Fortunately, the Milk
Neil Gaiman (Juvenile Fiction)
Mom was off to a conference so Dad was in charge. She had given him loads to remember, but the most important of all was, “Oh, and we’re almost out of milk. You’ll need to pick some up.” You couldn’t very well put orange juice on your Toastios. Or pickle juice. Or mayonnaise or ketchup. So Dad went to the corner store for milk (and NOT the fat-free kind because it tastes like water!!!). After he returned after being gone an unusually long time, he plopped down the milk and told his two children the most unbelievable story they had ever heard. A story about aliens and dinosaurs and time travel and pirates and ponies and vampires and… Well, perhaps it’s best if you were to hear it from Dad himself because you wouldn’t believe it if I were to tell it.
From the imagination that is uniquely Neil Gaiman, Fortunately, the Milk is a story filled with charm, wit, and humor. It’s a quick read that would make for a wonderfully entertaining bedtime story. Bursting with unforgettable characters (a time-travelling stegosaurus inventor anyone?) and an action-packed race through time (literally), Gaiman gives us a tale where the universe sits precariously on the shoulders of a dad simply trying to get back home with a bottle of milk.
Perhaps the real star of this book is Skottie Young’s outrageously fantastic illustrations. His pen-and-ink drawings are what you might get if you were to give Tim Burton’s brain a pen and a piece of paper. They are as whimsical, outlandish, and over-the-top delightful as Gaiman’s story and both combine to give young readers an epic journey through space, time, and around the block to the corner grocer.
So whether you’re into science fiction, fantasy, comedy, or just enjoy reading about boogers and snot (those aliens are really quite disgusting), you’re sure to enjoy this little gem of a book. Even if you do enjoy pickle juice with your Toastios…weirdo.
*Book cover image attributed to www.amazon.com
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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Juvenile Fiction)
Alice was bored. She had peeked into what her sister was reading, but it held no pictures or interesting conversations. What is the use of a book without pictures? So, she began contemplating whether making a daisy-chain would be worth the effort on such a dreadfully hot day when a white rabbit suddenly passed by her. Not just any rabbit, but a talking rabbit…with a pocket watch. Perhaps this day wouldn’t be so boring after all.
Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland is a wonderful way to introduce your young reader to the joys of classic literature. From Alice (“Curiouser and curiouser.”), to the White Rabbit (“Oh dear! Oh dear! I shall be late!”), to the Queen of Hearts (“Off with her head!”), this story brims with so many colorful and memorable characters, that it simply begs to be shared and read out loud. I highly recommend reading the version that contains the original illustrations by John Tenniel. His beautiful drawings capture the true essence and spirit of Carroll’s tale and allow the reader to become fully absorbed in the wonderful world which is Wonderland.
Aside from being a fanciful story about a young girl’s dream, there is a deeper message that Carroll lovingly bestows upon his reader. Once you realize that Lewis Carroll is actually the pseudonym of the Reverend Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Anglican deacon, it’s not so hard to recognize or appreciate it. When the Duchess was taking Alice to meet the Mock Turtle, she said to the girl, “Be what you would seem to be.” Many characters in Carroll’s classic are, in fact, not what they seem to be. We find out that the Queen isn’t as bloodthirsty as she appears and that there is an understandable reason for the Hatter’s madness. Even the Duchess’s child undergoes its own formidable transformation. Closely resembling the Latin phrase Esse quam videri meaning, “To be, rather than to seem”, Carroll reminds us all—through a curious girl, a tardy hare, and a grinning feline—that it is far better to be the person you really are than to be the person others think you to be.
*Book cover image attributed to http://www.harpercollinschildrens.com
A Finder’s Magic
Philippa Pearce (Juvenile Fantasy)
Till goes to bed in despair and wakes up desperate. So deep is his desperation that you can see it in his dreams. And one night, someone does see it. That someone is a Finder. A Finder that promises Till that he will help him find his beloved lost dog, Bess (for it is her absence that leads to all this unfortunate desperateness). But finding Bess isn’t easy. Clues need to be found, witnesses questioned, and leads followed. Leads that point to a stranger, a thin line of light, and a nursery rhyme.
This book has a rather interesting backstory. Pearce wrote this book for her two grandsons and it was illustrated by the children’s other grandmother, Helen Craig. The main character’s name is an anagram of the two grandson’s names put together (Nat and Will) giving us Tillawn or Till for short. Unfortunately, Pearce died before Craig began illustrating this book and was therefore deprived of seeing the beautiful book that their combined efforts produced.
Pearce gives young readers a wonderful tale of magic, mystery, and mischief. The story deals with issues of loss and trust and tackles both with charm and humor. After the book is finished, parents might want to remind their young reader that this is a fantasy book and, under ordinary circumstances, it is never appropriate to go running off with a stranger, especially one who offers to help you find your dog.
In the end, through all the questioning and searching and worrying, Finder gives Till something that replaces his desperation. He gives him hope and although it’s not what Till wants, it’s what he needs and at that moment, hope is enough.
* Book cover image attributed to www.goodreads.com
Lloyd Alexander (Juvenile Fiction)
Did you ever wonder where cats go when you can’t find them? No matter how hard you look for them, they’ve simply disappeared only to reappear just as quickly. According to Lloyd Alexander, they travel back in time.
Meet Jason and his cat, Gareth. Like all cats, Gareth doesn’t have nine lives, but he can travel to nine different places in history. Alexander gives us a fun and fanciful story through time as we follow Jason and Gareth to places such as ancient Egypt, Rome, Japan, and Peru and meet many notable historical figures along the way. The book may be fantasy, but Alexander spent over a year in research to ensure historical accuracy. Each adventure is a standalone story that is short enough to hold a younger reader’s attention, while long enough to offer a nice glimpse into the history of that time.
Time Cat wonderfully reflects the bond that humans have with their animals and how—throughout the ages—people have relied on their pets for protection, comfort, and companionship. This book reinforces the value of friendship and loyalty, while it introduces young readers to the exciting world of history.
Ray Bradbury (Adult Science Fiction/Fantasy)
Long ago, there was a time when firemen used to put out fires rather than start them. Now, they proudly display on their helmets and jackets the number “451”—the Fahrenheit temperature at which book paper ignites and burns.
Guy Montag has been a fireman for 10 years, which means his job is to burn books. In the future, both reading and owning books are illegal. One night, his life is irrevocably changed when his young neighbor asks him a seemingly simple question: “Are you happy?” This question sets Guy on a course that will attempt to restore a sense of individual freedom in a world dominated by collective control.
Bradbury describes a future where a “happy” and thriving society is one devoid of outside influences, which may disrupt the status quo by promoting independent thought and ideas. This book revisits the old question, “Would you rather be right or happy?” This is one of Bradbury’s best works and a reminder of the hope, power, and knowledge that lies within a dust jacket.