Friday, September 27, 2013

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2013 - Installment #15

Welcome to the fourth and final post for the Fourth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. If you missed any of the earlier three posts, no worries; just click on the link above and you'll be all caught up in no time. Go ahead – we'll wait.

Back now? Great! To date, we've explored three different Variations on the Overall Weirdo Theme, and thirteen different books. (Don't be nervous, triskaidekaphobes, we'll rectify that number shortly, by adding four new ones today.)

Today's installment is:

Out of This World

These books have the total complement of weird – weird characters and weird situations, all taking place in weird and wonderful worlds:

Liesl and Po
Written by Lauren Oliver
Illustrated by Kei Acedera
Ages 8 and up

Three nights after the death of her father, Liesl is lying awake in her small attic room when she notices a shadow. It shifts, and suddenly a ghost is standing next to her desk. Its name, she learns, is Po. The ghost is neither boy nor girl, it insists. And it has a pet, Bundle, which is neither cat nor dog. As with Po, Bundle The three strike up a friendship, as well as a plan for Liesl to escape her attic prison and the stepmother who has locked her away.

The very same night, alchemist's assistant Will detours from his expected path to pause on the street and gaze up, as is his habit, at a small attic window of a house, hoping for a glimpse of the girl who lives there. When he does not see her, he continues, disappointed, to his expected destination. Once there, in his haste to make up for lost time and his exhaustion at being out at so late an hour, Will makes a mistake. Innocent though it is, this mistake incites the wrath of the alchemist, and Will is forced to run.

When the children's and ghosts' flight paths converge, they soon discover that Will's mistake has had great consequences not only for Liesl and Will on the side of the living, but also for Po and Bundle on the Other Side.

Sir Fartsalot Hunts the Booger
Written by Kevin Bolger
Illustrated by Stephen Gilpin
Ages 9 and up

Prince Harry is the only son of his father, King Reginald the Not Very Realistic. Though the king has dreams of Harry's someday life as a knight of the Kingdom of Armpit, Harry is far more interested in practical jokes and making such magic as may be done by sleight-of-hand. (Real magic, of course, can only be made by wizards and enchanters.)

Known about the castle as the Royal Pain, Harry has just angered yet another knight in the castle (Sir Bedwetter) with his not-very-squire-like behavior. With not many knights left who haven't already been subjected to Harry's pranks, Richard begins to despair of his son ever living the knightly life.

But then a famous knight comes calling at the castle. His name? Sir Fartsalot. He's on a quest to find the Foul West Wind – a smell most vile, which blows about the land whenever evil is near. When Sir Fartsalot announces his intention to continue his quest the next morning, the quick-thinking king seizes the opportunity: assigning Harry as the knight's squire.

Before they leave, the brave Sir Fartsalot saves a child from the moat monster. When the child points at the bewildered knight and blurts out, "Booger!", the quick-thinking prince seizes the opportunity: saving the child's mother from mortification, modifying the old knight's quest, and creating some fun for himself in the process – or so he thinks.

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making
Written by Catherynne M. Valente
Illustrations by Ana Juan
Ages 10 and up

Twelve-year-old September is a young girl living an ordinary life in Nebraska, and she is quite tired of it. The Green Wind notices, and decides to swoop in through her kitchen window and offer her an escape. September jumps at the chance, joining the Green Wind on his Leopard of Little Breezes and trying her best to listen to the rules she must follow as they fly on to Fairyland. But the Green Wind can take her only to the border.

Once there, a surly gnome named Betsy Basilstalk pushes September through, but not before flinging some golden jelly in her eyes so she can see Fairyland as it actually is. Once in Fairyland, September encounters witches named Hello, Goodbye, and Manythanks (one of whom is a wairwulf – not to be confused with a werewolf). They send her on a quest to retrieve Goodbye's spoon, stolen from her nine years before by the Marquess – an individual quite young yet greatly feared by those in Fairyland. In return, September asks the witches for safe passage back to her home, as well as a favor as yet unnamed.

Bargain struck, September sets off. Along the way, she befriends a "wyverary" named A-Through-L (who believes he has a wyvern for a mother and a library for a father), a marid named Saturday, and a 112-year-old living paper lantern named Gleam, who all journey with her at one time or another. And it's a good thing she has them, because this quest that she hoped would be very straightforward? Turns out to be anything but.

A Hat Full of Sky
Written by Terry Pratchett
Ages 8 and up

Tiffany Aching, the "big wee hag" of the  six-inch-tall, blue-tattoo-skinned, Nac Mac Feegle – fiercest of the fairy races, has just left the chalk hills of her ancestral home, off to learn to use magic. She is apprenticed to Miss Level, a witch with one mind but two bodies and not – as many mistakenly assume – a pair of twins.

As she travels, something sinister follows Tiffany – a creature without form, drawn by her power. She senses its ominous presence, though she doesn't know what it is, nor does she realize it's coming for her. Rob Anybody, Big Man of the Chalk Hill Feegle Clan, does, though. With the blessing of his Kelda, Rob sets off with his Nac Mac Feegle brothers to try and save Tiffany.

