Cristina's Library

Joie de livres

Category: Kids Lit Comfort

Every Thing On It

A spider lives inside my head
Who weaves a strange and wondrous web
Of silken threads and silver strings
To catch all sorts of flying things,
Like crumbs of thought and bits of smiles
And specks of dried-up tears,
And dust of dreams that catch and cling
For years and years and years…

So begins the touching, magical, and often hilarious, collection of 145 previously unpublished poems from beloved children’s author Shel Silverstein. I read the book in one sitting on New Year’s Day, and absolutely loved it. Reading children’s poetry and books at this age helps me to realize even more clearly the underlying messages in them. A number of lines stood out to me, a few of them I’ve listed below:

This surely ain’t the magic
I was hopin’.
I guess in life it all depends
Which magic flask you open. – THE GENIE IN THE FLASK

She had blue skin
And so did he.
He kept it hid
And so did she.
They searched for blue
Their whole life through.
Then passed right by–
And never knew. – MASKS

Though it’s a posthumous publication put together by his family and original editor, Shel’s spirit and input is felt within every page, and the design of it stays true to his previous works. If you’ve read Where The Sidewalk Ends or The Giving Tree (which always brings tears to my eyes), you will love this never-before-seen collection. It’s one of those books that needs to be in everyone’s library. Like his other books, you will go back to it over and over throughout your life, and, eventually, pass it on. Shel Silverstein was one of those rare and masterful writers who penned works ostensibly for children, but with so much beauty and truth and humor that they can touch that last, faded remnant of innocence that even the crabbiest adults still have deep down in their shriveled little souls. Please do yourselves a favour and read this book!

The Invention of Hugo Cabret

I didn’t read this book.
I experienced it.
You should, too.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret has 526 pages, and, in front of my own eyes, I have seen a child (one of those annoyingly loud, obnoxious, look-at-what-I-can-do types) brandish it in their friend’s face, bragging that they read the WHOLE thing.
Take THAT.
You may be wondering how it’s possible for a book of this enormity/size/weight to be read in its entirety by a small child. Well, over 250 pages are pictures. Beautiful, wondrous illustratrions sketched by the author and illustrator (and visual storyteller extraordinaire), Brian Selznick. Inspired by the story of early filmmaker Georges Méliès, Selznick, with a blend of historical fact, illustration, and film stills, tells the story of Hugo Cabret. The pictures are haunting, inspiring, and meaningful — I know everything that’s happening, and can feel every emotion the characters are feeling, simply by looking into their eyes. This is, undoubtedly, the best children’s book I have read all year, and the #1 Kids Lit Comfort book of 2011.

It is 1931.
The book opens by inviting the reader to imagine that they are at the movies, about to witness a spectacle. And you do, as the story begins. 30 pages later, there is still no text, but you have a clear and distinct idea of exactly what happened. The illustrations have filled in the blanks. There is a picture of the moon, then an aerial depiction of Paris — it’s nighttime in Paris. Hugo enters a secret passageway, watching a mysterious old man selling toys at a stand. The text finally begins with, “From his perch behind the clock, Hugo could see everything.”
Hugo Cabret is an orphan, clock-keeper, and occasional thief — out of necessity, of course. With his wayward, careless uncle, who is constantly disappearing, 12-year old Hugo lives a secret life in the walls of a busy Paris train station (from historical details revealed later in the book, the station is Gare Montparnasse). His father, having recently passed away, was the station’s clock-keeper, a position that Hugo resumes after his death. With Hugo is an automaton that his father rescued. Hugo believes that, once repaired, it will write a message that his father had for him — a message that will save his life. Hugo sets to work on the automaton, but things get complicated with the intrusion of the station inspector, meeting Isabelle, stealing from the elderly shopkeeper, and a long line of mysteries.
The novel is wonderfully innovative, highly imaginative, and completely endearing. A true genius.
Kirkus Reviews calls it “an homage to early filmmakers as dreamers…elegantly designed to resemble the flickering experience of silent film melodramas.”
It deserves all the attention it has received, and I recommend you all experience it!
The Invention of Hugo Cabret is a quick read, and one you won’t forget.
It won the Caldecott Prize, and is soon to be a film entitled HUGO, starring Sasha Baron Cohen and directed by Martin Scorsese. Watch the trailer below:

Juniper Berry

“For a while now, everything, including her, had been neglected.”

Juniper Berry by M.P Kozlowsky is the first in my Kids Lit Comfort series of reviews. Sometimes a reader just needs a break from dark themes or long, prose-heavy works, or, simply, the present reality of life. At times like these, the only logical thing to do is pick up a classic (or contemporary) middle-grade or children’s book and get swept into its comforting story, like sipping a marshmallow-laden hot chocolate and wrapping a deliciously warm, wool blanket around yourself. But don’t let the word “children” fool you — children’s literature touches on universal themes, delving into the joys and throes of human character in an extraordinarily entertaining (albeit shorter) way. Darkly amusing, terrifying, fun, mysterious, curious, or downright delightful, middle grade/kids lit is my antidote for a variety of ailments: sadness, depression, frustration, adult-ness, boredom, the overstressed, the overworked, and more. Though there are less pages and a smaller story, there is always a bigger picture. Less is more, and sentences of alarming alacrity hit you head-on, full-throttle. Children’s Lit is short, small, and packed. with. punch.

And M. P Kozlowsky’s Juniper Berry doesn’t disappoint — it is a fantastic read. The synposis: Juniper Berry’s parents, world-renowned actors/famous celebrities have “not been right lately”. In fact, they have been cold, disinterested and cruel. Obsessed with greedily augmenting their current success, their actions and responses to Juniper become frightening. Her mother calls her “useless” at one point, and begs to know what people are saying about her online.

“Juniper, dear, you go to all these websites, these gossip pages, posting boards. Have they been mentioning me? Where am I going? Where have I been?”

All in all, their behaviour has been shockingly uncharacteristic. Juniper is lonely, sad, and neglected; constantly exploring the woods, she admits that discovery and exploration are her salvation. Juniper and her friend, Giles (whose famous parents also seem to be afflicted with the mean bug), are determined to figure out what is going on. One cold and rainy night, Juniper follows her parents as they sneak out of the house and enter the woods. She and Giles discover a world beneath a mysterious tree, a world which promises all their secret, personal desires — at the price of their souls.

The evil, menacing, and manipulative…thing that rules this other world is eerily enticing, ensuring the children that “there are far easier ways to get to the same places” than hard work. Her parents, and Giles, have fallen into the trap, and the two have to have to save them — but first, decide what the value of their souls are.

Kozlowsky touches on the pathetic nature of celebrity culture, describing the parents’ fans akin to mindless, screeching crows lauding over food scraps, and the parents’ behaviour as terrifyingly self-absorbed. He makes a parody of today’s technology and our fickle fascination with computers and cell phones, portraying it as futile and mind-numbing. And he makes important points about morals, happiness and life throughout — points that are clearly and acutely felt, without feeling preachy.

Finally, the ARTWORK by Erwin Madrid is superb, creepily gorgeous, and haunting. Black and white, long, thin lines, curvy details, and deep shadows combine to give the book just the right flavour of mystery and fun. It’s a wonderful, frightening, and meaningful story, and I urge you all to give it a read!

Some poignant quotes:
“When this theme park ride is over, we’re going to walk out the same doors we walked in. There was no miracle.”

“The imagination of the young is nothing to be dismissed.”

“I have yet to meet a person happy with what they are given.”

“The only truth is the one we create. It’s the rest that is a dream.”