Swinebert: We’re also going to do more video for T.A.A.’s YouTube channel, I’m doing a solo video series called “Swinebert Says” where I riff on my life in minerature. I do that on me and D’s Twitter account sometimes, and use #SwinebertSays, when I can fit it in! (LOL)
Dempsey: For me, I’m also doing a similar solo videos series called
“Life According To Dempsey” where like Swinebert, I also riff on my life, but also share bits about my family I don’t always share in other channels.
I sometimes do on Twitter and use #LifeAccordingToDempsey,
and like S.B., I can’t always fit that hash tag in, and mine’s WAY longer!
(Forepaw to Forehead)
Taurean: I can relate, I’m always battling length and engagement on Twitter, so I hear you both on that! What else are you working on?
(Swinebert & Dempsey’s “Hog Wild World Tour”
[TEASER] – Talking Animal Addicts on YouTube)
Swinebert: We’re also working on our first web series that chronicles our “World Tour Holiday” we went on last year, and I know the production of that’s been slow on your end, but we know it’ll be worth the wait.
Dempsey: Right you are, S.B., this was not only a fun trip, but is also changed our family (incl. our humans) in BIG ways, and we can’t wait to share the amazing life changes that occured because of our trip last summer.
Taurean: Thanks so much for taking time to chat with me.
Swinebert: Our pleasure, you’re as much a part of our family as you are our director/producer/PR guy.
Dempsey: Agreed, we look forward to sharing more with T.A.A. in the near future.
Taurean: Can you tell me about your fellow pet friends? What are they like?
Swinebert: Sure! We’ve got tons of them, but the ones we’re most tight with our next door neighbors: Clarke, a Jack-Russell mix (OBSESSED with aviation and motorcycles), and his feline roomies, Chuck and Lilac.
(Left, Clark, Right, Chuck and Lilac – Neighbors)
Swinebert: There are the squirrels who live in our backyard. At first, we were enemies after the prize acorns that grow in the many oak trees in our backyard. We’ve long since resolved that and became friends.
It took them a lot longer to warm up to Dempsey, his being a cat and all, they worried he’d try to hunt them down, but
(The Backlot Squirrels – From Left to Right:
Little Wally, Mac, Hazel, and Filbert)
Swinebert: We also have plenty of family who live in White Oak Acres. While we of course consider our humans (and their kin) family, I’m talking about our non-human relations-
(Swinebert’s Nephew, Trug)
Swinebert: For me there’s my darling nephew, Trug, as our regulars know, and his folks: my brother, Ross, and my sis-in-law, Flair. My Ma, Pa and two kid sisters live back on the ranch where I was born. I video chat with them three times a week, and we visit each other when we can.
My Grand-Hog Wes lives at the ranch, too, but he’s always traveling, even at his age, he rarely slows down. I hope I’m that gutsy in my golden years!
Dempsey: For me, most of the Woyzeck clan live in various parts of the U.S. and Europe. I have to give a nod to my Uncle Briggs, my dad’s adoptive hedgehog brother. He lives in another town, but visits us often.
(Covers for “Joe and Spark Go To School”, “Cork and Fuzz: Spring Cleaning”,and Herman and Rosie)
Dempsey: The comic nerd in me would say “Batman and Robin” in particular the Tim Drake Robin, as he had the most bittersweet connection with the dark knight.
Dempsey: Also, literary duos of note for me are: Tom Sawyer and Hukcleberry Finn”, “Holmes and Watson”, and “Phileas Fogg and Passepartout.”
(Covers for “The Essential Indigo Girls”, “The Essential Simon and Garfunkel”, “The Carpenters: Singles:1969-1981“)
Dempsey: But I also love musician duos such as “The Indigo Girls”,
“Simon and Garfunkel”, “Puffy AmiYumi” and “The Carpenters.”
Taurean: Of course at T.A.A. we LOVE books, but we’re lovers of television, too, what are some of your favorite shows?
Swinebert: Here’s the thing, Dempsey and I like a lot of the same shows, but we have our differing tastes. So, first we’ll start with shows one likes more than the other. That okay with you?
Taurean: Sure, please proceed.
Swinebert: Okay, I love shows that don’t just tickle my funny bone, but assaults it! Shows like Zatch Bell, various “Peanuts” Specials, and Kodocha.
I also love shows that have food at the center: Antique Bakery, Toriko, and I’m So PSYCHED that Yakitate Japan’s anime is coming stateside!
Dempsey : For my part I LOVE shows where you learn stuff, like “Modern Marvels.” and “Bill Nye The Science Guy” DVDs that’s both fun and informative. But I also love fun documenterary-style series stuff like “Unlikely Animal Friends.” If you think Swinebert and me are an “Odd Couple”, some of the unions formed between varting species are even more out there, and seriously, I’m surprised Disney hasn’t optioned some of these stories for film.
They need to do more of the cool animal films they had in the 60s, 80s and 90s again!Anway, my girfriend Celeine and I are both big fans of “Too Cute” and “Inuyasha.”
Taurean: So what are some shows you both like?
Swinebert: We’re both fans of “Sailor Moon”
(we’re both die hard romantics),
Naurto, One Piece,Avatar: The Last Airbender
(the non-James Cameron version)
and “The Legend of Korra.”
Taurean: What books do you think would make a great film or animated series that don’t yet have one?
Swinebert: Otter, like you, D and I are big fans, we first met Otter on Twitter (@i_am_otter), and we’re looking forward to her two books in 2015!
