Instructions by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Charles Vess

Making this poem into a picture book was pure genius, especially with illustrations by Vess.  Gaiman takes one fairy tale and folk tale image after another and offers them up as instructions for your journey (in life, reading and magic).  The book follows the journey of a cat-like creature who travels through a door into a strange world of myth and whimsy.  Readers, young and old, will be charmed by beloved motifs, surprised by familiar yet strange moments, and ultimately completely satisfied as the journey comes full circle.

Gaiman’s poem reveals why he is such a beloved storyteller as he weaves together giants, dragons, wolves, toads and gems into a book that is about story, myth and our lives as well.  Vess’s art adds greatly to the child-appeal of the poem, offering a vintage, classic fairy tale feel. 

Highly recommended, this book will be best appreciated by readers who know about story and tales, because page after page they will be visiting beloved moments from books and stories.  Get this into the hands of middle school kids who love to read, they will understand it, appreciate it, and let it guide them forward. 

Appropriate for a very wide range of ages.

Check out this online version of the book read by Neil Gaiman from HarperKids:

Reviewed from library copy.

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The Cardturner

The Cardturner: A Novel about a King, a Queen, and a Joker by Louis Sachar

Bridge, the card game, in a book for teens?  Yes indeed, and done so well that you will wonder why more teen novels don’t center on chess and bridge.

Alton is looking forward to a bleak summer.  His girlfriend dumped him for his best friend.  He doesn’t have any money, so he will have to get a crummy job.  And now his aging blind uncle has asked him to be his cardturner in bridge.  With pressure from his parents, who are focused on the potential inheritance from his uncle, Alton takes the job.  As he spends summer days in a strip mall, turning cards for his uncle, Alton learns the logic and drama of bridge.  He meets his uncle’s former cardturner, the beautiful Toni, who helps him learn the game, even though his uncle believes it is best that he doesn’t know anything about it other than the names and suits of the cards.  In the middle of the bridge and his dull summer, Alton discovers a romance filled with secrets that is finally satisfactorily resolved.

Sachar has such an ear for dialogue that it is as if you are listening to real conversations.  There is never a stilted moment to pull you out of the novel.  He also creates unique and fascinating characters.  In this novel, the uncle, Trapp, is a great character.  He is very complex and multifaceted, one of the best and most human elderly characters I have read in YA literature. 

At the same time, Sachar is dealing with making bridge understandable and not dull for the layperson.  He does this with a device of a whale, warning readers that a section filled with game details is coming.  Readers can skip down to the boxed summary if they don’t wish to get all of the details.  Me?  I loved each and every detail of the game, even though I don’t play at all.  The Appendix filled with even more details of bridge, though, was a bit too deep for me.

This unlikely teen novel makes bridge interesting, offers great adult characters, and has a fresh teen voice.  Give it to fans of the author who will love the details and karma of the book.  Appropriate for ages 14-17.

Reviewed from library copy.