Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Review - "Operation Bunny"

Emily Vole was not the adopted daughter the Dashwood’s hoped for.  With her dark eyes and dark hair, she looks nothing like them!  When triplets unexpectedly enter the Dashwoods' life when Emily is five, Emily is shifted from adopted daughter, to unpaid servant.  Never taught to read or write, Emily is nonetheless clever and curious, and this leads her to a friendship with the “old bat” next door, Miss String.  Along with her overlarge, bipedal cat named Fidget, Miss String teaches Emily to read and write, do math, and to speak French, German and Old English.  With education comes a little more backbone, and when tragic circumstances suddenly leave Emily with a fortune and some freedom, she leaves her ex-adoptive parents’ house for good.  Unfortunately for Emily, a bad witch, Harpella, is on her trail, blasting innocent bystanders into rainbow colored bunnies in her wake.  Emily must dodge the malevolent Harpella, free fairies and find the hidden shop where the fairies’ wings are being kept, all the while chasing the mystery of who she really is and where she came from.

The story presented here, in Operation Bunny, is nothing new.  Abandoned orphan; horrible “parents”; unknown, magical origin and future magical responsibilities, etc.  Easy comparisons can be made to Cinderella, Matilda, and any fantasy story involving a “chosen one”.  However, the way Sally Gardner puts all the familiar pieces together is sly and very entertaining, which is its own kind of magic.  David Roberts’ illustrations go a long way towards creating this enjoyable atmosphere (Harpella, in particular, is delightfully frightening).  As a series opener, Operation Bunny is long on exposition and short on action, but is never boring.  I’m sure future installments will feature more fleshed out mysteries for our newly formed fairy detective agency.

Wings & Co.: Operation Bunny by Sally Gardner
2014, Henry Holt and Co.
Personal copy

Friday, March 21, 2014

Review - "The Sasquatch Escape"

Easy is hard, and effortless is elusive and exhausting.  Writers (and artists, and athletes and academics, etc) labor for hours, days, weeks and years to make something they produce look easy and effortless.  Easy can be deceiving.  Easy should never be confused with inferior.  Like I said, it takes a lot of work to make something look easy.  And so it is with the greatest pleasure I recognize Suzanne Selfors and the first book in her new series, The Sasquatch Escape.

Ben Silverstein has been sentenced to death…or very nearly that.  His parents have sent him away for the summer so they can work out some personal issues.  Ben has been sent to spend the summer with his Grandpa Abe, who lives in what can only be described as the remains of the most boring town on the face of the planet.  Faced with a summer without television or wifi, spent hanging out at the Senior Center with his grandfather (Friday is Pudding Day!), Ben has very little hope for his prospects.  But that was before spotting a mysterious (and mysteriously large) shape in the sky, a curious girl in town, and what even Ben can’t deny is a baby dragon in his bedroom.  Suddenly plunged into the knowledge that there is the Known World and the Imaginary World, Ben and his new friend Pearl Petal try to rescue the dragon and end up on a Sasquatch hunt, all in service of the shadowy Dr. Woo.  Who is this unseen doctor?  Is she friend or foe? 

Coming in at 200 pages, The Sasquatch Escape was almost a single-sitting read for me (curses that I don’t have longer lunch breaks!).  The words and images simply drip off the page in a lively stream, and it’s up to the reader to keep up.  This story is imaginative, exciting, cagey, teasing (so many questions!) and just plain fun.  Don’t underestimate the power of just plain fun; it’s a very valuable thing.  Ms. Selfors’ characters are wonderfully drawn.  Ben comes from a privileged background: affluent L.A. family, every technological advantage and a summer beach house.  But his life is far from perfect.  His mother is restrictive, and Ben doesn’t enjoy the freedoms that Pearl does, working in the Dollar Store and going around town getting into all kinds of trouble (which is not her fault, if you ask her).  Thinking his summer is going to be the most boring on record, he is surprised, unnerved and exhilarated at the unexpected excitement he finds.  Pearl is fascinating in her own right.  She’s plucky, intelligent, boisterous and curious, which partially explains why everyone in town seems to think she’s a “troublemaker”.  Put together, Ben and Pearl make a dynamic pair, and with a seemingly unending pantheon of imaginary creatures from which to pull, I’m sure we’ll be reading about they’re adventures for at least a few more years.

The Imaginary Veterinary: Book 1: The Sasquatch Escape by Suzanne Selfors
2013, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Library copy