Cover Notes is a new series I’ll be running every Monday. Rather than focusing on covers of books I’ve read, I’ll be writing about books I’ve never read and recording my first impressions of their covers. Each book will also have an Embarrassment Factor of between zero & five, with zero meaning “a totally awesome cover I want to write fan mail about” and five meaning “I’m ashamed to be seen with this in public.”
Today’s Cover Notes post is a little different–I was busy over the weekend, and didn’t spend much time at the bookstore. So this post is based on a cover randomly picked from the “Inspired From Your Browsing History” section on the front page of Amazon.
Things I love about the cover: The colors. They’re so bold and strong without being garish and I love the way the stripes play off each other, and the starry background. I also love how plain and unassuming the title font is–it doesn’t take away from the claymation style illustration at all, but actually almost enhances it. And the curl of the dragon’s tail! So adorable! Perhaps best of all, though, is the way both dragon and child seem to be realizing they can trust each other…
Things I’m not so hot on: The stars may be a teensy bit too big, but I’m actually not sure about that. I’m hesitant to pick at this cover at all–it’s very whimsical and kid-like, and the kind of art I’d actually love to hang above my desk.
What I think it’s about: Hard call! Based on the “50 years in print” sticker, this is probably a classic, though I’m kind of behind on American classics! Anyway, I’m guessing it’s a collection of fairy tales loosely based on some existing fairy tales. The story is probably tied together by the boy’s search for something–perhaps something tangible, but something emotional, too. I don’t get a sense of specifics from this one at all, though.
Cover art by: Ruth Chrisman Gannett
Embarrassment factor: 0. I have no problem being seen with very kid-like books in public. I once had a little girl run up and tell me she loved the Katie Kazoo I was reading; another once asked me if I was really reading Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, just like she was. (And yes, I was–it’s one of my favorite books.)
The Jacket Blurb
My Father’s Dragon–a favorite of young readers since the 1940s and a Newbery honor book–captures the nonsensical logic of childhood in an amusingly deadpan fashion. The story begins when Elmer Elevator (the narrator’s father as a boy) runs away with an old alley cat to rescue a flying baby dragon being exploited on a faraway island. With the help of two dozen pink lollipops, rubber bands, chewing gum, and a fine-toothed comb, Elmer disarms the fiercest of beasts on Wild Island. The quirky, comical adventure ends with a heroic denouement: the freeing of the dragon. Abundant black-and-white lithographs by Ruth Chrisman Gannett (the author’s stepmother) add an evocative, lighthearted mood to an already enchanting story. Author Ruth Stiles Gannett’s stand-alone sequel, Elmer and the Dragon, and her third volume, The Dragons of Blueland both received starred reviews in School Library Journal and are as fresh and original as her first. (Ages 4 to 8)–Amazon
Overall: So, so wrong! Well, half wrong. I did get boy and dragon and searching, sort of. It sounds like an absolutely enchanting book, though, and one we might start reading at bed time.
Have you read Three Tales of My Father’s Dragon?Read More
Carolyn Hennesy’s Pandora series is like Kim Possible–in Ancient Greece. It’s fun. It’s a little flirty. It’s original. It’s kind of educational. It’s also not exactly accurate…
Mythology is one of my passions. In high school, I devoured everything that could possibly have had “gods” splashed across the cover. And I still love it, though I’m especially partial to The Greek Stuff: I read both Bulfinch’s and Edith Hamilton to Mir when he was a baby baby (as opposed to the Giant Mess Monster who will always be my baby kind), interspersed with some Arabian Nights (and Sinbad in particular).
Enter the Pandora series. Generally, the myth-based books I read are modern–Percy Jackson discovers he’s a demigod today, Oliver (The Seven Keys of Balabad) searches for the lost treasure today. (Check out this list over at Read In A Single Sitting for a few great-looking picks.) But Pandora Atheneus Andromaeche Helena–her friends call her Pandy–is not a modern girl. She speaks like a modern girl. She worries like a modern girl. But she’s an Ancient Greek. Here’s the gist:
Pandora Atheneus Andromaeche Helena (“Pandy” for short) lives in Ancient Greece, surrounded by gods, goddesses, heroes, mythical monsters and magical beasts. But, she is your typical, average, run-of-the-mill tween. She has crushes on boys, trouble at school, best friends, fierce enemies, a mother who doesn’t understand and a brother who makes her crazy.
Typical and average, right?
It takes a big school project, the discovery of a box with a terrible secret and the adventure of a lifetime to make her realize just how special, unique and “pan-tastic” she really is!
See the KP similarities?
There are lots of little things we could nitpick about the Pandy series: in the books, she’s Prometheus’ daughter rather than his sister-in-law. She’s unleashed the evils from a box rather than a jar. She has a cell phone magical conch communication device. But here’s the thing: I don’t care because I’m too busy loving these books.
