Tag Archives: chapter books

Boys and Plants and Magical Houses

So, when I bought the ‘Mostly True Story of Jack,’ by Kelly Barnhill–I for some reason thought it was going to be like this:

Not saying that I’m disappointed it’s not.  Jennifer Garner kind of gets on my nerves, and that little boy looks creepy as hell.

So what actually happens is that Jack’s parents are getting a divorce.  And while they ‘get things sorted,’ Jack’s brother goes to stay with friends, while Jack is dropped off at his aunt and uncle’s house.

Understandably, Jack is a little put out to be dumped in a weird house in the middle of nowhere with people he’s never met before.  Even though his previous home-life doesn’t seem that enviable—absent in all the family photos, he literally drew a picture of himself and pasted it in.  A little heartbreaking, that is.

And of course, the town that Jack’s been placed in is a little creepy, with his aunt and uncle’s house—the purple, green, every-color-of-the-rainbow house that seems to shudder and move, and also gives off electric shocks—well that’s the creepiest of all.

What Jack doesn’t know, and his uncle seems very slow to tell him (more a professor of the Socratic method I suppose) is that he is the key to the awakening of the town and it’s magical, nefarious guardians.

Upon arrival, after being almost ran-over by the town power player, tycoon Mr. Avery, Jack meets Anders, Wendy, and her twin brother Frankie.  Frankie was kidnapped several years ago, and mysteriously returned, speechless and with huge, red scars on half of his face.

Then shit gets complicated.  Continue reading


Wildwood=Wildgood

I like to keep with a theme, whether it be kids in space, dystopian youth gangs fighting the man, or scary birds.  So naturally, after reading The Aviary, I wanted to read another book about birds that may be plotting to kill you.

Wildwood starts at a brisk pace, with the kidnapping of Prue’s baby brother Mac.  This kidnapping, like most, happens in a split-second when Prue’s attention is diverted at the park.  However, unlike the usual America’s Most Wanted kidnapping stories, Prue’s baby bro is snatched up by a flock of crows.  A veritable, murder of crows if you will.

This large swarm of birds carry the child off into the distance, into the Impassible Wilderness, the large, imposing forest that no one in Portland (yes, Oregon) ever ventures into (or if they do, never returns from, natch).  Prue, obviously not a shrinking violet, strikes off on her own to rescue her brother.  She is joined at the last minute by her hapless, bespectacled (they always are bespectacled aren’t they?) neighbor, Curtis.

Not long after they enter the woods (and are immediately lost), Prue and Curtis almost stumble upon a crowd of arguing coyotes.  Coyotes wearing tattered uniforms and carrying rusty muskets.  Unfortunately, they are sniffed out quickly, and only Prue escapes.  Curtis, unfortunately, is marched back to the warren to meet the Dowager Governess.

While Curtis is getting drunk on homemade spirits, while getting acquainted with the Dowager, Prue is almost flattened by a mail truck.  The kind mailman escorts her to the South Wood, marvelling that an Outsider has made it into the woods, and gently letting her know that her friend Curtis and baby brother Mac have most likely been killed and dismembered by now. Continue reading


Mysteries, Train Rides, and Narcolepsy: All the Best in Children’s Literature

I just finished all of the ‘Mysterious Benedict Society’ books, and that includes the prequel, which we shall be discussing this evening:  The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict.

I am such a big fan of prequels. There are few things sweeter than being woken out of the post-series-finishing blues by the announcement of another installment somehow (no matter how distantly) related to your favorite characters.  I really wish JK Rowling would get with the program already.

You may have noticed (but probably not, because I doubt that anyone is follows my blog posts that closely) that I haven’t yet posted about books 1, 2, or 3 of the series.  Why the total disregard for chronological order?  You may be wondering to yourself.  Well, besides the fact that I am filled with whimsy, I also hold the belief that no matter the publishing order, books are best kept in the chronological order of their own fictional world.  Take the Chronicles of Narnia for instance.  Besides the fact that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is by far my least favorite of the books, it just makes more sense that you read The Magician’s Nephew first so you can understand the Professor and the wardrobe more fully.

Anyway, I don’t really need a reason.  Stop arguing with me already. Continue reading


Ghosts of Indeterminate Gender

This kind of book is the number one drawback of having an e-reader.  Especially the e-ink type.  Sure, it doesn’t hurt your eyes and you can read it in the sun, but it sure stinks when your book has cool drawings.

