Wednesday, February 23, 2011

books for dreary days

Sunrise today was at 6:35, sunset will be at 6:06. Wet, dreary, gray.

So, when you're stuck at home and the landscape outside is strange and unearthly, retellings of fairy tales can be a good distraction. Three of the current offerings on my desk are Noah Barleywater Runs Away, by John Boyne; Sweetly, by Jackson Peirce; and The Search for WondLa, by Tony DiTerlizzi, not really a tale-retelling but it has that feeling.

Retold fairytales are seductive to me; it feels as if each new story helps to unveil the secrets as to where and why these stories were originally told. I love reading how other tellers of the tale understand and explain that world, taking us back to the kernel of story and lesson.

The Search for WondLa has been out for a while and it really is a wonderful book. It's the story of Eva Nine, a little girl who has lived underground her entire life. She is 12 years old and has lived only with Muthr, a robot who cares for her. When her home is invaded and destroyed by a huntsman, she must escape to the surface to survive. Eva and Muthr, and a cast of characters that will capture your heart, embark on a journey to find WondLa. Eva holds a single clue that could explain why she is the only human being on the surface of an alien planet, a picture of a girl, a robot and a human holding hands, with the word WondLa written on it.

The Search for WondLa is a great deal of fun, very exciting, adventurous, and the artwork is amazing, as you'd expect from the illustrator of the Spiderwick Chronicles. I read the advanced reading copy so the art isn't complete or in color but the few pieces included are still pretty cool. There is "expanded" (no, wait: Augmented Reality with sound) art on the author's website. If you have a child who likes epic-y big books, this is the one for you. It's big and thick and is the first in a series. It's very much a book to capture your attention and keep you enthralled for hours. Age 9 and up. (Simon and Schuster. 17.99. Available now.)

Sweetly, by Jackson Peirce, is a loose Hansel and Gretel retelling. The author also wrote Sisters Red, which I really liked, based on the Red Riding Hood tale. Gretchen was a twin but her sister was wrenched out of their lives by a monster when they were children. Ever since, Gretchen and Ansel, her brother, have felt that the woods are watching them, waiting for them to make a mistake. When their stepmother throws them out when they are teenagers, they end up living with a candy maker, Sophia, in a little comfortable southern town. Sophia's candies are magical, and she teaches Gretchen her trade. All is wonderful and good, until the local girls start to go missing. Creepy, a little odd, romantic...A good crossover book (crossovers are books that teens and adults can share). (Little Brown. $17.99. Available June, '11.)

My friend Mary Jane Beaufrand absolutely loved this next book so of course I had to read it. No one at work had one; I thought I'd have to ask MJ to borrow it! And she borrowed it from someone else-I never have to borrow books from people (and I certainly didn't want to wait until it showed up at the store)! Thankfully, it was one of the books I found in the ABA Winter Institute galley room (I know, can you imagine? A whole room stacked with new galleys. How on earth do you choose? Why choose?) and one of the few I took with me for the plane trip back home. Noah Barleywater Runs Away, by John Boyne, the author of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

I love the cover of this book, browns, yellows, a tree with stars hanging and an empty pair of tennis shoes at the foot of the tree. Kind of eerie in a dream-world kind of way. The art, line art in spots throughout, is by our friend Oliver Jeffers, author/illustrator of Lost and Found.

Noah Barleywater is 8 years old and his problems are overwhelming. So he runs away, through the woods and into the great wide world. Along the way, he encounters moving trees and people who chase him for assaulting the apple tree by taking its apples, and into an extraordinary toy shop filled with magic and a toymaker who has an amazing story to tell. Noah's journey leads him to a man whose story shows him that home is always with you and that regret shouldn't be a word in a life's vocabulary.

Noah Barleywater Runs Away is beautifully written, quite dreamy, and one of those books that makes you feel longing for something. I don't know for what, just longing. Age 9 and up. (Random House. $16.99. Available May, 2011.)

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