Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Mufaro's Beautiful Daughters by John Steptoe






Genre: Friendship / Kindness / Family / Manners



Year Published: 1987



Year Read: 2010




Publisher: Amistad
 


“Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” is a Caldecott Honor Book by John Steptoe and it is about how Mufaro’s two beautiful daughters are invited to the king’s palace so that the king will choose a worthy bride, but Manyara, the greedy sister, tries to go off to the king’s palace by herself and meets some disastrous results. “Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” is a magnificent tale that children will definitely read for many years!


John Steptoe has done a magnificent job at both illustrating and writing this book. John Steptoe effectively retells this ancient African folktale with such tenderness that children will easily get the message about how true kindness towards others will bring the greatest rewards and how greed will bring about the downfall of a person with an extremely proud heart. John Steptoe’s illustrations are extremely beautiful as he makes the characters look extremely realistic and colorful. The highlighted images in this book are the images of the forest itself as the forest looks eerie at night since the branches of the trees are shadowed in a creepy way and when the forest is shown during the day, then the forest looks tranquil and beautiful as you can see various flowers blooming all over the pages of the forest. 


 
“Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters” is great hit for children who love African folktales and will be a favorite for the whole family to enjoy for many years. I would recommend this book to children ages five and up since there are some African names like “Manyara” and “Nyasha” that might be difficult for smaller children to pronounce.




*Winner: 1988 Caldecott Honor
*Winner: 1988 Coretta Scott King Award for Illustrator





X-Men: God Loves Man Kills by Chris Claremont





Genre: Superheroes / Action / Adventure
Year Published: 1982
Year Read: 2011
Series: X-Men
Publisher: Marvel Comics
 


Early Thoughts:

Lately, I have been reading many “X-Men” comics, especially the ones from the 70s and 80s and I have stumbled upon this unique little story. Since I had heard so many good things about this story, I decided to check it out myself and what I got was probably the darkest, most disturbing, most engaging and most brilliant piece of work I have ever read from any comic! This story is called “God Loves Man Kills” and it was an “X-Men” story written by Chris Claremont along with artwork by Brent Anderson, which was created without the constraints of the comic industry. So expect some really shocking moments awaiting you in this volume!

What is the story?

Basically, this story is about Reverend William Stryker, a well respected religious man who has done many televangelists programming around the country. Unfortunately, William Stryker is actually a truly evil man who wants nothing more than to exterminate the mutant race by sending out his assassins, the Purifiers, to eliminate anyone who is a mutant while preaching to the world about how mutants have no place in the world. So, when the X-Men find out about William Stryker’s devious plan in exterminating the mutant race, they have to do everything in their power to stop William Stryker’s plan from succeeding!

What I loved about this comic:

The story itself: Oh my goodness! After I had heard how harsh this story was, I was a little reluctant in reading this story. However, once I had read this story, I was totally blown away by the truly effective storytelling this story had to offer! Chris Claremont has certainly done an excellent job at comparing the X-Men’s situation in being mistreated by the public because they are different from the humans to how the minority community is being treated in society as they are also mistreated because of their skin colors or their different religious affiliations. Even though this idea has always been the norm for the “X-Men,” Chris Claremont had made this story truly memorable as it was one of the few “X-Men” stories to actually capture the realistic and harsh view of racism and prejudice in our society in a very compelling way. I will admit that there were some very harsh and disturbing moments in this book, especially with the opening scene of two mutant children being killed by the Purifiers and being hung by the swing sets to be shown as an example about what would happen to other mutants like them (personally, anything that deals with innocent children being killed for no reason is disturbing to me) and it is moments like that that really makes you think about the disturbing nature of racism and prejudice. I also loved the way that the X-Men not only try to save mutant kind from threats like William Stryker, but how they try to explain to the audience about the importance of being different and how no matter how different you are from other people, you are still human and that message was brought out in a very compelling way that made me root for the X-Men all the way. I also loved the way that Chris Claremont had written the villain William Stryker. William Stryker was not written as your usual “trying to take over the world” villain, but he was written as a villain who had a past that will horrify you and shaped what he has become and uses religion as a way to exterminate a race that he believes is evil. Also, the fact that William Stryker was a normal human being, but was able to cause harm to the X-Men made him a truly formidable villain in the “X-Men” universe.