Even though Otter turned him down(and he’s still perplexed about why she offered instead to set him up with Giraffe…)I was nevertheless impressed with his courage. The game of love, despite how cynical, comical and downright trvial we portray it, is NOT a game for wimps.
Like most things in life, it takes the guts of an olympian athlete, the , and the blindless optomism that’s easier for kids like Trug(with so much life ahead of him)than folks like me, who while nowhere near my final years, sometimes have a harder time keeping the faith.
After all, I’ve had many crushes, a couple serious relationships, yet nothing steady at the moment.
As I said then and still stand by now, he’ll make the one who finally does look his way a happy mate.
For my own part, I still believe that I will find a sweetie sow who makes my piggy heart skip a beat, and feeling my trotters are strolling on clouds.
While it’s never fun to come up short: be that flunking a test you actually studied for, , or as in in Trug’s case “Not getting the girl’“
Dempsey: “Varjak Paw” needs to be a movie, and an awesome one! I like how the book has the action of “Warriors” but does it’s own thing.
But I’d be open to an animated series if it was done right and they don’t stretch the story too thin in an episodic format.
Apparently, it was optioned at one point,
but nothing came of it.
Someone PLEASE make this film (or animated series) before I’m out of my nine lives!
(Covers for “Varjak Paw” and
“The Outlaw Varjak Paw”)
(Panel By Panel: with Swinebert & Dempsey Logo)
Taurean: As some T.A.A. fans know, we just launched “Panel by Panel” our comics/graphic novel column where you guys, and myself, review titles and discuses trends and opinions about this vibrant medium.
(Steven Universe Intro –
Cartoon Network on YouTube)
[The Literary Rat DARES you to sing-along…]
Taurean: I know on Facebook, you’ve professed your love for “Steven Universe.” I’m a fan, too, and I recently checked out the comics put out by “BOOM Studios“, and I was skeptical at first, but they blew me away!
Swinebert: We felt the same way at first, though we were excited when we first learned about them last summer (before new episodes of the series resumed after a LONG break where we feared it was canceled) , we’ve been burned by bad comic versions of television shows or films we love.
But when we heard what you had to say about the comics, we gave them a go for ourselcves. As a fellow “Steventhusiast” we knew we could trust your vouching for them.
(Steven Universe: Comics #1-#5, BOOM Studios)
Dempsey: We’ve read the first 5 books and knew we had to review these for “Panel by Panel” so you’ll have to wait and see what we thought…
To Be Continued…
Check back next Sunday for part 3 of my chat with Swinebert & Dempsey…
You’ll learn more about what they’re planning just for T.A.A. fans! A sneak peak of what they’re working on next, and a whole lot more!
Squeak This Out to your fellow Animal Fantasy Fanatics!
Swinebert: Yo Chicks and Chickies! Welcome to the first edition of “Panel by Panel” where my pal Dempsey and I chat about out one of our many passions-COMICS! (and graphic novels)
Dempsey: When our friend (and podcast director/producer),Taurean J. Watkins (aka “The Literary Rat), approached us to be on his reviews team, we knew we wanted to do comics, and it was unanimous what our first book would be…
Something that I think has held some comics and graphic novels back is feeling they have to been in one camp versus another.
You either have to be “Funny” or “Dark and Brooding” but they can’t be both or a middle ground between the two.
Every reader wants something a bit different, and for me, generally speaking, I gravitate to books that can make me laugh, but they’re also not afraid to get serious when the story demands and deserves it.
Even when you’re writing about steampunk flying machines, witches and pipe-smoking critters, there is still a level of seriousness that the reader can take seriously in the context of the story’s world, the less it’s like ours, the more crucial that is.
(Naruto Vol. 5/Naruto Vol. 28,
One Piece Vol. 11/One Piece Vol. 61)
Series like “Naruto” and “One Piece” are great examples of this.
Like the series above, this book has a very distinct art style, the mural-like compostion is apparent from the cover onward, the panels are clearly defined without looking sterile.
I love the use of shadow and light at play, and the soft rounded/angular look to the characters.
Even the clouds have their own distictive look, slightly reminiscent of those old school cloud trails via 1930s cartoons with a slight nod to the psychedelic 60s in terms of color shading. This mix of bright colors and mural-style presentation made the book feel modern yet retro in the good sense of the latter.
My road to reviewing “Maddy Kettle” is an intersting one.
Often writers debate amongst themselves if social media is worth their time, and if so, what platforms make sense for them.
I know many of my favorite authors simply aren’t interested in social media or simply find it too much of a time suck that would prevent them from writing actual books, they don’t even have a basic website (which I think even the most luddite folks need, but I’m not getting on that soapbox here! LOL).
But for me, I would likely never have learned about “Maddy Kettle” had I not been on Twitter and started connecting with artist-author Eric Orchard (@inkybat on Twitter), at least not as soon as I did.
There really is a skill to reading comics and graphic novels. Just as there is great skill in crafting them in the first place.
From developing the story, scripting the dialogue, drawing the art (or hiring the illustrator if the author’s not also the illustrator, the latter a lot more common in the comics/graphic novel space than picture books), and bringing it all together in the final book we buy.
As an author myself, I know firsthand that some of the hardest things to pull off, look the most effortless to lay readers, and from the cover onward, you can feel the care and attention that went into this book.
Back in Fall 2014, when I got my hooves on “Maddy Kettle”I knew from the first few pages this was a book I’d always cherish, and the fact that it’s the first of a multi-volume series only has me jonesing for the next installment.
Side Note: Since Dempsey and I first connectedwith artist/author Eric Orchard on Twitter, we often wondered where his *handle “Inkybat” came from, and after reading “Maddy Kettle”, we now know…
[*Handle is another way of saying Nickname or Username.]
