Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz

"Clara slept. Never in her life had she known so dense a sleep; a sleep without dreaming, without the slightest twitch of finger or eyelid. She was as lifeless as a pressed flower. If she had been awake, she could not have said whether her eyes were open or shut. Her mind was empty, freed from guilt and terror and grief. Only the night before, she had spoken of her fear of cold and darkness; now darkness and cold claimed her, and she was not afraid." 

It is November the sixth, in Victorian London, and Clara Wintermute is turning twelve. To her delight, her father has reluctantly consented to hire the mysterious street performer, Professor Grisini and His Venetian Fantoccini, into their home as her party entertainment.

Yet when the puppetmaster finally arrives, it is his two orphaned assistants, almost-fourteen-year-old Lizzie Rose and probably-eleven-year-old Parsefall, that Clara is most excited to see. Clara thinks their lives must be grand - free from studies, able to perform marionette shows for people out in the open air. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall think Clara's life must be grand - only child of a wealthy household, indulged by her parents, provided with a fine education. But all three children soon find that all is not as they supposed.

Clara vanishes late that evening, with the dark and secretive Grisini pegged as her probable kidnapper. When Grisini suddenly goes missing not long after, Lizzie Rose and Parsefall fear he does indeed have something to do with Clara's disappearance. And soon, they find themselves on an unexpected and dangerous quest to find her. 

For Teachers and Librarians:
Splendors and Glooms is a book that will both hold your students' interest, and provide you with plenty of ways to incorporate the book into a variety of lessons.

It fits nicely into a lesson on literary genres - take your pick of gothic novel, historical fiction, mystery, dark fairy tale, and/or even thriller. And with the magic aspects, vivid dreams, and Lizzie Rose's uncanny sense of smell, you could even argue it touches just a bit if not more so on the edges of paranormal.

The book contains two overlapping stories that eventually converge at a crucial point: after discussion, have your students demonstrate their understanding of this graphically, via Venn Diagram.

Another idea: the author's favorite writer is Charles Dickens, and the book is often described as Dickensian - which leads nicely into a lesson on characteristics of a Dickensian novel, and identification of those characteristics in this book.

During an interview in the Baltimore Sun, the author discusses her interest in Faustian bargains as part of a novel: have your students research and define the term, and then identify the Faustian bargain(s) in this book - who made one, what were the terms, how did things turn out for that character, etc.

You could include the book in a unit on Victorian London: compare/contrast life for rich vs poor, discussing how children fared in each; talk about Victorian mourning customs; have your students research diseases and treatments from that era, with a focus on cholera (which touches Clara's family in a heartbreaking way); plan a lesson on types of entertainment enjoyed during that time period, with a mini-unit on marionette shows and puppetry.

If you have other lesson ideas, feel free to share them in the comments section below.

For Parents, Grandparents and Caregivers:
Make sure your kiddos don't have anywhere to be before you hand them Splendors and Glooms, or when it's time to go, you may hear repeated cries of, "Wait! I just have to finish this part first!" It is a book full of mystery, suspense and magic that will keep them wanting to turn pages - but not too quickly. There is much to take in, and they'll want to take their time to make sure they experience it all. Your young readers will feel for the characters as they navigate the well-meaning yet at times very misunderstood bonds of family, as they work to establish and maintain friendships, as they learn to recognize and trust those people in their lives who prove themselves true and genuine, and as they struggle to find their true place in the world.

For the Kids:
Splendors and Glooms isn't your average, run-of-the-mill book with magic in it. Nope. It has the kind of magic that you have to really pay attention to see. It hides from you, but hints at you. It peeks out from behind the corners, or ducks behind the couch just as you catch a glimpse of it, so that you can't help but chase it around because you just have to know what's going on. At the same time, maybe you're a teensy bit scared to catch up to it - though you'd never admit it - because that magic may or may not be evil. So you read the book. And you keep reading, shivering a little sometimes, peeking through the cracks between the fingers you've clamped over your eyes at other times, and giggling here and there in between, 'cause you just have to know what's going on, and how it all turns out. No matter how long it takes.

Clara is a twelve-year-old rich girl living in Victorian London who seems to have it all in the eyes of almost-fourteen-year-old Lizzie Rose and probably-eleven-year-old Parsefall. Lizzie Rose and Parsefall are assistant puppeteers who seem to live a free and easy life in the eyes of Clara. Each longs for the life of the other, for different reasons. But each of them has secrets and griefs and guilt and fears that none of the others know about. Throw in an evil puppetmaster and a doomed and vengeful witch, and you've got the makings of a book that you Will. Not. Put. Down.

