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‘We've got… music so I can exaggerate my pain and give it a name’

—U2, ‘The Miracle (of Joey Ramone)’

I like stories where stuff happens – sci-fi, children’s book, comics. The Lord of the Rings is great, except for the part where Frodo and Sam are moping around outside Mordor for half a book. All the tension drains into a puddle of tedium into which I shout that the hobbit boys seriously need to have a good long kiss and then hurl themselves up Mount Doom with a fervour fuelled by reckless loving ecstasy.

I’m not saying I must have nonstop action. I love Bill Murray films. He spends half his films doing nothing, but somehow he makes nothing feel big and important.

Last summer I read Patrick Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy pretty much without stopping, but this year I couldn’t get through Ness’ The Crane Wife. The writing was superb, but nothing that happened felt big enough to keep my attention. When I was a teenager I read the first quarter of Great Expectations, during which No Discernible Action Took Place, so I stopped reading. I haven’t tried anything Dickens since then, but I’ve read a ton of Terry Pratchett.

It’s probably because I’m immature.

I like big feels. I love Kitten because all Chaidez’s songs – even the quiet ones – manage to seem bigger than life but without slipping into pastiche. That’s what my favourite kinds of books do too. Right now I’m reading A Monster Calls, another book by Patrick Ness. It’s got a yew tree turning into a huge monster right at the beginning and a mum dying of cancer and conflict with a best friend and a bully that totally has the upper hand and an absent father who’s back on the scene and a difficult grandmother. Stuff happens in every chapter, and it all feels big. It’s wonderful.

It’s also stuffed full of great lines like these:

Quote from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

Quote from A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

The illustrations are superb.

I’ll finish with a question. Do you get excited about Dickens and small actions that feel small and lots of description? I’d honestly be grateful if you could explain to me how that works, because I’m missing that part of my brain. Only can you be sure your explanation has good pacing and feels kind of epic?

17 September 2014
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I bet Mika read Hop on Pop when he was a little boy (because putting obscure-ish pop music references in children’s book posts definitely draws the reader in)

Hop on Pop by Dr Seuss is a collection of fun storylets for very young readers. What the little stories teach is not without controversy. Earlier this year someone in Toronto asked the library to ban the book and apologise to fathers for promoting violence, yes violence, against poor helpless dads who have been hopped upon by their offspring. How silly.

I want to show you the story of Mr Brown (p.42–51). Mr Brown is living in an amiable but chaste marriage to Mrs Brown. Then some event turns his life upside down. We assume it is somehow precipitated by a manic pixie dream girl in the form of Pup.

Hop on Pop, p.42–43

Pup then facilitates Mr Brown leaving his life and wife behind for a journey of self-discovery.

Hop on Pop, p.44–45

Hop on Pop, p.46–47

We don’t know what happens out of town, but Mr Brown returns from his journey arm-in-arm with someone new.

Hop on Pop, p.48–49

And if we’re in any doubt about the nature of their relationship, we need only have a look at their snack.

Hop on Pop, p.50–51

While I’m pleased to see Mr Brown to accept his true identity, This story has some serious problems.

‘How silly!’ you say, ‘My young reader will never notice.’ That’s okay. Dr Seuss was all about silly. He also knew how to slip in some serious without becoming overbearing.

Someone else wrote about this before, but I came to most of my conclusions before I read it.

Part of Mother, Daughter and Son Book Reviews’ Kid Lit Blog Hop 45.

10 September 2014
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Two picture books that are not what they seem

Ten Apples Up On Top by Theo. LeSieg and Roy McKie (affiliate link) is supposedly a counting book for beginning readers. It is actually the story of three ne’er-do-well youths who break into a bear family’s home,

Ten Apples Up On Top, pages 24–25

steal their apples and milk, trash the house,

Ten Apples Up On Top, pages 30–31

then, in the process of fleeing justice, assault the youngest bear THREE times. (For the sake of my more sensitive readers, I have not shown the third assault.)

Ten Apples Up On Top, pages 44–45

Ten Apples Up On Top, pages 48–49

The story continues with more theft, a lynch mob and wholesale destruction of a farmer’s crop and vehicle. Do not be fooled by the happy ending; this book wholeheartedly endorses antisocial and illegal behaviour. But that’s not the only thing that makes it brilliant. Dr Seuss (as Theo. LeSieg) works the limited vocabulary for all its worth and the language sparkles. McKie’s seemingly simple brush and ink illustrations convey a remarkable range of emotion and action.

The copy of book is my personal copy with the original colouring, not the stupid updated brightly coloured version. My kids are not allowed to look at it without my permission.


Quentin Blake’s Mister Magnolia (affiliate link) seems to be the story of an eccentric bachelor who befriends young children so that they will buy him footwear. But it is secretly a counting book. It’s so secretly a counting book that we had it for a few years before I realised it was a counting book.

Five owls:

Mister Magnolia, owls spread

Six children:

Mister Magnolia, scooter spread

If these two examples have caused you to raise your eyebrows, wait until next week when I write about the real meaning of Hop On Pop.

Part of Mother, Daughter and Son Book Reviews’ Kid Lit Blog Hop 44.

3 September 2014
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Rosemary Wells’ quiet noise

Rosemary Wells’ Noisy Nora (1973) is perfectly old fashioned. The margins are wide. The typesetting is excellent. Father smokes a pipe. It uses words like ‘felled’, ‘Mercy!’, ‘sifted’ and ‘monumental’.

The story is about a middle child making lots of noise and mess in order to get her family’s attention. But for all the noise of the story, it is a quiet book. The text is all one font set tidily across the bottom of the page. Wells used a fine pen line to draw the pictures. It is printed in only three colours, black, yellow and peach. The quietest thing about the book is the action. There is a lot, but it is all drawn without action lines or blurring. Nora is trashing the house, but the illustrations are understated and calm. I think this makes the book funnier. It’s very funny.

Noisy Nora

Noisy Nora

Noisy Nora

Another excellent thing about Noisy Nora is that no one learns any Important Life Lessons. It’s just an evening at home with an ordinary mouse family.

Part of Mother, Daughter and Son Book Reviews’ Kid Lit Blog Hop 44.

27 August 2014
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Quentin Blake’s hands

I’m not very good at drawing hands. I take comfort from the fact that Quentin Blake is terrible at drawing hands. Look at these monstrosities:

15 hands drawn by Quentin Blake

But the thing about Blake’s badly drawn hands is that he obviously understands hands and how they work. Every one of these hand drawings communicates exactly what it needs to. They have handness, especially when seen as part of the whole picture:

Simpkin and his mum

I have a long way to go before I can make terrible drawings of hands with anywhere near the brilliance of Blake.

The images in this post were taken from Mister Magnolia, Simpkin and All Join In.

24 August 2014
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Suess’s supporting characters

I love the way that, except for the the two protagonists, every character on these pages from Dr Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham maintains a zen-like calm through the horrific train and boat disaster. First, it’s very funny. Second, it is effective at keeping our focus on the important characters even though all the characters are of similar size and colour.

Green Eggs and Ham, pages 46–47

Green Eggs and Ham, page 47, detail

Green Eggs and Ham, pages 48–49

23 August 2014
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