Anyway, back in late Summer 2014, my nephew Trug saw the cover (while D and I were conversing with the author on Twitter), he said, “Uncle Swinebert, to the bookstore, now!”
The book wasn’t out yet, but our pal and producer, Taurean J. Watkins, found the book on Net Galley, and after checking it out himself, he shared it with me and Dempsey, and I shared it with Trug, and here’s what he says-
“I’ve been in love since seeing the cover (back in August) I finally read it and it ROCKS! I’ll be on ‘Cloud Nine’ to get the next installment.”
I LOVE heroes, or in this case HEROINES, like Maddy for many reasons.
First, she LOVES books, as do I, be they fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and (obviously) comics and graphic novels.
Second, she’s not afraid to take charge of a situation, even if those closest to her (such her overprotective yet thoughtful parents, who when this story begins are Kangaroo rats, more on that later…) would rather her take a “wait and see” approach, which in real life is sometimes the best move, but doesn’t nesscarially make for thrilling storytelling.
Third, she drives her own story, BUT, is not above getting help along the way.
While first-time entrepenuers often shout “It’s all about getting off your duff and being your own boss” most of us need SOME help from others to either just get started on reaching our goals, or after we’ve reached our goals, keep it going if’s something that requires ongoing commitment versus a one-time push that requires less hands-on proddling.
It’s like the difference between day camp versus a tradtional summer long camp.
Any leader worth his or her salt knows that while looking out for their team is essential, if you can’t also rely on the the team you’ve assembled or grew over time, you’re doing them and yourself a disserivce.
Just how we need to remember that every viewer or reader is an actual living being , not merely a statistic, we need to treat our team members with the same level of respect we’d want as the team leader.
Maddy has those qualities that allow her to take the lead, but not be arrogant during times she needs info she can’t get on her own.
That’s something we bookish types tend to have in common, our curious thirst for knowledge allows us to not feel above seeking council from others.
Asking for help isn’t the same is asking somone to “do it for you” and that’s the kind of nuance we don’t teach kids enough or at all.
This book shows that difference in a non-preachy manner, as the best stories speak for themselves (though that doesn’t make marketing them any easier for some of us).
Taurean: A spunky steampunk fairy tale with NOshortage of charm and wit.
Swinebert: Maddy Kettle is Acorn-Tastically OUT OF THIS WORLD!
Dempsey: A crackerjack start of what looks to be a hearwarming yet gutsy series.
FINAL NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT
Check out our fan book trailer for
“Maddy Kettle (Book 1):
The Adventure of the Thimblewitch”
Check back next time for another edition of
“Panel by Panel.”
and be careful not to get a papercut!
UPDATE 3/31/15: T.A.A. recently learned Eric Orchard (creator of Maddy Kettle) is being hospitlized after a violent misunderstanding with police last night.
On behalf of Swinebert & Dempsey, and everyone at T.A.A., our thoughts and prayers go out to Eric and his family.
Taurean J. Watkins
Founder and “Literary Rat”
Talking Animal Addicts
Squeak This Out to your fellow Animal Fantasy Fanatics!
Your lit. rat had the chance to interview two memebers of our growing extended family of in-house fantastic fauna.
Our favorite pig and cat duo, Swinebert Glockchester and Dempsey Woyzeck, from T.A.A. FM’s upcoming podcast series, “Swinebert & Dempsey.“
Taurean: It’s so great to finally have a proper interview with you guys.
Swinebert:Agreed, we’ve put this off for too long!
Dempsey: Truly, we’re looking forward to this.
Taurean: Okay, let’s get started. How did you two meet?
Swinebert: Our humans are friends, and decided to move in together, so by association, me and Dempsey became roomies.
Dempsey: We didn’t get along at first. We’d met many times before we all started living together.
But being in the same house meant the things we couldn’t stand about each other stood out more than when we only saw each other every now and then.
Taurean: What kind of things bugged you about each other?
Swinebert: Dempsey seemed like such a stick in the mud! He kept to himself a lot, always had his snout in a book, and didn’t say much to me, and when he did, it was usually because something I did was driving him nuts!
Dempsey: Swinebert has a very dynamic and impactful personality, as you well know…
His Brooklyn accent threw me for a loop in the beginning. He always sounded “angry” to me at first.
Now I know it’s just how he talks, and find it endearing.
Plus, once I knew how S.B. sounds when he’s actually angry, his normal speaking voice became all the more endearing to me.
Swinebert: Thanks, I think…
Taurean: What are your humans like? What do they do for a living?
(Swinebert’s Human: Ferenc Süto, left youth, right grown-up)
Swinebert: My human’s Ferenc Süto. He works in a café by day and goes to night school four times a week. His dream is to one day open his own restaurant.
Dempsey: My human’s Vermont, Vernie for short. He works in a bookstore. Like me he LOVES books!
He’s still not sure what he wants for a career, but his dream is to inspire teens who don’t read for fun, to learn that love for literature. He also works part-time at a pub once a week, usually a Friday.
Taurean: Dempsey, I know you’ve mentioned in videos recently you have a girlfriend. Mind sharing a bit about her?
(Cèline, Dempsey’s Girlfriend)
Dempsey: Sure! Cèline and I have been together almost 8 years. We first met at a pet parents potluck my human Vernie threw trying to connect with more pet parents to find potential pet-sitters for Swinebert and me in case our usual one can’t make it.
Swinebert: Cèline’s human became our back up pet-sitter, and she’ brought Cèline to our place. Her and D clicked *claps hooves* like that. She was kind of freaked out by me at first.