I am a stickler for many things. Apostrophes. Good chocolate. The BBC version of Pride & Prejduice. I’ve cringed at bad myth- and fairy tale retellings, and been irked by anachronisms in other historical-based fiction. But most of the retellings and anachronisms I’ve disliked are the result of poor research–time hasn’t been spent on the details or the backstory, and the world has been sloppily built, like the proverbial castle over sand.
Pandy, on the other hand, is a pretty modern teen in a relatively contemporary world–except for, y’know, the non-contemporary bits. Rather than going all out with the modern setting, Hennesy has picked the modernisms that serve her story (in terms of plot and humor), then balanced them with details about the ancient world. A few examples (minor spoilers):
- animal sacrifices still exist, and are upsetting to one of Pandy’s friends
- women are generally accepted as equals in Pandy’s corner of the world, but she runs into prejudice on her travels
- famous names (like Tiresias) used for unrelated characters are acknowledged to be fictional creations/inspirations in the glossary at the back of each book
- the gods’ personalities, while adapted a little, aptly catch the gist
- the girls’ actions (Pandy’s friends go adventuring with her) have consequences
- and, finally, there are limits to magical help, and magical items, with one small exception. (And that particular magical skill is earned in a somewhat gross way, so I do kind of feel like the girls paid for it).
Perhaps best of all, though, is that even when riffing on an existing myth, Hennesy is original. In Book 2, Pandora Gets Vain, the girls meet Calchas (the seer who told Agammemnon to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia, and who predicted the ten-year length of the Trojan War). The entire episode is well-sketched and, more importantly, unpredictable.
The big picture? The series is a fun romp through the ancient world (so far, the girls have traveled to Egypt and Libya). The books are easy to read, use the “smart girl with big words” trope to humorous effect. And even if they’re not accurate–in so far as “accurate” is ever possible–retellings of Greek myths, they’re a great springboard to the real thing.
An interesting aside: technically, the Pandy books are CelebooksTM, as Hennesy is an actress, and currently a regular on General Hospital. This is my first brush with CelebooksTM–and it was a pleasant surprise.
Have you read the Pandy series? Or Goddess Girls, another tween mythology series?Read More
Sometimes, when I’m between books–i.e., I have too many projects and don’t trust myself to not be sucked into a new story to the exclusion of all else–I re-read snippets of my favorite series.
One of the things I love about long series is how they grow with the reader. It’s not just that Percy or Harry, or Alanna, or any of the others grow up. It’s that their voices, and their authors’ tone grows up, too.
Consider the Percy Jackson books. At the beginning of the series, Percy is twelve. He’s dyslexic, has ADHD, and has been kicked out of six schools in six years. His voice is delinquent, defensive, even slightly sad–and immediately gripping.
The Lightning Thief, chapter one
Look, I didn’t want to be a half blood.
If you’re reading this because you think you might be one, my advice is: close this book right now. Believe whatever like your mom or dad told you about your birth, and try to lead a normal life.
Being a half-blood is dangerous. It’s scary. Most of the time, it gets you killed in painful, nasty ways.
If you’re a normal kid, reading this because you think it’s fiction, great. Read on. I envy you for being able to believe that none of this ever happened.
But if you recognize yourself in these pages–if you feel something stirring inside–stop reading immediately. You might be one of us. And once you know that, it’s only a matter of time before they sense it too, and they’ll come for you.
Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Come the fifth book, The Last Olympian, Percy is sixteen. His dyslexia and ADHD, while still occasionally mentioned, are no longer key parts of his character. And while he still has a Percy-voice, he’s grown up: not only does Percy worry about his relationship with Annabeth, his sense of mortality is (realistically) greater than in the previous novels (with the possible exception of book four, The Battle of the Labyrinth).
The Last Olympian, chapter one
The end of the world started when a pegasus landed on the hood of my car.
Up until then, I was having a great afternoon. Technically I wasn’t supposed to be driving because I wouldn’t turn sixteen for another week, but my mom and my stepdad, Paul, took my friend Rachel and me to this private stretch of bead on the South Shore, and Paul let us borrow his Prius for a short spin.
Now, I know you’re thinking, Wow, that was really irresponsible of him, blah, blah, blah, but Paul knows me pretty well. He’s seen me slice up demons and leap out of exploding school buildings, so he probably figured taking a car a few hundred yards wasn’t exactly the most dangerous thing I’d ever done.
Hear the difference? They’re clearly still the same character, but there’s a distance between the two, a distance that’s less about age-related details (driving a car) than word choice and focal points. Would twelve year old Percy be as cool about Paul? Would he use “technically” in a sentence? Most importantly, though, is the sense of comfort in sixteen year old Percy’s voice: sure, he’s talking about the end of the world, but he’s not defensive, not hiding behind a tough persona. This Percy, for the most part, is strong, confident, and in charge.