For Everyone Else:
What can I say about Splendors and Glooms that I haven't already said? Probably plenty. But no matter what your age, if what I've said so far isn't enough to entice you to read this thoroughly wonderful novel, maybe the section below is:

Wrapping Up:
Splendors and Glooms is the type of book a reader wants to linger over. With an abundance of rich description, many twists and turns, suspense, mystery, touches of humor, a goodly dose of good vs evil in many forms, and a variety of very real and strong and relatable emotions, to rush the read means to miss far too much. And not to read it at all would just be a terrible shame. So go. Get the book. Then grab a blanket, curl up on the couch, and start reading.

Title: Splendors and Glooms
Author: Laura Amy Schlitz
Jacket Illustration: Bagram Ibatoulline
Pages: 400
Reading Level: Ages 9 and up
Publisher and Date: Candlewick Press, 2012
Edition: 1st Edition
Language: English
Published In: United States
Price: $17.99
ISBN-10: 0763653802
ISBN-13: 978-0-7636-5380-4

Author Spotlight: Laura Amy Schlitz

Laura Amy Schlitz is a true creative soul. She loves to make things (bread, marionettes, quilts, watercolors, and origami animals), and write things (books, plays and stories). She has been by turns and/or simultaneously: a playwright, a storyteller, a costumer, an actress, a children's author, and a children's librarian.

Born January 1, 1956, in Baltimore, Maryland, Ms Schlitz graduated from Goucher College with a B.A. in aesthetics in 1977. She spent three years in the 1980s as an actress touring with the Baltimore-based Children's Theater Association. She has been since 1991 - and continues to be - a children's librarian at Park School in Baltimore, MD. And all the while, she writes.

Ms Schlitz has so far written six books for children, all published by
Candlewick Press. In 2008, she won the Newbery Medal for Good Masters, Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, illustrated by Robert Byrd (2007). Her most recent work is Splendors and Glooms (2012). Her other titles include: Bearskinner: a tale of the Brothers Grimm (2007); Hero Schliemann: the dreamer who dug for Troy (2006); Night Fairy (2010); and A Drowned Maiden's Hair: A Melodrama (2006).

In addition to her children's books, Ms Schlitz has written children's plays, which have been produced by professional theaters around the USA.

Ms Schlitz, whose favorite author is Charles Dickens, lives in Maryland.

Bios: Laura Amy Schlitz - Candlewick Press
Laura Amy Schlitz -
Laura Amy Schlitz - BTSB Bookstore
Newbery Winner Laura Amy Schlitz publishes her magnum opus - Baltimore Sun article
Q&A with Laura Amy Schlitz - PW Weekly

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Ensuring the "Dearly" in Your Own Dearly Departed-ness

Not the most inspiring of epitaphs, is it?* Yet that, or something worse, may be exactly the type of thing you get if you leave the writing of your gravestone epitaph up to whomever gets pressed into doing the job upon your untimely demise. (Because all demises are untimely, aren't they?)

Sometimes, your epitaph writer has your back. The mother of the outlaw Jesse James (1847 – 1882) did. She had this put on his tombstone:

In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son,
Murdered by a Traitor and a Coward Whose
Name is not Worthy to Appear Here

Ellen Shannon's epitaph writer did as well, putting this inscription on her tombstone:

Ellen Shannon
Who was fatally burned
March 21, 1870
by the explosion of a lamp
filled with "R.E. Danforth's
Non-Explosive Burning Fluid."

And sometimes, your epitaph writer cares very much for you, as Sylvia Plath Hughes' husband seems to have done for her. He had this inscribed on her tombstone:

Even amidst fierce flames
the golden lotus can be planted.

But it's hard to know for certain that the words chosen to grace your grave will be as flattering as you'd like. How, then, to ensure the "dearly" in "dearly departed" for the stone that marks your eternal resting place? 

Lance Hardie knows just what you should do: write your own epitaph, and plan it well before the Grim Reaper pays you a visit. In fact, he found a way to turn the planning process into an official holiday (Mr. Hardie, that is; not the Grim Reaper). He persuaded the folks at Chase's Calendar of Events to accept Plan Your Epitaph Daycelebrated annually on November 2nd, into their listing of holidays. Why November 2nd? Because it appropriately coincides with the more well-known, but equally important holiday, the Day of the Dead.

