Children's · Comedy · Fantasy · Humor

Dragons at Crumbling Castle

by: Terry “the fantastically funny” Pratchett

I am always delighted to find a new Terry Pratchett book.  Pratchett passed away (from Alzheimer’s disease) in 2015 and though inevitably there will come a day when I have read all of his works, I refuse to hasten that day any more than necessary, preferring instead to have his books delight and surprise me in the finding as well as the reading.

I found this one in the children’s section of the library, as I was searching out His Dark Materials, and, of course, I checked out it immediately.  I’ve said before that I prefer Pratchett’s adult works to his children’s, and while that’s true, his children’s book are still whimsical and absurdly funny adventures worth looking in to.  This particular book is a collection of short stories Pratchett wrote early on his career, reworked a little before publication as a book.

Dragons at Crumbling Castle contained stories from The Carpet People but there were plenty of other stories as well. I really loved the short story format; the quick reads meant the stories were intently focused on plots and absurdities and they made for a great laugh.  Plus, I read this during a 3-day research workshop, so the short stories were about all my brain was up for.

While the writing was simple and the structure much clearer than Pratchett’s normal style, it didn’t feel like I was reading something that was only intended for children.  Rather, it felt more like an all ages-type writing – clean and structured for kids, but cognizant of the fact that adults exist and might indeed be reading this very book.  Very Pratchett-lite; I could feel the zaniness and humor that I associate with him, but the plot lines were much simpler and the characterizations that I so love just weren’t there.

The stories also go everywhere, from King Arthur’s court to a tiny speck of dust to a living room carpet to a time traveling bus.  I think this was probably the best showcase I’ve read of Pratchett’s ability to set you up in a familiar plot line and then, in the blink of an eye, whiz you somewhere completely unexpected and leave you laughing.  Not every story does this expertly – these are some of his earlier works, after all – but many of the stories.  The stories do vary more than a typical collection of short stories work.  All of them work, but some work uproariously well and others just made me smile a little and turn the page.

I loved the illustrations – simple, funny, and very fitting.  I didn’t like that some words were written in a illustrative font; for instance, “huge” might have been written in giant, bold font, and “waggle” was always written in font with offset letters.  But I could imagine this making the book really fun to read out loud with a child.

If you’re not a fan of absurdist humor, simplistic writing, or thematically loose collections of short stories, then, alas, this might not be the book for you. If you have a child in need of some humor or if you want some funny, easy-on-the-brain short stories,  I would highly recommend Dragons at Crumbling Castle. If you are, for any reason, interested in Pratchett’s craft and his development as a writer, I would strongly recommend this book.  I think there’s a lot of insight to be gleaned from these works into how he developed his wonderful voice and style.

Children's · Uncategorized

Embarrassing Book Confessions

What’s your most embarrassing book confession?

I’ll tell you mine – it’s actually an embarrassing book habit at this point.

Jonathon Stroud is one of my favorite (YA) authors and a few years ago he started writing a series entitled Lockwood & Co.  I bought the first one without reading the blurb (I buy by author name a lot) and really enjoyed it! But I was surprised to find out it was a horror story. I don’t, as a rule, consume anything in the horror genre because I am incredibly easily terrified and find it a deeply unpleasant experience.

But I love Lockwood & Co and want to finish it, so every year, without fail, this happens: I buy/check out the latest book in the series and make a firm resolution not to read any of it after dark.  The first day, I’ll usually only read a page or two and things will be fine.  The second day, though, I’ll have enough time to get really into the plot, usually just as dusk approaches. No worries! I’ll get to a stopping point soon.

Invariably, as night truly falls, I’ll resolve to read just a few more pages or maybe to the end of the chapter, just to get to a good stopping point, get caught up in the story and, without fail, end up locking myself in the bathroom, scared witless, lights blazing, so I can finish the story and calm down enough to go to sleep, somewhere around 2 am. (And that’s usually only after listening to some P.G. Wodehouse after I’ve mustered up the courage to race from bathroom to bedroom and turn the lights off.)

