Tag Archives: fantasy

Review of Ed Emberley’s “Go Away, Big Green Monster!”

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Ed Emberley’s Go Away, Big Green Monster! manages to say a great deal with very few words and images. This causes it to say much more than what the words and illustrations appear to say, unlike many other picture books, which say only what’s on the surface. I am not exaggerating when I say the following about this book: It would still be something substantial without its text. I don’t usually say this about picture books, since I normally focus on books for older children, and text is thus more important to me than illustrations. It is true, though, that without the text, this book would still be a fun cut-out book for children, with images that either appear or disappear on every page. Part of what makes this possible is that the pictures on their own don’t tell a story; they’re just the image of a monster.

With the text, though, Go Away, Big Green Monster is so much more than a fun cut-out book. It says a great deal about overcoming, controlling, and even taking advantage of one’s fears. The monster definitely represents a child’s fears. With no other images, it is pretty clearly an image in the child’s imagination, and imaginary monsters almost always represent a child’s fears, both in books and in real life.

Paired up with the text, the simple images of a monster tell the story of a child who is capable of overcoming his or her fears. This is made clear by the line, “You don’t scare me!” once we see the whole image of the monster. This child can also control his or her fears, hence why he can make the monster disappear whenever he wants, like he does during the second half of the book, when the image of the monster is disappearing. The very last sentence in this book proves that the child can take advantage of her fears, too. “And don’t come back!/ Until I say so” implies that the child believes she can find usefulness in a monster, otherwise she wouldn’t anticipate telling it to come back.

In terms of representing a child’s fears, an imaginary monster can represent things in the real world that scare a child, scary things the child worries will happen, or fear itself. All three of these things have uses in the real world, because sometimes scary things need to happen in life. Likewise, both fear itself and the ability to imagine scary things happening can help a child (or a person of any age) cope in the real world. Since this book manages to say so much more than what its text and illustrations appear to say, it is one of the best picture books I’ve read in recent times.

 

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Review of Catherynne M. Valente’s “The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making”

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The first time I read Catherynne M. Valente’s The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making, I loved it. I loved it when September first met A-L, the Wyverary, when she was bathed by the soap golem, when September, Saturday, and A-L met Calpurnia and Penny Farthing and rode the Velocipedes, when September met the Tsukumogami (100-year-old objects), and the end, when the Marquess revealed her story and September returned home.

The second time I read it, I still liked those parts. I also felt, though, that the book dragged in places, especially when it was describing a place in great detail. Sometimes I even felt I would need a break from fantasy after rereading it, but now, after reading it a second time, I want to read its sequel!

I think I know why I felt it dragged in places, though. When I first read the book, it was new and exciting. I loved every minute of it. It wasn’t until I reread it that I found it dragged in places and I sometimes got tired of reading the chapters that weren’t my favorites. For this reason, I think this book is wonderful for anybody reading it the first time. The second time it can be a little tedious, since everything in it is complicated. Almost every chapter presents the reader with new information, which can make the story very confusing, even for someone who has read it before. It is hard to remember all that information! The first time, this confusion was wonderful and entertaining; the second time, it got tedious at times. This is why I think if the children reading this book are anything like me, they will love it the first time, but it might not become their favorite that they read again and again. Not every book can be that way for everybody.

At first I thought this book was similar to Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, since both are about an ordinary child exploring a fantasy world. Now that I’ve read it a second time, though, I can see that it’s more like Norton Juster’s The Phantom Tollbooth, since for both of those books, the fantasy world has its own abnormal events going on that the protagonist gets involved with. In Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Alice is mostly just exploring the everyday events of Wonderland. I haven’t read L. Frank Baum’s The Wonderful Wizard Of Oz; I have only seen the movie (and what American hasn’t?). Please don’t give anything away about the book; I will read it. My guess is that it is similar to The Phantom Tollbooth and The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland In a Ship of Her Own Making, in that the protagonist is pulled into the unusual events going on in the fantasy world. I will read The Wonderful Wizard of Oz and find out.

 

Review of Laura Amy Schlitz’s The Night Fairy

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I love fantasy, and my favorite fantasy creatures by far are fairies. That’s why when I saw The Night Fairy by Laura Amy Schlitz at the library, I immediately checked it out and read it. There were parts of it I really enjoyed, but after reading the first few pages, I found that, like several other children’s fantasy novels I’ve read, this book does not take the time to develop its characters or concepts.

Flory (the title character), Skuggle the squirrel, the hummingbird, the spider, and Peregrine the bat all should have been better developed characters. When I read the part at the beginning about Flory loosing her wings, I did not feel adequately sad about that. Schlitz should have done more to introduce Flory to the reader before having her loose her wings. Flory wasn’t unlikeable or anything; she just didn’t feel like someone I had grown to like.   I felt as though I had only just met her. I love fairies, and so of course I was somewhat sad about a fairy loosing her wings, but I wanted to be sadder. In a good fantasy story, sadness over a fairy loosing her wings should be similar to sadness over a person one cares about loosing a limb. That may sound like a lot to ask, but this is not an exaggeration in how important well-developed characters are to both writers and readers.

Also, if Skuggle the squirrel had been a better-developed character, Schlitz could have given this story a much better ending, one that didn’t seem out of nowhere.  With the way the book is written, Skuggle’s reminding Flory at the end that she had promised him cherries for letting her ride him out of her house seems like a random note to end on. I think this is because it was never clear in the book what Flory’s relationship with Skuggle was, something that could have been made clearer if he and Flory had been stronger characters.  Skuggle did Flory favors for food in the story, but it was never clear whether they would become closer friends or if one of them would finally get sick of the other demanding things, and they would have an argument, go their separate ways, or even become enemies. Any of those possibilities could have made for a better ending, not to mention a more interesting story, than the book has.

Another thing I love having in fantasy stories is explanations of whole new fantasy worlds and their inhabitants. This book, I’m sorry to say, was lacking in that as well. It could have told us more about night fairies and day fairies. It probably would have needed to if Flory had met other fairies in the story, but she didn’t, which I was disappointed by.

I have heard from other readers of this book that the story is too simple, but I think it’s the characters, not the story, that should have been more complex. A simple story is fine as long as it has well-developed characters, but this story has none. Despite the book’s lacking well-developed characters, I liked the simplicity of this story. The main other thing I liked about the book was how it went into great detail on a fairy’s relationship with the natural world. In doing so, it made some very good points about both Nature and humanity, such as how all animals need to eat, so eating other animals is not an evil deed, and that humans shouldn’t expect birds to trust them even if they put feeders up for them, since humans eat chickens.

That being said, this story still would have been much better with stronger characters. I read in Creating Characters Kids Will Love by Elaine Marie Alphin that the main reason many publishers do not accept stories with talking animals is that many authors seem to think cuteness is enough of a personality to give a talking animal.  These authors don’t develop the talking animal’s personality beyond that. From the middle grade fantasy novels I’ve read, including this one, I’d say a similar thing is true about fantasy. Many authors seem to think a fantasy world and fanciful creatures (or talking animals, which are also prevalent in fantasy) is enough to make a story interesting. Thus, they don’t think a fantasy story needs strong characters. This is not accurate. A fantasy story needs strong characters just as much as a realistic story does. Some fantasy stories do have strongly developed characters, like Lynne Reid Banks’ The Indian in the Cupboard series, which I would like to eventually review on this blog. I really hope, though, that more authors discover the importance of developing strong characters for fantasy stories. I am currently trying to do so as an author, and someday I may even create a strong fairy character!