So: write your own epitaph. Pompously presumptuous? Or seriously strategic? Let's examine this further, shall we?

Here are a few things you may want to consider before you decide to just leave the whole thing up to chance:

Your epitaph may be written by folks who didn't like you much, as seems to have happened to this poor soul:

In memory of Beza Wood
Departed this life Nov. 2 1937 – Age 45 yrs.

Here lies one Wood
Enclosed in Wood;
One Wood
Within another.
The outer wood
Is very good:
We cannot praise
The other.

You may not have been the model spouse you believe yourself to be. Here's what poet H.J. Daniel wrote for his own wife's tombstone:

To follow you I'm not content.
How do I know which way you went?

Your epitaph writer may choose to simply record for eternity your cause of death, as was the case with the unfortunate Mr. Smith:

Harry Edsel Smith
Born 1903 – Died 1942
Looked up the elevator shaft
to see if the car
was on the way down.
It was.

Maybe mere damage control isn't enough motivation for you to get that epitaph written, pre-demise. In that case, perhaps these points will sway you:

Writing your own epitaph gives you the very satisfying opportunity to get in the final word, a last laugh, or an unrebuttable parting shot, as these folks did:

Winston Churchill:
I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter.

Rodney Dangerfield:
There goes the neighborhood.

Eric W., Jr. Mar 13, 1922 – June 15, 1982
I made a lot of deals in my life
but I went in the hole on this one.

Or, writing your own epitaph can send just enough of a shiver down the grave visitor's spine to ensure that your eternal resting place remains undisturbed, as William Shakespeare did:

*translated into Modern English:

Good friend for Jesus' sake forbear,
To dig the dust enclosed here.
Blessed be the man that spares these stones,
And cursed be he that moves my bones.

After all that, if you're still intent on leaving your epitaph up to chance, perhaps you'll get lucky, having done so many things in life that brought so much joy to so many, that your epitaph writer has no trouble finding the perfect words to memorialize your life:

Source: Wikipedia File (Photo), Robert A. Estremo

*Ok, so I'm the one who composed that pitiful epitaph up there in that illustration at the top. To my family and friends: For the love of Pete, do not put that on my gravestone. I'm sure I can come up with something better. Eventually.

Sources: Funny Grave Epitaphs
Write Your Epitaph - More than just R.I.P. (Rest in Peace), by Chris Raymond

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Change is in the Air

I've got the blog re-design bug, so regular readers will notice a few changes here at Bugs and Bunnies over the next couple of weeks and months. The last time I did any major tweaks to the design was summer of 2008, so I figure it's due for a new look.

Though the design will change, the content will not. Reviews of books for young people, author and illustrator spotlights, and posts about little-known holidays will all still continue, as will the occasional post of illustrations I've been working on.

By the time the dust has cleared, you'll be greeted by a less cluttered page, with hints of the current color scheme, but a lot less dark and a lot more light. After that, watch for a re-vamped blog header, and even a custom favicon (that little picture next to the web address in your browser address bar).

Please come back often to visit, and to check out what's new.


Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Bit of an Odd But Necessary Thing...

...which is this: (*Update: A jumble of letters and numbers used to be here, but they don't need to be here anymore, so, poof! They have been banished.)

...which is a bit of administrative weirdness.

...which you can ignore, Dear Readers.

But, so this awkward bit of a post isn't wasting your valuable web browsing time, how about a trio of quick book recommendations?

Have you read these books? I have, and they're just wonderful! Hopefully, you'll see full reviews here at Bugs and Bunnies for each of these sometime in the coming months, but until then, go find them and read them. It will be time well-spent.

Splendors and Glooms, by Laura Amy Schlitz
Ages 9 and up

*Update: Full review of this book posted Dec. 14, 2012. See both Book Review and Author Spotlight by clicking the title and author links above.

The Crowfield Curse, by Pat Walsh
Ages 8 and up

The Giver, by Lois Lowry
Ages 12 and up

Friday, September 28, 2012

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2012 - Installment #11

Today is the fourth and last Friday of September 2012, which means it is the last post for the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. But take heart: We get to do this all over again in just 12 short months - with a whole new pile of books about wonderfully weird characters!

