“Hi, Mum! Hi, Pop!” Mike squeaks as he hops from the screen onto the table. “Look at me! I’m the first boy sent by television!”
Mrs. Teavee shrieks. “You’re an inch tall! Oh, my sweet boy!”
“Sweet?” Grandpa Joe whispers to me. “He blew Violet to bits!”
True, Mike did chuck his flinty Everlasting Gobstopper at the ballooning, purple Violet, popping her and splattering blueberry juice, sugary blood, and bile all over the Inventing Room. But Violet was hardly a sweetie. She was, after all, the one who had shoved Veruca into a mob of vicious, mutant squirrels and happily snapped her gum as the gnawed Princess of Nuts slid down the garbage chute. Of course, Veruca herself had previously kicked Augustus squarely in his generous lederhosen, dumping him into the churning chocolate river that led to his being swirled into fudge. (I regret ever having eaten a morsel manufactured in this place.)
Yet I find it difficult to condemn my fellow contestants for their assorted cruelties. Our sadistic host, who at present is suppressing snickers as he unapologetically consoles Mrs. Teavee, lured us all like Hansels and Gretels into this gingerbread house of horrors. If anyone here lacks sweetness, it is Mr. Willy Wonka, demon chocolatier. When this bloody contest concludes and I claim my prize, I will personally see to it that he receives his just desserts.
We were five ticket-holders this morning; now the remaining lone obstacle separating me from my prize has been greatly, er, reduced—to the size of a gummy bear, in fact. The humane thing would be to put wee Mike out of his misery. At least this is how I rationalize the heinous crime I am about to commit.
I reach into my tattered pocket and silently commend myself for having scooped up some of the treats I found behind the door marked EXPLODING CANDY FOR YOUR ENEMIES. I select a weapon disguised as a tiny yellow butter mint. It ought to be sufficient to take out a target so small.
“Go on, Charlie, finish the job,” Grandpa Joe says, nudging me with his bony elbow. “Then it’s one last moralistic Oompa-Loompa song and we’ve won.”
I nod, bracing myself for the blast, and lob the mint.
by Shane W. Evans;
illus. by the author
Preschool, Primary Porter/Roaring Brook 32 pp.
1/12 978-1-59643-539-1 $16.99
Many young children know there was a march on Washington a long time ago and that Martin Luther King Jr. gave a famous speech that day. Some know why the march took place; fewer still know how it happened. Using a minimalist text (no more than ten words per page) as he employed in Underground (rev. 1/11), Evans covers the last two points. The how-we-march thread is the strongest and most understandable to very young listeners and readers. A mother and father rouse their two children from bed, leave their house, pray at their local church, make signs, board a bus, march on the Mall, and listen to Dr. King speak at the Lincoln Memorial. Small touches, such as the father tying his son’s shoes and the mother buttoning her daughter’s sweater (the march began on an unseasonably cool morning), clearly anchor the story within the experiences of a small child. Quietly dramatic full-bleed, double-page illustrations bring context to the simple text. “We work together,” for example, captions the local church members making signs. The book begins with a family of four; the number of marchers increases page by page, deliberately showing the power of the larger community to make its voice heard. An author’s note, aimed at an older audience, fills in details of the march on Washington and the civil rights movement.
The Cabinet of Earths
by Anne Nesbet
Intermediate Harper/HarperCollins 260 pp.
1/12 978-0-06-196313-1 $16.99
e-book ed. 978-0-06-209919-8 $8.99
“Well! It is better to read fairy tales than to find yourself caught in them,” Nesbet’s narrator declares, a predictor of what is to be found in the subsequent pages — for Nesbet’s story is a-shimmer with magic, in plot, characters, and literary style. In Paris with her family for a year, Maya is bemused by many things: her cousin Louise (“too vague to be properly ordinary” and “less notable than people usually are, somehow”); the door handle next door (a bronze salamander that actually flicks its tongue at her); and the discovery of an elderly relative, keeper of the mysterious Cabinet of Earths. Then there are her family worries: her frail mother, recovering from chemotherapy; her overly charming little brother…Maya finds herself pondering the values of liveliness and mortality in a life-or-death struggle when she becomes next Keeper of the Cabinet of Earths. Nesbet’s first novel is an impressive achievement, its substance and style gracefully blended. The bright, engaged narrative voice whisks us along with breezy, intelligent energy; words are neatly fitted, nicely unpredictable, and resonant with multiple meanings. Above all, Maya is a fully rounded, complex character, someone whose qualities and struggles are admirably and appealingly central to the fantasy.