By Candy Gourlay
Published by David Fickling Books
Copyright © 2010
Not your typical tall tale, but “Tall Story” delivers on the tall in a giant way. Michael Jordan eat your heart out.
Bernardo and Andi are brother and sister, but they haven’t seen each other in 10 years. The reason for this is that Bernardo lives with his Aunt and Uncle in the Philippines, and Andi lives with her mom and dad (Bernardo’s step dad) in London. Bernardo has been waiting for the day that the British government will tell him that it is okay to come and live with his mom in London, while Andi grows up on the other side of the world hoping this long lost brother will come home soon and will like basketball as much as she does.
As Bernardo gets older his wish to go to London gets much more difficult. A strange chain of events has cast him in the role of the local savior, and he worries that if he leaves it will bring doom to his friends and family in the town of San Andres. The sheer weight of this is often too much for Bernardo. Only when he finally gets to London will this weight be lifted for good.
Written from the viewpoint of both Bernardo and Andi, Candy Gourlay has written a story with so many levels that I almost don’t know how to describe this book. While reading it I sometimes lost focus on what the story was about or what the author was really trying to say. Is it about family relationships, miracles, legends, basketball, illness, being different, or etc. There is just so much going on I couldn’t really get a clear message from the story.
That being said the story did hold my attention and was generally enjoyable. I think the thing that I like most about “Tall Story” is that while it is full of sadness Bernardo seems to have such a positive attitude, at least when he isn’t blaming himself for the way things turn out. There are the death of a mate, a child being left behind, the struggle to be reunited, bullies, sickness, and earthquakes all in one story. There is so much to be depressed about and yet Bernardo comes off as relatively happy, even if conflicted. This book is set in the Philippines and the United Kingdom, and the main characters are big on basketball. This book is definitely worth a read for kids 10 and up who are interested in basketball or foreign countries.
Published by Harper Books
Copyright © 2011
Artie is the youngest in his family and one of his older cousins gets great pleasure in picking on him. During one such occasion Artie lets his pride, and his mouth, get the best of him and he promises to get everyone firecrackers for Chinese New Year. The only problem is that he doesn’t have any money, and when he gets money he usually spends it too quickly. Fortunately for him his Uncle Chester steps in and promises to help him. Uncle Chester is a nice guy, everyone around town likes Chester, but Chester isn’t very good with money either. Before New Year Chester falls on tough times with some bad bets and it doesn’t look like he is going to be able to help Artie. Artie is more worried about his uncle than he is about his fireworks.
As usual, Yep’s story takes us inside the Chinese American life informing us on Chinese Culture, lore, and history while telling an enjoyable story. While I don’t think this is his best effort (I was a big fan of Dragon Road) this is a nice multicultural story for children ages 8 and up that focuses not just on culture, but on such topics as not gambling, not letting your mouth get you in trouble, learning not to pick on others, along with other topics.
Odd and the Frost Giants
By Neil Gaiman
Illustrations by Brett Helquist
Published by Harper
Copyright © 2009
Odd was a young man of twelve who had a peculiar way of making people angry – he smiled. It wasn’t the smile that angered people, it was that his was a knowing smile, in that he knew but he usually didn’t tell anyone what he knew. In a small Norse village where everyone knew everything about everyone else, especially since there wasn’t much else to do in the dead of winter, Odd’s smile and quietness didn’t always sit well. Given this, and Odd’s miserable circumstances, he decides to leave the village for his father’s cabin in the woods. On his first day there he meets a fox, an eagle, and a bear. Oh wait… I mean a talking fox, a talking eagle, and a talking bear, and from this point forward his life will never be the same.
Neil Gaiman has a written an imaginative novel inspired by Norse Mythology. Odd, who lives in a small village in Ancient Norway, has fallen on tough times and he feels it is time to leave the village and his mother whom he loves. He will take a journey that bridges his home in Norway and the realm of the God’s, Asgard. I really enjoyed this book not just for the incorporation of myth and legend, but because the protagonist has a certain thoughtfulness about him. Odd lives in world where men are MEN; they drink and fight and they don’t have much use for thinking or feeling. Odd, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be blessed with the size and strength of most Norsemen, in fact he is basically crippled, and yet he is able to save large animals and defeat giant foes without the use of force. Odd reminds me a little bit of Hiccup in the movie “How to Train Your Dragon.” (Sorry I haven’t read that book series yet. So many books so little time.) If you liked the story in that movie then you should enjoy this book as I did. I must say, I would love to see this book as a movie, but I would settle for Neil Gaiman writing a sequel to this book. Before I finish, kudos to Brett Helquist for some great black and white illustrations that helped us to visualize many of the characters. I don’t really analyze illustrations all that much, but I know what I like and Brett’s work is first class. Great addition to a great story. Recommended for children ages 9 to adult.
The White Elephant
By Sid Fleischman
Published by GreenWillow Books
Copyright © 2006
Run-Run is a mahout, an elephant trainer, who lives in Siam (Thailand). He works a grand old elephant that he loves named Walking Mountain. One day he and his elephant make the prince very mad. Instead of being beaten or killed the prince decides to punish him with a gift. The Prince gives Run-Run a young white elephant. How could this be punishment? Run-Run soon realizes just how much of a curse a white elephant can be. Try as he may though, he just can’t seem to rid himself of this burden. Very soon though Run-Run will be glad he didn’t.
Fleischman has woven an enjoyable, and at times moving, tale of a boy and his elephants. He takes us half way around the world and introduces us to a rich culture much different from our own using simple yet descriptive language. Additionally, the occasional grayscale drawings add a little dimension and boundaries to the story.
I personally enjoyed this story very much. The only complaint I have is that the ending is too abrupt and doesn’t give enough closure. Most good books don’t however, mainly because you never want a good book to end.