Brent Anderson’s artwork: I loved Brent Anderson’s artwork because it has that retro 70s/early 80s look that I have always enjoyed looking at when I was small. I loved how Brent Anderson’s artwork has that scratchy look and it really complements the story extremely well and captures the dark scenes in this story, especially with the opening scene of the two mutant children being killed and while this event takes place during the night, you can see the blue colorings giving an eerie feel to this scene.

What made me feel uncomfortable about this book:

Since this story was written without the advisory of the comic industry and is not really within the X-Men continuity, there are many disturbing and harsh elements throughout this book. There are many deaths throughout this story, especially with the disturbing opening scene of the two mutant children being killed and hung by the swing sets. Also, there is some strong language in this book that might offend some readers, especially since they are used in a way to describe how certain words can hurt people if used in an offensive manner. Also, this story is a bit too dark for younger teens since it deals with racism and prejudice in a very realistic and disturbing manner and because of this, this story is often not really counted as apart of the X-Men stories although it inspired a movie and some stories in the future, however, it is one of the most popular and well-written stories ever created.

Final Thoughts:

All in all, despite the very dark nature of this story, “God Loves Man Kills” will remain to be one of the most inspirational stories ever created! It was one of the few stories that actually shows the true dark side of racism and prejudice and even though there were some harsh moments in this story, those moments clearly show us the true nature of racism and prejudice and I think that this story will always stand the test of time no matter what generation reads it.

 



 

X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga by Chris Claremont




Genre: Superheroes / Action / Adventure

Year Published: 1980

Year Read: 2011

Series: X-Men

Publisher: Marvel Comics
 


 Flashback:

To be honest, I actually first heard of the famous “The Dark Phoenix Saga” through an episode of the 90s “X-Men” cartoon series and that was probably my favorite episode of the entire series! Now, I had the opportunity to read this story in its original comic form and I was totally blown away! Chris Claremont had a huge reputation of being the best “X-Men” writer in history and after reading this saga, I am starting to believe that and John Byrne's illustrations clearly define the true art of this exciting saga that defined “X-Men” history!

What is the story?

After the X-Men defeated Proteus, they head back to New York to their secret headquarters and they are surprised to see Professor Xavier back at the headquarters. However, the X-Men will soon realize that a secret and powerful organization known as the Hellfire Club is watching their every move and they have plans for Jean Grey and her phoenix powers! Can the X-Men defeat this powerful organization of mutants? Read this comic to find out!

What I liked about this book:

Chris Claremont's writing: Oh my goodness! After I heard that Chris Claremont was known as the author who started the popularity of the X-Men, I just had to check out the “Dark Phoenix Saga” for myself and I was astonished at what I read! I loved the way that Chris Claremont provided a detailed plot about how Jean Grey has to cope with a terrible power inside of her and how the X-Men have to come to terms of possibly destroying her to save the universe. I also loved how much emotion Chris Claremont put into this volume as the other X-Men obviously did not want to kill her and it was great seeing the close relationship that Cyclops and Jean Grey share with each other. I also loved how Chris Claremont gives the audience enough information regarding the last few issues to help us understand the story much better and I will admit that the first time I have read this comic; I was a bit frustrated with all the words on one page. But then I realized that the deep and detailed plot of the story on each page actually became more interesting as the comic goes on and it really helped me understand the characters even better. I also loved the new roster of the X-Men which included Cyclops, Jean Grey, Wolverine, Colossus, Nightcrawler and Beast and it was even more exciting seeing the introduction of a young Kitty Pryde and Dazzler!

John Byrne's illustrations: I just loved John Byrne’s illustrations in this comic book! John Byrne gives us an old school styled look to the original X-Men (Wolverine’s signature yellow and blue outfit, Nightcrawler’s black and white outfit and Colossus’ red and yellow outfit) and it just reverts me back to the good old days when most comic books were illustrated in that old school way! There were so many memorable images in this comic such as Jean Grey reverting to the Dark Phoenix and you can see that she is truly beauty, but always has a frightening expression on her face as she destroys everything in her path. The image that truly stood out the most for me was the image of Wolverine being stuck in the sewers and he states:

“Okay, suckers---you’ve taken yer best shot! NOW IT’S MY TURN!!”

