Tuesday, August 15

We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen, Illustrated by Helen Oxenbury

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Cafe would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from the library. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author, illustrator or publisher. Cover art is copyright Walker Books.*

This is the story of five children. Yes, the tall one is a child. He just has a serious case of dad-face.

These five children are going to hunt for a bear. Not a make-believe bear in a make-believe game. No, these children go in search of a real, live bear, armed with nothing but a stick. Presumably to poke the bear with.

They chant as they go, saying they're "going to catch a big one" as if they are going to snare a large fish. They are also "not scared." Apparently they have been emboldened by the "beautiful day" as though good weather were the ultimate shield against danger.

These kids are not cut out for bear hunting. They say "Oh no!" when they have to wade through some grass. Yet they trudge on, intent on seeking out and confronting a wild animal.

Who raised these obtuse children? Where are their parents? Are they at home making naïve baby number six? Their only companion is a dog, who is not much of a protector.

The book is written in a sing-song style and utilises onomatopoeia. It alternates between double-page spreads in watercolour and black 'n' white. This was very distracting and a strain on my poor wee eyes.

'We're Going on a Bear Hunt' is the tale of five dim-witted children. It is "retold by Michael Rosen." Perhaps this means there is an original version where the children meet a grizzly end. (See what I did there?) I shouldn't be at all surprised.

*That’s Candlewick Press if you’re in the US.

Saturday, August 12

Harriet Dancing by Ruth Symes, Illustrated by Caroline Jayne Church

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book after it was released by a library and that he did not steal it. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author, illustrator or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Chicken House.*

Harriet is on her way to visit her best friend, Ivor, when she happens upon dancing butterflies. She is inspired to dance, only to have her dreams shot down. Will Harriet dance again?

Harriet is one of the best hedgehog protagonists I have come across. She is lovely and full of life. She is also incredibly sociable for a hedgehog. Not only is her best friend another hedgehog, but she greets all of the animals she meets. Harriet is obviously well-liked, as each animal happily greets her in turn.

Then she comes across the bigoted butterflies. When Harriet is moved to dance while watching them, the butterflies tell her "the butterfly dance is only for butterflies…not hedgehogs" and "butterflies only dance with butterflies." Dejected, Harriet runs off, only to find solace in her friends, who encourage her to dance again.

One thing I really like about this book is that Harriet is given a name. It may seem like a small thing, but a lot of books about hedgehogs just give their protagonist the name "Hedgehog" or "Hedgie." My prickly point is that I wish the other animals in the books were extended the same courtesy. Instead they are referred to as Frog, Mole, etc.

This story has multiple themes. One is about following your dreams in the face of rejection and adversity. Another is about being inclusive and kind to those who are different from yourself. These are shown in the contrast of the snooty and elitist butterflies to the diverse array of animals that encourage and support Harriet.

This is an uplifting story that I recommend to readers of all ages. I do not know why a library released my copy for sale. No child should miss out on 'Harriet Dancing.'

*The Chicken House is run by Scholastic. Who knew they kept chickens?

Wednesday, August 9

Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O'Neill

In accordance with the FTC Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from the library. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Oni Press.

No prince has succeeded in rescuing Princess Sadie from her tower prison – but Princess Amria is no prince! Together, the two princesses will save one other and each find their place in the world.

The two princesses are endearing from the start. Amira is optimistic and determined. Sadie is outspoken and emotional. Seriously. That girl could drown a small village with her tears. It's practically a superpower.

Amira's rescuing methods are a little questionable. She could have maimed or killed Sadie on multiple occasions, but her perseverance is admirable. Sadie has that inexplicable sheltered blonde girl ability to solve problems with compassion. If anyone else tried this, they'd probably get themselves squished or smote.

Sadie and Amira also meet Prince Vladric. After decrying being helped by women, he then proceeds to tell them how easy they have it and how much baggage comes with the expectations of manly princeliness. Boo-hoo. I think Vladric could have been a more sympathetic character if there had been enough time in the story for more character development. Alas, he shall forever be Butthead.

