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Mal Peet and Elspeth Graham, illustrated by Michael Foreman, Painting out the Stars
Walker Books, 2011.
Three magical stories make up this beautifully presented middle-grade book: “The Mysterious Traveller”, “Night Sky Dragons”, and “Cloud Tea Monkeys”, from which the collection takes its name. Set in unspecified times and countries, they transport readers to the desert, the steppe and a tea plantation respectively. What links them is that they all hinge on inter-generational relationships that will resonate with today’s young readers.
“There were five riders but six camels, travelling fast. Desperately fast.” So opens the first story, “The Mysterious Traveller”. The sixth camel and his precious cargo, a baby girl with a mysterious necklace, are the only survivors following a sandstorm. She is found and adopted by Issa, the most respected guide locally, who calls her Mariamma and teaches her all he knows. The years pass and Issa goes blind, but is still the best guide in the area, with Mariamma’s help. Their lives could have continued along this path, had not some strangers required a guide to take them safely over the mountains…
In “Night Sky Dragons”, young Yazul would rather make kites with his grandfather than follow the path of travel and trade, business and money that his father advocates. He is fond of mischief too, and one day his antics cause untold, if unintentional damage. Yazul despairs that not only will his father never love him, but he’ll never again feel the happiness of flying kites – but when bandits lay siege to their fortified han, Yazul has an idea to save them that could just reconcile both…
In the last of the three stories, a tea-picker falls ill. Her daughter Tashi understands the grinding wheel of poverty: no work, no money, no medicine. “The problem went round and round. It was like a snake with its tail in its mouth and Tashi was frightened by it.” She tries unsuccessfully to pick the tea herself. Despairing, she seeks out the shady spot where she has always shared her lunch with a large monkey family, little realising that they will now repay her kindness and friendship in the most extraordinary way…
It is perhaps no surprise that “Cloud Tea Monkeys” has previously been published as an acclaimed picture-book (illustrated by Jean Wijngaard), and that there are similar plans for the other two stories. Michael Foreman’s black and white illustrations accompanying this edition are charming and add atmosphere, deftly conveying the atmosphere of each story, including the underlying humor in “Cloud Tea Monkeys”. Readers of these great stories will find themselves cheering on the protagonists, while feeling complicit in the storyline by being able to anticipate enough, though not all, of each ending. While the atmospheric description and details beg to be read aloud, the depth of characterisation and the relationships explored make this just the kind of book that independent readers will want to pick up again and again.
Maybe half a year ago I mentioned that Ms. Lucy Knisley had created a cartoon poster for the first four Harry Potter books. Now with the final Potter movie coming out, the posters are at long last complete. They follow the plots of the books, not the films, but the look of the characters can be amusingly cinematic at times. And for the record, if I were a tattoo-minded dame, I would adore getting this image of Luna Lovegood and her pop.
But that’s not really my top news story of the day. How could it be? No the top news story is that it is once again time for the Summer Blog Blast Tour. Twice a year a cadre of bloggers for child and teen books gather together to interview some of the luminaries in the field. Chasing Ray has the round-up, so seek ‘em out and read ‘em up. I know I will.
When I lived in London for a time (it was like a little Intro to New York) I would periodically buy the newest issue of Time Out London and find interesting places to visit. One day the mag highlighted a toy museum. It was called The Museum of Childhood and it was fascinating. I was too intimidated to take any pictures, though, so I sort of forgot that I even went. Years have passed and I see that author/illustrator David Lucas has also been to that same museum and he has written about it in the post What do TOYS Think of Us? Stick around for the moment when he starts talking about panpsychism. Looking at all those ragamuffin bits of much loved cloth and felt reminds me of my library’s own original Winnie-the-Pooh. He is, after all, of the British persuasion.
Yay, Sunday Brunch! Over at Collecting Children’s Books my partner in writing crime (we’re doing a Candlewick book with Jules from 7-Imp) has a delightful post that is well worth your time. My favorite parts include the childhood of a future Brat Packer, a reason why Erin E. Moulton’s Flutter is unique, and a vote for “The Year’s Creepiest YA Novel.” Hooked yet?
