Tall Story

By Candy Gourlay

From Goodreads: Be careful what you wish for …Andi is short. And she has lots of wishes. She wishes she could play on the school basketball team, she wishes for her own bedroom, but most of all she wishes that her long lost half brother, Bernardo, could come and live in London, where he belongs. Then Andi’s biggest wish comes true and she’s minutes away from becoming someone’s little sister. As she waits anxiously for Bernardo to arrive from the Philippines, she hopes he’ll turn out to be tall and just as mad as she is about basketball. When he finally arrives, he’s tall all right. But he’s not just tall …he’s a GIANT. In a novel packed with humour and quirkiness, Gourlay explores a touching sibling relationship and the clash of two very different cultures.

I felt in my gut I would like this story before I even opened it up to the first page.

At times Tall Story reads like a fairytale. Or, like it’s namesake, a tall tale. It has a magical feel, as it darts and weaves around, behind, and in front of its initial storyline, all the while keeping the reader still balanced and rooted squarely in the story’s center. It’s also simultaneously very grounded in our world. Some serious moments punctuate this tale, dealing with issues like culture, immigration, fear, and death. Though often it’s hard to focus on those sometimes heavier issues while you’re being entranced by Bernardo or amazed and amused by Andi. Both characters are full and real and a joy to read.

In all, this is a magical, funny, quirky book, with real-world depth, about traditions and stories and and most of all family. And one that I would wholeheartedly recommend.

Standout Script: “A river ran on the other side of the hill but not close enough to irrigate the fields. Bernardo pushed his finger into the side of the mountain and carved a stream from the river down to the fields, bringing irrigation and fresh water to the village. ‘If you look closely at the hillside,’ Old Tibo said, ‘you can just see giant footprints where he trod.’”

“The sun was turning into a red fist in the gathering dusk. I realized that we were approaching the new sports centre crouched at the end of the road, its dome bulging above the trees like an overturned coconut shell.”

“I stole the ball off the Reds’ point man and raced to the opposite end of the court. I stopped at the three-point line and jumped. Swish. You would have needed a poop scoop to scrape their jaws off the asphalt.”

Published: 2010 by David Fickling Books.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

By Brian Selznick

From Goodreads: Orphan, clock keeper, and thief, Hugo lives in the walls of a busy Paris train station, where his survival depends on secrets and anonymity. But when his world suddenly interlocks with an eccentric, bookish girl and a bitter old man who runs a toy booth in the station, Hugo’s undercover life, and his most precious secret, are put in jeopardy. A cryptic drawing, a treasured notebook, a stolen key, a mechanical man, and a hidden message from Hugo’s dead father form the backbone of this intricate, tender, and spellbinding mystery.

Why it’s my type/Standout Script: “You will eventually spot a boy amid the crowd, and he will start to move through the train station. Follow him, because this is Hugo Cabret. His head is full of secrets, and he’s waiting for his story to begin.”

So ends the first page of this magical story, which is filled to the brim with so many of my favorite bookish things–killer illustrations, an intricate mystery, and so, so much heart. I don’t want to give too much away of the script, because it seems to me that all of the best parts are best because of their places among the others–their places within the story as a whole. But trust me when I write that there are many that are worth reading through to find.

The book itself is bulky enough to appear more than a little intimidating at first, but moves at a much quicker pace than anticipated as it’s mostly packed with original black and white drawings so detailed and seemingly fresh, you’re sure some pencil must have rubbed off on you after every flipped through page. If you love art, or even if you’re just a casual admirer, this book is worth picking up just for that–to gape at and sniff–story be damned. Fortunately, there’s more: intrigue, an automaton, dreams of the most bizarre and beautiful kind, and an awesome chase scene! I’m already anticipating buying this for my youngest brother for Christmas, and he’s not even in the ‘children’s’ market. I think the cinematic nature of the book, the frequency of pictures especially, will be more inviting to him than a traditional novel.

Recommendation: Hugo has stolen a little piece of my heart (and even a couple tears) with his story, and I’d be willing to bet he’s clever enough to do the same to you. This one’s a keeper.

Published: 2007 by Scholastic.