This image was so memorable and brilliantly done to me because it truly showed Wolverine looking so menacing when the Hellfire Club tried to kill him and this image was a inspiration for Joss Whedon’s run of “Astonishing X-Men” when the same thing was done to Kitty Pryde. John Byrne does an excellent job at making the characters extremely detailed from making the rivers have ripples to presenting shocked looks on the characters’ faces especially the X-Men’s shock at discovering the Dark Phoenix.

What made me feel uncomfortable about this comic:

Probably the only problem with this comic is that since it was written around the late 70s to early 80s, there tends to be too much dialogue and explanations of the previous issues filling up the page and many readers who are new to the X-Men franchise might be frustrated with reading all this extra information about the situation, just like I was the first time. Sometimes it slows the story down than necessary, but at the same time, it gives the audience enough information about the situation at hand.

Final Thoughts:

Overall, “The Dark Phoenix Saga” is the saga that truly defined the true storytelling of the “X-Men” franchise and is currently on my top favorite “X-Men” storylines list along with Joss Whedon’s “Astonishing X-Men” run and hopefully, the current “X-Men” would have the same drama and wonderful storytelling that “The Dark Phoenix Saga” had.





Saturday, January 28, 2012

Gruesome Guide to World Monsters by Judy Sierra




Genre: Monsters / Information / Horror



Year Published: 2005



Year Read: 2008

Publisher:  Candlewick Press



“The Gruesome Guide to World Monsters” is an excellent book about monsters that is presented in a travel guide format. Judy Sierra and Henrik Drescher both work together on this project and therefore, created a book that is a combination of horror and comedy.

“The Gruesome Guide to World Monsters” details various encounters of some of the most dangerous and gruesome monsters around the world. The book describes the monsters’ habits, where they live, survival tips when encountering them, and how dangerous they are to the traveler. There are sixty-three monsters mentioned in this book and only one monster in this book is known to be just frightening, not dangerous. These are the summaries of some of my favorite monsters:

ROLLING HEAD

The Rolling Head’s gruesomeness rating is five skulls, which means that it is a fatal monster. It lives in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and this monster came about when a man accidentally cut his finger with a knife. When the man licked the blood off his finger, he enjoyed the taste of blood so much that he started eating his entire body, leaving only his head. The head now rolls around and eats unsuspecting people in his path. The survival tip is not available for this monster.

SIGBIN

The Sigbin’s gruesomeness rating is three skulls, which means that it is a very dangerous monster. It lives in the Philippines and it looks like a beagle, but its hind legs is higher then the front part of its body. The Sigbin can fly using its long ears, but watch out for its intestinal gas, for it is very fatal and will kill anyone who stands downwind of the Sigbin. The survival tip is to not stand downwind of a Sigbin and that if a person learns the right magic spells then he or she can fly a Sigbin.

Judy Sierra’s masterful storytelling of describing various monsters around the world is both excellent and morbid at the same time. Sierra goes into great detail about each monster and also gives a clear survival tip to each monster whenever one encounters them. Henrik Drescher’s illustrations are equally special in this book as he draws each monster in a childish yet nightmarish way. It was as if the illustrations came out of someone’s nightmare and they are trying to describe the nightmare by drawing out the images portrayed in the nightmare.

Parents should know that this book may be too disturbing for younger children because of its horror content. Most of the monsters in this book eat humans or make them go insane and that may scare younger children. The monster that will probably scare younger children the most would be the Curupira, since this monster sucks out people’s organs for disobeying a rule and that would lead children into thinking that someone will kill them if they break the rules.

“The Gruesome Guide to World Monsters” is an excellent travel brochure-like book for people who want to learn more about the monsters around the world and how to survive their encounters. This book is a true treat for both kids and adults, but adults may want to steer their younger children away from this book if they are afraid of monsters.





Simon's Book by Henrik Drescher





Genre: Monsters / Art / Surreal / Friendship



Year Published: 1983



Year Read: 1996


Publisher:  MacAdam/Cage Publishing
 


I actually first saw Simon’s Book when I was watching Reading Rainbow, a show that used to come on PBS when I was little. When I started watching Simon’s Book, I was intrigued by the creative drawings of Simon and the monster that this book became my all-time favorite children’s book from the creative mind of Henrik Drescher.