Marci, this is for you. Remember how we were trying to figure out how one would go about creating Quidditch croquet? Well . . .
British Carnegie Medal winner of young adult literature Mal Peet and USA Michael L Printz winner of young adult literature M T Anderson were funny, warm, engaging as they spoke to the Children’s Book Council dinner at The Hughenden Boutique Hotel.
Carnegie Medal Award winner Mal Peet
Michael Printz Prize winner M T Anderson
Authors Kate Forsyth, Wendy Blaxland, Sue Whiting, Maureen Johnson, Sandy Fussell, Margaret Roc, Lindy Batchelor, Jan Latta and others as well as John Cohen Editor of Reading Time , Judith Ridge youth literature office for Western Sydney and many fans celebrated.
Susanne Gervay, Carole Keeble CBC President, Jessica Francis CBC
I recently went to an event where there were lots of writers chatting to each other about life, the universe and chocolate (the nibbles provided were very good). And, many people there were concerned about the future. Not the rising flood waters seeping into out repossessed homes, mind. But ebooks. The digital revolution that has changed music and TV and film now really does seem to be headed for the book world.
Now, I understand the fear, I really do. BUT. I can’t help feeling quite optimistic. I quite agree that it might be hard to make money from this writing lark once everything it instantly piratable and downloadable onto your phone. But, on the other hand, it has never been easy to make a decent living as a writer; it’s just a fact of life.
If we ignore the money thing, I can’t help thinking that the growth of different mediums is quite exciting. Like the invention of computer graphics must have been for artists working in paints. I can’t ever see myself loving mini-novels texted to my phone, Japanese-style. But I AM very interested to see how writers are using technology, specifically their websites, to expand the world of their stories. It draws out the lifespan of a book by providing a focus for your fans while you’re away scribbling the next instalment.
For example, Hilary McKay’s wonderful creation Rose Casson keeps a blog. And Mal Peet’s Paul Faustino has his very own website. And I was delighted to discover that one of the minor characters in Michael Grant’s Gone is re-telling the whole story again from a different perspective.
These websites are the DVD extras; places for fans to revel in the world of the books they have enjoyed. They are an exciting symbiosis of traditional books and the digital world. As soon as I get a bit of cash together, my own website will see the addition of a ‘deleted scenes’ page; maybe even an actor’s commentary...
Digitised words are nothing to be scared of – they’re still just words after all. As writers, we should feel, if not at home, then at least eager to explore our new neighbourhood.
Who have I missed out? Which writers do you know of who are using new technologies creatively?
Usually when I write a review of a crossover book, I'm reviewing an adult book I think children ages twelve and up will like. This time, however, I am reviewing a book marketed to teens that adults will appreciate--Tamar, by Mal Peet. (Tamar won the 2005 Carnegie in the U.K.)
To be honest, I am not sure why Tamar is a Young Adult novel. Some sections of the book are narrated by a fifteen-year-old girl, but the vast majority of passages concern adult resistance workers in World War II. To miss Tamar, subtitled A Novel of Espionage, Passion, and Betrayal, because it's located in the Young Adult section is a betrayal, indeed.
Tamar opens with a conversation between a father--William Hyde--and his adult son. The son's wife is expecting and the father has an usual request: If the child is a girl, will his son please name her Tamar? The father gives no reasons for the request, but the son likes the name and agrees.
The reader then travels back in time to when the father (and soon-to-be-grandfather) is working for the British Secret Service with the Dutch Resistance in a small town in the Netherlands. He is one of two men working under assumed names: Tamar, the resistance organizer, or Dart, his code transmitter. Both men love the same woman, Marijke, whose house serves as a base for the young resistance workers, but only Tamar has a relationship with her.* Two men in love with the same woman, fear, starvation, and a rogue resistance worker, who rebels in spectacular fashion against Tamar's command, lead to ultimate betrayal and loss for World War II-era Tamar, Dart, and Marijke.