Now, the fifth and final book has come out recently and I’ve put a hold on it in my local library.  Of course, this year, I absolutely will stick to my resolution and not read the book after dark.  Never mind the evidence of the past four years – this is the year I will be a sensible adult about things!

(For those of you wondering, I’m 28 and this book series has a target audience of/is appropriate for 12 year olds.)

Children's · Classics

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy

hairy maclary
by: Dame Lynley Dodd

Hairy Maclary from Donaldson’s Dairy is a classic Kiwi children’s book (I’m in New Zealand for a couple of years) and my writing professor read it to the class as an example of great children’s writing.

It’s a really fun, really cute book!  I’m going to go ahead and spoil the entire book, my apologies! It tells the story of Hairy Maclary, who walks through town and meets all of his friends, then runs into a mean tomcat and runs back home. The rhyming scheme is excellent – on par with Dr Seuss but without any made-up words.  The pictures are fantastic and I loved the descriptions of the dogs Hairy meets on his walk – I think my favorite was “Muffin McLay like a bundle of hay”- Muffin is a big fluffy Old English Sheepdog.

It’s the type of book that is best read out loud, and I can just hear a little kid piping in at the parts they love best, enthusiastically filling in the end of a rhyming couplet. It also lends itself to lots of different voices – one for each dog described, and a very scary one for the Scarface Tom, the meanest tom in town. I bought a copy for my best friend, who has an almost-two-year old and an almost-born baby.  (Her mom’s a children’s librarian so there’s some stiff competition in the books department.  I’m relatively sure they won’t have this one, though!)

If this book has one tiny little fault, I would say the conflict isn’t very exciting; they see the big tomcat and just run away in fright and that’s the climax of the story. However, it certainly doesn’t diminish from the joy of reading this book out load.

Anyways, this is an adorable kids’ book, perfect for the 4 and under crowd in your life. If you find a copy and you have some kids who love being read to (or you’re just a big fan of picture books yourself!) I definitely recommend getting a copy!

Children's · Fantasy · Humor

The Carpet People

carpetpeopleby: Terry Pratchett

The Carpet People is Terry Pratchett’s very first book – kinda.  It was the first book he ever published but after he made it big – long after this was out of print – people started trying to find it.  So he went back and reread it and then he rewrote it as a 40-ish successful writer.  In the introduction, he says it is not the book he wrote at 20 but also not the book he would have written at 40. Which makes it a fascinating book to read, if you’re curious about his development as a writer.

Though the writing is unmistakably Pratchett’s, it doesn’t actually have many elements of a Pratchett book.  Oh, you still find the humor and the occasional Pratchett funny truism, just on a much smaller scale.  The plot is extremely straightforward and easy to follow, with no big surprises or moments where suddenly everything makes sense.  The Pratchett-ism I really missed was the characters – those characters who really should be caricatures or even stereotypes but somehow end up being fully developed characters – Corporal Nobbs and Sergeant Colon, for instance.  Or Lord Vetinari.  There were none of them in this novel, though you can see the inklings of that development in a few of the characters.

That isn’t to say the characters aren’t good; they are.  They’re pretty well-developed, given the simplicity of the story and the plot.  It’s enjoyable and quick-paced and it doesn’t have the moral that most Discworld novels have, hidden deep inside, which makes it a little more escapism reading than Pratchett’s novels usually are.  I mean, there are inklings of a moral here and there, but it didn’t make me think and laugh simultaneously the way most of the Discworld novels do.

It’s the story of the Munrung tribe, a people who live peacefully in the Carpet, and the troubles that suddenly beset them.  Mostly, it follows their leader, Glurk, and his younger brother, Snibril, as they attempt to lead their people to safety after the coming of the Fray.  Glurk is brave and Snibril is clever. There are other characters – wise, some, mysterious others, and a requisite few are evil.  It is, now that I think of it, a little formulaic; not subversively so, either.  That being said, it was easy to get caught up in the novel -it was a great adventure to go on!