If you're new here, just click on the link in the paragraph above, and that will get you all caught up on the wonderful literary weirdness that has been an annual celebration here at Bugs and Bunnies since 2010. Then come back to this post to continue the fun.

* * *

Back now? Great! Let's get going, shall we? So far, we've celebrated with three different categories:

Today, we wrap up with:

Activism, Or: Something to Believe In

These are characters who know what's right, and they know what's needed, and by golly, they're gonna find a way to make it happen.

CLICK, CLACK, MOO Cows That Type, written by Doreen Cronin, pictures by Betsy Lewin
Ages 5 to 7

Farmer Brown's cows found his old typewriter in the barn. He heard them click-clacking on the keys all day long, and he couldn't believe it. Cows that type? Impossible! He went down to check it out, and found a typed note on the barn door. The cows had a request: electric blankets, to ward off the cold of the barn at night.

When Farmer Brown read the note, he was incensed. First they're in there click-clacking on a typewriter all day, and now this? He typed out a note of his own: no blankets!

And that's when the cows went on strike...

That Girl Lucy Moon, by Amy Timberlake
Ages 9 to 13

Lucy Moon has always been unafraid to fight injustice. Back in elementary school, she swooped in to save ants from magnifying-glass-wielding assassins. She supported animal rights...during hunting season. She wore her signature green-and-yellow, made-of-hemp hat every day to call attention to the plight of third world workers. She started petitions. She even organized protests. Lucy had gumption.

But when she got to junior high, Lucy didn't feel any of that gumption. Being different in elementary school made a kid cool, but being different in junior high made a kid a misfit. Lucy didn't it understand it at all. 

Then came the afternoon of October 3rd. A wind tried to lift the hemp hat from her head. Her best friend Zoë Rossignol called Lucy out on her uncharacteristically meek response to a punishment they both knew was unfair. And two kids got arrested for sledding down Wiggins Hill. Rumor had it that it was Miss Ilene Viola Wiggins herself who demanded the arrests.

When the Turtle Rock Times refused to run the arrest story, Lucy and Zoë smelled a cover-up – and Lucy's gumption came roaring back. But this fight for justice lands Lucy the label "bad influence," and soon her support system feels like it's falling apart. And then Lucy begins to wonder: Is the fight worth it?

Neversink, by Barry Wolverton, with drawings by Sam Nielson
Ages 8 to 12

On the small island of Neversink, Lockley J. Puffin lives with his wife Lucy and his fellow auk colony, along with his two best friends: Egbert – a know-it-all walrus, and Ruby – a snarky hummingbird. It's a pleasant life, with plenty of fish and beautiful views.

But to the south, on the mainland of Tytonia, Rozbell has just been crowned king of the Owl Parliament. The owls face a dwindling food supply, and to solve the problem, the scheming Rozbell sets his sights on taking over Neversink. When the owls come, they embark on a path certain to destroy the auks' way of life. After several attempts to defeat the owls, it becomes clear that it's up to Lockley to save the colony.

But, can he?

Chomp, by Carl Hiaasen
Ages 10 and up

Wahoo Cray's dad, Mickey, is a professional animal wrangler in the Florida Everglades who's been unable to take any jobs since a frozen iguana fell from a palm tree and landed on his head. Wahoo helps keep things going, caring for the animals that live in the zoo that is the Crays' backyard.

Then along comes Derek Badger's reality TV show crew. They want to hire Mickey to wrangle animals for the show, "Expedition Survivial." Their offer is enough to cover the mortgage payment and then some, and Wahoo convinces his dad to take the job.

Derek shows himself to be far less than the survivalist he makes himself out to be on the show. Mickey's disgust for the man and his poor treatment of the animals, threatens to lose Mickey the job – and therefore the mortgage money – and it's left to Wahoo to smooth tensions.

Along the way, Tuna comes into the mix – a girl from Wahoo's school needing a place to hide from her abusive dad. Wahoo convinces Mickey to let them take her on the job with them. Then, when Wahoo, Tuna and Mickey are on location in the swamp with Derek and the crew, Derek gets chomped on the nose by a wild bat and goes missing – right as a huge storm is brewing.

And then as the search for Derek gets underway, Tuna's dad shows up...