But the only one who can save Tiffany is herself. And this time, it will take a lot more than a frying pan and a fiery spirit.

* * *

That's all for this year! I hope you enjoyed reading about these wonderfully weird literary adventures. Better yet, I hope these posts sent you on a quest to find a few of the books and read them for yourselves.

If you know of any books for young people that you'd like to see featured in next year's celebration (the Fifth Annual!), please drop me a line and let me know about them: bugs and bunnies (at) verizon (dot) net.

Before you go, here's one final rumination on weirdness:

"Be weird. Be random. Be who you are, because you never know who would love the person you hide."
               – Anonymous

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.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2013 - Installment #13

How's this for some epic weirdness? Today, Friday the 13th, marks the 13th installment of 2013's Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series. That's a whole lotta 13's all in one day. Also? September is the 9th month of the year, and this is the 4th annual BnBWWoL series, and if you add those two numbers together, you get...that's right...13. *cue creepy music*

If you're a paraskavedekatriaphobe, or a triskaidekaphobe, fear not: None of today's books have anything to do with Friday the 13th, or with the number 13. At all. (Although, Note to Self: That really would have been a good idea for a theme. Why didn't I think of that sooner?) So be assured that despite all the weird coincidences above, you've found a nice, safe, 13-Free place to celebrate some literary weirdness.

If you're new to BnBWWoL, click on the link in this sentence to get caught up, then come on back here and join the fun.

If you're a regular reader, you already know the drill, so go ahead and dive on in. Weirdness awaits!

Last week's Variation on the Overall Weirdo Theme was Odd Ducks. This week?


The WordWeb app on my phone defines outliers as: 

"an extreme deviation from the mean" 

Whether they live in the real world, or in the comics world, the characters in the following books most definitely operate outside the norm. And that's just fine by them:

Liar and Spy 
Written by Rebecca Stead
Ages 9 and up

Seventh-grader Georges, who's something of an outcast at school, has just moved into a Brooklyn apartment building where he meets twelve-year-old Safer. The more Georges gets to know Safer, the more he learns about his quirky new friend: Safer's parents let him and his siblings name themselves, and Safer drinks coffee from a flask. Also? Safer spies on people via the building's lobbycam.

In fact, Safer is way into the spy thing, and soon draws Georges into his world of apartment building espionage. When Safer gives Georges his first spying assignment – involving a mysterious and possibly nefarious building resident Safer has dubbed "Mr. X," Georges goes along with it, because it's exciting, this spy stuff. But soon, things begin not to add up, and Georges begins to question: Is this really real as Safer says, or is it just some elaborate game Safer made up to dupe Georges? And if it is real, how far is Georges willing to go to help a friend - his only friend - that he barely knows?

Written by Jerry Spinelli
Ages  12 and up

The new tenth-grade-girl was like no one anyone had ever met in the halls of Mica High. For starters, she called herself Stargirl. She also had a daily habit of strolling and twirling past the cafeteria tables at lunch, singing and playing the ukelele. She was so out there, kids were saying she was a fake; a plant, put there to stir up school spirit. Yet, despite her odd ways Stargirl soon found her way into acceptance and even popularity. And in the process, everyone around her found themselves changing, embracing their individuality. Long-dormant school spirit began to make a come-back.

At first, eleventh-grader Leo Borlock is just curious about this curious new girl. And he watches the changes she's brought to their school, and the changes in the kids within it. Including himself. As Leo tries to process it all, he talks about all of these changes to Archie – his neighborhood's unofficial teacher of unofficial-yet-popular classes. "It's a miracle!" Leo said one day. But Archie said Leo should hope that it's not. "The trouble with miracles is," Archie warned, "they don't last long."

The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
Written and illustrated by Bill Watterson
For children and adults

Pictured is the hardcover edition of this collection, which contains every Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that ever appeared in syndication. The cartoons ran in newspapers from November 1985 through Watterson's retirement in 1996.

Calvin is a precocious six-year-old boy whose larger-than-life ideas and deeds are frequently at odds with the expectations of his parents, his teacher Miss Wormwood, and Susie – the neighborhood girl and classmate Calvin outwardly taunts and inwardly kind-of-maybe likes. Calvin's best buddy, partner in misadventure, and part-time conscience is Hobbes the tiger. Hobbes, who is quite real with Calvin, appears to everyone else as merely a stuffed tiger. Together, boy and tiger get into and out of loads of trouble, contemplate life and the universe, and generally live life to the fullest, having a blast as they go.

The Adventures of Captain Underpants: The First Epic Novel
Written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey
Ages 7 and up

George Beard and Harold Hutchins are best friends, next-door neighbors, and fellow fourth-graders at Jerome Horowitz Elementary School. They have a love of silliness and pranks that tends to get them into more than their fair share of trouble. They also have a love of creating and drawing comics (George writes, Harold draws), and their best creation, hands down, has to be The Amazing Captain Underpants.