Behind Percy’s voice is Riordan’s–also strong and immediately recognizable–with a tone that’s more YA than middle grade. It’s less “wow, this is cool, and I get to save the world while looking totally awesome,” less peppy and pun-filled. There are still moments of lightness (a satyr wearing a “Got Hooves” shirt in book four, a hellhound gnawing on a giant pink plastic yak and a hundred-eyed monster getting bloodshot in book five), but they’re fewer, and used to good effect to not just illustrate character traits (as in the earlier books) but to break up tension (and thereby highlight key scenes and interactions).
While these may seem like the natural outgrowth of writing a series–and to some extent, they are–they’re actually not that common. Not all series grow with their readers (Harry Potter is probably the most famous to do so): the Michael Buckley Sisters Grimm series attempts to, but fails; the Nancy Drew books remain the same, story after story; even Dianna Wynne Jones’ Castle in the Air, a sequel to Howl’s Moving Castle, doesn’t quite capture necessary changes in tone and voice.
Oftentimes, that’s okay. Some authors want to stay within a certain genre or age-range, because that’s what speaks to them. But it’s still impressive–incredibly so–when a character demonstrates such clear growth over the course of a series. (The Protector of the Small (Kel) books by Tamora Pierce are another great example, as are J.K. Rowling’s HP books.)
Have you read any age-spanning series lately? Did you like them? Hate them? Why?Read More
Cover Notes is a new series I’ll be running every Monday. Rather than focusing on covers of books I’ve read, I’ll be writing about books I’ve never read and recording my first impressions of their covers. Each book will also have an Embarrasment Factor of between zero & five, with zero meaning “a totally awesome cover I want to write fan mail about” and five meaning “I’m ashamed to be seen with this in public.”
Shelved in the young reader section of the bookstore, Windblowne was spine in when I found it–but even nestled among the busy, particolored spines, it stood out.
Things I love about the cover: It’s very slightly surreal. The giant moon, alongside the smaller one, give a sense of dreamy otherworldliness that immediately drew me in. The kite is just the tiniest splash of color, but it draws my eye up, and sets methinking about flying without being over-the-top or trying too hard. The cover’s a little glossy, too, which makes the moons really pop, and I love the way the font is a little windblown. Finally, the spine is eye-catching enough that I picked up the book as soon I saw it, but it’s still a little mysterious.
Things I’m not so hot on: Not too much, but I don’t like the way the author’s name looks on the bottom of the cover–it feels a little rushed and unimportant. I like the idea of the trees, too, but the other kites (if they are kites) are a bit busy for me. A clearer sense of if the fliers above the trees are kites or leaves would definitely help. Update: the artist, Erwin, has a much larger pic of Windblowne’s cover. The size really does make a difference–it’s easier to see both kite & leaves in the image, and the detail on the boy’s trousers.
What I think it’s about: A balloon boy story without the crazy–or, rather, a world where people (people because of the other kites) can ride the wind. This not quite Harry Potter looking fellow looks as if he’s off an adventure; the way he’s looking up makes me think he’s not just excited, but eager to get away from something.
Cover art by: Erwin Madrid. (Seriously, folks, run & check out Erwin’s website–it’s incredible!)
Embarrassment factor: 0!
The Jacket Blurb
A high-flying fantasy adventure that will blow readers away!
Every kite Oliver touches flies straight into the ground, making him the laughingstock of Windblowne. With the kite-flying festival only days away, Oliver tracks down his reclusive great-uncle Gilbert, a former champion. With Gilbert’s help, Oliver can picture himself on the crest, launching into the winds to become one of the legendary fliers of Windblowne.
Then his great-uncle vanishes during a battle with mysterious attack kites—kites that seem to fly themselves! All that remains is his prize possession, a simple crimson kite. At least, the kite seems simple. When Oliver tries to fly it, the kite lifts him high above the trees. When he comes down, the town and all its people have disappeared. Suddenly the festival is the last thing on Oliver’s mind as he is catapulted into a mystery that will change everything he understands about himself and his world.
Inspired by the work of Diana Wynne Jones, debut author Stephen Messer delivers a fantasy book for boys and girls in which the distance between realities is equal to the breadth of a kite string.
I’m so, so wrong! But I’m not disappointed at all–while I liked where my immediate impressions took me, the real story sounds so much richer, and I’ll definitely be reading it. Looking at the cover again, there are clues to the real story–the misspelled “windblown” should have been a heads-up that it’s a proper noun, and the other kites are a pretty good hint that flying is kinda-sorta commonplace (assuming you thought they were kites to begin with–we’re still not sure).
What did you think when you first saw the cover of Windblowne? Have you read it yet?
eta: cover artist details for Erwin Madrid, note on image size.Read More