Welcome to another edition of “Weekly Readings”
For those new here, 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, in celebration of “Music In Our Schools Month” your lit. rat reviews some fantastic fauna tales garunteed to get you moving and grooving!
The Blues of Flats Brown
by Walter Dean Myers
Illustrated by Nina Laden
Publisher: Holiday House
Pub. Date: March 1st, 2000
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.
Our Fan Trailer For
“The Blues of Flats Brown”
Herman and Rosie
by Gus Gordon (@IllustratorGus)
(A.U.) Publisher: Viking Children’s (@VikingChildrens)
(Imprint of Penguin Books AU)
(U.S.) Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
(An Imprint of Macmillan)
(AU) Pub. Date: May 2013
(U.S.) Pub. Date: October 15th, 2013
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.
Check Out My Fan Trailer for
“Herman and Rosie”
by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
Illustrated by R.W. Alley
Pub. Date: March 16th, 2006
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!
Check out my fan book trailer for Ballerino Nate!
The Driftwood Ball
by Thomas Docherty (@TDIllustration)
(U.K.) Publisher: Templar Publishing (@templarbooks)
(U.K.) Pub. Date: January 1st, 2014
NOTE FROM THE LITERARY RAT: This is a re-post of our original review of “The Driftwood Ball.”
In addition to collaborating with his wife and fellow author Helen (See our profile on them from our Picture Book Month 2013 author/illustrator spotlight), author-illustrator Thomas Docherty brings us his most recent solo outing about family feuds, high stakes dance offs, and true love, what more can a lit. rat need?
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.
T.A.A. nominated this book as one of our first “Most Anticipated Reads” back in 2013 (before it’s release) so you may be wondering why it took a year after it published to review it…
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.