Sunday, October 08, 2006

New Book Roundup

Yes, indeed – ‘tis that time of the week again. Admittedly, I only have three new books to talk about this week, mainly because I’ve been having fun with Molvanîa: a Land Untouched By Modern Dentistry. If you missed seeing this delightful travel guide parody last year, I highly recommend giving it a good flip-through. But I digress – On With the New Books!

Kiki Strike: Inside the Shadow City by Kirsten Miller

Confession time: up until I had the chance to physically put my hands on this book and open it up, I thought it was a graphic novel. Can you blame me? The very-cool cover art just screams “graphic novel,” as does the book’s plot.

Drab Ananka Fishbein is friendless at her prep school when she becomes acquainted with her black-clad spy girl classmate, Kiki Strike. Kiki reminded me a little too much of Artemis Fowl – she’s parentless, lives in a house under video surveillance, and limitless wealth with which to do what she likes. However, Kiki uses her powers for good – or what she deems as good – instead of evil. When asked what she wants to be when she grows up, Kiki answers, “Dangerous.”

Together Ananka and Kiki discover and explore the “Shadow City,” a vast network of secret underground tunnels and rooms inhabited by criminals. Miller’s writing is fun, hip stuff – populated with renegade Girl Scouts, street gangs that force their victims to parade around in tutus, sly references to Alice in Wonderland, and interesting tidbits about the urban history of New York City. Chapters end with practical advice from Ananka about real-life spy work; preteen girls will just eat it up.

Waltur Buys a Pig in a Poke and Other Stories by Barbara Gregorich

Idioms have been played up for humor in children’s literature (paging Amelia Bedelia) but never with such sprightliness as they have in this book. Waltur is a somewhat bumbling but lovable bear who goes about buying a pet, earning money for honey, and digging holes for fun while his long-suffering friend Matilda gives advice like “don’t buy a pig in a poke,” or “don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Waltur follows her advice literally, which leads to hilarious dialogue reminiscent of old Abbot and Costello routines. For example, Matilda advises Waltur that he “can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Rankled by this, Waltur sets out to prove her wrong:

“Here’s the water,” said Waltur.

“So it is,” said the horse.

“I led you here,” said Waltur.

“Many thanks,” said the horse.

“Now you can drink the water,” said Waltur.

“Thank you, but no,” said the horse.

“Yes,” said Waltur. “Drink the water.”

“No,” said the horse. “I will not.”

“Why not?” asked Waltur.

“I don’t feel like it,” said the horse.

“Water is good for you,” said Waltur.

“So it is,” said the horse.

“Drink the water,” said Waltur.

“You drink it,” said the horse.

In other words, this little easy reader is enough to make a whole class of first graders dissolve into chuckles. Just don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

Now and Ben: the Modern Inventions of Benjamin Franklin by Gene Barretta

Swimming flippers, the Gulf Stream, writing desks, fire departments and bifocals: what do they have in common? They were all discovered or invented by Benjamin Franklin. With this delightful little piece of nonfiction, Barretta describes almost all of Franklins’ inventions – famous and not-so-famous – and shows their influence (or not) on the modern age. Page spreads are split into two, showing Franklin’s innovations “now” and “then,” along with how the inventions work and were inspired. Some of Franklin’s inventions that didn’t survive time are also on display here, such as the glass armonica and a rocking chair that churns butter. Bright, golden-hued illustrations have a whimsical touch to them, similar to those found in David Small’s illustrations for So You Want to Be President? to which this book makes a perfect companion.

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