Posted in YA Fiction

“The Sleeper and the Spindle”

The Sleeper and the Spindle
Author: Neil Gaiman
Illustrator: Chris Riddell
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication Date: 2013
ISBN: 978-0062398246
Lexile Level: 830

Wow. Just…wow.

Faerie tale re-imaginings and retellings are a dime a dozen in YA fiction. They’ve exploded in popularity over the past several years, especially with the movie trends of Disney re-imagining their classic animated works into live action showings. And with Neil Gaiman’s expertise in mythology, it’s not surprising that he would have also be putting out work in the faerie realm.

The Sleeper and the Spindle is just…amazing. I think it has to be the BEST re-imagining I’ve ever read. I love it so much I’m not going to tell you anything about it. Seriously, go in blind. Every revelation is worth it. You can probably tell from the title that this is a take on Sleeping Beauty—but that’s not all. And I don’t want to tell you anything about the plot.

Don’t seek out detailed reviews. Don’t look for summaries. Just go in and make the discoveries for yourself. You won’t be disappointed.

Adding to this amazing book are Chris Riddell’s illustrations. They aren’t crucial to the story, so visually challenged readers won’t need them to enjoy the tale. But man, are they awesome. Everything is black and white, with a few splashes of gold. Skulls are a recurring theme, and it all has a wonderful gothic feel. An excellent touch all around.

This is one of those stories that leaves you wanting more. More of the universe, the world that Gaiman has set up. You want to know where the characters have been, where they are going. There’s nothing lacking from the story itself, but the tastes he gives you are like having a bite of a rich dessert—you just want another.

Put this in the hands of any teen who has a taste for fantasy or faerie tales. It could also make a good book club selection, or suggested reading for writing groups. It’s not long, but it will be enjoyed.

And if by chance you should see this, Mr. Gaiman: PLEASE WRITE MORE FAERIE TALES!!!

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Posted in Middle Grade Fiction

“The Twits”

The Twits
Author: Roald Dahl
Illustrator: Quentin Blake
Publisher: Alfred A. Knope (imprint of Random House Children’s Books)
Publication Date: 1980
ISBN: 0-375-92242-3
Lexile Level: 750

I decided to revisit another classic from my childhood—one of Roald Dahl’s less famous works, The Twits. I think my sister had a copy and I remember reading it several times as a child. A couple of details had stuck in my brain over the years, namely Mr. Twit with food in his beard and the bird pie. Since it’s not a Dahl work that gets talked about as much, I thought I’d take another look at it.

Mr and Mrs. Twit are truly disgusting people. They are ugly and mean and hateful, even (or perhaps especially) to each other. The first part of the story is about them pranking each other…which while mean-spirited, is pretty funny. We know that these two are in their 60s. So imagine your grandparents hiding worms in spaghetti and frogs in the bed. Or one tricking the other into thinking they’re shrinking. It’s just hilarious. I kept thinking of the grandparents from The Waltons (though at least they actually loved each other). That same curmudgeon attitude that hides some amount of affection. Granted, with the Twits, I wonder how much they still love each other and how much of it is just passive aggressive.

As the story moves along, we learn how the Twits capture birds for their weekly bird pie and keep a family of monkeys in a cage. Eventually the monkeys team up with a Roly-Poly bird and shenanigans ensue. The Twits get what they deserve, and the monkeys go free.

Like many of Dahl’s works, the message is one of karmic payback. Mean, ugly people are punished, and the innocent are rewarded. My favorite part is how Dahl talks about true beauty—that no matter what your physical features, if you think good thoughts, you will “always look lovely.” Whereas if you think ugly thoughts, they will twist your appearance and the ugliness will grow upon you (as in the case of Mrs. Twit). It’s a short section but one of the best lessons I’ve ever read in a children’s book. It doesn’t beat the child over the head with it, but it also tells them that ultimately, physical features don’t matter as much as what’s on the inside.

This is a short novel that would be great as a bedtime or classroom read-aloud. It could be gotten through in a few days, and the wordplay (another Dahl trademark) makes it a lot of fun to read out loud. It can also serve as a great conversation starter as to why we should try being nicer to people.

My edition also has a short interview with Roald Dahl in the back. He talks about his writing process, and I would encourage aspiring writers to look it up. It can be found here, which also has it in audio format. His advice is solid, and some that I’m trying to implement into my own writing process.

All in all, this is a highly recommended novel. It’s a quick read, even for kids, with a great message. Any kid who likes Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Matilda is sure to enjoy it.

Posted in Picture Books

“Ned the Knitting Pirate”

Ned the Knitting Pirate
Author: Diana Murray
Illustrator: Leslie Lammie
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
Publication Date: 2016
ISBN: 978-1596438903
Lexile Level: AD (adult directed)

We follow the crew of the Rusty Heap in this tale, as they sing and plunder through the day. As the pirate crew sings about their deeds, young Ned (sporting a knitted tricorner hat) chimes in that they “knit.” This angers the captain, who maintains that pirates do not knit, and eventually bullies Ned into hanging up his needles and yarn. Until, of course, a sea monster needs defeating, and only Ned’s knits will do the trick.

As a knitter myself, I’m a sucker for children’s books that include the activity. Combine pirates and knitting? I was sold before I even cracked the cover. The rhyming couplets makes reading the story quick and fun, and would lend it well to a storytime. There are plenty of words with double meaning (usually relating to knitting), particularly in relating to the captain.

Part of me would have liked for Ned to have been a female pirate—you can never have enough female pirates. But the other part of me applauds the author’s disregard for gender norms, by having a boy joyfully knitting away. Plenty of men knit, but it is still generally considered a “feminine” activity.

The illustrations are a great sketched style, though in places it likes a bit more like concept art than a finished draft. The pictures are not necessary for the story, making it good for visually challenged readers. The only area where this doesn’t hold true is Ned’s dialogue balloons, when he chimes in the word “knit.” But this can easily be overcome by a reader.

This story would be great for a storytime on pirates, crafting, or for fun. It would also be great as a one-on-one story, especially in households with constant knitting.