Review: Margaret Wise Brown (author) and Richard Egielski (illustrator): The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin

fierce pumpkinHave you ever wondered how a pumpkin feels about being turned into a Jack-o-Lantern? Well, I found another children’s book review in the Archives, of Margaret Wise Brown’s The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin, a story that may give you a new insight on that question.

The Fierce Yellow Pumpkin tells the story of a small green pumpkin the size of an apple who grows to become a fat yellow pumpkin, then finally a fiery orange-yellow pumpkin. As he grows fatter the pumpkin becomes more and more full of himself, and aspires to someday be as fierce and frightening as a nearby scarecrow he greatly admires.

So you see, even pumpkins have ambitions.

And this is another review of a book approved by the real expert. Read it to discover just whose seal of approval it got.

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Review: Alice Schertle and Curtis Jobling (illus.): The Skeleton in the Closet

schertle skeletonThese days, Halloween is really a holiday for children — I did mention, I believe, the hordes of tiny little elves, goblins, princesses and so forth thronging the street in one of our commercial districts last weekend. And so it comes as no surprise that I found the perfect review in the Archives for today: Alice Schertle’s The Skeleton in the Closet, with illustrations by Curtis Jobling.

And what better contributing author to the review than the reviewer’s three-year-old goddaughter?

But don’t take my word for it — the best reviewer of a kids’ book would, naturally, be someone about three feet tall whose innocence is matched only by her delight in everyday things. So here’s what my goddaughter had to say. . . .

To find out the real authority’s evaluation, read the review.

Review: Monica Furlong: Wise Child Trilogy

wcThe word “witch” comes from the Old English wicce or wicca, which has a somewhat obscure history. Most modern sources claim that it means merely “witch” in the modern sense, but other traditions assert that it also meant “wise” in the sense of “learned” (the learning in this case having to do with the properties of herbs, healing, and the ways of the natural world).

Which brings us to today’s review by Lory Widmer Hess of Monica Furlong’s Wise Child trilogy, about the adventures, such as they are, of the girl known as “Wise Child” as she becomes what we would call a witch. It’s really a coming of age story, although the focus is much broader than Wise Child herself.

Read Lory’s review to get the full story.

Story: That Scottish play (A Letter to Hannah)

Dear Hannah,

Did you know that we’d never put on that Scottish play here? Oh, other works by the Bard have been done many times down the centuries, but that play of his has never been done here until just this past month. It seems that the belief in the curse has so strong that even mentioning that the play existed was enough to make many Scots here start shuddering and looking over their shoulders as if a wraith of a dead king was standing too close behind them.

Iain went back through the Estate journals and found entries back centuries that all confirmed the play had indeed never been staged nor even read aloud as both were considered enough to activate the curse. Not surprisingly, the most staged play was A Midsummer’s Night Dream with, to the delight of Iain, The Histories collectively following up as the most enacted plays.

I mentioned this because we’re discussing (well, those interested in theatre which is not everyone, but enough) which plays to produce this coming Winter and it appears that we may just do it after all. Oh, there’s opposition still from some such as Iain (being I think contrary just to be so) but most are intrigued enough to be for it.

Kenneth Branagh’s In the Bleak Midwinter, which is a play about a theatre group putting on Hamlet, and James Goldman’s A Lion in the Winter are the other plays that will get produced. They considered T.S. Eliot’s Murder in The Cathedral but decided to do that another time.

And it has lovely elements: witches, a ghost, haunted characters, and a good story. Catherine, Iain’s wife, is vying to play Lady Macbeth, and there are any number of his Library apprentices, the Several Annies, desiring to be witches. And what cool set designs are possible. (The Several Annies are eager to actually do the “Witches Three” scene outside which could challenging.) All in all, I’m looking forward to seeing how the process of casting,rehearsing, building sets, and actually doing it works out.

Let’s just hope that no one even gets a paper cut as I know the fervent Scots will take that as a talisman!

With warmest regards, The Fox

Story: Red-Legged Scissor-Man

There are, said the gnarled storyteller with grey eyes, many creatures that scare both children and adults alike. Some are well known, like The Sandman or Spring-heeled Jack, some are less well known, lost to time, so that they are creatures remembered only but by folklorists and storytellers.

That makes them no less nasty, no less scary — indeed their unfamiliarity allows them to be even more dangerous as we don’t expect them to exist. One such monster is the Red-Legged Scissor-Man who has nothing to redeem him what-so-ever.

In the eighteen forties, Heinrich Hoffman, a German psychologist, decided that the best way to teach children moral lessons was to scare the piss out of them.  He created this character, depicted as little more substantial than a tall skeleton adorned with a top hat and long tailed coat. In each hand, he carried a pair of shearing scissors akin to those used by a tailor.

His horrific purpose is, as you can see from this poem, to ‘To little boys that suck their thumbs. / And ere they dream what he’s about / He takes his great sharp scissors / And cuts their thumbs clean off, – and then / You know, they never grow again.’ And yes, he keeps the thumbs in a bloody sack like a demented Saint Nicholas.

