Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Coraline by Neil Gaiman

Once, in a letter, Neil Gaiman misspelled the name Caroline and thought to himself, "Coraline. That almost looks like a real name."  (Don't believe me? Watch the video.  Then, again, watch it anyway.  It's an awesome speech.)

And a real name it is, if you're paid, in his words, to make things up and then write them down.

What Mr. Gaiman made up and wrote down is a story about a young girl who has moved into a new house and begins to explore.  Coraline's family doesn't have the whole house--just one flat on the middle floor.  Two ladies with theater in their pasts live on the bottom floor, and a crazy old man who claims to be training a mouse circus lives on the the top floor.

Coraline and her parents have moved in a bit before school starts, so Coraline wonders around trying to entertain herself during the last days of vacation.  Both of her parents work from home, but that doesn't mean they have time to entertain their daughter. Instead, Coraline goes off exploring.  She explores their flat.  She explores outside.  She explores downstairs, where the ladies call her "Caroline" and upstairs, where the crazy old man calls her "Caroline".  But he also tells her that the mice warn her against going through the door.

Actually, they warn against going through THE DOOR.

See, when Coraline was exploring her family's flat she found a door that opens up onto a brick wall.  Her mother explains that the door, probably, formerly, connected one side of the house to another.  Now that the house is broken up into flats, the brick wall separates Coraline's family's flat from the empty one next door.  Despite the obvious obstacle of the brick, Coraline is convinced, after a few strange things start happening, that she can get into the flat on the other side.

And, as you might suspect (or this story would go nowhere), one day when Coraline is exploring, she opens the door and the obstacle is gone.  She can walk through and into the next flat.  Now, a disappearing brick wall sounds odd, but once Coraline walks through things begin to get odder.  She meets her "other mother" and her "other father."  She meets a talking dog and a talk cat.  Her real parents disappear, and she learns to dislike black button eyes.

It's a good thing that
Coraline is both brave and clever.

Coraline has managed to land in a major spot of trouble.  Her "other mother" isn't as she seems, and in order to save herself and her parents, Coraline must be brave and clever.  She has help from the talking cat and a charm the theater ladies once gave her; she also gets advice from the spirits of three children who once were where Coraline is now.

Coraline is a fabulous tale (and it was made into a stop-motion 3D film in 2009), but it's not a a shallow or simplistic one.  I'm calling it PG because is might be frightening to suggestible readers, but there's no adult content.  My library keeps it in the children's collection, and I suspect the ideal reader is somewhere between my genius fifth-grade niece and her precocious first-grade brother.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead

There's this thing with librarians; they seem to know a good book when they read it.  So when I was looking for another book to review, I hit the Newbery Medal list.  That's where I found this gem.  When You Reach Me is a little modern(ish) day Nancy Drew part Judy Blume part young adult Dr. Who (the time travel part at least).  Those librarians, they know what they're doing.

Miranda is a sixth grader living with her mother in their apartment in New York City.  Miranda's mom works as an assistant at a law firm with aspirations of becoming a lawyer herself someday.  Someday when she saves enough money and fully recovers from raising a daughter on her own that is.  Miranda and her best friend Sal know how to traverse their neighborhood: stay away from the older kids hanging out by the auto shop and stay WAY away from the crazy guy who likes to sleep with his head under the mailbox.  But then one day, on the way home from school, an older kid punches Sal in the stomach without provocation.  So that's not good but even worse is the fact that Sal has made it clear he no longer wants to be friends with Miranda.

As if that's not bad enough Miranda has to figure out how to help her mom win $20,000 Pyramid, deal with some snobby girls in her class, figure out how to cut sandwich rolls properly, and since when was there a dentist's office in her school?!  That's not even the toughest mystery.  These notes keep showing up.  Notes on tiny pieces of paper show up in places that they shouldn't show up.  And they say things that don't make complete sense.  Almost, but not quite.  Sixth grade is turning out to be tough.

This book is fun, suspenseful, sweet, and surprisingly touching.  I would say it's a PG rating, though I'm struggling to figure out why exactly it wouldn't be rated G......hmm.  I suppose it could be the punch, or the crazy guy sometimes not having clothes, or the surprise at the end.  Yeah, PG is a better fit.  But honestly, it's a great book that I'd be comfortable having my genius niece read.  As a matter of fact, I'm going to text her about it tomorrow.  She appreciates good books and librarians.