Henrik Drescher’s master storytelling and his wild drawings make this book extremely appealing to everyone of all ages. He vividly draws the monster as a scary figure that at first threatens the main characters by chasing them all throughout the book and then draws the monster as a cuddly figure that brings Simon, the pens, and the ink jar safely back home. Simon himself is depicted as an innocent wild haired boy who only wants to get out of the predicament that he has been put into so carelessly and the ink pens are drawn like they are playful looking snakes who want to help Simon get out of his predicament. Henrik Drescher’s creative drawings mixed with his simplistic yet intriguing narrating makes Simon’s book both intense and comforting at the same time.

Parents should know that the beast in this book looks extremely scary, probably scarier than any other monster you would see in many children’s books. The beast looks like a warthog-monster with the pig-like snout and the bristles on its back are truly terrifying as they are black and extremely pointed. If you look on the cover of the book, you probably know what this beast truly looks like. But, the monster also comes off as being a friendly creature in the end of the book so many children do not have to worry about the monster eating Simon.

Simon’s Book is one book that is to be treasured by every one of all ages. Henrik Drescher has mastered creativity beyond his ability to draw by creating intense scenes that keeps you wondering until the very end about whether or not the beast is going to eat Simon and then mellows down to a happier tone when the audience finds out that the beast is actually a friendly monster. This book is also great for children who are beginning to read since the format of this book is written in a kindergarten fashion as there are only a few words on each page and is great in reading new vocabulary, such as the book using the words “comfort” and “retreated.” Simon’s Book is a wonderful book for anyone who loves adventure and the power of friendship overcoming any obstacle in life.





The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship by Arthur Ransome




Genre: Russia / Magic / Friendship / Royalty



Year Published: 1968



Year Read: 2004

Publisher:  Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)



“The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship” has become one of the most popular folktales ever told and is masterfully told by Arthur Ransome. This book is set in a world full of both magic and wonders and shows that even simple folk can accomplish anything they set their minds to.

“The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship” is an extremely imaginative tale of wits and confidence. Arthur Ransome does an excellent job at narrating this story in a more simplistic tone, indicating that this story is told from a peasant’s perspective on the whole incident. The message of this story clearly cuts through as it describes how good-natured people, like the fool, can achieve anything they set their hearts to if they have good friends and believe that they can achieve that goal. Also, the quote that constantly runs throughout the book is this simple quote,

“God loves simple folk.”

Now, this message may seem a bit offensive to some religious audience, but it does show how the fool got through his situation by believing in God.

While Uri Shulevitz’s illustrations are humorously drawn, I thought that the drawings made the story seem a bit too simplistic for my tastes. There is barely any background for most of the story as the sky is just a blank space and very few trees are drawn to emphasize that the fool or his friends are in the forest or any other secluded place. Also, the way that the Tsar’s palace was drawn as a wooden home did not seem to faze me one bit as I imagined the Tsar’s palace to be more miraculous than any other place in the story.

“The Fool of the World and the Flying Ship” is a classic story about a young man’s journey to prove himself worthy in everyone’s eyes and how important true friendship really is. This theme of the story interested me so much that I really enjoyed the creativity and morality of the story and I would strongly recommend this title to anyone interested in Russian folktales. Also, I would recommend the Rabbit Ears version of this classic tale called "The Fool and the Flying Ship" narrated by Robin Williams which is extremely funny and imaginative and I think that it will make a good impression on the younger audience for all time.

*Winner: 1969 Caldecott Medal Award





Thursday, January 26, 2012

Untouched by Anna Campbell




Genre: Historical Romance
Year Published: 2007
Number of Pages: 373 pages
Date Read: 1/25/2012
Publisher: Avon



I have been reading historical romance novels for many years now and “Untouched” is certainly the first romance novel I have read from Anna Campbell.  “Untouched” is certainly one romance novel that is way different from all other romance novels I have read and it has enough drama, hot sizzling romance and forbidden love to keep any romance fan entertained!