I can’t think of an interesting, relatable anecdote to tie into the story, so I’ll just start telling you about it

Liesl’s father has died, and her stepmother, in usual evil-stepmother-style, has locked her in the attic.  Lonely and depressed, Liesl is less surprised than you’d think when a ghost and its pet show up in her tiny room.  Neither boy nor girl, Po comes from the Other Side, attracted to the light Liesl’s room, and intrigued by her imaginative drawings.  Po’s pet, Bundle, neither dog nor cat, goes wherever Po goes, so Liesl gets a package deal of friends.

Liesl and Po make a deal; Po will look for Liesl’s father on the Other Side, and Liesl will draw it a picture.

Meanwhile, Will is standing in the street, gazing up at Liesl’s window.  Will is an orphan and an alchemist’s apprentice—to a very nasty and mean alchemist.  This very night he is set to deliver the most powerful magic potion in the world to the Lady Premiere.  But tired and distracted, Will accidently switches the powerful magic with the ashes of Liesl’s recently deceased father.

Then things get interesting.  This mix-up sets all the characters on the same path, a journey to the house that where Liesl grew up.  The different motives and different viewpoints build an interesting and layered storyline that manages to be both alternately funny, sweet, and sad.  Continue reading


The Aviary: The Allure of Scary Fonts

see? the font is very chill-enducing

I can’t watch scary movies.  In fact, I’m such a wuss I can’t even watch movies that are supposed to be parodies of scary movies, or even have scary violins in them.  I always blame it on the fact that we lived off of a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, with scary hangy-over-the-road trees, but it probably stems more from me being kind of a sheltered wimp.  I wasn’t allowed to read the Goosebumps books as a kid because they would give me nightmares (this isn’t verified of course, since I didn’t actually read them, but my mom said they were satanic, just like Clifford and Harry Potter, and I was too frightened by the bookcovers to argue).

My mom probably wouldn’t have let me read The Aviary either, because it has a pretty grim looking cover, and the font is kind of gothic, and birds are the minions of the devil, probably.  But this is pretty much the only type of ‘scary’ I can handle.

Scary-For-Prepubescents. That’s about my limit.

I always battle with myself whether to read the back copy or not, since the majority of the time the back copy (much like my blog posts) gives away most of the story.  So, to compromise, I just skimmed it, and went into the book knowing that the birds in the giant aviary in the Clara’s backyard were once children (hey!  Don’t blame me for ruining it for you—they shouldn’t have put it in the synopsis!). Continue reading


Boxcar Children with a Hint of ‘Lost’

Mike isn't important enough to make the cover.

Last time the children knew Grandfather was up to something because he seemed angry.  In an interesting (I’m using the adjective loosely here) change of events, this time they know something is up because he’s happy – he’s joking with Benny, and it’s an event to be remarked on and remembered and followed closely.  At length.  It really gives you some insight into day-to-day life with Grandfather, when any hint of emotion is an anomaly to be noted.  I can only imagine that his normal state of being is a kind of catatonic, drugged out bliss—with blank eyes and a frozen expression of nothingness.

This time Grandfather has surprised his brood of orphans with a trip to the South Seas!  Not on a cruise ship, as you’d imagine, but instead on a freighter, probably running illicit cargo to Tahiti.  Grandfather had planned on just taking them to San Francisco and then he considered Tahiti (probably to sell as house slaves), but THEN his friend tells him about first mate Lars Larson (Gertie’s not too creative about naming people.  It’s probably where Benny gets his skillz.  Remember Potato Camp?)  Lars got shipwrecked on this deserted island for an indeterminate amount of time, and it was so much fun (!) that he wants to go back FOR VACATION.  I think Lars has PTSD.  Sidebar – in another interesting insight of Life with James Henry (LWJH from now on), when the kids come in to meet Lars for the first time, Grandfather announces that he’s their friend from now on.  He just decrees it so, and no one bats an eye.  Let’s take a poll about why we think that he declares Lars their friend, so saith JH, let it be written instead of letting them decide if they actually want to be friends with this middle-aged stranger who has appeared in their living room and has whispered conversations with their grandfather behind closed doors.  He calls them all “Mr.” and “Miss,” so he knows his place.  This is probably why they don’t have more friends.

Continue reading