Zora and Me

By Victoria Bond and T.R. Simon

From Goodreads:

When a young man’s body is found by the railroad tracks, the murder and its mysterious circumstances threaten the peace and security of a small Florida town. Zora believes she knows who killed Ivory, and she isn’t afraid to tell anyone who’ll listen.

Whether Zora is telling the truth or stretching it, she’s a riveting storyteller. Her latest tale is especially mesmerizing because it is so chillingly believable: a murderous shape-shifting gator-man — half man, half gator — prowls the marshes nearby, aching to satisfy his hunger for souls and beautiful voices. And Ivory’s voice? When Ivory sang, his voice was as warm as honey and twice as sweet.

Zora enlists her best friends, Carrie and Teddy, to help prove her theory. In their search for the truth, they stumble unwittingly into an ugly web of envy and lies, deceit and betrayal. Just as unexpectedly, the three friends become the key that unlocks the mystery and the unlikely saviors of Eatonville itself.

Why it’s my type: “Everyone was eager for a story, and we all knew that nobody could tell a story better than Zora.” I loved Their Eyes Were Watching God, and this felt very familiar that way. Similar rhythm, southern beat and lovely language.

The language is my favorite. It’s like a note perfectly played or sung, a chocolate cake, just moist and rich enough, or a swooping, bold group of letters, precisely, beautifully drawn. All appreciated but unexpected at the moment of arrival.

That was a terribly botched attempt at doing justice to both Hurston and Bond and Simon’s work. 🙂

Memorable bit(s): Here are a few and two examples.

“I did all the pulling down from shelves, while Zora poked her ears and dipped her mind into grown folks’ business–then shared everything she learned with me.”

“Zora, though, didn’t have a speck of laughing in her. Joe Clarke saw that, and I watched him put his own smile in his pocket as he sat down on a little end of the bench to face Zora eye to eye.”

“Walking home later, I thought about the differences between a mama’s girl and a daddy’s girl. I decided that a daughter who belongs to her daddy expects gifts, while a daughter who belongs to her mama expects a lot more. Not from her mama. From herself.”

“What Mama couldn’t put away in her heart, she always found a place for in a drawer or cupboard.”

“I don’t know how to explain that moment except to say that, before the moving pictures and before the radio, folks were accustomed to silence; we even used to hug up on it once in a while. I never thought of it as special then, that we could just sit and stare and luxuriate in the comfort of our own thoughts.”

Recommendation: I unintentionally read two books that both deal with race in the same week. I don’t know how I stumble into these coincidences, but the moral of this week is this: Read them both. Get a young lady and a gentleman’s perspective, enjoy yourself, and maybe learn a thing or two along the way.

Published: October 2010 by Candlewick Press.

The Shadows (The Books of Elsewhere #1)

By Jacqueline West

From Goodreads:

Old Ms. McMartin is definitely dead. Now her crumbling Victorian mansion lies vacant. When eleven-year-old Olive and her dippy mathematician parents move in, she knows there’s something odd about the place—not least the walls covered in strange antique paintings. But when Olive finds a pair of old spectacles in a dusty drawer, she discovers the most peculiar thing yet: She can travel inside these paintings to a world that’s strangely quiet . . . and eerily like her own Yet Elsewhere harbors dark secrets—and Morton, an undersized boy with an outsize temper.

As she and Morton form an uneasy alliance, Olive finds herself ensnared in a plan darker and more dangerous than she could have imagined, confronting a power that wants to be rid of her by any means necessary. It’s up to Olive to save the house from the dark shadows, before the lights go out for good.

My type?: This was a cute one. A lighter read, but at times goosebumpy too. Which was fun. I remember thinking: If this is freaking ME out, what about its target audience?!

The best part for me, and the part I looked forward to the most were the illustrations by Poly Bernatene. Their black and white brush-stroked quality fit well with the spooky, shadowy vibe of the story. I am of the opinion that art is always a welcome accompaniment, that it can always add something–no matter the target reader’s age. And I was glad to see it here.

On its surface, the book reminded me of Neil Gaiman’s Coraline: spunky young girl with distracted parents gets into all kinds of troublesome, life-saving adventures; there’s even the feline similarity. But the idea of the paintings sets it apart I think. I really enjoyed how West brought the paintings’ interiors to life. And speaking of that feline similarity, the cats are very amusing. I can totally imagine their one-liners cracking me up when I was Olive’s age.