The book starts off with a beautiful woman named Grace Paget who is suddenly kidnapped by two terrible men and was brought to Lord John’s estate to “entertain” his nephew Matthew Sheene.  However, Grace soon realizes that Matthew is also a prisoner in his cruel uncle’s estate and while they slowly fall in love with each other, they must try to escape the horrible estate they are both trapped in so that they could save their own lives!

Wow!  I must admit that this book took me on a wild ride because I have never read a romance novel quite like this one!  Anna Campbell has certainly done a great job at writing this story about forbidden love and desperation.  What made this novel stood out from all the rest of the romance novels is that both the hero and heroine are tortured as they are trapped in a terrible place that tortures them physically and mentally and they spend most of the book trying to figure out ways to make their escape.  I loved the way that Anna Campbell wrote the characters in this book, especially with Matthew Sheene and Grace Paget.  I honestly love Matthew Sheene to death as he is truly one remarkable hero who has been tortured all of his life by his cruel uncle and was declared “mad” to the world.  What made Matthew Sheene shine throughout this book is that even though he was tortured by his uncle, he is truly courageous and honest and I loved the way that he tried to protect Grace from his cruel uncle at all costs, even if it means the cost of his own life.  Grace Paget is a truly inspiring heroine as she may seem a bit shy at certain points, but she is always speaking her mind and I love how devoted she was to saving Matthew from his uncle’s clutches also as it proved how much she truly cares for him.  But, the best part in this entire book was the love-making between Matthew and Grace as it was hot and sizzling and I literally was fanning myself whenever I read these little scenes between Matthew and Grace!

The reason why I gave this book a four star rating is because there were times where the plot tends to slow down a bit and I always find myself trying to skim over those parts extremely quickly just to get to the exciting parts of the story.  Also, sometimes I got so irritated with Grace Paget throughout this book because every time Matthew Sheene tries to profess his love towards her, Grace always remain distant from him and I just wanted Grace to just tell Matthew how much she cares for him and stop evading him every time he confesses his love for her.  Also, there are a couple scenes in this book that might make some readers uncomfortable such as the explicit sex scenes and one scene where a character is nearly raped.  So, if you are uncomfortable with the sex scenes and the near rape scene, you might want to skim over those scenes since they are vivid in detail.

Overall, “Untouched” is a truly engaging story about forbidden love that romance fans will definitely enjoy for many years!  Now that I have first read one of Anna Campbell’s works, I am interested in reading some more works from her!




Sunday, January 22, 2012

Klutz by Henrik Drescher




Genre: Family / Circus / Surreal / Humor


Year Published: 1996


Year Read: 2009
Publisher:  Hyperion Books
 


They are zany! They are clumsy! They are hilarious! They are the Klutz family coming your way! “Klutz” is a children’s book by Henrik Drescher and it is about how a clumsy family finally found their calling in life when they meet up with the circus. “Klutz” is easily one hilarious book that you cannot pass up!


Louise was always a klutz since her family was klutzes since the dawn of time. Every day, the Klutz family would trip over themselves; even in their own house and everyone they passed by would call them “Lumpish Yokels.” One night however, the Klutz family met up with Professor Squirmworm’s Magic Circus Caravan (after they literally crashed into it) and Professor Squirmworm decided to make them into clowns!


Never have I read a children’s book that featured such a unique family as the Klutz family! Henrik Drescher has done an excellent job at writing and illustrating this book as the story is presented in a comical and creative way. I loved the way that Henrik Drescher focuses on the faults of the Klutz family, which is their clumsiness and turns it into something alluring for the audience as the Klutz family still remain happy, no matter what everyone else thinks of them, which help teach children about the importance of being yourself no matter what kind of flaws you have. Henrik Drescher’s illustrations are truly creative in this book as the Klutz family has long rubbery limbs and large black boots that help them stay unhurt during their clumsy romping. I also loved the way that Henrik Drescher pasted black and white photos of realistic people onto his own surreal drawings giving the book a creative flair.



The only problem that some people might have with this book is that the images are little bit too surreal for some people to handle. The Klutz family and practically every character in this book have sharp looking teeth and crazy looking eyes that might scare smaller children, so parents might want to read this book first to see if their children will handle it.


Overall, “Klutz” is a truly hilarious book for both adults and children who want to learn the importance of family and having some good old fun! I would recommend this book to children ages five and up since the images might be too surreal for smaller children to handle.