Here Lies the Librarian, by Richard Peck
Ages 10 and up

it's 1914, and fourteen-year-old Peewee McGrath lives with her big brother Jake. Their parents gone, they live on their own, running a struggling garage, and fending off the sabotage attempts of a rival garage in town run by the underhanded Kirbys. Peewee loves her independence, preferring to wear overalls and help Jake build his racecar to wearing dresses and doing "girl" things.

But then four female library students pull up to their station, their car in need of repair. When they return later to reopen the tiny town library that's been closed since the previous librarian died, Peewee gets to know the young women better. And soon she comes to discover that being female and being independent don't have to be two different things.

* * *

And that, as they say, is that. I hope you've enjoyed this Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. If you haven't read these books yet, I hope you will. And if you have, I hope you found them as fun to read as I have.

Leave a comment or drop me an email – bugsandbunnies (at) verizon (dot) net – if you have suggestions for books to include in next year's series.

Before I go, I'd like to leave you with this snippet from the very first Wonderful Weirdos of Literature post back in 2010:

Remember Merriam-Webster's definition of weirdo? "A person who is extraordinarily strange or eccentric." There is a wide range of Weird in this world. Some of us are more so than others. We Weirdos may be different, but always remember: we are extraordinarily so.


Friday, September 21, 2012

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2012 - Installment #10

Welcome to Installment #10 of the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series! Wondering what this is all about? Click the link above, and that will get you all caught up. Then come on back here, and we'll continue the wonderful literary weirdness.

Ah, there you are. Back for more? Fantastic!

For the past two Fridays, we've celebrated two installments full of books with wonderfully weird characters:

This week's theme:

She Marches to the Beat of a Different Drummer

That's right: Girl Power! The girls/ladies in these books may not fit what other folks around them would call "normal," but they don't let that stop them from being who they are and doing things their own way.

The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron, illustrated by Matt Phelan 
Ages 9 and up

Lucky Trimble never goes anywhere without her survival-kit backpack, to try and be prepared for anything. Having lost her mom in a freak accident, she has been abandoned by her dad, who left her in the care of his French ex-wife, Brigitte. They live in three aluminum trailers, connected by soldered passageways, in the hardscrabble town of Hard Pan, California: population 43. Life is not easy there, and money is scarce.

Lucky worries that Brigitte will tire of her and of life in Hard Pan and move back to France, making Lucky have to move to a foster home, because "The difference between a Guardian and an actual mom is that a mom can't resign." To ward off this situation, Lucky spends her time eavesdropping on the 12-step meetings of the "anonymous people" at the Found Objects Wind Chime Museum and Visitor Center, hoping to discover the key to finding her Higher Power, so she can take control over her life.

Savvy, by Ingrid Law
Ages 8 and up

Thirteenth birthdays are a big deal in the Beaumont family, because that's the day their savvy first shows itself. For Mibs Beaumont, that day was nearly here. Her oldest brother, seventeen-year-old Rocket, could spark electricity. Her fourteen-year-old brother Fish could control the weather. And Grandpa Bomba could move mountains! Mibs is sure her own savvy will be something just as wild and wonderful as theirs, and she can't wait to find out what it is. 

But just before her big day, Poppa is in a serious car accident. Mrs. Beaumont and Rocket rush to the hospital to be with him, leaving Mibs, Fish, and their seven-year-old brother Samson at home. The preacher's wife, Mrs. Meeks, finds out what's happened, and comes over to take charge. When she realizes Mibs' birthday is nearly here, Mrs. Meeks is determined to throw her a very public party - not a good thing for a Beaumont about to turn thirteen. But Mibs is determined to find a way to get to the hospital. She's given up thinking her savvy will be something big and powerful, and instead is convinced that it will be something that will save Poppa.

Silly Sally, written and illustrated by Audrey Wood
Ages 4 to 7

Silly Sally is on her way to town, but she has a funny way of getting there. She walks, yes, but Silly Sally walks backwards...and upside down. Along the way she meets a few new friends, and together, they dance, leapfrog, sing and even sleep on their way to town. 



Oh my! How will Silly Sally ever get to town sleeping backwards, upside down?

The Amelia Bedelia Treasury: Three Books by Peggy Parish, illustrated by Fritz Siebel and Barbara Siebel Thomas
Ages 5 to 7

Amelia Bedelia is Mr. and Mrs. Rogers' new housekeeper. Before going out for the day with her husband, Mrs. Rogers gives Amelia Bedelia a list of things to do. Wanting to do something nice for her employers, Amelia Bedelia first makes a special surprise for them. And then, she reads Mrs. Rogers' list, and follows it precisely as written.

