Musings on children's and YA literature, the academy, and the relationship between them, from an English professor and mother.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

More brief reviews

It's been a great summer so far for catching up on reading and movie-viewing. I can't remember the last time I've seen so many movies in a week (three!)--probably last summer. I've also been making my way through a pile of ARCs and other books that have turned up in my mailbox, one way and another, and it's been a pleasure to do so. Here are two books to look for:

  • The Proof that Ghosts Exist, by Carol Matas and Perry Nodelman. I know Perry Nodelman as a very fine scholar of children's literature. I use his co-authored (with Mavis Reimer) book, The Pleasures of Children's Literature, to teach my introduction to children's literature course, and it is that rare thing in a textbook, a pleasure to read. So when I read that he had a new novel coming out (he's already published several others), I jumped at the chance to get an ARC. And I'm glad I did. The Proof that Ghosts Exist introduces us to a pair of siblings, Molly and Adam, who are as different as two siblings can be. She's orderly, reasonable, and rational; he's imaginative and a bit off-kilter. (Hmm, Dorothy and William Wordsworth?) The novel begins as they head off to a summer house with their father, whose own father and grandfather both dropped dead the day before their 35th birthdays. And, yes, it is the day before their father's 35th birthday, so they're a little concerned. This is a funny, imaginative excursion into the world of ghost-hunting--highly recommended for middle-grade readers. (Received from the publisher; the book is out in Canada but not yet available in the US, according to Amazon.)
  • The Seems: The Split Second, by John Hulme and Michael Wexler. This is the second "Seems" book--the first, The Glitch in Sleep, came out last year, but somehow I missed it. The Seems is a world behind our world, where The Powers that Be arrange things so that our, sort of. Only sometimes it doesn't, so there are Fixers to try to get things back on track, and Becker Drane, at age 13, is the youngest Fixer. And right now, someone's split a second, time is out of time, and Becker needs to get to work. The novel reminded me a lot of Jasper Fforde's books, with the clever wordplay and antic movement between different levels of reality, but without the reliance on classic literature that might slow down a middle-grade reader. This book isn't due out until the fall, but you can start with the first one--I plan to go back and read it myself. (Received in ARC from the publisher along with How to Ditch Your Fairy and two graphic novels I haven't gotten to yet.)
OK, this one's not a book, and you can read about it anywhere, really, but I just have to put in a plug for Wall-E as well. As you probably already know, one of the triumphs of the movie is how well it conveys emotion with very few (and, for the first few minutes, no) words. In its emphasis on the visual it reminded me a bit of The Arrival, and I was delighted to learn from the smart people on the child_lit listserv that Shaun Tan did some work on it. It's also the bitingest satire I've seen in a while: the movie really doesn't pull its punches in depicting environmental degradation, and the huge corporation (Buy-N-Large) that controls, seemingly, everything, has clear connections to Wal-Mart. The irony of the movie is that it takes two robots to restore people's humanity--and Pixar manages to convey this in a completely believable, almost inevitable, way. You'll walk out of the movie saying "Wall-E" in the robot's creaky little voice, just as you walked out of E.T. saying "phone home." I promise. (You may also find yourself adding Hello, Dolly! to your netflix queue...)

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