Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Innocence Lost?

October 31st is...Carve a Pumpkin Day. (What? You thought I'd say "Halloween?" Well, yeah, but that goes without saying, doesn't it?)

So, October 31st is Carve a Pumpkin Day. Here at Chez Wheedleton, we usually carve our pumpkins a week or so before. This is not a usual year, however, because we have yet to carve our pumpkins for 2010. And today, as I perused a giant cardboard bin full of large, bright orange pumpkins just screaming to be carved, I thought back to Wheedleton Pumpkins Past.

Pre-children, my husband C and I carved pumpkins every year for Halloween: silly faces, mostly. (OK, I carved. He watched and lamented his lack of pumpkin-carving prowess. But he did at least pull out the guts.) Post-children, we still did silly-faced Jack-o-Lanterns, but per the kiddos' requests, came to add a slew of Disney character carvings to our artistic repertoire.

When they were old enough to wield a pencil with some authority, our Small Offspring would enthusiastically wave their masterpiece drawings inches from my face, then scrutinize my work very closely to be sure their design's integrity remained intact: black cats with arched backs, happy ghosties, Halloween-y words and phrases, and whatever else caught their fancies.

As those Small Offspring grew, the design requests got more intricate - like the kind where you carve both the front and the back, so that when you put the candle or light inside the pumpkin, the light shines out through the front picture, plus a design is illuminated on the wall behind the pumpkin through the back carving. Very cool. But even with an increased Coolness Factor, they were still the silly, friendly Jack-o-Lanterns of yore.

And then came last year. When pumpkin carving night came, Handsome Boy pulled out his paper with his design ideas, which were more-or-less friendly-Halloween themed. Lovely Girl had other ideas. She had jabbered on about them for weeks, and furthermore insisted that 2009 was the year she would carve solo. But when Handsome Boy saw her design, and saw that I was allowing it, he was beyond thrilled, and asked if she would share.

She said yes.

So 2009 found Chez Wheedleton with just one pumpkin on display. But what a display:

Barfolamew (the Barfkin) was awesome: a total hit with Trick-or-Treaters from tiny to tall.

But oh, I miss those little, smudgy drawings, clenched in tiny, hopeful fists...

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Those Wily Librarians

Lovely Girl came racing up the sidewalk after school the other day, just bursting to tell me about...her library book. (Yep. Her library book. We here at Chez Wheedleton are Unapologetic Book Fiends.)

Specifically, she was bursting to tell me about choosing her library book: See, she was perusing the shelves, just meandering, until a book, any book at all, caught her eye.

And then, she saw it.

Was it a title she'd been eagerly looking for?
Not this time.

Was it the fantastic illustration on the cover?

Was it the shiny gold lettering on the spine?
Sort of.

This is the title as she saw it that day, sitting innocently on her school library bookshelf:

Lovely Girl snatched that book up without even cracking it open. She couldn't get to the check out desk fast enough. In fact, she didn't even notice that the book is by an author she loves until she got home and pulled it out of her backpack to show it to me.

Sticker placement coincidence?

Fellow potty humor enthusiast?

Or a very clever librarian?

We may never know.

- - -

The full title of the book pictured above is The Telling Pool, by David Clement-Davies. The Third Crusade? Arthurian legend? Ancient magical pool? Enchantment? A boy who must defeat an evil sorceress and save his father? Awesome!

I called dibs after she's done reading it.

(Oh, who am I kidding? I see a bookstore visit in my very near future...)

Friday, October 8, 2010

Book Review: Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1, by Alan Snow

"I saw these men hunting cheese and I went to have a look, but my wings broke and the hunters took them, and then I escaped and was trying to get back down underground when they blocked up my hole."

"But what were you doing aboveground? And what wings? I don't understand," said Willbury.

Arthur decided to tell Willbury all. "I was gathering food." His face grew red, but he continued. "It's the only way we can survive. My grandfather is so frail now that I have to do it. And he made me some wings so I could get about the town easily."

"Your grandfather gave you wings?"

Summary: Young Arthur is a resident of Ratbridge. Or, rather, a resident under Ratbridge. He's not sure why he lives below ground, except that his inventor grandfather says that they must. They share this underground world with curious creatures: boxtrolls, cabbageheads, rabbit women, and the rather fearsome trotting badgers.

One day, Arthur gets caught above-ground on one of his nightly forays to the surface world to gather food. The rather nasty Snatcher, his grandfather's old nemesis, has stolen the machine Arthur's grandfather built for him to be able to fly about, and he doesn't know how to get back home.

