It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? February 8, 2016

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.

charlie

Title: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Author: Roald Dahl
Publisher: Alfred F.Knopf
Publication Date: 2014
Genre/Format: Fiction / Novel

My Two CentsA 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.

*SPOILER ALERT*

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.

Monstets

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.

fire engine

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?

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25 thoughts on “It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? February 8, 2016

      • Ha, no, no, not from a tribe, very very English ancestors, though a New Zealander through-and-through (I do have a Maori middle name though!). 🙂 We try to visit every few years, but the airfare is just outrageous. I’d love to explore the South Island – we only ever really visit family, which keeps us in Auckland, Hamilton and some smaller towns. I’d love to see where all the Lord of the Rings movies were filmed 🙂

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  1. I used to love Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as a kid, our teacher read it to us and the sequel too (I want to say third grade, not sure). It was just so imaginative- loved it! Nice to see a great new edition.

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  2. Such beautiful books! I am constantly looking for reasons to buy/give children’s books, because I adore them. I just bought a new copy of The Day the Crayons Quit for my friend’s two daughters.

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  3. I loved your review of Charlie & The Chocolate Factory, brings back good memories. Roald Dahl brings so much pleasure to everyone. And I’ll find that monster book for my granddaughters, who always love something about monsters. Thanks Jane.

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    • These monsters are very cute, so I’m sure they’ll be popular! Re-reading childhood favourites can be a bit nerve-wracking at times, you sometimes wonder if the magic will still be there, and I was delighted to find that this time it was!

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  4. I agree about those illustrations in the monster book – just fantastic! Fire Engine No 9 would have been a daily read when my son was little. He so loved fire trucks! I get a little emotional thinking about how he is so far away from these titles now and into dramatic YA books.

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  5. I loved your review of Mind Your Monsters and will definitely get a copy for our school library. I agree with your comment, “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!”

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    • That’s really what I’m hoping for with picture books in the future – diverse picture books that don’t always have to be “issue” books, just regular old stories featuring regular old kids who just happen to be different (as we all are). Not every LGBTQ child struggles with their identity, not every Asian child has strict parents who want them to study math, not every black child dreams of escaping the inner city through basketball. These stories may reflect the experiences of some children, certainly, but some kids just want to read fun stories that feature kids that look like them!

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  6. i LOVED Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, what happy memories! as a kid, i was more than a little obsessed with the Gene Wilder movie, i don’t think i even read the book (although I did read other Dahl titles) until I was a teenager.

    and then they made that new Chocolate Factory movie. and it was awful.

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  7. I am very intrigued by that new packaging/collector’s edition of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory – am I right in noting that it’s not illustrated by Quentin Blake? I would definitely be on the lookout for that one. Thanks so much for sharing.

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    • That’s correct, it’s actually not illustrated by Quentin Blake, which was a bit jarring for me at first – I’ve grown up associating the two so closely that it’s hard to imagine one without the other. There’s a Canadian author/illustrator team like that here – Robert Munsch and Michael Martchenko. The two have worked together so often and on so many classics that a Munsch title that isn’t illustrated by Martchenko just seems strange and wrong!

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  8. I’m so old that I don’t have the Dahl/Blake association as a primary thing; most of my replacement copies have Blake but I imprinted on Schindleman, who is a bit darker. But I agree that kids sometimes like their justice harsh and black and white; I used to poll the kids before telling The Three Little Pigs to decide whether everyone survived or the wolf ate the first two pigs and then became soup. (Disney story or fairy tale).

    The Mind Your Monster book looks fun; I’ll have to look for that one.

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