The Hobbit Illustrated by Maurice Sendak

When I was a kid, my mother read us The Hobbit at breakfast to keep my brothers and me from fighting while waiting for the bus.  It wasn’t the only book read, Watership Down was also enjoyed.  But I think it was the book we read most often.

Now the LA Times has the news that there was a potential for Maurice Sendak to have illustrated The Hobbit in the 1960s. 

As I look at the incredible image above, I think about what a missed opportunity this partnership of two greats was.  I only wish I could have seen more of the illustrations, because we all would have immediately switched our mental images of Bilbo and friends to Sendak’s. 

Wither: Surprising, Exceptional Dystopian


Wither by Lauren DeStefano

In future America thanks to genetic manipulation that went wrong, people have a very short and specific lifetime.  Women live until they are 20, men until they are 25.  Society has collapsed with science turning toward trying to save the human race.  In this world, girls are stolen from the streets and kidnapped to become wives and keep the population up.  Rhine is a girl who is taken and survives the selection process.  Now she is forced into a polygamous marriage to a very wealthy man.  She is trapped with her sister wives in a mansion; her cage is beautiful and sumptuous but it is still a cage.  Rhine tries to think only of her escape, but it is made difficult as she begins to form relationships with her fellow prisoners, a handsome servant, and her husband.  This book explores uncertainty, love, desperation and strength.

DeStefano’s writing is what elevates this book above other dystopian fantasies.  Her phrasing is subtle and natural, occasionally turning poetic to make a stronger point or present an important event.  Her plotting is masterful.  In a book where much of the time is spent waiting for action, the story never lags or disappoints.  It is a book of quiet desperation not only for Rhine but for the entire society. 

The world building here is particularly exquisite.  There is just enough of the science background given to make the story work.  The real beauty is in the exploration of the effects of the situation, the revealing of a society in decay, the division of wealth and poverty, the allure of a life at ease in a world like this.  It all adds up to a very powerful statement about our current society.

The characterizations are also beautifully done.  From Rhine, the brave heroine who tells the story in first person present tense, allowing readers to figure out what is happening right along with her.  The sister wives are as different from one another as can be, each of them unique and human, each a character worthy of her own book.  Then there is the complexity of the husband, Linden, a man who could have been portrayed as a monster.  Instead he is a man with a background that formed him, a love for others, and who is haunted by loss. 

Ideal for fans of dystopian science fiction, this unique book will have readers unable to put it down and begging to know when the next book in the series is coming out.  Appropriate for ages 15-18.


Reviewed from copy received from Simon & Schuster.

Also reviewed by:

The Secret Box: A Wordless Treasure


The Secret Box by Barbara Lehman

Lehman continues her wordless books with this treasure of a title.  Years ago, during the times of steam trains and horse-drawn carriages, a boy hides a box under the floorboards of a house.  Other buildings are built around that house, as the city grows.  Cars and a modern train show that time has passed.  Three children head to the high floor and discover the hidden box.  In the box are directions to the Seahorse Pier.  The children have to find the old landmarks that are almost hidden in the modern city.  They follow the map to the Seahorse Pier and to a surprise waiting for them at the end of their adventure.

Lehman’s books are delightful adventures, allowing readers to take travels along with the characters in the books.  Readers also get to puzzle out what is happening, as the book takes turns and twists like any great adventure should.  Told entirely through illustrations, the story is delicate yet strong.  Lehman uses a deft hand in this book, balancing the book exquisitely.

Although this is a wordless story, it will work best for slightly older preschoolers because the stories are not as straight forward as most wordless books.  Because of that, I see them as ideal picks for children having difficulty with reading.

Highly recommended, this book will be enjoyed by fans of Lehman’s previous work and will find new fans as well.  Appropriate for ages 4-6.

Reviewed from library copy.

Also reviewed by

Diana Wynne Jones

How sad to read the news that Diana Wynne Jones passed away. The British author of Howl’s Moving Castle and other amazing works of fantasy died after a long battle with cancer at age 76. 

