Monday, June 20, 2011

Review - "The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery"

There's something to be said for "more of the same". It can be a negative phrase, but I prefer to use it in a positive light. When I eat a delicious meal, I might ask for more of the same. And when I read a good book, it's almost a knee-jerk reaction to request more of the same. When I first read the first book in Maryrose Wood's series The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place, titled The Mysterious Howling, I was entranced. I adored the Snickety (I do believe "Snickety" should be a proper adjective) language, and the memorable characters, even if the "mystery" isn't all that mysterious. And so it was with pleasure that I picked up the second volume, The Hidden Gallery, and was delighted to find more of the same.
In The Hidden Gallery, plucky young governess Penelope Lumley finds herself, with her three charges, swept along to London for the season, leaving Ashton Place behind. With the help of her "Hixby's Guide to London", Penelope plans to have many educational outings for Alexander, Beowulf and Cassiopeia, but things do not always go as she plans. Along the way, she meets a new friend, the children receive a chilling prediction, the subject of mail is discussed at length and a West End debut ends in a thrilling chase scene.
The Hidden Gallery is definitely "more of the same", but I'm happy to report it is more than that besides. There's more character development, more exciting set pieces, and though it offers no more answers than the first book, it has a satisfying conclusion, one that leaves you both content and ready for more. There are new elements to the series' main mystery, and they are very welcome, because they add a layer of depth that the first book lacked. Like its predecessor, The Hidden Gallery is a lot of fun. I already have several patrons in line waiting for it, but I know I'll also be recommending this series like crazy this summer.
The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood
2011, Balzer + Bray
Library copy

Monday, June 6, 2011

Backlist files - "The Duchess of Whimsy"

The Duchess of Whimsy lives up to her name. She throws "extravagant soirées", she wears "elaborate attire", holds an "uncommon conversation" and has the "most peculiar pets and acquaintances". She is the hostess with the mostest. The Earl of Norm, on the other hand "is as normal as they come". His clothes, his dog, his conversation, everything was normal, except his love for the Duchess of Whimsy. The Duchess of Whimsy by Randall de Sève, with illustrations by Peter de Sève is a picture book of pure delight. The story is charming, whimsical (of course) and ends with a beautiful touch of heart. The language is advanced (foliage! flamboyant! huzzah!) but is incorporated perfectly in the storytelling. The artwork is extraordinary, with sumptuous two page spreads and intricately detailed drawings. I especially love the folds and ripples in the Duchess' clothes. This is a simply delicious book, and a perfect readaloud for story time.

The Duchess of Wimsy by Randall de Sève (ill. by Peter de Sève)
2009, Philomel
Library copy

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Adventures in Summer Reading

My Summer Reading Program began yesterday, and this evening I held my first storytime of the program. We talked a little about the theme ("One World, Many Stories") and what that means and we read three stories: On the Same Day in March: A Tour of the World's Weather by Marilyn Singer, Say Hello! by Rachel Isadora and How I Learned Geography by Uri Shulevitz. The kids especially loved Say Hello! because they enjoyed saying the words in different languages with me. I have around 150 kids signed up so far, which I'm not sure whether to be happy about or not. Unfortunately, I don't have numbers from last year to compare it with (the former librarian either didn't keep track, or didn't report her numbers except for event attendance).

Tomorrow we'll have a visit from Snowbird, a local news channel’s school closing spokesman, and all around nice guy in a big suit. I remember Snowbird from when I was a kid, eagerly checking the news when there was even the barest hint of snow on the ground, so I'm excited for his visit. Then on Saturday there's a magic show! It's all very exciting and slightly nerve-wracking, this being my first summer as a librarian. Here's hoping it all runs smoothly!

Review - "All the World's a Stage"

"All the world's a stage,/ And all the men and women merely players;/ They have their exits and their entrances;/ And one man in his time plays many parts..." Thus begins a monologue from William Shakespeare's "As You Like It", but it is also the perfect way to begin talking about Gretchen Woelfle's new middle grade historical novel, All the World's a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts. Woelfle takes readers into Elizabethan London, right to the ground in a very human, very universal story of growing up.
Kit Buckles, just twelve years old, is an orphan, working the streets of London as a cutpurse (a petty thief) when he is caught one day at the Theatre playhouse during a production performed by the Lord Chamberlain's Men. Rather than being turned over to the sheriff, Kit is pressed into service of the troupe, working backstage cleaning costumes and readying the grounds. At first Kit chafes at his work, but soon he learns to appreciate the theatre, being drawn into the plays by the charismatic and enigmatic Will Shakespeare, who sees a spark in Kit. It is while working for this company that Kit becomes involved in the "theft" of the Theatre playhouse, and the building of the legendary Globe Theatre, where he throws himself into carpentry work and finally finds his calling.
All the World's a Stage is first and foremost a coming of age story. It's Kit's drama that runs the show, his uncertainty about his life, his background and his future. He's never quite sure what he wants from life, except to find a place to belong, and with the acting troupe he begins to know how that feels. Though he makes few friends, among them the apple-seller Molly, he finds acceptance, something he hasn't known since the death of the grandparents. Woelfle handles the feelings of the young man very carefully, but with great assurance. His emotional motivations are well developed, and as a character, Kit is very relatable.
As historical fiction, All the World's a Stage hits it out of the park. Like last year's Alchemy and Meggy Swann by Karen Cushman, this captures all the grandeur and grimness that is Elizabethan London. You can practically feel the grit the groundlings stand upon to watch the players perform, or feel the bite of an April chill. Woelfle has played a little loose with details, but much of the background for her story is based on fact, and many of her characters, including Shakespeare himself, are drawn from real life. Her attention to detail is much appreciated and really pays off in the crafting of such a gripping piece of true-to-life fiction. 
All the World's a Stage: A Novel in Five Acts by Gretchen Woelfle (ill. by Thomas Cox)
2011, Holiday House
Library copy