Memorable bit(s): “‘If you wanted to, you could aid the effort by boosting troop morale . . .’ ‘I would be happy to,’ said Olive. ‘Oh good,’ said the cat. ‘Then would you scratch between my ears?'”

“Harvey (the cat) stroked an imaginary mustache.”

“‘I’m strong. I can do it. See?’ Morton made a fist and rolled up the sleeve over one spaghetti noodle-ish arm. There was a moment of silence. Then Olive nudged Harvey and Leopold, who made impressed, supportive noises.”

Recommendation: This seems like a start to a great young reader series, with parts dark and light. For me, it would have been worth picking up at 11 or so just for the illustrations alone. I would have stared, memorizing them endlessly.

Published: June 2010 by Dial Books for Young Readers

When You Reach Me

By Rebecca Stead

From Goodreads:

By sixth grade, Miranda and her best friend, Sal, know how to navigate their New York City neighborhood. They know where it’s safe to go, and they know who to avoid. Like the crazy guy on the corner.

But things start to unravel. Sal gets punched by a kid on the street for what seems like no reason, and he shuts Miranda out of his life. The apartment key that Miranda’s mom keeps hidden for emergencies is stolen. And then a mysterious note arrives, scrawled on a tiny slip of paper. The notes keep coming, and Miranda slowly realizes that whoever is leaving them knows things no one should know. Each message brings her closer to believing that only she can prevent a tragic death. Until the final note makes her think she’s too late.

My type?: Yes, yes, yes. This is the thing I love about reading: the coincidences, that don’t really feel like coincidences at all. Right after I just so happened to finally pick up A Wrinkle in Time, a classic which has been in print for over 40 years, I pick this book up. A book about a girl named Miranda, whose favorite book is about a girl named Meg.

I happened to pick this book up because I decided to visit my local library for the first time–I’m still new to this area–and I found it amongst the toppled over paperbacks and screaming toddlers. I hadn’t been looking to read this book next. I just stumbled upon it and thought, Aha, I heard this one is good. And it was. Really, really good.

Something I learned reading this book is–description. Children’s books don’t need much of it. The book flowed effortlessly, and even though much of the first three quarters of it is spent reflecting on something the reader has no idea about yet, while the action and exposition are saved until much later, I still never wanted to put it down. The lack of flowery details helped that I think. Stead is especially good at this though. Where there are details, though you may not know it yet, they will be relevant. All of them. Quite a feat, and one I will look to for guidance always.

The story was a puzzle. I’m not particularly good at puzzles, and/or maybe I just chose not to be good at this one so I could make the mystery last as long as possible. But either way, I loved it. It was like a scrumptious salad or sandwich in which I finally didn’t have to remove anything to soak into my napkin on the side, or wish I could. All its parts contributed to the perfect meal. For me. At this moment in time. And even though I’m still mulling over what exactly the chef used, behind closed doors, to make everything come together so perfectly, consider me satisfied.

Memorable bit(s): Though Stead didn’t use a lot of descriptors, when she did, occasionally, they were meaningful:

“It was at that moment, standing next to her, that I figured out the truth. The truth was that Mom saw it too: the peeling paint, the cigarette butts on the stairs, everything. It soaked into me like water into sand, fast and heavy-making.”

And then there were those moments of uniquely imagined insight:

“Mom says each of us has a veil between ourselves and the rest of the world, like a bride wears on her wedding day, except this kind of veil is invisible. We walk around happily with these invisible veils hanging down over our faces. The world is kind of blurry, and we like it that way. But sometimes our veils are pushed away for a few moments, like there’s a wind blowing it from our faces. And when the veil lifts, we can see the world as it really is, just for those few seconds before it settles down agin. We see all the beauty, and cruelty, and sadness, and love. But mostly we are happy not to.”

Recommendation: If you like original stories with pitch perfect detailing, and a puzzle that won’t quit until the very end, I recommend making this one a part of your permanent collection, even though I didn’t. I don’t want to give it up, and plan on getting me own copy soon. I may have to get two because I think my sister would enjoy it as well. Though I can’t say I won’t survive giving it up; My throat is still recovering from the previous borrower’s perfume.

Published: July 2009 by Wendy Lamb Books.