The best thing about this novel was the world building.  The implication is that the whole world is set in someone’s living room carpet. It was so much fun to think about! From the details to the overarching narrative, Pratchett did an excellent job of drawing the reader into the world – and maybe making them think twice before carelessly trodding on their living room floor.  If you’ve got a vivid imagination or just love to revel in someone else’s, I would recommend this book in a heartbeat.  It is not only a fairly quick read but engrossing and delightful to think about.

It’s also a children’s book, or at least that’s how I would classify it.  Simple, exciting, imaginative and age-appropriate, with excellent drawings interspersed throughout.  And I realize I’m comparing it somewhat negatively to his other works, but I truly enjoyed reading it and would do so again without hesitation.   It was a book to get lost in, for the sheer fun of reading and ignoring the realities of the world.

If you love imaginative adventures, are looking for a book to read out loud with your kid, or are interested in Pratchett’s earlier work, I would definitely check out The Carpet People.  If you’re into Pratchett’s book because of their witty social commentary, if you like your adventures bloody and tense, or if you’re a big fan of complex, surprising characters, than alas! this may not be the book for you.


Children's · Classics · Uncategorized

The First Book You Read

GreenEggsHam1Do you remember the first book you read all by yourself? I do – it was Dr. Seuss’ immortal classic, Green Eggs and Ham. I was 5, maybe 4, and I remember being so proud for getting through the book on my own.

It was night, and it must’ve been past my bedtime, because I remember coming out of my room and going to my parents in the living room extremely excited to read them Green Eggs and Ham all by myself.

My parents, who were settling down in front of the T.V. for some child-free time and the nightly news, were… less than impressed.  I got a half-baked, “Okay, good, now go to bed, Topper” response to my big moment.

To be fair, I don’t think I adequately expressed that this was the Very First Time I had read a book entirely independently.  In fact, I don’t think I said anything but “Mommy! Daddy! Look! Listen!” and then diving directly in my book.  Add to that I was not the easiest child to get to sleep – I’ve always been a night owl – and I was one of four children that they had finally gotten into bed for the night – well, you can understand their response being less Hooray for Diffendoofer Day and more Marvin K. Mooney, Would You Please Go Now!

But I do remember – and laugh at – my parents’ underwhelmed response to this day, twenty years later. (Luckily, they’ve more than made up for it with other milestone moments in my life.)

To top off the story, I was an extremely picky eater as a child – and am still fairly picky as an adult – and “Try it, you just might like it!” has never been a motto I’ve tried to live by.

Do you remember the first book you read independently? If so, let me know what it was in the comments!

Children's · Uncategorized

Barnes & Noble’s (or your local bookstore’s) Holiday Book Drive

Even though I firmly believe the holidays don’t start until after Thanksgiving, this is my holiday plug for the year.

I don’t donate much to charity – I volunteer instead – but I always buy books at charity book drives.  Whether it’s at the long-lost Borders, Barnes and Noble, or my local bookstore, when I see those children’s books come out on the counters, I get really excited.

Barnes and Noble partners up with local charities, like children’s hospitals, and encourages customers to purchase and donate a new children’s book.  They keep a selection of books up at the counter and you just have to point to the book you want and pay – the clerk does the rest.  (All book drives that I have seen work like this; I imagine you could also select and donate a book you particularly loved as a child.) Most places pick out cheaper, paperback books, so you, as a kind-hearted customer, are only looking at $6-$10 extra. If it’s a concern, the clerks generally know what charity they’re donating to this year.  But the good thing is, 100% of your book is going straight to that charity.

If you have a bit of extra money and find yourself at a participating bookstore, I encourage you to donate a book.  Like most readers, books were a big part of my life growing up and while I was lucky enough to have parents that kept me supplied, not every child else does.  And owning a book can be a big deal; libraries are excellent places and should be encouraged but there’s something about having your own, worn, dog-eared copy of a favorite book that’s really special.