenny—a hint. There is action and talk of food (pie, anyone?). DiTerlizzi builds suspense and takes a few turns. Really, you wonder why you put up with the tomes that we do, considering what can be accomplished in shorter.

The length coupled with the pacing and the images make this an accessible read for the younger readers. The recommendation reads 8-12 and I would lower this for avid readers and story-time.

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Kenny and the Dragon by Tony DiTerlizzi

Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2008

Hardcover, 152 pages.

check out DiTerlizzi’s site, here.

there is an audio-file of Alan Cummings reading Chapter 1, also a teacher’s guide, or you can gaze at the lovely images.

Another  fun “7 Impossible Things…” interview: w/ Tony and Angela DiTerlizzi

{all images are Tony DiTerlizzi/Simon & Schuster}

–part of the Once Upon a Time Challenge

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · Tales

{book} the giant slayer

The Giant Slayer is not your usual juvenile fiction historical novel. Author Iain Lawrence chose the Polio-epidemic of 1940s-50sThen he goes and adds another layer where there be with manticores, gnomes, unicorns, and a swamp witch who has a wretched disposition to go with her frog-like qualities.

The spring of 1955 tests Laurie Valentine’s gifts as a storyteller. After her friend Dickie contracts polio and finds himself confined to an iron lung, Laurie visits him in the hospital. There she meets Carolyn and Chip, two other kids trapped inside the breathing machines. Laurie’s first impulse is to flee, but Dickie begs her to tell them a story. And so Laurie begins her tale of Collosso, a rampaging giant, and Jimmy, a tiny boy whose destiny is to become a slayer of giants.

As Laurie embellishes her tale with gnomes, unicorns, gryphons, and other fanciful creatures, Dickie comes to believe that he is a character in her story. Little by little Carolyn, Chip, and other kids who come to listen, recognize counterparts as well. Laurie’s tale is so powerful that when she’s prevented from continuing it, Dickie, Carolyn, and Chip take turns as narrators. Each helps bring the story of Collosso and Jimmy to an end—changing the lives of those in the polio ward in startling ways.—publisher’s comments.

And there you have it.

You learn early on that “Laurie Valentine had made up stories all her life. She lived in stories that she narrated constantly in her head” (34). She was a lonely (only) child whose father and nanny are very protective of her—so going out to play in the summers like most children was out. And not without good reason. Who knew better the risks of contracting Polio than a father who worked for the March of Dimes as a fund raiser?

Lawrence did his research, and it may deepen your interest to know that he spoke with a man who was in an iron lung as a child in a ward in a hospital like Dickie’s. It was not the atmosphere the author or I expected, and Lawrence’s faithfulness to his research makes for a delightful (though scary) foray into the time period.

Lawrence captures the pop culture and the language. Yes, he is keen that way. He would transport the reader completely, and not only into the spring of 1955. The story of the giant slayer would absorb the reader on another level and the author spends a great deal of the book in that story.

You get to know most of the “present day” characters when the narrator surfaces for breaks—and the breaks are when you suspend your belief the most—how Laurie’s voice doesn’t tire or fade or make corrections and has such a clear vision is the stuff of written lore.

I enjoyed the read, though it felt slower going than I had anticipated with 284 pages. The story takes some interesting turns and I can’t decide on that ending. The beginning and ending do create a sense of coming together that exists somewhat outside of the hospital (while obviously being influenced by the occurrences within). I really like how the other characters (namely Carolyn) that Laurie interacts with question her story as a coping-device and as being transparent and/or insulting.

The Giant Slayer would be a good choice for reading aloud to mixed audiences of gender and interests. Its a good excuse for a discussion on why we tell even tell stories at all.

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Recommended…for lovers of historical fiction, and adventures and myth; ages 8 & up, any gender.

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The Giant Slayer by Iain Lawrence

Delacorte Press, 2009.

Hardcover, 284 pages.

{borrowed from the Library}

good for Stainless Steel Droppings’ Once Upon a Time Challenge IV

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{challenge} once upon a time on film

The other night we thought “hey, let’s watch a film for the Once Upon a Time Challenge…” Okay I thought it, and did I have any ideas as to watch we should watch?! No. We own and watch many a film that fit the parameters of Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and/or Mythology but narrowing it down became a task. We were not necessarily in the mood for Dark, (nearly 12) N is involved so there was content to consider, we didn’t want to watch something too recently seen, nor did the idea of catching upon on the tv episodes of Once Upon a Time occur to any of us.

We googled for fantasy film lists thinking we really should organize ourselves and get ideas. Wow do people’s opinions vary. But they reminded us of ones we could watch. We are still working out a list. In the meantime…

What are your Top 5 (or 10) Favorite Fantasy Films?

