Monday, June 19, 2006
HERE BE MONSTERS! (FICTION)
HERE BE MONSTERS! THE RATBRIDGE CHRONICLES, VOLUME I by Alan Snow (Atheneum)
Illegal cheese hunters are trapping helpless creatures beneath the city, as part of a nefarious plot to build a giant monster and embody the spirit of general mischief and megalomania. It us up to our hero! Arthur! Sweet, banana-stealing Arthur! Who takes good care of his cantankerous granfather and finds himself stuck in the world above the ground! Not to fret; he makes fast friends with some very dear allies: boxtrolls, cabbageheads, and a gentle lawyer named Wilbury.
I have not been this excited about a book in a long time. Outstanding! Outstanding! Outstanding! Oustanding! Well, what makes this book so outstanding? In some ways, Alan Snow is kicking it Old Skool. I guess his style is going to end up being compared to Roald Dahl just because he is so irreverent and British, and because his book features the theme of child as hero, as do so many enduring works of children's literature. However, a more apt comparison may be to Tove Jansson, because his books have a greater undercurrent of kindness (grownups are not unilaterally villified), and because he has a fully inventive, imaginative world that is drawn not only in colorful, humorous language but in wildly generous illustration! There are over six hundred drawings in this book, at least one on every page!
But even above and beyond being able to make the comparison to legends of children's lit, the qualities that I am most excited about belong truly and uniquely to Alan Snow. One is the pure, unadulterated imagination that went into this book; the story is definitely wacky, but manages to keep a strong pace and narrative flow. Two is the joy. This volume is a whopper, 529 pages, and on every single page, there is an unmistakable delight in the writing; as if the author is every bit as excited to tell you what happens next as you are to find out, and every picture is just another thing that the author was happy to do so that you would know this world, enjoy this adventure, and root for this boy. Though the book is thick, the print is large and well-spaced, and the text has lots of relief via the illustration, which gives further visual cues to children who may just be finding their footing in chapter books. Alan Snow started as a picture book creator, which might explain why he is so adept in marrying the words to artwork, and the overall effect is very fresh, creating a reading experience suitable for a generation of kids that is so visually literate.
Besides soaring through this zany and original adventure, children are going to feel a sense of great accomplishment and reading confidence upon this book's completion. In so many ways, this is a perfect book for the intermediate-aged reader. Without sacrficing great storytelling, the writing has no pretensions or nose-up literary poo-di-doo, and likewise, there are no skills that need to be feigned or magnified in order for the average reader to enjoy this book (as opposed to another bestseller That Shall Not Be Named). It also rates as a marvelous read-aloud.
I don't mean to show off, but oooooo, ya'll are going to thank me for this one! Would you be so kind as to remember that you heard it here first? (8 and up)
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