Being a city cat she’d never met a studly hog such as myself up close before. But we’re buds now.
Taurean: That’s good to know. Have you got a sweetheart of your own, Swinebert?
Swinebert: Not at the moment, but I hope that’’’ will change someday.
Dempsey: I know it will, S.B. Hang in there. It took me several years before Cèline and I met.
To be continued…
Check back next Sunday for part 2 of my chat with Swinebert and Dempsey…
You’ll learn more about their friends and family, their city/town, White Oak Acres, and what they’re planning just for T.A.A. fans!
It’s a common saying among thespians (*a fancy word for “performers “), but while that sentiment can be debatable, depending on the production, it’s more or less true.
No one knows this better than Amandina. She can sing, dance, and act, but she lacked two things every performer needs: an audience, and self-confidence. She’s also intensly shy, something this lit. rat can relate to, as that was me as a rattling who had not yet discovered my love for literature…
But Amandina’s determined to work through her shyness: She rents out a theatre, spruces it up, designs the set, makes her costumes and puts up flyers all over town.
Finally, the opening night of her solo show, Amandina takes center stage, only to find: No one showed up!
A lot of people early on in my journey as an author suggested I read “Leo the Late Bloomer” as that’s often touted as the pinnacle of working through difficult (and LONG) “seasons” in our lives. I did read it, and yes, it helped, a little.
But I’d recommend “Amandina” for those who already “felt the fear, did it anyway, but can’t find or reach their audience” because those “writer seasons” are different, even if they share some overlap.
Even if you’re not a writer, we all have these “seasons” to work through.
The season of a college senior’s different than a college freshman, so is the season of a first-year teacher versus a veteran 10 or more years in the field, and first-time parents have a different season than parents with many years of experience.
Sergio Ruzzier’s illustrations have this warm and whispy feel to them that invoke that eviable timeless charm, for fans of his more recent books, this book showcases a new side of his artist palate you don’t want to miss.
Since the release of “Bear and Bee”, “Bear and Bee: Too Busy” and “A Letter For Leo”, author-illustrator Sergio Ruzzier is becoming one of the hottest names in the modern picture book era.
But as with many authors, the road to noetriy was a long and winding grind, as such sometimes earlier works get sent to the dreaded, “Isle of Misfit Out of Print Books.”
For those not the biz, out of print books (sometimes called remaindered books) are titles the publicher no longer prints.
There can be various reasons why books go out of print, but I hope now that Sergio’s reached a new level of noteriety, his O.P. backlist titles can be reivisited and reissued, and “Amandina” should be at the top of the list, in this humble lit. rat’s opinion.
What do “The Frog Prince” and “Party Croc!” have in common? They both tackle the “Make A Promise, Keep A Promise” creedo that many classic stories are based on.
But what sets this retelling of an african folktale apart from the original “Grimm’s” story (and it’s MANY retellings) is the frenetic energy and unabashed gusto.
Instead of short-sighted princess, we have a normal, down-to-earth girl named Zuva, who wants to bring home fish for dinner, but has no luck with her angler skills.
So, she makes a bargain with a crocodile (i.e. the earnest “Frog” of this folktale): if he brings her fish, she’ll invite him to a party the coming Sataurday.
The thing is, the crocodile’s presence would not be welcome in the Zuva’s village.
The croc delivers his part of the promise, and Zuva brought back fish for the village, and quickly forgets her bargin with the crocodile, thinking he’d never learn when Saturday was…
But the crocodile (blissfully unaware) is no oridinary crocodile, but rather a Party Croc, and tells (or rather SINGS) to everyone who’ll listen he’s been invited to a party.
If you’ve watched “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” for any length of time, you can almost hear in your mind one of the many random freestyle dittys sung by Ponyville’s #1 Party Pony, Pinkie Pie! (Or “Double P” as I call her)
Also, the Party Croc would ask various kids when Saturday would arrive, and when Saturday comes, the croc leaves the fishing pool to “Get down with his scaly self.”
When Zuva spots him sashaying into the village, dressed in his swampy best, she quickly hides him in her house, and begins realizes that making a promise she couldn’t keep was not a good idea, especially when the Party Croc finally crashes the party he thought he’d been invited to all along!
Derek Sullivan’s illustrations have this raw yet warm energy, and Margret Read MacDonald’s use of concise, punchy text, along with the repetition of our titular reptile’s refrain of jubilation come together in a delightful way.
Eventually Zuva had to confess her lie, and from there, well, you’ll have to read for yourself…
Folktales, much like picture books in rhyme, or novels in verse, are TOUGH to write, and even tougher to sell, but a joy to readers of all kinds when done well.
“Party Croc!” is a hilarous reminder that one shouldn’t make promises you can’t or don’t wish to keep.
While “Spring Break” and “March Madness” are buzz words on many folks minds (at the time this review’s being written), we’re looking ahead to what we hope will be T.A.A.’s best summer ever, if it’s even half as eventful as the well-read pig making his seafaring return in the follow up to his 2014 debut, this lit. rat will have little to complain about-
School may be out for Summer, but Rufus Leroy Williams III (really, you can just call him Rufus) has more lessons to learn. These are lessons you can’t learn in the classroom, but in the wider world we call life.
Instead of taking dance lessons, or going off to camp, Rufus wants to spend his summer being a pirate.
Not to pillage and plunder, but to have adventures on the open sea, and uncover buried treasure that’s meant to be claimed to the ones who find it first! He quickly makes contact with a pirate gang in need of a new crewmate.