Neil Gaiman tweeted about the loss:

"Rest in Peace, Diana Wynne Jones. You shone like a star. The funniest, wisest, writer and the finest friend" and adding simply, "I miss you."

Fans can look forward to one final book from her coming this fall.

Sendak Returns with a New Book


The Wall Street Journal has the news that Maurice Sendak will be releasing a new book, Bumble-Ardy.  HarperCollins has announced that it will be released this fall with a print run of 500,000.  Sendak first created the character for an animated short on Sesame Street in 1971.  Since that time, he has been unable to forget the character:

"He was funny. He was robust. He was sly. He was a sneak. He was all the things I like," Mr. Sendak said.

As we all wait for the new book, you can take a look at the Sesame Street video.  It is one that I vividly remember from my childhood (which certainly dates me).

The Return of Sailor Moon

Usagi in her school uniform, as drawn by Naoko...

Image via Wikipedia

The beloved Sailor Moon series by Naoko Takeuchi will return.  Published originally by Tokyopop, Sailor Moon was one of the very first shojo comics embraced by American children and teens.  Out of print for years, the new series will start being released in September 2011 and will continue bi-monthly.  It will combine the original stories plus side stories.

Additionally, Codename: Sailor V, a prequel series, will be released for the first time in the United States. 

Add this to the must-purchase list at your library.

Via EarlyWord

Another Narnia Film?

The Magician’s Nephew may be the next Chronicles of Narnia book to be made into a film by Walden Media and Fox.  While The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe did well at the box office, both Prince Caspian and Voyage of the Dawn Treader had disappointing returns. 

The Magician’s Nephew is the sixth book in the series, but is a prequel to the series, so it makes sense to take it out of order.  Besides, it is one of the more popular books in the series.

At this point, it is just planning.  No one has been found to write the script.

Via Cinematical

Self-Publishing Idol Amanda Hocking Gets Deal


Amanda Hocking has made $2 million selling her paranormal teen Trylle Trilogy.  Now she has a deal with St. Martin’s for another $2 million for a new series called “Watersong.”  This series too is paranormal teen novels. 

Hocking explained on her blog:

“I want to be a writer,” she said. “I do not want to spend 40 hours a week handling e-mails, formatting covers, finding editors, etc. Right now, being me is a full-time corporation.”

Expect the first book in her new series in fall 2012. 

Seven Fathers: A Vivid Retelling


Seven Fathers retold by Ashley Ramsden, illustrated by Ed Young

Released April 12, 2011.

A lone man walks in a snow-filled night, desperate to find shelter from the cold and weather.  With the last of his strength, he approaches a house that appears out of the darkness.  There he finds an old man chopping wood.  When the traveler asks if he can stay the night, the old man replies that he is not the father of the house.  His father is in the kitchen.  The traveler heads to the kitchen where he meets an even older man and asks him if he can stay.  But the man replies that he too is not the father of the house and sends him to the parlor.  This pattern continues until each man more wizened and elderly than the last has sent him on to the next.  Finally, the traveler reaches a horn hung on the wall with a speck of dust resting on it, and then he gets his answer.

Ramsden’s story telling skill is very apparent with this retelling.  The text glides, moves and soars, allowing the story to truly be told.  He creates moments where readers will feel the cold, the wind and the snow.  He creates other moments where the smell of stew and the warmth of a kitchen enter aching bones.  Unlike some folklore stories with repeating patterns, Ramsden writes each encounter as a special one, yet keeps them tethered to one another.  It is a necklace of unique gems.

Young’s illustrations are done in mixed-media collage.  They hearken to the Nordic origins of the story with their furs, wools, and woods.  The lines Young has created are so simple, creating faces and expressions with a minimal number of details.  All of the art is on dark paper that evokes a traditional, aged feel to the entire book.

A beautiful, moving and vivid retelling of folklore, this book is definitely a jewel among picture books.  Appropriate for ages 5-9.

Reviewed from copy received from Roaring Brook Press.