When she sees, "Change the towels in the green bathroom," Amelia Bedelia grabs some scissors, and she changes those towels. When she sees, "Dust the furniture," she grabs a box of dusting powder from the bathroom counter, and Amelia Bedelia dusts that furniture. And she keeps going until she's finished every job on the list.

When Mrs. Rogers gets home and sees just how precisely Amelia Bedelia followed her instructions, she is ready to fire this new housekeeper on the spot. But just as Mrs. Rogers opens her mouth to say so, Mr. Rogers pops a spoonful of a most delicious dessert in his wife's mouth. It is the special surprise Amelia Bedelia had made for them that morning. But is it delicious enough to make Mrs. Rogers change her mind?

The Mousehunter, written and illustrated by Alex Milway
Ages 10 to 12

Twelve-year-old Emiline Orelia is mousekeeper for Isiah Lovelock, Old Town's most famous mouse collector and one of its wealthiest citizens. Emiline cares for her own Grey Mouse, named Portly, as well as all of the mice in Lovelock's vast collection. It's not a glamorous job, but Emiline is very good at it, and hopes one day to become a mousehunter, so she can go out and discover new and interesting mice.

In Emiline's world, collecting and trading mice is valued above all else - but these are no ordinary field mice. There is the Sharpclaw Mouse: a sneaky, mischievous mouse with huge, dagger-like claws on its front paws that can slice through even wood and metal with ease. Or the Magnetical Mouse: prized by sailors for their bulletlike nose that always points due north. Or the Howling Moon Mouse: best known of all the howler mice, it howls only on nights with a full moon. And this is only to name a few.

When Mousebeard, the most feared pirate on the Seventeen Seas, sinks Lovelock's merchant ship, Lovelock hires Captain Devlin Drewshank to hunt him down and capture him. Emiline overhears the deal and, seeing this as the chance of a lifetime, runs away and boards Drewshank's ship, excited to be on the adventure. The journey is a dangerous one, filled with pirates, and battles, and even sea monsters. And Emiline soon comes to realize that all is not exactly as she thought it was, and that no one she's met is exactly who she thought they were.

* * *

Thanks for joining me for this 10th installment of the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. Please come back next week, for some characters who've got somethin' to believe in...

Until then, I'll leave you with this:

We could learn a lot from crayons; some are sharp, some are pretty, some are dull, while others bright, some have weird names, but they all have learned to live together in the same box.

                          - Robert Fulghum


Friday, September 14, 2012

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2012 - Installment #9

Time for Installment #9 of the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. (New here? Just click the link above, and that should get you caught up nicely. Feel free to click around to the other links you'll find there, but don't forget to come back to this post and continue the fun.)

All caught up? Great! Let's get going, shall we? Last week, our theme for Installment #8 was Classics...And Classic Twists. This week's theme is

Strange Goings-On

To Catch a Mermaid, by Suzanne Selfors
Ages 9-12

Boom Broom is a twelve-year-old with a lot on his shoulders. Ever since a freak twister touched down in Fairweather Island a year ago right in the Broom's front yard, and carried off Mrs. Broom, the family had never been the same. Mr. Broom refuses to leave the attic except for bathroom breaks, or to grab food prepared by the hired cook. The cook is a proud Viking descendant named Halvor who only prepars fish, fish, more fish, and thick black coffee. Mertyle, Boom's little sister, refuses to leave the house, inventing one sickness after another so she won't have to go to school. Boom refuses to let the twister alter his life and tries to carry on, but he still has to deal with his family's eccentricities, and with neighborhood bully Hurley Mump and his equally bully-ish family.

Then one day, Boom is sent out to get fish for dinner. He brings home a very odd fish salvaged from a reject seafood bucket down at the docks. When he and Mertyle discover the fish is no fish, but a real, live merbaby, things start to get interesting...

 The Apothecary, by Maile Meloy, with illustrations by Ian Schoenherr
Ages 10 and up

It's 1952. February. With only a week to prepare, the Scott family makes a sudden move from Los Angeles, California to London, England. As her parents get started in their new jobs writing for a television show, fourteen-year-old Janie Scott finds herself trying to navigate her new school - and not feeling very good about it. But then she meets Benjamin Burrows, a boy with a defiant streak and dreams of becoming a spy someday. 