Interspersed with accounts of Tamar, Marijke, and Dart's lives in Nazi-occupied Netherlands are passages in which modern-day Tamar, the fifteen-year-old granddaughter of "William Hyde," tries to understand why her grandfather committed suicide just months before, when already an old man. He leaves her a box of clues--clues that will lead to the truth about his past.
Tamar is a detective story and a meditation on the meaning of truth. It's a great novel for children, sure, but it's also an important story for adult readers as well. And, good news: A little research tells me the paperback edition is out in the U.S. on September 9. ---------------------- * Yes, Tamar is biologically young Tamar's grandfather. The question is, who was William Hyde, the grandfather Tamar knew and loved in 1990s England.
One of my favorites of 2007, the main story of Tamar is about the Dutch resistance at the end of WWII.
There are two Tamars, one is the fifteen year old in mid-90s England, trying to make sense of her grandfather's apparent suicide, her missing father, and her grandmother who is slipping further and further into dementia. Before he died, Tamar's grandfather left her a box of random things she has to figure out to put everything into perspective.
The other Tamar is the code name for a resistance leader, a Dutch man who escaped to England and was sent back to the Netherlands by the British in order to organize the various resistance groups to work together. He works with his wireless operator, Dart.
Between the two comes the beautiful Marijke, the young woman who lives on the farm where Tamar is stationed. She and Tamar have had a long relationship, unknown to Dart. As Dart's addition to amphetamines grows (he takes them to be awake at odd hours to send/receive transmissions), so does his paranoia.
What is most remarkable is that this is a story of boredom. The never ending tension that comes when nothing happens and you expect the Gestapo to come for you at any minute.
Even though I had the mystery bit figured out stupidly early on, before I was even sure if there was a mystery bit to figure out, the story still gripped me. It wasn't so much about the outcome, but why and how it happened.
Also, how the boredom can drive you insane. Remarkable.
Spring Moon is born at the end of the nineteenth century to the old house of Chang in Soochow (Suzhou). Through her eyes, and the lives of her uncles, we watch the history of modern China unfold and the effects it had on the life of one woman and her family.
There's a good time line of events in the back, but it still might be a little confusing for people who aren't familiar with 20th century Chinese history might be a little confused. (Heck, I am very familiar with 20th century Chinese history and sometimes I had to stop and think about what rebellion was happening...)
This book was recommended to me by my friend Marie after a conversation about Inspirational Fiction. Now, I don't read a lot of Inspirational Fiction. I'm not really a member of the target audience. Reading it was an interesting experience.
This is the biblical story Hosea retold in the goldrush California. Angel was sold into prostitution as a child. Micheal Hosea sees her and marries her and tries to redeem her, however, she keeps running away. She runs both because she sees marriage as just another form of bondage and then, when she starts to fall in love, because she thinks her past makes her unworthy.
I got pretty into it, even thought I disagreed with a lot of the theology initially (the ending redeemed it a bit for me. No pun intended.)
Anyway, throughout most of the book, marriage *is* just another form of bondage for Angel, but we're not supposed to see it as that because Michael's a good guy with good intentions, so what he does is ok. So the whole thing, initially is a bit anti-feminist. But, the final time Angel runs away, Michael lets her, and it's not until she settles things with herself that she's ok to go back to her marriage. So, I wasn't nearly so sour after that.
Also, I was a little irked at how Michael didn't want to be told about the worst things Angel had done in her life. He had already forgiven her. Granted, she was only telling him as a means to drive him away, almost testing him BUT if he's going to truly love her and truly forgive her, then shouldn't he know these things? How can he truly forgive a sin he doesn't know?
I also was irked by the use of the term "Celestial" to refer to Chinese people. I could understand it when the characters used it, because it was what they would have said, but when the narrator does? Ew.
Overall, it didn't fundamentally change my relationship with God the way the back promised it would, but it was a very interesting look into a genre I usually don't read. Also, I really got into the story. Although long, it was a quick read and I stayed up way past bedtime to finish it.
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