Welcome one and all to another edition of Weekly Readings!
Weekly Readings is when your lit. rat reviews 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, we’ve got a trio of fantastic fauna to lift your spirits, while we wait for Sprng to (Slowly) hit, for those of us in 4-season climates.
by Sergio Ruzzier (@SergioRuzzier)
Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
(Imprint of Macmillan Children’s)
Pub. Date: September 2nd, 2008
“There are no small parts. Only small actors.”
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.
A Folktale from Zimbabwe
by Margaret Read MacDonald
Illustrated by Derek Sullivan
Publisher: Albert Whitman & Company
Pub. Date: March 5th, 2015
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.
Rufus Goes to Sea
by Kim T. Griswell (@kimgriswell)
Illustrated by Valeri Gorbachev
Publisher: Sterling Children’s Books
Pub. Date: April 7th, 2015
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.
As I mentioned in my commentary from the first Rufus book, these books remind me of my dear nephew Trug, back when he first started school. He’s a big piglet now, but the Rufus books take me back…
The first time he read a whole chapter book on his own, I was 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.
Follow Swinebert (and his feline pal, Dempsey)
on Twitter via @Swinebert_and_D
That’s it for Weekly Readings.
See you next time!