'Princess Princess Ever After' touches on real insecurities. Amira is feeling lost, unsure of where she belongs. Sadie, belittled and degraded, bears a scar of self-doubt. Vladric...well, we covered him. The comic features a diverse cast of characters and an unspoken romantic thread between Amira and Sadie. This might have been argued as ambiguous (by the tragic and desperate) but the epilogue – which was not featured in the original web comic – makes it undeniable.

This is a short but enjoyable story for young readers (and old-er people too) from New Zealand writer and illustrator, Katie O'Neill. I look forward to reading more of her work.

Sunday, August 6

Mary Poppins by P.L. Travers

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the publisher. Cover art is copyright HMH Books for Young Readers.

If you wish to read a book about a sweet, kindly nanny, who is always doting and never cross – this book is not for you.

Mary Poppins is a boss. She is a no-nonsense narcissist who believes in "my way or the highway."

Fortunately, the way of Mary Poppins – strict though she may be – is paved with wonder. With her, the Banks children go on many adventures and meet extraordinary characters along the way.

The number of strangers who talk to Jane and Michael Banks as if they're old friends is alarming. I hate being accosted. When someone has the nerve to walk up to me, I instantly want to curl up into a ball and reclaim my personal space. These fictional characters may not have broken the fourth wall but they still managed to make me feel very uncomfortable.

Mary Poppins reminds me a little of Holly Golightly. She is every bit herself, she does what she pleases, she draws people to her, and she can't be tied down. Of course, Holly has charisma to go around. Poppins' soft side is reserved for her man-friend, Bert. Poor Bert. His name is Bert. There's a reason I don't shorten my name to Bert!

Mary Poppins is also a major troll. She takes these children on wonderful adventures, and when they talk about them later, or seek to ask further questions, she acts as if she has no idea what they're talking about. Causing children to feel like no one will believe what they have to say, and prompting them to question their own sanity, is detrimental to their development. Way to go, Poppins.

The book is somewhat spoiled by racist gems like "Two tiny black babies in one cradle – are they chocolate, do you think, or china?" and "You will not behave like a Red Indian, Michael." It's to be expected of a book published in the 1930s, but I still turn up my nose to it.

I listened to 'Mary Poppins' on audio, read by Sophie Thompson. She is a fab narrator. I will definitely listen to more Poppins if it is read by her!

Thursday, August 3

The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs by A. Wolf

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer plucked this from his bookshelf. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author, illustrator or publisher. He didn't even get a cup of sugar. Cover art is copyright of Scholastic.

This is the story of Alexander T. Wolf as dictated to Jon Scieszka. It is illustrated by Lane Smith in browns, greys and dusty colours. It tells the tale of how Alexander – aka Al – was baking a cake for his sick granny when he ran out of sugar.

This is Al's side of the "Three Little Pigs" story, which seeks to paint him as the victim of the whole ordeal. Excuse me while I scoff. I read this story and Al is far from innocent. Why? Al commits serial manslaughter.

I understand why Al would be reluctant to call the police – or a huntsman – in the aftermath of each of these incidents. Racially motivated police brutality is not the best incentive to call the authorities when you're a wolf who has just committed manslaughter. Yet Al's reaction to each of these accidents is ill-advised to say the least. It isn't even the panic-induced "Whoops I just killed someone, what to do?" trope you see in the movies. It's far more detached, which is a little unnerving.

I do not understand why Al would go door to door asking for a cup of sugar. He's got one neighbour who's so poor he had to build a house out of straw, one who's busy and racist, and another who's angry and racist. He must not know his neighbours at all, and who asks strangers for a cup of sugar?

While I don't find Al guiltless in his actions, he is villainised by the media. They use the most threatening-looking photograph of him they can find and buzzwords like "big" and "bad" to describe him. It is spun to depict him – and wolves in general – as dangerous. This is shown on the cover page of "The Daily Pig" (All the News that's Fit for Pigs) with the headline "Big Bad Wolf," which includes an image of a wolf's teeth with the caption "Seen as Menace."

'The True Story of the 3 Little Pigs' is an interesting one to read with an objective eye. It does not depict A. Wolf as blameless but it does highlight how the media intertwines prejudice and sensationalism.