John Roemhild / Uncategorized

Pick Your Own Book Review! Children’s Adventure

As I’ve mentioned before, no one needs a reason to crack open a good children’s book. However, some of us with judgmental friends might need an excuse. That’s why I’ve compiled this complimentary list of defensive explanations to use when your critics see what you’re reading.

  • *scoff* Yeah, Amazon mixed up my order again!
  • It’s for an English Comp plot-outlining assignment. *roll eyes*
  • Oh, this? It’s just a gift for my niece.
  • Yeah, I volunteered to read at the kid’s corner in the library.

Anything along those lines, really. These excuses are often unfortunately necessary in masking your juvenile tastes to potential girlfriends — I’ve seen haphazardly placed Harry Potter books put a tragic end to many first dates before they ever began. But if you can believably recite one of these when she asks about it, it should deflect her (correct) suspicions of your immaturity and instead create a more desirable impression, like — particularly with the latter two — piety or strong family values. In the meantime, hang in there, fellow Gryffindors. I feel it too.

Now to the content: Pick Your Own Book Review! Children’s Adventure. This, for those who still haven’t caught it, can be interpreted one of two ways: as a title derived from the collective purpose of the four comparative book reviews (to help you pick a book to read), or as a direct order to you the reader to simply choose one of the four book reviews and read it alone. If that makes no sense, don’t worry; I’ll be titling all my pieces from now on with double entendres until I get the hang of it.

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier, 2011

For readers who enjoy: Wildly imaginative character/storyline construction.

(From the inside cover) Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes is the utterly beguiling tale of a ten-year-old blind orphan who has been schooled in a life of thievery. One fateful afternoon, he steals a box from a mysterious traveling haberdasher — a box that contains three pairs of magical eyes. When he tries the first pair, he is instantly transported to a hidden island where he is presented with a special quest: to travel to the dangerous Vanished Kingdom and rescue a people in need. Along with his loyal sidekick — a knight who has been turned into an unfortunate combination of horse and cat — and the magic eyes, he embarks on an unforgettable, swashbuckling adventure to discover his true destiny.

Auxier explained in an interview that he sat down in a coffee shop about seven years ago to write a letter to his parents explaining why he was going to drop out of school. Instead, he ended up writing the first sentence of the book, “Now, for those of you who know anything about blind children, you are aware they make the best of thieves.” He takes a cartoonish world with whimsical characters and tethers them to a serious message, but it won’t dawn on you until the very last sentence of the book. So great!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, 2007

For readers who enjoy: Sweeping cinematic grandeur/truth-based stories

(From Amazon) 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.

I heard that the recently-released movie Hugo was pretty bad. The book it’s adapted from — this one — is not. It’s been getting rave reviews from everyone who’s picked it up, and it’s about to get another. Selznick puts a death-grip on your attention from the first page, and while I will admit that the rapidly surmounting tension fizzle out a little in the end, the overall experience is still nothing short of spectacular, and it’s worth it for a story could have actually happened. It’s got a lot of pages, but half the story is told through pictures — a really interesting idea. Click here to see the succession of opening drawings.

The Phantom Tollbooth, by Norton Juster, 1961

For readers who enjoy: Ridiculously witty, extensive, conceptual wordplay.

(From Amazon) This ingenious fantasy centers around Milo, a bored ten-year-old who comes home to find a large toy tollbooth sitting in his room. Joining forces with a watchdog named Tock, Milo drives through the tollbooth’s gates and begins a memorable journey. He meets such characters as the foolish, yet lovable Humbug, the Mathemagician, and the not-so-wicked “Which,” Faintly Macabre, who gives Milo the “impossible” mission of returning two princesses to the Kingdom of Wisdom.

This description doesn’t really explain the book’s greatness. The bottom line is that you have to read this book if you’re a writer. Juster is actually just an architect, now retired, who wrote this book for fun and had his neighbor illustrate it more than fifty years ago. The entire thing is made up of puns, and it’s the most entertaining piece of witty writing in my library. Do yourself a favor; it’s been around this long for a reason.

James and the Giant Peach, by Roald Dahl, 1961

For readers who enjoy: Unapollogetically childish simplicity in storytelling. Wonder.

(From Amazon) James Trotter loses his parents in a horrible accident and is forced to live-miserably-with his two wicked aunts. Then James is given some magic crystals that give him hope. But when he accidentally spills these crystals on an old peach tree, strange things begin to happen. A peach starts to grow and grow until James is able to climb inside and escape his awful aunts! And through this adventure, he makes some interesting friends, including Grasshopper, Earthworm, Miss Spider, and Centipede, and finally finds a place where he belongs.

If you’re like me, you probably have an ever-growing, ever-imposing reading list filled with lots of really difficult reading you wish you could handle but often can’t. James and the Giant Peach is your chicken soup. I know you’ve seen the movie, but trust me, the book is a bit different and well worth the revisit. If you oblige, I suggest getting this copy of the book. It’s only a penny on Amazon while supplies last, and it has the best pictures of any of the versions. It looks crappy, but trust me, that’s part of the magic.

There you have it. Two new ones, two old ones. I’ve recently enjoyed all these books, and I wouldn’t have suggested them if I didn’t think you will too. So scrounge around for a copy, sit down at your favorite café and embrace the contradiction that is drinking coffee and reading children’s literature as if no one was watching.

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