Benjamin's father is the local apothecary who had given Janie a curious homesickness remedy the day they'd arrived - a remedy which, to Janie's surprise, actually seemed to be working. When she and Benjamin go out on one of Benjamin's self-assigned spying missions, they soon discover that his father is no ordinary apothecary. Just before Benjamin's father goes missing, he charges them with protecting his mysterious book, the Pharmacopoeia, from falling into the wrong hands. But whose hands are those? What secrets does the book hold? And, can it help Janie and Benjamin find his father, before it's too late?

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs
Ages 13 and up

Jacob Portman loved listening to his grandpa's stories. And when he was just six years old, he decided to become an explorer, figuring it was the only way to have a life even half as exciting as his Grandpa Portman's had been. Soon, though, Jacob came to realize that most of Grandpa Portman's best stories couldn't possibly be true - especially the ones about his childhood. 

Those stories were about awful monsters he said were after him in Poland, where he was born; and about the Welsh children's home he was sent to when he was twelve, to escape those monsters. It was an idyllic place that kept kids safe from those monsters, he'd told Jacob, and that was protected by a wise old bird. Even more fantastic were the photos he'd show Jacob of the peculiar children there - an invisible boy, a levitating girl, a boy with two mouths, among others. The older Jacob got, though, the less he believed Grandpa Portman's stories, until eventually he stopped asking him to tell them.

When Jacob was fifteen, something terrible happened, and his world was turned upside down. Then, when he turned sixteen, Jacob received an unexpected gift from an unexpected giver, which contained an even more unexpected - and mysterious - item within. Soon after that, he found himself halfway across the world, on a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovered the ruins of a place called Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. Jacob did some investigating, and very soon Grandpa Portman's "stories" began to take on a whole new - and ominous - meaning.

The Twits, written by Roald Dahl, illustrated by Quentin Blake
Ages 7 and up

Mr. and Mrs. Twit live in a house with no windows - the better to keep out prying eyes. They're smelly, nasty, ugly, and mean spirited, and they play horrible practical jokes on each other. They smear HUGTIGHT sticky glue on the branches of their Big Dead Tree each night to capture birds for their Bird Pie supper, but consider having Boy Pie instead when they find four little boys stuck to the branch one morning. They keep a family of monkeys in their home, forcing them to do everything upside down, in case their idea for an upside down monkey circus ever comes to fruition. And no one has ever been able to stop them from doing the dastardly things they do.

But one day, a new bird comes around. And the monkeys get bold. And soon, the monkeys and birds work together to turn the tables on those terrible Twits.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, written by Judi Barrett, and drawn by Ron Barrett
Ages 4 and up

In the tiny town of Chewandswallow, the weather came three times a day: at breakfast, lunch and dinner. But what fell from the sky wasn't rain or snow. Juice might fall at breakfast time, followed by some eggs and toast. For lunch, a storm of hamburgers might blow in. Dinner weather might bring lamb chops with peas and baked potatoes.

People watched the weather on morning TV to know what would be on the menu the next day. And if they were going to be outside, they carried a plate, cup, napkin, and silverware with them, so they were always prepared for whatever the weather brought. They even had a system for dealing with any leftovers. Everything was very orderly and well-run.

But one day, the weather changed. Sometimes, only one type of food fell - the whole day. Other times, a full meal fell, but none of it went together, and it ended up very unappetizing. Eventually, the food that fell began to get bigger. And bigger. And bigger. And soon, the town became overrun with giant food, and too much of it - way too much for them to handle. What's a town to do?

* * *

I hope you had fun during Installment #9 of the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, reading about these books with Strange Goings-On. Even better, I hope you go out and find them. And read them. 

Before you go, I'll leave you with this:

Know what's weird? Day by day, nothing seems to change. But pretty soon, everything's different.

             - Bill Watterson (Calvin and Hobbes comics)

Come back next week for Installment #10, for some characters who have their own ways of doing things...

Friday, September 7, 2012

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2012 - Installment #8

Today is the first Friday in September, and that can only mean one thing: it's time for the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series!

So, you might be thinking, what's a Wonderful Weirdo of Literature?

And, If this is Installment #8, where are Installments #1-7? 

And, Where did I put my jelly doughnut? 

If you're indeed having such thoughts, then fret not. I can help you out. 

