Friday, September 20, 2013

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2013 - Installment #14

Another Friday in September, another day to celebrate some wonderful literary weirdos! Welcome to Installment #14 of the Fourth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. Not sure what this is? Click on the link in the previous sentence, which will catch you up nicely. Then come back here so we can continue the celebration.

All set? Fabulous! Let's get to it. The past two Fridays, we've enjoyed two installments filled with some wonderful weirdness:

Today, it's all about:

Orphans in Odd Situations

It's not the orphans in the following books that are weird. They're actually quite on the normal side, as normal goes. But, those not-weird orphans do have a weirdness connection in that they find themselves in decidedly out-of-the-norm ways of supporting themselves. Or, they find themselves in decidedly unusual situations not of their own making. Or, they find themselves in need of help, which comes from decidedly weird people or sources. Or, they find themselves in some combination of some or all of the above. Read on, and you'll see what I mean:

Fly By Night
Written by Frances Hardinge
Ages 9 - 12

Mosca Mye - a girl who can read in a time when girls were permitted to do no such thing - lives in Chough, a curious place: wet all the time, swampy, and if you leave anything in the water for any length of time, it petrifies to a chalky white. Chough is situated on the fringes of what her father dubbed "The Fractured Realm," where it was commonly believed that "books were dangerous." The Realm has a long, twisted, fear-infused and politically charged history. For years, no one has been able to agree on who should rule the land, though many have tried and failed, and everyone had someone different in mind to do the leading.

One night Mosca runs away from the mill house where her aunt and uncle force her to stay. But she accidentally drops her lamp in the straw during her escape. Realizing as she watches the small flame begin to grow that she can never come back, she sets off with her formidable goose, Saracen, to find a new life. Along the way she acquires the company of a loquacious, opportunistic, and not altogether law-abiding writer named Eponymous Clent. And then, the adventure truly begins...

Written by Terry Pratchett
Young Adult

In the streets of Victorian London, in the dark of night, in the middle of a pouring rain, a girl screams as she jumps from a fancy coach. Two men chase quickly after, leaping upon her when she falls. That's when seventeen-year-old Dodger shoots up from the sewers where he makes his living, fends off the girl's captors in a whirl of blows, and sends them fleeing after the fast-disappearing coach. When the girl – who's given the pseudonym Simplicity – pleads with Dodger for help, he's determined to be her protector. He soon discovers that at stake is not only Miss Simplicity's freedom, but also the lives of some of the most powerful members of the aristocratic elite. 

Though his decision sets them both on a dangerous path, they are not without help from both old friends and new. The reader may recognize several of those who help as real-life luminaries from history – though in at least one case, that help is offered grudgingly, given the opposite side of the law Dodger tends frequent: the writer Mr. Charles Dickens, the social researcher and writer Mr. Henry Mayhew, the politician Mr. Benjamin Disraeli, and Sir Robert Peel, to name a few. Even Dodger's chance encounter with the infamous Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street, provides an unexpected but useful help. But, will any of it be enough to save Miss Simplicity, and avoid an international incident?

The Magician's Elephant
Written by Kate DiCamillo
Illustrated by Yoko Tanaka
Ages 9 - 12

Ten-year-old orphan Peter Augustus Duchene was sent to the market to visit the food stalls, to buy fish and bread.
Instead, Peter visited a fortune teller's tent, and bought the answer to questions he has carried in his heart for many years: Does his sister still live? And if she does, how can he find her?

The fortune teller's answer was incredulous, and Peter's heart sank. But she insisted it was the truth.

That evening, across town, a magician conjured something out of thin air – something that was not at all what he intended. Something incredulous.

And so began a series of impossible events.

Impossible, but true.

Written by Roald Dahl
Illustrated by Quentin Blake
Ages 7 and up

Sophie is curious. What really happens out there past her window when the witching hour comes? Defying the orphanage rules (no getting out of bed after lights out – for any reason), Sophie gets out of bed, ducks under the curtain, looks out her window, and sees something very tall, very thin, and very black coming up the street. A giant! Sophie runs back to her bed, but not before the giant sees that Sophie had seen him, and then Sophie finds herself snatched from her bed and whisked away.

Her captor? The Big Friendly Giant. Or BFG for short. And he's taken her to Giant Country. Because once a human has seen a giant, they "must be taken away hipswitch."

Sophie learns the BFG has an interesting way of speaking – "I know exactly what words I am wanting to say," he explained to her, "but somehow or other they is always getting squiff-squiddled around." – as he tells her all about giants, and how all of them but him love to eat humans.

The BFG doesn't approve of this gobbling up of humans, and neither does Sophie. So when they find out some of the giants are off that very night to guzzle some English school-chiddlers, they decide they must find a way to put a stop to this, once and for all.

Written and illustrated by Lois Lowry
Ages 9 - 12

"Once upon a time there was a family named Willoughby: an old-fashioned type of family, with four children."

The Willoughbys begins with this innocent and fairly benign sentence. The rest of the book, however, is anything but. A baby mysteriously appears on the Willoughbys' doorstep. Since no one wants this "beastly baby," the Willoughby children - Tim, the twins Barnaby and Barnaby (called simply A and B), and Jane - are dispatched by their mother to "Dispose of it. I'm making meatloaf." The baby is taken to another doorstep. Soon after, the Willoughby children hatch a plan to orchestrate the demise of their parents. Meanwhile, the Willougby parents hatch a plan to sell the house and disperse the children. Do the parents perish? Are the children scattered? And what happens to the poor "beastly" baby?

* * *

And so ends Installment #14. Wasn't that something?
Before you go, I'll leave you with this:

"Nobody is so weird others can't identify with them."
           – Rebecca Miller

Be sure to come back next Friday for 2013's final installment, which takes us to some strange and wonderful places.

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