But just like fighting for his rights to an education is his inaugural outing-Rufus must prove himself worthy to a band of sea dogs who have reservations about letting a pig join their crew.
Valeri Gorbachev’s illustrations are as charming as ever, and given the new season and seaside locales, the colors pop with a extra shot of intensity.
Kermit the Frog of Muppets fame historically said, “It’s not easy being green.”
Well, it’s also not easy being a cultured and literate pig, in a world filled with narrow-minded humans who think pigs are hopeless naughty slobs (Not saying none are, just that it’s not true of EVERY pig, okay?)
It’s no different than most folks thinking all rats are mean and nasty.
Hello! Discriminate much!? But I digress…
Anyway, as with the last Rufus book, I felt it only right to let my piggy pal, Swinebert Glockchester (from “Swinebert & Dempsey”) share his thoughts on the book-
Swinebert: Yo Chicks and Chickies, I’ve been looking forward to the new Rufus book, and when “The Literary Rat” sent me a tweet that some stores already carried it ahead of its April date, I did some store stalking and found a copy.
The first time he read a whole chapter book on his own, Iwas so proud of him, the only one prouder was his father (my brother), of course.
Man, does Rufus have it tough!
I long for the day when more humans get we pigs are as invidual and itelligent as any dog, cat, horse and even rat you can name!
Trug and I are lucky we live in White Oak Acres, it’s the only city I know of that have special sanctions for allowing unorthadox companion animals in residential areas.
Or to it put in plain Brooklyn real talk: you don’t have to live on a farm to have pet pigs, goats, ferrets and even skunks, among others, so long as yop meet their needs and whatnot.
Plus, most of the vets in this city are specially trained to treat non-tradtional pets like Trug and yours truly.
Anyway, I loved “Rufus Goes To Sea.” While Rufus reminds me Trug’s early school days, Rufus in this story has a little of a young me in him, too, as I have to prove myself at times. particularly when I meet pets from other towns and cities, their humans even more so.
(Swinebert’s Human: Ferenc Süto, left youth, right grown-up)
My human, Ferenc, does all he can to make sure I feel as welcome as when we travel, he’s the best pet parent a scrappy pig like me could ask for.
Speaking of which, I better go remind him about our weekly date.
NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review(s).
Squeak This Out to your fellow Animal Fantasy Fanatics!
While many readers best know the recently deceased Walter Dean Myers for his middle grade and YA novels, many of which sheding light on the certain on the African-American experience, he also penned a few picture books, and I fell in love with “The Blues of Flats Brown” just from seeing the cover.
I’ve since read the book and WOW! Does it deliver. I planned to review it later this year, but when I learned of Walter’s death a few weeks back, and found out about “Music In Our Schools Month” going in March, I had to bump up reviewing this book!
Long ago in a junkyard lived a dog named Flats Brown, who loves playing the Blues for him and his fellow canine bud, Caleb.
But their no-good owner, A.J. Grubbs wasn’t keen on music (or much anything else) except making his dogs fight in the underground…
But Flats and Caleb are lovers, not fighters, especially ‘Ol Caleb, who with his arthirtis has no business being in a combat zone!
Now these dogs are on the run, with the hopes of finding a peaceful life, where Flats can sing the Blues, without having to live it…
Picture books are often equated to poetry, whether or not they rhyme, and especially with a story clearly hinging on the power of music such as this one.
As I said about Nina Laden’s “Bad Dog” this book would made a rad song, it would actually make an awesome audio drama. (if they could get some smoking musical talent [and possibly get James Earl Jones to narrate it while he’s still on this planet] to really take it to town) Walter gives us a crackerjack southern twang to the narratitve that doesn’t give the reader a migrane.
When editors tell writers to use dialect selctively and sparingly, this books expertly shows what they mean.
You feel the uncanny southern drawl in the text, without the reader tripping over awkward or uncommon spelling of words.
It also avoids What I call the “Bumpkin Syndrome” that makes southern characters sound dumb when they’re clearly anything but!
Nina Laden’s illusrations really sing in this book, while I love her quirky angled characters in her more cartoonish solo words, for “Flats Brown” she navigates the hazy nexus between “Anthropomorhic” and “Naturaltistic” schools of thought in the fantastical fauna landscape, delivering an idea of how a more modern reinterptration of the “Beatrix Potter” tradtion would look like: Given the “Deep South” treatment.
Walter Dean Myers will be a man and author missed by many, my thoughts and prayers go out to the family, friends, and colleagues who knew him better than most.
I’ve only just started to mine the uvre this writer has left behind, and this is also one of those picture books I would happily offer/recommend to older kids and even teens without hesitation, and it also would make a non-preachy conversation starter regarding animal abuse without scaring younger children, but still adressing it orgaincally and truthfully in the story.
“The Blues of Flats Brown” is a poigant but hopeful tale that has the heart of the south, the prose of a lyricist, and the charm those of us lucky to have a “Flats” in our life know all too well…Even if they couldn’t carry a tune.
NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: This is a re-post of our original review of “Herman and Rosie.”
Books have always had a storied history with an ongoing playlist of love songs to iconic settings (Real, imagined, and all in-between) and picture books are no different.
In fact, with SO MANY love songs to a specific place, it’s HARD to stand out, but I believe ”Herman and Rosie” is one such stand out. For me, of the many love songs to New York City (Real or Surreal), this book DOES jump out in the most positive sense.
The story follows titular characters: Herman, a crocodile salary-man who loves playing his oboe, hot dogs in winter, and movies about the ocean, and Rosie, who loves toffee, movies about the ocean, and singing her heart out at a jazz club at night, after working in the restaurant biz by day.