But Arthur is not without friends. He is helped by the kindly retired lawyer Willbury Nibble, and the underlings who live with him: the boxtrolls Fish, Egg, and Shoe, and the shy cabbagehead Titus. Then there's the pirates-turned-laundry-workers, talking rats and crows, and oh! we can't forget The Man in the Iron Socks. They are all determined to get Arthur back home safely.

Arthur and his friends soon discover that something stinks in Ratbridge, and it isn't just the cheese: Someone has begun hunting Wild English Cheeses again - an outlawed sport. And mysterious goings-on are afoot at the old Cheese Hall. And all the entrances to the underground world have been sealed up. And the boxtrolls and cabbageheads are all disappearing. And the underlings' tunnels are starting to flood. Grandfather is worried, and they all know Snatcher is the root of this mystery. Somehow. Whatever will they do?

For Teachers and Librarians:
Here Be Monsters! fits into many literary niches: fantasy, adventure, a bit of steampunk, mystery, and humor. Use it in conjunction with social studies and history, as it touches on industry, factories, invention, law and order, family groups, a fictional town based loosely in 1800's England, and the big one: pirates! Use it in art classes to study pen and ink drawings, as the book is crammed with over 500 of them. Science classes will find discussions of electromagnetics, mechanical and steam-powered machines, and environmental concerns tied to depletion of natural resources and its resultant aftermath. But most of all, it is a book that will have your students laughing at the antics of the characters, commiserating with their setbacks, and cheering with their successes.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Here Be Monsters! is a book both you and your kiddos will enjoy. It is full of humor, fantasy, mystery, and adventure. It's a great introduction into the steampunk genre, if you've been wondering what that is. And it's a really fun book, with odd characters like wild English cheeses, boxtrolls, cabbageheads, and seacows (interpreted quite literally, and bearing only a passing resemblance to the manatees you might be thinking of).

Arthur is a sweet kid who loves his adoptive grandfather, and wants to do what's right, and is able to find friends to trust when he ends up in a rather tight spot. You'll find themes of family, loyalty, friendship, trust, mystery, adventure, and much more. It's very different, and yet not, and it will give you and the kiddos plenty to talk about. But most of all, it's fun!

For the Kids:
Here Be Monsters! has some very odd creatures: boxtrolls, and cabbageheads, and wild English cheeses, and vicious trotting badgers, and even pirates-turned-laundry-business-owners. It has a boy who can fly, and talking rats and crows, and dastardly villians with names like Archibald Snatcher, and stinky cheese. Lots of stinky cheese. Now, I ask you: who doesn't love a story with stinky cheese and flying boys and laundry-washing pirates? If you like fun, and adventure, and mystery, and inventions, then this is the book for you. Oh, and did I mention the pictures? It's full of over 500 drawings to go with the story. What are you waiting for? Go find it, and read it.

For Everyone Else:
Here Be Monsters! is definitely a book for the young-at-heart. Besides the funny stuff, it also has little bit of steampunk, a big dose of fantasy, plenty of adventure, some classic mystery, a decidedly English flavor, and a variety of things to make you think. Maybe you'll even learn a little bit of something new by the time you're done. Give it a try.

Wrapping Up:
Here Be Monsters! Find it. Read it. Have fun with it.

Title: Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1
Author and Illustrator: Alan Snow
Pages: 544
Reading Level: Ages 9-12
Publisher and Date: Atheneum, 2006
Edition: 1st United States edition
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $17.95
ISBN-10: 0-689-87047-7
ISBN-13: 978-0-689-87047-7

Author Spotlight: Alan Snow

Alan Snow has worked in a wide variety of situations: design of a children's museum in Japan; design of a project robot; mixing flavors into yogurt; forestry and tree surgery; box-maker in a factory; car design on a Third World jeep project; laborer in a bed factory; sound engineer for Reggae and Indie bands; and work in animation, film, and computers. He has even had a hand in the creation of wedding dresses...and inflatable ball gowns.

Mr. Snow attended art college between 1975 and 1979, where he studied fashion design and illustration. This schooling proved helpful not only for creating those inflatable ball gowns, but also for his more bookish pursuits: he has been illustrating since 1983, and has both written and illustrated over 160 books for children.

Of all of those books, Here Be Monsters! (2006, Atheneum) is Alan Snow's first novel. But this book has its own story: it was first published in 2005, in England, by Oxford University Press, in three parts: Pants Ahoy!, The Man in the Iron Socks, and Cheese Galore. When Snow's novels made it across the pond to the United States, they were merged into one big, 544 page, 500+ illustration-filled book: Here Be Monsters! The Ratbridge Chronicles, Volume 1.

Alan Snow was born in Bexley Heath, London, England, in 1959. He currently lives in Bath, England, and has one daughter and one son.

Backflap of Here Be Monsters!