It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Kathryn at BookDate, and was adapted by Kellee at Unleashing Readers and Jen at Teach Mentor Texts with a children’s/YA focus. This weekly roundup is a great way to discover new blogs and bloggers, share titles, and add to your ever-growing to-read list.
Title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Author: Roald Dahl
Publisher: Alfred F.Knopf
Publication Date: 2014
Genre/Format: Fiction / Novel
My Two Cents: A new “collector’s edition” of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory arrived at the library this week, and out of curiosity I picked it up, intending to skim through it and read a page or two. The next thing I knew thirty minutes had passed and I was well into the book! It’s been years since I first read about Charlie, Grandpa Joe and the Oompa Loompas, and although I remembered the general storyline, I’d forgotten just how beguiling Dahl’s strange and wonderful story really is.
One reason I (and many children) have so loved Dahl is the fact that he never shied away from doing bad things to bad people. Spoiled, greedy Veruca Salt and her enabling parents get their comeuppance as they slide down a nasty, smelly garbage shoot towards a potentially fiery fate. Augustus Gloop faces a similar punishment as he disappears into a fudge-making machine in an attempt by the Oompa Loompas to turn him into something sweeter. For child readers few things are more cathartic than reading about people getting their just desserts. As adults we frown upon these kinds of stories – we want the Little Red Hen to share her bread with all the other animals even though they didn’t help at all with the making of it, and we want Little Red Riding Hood and the wolf to put aside their differences and become fast friends. But as a child, what you really want is for the schoolyard bully to have his pants fall down in front of the entire student body at an assembly, or for your mean older sister to spill permanent ink all over her favourite shirt (that’ll teach her not to pull your hair anymore!). Children can feel quite powerless, unable to take real action or change their situations, and all too often it feels as though bad things only seem to happen to good people. In Charlie and the Chocolate Family, or Matilda, or James and the Giant Peach, good, nice children get their just rewards, while mean, nasty, horrible people get their just desserts. It’s comforting to escape into an imaginary world where life seems fairer and more just (how many times are children told “well, life isn’t fair!”), even if just for a little while.
Title: Mind Your Monsters
Author: Catherine Bailey / Illustrator: Oriol Vidal
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Fiction / Picture book
Wally enjoyed a quiet, normal life…until one day monsters invaded his small town and made a mess of everything.
Wally is just your average, small-town kid living in your average, small-town life until his average, small town is invaded by monsters. When all hope seems lost and the grown-ups decide to give up and run away, it’s up to Wally to find a way to banish the monsters and save the town he loves.
Mind Your Monsters has a cute enough story line – it turns out that the monsters are just trying to be friendly, and that they are happy to stop tearing things apart if only they’re asked politely. By mastering his Ps and Qs, Wally is able to turn destructive monsters into cute and cuddly monsters, and everyone eventually puts aside their differences and becomes good friends. Nothing too ground-breaking here, but a nice story all the same.
But the illustrations! Oh, the illustrations!! You need to pick this book up this instant and admire Oriol Vidal’s gorgeous illustrations. The text itself is sparse and spare, and the stunningly colourful, cartoony, slightly retro illustrations bring everything to life. The monsters are gross yet endearing, and rendered in a delightful array of colours, shapes and sizes. There are also a few nice modern touches that will resonate with today’s readers, but which won’t immediately become outdated – the children are depicted taking photos with a smartphone, and listening to music through their headphones.
This is also the most diverse small town I’ve ever come across – the town’s inhabitants come in almost every shape, colour and size imaginable. The young hero Wally could be happa (biracial Asian/caucasian), his best friend is a red-head (gingers unite!) and the various townspeople are a delightful rainbow of diverse characters (including a blue-haired kid with glasses). Like the best diverse picture books, none of this is ever mentioned – who cares that there are black kids and white kids and blonde kids and blue haired kids? The real issue here is an invasion of monsters!
Sure to be a kid pleaser, especially among slightly older children, Mind your Monsters is a light-hearted and gorgeous picture book romp reminiscent of those silly b-movie classics of old.
Title: Fire Engine No. 9
Author/Illustrator: Mike Austin
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: 2015
Genre/Format: Fiction / Picture book
My Two Cents:
Alert! Alert! Fire! Fire! Fire!
Bold lines, visually-arresting art, vivid colours, heart-pounding action, and simple, repetitive text come together in Fire Engine No. 9 to create a brilliant picture book that is sure to please young readers. This isn’t a wordless picture book per se, but the text is sparse and consists primarily of repeated sounds and actions (WEOOO! WEOOO! WEOOO! HURRY! HURRY! HURRY!) The real storytelling is done through the illustrations, which build the dramatic tension and heighten the action to the point where my (adult) colleague and I felt like we couldn’t put the book down – no mean feat for a picture book with only a handful of pages and even fewer words! Fire Engine No. 9 would make for an awesome story time book, with lots of opportunities for children to get (noisily) involved in the storytelling, and it would also work well as a writing prompt for older children. And the best part? The heroic firefighter who saves a baby from a fiery inferno is a revealed to be a woman, but with absolutely no fanfare or even any text. It’s simply a matter-of-fact reveal which likely would have been portrayed no differently if it had a male firefighter instead, which will hopefully help reinforce the development of positive and inclusive gender role assumptions in young children. Definitely worth a look at this gem of a picture book.
So, what have you been reading this week?