While both Herman and Rosie love life in the city, it can feel lonely at times, sometimes lacking the kind of community building more directly inherent in a small town, or county within a large city or town.
The illustrations do an excellent job projecting the urban motif, using collage scrapbook-like elements to further enhance the overall charm to the illustration.
When I first saw the cover for this book, I almost wanted to weep with joy, because it’s unabashedly old-fashioned, in a tune when being modern is often meant to mean “Simplistic to a fault.”
Please understand, I’m not bashing simplicity, when it’s right for the story that’s fine, whether we;re talking words or text, but I don’t want simplicity to overly dictate stories that frankly demand some finesse and sophistication.
These two have a lot in common, yet like most city slickers, start out as two wayward spirits who are strangers to each other, but certainly not to the readers of their story.
When Herman loses his job (Due to lack of sales), and Rosie learns the jazz club where she sings is forced to close down, the two once mostly content souls have been infected with the “Lost my job, (Herman) Lost my Passion, (Rosie), whatever will I do now” blues…
They spend days and weeks at home.
Herman too bummed out to play his Oboe.
Rosie too down in dumps to sing and share her song to others.
Eventually, the two find their way back to their musical passions and soon after, AT LAST, find each other… There’s something about the vintage feel that I’ve always responded to, long before I even knew the history behind it, which only enriched my appreciation as I got older.
This book manages to feel modern without also feeling cold and lifeless.
It also brings a certain flair to the everyday hustle and bustle that those of you who are urban dwellers will find familiar, yet those you in the boonies will feel right at home with theme this book organically projects: connections to friends helps fight the day do day doldrums we all face, wherever in the world we call home.
For me, of the many love songs to New York (Real or Surreal), this book DOES jump out in the most positive sense.
NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: This is a re-post of our original review of “Ballerino Nate.”
Don’t laugh, but “The Literary Rat” in his preschool days once wanted to be a ballet dancer, though I lacked the discipline and stick-to-it factor I’ve learned to develop for writing over time, but I’m all for boys who dare to defy “gender norms” with wild abandon.
This is one of those books that I would’ve loved to read when I first became enchanted by the ballet, and while it may not have kept me on the ballet path, I would’ve had this as literary empowerment armor whenever some chauvinist lad or lass says “That’s only for GIRLS!”
Well, I wouldn’t have used the word “Chauvinist” at age 4, of course. But by age 9, to use a retro tween play on words: For sure! (That was the beginning of my “I Love Lucy” obsession), but that’s a whole other story…
Nate, like any sensible nonconformist, has no qualms disagreeing with his “Know-it-All” big brother who by contrast is more “Tom Sawyer” than “Baryshnikov” [buh-rish-ni-kawf], but at times can’t help but wonder “Is he right?”
Would I have to wear a tutu?
Do I have to wear pink even though I’m a boy?
Can boys even be “Ballerinas” at all?
Well, the latter’s kind of true, but NOT how you think, and I’ll let the book show that to not spoil the pathos!
The illustration style is appropriately traditional, hand-drawn watercolors has charm to spare, and accents the movement and grace that any serious dancer (ballet or otherwise) can relate to, and also gives readers with self-proclaimed “Two Left Feet” syndrome a glimpse into the art and practice of dance in general, and ballet in particular.
It’s very hard to talk about this book without thinking of another famous ballet student in the fantastical fauna universe, but rest assured, this book while great for both genders gives those nontraditional boys something they can quickly identify with.
While gender doesn’t solely define our identity as it once did (In some parts of the world, anyway…), parental baggage aside, it does play a part, and this book honors that, without stereotyping, and at the same time doesn’t shy away from the questions (be they spoken or unspoken)even the most progressive and open-minded families ask at times.
This is in many ways “Angelina Ballerina” for boys, only we have anthropomorphic dogs (and/or wolves, it’s not quite specific either way) instead of mice, but here it’s the youngest in the family that takes center stage.
Sadly, unlike the mouselet star with big dreams, this seems to be a one and done, but what a wonderful and worthy one and done it is!
If you’ve got a ballet fan of the male persuasion, tell him I said “BRAVO!” and to give him this book.
He’ll thank you for it, if not in words, in his actions when one day he too could be a Supremo Ballerino, just like Nate. Ballet Men UNITE!
On one side you’ve got badgers, who are prim, proper and composed, in dance terms they’re like a waltz. Form and technique are everything!
The otters by contrast are cool, casual, and thrive on improvisation, in dance they represent freestyle, with some hip-hop thrown in here and there. Whatever’s fun and flowing!
The Badgers find the otters crude and their dancing unrefined.
The otters think badgers are snobbish, wound too tight, and their dance moves stiff and soulless.
The only thing both species agree on is their love of dancing, but while “The Driftwood Ball” brings the two species together, competition and rivalry keep them apart in every way.
Until Celia (an otter) and George (a badger) meet in secret and have different ideas…
George likes how free and soulful the otters move, and Celia’s enchanted by the composed technique of the badgers dancing, and the two soon learn to dance a little bit like the other, until they create a dance style all their own, and fall in love…
When titular dance-off “The Driftwood Ball” begins, the feuding species are stunned to find Celia and George dancing together, a first for this bitter rivalry charged event, and from there a new normal takes hold that I won’t spoil here…
What I love most about Thomas Docherty is how he tailors his illustration style for each of his books, be they his own, or when visualizing another author’s work.
While there some slight nods to the style used in “The Snatchabook” his previous book (written by his wife, Helen) this book is about movement and a more tropical color palette, versus the Seuss-inspired two-tone impressionistic tone taken in the verse-driven tale.