The short answer to your first question is:
Every Friday in September, I post a round-up of kids' books I just love, with characters who are, well, characters. You know: the misunderstood, the eccentric, the quirky, the unique, the weird, the wacky. Those books might be picture books, or chapter books, or middle grade books, or young adult books.

The more detailed answer to your first and second question is:
Visit the bulleted links below:
  • Wonderful Weirdos Day - In this post, you'll learn about the Little-Known Holiday that sparked the idea for the Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series here at Bugs and Bunnies. There's a genuine, dictionary definition of "weirdo," information about the holiday's founders, and some suggestions for how to celebrate the day, held annually on September 9th.
  • Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series - This is the main page for the series. Here you'll find a brief explanation of how the series works, and links to Installments #1-7 from the previous two celebrations.
As for your third question? 
I'm afraid you're on your own with that one. But once your curiosity is satisfied (about the weirdo things, not the jelly doughnut thing), come on back to this post, so we can get things started for 2012.

* * *

Back now? Wonderful! Let's get right to it, shall we?

In honor of all the Wonderful Weirdos among us, I present to you, Installment #8 of the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. Since it was so much fun last year, I'm going with themes again this year. This week's theme:

Classics...and Classic Twists 

Kenny & the Dragon, written and illustrated by Tony DiTerlizzi
Ages 8 and up 

Kenny is a book-loving rabbit who lives with his farming mother and father. One day, his father bursts in from the sheep field in a panic, announcing that they must pack their things ASAP and light out of there, because he just saw a real, live, dragon! At the top of their very hill! After consulting his borrowed copy of a bestiary, Kenny persuades his parents to let him go check it out. Once he finally meets the dragon, he realizes the bestiary isn't entirely accurate concerning his new friend. But then the townspeople get wind of the dragon, and are so frightened that they prepare to rid themselves of it. Can Kenny show the townspeople that the dragon is not what they think? Or, will he have to make the impossible choice of saving a new friend, or saving an old one?

I, Crocodile, written and illustrated by Fred Marcellino 
Ages 4 and up

This is the story of a particular Nile crocodile, told by the crocodile himself. He lives a contented life in Egypt, a life of crocodilian leisure, until one day a famous stranger arrives, and his idyllic life is uprooted. He finds himself one of the objects Napoleon wishes to take back home to France. Once there, he lives a new life of leisure, with some celebrity thrown in, and he comes to love this life as well. But when Napoleon's interest wanes, the crocodile is in danger of being dinner, instead of eating dinner. What is a captive crocodile to do? How will he possibly escape this culinary fate?

Frog and Toad Together, written and illustrated by Arnold Lobel 
Ages 4 and up

Frog and Toad are the best of friends. They do things together. They help each other when things go wrong.  They have cookies together. They read together. They even have heart-pounding adventures together. And they definitely don't always do things the way you or I would. But in the end, their unusual ideas somehow end up working, even if it's not the way they expected those ideas to work. And isn't it more fun that way?

The House on East 88th Street, written and illustrated by Bernard Waber
Ages 5 and up

The day Mr. and Mrs. Joseph F. Primm and their young son Joshua move into the house on East 88th street, they hear an unusual sound coming from somewhere in the house: SWISH, SWASH, SPLASH, SWOOSH. So Mrs. Primm goes to investigate. When she takes a peek in the bathroom, she finds the source of that sound: A crocodile! In their bathtub!

Then, an oddly dressed man arrives at the door, hands Joshua Primm a note, and leaves. Hector P. Valenti's note explains that the crocodile's name is Lyle, that he will only eat Turkish caviar, and that he can perform tricks. Will the Primms welcome Lyle into their family? 

The Very Smart Pea and the Princess-to-Be, written and illustrated by Mini Grey
Ages 4 and up

You know this story, right? Of course you do: Prince must find princess to wed. Prince just can't find the Right Girl. Prince's mother the Queen gets frustrated with Prince's fickleness. Queen devises a test: only the princess who can feel a tiny pea hidden at the bottom of a gargantuan pile of mattresses is worthy of marrying her son. Many princesses try and fail, until finally, one special princess passes the test. 

But, have you ever heard this story...from The Pea's point of view? 

* * *

Thank you for joining me for this 8th installment of the Third Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. Before I go, I'd like to share with you this little rumination on Weirdness:

I never set out to be weird. It was always other people who called me weird.
                                                               - Frank Zappa 

Come on back next Friday, for Installment #9. There's gonna be some mighty strange goings on...