Pleasant dreams everyone! Next time, our storyteller promises to tell the original version of The Sandman myth… 

Literary Quote:  Ellen Kushner: The Privilege of the Sword

I rediscovered skills I’d had as a child: climbing trees, knocking down nuts, skipping stones across a pond.

And I learned him well enough that it became harder for him to surprise me with a sudden attack. I could sense the stillness of his impending motion, and I was ready.

I raided the great house’s kitchen gardens for herbs, and made a little plot by our door so that I would not have to go so far to make our food taste like something. As the harvest came in, the house staff left us baskets of good ripe squash and tomatoes and leeks and chard. I was going to miss the sweet green peas I ate by the handful that were already gone by. I dried bunches of thyme and sage, and brought indoors a little pot of rosemary I hoped would last out the winter.

There was always enough butter and cream and cheese, since there were more than enough cows. And suddenly, as the night air turned cold and the day sky burned a bright and gallant blue, the world was full of apples. The air smelt of them, sharp and crisp,  then underlaid with the sweet rot of groundfall. One day the orchard was infested with children, filling their baskets with them for cider. The next week, pigs were rootling for what was left.

Read our review here.

Review: Matthew Skelton: Endymion Spring

endymionspringbymatthewskeltonHave you ever read a book that really sucked you in? I mean, really — like, you wound up someplace else? It can happen, if we’re to believe Kestrell Rath, who notes in her review of Matthew Skelton’s Endymion Spring:

There is a longstanding literary tradition concerning stories about books which draw a character into a mystery or even an alternate world, and children’s literature has a particularly strong fascination with this kind of plot. Such children’s classics include Edward Eager’s Seven-Day Magic, Diane Duane’s So You Want to Be a Wizard? — and probably the most successful of the genre in recent years — Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story. When it comes to books about mysterious books, bookworms of all ages seem to have a neverending appetite for such stories.

It occurs to me, reading this, that books can be a kind of Place — you know, such as Tamson House in Charles de Lint’s Moonheart, or any number of places in Patricia McKillip’s Solstice Wood, or just about anywhere on Halloween, when the veils between the worlds are at their thinnest. (You had to know I was going to get Halloween in here somehow.)

At any rate, see how Endymion Spring stacks up in the “Book as Place” competition.

From the Letters Bag: On Children’s Lit and Web Sites

It’s really nice when the author of a book you enjoyed lets you know he’s glad you enjoyed it.

From: Steve Augarde
Subject: Steve Augarde – The Various.

Date: 29 Dec, 2005

Dear Robert,

I just thought I’d drop you quick line to say thanks for your thoughtful review of The Various in Green Man. It’s not as quick a read as some titles in this age group, and so I’m always pleased when readers feel that their time has been rewarded. The book was published in the UK over two years ago, and still seems to be reaching out to new audiences — many of whom turn out to be adults. (And why not? I see no reason why children’s fiction should be inferior in any way to its adult counterpart.)

The second volume in the trilogy, Celandine, has just been published in this country, and will be released in the States some time in the autumn of 2006. I’d be very interested to hear what you think of it. There are some details on my website.

Best wishes for the holiday season and New Year,

Steve Augarde.

PS. I really like your Web site.

Your humble reviewer replies:

Dear Steve —

Thanks for your comments — I’m always gratified to learn that the reviews are getting read and appreciated. I did enjoy the book immensely (perhaps the result of never having entirely grown up), and I’ve been fairly forward about recommending it to people looking for something for their children.

I’ve already informed the Editor-in-Chief at GMR that I want to review Celandine when he can get a copy.

Thanks especially for your kind comment on my Web site. It’s nice to know it’s not become an exercise in solipsism.

Best wishes for the holidays and the coming year.

Robert Tilendis

(A note: Steve is prevailing on his publisher to send me a copy of Celandine directly. Look for a review at GMR. And how can I not like anyone who likes my Web site?)

Review: Ray Bradbury: The Halloween Tree

You know how it ends. The week, I mean — Friday is The Night. (Although, apparently area merchants decided to get a jump on the week: there were hordes of tiny little elves, princesses, ghosts, superheroes, zombies, and even a samurai thronging the commercial streets this weekend past. I even saw a very large unicorn, which I took as someone’s parent.)

So it seems fitting to begin the week with this gem, none other than Ray Bradbury’s The Halloween Tree.

“Halloween. Sly does it. Tiptoe catspaws. Slide and creep. But why? What for? How? When! Where did it all begin?”

Read our review to find the answer. If there is one.

Robert M. Tilendis on Charles de Lint

Saving the . . . best? I’ll let others judge that. But at least, the most exhaustive of our comments on Charles de Lint is our final entry in this series.

He’s what I call a “good” writer. A born storyteller, his prose has grown strong enough to keep me reading (usually), even though I don’t always agree with how he’s saying what he’s saying. His characters and settings are real enough to touch, and his presentations of his themes are, more often than not, persuasive.

This piece was originally published as part of the Charles de Lint special edition of Green Man Review, where you can find all the links to the reviews of the books discussed, as well as a lot of other goodies.

And, as might be expected from the most exhaustive of these comments, it’s the longest, so you’ll have to follow the link to get the whole thing.