When their principal and arch-nemesis, Mr. Krupps, busts George and Harold for a particularly big prank, the boys can't see a way to ever be free from his dastardly punishments. But then they see a back-of-the-magazine ad for a 3-D Hypno-Ring. Four-to-six weeks later, what seemed like a perfect (and prankish) plan for rescuing themselves from the miseries of those principalian punishments takes a very unexpected turn...

* * *

Wasn't that fun? And not a lick of unlucky 13's in the bunch (as promised).

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

"Blessed are the weird people – poets, misfits, writers, mystics, painters, troubadours – for they teach us to see the world through different eyes."
                         – Jacob Nordby 

Be sure to come back next Friday, where the focus is on characters who are not as all-on-their-own as one may expect.


Friday, September 6, 2013

Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series 2013 - Installment #12

Today is the first Friday in September. Which means it's time for the Fourth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series!

If you're a regular reader of Bugs and Bunnies, you know exactly what's in store, and I hope you're excited to get started. If you're new here, I expect you'll be wanting a bit of explanation before we dive in today.

Here's the Peanut-Shell Explanation (because peanut shells are small, so they only hold a little bit):
  • 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.

And here's the Walnut-Shell Explanation (because walnut shells are bigger than peanut shells, so they hold a little bit more):

Visit the links below for more in-depth information:
  • 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 #1-11 from the previous three celebrations.

Once you're all caught up, come back to this post, and we'll Crack this Coconut (because coconuts are bigger than peanuts and walnuts, so they hold a lot more, and whether a coconut is nut or or a fruit or a seed or a drupe, it's the biggest nut-type-thing I could think of).

* * *

Back now? Wonderful! Let's get started with Installment #12. As in past years, there will be Variations on the Overall Weirdo Theme for each installment. This year's Variations will all start with "O." (I don't know why. They just came to me. Sometimes it's best not to question inspiration that just drops in your lap like that.) This week's Variation on the Overall Weirdo Theme is:

Odd Ducks

You know the type – they're just this side of normal, and they have their own unique way of doing things. The characters in the following books fit that bill, to be sure – odd animals, in even more odd situations:

Max's Chocolate Chicken
Written and illustrated by Rosemary Wells
Ages 3 - 7

One morning, Max finds a chocolate chicken in the birdbath. Max loves the chocolate chicken. But before he can grab it, big sister Ruby lays down the rules: First, they have to do an egg hunt. Whoever gets the most eggs, gets the chocolate chicken. So, they set off. Ruby keeps finding eggs, but Max keeps finding anything but. And when it becomes clear that the chocolate chicken is not going to go to Max, Max takes matters into his own hands...

Written by Margie Palatini
Illustrated by Henry Cole
Ages 3 - 7

Moose has a rather hairy problem - a mighty, massive, itchy moosetache. Because of his moosetache, dancing is nearly impossible, cooking is a messy disaster, and skiing is downright dangerous. And so, he is determined to tame it. But how? Moose tries all manner of creative solutions, but each "solution" brings even more trouble. Then, just when he's sure he'll never figure out how to manage his mischievous moosetache, Moose runs into...her. And soon, things become much more manageable indeed.

Philadelphia Chickens: A Too-Illogical Zoological Musical Revue
Written, illustrated and directed by Sandra Boynton
Ages 1 - 4, technically. But really, Ages 1 - 100 will enjoy it, too.

Presented in the style of a musical stage production, Philadelphia Chickens is a compilation of songs covering a variety of off-beat topics, such as: an ode to out-of-reach cookies, an existential examination of the belly button, and the antics of a group of swingin' city chickens, to name just a few. The book features illustrations, lyrics and music for each song, and comes with a CD featuring the original recordings from such entertainment greats as Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep and Scott Bakula. Add in vocal performances from the Aaaardvarks, The Seldom Herd, and The Bacon Brothers, and the result is a ton of silly reading and listening and singing fun.

Wind in the Willows
Written by Kenneth Grahame
Illustrated by Ernest H. Shepard
Ages 8 and up

Mole keeps a fastidious house, and usually he enjoys doing so, but one day during Spring cleaning, he's had enough. Craving something new, he sets off from his home in search of adventure. And he finds it in the form of Water Rat, who introduces Mole to the river life - exciting stuff for a Mole. Then, things get considerably more adventurous when Mole finds himself pulled into the goings-on of the infamous Mr. Toad, who has wild rides through the woods in (someone else's) motor car, endures a stint in jail, and finds himself in a tricky battle with weasels intent upon usurping Toad's fabulous abode for themselves. Through it all, mild-mannered Mole discovers he's made of tougher stuff than he imagined. And the adventures are exciting, just as he'd hoped. Still, he begins to pine for his quiet little life at home after a while. But, after taking the wild ride that is running about in company with Mr. Toad and friends, will Mole ever be able to return to his comparatively hum-drum life?

* * *

So. That wraps it up for today. But before you go, I'll leave you with this:
"To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment."
                               - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be sure to come back next Friday, September 13th, 2013, for Installment #13 of the Fourth Annual Bugs and Bunnies Wonderful Weirdos of Literature Series, which will showcase books whose characters find that "normal" is a relative term.