(notice, I said “favorite” so they needn’t be the “best-made”)

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in our list search, we came across io9’s “70 Science Fiction and Fantasy Films to watch out for in 2012

we can vouch for The Woman in Black, The Hunger Games, and The Secret World of Arrietty.

Sean needs someone to see Cabin in the Woods; Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter; & another Resident Evil with, but we are both looking forward to:

Eagerly: Prometheus, Brave, Lock-OutThe Dark Night Rises, Frankenweenie, and The Hobbit!!

In theater or no??: The AvengersTotal Recall, Gravity

Inexpensively: Mirror Mirror, Snow White and the Huntsman, The Amazing Spider-Man (wasn’t gonna, but the trailer has appeal), Looper (J.Gordon-Levitt is in it),

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{image: Princess Mononoke by Yaphleen (check out her work)}

"review" · arc · fiction · juvenile lit · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{book} the invisible tower

The nearly-twelve daughter inhaled The Invisible Tower, and said she was already for the next. Too bad since Otherworld Chronicles book one was only just getting published. How did I feel about it?

 In Artie Kingfisher’s world, wizards named Merlin and fire-breathing dragons exist only in legends and lore—until the day a mysterious message appears in his video game Otherworld springs to life.

You are special, Arthur, Says the mysterious message in his game. In one week’s time you will come to me at the it.

Cryptic clues lead Artie to a strange place called the Invisible Tower, where he discover the fantastic destiny that awaits him…

Brimming with powerful sorcerers, ancient magic, and life-changing quests, Otherworld Chronicles is perfect for Rick Riordan, Artemis Fowl, and Ranger’s Apprentice. The first book in this explosive tween trilogy brings the heroes of Arthurian legend to brilliant new life–and the promise of greater danger to come will leave readers breathless for the next volume.–back cover.

I’d been wonder when Arthurian legends would make the rounds in popular juvenile fiction. I understand Meg Cabot has modernized the lore for teen girls and Mary Pope Osborne plays with it a bit (near the beginning at least) with The Magic Tree House for the early chapter books set.

Nils Johnson-Shelton traps Merlin in a tower that has since taken on the appearance of a gaming store in Cincinnati, Ohio–exotic right? He can’t leave, but Artie when comes along, he finally has hope of escape. And why Artie? because he is the genetically replicated (not cloned) sibling of the original King Arthur. Yep, Artie was adopted. Better, there are other coincidences and encounters involving other paralleled Arthurian characters.

Unlike Rick Riordan who educates as he goes, Johnson-Shelton dives right in, and readers will need to do some research on their own. I know a reasonable number of the stories and characters, but I get the feeling I am missing quite a bit. But do you have to know any of the stories to enjoy the read? Not at all.

Gamers will take a special liking to the Otherworld Chronicles because well, access to the Otherworld is via a portal or a gaming console. The virtual representation is a mimicry of an actual overlapping yet paralleled world. There are exchanges between the two worlds and even though some do not care for the idea, they are interdependent. What excites Artie’s adoptive father is Otherworld’s clean energy. Oh yeah, there is a strong eco-message, too.

There are a lot of pop culture references and slang and high-action sequences. Excalibur is painfully convenient, essentially gifting Artie with all the info and skills he needs, but I don’t think young reader’s will mind. There are the bad-ass, the creepy, the ignorant/helpless adults, and a nerd who gets muscles, confidence, and very likely a girlfriend by the end of the Chronicles.

If you are a grown-up who is curious how Johnson-Shelton translates the stories and characters, I would love your thoughts on it. Otherwise, this is most certainly a book for tweens–boys and girls alike! I don’t think it will have the timelessness of Ranger’s Apprentice, or the massive myth-adventure appeal of Percy Jackson and series, but for your reader’s looking for a quick, adrenaline read, pick this one up from your local Library.

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The Invisible Tower (Otherworld Chronicles, book 1) by Nils Johnson-Shelton

Harper (HarperCollins), 2012; Tradepaper, 333 pages, ARC

N was lent this book and in turned handed it to me, no compensation involved.

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good for the Once Upon a Time VI Challenge

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{challenges} once upon a time vi

ImageI love this Once Upon a Time Challenge Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings hosts.

Wednesday, March 21st begins the sixth annual Once Upon a Time Challenge. This is a reading and viewing event that encompasses four broad categories: Fairy TaleFolkloreFantasyand Mythology, including the seemingly countless sub-genres and blending of genres that fall within this spectrum. The challenge continues through Tuesday, June 19th and allows for very minor (1 book only) participation as well as more immersion depending on your reading/viewing whims.–Carl V.

In what way I will participate remains to be seen. There will very likely be screen time, but what to watch?

And what to read…?

Bones of Faerie by Janni Lee Simner

A Sandra Cisneros short story or two.

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here is last year’s “wrap-up

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are you participating this year?