The road to reviewing this book is long and complicated, but to give you the abridged version, this book isn’t (YET) out in the U.S., and since T.A.A. HQ is based stateside, your lit. rat didn’t realize that at the time I nominated it this book is still kind of a U.K./Europe exclusive at the time this review is being written…
That’s why I want to give special thanks to my Twitter friend, Anne-Marie (@ChildLedChaos), for sending me a copy from the U.K. You made reviewing this book possible.
I hope “The Driftwood Ball” comes to the rest of the world soon, but while T.A.A. primarily reviews books that are fairly accessible worldwide, our goal is to be as global community as possible, and while many of Thomas Docherty’s older solo picture books solo books are available worldwide, this sadly remains a U.K. exclusive, but when that changes, T.A.A. will let you know.
That said, for our Euro/U.K. T.A.A. fans, “The Driftwood Ball’s a must-read, especially if you’ve got little movers and groovers in your life!
This book earned the honor of being one of our “Most Anticipated Reads of 2014″, and if you’ve the spare cash and patience for intercontinental shipping, this is a book worth importing!
That’s it for Weekly Readings!
See you next time.
FINAL NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review.
Squeak This Out to your fellow Animal Fantasy Fanatics!
For those new here, Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews picture books I’ve read here and there.
While T.A.A. focuses on animal stories, we do give humans their due now and again…
This week, your lit. shares with you tales of father-son bonding, a well-ordered parisan lady whose dog teachers her to go with the flow, and an insect prodogy who shows how “playing with your food” can change the world!
While we’re nearing the onset of Spring 2015 (at the time this review’s being written), I couldn’t help but share this story after having bears in general on my mind…
As winter seta in, Papa Bear is all set for hibernation, but his son’s wanders off, and from there Papa Bear’s journey to find him
Benjamin Chaud’s illustrations have this classic yet modern look to them that would just at home amongst the early works of Richard Scary and Bernard Waber as they would on the cover of a “The New Yorker” today.
It’s a quality many of my favorite illustrators such as Gus Gordon and Zachariah ‘OHara share, but Benjamin’s use of shadow and light, and Monet-esque tone sets it apart from the hyper-technicolor palate common in kidlit.
The text, while concise, is a less spare and a refreshing change of pace from the “minimalist” era in picture books today. Moments of lighthearted humor flows well with the gorgeous spreads throughout the book.
“The Bear’s Song” is partly a father and son story, with accentts of “Where’s Waldo?” and the charm of “Guess How Much I Love You?” but with the subtle and sophisticated art style that would make it a unique cofee table book as well as a great read-aloud.
If Tomie DePaola’s “Strega Nona” is the magical grandmother many of us wish we had (or are lucky to have) in real life, and Ms. Frizzle (from “The Magic School Bus”) is about empowering us to “Take chances, make mistakes, and getting messy” in the name of making learning fun, Madame Martine is the exact opposite of the ladies mentioned above. She’s the pragmatist to their flair and flamboyance.
Her days are planned out and highly rooted in routine. I’d imagine this is what would look like without
Until one day, she happened upon a stray dog, cold, hungry, and dirty. Madame Martine takes him home, cleans him, and eventually decides to adopt him, thus naming him Max.
But in chaging this former stray’s fortune around, Madame Martine hadn’t counted on was how Max would change her life…when a routine walk becomes anything but when Max’s curiosity leads him, and his new human, off the beaten path, and allows this level-headed local too see Paris (most notably the famous Eiffel Tower) with the eyes and childlike wonder of the tourists who flock to the “City of Lights” time and time again for the very first time.
While there’s something to be said to having a distict style that unifies your work (such as the works of Beatrix Potter, Suess and Scary), I always find it impressive when illustrators can vary the art style and medium to suit a particular book, and while I can only imagine how that might make things tricky from a marketing standpoint, it gives the reader (and those being read to) the treat of exploring not only a new story and characters each time, but a differnt art style to explore.
It offers the reader, and those read to, that extra bit of freshness that can get harder to achieve the further an author and/or illustrator is in their career.
Sarah’s illustrations here have a more classic style that the exsagarted watercolors from “The Beary Tooth Fairy” (written by author/publisher Arthur A. Lavine) or the collage-like approach of “Uncle Bobby’s Wedding” that have a more detailed and precious touch versus the more childlike astetics of Lauren Child’s mixed medium approach used in her “Charlie and Lola” and “Clarice Bean” series.
In a world that seems to demand foresight and meticulous planning at every turn, “Madame Martine” (and Max) reminds us all that the best things in life can’t always be planned, but rather come about because we have no plan! Something everyone, but especially parents, need to be reminded of sometimes.
It’s early morning as I type out this review. The reason I note this is because when I think of early morning, I think naturally of breakfast, or brunch if I’m late to waking up.
I try to get something healthy in me at the start of each day, but sometimes I answer to my inner lit. rattling and sneak in something decadent, one such treat is homemade doughnuts and coffee, and hey-once in awhile it’s not cataclysmic to my health.
Now when I think of doughnuts (or “donuts” depending on your POV of how it’s spelled…) I’ll also think of “Please, Mr. Panda” which is one of those books that lures in you in with deceptive simplicity, but tells a tale that’s harder to pull off than folks often realize.
While there’s certainly truth to the “Best things in life are the simplest” cliché, pulling off simplicity is actually among the most challenging feats for most writers, and the bravest ones will not be shy to tell you that.
