Skulduggery Pleasant

Skulduggery Pleasant by Derek Landy.

Stephanie’s beloved uncle has died and left his old house to her.  While she is there alone one night, someone tries to break in and kill her for a key.  The strange man she noticed at the funeral and at the reading of the will shows up and rescues her by shooting fire from his hands.  When his disguise slips off, she realizes he is a living skeleton.  (See cover image.)  Stephanie is drawn into a hidden world of magic, fantasy and a mystery that could destroy everything, and finds it impossible to return to her normal life of a 12-year-old girl. 

Landy has reinvented fantasy, turned it on its head, and created something entirely engaging, unique and marvelous.  Skulduggery Pleasant is a complex hero, filled with caustic wit, who is the perfect lens through which the readers and Stephanie can discover the fantasy world.  Stephanie is a protagonist with real guts and bravery, who doesn’t consider herself anything special.  She is a refreshing female character, who is not overly girly or overly tomboy, but a regular girl who is thrilled to be on an adventure.  

The fantasy world that Landy has created is inventive and original, but still hearkens back to more traditional stories.  One good example of this are the vampires who are night security guards.  Landy has taken their original details, kept what he needed and discarded the rest.  In essence, he has reinvented vampires, shifting even the most embedded facts of their legends.  This demonstrates his skill as an author, because nothing is sacred or unchangeable in this novel.

Recommend this to middle schoolers who enjoy a book with a good amount of violence.  And remember, despite the fantasy setting, this violence reads as dramatically real.  This is not cartoon violence that younger good readers should be reading.  I would also recommend it to preteens and teens looking for a good, original fantasy novel.  Any kids who enjoyed The Last Apprentice Series by Joseph Delaney or Monster Blood Tattoo by DM Cornish will enjoy this one.

Battle Over Gay Children's Books

AfterElton, a blog that offers news and information for gay men, has a very nice article on the battle about children’s books with gay themes.  The article mentions And Tango Makes Three, King & King, and The Trouble with Babies.  As a public librarian, I especially appreciated the following quote from Arthur Levine:

“Ten percent of the children’s book readership, at least, will grow
up to be gay or lesbian,” he said to AfterElton.com. “Wouldn’t it be
nice if their first exposure to the idea that there are gay people in
the world isn’t when they’re teenagers — so when little Johnny falls in
love with that really cute, brainy boy in his computer class, he’s
grown up with the idea that it’s not unusual and there’s nothing wrong
with that.

“And an even higher percentage of picture book
readership will grow up to know and love somebody who’s gay or lesbian.
So when you think about it that way, a large percentage of your picture
book audience can really benefit from naturalizing the idea that there
are gay and lesbian people in the world. When you think about it that
way, it’s even more of a mystery why there aren’t more of these books.”

Hurrah!  I know that many librarians think they are serving only the straight in their community, but gay families, children who will realize they are gay, or families with gay loved ones all need to have a haven in their public library where their lives are mirrored and acceptable.

Great Opening Lines

Nancy Pearl is back on NPR with a list of books with Great Opening Lines to Hook Young Readers

The books included are

Tanglewreck by Jeanette Winterson.

Millicent Min, Girl Genius by Lisa Lee.

Ragweed by Avi.

Fear by M.T. Anderson

Wemberly Worried by Kevin Henkes

Make sure you listen to the clip, because Nancy’s enthusiasm will completely sell you on the titles.