Monday, September 18

Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story by Lisa Wheeler, Illustrated by Janie Bynum

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are his alone and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author, illustrator or publisher. No porcupines serenaded him. Cover art is copyright of Little, Brown.

This is the story of Cushion, a lone Porcupine who lives in a petting zoo. You can imagine what a depressing life that is! Lonely and dejected, Cushion jailbreaks his pen and goes in search of a wife, banjo in hand. Yes, he plays the banjo. I can't decide if this is magnificent or mortifying. Maybe both.

What keeps Cushion from finding a mate isn't his prickly exterior, or his banjo playing, or his singing. Well, those might be contributing factors, but they aren't his ultimate downfall. No, that lies in how he expresses himself.

Cushion is the Mr Collins of porcupines.

I'm not exaggerating. He is single-minded in his goal of "porcupining for a wife" (cringe) and has a talent for delivering insults as if they were compliments. When his advances are poorly received, he writes off the other party as the one at fault and continues on his way to woo his next victim.

Of course, as this is "a prickly love story" Mr Coll- Cushion manages to inexplicably find his perfect match in a beautiful hedgehog. Much like Elizabeth Bennet, I am flabbergasted…and intrigued. Critical as I may be of Cushion's character, I am interested to know how this prickly love story will pan out – and there just so happens to be a follow-up book, 'Hokey-Pokey: Another Prickly Love Story.' I may read it.

My favourite illustrations in the book are actually the ones in the cover pages. The ones of Cushion trying to catch hearts in a net and a jar are very sweet, and the one of him smooching a hairbrush is simultaneously funny and embarrassing.

I would recommend 'Porcupining: A Prickly Love Story' to anyone who likes puns (so many puns) and stories where even the most obtuse and exasperating of creatures can find love.

Tuesday, September 12

Revolting Rhymes by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from some were-children who were gifted it by "you're babysitter." He is judging her. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the illustrator or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Puffin Books.

You think you know a fairy tale,
and recounting them is rather stale.
Yet when you read a Revolting Rhyme,
You'll find you were hoodwinked all this time.

This is my second tussle with Roald Dahl's rhyming couplet poetry. His 'Dirty Beasts' was an anthology of hits and misses, but 'Revolting Rhymes' is – as that delinquent Goldilocks would say – "just right."

There are six fairy tales retold in this book: Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk, Snow-White and the Seven Dwarfs, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf, and The Three Little Pigs.

My prickly point with 'Dirty Beasts' was some of the poems' length and rhythmic pace. The poems in 'Revolting Rhymes' are long – and read like short stories – but the pacing is spot on, which makes for smooth reading. Still, I stumbled when Dahl broke from his rhyming couplets to quote (or paraphrase) famous lines from the fairy tales. This choice displeased me. As a wise llama once said, "You threw off my groove!"

Five of the six poems have a unique spin on the old fairy tales. Modern readers may find Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf predictable. I believe this is because it has been ripped off by 'Into the Woods' and other hooligans. Dishonour! Goldilocks and the Three Bears is more of a cynical commentary on the original tale than a full twist.

'Revolting Rhymes' is a book that you can't help but smile while reading, particularly if you are susceptible to schadenfreude. Good times – do read it.

Saturday, September 9

Percy's Friend the Hedgehog by Nick Butterworth

In accordance with the FTC Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer bought this book. The opinions expressed are his alone and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author or publisher. But if they are looking for any other hedgehog subjects for future projects, they can contact his agent. Cover art is copyright of Harper Collins.

Percy is a park keeper. All of his friends are animals, because why not?

This is not as much a story as snippets and excerpts about a particular hedgehog and Percy's friendship with him. Included within are the hedgehog's likes and dislikes, a poem, the hedgehog's favourite places, and more.

It should be clarified that this is a specific, unnamed, hedgehog. He is an individual and is not representative of a typical hedgehog. In fact, he seems to have some quite extraordinary – if not unbelievable – attributes.

For starters, the hedgehog seems to get things stuck to his head a lot, including apples. Hedgehogs cannot get apples stuck to their heads. This is a ridiculous myth peddled by literature. Please do not put apples on hedgehogs.