While we’re often more concerned with how kids and teen perform in school, we should put more stock into how they perform in other areas of life, such as how they socialize, and part of soclizing is sharing.
Don’t worry, this isn’t some thinly veiled moral tale. Like Mo Willems’ “Don’t Let The Pidgeon Drive The Bus” this book invites audience participation. But rather than letting the audience being read to “Be the parent” to Pigeon, it invites the reader and audience to think about how the story relates to them on a personal level.
“Why won’t Mr. Panda won’t give doughnuts to nearly all who requested one?”
It’s a quiter form of audience participation, but no less effective, and often the best books force readers to think about how to story relates to their own lives, maybe even about what they’d like to see more of than what’s currently the case.
Mr. Panda has doughnuts to give away, and various creatures aren’t shy about wanting to them off his paws.
But nearly everyone who proclaimed to want one (or ALL) of his doughnuts is swiftly denied.
Well, put yourself in Mr. Panda’s place. How did you feel when your kid brother or sister used your things without permission?
Or (if you don’t have siblings) how it felt when a friend or relative betrays your trust by sharing an embarrassing moment that was only meant to be heard by your ears alone.
When trying to teach our lit. rattlings how to share, something we may gloss over is what sharing looks like.
Sharing isn’t just about offering.
It’s also about HOW we offer what we intend to share. It’s more often than not the difference between empathy and sympathy.
Writers often are told to make their characters sympathetic, when really they should be saying they need to be more empathic to win the heart of the reader.
While sympathy and empathy can look similar on the surface, they’re not. Sympathy actually drives DISCORD and DISCONNECTION.
Empthy, by contrast, drives CONNECTION and putting others on an equal playing field, both mentally and emotionally.
We’re (often subconciously) looking down on others when we feel sympathy toward others, versus empathy when we’re sincerly offering a helping hand or a patient ear (whether conciously or subconciously) because we’d want the same courtosey if were in the other’s position, or we might’ve faced something similar and decide to reach out, especially if we had no one to do the same for us.
Something you learn as a writer early on (if you’re lucky) is HOW you say something’s just as important as WHAT you say. This book makes smart use of that.
While many authors (myself included) want to entertain first and foremost, and while some readers often desire “larger than life” characters to escape the harships we face in life, we also want to bring some level of our experience in our work, not to glamarize or melodramtize our life, but to add depth and enrich our writing.
Steve Antony’s soft, minimalist illustrations do much of the work as Mr. Panda goes from creature to creature, denying most of them the doughnuts he’s resolved to give away, and when he finally comes across someone who’s awarded his bounty of pastry goodness…
Well, I won’t spoil the ending, but I assure you, it will surprise you, even if you think you can guess it from the title…you’d only be half correct.
Writers are always preaching to each other to “Show” instead of “Tell.”
“Please, Mr. Panda” does just that.
It’s not only a story about sharing, or simply about good manners, it shows the reader (and those being read to) what well-mannered sharing looks like.
“Sharing is Caring” as the song goes, but I’d rephrase it as, “How we share, shows how much we really care.” Not as catchy, perhaps, but more accurate to what we’re trying to show our family and friends.
Kids and teens always want to know “Why” something’s important. “Please, Mr. Panda” shows not only the “Why” but also the “How” of what sharing’s all about, which sets it apart from most books on sharing that only answer the “Why.”
Most termites see wood as nothing more than fuel, sustence, or put more simply, food. (just don’t call it “Grub.” In the insect world, they often live within wood!) But Roberto looks at wood, and sees possibilities…
From an early age, Roberto used wood not to satisfy his culinary palete, but rather to excite his creative muse and used it the way Leonardo Da Vinci used marble in his early years as an artist. He evneutally set his sights to the big city to become an architect.
At first, everyone turned him away, seeing him as a liability who’d eat the profits (in the literarl sense) rather htan build with them. Roberto was the kind of hard sell risk as would be a mouse (or rat…) in cheese shop, a dog working for a butcher, and of course, a termite working with wood in the contrscution biz.
Along the way, Roberto encounters various friends and neighbors who are homless for one reason or another, and decides to do something about it.
With his self-taught knowledge of architecture, Roberto designs and builds the homes and businesses to get those bugs off the streets and a second chance at a better life, and in the spirit of a “Secret Santa” does so anomyously.
It doesn’t take long before the city at large is buzzing with inritgue wondering who this mystery master archetict is.
When it’s discovered that Roberto’s the bug they’re looking for, the reader (and those read) are shown not only the importance of hard work and never giving up, but also how not to let doubt from others blindside you from your dreams.
Nina Laden’s agular and wonderfully quirkly illustrations, matched with concise and engaging text that sprinkles in fun wordplay throughout complete each other well.
While I always liked the idea behind the film, “A Bug’s Life” (the sophmore effort after the phenemon that was/is Disney-Pixar’s “Toy Story”) I couldn’t fully get into the execution. “Roberto, The Insect Architect” pulls it off, and in a fraction of the time.
Unless you’re horridly averse to insects, this is a book worth checking out.
If more termites were like Roberto, they’d probably be as sacred to us as cats were in ancient Egypt and parts of Asia, and today in the form of viral videos like “Dear Kitten”, comic strip icons like “Garfield” and “Heathcliff”, and pop culture phenemons like “Doraemon.” Or at least keep David Kirk’s “Miss Spider” and E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web” company…
That’s it for Weekly Readings. See you next time!
NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: If my ramblings convinced you to buy one or more of the books mentioned above, please support T.A.A. by clicking on the affiliate cover images above or links within the review(s).
Squeak This Out to your fellow Animal Fantasy Fanatics!