The hedgehog continuously laments that other animals are getting prickly with him about his prickles. (See what I did there? I'm so clever.) He writes a poem about his run-in with a duck and how he "jabbed her." Please, ducks aren't that delicate. It's not like he tackled a naked more rat.

This hedgehog is apparently a "worrier." He is afraid of many things, and yet not afraid of the fox, whom he has picnics with and tries to teach to colour. The hedgehog's colouring ability is something akin to a superpower. Hedgehogs do not have good eyesight. Also, what hedgehog would have a picnic with a fox? If a fox invited me to a picnic, I'd assume I was the main course – especially if I was a "worrier."

There are some nice aspects of the book. I liked the snow hedgehog and how the hedgehog liked to swing on the swing. The pictures are beautiful (best viewed through glasses if you're a hedgehog) and my favourite was the double-page spread of autumn.

I am rather sceptical of Percy's hedgehog friend. Perhaps I need to meet him for myself. I do not know if I will be picking up any of the other books about Percy's friends. Definitely not the one about the fox!

Wednesday, August 30

Just Go to Bed by Mercer Mayer

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

This book is about Little Critter. I do not know what kind of critter he is or why he has such an ambivalent name, but it is what it is.

In this book, Little Critter is using his imagination to its full potential. He imagines himself as all different kinds of professions and creatures – a cowboy, a sea monster, a superhero – but his father stomps all over his happiness, telling him to do ridiculous things like have a bath, put on pajamas, and go to bed.

At first, Little Critter's father intercepts each of his adventures in character. He is a robot capturing the space cadet, or a bandit chasing the engineer. Then his temper begins to grow. If you want to read a book about bedtime from a parent's perspective, Adam Mansbach wrote a good one.

I cannot help but empathise with Little Critter's plight. Sleep is overrated. Imagination is everything. Adults are too uptight about these things. I know because someone has written "brush your teeth" in pencil before "and go to bed" in this book. Little critters do not brush their teeth!

'Just Go To Bed' by Mercer Mayer is about imagination in its prime being stilted for something as mundane as sleep. It is a stark and honest depiction of the imaginative potential of a child, juxtaposed with the "necessities" of life.

*Which is owned by the Random Penguin House. They own everything!

Monday, August 21

Dirty Beasts by Roald Dahl, Illustrated by Quentin Blake

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer found this book on his shelf and read it. The opinions expressed are his alone and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the illustrator, publisher, or any "dirty beasts." Cover art is copyright Puffin Books.

'Dirty Beasts' is a book of poems by Roald Dahl about various animals, most of whom seem to be aggressive towards humans in one form or another.

Sometimes the animal is lashing out against abuse (The Anteater) or experiencing intense paranoia (The Pig) but mostly the animals seem to taunt and attack humans for pure enjoyment.

The poems follow a rhyming couplet scheme. I think that is what they are called – AA BB CC etc. Each line is eight syllables long.

My favourite poems are the shorter ones – the ones that take up less than a page or a little over. They seem to be the cleverest and have the most effective rhyming. Most of the poems dodder on for pages. They read like short stories with continuous run-on sentences and the rhythmic pace suffers.

There is no poem about hedgehogs, though one does make an appearance in one of Quentin Blake's illustrations at the end of the poem The Porcupine. This is most unpleasant as I do not think hedgehogs deserved to be lumped in under the title 'Dirty Beasts' even in such a minor role.

With the exception of The Porcupine, who does nothing but be sat upon, the "beasts" in Dahl's poems range from hungry to xenophobic. The French are stereotyped to an extravagance as rabid snail and frog eaters, and an Afghani man is referred to as a "silly foreign freak" and defecated upon.

Then there are the poems that seek to fuel the propaganda that these "beasts" live to eat little children. I must say that dousing them in butterscotch and caramel does sound rather appetizing. However, the most disturbing part of the poem The Crocodile is when an adult tells their child "Go lock the door and fetch my gun!" That is not going to end well.

The last poem in the book is about something called The Tummy Beast, which I assume is a Chestburster.

If you pick up 'Dirty Beasts' by Roald Dahl, I recommend The Crocodile, The Lion, and The Scorpion. These poems were enjoyable to read but the rest of the book has not left me with a desire to repeat the experience. It has only left me with one question: What is a Roly-Poly Bird?